Yesterday, Supersoldier and I celebrated 12 fabulous years of marriage. (Do you still celebrate 12 years if you’ve only spent seven in the same state?)
A dozen years into this exciting, exhilarating, exhausting military life, I feel like I finally have some insights for that milspouse-to-be who stood at the altar with starry eyes and dreams of military ball gowns. I can’t think of a better way to honor my sweet soldier than by writing that naïve little princess a letter for her wedding day.
Dear Military Bride Michelle,
Congratulations! Today is a big day. Not only are you marrying the man of your dreams in a ceremony fit for Cinderella herself; you’re also getting your first military identification card. No documentation in your wallet will earn you more 10 percent discounts on your deployment Chinese cravings than this one.
Welcome, girlfriend. You’re now part of the club!
Now, because I love you, I want to share with you a few insights into this wonderful man and this amazing journey you are about to enjoy with him. Some of these things are going to sound absolutely unbelievable to you — but I promise you, whether you can fathom the fact that your sweet husband-to-be will soon release gas in your sacred marriage bed and hold you under the covers or not, they are actually true. And if you can just digest them now, you will save your future self a dozen years of chocolate binging on the homefront.
So listen up, sweet girl, and take notes. I’m about to change your life.
I know this Prince Charming has told you, gullible one, all about military life — how it’s one big free international vacation with a side of adult prom.
Poor thing, he doesn’t KNOW he’s lying. He joined the Army when he was 18 years old, before September 11 and a wife he would have to leave behind. To him, this IS one big adventure.
Maybe he meant that he would enjoy several free international vacations.
If so, that’s true. Seven of them. But girlfriend, you don’t get to join him for any of them.
And while he “vacations,” you’ll be on the homefront in a state where you’ve never lived around people you’ve never met, trying to memorize the grocery aisles of each new store in each new state before hubby returns home from said “vacation,” takes you to a homecoming ball and sweeps you off to the next adventure … where he will promptly leave you the day after your household goods arrive to depart for his next international “vacation.”
But the adult prom part is totally true — it just costs you four to 16 months of deployment for each dress blues sighting you enjoy.
Now listen closely, girl. You are about to get orders for your very first duty station as husband and wife. Please take the time to review your state abbreviations now. Because when the woman behind the ROTC desk hands you your hubby’s orders, you are going to be sorely disappointed when she has to tell you that AK doesn’t stand for Arkansas — it stands for ALASKA. The place where you will be shipping your pile of wedding gifts. The week you get back from your honeymoon.
And honey, those cute Uggs that just came into fashion — they aren’t going to keep you warm there. “Cute” doesn’t happen in the frozen tundra. Get your ugly on, girl. Fashion goes out the window at -40.
Now when you arrive in Alaska, you will enter a world of beauty you have never experienced in the cornfields of Ohio — mountains, moose and God’s majesty around every freezing corner.
You will also enter a world of pajama-clad commissary shoppers.
I know right now you think you’re actually going to straighten your hair and wear earrings every day of your married life. So don’t judge when you see those women in the commissary with their slippers and flannels shopping with their children with no shoes.
That’s going to be you in about three years.
In fact, it will get so bad that every time you DO get dressed, your future children are going to ask you if Daddy is coming home. Pretty soon, you’ll stop wanting to disappoint them and just permanently live in those yoga pants and wet ponytail.
Just don’t stop showering.
Make friends. Be bold. Don’t wait five years and three duty stations to start speed dating those girls you know you need in your life. These women are going to rip off your pants in delivery rooms and hold your hands at future funerals. You need them. Might as well get cozy now.
And seriously, college girl, don’t be an ageist about it.
Soon, your best friends are going to be a decade older than you. You’re going to think, as you attend their 30th birthday parties, that they’re “old.”
They’re not. You’re young and stupid.
Soon enough, you will be the old woman in the room with newlywed milspouse friends in their late teens and early 20s. You will become the granny of the group faster than you fell in love with NSYNC.
At first, deployments will look like your biggest struggles.
Yes, I said deployments.
I know you don’t actually think the Army will take your man. But sweet, ignorant girl, if the military wanted your husband to have a wife, it would have issued him one.
As much as you think that you can go sweet talk the nearest general with your 21-year-old newlywed sob story, the military cares more about this country’s protection than about your inability to function in Alaska on the homefront.
And let’s get real — like you have access to a general anyway. This isn’t Army Wives, a show you will soon come to mock at all your deployment potlucks.
But don’t worry. Because although deployments will be some of the biggest trials you face in this military life, they will also be some of your most beautiful gifts.
It is through deployment that you will learn independence (and how to YouTube tutorial your way through life). How to take care of a house (by paying the 10-year-old neighbor next door to mow your lawn). How to learn to ask for help (at midnight — after you’ve Maced yourself because you thought you heard an intruder downstairs and forgot to learn how to use the pepper spray before you deployed it for the first time).
Deployment will give you an opportunity to forge the kind of life-giving, dinner-bringing, fashion-forgiving, sweats-celebrating, heart-sharing, three-nights-a-week-potluck-hosting f’real friendships that are so rare in this world.
It will also teach you how to not take the little things for granted. Start practicing now. Because when that man you love so much is gone, it will be morning kisses, Sunday stew lunches and Friday night pizza Smallville marathons you will miss the most.
On deployment hygiene — invest in a weedwacker now. You’ll need one to clean up those jungle legs every time hubby comes home.
And about that nice blonde stripe you’ll want to add to your hair before homecoming No. 2? Don’t do it. Tiger orange just doesn’t suit you. In fact, just make it a rule now that you don’t change your hair before a big homecoming.
You’ll thank me later.
On homecomings — NOTHING will be able to prepare you for the joy or ecstasy of a good homecoming ceremony. Soon, you’ll be willing to do deployments just to experience that indescribable moment when your eyes meet his after months of separation … where you run-leap-hug your way across a sea of camo, beating down any soldier who stands in your way, to engage in the kiss that is always a Top 10 moment on the marriage make-out chart.
With the military band playing patriotic music in the background and your children all dressed in red, white and blue (and purple from the juice they spilled while fighting over the remains of your depleted snack bag while waiting the seven hours in the gym until the soldiers actually arrive on site after turning in every sensitive item known to man), you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a movie.
Homecoming night is even better. (Mental note — When Supersoldier returns from Deployment No. 7, you are going to need a bucket of cold water to control yourself when you see him remove his shirt. Put the kids to bed early that night — IT’S A GOOD ONE!)
But know this — it’s okay if reintegration doesn’t happen like magic. It’s okay if it takes a few weeks or even months to get back into your military marriage groove. If he doesn’t want to have sex seven times on the second day home, it’s not because he’s no longer attracted to you; it’s because the man has been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 12 long months, surviving on nothing but MREs and horrible chow food, with not one day off.
He probably just needs a NAP.
There will be seasons between deployments where you will be laughing hysterically as you belt out country songs at the top of your lungs on road trips to new destinations you spontaneously decide to explore for the day. Where candles and rose petals will light your nights, and you’ll get to experience the “honeymoon” phase of marriage over and over again. (This is yet another deployment perk.)
And there will be seasons when romance looks like volunteering for the pay day commissary run, or tucking the kids into bed early so you can fall asleep on each other on the couch to some warmed-up leftovers and another episode of CSI.
You’re going to feel this pressure to make the most of every non-deployed day. To want to make your marriage a 10 at all times, because your time together is so very limited.
When you and Supersoldier are just “okay,” know that that’s totally okay. Don’t force magical moments. Some of the most beautiful moments of your marriage will come when you’re just side by side, doing life together. Every season is not going to be a mountaintop, and you’ll soon find out that you wouldn’t want it to be.
Dry seasons make you appreciate the fruitful ones, and fruitful ones provide the meaning and the memories to sustain you through the practical ones.
Both are precious to building a strong foundation for your marriage.
About a month after every one of Supersoldier’s homecomings, you will return to your deployment ways. You’ll start drinking from the milk jug, letting laundry go for weeks at a time and wearing the deployment yoga pants you donned for nine straight months one deployment.
Woman, take a shower. Get dressed. Brush your teeth before he comes home, for goodness’ sake. The poor man only gets to see his wife every other year. The least you could do is try and pretend like you care.
Do pick up your man at the airport once after a long TDY wearing nothing but a trench coat.
Just DON’T do it on that -39-degree Fairbanks day you were planning. Your lady parts will thank me later.
Although moving from the place where you have lived for 18 years to a state that feels like a foreign country will be a shock for you, moving will soon become your favorite thing. You’ll love the free vacations (see, he wasn’t TOTALLY lying!) you get to experience as you drive across the country on the Army’s dime.
Save all those color-coded checklists you make for your first move from your first duty station. You will want them back as you live at eight addresses in 10 years. And write each of those addresses down somewhere. Because when you apply to work in the church nursery and the children’s director needs your background check, she will need to know where you have lived for the last 10 years. And referring to a list is a lot faster than digging through your junk drawer of former rubber Etsy address stamps.
Savor each duty station. Your favorite duty station will always be the one you’re coming from and the one you’re going to. Learn to live in the now. You’ll miss this one when you’re gone.
Celebrate July 4th. EVERY YEAR. Because you are soon going to have two babies born on the same day, three years apart, and you are going to want a patriotic reason why the date nine months before their birthdays is so fruitful.
Learn to celebrate the EVENT, not the date. You get a man in uniform, military balls and rockin’ homecoming reunions in this life. But you DON’T get your man there to celebrate every holiday. Remember that it’s the marriage, not the anniversary, that’s important; the child, not the exact day he was born, that matters most. Instead of whining to God that your soldier is never home to commemorate happy occasions, start thanking Him that you have so many blessings to celebrate in the first place.
Sit down now, friend. Because this man you love so much is going to be gone, and you are going to be run-leap-hugging at homecomings and he’s going to be right back the door … which leaves you RUNNING after three boys. (Yes, I said three. I know you don’t know anything about penises yet. You will learn quickly, Padawan, or you will die.) Sitting is for retirement.
Treasure your in-laws. Call them “Mom” and “Dad” forever. They are going to love you like their own and hold your hand through all the adventures of this military life that they themselves walked out for 20 years before you.
Be nice to both sets of parents. You are going to need them every time Supersoldier leaves you with three kids on the homefront and five schedules you have to run by yourself.
I know you don’t think Mom and Dad know anything right now. You’re 21. You’re a moron.
But in about 10 years, you are going to beg them to come live by you, and they are going to sell two houses and half their belongings and apply for new jobs and new volunteer positions and move to a city where they’ve never lived in summer heat where they can barely breathe simply so they can play piano and make balloon animals at your kids’ carnivals until kingdom come.
Appreciate them now, because if you screw up what I’ve worked more than a decade building and break my perfect, grandparent-filled life, you will not live until your 13th anniversary.
And now to the important stuff.
Don’t give marriage advice three months into your marriage. You have no idea what you’re talking about. The first five years don’t count, either, because he was only there for two. Keep it real – you’re going to be 12 years into marriage and still not know what you’re doing. You have no business giving advice at all. Let’s not pretend you have this marriage thing figured out on day 2. You’re still locked in the back room making up for 21 years of abstinence. That’s not real marriage.
I know right now you think you’ll be making love twice a day. I know you won’t believe me, but there will be times when you are going to be TOO TIRED. You are going to be potty training, pee-cleaning and answering endless questions about penises for the next two decades of your life. At the end of a day filled with explanations about why classmates call their testicles “balls,” you might just be too tired to approach some in real life.
You may not know this, but Supersoldier, your knight in shining armor, is an introvert. You are an extrovert. Right now, you think this is perfect. You even brag to your friends about how he “completes you.” But when you want to throw cheesy theme parties and he literally gets the sweats imagining playing charades in a room of his co-workers dressed in Rudolph sweaters, you won’t find this cute.
Remember how attractive it was to you to be with a man who DIDN’T have to always be the center of attention, DIDN’T have to always be talking and was a really great listener? Who let you use your 110,000 words a day and just smiled and told you how adorable you were?
Remember how adorable HE is when he bans annual Christmas tacky sweater parties in your home, for the love of all things ostentatious.
It will frustrate you at times that this incredible man you know — the one who has the best sense of humor and makes you laugh for endless hours behind the scenes — is so quiet in public. You will want EVERYONE to know the amazing man who loves and serves and treasures your family. And you will wonder why he doesn’t show off his amazingness to all the friends you want to fall in love with your man.
Until you realize 12 years in that this is a GIFT. Only you and your boys will know the real Supersoldier. Only you and your family will see that special twinkle in his eye, or the ways he jumps for endless hours on the trampoline, or the way he makes you feel like a million dollars when he gives you homemade cards that tell you why he’s still in love with you.
It’s your special secret. And instead of being frustrated that he doesn’t share his amazingness with the entire world (and girl, you could use a few lessons in not putting your entire life on display), celebrate the fact that he saves that gift just for YOU. So whether anyone else ever gets to see the Supersoldier you see or not, YOU get to enjoy this man you couldn’t picture your life without.
And, because he doesn’t recharge around people but at home, he also won’t ever be at the bar with his buddies (because that would be a plural word, and he, like your oldest son, only needs one friend at a time) or golfing with his friends on the weekends you were really hoping to spend together.
That would require him making some friends he wanted to spend time with outside of working hours. :)
One Ancient Aliens mini-marathon (yes, this is a real show, and yes, you should discontinue The History Channel now) and this introvert will be recharged for weeks.
On to the inner workings of this man you married —
When he says he’s not thinking about anything, he really means it.
I know it seems incomprehensible that there could be NOTHING on his mind, but that truly is what he means. He is thinking about literally NOTHING.
Twelve years of badgering him to open up about what he’s really thinking about and what he’s really feeling and whether or not there’s something that is weighing on his heart that he needs to get off his chest will disappointingly reveal the truth — that he’s thinking about nothing. The same thing he told you on day one.
I know this seems impossible, because you are thinking about exactly 17 things and creating four color-coded calendars in your head at one time, but believe him now and save yourself a dozen years of psychological analysis.
Nothing. Really nothing.
When he is thinking about something, he is only thinking about one thing at a time. He will call this the “one ball to one box” rule. He can only have one “ball” — one thought — in one mental space — one “box” — at one time. He physically cannot think about and conquer two tasks at one time.
Rather than let this frustrate you (as you play octopus and complete 17 tasks at one time), appreciate the fact that, because he is only focused on one thought or one task at a time, he does each task WELL. In 12 years, he will never tell you he will do something and just miss it because he has too much on his list. When he tells you he will take care of something, rest assured that your ball is now in his one box, and your task will be completed in a thorough and timely fashion — and MUCH better than you would have done it.
Stop chucking balls at his face.
His love language is NOT physical touch. Yours is. This means that his first thought is not to show you love by caressing your arm or rubbing your back or making out with you in public places (the introvert in him would kill that idea if the lack of physical touch didn’t).
He shows love through acts of service.
He is going to wash your dishes, do your laundry, clean your house and permanently take over bathroom duty — and you, in your ridiculous youth, are going to tell him you don’t feel loved because he doesn’t hold your hand for all two hours of church.
Go jump the man one day and get your physical touch out. And then zip your lips, for the love of all women who would kill for a man who fights to clean toilets.
He loves Jesus — but he celebrates Jesus differently than you do. He doesn’t cry during worship. He doesn’t jump in to lead Bible studies. Instead, he studies in the quiet, and he shares God’s love by serving others CONSTANTLY.
Value his faith. Value his walk. And treasure the fact that this man puts God first in his life and seeks him passionately before making huge life decisions that affect his entire family. Honor that. Your children need to see that a relationship with Jesus isn’t a one-mold, one-cut deal. Don’t try to make his relationship with God look like yours.
Do not expect him to be your God. You have a God. He is enough. Supersoldier does not have to be God for you. And if you stop looking to Supersoldier to fill all your needs and instead drink from the never-ending well of God’s love, you’ll have a whole lot more fun and be a whole lot freer to love your soldier WELL instead of drowning him in expectations he physically cannot meet.
When you attack that sweet man, you are issuing friendly fire. The whole world is going to tear down your marriage. Criticize your relationship. Attempt to break down your character. Let home be a soft place to fall. Let it be a place where he can take off his armor, put down his Kevlar and know he is safe. Refuse to allow friendly fire in the home — instead, build a passionate defensive strategy to protect what’s inside it.
Utilize your superpowers, and let him utilize his. Be good at what you’re good at, and let him be good at what he’s good at. Stop trying to convert him to Michelle ways. He’s not going to suddenly invite 50 of his closest friends over for a barbecue, and he’s not going to organize theme parties for each superhero’s birthday.
But he is going to graciously attend them, and he is going to be a fantastic dad one day. And you don’t WANT two list-making, overly scheduled organizers trying to run the lives of three children. The world can’t handle that. Your children can’t handle that. You already have years of therapy to pay for — don’t increase it by doubling the craziness.
Let him boldly display those magical superpowers God gave him. Let him teach those kids about the value of humor and quiet and stillness and courage. Let him be the fun one who spends all his free minutes engaging in quality time and service, HIS two love languages, with those angels you will love so much. He brings so much to the table that you completely lack. Let him do his thing while you do yours, and your kids will enjoy a fuller life from it. That’s why you will call yourselves “Team Cuthrell.”
You haven’t realized this yet, but this fabulous man is darn near perfect. But he’s not anything like you. ENJOY HIM. Don’t try to change him.
He’s going to teach you so much about living in the present, slowing down, enjoying the moment, not filling your life with the endless buzz of activity. You are going to promptly ignore these lessons for about a decade. And then, about every six months, you will crumble and realize just how right he is.
Sometimes the man is right. Every once in awhile, let the man be right.
Celebrate the uniqueness of YOU as a couple. Keep your eyes off the couples to your right and to your left. You aren’t the tango lesson type, and you couldn’t ride a bike 100 miles through vineyards, no matter how much wine they fed you. So celebrate what you ARE — the 5K-running, road tripping, tent-camping couple. Take your coveting eyes off that couple salsa dancing across the stage and start looking into those beautiful hazel eyes you fell in love with three years ago. There’s magic right THERE.
Well-meaning people will tell you the boundaries you and your future husband have decided to uphold are stupid. Why don’t you ride in cars alone with the opposite sex or eat lunch with the opposite sex alone? Why do you always have to bring your kids or your friends if you have to eat or drive with a man for any reason?
Ignore them. Stick to those boundaries, girl. Be loud and proud.
They don’t understand your military life. They don’t understand how quickly rumors start on the homefront. They don’t know that when your daddy comes to visit you in Alaska, someone will spot you in public and start a rumor that you’re cheating on your husband with a much older man.
And you won’t find out for 10 more years how much peace it gave your husband to know that you avoided even the appearance of evil every one of the seven times he had to be away. Or how many temptations it may have kept away.
Be boldly ridiculous and protective of your marriage, no matter how stupid it makes you look.
Those cheesy monthly marriage maintenance nights you said you were going to start the first month of marriage? Do them. Keep them on the calendar. After 12 years of marriage, they will be the safe, neutral place where you can bring your thoughts and concerns and fine tune your marriage without fear, condemnation or accusation.
Play together. Run together. Road trip together. Nerf gun fight together. Never stop teasing each other, flirting with one another and winking from across the room. Those are the little things that will bring laughter in tough times.
Twelve years in, his smile will still melt your heart. And when you’re spending your 12th anniversary in an art museum with three superheroes, one of whom will run up to a painting of Jesus and yell at the top of his lungs, “Mom! That man is wearing underwear in an art museum!” there is no one else you will want to savor that moment with than the man standing there beside you, holding your hand and smiling.
So please, save us both years of gorging brownie batter to sad country tunes and DON’T SCREW THIS UP! Treat this boy RIGHT.
This man is a treasure. This man is a gift. And you have no idea now, at age 21, how good you have it.
This man will cherish you. He will love on you. He will be faithful to you. He will bring joy to you.
He will buy you dead flowers he is morally against purchasing and he will cook you meals he will have to Google how to make. He will bend over backwards and even use your Container Store clothes folder to accommodate your Type A craziness, and he will stop and ask you to dance in the kitchen when you are buried in your own lists.
He will order wine basket deliveries from across an ocean, send cards two months in advance, arrange Skype dates for special occasions and send four to five emails a day every time he has to be away telling you just how much he loves and misses you.
He will grow into the most hard-working, most humble, most dedicated, most loyal, most sacrificially serving man you will ever know. And you will fall more in love with him in a decade than you could ever possibly be on this day.
So what if he speeds on back roads? So what if he only has four emotions and he doesn’t put any of them on display? (Really, this is for your good. You can’t handle two emotional basket cases in one house.) In 12 years, if you just turn off that ridiculous nagging button of yours (please, Michelle, for the sake of all things holy and just), he will be DOING HALF THE LAUNDRY, washing ALL the dishes and FULLY taking over all the bathroom cleaning while telling you you look beautiful on days you barely brush your teeth. For the rest of your life.
So what if he prefers to bring one or two children into the home at one time and isn’t fully on board your plan to start orphanages of 75 or more children with medical needs on the homefront? This does not make him undedicated to the cause! This makes him the perfect, prayerful match for your emotional response to a world in need.
No one will listen to you, support you or pray with you like he does.
And no one will cheerlead for your dreams or give you permission and freedom to fly like this man.
When you want to write a book, his only question will be, “Will you sign my copy?”. When you tell him you want to fly to Hawaii for a weekend and speak at a conference (that you will promptly learn how to do through a quick online instructional video), he asks what he can do to help pack before he steals away the kids. When you decide to become a blogger with absolutely no blogging experience and a reader base of exactly one (your mama), your man will not only read every blog post and ask about every article — he’ll also send you and your best friend to a writing and speaking conference while he keeps the kids for three days so you can learn to do it better.
Woman, get over your small issues. You’ve got GOLD. You have NOTHING to complain about.
Thank God for your blessings.
Thank God for this man.
And thank Supersoldier for everything he is and everything he does.
You will sacrifice in this life, too, and sometimes, it will feel like you are doing ALL the sacrificing.
But you’re not the one on the battlefield.
You’re not the one taking bullets.
And you’re not the one performing emergency surgery on your buddy who is dying on a makeshift table in a war zone across the ocean.
You will sacrifice a lot in this life, girlfriend, you WILL. But you aren’t willing to give it all for your country.
This brave man you are marrying today — he is.
And as so many people in this military life stop and take the time to thank YOU for all you do, don’t forget to turn around and thank HIM.
Don’t forget to honor him. Don’t forget to tell him DAILY how much you respect him. Don’t forget to tell him constantly how proud you are of him.
Treasure this beautiful gift of a man who God, in his crazy, awesome grace, gave you.
You can take him up on all his IOU romantic comedy marathons when he’s out of the military. :)