Auline

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

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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

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

All Funked Up

I’ve written a lot about the things I love about the military life.  But you know what?  I can get in a funk about it, too.  Sometimes I feel so over the TDYs, the deployments, the changes, the uncertainties… I’m done! I think to myself.  Just let me plant my roots!  I want roots!

I want the cute little neighborhood with neighbors I’ve known for years, the cracked window panes from rogue baseballs that we never got around to fixing, the dirt under my nails from toiling in my very own garden in my very own yard and the ugly sun hat to go with it (yes, Mike, I hear your objection to the sun hat and the request for a bikini and a killer bod).  I want to decide to put up a porch swing and to be able to just go ahead and do it – no permission from landlords needed, no “nice alternative” considered.  I want to walk into my house that I spent a substantial amount of time searching for and choosing, and I want to walk into it without thinking “it’s only temporary.”  I want to not have to worry so much.

All right, all right… that last line was too much.  Anyone who knows me knows there’s no chance that “worry” would someday not be synonymous with my name.  But anyway…

Sometimes I catch glimpses of all those “wants” in this temporary place we’re calling home, tantalizing suggestions that maybe life isn’t so lacking.  In fact, recently I’ve been catching handfuls of them, and they’ve gotten me thinking about Continue reading

“The House that Built Me”

“Won’t take nothin’ but a memory from the house that built me.” – Miranda Lambert

After you spend a number of years moving around, the  question “Where are you from?” becomes a bit comical to a military family, and it can be surprisingly difficult to answer.  The answer could be anywhere – the town where you were born, the home your parents moved to after you left, the assignment that you loved the most and that feels like home, the assignment you had before this one…

But recently I heard a song, Miranda Lambert’s “The House that Built Me,” which is about a woman retracing memories through her childhood home, and it got me thinking about where I come from… where I really come from: the place I came home to days after I was born, and the place I came home to every day for the next 21 years.  The place that’s in my mind’s eye when I think of home.

My childhood home was idyllic, a near-century-old home with creaky floors, single-sinked bathrooms, and a sprawling yard shaded by two 100-year-old oaks.  In the back, a long driveway that we called our alley was shared by ten houses.  Young kids trampled across backyards, rode bikes up and down the alley, and paid visits to the two elderly sisters living next door to us, who always had a stash of cookies.  Our mothers watched us through kitchen windows and called us in when it started to get dark.

Summers were dreamlike, with crickets chirping, children squealing, cicadas buzzing, breezes blowing, balls bouncing, bicycles whizzing, jump ropes slapping, chalk scraping, feet hopping, popsicles slurping, and cares… not existing.  The sounds of summer hung in that seemingly perpetual pinkish haze just before sunset, when the pure and blissful hearts of children gave exuberant life to a neighborhood that had existed for over a hundred years… and that would continue to exist for hundreds more.

It’s been fourteen years since my parents moved to a newer, shinier place, but when I sleep and dream of home, I’m back in that old house, walking through my bedroom or waving to my best friend across the yard.  And I wonder…

If I were to return, knock on the door as the woman in the song did, who would open the door?  What would I want to say to them, show them?  Would life exist for them as it did for us in that house?  Do they know, do they fully understand how special, how extraordinary  their  neighborhood is?

Do they know that my neighbors and my family experienced Continue reading

The Comfort Zone

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

When I hear the phrase “the comfort zone,” it’s followed by sinister music in my head.  Shouldn’t I hear something more like waves crashing on the shore?  Birds tweeting?  A breeze blowing through wind chimes?

Not so much.

Because The Comfort Zone is that sneaky little bugger that gets you all nice and cozy, all wrapped up in a warm blanket on that soft and worn couch that your parents have had for decades, which now lives in their partially finished basement because you wouldn’t let them throw it away. The Comfort Zone lets you kick your feet up, take a deep breath, relax, and watch reruns of Family Ties or The Cosby Show… only to reveal that there’s not much going for you.

So you gotta get up.  And you gotta step outside. Continue reading

Building Community

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

“My life is but a weaving…” – Corrie ten Boom

cheers to mike!

Ah, the end of PCS season, when the exhaustion and stress of packing and moving and unpacking snicker under their breath as we realize the real work is just about to begin. Military spouses definitely have a big challenge upon arrival at a new assignment: start over.  FROM SCRATCH.   Continue reading

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 Continue reading

SOS

How many of you know the feeling – your husband is deployed, s**t hits the fan at home, and you become utterly aware of how alone you are.  Maybe “alone” isn’t even the right word – maybe it’s more that you suddenly come face-to-face with the staggering reality that EVERYTHING. IS. UP. TO. YOU.  And you realize you can’t do it all yourself.

Know what I’m talking about?   Continue reading