Chick-Fil-A for the soul…

At what I hope is the tail end of adjustment to our new assignment, yesterday I jumped at the opportunity for a mini-reunion with my friend, Jess, who had a long layover at nearby BWI.  A multi-hour conversation tucked inside a Chick-Fil-A near the airport brought with it a healthy helping of chicken soup for my soul (hence the title).  We laughed, we updated, we vented, we commiserated, we confessed.  It was just what I needed, if only for a couple hours.  But it was during the hour drive back home, that I reflected on not just how much I treasure our friendship but WHY it is so important to me.

I first “met” Jess in 2007 via email through a mutual friend who knew we were both Hawaii-bound.  Jess emailed me by way of introduction, and when I sent back a lengthy, novel of an email that is typical of me and she responded in kind, I was sure this was a match made in Heaven.  We exchanged a number of emails comparing notes on our future assignment, and in just a few months’ time, we became neighbors and beach buddies.  

From Jess, a daughter of an Air Force family and fellow Air Force wife, I learned a lot about the thrill of this life’s adventure, the excitement of what comes next, the sheer joy drawn from the novelty of a new place, new people.  It strikes me that this nomadic lifestyle could be viewed from a completely different angle.  I (or anyone) could focus on the stress, the sadness of saying goodbye over and over again, the lack of deep roots in one place, the distance from family.  I’ve never felt quite inclined to focus that way, but the stresses are real, and Jess definitely opened my eyes to how wonderful this lifestyle can be – if anything, she magnified the beauty of it.

Taking advantage of every location, every culture she’s ever visited, Jess has sufficiently drunk up the world.  If the countless magnets collected from across the globe, which wallpaper her fridge, aren’t a good enough reflection of her love for this world, this life, then… well then look around at the innumerable memorabilia carefully placed around her home, paying tribute to dozens of countries she’s lived in and/or visited.  Ask about one, and she’ll tell you about her experience with genuine and inexhaustible enthusiasm, and it’ll always begin with, “When we were stationed in …. ”  She’ll tell you about the job she had, the people she knew, the intricacies of the assignment.  Amidst the stresses that, yes, Jess experiences too in this life, she finds and focuses on the joy in each chapter and hopes for the best in the next one. Each stage has a host of opportunities.

It’s no surprise, then, that Jess has dedicated her life’s work to serving the military community. That’s the other important thing I’ve learned from her: the importance of service.  There’s a lot of talk about military members’ service, their courage in service to our country, and that is no doubt significant.  But Jess showed me a different kind of service, and that’s her dedication to supporting our military members and their families before, during, and after deployments, assisting them with other transitions, helping them find and use resources, ensuring a good quality of life.  She thrives in this life, and she helps others do the same.  If that’s not giving back, I don’t know what is.

In my mind, Jess is the perfect person to be in service of our military families, if not because of her extensive experience doing so, then because of her sincere and positive personality, and her genuine desire to help.  I’m lucky enough to have her as my friend.  Sitting there in a Baltimore Chick-Fil-A, I vented some of the stresses that have been tangled in my own thoughts recently, and her listening ear and calm reassurance was as refreshing as it always has been (though it was a lot more fun when we discussed such matters on the beach).

Years ago, Jess talked about the importance of “front-row friends.”  What is a front-row friend, you ask?  Here’s what I think it is: front-row friends are the ones who not only sit in the front row of your life’s stage but they also restore your balance when you’re uncertain, replenish you when you’re feeling empty, and rejuvenate you when you’re fatigued.  A front-row friend is more than a supreme confidante, more than your greatest cheerleader; I also think it involves a significant level of growth – personal growth.  Through their own example, front-row friends are the ones who teach you more about yourself, more about who you want to be.  You admire their qualities and you strive to emulate them… or at least have them sit close enough up front that you can feed off their energy.  Looking back to when I first met Jess, I was still so very green to military life, largely clueless about what it really meant to be a part of this mission, this enormous community.  But thanks to Jess, who I consider one of MY front-row friends, I learned.

Live the adventure, love the adventure, and give back to it.  Thanks, friend.

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