Day 366: Night Before Goodbye

I am an Army wife, a milspouse. I have been with my husband through three of his four deployments, and saying goodbye is always a bittersweet sorrow.

During his last deployment, I began to write about our daily experiences at home, waiting for his return and surviving without him. I realize that this old blog might still be encouraging or helpful for someone, so I dug it out of the archive.

I will also add any new thoughts or things I’ve learned in the years since at the end.

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August 2010
Day 366  (the night before good-bye)I am an Army wife, a milspouse. I have been with my husband through three of his four deployments, and saying goodbye before deployment is always a bittersweet sorrow.

So . . . here it is. After months of looming, the day is finally here. His last day at home before leaving for Iraq, AGAIN.

I try not to cry when I ask if I can leave a few minutes early today. Supportive smiles are good, but the pitying looks at various levels of understanding are hard to face.

We live near a military base; people, for the most part, get it, but unless you have gone through it and sometimes even unless you’ve gone through it more than once, the nuances of this military life escape even the most sympathetic friend.

By the end of the school day, I am ready to race home, take off my heels and see my husband, but there is a heaviness surrounding our exchanges. So many words hang in the air, unsaid but felt.

Dealing with deployments-the night before goodbye is full of unsaid words and not enough time. Click To Tweet

He wants to tell me so many things, but his mouth can’t seem to juggle the marble ideas in his head and spit them out. Instead he grasps my fingertips with my arms wrapped around the baby and whispers, “I love you.” And takes her, wanting his last few minutes with her too.

By the time he sees her again, she will be crawling, maybe even walking. Today she smiles and is working up to giggling, but is still very much a newborn. When he comes home, she will have celebrated her first birthday and be several months closer to the next one.

How do you fit an entire year into one last night?

I watch him feed and snuggle her. Her whole faces explodes into a Cheshire grin when he smiles at her. I am worried that his deployment will subconsciously make her feel abandoned by men or sad.

Even though, she will never remember this year without her daddy, I will have each day etched across my heart.

He wants to eat at his favorite sushi place. I think raw fish should still be swimming in someone’s tank, but I concede. He is deploying to a place he affectionately calls “the armpit of the world” or “prison” depending on his mood. I can give in.

We have sushi and spend our last precious evening on the couch watching TV, because even though, I have raw and deep emotions, I don’t really know what to say. If we haven’t loved each other enough all year long, the next ten minutes or just the right phrase, won’t fix it.

Saying goodbye before deployment is standing on the edge, leaning over just enough not to fall. Click To Tweet

Saying goodbye before a deployment is almost dangerous, walking a fine line between rich and hopeful and breezy belief that this is just see you later. I feel like I’m peering over a cliff’s edge, leaning over just far enough not to fall.

We stay lighthearted as we start to discuss the most ridiculous news headlines of recent days. The laughter pulls us together. We laugh and want to fall asleep, but he has to go inspect barracks, so we kiss goodnight.

His goodbye is only for a few hours yet, but the word tastes bitter on my tongue. I fall asleep and wait to wake up for the real good-bye. My dreams are frantic and jumbled, some with him and some in which he is already gone.

At some point, I reach across the bed, and he is there. I am tempted to stay awake just to memorize the safe warmness of him, but drowsiness wins and I slide back into slumber.

He wakes just before four, and I get up to say goodbye.

Some wives will spend the morning sitting in the gym bleachers, listening all the speeches, etc. but it’s the second day of school. I shouldn’t miss work and can’t see waking the baby this early will help her adjust to this new routine, so we decided that good-bye is the same whether we say it now or in two hours.

Besides, I don’t have to have a brave face for anyone here at home. I cry ugly sobs when the minute comes.

Despite really trying here, I can’t quite capture the horrible lead-weight-in-my-chest feeling with words.

Quietly, I tell him to come home and be safe.

Then, he is gone. I stumble around the house picking up cast off items that didn’t make the final duffel bag. I finally drop back into bed for an hour or so before my first day as a temporary single, working mom commences.

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I haven’t had to say goodbye like that in a long time now. But just reading it, I remember every feeling like it was yesterday.

I may yet have to do it again. It’s important to realize that the letting go and saying goodbye is a process that starts with his orders.

You start mentally preparing a world-wind family visit, vacation tour, and a slew of honey-do lists that will help you start this year alone.

You start measuring every moment against, “What if he never comes home,” which is the pendulum swooping ever closer that hangs over every interaction until he leaves.

I watched every second between him and the baby. As Mom, I wondered if these small moments and a picture or recording would be enough if it were all she ever had of her dad.

Definitely helps me be more mindful of the blessings I have now. Even when life is hard, it isn’t deployment hard, today.

Please let me know if you enjoyed this flashback army wife diary post.

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50 Shades of Green Valentine’s Day

Do you picture a 50 Shades kind of Valentine’s Day?

Are you doing Valentine’s Day wrong? I was for years and didn’t realize it until recently. The gift that made me realize just how much I’ve changed wasn’t really for me and involved new socks. And real love isn’t 50 shades of grey; it’s one shade of dark green, trust me.

This year my husband has to work late, may not even make it home for dinner, and will probably barely drag himself through the house and to bed after the week he’s had, and I’m okay with that.

In fact, when my husband “warned” me he has to work Valentine’s Day, I calmly replied, “Uh, okay? But we can celebrate another day, right?” He looked at me like I had two heads. That is just not the response I would have given a couple of years ago. 50 Shades of Green Valentine's Day - Heaven Not HarvardBecause I had gotten Valentine’s Day all wrong, caught up in the hype, the commercialization, feeling like this one day had to measure our relationship or how much he loves me.

And it sucked .  .  .

. . . all the joy out of celebrating our relationship. My husband got stressed about not disappointing me. He didn’t feel loved by worrying about whether I really wanted flowers even though I said I didn’t. He didn’t know if ‘I’m on a diet’ meant ‘don’t buy me chocolate’ or ‘you better buy me really good chocolate worth the extra treadmill time’.

So what changed? I did. I learned that I’m worth loving because God loves me. I learned to let God be my true love every day.

Psalm 73:26b (ESV) “. . .  God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

I started searching out and focusing on the promises of God’s devotion, paying attention to the times I see God at work in my life, then I started to worry less about getting love and more about being loving.

Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

When I started hoping in the Lord, I stopped placing unfair expectations on my husband.

I EXPECT him to be faithful. I EXPECT him to have a job, work hard, help care for our family.

There are many things that I might like or hope for, but don’t expect, because 1 Corinthians 13 says nothing about rigid expectations in what loves is and does.

In fact, my new attitude gives him permission to relax, and that is when he is his best romantic self. He took me out last week for a surprise trip to the theater to see a musical because he was going to miss Valentine’s Day.

But you know what got me really all week in the knees? He bought himself new socks. THAT ALL MATCH.

Heaven Not Harvard - 50 Shades of Green You may not understand the joy of this if you’re not a military wife. This will save me the weekly headache of matching ten pairs of socks by discoloration, wear, and amount they’ve stretched out.

But what made me happy is that he listened to me. I once told him how much frustration matching his old nasty socks caused me, and he remembered.

And Thursday, when errands kept me out later than he had to work, I came home to a clean house. He mopped, vacuumed, cleaned the counter tops, straightened up. I almost cried.

Our baby girl is sick. We’re going to spend the night home, on the couch, and maybe do some hot hand-holding after we germ-x each other.

Besides, the best way I can celebrate Valentine’s Day now is demonstrate what love should look like to my daughter, not expensive gifts, but true love, the real, hard, messy, wonderful stuff of folding army socks and kissing snotty faces.

This 50 Shades of Green Valentine’s Day beats 50 Shades of Grey, because real love will say, “I want to do disgusting things with you!”But you won’t see any of them in that movie.

Real love will say, 'I want to do disgusting things with you . . . like change diapers.' Click To Tweet

Real love asks you to wash someone’s dirty underwear, clean up puke, stay up all night rocking a feverish baby, drive him to work in yoga pants with no make-up, and other things so disgusting you couldn’t imagine doing them until the person you love needs a bandage changed or help after surgery doing even the smallest things for themselves.

But real builds a love so deep and lasting, you’ll forget what greeting card love ever was.

So whatever you do this weekend, don’t get the two confused.

Fairytale Proposal and Happily Ever After

Ten years ago today, I got pulled over by the sheriff. I couldn’t imagine then how one “traffic stop” would change my life.

I’m visiting with family so I don’t have the time to wax poetic on this special anniversary of my fairytale proposal, but I can say, with all the challenges we have behind us and all the challenges we have before us, I would say YES again. The rest of this post is updated from a year and a half ago, but still really true.

April 6, 2006 felt like an ordinary Thursday, but it wasn’t. Today, as I reflect on where we’ve been, I can see how much God has grown our marriage. And we’re so blessed to have had it filmed to share forever, and have such a wonderful start to our lives together.

Learning to go #30DaysWithoutComplaint is even more challenging when I have been sick. I have felt really crummy, and I’ve tried really hard not to gripe. Saturday, I crashed hard, and my husband stepped up. Despite working early mornings and 24 hour shifts, and not getting a weekend, he has selflessly given to me when he has been home to do so.

When the sheriff pulled me over, I couldn't imagine how this would become a fairy tale proposal. Click To Tweet

He has cooked and cleaned. He even shooed me away from doing dishes a couple of times. He said, “I’m trying to take care of you! Would you just let me?!” Sometimes, in order to be a blessing, we have to let others be our blessing. And what a blessing it is to have someone offer to care for you not out of obligation, but out of love.

Sometimes in order to be a blessing, we have to let others bless us. Click To Tweet

I felt my husband’s ‘thank you’ for all the times I’ve served him quietly, and I felt God’s love through my husband. Even in the worst moments of the past few days, I’ve had reasons to be grateful instead of complain.

I live in a country which has wealth more abundant than 90% of the world can imagine. I have purified running water and plenty of food available, even on days I do not work to procure it. I have the luxury of being sidelined and sick because we have a stocked freezer and pantry.

Yesterday, I was taking a shower and all of a sudden, lost water pressure. I realized my husband must be using the hose outside. Standing under a pathetic little drizzle, I started getting upset. I could feel myself wanting to complain, so I prayed, ‘God give me your perspective.’

My husband was carefully hosing down the driveway after bringing home a deer to carve for a friend’s family. During these lean times for both of our families, we share resources. They watch our pets, bring us fresh eggs, and occasionally babysit Lil Bit.

He was working hard all day for someone else, what a wonderful husband! Even with low water pressure, I had a hot shower all to myself. I couldn’t get past the image of all the people in the world to whom pure water in which to bathe would seem an embarrassment of riches.

Why share all this on Veterans Day? My husband is a soldier. He has served overseas many times in various capacities during his time in the Marine Corps and US Army. He spent four years of his life in Iraq, trying to defend our values and nation from those who spread hatred. While not untouched by war, he has come home alive and unhurt. Not everyone can hug their veteran today.

Also, Veteran’s Day is my wedding anniversary. We’ve been married 8 years this afternoon. Six months prior, he came home from Iraq and surprised me with an outlandish proposal.

I thought I was getting arrested, but instead I was getting a fairytale proposal.

Military life isn’t easy. We can spend time complaining or be grateful. We live in a country so free people can scream from the top of their lungs ideas that are completely opposite of what our nation stands for, and a soldier will say, “but I fought for his right to say it.”

My marriage isn’t perfect, but it is growing stronger. We have enough. We have each other, a lovely home, and amazing kids. I get to choose my perspective. When I choose to focus on God, the complaints die away unsaid, my heart turns from bitter to blessed.

Every low moment in our lives is a chance for God to whisper His perspective into our hearts. Every small joy is a gift to us. Every challenge a chance to grow and overcome. Even in moments that destroy and devastate, God shows up. He is present, giving us rest, using people to love us.

I am supremely grateful that when my husband asked me what I wanted for this anniversary, I honestly couldn’t think of anything.

The fairytale isn't having perfection, it's having perspective, God's perspective. Click To Tweet

James 1:2-4 ESV  “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

I’m counting it ALL JOY, learning to be complete, realizing that in Christ, I am truly lacking in nothing. And that is how our fairytale proposal turns in our Happily Ever After.