I will warn you all, this is long. I know so many sweet friends and followers have wanted more information about Brenner’s deployment, our time here and what is next that I thought I would make it into one long update. Sounds fun, right? I know most of you are not military and it is hard for non military families to comprehend deployments.
Wow. It has been two years since we arrived at Beale. Two years! So much has happened in the last two years as we stepped foot into this full time Air Force life. I thought that I would take some time and dust off my much loved yet much neglected blog and share about our last year.
As most of you know who read this blog, 2015 was a big year for us. 2014 shook our world up as we left Texas and headed to California for Brenner to pursue a major career shift. We had change after change after change but truly, there was such peace in it all, and we were all together, that I felt like we rolled with it really well. God provided in every way imaginable and the changes were not as painful as I thought they may be. And 2015 was another year where life really got crazy and God really got serious about that whole “you gotta trust me stuff”.
So right before Thanksgiving 2014 we found out that Brenner would be deploying. It wasn’t a huge surprise and yet I burst into tears the moment he told me. We had 4 months to prepare which seems like tons of time, and really it is a lot of time but it went by so fast with holidays and birthdays and all the lasts. You know, the last family vacation, the last date, the last lazy Saturday, the last family dinner,and on and on, all leading up to his deployment. All those military families out there know what I am talking about. I was warned over and over and they were right: the time leading up to the deployment is just as hard if not harder than when they actually go. We had so much time to talk about logistics and the what ifs and the how tos but we also had so much time for the small tears (him) and the sob fests (me). We worked hard to make as many family memories as we could. So the beginning of 2015 was filled with family trips skiing, visiting my brother and sister in law in Hawaii and a two day getaway to Napa for Brenner and I. It was also filled with a lot of real life stuff like packing, planning and work but we tried to make the most of it.
So March 28th hit and he was gone. I had told several people before we left Texas in 2014 that I thought that God was preparing us for some hard things and some trials in California. We had felt like our last years in Waco were so rich in friendship and growth that God was filling us up to prepare us for a desert of sorts. Haha. How right we were. God had been preparing us for all sorts of things and trials that we could not have imagined as well as an actual desert. Brenner was headed to Afghanistan.
The first few weeks that Brenner was gone was awful for the kids and I. But then, we settled in. Life got into a new, slightly different routine. There was less cooking, more coffee, more playing with friends, earlier bedtimes for all, more coffee, less cleaning up, more Facetime, more “just because” outings (like trips to Dutch Bros and going out to eat breakfast in our pajamas) and a little more coffee. Honestly, we settled in really well and just got used to a new routine.
We tried new things, such as me setting up a tent for the first time to camp out in the front yard as requested by a certain five year old, and the kids took on new chores to help me. I tried to spend more one on one time with the kids (which was really hard to find time) and accepted extra help from others.
We also celebrated milestones with fun things like chocolate chip cookie and ice cream picnics and silly string fights.
We had our tough moments, where there were tears and complete meltdowns over daddy gone (Clara literally cried at least once every single day for the whole time he was gone). Cole wrote letters to Brenner almost everyday and on several occasions I found that he had stamped them and put them in the mailbox to go to him. I collected each of their notes and letter and mailed them to Brenner every few weeks.
Oh yeah, and Brenner was also gone during rattlesnake season here and I had the lovely job of finding and killing three of these things in our front yard.
Over the following months life was really good for us (I will get to Brenner in a minute!). I truly cannot tell you the number of people that reached out and supported us. Through texts, calls, letters, packages, food and treats, visits, messages and prayers I was COMPLETELY blown away by the support of our friends, family and community. God really has blessed me with the best people in my life. Also, the military community is no joke. Everyone knows exactly what you are going through and I received so much help and love locally from our base and the amazing people here.
We spent the summer with my family in Virginia which included a girls getaway to Florida, weekend beach trips, a family vacation and lots of time with my parents, my sister’s family, best friends and more. It was SO amazing to be able to spend the summer out East, it broke up the deployment so well and when else am I going to have an excuse to spend two months with my parents? Everyone may not want to do that but we sure did! One of the best summers ever (except I still missed my hubby!!!)
And when we got back we only had three months until Brenner came home. Turned out it was the longest three months of my life. Ha! Not really….but kind of. The days went by as we started school, bible studies (on base at PWOC and BSF), weekly swimming lessons for all, soccer on base for Cole and Awanas. Busy was good. Our days were full but really so were our hearts. We had our moments, trust me, there were lots of moments with emotion and frustration and breaking points that we needed redos and grace and forgiveness for. But really, our kids amaze me all the time at their love to go and do stuff. They are always up for one more adventure, one more stop at a friend’s house, one more activity, one more trip to Target, one more anything. We were a fun fourpack and I was determined to make the most of Brenner’s time away, to make this a time that the kids remembered not as dad being gone but as having extra time with mom.
Ok, now on to Brenner. If you know Brenner at all, you will know that he is annoying good at almost everything he does. Truly, he amazes me at all that he does and he does it well. So, you can imagine that this carried over to his deployment. He was in Afghanistan as I mentioned before which some may have known but others may not since I never mentioned it on social medias until now that he is home. I cannot tell you where or many details, honestly there is SO much that I cannot even know about, but he was able to go to many parts of the country via helicopter and airplane and travel around with different groups of people. While on his base he was the only Air Force chaplain and did most of the preaching. He worked with Air Force, Army and Navy. He had a few opportunities to meet with some Afghan locals, some of which he gave them their first Dr. Peppers (which were really hard to come by). Spreading the Texas love everywhere he goes!! Deployments are really tough times for families and a chaplain is so key in helping people cope and heal and talk. Chaplain roles are different in many ways than their roles on a regular base setting and of course where he was was more intense.
He truly has some amazing stories. Some of them wonderful and happy, some of them hard to hear. Once again, many things that he cannot tell me. He performed several ramp ceremonies for fallen military personnel. But he also led four men to Christ and baptized three of them in the desert. He led several bible studies and started a program that gave aid to the local Afghan military. He did amazing work. And I am not just saying that. He received several accolades and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. To say that I am a proud wife is an understatement.
But more than his experiences overseas and more than my daily life with the kids, we grew while we were apart. We grew closer together as a family and Brenner and I each grew closer to the Lord. One of the things that we prayed for a lot was peace. We both knew that it was going to be hard emotionally on us to be apart, especially me and so we prayed for peace in our hearts at all times. And you know what? God cares about these things. He cares about the hearts of his children and he answered our prayers so faithfully. I had such a peace in my heart and no fear with Brenner gone. Seriously, no fear for us or for him. God is in control of all things in all places and who am I to fear and doubt and worry about his plan? Nope, peace ruled my heart and took a weight off of my shoulders that I could not bear. Brenner was faced with SO many new situations and experiences there that he could not help but be changed by what he experienced. And God is using those experiences to draw him closer. God has just been so faithful to work in our hearts and loves areas that we didn’t know there before we hadn’t walked them yet.
He loved us so well from afar, with letters and encouraging cards and hours upon hours of dizzying facetime conversations with three kids. I sent him a puppet so that he and the kids would have something fun to talk about/to and the monkey (whom they named George) could do silly tricks and voices thanks to a fun dad. He also sent the kids a care package of souviners, including t shirts and Afghan dance outfits for the girls. Mail was always got where it was going back and forth but we never knew how long it would take either way but usually just a couple of weeks. One of my favorite stories was one day in the end of June when I was at the end of a very long, very tiring and emotionally draining day. Clara had a lot of outbursts and Elise is super stubborn and I was feeling the weight of single parenting. My parents brought the mail in and there was a card from Brenner, dated May 10th, that had been lost in the mail but finally arrived, encouraging me, telling me I was a great mom and wife and that he was praying for my strength daily. I burst into happy tears not just because of the incredible love of my husband but that God's timing is never wrong. He knew what day I needed that card to arrive.
And so, 220 days after he left, Brenner came home in November on the night of Cole’s birthday. The kids did not know he was coming until we got in the car to go to the airport. Best. Day. Ever.
That started 5 weeks of travel and family time. Brenner did not have a single day off when we was overseas and he was burnt out. We had the BEST time together traveling through Disneyland, San Diego, Oklahoma and Texas being with friends, family and each other.
And now, here we are into 2016, back to school, back to work, back to swimming and piano and BSF and playdates and all our normal things.
What a crazy year for us. But it was a year that we wouldn't change. I love my man. I love that he leads our family on big adventures (Air Force and deployment) and small adventures (Disneyland and family trips). I love that he wants to make family memories by whether he close or far. I love that he serves us and his country well and that everything he does, he tries to do with excellence and for Christ. We have no idea what the next year for us holds. We do not know how long we will be in California or where we will go next. But we are thankful to be together and do not take that for granted because we know how very short and sweet life is together.
Our family verse for our second year in California was Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and preach the good news to everyone."