As the week progressed, we learned more of 19-year-old Crystal's story. Her fiancé, Robert, and she, had been good friends in high school; and as so often happens, that friendship blossomed into love. They corresponded during his deployment in Afghanistan, where he served in the Corps of Engineers, dismantling IEDs. During one such mission, his humvee struck an IED, causing a loss of hearing, back injuries, and a severe case of PTSD. Crystal was his lifeline. She left everything in their home state of Washington, to come to Fort Sam Houston to care for Robert. He suffers from severe bouts of depression and anxiety, as so many of these young soldiers do, and Crystal keeps him grounded. He just wanted to marry her and begin their life together as man and wife.
There haven't been many who supported their decision. Everyone from her mother to the Army Chaplains think they are too young, and they are rushing in to this marriage. But when you hear her talk about her love for him, and their dedication to each other, there could be worse reasons to get married.
One day, during a conversation with a group of us Angel Chefs, Crystal stated that the only thing that really bothered her about getting married, was that no one would be there to celebrate their wedding with them. It would be conducted by the Chaplain in front of a beautiful waterfall near Freedom Park, but neither of their families could attend. Before I knew it, PLW spoke up and said, "We would love to be there for you. We will be your family!" The smile on Crystal's face was unmistakable. She was delighted! Then she shyly asked him, "Would you walk me down the aisle?" Well, I can tell you that no one had to twist his arm! It would be his honor!
It took a little more talking to convince Robert that we didn't want to interfere with their wedding; only make it more special. We had to make him understand that we weren't doing this because we felt sorry for them, or were giving them charity. He needed to understand that we average citizens don't have many ways to give back to them for the sacrifice they make for us. Angel Chefs was one way we could show our gratitude, and if they would let us help them make their wedding a day to remember, then it would be our way to show them respect and honor. Once he knew our intentions were to make them happy, and that we were there to support their getting married, then his reserved demeanor changed to all smiles and acceptance.
Robert pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, and read what were among the most beautiful vows I have ever heard. He proclaimed his undying love for his best friend and bride, and vowed to love her every day of his life; to protect her; care for her; and honor her. We all shed a tear.
For her part, in the mad dash to get ready, Crystal had forgotten her written vows back in the dressing room, but PLW calmed her fears and told her to just speak from her heart; tell Robert what he meant to her and what she hoped for in this marriage. Her vows were as open and honest as any I've heard. Who said they were too young to know what they wanted and what marriage is all about?
We have promised to stay in touch with them and want them to truly consider us their family-away-from-home. We cautioned them to ask God to be at the center of their marriage and there would be no obstacle they couldn't overcome, or hill they can't climb. And that is something we, as a nation, need to earnestly pray for. It was our experience that these young men and women in the military do not know God. I cannot imagine going into war without Jesus by my side.
So, I hope I have faithfully represented what my time at Fisher House gave me. The blessings I received were far greater than any gifts we provided. I had the opportunity to look members of our military in the eye and say, "thank you." These were personal encounters, affairs of the heart, and individuals that I will never forget. I pray for their protection, their healing, and above all else, their salvation. May God shelter them under His wings as He leads them into battle. God keep them, every one!
Psalm 61:3-5 "For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. For you, God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name."