Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Friends for the Journey

You cannot survive your spouse's alcoholism without supportive friends

Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash

God still sends angels: ones with skin, hair and belly laughs. Angels like our friend, Jim. I met him at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where I was the speaker for Al-Anon. I remember feeling at a loss for encouraging words. My situation with Randy and his alcoholism seemed impossible. What could I say to offer any hope? Jim came up to me after the meeting and introduced himself. He told me how much he appreciated what I had to say.

“You know, Randy’s story is like mine.” He pulled a business card out of his pocket. “If I can ever help you or Randy, please call me.”

And I did. So began a friendship only God could have orchestrated. Jim lived an hour from us, a ferry ride across Puget Sound from our Seattle suburb. He was always a phone call away, always ready to listen to Randy or me, always ready to offer support, and even some humor.

One night I called Jim in a panic. I had invited some friends over for a basket party…perfect, I thought. I’m the one who’s a basket case! I told Jim that Randy had come home drunk and had fallen asleep on the bedroom floor. What should I do?

Jim asked, “Is Randy causing any problems at the moment?”

“Uh, no,” I answered.

“Can you just cover him with a blanket, close the bedroom door, and go on with the evening?”

I hadn’t even considered that. I’d been frantically thinking of ways to contact everyone, cancel the event, and then seethe with resentment.

“I know you can do it,” Jim calmly advised.

And I did. My friends arrived, not having a clue that Randy was passed out on the bedroom floor. We had a good time and I managed to forget about our problems for a little while.

Jim kept reminding me. “Randy is a child of God. He needs your love and support.”

I wasn’t so sure. After all that had happened, I wondered how I could ever love Randy again. I wasn’t even sure if I liked him.

Have you ever felt like that? Your spouse has broken all the rules, caused so much pain, financial hardship, and even embarrassment that you can’t ever imagine feeling any different.

And then God has the audacity to send an angel, someone like Jim. He sends someone who speaks truth to you, who tells you about love, the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient, love is kind. Love doesn’t boast…You’ve heard it at weddings and you don’t want to hear it now. It’s impossible, you think. Well, think again.

Real Love

Through people like Jim, I had to reevaluate my definition of love. Even though I hated what had happened because of Randy’s alcoholism, Jim was right. Randy deserved to be treated with dignity—and mercy. That didn’t mean I accepted everything he did with a smile. Not at all. But I learned to take a step back emotionally and not react in the same way. I learned to love my husband with God’s kind of love. I covered him with a blanket of mercy and compassion–just as I had done the night of the basket party.

People like Jim are more than friends…angels, perhaps? His compassion had helped to penetrate the coldness of my heart, my inability to love. Only God could come up with such a plan, just the right person at the right time to help us.

Many years have passed since I took Jim up on his offer to help us. Just last week, Randy and I visited Jim who is in a nursing home. Even though he has dementia and didn’t remember who we are, his eyes still sparkled when we walked into his room.

Randy and I both choked up with emotion. “Jim, it’s because of you, we’re here today. You saved Randy’s life.”

“I did?” Jim blinked, hardly able to believe what we were saying.

I noticed the Christmas photo card I had sent on top of a stack of books next to Jim’s chair.

“See? This is our family. Our sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.” I pointed to the pictures.

Jim might not have understood why we were there or what we were talking about, but we did. We couldn’t have made it without him.

Hope begins when you realize you are not alone. Don’t forget to watch for God’s angels!

Interested in reading more about this topic? Check out these posts:

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Life at the End of the Bottle

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Boot Camp Basics

Prayer is the number 1 way to combat alcoholism. Photo by Ben WhiteIn my previous article about surviving your spouse’s alcoholism, I compared the struggle with alcoholism to an intense battle. It certainly is a battle on multiple levels: spiritual, physical, emotional. At first, I didn’t have a clue how to “fight” this battle. I needed basic training. I had to admit there was a problem before I could reach out for help. That’s a huge first step!

When I discovered Al-Anon, a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics, I felt elated. Now I could  find out how to fix my husband’s drinking problem. I looked at the people sitting around the table in the church fellowship hall. I knew they had the answers. When I poured out my pain, everyone listened with compassion. Then one older woman said, “I used to think if my husband stopped drinking, if only he would change, then our lives would be great. What I’ve learned is I can’t do anything about my husband. The only person I can help is myself!”

What? You’ve got to be kidding. You mean there’s nothing I can do to change Randy? And you can’t be serious that it’s partly my problem. My problem is him! If only he’d stop drinking, then our lives could be normal. I wanted to  blame Randy for everything that was wrong in our world. At that first Al-Anon meeting, I had no idea I had embarked on a boot camp of personal growth and discovery that ultimately changed my life.

Have you ever felt that way? You see your husband or wife as the problem. If only she would stop drinking, then you could be happy. It takes a lot of courage to evaluate our own behavior, the ways we’ve contributed to our problems. When we stop trying to control our spouse and stop playing into negative behaviors (such as arguing with someone who’s drunk and irrational), then the familiar, unhealthy cycle is interrupted. A counselor once told me alcoholism is like gears moving in sync with predictable behaviors. When the non-alcoholic spouse stops doing what is familiar, then the gears don’t move so well and may eventually come to a halt.

If any of this were easy, we’d figure it out quickly and then go on happily about our lives. Healing is a process and unlearning years of learned behaviors takes time and more time. But it’s so worth it! And sometimes, changing our behaviors can motivate our loved ones to want to change, also. There are no guarantees, but the good news is that we will change. We will be different if we go through the “recovery” boot camp.

I used to lament to a friend that I felt stuck. Nothing seemed to be changing in my life. I was worried that I’d be in the same place several years in the future. My wise friend said, “No, you won’t. As long as you’re taking steps toward growth and change, there’s no way you’ll be in the same place because you’re moving forward!”

Moving Forward

So how do we start the process?

  • Tell yourself the truth.  I found it impossibly difficult to finally say the words, “My husband is an alcoholic. Our marriage is in shambles. My life is a mess. And the most important words…I need help!”
  • Stop pretending. Yes, there’s an “elephant” in our homes wreaking havoc and destruction. We have to acknowledge that truth. I remember keeping a smile plastered on my face and telling people I was fine—when in reality, I felt broken. I barely kept myself afloat emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s okay not to be fine.
  • Find supportive people. We have to be willing to take off our masks and trust a friend, a counselor, or a support group with our truth. Not everyone will understand, so it’s important to find people who are trustworthy of helping you carry your pain.
  • Believe in a Power greater than yourself. I came into Al-Anon believing in a Higher Power, Jesus Christ. The challenge for me was to deepen my faith. I admitted I couldn’t handle Randy’s alcoholism. I surrendered.

Surrender

In a battle, surrender is seen as a position of weakness. You call it quits, wave the white flag, and put yourself in the enemy’s hands. When we surrender in the battle that is alcoholism, we take a position of strength. We admit I can’t do it. But there is One who can. I will let Him. I have been relieved of trying to do it all, to make someone change, believing it’s my responsibility when it isn’t. Only God can change a person’s heart.

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. -John 8:32.

Truth gives us the ability to walk into the light instead of staying forever hidden in the darkness. Truth brings freedom and relief. Some days it will feel like boot camp. I didn’t sign up for this. How come I have to do all this recovery stuff when he isn’t doing anything? That’s how I felt at times. The hope is that we are growing into the men and women God created us to be. We’re not stuck any longer.

How do we learn to respond differently? Prayer, practice and time. Three steps forward, two steps back. But always moving forward. Being open and teachable. Recognizing what we’re doing that isn’t working or helping us or our spouse get well.

Hope begins when I tell myself the truth.

 

The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

The Remarkable Ordinary by Frederick BuechnerI have long been an admirer of Frederick Buechner’s wisdom. This book is no exception. It is based on a series of mostly unpublished lectures. The author encourages us to take a moment to see what’s really around us. With life’s hectic pace, we often don’t see what is remarkable. He talks about art (writing, painting, music) as a medium for helping us see what is meaningful. Buechner says to take time to stop, look, and listen–and we will be amazed at what we find!

“So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything…So, stop and see. Become more sensitive, more aware, more alive to our own humanness, to the humanness of each other.”

Frederick Buechner’s writing style is easy to read, conversational–like talking with a good friend. He points out that we need to pay attention–really notice what’s going on around us. As a theologian, he ties these ideas with his biblical faith. Paying attention to being alive is important. Paying attention to each other and to God, to how he’s moving and speaking or where he’s trying to take you.

Listen for God, stop and watch and wait for him. To love God means to pay attention, be mindful, be open to the possibility that God is with you in ways, that unless you have your eyes open, you may never glimpse. He speaks words that, unless you have your ears open, you may never hear. Draw near to him as best you can.

I love the story he tells about a Christmas Eve in Vermont. He had told his neighbors he would take care of their sheep while they were away. He nearly forgot that evening with all of the holiday activities, but then remembered. As late as it was, he and his brother trudged through snow to the neighbor’s barn. It struck him that there he was in a barn with sheep and a manger on Christmas Eve. With all the busyness of the Christmas season, we sometimes forget to notice what it’s really about.

Buechner encourages us to love others. He notes we would be overwhelmed if we stopped to look and listen to every person who passes by. But he says, “We can surely do more than we do!”

The Remarkable Ordinary has helped me look for God’s extraordinary work in life’s seemingly unimportant routines. What a gift!

* I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

Challenges of the Sandwich Generation: Learning to Celebrate All of Life

It won’t be long ’til we say hello to our baby granddaughter!

I learned today that I’m part of the Club Sandwich generation. According to Wikipedia, we’re typically in our 50’s or 60’s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren.  I guess they call this a “club” because there are so many of us–7-10 million!

It’s a bittersweet time in my life. In December, my mom and I and my four siblings made the difficult but necessary choice to place my dad in a dementia care facility. We enlisted the help of an excellent aging well consultant, Liz Taylor/Aging Deliberately from the Seattle area.

“There are solutions,” Liz told us. “All of them are difficult. But you can do this!” Her guidance and support steadied Mom and me, giving us courage and strength to do what was best for her and dad. To our surprise, the much-dreaded event of taking Dad to his new home went more smoothly than expected. Mom and I envisioned a tearful, heart-wrenching moment of leaving Dad there. Instead, our hearts were buoyed by the warm welcome Dad received from the staff. When we kissed him good-bye, he held up the Christmas cookie he was munching on and said, “See you soon!”

Of course, this has been a time of mixed emotions…grief in facing the loss of the dad I’ve known as he slowly slips into the fog of dementia. But also relief as we acknowledge the reality of his condition. This is without a doubt the very best for Dad–and Mom, who was exhausted by her heroic caregiving efforts.

On the other side of this long good-bye is a much-anticipated hello to a sweet grandbaby girl (our first grandchild!) who is due to arrive any day now. In January, I had the wonderful privilege of being with Jeremy and Jen for the baby ultrasound, a wow experience! The tech showed us some 4-D images of this tiny baby who weighed in at less than a pound. I uttered an audible gasp when the ultrasound wand brought her face into view, showing her features and perfectly formed hands with two fingers in her miniature nostrils. We all chuckled as I reached for the Kleenex–strategically placed for emotional parents and grandparents. What a moment…love at first sight! I can hardly wait to cradle her in my arms. These are the miracles of life, the comings and the goings, all in God’s perfect timing…all to be cherished.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m part of Club Sandwich–I want to focus instead on celebrating all of life.

How are you coping with being a member of this not-so-elite “club?”

Friends For Life

Friends that Last a Lifetime

Captain Kalmbach gets ready for another adventure!

A couple of months ago, Randy and I traveled to Austin, Texas for a reunion of the 15th TRS (Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) which was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. We had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends. Most we hadn’t seen in more than 36 years, but we discovered that time didn’t matter. Our experiences had bonded us together in ways I hadn’t imagined. I couldn’t help but think that each of us had been divinely appointed to be there during those years–1978-1981.

As we reminisced, we wives wondered how we had ever survived being on an island the size of New Jersey–most of us with young children, with our husbands gone half the time. The guys flew RF-4s, the reconnaissance or “recce” counterpart of the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. They spent 2 weeks on temporary duty in South Korea where the 15th TRS operated a detachment. Then they returned to Okinawa for 2 weeks, a cycle that continued for the entire three years of our assignment. Randy never unpacked his suitcase!

At the reunion, we laughed about the challenges of coping with life on Okinawa, mostly by ourselves. Back then, it hardly seemed funny. When a typhoon threatened the island, our husbands left us behind to get the planes out of harm’s way. You’ve got to be kidding! I thought. They leave and we stay? To their credit, the squadron always left a few guys to check in on us, making sure we had everything we needed to weather the storm. We were grateful for that!

Communication (or the lack thereof) was especially challenging. We didn’t have any phones. This was long before cell phones or texting. Can you imagine? When Randy left for Korea, we were incommunicado–except for the “Phantom Express.” Other crews whose 2- week rotation was up brought letters from the guys who were still there. I still treasure a box of Randy’s “Phantom Express” letters.

Even though we dealt with our share of inconveniences, we knew we weren’t alone. Some of my dearest friendships were forged on Okinawa. The friends who sponsored us when we arrived gave us the lowdown on how to deal with life in a very foreign country, i.e., how to avoid mold growing on your shoes in those dark, damp closets among many other tidbits of helpful advice. One friend faithfully came to visit every Tuesday after work to encourage me and share her faith. Another friend’s joyful, optimistic attitude bubbled over and became contagious– no matter what you were going through. I knew I could always count on these friends. They made all the difference during those three years living overseas.

So when Randy and I received the invitation to the reunion, we hesitated to travel so far for a weekend spent with people we hadn’t seen for several decades. Neither of us anticipated the sweetness of reuniting with friends who had walked a very unique journey with us. Randy separated from the Air Force after our Okinawa assignment in 1981. Those who stayed in the service commented that they never experienced this depth of friendship at any of their future military assignments.

Maybe that’s because tough circumstances tend to draw us closer together. I’ve learned through the years to watch with anticipation to see who God brings across my path to help me find my way. After all, friendship may be the closest reflection of God’s love for us that we will ever experience. I’m convinced that some of God’s brightest reflectors happened to be on Okinawa at the same time as me.

 

 

Christmas: God’s Special Delivery

I’d like to tell you a story. It happened a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away–though living on Okinawa, Japan for three years seemed that way! I’ll never forget the first year Randy and I celebrated Christmas overseas  with our sons, Chris and Jeremy, who were 7 and 4- years old. It’s a poignant memory as  we’ve recently said good-bye to Randy’s mom. Even though we’re heartbroken by her loss, we’ve found comfort in a parade of memories that span several decades. This is a story about her and her generous heart that blessed our lives beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

Travel back with me through time…December 1978. Two little boys are seated at the kitchen table working on their Christmas wish lists. winter

“Mommy, how do you spell bionic?” Seven year-old Chris looked up from writing his Christmas wish list. He’d been searching the Sears catalog for pictures of the Bionic Man, the to-die-for toy every little boy wanted in the late 1970s. He and his younger brother Jeremy had grown increasingly concerned about whether Christmas would come to Okinawa. They wanted to make sure their grandparents knew exactly where to send their presents.

I smiled when I saw their lists. The boys had written pages of their most wished-for gifts; robots, Lego sets, and the all-important Bionic Man. They included catalog page numbers showing where to locate their requests. Rather than lecture them about the virtues of giving, I allowed them the freedom to write without mom-assistance. We sealed their letters and dropped them at the post office.

I confessed silently that I also wondered if Christmas would come to our overseas home. It didn’t seem at all like December. Banana palms flapped outside our windows, and the children played outside without jackets. Back home in Pennsylvania, winter had set in. I imagined snow blanketing the countryside. We almost always enjoyed a white Christmas. Not on Okinawa!

The highlight of our pre-holiday days was stopping at the post office to check for packages or letters, the only connection to our family back in the States. This was long before cell phones, Facebook, and Skype. We didn’t have a phone. Even if we called the United States from the military base, the phone bill would have cost a small fortune.

I reached into our mail box with anticipation. Empty. I managed a smile. “Don’t worry, guys, it takes a long time for mail to come all the way across the ocean to us,” I said with forced optimism. They didn’t buy it.

As Christmas got closer, I began to get concerned– and more homesick than ever.

Finally, our daily post office trip paid off. There among several letters and Christmas cards was the coveted green slip. We had a package!

Chris and Jeremy jumped up and down. “Mommy, please can we open it?”

How could I say no? The boys ripped off the wrapping paper, and pulled out some chocolate candy, a stuffed teddy bear, and some picture books.

“That was nice of Grandpa and Grandma, wasn’t it?”

They nodded, but I could tell they were disappointed.

“Do you think they got our letters?” Chris asked.

“I’m not sure, honey.” I knelt down so I could give him my best mom’s heart-to heart. “You know, it’s fun getting gifts, but we have to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the most special gift.” I could tell they weren’t convinced.

Christmas Eve arrived much like any other day on Okinawa. Business as usual, no last-minute shopping at malls or carolers crunching through snow. Would Chris and Jeremy understand that it was too late for more packages to arrive? I determined to set a positive example. We could still celebrate Christmas, even in a foreign country, even without many gifts.

We attended the candlelight service on base later that night. Randy and I held hands while we sang “Joy to the World.” The chapel glowed with flickering candles. I looked around and realized that we had become an extended family with these friends we had come to know. Even though we lived in an unfamiliar place, we weren’t alone.

The chaplain interrupted my thoughts. “You might not realize it, but you’re making memories for a lifetime here. Oh—one final announcement. I’ve just gotten word that there’s been an unexpected mail delivery tonight. Be sure to stop by the post office. Maybe there’s a surprise for you. God bless you–and Merry Christmas!”

Of course, we joined the crowd of families checking our post office boxes one last time before Christmas.

“Daddy, are there any packages for us?” Chris and Jeremy looked hopeful.

They cheered when they saw the green slips in our box. We quickly took our place in line. I held my breath while the postal clerk searched through the mountains of packages. None of us could believe the huge package she set on the counter addressed to Chris and Jeremy Kalmbach.

Randy helped the boys tear open the gigantic box from Pennsylvania. On top of the stack of wrapped gifts was a letter.

Dear Chris and Jeremy,

We know it’s hard to be far away at Christmas. Here are all the gifts you wished for. We love you and miss you. Have a wonderful Christmas!

I still remember the incredulous look on our sons’ faces as they unpacked that box. There were the Lego sets, the robots, and yes, even the Bionic Man.

I felt stunned that Mom had found every single gift. My first reaction was embarrassment for allowing the boys to write such extravagant lists. Then I understood. They wanted us to feel their love and the joy of our family Christmas traditions, even halfway around the world.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The love of family and friends and gifts sent to homesick kids is only a small reflection of God’s most extravagant gift, His special delivery of a Savior to a broken and hurting world.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.Mother Teresa

Thanks, Mom, for the many ways you showed God’s love to us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unassuming Heroes: Wildland Firefighters

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Firefighters kept the blaze from reaching the town of Twisp. Community Covenant Church, pictured here, is safe thanks to their efforts. (photo, courtesy of The Seattle Times)

When we moved to the Methow Valley in North Central Washington almost 20 years ago, my husband Randy and I were naive about the risks of wildfires. We purchased some property in a high risk fire area, not thinking about the implications of building a home in the forest. We later sold that property so we could be located closer to town–in retrospect, a wise decision from a fire safety perspective.

In the years since we came here, we’ve experienced a number of wildfires. Usually, fires have burned in the wilderness, miles away from residences. We’ve witnessed spectacular mushroom-cloud smoke plumes and have been inconvenienced by smoky air. In 2001 the Thirtymile Fire impacted our community when four young wildland firefighters lost their lives. The reality of how dangerous these fires can be and how quickly they can explode hit us hard. Then last summer, we experienced the Carlton Complex Fire, the largest in Washington state history until this year. The fire decimated 250,000 acres and burned more than 350 homes. Our friends and neighbors are still recovering from that trauma.

We’ve all been on edge this summer with the extreme drought conditions and high temperatures we’ve had since June. A few weeks ago, fires erupted in the resort community of Chelan, an hour away from the Methow Valley.  Many homes were lost. Then last week, on what seemed like a normal Wednesday, sirens sounded about 12:30 p.m. The radio reported a fire had broken out a few miles outside of Twisp, a town 10 miles south of where we live. My heart froze. No longer could we be in denial about the destructive potential of these fires.

By 5 o’clock, both towns of Twisp and Winthrop had received evacuation orders. A line of cars traveled the only road out of the valley. A large fire-filled cloud grew to enormous proportions on a nearby ridge. I raced home from work, wishing I’d packed our evacuation box the night before like I’d told myself to. I should be ready, just in case…

The “just in case” was happening. Fortunately, I’d made a detailed evacuation checklist last year. It was helpful and calming to refer to it as I ran around the house gathering important papers, photo albums, pictures off walls, clothes, toiletries, Kosmo’s dog food and supplies–and Kosmo! When you survey the contents of your home, you realize you can’t take much–only a few things. Plus you don’t know if you have much time. Do you have the luxury of deciding should I take the jeans or shorts? What jacket should I take? And shoes? Don’t forget to wear them out the door! Looking back now from a safer perspective, I can better evaluate our evacuation process. I realize I forgot important things and took others that didn’t even make sense.

In the end, you realize the stuff doesn’t matter. Of course, it’s a huge loss for those whose homes have burned, a loss that shouldn’t be minimized. But the unfathomable pain that overshadows any material loss is the deaths of three young firefighters who became trapped on Wednesday afternoon in the extreme fire conditions. A fourth firefighter remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. We heard the tragic news as we evacuated. We are heartbroken with the rest of our community. And grateful beyond words for the bravery of firefighters, thousands of them, who put their lives on the line to protect us, our homes, and communities. As a group, they’re quite unassuming. They don’t think of themselves as heroes. One firefighter told me he was just doing his job, it wasn’t a big deal.

Oh, but it’s a very big deal for us. Without the vigilance and expertise of those who know how to fight these massive fires from the air and on the ground, our towns could have burned. Whether or not they realize it, these men and women are our heroes. A huge thank you hardly seems enough to express the gratitude that overflows in our hearts.

 

God’s Extravagant Love

Before Christmas, my boss and his wife treated my co-workers and me  to an afternoonExtravagant_0 of extravagance. Each of us was pampered with a massage, facial and manicure. As I lay on the massage table having the yummiest-smelling creams applied to my face, I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. This is pure extravagance, I thought. Something we as women don’t often treat ourselves to–especially all in one afternoon! Tears welled up and one escaped down my cheek. I hoped the aesthetician hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t just the spa treatments that got me teary, but  reflecting on God’s extravagant love.

After the Firestorm: Finding Out What Matters Most

The view from our house on July 17, 2014

I’ve never been so happy to turn a calendar page as I was at the end of August. I flipped the page from August to September, breathing a guarded sigh of relief. Our world has been rocked by the firestorm that blew up on July 17. During the summer and early fall, wildfires are part of life here in hot, dry north central Washington. We’ve seen the mushroom-cloud smoke plumes that tower skyward. We’ve witnessed hillsides burning in the distance. The Thirtymile Fire in 2001 seemed relatively insignificant until it raged out-of-control, killing four young firefighters. I remember the somber gathering held at our local high school gym where we paid our respects. This heartbreaking tragedy  caused the forest service to re-evaluate firefighting protocols.

But this year, the Carlton Complex Fire became the largest fire in Washington state history, burning more than 250,000 acres. Long-time residents say they’ve never seen anything like it. Unlike other fires, this one destroyed homes–more than 300 at last count. These are friends and neighbors who have lost everything. I can’t imagine where you begin to start over. The fire, ignited by a lightning strike near Carlton, traveled more than 25 miles in less than 8 hours to burn hundreds of homes near Pateros. People barely had time to evacuate. It’s nothing short of a miracle that no lives were lost that night and in the following days and weeks.

We were without power and water for 10 days in the area where I live. Others “camped” without electricity for almost 3 weeks. Everyone has been affected by the stress of living on high alert–not knowing if and when you’ll have to evacuate or if a new fire will be ignited by lightning or something as random as a tire rim from a flat tire creating sparks. And if the fires weren’t bad enough, mudslides caused by heavy rain and flash flooding several weeks later, washed out roads and destroyed more homes. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the devastation.

Yet in the midst of  disaster, you can’t help but notice the bright spots. I think of the hardworking heroes who have given so much to our communities…the firefighters who relentlessly dug fire lines in 100 degree weather, the local PUD joined by other utility companies who worked 16-hour days to get the power on, Red Cross volunteers who came to lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on. Community centers and schools were transformed into shelters staffed by volunteers. Almost immediately, donations of supplies poured in. A statement said they couldn’t accept any more donations. There simply wasn’t room.

A benefit, “Blues for the Burn,” was sponsored by the organizers of the popular summer Rhythm & Blues Festival. More than 400 people enjoyed an evening of music and dancing. Many came from out-of-town, wanting to support the beautiful Methow Valley and those who have lost so much. All proceeds went to our local food bank/charitable organization, “The Cove,” who will distribute the funds. I’m amazed and moved by the generosity of our community.

In September, I had the privilege of helping at a fire relief clothing event sponsored by The Heart of CAbi Foundation and Independent CAbi Consultants. More than 90 women who had lost all their personal clothing in the fires or mudslides came to “shop” for brand new designer clothing–except they didn’t need any shopping dollars. CAbi, a clothing company, donated 1,000 items of clothing. Each woman who attended went home with at least 10 free new outfits. I stood by to offer coffee, muffins, scones, and sandwiches–but most important, I listened to their stories of loss, gave hugs, and even helped dry some tears. 

It seems like disasters, whether natural events, or tragedies like 9/11, tend to draw people together. Suddenly we’re shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to help and encourage others wherever we can. Even though I pray we never have another summer like this one, I’m grateful for the overwhelming support we’ve received–and for this reminder:

The things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hand. –Gloria Gaither
  
I’ve had a first-hand glimpse of this through those in our community who are bravely moving forward after losing so much.
       
      

Let Freedom Never Be Forgotten


In the late 1970s, Randy and I and our two sons spent three years stationed on Okinawa, Japan with the Air Force. On our first 4thof July overseas, we gathered with other families of the 15thTactical Reconnaissance Squadron to celebrate the freedoms I had often taken for granted.

If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine being back home and not on an island the size of New Jersey. I savored the familiar aroma of barbecued hamburgers and hotdogs. Picnic tables laden with steaming corn-on-the-cob, baked beans, and even juicy watermelon, an expensive delicacy in the Far East, waited for the lineup of hungry guests.      

Living in another culture had offered a multitude of new opportunities. I enrolled in Japanese courses, our sons played with Okinawan children with hardly a language barrier, and we sampled tempura-coated vegetables managing chopsticks instead of forks.  

I would never trade our experiences, but we missed the United States. Silly things like TV commercials that were absent from the Armed Forces station, but showed up with taped programs like Star Trek and Dallas. The usually annoying advertising now gave us glimpses of ordinary life back home. A way of life you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.  

Even a trip to the movie theater on the military base got me choked up with nostalgia. They always played our National Anthem to preface the featured film, against a backdrop of Americana scenes.  Dorothy was right. There really wasn’t any place quite like home–Kansas or otherwise.

Years later, I still remember the rush of emotion I felt when our plane nosed through wispy clouds and the stately Golden Gate Bridge came into view. After three years, we had finally come home to the land of the free and the home of the brave. I would never take my country for granted again. 

Dear Lord, thank you for showing me the great value of freedom.