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Testicular cancer ribbon

What I will remember from that day

That day is cancer day. The day we found out our middle son had testicular cancer. What I will remember from that day…

It was February 18th. It was towards the end of my day, but my son was on my mind. I knew he was going to the urologist. I was standing in a cemetery, it’s my work. My son at the time was an 18-year-old college freshman, his first semester, one month into a new school. He had transferred to that school after attending a school further away. That decision was instrumental in the story of how God put him where he needed to b

“So, it’s looking like it’s cancer.”

All the things people say, things got blurry, the breath left my body, and a lump was now in my throat. All I could think of was to get to him but that was impossible as he was states away, a 10 drive at best. I walked toward my colleague, Mark. He was talking to someone up the hill from where I was. He was facing my direction and as I got closer, I began to cry, and he excused himself to meet me. There and then I told him Guthrie had cancer. He hugged me, walked me back to the work van, and my other co-worker, Wayne came and sat in the van with me. I will always remember their reassurance. Wayne is a cancer survivor so he had it on good authority it would be okay. But we work in an industry surrounded by bad prognoses. While I waited for things to end, I called my husband. He was out on the floor with management. He told his boss what was going on and she told him to leave right away.

The drive toward home was full of phone calls.

My mom

My best friend, Kathy. I’m pretty sure she was packing a suitcase, ready to hop on a plane.

My father-in-law

My friend Lisa. It’s not the first time she’s taking a distressing call from me.

I drove on home and told my sister and brother-in-law who were living with me at the time. I told my other two boys. My oldest son had told his brother to go to a doctor when he found the lump.

I continued to make phone calls, it to the people I always call when something’s wrong.

Ann, she’s always praying for us.

Mary (I had to call her daughter Grace because Mary rarely answers calls.)

Derek, my pastor. He offered a prayer over the phone.

Scooter

Eleilia, she too prayed for us and was already looking up flights from Alaska.

Angie, she too has answered calls from me that started with me in tears.

Kate, she’s his godmother.

Marisa, who has her own story of loss.

I had a mental list of people I had to call. Once I posted it on Facebook, the evening was full of text messages, FB messages and phone calls. Finally, we had a moment to make a plan.

On my way home that day I had heard the song God, Turn It Around by Jon Reddick. That became a theme for us and a prayer.

There is so much that is a blur but there are key things that I’ll never forget.

I’ll never forget the song or the prayers that went out on his behalf.

I’ll never forget my oldest son telling me, “You’ve been taking care of me my whole life, it’s time to return the favor. I’ll take care of things here at home.” He stepped up in big ways.

Uncle Dan making a 1.5-hour trip one way just to let our dogs out of the house one day when everyone else was busy.

I’ll never forget the gifts of food from many people, the Fisher and Drummond families, Madison, Elisabeth, and finally my work family. We never paid for a meal ourselves while we were in town. The generous check for our hotel stays. It was a sign we were not alone.

The phone calls and messages were constant. Melanie and Lori who both had cancer experience called to offer support. Some of the best advice I got was that I owed no one anything. I was mentally exhausted, and this was music to my ears.

Surgery was required for that Wednesday to remove the testicle but more than the fear I felt, I was elated because that day while I waited in the waiting room, our friends had their baby. It was a reminder that God was still good.

2 years later and we still have some trauma, but my prayer is that with each passing year we will be able to see how far we’ve come. Today he is healthy and for that we are grateful for. And he insists we concentrate on February 23 when he had the cancer removed.

What I will remember from that day is that God did in fact turn it around and he used all of you to make it happen.

 

 

The prayer road has potholes

I just got back from a quick walk with my dogs, the ones that smell like a skunk. We walked down the gravel road near my house. In the past I have referred to this as The Prayer Road because I have walked hundreds of miles on this road while saying my prayers. (https://missykuester.com/walking-the-prayer-road-each-morning/) Today, it struck me how the road has potholes, the prayer road has potholes. That perfectly describes the past month and a half.

I haven’t felt like writing. It’s a combination of being busy, not feeling creative and depression. February isn’t my favorite month, but this past February started a pattern of what felt like an attack. It started with reliving the memories of February 2022, followed by stress with my husband’s job. While it ended up working out for the best, I was left with emotional scars.

This month the streak continued with flooding, water issues, and a bunch of small annoyances that added up. Did I mention my smelly dogs? Yeah, they personally met a skunk. During this time, I decided to reread Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. (https://www.amazon.com/When-Things-Happen-Good-People/) I read this book 30 years ago. The biggest take away was this: “Prayer is not primarily a matter of asking God to change things. If we can come to understand what prayer can and should be; and rid ourselves of some unrealistic expectations, we will be better able to call on prayer, and on God, when we need them most.”

I kept praying for God to change my circumstances; stop the flood water and snow, give my husband a better job, clean my water, keep my cistern from flooding. Instead, God sent people. He showed me that I wasn’t alone in the mud, figuratively and literally. He gave me strength when I didn’t think I had any. He brought me people who could fix things.

Things are starting to look up, even though my dogs still smell, and it snowed again today. And I think The Prayer Road will have potholes for a while. The potholes will be a reminder that though I prayed hard for my circumstances to change, it was me instead that was changed. The Prayer Road has potholes but they remind me there is hope.

It’s better than it was yesterday

We have a saying here at Haulin Kuester Acres; It’s better than it was yesterday. With every change, even the smallest changes we feel like we are heading in the right direction. The father of soil conservation and a renowned soil scientist, Hugh Hammond Bennett is credited with saying, “Take care of the land and the land will take care of you.” We believe this place landed in our laps because it needed us to rescue it. It was neglected, abused, and harmed. We are just trying to make our corner of the world a little better and hopefully, that means this land will in a way take care of us. The Bible tells us that everything belongs to the Lord, even the land. We approach this place as a gift from God and the best way to honor what he has given us is to rehabilitate this place.

The cat shed

A couple of weeks ago, we started the process of tearing down what we have labeled the cat shed. We’ve dissected it to try and determine how, when, and why it was built. The back of the structure had small rooms with cages. The previous owner told us that the owner before her rescued wayward cats and housed them in the building. At one time, she claims there were up to 50 cats in the shed. The main part of the building is solid. The rafters are what look like logs. There is only a gravel floor. In some parts of the building, the floor is elevated with wood pallets. It’s an unsightly mess. See my previous blog post about the wacky outbuildings https://missykuester.com/renovation-update-outbuildings/. It will take a couple more weekends and another dumpster to completely dismantle it. So check back!

A marathon, not a sprint renovation

As I walk around I walk with my head down, looking for bits of junk. I kid you not, you can come across tools that somehow work their way out of the soil. And just to annoy me, are the bits of crunched-up plastic in the driveway and yard. I have no idea what it is or where it comes from but it irritates me. The previous owners shared how they loved living here. Some days it’s hard to see where the love was.

I will admit I watch videos and read blogs about people who have done similar clean-ups. This renovation is one of the worst but it inspires me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-Q5nCK3kZk

We will never run out of projects. But I keep reminding myself, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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Air Force

Dear Air Force: Had it not been

Dear Air Force,

Where to begin? How do I put into words how I feel at the end of a 24-year relationship that brought some of the best experiences but also some of the hardest moments? I can remember feeling excited and exhilarated but I can’t ignore all the times you made me feel scared and alone. Had it not been for the highs and lows, I wouldn’t have learned what I have.

Lamenting and thanksgiving

Honestly, I wrote and rewrote this post a dozen or more times. I just couldn’t find all the words nor the right ones. A couple of versions sounded too angry and I don’t want to bow out now with anger. My friend Ashley is a minister and preached many sermons on lament. See her sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vv7UxeFzbcU  The Bible has a whole book of Lamentations, prayers of anguish calling out in faith. Part of walking in faith is lamenting. Job lamented. Even Jesus wept. I realize now that had it not been for the lamenting, thanksgiving would not have followed. With pain, disappointment, sorrow, chaos comes praises of thanksgiving in the morning. Therefore, I find thanksgiving in the ‘had it not been’ statements.

Had it not been

Had it not been for Chris washing out of pilot training, he never would have crossed trained into Airfield Management. That career change opened up many opportunities for us. We never returned to a previous duty assignment or location which was a good thing.

Had it not been for his year-long remote to South Korea, I never would have discovered just how strong I really am. I met some of my dearest friends during this time. Even though it was a really hard time, I found out what I was made of. A sweet reward of this remote was that we were handed an assignment to Germany!

Had it not been for The War on Terrorism and living in a foreign country, I would not have experienced childbirth with three of my closest friends. This was by far the scariest thing I have ever gone through. It is a barometer by which I measure all the hard things in my life thereafter. I thought I was strong from that year-long remote, but this made me stronger.

Had it not been for all the moves, I wouldn’t have friends around the world. The friends we have collected are by the far the greatest treasure we have gained.

Had it not been for all the deployments, I never would have known who Missy Kuester is when she is alone. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time alone and I like my own company.

Had it not been for Oklahoma, Germany, and Delaware, I would not have my three sons.

Had it not been for all the places we lived, I couldn’t share those experiences with others. I can say definitely that I have lived there and known what it’s like. I’ve lived in other cultures and with people not like me. It makes me a better human. See my previous post about the exciting life my kids have lived, https://missykuester.com/reasons-i-dont-want-you-to-feel-pity-for-my-military-kids/.

Had it not been for assignments to Germany and Belgium and South Korea, we wouldn’t have traveled and seen places some people only dream of. I have sailed the fjords of Norway, stayed in a home given to General Patton near Normandy, and experienced the 70th-anniversary activities. I have stood on battlegrounds, been to Paris, gone in a boat in the canals of Amsterdam, Venice, and Switzerland. I have eaten whale, reindeer, and a lot of weird stuff in Korea. The experiences are too numerous to list here but I treasure them all.

Had it not been living away from our families, I wouldn’t have been able to show them the world and our beautiful country.

Had it not been for the 7 deployments, I would have never experienced the homecomings

Had it not been for all the goodbyes, I never would have had the hellos.

Had it not been for all the heartache and loss, I never would have known how truly blessed I am.

Had it not been for the Lamenting I wouldn’t have Praises of Thanksgiving.

Who holds the future

When I started this blog, my friend Angie asked me what I wanted to write about. She asked if I wanted to write a military blog. My answer was a resounding, “No!” As I explained to her, I want to be something other than a military wife. It has defined me for the past 24 years. It is time to be someone else. I don’t yet know who that will be but I’m looking forward to meeting her. I don’t know exactly what the future holds but I know who holds the future.

It’s been an honor.

It’s been hard.

I believe those two statements best describe our years as a military family and go hand in hand with one another. I’m glad we did it but I’m glad it’s over. I’m tired.

So, to you, Dear Air Force, thank you, for making me who I am. While you didn’t always live up to your end of the bargain, I know I gave you everything I had. 

Thank you Air Force, had it not been for you my life would be profoundly different but in the end I wouldn’t change a thing.

Now, off we go into the Wild Blue Wonder…….

 

 

 

Utah house in winter

When God plans it, you can’t stop it

I’m a praying woman. But I haven’t always prayed expecting my prayers to be answered. I know that makes me an imperfect Christian but it makes me human. Several months ago when Magnum and I started talking about our plan when he retires from the Air Force in July 2021 I began to pray. I began to pray to settle on a certain town, area, or state. Then, I prayed for opportunities and doors to be opened. In addition, I prayed for jobs and housing. I prayed for God’s will but I failed to specify a time. They say timing is everything but God’s timing is not predictable. Opportunity knocks when you are doing something else. But I know this, with His timing comes his provisions. When God plans it, you can’t stop it.

If I could buy this place I would

Spring Break of 2019, Magnum was deployed. I decided to drive with Kid #2 and #3 to see Kid #1 in Logan, Utah. T is a student at Utah State. It’s our favorite place to visit and where his brothers wanted to go for the week. I rented a house, saw lots of friends in the area, got a surprise visit from one of my best friends, and cried when I had to leave to return to Washington. I felt a strong sense of home.

Fast forward, Magnum returned home in October and we decided we would go back to Utah for Thanksgiving. It’s been our tradition. Instead of staying at a hotel, it’s more economical to stay in an Air B&B. I selected a place in the country. It was advertised as a quaint farm. It would allow all of us to have a room so it was perfect and cheaper than a hotel.

While staying at the house, it snowed 8 inches overnight. We were surprised to wake up to no electricity and find out we were snowed in. But it was like being in a winter wonderland. If I didn’t need to get out to go to dinner with family, I could have stayed snuggled up in the house. I posted a picture on Facebook and jokingly said, “If I could buy this place I would.”

If God brings you to it, He’ll get you through it

Fast forward again to July 2020. We had big summer plans but then Covid-19 happened. So, we salvaged what we could and decided to go camping in Utah, the Cache Valley. On the way, we stopped at our friends, the Hughes near Council, Idaho. They have a beautiful place. Sitting on their porch watching the sunset made me ache for a place of my own.

We made our way to the Logan, Utah area and set up our camper in a campground. I then received an email from Kurt, the owner of the farm we stayed at the previous Thanksgiving. In March, I had told him that if he ever considered selling we would be interested. At the time, he had someone interested but their financing fell through. The very day we arrived, he offered it to us.

I immediately said yes and arranged to meet up with his wife. We had to pass her approval process first. In the meantime, we continued to look at other places just in case. After we met her and she approved, the process went rather quickly. We made an offer, they countered and at the end of the day, we agreed on a price.

We returned to Washington and finished the process with the assistance of our realtor, Johnnie. All along the way, things just worked out. We had some hiccups but I kept remembering the phrase, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”

Utah House first day
This is us in front of our house on the day we closed. ©missykuester.com

Immeasurably more

Many people talk about the struggle to decide where they will retire after a long military career. When I prayed that prayer, I forgot how our God can respond; immeasurably more than we can imagine. I love Priscilla Shirer, author, preacher, and speaker. She talks about praying big prayers. We sell God short when we don’t pray bigger.

That’s why I am so content. I was along. For the next several months, we will divide our time between Washington and Utah. It is scary to think we will need to maintain two households. But I am certain that God will provide, He always does. 10 years previous to this, we owned a house in Delaware. Times were tough but we were certain we wanted to sell our house when we relocated to Texas. The house did not sell by the time we left and sat empty for nearly a year. All that time, we lived on less and paid a mortgage and a rental. God provided and He’ll do it again.

A change of address but an unchanged God

It is a season of big changes. We are taking them in stride. There are still a lot of unknowns but we are certain we are where we are supposed to be. We have a change of address but an unchanged God. God’s plans are unmistakable and they work out, you can’t stop them. Man, I’m so glad I rented this place for Thanksgiving. It gave us a chance to try it on for size. I’m also grateful that we live 13 hours away; we never could have done this living across the country. We have a lot of work ahead of us and big plans but God is in it. We’ll pass along our address with due time. Watch for updates on here, Facebook, and Instagram.

We are contemplating names for the ranch/farm, so stay tuned. Please leave a comment with name ideas.

https://www.explorelogan.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cache_Valley

Although our address is Amalga, we are closer to Smithfield. Our address is interchangeable.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalga,_Utah

https://www.bestplaces.net/city/utah/smithfield

 

 

Second house in Texas

Military housing: Challenge accepted

On October 9, 2009, at 3:00 p.m., a knock on my door surprised me. I assumed it was one of the neighborhood kids asking to play with one of my boys at the park. As it was a Friday, I was ready to sit at the park with the other parents and have an adult beverage in one of those kid’s cups from Chili’s. I was months into a deployment so I had earned it. Much to my surprise, it was one of the military housing managers, Kathy. Beside her stood someone vaguely familiar. Also, with a deployed husband, I automatically feared the worst. Sensing my unease, they jumped straight to the point.

“Mrs. Kuester, we need to renovate your kitchen and you have until the end of the month to vacate your house.”

The first thing into my brain and out of my mouth was, “Over my dead body!”

The man, Jason spoke again, “I don’t think you understand. You don’t have a choice.”

And that’s when the challenge was accepted.

Finding out what I was made of

Anyone that knows me knows that if you back me into a corner, ask me my opinion or challenge me, I will fight back. Poor Jason had no idea that I was not passive. He and I were both about to find out what I was made of. (Find out more about me: https://missykuester.com/have-you-heard-about-missy-kuester/)

Let me back up.

Our family arrived at Randolph AFB near San Antonio, Texas in July 2008. We owned a home in Delaware that had not sold. Therefore, we felt it more economical to live on base. The day before arriving, Randolph military housing called to tell us a house was available. On our check-in, the housing office explained that the kitchen would be renovated in the next year and may require us to move out. We agreed because we were desperate. We moved into the house on August 22. A private contractor, Pinnacle Hunt had taken over months before so things were in a stage of transition.

We pretty much lived in bliss at 5 Northeast Road. With family in the Dallas area, new and old friends, and great neighbors, we were content. We loved the 1920’s character and charm of the on-base housing. Even though it had an outdated kitchen, I was thrilled to have a base house.

A bit of history on Randolph AFB Housing: https://www.433aw.afrc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1547475/history-comforts-of-home-coexist-at-jbsa-randolph-housing/

Early in 2009, we found out Magnum would be deploying. In preparation for his deployment, we informed Pinnacle he would leave in May. The house across the street (6 Northeast Road) became vacant a few weeks before.  We requested that we be allowed to move into it. “Perfect,” they said. So, with the help of neighbors and my family, we relocated to the house across the street.

May came and went, Magnum left, our lives resumed until that knock on the door.

The fight was on

By this point in my military spouse career, I had endured many deployments, gave birth to a baby in a foreign country with Magnum deployed, and moved…a lot. I felt confident in my abilities to keep things afloat. So, as soon as they told me I needed to vacate to renovate a kitchen that had already been updated but now needed to be updated again (lookup government fraud, waste, and abuse) I was upset. My first call was to Chris’s commander.  He was an imposing man, probably about 6’4″. He also happened to be a really good guy. We agreed to meet at the housing office. Upon our arrival, he did the talking. He asked to speak to Kathy, the manager. We went through the whole song and dance about ‘Did we have an appointment?’ and ‘Was she expecting us?’ No, and No but we were not leaving.

The great thing about the colonel besides his physical stature, his cool demeanor, his smart brain, and the eagles on his lapels was his notebook. Something so simple conveyed that he was serious. The air shifted when he withdrew that notepad from his pocket.

Throughout the process I quietly observed. The manager, Kathy answered the colonel’s questions and filled in blanks. He scribbled their answers in his notebook. Then he turned to me and asked one simple question, “Missy, is that how it happened?” I said a simple ‘no’. And the fight was on! The colonel gave the manager homework and we dispersed with a plan.

The military spouses’ guide to a fight, 10 things that may help you

There are a lot of details I am leaving out but I need to get to the point of this post. Sadly, this type of behavior is still ongoing. I want to share things that worked and what I learned throughout this process so it may help other military spouses.

  1. You should always start with the chain of command, even if you don’t have faith in them. Give them an opportunity to do what is right. Proceed from there.
  2. You find out who your friends are.  I heard from many people that my name was often mentioned during morning meetings on base. Well-meaning people offered their sympathy but no real help. The wing commander called near the end of this ordeal with no real help but empty words. One person stood out. We were friends before this event and he and his wife supplied me with pitchers of sangria during the deployment. In another world, before housing privatization, he had more say in the matter. He did try to speak up and he was told it was no longer his lane. One day, I received word that a Congressional complaint was filed on my behalf. I could only guess it was him.
  3. It’s important to get the word off base.  This was a valuable lesson taught to me by my friend Angie. She guided me through the ordeal. She sent messages to all the contacts she had in town; reporters, news outlets, bloggers, politicians, etc. When the wing commander said to me, “I’m getting phone calls from outside of base about your situation and we don’t like that to happen,” I knew I had peoples’ attention. Get the word out! I equate it to an abuser threatening you to not tell anyone. Tell someone!
  4. Document EVERYTHING!  I learned this early on with the colonel’s notebook. Write down everything. Record conversations, keep emails, and remember, that tablet may be your best weapon. People will lie, say they don’t recall or change their story. You need a record to protect yourself.
  5. Find your Allies.  Yes, you will find out who your friends but you need allies. I found people within the military housing office that did not agree with what was going on. Our maintenance guys were with housing before privatization. They were familiar with these older homes. Even before this saga, I appreciated them. During our future renovation phase when I was living in another house temporarily, they met me at the house to let me get personal items. Don’t look down on the people who have the actual keys to your home.
  6. Don’t ask, tell people what you need and want.  This was another valuable piece of advice from Angie. I stopped being sheepish and instead stated what I needed and wanted. At some point, they realized I wasn’t going to back down and therefore started meeting my demands. I wasn’t mean spirited but stood firm in what I needed. My kids were already without their dad, now they were being forced from their home.
  7. Find resources and help outside of the military spectrum.  Tap into resources outside the gate. I reached out to the VFW and The American Legion. Both of those organizations reached out to Public Affairs and put pressure on them. I sent emails and made phone calls almost daily to obtain advice and find out my rights. Educate yourself. One of the best ways to bring about change or bring awareness to a situation is to contact your Congressman’s office.
  8. It’s not always about you.  This has two meanings. Sometimes, the military housing office, management, and contractors are just doing what they are told. While it’s hard to not take it personally, it isn’t a direct attack on you even though that’s how it feels. Also, remember when you are fighting, keep in mind all those families that will come after you. As I told management many times, “What are you doing to the first term Airman (Solider, Marine), who is 19, new to the military, has a wife and a baby?” Always work so that you relieve some of the hardship for others.
  9. Shoot for the moon and hope to land on the stars.  After I learned to tell people what I needed, I shot for the moon. Initially, they wanted me to move entirely to a new house and never return. I asked the housing manager if she ever moved 3 times in one year. She then understood what they were asking of us. When they said I needed to move for 4 months, I told them to find me a place on base. They suggested a TLF room, but it was not comparable to our house and wouldn’t allow my dog. I also requested a furnished house on base and I got it.
  10. Use the power wisely.  After a while, I realized my power in this situation. The goal was to use it in a way that got us to our desired endpoint, a house with a new kitchen. It had to be done and the housing office wasn’t going away. The contractor slated our house to be the last one to be remodeled to allow time for Chris to return from his deployment. When workers failed to show up one day to work on my house, I called Hunt Headquarters. I informed them it was costing them more money every day I was displaced. From that day on, workers never failed to show up to work and eventually finished ahead of schedule. I think they were just tired of me. What I never did was become mean, resorted to name-calling, or became overly demanding. Keeping a level head and ultimately working together made the process go faster.

At the end of the day

At the end of the day, it all worked out for our family. I can’t say the above will work in every case for every person. Each situation is different. Our situation was a matter of inconvenience, not safety. If my experience can help even one person or give them the courage to speak up, then we win. Military families are resilient. But we also endure things that many people don’t. Our homes are our refuge. It’s the one place where we have a little bit of control in a lifestyle that requires us to be flexible, resilient, and brave. In the end, no matter the outcome, all that matters is that you are safe, healthy, and together.

And the next time someone tells you that you don’t have a choice, remember you do have power in the situation. I wonder what Jason is up to these days.

I wrote this post sharing my experience after becoming involved with MHAN, a great resource for military families living in military housing with private, managing contractors. http://militaryhousingadvocacynetwork.org/