As a little girl, I frequently pictured what my “grown up” life might look like.
I thought I wanted a “normal” life — a “typical” family life. A life where my husband was home each night for dinner and our family spent weekends together.
A life where the man I loved helped tuck little toes into blankets and snuggled on the couch to the nightly news. Where home-cooked dinners together were the norm and cold nights apart were the exception.
Where our little family got to just be together. Daily. Forever.
And then the military happened, and life turned out a little differently than I had imagined.
In this military life, we don’t get the luxury of “normal.”
It’s not normal to be a happily married couple … and spend more months a year apart than together.
It’s not normal to have zero communication with your husband … for days or sometimes weeks at a time.
It’s not normal to have attended the same church for two years … and most people to not even know you HAVE a husband.
It’s not normal for a 10-year-old to have eight mailing addresses to his name, and it’s not normal for a 5-year-old to have never once seen his daddy on his birthday.
It’s not normal to be part of a two-parent household but live like a single mama. To be the sole adult responsible for keeping little people fed, watered, showered, in underwear and alive. To be the only human in the house who can lead the wake-up routines, run the school and extra-curricular routines, pound out the homework routines, survive until the bedtime routines and, after completing all of the above on top of 50 other responsibilities, three other volunteer jobs, a part-time real job and apparently no hobbies and ABSOLUTELY no down time in between, fall into bed in complete and utter exhaustion at the end of the daily DEPLOYMENT routine … for months and months on end.
It’s not normal to have to play both Mommy and grief counselor. To comfort kiddos bawling from multiple-times-a-week missing-Daddy breakdowns, to print out Daddy pictures that can stand on nightstands and cuddle in grieving arms. To pull off on the side of back post roads to stop and hold 5-year-olds who, after saying goodbye to Daddy for the umpteenth time, feel utterly broken and just need held. To have a reserved time at dinner each night to talk about the empty chair and how everyone is doing dealing with it.
Even nine deployments in.
And I’m pretty sure it’s not normal for kiddos to ask if Daddy is coming home every time Mommy brushes both her hair AND her teeth on any given day.
Our life just isn’t normal.
But it’s also not normal that we have Facebook friends in 50 states and four continents.
It’s also not normal that every time we move, we stay with a different dear friend at every stop along the way … and pull all-nighters picking up where we left off, x many duty stations ago.
It’s not normal that I have friends I consider sisters. That I eat dinner with multiple women multiple times per week. That their children are like my children and that, after celebrating birthdays and holidays and lonely days together, all of us are just one big family. That, when I’m having a bad day, this family drops EVERYTHING to rush to my door, deliver dinner, drop flowers and serve chocolate.
It’s not normal that, at age 34, I’ve driven across the country five times, kissed under the Northern Lights, become a real member of the Polar Bear Club, stayed in a cabin near moose and bear at Denali National Park, sled with my children on Mount Rainier, seen the top of the Seattle Space Needle, eaten fresh guacamole along the San Antonio Riverwalk, participated in the real Kentucky Derby festivities, run marathons and half-marathons through cities people add to their bucket lists and toured the greatest children’s hospitals in the nation … without ever traveling more than two hours from our “home” at the time.
It’s not normal that our children have had boots down in 30 states, visited hundreds of historic monuments from Mount Rushmore to the Alamo and explored more state and national parks than we can even count … all as we’ve moved on the Army’s dime.
It’s not normal that our children have such a deep and wise grasp of service and sacrifice. Because at a young age, they’ve gotten to experience it.
It’s not normal that I have an entire filing box of love letters I’ve collected over nine deployments in 12 years. That I receive texts and emails and hand-written notes from my soldier on a weekly basis. That, when I look at that man I married more than a decade ago, I still get butterflies (probably because PHYSICALLY getting to look at him happens only half of the year ;)). That we get to perpetually do the honeymoon, over and over again, every time he comes home. Every time he goes away.
And it’s not normal to have the privilege and honor and FREEDOM of living LIFE and doing MARRIAGE like TODAY really could be the LAST.
I don’t want to be so busy surviving military life that I forget to THRIVE in the midst of it. To be grateful for the blessings OF it. To thank God for the GIFTS this life gives that I would have received nowhere else in my lifetime.
So many retired military friends have told me that they miss this life more than they knew … friends who were counting down the seconds. Friends who couldn’t wait to be DONE.
Don’t get me wrong – I count down, too (three more years to go!). But I don’t want to MISS this. I don’t want to gloss OVER this. I don’t want to look back in three years and see that the things I thought were burdens were really the biggest blessings of my life.
I want to reap every blessing and lesson and growth opportunity and relationship and JOY out of military life while it’s mine.
Like parenting, the military, too, is just for a season. And I don’t want to end it and realize that I never made the most of it.
Because this crazy, chaotic, combat-filled life, it, too, is BEAUTIFUL.
Life doesn’t have to look “normal” to be “beautiful.”