This week, in the midst of the coronavirus panic, I would love to share with you a triumphant story; a story of hope lost but found again, a story of sorrow turned to joyful purpose, a story of deep desperation ultimately redeemed with steadfast love.
It seems that throughout history, and especially after September 11th, we, as a people have been overcome with concern and grief over devastating wartime injuries and loss of beloved life. In the last 10 years, the silent injuries of the Afghan and Iraq wars have come to light, particularly PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). These emotionally and physically crushing injuries hit close to home for many of us today, as they do my family.
My story today is about my brave Wounded Warrior son-in-law, Chris. On July 4, 2007, Chris was a sergeant in the US Army doing his third tour of duty in Iraq when he suffered a deep head injury. He was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and TBI, and in February 2013, after years of insufficient and unsuccessful medical treatment, he was medically retired from the Army. Chris loved being a soldier, it was his identity, and he intended the Army to be his life career. But because of his injury, after 13 years of devoted service, he found himself starting over; a civilian for the first time as an adult and with debilitating symptoms of a war injury most knew little about.
As a mom, I will always remember that first terrified phone call from my daughter, Tiffany, the day Chris was injured. And the subsequent calls, updates, prayer requests, tearfully needing advice and a shoulder to cry on in the hard, painful, frustrating days, months, and years following.
After initial treatment, Chris’s injuries were not considered life threatening. And because the lingering effects of a traumatic brain injury were not yet understood, he and Tiffany found it difficult to obtain treatment that relieved his symptoms. There were frustrating days, months, even years of body-dropping headaches, severe pain and depression, vision and comprehension issues, disillusionment, fear and super charged anger. Tiffany spent months researching and writing letters to government officials advocating approval for leading-edge civilian treatments and medical trials in the absence of suitable military care.
During this time, my husband and I lived on Kwajalein, an island in the Marshall Islands, where my husband worked. As the strain on Chris’s emotional health and on their marriage became unbearable, we pulled together as a family the best we could. I journeyed the 14,000-mile round trip home as often as possible. Tiffany dug in and committed to seeing this through, not realizing how many more painful years they would need to endure.
In 2013, after Chris was medically retired, they moved from Ft Bragg, North Carolina to Oxford, Ohio to attend Miami University. Tiffany was accepted into their Farmer School of Business with a minor in social work. It was during this time, advocating for Chris’s care at the Cincinnati VA that she realized the VA’s critical shortage and need for properly trained social workers to coordinate care for these wounded veterans. Through this experience, she also realized that had her wounded Vietnam veteran father, suffering from severe PTSD, been able to get the aftercare he needed, he might still be alive today.
This beautiful-souled girl then changed her major to social work and began studying to become an advocate for our country’s veterans and wounded warriors! Story here.
Years down the road, besides being her husband’s greatest support and advocate, Tiffany has her master’s in social work, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and dedicates her hours and skills to the Dallas VA Hospital facility. She has spent much time working with homeless veterans as well as those in their hospital in-patient substance abuse and outpatient mental health programs. Her goal is to actually write the programs designed to help our country’s veterans live a better quality of life.
As for Chris, the last 7 years have held wild ups and downs, periods of hopeless, deep depression and times that I feared for his and Tiffany’s lives. As a mother, there were a few years I stayed prone at Jesus’ feet in desperate prayer for their safety. But, because of Tiffany’s continued strength of character, hope for her husband and their future, a good prayer support team, and the blessing of a few, caring individuals, they persevered and experienced periodic small steps forward that kept them going.
Their 18 months in Oxford, Ohio were some of their darkest days with Chris struggling greatly, emotionally and physically. However, in 2014, they moved to Texas where Tiffany began her Master’s program and internship at the Dallas VA Hospital. Thanks to a caring, creative counselor, Chris was able to enroll and finally complete classes for his bachelor’s degree and begin a new career. This was short lived, however, as he was unable to sustain the stiff office atmosphere of the job.
You see, Chris was a military police, used to having authority and being out and about – not trapped for hours behind a desk doing paperwork, staring at a computer, or having a boss micro managing him. Coupled with the lasting affects of a deep brain injury, for Chris, extended administrative work was simply not possible. And the struggle began again.
There is so much more wrapped up within this story, the deep desperation, the engulfing soul-grieving anniversary days of lost battle buddies and brothers, the nightmares of reliving unimaginable experiences, the hopelessness of trying to fit back into peaceful society after the war torn world he knew, the hopeless advice from well-meaning but uninformed individuals, the one-after-another medical and professional setbacks. The alcohol abuse trying to stop the pain. And more. Indeed, so much more, in the lives of wounded veterans everywhere.
There are so many sorrow-laced stories of wounded veterans these days. Sorrow-laced because of their painful journeys and inadequate medical care, yes, but also because so little people find the time to truly care and step up to help.
But you can also find many uplifting stories of those who found hope and healing because when they lost all hope, they had someone get in the trenches with them. And stay in the trenches with them as long as need be. No matter how hard it got. No matter how hopeless it seemed. They had a tribe of caring, committed people to pull them through.
And thank you, Jesus, my amazing son-in-law is one of those!
On March 13, 2020, after 7 long years, my daughter describes as, “more pain than I knew we could endure, and moments where I wondered if we/he would survive. But we somehow did. And along the way, he found purpose again; serving a mission we are both so proud to be a part of. Today, Chris officially became a VA Police Officer. It’s been a hell of a ride the past 7 years, but man this moment makes it so worth it.”
Yes, today I witnessed my son-in-law, Chris, after 7 long, pain-filled years, finally step triumphantly up and out of his injury battle and into his new purpose and calling as a VA Police Officer, a job and a mission he is so proud to be a part of!
Chris will join Tiffany at our local VA, ministering to and serving our veterans and heroes who just need someone to care for them. As a Wounded Warrior himself, Chris will serve with compassion and honor, as does Tiffany, whose veteran father died in 2001, still running from the emotional effects of his wartime injuries.
And one other bright spot here, after many tough years of trying unsuccessfully to have a baby, Tiffany and Chris became foster parents and 3 years ago adopted their sweet, beautiful daughter, and the joy of our lives, Maddux-Grace, who had the distinct honor of pinning the new police badge on her Daddy.
What a beautiful story of hurting and healing, trying and failing, and ultimately steadfast love leading to triumph!
Today, thankfully, the medical experts know much more about PTSD and TBI than in years past and can quickly begin an effective treatment program in a wounded veteran. There is still a long way to go, especially when treating the emotional side of these injuries, but with more, experienced, caring individuals like Tiffany and Chris serving our veterans, we will have more stories of hope and healing.
Yes, there is hope. And there is beautiful life amid the sorrow and panic. Let’s all take time to find it and renew our souls to keep going, one positive step, and one positive story after another.
And who knows, maybe you’ll find a new purpose and ministry to step into too!