Lea and I shared a wonderful Christmas day with our grandson and his extended family, were able to do a webcam visit with our granddaughters and their parents in Hawaii, and had a joyous day filled with His bounty of gifts, affection, great food, reverence, and carefree light heartedness. Lea is in reasonably good health, it seems, and our quality of life just keeps getting better little by little. And, yet, there was a part of my thoughts that kept drifting to those who were so dear to us, but too far away to be together.

I had sent an email containing a link to the video I posted of Lea giving our grandson a bath a few days before Christmas to many of these loved ones, as a way to help them see how well Lea has progressed in the last two years, after miraculously surviving a deadly sudden illness. One of the persons I had sent the link to was one of the nurses who tended her during the 180 days she was in Hartford Hospital.

This particular nurse was one of the special ones to us. . . he was the first nurse who took Lea outside after four months in the hospital. It was cold in Hartford. Lea was still on life support. She wasn’t strong enough to sit up in a regular wheelchair. She had already had over two dozen surgical procedures. She was on constant tranquilizer and anti-depressent IV drips. Her vital signs had to be continuously monitored.

This nurse, Chris, and Danielle, a patient care assistant studying to become a nurse, moved Lea into a cardiac chair (at home we call these recliners), attached remote monitoring gear, portable oxygen and medications, and took her outside the hospital for her first breath of fresh air in months. The hospital has a nice garden area with a gazebo that worked perfectly for this little outing, and I snapped this photo on our way to the garden.

Outside HH 2005

Needless to say, Chris’ willingness to take her outside was an additional burden for him during already difficult work days, and our appreciation for this, and many other kindnesses he bestowed upon us, knows no bounds. Chris, by the way, is also in the reserves, and has been called to active duty a number of times. Shortly after this trip outside, he was called to active duty to assist with medical support, as a flight nurse, during hurricane Katrina. When he returned to work at Hartford Hospital, he continued caring for Lea as though nothing special had happened. He even stopped in to check on her after she had been moved out of the Critical Care Unit. He, and fiance Amanda, drove us to the airport to fly home, so we wouldn’t have to take a taxi.

He will always hold a special place in our hearts. And, my thoughts were on him during this Christmas day, because I had gotten an email from him Christmas eve, stating that he was back on active duty; this time in Germany, where his medical team flew into Iraq and Afghanistan to tend injured soldiers being flown back for treatment. I was humbled by his letter, and asked for special prayer for him and his unit at the Christmas eve service at church. I was also a bit ashamed that I get so caught up in my own day to day concerns I forget what others are going through.

Pasted below is Chris’ email letter, received mid-afternoon Christmas eve:

“Merry Christmas to all from cold and foggy Ramstein, Germany. We have had over a week to get settled into our routines and get our lives as normal as you can. Much to my surprise there seems to be a regular flight schedule which allows for a day of recovery, a day of standby alert and then a mission. We fly every 3rd day and get a true day off once every 10 days or so. My crew and I have been to Balad, Iraq twice already and our flight time is quickly adding up. We obviously land in total darkness and try to minimize our ground time which I am all for.

While I haven’t been officially tested for it I think I am extremely allergic to mortars, shrapnel and anything that might have missile like characteristics. The attached picture is three of us from Westover shortly after we entered Iraq on our first mission. It’s hard to see with the lighting but you have to take what you can get.

Chris in Iraq

The other picture is of me cooking up some cookies shortly before we landed back in Ramstein. I think they were pretty tasty but it is hard to mess it up when they are already made for you.

Chris bakes in flight

Our unit uses donations to purchase sweets for us to cook up when we get a chance and after seeing how much of a hit they were it is totally worth it. The days are extremely long and depending on mission location the duty time can easily approach 24 hours long. The crew I am with, especially the enlisted are truly awesome. On our last mission our patient load almost doubled, we had 3 vented patients added at the last minute and had to fly with equipment that I haven’t seen since flight school over 4 years ago. Without missing a beat the aircraft was totally re-configured and within 30 minutes we were ready to accept patients. Not bad considering that for most of them that was only their 2nd or 3rd live mission.

Our holiday today consisted of shopping earlier and dinner at Chili’s. We will try not to over do it. Christmas Eve and Christmas are huge over hear and there is nothing open off base. With another mission tomorrow nobody was up for a late night anyway. Our Christmas will be spent in the festive colors of tan and black, flying for over 16 hours and getting back sometime the following day. In all honesty if I have to be away for the holiday there is nothing more rewarding than flying wounded troops home on Christmas.

I hope that all of you and your families have a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year (just in case I am lazy and don’t write before then.) Remember to keep those in Afghanistan and Iraq in your prayers and world peace is one of my personal favorites when you are making your wish list. Talk to you soon, Chris”

Needless to say, Chris’ letter touched me, and reminded me how self centered we become, even when we think we are reaching out, and consciously seeking His will for our lives. So, I was already sensitized when I went to my email the morning after Christmas and found another email letter from Chris. This one brought reality crashing in, and I felt led to share this with you.

“December 25th, 2007.
Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Our mission was scheduled to leave within 90 minutes and our crew of 7 was sitting in a van waiting anxiously to get the day started and wondering what in the world we could be waiting on. Our mission was to take us to Bagram Afghanistan aboard a KC-135R, a 16 hour day and that is if everything goes according to plan. The earlier we get going the earlier we get back which will be sometime early tomorrow morning if we are lucky.

One distinct disadvantage to using this aircraft is that we need a specialized piece of equipment called a K-Loader in order to lift all of our equipment up so we can load it into the aircraft. With the lifter already 30 minutes late we sat and we waited and waited, and… Then going down the middle of the tarmac was not only one lifter but two! It was finally our turn, however the trucks never stopped, they just kept on going.

This sequence of events brought some curiosity on my part which quickly changed back into our meaningless conversations we
were having all along. I watched the loaders pull up behind a C-17 that had just landed and had parked only a few spaces from where we were. Like clockwork people prepared the aircraft after arrival, chalking the wheels, lowering the ramp, and moving vehicles.

After a few minutes I looked over again and was surprised to notice that everyone around the aircraft had suddenly stopped working. All of those people who moments earlier were hard at a work around the plane had gathered near the rear ramp and now they
were standing at attention, then they saluted. I now knew why we were waiting. Somewhere back home maybe a few hours before this, a family got the news that no family ever wants to receive; their loved one will not be coming home.

After a few more minutes, a slow moving blue truck with a blinking yellow light appeared from behind the C-17 followed by one of the
loaders we had seen earlier. On it was a single flag draped coffin, a hero heading home. As the small convoy drove the length of the tarmac other vehicles it would pass would come to a complete stop and turn off their lights, those who were working on the ground would stop what they were doing and render the time honored salute given to those on their final voyage home.

Waiting was no longer important anymore. Out of respect, the DOD and the Air Force strictly forbid taking pictures of these events and rightfully so. So, this is my experience to share with you.”

I am so ashamed of my selfishness! Oh, dear heavenly Father, forgive me my shallowness and self centeredness. Please give peace and comfort to those who are not as richly blessed as You have chosen to make me. Father, my heart goes out to those who have sick and injured loved ones on their minds, and particularly that family that received the horrible news of the loss of their loved one on Christmas Day. I pray for their comfort, Lord, and that You will hold them in the palm of Your loving hand, as they struggle to overcome their grief at this tragic loss.

Father, I pray, too, for those You have chosen to be our care givers. Bless them, Lord, as they go about tending to the needs of those sick and injured in their care. Tend to their own hearts and minds, that they might receive gratification from what they do to help others. Guide their hands that they might be steady and true. I pray for a circle of protection to be put around Chris and his team as they continue to be put in harm’s way to help those who need medical attention. I pray for all our troops, Father, wherever they might be; that You will always be present in their hearts and minds. Bring them home safely to their families to share a glorious day of celebration.

Continue to bless this Christmas season, Lord, protect it from those who would diminish its importance. Give each of us the moral strength to stand by, and fight for, the right to publicly declare our gratitude for the sacrifice made by Your son, Jesus Christ, that we might have eternal life. It is in the name of Jesus, my saviour, that I humbly lift up this prayer. Amen!