Second Chances

Three years ago this very day life as I knew it ended.

All of the hopes and dreams I had for my family came crashing down in our kids’ treehouse, of all places. It was in that treehouse, lovingly constructed from scraps of both lumber and time by Mr. Wonderful, that I found my soul mate right before he was about to take his own life.

You see, life had gotten so bad for him that suicide seemed like the only way to make his pain go away. 

The drinking hadn’t done it. 

The prescriptions and doctors on base hadn’t done it. 

His family hadn’t done it.

He soldiered on so well that I didn’t realize how badly he was hurting until it was almost too late. Minutes were the difference in our case-the difference between our story being about second chances and it being about what life is like as a military widow raising four kids all by myself. The difference between my kids knowing their dad and wondering what he was like.(photo cred Meredith Shafer 2016)

When I found Mr. Wonderful with a half drunk bottle of vodka writing his goodbye notes, all I knew to do was beg God to save him. To save us. 

I hadn’t even seen the loaded shotgun yet.

I just knew from climbing my very pregnant belly up to that second-story treehouse and feeling the sadness and pain radiate off of him that we were fighting for time.

That treehouse was meant to be our end. Instead, somehow God used it to start something brand new for us, to give us a chance at a second chance. Miraculously our ending was re-written at the last possible minute. We got a second act by the grace of God. 

It’s surely a miracle that the very pregnant girl was able to get the drunk, suicidal 6’6″ 330 pound soldier who was more than twice her size out of the treehouse, onto solid ground and into treatment.

It’s surely a miracle that Mr. Wonderful was sent to a treatment for a few months that would help save his life, restore his mind, begin his sobriety.

It’s surely a miracle that we have had 1,095 bonus days, second chances, extra time.

And though it hasn’t been an easy road over the last three years, I am grateful for every one of those 1,095 days. I count myself blessed despite the PTSD diagnoses, the caregiving, the crushing blows, the doctor’s appointments, the setbacks, the fights with the VA, and the new normal we find ourselves in. Even the worst days in the last three years have been a blessing, because they have been the second chance I couldn’t imagine from my viewpoint in that treehouse.

September is National Suicide Prevention month. Twenty-two military a day take their lives. If more if us speak up, tell the story with no shame, maybe we can break this stigma against mental illness and invisible wounds. Maybe we can convince hurting people to ask for help. Maybe we can reach out to those around us.


Ask someone if they’re ok. Care about people. Walk through this world with more kindness and less judgment. 

You could be the difference in someone’s story-


💗❤️💗

©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2016.

For more info about our story, to check about speaking engagements or to find me on social media, connect with me at www.meredithshafer.com.

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 6

My heart is full of gratitude for our Service Dog, Charlie. She is my reinforcement so I’m not alone in helping Mr. Wonderful with the PTSD. I’m pretty sure she’s a guardian angel as well, already saving Mr. Wonderful from a severe asthma attack.

She not a pet–she’s a member of the family! I’m so happy she found us❤️ 

 (Photo credit Meredith Shafer) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015
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The Struggle is Real

Ever have those days (weeks) where you just can’t quite get your flow? 

We. Are. There.

The seven year old told me this morning during a particularly rough patch of getting ready time that he wished he was being raised by wolves.

Parenting fail.

The PTSD has been more PTSDish this week, with fogginess and forgetfulness. The Mama has had much less patience with everything. And then I find something that sent me right over the edge: 

 I left a note that says “To whoever’s doing this, I will hunt you down!” 

Unfortunately there are two potential culprits who can’t read so my threats may be lost on 33% of the household but whatever.

We’re transitioning our eating to organic, real food and gluten free(ish) so I made an attempt at gluten free cookies the other night that turned out like this: 

 The four year old got into the markers: 

 And at one point last night I lost the baby. THE BABY! Turns out he was outside while his big brother was practicing the trombone (your welcome Highland Farms addition!) but my heart was in my throat for a brief moment.

There have been too many doctor appointments, therapy appointments, treatments, homework, actual work, laundry, dirty dishes, dirty floors and just messiness. At this point it may be easier to burn the house down than to clean it, and of course we’re having family over this weekend for birthday celebrations.

Crap! I have to go buy presents.

Things are undone here at the Shafer Casa but we are still holding on. I’m in need of a perspective change, a paradigm shift, a better attitude.

The only way I know how to do that is to find things right now even in the middle of the mess to celebrate. To be grateful for. So here is my list for the moment:

-My sweet baby who still runs at me with open arms and slobbery kisses when he hasn’t seen me for awhile.

-My twelve (how is he twelve?!) year old who practices trombone outside and made first chair.

-My seven year old who tries so hard.

-The sweet girl who still just sometimes wants to snuggle with her Mama.

-The partner who hugs me when things get too hard and tells me we’re all gonna be ok.

Reading over that list shows me I have a lot of blessings in my life right now. I shouldn’t waste another minute on the stuff not going right, but breathe in the stuff that is.

Good talk, y’all. Thanks!  

(Photo credit Meredith Shafer) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

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30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 4

I’m so grateful for my partner in this life. This man has promised to take care of me and this family and despite our daily battles with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, he still gets the job done. His quiet faith inspires me to keep going, no matter the circumstances. 
 This picture sums us up–he’s the steady-handed, eyes on the road anchor to my artsy fartsy fluttering about. I would be lost without this guy, my sweetheart, Mr. Wonderful.😍😘❤️❤️❤️❤️

#husbandandwifeforlife #sweethearts #marriage #partner

(Photo credit Meredith Shafer) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer

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5 Things I Wish You Knew About Life with PTSD

Going through a staggering amount of paperwork and learning curves and medical interventions has kept us pretty busy over the last two years. At one crucial point, I was just trying to keep my soldier alive. And since I was pretty new to this game, I didn’t know how to talk about it for awhile.

But now that we’re a little farther down the road, there are some truths I’d like to share with you about what our life actually looks like on a day to day basis. Since we are no longer in survival mode, I feel that now is a good time to pass on a few things I have learned in this journey. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and since I can only speak about this experience through the lens of a caregiver, know there’s much, much more to this story. 

 But for now, here are a few things I wish that everyone knew about us:

1. We are a family dealing with mental illness so we probably don’t always fit into your idea of what a family looks like. Or sounds like. Or behaves like. So please don’t judge us by our bad days or our good days. Neither is entirely accurate.

On our best days we appear relatively normal, albeit a little louder and more colorful than most. We have some introverts, extroverts, flamboyant ones, shy kids and some ADHD and panic attacks sprinkled throughout. 

On our worst days we have tears, meltdowns and struggles that you probably can’t understand. Please know that we are truly doing our best but if we react to a situation in a bizarre or inappropriate (to you) way, your judgment is going to be less than helpful. Stares or comments other than “Is there anything I can do to help?” aren’t encouraged.

Sometimes we are struggling so hard to keep it together as a family that we can’t be bothered with your idea of decorum. We are simply trying to survive. 

 2. One of the worst things you can do is negate our journey by saying something insensitive and demeaning. For instance, someone actually said the words, “He looks ok to me.” He might. In that moment. But what that person didn’t realize was that Mr. Wonderful hadn’t been out of our house for two weeks. And had fought through three panic attacks to get out the door. 

Sometimes he might forget that he already had this conversation because his short term memory is shot. Or he might fly into a rage at those insensitive words because. You. Just. Don’t. Know.

Don’t judge our struggle based on what you can observe in a moment. 

3. Our idea of a good day and a bad day is radically different than yours. A good day for us is no meltdowns, few panic attacks, and a decent wake up where Mr. Wonderful is able to get his bearings relatively early in the day. Maybe he feels good enough to get a workout, a shower and a hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment in. This is a good, good day.

A bad day is, well, it’s not something I can put into words yet. I’m still working on it and I may have to get back to you on this one.

4. You might perceive us as flaky if we’ve had to bail out on you. Last minute. Again. We have the best of intentions. We want to be at your birthday party or graduation or celebration. Sometimes we just can’t. 

Sometimes we’re actually on our way out the door but then Mr. Wonderful can’t leave the house. Or we start the day well but it progresses in the wrong direction. Or I know Mr. Wonderful will be ok without me but I’m just not up to getting the whole traveling circus out the door by myself. To friends and family, please understand our absence doesn’t mean we don’t love and honor you–we just may not be able to love and honor you in person.

5. We are doing the best we can. From the outside that may not look good enough. And sometimes it’s not. We try super hard. Every day. But even hard work can’t always get us where we need to be. That’s why one of the things we tell ourselves over and over is to give ourselves a break. And share some grace. And we try to be grateful for every good moment, every silver lining. 

Because we’ve walked the edge between life and death, we now want to celebrate every good thing we can. Life  isn’t a guarantee, and we aren’t promised tomorrow. These are now things we know for sure. 

We no longer take life for granted. Or good days. Or breathing or remembering or functioning. Crazy may be our new normal but we embrace our crazy. We embrace our new normal. And we embrace each other. 

The most important thing I can tell you about life with PTSD is that without our faith and each other we would have nothing. But with it, we still have everything we need. 

 (Photo credits Meredith Shafer) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

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National Suicide Awareness Month

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

You’ve probably guessed that today’s post isn’t going to be a light-hearted romp with my traveling circus. I’ve been avoiding this topic all of September because September is a rough month around this Casa.

There are a lot of triggers: 9/11, anniversary of Mr. Wonderful’s start date in the military, the anniversary of the day I almost lost him. 

The older I get, the more I realize that if people share their realness and their pain, it can often shine light into someone else’s pain. Help them know they aren’t alone. Guide them to a sliver of hope that this circumstance or season is temporary and it too shall pass.

2013 is a year that I wish had never happened. The short version is that my sweet Mr. Wonderful was on about year twelve of undiagnosed PTSD–way past the time where things begin to unravel. First the undoing was unnoticeable. Then it became unmanageable. Then it became untenable. To the point I knew in my heart that if I didn’t do something, the unthinkable was coming.

The details are still too hard to write about so I’m not going to yet. I’m actually trying to work up the courage to put this full story in my next book but it’s slow going, reliving certain minutes.

What I’m going to tell you today is that you, yes, you who somehow stumbled onto the blog of a woman with a bunch of kids who’s married to a retired military dude that you have nothing in common with, you were meant to be here today reading these words.

You were meant to know that someone else has been exactly where you are: in a dark so black and thick that you can’t breathe, much less see. You were meant to read these words and realize that this darkness that you can’t seem to find your way out of has enveloped others before you. You need to know that there is a way out of that darkness that doesn’t involve removing yourself from this world.

You are necessary here. 

Without you to finish your work, there will be a you-sized hole in the universe that can never be filled by anyone else. I know you can’t see this right now. I know you can’t imagine anything but pain and heartache so deep that you just need it to stop. But if you’ll give the world a chance I promise you things can get better. They may not be better all at once-this may take some patience on your part and I know you probably don’t have any.

But please, stay

As an Army wife, I’ve been through scenarios other families may not be able to fathom. I haven’t even been through all of the typical Army wife life because I came on the scene later. But one thing about all military spouses is that we do what needs to be done. We’ll take care of it so our spouse can do his or her job of protecting this country. 

You hear all kinds of phrases and jargon in this military life. One of my faves is “I’ve got your six.” That means basically, I’ve got your back; I’ll help you and watch out for you and do my best to protect you.

My spouse had this country’s six. He helped keep us safe after 9/11 and our family’s still footing the bill for that freedom. And now I have his six. It’s the least I can do for a man who has made some sacrifices for us all.

Let someone have your six. If you are not okay today, it’s okay. But you can’t do this alone. Reach out your hand and grab onto the lifeline: make a call to the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK) or a friend. Or a pastor or trusted confidant. Or your mom. Whoever you think will listen.

There are approximately 22 veterans who take their lives every day because there is an absence of hope. But for the grace of God, that was nearly us. For those of you who worry about or notice something is off or different about your veteran or family member or friend, don’t wait to speak up! 

Ask: are you ok?

Maybe you won’t know what to do. That’s ok too. Some things need to be handled by professional people who are trained for this sort of thing. But you can ask the most important question–are you ok?–giving them a lifeline of hope. And then together you can seek help.

Just do something.

Having someone’s six sometimes means doing something for someone who just can’t do it right now. Having someone’s six may mean getting out of your comfort zone even if you don’t know what to do. Having someone’s six can save someone’s life.

Babe, I got your six.

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

(Photo credit Meredith Shafer 2015) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

Square One

I need a mulligan for this week already! I don’t golf, but as I undertand it, a mulligan is basically like a do-over. 

Yes please.

First my coffee shop closed. Yeah, I was disappointed but I deal. Then I received an email that a friend’s husband had passed away and heard that another dear friend has breast cancer.

And today my husband’s clinic–the Patriot Clinics that serve vets at no cost–closed its doors. Mr. Wonderful has been receiving hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment for his PTSD and traumatic brain injury and its one of the few things that has had a positive effect on him without the crazy side effects of post meds used to treat the symptoms of PTSD.

The clinic treats vets with diginty and provided treatment that has great results but that the VA and insurance won’t pay for. I don’t know why but I’m sure it has something to do with the almighty dollar. And until they either get their electrical issues resolved or find funds to move to a new place, we’re back at square one for treatment. 

I’m so tired of square one.

Used to when a lot of bad things happened all at once I would just throw a party of the pity kind. Now I realize that when there seem to be so many obstacles and troubles and everything going completely wrong, it’s actually a sign that I’m getting close to whatever it is I’ve been working towards.

Obstacles are meant to keep us down. Trip us up. Make us lose our breath or step or mind. But it’s when those obstacles keep piling up that I know to look around because my miracle is coming.

All this bad news is meant to crush me, to derail me from writing and cheering people on and trying to serve and be a blessing. All this grossness is meant to clog up my soul like a hairball clogs up a sink. 
It won’t work.

I know that our miracles are coming so I am going to keep on keeping on to do my part. I’ll pray. And I’ll keep my chin up and try my best to bring my A game, no matter what obstacles jump into my path.

If you find yourself at square one today, take heart and take hope. Your miracle could be right around the corner too.

(Photo credit Meredith Shafer 2015) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

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This Book Writing Thing is Haaaaaarrrrrdddd!

Can I tell you how much I do not like 5:00 a.m.?

I haven’t been up this early–or let’s be real, stayed up this late–since college. Which has been a minute. Even with all four of my babies, they at least went back to sleep for a few hours. And now I jump roll out of bed before the butt crack of dawn and I don’t like it.

But I have to do this because I am writing my second book. My sophomore effort. My #2. And 5:00 a.m. is the only time that I ever have a moment to think a thought all the way through to fruition. This is kinda important if you call yourself a writer.

And I am a writer. I accidentally wrote my first book called My Pink Champagne Life a few years ago. I didn’t start out to write a book; I had just been through a lot of changes and truly writing was my therapy. There were no expectations; no one even knew I was writing a book except my husband. And there were no deadlines. I was free to let my creative process go where it may. Which is why I wrote most of the book in late 2011-early 2012 and it didn’t come out until February of this year.

I’m not great with deadlines.

Now I have both expectations and deadlines and I’m a little bit nervous. Not to mention I still don’t really know what I’m doing. My plate is so much more full now that I’m on my next effort and I get a little scared. Since I write about my traveling circus family, I am opening up the door to our complete crazy for the whole world to view, judge, peer into. It’s a bit disconcerting if I think about it too long.

And this time around I’m writing about seriously hard and life-changing things. Life-shattering things. I don’t know about you other writers out there but for me it’s a bit like living through it all again when I write about the last two years of our story. I’m using words like PTSD and traumatic brain injury and financial hardships and four kids and baby spit up and caregiving, you know, real sexy topics.

But I believe in telling the truth. And the truth is our story isn’t always rainbows and butterflies like I would like it to be. My hope is that maybe my truth will help someone else in the midst of a truth they didn’t want any part of. That maybe our story and our crazy and our suffering followed by absolute redemption will give hope to someone who is buried in a dark corner and believes they are all alone.

Have I mentioned how much I hate 5:00 a.m.? For the foreseeable future this is my waking time. But I am trying to appreciate the benefits this provides me. I am watching sunrises that are gorgeous beyond belief. I get to hear and feel and breathe in the silence while everyone else is sleeping peacefully. There is an openness to my spirit at this time of the morning, before the day has corrupted my thoughts or pushed me down or some days, run me over. I am more alive, more vibrant, more me during my quiet time than any other part of the day.

It’s when I’m Meredith.

Not caregiver or mama or employee or chauffeur or wife or maid or any of the other hats that I wear. I love my hats. But sometimes it feels good to just be me.

I am a writer. Of books and thoughts and talks and life. It’s difficult sometimes, but it’s exactly where I am supposed to be.

(Photo credit Meredith Shafer 2015) Copyright Meredith Shafer 201

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