"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, December 29, 2011

When the Timer Resets

My focus over the last two weeks has been on family. My absolute-number-one-nothing-else-matters focus has been on the four of us. And of course so much of that was because this time - this Christmas season - was beyond important for the four of us to have together.

I loved this Christmas. I loved that we shared the joy together. I love that C was here to hand the boys their presents and struggle with them through mass while I sang (HE may not have enjoyed that) and that we shared every moment of a perfectly simple day with just us. I am so very, very grateful that we were given this time.

But what brought that focus in the most, what made me hold C's hand tighter and take more pictures and try my hardest to remember each detail is because days before leave began our 'timer' reset.

It feels like he just got home.

My heart has been beyond heavy. I knew this was coming. I knew it.

I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.

But it's when the words are spoken for the first time - with actual timelines and plans and schedules. It's when it is released to the soldiers. When they go home to tell their families.

It's when it becomes real.

When every moment suddenly becomes counted, fleeting, sinking through your fingers. The world stops for just a moment.

You forget how to breathe.

Here you are again. At the beginning of an end - knowing how quickly time goes by. Knowing that every next day is one day closer.


Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock.

God, give me strength.

Monday, December 26, 2011

So Many Ways to Love - To Be the (Army) Sister

I first introduced Amanda to you in her guest post The Nitty Gritty as an Army Wife. I am very happy to re-introduce her as the second writer in the So Many Ways to Love series. Amanda is not just an Army wife, she is also an Army sister. Thank you for writing, Amanda! 

I remember the day my oldest brother told my mom he was considering joining the Air Force after high school graduation.  This occurred a few short months after our dad passed away, during my brother’s senior year of high school.  He graduated in 1999, so this conversation was pre-2001.  My life is very much defined by pre and post 2001.

My brother told our mom as we (my two brothers, my mom and myself) had a casual lunch on the Strand in Galveston, TX.  It was one of the few things that we did just the 4 of us after our dad passed away.  My mom – surely at her wits end – declared that she would have nothing of this conversation and she would not be a military mom.  Period.  My brother did not join the Air Force, but I remember that conversation so clearly because 4 years later, in 2003, I laughed at its irony as my middle brother enlisted in the Army.

I became an Army Wife in 2007, but I actually joined the ranks of the army in 2003 when my brother did.  I had no idea that the profession of a sibling could have such a great impact on someone until that day.  We had not yet invaded Baghdad, but our country was steadfast in our effort to bring an end to terror and declare war on anyone who stood in our way.  I had never been more scared in my life.
My middle brother and I were not close until a few months before he graduated from high school, and if someone had told me pre-2001 that he may one day join the military I probably would have joked “the sooner the better” as it would have had him out of the house.  But I couldn’t seem to hug him tight enough when I said goodbye before he went to basic training.  My life was changed forever, and I hadn’t had any say in it.

We wrote letters during basic training, and I know anyone who has had a loved one join the military knows that the things written in those letters are things you’ll never hear again.  The love that new soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines pour out during this time is rare and heartfelt and you will hear things you never knew.  I still have that stack of letters, as I know he told me things that he may never say again.  But we learned a lot about each other through his training, and I am confident that in any other facet of life we would not have taken this opportunity.  I supported him through letters during basic training, drove across the country to visit him in his advanced training, flew to Hawaii to see him at his first duty station (quite the sacrifice on my part) and loved hearing the ever-changing plans that all soldiers seem to embrace.  Plans to go here or there, sign up for this school or that school, try to join this group or that group – it never changes, and when it’s my brother rather than my husband I love hearing it.  When it isn’t MY everyday life, it is fun to chuckle at the constant change and uncertainty.  And it is to my brother’s army career that I owe great thanks for my marriage to my husband.  My brother found his email address through AKO and my husband and I rekindled an old relationship that way.

But when my brother deployed to Iraq in 2009, almost a year after my husband had gotten home, I was not prepared for how different the experience would be.  As a sister I didn’t get the frequent updates, the details, the good and the bad.  I didn’t hear from him at every opportunity he had, and I didn’t obsessively check my phone or email to see if he’d written.  But the level of concern and worry was just as high as it had been when my husband was deployed.  In some ways, it was greater.  My brother had been my protector my entire life.  He had punched kids square in the face for teasing me, he had ended friendships with my ex-boyfriends who had broken my heart, he had been there for every joy and every sorrow of my life – and no matter what obstacles life brought, I always knew my brother was there.  He’d love or hate someone simply by me asking him to, and he’d stop at nothing to be sure his baby sister was ok.  He had done for me and given to me my entire life, and for a little over a year I was no longer able to call on him if I needed help.  I couldn’t call him to drive two hours to keep my company, I couldn’t call him when I missed our dad, I couldn’t lean on him in the capacity that I had grown accustomed to.  Because communication between a sister and a brother is so different than that between a husband and a wife, I couldn’t depend on him in the way that I now depend on my husband while he is in Afghanistan.  I learned for a brief time what it might be like to live life without my brother, and I learned just how lucky I am to have him.

Upon returning home and learning that my husband would soon deploy to Afghanistan (I had a short 3 months reprieve in between) my brother reenlisted and requested he be stationed just an hour away from where we are stationed.  Why?  Because when he’s not away, he still finds it his job to protect me and make sure that I am ok.  He took it upon himself to take care of my lawn, my house, and anything else I may need while my husband is away.  He has become one of my best friends.

I am often thanked and acknowledged for my service as an Army Wife and I receive special treatment when my husband is deployed.  But I am equally proud and thankful for my role as an Army Sister, and I enjoy learning how different the two can be.

Is it ok to say, though, that I would be perfectly happy never knowing what it means to be an Army Mom?  Because I fear that would be the most gut wrenching role of all.


If you are a sister, a mother, a father, a brother, a best friend, a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, etc of a service-member and would like to share your story I would love to hear from you. Please email toloveasoldier (at) gmail (dot) com.

Monday, December 19, 2011

So Many Ways to Love - To Be the Mother

Everything that I write is something I have felt or am feeling, is something I have lived through or that I have seen others live through. I write the life I know. The life I live. The life that I dearly love.

I write about the love between a mother and child, between fellow military spouses - the band of sisters, between dearest friends, sometimes moments of love between strangers ... I write about love between a husband and wife, a daddy and his sons, a soldier and his partner. 

These are things I know.

In To Give a Child, I speak about the thought of giving a child to the nation. That is what I think a mother does when her son or daughter enlists. I wrote about the way the thought of that moves me. But that is all I can speak of it - about how I think it will be if one of my babies decides to follow in their daddy's footsteps. I have never had a child come to me and tell me they want to serve our country. I did not have to sign my name giving permission like C's mother did when he was only seventeen. I have never given a child. I don't know what that feels like.

Judy does.

I cannot tell you how I honored I am to introduce her to you. She has given a son. Below I would like to share a little of what she wrote about this love. Please take a moment to read it and to then pop over to her blog. Our community is not just the spouses - there are mothers and sisters and fathers and brothers. There are the mothers who have raised the soldier, the airmen, the sailors, the marines. There are the mothers who hold the ones who love them. Our community reaches beyond the lines of "spouse".

There are many ways to love a soldier.

Judy knows what it means to love an Airman - her son:

I never thought I would be the mother of a son who went to war - never in million years. Never.

And I am. 

I shouldn’t be surprised.  Both of my son’s grandfathers served during World War II.  He grew up listening to their stories.  When he joined the Air Force 10 years ago, I viewed it as an opportunity for him to receive unique training.  In addition, he, his wife and their children have experienced wonderful adventures and made friends for life.  But he’s still my little boy.

Deployment?  I never wanted that for him, and told him so.  He responded that not going would be much like being a doctor who had been trained to save lives, but only allowed to work on cadavers.  He’s bright, he has skills.  He’s needed.  But he’s still my little boy.

My son and I have an extraordinary relationship.   We make one another laugh.  We challenge one another’s wits and beliefs.  He is the evidence that all of our family’s traits and secrets will survive another generation.  But he’s still my little boy.

I see him in uniform and I see him in the sandbox.  I see him saluting and I see him waving from his tricycle.  I see him standing next to a helicopter and I see him standing next to Santa.  I hear his voice from many time zones away and I hear him saying his prayers, tucked safely in his bunk bed.

He’s a grown man, he’s a husband, he’s a father, he’s gone to war.  But he’s still, and always will be, my little boy.

Please visit Judy's blog:

This is the first of a series "So Many Ways to Love." If you are a sister, a mother, a father, a brother, a best friend, a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, etc. I would love to hear from you. Please email toloveasoldier (at) gmail (dot) com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Harsh Reality

I have talked before about how blessed I am in my friendships. The people I have formed relationships with in this life span every experience within it. Those at or nearing retirement, those just beginning, those walking the same path, and many who are not. I have friends that I have known and loved for twenty years - twenty-one, actually - that have seen it all. That have never failed me. Who have stood by me. Two in particular are the very closest to my heart. One who I can never remember a moment without her, can never remember a time that she was not the first that I went to with good news. Cannot remember a time when she wasn't very, very present. The only argument we have ever had was over an LSU SEC Championship ticket our freshman year of college. It almost destroyed our friendship.

You may understand why we work so well together.

The other, my d-bwa-bwa, has a name harder to spell than mine (my maiden name, that is). We fought all the time - about little things, about big things, about anything but somehow, none of that ever mattered. None of it every changed who we were to each other. She danced in the rain with me and a bottle of wine the day I turned twenty-one. And yesterday she asked me to stand beside her at her wedding - knowing that I may not be able to, knowing that that was when C was "supposed" to be deploying again, knowing and respecting that if I had to choose I would always choose him. I should be there but if not, she had planned to leave my spot empty, my name in the program, and saying something to the effect of "Saying goodbye to her hero as he prepares to deploy".

I am richly blessed by my friendships.

It is this goodness that I have known that makes my heart break for another friend in this life. When I met D she was engaged to her soldier. She has a kind, kind heart. I feel incredibly blessed to have her in my life. As a newlywed she is learning the hard way how at times some people just do not understand how this life works - even those closest to us. D and her husband's good friends just became engaged. The groom has asked him to be his best man.

I think we all know how difficult it is to give a straight answer to a scheduling question. I think we all know how much we honestly just don't have any idea when we are available, when our soldier can 'take time off work', if we can make that big family trip in seven or eight months. I know how frustrating it can be to sit on the other side of this - trying to make plans to include us, trying to work with a schedule that is so continuously changing it really doesn't exist.

D's husband can have no idea if he will be there. He leaves for his last major training for his first deployment just days before the proposed wedding date. C had to return to work three days after we were married. We were married on Saturday, stayed the day in New Orleans Sunday, and moved to Fort Campbell together on Monday. On Tuesday we were both at work. That is how this life goes.

We do not control time or schedules or events. NOTHING takes priority over the needs of the country. That is a tough pill to swallow - even for those of us who live the military life everyday. But D's friends ...

They have said some hurtful things over the last several days, bringing her to tears during an already emotional time - because her husband can't say whether or not he will be there. He can't say what he will be doing the next day, let alone months down the road. There isn't a "time-off" calendar that they submit their requests for. He can't call in sick and take a trip down for the wedding. He can't just not show up for a day or two. Those things just don't work. This is a very, very different world.

D's husband has been training so much that he is away far, far more than he is home (much more than the norm for us - they are always gone more than they are home). They haven't sat down to a real meal together in who knows how long. He is too busy to call people back, or answer emails, or what-not because he literally has no time. Sometimes people just do not understand that there are times when soldiers go into work at four in the morning and may not return until midnight. There are days that they are gone for days and weeks - while they are in country. This isn't a nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday life. This is twenty-four/seven, three-sixty-five. A soldier is never "off work". I know in the civilian world that is a near impossible thing to grasp. It is our daily life.

The groom - a friend close enough to ask D's husband to hold this honor - told D that she and he are ruining his life because they can't say they will be there. That the Army is messing his entire plan up. That they aren't being considerate because they aren't giving yes or no answers, or can't give any response immediately, or that her husband doesn't answer when he calls.

Yes, he actually told her that.

D's husband is preparing to deploy.

To, ya know, a war zone.

As an Infantry-man with an Infantry unit.

It's, um, kind-of a big deal.

But D and her husband are "ruining" their friends' lives. Because, while he can't tell his wife whether he will see her in the next twenty-four hours, he also can't tell them if he will be standing at the altar in twenty-four (really less) weeks.

Oh what people can't understand ...


What advice do you have for my good friend D? And if you don't have any advice to share, give her a lil' encouragement! She is one beautiful young woman and my heart breaks for her.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Clinging to Pictures

In the last twenty-four hours two friends have brought events up that they are struggling with. These are two very different situations, two very different women, in two very different places on their journey but they both focus on the daily struggles stemming from a misunderstanding of the military life. Today I want to tell you about W.

W is one of the most experienced military spouses I know. She has walked this path for two decades, loving  a man who was first a marine and then became a soldier. A man who has been separated from her for five, year-long deployments, who has served honorably, who is right at the end, looking at retirement. She is a woman of dignity and goodness and full of good humor. She is just as addicted to Starbucks coffee as I but can appreciate a cup of Dunkin' Donuts as well. She makes me laugh. She has talked me through and made me smile during some difficult periods of my journey. She is a dear friend, my greatest mentor, an example I try to follow. 

And all those things make it all the more difficult for me to know that someone has hurt her. It shows that no matter how long we have been in this, there are some moments - some words - that still blindside us, knock us over. Bring angry tears to our eyes. A friend of hers, a friend she has known for twenty years - nearly her ENTIRE period in the military life, made a random, horrendous comment in a "catching up email" about the pictures taken of her husband's last day on American soil. I asked if I could share:

"...I have to say I got so tired of: D in the car going to the airport. D arriving at the airport. D walking into the airport, etc. It was overkill, W. I know you love the guy but we all have loved ones that have been deployed. Don't be mad."

I don't even know where to start here. 

I. have. no. idea.

This is her friend saying this - of twenty years. Randomly, in an email, talking about her new job and school and etc. etc. sectioned off, just to get her point across. Months, almost a YEAR, after this event took place. This event being her husband - of twenty years - leaving his wife and son on his fifth deployment to a war zone.

I get that maybe some people think it is strange to photograph that. I do. I know how hard that must be to understand. My best friend took pictures of C and I's last hour together before he deployed. She took pictures of us holding our children, took pictures from behind us, of our shoulders leaning into each other just sitting. Of Logan nestled into C's chest - knowing that "something sad" was taking place. She has pictures of C's last kiss to Logan, of his last kiss to Eli, and there is a photo - taken with a simple camera by a far from professional photographer - of C and I holding our children as he kissed my forehead for the very last time. My nose is red, my chin is fat, my lips are curled in as I try with ev-er-y-thing in me to hold back the tears. That photo may be one of the most beautiful pictures I own. 

Every single time I see it ... 

And yes, it is morbid, and yes, I am sure it doesn't make sense to most people, but I needed those moments documented. I needed to have them. If he didn't ... if the doorbell ... if that was my last moment with him I NEEDED TO HAVE IT. I needed to be able to look back at it. I needed my boys to have pictures of their daddy holding him, and loving them, and being with them, because if he didn't come home ... if he didn't come back to them ... they needed to have these pictures.

Because they would not remember.

Judge that however you need to. Hate me for it. Criticize that manner of thinking. I don't care. But do not - DO NOT - say it to me. Do not, for a moment, think you have any right to cross that line. 

You don't.

And not everyone has had someone deployed - that number just doesn't work. There are just over 500,000 soldiers - a number which will soon lessen - and so, no, not everyone has had a family member deployed. And when you get into what type of family member, and what type of deployment ... I should say that her son is in the air force and was deployed to a fob (which he never left) for three months at some point. Separation is separation, but ... 

Unless you know what it is to send the father of your child(ren), into a combat zone, as a combat soldier, you do not get to criticize - not to us - or put your ignorant thoughts into a casual email, or comment on our Facebook, or scan through our pictures and then hate us for posting them. 

Because people like this woman - who we think are our friends, our best friends - can hurt the strongest of military spouses. Even those with two decades of experience. We can brush it aside when it is strangers, people who can't possibly understand sometimes, but when it is our closest and dearest ... someone who has watched us struggle through, who has listened as we cried for them, who have acted as a sounding board ... 

It makes us question a lot.

Because that is what gets me, that people don't THINK anything of WHAT THEY SAY. She had NO IDEA that what she was saying would kill her friend's spirit - or else she just. didn't. care. No one has a right to take that from one of us. We fight too hard to reach that strength, to hold onto it, to KEEP it, and to say something so awful ... 

People just don't think.

They do NOT think. 

Oh how I wish I could change that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

To Find a Way

I am very much of the mindset that we choose how we will respond to this life. No we cannot choose when deployments do and do not come. We can't choose where they go to, if they are in harms way or if they are support. No one consults us about not having a spouse around for the birth of a child, or the first year of life, or through potty-training, or through grad school, or undergrad. We do not get to call our spouse for support when we get a flat, or a pipe bursts, or there is a giant, unidentifiable insect climbing up our bedroom wall.

The world will begin to fall apart at times. Our lives will become more and more difficult as time passes. Any change in the plan - whether it's a deployment being extended or, yes, even shortened - these changes, challenges, can break us down, rattle the spirit, put into question our own resolve.

We have all lived through the moments; and if you haven't - you will. I think that may be the key to overcoming them - knowing they will come. Knowing that so much of this is a battle - a battle that so often just lies within ourselves. Recognizing our reality- understanding what this life requires - prepares us for what it will bring.

This life takes your whole heart - I mean in its entirety. The soft spots that allow us to love easily, to greet each other joyfully, to embrace each other, to hold one another in the harder moments. The parts that contract in and out, allowing us to adjust, to bid farewell, to begin again, to keep strength in and to allow it to venture out.  The worn parts that carry the heartache and the fear and the sadness - the parts that keep us feeling, that always seem like they cannot become anymore broken but somehow can just one more time. The places we always carry, quietly, heavily. The parts that can never leave us. That humble us. That come quickly forward and then just as quickly fade. Recalled again and again and again. There are the solid parts that hold our pride, hold the vows, hold the joy. The parts that we remind ourselves of when the darkness comes forward and the days get harder and the nights are long. Yes, it takes the whole heart.

It all makes up our strength, our armor. Everything that happens in this life can happen to or for us. We are victims or warriors. Every struggle is a moment for Grace. Every heartache, every moment they cannot be here for, brings us closer to the One who made us for this. Every moment that we survive - without distain for the separation, without anger towards a spouse who "chose a country over us" - every moment that we recognize something has been put there for a purpose - to help us to grow in love, in faith, in patience is a moment that we thrive. Sometimes we must find it on our own - sometimes we must allow someone else to grow by serving. Every obstacle we overcome, or struggle through, and sometimes even succumb to, adds to what our hearts hold.

How we love through this life has everything to do with how we respond to what it presents. There is always a choice, to flail or thrive, to be victimized or to overcome. Every moment has a purpose - every single moment.

This is a daily battle, a daily challenge, a daily life that always, always offers a choice.

It is never a question of "if" you can thrive through. I'm sorry, but it isn't. Asking that question sets you up to fail. It is always a question of "how".

All of us - all of us - can find a way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I cannot tell you how many times I have sat down to write about this. How many times I have wanted to pour it all out but can't because it is just too much, or I can't believe the things I am writing, or really just because I ... well ... can't.

These days are the days that I wish this nation understood our military more than ever before. That I wish that people understood that it isn't always just what we hear on the news. I wish that people understood that not all of the soldiers who were/are serving in Iraq will be home for Christmas ... or New Year's ... or Valentine's Day ... or EASTER. That they will finish out their deployments - all twelve months - elsewhere in that region. I wish people understood that mothers had to tell their children that "Daddy won't be home" after they celebrated and cried and hugged with the initial news. I wish people could understand what that does to a military family - how much it crushes the spirit. I wish people knew enough to understand that you can't believe everything you hear. I wish that people understood that not hearing anger from the military sector doesn't means there isn't any.

We don't speak about such things.

I wish people understood what just took place in Washington. I wish people understood what the inaction before Thanksgiving did and does and will do to our men and women in uniform. I wish people understood that men and women who have given years for this nation - some over a decade - will be told that they aren't worth the expense any longer. That they will lose everything they have given - because leaders can't agree, because they set themselves up for failure, because this all seemed like a big charade.

That the blood they spilt, or the images they carry of their buddy's lifeless body, or the moments they missed with their children, or the marriages they couldn't repair, or last moments they missed with a family member who died while they were away serving their nation, or the period they missed of their spouse battling cancer, or the youth they lost fighting a war beyond their years, or the limbs they gave, or the mind they lost, or the integrity they carried themselves with, or the graduations they couldn't be there for, or the friends they saw blown to pieces before their eyes, or the widows of those friends that they couldn't give answers to, or couldn't tell them why, or couldn't look at them without seeing their comrade, or the children that no longer have a father or a mother ...

That these things are expendable. That they aren't worth fighting for. That they aren't worth defending. No one fights for those who fight for us. They don't seem to matter - not just not enough - but not at all. It's despicable.

That they are the first to deem unable to afford. An easy cut.

And what gets me, what really gets me, is that we are STILL AT WAR. I cannot tell you how many Vietnam Vets told us they pray that what happened to them at the end of their war would not happen to us at the end of ours. If I knew how many I have met I could tell you how many have said that - because they ALL have said that while shaking our hands and sharing their stories - what they could bear to share.

But this isn't happening after they have all come home. Our soldiers aren't being abandoned when there is no longer a war to fight. No ... no no no. They are still going into the fight, or are in the fight, or are training, or are still fighting the battle in their minds, or are looking at their pregnant wives and know that they will miss the birth of that child but then maybe won't have a job when they return that will provide for their new family. We are STILL FIGHTING.

I don't care what you hear, what the 'media' says, they are NOT COMING HOME ANYTIME SOON. I know my husband is going again. I KNOW that. But somehow, while gutting the army (and - ah-YES - we are gutting our army) our guys are going to get two years at home with only nine-months gone. I guess I am not as good at math as I thought ... because I don't see how that works.

And what is that that I keep hearing on the news? In political debates? Iran?? Pakistan?? Possibility of Using Military Force??


I am hurting for our military - for the men and women who form its ranks. They are not just numbers - not just expenses. These are the very best of our nation. The most selfless beings that such a land can possess. And they will say nothing. They will carry it all inside. While they prepare for another deployment, while the 'people' misunderstand, while they take it all in - day in and day out - all while wondering if they will still have a job, if they will be able to provide for their family, if they will survive each wave of cuts ... I'm sorry ... "phasing outs".

They shouldn't have to carry that.

And not, NOT, while we are still at war. Not while more will be asked of them. Not while they are still willing to lay down their lives for a nation that is willing to break their spirit. To break their brotherhoods and sisterhoods. That sees no danger in destroying their morale.

It's disgusting.

But there is no one person to blame. No one person made this happen. No one has blood on their hands.

Except our soldiers as they spill their own for a nation that just told them they are expendable.

But no one understands that. No one knows. No one gets it. Because we don't talk about such things.

Ignorance is bliss. I wish I could be of the majority right now - not knowing. Maybe I would sleep. Maybe I wouldn't carry this anger. Maybe I wouldn't cry just thinking about the men and women who will change NOTHING THAT THEY DO because they are better than all of us. They will still give their youth, their memories, their fingers and hands and feet and legs and ears and sight and skin until the day they are in that next wave that is told they are no longer needed.

And some will take that with a dignity that will break my heart. If C is one, after signing his name for the first time fourteen years ago, after living through his senior year of high school as a soldier, after leading men and bringing them home, if he is "no longer needed" ...

I don't even know what to say.

God be with us. God be with our military. God be with our nation.


(I feel it is important to say that none of this reflects the opinions of my husband, his unit, his leadership. This comes from the heart of a spouse hurting for the country that she loves. You won't hear these things from C. You will NEVER hear these things from C. He loves his country, he will always do as he is asked and he will do so honorably without saying a word. I do not have have that strength.)