War: Through the Eyes of a Military Kid

This morning my oldest son overheard my husband listening to Meet the Press and he wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Why are people talking about acts of war? What is happening? How does it affect us? He was very curious, as most 10-year olds are.

So, we sat with him and answered his questions as clearly and concisely as we could, walking the fine line between hard truth and age appropriate answers.

I was impressed by his level of questioning and equally impressed with our ability as parents to answer his questions the best we could. We wrapped up the conversation and headed out the door to church, all of us seemingly content to carry on about our day.

But we weren’t all content to carry on about our day.

As we loaded into the van, the jabs started. Annoying little remarks or looks aimed at our youngest. As the little things escalated, our youngest engaged by shouting ugly names at his brother at maximum volume. After blows were exchanged and tears shed, each child settled into his designated seat as the van rolled on toward church.

The atmosphere in the van was one of uncomfortable silence. Both our oldest and youngest instructed to face forward and not engage with one another for the eight-minute drive.

~

“Are you scared?” The question was out of my mouth before I really had time to process it.

My oldest looked up at me and slowly nodded his head.

“Me too, buddy, me too.”

~

It’s one thing to watch world news unfold on a TV screen from the comfort of your living room. It’s a completely different thing to have it unfold as your dad leaves your living room, sea bag in hand, weary look on his face, and a promise that he, “will be back soon.” Whatever that means.

Today many military families woke to the reality that their loved ones deployed unexpectedly.

Deployment is hard enough when you know it’s coming. But an unexpected deployment? That hits you like the left hook you never saw coming-especially if you are ten or eight or three, heck, even if you’re 37, like myself.

Unknowns are about the only constant in military life. Some would suggest that this idea is something that the military community should just suck up, because “we knew what we signed up for.” While there is some truth in knowing the only constant is the unexpected or unknown, I find myself really angry with people who feel the need to remind military families of that at every turn. As if knowing that our loved might deploy at a moment’s notice makes that reality any easier to digest. It doesn’t.

~

Scrolling through Instagram after church, I came upon a post from comedian Leslie Jones. Something about encouraging people to get involved in current events. In the comments a soldier’s wife expressed her fear about what’s going on. The sudden deployment of the 82nd Airborne division hit a little too close to home for her. While most replies to her were ones of prayer and support, someone commented, “Sorry, but they knew what they were getting into! Being in the military you better be ready for war all the time!!”

This person’s statement, while true-ish, is awfully insensitive to someone who was simply expressing her emotions. And I see it all the time.

Somehow, we have begun to live under the assumption that because people volunteer to be in the military and make it a career, the volunteering erases the emotions of worry and fear. That because we have an all-volunteer force the families don’t get to say they are afraid, or worried, or that they are having a hard time while their loved one is in harm’s way.

Why is that?

Is it because we have been at war for nearly two decades, we’re just desensitized to continuing to send people into conflict? Is it because we have an all-volunteer force, most families aren’t experiencing the suddenness of war at home?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to those questions. But I do have a heart for the people who are bearing the brunt of constant military engagement.

~

The reality of the skirmish between my children this morning was brought on because we had to have a frank conversation with our ten-year old about what’s going on in the world and it scared him.

It scared him because he lives with the reality that world news of this caliber does affect his daily life.

His dad might deploy suddenly. Or his dad might work really long hours helping prepare others for deployment. Or where his dad works will be attacked.

He is aware that the unknowns and uncertainties of military life change his routine, his life, because an unexpected deployment is not about war, it’s about his dad.

~

As our country waits to see what will come of the current struggle in the Middle East, my call to action is this:

Remember that for some of America’s families this conflict is personal. It’s not about politics, it’s about dads and moms, brothers and sisters, and their absence, on behalf of the United States, leaves a very large hole in the lives of the ones who await their return. We don’t need your criticism. We need your compassion.

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Suddenly

On one of my favorite podcasts this week the host and her guest discussed the look of God’s timing. Specifically, how people respond to miracles, with a, “Wow that was fast!”

That when something great happens, it seems to appear suddenly and is cause for great acclaim. When the truth is, suddenly, especially in God’s time, is never quite so sudden.

This timing reminds me of yesterday, Winter Solstice, the day with the least amount of daylight hours. It is the darkest day of the year and it is also the turning point to the light.

Yet, one morning the sun will be shining brightly at six AM and we will be astonished that it was bright so early. It’s as if the sunlight appeared suddenly. But it wasn’t suddenly at all. Each day, minute by minute, the sun has been shining earlier in the morning until that day it is shining so bright and early.

Isn’t that a bit like God?

~

This week many people will gather in their churches and hear the reading of Luke 2:1-20, the story of the night of Jesus’ birth. This is a story that is foretold so many times throughout the Bible. Over and over again prophets speak about who is to come to rescue Israel from itself.

Yet, twice in the story told in the book of Luke, the word suddenly is used (v. 9&13).

“Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them…

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others…”

Suddenly? Seriously? There was nothing sudden about it. It was thought about, planned out, and happened exactly the way God designed it.

But humans were agape because “suddenly” angels appeared to spread the Good News.

~

“Suddenly” sounds great. Miraculous, wonderful, exciting, joyful, all the things I would love to feel.

But my miracle hasn’t looked that way at all.

Yesterday, I pulled the scraps of paper from my God Can to look at the prayers I’ve placed in there over the years. Half of these prayers are about the same thing. Half of the prayers reflect the anguish I’ve felt and the relief the I’ve sought. Half of the prayers scrawled on those slips of paper reveal that I’ve been praying for the same miracle for the last five years.

That realization sat heavy on my mind and heart as I read each prayer, put the current date on it, and returned it to my God Can. They will stay in that can until the day “suddenly” appears.

If I’m honest I want my suddenly moment right now. Really, I wanted it yesterday. Or better yet, right after I wrote that first prayer on that slip of paper five years ago.

Yet, in my own life, the miracle is coming more like the sun post Winter Solstice. Little by little, minute by minute, the miracle is getting closer. Each day a little more sunlight breaks through the darkness.

~

The truth is God took centuries to fulfill the promise of His Son coming down to earth to save us from ourselves. Centuries! Generations of people heard the stories, the prophecies, and were still astonished when suddenly the miracle was here.

As this year, this decade, rolls into the next, and this season of darkness slowly becomes light, I pray that I may tuck the truth of God’s perfect timing and Him working all things for His good in my heart knowing that suddenly my prayers will be answered and I will marvel agape at the wonders and miracles in my life.

 

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Be Still. And Know.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10a

In 2016 I had two necklaces made. One engraved with the words “Be Still” and the other with the words “And Know.” The “Be Still” necklace is gold and the “And Know” necklace is silver. At the time I thought I would wear these necklaces together one above the other on my chest to reflect the whole meaning of Psalm 46:10. I also intentionally chose to engrave each phrase on the particular metal because somewhere in the recesses of my mind I believed the “Be Still” portion of the verse was the most important portion.

For the last several years, I have worn at least one of these necklaces almost every day. I hardly leave the house without the “Be Still” necklace. While the “And Know” necklace has decorated my dresser, collecting dust and tarnishing a bit. I believe it’s been this way because I really needed the reminder to be still; to stop meddling, martyring, and manipulating situations and people to make me feel more comfortable in life. I also needed to learn how still the swirling thoughts in my head and not let them lead me down the well-worn path to anxiety overload. Wearing the necklace each day provided me a physical reminder to slow down, to step back, and to be still.

Recently, I looked at the tarnishing “And Know” necklace and felt a little sad for it. It sits on my dresser a little neglected, not worn or appreciated as much as its “Be Still” companion. As I looked at it, a thought occurred to me: Until now, it wasn’t time, yet.

“Yet.” Such a small word. Such powerful meaning. Through many Bible studies, I’ve continued to learn the word “yet” is always used when God is flipping the script on someone’s life. A passage can read as a list of worse case scenarios for many verses, then “yet” appears, and the rest of the passage reads only of redemption of those worst cases, and of the power of God.

When my thought, “Until now, it wasn’t time, yet,” occurred to me I immediately realized that as I’ve been praying about and considering what my verse for 2020 should be, it’s been staring me in the face all along. It’s time to revisit Psalm 46:10.

For three years, I’ve worked on learning to be still. Now is the time to know. To trust. To hope. To truly believe that God is who He says He is. That He is good and that He works all things for my good.

I thought being still was the hard part, the important part, the part that I really needed to learn. And it was and I did, to some extent. But the real lesson for me is “And Know.”

~

Recently, I did a “fun” exercise as the trainer called it. At the end of a rather grueling gym class, the trainer had us try handstands with the assistance of our TRX bands and a partner. The partner was supposed to act as a spotter and assist the person doing the handstand by guiding her feet and legs into position. Said spotter was also supposed to catch you when you fall…kind of like one of those trust games big corporations have their employees play when they are trying to build a healthy work climate.

My “fun” exercise ended in a dramatic swinging of the hooked-up leg into the person next to me as I tried desperately and failed to keep myself upright. My partner was not paying attention. Good news, the non-skid caught me.

That’s the thing about non-skid, it’s intended to stop things from moving, and it does its job well. I came to a crashing halt on my left elbow.

I stood up and brushed myself off, mostly checking my pride. The ache in my elbow was nothing compared to the embarrassment I felt about not being able to catch myself.

But that’s the thing. I wasn’t supposed to catch myself, I had a spotter, a partner. And that person failed me.

The thoughts I had in the split second I laid out on the floor was this: I shouldn’t have trusted. I shouldn’t have trusted the TRX strap and I shouldn’t have trusted a person I don’t really know.

And those thoughts made me really sad, mostly because I have a pretty tenuous relationship with trust right now. This was one more confirmation that I shouldn’t trust anyone or anything- except maybe non-skid. The non-skid showed up just like it was supposed to-it caused the max amount of friction possible to keep this body from being in motion any longer. And it hurt.

~

As a human, trust is tricky. Knowing that someone will show up or something will work is darn near impossible, because humans are fallible. Yet, it was just an experience, a circumstance, a worst-case scenario. This one-time thing is not the whole of my existence.

“And Know” is the refrain I hear in my head when an event, or a circumstance, or even a worst-case scenario actually bears itself out in my life. I hear it mostly because I have learned that God’s character is good, and though I am tempted to believe otherwise when life stops me in my tracks like non-skid, there is too much evidence of His goodness to forget for too long.

As this year and decade come to a close I will be shining up my “And Know” necklace, placing it around my neck, and wearing it daily to remind myself I couldn’t have learned the lessons I’m learning now, or flex the faith muscles I built in the stillness, because it wasn’t time, yet.

Be Still. And Know.

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Remembrance and Anticipation

As a child, Advent meant wreaths and lighting candles and saying things about that lighting that I didn’t quite understand. I saw it mostly as a ritual, a thing we did, because we did. For me, there was little connection between the lighting of the candles and the Light of the World.

As an adult, I struggled to figure out how the Advent of my childhood fit into the Christmas season. Honestly, those candles seemed like a one-off. I learned that not everyone, even those who were Christians, had a pretty wreath and fancy candles on their dining room tables each year. Advent was, at best, a mystery. A mystery that was meant to stay that way, unsolvable by mere unordained humans.

A few years ago, I learned why Advent always felt mysterious, unsolvable, and disconnected for me.

Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival.” As a person born in this time and place, I live between two Advents. So, the season of Advent is both a time of remembrance and a time of great anticipation. Remembrance of Christ’s birth and anticipation of Him coming again.

And if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that living in a space of both simultaneously remembering and anticipating is tough. It is hard to sit in the tension of looking back and looking forward. It is in this tension that pain and hope collide.

This space of living between two Advents is why this season always felt hard and disconnected, to me. It is nearly impossible for me to hold space for conflicting feelings, for both pain and hope, for both remembrance and anticipation. I want the hope, the anticipation, the joy that this season promises, but I don’t want the pain, the remembrance, the sorrow that this season also ushers in.

It all feels like too much. How does one sit in both? How can I possibly light candles that promise the Light of the World will brighten all the dark corners, when I’m also remembering how those corners darkened in the first place?

In 2018, my consistent prayer was that my life reflect the following verse:

“If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight is shining on you.” ~Luke 11:36

I wanted to be unburdened, light. Free from the darkness that kept me shackled to past hurts. I wanted my life to reflect that the Light got in.

In a lot of ways it did. My life began to feel lighter and brighter than it had in years.

So, as 2018 drew to a close, I searched for new verse. Something I could pray over my life for 2019. With my soul a little lighter, I really wanted my life to outwardly reflect the growth I felt like only I could see. I wanted the light to start to radiate out, most especially in my marriage and with my boys. These are the relationships where I felt all of my work and lightness fell short. I was ready for the relationships I held most dear to see the results of the Light in my life.

I knew it was a big ask. Though my dark corners had been swept out and brightened, they were quick to darken at any sign of past troubles. I believed that what I needed was a verse on growth.

I didn’t find a verse on growth. I found a verse on tenderness.

“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their hearts of stone and give them tender hearts instead, so they will obey my laws and regulations.” ~ Ezekiel 11:19

Having that verse reveal itself as THE verse of the year was not what I wanted. What I really wanted was for God to change THEM so that WE could have a good relationship and THEY could see all the growth in ME. I didn’t want God to give me a tender heart. I already cry at USAA commercials, how many more tears did He want from me?

Turns out, He wanted a lot. He wanted more than I ever thought I had to shed.

He’s been chipping away at my heart of stone and giving me a tender heart. One that is receptive to shitty news. One that has an extra ounce of patience for my boys. One that is open to the possibility that it all has to come crashing down, before true rebuilding can begin.

And I don’t want it. I want the lightness of 2018. I want the dark corners to stay lit, permanently. End of story.

But I’m being invited into a personal season of Advent. One that promises something is coming. One that promises hope is on the horizon. And, in order to see what is coming I must remember what was, and grieve it. Things are not as they once were. They will never be that way again.

What I desperately want the answer to is: Is the anticipation of what will be, worth the pain of looking back?

Only time will tell.

But if the candles and wreaths of my childhood were meant to tell the story of remembering Jesus’s birth and anticipating His return, then each Sunday this Advent season I can light a candle to remember that my dark corners have been brightened, that my heart is a little more tender, and that anticipation, hopefulness, is worth the wait. This is the promise of the Advent season.

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May I Never Be Unmoved

May I never be unmoved by the simple act of human kindness.

I wrote that thought on my Facebook page earlier this week after watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. In the episode, many of Dr. Grey’s former patients show up to bear witness to the incredible treatment she has given them over the years. All these individuals came together for the sole purpose of lifting Dr. Grey up. Together their simple acts of human kindness, changed the outcome of Dr. Grey’s medical board trial. It made me more than a little teary.

Then I wondered if it was silly, to get all teary over a moment on a TV show. It’s just TV after all. But here’s the thing, I know a lot of TV is based on the lives of real life humans, even if the show is not a documentary. Real people’s stories inspire the writers to write scenes that purposefully capture our attention. And, honestly I much prefer being grabbed by the good than the gory.

I wanted to write about this a few days ago, right after I watched the episode, but life. Life happened and it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to devote any time and attention to the keys of my computer.

And now I know why…

Last night I got to witness and participate in a real life coming together of folks for the sole purpose of lifting up another.

And, it looked a bit like the intro to a sitcom. Three moms, two kids, and a dog are in a house that doesn’t belong to any of them, except the dog…armed with a list of essentials needed to care for three kids and a mom who are all in spending the night in different houses and a hospital. It could have been a recipe for disaster. None of us familiar with the ways of the others. Our common bond being the family in need. Instead, it was a recipe for community.

In a few short minutes, all the essentials were collected and even a few well thought out extras were thrown in bags traveling all across our city, to the family member who needed them.

We showed up. We showed up in the ways that each of could. Whether it be having a child over with for slumber party with our own kids or shuttling snacks and overnight essentials to the hospital, we showed up. And, it made me more than a little teary, it made me grateful.

Grateful that I get to bear witness to real community, real showing up for someone who needed help. And any mom that was there last night will tell you, it was, “No big deal.” We did what needed to be done. Three simple acts of human kindness changed the outcome for a family in crisis.

May I never be unmoved by witnessing, giving, or receiving the simple act of human kindness.

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Seasons

Seasons represent one thing—change, the change that is vital for new growth. If winter didn’t come, there would no spring. If no spring, there would be no summer. If no summer, there would be no fall. If no fall, there would be no winter. It’s an endless life-giving cycle.

Over the past year, I went through some seasons. Last year around this time, I felt myself hitting that “slump” again. I blamed it on the holidays; the family stress, the expectations, the balancing blended families all while trying to prioritize my own family. During the most joyous time of year, I felt the crippling, choking, overwhelmingness that I now know is depression. It was the old familiar friend that came knocking a few times every year. I simply failed to see how often it visited and how long it stayed.

During its visit, I found myself unable to sleep. I stayed up all night scrolling and watching endless hours of junk TV, afraid to go to sleep or sit in silence because that’s when the old friend’s voice got louder.

An exhausted and overwhelmed version of myself spent my days yelling at my children for the silliest things. I was frustrated that I was frustrated. I was not much of a mom. I was home all day with both my children, yet I was not there with them.  Sure, we homeschooled. Sure, we were together. But I wasn’t really present.

I was unmotivated and unfulfilled. I was alone yet surrounded. I was becoming a lifeless shell of a person.

My husband began to really dislike me. He later admitted that he was trying to figure out if he could live with this version of me the rest of his life.

Yet the whole time I felt this way, I was a leader of a large women’s Bible study. I was serving the Kingdom, speaking life to others, yet the life was draining from me.

As a Christ-follower, the most frustrating thing about it was how much it felt like such a dichotomy—my head knew Truth, my heart knew Truth, but I couldn’t drown out the voice that screamed in the silence. What I knew and how I should feel didn’t match at all how I felt. I couldn’t reconcile the difference.

Christmas morning came. We were up with our two boys gifting them their very first trip to Disney World. We were headed to the most magical place on earth, yet it all felt so empty. I struggled to present. I struggled to really feel anything other than empty. It felt like a cold, dark winter.

My journal from December 27, 2018…

I feel like a hollow shell of a person. Empty on the inside. Sometimes it feels like I am having a total breakdown. Like who am I? What am I doing here? I have all this stuff and people around me, but I still feel this way?!?! It makes me sad to be like this because I know that the people around me are suffering, but I am suffering.  I don’t like myself. How then can anyone else like me? These feelings feel 100% out of control, like a rollercoaster I cannot get off of. I am locked in tight and I must ride it over and over again, against my will. I feel like I am zombie just going through the motions and not one single bit alive. When am I “present” it is a falsehood. It’s all a front and all a great game of pretend. What am I doing here?  Is this my whole life? Why does it feel so empty? I am tired of the fight. Exhausted from the game of it all. Doing, taking care, helping, serving, etc. It all feels pointless at times, and it is so very lonely. No one could know how I truly feel, yet keeping up the game is exhausting. God feels super far away…I am in the winter—the cold, hard winter. Why on earth would He bring me here? Why would this place be necessary? The air feels dry and it hurts to breathe. The sun is hidden by gray clouds. There is no break for sun. The nights are so long. The darkness it brings leaves me frozen in fear and unbelief. Just when I get through the night, the light comes. But it is not a reprieve from the night. It is only a reminder that the darkness will be back soon. God, will I survive this winter? Why did you bring me here? It is cold. It is lonely. There is no warmth.

~

A few days after I wrote that journal entry, I was running errands with my two boys. As I was driving, that terrible, truth-imitating voice grew louder. Only this time it was more serious with its negative messaging….No one will miss you. Your family will be better off without you. What if you ran off the road and hit that tree?

Thankfully, at that moment, I heard God’s voice speak through the voice of depression. His voice told me this wasn’t true. His voice reminded me that no matter how dark I felt, my life had value and He had a purpose for my life.

I later called my best friend and tearfully admitted what had happened. I needed someone to know the depths of my despair. Another dear friend called the next day because she felt the strong urge to pray for me on Christmas morning. She sent me a scripture from Ezekiel 37 about the dry bones coming back to life. Little did she know, I was reading and repeating those verses to myself when the dark thoughts would start and my old friend’s voice would get too loud. I admitted to her the grave thoughts that crossed my mind that day in the car. Later, I tearfully admitted to my husband what had happened.

By mid-January, I found myself in a counselor’s office. She was gracious and kind. She gently led me to understand and admit my struggle with depression.

~

After four months of counseling, I began to take medication for my depression. It was such a huge, yet necessary step in my recovery. I knew without a doubt the Lord had led me there. Taking that first pill was the hardest thing to do, but it literally gave me my life back.

Seeing a counselor and taking medication made me feel alive again. It was a beautiful combination that God used to help me reconcile the overwhelming fight in my mind.

Through my winter, the part I struggled with the most was trying to understand the purpose God had in it. How could He use something like this?

During those six months of literal hell, there was a song I listened to on repeat. It described my “winter” perfectly. It put words to how my heart felt when no words would come. It is appropriately titled Seasons by Hillsong Worship.

~

It’s been almost a year and I now see some purpose in my winter. As I have shared my story with women, it has given them the courage to admit that, they, like me, needed help. It gave them vocabulary to describe to their loved ones how they felt. It also gave them the strength to admit to someone else that they suffer from depression and have to take medication. The shadows of shame that followed us are slowly being destroyed, by hearing someone else say me too.

The winter may be cold, dark, and lonely but it is necessary for spring to come. It is vital for new growth. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t there. Where I am now is God’s gift to me and a brutiful reminder that new seasons of growth come after cold, dark winters.

The winter still comes at times. My old friend tends to clear its throat to let me know it isn’t going down without a fight, but I am reminded of that beautiful promise in Revelation 12:11:

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

 Do not to lose hope in the season you are in. God, through all of these seasons, showed me that He is sovereign and faithful. My story is a beautiful testament to His goodness that He can take my despair, my winter, and restore my life to the fullness of spring.

By guest author, Jennifer Penney

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Photo by Matthew Stroup of Ad Hoc Fotography

So Much More

Last week I emailed NBC to thank them for this season’s new characters who portray a Marine veteran and her family on “This Is Us.” I felt like the writers really captured what it’s like to be a military family.

From the anxiety written on the faces of both Cassidy, the service member, and her husband, Ryan, to the air of celebration that you’re supposed to feel on Homecoming day. The scene was on point.

As the story continues to unfold I have been impressed with the interactions of the Cassidy and Ryan. Reintegration post a combat deployment is no joke and it felt like the writers stood in my kitchen watching our real life drama unfold.

In another scene Ryan laments that he has trouble going to events where Cassidy’s service is the star of the show, because he believes the Marine Corps is what changed his wife into a person who is unrecognizable. I could see on his face just how torn up he was about holding that tension. Knowing that his wife is a Marine, yet not knowing where to place the blame for the change in her demeanor. It’s a hard spot to live in.

Week after week I have continued to be impressed with how the show gets into the nitty gritty of life post combat deployment.

Until this week.

Cassidy is upset and tells her friend, Kevin, that she saw her husband and it didn’t go well. That her husband got critical and she got defensive. It’s no more than a couple lines.

But it only showed Cassidy’s side of the story. Logically, I get it. It’s a television program and by the end of the episode, (SPOILER ALERT), she’s sleeping with one of the show’s main characters. So the story line is hers.

But there’s always another side to every story.

Chances are Ryan’s “critical” words were laced with worry. Chances are what appeared to be critical was simply a spouse sharing concern about the changes he sees in the person he loves the most. Chances are the “criticism” was an attempt to provide help to his wife.

Chances are, he wasn’t critical at all.

More than likely he is scared. Scared that the person he loves most is gone forever due the things she saw and did in place he will never have to go.

Those were my thoughts as I listened to those few short lines about critical words and defensive responses. And I wished they were onscreen. So much.

Because though I don’t have a crystal ball to see how the rest of the season plays out, I do know that the writers have done a great job of setting up the start of a relationship between Kevin and Cassidy.

And a relationship for them means no relationship for Cassidy and Ryan, her husband.

Her husband, the one who paid the bills, took their son to school, to ball practice, to the doctor, the one who sent care packages and lay in bed at night praying his wife would return home safely…the one who really knows her.

In one short exchange of words, Ryan is diminished to a critical husband who doesn’t understand his spouse and Kevin is seen as an understanding confidant.

Kevin said the things that sounded good and affirming. But Kevin has no idea of the love and devotion that was behind Ryan’s “critical” words.

I am Ryan. And those “critical” words have been mine. And for all the applause that comes my way at military events or all the thank yous I receive when I show my military ID, I was just reduced to being the critical spouse at home.

And the truth is I’m so much more. We, as a group, are so much more.

 

Bring it, Future

With her cape rippling out behind her, she stares out across the vast unknown with her shoulders square, head held high, giving the future the stare down. The look that says, “Bring it, future. I know you have a lot of tricks, twists, and turns up your sleeve, but I have hard won strength, honor, and wisdom on my side. So bring it. Bring your best, I’ve got better.”

This month I’ve been working through a She Reads Truth study on Proverbs and it is certainly hitting me where I’m at with all its wisdom and reminders of living a faithful life. Some of the wisdom and reminders I have appreciated more than others.

Today, as I read through the Proverbs 31 passage, about the attributes of a virtuous woman, the above image came to mind. Truthfully, that’s who I would like to be. I’d like to be the woman in cape laughing at the fear of the future. And for many years I struggled with that one particular line, because I was doing anything but laughing.

I was crying. I was anxious. I was eating copious amounts of ice cream. I was spending entire days crumpled on the couch. But I was not laughing.

So I would read all about the Proverbs 31 woman, the ideal faithful woman, and I would close the book, disappointed once again that I didn’t have what it took to be one. Despite the fact that I rose before the sun came up, despite the fact that I managed our family’s finances, despite the fact that I was helping my community, I could not laugh in the face of the future. The present was providing me too many painful inputs to think the future was going to be any better and that I needn’t fear it.

Now, I’m future me. I’m the me that the crying, anxious, ice cream eating, crumpled on the couch me couldn’t fathom.

And this me can laugh.

Those tears and anxieties, gave way to written prayers and bent knees.

I have hard won strength, honor, and wisdom on my side. I have hope. And with that knowledge and hope I read Proverbs 31 with fresh eyes. I was never meant to be the virtuous woman all on my own. I was never meant to carry the weight of all the things that encompass family life without help.

See I always got discouraged at the laughing part because it felt so overwhelming, (I’m supposed to do all that AND laugh at the fear of the future? Forget it.) so I’d close the book, defeated. But that verse is not the end. In fact that’s 5 whole verses before the end. And it closes with, “a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. (v. 30)”

That line speaks of a totally different version of fear. In that line fear means reverence or awe.

It’s that reverence, that awe of the Lord that has to shape everything else in the passage. Without that respect, that relationship, all the other stuff is too heavy, too hard, and not meant to be mine alone.

I could not laugh at the future because I was holding onto everything with an iron fist. I was not in awe of the Lord, because I didn’t even acknowledge He was there. It was me, and me alone, trying to check the boxes on being a virtuous woman, while completely missing the point. It’s not about my doing. It’s about my being-being in relationship with Him and being willing to follow His guidance.

I still think the woman in the cape image is the image of the Proverbs 31 woman. Rarely have we met a cape wearing super hero whose strength, honor, and wisdom wasn’t hard won at the hands the of the super natural. That’s the faithful woman described-a woman who acts and speaks with the strength, honor, wisdom that is the result of a direct relationship with a power greater than herself. And she can laugh at the fear of the future because she knows her “better to the future’s best” doesn’t rest on her alone.

woman stands on mountain over field under cloudy sky at sunrise
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Let It Begin With Me

These five words are my undoing. None of them long or particularly meaningful on their own but together in that order they are deadly.

I learned these words in recovery. “Let It Begin With Me,” is one of many 12-step slogans. Slogans are the easy to remember snippets that carry a far larger meaning in the context of the program and are meant to help someone on his/her recovery journey.

Let It Begin With Me is the one slogan I have battled with during my entire decade in program. You see, I don’t want it to begin with me. I really want it to begin with you, or my husband, or my boss, or literally anyone else other than myself. Beginning with me means I need to do the hard work of uncovering flaws, asking for forgiveness, making amends, and most importantly coming to terms with my own humanness. Truthfully, it’s a bitch. The work is labor intensive, time intensive, and most often emotionally intensive.

It’s no surprise to me that I have spent a decade reading about this slogan only to end up in therapy and have my counselor say quite literally the same thing. He ascribes to a different program, though the outcome is the same: change your thinking, change your life.

Those are kind of shitty options if you ask me; choose to change or don’t. If you do, the work must be put in. If you don’t things remain the same and the hurt, anger, frustration or sadness that runs your life will continue, perhaps blossoming into rage or depression.

But when you are staring down at the life you have and hoping to live happy, joyous, and free, what other option do you have?

My roadblocks to letting things begin with me are largely based on safety and security. If I allow things to begin with me, by changing the ways I do things or respond to others, I am opening myself up wide to all kinds of hurt or criticism. When I am criticized or my efforts are not perceived, as I would like them to be, I feel unsafe, as if I can actually feel the world tilting. The truths I stand on shift uncontrollably and my immediate reaction is to hide. Literally.

I find the smallest, most cozy corner in my house and wedge myself into the space until I am surrounded on all sides by the firmness of walls and furniture and floor. Once in that space I breathe deeply letting my emotions settle back into place. I often stay in this space for quite awhile, drifting in and out of subconscious talks with God. It’s like napping, but my brain is actively engaged in conversation, questioning how on earth did me going first lead to such and incredible crash and burn emotionally.

Yet…

Despite the frequent the emotional crash and burn immediately following a new way of doing things, the results are clear. Continuing to go first, letting new and healthy patterns of living begin with me has proven its worth.

As I’ve struggled to practice healthy responses in moments of conflict, the people around me have taken notice. That noticing didn’t happen overnight. See above emotional crash and burn.

But, it did happen. Opening my hands, replying with kindness, being vulnerable, they all made a difference, little by little.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t want things to begin with me. Letting things begin with me is still really difficult and still requires a lot of time and energy. I would much rather follow, than lead the charge in new, healthy ways living.

But seeing the results for myself: being happy, joyous, and free, and knowing others can see the effects of the work, that is worth it; worth the hours, worth the tears, and worth letting it begin with me.

young game match kids
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Flying Bravely

I originally wrote this piece as a “Shining Moment” talk I gave at my MOPS meeting in May of 2015. The theme for MOPS that year was “Be You Bravely.” Being me bravely was something my soul needed that year. The theme was right on time. I am so grateful to my Stamford MOPS group for taking a chance on me as part of the leadership team. I was less of a faith person and more of a fear person, but their faith and their kindness paved the way for me to find my own path back to belief.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people wont feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

~Marianne Williamson

This quote sums up the struggle I have had for a few years. I knew I was afraid when my husband went to war. That fear for me was/is justifiable. It’s tangible-something real to be afraid of-bad guys, war zone, etc.

But this fear of being powerful beyond measure and having a light that overcomes the darkness sounds absurd to me. There are so many more things on my to-do list than being powerful beyond measure and a light in the darkness. SO what am I afraid of?

The truth is a combination of, “I don’t know and everything.” And that combination has been paralyzing for me. My self-esteem plummeted and my anxiety skyrocketed. I became easily swayed by outside influences, especially my husband. Somehow in the midst of my fear and insecurity I replaced God with Matthew and made his words and deeds law. I squashed my talents and interests in support of him and unfortunately that has led to nothing but resentment.

My transformation to meek and resentful was a slow fade. The move back toward confident and courageous has been equally as glacial in movement. It was during my train rides to and from work in New York City that I read, Freefall to Fly, by Rebekah Lyons. Reading that book planted a seed in my heart and growth in faith began. Her book challenged my ideas about myself with questions such as:

 “What am I so afraid of? Why is living in the moment so difficult?” pg 87

She also answered these questions for me with her words, “Because when the busy stops and the hurry fades I’m left with a haunting feeling of inadequacy.” Pg 87

The following words of Lyons’ about using my God given gifts and talents hit me with a power packed punch:

God wants us to reclaim it. To stop filling our days with empty distractions that deter us from using our hearts and souls.” Pg 93

Reading those words, “God wants us…” were the seeds of faith being restored in my soul. I didn’t believe in myself, but God does. He wants me to reclaim the gifts and talents He gave me because I am, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” in His image. Psalm 139: 13-14

It has been a year since I read Freefall to Fly and the journey from then until now hasn’t been smooth, but I have stepped out in faith more times than not. I have spent more time in the Word. I have surrounded myself with faithful people. I have tried new things, gone to unfamiliar places, and learned that I am worthy of love and respect.

I am still uncovering my gifts. There are still days that I’m unsure of my talents and greater purpose in life. But I am learning that,

“[Life’s] not completing a task list. It’s not looking perfect. Or being perfect. It’s a plan derailed, a life surrendered, a bondage broken. It’s knowing who you are and more importantly Whose you are.” ~Rebekah Lyons

Learning Whose I am and fostering that relationship has allowed me to be brave.

landscape sky clouds hd wallpaper
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