Post-deployment check in: How is your heart doing these days?

Let’s talk about you. How is your heart feeling these days? If you are doing great, never better then I want you to know you may not be in the majority. Some of your deployment sisters are having a hard time and now may be a good time to reach out and check up on those long-lost women you used to chat with on a weekly basis back in the dark days of the deployment. If you are one of those women who finds herself at a loss right now, you are not alone. I doubt I am wrong when I say that every single one of us has dealt with what you are going through to a certain degree at least once since our spouse returned from war.

Your heart may bleed for your soldier but it is still YOUR heart. Yours to take care of and yours to protect.

Your heart may bleed for your soldier but it is still YOUR heart: Yours to take care of and yours to protect.

I’ve written about reintegration and the problems Ty and I have encountered, I’ve also written about his amazing willingness to go to marriage classes and work through some of the “big stuff.” But, honestly, it is an ongoing process. Any military spouse can attest to the fact that frustrations pop up on a regular basis. We learn to pick our battles and see our spouse’s heart despite their actions but what about when the mounting problems seem to be overwhelming?

What about the issues that seem huge to us and yet somehow invisible to them?

What if communicating with your soldier has become a minefield that you’d rather avoid than take head on?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone.  Like I said before, every single problem that has been reported to me from my fellow spouses is one I have experienced myself or have heard from another SO, desperate for answers. Our sisterhood did not end when their plane touched down on American soil. We remain bonded in our ongoing journey to a new sense of normalcy and the happy medium we hope to find between the marriage we had THEN and the marriage we have NOW.

Second, remember that the man (or woman) you married and the person you kissed goodbye before this long ordeal is still very much with you. Even during periods of hard times, I’m sure you see glimmers of him. He’s in there. He may be different and the differences may be very hard to accept, but your husband is there and he needs your support more than ever.

(Note: If your problems with your soldier turn from communication issues into abuse, or you even suspect you are being abused you need to seek help immediately. Despite your spouse’s good heart, he may need more help than you can give and it is extremely important for your safety and emotional health that you do not remain silent about an abusive situation for ANY period of time. Seek help if you suspect you are being abused.)

makeyourselfhappy

Priority number one: make yourself happy

Maybe it was a physical trauma or just the displacement that comes with being in a war zone for a year that has affected him or maybe, like so many veterans, he is loosing touch with the things that tie him to this reality and finding himself more and more drawn to the reality he left overseas. No matter what the cause, the effect can be hard on the family emotionally, financially and psychologically. We can find ourselves feeling beaten down, unappreciated and even more responsible for everything than we were when our soldier was gone. You’re not alone and it is very unlikely that your soldier is doing it on purpose. The question becomes, what are you going to do about it?

It is my experience that every person is equipped with a certain toolbox. We gain tools from the families we were raised in and from years of experience with relationships. We bring these toolboxes into our marriages and when problems arise, we reach in and grab the only things we know how to use. Some people are lucky enough to have vast, expansive tool collections of healthy, effective problem solving mechanisms. I am not one of those people.  The tools I picked up from my family were mostly good but sometimes not so good and my past relationships were laden with poor communication, resentment, codependency and strife (young love isn’t as great as people make it sound). So when I boldly married a soldier I knew that I probably had no idea how to handle what was about to happen and I was right. Like REALLY right.

I had no idea how to handle the deployment. Did you? These things don’t really come with instruction booklets and a lot of us were lucky to make it through without completely losing our minds. So how in God’s name do we expect to be perfectly suited with the right tools to handle reintegration and post-deployment problem solving? I mean, that’s akin to asking me to install a new roof on my house or build an X-Ray machine. We’ve never done this, you guys. Even those of us who have been through one deployment have never been through TWO. That’s a completely different situation. You’ve never been through THIS deployment, sister. You cannot expect yourself to innately know how to handle it.

So where do we go to gain shiny new tools for uncharted territory? The answer for me has been therapy. I know what you’re thinking … well … I think I know. I think you may be sitting in your chair shaking your head and thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to go to a therapist. I’m not the one with the problems. I’m the same now as when he left.”

You know what? You might be right. You might be the same now as you were then. But we’re not talking about fixing what may or may not be wrong with you. We’re not talking about digging into your emotional past and talking about how your relationship with your great, great grandmother has shaped who you are today … we’re talking about TOOLS and therapists know tools. Trust me.

Think of it this way, we go to the dentist when we need root canals and oral surgery, right? Sure. But we also go when we just need a cleaning. We go when we want to have our teeth whitened so we can impress people at our high school reunions. We go for a multitude of reasons. All you have to do is TELL the dentist what you are there for and he or she will know how to proceed. The same is true for a therapist. Tell him or her what you need and he or she will give you the tools you want.

Some of you may be approaching this as strictly a couple’s issue. You may have inner dialogue that goes something like this:

“Our marriage is falling apart, our communication is dissolving and we fight whenever I try to talk to him. We are in a bad spot and we need counseling.”

This thought may be followed with something like this:

“I know he’ll never go to therapy. He doesn’t even think he has a problem and even if he did admit he has issues, he’s too proud to go. Our marriage may be in real trouble here.”

Let me suggest something to you, ok? You are strong. You made it through a deployment for goodness sake. You fixed appliances, changed the oil, watered the lawn and took care of the kids. You have the ability to take charge and do things on your own. If you need to take charge of your own happiness, you are completely capable of the task. You CAN go by yourself and you absolutely should.

Just because your soldier may be completely opposed to going to therapy doesn’t mean you are. You and your children need tools. If he is unwilling to get help, then you are even more in need of tools. Grab your big girl panties and your car keys and go get those tools, sister!

There are plenty of places to go. The Vet Center in Chico is located at 280 Cohasset Rd. and the phone number is 899-8549. They are there to help you. If you don’t feel like you get the answers you need from them, go online to Military One Source or call them. They do over-the-phone counseling calls for FREE. If military resources are not your preferred avenues, get a hold of a therapist in your area and put your Tri-Care benefits to work! A lot of therapists operate on a sliding scale based on income, too. I guarantee there is a resource out there that will fit your needs. You may have to do some legwork but you are a military spouse! You’ve got this. When we need something we get it and when we want something bad enough we are willing to work for it.  Your marriage, the happiness of your family and your own wellbeing are all very worthy causes. You just have to be proactive.

We spend a lot of time thinking about our spouses. As military SOs, we’re trained to put them first, consider their needs and their safety. We memorize the rules of OPSEC, go weeks upon weeks without communication and offer genuine understanding when our needs go unmet. But now is the time to think about you. You need to focus on your own mental health. If things are not going well or if you just need to talk, reach out. Reach out to the women who went through it with you. Reach out to the resources we learned about during those hours at Yellow Ribbon ceremonies or reach out to family and friends for support. But, whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to become isolated. We got through the deployment together; we can get through this, too!

What will be your step one?

What will be your step one?

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Our Military Marriage: A work of love and (tons) of patience

Let’s talk about change and adjustment.

It has been a little more than 4 months since my husband came down the escalator at Sacramento International Air Port and swept me off my feet for the second time in my life. It was a rush of emotion, a much-needed breath of relief and the very best hug/kiss I’ve ever had in my life … bar none. The newness lasted the better part of two months, getting used to each other again and being reminded of all of the little things we’d been missing for almost a year. I had forgotten (literally) how it felt to be wrapped up in one of his hugs and had lost touch with the sensation of his fingers curling around my palm. Getting used to being a duo again was a welcome transition and I got the rare opportunity to fall in love with Ty all over again. But, just like any love story that takes place in the real world, the “honeymoon” was bound to end and the homecoming butterflies slowly but surely gave way to everyday life … complete with mountains of government paperwork, doctors appointments, trips to the VA, money matters and space-sharing debauches. We were back to reality in no time FLAT and things seemed to be getting worse.

Ty and I squabbled over the kitchen table. A lot.

This is what reintegration feels like.

This is what reintegration feels like.

To him it was the ideal place to set his paperwork (by the truckload) in order to keep track of it. Letters and notifications from every conceivable government organization began coming in by (what seemed to me to be) the crateful and the surface of my beloved pub-style table disappeared beneath post-deployment leaflets galore! While Ty was gone the tabletop had reflected the season. In the spring it was adorned with bright yellow placemats and a pretty arrangement of daisies. In summer, there was a bouquet of chrysanthemums and in winter there was a festive glass bowl of green and red Christmas ornaments. I took pride in the centerpieces and they became part of my routine. My table, in short, had become sacred. I would walk in the door and find yet another stack of papers, which I would quickly sweep away and place elsewhere (MUCH to Ty’s chagrin). Upon his return home, he would notice their absence and the fight would ensue. Ahhh the joys of reintegration.

Another area of conflict was the use of “gruff” tones and biting comments that would seem commonplace among military ranks but, once aimed at one’s wife, become the source of hurt feelings and frustration. Ty was struggling to reset his communication from “kill/stun” mode to “respectful husband” mode and the shift was causing more than a little rift in the marital bliss department. Ty would say something to me, which would cause offense and I would respond (negatively). Ty’s brain was not used to dealing with frilly girl-time emotions and his response would be to ask me why I was being so “overly sensitive.” OHHH BOY.

My emotional responses had not changed from when he met me. If anything, months of deployment life had made me more emotionally resilient and flexible. But even my new, more armor-clad girl emotions were too much for Ty’s post-combat perceptions. It wasn’t that he didn’t WANT to relate to me, it’s that he had forgotten how. And so we started working.

Marriage is nothing if not an exercise in patience and grace. The life of the military spouse (be it soldier or civilian) is not an easy (or typical) one. Most couples deal with boredom and the seven-year itch. We deal with frag grenades and months of lonely nights. This is what sets us apart. No one said it would be easy and even the most lackadaisical and naive among us knew that reintegration would not be all tulips and daisies. Ty and I were no different, we knew there would be bad along with the good and so we talked it out and decided to take a (dun dun dunnnnnnnnn) marriage course. This is where I give my husband an enormous amount of kudos for his open-mindedness and ability to go the extra mile to work on our marriage. A lot of men (even good ones) turn up their noses at the thought of a marriage course. I think they imagine being forcibly relieved of their “man card” upon registration. I am here to testify that my husband is still in possession of said “man card” and is as masculine as ever. He also has a happy wife and all of the perks that come along with that, hehe. But in all seriousness, the tools we gained were incredibly useful and we managed (in true Tyler style) to have a lot of fun along the way.

Despite the helpful nature of our classes, there have still been times of friction (and not the good kind). The best explanation I have for the “adjustment period” is that this stuff just takes time. Sometimes it takes lots of time. Some things will probably stick around forever. That’s what life is about (and what makes all married people honorary Nobel Peace Prize winners). But learning to love your soldier’s new relationship/communication quirks is part of the deal. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with anything that makes you feel abused or under appreciated but it does mean that sticking with someone while they work through their own load of “stuff” is what we agreed to when we said “I do” especially when our groom came with a pair of dog tags and a stack of deployment orders.

The good news is that each new struggle and its subsequent lessons are treasures in disguise. There has never been a serious disagreement in my marriage that has not resulted in some kind of breakthrough. When we finally worked through the kitchen-table issue, Ty recognized that I have a penchant for making our house into a home and that I value beauty in our lives. He also realized that he appreciated my efforts to make things beautiful even more than he had originally thought. Now our table comes complete with a little basket for the most recent important papers, but still has the homey, decorative flair that I love so much (sans clutter). I have learned that the desire of Ty’s heart is always to love and respect me, even when his communication doesn’t reflect that. He doesn’t want me to put up with his gruffness and I’ve learned to cue him to it in a way that allows me to relieve my own frustration while doing my best to remain respectful and loving. The result? Our relationship is closer and more refined than ever.

Worth it.

Worth it.

The definition of refinement is “The process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from a substance.” In our case, that “substance” is our crazy, military marriage and we recognize that our refinement will undoubtably require heat and some uncomfortable grinding. But the result is renewed beauty and an eventual space next to those who have achieved the kind of vintage love that shines with understanding and grace. As this reintegration process continues, we have to smile and laugh at the mounting pile of lessons we’ve learned from this deployment season. We’ve learned to wait at an Olympic level, we can withstand the passage of time, we have learned to cope with loneliness and master our own emotions. We have established compassion for those who have reached the end of their rope and know what NOT to say to people in crisis. We have known the turbulence of separation and experienced the immense joy of reunion. And now, we learn the art of grace under fire from a whole new perspective. We are those who love soldiers and, in doing so, gain all of the wisdom and tools that come along with it. So, here’s to the refiner’s fire. May we endure it with grace and hope for its rewards.

The reward of a wait well done

Let’s talk about waiting.

It’s December. The tree in our house is up and the star on top is shining a gentile light on me as I sit in the living room and reflect on this year. The holidays usually sneak up on me. In past years I have found myself sitting in front of a Christmas tree thinking, how in the heck did I get here? Wasn’t it just Easter last week? But this year has been different in so many ways and when my calendar finally turned to December, I felt as though I had been waiting a lifetime to get here.

For me, 2012 has been a year of waiting. It began with a promise when my husband held me in his arms and pledged that he would return to me at the end of his tour. He smiled, those blue eyes sparkling, and reminded me of my favorite quality in him: His amazing ability to come through for me, even when the cards are stacked against him. Ty’s word is his bond and even though it may sound crazy, I knew that nothing would stop him from keeping that promise. So, when he left for Afghanistan, I knew he would return. It was just a matter of time.

And so the waiting began.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and gained wisdom and strength that I could not have gleaned under any other circumstances. I could reflect on any number of life-changing revelations but, tonight, one stands out that I feel encompasses them all: A season of waiting is something to revere and treasure.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of things about waiting are painful and frustrating. If I had a nickel for every time I felt like my head was going to explode this year, I would be posting this blog from a luxury apartment in the south of France. There were absolutely times when the anxiety reached a fever pitch and the crushing sensation of helplessness left me grasping for what seamed like a lost sense of security and control. There were times when I felt adrift, aloof and almost emotionless. Deployments are not for sissies. It takes an iron will and a certain degree of stubbornness to make it through. But as the end draws closer, I see all of my struggles through the prism of gratitude and revel in the gifts I have found in learning to wait.

As adults, we tend to think of such lessons as elementary. We learned to wait when we were in preschool, right?

“Wait your turn.”

“Don’t push in line.”

“yaddah, yaddah.”

But I believe that most of us have not even begun to master the art of waiting. This skill requires what amounts to a black belt in endurance and a doctorate-level grasp on faith, personal strength and identity. To wait well, one must be able to endure a looming question for an indeterminate period of time without being tempted to seek an answer. Self-control, self-reliance and grace under pressure are essential and, to top it all off, waiting requires patience – which has never, EVER been my forte.

So, once the list of prerequisites to a successful season of waiting have been weighed and measured, it is not something that anyone would expect to master at an early age (or at any age). Just considering going through the training to gain such a lofty skill set is exhausting. Taking such a charge willfully definitely requires motivation that is rooted in something even greater than the pain. For military spouses, that motivation is love: The most powerful force on Earth and arguably the greatest and most fearsome human motivator in existence.

Our hearts dictate our task and so we have no choice but to wait.

Just as one would expect, we struggle at first. In the beginning, we don’t even see the treasures that await us on the journey. All we see is the unfolding road and its certain perils. We are weighed down by the burden of our uncertainty and, for a long time, we are paralyzed by the unfamiliar. We try to convince ourselves that if we just sit where we are for long enough, the season will blow over and we will come away unchanged. But soon we see that doing nothing is just as dangerous as proceeding, so we stand and start to walk.

The first adversary we meet is fear of the unknown, followed by loneliness. From those battles, we begin to cultivate courage and strength and encounter our independence and resilience. Next come anxiety and fear, which we learn to defeat with faith and perseverance. Then come insecurity, distrust and worry, which only refine our faith and bolster our determination.

As we move forward, we meet new trials and reencounter old ones, each time gaining something new and becoming stronger, keener and more apt for the fight. There are times when we fight alongside others and remind them of their strength and there are times when we call upon our friends to shield us when we lose our own footing. But with each passing day and each new challenge, we gain wisdom and get closer to our prize.

Eventually we come to the place I am now, sitting in front of this Christmas tree. The walk here was long and, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea how I survived it. The person I was at the beginning of all of this has been completely transformed. I have earned some combat scars, sustained a few wounds and met some amazing new battle buddies along the way. But, as I sit here tonight, I feel most accomplished in my ability to wait with grace. I have no idea when this journey will come to an end and I don’t need a date or a time or a definitive answer of any kind. There is no telling what the next curve of the road will bring me, but I know now that I will be filled with grace for that battle when I arrive. I am not full of anxiety, because I have learned that anxiety does nothing but cripple me and rob me of the lessons I could learn from whatever awaits. In short, I have learned to wait and wait well.

I am a true believer in the adage that no trial is wasted on those who are determined to gain wisdom and each trial is sure to hold its share of riches. I also believe that a season of waiting is the crown jewel of trials. It is not easy and it is not for the faint of heart, but in it hides a treasure-trove of incredible assets that would, under normal circumstances, take a lifetime to gain.

Tonight, as I sit in front of this Christmas tree I find myself thanking God for the trials and for each opportunity to overcome and grow. It isn’t over yet but I know that when this season comes to an end and the next journey beings, I will face it with a sense of preparation and a joy that can only come from the heart of someone who know her own power and aptitude. This prize has been the most costly and difficult thing I have ever attained and yet, without a moment’s hesitation, I can tell you that it was absolutely worth everything it took to get here.

In the end, you must choose for yourself whether your season of waiting will lead you to victory or defeat. But, should you choose to endure what it takes to find yourself where I have found myself tonight, I guarantee you will feel the same sense of overwhelming appreciation and will, for perhaps the first time in your life, know that you possess what it takes to meet and overcome anything that life could ever throw your way. And I promise you, that feeling alone is worth the wait.

Oven Mitts and Arguments: using humor to stop a fight before it starts

Let’s talk about oven mitts.

I was driving to work this morning, listening to the radio and taking in all of the new fall colors on HWY 299 when a story came on about couples’ arguments and how a lot of what triggers them is brain circuitry that takes a person (or people) through the same routine again and again.

The topic struck a chord with me so I listened in a little more intently. I don’t know about you but one of my only remaining anxieties about this deployment is the turbulence a homecoming could cause after a year apart, growing as individuals in independence and emotional strength. I’m used to my life running a certain way with a certain schedule that has kept me sane and smiling through these months without him. Despite all that, my routine can take a hike any old time if it means I get my husband back and I would  gladly cash in any amount of alone time for just one hour of normal married life. That being said, I still know that transitions like the one we are about to face can cause a foundational shift, which can cause arguments to spring up. Knowing that has given me a new reason to lose sleep at night, projecting myself into hypothetical fights and trying to figure out ways to diffuse them (this is what my brain does to me at night … wheee). Because of my most recent insomnia, I was eager to glean a little bit of new-school wisdom this morning.

Apparently, our brains get in the habit of fighting a certain way and before we can pull the escape hatch, we are off to the races YET AGAIN having the same old, tired argument.

The guy went on to report that relationship coaches suggest throwing a wrench in that brain circuitry by changing up just one thing about the circumstances surrounding the reoccurring fight. The suggestions ranged from switching rooms (if you always fight in the bedroom, move into the living room) to holding hands during the argument. These ideas seemed logical. But then, as if by after thought, he reported a final suggestion: make a pact that as soon as an argument starts, you’re going to put on oven mitts.

I sat with that for a moment, sipping my coffee as Blake Shelton began singing “Honey Bee” but the mental image stuck and my smile turned into a giggle and then into a full-blown laugh. I imagined myself standing in front of my huge husband saying something like, “If we’re going to continue this argument, you’re going to have to put on your oven mitt.”

Then I thought about the possible designs of our “battle mitts.” I remembered one my grandpa used to have that was a very realistic looking salmon complete with fins (this would be Ty’s of course) and one I’ve seen on a few kitchen websites that bears the likeness of a rather menacing lobster claw (mine, for sure). I imagined us, on the doorstep of an argument, putting on our mitts and then looking back at each other and winding up for round one, DING DING!

An oven mitt that looks like a salmon

His battle mitt.

Well, the first thing that would happen in this scenario is Ty would try to pretend that he didn’t notice my lobster claw, which would start flailing around as I made my first point (I’m Italian so I talk with my hands … a lot). Then I would try (and fail) to move hair out of my face with the claw at least once (I also have a lot of hair that tends to join in the argument strand by strand until most of it is in my face).

An oven mitt that looks like a lobster claw

Her battle mitt.

Ty would then set his hands on his hips and look at me with those fearsome blue eyes with a glance that simultaneously shouts, “These colors don’t run” and “Take your best shot” while whispering “You can’t stay mad at me” and “What you really want to do is kiss me” all at the same time. But instead of looking at his face, my eyes would be involuntarily flicking to the large salmon squished against the hip of his Cinch jeans. He would try to maintain the argument but by now I would be starting to laugh and it’s really hard to stay mad at someone who is covering her smile with a big, red lobster claw.

This idea could work!

I’m all for using humor to derail arguments. In fact, it is a technique Ty and I have used in the past. Usually he is the one to break my fervent point making by cracking a smile or setting his face in a wry little smirk and saying something like, “Oh yeah, SAYS WHO?” From there I usually point a finger at him and say, “Don’t try to be funny right now, I’m really mad this time.” To which he replies, “Or WHAT?” I try to say something intimidating such as “OR I’ll kick your ass,” but I rarely get the whole threat out before I  A. start to laugh or B. get tackled or thrown into the “crack” between our bed and the wall (there have been a great many battles won and lost in that crack, let me tell you). The bottom line here is, humor has worked in the past but it only works when someone has the mental and emotional clarity during an argument to USE it. What makes the oven mitt idea so brilliant is, you have to put them on BEFORE the argument gains any momentum. Even if it doesn’t completely stop  a fight in its tracks, it is libel to pull us out of the “heat of the moment” enough to realize how inane or overblown the entire thing is BEFORE it gets too out of control.

In the end, I know that this deployment has given Ty and I an incredible amount of respect and appreciation for each other. But I also know that even a year missing one another doesn’t bestow us with a magical immunity to arguments and relationship drama. I think we all know that little skirmishes are bound to break out as we adjust and settle back in to couple life as most people know it. The difference here is, we can make the choice to come back in to these old roles with new tools and a more creative plan of attack.

What I can say with much confidence is that I would rather fight with Ty than laugh with anyone else. So as long as he’s with me, I’ll feel like I’ve already won. And for those moments when he’s not my favorite person, we can always put on our oven mitts!

Unlikely laughter: finding joy despite it all

Let’s talk about joy.

Sometimes things don’t go our way in this life. One day I was a happy newlywed and the next I was driving away from a hotel in Oroville, Calif. watching my husband disappear into a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. Sometimes the “bowl of cherries” that life is supposed to be ends up being a bowl of, well, something much less desirable (I’ll let you use your imagination).

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long at all, you know that I talk about the good days and the bad days quite a bit. Sometimes when I close my eyes, my heart swells with gratitude and peace and I feel like the distance between Ty and I pales in comparison to the love we share and the closeness we are achieving by overcoming this season. But there are definitely days, sometimes weeks, when it is a constant struggle to hold back the tears.

There are times when he says things that I feel are insensitive (or when he says nothing at all). There are times when it’s all I can do to walk on, ignoring that hollow feeling in my stomach that overwhelms me with loneliness. If you’re going through a deployment right now, none of this is news to you.

It’s not every day. In fact, for me, it has been fewer and fewer days lately. But the bottom line is (to quote one of my favorite films, “The Big Lebowski”) “Sometimes you eat the bar … and sometimes the bar eats you.” In short, some days down right suck. And when that happens, you need one of two things: a good laugh, or a good cry.

Over the past eight months, I’ve gotten good at finding humor in pretty much everything. From possessed washing machines to unforeseeable personal setbacks, I’ve learned to glean a reason to smile and fight for my joy even when it seems miles away. Whether your house is overcome with a mouse infestation or your dog has managed to shred your collection of proudly displayed birthday cards, I find sometimes that it is better to laugh than to let yourself sink into sorrow.

An old marque with the word "joy" on it

Sometimes the purest joy is found in the most unlikely places.

Someone pretty smart once said, “life is too short to take yourself too seriously” … or something to that effect. Anyway, what I think that person was trying to say is, no matter how bad things get, life is for living and becoming paralyzed by the seriousness of it all can rob you of what little time you have to enjoy it.

Being an Army wife has taught me a lot about being grateful and appreciative. It wasn’t too long ago that I thought the craziness of it all may have robbed me of my ability to find joy in things like I used to. But I think the reality is that it has taught me about joy on a micro level, rather than a macro level. Before, I would get excited about obvious things like pretty sunsets and great parking places at Winco. But, like a lot of other people, I still took the small things for granted. I was too busy fist pumping about my awesome parking place to realize that the TRUE gift was the man holding the shopping list in my passenger seat. Catch my drift?

I think real joy comes from a place of gratitude for the little things. Sure, we may be thousands of miles away from the ones we love the most. We may be going without in a lot of ways. But what about the things we do have? What about the multitude of women who rally behind us when we put up a desperate Facebook 911 post? And what about the laughter we find in the simplest acknowledgement of just how ridiculous our situations get sometimes?

We laugh about crappy Skype connections, last-minute plan changes and failed care-package ideas. We laugh about household catastrophes, irritating coworkers and months of Army-issue celibacy.

We smile, shake our heads and laugh because, against all odds, we possess joyful hearts. And despite the barren soil around us, we manage to flourish.

There’s a reason your soldier fell in love with you. What is it that most perfectly complements strength?

Beauty.

And what makes a woman the most beautiful?

Her unabashed joy.

“YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!” … my take on deployment drama

Let’s talk about girls.

First of all, I don’t generally like them. I know, I know I’m probably going to have my woman card revoked for saying so but I’ve never really gotten along with girls.

In high school I was never a “popular chick” and I hung out with the guys who played with Legos (yes, Legos in high school) and nerded out on things like Civil War history and “Monty Python” movies. I dated one dude in high school (named Buck … let’s not talk about it, it didn’t work out) and tried ardently to keep out of the way of the “mean girls.” I listened to “Sir Mix-A-Lot” in my Ford Explorer and did almost everything I could to avoid girl drama.  Even after I lost the braces (and the extra 30 lbs of baby fat) and became acceptable to the small-town in crowd, I always felt a sense of mistrust and awkwardness around them.

The bottom line is, girls are scary. At some basal level, I believe that we’re all afraid of each other. We’re afraid of flashing back to middle school when we were the victim of a three-way call that ended a friendship and landed us at a lonely lunch table (or, if you’re me … a seat at the principle’s office … lovely). We’re afraid that our gorgeous best friend is secretly scamming on our man and we’re terrified that behind all the white smiles and lip-gloss, these girls are talking serious trash about us behind our backs. Why are we so afraid? Because we know the truth. Whoever it was who first said that women are the “softer sex” was being sarcastic. We’re like cats, scratching and biting and throwing tufts of hair. We’re going for the jugular and taking no prisoners. When guys fight, they throw a few punches and call it good. When girls fight, we go for the heart and soul … and that sucks.

The worst part of girl fighting (aside from getting blood on your new heels) is that if we were to band together, we would be completely unstoppable. There are more women in the world than there are men and we carry the power of LIFE in our hands. We are the source of things like the windshield wiper (invented by a woman) and the circular saw (yep, that one is ours, too). We’re brilliant, thoughtful, smart and emotional (not a bad thing). We bring beauty to the world and carry God’s heart for children and relationships along with the fierce passion of motherhood. We’re created to be a force to be reckoned with. But instead of banding together ala “Captain Planet,” we break down and trample each other for blue-light specials. This has got to change!

What’s really perplexing about this whole dilemma is that women tend to turn against each other at times when we need each other the most. I.E. when our husbands are thousands upon thousands of miles away and what we need more than anything is someone to trust, confide in and (above all) feel close to.

Army wives and SOs can be the worst at circulating drama and Facebook makes a perfect vessel for backhanded comments and immature throw downs in various shades of ugliness. Gossip and rumors beget hurt feelings, which beget anger, which begets tension and more gossip.

In the close-knit community of Army wives, it is really easy to fall into the fray. We all chat, we all rely on each other for information and we all relate to each other on a level that transcends most other friendships. We are essentially members of the same “home room” class. Of course we are bound to turn on each other at some point.

The trick is to recognize it and make a conscious effort to NOT engage and to do everything in your power to make sure the drama stops with YOU.

Let’s revisit the “home room” analogy. Think about all the different roles people played in high school. There was the girl who seemed to pack drama around with her by the metric ton. There were the groups of instigators who would take that drama and run with it. There was the irritated Goth girl who never talked to anyone (most likely in an ill-fated attempt at self preservation) and the group of seemingly clueless nerds who weren’t “cool” enough to be involved in any of the goings on (that was where I fit in).

The problem here is that it can be ultra intoxicating to be in the “in” crowd. As soon as someone comes to me with a hot tidbit of drama, I have to admit I consider betraying my nerd status and joining in the “fun.” But we all know how that plays out and I don’t want to ever be “that girl.” Honestly, none of us do. So why do we fall into this, especially with our soldiers so close to their return home?

I have to agree with the men on this one and admit that there is no easy explanation for the female psyche. The truth is, sometimes we do things just to do them. We let emotions run away with us. We get caught up in the sinister madness of it all and forget that we are charged with a much greater calling; especially in times like this. Luckily, what matters is not WHY we do this stuff but rather what we can do to STOP.

My husband Ty and I use the phrase “same team” a lot. Even in a marriage, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we are fighting for the same common goals. We are a unit and when we forget that, we can turn against each other, which only makes our objective harder to obtain.

The same idea rings true for groups of SOs. We are all on the same team. In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to find a group of people with a more unique bond. I have had countless conversations with women who have expressed the fact that even their closest friends don’t understand them the way fellow Army SOs do. Women I’ve known for less than a year know things about my struggles that my own mother wouldn’t even understand. No other group of people can provide the kind of support that we glean from one another.

We are battle buddies.

What happens if a soldier is abandoned by his unit? What happens if the people he is meant to rely on become the ones he fears and mistrusts? I’m sure the idea of your soldier being left without allies pierces your heart the same way it pierces mine. So why do we allow this kind of fallout to occur among OUR ranks?

As brutal as it may be, we have to acknowledge that by creating a culture of rumor-passing, catty-Facebook-posting immaturity, we are creating anxiety and distrust where there should be life-long bonds of sisterhood. Not only that, we are falling in line with every sad cliché that exists about military wives and SOs.

I’ve read blogs and articles that generalize about rankism, rumors and heartbreak among military spouses and SOs. There are many, many people out there who consider us to be the biggest living rumor-mill in existence and even more who consider us dangerous and even toxic to relationships.  Before he left, even my husband (who avoids drama the same way he avoids members of PETA) took time to warn me about the woes that could befall me if I were to get too involved with the other SOs during this deployment.

A photo of the character Regina George from the film "Mean Girls"

Raise your hand if you have ever felt PERSONALLY victimized by another Army wife or SO.

At the time, I didn’t listen (I always have to find everything out the hard way, much to the chagrin of my husband). Even though I can definitely see his point now, I’m glad I didn’t take the isolationist approach and I certainly wouldn’t recommend that method to anyone else. Sure, avoiding my group would have probably saved me a few headaches and “WTF” moments. But it would have also deprived me of the amazing friendships and truly fun times I’ve had with the women of the 2668th. So instead of shying away in self-preservation, I challenge us all to rise above and put these clichés to rest.

There are a lot of things I could advise you to do. I could talk about keeping confidence when asked to do so (and even when you’re not asked). I could talk about being a woman who refuses to pass along a rumor (especially to a soldier). I could talk about any number of things I have learned over the past eight months.

But instead, I will leave you with this beautifully simple piece of advice: just be kind. Kindness carries with it the type of class and honor that fits a group of military wives and SOs. It speaks volumes about the person who gives it with abundance and sends a clear message to those who are tempted to treat others with anything less. I want your deployment season to be marked with kindness and all that takes is for you to set the example and stick to it. Even when it means being the only one “out of the loop.”

Long-Distance Lovein’: Intimacy And Romance In Spite Of Deployment

Let’s talk about intimacy.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to write about this topic for a while now because I think it’s exceedingly important, especially when you’re dealing with or preparing for a deployment. Separation changes a couple’s intimacy and can pose quite a few challenges when it comes to ensuring that you and your soldier remain close and connected throughout elongated periods of time without being able to touch (or even talk to) each other.image of a girl snuggling a computer

First of all, intimacy means something different to every couple. Comparing your level of deployment intimacy with that of a friend or fellow military spouse is comparing apples to oranges and will either leave you feeling inappropriately smug (people pick up on this and it’s not a good thing) or needlessly inadequate. You and your soldier share something that is signature to your relationship and deployment gives both of you an opportunity to explore your distinctive love life even more deeply.

Second, intimacy means something different to every individual. This means that you and your soldier may not match up in your definition of “intimacy” and you may have very different conceptions of what the other expects, needs and wants.

When you are both in the same house, it is easy to think that you are a perfect intimacy “match” because chances are good that you are both getting your fill of what you need. For example, there are plenty of hours in a typical day for him to get enough physical touch and for her to get enough quality time. Throw a shoddy Skype connection, a 5-minute time limit and a sand storm into that mix and you’re likely to find that you are battling to get your needs met for the first time, ever.

I think the most important part of the solution is to talk about it BEFORE your soldier deploys.

Like much, much before.

In my experience, the month leading up to a departure is a bad time to try to talk about pretty much anything involving feelings. Nothing kills a rational conversation quite like a gigantic mound of camo cargo pants covered in tear-soaked Kleenex. Make sense?

If you can, find time far in advance to discuss what makes you tick, what turns you on and what you can and cannot do without. Then, LEARN TO BECOME A GIVER. This is the hard part. The key to this step is that it is a two-way street.

Climb in your big-kid car and accelerate on to the “it’s not all about me” on ramp. Like right now.

Maintaining a good level of intimacy and avoiding residual drama and resentment is a worthwhile endeavor, but it is going to mean that some of you have to step out of your comfort zones and accept the fact that, like everything else in a relationship, intimacy is a team effort.

If you’re like me, you are already seven months into your deployment and the time has definitely passed for a nice, long heart-to-heart conversation about your needs. You may have already had this conversation only to find it to be a source of frustration or maybe you feel like your needs are being met but you’re having a hard time coming to grips with what you may have to do to meet the needs of your partner. Not to worry, ladies and gentlemen. There is always an answer for those who are truly invested in their own happiness and that of their spouse or partner.

The answer is (as cliché as it may sound) that your point of power is always THIS moment. No mater how for into this thing you are, you can make changes right now that will improve the level of romance in your relationship. Giving up and throwing your hands in the air is never, never a good solution. Accepting that you are doomed to a year-long sexual drought is not going to bode well for your level of mutual respect OR your level of emotional intimacy.

On the other hand, fist pumping because you’re getting everything you need while your partner suffers makes you look like a jerk (probably because that’s a jerk move … just sayin’).

So whether you’re six weeks in or six months into this thing, it’s never too late to make a renewed effort in this arena.

When in a deployment situation, there are definitely some issues to take into consideration when it comes to intimacy (especially the extra-intimate kind, if you catch my drift). The first and most common problem to overcome is the complete and utter lack of privacy. I’ve come to learn that some soldiers couldn’t care less if other people are listening in to their conversation, while others find it nearly impossible to overcome the idea that they are persistently surrounded by what amounts to crowds of creeping creepers and peeping Toms.

While this is definitely a hurdle, it is in NO WAY an insurmountable barrier to intimacy. If conversations via instant message or Skype make you or your soldier too uncomfortable, writing letters, emails and stories for each other is a great way to overcome that problem. If you know what your partner likes to hear or feel, it is easy to capture those things in prose and send it in a way that doesn’t draw any unwanted attention from bunkmates.

Simply shrugging off your partner by saying that his or her desires make you feel “too uncomfortable” is not fair. Your feelings are not unfounded by any means, but that doesn’t make his or her need to feel close to you any less important. I guarantee you can find a way to make it work.

Soldiers, if you are creative enough to make an MRE into something edible and even ENJOYABLE, you are creative enough to meet your partner’s emotional and sexual needs. And spouses, if you are resourceful enough to run a household for a year without your husband or wife, you can definitely figure this one out, too. Enough said?

The second, more difficult hurdle to overcome is the emotional associations that can often come with intimacy. Sometimes getting intimate with your partner can bring up mental images and thoughts that make you miss him or her even more. This is where the “BE A GIVER” part comes in. Giving selflessly of yourself is not easy and, because you are human, it is not necessarily in your nature to be selfless. Everyone likes to pretend that they are some kind of dream spouse who gives and gives without the need to receive. Blah blah blah. I guarantee, if giving your partner what he or she needs results in pain for YOU, you’re probably going to avoid it … and you may even refuse to do it.

Here’s the deal: when I married my husband Ty, I left my right to think only of myself at the altar along with my last name (which was really hard to pronounce, anyway) and a lot of other things that stop being ok when you say “I do.” While I don’t agree that being married means you should deny yourself everything you need or pretend to be someone you’re not, I do believe (with my entire heart) that it requires of you a certain level of compromise that, at times, transcends your own comfort.

If giving your partner what he or she needs is hard for you, just remember that giving you what you need probably isn’t a walk in the park all the time, either.

If you’re a soldier, I guarantee your spouse or partner has gone through GREAT lengths to ensure that your care packages arrive full of your very favorite things and that you know, at all times of the day and night, just how much you are missed and loved. Sometimes making things happen is not easy to do. Sometimes it requires an incredible amount of personal sacrifice … and reciprocating that sacrifice is the truest way to say thank you.

If you are an army spouse or significant other, I happen to know that soldiers often stand in long lines, enduring heat and wind and exhaustion just to make a phone call to you. Do they always want to do it? Probably not. I know that it would take a very convincing pep talk (and maybe threats of bodily harm) to get me to even go outside in 120 degree heat, let alone stand in a line. The point here is that we all need to remember that we are not the only one in this partnership who deserves to feel loved, cherished and appreciated.

Lastly, there is a chance that the problem in your intimacy department is a lack of ideas. Sometimes you want to give him or her something special but you have no idea where to begin. There are several solutions to this problem. The first one is to simply ask. I know it sounds CRAZY but your partner probably has a few ideas on the subject. Asking directly is a sure way to find out and, since we’re all aware of the fact that deployed soldiers don’t have a ton of free time, this technique also saves a ton of wasted effort.

If being direct isn’t your style, try the almighty GOOGLE machine. There are a trillion blogs out there about long-distance love, intimacy, sex (online, instant message, phone … it’s all out there) and romance. If you’re still stumped, ask a friend. I honestly can’t say whether this is ok or not in “man code” but women ask each other for tips on this stuff all the time and we honestly wish that men would talk to each other about it a lot more, too. Each man has at least one thing he does very well,just imagine what would happen if you all pooled your resources! Magic.

In the end, remember that we’re not talking about rocket science here. You don’t have to be perfect at everything the first time … or ever. If you’re going to write a romantic love note, don’t worry about channeling Shakespeare or having perfect grammar. Just write it. If you’re going to have a sexy phone conversation, it’s ok if you giggle or say something cheesy. The effort will be noted EVERY SINGLE TIME and your imperfections will make it all the more intimate. And that’s what this is all about anyway, remember?

Distance is nothing you can’t handle. In fact, if you’re anything like me this whole ordeal will make you feel much closer than you ever thought possible. But just like any other season in life, a deployment is not to be wasted. Take full advantage of your opportunities for long-distance romance and intimacy.  Lovers, no matter the miles between them, are made to love on each other.

Numb on Summit Ridge: A raw look at what it’s really like

Let’s talk about being honest.

I have been writing this blog for seven months now, sharing insight and pulling from my experiences to glean humor and encouragement for this deployment. Things have been, for the most part, upbeat with a theme that says, “Hey, you’re going to be ok.”

The reason behind my sunshine is I truly believe we are all going to make it through this. Today is no exception to that belief and nothing I have said in this blog is anything less than genuine.

However, I also want this blog to be real. I want it to be a testimony to what it feels like to go through a deployment season. I think we can all agree that it is hard to find a lot of honesty about the hard stuff. There are plenty of great top-10 lists and uplifting Pinterest quotes to satisfy the universal need for Facebook posting and, while I love hearing that my words are a source of laughter and happiness, I think it’s high time to be raw.

I also think it’s time for us to be raw with each other. I had a very real conversation with a fellow Army wife last night and, in being honest and open about what was really going on inside of us, we found a different sense of encouragement. It wasn’t the kid of impish joy you might find in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” but it reassured both of us that we are far from alone, that we’re not crazy and that we don’t have to be “ok” in order to be OK … if that makes any sense.

These are the dog days of the deployment. It’s hard. Things are not always beautiful. And for those of you preparing for a deployment, or in the early days of one, I want you to be more prepared than I was for what you may feel along the way. Do not look at this as a reason to be afraid or sad. Just remember it so if you come across these emotions, you know that it is normal, that you are not alone and that there is nothing wrong with you.

Feeling these things is nothing to be ashamed of or confused by. It does not mean you lack faith or love or strength. It simply marks you as a human, enduring a rather inimitable human experience. You will come through it, as I am sure I will, and we will be better for it. I’ve often said that growing = growing pains and that isn’t just a cute little piece of literary fluff. The pain of this situation is far from fleeting and it can surface in ways you may not expect or recognize.

Ignoring your feelings does not make them go away; it just deprives you of a platform to discuss them and a chance to feel that wave of relief when you realize that you are united with those along side of you, not only in your faith but in your struggle as well.

That being said, here is what is REALLY going on in my head these days:

According to Mr. Webster, “fatigue” refers to  “extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion.”

Can I get an amen?

I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I think I’m starting to side step into the “fatigued” category. I thought I was doing well until the other day when I, quite by accident, got a clear vision of my emotional state.

I was lying on my back in my living room after another long day. My washing machine was thrashing around my laundry room like it was possessed by the ghost of an angry Tasmanian devil (typical) and my puppy was frantically running laps around my house making sure to bound across my abdomen or chest every so often (also typical). I pressed my palms into the carpet and tried to go to my happy place.

My eyes closed and I saw myself in a blizzard, bracing against the wind, snot frozen to my upper lip, eyes watering, placing one snowshoe in front of the other on my way toward the peak of a mountain that had only just become visible through the fog. I wasn’t afraid in my vision; I had accepted death if that’s what would befall me. I was walking without emotion, numb, just one foot in front of the other without so much as a thought to the ice stinging my eyes or the unknown perils of each step.

photo of a daunting winter landscape

This place looks familiar.

I kept walking to a place where the air was too thin to muster a scream and my entire exterior felt parched. The bubbling brook of faith still trickled inside of me; just enough to keep my heart beating and the blood flowing to the surface … but the outside was cold. My heart had gone into survival mode, sending what sustenance it could muster to the vital areas in an effort to maintain functionality. On the peripheral, there was an unblinking, emotionless fighter, walking silently against the wind.

Awesome, right? You know, I distinctly remember a time when upon closing my eyes, I would find myself on a beach.

I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. It made so much sense.

How long has it been since I felt an intense emotion one way or the other? Weeks? Months? My range of sensation has been narrowed to that center section where caution overrules excitement and calluses create a barrier for things like disappointment and pain. Instead, I am in a constant state of  feeling “fine.”

It hasn’t been like this the whole time and, to be honest, I can’t say for sure whether it is good or bad. All I can say is that long periods of silence no longer bother me and good news is met with what amounts to extremely cautious optimism. I don’t cry anymore at all and rarely find myself jumping for joy. I wouldn’t consider myself depressed or even sad but I’m definitely less colorful these days.

As I shared these revelations with my friend last night, I heard relief in her voice and I could tell she knew exactly what I was talking about and that she related to it completely.

“It’s got to be a coping mechanism,” she said. “It will all come back to us.”

As she said those words, I felt the tension in my back subside momentarily and I repeated them in my mind to help them soak in, “It will all come back to us.”

It’s funny how I used to be so worried that Ty would come back from war changed. In my naïveté, I thought change would be one-sided and somehow insurmountable. I’m realizing now that we will both be changed by this experience … and that’s ok. Some changes will be good for us and some things will need to be overcome. A lot happens inside of a person in a year’s time, especially when she is walking blind in a windstorm that constantly changes directions.

For me, the idea of change has become less worrisome. Talking with my friend about it helped me put it in to perspective. We know that a lot of the things that have changed inside of us will go back to normal once we feel their hands against our own and experience a few weeks with solid ground under our feet.

Once we can start relying on them again and feel the sands of constant change stop shifting beneath our foundation, the joy that comes with security will have a chance to resurface. Wounds have a hard time healing when they are constantly exposed to the elements but, once the storm blows over, I have little doubt that my smile will return and I will once again open myself up to truly feel.

As for the rest of the changes, I have every faith that they will either benefit us or be easily overcome with time and team effort.

What bothers me now is not the change itself, it’s that I was completely unprepared for it. Are people afraid to tell us that we will change? Are they unable to find the right words to explain that we might not like everything we see in the mirror at the end of this season? Are they worried that we will falter if we know the truth? If that is the case, I think we are being abhorrently underestimated.

Our strength is not found in our ability to pretend everything is ok, is it? Isn’t our strength found more in our ability to stand against the giants, arm in arm, slingshots in hand and fight for our marriages and relationships? Aren’t we better able to succeed when we know what we are facing? Aren’t we more likely to be victorious if we have a realistic picture of our adversaries?

And so, If you’re new to all of this, I’m here to tell you that you are going to change. A lot of the ways in which you change will be for the best. You will grow tremendously, become strong in ways you never thought possible, master the art of home/yard maintenance and learn how to fill out a customs form in the dark with one arm tied behind your back. But some of the changes will perplex and trouble you. You may feel like you’re losing yourself to it, denying yourself, betraying your own needs and becoming disengaged. Those things are normal and all you have to do is keep on keeping on. You don’t have to have it all figured out and you don’t have to pretend to be dancing on cloud 9. Just keep doing what you’re doing and trust that everything will work itself out in its own time.

So there it is, a snapshot of what’s going on behind these brown eyes. It’s long-winded, confusing and a little bit of a bummer. But it’s also 100 percent real and I think I owe that to all of you. Sometimes even your friendly neighborhood blogger doesn’t have the perfect words to put it all in a pretty little package. But I’m here and I’m going through it with each and every one of you. Sometimes just knowing we’re not alone makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

The True Identity of Love

Let’s talk about love.

I’ve always been a sucker for romance. Romance is one of those universal girl things that women talk about at length with each other.

“How is the romance in your marriage?” “Does he take you out to dinner?” “Does he pick flowers?” Does he ROMANCE you enough?”

I remember having conversations with my husband about the romance in our relationship even before we were husband and wife. When things got stressful and hectic (planning a wedding, moving, preparing for a year-long deployment, the holidays) I would crave that storybook romance and feel more than a little sorry for myself when it didn’t show up. Ty has always been a man to love. He dotes on me quite a bit and gives selflessly of himself (soldier … duh) but sometimes the romance would wane and I would feel like somehow my “love story” might be lacking in some way.

I think, if we’re honest, we can admit that most women reach this point sometimes. Most of my girlfriends have shared the same sob story about how life has gotten in the way of  “love” and they need to “work on it.”

Before this deployment, I sometimes bought into the idea that love was somehow lacking if it wasn’t cute and pretty and full of candlelight. Not anymore.

Before this deployment, I had a certain image of what love was. It was a delicate touch, a romantic embrace, a meadow full of lilies. It was lovers walking hand-in-hand on a beach. It was a ballet.

I wanted love to be the plot line of a romantic comedy or the chorus of a country song. I’m not saying that I was delusional enough to ACTUALLY think love was any of these things. But I did hope that, in some small way, my story would mirror the Disney fantasy that little girls tend to bring with them into adulthood.

This deployment has taught me so many things (including how to use power tools) but I think the most important thing it has taught me thus far is that love is not always a gentle touch or a bouquet of daffodils.

Sometimes love is a battle cry that withstands distance, heat, sand, fear, loneliness, silence and long stretches of time. Sometimes love sets aside its book of sonnets, covers itself in war paint and picks up a broad sword.

This deployment is more than 200 days old at this point. I’ve seen bad days, long-distance arguments, sadness, hopelessness, shame and fear… and I have seen love conquer it all.

In this writer’s opinion, love is grossly underestimated by Hollywood and unfairly watered down by song lyrics.

The true identity of love lies in its fire.

At its core, love  is not a dove or a valentine or a cherub. Love is a warrior and it possesses an unequivocal fieriness that fortifies those who poses it against even the strongest forces of hardship and strain.

Before he left, Ty and I shared a love that filled us both with joy and hope for the future. Our fledgling marriage was forged in faith and dedication and we knew that, despite what others said, no distance could extinguish what we had kindled together. We were strong and our love mirrored that strength.

Now, nearly 9 months after we exchanged vows, I regard the love we had back then with the wise eyes of an older sibling. That love, the love that we thought was so sturdy, is nothing compared to what we have now.

They say that you can not become fearless without first being afraid, that you can not become wise without first being foolish and you can not develop strength until you overcome your own weakness. People must think they understand what that means when they read it. I’m sure I would have understood it to a certain extent before this whole ordeal, too. But now, I understand the depth of that lesson to a degree that would have never been possible had it not been for this time of separation and all that it has entailed.

A photo of my husband and I on the night he proposed to me.

This is a photo of us on the night Ty proposed to me. We had no idea how strong our love would become. But even then, we had the makings of greatness.

I’ve said before, growth = growing pains. We must endure these things in order to rise out of them with a story, a new strength and the arsenal of incredible traits that we will have doubtlessly discovered within ourselves.

And which love would we prefer? We could go on about our lives regarding our husbands as bringers of bouquets. We could talk to our friends about such things as if they hold the key to romance and happiness and we could, had we not married soldiers, live our lives in blissful ignorance of the true identity of love.

Or, we could stand beside our soldiers being equally brave and matching them strength for strength; having endured, honored and fought through a season where romance fell away and only the reality of love’s ferocity sustained us.

If someone painted a portrait of my love for Ty it would no longer be a stream or a dance or a sunset. It would be an image of the kind of strength and beauty that is earned, gained and revered.

In this new image, I have a sense of pride and gratitude that will stay with me years after this ordeal is over. When I close my eyes and think about how very much this season has given me, I know that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes the strength of my heart for Ty is all that keeps me going and, in those moments, I know that nothing in this world can break us. That, my dear friends, is a lesson worth learning … no matter what the cost.

The Tools of the Trade

Let’s talk about tools. My husband is one of those guys who has a million of them and most of them are a mystery to me. I was reminded of this tonight when I finally built up the courage to go out into our garage and do some organizing. Being on the downhill slope of this deployment (yay!) has reminded me of all the things I wanted to get done around here and whipping the garage into shape is definitely a big “to do” that has been shuffled to the end of the list about a dozen times.

I haven’t been putting it off because I don’t want to do it. To be honest, my garage procrastination is solely due to the fact that I know there are spiders out there the size of my grandmother and whenever I open the door I have a seriously intense fear response.

It’s similar to what I imagine it feels like like to be chased by someone with a chainsaw.

I’ve gone out there many times and as soon as I get the first sensation of a cobweb on my neck, I book it out the door like the place is on fire.

Well, I was feeling abnormally brave today, having just spent a weekend with my fellow Army wives (tough as nails) and I decided that it was high time to get over my fear and organize that damn garage.

I set up the shelving and started hoisting Ty’s tool bags into place. As I did, I started noticing how many tools there actually were. We’re talking HUNDREDS of really cool looking gizmos. I have to say, it felt a lot like that scene in “The Little Mermaid” where Ariel is in a room full of awesome trinkets but has absolutely no earthly idea what any of them are  FOR.

I lifted one tool out of a bag and studied it for a while. It was some kind of strange clamp-looking thing with big metal handles that nearly broke my hand when I tried to squeeze them.

My first reaction was to smile at how strong my husband’s hands must be and allow myself to swoon a little bit over the fact that he is so big and strong and full of tool-knowledge.

But after I got over my girly love session, I started thinking about the fact that each of these things has a specific purpose. Each one of these tools was crafted to make a job easier and, while a task may be doable without a set of big, awkward clampy things, I’m sure that having them makes it a whole lot easier.

All these man-tools made me think about the tools that I’ve developed during the course of this deployment. I was getting through my life without them before but I can say with a great deal of certainty that life (and marriage) will feel much more doable now that I’ve put them in my “tool bag” (just a side-note, tool bags were OBVIOUSLY designed by men, because they could not be more awkward or less user-friendly if they tried … just sayin’).

Any hoo, I’ve got to admit that before my husband left for Afghanistan, I had never really dealt with anything that I would consider to be “life-altering” in terms of traumatic events. I’m not one of those people who had to pull herself up by the proverbial bootstraps and overcome seemingly insurmountable hardship in order to become a success. If my life were a grocery item, it would be Wonder Bread.

A photo of me with bug bombs for the spiders in my garage.

The only way to deal with grandmother-sized spiders is with bug bombs, a.k.a civilian-grade bug grenades … and aviators.

Every family has its own share of dysfunction and drama but mine was relatively mild and I came out of childhood pretty unscathed (high school is a WHOLE different story, let’s just say my “awkward stage” lasted pretty much the whole time, but that’s something for another blog).

The bottom line is, before this deployment, I’d never really had to dig down deep and find my own strength. I’d never faced a situation that I couldn’t Google my way out of. I’d never felt loss, loneliness and pain in such concentrated doses and I had never really had to reach out and find tools. Because of all this, I have never really known what I am capable of. Until now.

Over the past six months, there have been good days and bad days. And then there have been really, really bad days.

There have been long periods of silence, long-distance arguments and fear.

There have been sleepless nights, household emergencies and family-related difficulties.

There have been a great many things that have fallen to me for solutions and, despite being unsure of myself at first, I have found myself to be not only adequate for the task, but perfectly suited, adaptable and resourceful. Every last issue that I have faced during this season has taught me a new skill and added to my growing “tool set.”

I can now hang shelving, maintain a yard and lawn, train a dog, fix plumbing issues, fix a washing machine, operate a weed eater and get rid of unwanted subtitles on my television (not a small achievement). I’m a regular Bob the Builder around this place and, despite the fact that I have not (not even for one second) stopped needing my husband, I have discovered a strength and fierceness inside myself that I never knew was there and that I never would have discovered had it not been for complete necessity.

What’s even better is my skill building has not stopped with manual labor or electronics.

Through all of this, I have been learning about who I am, what I’m capable of and what I’m made of. A lot of the attitudes and tendencies I had before Ty left are gone now. My ultra immature need for his attention has been replaced by gratitude, grace and self-assurance. I treasure my alone time and my amazing friendships and no longer quantify my communication with him, compare it to others or grasp for solid information (do we even remember what that is?).

This deployment has taught me flexibility, patience (galore) and faith despite my circumstances. Just thinking about the value of those tools makes me wonder how I ever lived without them and I would never want to go back. Not even if it meant avoiding the problems it took to find them. Growing = growing pains.

And there’s more. This transformation does not begin and end with me. Spending time with my fellow military spouses this weekend has led me to believe that I’m not the only one sporting a shiny new set of superpowers.One woman has crafted her backyard into the Garden of Eden while raising a beautiful new baby girl, healing from a serious injury and holding a family together with strength, love and a healthy dose of humor. She does all of this while juggling all the household duties and sending two, TWO care packages a week to her husband overseas. She’s amazing and, because both of our men are away serving their country, I have had the opportunity to become know her.

Looking around a recent spouse-and-family get together, I saw so many beautiful women who have grown so much during this time. I saw moms with happy, healthy children, volunteers organizing and distributing encouragement and love, friendships that have flourished beneath the shadow of hardship and bonds that will span years after this whole thing is behind us. I heard stories of trial and error, laughter about failed attempts to send frosting to Afghanistan and a great many stories of triumph in place of surrender.

Each and every task calls for a particular tool and skill. The trick is, you’ll never acquire that tool or build that skill until you NEED to. This deployment, these months without the men we love and rely on, has brought each one of us to a new place of strength.

Even though we are getting closer and closer to the end of this whole ordeal, it doesn’t seem like that long ago when I was standing in front of the armory, saying goodbye and feeling helpless to stop the inevitable. What’s really amazing to me is, at that moment, I had no idea who I was standing beside. It was all of you amazing women. All of you who have become my friends (my sisters in many ways) and the ones whose strength has held me up when I thought nothing could. We have all watched each other come out of confusion and fear into wholeness and determination.

We laugh about not getting everything done that we wish we had. We talk about our garages that still need to be organized, the 10 lbs we want to lose and the laundry list of need-tos and want-tos. But regardless of what we get done in the next several months, one thing is for sure: the tools we have gained are our success. The bonds we have made are our triumph. And when our men look into our eyes for the first time in a year, they won’t be able to deny that we have given them so much to be proud of.

Tools are a funny thing. Just holding them in your hand does not mean you are equipped to do the job. I could stand in my garage for hours playing with that giant clamp-like thingamajig and never get any closer to figuring out how to use it.

The person holding the tool has to have it inside of herself to wield it correctly. What this means, my friends, is that we’ve had all of these things inside of us from the beginning. It just took a deployment to bring them out and put them to good use.