I did something very brave. In the week prior to writing this, an opportunity arose with two of my kids that I decided to take advantage of. I asked them, "As your mother, what have I done right? What are you glad I did as you were growing up?" Parenting is one of the issues Kathy and I tackle in The Warrior's Bride, and it's one of the topics young moms ask me about today. As I look over my twenty-plus years of parenting, these are my best tips for each stage of your child's life.
A popular notion is finding its way around Christian circles today. Perhaps you've heard it or even said it. It sounds good, so maybe you've put faith in it. It goes something like this: Everyone needs a Timothy, and everyone needs a Paul. If you know anything about these two men from the New Testament, this sounds good on the surface. But something about it has always bothered me. I didn't realize what it was until my daughter came home from her small group recently. They've been reading a book together, and this concept came up. In our discussion about it, I realized that she was troubled by the exact same part that bugs me. And that sent me into prayer and deeper study, wondering as always: Is this popular notion biblical?
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?
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?
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.
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.
What do you do with family? Just the word family contains a lot: a lot of emotion and a lot of history. Some hopes and dreams and wishes. Probably some fears and a few hurts. For some of you, the word brings up considerably more positive reactions than negative ones. Others of you are simply trying to break years of destructive family cycles and build a better foundation for your children to launch from. God designed us to live and grow in families, so it's no surprise that families also encompass many of our most difficult relationships.
In my book The Warrior's Bride, I shared quite a bit about the health problems my husband endures. Chronic pain, back issues, migraines, leg cramps, and more are a regular part of our lives. I used to wonder what I was supposed to do with that. Were the physical struggles a test? A character building process? Would God heal him, or lead us to the doctor with the right procedure to make things better? And what does it say about our faith if nothing changes? What does it say about God if things get worse?
Relationships are hard, and trusting the Lord with them is rarely easy. One devastating time in my marriage is crystal clear in my memory. My husband hadn’t slept in two days because of an undiagnosed medical issue and was highly irritable. We fought, and he raced off on his motorcycle. I ran to our room, sat on the edge of the bed, and sobbed. I contemplated divorce, even knowing that wasn’t the answer. I didn't want to stay, but at the same time I didn't want to leave. I felt trapped. Alone. This brief story from my life relates just one time when despair threatened to overwhelm me. When emotions could have determined my choices. When I could have easily followed my heart right out of my marriage. Emotions are funny things. They surge to the surface without effort and can control us if we aren’t careful. Many people advise you to follow your heart, but that's dangerous advice.