(written for Military Spouse Appreciation Month)
Dear Military Spouse,
You are doing a great job.
It took me a long time to figure out those words… the words I longed to hear on my hardest days.
I know you don’t want to hear “thank you for your service.” You don’t endure this life for the strangers who say that to you. You're not the one who swore an oath to protect this country-- you made a vow before God to stand beside the one who did, through the good and the bad.
You don’t need to be thanked. You just need to be seen.
You need your strength to be recognized. You need to see jaws drop at how you’ve mastered the art of adaptability...at how you keep a smile on your face through it all because it is your duty. Your children depend on it, and you do too...to conceal the scribbles of bitterness in your journal, to quell the doubts in your head that you were made for this life. You need to hear people genuinely wonder out loud how it is that you do it, because you don’t understand that yourself. Their curiosity validates the strength within you.
Most importantly, you need grace.
I remember last Christmas, standing at the check-in kiosk at the Dallas airport trying to take advantage of the “one free checked bag” policy for military dependents. A man in an elf hat came to verify my credentials, and in between humming holiday tunes, callously informed me my husband must be with me in order for that policy to apply.
I could have spent the next few minutes arguing with him, sharing a tearful story to earn his pity, explaining that my husband was deployed overseas; but instead, I paid the fee, swallowed the lump in my throat and walked on. I reminded myself that I wasn’t special, that I was no different than any other passenger getting on that plane. I reminded myself that I chose this life.
But if that was you--I would have told you otherwise. You are special. You are a military spouse.
Yes--you chose this life. But what you didn’t choose is that your husband was gone the last six months, or that he was sitting in the middle of a desert in a Humvee 1,157 miles away when your first child was born. You didn’t choose for him to be gone when your son sat, crawled, tried scrambled eggs, said “hi” for the first time. You didn’t choose for him to be missing your first Christmas as a family, and your son’s first birthday a few weeks later. You didn’t choose to do life without him.
And the only reason you chose to travel alone with 90 pounds of baggage, not including the stroller, diaper bag, car seat, and your eleven-month old baby when you could barely afford the trip home, is because it all sounded better than Christmas alone.
If “your husband was with you” you wouldn’t be getting on that plane. But you hold your chin up high and do your best to continue blending in as you always do.
You have no other choice but to blend. Unlike your spouse, you don’t wear badges or ranks or unit symbols to show where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or who you are. You’re not issued camouflage, but you’re expected to make your own. It looks something like this:
In the midst of the challenges you face, you have just two choices: to be miserable, or to make the best of things. In seasons of deployment, a smile is the only way you know how to blend in as you walk alone through the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, weaving through couples after you came from church where you sat alone in pews filled with families. You smile as you sit alone at weddings, watching love twirling on the dance floor. You smile to cover up how much it hurts to see what you wish for that you don’t have. Eventually you smile because he’s home and you’re a family again. And when he’s home and his duty eventually requires all of his time and energy again, you have learned to smile and say okay when plans are cancelled, when you’re heating up a cold plate of food for the tenth night in a row. You smile with each day you have together, because you’ve learned not to take that for granted.
You live a life of waiting. You waited eleven days for your husband to meet his child. You waited 258 days for him to come home to meet his son the second time. Almost three years into marriage, and you’re still waiting for an anniversary together. You wait to hear when and where you’ll be moving your family and your life again. You wait for a set block leave schedule so you can finally plan a family vacation--although you know it may never come. You wait for the next goodbye, and then the next hello.
Like a hermit crab, you’ve been forced out of your comfy shell again and again and into new unfamiliar ones. You’ve become a master of making any sort of home beautiful inside and out, arranging your furniture to fit any floor layout. You didn’t think you were good at making friends, but now you worry how you’ll keep in touch with everyone who’s crossed your path. You realize how lucky you are to live a life where you meet so many different people. But with that, comes too many goodbyes. Every goodbye is “the hardest” and every new beginning is the “scariest” but you’ve become a skilled creator of new normals.
You can’t always count on your spouse to be there, so you’ve learned how to count only on yourself in the times you need to. You adopt the motto “I don’t need no man” not because you want to, but because you need to in order to combat tears in times of frustration. You’ve learned how to grill steaks to perfection, how to work a lawn mower and a saw, how to hang light fixtures, and how to baby proof an entire house. You learned these things so you feel the weight of his absence less. You’ve learned how to endure endless empty afternoons and evenings staring out your window watching soldiers return home to their families, when your soldier cannot because he’s overseas. You’re still in the process of learning how to master goodbyes, but you’ve learned goodbyes aren’t a sport for practice; they’re more like enemies to defeat. Each one is new and different, reopening old wounds, and involving a start to finish process of strength and endurance. While you haven’t learned how to smile when you say goodbye yet again, you’ve learned that you will be okay when you do.
What gets you through your hardest days is your sense of purpose. You’re proud to know the Lord has called you for this life, and you’re proud your soldier chose you to stand beside him. You’re proud to be the one he calls home, and you’re proud to support a first responder to this nation’s security. You’re proud to stand beside the colors. No military spouse survives this life out of selfish ambition. You sacrifice career opportunities, the ability to count on or plan ahead for anything. Your children sacrifice precious time with their grandparents and extended family who will never live nearby. They learn to say goodbye and let go at too young of an age. You have to be everything for them and to make friends with people who will love them like their own. You’re proud that you do it all by yourself.
It is in your most challenging and vulnerable times that the blessings in your life are revealed...like the people who sent bouquets to your doorstep when you brought your newborn son home from the hospital by yourself, the ones who delivered meals for weeks, the friend who brought you chocolate chip muffins and held your newborn while you took your first bath in days, for the friend who took you out to dinner on your anniversary and then birthday so you wouldn’t be alone, for the friend who you called at 2am to come sit on your couch so you could leave your son and drive yourself to the emergency room one night. It takes hardship to realize all the support you have, and you’re filled with endless gratitude for the people who step up to be the family you don’t have nearby. They’re the ones who make it all okay. Even though you don’t always have your spouse, you know you have them--the angels the Lord has sent you. You’re so thankful for the people who said yes when in your desperation, you finally let go of your people-pleasing tendencies and fear of imposing, and asked for help. You find that you become thankful for the smallest, and the strangest things, like a pandemic-- because it’s the only thing that could make the military slow down and give you months to make up lost time with your family.
To my fellow Military Spouse, please know that not only during this month of May when we recognize Military Spouse Appreciation month, but all the other months of the year, that while you may not always feel seen, you are.
I see you. God sees you. Your children see you, even when you think they don’t. Your soldier sees you and needs you.
And while you may not hear it enough, remember that you are doing a great job.
With endless admiration,
Another Military Spouse