Thursday, August 23, 2012

Building a Better Self

Lately I've been struggling with staying positive.  The stress of the move, the frustrations when things don't go smoothly, and the unrelentless energy coming out of the kids all day has me frazzled.  But as I searched through some older writings of mine, I came across this one which reminds me of how strong I can be and how things will always get better.  It reminds me to try and appreciate the things that are good.  It reminds me that the hard times are just a bump in the road on the way to contentment.

“A happy life comes not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.”  These words from Helen Keller can be perfectly applied to the military wife’s life.  I do not believe I have mastered the hardship of deployment, but I have come a long way from where I used to be.  During the first deployment, I struggled with my fluctuating emotions.  I would be feeling so great for weeks at a time and all of a sudden something would change, causing me to be extremely sad and depressed for a few days.  Interestingly, the pattern seemed to follow the course of the months.  The first few days of each month marked my sadness, but then I would snap out of it and the rest of the month I felt strong, hopeful, and content.  Typically, a simple phone call from Randall and the sound of his voice was the thing that would lift my spirits again.  Whatever was causing anxiety and frustration would melt away.  I remember feeling that there must be some sort of voice, something in his subconscious mind, telling him it was time to call me because each time I was at my lowest point, sure enough I would receive a phone call.  Perhaps it was God’s way of answering my prayers.

I am not sure what caused my dip in emotions at the start of each month, nor do I care to remember the things that were frustrating me.  Maybe it was the raging pregnancy hormones, or maybe it was just me unable to control my wandering mind.  Whatever the reason, the emotional roller coaster I experienced has proven beneficial in the long run.  Not only did it prepare me for what to expect throughout this deployment, but it also has provided me with a foundation from which to build a stronger self.  I do not remember specifics; I just know that my anxieties during the last deployment were haunting.  My mind would race in the middle of the night causing me to lose precious sleep, I had little patience with my daughter, and I discovered that the positive person I had once known myself to be had become very negative.  I was not happy with this and knew I needed to change.  As the deployment progressed and homecoming drew near, much of the negativity subsided, but I knew I still needed to work on finding the old me. 

Shortly after Randall returned home, I began reading a book that laid the framework on the already existing foundation1.  It talked about being content, whether it is with circumstances, self, relationships, or roles.  It also brought awareness to having a faulty focus on life and the detrimental effects of worry.  Biblical references were provided throughout the book which highlighted the theme of each chapter and the importance of God in our lives.  I have always been a religious person, but never before had I known the bible to be such an incredible manual on how to live a peaceful life.  From the moment I began reading the book, I began feeling a change take place in my heart.  The first few chapters on contentment really made me reconsider what is truly important in my life and how my attitude affects everything in and around me.  On the first page of the first chapter, the author states, “What we are on the inside, what we continually think about, eventually shows in our words, actions, and even on our countenances.2  As my dad used to tell me, “We are responsible for what we think, do, and say.”  Needless to say, as I read through the book I found myself becoming more aware of myself and my life, and I began to feel my old self returning.  I would consider Randall’s impending second deployment as I read and could visualize myself getting through it with grace.  One friend even told me, after asking some questions about him going on a second deployment so soon, that I had a very positive attitude about it.  It was then that I realized that, in this type of situation, there is no other attitude to have.  It is our way of life and there is nothing that we can change about it.  Keeping a negative attitude will only make matters worse.  Times may be difficult, but no matter how far apart we are, we are in this together and, in the grand scheme of things, it is just a small segment of our life together. 

So far during this deployment, I have managed to keep the positive attitude I rediscovered in myself earlier in the year.  Sure, there are times when I am sad and really miss him, or when I get frustrated at the end of a long day taking care of two kids.  Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated with Randall for whatever reason.  But unlike the last deployment, I am learning to kick those thoughts out before they get too strong a hold on me.  There is a feeling of accomplishment when I think about how far I have come and how much stronger I am now than I used to be.  Perhaps this is why Helen Keller said happiness comes from the mastery of hardships.  Without hardships, there would be no opportunity to grow, nor would there be appreciation for the great things in life which, even in the midst of the hardship, allow the heart to find contentment.
  1. Dillow, Linda.  (2007). Calm My Anxious Heart.  Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
  2. Dillow, Linda.  (2007). Calm My Anxious Heart. p. 11 Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Songs of the Seasons
It’s amazing to me how much music can evoke emotion within us.  There is something magical floating amidst the words and melodies that tugs on our heartstrings.  Sometimes the feelings are happy, sometimes they are sad, and sometimes they are simply reminiscent.  We come to form associations between certain songs and a particular person, place, or time in our lives.  Over time, these songs become part of us, part of the stories that shape our lives, and part of the memories we hold closest to our hearts.

I was very young when I realized the power of music on my emotions.  I still remember some of the songs I would hear on the radio as I sat in the back seat of the car looking out the window at the busy freeway on the way to grandma’s house.  That was in the mid-80s.  A few years later when our new house was being built, the popular songs of the time would be blasting from the workers’ radios while my family and I walked through the framework of what would soon be our home.  When I hear those songs today, I can feel the heat of that summer on my skin and almost smell the sawdust and freshly laid cement in our new basement.  I was only six years old.

The songs of the nineties represent many different seasons of my life. Some songs take me back to the early nineties when my brother and I would roller-skate in our basement with rock-songs playing on the radio.  Others remind me of school and summer vacations, friends and crushes.  Still others make me think about the Saturdays my mom and I would go shopping together or when my brother got his driver’s license and I’d ride with him learning the sounds of groups such as Boston, Pearl Jam, Live, Metallica, and weird heavy metal stuff for which I had no affinity.

The beginning of the new millennium was a time when I was big into Country music.  The songs I listened to take me back to my line-dancing days and the hours I spent at the grungy, smoke-filled bar dancing away until the wee hours of the morning.  I am reminded of the first concert I ever attended, where Kenny Chesney opened for Tim McGraw.  A few years later in 2003, I met a man.  He liked me enough to go line dancing with me, and the rest is history.  We both loved country music, and created “our songs” from the Top-20 list that was continually playing on the radio.  I can still feel the rush of excitement from sitting next to this guy I was incredibly smitten with while we drove around singing along to Rascal Flatts or Chris Cagle or George Strait.  But country music wasn’t all we listened to, and it turned out that we both had similar taste in almost all music.  He even got me to branch out and start listening to R&B and rap.  We have had some fun times listening to the crazy things these artists sing about!

In the past few years, music has created more emotion within me than ever before.  When Randall is deployed I find that certain songs speak to me, helping me to get by just a little bit longer.  I have been inspired to keep pushing forward and to think about the things which are good rather than the negatives.  Every so often, Randall will tell me of a song that reminds him of me and every time I hear it, it comforts me to know how he feels.  Certain songs remind me of the good times we have made together as a family and how much we have grown over the years. 

Right now, as we are adjusting to our new home, I am struggling to feel settled.  Everything is new and it has been hard for me to feel like I belong.  After living in North Carolina for so long, I had become part of the community.  I was known not only among fellow military families but in the civilian community as well.  The cashiers at the stores knew my face, some even knew my name.  I was known as Keira and Clay’s mom at their school.  I had made friends all around my neighborhood and beyond.  As much as Randall was deployed, I learned how the people and places in the area worked, figured out where places were, and learned short cuts in getting there.  Now, I am starting all over again.  The music I play to calm my mind only teases me, reminding me of all of those things I am missing.  The memories make me smile, but the desire to return to those times, to return to the place where those memories were created, dampens my spirits.  I keep reminding myself to have patience, that it has only been a few weeks.  One thing I have learned being a military wife is that transitions take time.  Eventually, I hope, there will be songs that remind me of this place when I hear them.  I hope to be reminded of the fun times we have created here and to see this season of my life as yet another one filled with great memories. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Plane Ride That Will Make You Think

Earlier this year, I heard a song on the radio that caught my attention.  At first, I really liked the melody and found myself turning up the volume when I heard it come on.  But when I realized I had no idea what the song was actually about, I listened closely to the words.  A wave of emotion came over me and I began to tear up.  The words revealed such a simple idea, yet most of us would never have the mindset to come up with it ourselves.  It got me thinking that there is so much in life that we just brush off as unimportant because we can’t see it or it doesn’t affect us, only to miss out on many of the truly glorious things in the world.  The song, “Fly Over States” by Jason Aldean, has changed my perception of so many things, and the words which have inspired me are as follows:

A couple of guys in first class on a flight
 From New York to Los Angeles
 Kinda making small talk killin' time
 Flirting with the flight attendants
 Thirty thousand feet above, could be Oklahoma  

Just a bunch of square cornfields and wheat farms
 Man, it all looks the same
 Miles and miles of back roads and highways
 Connecting little towns with funny names
 Who'd want to live down there, in the middle of nowhere 

They've never drove through Indiana
 Met the man who plowed that earth
 Planted that seed, busted his ass for you and me
 Or caught a harvest moon in Kansas
 They'd understand why God made
 Those fly over states

How many times have you thought the same thing while looking down at those squares of land as you flew above them?  How many times have you wondered what are they actually there for?  Or maybe you haven’t thought anything about them at all, but just passed them over without a care about what goes on down there.  It is so easy to become accustomed to our own little worlds and to only care about what directly affects us.  We take for granted all of the things which have been provided for us without having to do any work for them.  The roads we travel on, the food we buy at the grocery store, and the trains we take to go from one city to the next all have a history.  All of these things are here for us because people worked hard, perhaps harder than we can even imagine in today’s technology-driven world, in order to make it easier for everyone else.  Those farmers who run those square fields truly know what it means to work hard, not just because it benefits them but because it provides food for the rest of the country.

When we allow ourselves to see the broader scope of the things around us, we enable ourselves to appreciate what is truly meaningful.  It saddens me to know that the ones who are getting all the attention and glory in our country are the people such as actors, singers, reality TV participants (I refuse to call them stars!) and sports players who lead less than admirable lifestyles.  It is even more disappointing that these are the people kids look up to.  We need to change our focus and adoration to those who are the real superstars, the ones who contribute to the betterment of our country and care about the people who live in it.

Just because there is something we wouldn’t want to do ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it.  Some things in life may seem more stellar than others, but those things which might seem undesirable to one person could be another's pride and joy and purpose in life.  The next time you are on a plane ride across the Midwest, remember that all that land is where the food on your table begins.  Remember that the people who work hard on those farms are trying to make a living just the same as the business men in the city.  Remember that the beauty and productivity of our country comes not only from the things people have built in it, but also from the diverse landscapes which nature carved so long ago before we even knew it existed.  These gentle reminders, these lessons which allow us to see outside or own little worlds, are perhaps part of the reason “why God made those fly over states.”  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

One Truth I Try to Hide

Many of my blog posts have talked about the difficulties and frustrations military wives endure through deployments, demanding schedules, and having to move every few years.  Although these times are physically and mentally challenging, I have been able to stay on my feet and push through, gaining strength and character along the way.  Even at my lowest of lows, at the end of my rope, I have managed to keep hanging on until I find the strength to pull myself back up again.  But there is another aspect of being a military wife that I continue to struggle with.  This aspect which is required of me is not present only during deployments or when we move or when schedules are demanding.  It occurs all the time, pressuring me to step out of my hiding place and nagging me to push past my comfort zone.

When I was a little girl, about the ages of four to six, I was shy.  So shy that I wouldn’t talk to my teachers at pre-school, and even clammed up to some of my own family members.  I can’t explain the reason for it, all I know is that when certain people would talk to me I felt an intense need to hide, to run away so they couldn’t see me.  Over time, I outgrew my shyness and social skills continued to excel throughout my school years.  It wasn’t until college, when I entered an entirely new setting with entirely new people, that I realized I was not as socially competent as I thought.  I gained friends quickly, but still they were new people I didn’t know well and I felt awkward around them.  I always felt like I was the odd one out was just tagging along with people who already knew each other well.  I eventually found my niche but made a conscious effort to step outside my comfort zone in order to meet new people and improve my social abilities.  In fact, that is how I met my husband.  But the years that followed college have shown that some things remain within us no matter how much we try to ignore them.  They have revealed a truth from which I can no longer hide.

The truth is, I am still shy.  I do consider myself a social person, but I tend to stick to small groups of close friends rather than large groups.  This is where my struggle occurs.  As military wives, we are encouraged to attend functions which would enable us to form relationships with other wives.  When we move to a new location, we must meet new people and form new friendships.  We are urged to sign up for events which will help us to become involved in the military spouse community and, in turn, give us something to focus on while our husbands are deployed.  But for me, these things are a source of anxiety.  I enjoy meeting new people, but am easily overwhelmed when entering an entirely new group of women.  I often will look to find the one or two people I already know and will just stick by them, letting them introduce me to people rather than introducing myself.  I tend to remain fairly quiet when I am introduced because I fear saying something that will come out the wrong way and they will get a bad impression of me.  I enjoy the companionship that good friendships bring, but sometimes it takes a while for those friendships to form and I don’t always feel like putting in the effort.  Many times I have turned down invitations to spouse functions, or even smaller get togethers, because I just didn’t have the energy and desire to put myself out there as someone new.  I hid within my comfort zone and protected myself from the anxiety of what everyone else would think about me.

I don’t think I will ever completely outgrow my shyness, but I do know that I am slowly getting better at new social interactions.  I have realized that being worried about what others think of me is only a result of my own critical evaluation of myself.  I have learned that I am not the only one who is anxious about meeting new people, and perhaps there is someone else in the same place who is waiting to be introduced rather than having to introduce herself.  I have seen that when I do work up the nerve to introduce myself, I am received with a smile and a handshake, and an open invitation to conversation.  I cannot deny that when I walk into a room filled with people I don’t know, my anxiety levels rise dramatically.  But by taking a few deep breaths and reminding myself of these things I have learned, I can allow myself the possibility of knowing some amazing people and experiencing the joy of true friendship.  After all, some of the best friends I will have when I am old, the ones who will know me better than anyone else, will be the friends I make now and share with me the journey of being a military wife.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Three Little Birds

When my youngest was just a few months old, I heard a song on Nickelodeon’s Noggin channel.  For those of you who don’t know, this is a channel geared towards preschoolers that doesn’t use commercials, but rather clips of children playing, learning games, and music segments.  This particular music segment, “Three Little Birds” sung by Bob Marley, and the video that went along with it, warmed my heart and inspired me to sing it to my little one.  And so it began, every night at bedtime as I held little Clay in my arms and rocked him while he drank his bottle, I would sing the words of the song, hoping that he was carefully listening to and following the message: “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright.”

It’s a funny thing what we as parents do for our children, the wisdom and values we try to instill within their little minds, when we ourselves often forget to heed our own advice.  I was telling my son not to worry, but to just relax, have peace, and trust that everything will be fine.  What a hypocrite I am!  Sure, everyone worries at least sometimes.  It is a part of living a fulfilling life.  We worry because we deeply care about something.  But then there are those of us who worry all the time, usually about trivial things that really aren’t worth worrying about.  Here, I raise my hand.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been worried about something just to have my husband give me the simplest of resolutions when I voice my concern.  As I venture through my days trying to be the best wife, mother, daughter, and friend I can be, it is so easy for me to get caught up in the little things that are irrelevant to anything valuable in life.  Eventually the worries build upon each other and change the focus from the simple beauty of life and the blessings I have been given to all the things which are or could be going wrong.

And then I hear this song again.  I hear the words telling me not to worry.  They tell me to wake up and smile because the sun is shining.  They tell me to listen to the birds, their beautiful songs, because they are giving me a message, a message that says to rejoice in this day and have a song in my heart.  I am reminded of the perfect, sweet, utterly content little face of my baby boy, looking up at me as I sing to him the words that I myself so desperately need to practice. 

My son is now three-and-a-half years old and still loves hearing this song when it comes on.  It’s as though he remembers those days in the rocking chair.  He even learned the words at one point and would sing it himself.  I hope that this song carries with him and when things get hard, he will remember not to worry because it’s all going to be alright. 

The next time you wake up and are rushing through your morning, take a moment to stop and listen to the birds, hear the beauty in their song, and watch how completely carefree and happy they are.  Then remind yourself, “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright.”              

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why I am Too Young for This Life

Before the age of eighteen, we are dependent on our parents for nearly everything.  They provide our food and shelter, they are our mode of transportation, at least until we learn to drive, they pay our way for extracurricular activities, and they are the ones who schedule our doctor’s appointments.  Some of us remain partially dependent on them well into college for the purpose of maintaining health insurance, for monetary assistance in paying for college, for groceries, and simply having a place to do laundry for free.  That’s how it was for me.  I went to a college only thirty minutes from my parent’s house and although I still lived on campus, I had the privilege of having them close by in case I wanted a home cooked meal or to do laundry without having to carry a load of quarters along with me.  Even though I was beginning to create my own life and develop responsibilities at college, I was still dependent on my parents until roughly the age of twenty-two.  No matter how much of an adult I had become or how persuasive college was to forming my independence, I still belonged to my parents.  I was still their little girl.

Seven months after college graduation, I got married.  And marrying a Marine meant moving away, far enough away that regular contact with my parents was by phone call only.  I adjusted smoothly to the change, but I can’t deny that it took me a long time to not feel weird about the fact that I was married.  How could I be married?  I still felt like I should be that little girl playing Barbies in her bedroom with Mom cleaning the house and Dad working in the yard.  Now I’m married?  I loved being married right from the beginning and had no desire to go back to the unmarried life, but all of it was just so surreal.
And then I got pregnant.  I remember daydreaming when I was younger about the mystery of pregnancy.  What would it feel like?  What would I look like with a big belly? Will I really want to eat everything in sight, and would I really crave ice cream and pickles?  The answers at the time were unknown, but what I did know was that I was going to be so excited the day I found out I was pregnant with a baby, and even more excited the day that baby came into the world.  When we told my parents that they were going to be grandparents, it was very exciting but also very unusual.  I felt as though my life was just a dream and that was actually a fifteen-year-old girl asleep in my bed getting a glimpse of what was to come.  How could I have a growing baby in my belly?  I’m supposed to wait until I’m married to have a baby!  Oh, wait, I am married!  As I watched my parents’ excitement after we unveiled the news, I wondered if my dad was secretly badmouthing Randall, just as Steve Martin’s character did in Father of the Bride, Part two. 

Now, seven and a half years into marriage and five and a half years after that first positive pregnancy test, I still find myself thinking that I am too young for all of this.  There are times when I feel like I am still that little girl who is completely dependent on her parents.  It shocks me sometimes when I realize that together, my husband and I own a home, we’ve purchased cars, we make our own plans, and we make the decisions in every aspect of our lives.  We are fully responsible adults, not only for our own lives but for two more little lives.  I watch my kids play and think about how it should be my brother and me running around the yard or playing together in the living room.  It should be me who’s learning to read and write.  It should be my parents who have all the responsibility while I just enjoy being a kid knowing that mommy and daddy are taking care of everything.  But it’s not; whether I feel like it or not, I have grown up.  I am not a kid anymore.  I am the responsible one.  And my kids are the carefree ones who are relying on mommy and daddy for everything. 
Someday I might accept this.  Someday my thought process might actually catch up with me.  Someday I might feel like that curly-haired little girl finally grew up.  But until then, I will remain in disbelief, I will still go to my parents when I don’t know the answer, and I will realize that the home I live in actually is my own.