25 Oct 2012

All The Money In The World

Most of the time, you don’t expect to be inspired or completely awestruck on any given day. You get up every morning, brush your teeth, put your clothes on, and walk out the door for another vanilla day at work. Being here in Killeen, close to Fort Hood, has given me a chance to meet the strongest and bravest individuals I know I’ll ever meet in life. When my husband began his career as a firefighter, I would stay up the nights he was on shift and pray for him to come back home safely. Nearly ten years later; I’m still doing it, but with my daughter now. “Please take care of daddy. Watch over him and bring him home safely to us in the morning. Amen.”

Until I moved here to Killeen and started to really see what life was like for these families, I didn’t realize how lucky I have it. My husband works twenty four hours then he’s off for forty eight hours. To me and my daughter, that twenty four hour stretch is excruciating and we just want daddy home with us. These military families go without their mommies and daddies for twelve to eighteen months at a time! Some daddies miss the birth of their sons and daughters, some mommies and daddies miss the first steps, the first words, the first day of school or just being able to watch them grow and to hug them everyday.

The military moms and dads are across the world, fighting for our freedom and are occasionally getting to speak to their loved ones on the phone or web. No one can know what’s it’s like for our soldiers over there. We know they come back changed. No one can know what it’s like for the families who are here without their loved ones. Not knowing if they’re safe tonight or any night.

Some of the strongest women I’ve ever known have been military wives who somehow take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, be everywhere that all the kids have to be and somehow retain their sanity and give all of their love to their children and to their significant other across the phone or Internet and still find time to support other families and friends in need.

I met one of these strong military wives one day as I was selling homes for a local builder. Two women walked into the model home; one was obviously the mother and the other the daughter. They looked so much alike. The daughter came in and did not raise her head but looked at the floor. She looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties. The mother was definitely the leader and began a conversation with me. She told me that her daughter and she would like to find two homes. One for her and her husband and one for their daughter. They wanted to live next to each other. They had a very close family.

I realized after about thirty minutes that the daughter had still not said a word and she couldn’t even look at me. The mother was friendly and told me a lot about what they were looking for but I could tell there was something else they were holding back.

So I took them to look at a few homes, the mother said she liked two but never asked the daughter what she liked. They exchanged a couple of painful glances but that was about it. I tried to start conversations with the daughter, to break the silence and awkwardness but the mother would interrupt and start on a different topic. I knew that we had the right homes for them, in the right location and the right price. The mother gave me their contact information and left with me telling them that I would call them tomorrow.

I sat in my office and just thought about that entire two and half hours of interaction. Not a single word from the daughter. Maybe she had emotional problems or physical problems. I didn’t want to guess but I knew that I needed another piece of the puzzle. So after they left, I began to write them a thank you note and the thank you turned into a longer note about how much I enjoyed helping them and how I wanted to make sure they found something perfect for their family because I could tell their daughter meant the world to them.

Two days later, the mother and daughter showed up again in my model, with a baking tin full of brownies. The daughter was still staring at the floor but I saw that she had the letter I had written them in her hand. The mother handed me the brownies and said, “We’ve been a lot of places to look at homes. This will be a special deal and we feel like we can trust you. No one else cared to spend the time or to write us a letter. We’d like to show our appreciation with these brownies and we’d also like to build our homes with you.”

She started to tear up a little and handed me the brownies. I thanked her and we all sat down in my office and ate brownies and drank coffee. The mother suddenly said, “I don’t know when my daughter will want to speak up. She’s been through a terrible experience that we won’t get into right now. But I can tell you what she would like in her new home until she feels up to talking.”

I still had no idea what was going on, but I knew this sweet girl had gone through some sort of trauma. She still had not looked me in the eye or even mumbled a word. At the moment, she sat eating her brownie and while her mom talked, she paused and stared ahead of her.

Suddenly the daughter put her brownie down, without looking up and without moving she said, “Thank you for not asking me to talk. Thank you for not asking what was wrong with me or why I’m so quiet. Thank you for your letter.”

Then she looked me right in the eyes with tears rolling down her cheeks and said, “My husband was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder in Iraq and he killed himself. He was my soul mate. He was my life. I wasn’t there for him when he needed me. I couldn’t help him when he needed help. I was here; safe. He was there; sad and suffering. I don’t have a husband. I won’t ever get to have his children.”

At this, she stopped and lost control. The mother put her arm around her daughter as if to say, “That’s enough.” But the daughter wanted…needed to go on.

With anger this time she said, “The only reason I can buy this house is because my husband killed himself! I have to use the money I got from his death! I would give back every penny and everything I have to have him back today!” She screamed. “This house will always remind me that he will not be here to share it with me.” And with those final words, she broke down and cried a long overdue cry that sounded like relief and at the same time absolute despair.

We all sat together and cried and prayed. I helped build two houses for these unbelievably strong women. There were happy days and there were sad days. But family sticks together and it’s love knows no bounds. That was several years ago and they still live next to each other in the same homes I sold them. Only now, the daughter has found a husband and there’s a beautiful baby who lights up their home. It’s not the family that she had originally planned; but it’s a wonderful sight for me to see her running in her front yard, chasing her little toddler. Happy and full of love again.

If you ever need a moment to put things in perspective when you wake up every morning thinking about how bad your day is…be thankful for your family, for undying love, for a God who takes care of us even in the bleakest and darkest of days and for the fact that you are alive. Wherever you are, when you see a soldier, thank them; buy their lunch or just shake their hand. They deserve happiness and respect. The reason we can get up in the morning, go to work, be free and be happy and safe is because they are protecting us. There are thousands of families who would gladly give everything they have to get their loved ones back who have given their lives for our freedom. Thank you soldiers and military. Army strong.