"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown

"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sisters, Mothers, Friends

There is not a day that I look at my children and do not realize how completely blessed I am that their father was here for their births. Had things gone as planned for us he would not have been here for either one - but things happen for a reason and both were changes in plans I will never complain about.

For non-military families, a father's presence at the birth of a child is a given. The only reason couples quickly try to figure the math in their heads when they find out they are expecting is to know when their little sweet baby will bring them happiness. Military families quickly run the dates and timelines through their heads to figure out if their soldier will be home. The overwhelming joy often finds itself deflated by a dagger of unescapable despair. When I found myself pregnant for the first time - unexpectedly - the first thing to enter my mind was that my husband would not be here. By the grace of God, he was.

For Eli, C was expected to be training. God threw a wrench in our plans again, and he stood beside me in the O.R. as Eli entered the world ... three weeks early.

We have been so very blessed.

Because of our blessings, I remain in awe of every woman who brings a child into the world without her husband. While I know I would have been given the strength to do the same I cannot imagine undergoing it. When in labor with Logan a gross negligence on the part of the medical staff nearly ended my life and prevented his. I cannot imagine going through the absolute terror of facing this reality without the strength and support of my husband. Because of my situation - and the speed by which my son was delivered - my husband was not actually there for Logan's birth but was able to be there soon after. Still a blessing.

I had met her when she was nearing the end of her first trimester. You could not have matched two better people. We were instant friends. For the next six months our lives merged together daily in some fashion. Our husbands belonged to different battalions within the brigade. We playfully battled over cavalry and infantry. She pointed out when I was wearing red as I pointed out when she wore blue. I poked fun at the stetson. Infantry men don't wear any of that crap so she had nothing to say back! (Ha! Had to take a jab while she can't say anything in his defense!). Our bond was and is unbreakable.

That is one of the most interesting and overpowering things about Army Wives. There are bonds you make - often quickly - that cannot be shaken. The things one wife will do for another may seem strange to those outside of our world. We care for eachother's children with little notice and with nothing expected in return but the same support. We bring each other coffee at two in the afternoon because we needed to talk at that moment but may end up not saying a word because sometimes we just need to feel the aura of someone else's strength. We do not get offended if a friend jumps up for a phone call and leaves the room for half an hour without so much as a "wait a second" because we do not need an explanation.

It is no coincidence that we develop such strong bonds quickly. I believe we are drawn to those who will strengthen our spirits. We all have times of weakness as we walk our camo-covered path - it is important to have our bonds established so that it can take little effort to grab hold to someone who is stronger at that moment. Time is not a friend to us. We do not have the luxury of gradually getting to know another person over months and even years. And so I believe we are led to those who will be best for us as we let go of our better-halves for a time. These bonds must exist, for every big and exciting moment has a different effect on us than those who get to share it with the one person it should be shared with. These bonds will help us to hold onto the joy rather than focus on the emptiness.

"Will you stay?" she said. It was not really a question though she had framed it as such. Many of the "questions" from one wife to another are not really questions. They are usually a signal that we are needed - that our presence is necessary.

My eyes locked to hers, "Absolutely," I replied. We exchanged smiles. Hers edged with relief and gratitude, mine with fear. I hoped she didn't notice.

I was afraid of this with my own child. I had never experienced it. My son entered the world with complete chaos and terrifying tension. He was almost ripped from me in an O.R. I had no idea what this was really going to be like.

I placed the cellphone by her head and hit speaker. "He's here," I said. His voice came through the phone. "Hey, Babe," he sounded so nervous it made me laugh to myself.

"We're about to have a baby!" she said, turning her head to the side as she breathed through her contractions.

I took my place at her left leg, camera ready to start snapping. My thoughts were swirling around my head. "Please don't pass out, please don't pass out," I repeated in my head as I tried to focus my nervous energy on her. My body was shaking; I was terrified.

"Time to push," her nurse said.

I took my position, feeling a little sick and weak, but stroked her leg completely forgetting she couldn't feel it. "Come on, let's get it done!" I smiled. She'd heard me say the phrase so many times before for far more simpler things.

She nodded as a determined face replaced the tired one, she leaned forward, breathed in deep, and it began.

A young woman welcomed her beautiful daughter into the world that night. Her daughter has two different birthdays in that family. To her daddy, who's lack of words when his little girl started to cry brought tears to my eyes, she was born the next day. Nine and a half hours time difference.
He listened as he heard different women hold onto his wife and urge her to keep going, to do what everything in him told him he was supposed to be doing, and he couldn't speak. He could not find the words. All they could do was cry with one another over the phone. Such immense joy - such incredible sadness.

That night was one of the most beautiful nights in my life. The emotions that flooded my body give me goosebumps to this day. There are no words to describe the beauty of that birth and the absolute humility of my friends determination. I was honored to be present and humbled by the strength within her.

I am humbled everyday by women with a fierce determination to thrive in this life. I am honored to stand among them, to experience the joy and the sadness of it all beside them. We hold eachother up, we give of ourselves knowing there will be times that we will need to take of them. We depend on this reality to help us through our tomorrows. There is no stronger bond that exists among friends than that shared by the women who know what it means to love a soldier.

Friday, August 13, 2010


"I'm heading out," popped up in the window on my computer.

"Out?" I typed.

" 'Out' ," he replied.

For a moment I forget how to breathe.

This day had already been a difficult one. Difficult in the normal way for the mother of a 6-month-old who is proving to be a difficult teether and difficult in the not so normal way for a mother of a child who seems to have just figured out that his daddy is not here.

The laptop wobbles on the bed as Logan struggles to climb up onto the mattress. I move Eli into a one arm grip as I help Logan's little legs make it to the top. I see why it had been so difficult for him to make it up on his own; the webcam is in his tiny hands.

"See daddy, please," he asks.

Skype has only worked once for us so far this deployment and not very well. The best thing about it was that Logan got to talk to him - even if for a brief period of time and with many, many delays.

"Please," he asks again in a way that makes his little voice even higher pitched - truly pleading. "See daddy, pleeeeaaaase!" My body begins to fall to pieces. I feel the joints loosening and my lips shaking. My entire body is beginning to quiver. It seems as though my body may crumble. He keeps trying to put the camera in my hands, "Please, see daddy, please."

I point to the picture of the two of them above the bed hoping that image will suffice. "Daddy!!" he exclaims and points to another picture and does the same. I hide the camera under the pillow while he points to every picture of him. I say a quick prayer that this will work. It doesn't.

"Please," he continues now pointing to the computer screen. "Cheese!" he says to tell me he wants a picture, "Cheese, Daddy."

I had been relieved when Logan did not fight so hard when C left. The relationship the two of them have is amazing. I could not ask for a better father for my children. We both were expecting to have to pry Logan from him, removing his fingers from whatever material on C he could grip onto. We were blessed that that did not need to happen. There was too much going on for his two-year-old mind to really understand what was taking place. I truly am thankful that C did not have to go through that. But I thought today would come later. I thought it would take more time for him to come to that realization. But today, everytime someone opened the door to the house, he thought it was his daddy. His face would light up, the way it always does when C gets home from work, and then his smile would go.

"Daddy go?" he kept asking with his hands raised, shrugging his shoulders.

"He'll come back. He misses you," was all I could muster repeatedly as this continued throughout the day.

He threw the tantrum of his life tonight, ending with him breaking the childlock on his doorknob off. And when he did that, he calmed down. He needed to get it out. He was confused and angry and he needed to show those emotions, to process them as best as he could. He needed to do what we all need to do at some (or many) point(s) in this process.

To see your child hurt is the worst pain in the world. To know that there is one thing that they want so badly, that they are right to want, and that it cannot be given to them burns in the deepest way. I hated it. I hated today.

But through all of that, I never broke. My body weakened as my heart ached but I never cried. I never felt worry. I know my son and I know he will get through this. I know me and I know that I will get through this. As much as it pained me to see his frustration and sadness, it was not until I saw that one short, three letter word on my computer screen that I finally cried.

I have not cried since he left. In front of him, I cried barely, for a brief moment only when he kissed my forehead. When I hit the car, I let it go. I allowed the sadness and the fear to come forth with the greatest force and when it was done I did not cry again.

"Out." he had typed - with the period. Definitively.

With that word, this year had begun.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Women We Were

Like anyone else, sometimes I wish I could manipulate time. To speed up the twelve months that our family will be separated. To fast forward to the day I will see him march in with all the others. Part of me wants these months to blur by, for nothing to happen in between. More often I wish I could press pause and keep my toddler a two-year-old and my baby a baby. To somehow let them be the same to C as they were when he left. To keep Eli from crawling and walking before he can come home and to stop Logan from becoming more and more of a “big boy” everyday. To preserve the time that C will miss so that there is no confusion and heartache when he returns.

But nothing good can come from having a remote control for life. There is nothing healthy about trying to put a hold on the changing world around us. When our soldiers are gone we have to continue to grow. We have to continue to live. The world will not stop around us and to try to ignore that can only make things more difficult. We cannot control what will come and what will pass. And the fact that we exist in this world of the Army (which is very much its own little world) does not remove us from the larger world outside of it. We have to exist in both, we have to be strengthened by both, we have to continue in both.

We were all different women before we entered into this life. We came from different backgrounds with different interests and different opinions. None of that changes when we enter the military life. We are still different - sometimes very different - but we share the similar struggles, joys, and fears. Like so many of us, I never thought this would be my life - never thought I would be married to a soldier - until I was.

Five years ago if you would have asked me where I would be now it would not be surrounded by moving boxes with two small children writing about my life as an Army wife. I would most likely be recovering from the Louisiana Bar Exam, celebrating (hopefully) the completion of my most difficult feat. I would be one crucial step closer to the career I had always wanted for myself. I wanted to be an attorney; there had been nothing I wanted more. I wanted to be an advocate for children who were not given the fair beginning I was. For women who knew nothing but physical pain and unspeakable fear from both the men they were tied to and strangers who had stolen any sense of safety they had had. I wanted to lighten their load, take some of their great burden onto myself. I yearned to give a glimmer of hope to women and children who were broken - thought to be beyond repair. I would use the Law to protect them, to help them begin again, to punish those who made them suffer. I was amazed by how willing I was to walk away from something I had been so deeply passionate about until I suddenly wanted something different.

Four years ago, at the same time that I was preparing for the LSAT, I came to a realization. Something that surprised me and intimidated me. Surprising because it was in no way the path I meant for my life to take and intimidating because my realization was so final. I knew that with this decision there was no retreating, no way for the two paths before me to meet.

I was in love with a soldier. And not just in love with, but unconditionally committed to.

The two paths before me disappeared and I only saw one - the one paved in green and beige and brown.

It is difficult to explain the feeling I had about my choice in the beginning. It was not regret - I have never regretted the life I chose - it was a sadness that the two could not be combined. That they could not exist together. At least, not in the way I first imagined.

We had just left an FRG Leader/Rear D get-together. We were nearly off post, it was dark and Logan had already fallen asleep in his carseat. I sighed when I heard it - that horrible, silver piece of technology that seemed to interrupt constantly. His blackberry was ringing. My breathing became rapid and heavy; I was frustrated. Was this another wife calling asking if my husband could cut her grass, or yelling because her husband's paycheck was 18 dollars short? I didn't even want to know. My breathing suddenly paused and then slowed. My husband's face was different. This call was different. I recognized that face. It was the face he got when a soldier had been killed - despair, dread, sadness.

He hung up and changed course. He was not going to the office, nor was he bringing me home. This was not a soldier. It was a wife.

We went straight there, we brought Logan, not wanting to take the time to drop him off with a friend. This call was urgent, and we were both needed. I did not know her well, she was always kind, always smiling and I knew she was a good leader for the wives of her husband's Company. I did not know much more than that. By the time I walked in the door, I could see she was broken. Not her heart, not her body, it seemed that her entire being was broken. My heart ached for her. Her husband was in Afghanistan and, without knowing what had happened yet, I could see in her eyes that she needed him. She had been through every woman's greatest fear. I do not mean every Army Wife's greatest fear - but every woman's. The crime that is unforgivable - the physical violation that can destroy a woman's mind and body. She had been raped.

Over the course of several weeks and months, I formed a bond with this beautiful woman that strengthened daily. We became great friends and I watched with absolute joy as the light returned to her eyes and her smile became more prominent in the day to day. She was healing - as much as a woman can heal from such pain - and it was incredible to witness. Her strength, her overwhelming courage to not be defeated would empower any witness to her transformation. The healing was painful and difficult and she began the process while her husband was at War. There is no remote. There is no pause.

Incredible Strength.

Life does not stop when they are gone. We cannot shield ourselves from the everyday nor from the greatest fears. Life will not wait for our husbands to return. We must face it head on.

As Army Wives, we are surrounded by strong women. We have to be. We do not have another option but to survive - to not only survive but to make the most of each day because our timelines have a much more immediate deadline. Our moments together always have a timer, always with another deployment around the corner. We do not always have our husbands to hold onto, and have them to hold us when we are weak. We have eachother and ourselves. We rely on eachother to be support when no one else can understand how even everyday difficulties are more difficult because we encounter them without our partners. But we also must rely on our own strength to reach out to others when we are breaking.

For what my brave friend overcame she had to rely heavily on the strength within herself before she could ever reach out for the support surrounding her.

We are surrounded by determined, nearly indestructible "females" (as my husband says). We need to recognize the talents and abilities within each of us and use them for this life that we have bravely chosen. The passions and drives that thrived within us before can and will exist in this life if we allow them. They can only help both ourselves and our fellow spouses fighting a similar battle. We cannot overcome the challenges the Army life and the outside world put before us isolated nor can we only depend on the strength surrounding us.

The women we were must have been strong. I do not believe one can truly, unconditionally commit to the life of an Army Wife without having that strength already within them. The women we were were strong - but the women we are are stronger.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Closest to the Heart

I count the blinks on the fire alarm positioned above the bedroom door. My eyes have adjusted so well to the darkness that I can see the popcorn effect on the ceiling of this older apartment. I hear Eli beginning to squirm followed by his low cry. It is the fourth time he has gotten up tonight. But it doesn't matter; I haven't slept anyway. I check my phone - three-thirty. I might as well get started. I get Eli back to sleep and get ready for the day, knowing C will be up in a half hour or so.

Through the bathroom door, I hear the familiar alarm on his phone - a sound I will not hear for 12 months - waking him. I finish my hair and makeup listening for his movement. Hearing nothing, I open the bathroom door quietly and see that he has moved down to the air mattress beside our bed to hold our sleeping, two-year-old son. Our son who will be three when he returns.

The first tears of the day sit in my eyes, resting on the edge of the lids. "Breathe," I tell myself, "Just Breathe." The dampness sinks back into its origin, allowing my newly made-up face to stay fresh ... for now.

For the family of a soldier, there are two days that seem to present the strongest and most overwhelming emotions. The day we hug goodbye and the day we welcome home. Two very different days. Two very different states of mind. Two very different pictures of complete, raw emotion.

Today we would say goodbye.

The amount and power of conflicting emotions on this day is indescribable. There is a deep desire to scream, to hold onto your soldier and beg them to find a way to stay. To look into the eyes of anyone who matters and say, "Not MY husband."

There is anticipation, often tinged with annoyance for anyone who understands the phrase "hurry up and wait." There is a voice inside of us saying, "Let's get it started. Get 'em on the plane." We want to start counting - counting down until the day they return. When we can feel one emotion ... absolute joy. When we can feel no other insanity racking our brains and hearts but complete bliss when we see OUR soldier coming down the steps of that plane. We hold onto the image of that moment to get through this one.

There is a feeling we repeatedly force to the back of our mind. That we tell ourselves will not enter our thoughts again. But somehow, more often than it should, it creeps back.
There is fear. Deep, nauseating fear that this will be the last time we see them. The last time we will hold them. The last time our children will kiss their daddy.

I close my eyes, trying with everything in me to erase the feeling. To remove it from my mind as I have done so many times before. I instinctively squeeze his arm. The side of his mouth for the quickest moment flinches. He doesn't look at me. I know the same fear just entered his mind. He can read my thoughts, my actions so well. The nauseated feeling nearly becomes overwhelming.
The fear is natural. It is inescapable. I acknowledge it for that moment and move on.

For me, there is one more feeling that overcomes me and this feeling trumps my fear. It is unwavering, tear-provoking, absolute patriotic pride. It is this that will allow me to let him go. To see the crowd of families surrounding us, juggling the same emotions, knowing that these people encompass what these soldiers are fighting for brings me great comfort. To know these soldiers are supported, by so many people who love them, who are proud to know them, to call them husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother. Who know that no matter what they are to them, for me my husband, for my sons their daddy, they are a soldier for the people. One of the few who have sacrificed this time to ensure that those they love, and that even those they don't, have the rights and privileges passed down from the blood of those who fought before them. What more can there be but gratitude and pride.

It is this pride, accompanied by a fierce faith that God will strengthen their bodies and hearts, that will allow me to let go of his hand and take the hand of my two-year-old, and walk away. It is with this awefilling respect that I wipe the single tear about to fall from the inside corner of his right eye. It is this faith that gives me the strength to smile when he says, "I'm coming home to you."

I brush my hands over the patches on his uniform one last time. I move the hand that holds the sign of my commitment over the embroidery marking the name we both share. I pat down the screaming eagle that he wore when I welcomed him home the last time. Moving my fingertips up to the material that is different. It is not fabric as the others. No thread makes its pattern. It is slick, cool plastic. The "backwards" flag as I once referred to it.

"It isn't backwards," he had told me as I studied the flag on his uniform for the first time. It is the image one sees when charging into battle he explained to me. "If it were 'right'," he said to me, "We would be retreating."

I understood. That made sense. What he said next, touched me in a different way than it is meant.

"The stars are always closest to the heart," he said in a simple, matter-of-fact way. I nodded.

And I know there was nothing implied by that, it was simply a fact but so appropriate. It is the people of these states, these stars, that they carry with them as they enter into battle. They carry all of the men and women of this nation that believe in what our fathers believed in closest to their very core as they face anyone and anything that stands to destroy it. As they leave us, as they themselves are torn by the deep desire to stay and the importance of their going, they carry us where we should be. Closest to the heart.

I stop at the doorway to the farewell center and look back. From across the room he just barely nods his head and I slightly nod mine. I squeeze Logan's hand and hold Eli tight against me. "Breathe," I tell myself, "Just Breathe." I take a deep breath, look out into the sparkling sunlight, and take the first step, knowing that everyday, I am closest to his heart.