Two Words That Changed My Life

our “happily ever after” did not match reality. Our marriage was often tense, unsatisfying, and distant  and we did not understand why. We had to look to the past to find the reason for the pain in our present.

In college I joined Chi Alpha, a faith-based student group. When I started dating  a young man of a different belief, he enjoyed coming to the gatherings with me and my friends liked him. . We were fond of each other, but his feelings grew stronger and more serious than mine.

I felt it only fair to end the relationship. We parted amicably but he left our group; it was awkward for both of us. Although I felt the breakup was necessary, I grieved for the loss of our friendship.

One evening several of us were talking when a new member of our group joined us. We knew little about him other than he had recently left the Army and started attending our college.

He looked at me and said, “Where is John tonight?” (not his real name) No one spoke as everyone looked from me to him and back to me. Apparently he was the only one who didn’t know we had broken up.

Finally, one of the girls softly explained, “They aren’t dating anymore.”

Everyone remained silent, I suppose assuming I was upset at the reminder. I wasn’t upset but I realized everyone else was uncomfortable. I didn’t want our new friend to feel bad about the mistake, so I tried to make light of it. I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head.

“That’s right,” I said smiling.  “I’m available.”

With that, everyone, including me, laughed. Thinking back now, I puzzle why I said that. It was out of character for me, a confirmed introvert, and besides, I did not need or want another romantic relationship with anyone. I was planning to attend medical school, and romance did not fit into that plan.

However, the young man took me seriously, calling me a few days later to ask for a date. And despite my reluctance to become involved, I said yes.

“What harm could it do?” I thought. “Why sit in the dorm alone on Friday night?”

That night I learned about Raymond’s past. He separated from the Army after serving for three years. He had already earned a bachelor’s degree and was attending graduate school with his veteran’s benefits. I casually asked if he had been stationed overseas. He said yes- he had served in Germany and in Vietnam. I did not realize those words also would change my life.

soldiers at a remote military base
various scenes from the firebase where Raymond was stationed in VietNam; I understood nothing about what happened there.

This was 1972 and  the American war in Vietnam was raging. The United States government needed soldiers to carry out the engagement, and was drafting them, which which they and their families  dreaded. The war was unpopular and divided our country. We watched the course of the conflict nightly on television news (no Internet  or social media then).

Raymond was the first person I knew personally who had served in Vietnam. Service members and veterans of that war were portrayed in the media as fighting an unnecessary, unjustified war at best and as baby killers at worst.

Today military service members and veterans are honored and considered heroes . Today’s veterans feel proud of what they do; not so for those who served in Vietnam.

library interior
The reading room of the library looks the same as it did 40 years ago.

Over dates at  football games, church, social events and study times our feelings for each other grew. from friendship to love. He asked me to marry him a few weeks later, but I wouldn’t commit so soon. We married about 2 years later, as he completed his master’s degree.

Soon after our wedding I started medical school, graduated and started practicing.  He pursued a career in the Information Technology industry. We raised two sons, traveled, attended church.

But our “happily ever after” did not match reality. Our marriage was often tense, unsatisfying, and distant  and we did not understand why. We did not communicate well. He felt I was demanding and controlling. I felt he was insensitive and selfish. We had to look to the past to find the reason for the pain in our present.

family skiing on mountain
one of many family ski trips

Military medicine now recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a common result of service in combat; 40 years ago it was unrecognized and untreated. There were no support groups, counselling or rehabilitative services available.

My husband said little about his military service, so for years we both suffered the effects of unrecognized PTSD. By the mid-1980s veterans’ groups pushed to recognize the service of Vietnam veterans and encouraged discussion about the psychic trauma many of them dealt with; and with that came opportunities for treatment and healing.

army veteran standing next to a floral bouquet at a memorial
We always visit the traveling Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall when it comes to our area.

Through counselling and a support group my husband faced the past and gained a will to move forward. After reading a book , A Missing Peace, written by another Vietnam veteran, he considered taking a trip back to Vietnam and after much thought and prayer, signed up, although we were both apprehensive.

He chose to travel with Vets with a Mission , VWAM,  a faith based non-profit organization whose mission is “reconciliation” between former enemies in the Vietnam war, and also within the veterans’ themselves.

By touring the country and meeting Vietnamese people in peacetime, Raymond began moving past the painful memories and creating a new history. He found a country still suffering from the after effects of many years of war, and found a new purpose for his life- to help the very country that had caused us so much pain.

man with Vietnamese boys laughing
Raymond making friends and having fun with some Vietnamese boys

That trip led to another, and another, and another- thirteen trips  serving on volunteer teams to Vietnam with VWAM.  He served by teaching the computer technology he spent years honing and mentored Vietnamese professionals as they developed skills like his.

I accompanied him on many of these trips, serving as physician on medical teams, treating poor Vietnamese citizens in free clinics. We made friends with other veterans and their families, and with Vietnamese people, who often respected American Vietnam veterans more than Americans do.

Raymond found “reconciliation”  for himself and we experienced it in our marriage.  It was a process and still is.


All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

2 Corinthians 5:18, VWAM motto
man next to concrete bunker
visiting an old war bunker on China Beach

As  a pre-teen I read a book about an American doctor who treated poor people in a foreign country. I developed an interest in  health care through that and other books, and decided to become a doctor. I dreamed of someday traveling overseas and treating people like he and other doctors did.

I didn’t remember anything  about him except his name. I did an Internet search and found his story- Dr. Tom Dooley. Now deceased, he served  a physician in the United States Navy and in the 1950s was assigned to direct the care of refugees- in Vietnam. (After his military service, he founded a humanitarian organization and tragically died young of melanoma.)

When I watched  the war in Vietnam on TV news,  I didn’t realize the doctor I had read about had worked there. I never imagined that I would ever go there. And I never imagined that war would indirectly help me meet my husband, and create a family that brings me joy every day.

When I said, “I’m available” I had no idea how true that would be.

man and lady dressed in dance costumes
And I never expected us to do a ballroom dance routine for an audience

 

 

 

 

Battle for TraBong Vietnam by Raymond Oglesby 

Raymond wrote a gripping account of his experience when his firebase LZ Cindy was  attacked in September 1970

 

We also recommend

A Missing Peace: Vietnam : Finally Healing the Pain 

by Robert Seiple and Gregg Lewis

Advertisements

Words about love and mending hearts for Valentine’s weekend

 

 

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

Source: 1 Corinthians 13 – NIV – Bible Study Tools

 

 

 

 

“To love another is to will what is really good for him. Such love must be based on truth.

A love that sees no distinction between good and evil, but loves blindly merely for the sake of loving, is hatred, rather than love.

To love blindly is to love selfishly, because the goal of such love is not the real advantage of the beloved but only the exercise of love in our own souls.”

Thomas Merton  quote

(Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is considered the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century)

 

 

In a previous post, my friend Bob Peragallo, a retired pastor and Marine Vietnam  veteran, shared his take on love.

a Veteran of  the VietNam war now dishes out love

Bob serves on the Board of Directors of Vets with a Mission (VWAM) , providing humanitarian aid to  Vietnam. One of VWAM’s projects is sponsoring life-saving heart surgery for children through its Children’s Heart Surgery Program.

 

 

Children's Heart Surgery Project
Children needing heart surgery are identified on exam during mission trip clinics.

Dishing out love

The mistake we should never make is to be generous with judgment and stingy with love. The people around us are starving for love and we need to unlock our pantry and see to it that everybody gets a belly full.

My husband Raymond and I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing Bob Peragallo and his wife for several years. He is the Board Chairman for Vets With a Mission  (VWAM) , a faith based humanitarian organization;  we have served with them on mission trips to VietNam.

Like my husband, Bob is a veteran of the American war in Vietnam. After his military service, he pastored a church. Here he shares his thoughts on pastoring, leading a service organization, and serving people in need. Words worth sharing

two veterans in Vietnam
Raymond Oglesby, Bob Peragallo and local officials at Trabong Vietnam

“Often people come to me searching for something deeper than a 500 character religious platitude, something stronger than a scripture icon or soundbyte. Like them, I need something I can touch, see and feel. What we need is love because only love can satisfy us.

When this need happens for me, I never want to have to walk away empty handed or when it is my turn to be the giver of this love, God help me to never give them a substitute.

We all believe in love, but often we love the idea of love, when it needs to be our job description. God declares Himself to be “Love” and He is, but it doesn’t always run in the family. Far too often, our lives become a poor substitute for the Jesus that the world is looking to see. If I lose my focus, I may give a poor substitute for this kind of love.

As someone who has received this love from my heavenly Father, I should always err on the side of loving people.

volunteer team members dishing out love in Vietnam

We might give our religious form, our knowledge of God or worst yet, my version of what is right (oh, how I love to be right). We can dish out our political views, judgments and contempt, even silence. We all understand and can relate to this from personal experience…and we know how much it sucks.

The mistake we should never make is to be generous with judgment and stingy with love. The people around us are starving for love and we need to unlock our pantry and see to it that everybody gets a belly full.

That doesn’t mean you always tell them what they want to hear and that they are not accountable. Whenever I find myself in this tension with people, or if you do, always do your best to fill that gap with compassion, kindness and decency. When you need love nothing else will work. My job is to love others, not see to it that others love me. “

my husband snapped this photo of me with Bob; he went with us to visit the site of Raymond's firebase during the war
my husband snapped this photo of me with Bob; he went with us to visit the site of Raymond’s firebase during the war
along the way we visited the memorial at Son My, better know to Americans as My Lai, site of the infamous massacre
along the way we visited the memorial at Son My, better known to Americans as My Lai, site of the infamous massacre
"And now these three remain:faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13, photo from the Lightstock.com collection (affiliate link)

sharing the HEART of love

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

Tuesday Travels- Vietnam Veterans Building Medical Clinics In Country

This week a team organized by VWAM, Vets With a Mission, is working in VietNam. Led by our friends Chuck and Joette Ward, the team is treating patients in a clinic built by another humanitarian organization, now supported by VWAM. My husband and I were unable to join the team this year, but I am linking to their blog so you can see first hand what they do and why.

“Sometimes reconciliation, forgiveness and charity are not the easiest things to do. But faith helps one put all of this is perspective, and when done so it makes everything possible. This is a good thing, and the essence of the Gospel. Doesn’t it say to “Love your neighbor as yourself?” (Romans 13:9)”

via Vietnam Veterans Humanitarian NGO Medical ClinicsVets With A Mission Blog | Humanitarian NGO – Vietnam Veterans Building Medical Clinics In Country.

VWAM CEO Chuck Ward, VietNam veteran, on a previous trip
VWAM CEO Chuck Ward, VietNam veteran, on a previous trip

Tuesday Travels- VietNam, week 1

April 30, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the official end of United States military involvement in VietNam. On that day in 1975, the American Embassy in Saigon was evacuated as the North Vietnamese army entered the city, thereby establishing what they now observe as “Reunification”.

via The Vietnam Center and Archive: Exhibits – The Fall of Saigon.

My husband and I have travelled to VietNam to serve on humanitarian aid teams with Vets with a Mission (VWAM).

a husband and wife clown team; Vietnamese had never seen clowns
a husband and wife clown team; Vietnamese had never seen clowns

DSC00105 DSC00114 DSC00124 DSC00144 DSC00154 DSC00040 DSC00044 In 1988 VWAM was founded by a small group of VietNam veterans who wanted to make a positive impact on the country in which they had served. Like my husband, many other veterans have served on their teams, as well as their spouses, children and other interested persons.

National Geographic Traveller:Vietnam

Every Tuesday in April I will show you the country of VietNam as it has been since the end of that conflict. Please share your thoughts and feelings in the comments.