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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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.

 

Burnt Stones and Rubble

The other day I was inspired to write after listening to the song “Smoke Clears,” by Andy Grammer. The chorus repeats these words:

You’ll never be alone
Even when your world explodes
‘Cause after all the smoke clears
I will be right here
I will be right here
When the smoke clears
I will be right here
When the smoke clears

I was reminded of so much hearing the chorus. I thought of all the bombs, both literal and figurative, that have blown up relationships and visions of what life is supposed to be like. I was also reminded of the darkest days of my husband’s 2013 deployment. The song, “Grenade,” by Bruno Mars was popular and every single time it came on the radio, what can only be described as a mixture of fear and rage came bubbling up out of me and I mashed the button for a new radio station immediately. I thought, “How could someone go on singing about catching grenades for a loved one when my loved one might actually be catching a grenade for me and everyone else in the US.”

Stupid “love song.” That song spoke only pain to me. At the end of the day I didn’t want my husband to catch a grenade or anything else for me; I just wanted him home, whole, in one piece. While no grenades were thrown, a vehicle born IED was detonated in the province where my husband was stationed. In fact it was detonated very close to where my husband was standing. That explosion is the literal bomb that changed the course of our relationship and the picture of what our life should look like.

For a long time the smoke lingered and the rubble smoldered. The after effects from a momentary explosion are long lasting and not easily sifted through and put back together.

I was angry. The rage I felt over the song, “Grenade,” was nothing compared to what I felt in the months and years post explosion. In recent months there has been a lot of healing; individually, together, and as a family. We have been surrounded by people, wherever we have been stationed, who loved us -all of us- and supported our physical, mental, and emotional health practices.

This morning I sat down to read to my daily Bible study. Its title is “Faith & Work,” and it is a study of the book of Nehemiah. It is a study of how faith and work rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem that seemed all but lost-smoldering, broken, ruined. The commentary that accompanies the study talked of remembering. Remembering all the good works God has accomplished. It spoke of looking back in the present in order to move forward into the future. So I did and I was struck by something that is said by the enemies of the Jews, “Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble?” –Nehemiah 4:2 I read this and I thought, those stupid enemies, of course they can bring the wall back from rubble. They believe in a power greater than themselves and with Him anything is possible.

Lightbulb!

I am often tempted to look back-not to remember-but to despair at the burnt stones and mounds of rubble of the life I thought I was going to live or the relationships I thought was going to have. BUT, today I was reminded to look back and remember that those burnt stones and rubble are the new foundation for a marriage and a family, for partnering and parenting. Here’s the phrase I first skipped when I read Nehemiah 4:2 this morning: “back to life.” The enemy didn’t question whether or not the Jews could rebuild, they questioned whether or not a city and a people that had fallen into ruin could be brought back to life.

As the smoke has cleared from the explosion in my life, my relationships and my life have not simply been rebuilt, they’ve been brought back to life. What was once burnt stones and mounds of rubble have been used to create a better foundation for the life I envision leading; life that not only has enlivened human relations but more importantly a life that has real relationship with God. He never left me alone and He is most certainly standing right here as the smoke clears.