Saturday, January 12, 2008

My Life, continued. . .

I ended my last life post when I went on my first date with TJ. That was in April 1998. I was 19, he was 23. We have been together ever since, but here is the story of how our relationship has evolved over the years.

We began to date seriously, and I moved in with him and his friends in June or July 1998. I know it was sin (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8), but I still didn’t understand how the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) should shape my decisions. Even though I was saved, I wasn’t spiritually growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (Colossians 1:10). TJ and I occasionally went to church together, but our schedules changed and I was going back and forth between swing (3:30-11:30pm) and mid shift (11:30pm-7:30am). Plus, there was a hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico that summer, so TJ was gone every weekend supporting the hurricane relief effort. One weekend while he was away, I got a phone call from one of my commanding sergeants and went TDY to Chile, South America and some other places within the U.S. When TJ got home, I was gone. This was the early days of cell phones so neither of us had one. He came home to a note. I had no idea when I’d be back, and this sort of became our routine, with 1 or the other other being gone. Once we began to miss one church service, it became easier and easier to miss others. I drifted away from the Lord.

In September of 1998, I received orders to deploy for 3-4 months to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in support of Operation Southern Watch, which monitored the No-Fly Zone over Iraq. I left while TJ was TDY, so I didn’t get to say goodbye. That was very difficult for me, but before I left, I purchased 14 cards and mailed him 1 every day for the first 2 weeks I was deployed.

That was my first deployment, and it was fun but scary. I was in an Arab nation and had to adjust to the customs of the nation. I know you’ve seen the gowns women are required to wear, with no skin allowed to be shown, including their faces. The American base was an attachment of an Emirate base, and there were Arabs all around. It was in the middle of the desert, so it was hot and sandy. Even though it was September, the temperature during the day reached between 115-120 degrees. At night, it fell into the 70s. I worked mid-shift, so it wasn’t too hot to be around the aircraft. I would sleep as soon as I got off-shift, and wake with enough time to go to the pool (yes, there were 2 above-ground pools in our Tent-city). Oh, I forgot to mention that everything was in a tent- the dining hall, the recreation center, the weight room. The showers were in trailers, so that wasn’t too bad. I slept in a tent with 5 other women. I didn’t know any of them until I got there. It was great! I met some people from other bases all over the world. I won’t even mention the size of the spiders (appropriately named Camel Spiders) or scorpions, but if you’re curious, Google them. I promise you they exist, and before going to bed, it was IMPERATIVE I do a “bug check” before crawling under the sheets!

Once I returned back to the States, TJ and I became almost inseparable. In February 1999 we moved into our own apartment. We began to consider marriage, but I had not met his family and he had met mine only once. I was still traveling TDY a lot (at this point TJ had switched into another position within the squadron so he was no longer traveling). In late March of that same year, I received orders to go to Kosovo. I was to leave 1 Apr 1999 (April Fool’s Day) for another 3-4 months. The night before, I packed my bags and made my routine telephone calls to my family to say goodbye. I had spoken to everyone except my grandmother (Nana). Every time I called, the line was busy. I kept trying until I thought it was too late. I never got in touch with her, and decided to phone when I woke in the morning. I was in California and my family was in Ohio- a 3-hour time zone difference. I received a phone call in the middle of the night from my mom. My beloved Nana had passed away. I thought my mom was joking when she called. I immediately went to the Squadron to begin the arduous process of getting out of my orders TDY. I wanted to go home to attend the funeral. The Red Cross had to get involved and I almost wasn’t able to go to Ohio, but at the last minute someone else offered to take my place and go to Kosovo. I flew out the next day to Ohio. I miss my Nana very much. She was only 65, too young to die in my opinion, but she was a heavy smoker and suffered from lung cancer as a result. As my pastor always says, we can choose our sin but we can’t choose the consequence.

I was very depressed and homesick. I used these feelings in the most productive way possible, and relied on my experience with Special Olympics (SO) to get my mind off my family. In March 1999, I held the first ever Solano County Special Olympics swim practice. I enlisted the help of TJ and some friends from the Air Force. It was awesome, especially because we literally started a SO swim team from the ground up! I won’t go into the details because I’ve digressed so much already, but I would love to share pictures and stories with anyone who is interested. SO is what got me interested in Special Education. I have such a heart for working with individuals with disabilities, especially those with autism and mental retardation, and I thank the Lord for that!

TJ and I continued living together, but by June of 1999 I was ready to take the next step. Basically, we decided to get married July 4th weekend in Reno, NV. So we did. Nothing fancy, just some close friends were at the ceremony with us. It was memorable to say the least, and we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Reno. Now, I must clarify we DID NOT elope- his family and my mom knew we were getting married. We attended a “Reno version” of “Riverdance”, and it was awesome! I was 20, he was 24. My family said I was too young, but I was at a point in my life where I didn’t really care what they had to say (bad attitude, I know). I was in California and we had been dating for over a year. I knew TJ was “the one” ever since the day I agreed to go out with him, and nothing was going to change my mind.

My memory is foggy because it’s been so long ago, meaning I may mess up some of the details and order things happened, but you’ll get the gist of it. The exact timing isn’t necessarily important; rather, the choices I made and the outcome of those choices are what matter.

Remember I said TJ had switched positions within the squadron? He was no longer working on aircraft, but had switched to the training office. He was responsible for ensuring that everyone within the squadron was current on their training (i.e. weapons, hazardous materials, flightline driving, chemical warfare, and too many others to list). This was a 7:30-3:30 job, and he no longer traveled. He began to take classes to earn a bachelor’s degree in Computer science. At some point in his education, he had to take a class on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. I had befriended 2 males and we became known as the 3 Musketeers because we worked together all the time. One of the guys was a higher rank and had his own airplane (meaning he was the head mechanic) and could choose whom he brought with him when the airplane was scheduled to go TDY. I went with him on my first TDY to Chile, and ever since that trip, he sort of took me under his wing and trained me on all sorts of other requirements. He liked my work ethic and fun personality, and I was very eager to learn as much as I could about the aircraft, so I was open to his critique of my work. Anyway, once TJ began to attend class on Friday night and Saturday mornings, I took advantage of the situation. Now, I want to be very open and forthright: I have never cheated on my husband, but as you will soon read, I was participating in activities that I should not have been.

One night I was home alone because TJ was in class. I got a phone call from one of my friends described above to go out to a place called “The Cabin”. The Cabin was a local, rundown bar and TJ hated it because it was so dingy and attracted the “less desirable” folks in town. Most of the crowd consisted of older men and women, and occasionally a few in their 40s, so my friends and I were definitely the exception. I loved it because no one noticed us and I didn’t have to worry about fitting in. Going to the Cabin became my routine Friday event, and I would come home late, and very drunk. My routine began to affect my relationship with TJ because he didn’t like that I was out drinking with other guys and he didn’t like that I didn’t want to stop. Needless to say, we fought constantly. Eventually I reached a point where I was tired of fighting and being married. I told him I wanted a divorce unless something changed. Now, I totally take responsibility for the way my marriage began, but back then, I sure didn’t. I put the blame on TJ for not making himself “available” on Friday nights (how selfish is that!)

One Saturday, after arguing again, I told him I wanted to start going back to church. He surprised me by agreeing with me, and we began the arduous task of finding a church in our local town. We visited many (that’s a whole story in itself!) and settled on a quaint, little Baptist church called Orchard Avenue Baptist Church. The first Sunday we attended, the pastor introduced himself and asked if we were the couple that had contacted him from the AF Base through email. Confused, we said no. Turns out another couple had contacted him that was new to the area. They attended that same Sunday as we did, so we all went out to lunch with the pastor.

We liked the church, and I was eventually baptized at the church, and then we joined. I attended a Ladies’ Bible Study during the day (I was working midshift again) and we brought friends from the base with us. However, because we didn’t have children, we found it difficult to relate to some of the members. To make a long story short, we were members of the church until we left California, but we did not attend regularly and only attended the morning service when we did attend.

God was patient with us, though. The same couple we met the first Sunday we attended Orchard became very good friends of ours. Their names were Casey and Lisa, and they had a daughter named Brittney. In July of 2000, we moved from our apartment off-base to a brand new duplex on-base. Housing assignments are random, but nothing is random with God! Guess who moved 2 doors down? Yep, Casey and Lisa! They helped keep us honest and involved with church, although we were increasingly becoming more distant.

In February 2001, I completed my enlistment and got out of the AF. I began working for the Regional Office of Marshalls Stores, a subsidiary of TJX, Inc. In May 2002, TJ graduated from Chapman University with a B.S. in Computer Science. In July 2002, TJ found out he was eligible to get out of the AF. Ever since 9/11, stop-loss had gone into effect and he was being forced to reenlist. I was pregnant with Th and definitely wanted to move back East. Everything happened very fast, but again, there are no surprises with God! We traveled to NC for a week in order to secure a place to live and try to find TJ employment. We found a house to rent near Charlotte, but no luck on the job. In August of that same year, we said goodbye to our friends, packed up, and moved to NC while I was 8 months pregnant. We drove 5 days across the U.S. with 2 dogs and 3 cats. We made some stops along the way, and it was definitely an adventure!

I will leave off here for now. God has done some amazing work in my life, especially in the early years of my marriage, and I am forever grateful! I will share "the rest of the story" another time.