Nine years, nine months, and five days. That’s how long my husband logged in as an active-duty airman before his medical retirement. Nine years, nine months, and five days of all the uncertainty and fluctuations that military life brings. And then a fresh uncertainty took hold: Medical Retirement. We could move wherever we wanted to move, but we would have to do it ourselves or pay someone to do it. We could pick whatever job we wanted to go after, at least as soon as our DD Form 214 was in hand. Military service and medical retirement gave my husband an advantage in the hiring process for federal jobs, but did we really want to stay tied to the Department of Defense? Health insurance. Survivor benefits. Life insurance. Commissary and exchange privileges. GI Bill benefits. We had so many new rules to learn. Job-search strategies. Resume writing. Interview protocols. Salary negotiation. My husband had so many new skills to gain. When retirement looms, where do you start?
I try to have lunch or coffee with two or three different friends every month. I love these quiet times together, catching up on each other's lives without the distractions of responsibility around us. At one of these lunches recently, I sat down with a friend and mentor. As we quietly talked, she told me the revelation God had shown her. It was one of those earth-shattering, mind-changing realizations that take your breath away for a moment as you see the pervasiveness of a tiny lie you'd grabbed hold of. And in that moment, I realized how I too had grabbed hold of this lie and let it invade my life. I suspect you might also find this lie hiding out in your heart and mind. When I asked, this friend graciously agreed to write it out so that I could share it with you. I wanted you to hear it in her words without any commentary I might add. I pray that all of us would cease hiding in the baggage.
Whether we like it or not, God made us for relationship: with Him and with each other. If you’ve been hurt by others or are introverted and shy, you probably don’t like that God expects us to broaden our friendships outside the front doors of our comfort zones. That’s okay. I didn’t much like it either when I started figuring it out. Most people these days tend toward self-sufficiency, and we like to reinforce that with pop psychology. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Put on your big-girl panties. God helps those who help themselves. Common mantras, but is that really what the Bible teaches?
The 4th of July. A day for picnics and fireworks. For spending time with family and friends. Hours to rest and relax. Right? Well, yes, of course. But it is much more than that. Did you just roll your eyes at me? Honestly, I know that you know that today represents more than hot dogs, sparklers, and a day off of work. I promise you that I will spend time today with family. We will eat, and we will relax. But at some point, I will also reflect on what today has cost us: as a family and as a nation. I can't help it. As a military wife and daughter, days like Independence Day, Veteran's Day, and Memorial Day bring with it a reminder of the cost that accompanies the joy, the sacrifice that is attached to the responsibility. I cannot see a flag without the mingling of pride and a heavy heart. I cannot hear the Star Spangled Banner without standing a little taller and fighting the lump that forms in my throat. The cost of freedom is great, and those who pay it want you to celebrate. But please do not forget the reason for the celebration and those who paid dearly so you can enjoy it.
A balanced life. It's a common mantra in our world today, with books, television shows and psychologists all proclaiming that we must find balance. Work-Life balance. Family time and personal time balance. Physical, spiritual, and emotional balance. And while I understand the precepts and the health that so many are trying to promote, I always struggled a bit within their spouted parameters. While what they say sounds good, is it truly what God wants for me? Is balance biblical?
If you could do anything, what would it be? Don't stop to think about money or time or health that might limit you. Just dream, and dream big! What would make your bucket list of long-term goals? Tour a famous city? Give large sums of money to causes you care about? Climb a mountain or bike a historical trail? Sleep in a tree house? Or an underwater hotel? Complete a marathon? Pet a penguin (yes, that really is a top bucket list choice!) What came to your mind as you considered the possibilities?
This month marks the two-year point. In June 2015, we moved from Virginia to our current home in North Carolina. Since I married my husband in 1996, we've moved a lot. Two and a half years in one house is about our limit before we're packing up and changing residences. I can't tell you how many times we started the school year by learning our address, or how many times I looked at whichever kid was in the ten-to-thirteen-year range and asking them if they knew our home phone number. Thank goodness for cell phones where your number doesn't change with every move! For the first time in my marriage, after two years in the same place, we are not facing the chore of packing up our entire house. No, instead we are facing the much bigger task of watching our oldest pack up everything she owns and moving across the country without us.
Where are you going today? That's a pretty simple question, particularly if you've already checked your calendar for the day. What about this question? What is your assignment from God for today? A little tougher? Some of you will honestly shrug and wonder if I'm going to shed some light on that for you. I can't help but wonder how many want to argue, declaring that God will make it clear to you in the moment. Maybe. But I think we overlook one critical assignment from God. One He issued while Jesus still walked the earth: Noticing others. How well do you do this? Think of your favorite store. Now think of the place you most commonly get groceries. Which drive-through do you drive through maybe a little too often? Got all three places in mind? Great. Now . . .
How many of you have seen one of those homecoming videos of a man (or woman) in uniform surprising their child or mother or another family member? I love them—don't you? They are sweet and joyous, so full of emotion. I giggle and smile and sometimes shed a few tears. I look forward to the homecoming pictures posted by my active duty friends. Everyone who knows them breathes a collective sigh of relief. Another one returned home to us, safe and sound. Things can return to normal for that family. What civilians may not know is that the hours and days after the welcome home photographs may not be so sweet. The reality of homecoming can be very different from other reunions, say when a child returns home on a college break or you travel home to visit family. If you want to support military families, this is what you should know about reintegration.
I'm in a tough season. It's not a season of emergency or heart-wrenching tragedy, but it is a time of higher-than-normal stress. A lot is going on around me. and I have very little control over most of it. I must step back, and I must trust God. While I wait for His timing and His answers, I continue to work on those things He's given me to do. Some days, this is harder than others. ~ How do you thrive when the world around you twirls and swirls? ~ Where do you find the strength to get out of bed when you'd rather throw the covers over your head and hide? ~ How can you lovingly and patiently serve others when you just want someone to put everything around you right again? What would . . . no, what did Jesus do?