2011. It was a whole new set of numbers for Mike and Sgt. Teri Waggoner and family. And it meant continued change. At this stage, five months were down and seven were left in Teri's deployment to Afghanistan. In some respects time had flown by. And in others, it seemed like she'd been gone for a long, long time.
Not only were Teri's little girls growing up right before her "Skype" eyes, she was seeing changes in Mike too. "More than anything, I've learned to be humble", Mike mentioned. Much of that "humble pie" feeling has been acquired by the lessons he's learned about asking for or accepting help. And others have been realized in the experience of being the lone parent in the house. He feels he can truly appreciate what a single parent has to deal with. In addition, he also has a different spin on accountability. A comment like, "how you doing?", has a different connotation entirely. When Mike offers that question, he's asking in a compassionate manner and not in a passing thought kind of way. Having that taught to you through experience can be a great tool in itself.
It was about this time in Teri's deployment that I met Mike, Melissa, Tiffany and Morgan for the first time. Mike had called into the WHO Radio show we produced on deployed families last December 10th. His story fascinated me. He told the listening audience of the experiences his family was going through. And more importantly, how he was taking care of the responsibility of three daughters. I tried to put myself in his shoes since I have three sons but I still couldn't equate much to his situation. I knew though, I needed to connect with him. Early the next week, I drove over to his place of work with the Johnston Community School district and left my name and phone number. Within the hour Mike returned my message and we set forth on a discussion that continued my inquisitiveness. "How about we do a story about you and the family", I asked. And with a little giggle in his speech, he said, "sure". It was mid-January before I made the short jaunt to Ankeny to meet the Waggoners. Here's what I saw.....
Remember the television show, "My Three Sons"? It was that great 1960's and early 70's show starring Fred MacMurrary. The theme of the show centered on the life of a widowed single parent, Steve Douglas, and the trials and tribulations of life's experiences with sons, Mike, Robbie and Chip. Now picture three daughters in place of the boys.....oh, and no Uncle Charlie, sorry Charlie. It had that kind of feeling. Much because of the little ladies themselves.
Question #1 for the three went something like this. "So what have you learned by Mom being deployed and Dad being home?", I asked. The general response was learning to take responsibility of themselves and to trust each other. But it was 9-year old Morgan's comment that cemented my night. "We need to do what were supposed to do and listen to Mom and Dad", she stated firmly. Out of the mouth of babes, I thought.
The remainder of our time together I got a great feel for how each was coping and how teamwork was such an important part of their day. I saw many of the Christmas items they'd received. I met the cuddly little white bear that Morgan got in Storm Lake when her Mom deployed and I felt the love they had for each other. "Dad has given up alot of things", Melissa said when thinking of how hard this process has been for her father. "We try to give him 1-2 nights a week, when it's his time". How grown up is that?
Towards the end of the evening I asked about their faith and church, curious of how that has played a part in their lives. Each of the girls get "Mommy hugs" from the women at First Federated Church in Des Moines. That has been a blessing. Tiffany was instrumental in her Sunday School group sending Christmas items to the troops. Melissa shared that she knows God is in control because He pushes away sadness. Let's see, they get something, they give something and they are putting God's word to work. I walked away that night thinking they had all the bases covered.
Mike feels he's learned to be a better Dad and a stronger man of faith as a result of Teri's deployment. Yet he's faced some tests as has his wife. "My faith has been tested alot. I have realized that I need to include God in all my plans and ask Him to help me each day. It's hard not being with my family and not being able to know what they are doing each day but also knowing that God is there to guide them is a blessing. My faith has grown in trusting that He will watch over them each and everyday", she prefaced.
|Sgt. Teri Waggoner at work in Afghanistan counting the days.....|
The question now is, when will Sgt.Teri Waggoner get leave so she can see this transformed group firsthand? Initial reports had a June date but that's changed. That's all I'm at liberty to say. For months Iowa Guardsman have been making their way home for 15 days of reconnection. I'm sure it hasn't been easy for Teri seeing fellow soldiers begin their journey home. In July those thoughts were a small blimp on the noggin but she is beginning to put together images in her mind on the arrival home with these thoughts. "I have been imagining that since I left!!!! I can't wait until I can hold them and see their beautiful faces again. I know I won't be able to get on my knees in front of them because they've grown so much! But to actually touch them and stand next to them will be such an awesome feeling. It brings me joy inside!!!
The day of celebration could be near. Without divulging when Teri will arrive, what I can say, is that for three young ladies....when they least expect it, expect it. It will be a day for shock and awe....and maybe some "ah" as well. Enjoy.
"As for God, His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him."- 2 Samuel 22:31