The time that follows death is a disorienting kind of haze. We trudge through muddy waters, watching incredulously as the world still spins, accepting reality slowly, and ultimately – hopefully – finding a way to extend the spirit of a loved one lost.

I recently lost a friend and mentor, Auline, who warmly welcomed me into the military spouse community eleven years ago. As if with a staff in hand, she shepherded me through the expansive, rolling hills of military life. Respected and loved, she was the one everyone aspired to be… or at least to be near. If you walked into a room full of people, you went to sit next to Auline… if you could find a chair… because everyone was seated near her.  But, there was room. She always had room for you at her table and in her heart.

Auline demonstrated incredible love and humility. With her husband, she ministered to the less fortunate and, adding to their biological kids, they adopted and fostered nearly a dozen children. Every decision, every action, was an attempt to create a loving, welcoming place for others, as if by bringing others to her, she could share the fierce love they so deserved and craved. It’s amazing how much she had to give.

She would probably pass off any attempt to put her on a pedestal with a humorous remark that perfectly blended what is humble and kind with what is saucy and irreverent. Auline could make a grown man blush. She joked that she wasn’t very well behaved. We’d laugh in these moments, agree in part, but mostly appreciate how she refused to color inside the lines. Life is too short to take too seriously, after all. Continue reading

Giving life back with interest

“For me, my life is like a loan given from God, and I will give this life back, but with interest.”  – Andy Wimmer, from the documentary Happy

In the documentary Happy, Andy Wimmer reflects on his work volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India.  For going on two decades, he has helped people who were literally too weak or too sick to handle their most basic needs.  He’s shown them love and eased their burdens.  Simply giving a dying boy food to eat, he says, was a “small enlightenment,” and his perspective on his life’s duty was changed forever.    Continue reading

Shut up and drive

How often have you felt like you’re in an idling car in the midst of your own life?  Your motor is running, but you’re stuck in Park.  And your mind is in the driver’s seat, staring at an empty parking lot, having somehow forgotten how to shift the gear into Drive.

What’s keeping you?

Not long ago I felt that way.  I was in a funk, feeling empty but antsy, like I desperately needed to do something productive and purposeful, but everything that came to my mind was too daunting, too impossible to complete. And the never-ending demands of housework and children seemed to stand in the way of anything personally fulfilling I could do. I pulled out a couple of books filled with inspirational quotes and spiritual writing, hoping a passage would motivate me.

No such luck.

But the recesses of my mind were unknowingly at work, calling up the source I craved.  And out of nowhere, the thought:  I remember carefully choosing the readings at my wedding, and now I can’t even remember them. What were they?

With a sudden sense of urgency, I dug up my wedding DVD.  It’s been over ten years since our wedding, but I’ve never watched the video – ever.

I smiled at the first images of the clear blue sky and eager and expectant smiles, and I immediately felt the joy that was so rich on that day. I laughed when minor mishaps occurred – to include the reader not realizing he was supposed to read.  But then, there he was, reading the words that I needed to hear over ten years later:

“Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of the fleeting life that is granted to you under the sun. Anything you can turn your hand to, do with what power you have. Again, I saw under the sun that the race is not won by the swift, nor the battle by the valiant, nor a livelihood by the wise, nor the riches by the shrewd, nor favor by the experts; for a time of calamity comes to all alike.” – Ecclesiastes 9: 7, 9a, 10a, 11.

And here is where I realized what I’d been missing: my own get-up-and-do-it-ness.  And what had been keeping me from shifting my gear into Drive?  Perfection.  The need for immediate perfection.

Let me explain.

I watched my wedding video while reclining on my rather crumply made bed, wearing sweatpants and a flannel shirt. Several haphazard piles of my kids’ folded, outgrown clothes glared at me from my dresser.  We’re not going to put ourselves away, they sang wickedly. More dust than is acceptable lined the blades of the ceiling fan.  My three-year-old daughter danced around the bed, occasionally blocking my view to strike a pose as if I were taking her picture. When she flopped next to me on her back, sticking her feet under my nose and demanding, “Say pee-yew, Mama!  Stinky feet!”, I had to laugh at the utter reality of life, and at the comical juxtaposition of the chaotic scene in my bedroom and my wedding day.

Here I was, watching a day for which every detail had been carefully planned. Every minute had been finely choreographed.  Every word had been purposefully spoken.  And the day was glorious.  But it wasn’t perfect.  A cell phone rang during the service.  A baby screamed.  One of the unity candles was cracked nearly in half, teetering ominously next to the altar.  And through what we later learned was a complete miscommunication, the reader didn’t know he was supposed to read.  But the day was filled with joy and love and hope.

Sometimes we can’t shift our gear out of Park because we want to get to our destination without driving there.  We focus on the outcome – the finish line, the victory,the accomplishment, the reward, the praise – and we’re held back because we’re too afraid (or lazy) to make mistakes on our way there. We make excuses.  We resist the stumbles and the detours, the pauses and the restarts.  We want the perfect ending swiftly, skillfully, and sometimes we want it handed to us.

But what would we gain by that?  What would we learn?  And like the reader who forgot to read and my daughter’s stinky feet, what would make us laugh?

My time “under the sun,” like yours, is limited.  Time spent expecting perfection or making excuses is time wasted. No matter how perfect we try to make things, they will never be flawless.  There will always be a crack, an omission, an interruption.  So we can’t aim for perfection.  More specifically, we can’t aim for the fulfillment of perfection.  But we can aim for the fulfillment of doing.

In the doing, there is purpose.  In the doing, there is reward.  In the doing, there is the motivation, the inspiration, the drive that you are looking for.

And each one of us has the power to get up and do.  And we should get up and do. Ecclesiastes might have added that although the “race is not won by the swift,” it is certainly lost by the idle.  And if you consider the lines before it, you might see that, while the finish line is the same “calamity” for all of us, the winning is actually in the running, because it is there that you enjoy life “with a merry heart.”

Ecclesiastes’ words echoed in my heart for the rest of the day.  And that funk melted away. Even though sometimes we think of it in the reverse, that funk is often a state of mind, not a state of circumstances.  I wondered this to myself, and I ask anyone who is idling:

Continue reading

Holding fast to dreams…

Hold fast to dreams,

for if dreams die

life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

– Langston Hughes

A little over two years ago, I began this blog when I was nose-deep in a post-PCS funk.  I felt placeless, lost, and downright blue.  It was a move that hit me hardest emotionally.  There are a number of reasons why that might have been the case, but somewhere in the midst of it, I felt a good, hard kick in the pants, and I did something I’d wanted to do for so long.

I began writing.  Regularly.

And with that, I woke up.

I wrote about something I cared about, something that prompted much self-reflection almost all the time.  This blog came to life, and I have been so grateful to you, my faithful readers, for reading, commenting, and encouraging me.  A writer doesn’t get very far without her readers.  So thank you.

Not long ago, I decided to go for it and submit some pieces to Military Spouse Magazine, a publication that shares important resources, entertaining stories, and a wealth of advice, support, and compassion.  Today was a wonderful part of my writing journey, as MSM published my article, “Dear PCS,” on their web site.  I am over the moon, overjoyed, and overwhelmed with happiness.  Thank you, Military Spouse Magazine, for sharing my story!

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote “Plan for NOW” and “This is Me,” both of which reflected on building on one’s skills and assets, and realizing one’s dreams in the process, in this whirlwind of a military life.  At the time, I felt a shift, as if putting those thoughts down, sharing them with you – and many whom I don’t know – was pushing me in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  Suddenly, there was a rhythm, a rumble, and oh, what a ride it has been.  And the view ahead, while partly shrouded in mystery, as life tends to be, is nevertheless open and welcoming.

There is much about this lifestyle and this process that I still have yet to know.  But what I do know is that writing has fulfilled me in ways I hadn’t planned.  Thank you for being a part of it all.


Cringe and Purge: A True Story

It’s a rite of passage, I suppose.  And thank God it’s over with.  I hate those rites of passage that involve hardship, manual labor, and quite frankly, doing something that I really don’t want to do.  If you’ve been through it, too, you might relate to my feelings of dread and perhaps a touch of anxiety as you’ve anticipated the ritual’s beginning, and you might further relate to my desire to avoid it entirely, as well as its potential to develop irritating (although nonthreatening) marital friction.

But it’s so much better in the end, they say.  You’ll feel a huge weight lifted off your shoulders!

What am I talking about, you ask? Continue reading

The spirit of our land

(A later version of this piece was published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)

I remember the first time
I drove through Indiana
Watching fences in the distance
Fade away …

I remember the first time I drove
Through Indiana
Thinking to myself how big
This land really is

The Samples, “Indiana”

Personally, I don’t remember the first time I drove through Indiana. As a child, driving through Indiana (as well as neighboring Midwestern states) was as familiar as driving up my own street.  Still, The Samples’ song ran through my mind on repeat as my family and I made our Odyssey from DC to El Paso.  And with each town we passed, I grew more and more enchanted with our great land.

In the rolling, forested hills of Maryland,  I thought about early settlers forging new territory, and even the kids in the back seat noticed how many different shades of green there were. In West Virginia, old homes dotted the hillsides, which soon flattened. In Ohio, I became a little giddy. The home state of my college and many friends and extended family, Ohio stirred up memories of my youth and young adulthood. Exit signs were familiar, and farmlands introduced us to the rest of the sprawling, hospitable Midwest. Indiana and Illinois did not disappoint, as miles of farms stretched to my right and to my left, with the fading fence lines immortalized in The Samples’ song in the distance.

It struck me here how Continue reading

Dear PCS…

(This piece was later published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)

Dear PCS,

Yesterday, you showed up on our doorstep. I turned to my husband and said, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and he said, “You say that every time.”  But I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe you’re already here again.

“It’s Moving Day,” you told me. “It’s Moving Day, and I’m going to spend the next eight hours piling your belongings into boxes.  If you hear a crash, a bump, or a dump, just turn away. It’s Moving Day, and this what happens on Moving Day.”

You callously pushed past me, barged into my house like you owned it. You picked up my picture frames, rooted through my closet, emptied my drawers, boxed up my kids’ most precious keepsakes.  You arrived at a home, but left it an unsettled, uncomfortable fortress of cardboard.  What was once our sanctuary has been reduced to a staging area of labeled cargo. I can still sit on my couch, but in a moment you’ll remind me, “I’m going to need to take that. It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

So I’ll sit on a step, lean against a wall, curl up with a book, a magazine, or a newspaper, and I’ll pretend to read, but you and I both know I won’t be reading. I’ll be watching you, instead. I’ll be pretending there are no knots in my stomach when you haul our custom-built Turkish furniture through the narrow doorways. I’ll blink away tears when you clear out my kids’ playroom, and I’ll blame it on the glare from my iPad. I’ll grimace when you drop boxes in my driveway like they have nothing more than blankets inside. You’ll look at me and shrug. “It’s Moving Day,” you’ll say, “and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

But don’t remind me that “this is what I signed up for.”  As if I could ever forget that. And don’t act like you’re assuming control. You’re not. I’ve been preparing for you for months, and I’m onto your wiles.

In fact, I’ve seen you lurking around my home for weeks now, sneaking in and out of rooms, swooping through conversations, steering my car, wrenching muscles in my shoulders and squeezing my head.  You’ve made me say things to my husband that I didn’t mean to say, and you’ve made him do the same to me. You’ve made my kids watch more TV than they probably should, and you’ve made them endure a very tired mother whose back is weary from bending low to pick up, wipe down, scour, and scrub.  You’ve made me tell them, “I’ll play with you in a minute. Just let me finish packing, stacking, organizing, arranging.” Funny thing is, that minute never ends.  You’ve made my husband bear heavy loads at home, even as he comes back from work exhausted from finishing important projects. You’ve made me guilty for asking him to help with things that I couldn’t finish; I wish I didn’t have to burden him.  You’ve made my son look around at the changes and ask, “Mom, if this isn’t our home anymore then where do we really live?”

But here’s what I have to say to you, PCS, you sneaky little beast, who hides behind a vague, euphemistic, and somewhat faulted acronym:

Bring it.

I know who you are, and I know how you roll, and there’s nothing “Permanent” about this “Change of Station.”  This is the time when we add another notch on our bedpost, another picture on our wall, another link in our chain, another thumb tack on our map. “This is from our time in DC,” we’ll tell visitors, and some will say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I’ll throw up a dismissive hand, and say, “It’s nothing.”

Because you are nothing. I know this is a part of the mad game that is military life. And I know that when you load the last box on that massive truck, turn around and smirk at me, arms crossed across your chest, you’ll think you’ve won. You, like some others, will take pity on me, but in a more sinister way, because after all you were the one who emptied my home.

But when you feel my heel connect first to your groin, then to your throat, you’ll realize that the three people standing behind me – my husband, my son, my daughter, and yes, even my loyal dog – they are my home, and you can’t ever, won’t ever, take them with you. You’ve got nothing on them. Stew on that.

I know you’ll visit us again, PCS, I know you will. But next time, please remember how I look standing over you, and remember how you’re too stunned and weak to get up. And remember what I whispered in your ear after I kicked you down:

“It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

Ten years and counting…

Ten years.

Ten years, five moves, five surf boards, three surgeries, two kids, two deployments, two dogs, innumerable TDYs, and here we are. Married for ten years.

And only eleven years ago, before an overseas remote tour prompted our sprint down the aisle, Mike and I were just good friends. We’d been high school sweethearts, but we went our separate ways in college and reconnected when we were twenty-two. Occasionally, in the few years that followed, the recesses of my mind would gently push me toward him again, but I’d quickly shove them back; I wanted no part of a military relationship, and certainly not a military marriage. But Mike was… well, irresistible. And patiently persistent. Then one day, when we were about twenty-six, Fate snapped its fingers.

The rest is history.

I don’t know what I was thinking, getting Continue reading

Women in Service

Yesterday, I had one of those moments. It was one of those moments that brought into sharp focus a reality that had stood before me everyday. But in this moment, the true significance was revealed.

I watched my good friend Jill promote to Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves.  Presiding over the ceremony, aptly taking place at the Women in Service Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, were two other good friends: Rose, a Major in the USAF Reserves, and Ann, a retired Colonel also in the USAF Reserves.  Down the hall, in an electronic registry of thousands of women who have served in our nation’s military, was the photograph and biography of my grandmother, a WWII Army nurse.

The people, the place, and the importance of it all were, in a word, moving.  My three friends, smartly attired in their Service Dress, stood on stage and represented the Air Force and their country.  These three women stood in the company – albeit the spiritual company – of thousands of female service members who had gone before them.

As Rose led us through the formal motions of the ceremony and Ann and Jill each took their turns to speak, I watched Continue reading

It’s That Time Again…

A few weeks ago, my friend Cheryl came over for our weekly happy hour. Our kids immediately got to work dismantling the art corner, settling into the chaos that they call fun.  Too tired to bother with organizing their mess, Cheryl flopped down across from where I lay on the playroom floor, head resting on a stuffed animal, equally spent. She filled me in on her day, tossing a miniature basketball from one hand to the other, and I smiled to myself.  I was glad that our regular get-togethers had grown into visits comfortable enough to bypass small talk and social graces and dive right into conversation… and a glass or two of wine.

And that’s the point in an assignment, when you take a deep breath, appreciate good friendships that have developed, and feel at home… and then you get orders to move.

It’s that time again.

Yet again, the length of an assignment has been adjusted.  We’ll be leaving a year sooner than expected, embarking upon our sixth move in ten years this summer.  A 2,000-mile journey stands before us, from the competitive grind of Washington, DC, to the farthest corner of Texas, where they reportedly operate on “mañana time”: El Paso.

It’s time to stop buying items that the movers won’t pack, like jugs of Clorox or family-sized liquid Downy.  It’s time to buy only sparingly other staples, like flour, vinegar, lotion, and shampoo.  It’s time to think about purging items that aren’t worth taking, like over-the-door shower caddies that have lost their luster or toilet brushes that… well, that would just be disgusting to pack.

Inevitably, we’ll have a few boxes filled with spray bottles of 409 and unopened boxes of Swiffer Wet pads,  half-filled Domino sugar bags and a never-enjoyed box of Bisquick.  We’ll pass those items to neighbors, hoping they can use them.  We might unload them with a disgruntled humph, annoyed by the wasted money, or we might hand them off with the immense relief felt by simply getting rid of stuff during a period of high-stress.

But what do we do with the friendships?  Do we put them in a box, give them to a neighbor, and hope they can be useful?  Do we unload them with a humph, a sigh of relief?  Do we put a numbered sticker on their foreheads and load them on the truck?  Gosh, I sure wish we could.

This is one of those parts of military life Continue reading