"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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Erasing the line

For the past few days, I have been visiting with good friends at my first Army home - Fort Campbell, KY. This is where I welcomed home my husband (before he was my husband), where I watched women I did not know then welcome home their soldiers two years later, where my husband and I escorted the family of his fallen friend, where I witnessed a birth, where I delivered my first little boy, where he and I nearly died, and where we all began to live.

It is here that our life together began it's journey. It is here that I received my crash course in the military life -with excellent, and not so excellent, teachers. It is here where I found my niche. It is here where I began to learn this life. Here, there have been senior wives - seasoned wives, as I call them - who took me in once I was willing to be taken. They taught me, by example and by straight talk, the things that I needed to know. I will be forever blessed to have a handful of these women in my life and to have been led to them for this purpose.

I didn't want to go. The few wives that I knew had all left. They had said horrible things about coffees and about FRG's. I had avoided them since my furniture and suitcases landed in this awful town. But I was a horrible liar. I didn't have to work and I couldn't go back to work - I already had 50 hours in for the week. "Maybe I can get started on stuff for next week," I thought.

"Go." He interrupted the battle going on in my mind. "If you don't like it - leave. They won't bite." He knew I needed something in my life besides work. I already hated my job. I spent everyday at it thinking of how much better the one I left was about to be.

I must have changed 10 times. I was starting to show - the bump was definitely there. "Great," I mumbled, "I can't even drink." I still wasn't used to the whole pregnancy thing and I was already frustrated.

"I'll be back in half-an-hour," I yelled while walking out the door.

"An hour," he shouted back.

"Yeah, right!" I grumbled.

I know for those who know me you may be laughing at this foolishness. The me at that time was 100% content with going to work and coming home - and that wasn't the me before I married him. I wanted nothing to do with the military life - with the wives, with the social commitments, with any of it. I had been completely turned off from it by word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth - a dangerous thing.

In our life, word-of-mouth can do great harm (as it can in any life). But word-of-mouth can ruin careers. Word-of-mouth can cause a woman to wait for two men in Class-A's to show up at her door. Word-of-mouth can cause a wife to disengage. Word-of-mouth can prevent a lot of good.

Keep it shut.

For a couple months after this "coffee" I still stayed in the shadows. Claiming to be too busy, or too tired, or too anything. I went where I was told, stayed for the bare minimum, and left. I cannot tell you why I was so opposed still - but, I can tell you when and why I changed.

I had stopped working, I was on strict bedrest, my husband was working long days, and I was alone. It was a horrible feeling and not a feeling I was used too. It was almost maddening - waiting for anything to happen. After Logan was born, my husband told me the Commander's wife had asked for me to attend the coffee for that month. I had not received an eVite (which I usually ignored anyway) so I didn't know what he was talking about. None the less, I got dressed (as best as I could with my mess of a body at the time), got the diaper bag together, and Logan and I headed into the neighborhood next to mine to stop in. This time, physically, I really couldn't stay long. I was still limited on my activity from my emergency section. I think I grinded my teeth as I rang the doorbell. We were greeted with a giant gift basket and multiple women with beaming smiles. Punch to the gut - at least it may as well have been. I had not said a word to half these women - and to the other half I hadn't said much. Their husbands were deployed and mine was not - and they had done something (that we do for all new mothers in this circle) to include me.

Then I understood. I had drawn the line - they hadn't. It wasn't until right then that I could see that.
It was my time to give back - and I have never stopped giving.

At first, I volunteered out of guilt - and that truly is what it was - guilt. I helped with anything I could - wherever I could. How selfish I had been to not step in and help with those whose husbands were deployed while mine remained safe.

And then I gave because I loved to give. I gave my time - it was all I had - and I reached out and became part of something. It is when I made this decision - to be active, to be involved - that I began to learn. I began to form friendships, found women who became mentors even. And to say friendships is an understatement - relationships is more appropriate. The knowledge I gained and the bonds that formed allowed me to become me again. I cannot imagine the army wife I would be now without these strengthening bonds - perhaps I would not be an army wife.

There can be no isolation - we cannot survive that way. We cannot be completely selfish. We cannot believe everything we are told. We have to be involved, to be conscious of what is available around us. Communication - accurate communication - is vital to our survival. Relationships are vital to our survival. It is easy for some to sit and wait, to work and go home - but how many deployments will that last?

There will always be wives ready and willing to reach out - but there is only so much effort they can make. I drew the line.

I love the service this life offers to me. I love that I can serve those around me - to strengthen them and myself at the same time. To provide the resources that can foster the bonds that get us through each day is something I can offer. To help new wives, like myself, understand the life we have taken on and to commit to be active in it is something I can teach. To own it. To embrace it. To thrive in it. To know that everything becomes so much easier when we erase the line is something I can emulate.

We cannot waste years waiting for the downtime in between - because, yes, they are gone years over time. We don't get to take that time back. We only have now - right now - to live this life we have chosen. I cannot sit and wait. I can help and wait. I can reach out and wait. I can be involved while I wait. The time goes by so much faster when we do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Keeping Grace

Very rarely do people give the right response when they find out my husband is deployed. And there are really only a handful of responses that I feel are appropriate - or really just one. Very rarely do I get it - and when I do I truly thank them for their words.

"Thank them for their service," "I will be praying for their safety," or quite simply a "Thank you" they want relayed. And when these kind, understanding people say these things you can see it in their eyes. Sometimes almost tear-filled because they understand that completely what our soldiers are knowingly sacrificing for them. It is rare, it is beautiful, it almost makes up for the far too common inappropriate ones.

"Oh, that's terrible!" She sighed when she realized where the hand and foot print covered package was going. "That is just awful that he has to be there." I knew it was coming and I gripped the counter slightly, mentally preparing myself for what was about to follow.

"Isn't it just awful that they have to do something so pointless? It's just stupid," she continued placing the labels on the packages that had been put together and donated by a youth organization. They had come up with over 30 boxes packed to the max for C's soldiers. So many we asked for addresses from others we knew were deployed. "And for WHAT?" she continued.

It didn't phase her a bit. She didn't seem to catch onto that fact that she just insulted me and my husband. "It is just insane that these men and women have to leave their families for nothing. He must hate it. It is so dumb." She still continued with checking customs labels and re-taping. I was just glad she wasn't really looking up.

I wanted to say something but I couldn't. I DO believe that people's opinions can be changed given accurate information but the effort to explain is time consuming and they have to want to hear it. They need to be open. This was not the time, this was not the place, this was not the person. The conversation moved on - eventually.

I try to be as graceful in this life as possible. And so many things in it are far from graceful. But to those who are not in it, to those who don't understand, I try to keep grace. There is never a time when it is more of a challenge to do so.

So many people are incredibly misinformed, or aren't informed at all, and simply decide that what our soldiers are doing is "pointless" and "dumb." And people are entitled to their opinions but to express that to an Army wife, or heaven-forbid, a soldier befuddles me. Who does that and thinks its appropriate? TONS of people. They apologize for him having to do something so "terrible". Well, I am sorry he is defending that person's idiocy.

I fully understand that so many people just do not understand what they are doing there - because they aren't in it - and that is the only thing that prevents me from saying everything I think of what they just said. But please understand this:

Many of these soldiers joined during wartime and those who joined before have reenlisted or re-signed since then. My husband joined three years before September 11th but has re-signed his contract twice since we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. No one forced that upon him. Do not diminish the service of our military men and women by acting like this has been forced on them. They chose this, knowingly, understanding what they were about to face. They choose it everyday, as well as their families. No soldier joins, especially now, not understanding that there is a war going on. If they weren't willing to fight - they wouldn't volunteer to do so.

Do not forget September 11th. Our soldiers remember. Those who joined the day after remember. And don't think for a moment that that doesn't still matter. We have not had an attack on our soil since then. Thank a soldier for that.

I miss my soldier every moment. My children miss their father. It breaks me every night when my son repeatedly presses the button in the teddy bear that holds my husband's voice. But I do not resent him or this country for taking him from me. This is my reality. A reality I also chose when I chose him. I am proud of my soldier. I am proud of his sacrifice. I am proud of his choice. Do not apologize for our separation. This is our reality. I recognize it. I live it as greatly as I can. I will thrive in it despite the challenges it presents.

There is good being done in those countries by our soldiers. Every job they provide to an Afghan civilian, gives one less penniless man for Al Qaeda to recruit. One less recruit to fly a plane into our buildings. One less tragedy that pauses our lives. There is so much more that our troops do than what people hear on the news or read in the paper. They are not just killing Taliban and hunting down members of Al Qaeda - there will always be more. They are weakening their hold on these poverty-stricken people. They are giving other options to survive in an area that has depended on these extremist to survive for decades and decades. They are giving options in a land that never provided another choice. Do not be misinformed as to their mission. There are many - they are all vital to our safety and our survival.

"And for what?" she had said. "What is the point?"

THAT is the point. For us to never feel what we felt on that day again. For us to never feel the absolute terror. For our children to survive. For our children to live in the country that we knew before September 11th.

This war will end. It will end when all that can be done, has been done. And if another comes - these men and women will stand up again ready to defend. Our freedom is never guaranteed. Our freedom is always at risk. Do not allow that promise of freedom to cloud your understanding of what it requires to sustain it.

My husband is a soldier. He does not demand your apology. He does not demand anything from you.

Do not look to me with sad eyes. Do not offer me words of regret. They are not welcome here.

Offer your gratitude. Offer your support. Offer your prayers. All of these will be taken. All of these will be appreciated. All of these will be relayed to the men and women who deserve them.

Please keep all other opinions to yourself - and if you can't, pray that I can continue keeping grace.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Toughest Job

I have been putting off writing this post ... mainly because I know that not everyone will agree with me. Don't get me wrong - I don't expect everyone to agree with what I say - but to word this in a way that can be really understood will be difficult. When I write, while everything I write is very much my opinion and the experiences of my family, I like to hope that many of my emotions and feelings are universal among military families. This hope is why I write, it is what gives me comfort, it is what pushes me to continue. But what I will write about today is a divided issue. It is also an issue that I find some wives get fired up about (including myself) no matter which side they are on. Both sides have valid points and I do not intend to demean those who do not agree with me or to make light of the intense hardships Army Wives undergo while our husbands are away. But today I took our first son to meet his first preschool teacher in his first school ever and his daddy did not get to be there.

I knew that tomorrow would be more difficult - I would have to leave him then. It would be a monumental moment of becoming one step closer to him being a big boy. Today we were just going to meet his teacher, let him get comfortable in the classroom, let him meet the other kids he would see everyday. I checked to be sure his name was on all of the supplies, quickly remembered to copy his shot records, and made sure his face didn't have any syrup left on it from his waffle this morning.

I, unlike most parents, do not have a child who cries when I leave. As soon as he sees the other kids and toys, he waves and yells "BYE!" like I can't get away quick enough. He is fiercely independent and has been, basically, since the day he was born. After 23 hours of induced labor, my son decided to make his appearance in a horrifying, dramatic way (which I briefly spoke about a little while back). He has never been afraid of people - a blessing and a curse. So, for me, today the only fear I had was trying to pry him away when it was time to leave. Let's just say, it was not a fun experience.

"NO!!" He shouted as I said it was time to go back home. My mind quietly began to panic.

"Please, don't let it happen! Please, God, if you want me to remain a sane mother, PLEASE don't let this happen!" I prayed fiercely, and repeatedly, in my head.

It seemed like we might be okay. He took my hand and we were heading out. I couldn't believe it! "There is a God!" I joked to myself (again in my head - I hope).

Well, this God has a sense of humor, and just to let me know how funny he is, he placed it right in front of our path. There it was - my mortal enemy. The one thing that would stop him from acting like a tamed toddler. I had never seen one so big - with working buttons and a "real" laser. I could hear laughter coming from somewhere up in the sky. "Seriously? Seriously?!" I thought.

"BUZZ!!" Logan shouted. The battle began to get him out of there. It was embarrassing. It was mortifying. It almost didn't happen. But it did and by the time we got out, I could feel my blood pressure rising and the sweat beginning to seep from my pores as I dragged my toddler kicking and screaming into the deep south's humid, hot air all the way to our car around the block.

And for just a second I thought it. As I replayed the other faces in the room, mostly replaying the faces of the many fathers who were there with their wives, I thought it. Just for that split second, when I couldn't take the thought back. "He is SO lucky he isn't here."

There is a bumper sticker that seems to be pretty popular among Army Wives. I would bet, while I do not know, that the other branches have one similar that tattoos the many SUV's and soccer mom vehicles that patrol the bases and posts. I do not have one. I do not want one.

"Army Wife - toughest job in the Army"

A dainty script pens the words and a red rose curls around them. The image and the font itself makes me chuckle every time I see it. But I do not agree with it.

Today was tough. Yes, my husband could have lifted Logan up over one shoulder and gotten him out of there much faster than myself with a stuffed, heavy purse and a stack of papers and that stupid fundraiser book. And he would have loved to have been able to do it.

Yes, I have to juggle being both parents while still, very much, trying to keep "daddy" present and active in their lives. Is this difficult? Incredibly. Having two children 22 months apart is hard enough by itself. But to do it without daddy while trying to keep daddy a part of it is difficult and exhausting. It is trying, it is tiring, it is overwhelmingly stressful. We have to deal with the hardships of raising children while our spouses - for a time - do not have to. We have to deal with the meltdowns and the hair-pulling-out moments while our spouses - for a time - do not have to. But we also get the hugs, and actually hearing "I love you's" while our spouses - for a time - do not get to. We proudly get to watch them as they grow and as they laugh and as they learn, gradually, while our spouses - for too much time - do not get to. They do not get to stroke their child's hair as he/she sleeps or wipe tears or kiss bo-bo's. And it isn't just that they miss it. They carry the knowledge that they are missing these moments with them everyday. I would never be tough enough for that.

We have to deal with the absolutely ignorant things that people say about the military, about the wars, about what is going on. We get to respond. They have to hear these things and defend the people who say them while saying nothing. There is no way I am tough enough for that.

He knows, everyday, that there is so much that he is missing. He carries the guilt of not being here for his children, for his wife. Knowing that the vow that he made to his country conflicts with the vows that he made to me. I would not be tough enough to carry that. Everyday, he carries the reality that while each day our toddler runs into my legs to hug me, he may be scared of him when he comes back home. I would not be tough enough for that. Everyday he struggles with the reality that our infant smiles when he sees my face, and reaches out for my arms wanting me to hold him and love him but that when he comes home, Eli will probably not walk to him. That this child will cling to my leg as his oldest son use to cling to his. He knows this, he carries this, he lives this, all while continuing his mission at hand. I am not tough enough.

Soldiers have seen horrible things - a way of life that to most, would be impossible to handle - and they keep going. They keep doing what they have promised to do. They lose friends in war and back at home and continue on. They miss the funerals of family members who pass on while they are away. They miss the time to mourn because they simply do not have it. They miss first days of school. They miss births. They miss first years. They miss graduations. They miss bringing their children to college. They miss first dances, first dates, "meeting the parents" talks. They miss father's days. They miss little kisses. They miss little smiles. They miss days. They miss months. They miss years.

We don't.

It is hard to go through this "alone." And hard doesn't explain it correctly. It truly may take superpowers. There is something that must exist within us that must not exist in those who do not do what we do. Yes, it is a "tough"ness. But what I do here, I will not believe, is tough"er" than what my husband does there. What I have to handle everyday is not nearly as heavy as what he carries with him on every mission, in every e-mail, with every wink of sleep, in every moment he is alone. He is alone.

I am not tougher than him. What the Army asks me to do is not the "toughest" job. I support him. I try my best to keep him focused. I do my best to keep him here while he is there. It is not a job. It is not my "job" to be his wife. It is my commitment. It is my honor. It is my joy.

It is his job.

He is a soldier.

Toughest job in the Army.

ONLY job in the Army.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Letting Go and Holding On

These past two weeks have been difficult weeks for me - mainly because I have had control over nothing. For those who know me, this is a very difficult thing for me to handle. Since I have entered into this life it has been a constant back and forth battle between the Army and myself. Let's just say the Army is winning.

But despite the numerous, stress-filling times that the Army has ripped the little bit of control or stability I thought I had from my grasp, I somehow become frustrated and overwhelmed nearly every time. And there is so much I cannot go into, mainly because there is little that I actually know - another thing that threatens my sanity at times.

These past weeks have been a battle, also, between his world over there and our continuing world over here. A complicated dance between giving information and holding back, speaking in code, figuring out what the other person can handle at the time with the uncertainty of when we will be able to share any communication again. He has held back, mostly (I think) because he simply is not allowed to tell me. I know the minimum (which may not even be true). That is a reality I simply have to accept - even if I don't want to. The little I know, worries me, and straight-up scares me. Over the last several weeks, I have also had to hold information back. I have been undergoing a few things that are best for him to not worry about while his mind needs to focus on other things.

Most people will tell you not disclosing everything, to not communicate, will ruin a marriage. For Army families, it can be a necessity. Our soldiers have sworn a vow to their country that somethings are not to be shared - no matter who they share with. And I am not saying soldiers don't tell their wives things - they do. But there is so much that we don't know. And we just have to accept that - without anger towards them. And at times, as much as it is hard for me to accept, this probably saves us from more worry and fear. But at times, there is information that we keep - or should keep from them while they are away from us. As a wife, while my husband is in combat I want his focus to be on his task at hand not on what is stressful to us back home. I feel I carry a great responsibility to lessen his worry, to lessen what overcomes his thoughts. I cannot protect him from the dangers of war. I cannot shield him from those who wish him harm. I cannot prevent anything that is to come. But I can help him to focus. I can pray he has the strength to endure. I can assure him that we are okay back home. I can send him joy and the happiness that comes from his son's wave through a webcam and his baby's smile as I hold him. I can provide him with the comfort of hearing that I am doing okay.

I have to focus on what I can do and remove myself from all of the things that I cannot. I have to focus on what I know and remove the thoughts of what I do not - because there is so much I will never know. I have to accept that this mission he is being sent on is something I cannot change. That the uncertainty of it is simply the reality.

It is not easy - both to not know and to not tell. It is tiring, it is emotional, it sucks - but it is the reality. We can't change it. Period.

And to accept that is not something I have been able to master yet. I don't know if I ever will. I don't know if I will ever be able to let it go as soon as it comes.

Uncertainty is our life.

That will not change. But, oh how I wish it would.