A lesson of hope from the past

A few weeks ago, my parents went on a vacation that included a blast from their past.  And by their past, I mean a time way before my brother or I were born.  Back when they were just Danny and Linda and not Mom and Dad.  While my parents have traveled quite a bit since retiring a few years ago, this was the first trip that had an emotional and sentimental impact on me even though I wasn’t with them.

My dad is a lifelong and avid fisherman.  Somewhere in Alabama was a Bass Pro fishing thing he wanted to go to.  (Don’t you love the details I have?)  My mom was on board and they set off.  After a couple of days doing fishing stuff, they decided to drive a couple of hours away to visit the U.S. Army base where my dad was stationed just after they were married and he was drafted.  They headed to Fort Rucker.

I knew that was their plan.  I didn’t mind it and I thought it would be cool.  Then when I got a text from my mom that they were there and looking for where my dad’s old barracks had been, I was surprised by how emotional I felt.  At 34 years old, I have thought of my parents as people before.  I have thought of their journey.  I know that in nearly 45 years of marriage, they’ve been through a lot.  And I mean a LOT.  They’ve been sweethearts since middle school and got married just after my mom graduated high school when my mom was 18 and my dad was 19.  It sounds like a sweet love story and it is, but it’s far from perfect.  Within months of saying “I do,” my dad was drafted into the Army to serve in Vietnam.  Fort Rucker is where he was stationed after his basic training before he shipped out to the jungle.  My mom joined him there.  I’ve heard a few stories of that time, but not too many.  I know they lived in a trailer and were quite broke.

This is where they were returning for the first time.  My sentimental self thought of all the things they’ve been through — some of which I know about and some I don’t, because they are my parents and entitled to their own lives.  My mom and I texted a bit through their experiences.  I thought about how scared they must have been.  My husband and I also got married young when I was 20 and he 22, but they were even younger.  And they were facing war.  It wasn’t a maybe.  It wasn’t a possibility.  It was a 100 percent guarantee.  I thought of how terrified I would have been had I been a new bride about to send her husband off to a forsaken jungle around the world.  When you love someone, you want to hold them close and never let them go, especially not into a war zone which was sending soldiers home in body bags quite regularly.

My mom sent me a photo of where their trailer used to be. I’ve heard tell of their stories and the car payment they struggled to make back then that seems like such a minimal amount now. It was hard times.  A long time ago, I remember my mom sharing that they had government assistance for food as well.

And then I thought of all the years that had passed since then.  I thought of how full circle it seemed for them to be back there.  I wonder what they might say to their younger selves if they could go back in time.  All those fears and worries.  Life would change for them after the war.  The war did change my father, because no one goes to war and comes back unchanged.  But, he came back.  He came back unharmed.  In so many ways God protected him.  In ways that we know about and in ways we don’t.  And they slowly began building their life together.

I wouldn’t ever say my parents have had an easy life.  It’s been full of a variety of struggles that is their story to share and not mine.  But, they made it through.  They prospered and carried on and plugged ahead making a life for themselves and eventually for my older brother and me.  Now they are happily and comfortably retired.  Now they not only have survived adversity, but raised two wonderful kids (if I do say so myself!) and are enjoying as much time as possible with their six grandchildren.

As I told my mom that day, “Life isn’t always easy, but God is always good.”  He is always faithful.  I think of that when I look at my parents’ journey thus far.  And I have hope.  When my parents were traipsing around visiting their old digs, I was in the middle of my house doing my best to take care of my two children.  It was a day where even knowing I was blessed didn’t make it any easier.  I was feeling a bit discouraged and overwhelmed.  I am beyond thankful for my children, but I am also beyond challenged by them sometimes (many times!).  When I thought of my parents’ journey and their successes and their just plain survival, it gave me hope.

Chris and I started in a tiny college apartment, not a trailer.  I never sent my husband to war, but we’ve had our fair share of battles and trials just the same.  And now we have our share of parenting struggles and challenges.  Sometimes I feel like there’s just not enough of me to go around.  I can’t say for sure my mom had that sort of feeling when she was a mother to young children, but I’m guessing she did.  And she survived.  My parents made it through my brother’s and my growing up years.  They made it through.  They lived to tell the tale and would go back through it again in a heartbeat, they say.  Their journey gives me hope that we will survive.  It gives me hope that even on the hard days when I feel overwhelmed and like I’m just not enough that somehow I actually am and somehow I will make it through.  Their journey reminds me that God is ever faithful and ever present even when He seems far away or silent.  Life isn’t always easy, but God is always faithful.

Sometimes a look at the past, even someone else’s past, is just what you need to give you hope and encouragement for the present.

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