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Thursday, September 25, 2008

All Too Familiar

Tonight I (Jim) am sitting in bed, Ginger is laying by my side, dark goggles on to shield her eyes from any light, she grimaces in pain, unable to sleep, I have found myself in the all too familiar role of caregiver.

It started when we went to the doctor's office. Now I know that having PRK is elective and not life threatening but the surroundings were all too familiar. Sitting together in the waiting room, going back together to talk to the doctor, me sitting in the corner holding my wife's personal belongings and a doctor in scrubs talking to Ginger. Soon it was time to take off Ginger's shoes and put on the hospital booties and hat. I watched them led Ginger to the procedure room leaving me outside looking in. Ginger laying the table with the machine over her reminded me of the radiation treatment or the countless CT scans Andrea had. I would stand outside the room separated from Andrea and place my hand flat against the door and pray for her, pray for healing, pray this would be the scan that would revel God's miracle that never came. It was all too familiar, holding my wife unable to relieve her excruciating pain, managing her pills, and praying till exhausting relieves us both and we get a few hours of sleep.

Today was a flashback to a time that is still a little to close, and it was all too familiar. I found taking care of Ginger tonight was all to easy as if I had never missed a beat, I fell back into the role I had mastered. But it also brings a feeling of helplessness that is difficult as a husband. I had sworn to love and protect Andrea yet I found I could do nothing as cancer attacked her. It was as if I stood by as she was beaten and killed and all I could offer was my prayers which sadly seemed to be falling on deaf ears. It is incredible helpless feeling to not be able to protect your wife. To see her hurt so bad and there was nothing you can do, but hold her and tell her it will be alright. The sadness of those words are not lost in this moment.

Now I have once again gave my word to protect my wife and once again I find myself offering up prayers in hopes God will have mercy on her. All I can do is hold Ginger's hands so she can squeeze it when the pain becomes unbearable. Earlier Ginger wanted to hear some music so I put on my ipod and played a play list I listened to a thousand times while Andrea was sick. Many of the songs are on this blog site and as I massaged Ginger feet and sang those familiar songs I was strangely in a very familiar place, and it was a little too much just a little too familiar.

Maybe I did get a prayer through as Ginger has just fallen asleep. It is almost midnight and the end of a long day. I pray she will sleep til the alarm goes off at 6:15, but I know if she makes it until 1am when it is time for her to take her pain meds that will be a victory and an answer to a prayer. Once again it is the smallest of victories I seek. I know this will pass and it is just a matter of time until Ginger returns to her happy self, and is able to see clearly without her glasses, and so I'm comforted in that thought, yet in the darkness of our bedroom, hearing my wife cry in pain is just a little too familiar.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Most blogs I (Ginger) write I usually wait until I am finished to title them. Not this time. I have been thinking on this subject - vision - all week. It has been the topic in our home for several reasons. In the physical world and the spiritual as well. Physically speaking, my eyesight is poor. For those of you that wear glasses, my prescription is now -9.00! The optometrist said I had 20/1200 vision. Yikes! I really can't see two feet in front of my face. My nearsightedness has just been my own little way of life. I remember getting my first pair of glasses when I was 7 years old. I walked outside looked at a tree and honestly never had seen all those individual leaves! Trees always looked more like big green blobs on brown trunks, like the ones you draw when you're a kid. What a difference a little better perspective makes! From that day on I have never been without glasses or contacts. Until tomorrow. I am going in for PRK (Photo Refractive Keratectomy) or also known as Surface Ablation. Sounds painful, doesn't it? I am trying not to think on that part but the part where I can open my eyes and see something past the end of my nose.

I have had many funny stories related to my uncommonly poor eyesight. In junior high before I got contacts, I became very self-concious about wearing glasses. I just hated them but desperately had to wear them so there wasn't an option to take them off when I didn't need them. I always needed them. As a kid, this caused me great strife in the summer because summers involve swimming. My little stick body AND big glasses just didn't help me be the beach babe I so longed to be. So I would occasionally ditch the glasses (nothin' I could do about the stick body) while swimming and laying out poolside. At school on Monday friends would say, "You are so stuck up Ginger! I waved at you at the pool and you just stared at me!" I never even saw them. Ha. My plan backfired. But I gave it one more shot. Every summer our big family goes to a campground in West Texas for our annual Wiman Family Reunion. Some of my very best childhood memories were made at these fun reunions. Well, the summer after my eighth grade year we made the trek to Camp Butman and lo and behold there was another camp there! One with boys in it. Even better one with boys we weren't related to! My girl cousins and I decided we would "take a walk" and check out the other campground. We found some cute boys in the distance. For some reason I got the brilliant idea that I would try to meet them without glasses on. I found my way to them and I remember us all sitting under the pavillion talking and flirting. I became interested in a nice boy. Wish I could remember his name. We might have held hands but I am not sure. My cousin, Julie, would remember. I will have to ask her. Anyway, the lovely afternoon passed. We saw (actually HE SAW - I still took off my glasses and shoved them in my pocket if he came near) each other after breakfast the next morning and exchanged addresses to be pen pals. This whole plan of mine worked out peachy. The only hitch was I really wasn't quite sure what he exactly looked like! We wrote back and forth a little. And I enjoyed my summer crush. But something was always missing in the relationship. I guess that something might have been that had I seen him someday with my glasses on I would not have been able to pick him out in a crowd. And I guess he probably wouldn't have recognized me, wearing thick glasses, either! Talk about a blind date!

That humorous yet pitiful story reminds me of all of us here on earth. We do not see clearly. We only catch a glimpse of God's face. We see a little bit of what He is doing but not the big picture. I believe He knew we would struggle with seeking answers to unanswerable questions. For Jim and I the question of why he took Andrea and Troy will always be the big one. But for others the questions revolve around illness, abuse, loneliness, depression, the loss of a dream or even a child. I think the Lord knew we would struggle without answers and without His physical presence. He left us with the Holy Spirit and the command;

II Corinthians 5:7
"Walk by faith, not by sight."
God knew this would be the most difficult thing for us to do. Though we wrangle over the hardest questions of why God lets bad things happen to His people, He still tells us to trust Him. Easier said than done until the Master (I love how Auntie Faye refers to God with this title) personally asked me to do that. Jim and I know we may never, this side of heaven, understand His divine plan or get answers to our questions. Things are really blurry from our perspective. In fact, how all of us can see our situations is not always accurate because we look at them through our own filters of grief, lenses of bitterness and the nearsightedness that comes with not trusting in the Lord's promises. Believe me I have been there. Feeling so much that my life was over after Troy died that I prayed for months and months that the Lord would just take me and the kids home to heaven too. But just like I did with that boy at summer camp, we are asked to sit there and have fellowship and relationship in spite of our "blindness". We are still called to lay our lives and our troubles at the Lord's feet and then when He walks we follow, blindly but trusting. Even when He walks us down a road we don't want to traverse (like illness or death of a loved one) or on foreign territory we know nothing about (like being a new spouse or a new parent in the middle of life) we must hold onto God tightly and march on.

Isaiah 42:16 "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do. I will not forsake them."

Psalm 121:3 "He will not let your foot slip. He who watches over you will not slumber."

What awesome promises to us spoken by the Lord Himself!

Troy and I had planned on me having this corrective eye surgery done right after he got back from Iraq. Obviously things changed and now over a year later I am finally going in. I have to say I am a little nervous tonight. But I am trusting my eyes to my doctor and of course to my Great Physician, Christ.

Jim said, "Won't it be amazing to see again?". And I responded with, "Actually it will be seeing for the first time!"

My eyes aren't the only ones in the family getting some attention this week. Boston (10 1/2) just got glasses for the first time yesterday. He failed his school eye exam and then when I asked him about it he told me he hasn't seen the board well since the 4th grade! Boys! I rushed to get him in and sure enough he has some of my eye genes. Boston, being my child that cares the most about his appearanc and his athletics, he is not happy about wearing glasses. He looks super cute in them and I know he can see better now. Change is a hard thing for all of us though.
While I was in the optometrist's office with Boston, I noticed one of those motivational prints on the wall. The bottom quote read:

"Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be."

I like that saying ALOT. Over the last almost two years since Troy died, I have struggled with being so overwhelmed with sadness in my present state that I could not imagine life ever being good or worthwhile again. Life is good and worthwhile again. But the road ahead is still uncertain for all of us. We don't always know what our next step should be to unify our new family. We don't know where the places, both physically and spiritually, that the Lord will take us to this upcoming year.

The vision we have, as Christians, is often cloudy but we have to have the vision of the future that He will take care of us when we ask and that He will walk with us when we stand alone, or afraid, or at a crossroads in life. Until we join Him in eternity. Where there will be no night, no tears, no death, no crying, no pain forevermore.

How awestruck Troy and Andrea must have been when they saw everything clearly for the first time! The Lord must have told them why they were put on earth, what His purpose was in their deaths and where He was taking those of us they left behind. What a glorious day that must have been!

For now, I hope to celebrate the small victory of not needing glasses to find my way to the kitchen in the middle of the night. Remind me to tell you about the time one night when I accidently mistaked a bottle of rubbing alchohol for a bottle of water. They don't taste the same I can promise you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Two" Much Sometimes

It feels a little bit like fall. That might not be any big statement to lots of folks since it is mid-Septmember. But to a girl that has spent the last 4 years in Phoenix, AZ and watched many a pumpkin rot on my sunny porch, it is said with more than a twinge of excitement. The cooler weather has beckoned me outside and entices me to sit down for a minute to write. I (Ginger) enjoy writing and feel it is a necessary cathartic thing for me to do but I see that the time it takes often conflicts with my mile-long list of duties. I will remember Mary sitting at Jesus' feet while Martha was scurrying around and be encouraged that sometimes the Lord just wants us to sit and listen at His feet. I have friends with blogs that I would love to sit down and read through but I tell them I scarcely have time to read our own. Someday I hope to.

I have been struggling to hear the Lord's voice lately. Our new life is so busily occupied in so many areas that I have to remove myself from the mayhem sometimes to simply hear my own thoughts. Jim and I spent a good portion of our time away this weekend discussing our new blended family. It's funny because we have gotten into making fruit smoothies at our house lately and are on the hunt for the perfect blender. Our mediocre Cuisanart blender performs sub-par; sometimes the finished product is smooth but sometimes it is full of unblended chunks. Jim and I are growing (sometimes easily and sometimes painfully) into the new type of spouses and parents we need to be, letting ourselves be blended by the Lord. The kids are learning how to be parented by and be siblings to someone new. Christ is by far superior to our kitchen appliance. The difference is He lets us stay unbroken and stubborn if we do not submit to His ways of refinining. We have to give in to His hand smoothing us.

I have joked about the twins sending me into therapy but at times there is more truth behind that statement than I would like to think. They are my challenge. They always have been. Bless their little hearts. Their conception came along in the middle of a very busy life and at the end of a string of 3 pre-existing stairstep-age children. I have gone back over the journey to getting pregnant and having them. When Troy and I began discussing getting pregnant again we knew having 4 small children would be taxing but we had seen many of our other friends do it and knew that our family would feel crowded but would feel complete. I remember just weeks after I took the pregnancy test Troy looked over at me when I was changing clothes and he made the simple statement, "I think you are having twins. You are getting bigger sooner and I just think that would be the craziest thing in the world that could happen since we are out of time, space, money and energy already." I promptly told him he was the crazy one! He never gave up his thought of my pregnancy being twins. I truly think the Lord just decided to prepare one of us and picked Troy. Because the day we went to the ultrasound, I was the one who was shocked and crying uncontrollably when the technician announced the news "IT"S TWINS!". Troy just smiled calmly and smugly said, "See, I'm always right." That was the beginning. Then followed a difficult pregnancy, 5 weeks of bedrest and a C-section. And those were the easy parts! ha. We were so thankful that none of the many complications that can come with multiples happened to ours. But, once those two little girlies showed up our lives got turned upside down. Round the clock feedings and diapers mixed in with three other children's schedules and needs. On top of that Troy was busy being an executive aid and preparing to deploy to war. It was ALOT to say the least. We had a lot of help those first few months and we were thankful for that. Then when the twins were six months old, Troy said good-bye to his new baby girls. We thought it would be until they were 10-11 months old but shortly realized 6 months was all they would ever know this man that was their daddy. The other day they were looking at this snowglobe we have with Troy's picture in it. They said, "Look at the boy!". It broke my heart that they had no idea who he was. I know someday they will look at pictures of him and know who he was but what crushed me they will never KNOW who was. Does that make sense? I was saddened to find we had taken very few pictures of him with either Aspen or Annalise. We were just too busy for many photo ops. And there was always later....I thought.

After Troy was gone, life simply came down to survival. My own and all the childrens'. Most people knew how to take care of babies and that seemed to be the best solution was to give the twins over into other hands, more capable than my own. Many sweet folks met their tremendous needs. I simply couldn't do it. I remember locking myself in my room when they would be crying because the exhaustion and emotions I felt rendered me unable to care what their needs were. I have always loved them but having two tiny babies, on top of the other kids, and losing Troy about killed me. I was always a baby-lover. Just couldn't get enough of 'em. But tragedy changes who we were before. I remember my grief counselor telling me I not only suffered from post-tramautic stress syndrome but from post-partum despression and delayed bonding. I saw those twin girls as the mountain too high to climb at that moment. I took care of them when I could but my hands often got tired of hanging on to everything so, sometimes, the twins had to be the thing I let go of. Praise the Lord for Becky, the Engrams, my family and friends and Jess. They loved on those girlies like you wouldn't believe. I hope someday I can share with the twins how deeply these people invested into their little souls when their mommy could not.

Now, it is time for Jim and I to invest in them. They are not making it easy right now for us. I have never had such demanding or whiny or strong-willed children before- much less two of the same age at the same time. So parenting them is much like embarking on a new frontier. There are powers in numbers and I think they know they outnumber me. ha. Boston, who has always had the patience of Job, said yesterday, "Mom, everyone thinks the twins are so cute but no one knows what they are really like at home." You would think I would have laughed but I really just commiserated with him. They are in a very willful and difficult stage right now. And because of the past hurts and the current winds of drastic change, all of our patience is running a little thin. So I just told him I knew how he felt and this season will pass and we will enjoy them more.

The twins and I are working on bonding with each other. They need to know they can trust me and I need to trust God that He gave them to me, at such a horrible time, for some amazing reason. And that He will give me the strength I need for each new day. I have come to my poor mother, defeated and discouraged with how the process with the twins is coming along. That is when she read Jim and I that passage from Streams in the Desert that Jim quoted in his last blog. I cried when she read the line:

"I longed to leave the commom daily toil,
Where no one seemed to care."
But Jesus said, "I choose for you this soil
that you might raise for Me some blossoms rare."

I think that might be my next tattoo. Just joking. Maybe I will paint it on the wall of our home instead. Aspen and Annalise are my blossoms rare. Just look at these blond haired, blue-eyed, looking nothing like me or Troy, identical twin girls that came along, shockingly, in the midst of the most unthinkably horrible circumstances. And now Jim, who could have grandchildren of his own at their age, has been chosen to love, nuture and father them. The whole thing is just so, well, RARE....

The longer I live I see my God specializes in the RARE. Much like that green leafy vine growing through the layers of hard black volacanic lava rock(see Jim's blog pics from his March trip to Hawaii), He likes to work miracles in the most unlikely of places.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Allow Me To Introduce Myself

Well I (Jim) have found a little time to write. Ginger and I are in Santa Fe celebrating her parents 40th wedding anniversary with Matt Ginger's brother and his wife Katherine. Troy's mom is staying with the kids in San Antonio. I will say one thing God has truly blessed me with great in-laws, Andrea's family, Ginger's and Troy's are the best! There will never be a mother-in-law joke told in our house. Anyway, I woke up early today and decided to take a little time to write about an experience I had this past Tuesday.

I had a business trip to DC this week and due to airline "equipment" issues, that's how the airlines refer to the airplane, as the equipment, I arrived in DC 3 hours late and missed the meeting on Tuesday. So after checking into my hotel I decided to go to another meeting I had, one I had tried to keep on several other trips to DC but could never fit into my schedule. I went to Section 60, site 8525 of Arlington Cemetery to introduce myself to Troy.

I tried one other time to go to Arlington but arrived as it was closing. I had thought about this day many times, what do you say? What can you say? I feel a connection to Troy as a fellow fighter pilot, we shared a common love of flying. It is a unique and strong bond the love of flying, and the thrill and blessing to have a dream come true and fly a fighter. To kneel at Troy's grave and know we have never met yet we share life's most personal moments. We never met yet we share the love of Ginger. We have never met yet I watch Boston play on his first club soccer team, feel the touch of Greyson as he seeks stability in his life, drive Bella to her first day of school, and hear the twins call me daddy. I needed to "meet" Troy; I need to talk to him and tell him the kids are doing good, that Ginger misses him. To promise to love and care for his family, to stand in the gap for him. It was a situation you can not prepare for and I'm not sure how to express the feelings in that moment.

Ginger had a similar experience. When I took her to Ft Sam National Cemetery, section 110 site 699, where she knelt and met Andrea for the first time. It was a very emotional moment as I left her alone and watched from the car as they "met."

I never thought I would find myself in this position nor did Ginger, I was to grow old with Andrea as Troy was to grow old with Ginger, yet God's plan was different. We have to trust God when at times like this we walk by faith, unable to comprehend with our finite mind, things eternal.

Ginger's Mom read this to me yesterday morning, it is a quote from a book called "Steams in the Desert." When you find yourself in times of difficulty, especially extreme times this should be one of the first books you reach for after your Bible. This excerpt reminds me that God is sovereign, and He alone holds the eternal view of His creation, the work of His will and His desire...our lives.

I have longed to walk along an easy road.
And leave behind the dull routine of home,
Thinking in other fields to serve my God;
But Jesus said, "My time as not yet come."

I long to sow the seed in other soil,
To be unshackled in the work, and free,
To join other laborers in their toil,
But Jesus said, "It is not my choice for thee."

I longed to leave the desert, and be led
To work where souls were sunk in sin and shame,
That I might win them; but the Master said,
"I have not called you, publish here My name."

I longed to fight the battles of my King,
Lift high His standards in the thickest strife;
But my great Captain had me wait and sing
Songs of His conquest in my quite life.

I longed to leave the hard and difficult sphere,
Where all alone I seemed to stand and wait,
To feel I had some human helper near,
But Jesus had me guard the lonely gate.

I longed to leave the common daily toil,
Where no one seemed to understand me care;
But Jesus said, "I choose you for this soil,
That you might raise for me some blossoms rare."

And now I have no longing but to do
At home, or far away, His blessed will,
To work amid the many or the few;
Thus, "choosing not to choose," my heart is still.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Not Just Another Day

Today marks another anniversary. Troy deployed to Iraq on Sept. 3rd, 2006. As of today it has been exactly two years since I last saw Troy. Since I last touched him. Held him. Kissed him. Not the last time I felt loved by him, as I know he loved me until he took his last breath. But it has been two years since we were together. Two years since we had a normal life. The day he deployed an unevitable chain of events began to unfold. An unstoppable series of change. Becky became a live-in nanny and not just our favorite babysitter. I became a "pseudo" single parent (only a precursor to what would later become the real thing). The children began to learn how to rely on one parent to meet their needs. I learned to trust the Lord moment by moment when the times got tough. The earth shifted two years ago today.

There are probably many who think, "Wow, I can't believe it has almost been two years since Troy Gilbert died". But I can assure you, there couldn't be anything further from the truth. These last two years have, at times, inched by at a snail's pace to me. I feel as if he left for a trip when I was young and now I find myself old realizing he is never to return. I am speaking of emotional aging but I noticed that the physcial aging phenomenon has happened to me as well as I was looking at some photos of myself the other night. I found some from Troy's memorial service. Though I have a distant look in my eyes, I think I look so much younger. Maybe pain and suffering somehow speed up the aging process a little bit. Or maybe I just FEEL old.

I wonder back to that day and have tried to retrace our final good-byes. I remember it was a Sunday morning. The kids were sitting at our round kitchen table eating breakfast and he went around to each one and spoke soft words of love and encouragement to them. I watched him hand each of the bigger kids a small silver F-16 pin to put on their backpacks. I think he told Boston that he was the man of the house while Daddy was away. I remember standing in the kitchen at the stove and crying. I recall one moment of comic relief when Bella (then 3 yrs old) looked up at him as he was speaking to her with tears streaming down his face and told him he was being a "cry baby". She probably deserved a spanking but instead we just laughed. Someday she, herself, will cry over those silly childish last words.

Friends took the bigger kids to church and my friend, Heidi, came over to sit with the babies. She gave up her Sunday morning family time to give me the precious gift of being able to park at the airport, go inside with Troy and enjoy the last meal we would ever eat together on this earth. Thank you Heidi.

He took a photo of me at the restaurant to take with him to the desert. It came back in his footlockers. I remember finding it and noticed how innocent I looked. Not knowing what would rock my world only 3 months later. At least we don't know the future. I do believe God does not reveal the future to us - as we would be paralyzed with dread and fear in the present for the pain that awaited us OR we would only be living for the good thing that lie ahead. Either one would rob us of today's joy. Or at the least, today's journey.

It is the journey of my (ours now-mine and Jim's) today that has me feeling a little blue. I know it is much better than my past two years journey but, at times, the loss of that innocence makes it an uphill climb for Jim and me. We know what can happen in the blink of an eye.

Today at lunch, he and I discussed the kids needs, our needs and the household needs. We both felt a bit worn out after the discussion. We strive to be all God wants us to be both in parenting and marriage. But we feel we both fall short due to the amount of demands a large hurting family of young children has.

Sometimes I feel victorious. Knowing of all the things that could have happened even worse than they did. Feeling the Lord's helping right hand upon me during the toughest days and nights. But sometimes I feel defeated. Burdened. Helpless. Indeed, I am a helpless thing. Helpless in terms of relying on SELF help and not Christ's help. So, today, I again turned my face to Him and asked Him for the love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control I need to co-pilot this life and co-parent this crew. I prayed He would literally rain down His mercy, grace and strength on me so that those fruits of the Spirit would grow to be plump, ripe and juicy. Right now, tonight, at the end of long day, my fruit is feeling somewhat raisin-ish. Lord, help us all serve You better in the difficult days. Make me a plum and not a prune to my children and my husband.

I do not know what I will be writing about two years from now. My first instinct is to pray there will be no tragedy I will be wading through. But in truth, I pray I will be walking with greater faith and closer to Christ. Okay, AND no more tragedy.

As I had no time to tell or show Troy how much I cared for him before he died, I have often questioned whether he knew my great love for him and have fought regrets of the things left unsaid. But I think back to that September 3rd day and I know I loved Troy well. I know because I let him follow his desire to serve his country in wartime knowing it was the last thing in the world I wanted him to do.

I remember kissng him good-bye at the security gate, going to the airport bathroom to cry and having to put all my chips in God's corner of the table that day. He's thankfully still got them. That's the only assurance I have that I will run this race. Despite what I say or do to the contrary, Lord - KEEP MY CHIPS. I don't want them back.