66: Recovering Together

66: Recovering Together

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Recovering Together

You’ve gotta have hope. Without hope life is meaningless. Without hope life is meaning less and less.

~Author Unknown

We have learned that when life brings tragedy, you must search for that speck of light, that speck of hope within it. It may not always manifest itself right away; you may not be in a place immediately to see that light. Sometimes we need to let ourselves hurt, to grieve. And then sometimes that speck is more like a boulder when you come upon it.

Our story starts on January 3, 2010. Mike was on a routine patrol in Afghanistan. He and his Air Force teammate were assigned to an Army unit to call in air strikes. On this day they were ambushed and shrapnel from an improvised explosive device (IED) hit Mike. Four of his brothers lost their lives and many others suffered injuries. Mike was left completely blind. He faced an unknown future in a pitch-black world.

January 3rd was a hard day for me too. My whole world turned upside down when I was informed that my husband, Sgt. Joshua Lengstorf, would not be coming home. The grief was overwhelming and I prayed I would be strong enough for our fifteen-month-old daughter. I felt so lost and the world felt like such a dark place. I was struggling with my pain, my anger, and trying to understand. I learned that it was okay to just let go and feel all the emotions. It was okay to ask, “Why?” Letting it all out helped me to start healing. And then I learned that I had an inner strength I never knew existed.

I met another young widow at a memorial for our husbands. Her husband had lost his life in the same attack as mine, while helping with the chaos from the first explosion. He had been Senior Airman Mike Malarsie’s teammate. And that’s when I learned about Mike, whose family was chronicling his journey of recovery on a blog. I began to read it. A few times I felt that I should reach out to him, but quickly squashed those thoughts. He was probably coming to grips with his new life and I was trying to cope with Josh’s passing. But one night I couldn’t ignore the prompting and I contacted my friend about meeting Mike. A few weeks later my young daughter and I were on a plane.

Mike was in California learning to live his life blind. His dream growing up had been to serve in the military and now he was on a new adventure. Since learning of his four fallen brothers, he had dedicated his life to living with purpose. He had lived and they had not, so he was determined to avoid feeling sorry for himself. Mike pushed himself to get through blind rehabilitation so that he could give back and begin again. He remembers being a little lost. He didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t know anything about blindness.

Josh’s outlook on life had been to just get out there and do it. I realized the best way to honor his memory was to be brave enough to live again. I know it sounds clichéd, but something happened when Mike Malarsie and I met. It was like soul recognized soul. We both felt it but were confused by it and a bit afraid. Eventually we had to discuss it. The timing wasn’t the best, but we put our trust in Heavenly Father and took a leap of faith.

Fast-forward four years, and we are married and that young daughter is a big sister. We have moved several times, and most importantly, we have learned amazing lessons about life and ourselves. We have had ups and downs but we are strong. We have learned not to take life for granted and to live life to the fullest.

Mike has attracted a lot of media attention and has been interviewed on TV shows all around the country, spreading our message of hope and faith. He even became part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul family when his guide dog, Xxon, won the seeing and hearing guide dog category on the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards nationally broadcast TV show. Chicken Soup for the Soul’s pet food business was one of the sponsors of the Hero Dog Awards and as a result Mike and Xxon have appeared at Chicken Soup for the Soul events and our family has expanded again to include those new friends.

Now Mike has a wife, children, a guide dog who has given him back his freedom of movement, a new career motivating other people, and friends all over the country. As a couple and as individuals, we have learned that there is always hope. Our whole story is about hope—hope that each of our futures could be good again, hope that we could continue to grow as people. We each had our dark moments, but we saw that speck of light. Hope is right around the corner for all of us. We sometimes have to put in some effort to get there, but there is always a light. Just keep looking for it!

~Jesse Malarsie

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