It’s the evening, Lane looks at me and says “You know what today was, right?”
“Absolutely no clue.”
“I could have gotten out of the military today. Today marks the end of my initial three-year commitment to the Army.”
It’s post-dinnertime and I’m standing at the sink while he clears the table, elbows deep in soapy water washing off the skillet. I slow down cleaning without realizing, put my hands on the counter, then my legs as I bend halfway over, a trail of soap following each spot.
“I mean, that was never the plan anyway; it’s not like we were going to actually get out today. Still crazy though, right?”
“Yep.” I try to take a deep breath.
“Yeah, babe. We’re in it for the long-haul.”
I’m still slumped over, though, my body belying my emotions.
We could be done with this, you mean?
Is that what I want, I find myself wondering?
Depending on the day, honestly- yes.
We’re sitting on the couch, a Sunday afternoon, he had his work calendar in front of him that covers the next five months- I have my planner, my computer, and my desk calendar all spread out on my lap, I’m ready for this. I had told him we’re getting dates and trips and trainings and all of the military things written down. We figure out when will he be gone, when will he be home, how long will the gone times be, how long will the home times be. Will he be here for the girls’ birthdays this year? How about our anniversary? I sigh when I see it and he does too- for the third year in a row, he’s going to be gone for Mae’s birthday. He’s missing my birthday this year too, I note, though I don’t say it out loud- we can only handle so many disappointments in one night.
He’d be with me if he could, I hear myself whispering in my head, something that I’ve come to say often, reassuring each and every time.
Still though, he sure is gone a lot.
Can I actually do this?
A week or so after that night in the kitchen, there is a string of soldiers who are killed overseas. They make some news headlines, some organizations share their pictures on Facebook, I do too because remembering is important. I look at this picture of a soldier and can’t help thinking about his young wife. He might have shown her that picture, she might have commented on how handsome he looked, how strong he looked. She might have looked him in the eyes and said what I did to Lane when I saw his official picture- You better make sure they never have to use this. You come back home to me.
We’re walking a tightrope, one foot in front of the other, not knowing where it leads, what the next day holds, praying for strength to stay upright, praying for strength to just take that next step because that’s all we know to do.
There was a party for military wives from our unit on a Saturday night and I knew I would go; I would welcome others and say hi first and do the hard work of showing up and be a leader in love. I arrived and found myself feeling that New Girl feeling- I opened the door, quickly scanned the room- who do I know, who can I go up to and talk to, who are the safe spaces that will welcome me in?
I sat at a table with girls I didn’t know, but we bonded quickly and fiercely as military wives can sometimes do and the night is so fun I fall fiercely in love with my little tribe all over again.
At the end of the night I walked over to a friend of mine to say hello, and she began to tell me about how hard it was for her to show up and how hard it was to feel alone and like the new girl and we talk about how brave showing up is, believing that we need each other, and I tell her I felt the exact same thing.
We talk about this military life we lead and how it’s so hard and I felt this thing inside of me zing- wait, it’s hard for you, too?
It was a moment for me, right there next to the paint brushes, realizing that it’s hard for her too because it’s hard for all of us and we can’t ever let ourselves believe that we’re the only ones feeling like life is hard. That’s one of the greatest lies we can ever believe- that we’re alone.
She tells me that she wants to make sure other military wives know they’re not alone, that she’s going to do whatever it takes to welcome them in, listen to their questions, reassure them that it gets better and we’re in it together. Before it’s even a conscious decision, I blurt out the words “I’m in. I’ll help. I’ll do it with you.” And just like that we designate ourselves a little commitee, making sure our ladies know they’re loved and they’re welcomed and we want them here and it’s okay to have questions and it’s okay if it’s hard because it’s hard for us too.
All of this makes me think of being at the gym the other day, our trainer making us do wall squats. My legs feel like they are actually burning off and I look down and my muscles are quivering. I want to stand up, I want to stop, I want to quit. It’s all I can do to instead look at the girl next to me and tell her what I need to hear: Tell me to not quit.
“What?” she says. I don’t know her and we haven’t talked yet in the class but I needed to hear someone else tell me I can do it.
I need to not quit right now and I want to so bad. Tell me not to.
“Don’t quit,” says this stranger who I didn’t know.
But I heard her say it and I didn’t quit.
It’s a dance most days, honestly. We weave in and out of the impossible broken to the ordinary common within any given day – say goodbye to our husbands, hear about a casualty, change the baby’s diaper and go to the kitchen to make dinner. I think the weaving in and out is what got to me most that day in the kitchen- the unknown, the tempo, the back and forth you just can’t control.
And so some days- the ones that are harder than others and the ones that make me feel inadequate for what’s ahead of us- I wonder what it would be like to have a husband with a career not in the military.
But then I talk to God about it and he reminds me of why we serve in the military, how we show what love looks like when we give our life for the sake of another and devote our life to things bigger than ourselves. He reminds me that he’s good, he reminds me that he’s good, he reminds me that he’s good.
But also what helps me keep going?
When I see the military wives whose husbands serve with mine. I see them get the same news I get, say the same goodbyes I say, fight for hope and fight for purpose and fight to build community just like me because deep down we all know that we need each other and it all matters.
When I see them not quit, I know I won’t either.
It makes me think of a story in the Bible, of this one guy who was paralyzed but his friends really wanted to get him to Jesus. They wouldn’t give up even when they couldn’t get in the front door, and so they went ahead and tore the roof off the place and lowered him down instead, placing him face-to-face with Jesus.
I think that’s what we get to do for each other and it’s one of my favorite things about this life. We carry each other when we can’t go any further ourselves, do whatever it takes to get each other face-to-face with Jesus, letting love heal and restore and strengthen and then run wild.
We keep not quitting, doing whatever it takes to see Jesus in the midst of our wide open broken, carrying each other there when we can’t do it ourselves.
What I’m saying?
1: Don’t quit.
2: Find someone who you can not quit with and tell them everything.
Because if you don’t quit then she won’t either and you’ll get through it together.
And I’m pretty sure all of us will tear the roof off the place as we see love run wild in the process.
Struggling with the demands and depletion of this military life? Maybe this will help: 5 Ways I Stay Sane in this Military Life. Click here and I will quietly send it to your inbox.