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:
- A smile. 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 with each day you have together, because you’ve learned not to take that for granted.
- Patience. 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.
- Adaptability. 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 at 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.
- Independence. 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. 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.
- Pride. What gets you through your hardest days is your sense of purpose. 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. No military spouse survives this life out of selfish ambition. You sacrifice career opportunities and 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. You’re proud that you do it all by yourself.
- Gratitude. 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. 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.
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
Sydney is an Army spouse and shares her MilLife journey on her blog, Life Beside the Colors.