Monday, December 31, 2012

The end of 2012...


The end of 2012 is here. 

Wowza.

It has been quite the year. I think I can say to a degree that it has been one of the most difficult years on challenging my character, identity in Christ, commitment as wife,  and confidence in the desire for God to use us and our story for his glory.

I may have not experienced what many of you may have in your life, but I have been the daughter of a drug-addicted father, raised by a single mom, married to a deployed soldier, and currently living life with a husband who has a traumatic brain injury...

There have been hard years.

There have been heart crushing days.

There have been questionable minutes.

This year has an added trial that has caused me to truly call on the Lord for help to love my man like he has created me to love him. 

There have been moments with Cale that I have felt at a complete loss. His anger and low tolerance level have left me scared and in tears more than once. After doing everything in my power to help him talk, walk and eat again, I wasn't prepared for the ways brain injury brought a suitcase full of pain and grief into our marriage above and beyond all that we had already lost and the way our roles had already changed. 

I honestly can look back over this last year and know that daily dying to myself is possible only through Christ and for Christ. I know that because of Christ in me, I am different; I am stronger than I ever knew was possible. I know that next to my husband for the rest of his life is right where I want to be; forever walking hand in hand down whatever road or off-roading God has planned for us. I love him so much and couldn't imagine this life and not being his wife. I know that something bigger than Cale or myself could have ever created is happening. God is using us. Our prayers are being answered. 

Along with the many moments of growth and challenge came with it sweet and fun-filled memories. We've been able to take several trips...

February we went to the Bahama's with Mama and her best friend on the Klove friends and family cruise. When we purchased the tickets it was with little thought and planning...one of those impulsive buys...except it wasn't a new pair of shoes or a new coffee maker. It was for a 7 day cruise! Still wondering what I was thinking when I did that, but I think it is clear to say I wasn't. Either way it was a great trip and we had a blast!



In March we celebrated our anniversary in California. It was such a blessing to return to Palo Alto area and visit friends that we had met there along with the staff from the VA. On the day of our anniversary we went to a Red Wings game...so much fun! I'm really saying "so much fun" with a hint of sarcasm. That day my allergies were acting up so my nose was non-stop drip. It was red and killed the entire day. The Red Wings lost that night and the whole arena full of Shark's fans went crazy. I thought Cale was going to try to fight them all...no joke. If I could have picked him up and threw him over my shoulder and ran out of there at lightening speed I would have. Unfortunately, I'm a small wimp. It was a blast though. Here's the video again that I had made of that day...


Also in March, shortly returning from CA (that's how we seem to do things...) we jetted off to Colorado for the VA adaptive Winter Sports Clinic. Cale sit-skiied, climbed a rock wall, and did sled hockey! It was pretty amazing if I do say so myself. 



In April we mostly rested...I think. No plane rides but we did have to go to Seattle for appointments. Twice. Cale had some extensive testing done at the VA and that would be when they told us they weren't going to support therapy any longer and Cale had reached his plateau. Boo. We know that healing is still happening and great things are in store!


May was the month of weddings! Two of our close friends that we love like crazy decided to marry each other. It made us smile...and probably everyone else that knows them. They asked us both to be in the wedding party which of course we were honored. While standing up front during the ceremony, Cale kept playing with my butt. We were the two closest to all the seats...yeah...memories...


And at the end of the month we drove to the west side of the state for a wedding! While in middle school Cale and I were blessed with an amazing youth pastor. He's kind of one of those guys that makes you giggle and also makes your knees shake because he's very funny and a big ol' goofball but also very blunt and honest. I have one specific memory with him that instantly fills my heart with gratitude and almost every time I think of it tears spring to my eyes. He also remarried us...that sounds funny...he performed our wedding the second time? That one sounds funny too...Hmm...we had a small ceremony and then a big one-he did the big one. Anyways, his daughter Lara is now a Mrs!


In between weddings I flew alone to Oklahoma and spent a weekend with a friend (her blog is http://www.wifeofawoundedsoldier.com) and met a whole bunch of other wonderful women. I had been invited to go and compare material used and ended up loving the weekend. Lots of fun and a good break.


In June we jumped back on a plane and headed back to Colorado where we met up with our good friends and spent a week at another adaptive sports week. We went rafting (any other person would have loved it, but Cale was bored out of his mind!), he did some fly fishing (one word from Cale, boring!), and  horseback riding (at first he was excited and then he said it was-boring!). Brain injury is a crazy thing! It was nice to have a week that was slow pace and we loved seeing our friends.


Our month of excitement didn't stop there! I took off and drove to CA for a family reunion. Cale was supposed to go but bailed on us the morning we were leaving. Uh...so, it was just Mama, my sister, my brother, and me! It ended up being a great trip with tons of laughter and I almost killed us on the highway. True story. I thought I better go ahead and tell you before one of them do. They've promised to hold it over my head for forever.


One of the great things that happened this year was having Cale's brother and his family live in WA again! We've gotten to see them quite a bit but not often enough. In July we went up to visit and Cale and Ty got to go camping for a night while Nikki and I hung out with the boys and had some girl time as well...much needed!



And to end the month, I went to Silverwood Theme Park with my brother, sister and nephew. Cale stayed home with Mama and my brother and I went on rides until we both felt sick...sounds like a great day to me!


To start off August, I along with 8 (10?11? I don't remember!) others went to Quito, Ecuador for 10 days. This was not one of my impulsive buys...this was God calling and directed. The trip was at a perfect time in our life. That's a story for another day...and I'm richly blessed for the opportunity to have gone as crazy as it may have been. I still have not posted pictures because it's all my cameras fault. Blame the electronic. So...those will get done soon. For now here is a photo...


September was the start of what would be a really loooooong trip. Our first stop was a week in San Diego at the VA adaptive Summer Sports clinic. Cale had a week of uh...misery. It wasn't because the clinic was horrible because in fact, the clinic was outstanding. The issue is his brain...always the brain. Even though the week was long and hard, there were also some really good moments. I always treasure those. They help make the bad not seem as bad.


Right after the clinic, we were home for 3 full days and then off we went again...maybe not the smartest idea I've ever had. Cale still loves me.

NY was first on the list! We love our NY family. We've adopted all of them! 
I always leave wishing I would have had more time. A week is not enough...not near enough! I just want to put each of our friends in a bottle and bring them home. Although, a suitcase might be a nicer way to bring them home and well...I don't think they would all be the same if they weren't in NY!


After a week in NY and October had come, we flew straight to NC. The first part of the trip was to visit all of our friends family we had met while Cale was inpatient. Each one of them is a gift. If the accident wouldn't have happened, we would have never met and that would have been sad. Very sad.


The next part was to my brothers house to visit with him and his family. There's a special deep bond that we have with them. My brother was the one there when the accident happened. He was the one that saw Cale dying. He had to sign the papers to either let Cale go or sign for the surgery that was most likely going to kill him. He was the one that wheeled me into Cale's ICU room. He was the one that helped with so many more things in the following days. No way to explain it. We love them.


A crazy ending to the whole trip was instead of leaving my brothers and flying home we had an appointment at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, MD. It was the kind of appointment that ends up with a wrist band with your identity and a uncomfortable bed. Cale was to be inpatient...again.

November and December have come and now are ending...and we're still here. Home should be within just a few weeks. So close we can taste it.

Really great things have happened. It's not all "fixed" because it's brain injury but as we prepare to go home we are confident this next year has some really big and great things in store. We've already made up a list of goals we have after we're home/for the new year.

Cale's first item on the list is- No hospitals.

I agree.

With all the traveling and adventures...this last year we also built our first home!!!!! I still can't believe this one. Mama has sent pictures and videos but we still can't really picture it and it doesn't feel real. Mama has moved in and has been busy busy getting everything set up and just the other day we made our very first mortgage payment. We decided it was exciting now but in 5 years we may not be as excited to make that payment...ha!


God has blessed us beyond measure. With all of the ups and downs this last year, we know His hand has guided us and held us the whole way. We look back with complete thankfulness.

We also look ahead with expectations of much to come!

Thank you for being a part of it...we love you!

Good bye 2012 and Happy New Year! 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012!


Merry Christmas from the Darling's! 

It ended up being a full couple of days which wasn't expected! Every year around Christmas we decorate graham cracker houses. I think I've written about this before. I've been doing it since middle school I believe and every year that Cale and I have been together we do it. 

Just because we're here I didn't want to skip out. While Cale was on pass with me this last weekend (I'm not sure I've written about that yet...) we went shopping for a whole bunch of goodies. Way more than enough for all the patients to join in along with the staff! 

It was a blast! 


We have our dog out front, our garden in the back corner, and the two of us smooching by the door. :o)


This guy watched to make sure we didn't eat too much of the candy before it made it on the houses!


The little village.

Last night I stayed at the hospital with Cale. I had made the decision but didn't say a word about it to anyone because I wanted to surprise him! When I was leaving he said as he always does every night that he wanted me to stay. I went back to the FH and changed into sweats, brushed my teeth and headed back. He was so confused when I showed back up! 

I quickly decided that staying in the little hospital bed together would have been much easier if we were elves! Our bodies are just a tad too large. I remember the nights while inpatient last time trying to sleep with him once all of his tubes were out...not so easily done! Haha! We did fine though. It was pretty wonderful to wake up next to him on Christmas! We were both slightly zoned for most of the day :o)


They had a nice lunch downstairs for everyone. It was basically same setup as Thanksgiving but different menu. We met a couple here that joined us for lunch. It was such a pleasure! The man is a Chaplin here and his wife was so sweet! They didn't get married until they were in their 40's and have now been married for 16 years. They still consider themselves newlyweds and we talked about all the years Cale and I have ahead of us! They were quite entertained with Cale and all of his silliness...


Chocolate fountain again...oh my! Cale's eyes are closed but it was the only shot we had!


...and do you see his newest hat?! It was a gift from one of the patient's wife. He has two one is the frog and the other is a dog. They are adorable and hilarious on him. He loves them so much! 

The man of many hats...literally!

We have eaten way too much. As always. I wish I could say I have control in this area...but I really don't. Food is just so good! Sweets are just too tempting! 

We are thankful and blessed. 

As I walked to the hospital yesterday, I couldn't believe it was Christmas Eve. December seemed to have gone extra quickly but not with the normal this and that's of the holiday season. In fact, it didn't feel like Christmas at all! The last two days ended up being full of Christmas-like things though. 

I was reminded with such a great point by a friend this morning. I listened to her message; it was a reply actually to a message I had left for her talking about how it didn't feel like Christmas. She said, "It is cool that even if you don't have presents or anything like that, you can still celebrate that Jesus was born." There was more said about how we get so wrapped up in all the doings and forget the reason for Christmas and no matter how many times we talk about how we know the true reason, is that really our focus? Or are we so focused on the holiday hub blub? Hub blub was definitely  my word. ;o) 

It was such a duh moment for me. Not because I've never heard it or thought about it that way, but because I so quickly thought about how I didn't get to watch a bunch of Christmas movies with Mama or bake yummy cookies. I didn't get to decorate our home with holiday prettiness or make all the gifts I had planned. I didn't go caroling or eat a plate of Emily's Christmas cookies...all things that I love and that are good but couldn't come with us here. But the real reason Christmas is such a big deal in my life is not because all of these things but because we celebrate the birth of Christ...

That reason just happens to be universal and can go anywhere! AND, it is a big deal!

It was nice to make the candy houses, eat good food, and play games with Christmas music going...

yep, those were good too! 

Cale had a few struggling moments today but for the most part we had a great day and enjoyed our Christmas here at the hospital. 

We hope that you had a Merry Christmas too! Did you get to do all the fun holiday stuff this year? Did you also have to remind yourself what Christmas is all about? Do you have traditions you do every year?




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

they're here! they're here!

During our trip to NY back in September a friend of ours did our pictures. This time it was completely different from every other time we've had them done. This time was capturing a memory as well as a reminder of what we still have.

At age 18 (crazy!) we said vows to each other that we prayed would last a lifetime. We made a commitment before God and the 15 people that joined us. It was a Thursday night, St. Patricks Day to be exact. It wasn't planned to be on the Irish holiday, rather the first free night available! 

The very next day Cale went in to the recruiters office and started the process of another vow; another commitment that would be apart of him for a lifetime. The United States Army.

We had 4 weeks together before I hugged him goodbye and watched the Taxi drive him away along with two other young guys. It began what we thought was to be the worst part of our lives...Basic Training. We knew AIT (the school for his specific job) would be a little easier on us because he would have the ability to use a phone but Basic meant not seeing him or hearing his voice. 

I dropped a letter in the mail every single day. I checked my mailbox every single day for a letter from him. It was the beginning of a marriage that strengthened both of us for many days ahead. 

After all of his training was finished and before heading off to NY; his first duty station, I had planned a larger ceremony to include the big white dress, all of our friends and family, and cake.

That night Cale held me close and said, "The princess and the soldier"
 -----
A couple weeks before we left on our trip to NY I shipped my dress and Cale's ACU's to my friend Hannah and she was sweet enough to get my dress cleaned and ready for pictures. 

The morning of the pictures I felt this rush inside of me. I was still so tired from the travel the night before and running on very little sleep but I was so excited to have these pictures done! I couldn't wait. 

Jessica's sister has a beauty salon in Richland, NY and she is amazing! I've seen some of her work and after talking with Jessica about our pictures, I also asked if her sister could help make me pretty...cus I sure need help! ;o) If you live in Northern NY and are looking for someone to do hair-she's pretty great if you ask me! Her site is on FB https://www.facebook.com/backwoodsbeauty

Cale was so patient the whole time while my hair was curled and make-up was applied. We offered to do his make-up too but he told us no! Ha!

As I helped Cale into his uniform I was so humbled to be the one there helping him. What an honor to still be with this man and to be able to help in in such a raw moment. It may not seem like a big deal, but this was his uniform. Everyday for work for so long he dressed himself covering his body with clothing that was a symbol for a strong soldier. And still after all this time since the injury, he still needs help, but still so proudly wears it. Hmm...does that make sense? 

Funny part to his uniform was because of all the tube feedings in the hospital, Cale now has a belly. He never had one before and these were his exact pair of pants from before the accident. Once we got them all pulled up, they wouldn't button! At all! There's a long row of buttons and we just left them undone and covered it up with the jacket. It was our secret! 

As I slipped on my wedding dress and looked in the mirror all fixed up again, I knew it was going to be a special day. 

We first drove to a place with these beautiful falls. It was a bit of a hike but Cale was a good sport. I don't think he always loves my grand ideas for photo shoots but this time I think he was just as excited as me! Within minutes Jessica was clicking away!

Next we went to a field and she snapped several more before all of a sudden we were done. It had been kind of a whirlwind and even though I didn't have a ton of energy Cale and I had so much fun laughing and kissing! I have to say, he surely took my breath away! SAP! 

It felt like it all went so fast and suddenly we were on our way back to where we were staying but during that time is when I wish that I would have had the power and ability to pause time.

We were driving down 81 talking about the pictures and how great it all was. Cale was trying to read the signs along the highway and the music was playing and every now and then one of us would start singing along with the tune. Every part of it was special and so very sweet but for an instant I couldn't breathe. Tears came so quickly it was like an army prepared for battle. 

Cale's left side is where his surgery was done but with his hair length at times the scar is hardly seen. It's the muscles on the right side of his face that make more known the reminder of his injury. I had turned to look at him sitting on my right side and the view of him took me straight back to pre-accident. 

For just that moment nothing in our life was different. Nothing had changed. It was like so many other times with the two of us headed home to our little Ft. Drum apartment where Cale would enter through the garage door and begin his daily undressing starting in the kitchen leaving a trail to the bedroom. He looked exactly the same as before...

It was a wrapped gift with a bow the Lord had handed right to me. 

So many nights I had laid awake wishing I had just one more moment with Cale before his injury. One more time to be with him whole. 

Although he was not whole and he still had his brain injury, the vision I had was him whole. The very moment etched in my memory. 

It was simply amazing.

Slipping on my dress and seeing my man in his uniform again was a precious reminder that I am still his princess and he is still my soldier. We are much different in this season in our life but the way we are able to still love together and grow that love daily is a blessing; an indescribable blessing.

Jessica is talented in so many ways. I was so impressed with how easy she made everything and not once was it awkward. I told her upfront that we were not the type to quickly think of great poses and not for a second was that an issue. I felt like Cale and I were also able to share moments together that she captured over and over. I think she was able to really pull for our own kind of fairytale...

I loved working with her and am so thankful for how each picture turned out so beautifully! 

To see all of our pictures you can find them on her blog http://www.jovial-photography.com/2012/12/a-real-love-story-couples-photographer.html where you can also find information on booking a session with her. She also has a FB page that you should click on and like it! https://www.facebook.com/jovialphotography?fref=ts

My plan was to write a couple sentences and say here they are but...my talking started with the computer. So...all these words later, I hope you enjoy the pictures and here they are! :o)

Jessica, 
Thank you for gifting us these pictures. They are a treasure and created something inside me that sprouted so much hope. You are amazing and I'm so thankful for the blessing you are to us and for using your talent to capture a part of our journey!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

perfect.

Can I be really honest with you? I haven't wanted to update about our weekend because Friday we listened and watched and soaked our minds with the sadness of the shooting and the very next day was the beginning of a very perfect weekend. In fact, that's the only word that comes to my mind. 
Perfect.

I don't really know how to continue other than to dive right in and bring a little cheer by sharing with you our blessings.

On Friday afternoon I sat with Cale and we typed on his iPad a packing list...for a night at the Fisher House! We were given a night pass! That meant that on Saturday I marched myself over to the hospital and after packing Cale's bag we waltzed right out of the hospital! It was extra special because it wasn't just for a few hours like the Saturday before...this time it was until the next day! 

Our first stop was to the McDonald's on the base right by the hospital. We met our friends Jeffery and Julie for lunch before walking to the metro stop and hitching a ride! 

I actually decided that Cale is just too nice to ride on the metro! He is so sweet and let's everyone go first which meant he almost didn't make it! I grabbed the door to hold it from closing while trying to get Cale on. At that point he was confused and slightly panicked. Julie had come over to help with holding the door open and we finally got Cale on before the metro took off without him! It's always an adventure with us! ;o) 

We traveled right into D.C. in hopes to see all we could see with the help of the on and off bus tour. We had gotten a later start than planned so we didn't have a ton of time, but we made it to the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Eventually we'll make it to the White House and at least a few other monuments. It wasn't as much walking since we used the bus from place to place but it was still a lot for Cale. With all the noise, walking, and people everywhere along with it getting chilly outside pretty quickly, Cale did awesome.

We ended at the metro station for dinner before heading back. There's a really nice place where Cale ordered a steak and I ordered shrimp fajitas...yum! 

I couldn't have asked for Saturday and our time together to go any better. It was, like I said, perfect. It felt not like I was constantly taking care of Cale rather I was spending the day with my husband. My man. Of course he needed help with things and it wasn't much different from our normal day as far as tasks, but there was something very different about it. We've had these kinds of days before and each time I consider it a true gift. 


Half mast for CT.




We saw the Capitol building. It was fun having the tree up and decorated...so festive!





We also saw the Washington Monument. It was fun to smile and now claim we've seen it :o)



Do you see my face?! Something caught my eye...!


This is on top of the double bus in the freezing cold!!! We were crazy to sit up there. Our first ride would have been ok but by this time in the day it was way too cold! Cale said we were Mr. & Mrs. Ice. Haha! Still smiling though!



Loved all the Christmas trees! 


My shrimp fajitas! Yahoo! 


This would be us feeling really cool riding the metro in a big city...this would also be us after 9pm and ready for bed! 


This was our favorite picture from the weekend. It captured a moment that was husband and wife. No brain injury, no caregiver, no hospital, no nurses, no pain from it all...just me& him.

By the time we arrived back at the metro station, said good bye to our friends, and walked to the Fisher House, Cale was exhausted! We were only able to see a couple things but it was still a full day for him. We stayed awake for about an hour more before both of us crashed.

As I closed my eyes Saturday night I couldn't help the smile glued to my face. It had been a perfect day and it didn't stop there. I was falling asleep wrapped in the arms of my man. My man! 

It was a beautiful thing to wake up and see his face and to snuggle up even closer. I've missed it way too much! We had both slept in and he didn't wake up until after 10! Once he was awake neither of us hurried to get on with the day. We just cuddled and talked and laughed. 

Finally about 11:30 we climbed out of bed to start the process of getting ready for the day. When we were both dressed and showered, we went downstairs and made a very tasty breakfast at lunch time. 

On Wednesday we had gone to the grocery store with the OT and RT to pick out everything we needed for the french toast breakfast Cale had picked out. 

We pulled up the recipe and turned on Christmas music and made ourselves a perfectly made meal. It was the best time! Even during the time we made breakfast, Cale didn't just do what I asked and wait for more directions, he actually looked for ways to help. It was us working as a team. We both sang along to the music and laughed at silly little things...it was...perfect. 

There's no way for me to describe the moment like it happened. It was honestly one of the best moments with him. 


Before coming here, he wouldn't have been able to help like he did. It was always us asking him very specific things to do and normally he lost interest and concentration quickly. So, helping to make the whole breakfast was in itself a huge deal. What made it even better was that he ate the french toast! This does not normally happen! He ate it! 

He sometimes will eat french toast at a restaurant but not typically. And as far as at home, we've tried things like this and he just won't eat it. It was so special to enjoy the whole process of the breakfast together. Everything about it was so lovely. 

The rest of the day we hung out in my room. Even that normally would have been miserable for him and I would have needed to entertain him but instead he was so happy and we had such a great time just hanging out. Just being us.

Even when we went back to the hospital we still were together for dinner and then watched a movie after. By the time I had to leave, I was a mess! I couldn't control my tears. I didn't want to end such a perfect weekend. I knew I was going to see him in the morning but the idea of going back to the Fisher House alone was terrible. It was also almost a way of reality coming back. Our life is not this perfectly sweet colored in the lines life like the weekend had been. Somehow allowing it to end was giving up a dream. Cale just held me while I cried and then said good bye. 

On my way back to the Fisher House I called Mama and blubbered about how wonderful everything had been and how lonely my room is and how it felt like he had just been home for R&R and now it was over and he was gone again. Of course...that was the emotional girl inside of me...

It was just as sweet to show up Monday morning to my man. He was all smiles yesterday and the staff commented on how it must have been a real great weekend for him. 

Today was a little more like normal. But even with the frustrations he has we all see changes taking place. It all adds to the flame of hope...thinking of how many more perfect minutes, days, weekends, months, and years there are to come!

I'll take any of them! 

A few more randoms...



On Thursday Cale went solo on the Caren. So far there has been a staff suited up and right there to help but it was all him this time! He did great! He usually holds on to something to help but slowly we're trying to challenge him and take that option away. 




He also worked with his buddy T to put together a jet fighter thing. Normally Cale will not do these things. He isn't able to read and follow directions and he fatigues quickly but he finished the whole thing! T helped each step but still Cale had to find the right piece and even helped put the stickers on!


I think Thursday was just a full day because Mr. Darling also got a haircut! He's got his military cut going on now! And he loves it which is super cute!


This would be our little 2012 Christmas tree!

Our sweet friend Marion sent us this magical experience in the land of peanut butter and chocolate. Does anything more need to be said?!


We worked on a little art activity this morning while Cale wore his newest addition to his hat collection. We have no idea where this hat came from but when we came back on Sunday there was a wrapped gift in his room that read Darling. He loves it!

Our art activity complete! :o) We walked around the unit like this and Cale actually scared one of the nurses! He came up right behind her and made a crazy noise right as she was turning around and saw him! We also discovered that walking with them and not having a way to see is not the smartest idea...

On Saturday before we checked him out on his pass a small group came to sing carols. Cale sang every song right along with them and on the last one they invited him to join them up front to sing with them and he did! It was so great! I think every one in the room had tears in our eyes...



The Darling's have big plans and ideas for the next year! Our first project will start in January and then we'll have one for each month. We'd love for you to join in as often and with as many as you are able or would like. More info to come soon!