Saturday, November 2, 2013

Keep Loving

Unconditional love.  We all talk about it.  But, do we truly understand it?  And do we ever truly give it?

I am finally learning to love without expectations, and without condition. Because love with conditions isn't really love at all. Conditions are nothing but fear. And fear and love are opposites, and can not co-exist.

When you say "I'll love you as long as you don't mess up," you are really saying, "I'll love you as long as you don't make me feel worthless, because truly, that's what I fear."  We fear that we're less than, so when someone treats us in a way that encourages that belief, we take our love back.  But, when we realize we are equal to--never more or less than--everyone and anyone else, then we know that we don't have to expect anything in return for our love.  I can love people who hurt me, because I am valuable, my heart is whole, and their actions don't and can't change that.

This is what I'm thinking:  Love is like a postcard with pre-paid postage.  It costs nothing to send.  And even if I don't get a letter back from that person, my mailbox is already full.  It's full with the love of God, with the love I give myself, and with the love of the people I am blessed to have in my life.  In fact, my mailbox is continually filled, every time I allow myself to receive love.  If someone I send a postcard to chooses not to respond, that's okay.  The letters are still coming in.  I just have to remain ready and willing to get the mail.  And I have to keep sending the postcards out, even to those who don't respond, because that's why I'm here.  That's why we're all here.  We were put here with an endless supply of these postcards.  And what good is a postcard that you never send? 

Does that mean you keep sending love to the friend who has been cruel to you?  YES.  It doesn't mean you keep accepting their cruelty, but you keep loving them.  Does that mean you keep loving a partner who disrespects you?  YES.  It doesn't mean you allow them to be in your life, your home, or your thoughts, but you keep loving them.  Because we were given all these postcards, and we have to send them out.  The message on the back may change.  Their position and role in our life may change.  But, the love should not. 

I'm going to keep loving.  And I'm going to stop worrying about and waiting to get something in return.  I'm going to stop feeling entitled to receive love in return, or feeling like a victim when I don't.  I love because that's why I am here, not because I need the validation.  I know that the mailbox--that my heart--is already full. And more letters are already on their way. 

Love you,

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

Do you remember Dr. Seuss’ silly book about the not-so-scary pale green pants?  The character starts off (understandably) afraid of these pants that seem to be walking on their own. But, eventually, he realizes that there’s really nothing to be afraid of, after all. 

Unfortunately, many adults—especially women—have forgotten this lesson.

As women, we are expected to do incredibly brave things on a daily basis—care for children, help with Algebra homework, support partners and spouses, and climb the career ladder. And we do so incredibly well, thank you very much.  But, in reality, many of us are being held back from living a life of joy and abundance, because of our own fears. 

Perhaps, like the character in Dr. Seuss’ book, we fear the unknown.  We torture ourselves with the constant What Ifs. We can’t seem to move forward because we’re too afraid of not being able to control the outcome.

Or maybe we’re afraid of standing on our own, like those pale green pants, because we fear (or have been told) that we’re just as empty or incapable of being independent as they are. 

What are you afraid of? 

Maybe you’re scared to leave a relationship that you know is unhealthy, because you’re afraid of being alone.  Or maybe you’re afraid to truly commit to that great, supportive partner because you’re afraid he’ll hurt you, like someone in your past. Or maybe you’re afraid he’ll see the “real” you—who you fear you might be. 

Maybe you’re afraid to leave that toxic, unfulfilling job because you don’t want to risk financial insecurity, or you don’t think you’re good enough or talented enough to pursue your dream. 

But, what if we’re all wrong?

What if we are good enough and talented enough and strong enough to have a healthy relationship, a happy family, and a fulfilling career?  What if all we have to do is let go of the fear that is holding us back? 

Ask yourself this: 

What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

A new social movement based on Sheryl Sandberg’s must read book Lean In is asking women this very question.  And many are finding that the answer is just the motivation they needed to change their lives. 

If you were not afraid, you might leave that toxic relationship, knowing that you deserve better, and that you’ll be okay. 
Maybe you would open your heart to that great guy, because you know you’re worthy of his love. 
Maybe you would realize that the only way to be fulfilled in your career is to do something you’re passionate about, so you would follow your dreams. 
Maybe you’d find your true strength, courage, and joy. And then, just maybe, like the character in What Was I Scared Of?, you’d realize that there was never really anything to be afraid of at all. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why I Love Wendy Davis (or, the Blog My Grandmother Warned Me About)

I was raised by my grandmother, who taught me to never talk about religion or politics. So, grandma, don't read this.

Today, we're talking about an issue that grandma would tell me to avoid like the plague:  Abortion.  Specifically, why I think another woman’s decision is none of my business. 

First, I think the terms “pro choice” and “pro life” are a bunch of hooey.  No one is anti-life and no one is anti-choice.  We all just see the issue differently.  I support every woman’s right to make a decision that is best for her.  Why?  Because I would want that same right.  And because I know that I can’t possibly understand anyone else’s life or decisions. 

I have met many mothers who had a child as a teenager and now insist that, because they could do it, everyone should be able to do it. But, here’s the problem with that logic: everyone’s life is different. 

Being pregnant at 16 with parents who support you and will help you finish school is very different than being pregnant at 16 (or 25) and having absolutely no one to help.  And whether at 16 or 36, why should anyone force another person to make a decision that will change her life forever?  Her life only, no one else’s. 

I was sexually abused by my grandfather from the age of 5-15. When I disclosed the abuse, I was thrown out of the house.  I lived with friends, on couches, in cars, anywhere I could find a roof to curl up under—even if it was the roof of a Chevy Malibu.  By the grace of God (and jacked up ovaries), I did not get pregnant.  But, if I had, how on earth would I have cared for a child? 

And, for those who would have encouraged me to bless another couple with my child, which is an incredibly noble act, how would I have cared for myself through a pregnancy?  How would I have finished school while living in a car and nourishing a baby?  (I was eating a healthy diet of discarded fast food scraps. Not really a breakfast of champions for a growing child).  I don’t know what decision I would have made at that point in my life. But, it would have been mine to make.  Because the consequence of either decision would be mine to live with. 

Five years later, as I was working 60 hours a week to pay my way through college, I found out I was pregnant (apparently my ovaries aren't that jacked up after all).  I decided to keep my baby.  And she is now an incredible, brilliant, feminist young woman.  She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m so grateful that God chose me to be her Mom.  (Or, as she says—she chose me to be her Mom).  I was able to keep her, and had the resources (albeit minimal) to care for her.  I was ready to be a Mom—a scared to death, completely clueless Mom, but still a Mom.  I'm grateful I was able to keep her. But again, I know that everyone’s life is different.      

I work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I have seen women who can only feed either themselves or their child—and always choose their child.  I have seen women whose husbands force them to get pregnant repeatedly as a way to further control and abuse them.  (It’s hard to run to a battered women’s shelter with six children).  I have seen young girls who were raped by family members, and who are then spit on as they walked into a medical clinic—just to get advice about their options. And it disgusts me. 

As women, we have to stop degrading and start uplifting.  If you want women not to have abortions, ensure they live in safe homes and have access to quality education and a living wage.  Make sure they have access to healthcare and contraception.  Most of all, make sure every woman and girl has love and support—if not from her biological family, then from each of us...from you. 

I believe this is the same reason my new hero, Senator Wendy Davis from Texas, threw on those tennis shoes last night and stood on the Senate floor for ten hours to defeat an abortion regulation bill.  She too was a young single mother.  Actually, a divorced teenage mother who later went on to graduate with honors from Harvard Law School.  She made it. And she made a decision to have her child. But, (I imagine) she recognizes that every woman has a different path and a different reality, and everyone has a right to make her own decisions.  She took a stand for every woman and girl who has had her rights ripped away.  And she proclaimed, as we all should:  NO MORE. 
Not all women are safe. Not all women have food or shelter. Not all women have a family to care for them.  And we must protect every right we have.  We must support one another, even when we don’t agree.  And we must teach our daughters that they, and only they, have power over their own bodies and lives. 

My wish is that every woman and girl who is faced with a difficult decision has someone by her side who loves and supports her.  My wish is that she’s able to make a decision that is right for her, not for a group of picketers at a clinic or overpaid men sitting in Congress.  They don’t know her life and, therefore, have no right to control her decision.  And, honestly, neither do we. 

 Oh, and P.S.

If life begins at conception, so should child support.  Does that change the discussion, men? 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Yes and Yes and Yes

Today is the anniversary of the day my love asked me to marry him.  We were on a romantic gondola ride.  (In Vegas, not Italy).  And he asked me to spend my life with him.  Well, actually, it was more like, he kneeled down, showed me a ring, started sweating, and said …. ‘w-w-w-w-well?’.  To which I replied, “You have to actually ask me, you know.”  And he did.  And I said yes. 

It was a beautiful day. And we were filled with love and romance and gushiness and lots and lots of naivety.  Thankfully.  Otherwise, we might not have gone through with it.  He might have dove right off the side of that gondola and swam back to the Venetian to do some serious gambling.  After all, the craps table is, in many ways, far safer than marriage. 

If I had known then that the gushiness would someday wear off, and would be replaced with hurt and separations and insecurities … would I have said yes? 

Growing up, we think that marriage is about finding someone who makes us weak in the knees and then settling into a long, passionate, and blissful life together.  Umm, wrong.  At its best, marriage is about helping us discover who we truly are, and helping our partner discover who they truly are, as well.  That also happens to be what marriage is at its worst, too. 

Over the course of our marriage, my husband has discovered that he has the tendency to run and avoid situations when he feels unsafe.  I guess he saves all his fighting for the battlefield.  Because, in marriage, he sometimes hides out in the bunker.  And, during our marriage, I have discovered that I expect to be hurt.  Yeah, I act strong and confident and independent.  And, in many ways, I am.  But, I’m also scared half to death most of the time. And I expect to be hurt, so much so that I sometimes try to sabotage things just to make it happen—you know, so I can control it.  (Healthy, huh?) 

We have made these discoveries because we have been forced to be real with one another, and with ourselves.  Because it’s hard to be fake with the person who sees you wake up in the morning and shares a bathroom with you and knows you better than anyone else.  And this realness has led to silence and tears and heartache and resentments.  And it’s led to the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced. 

We really should have done some of this healing and self discovery work before we got married.  But, alas, we didn’t.  We didn’t love ourselves yet, though we thought we did.  And that made it hard to truly love someone else.  But, we’re learning.  We’re growing.  We’re loving – together. 

And, as the immortal Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City once said (yes, it is a classic), “if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous.”  Though, I would go further and say that if you can find someone who challenges you to be the very best you you can be—then that is, truly, fabulous.  And painful.  And for some of us, it’s all rolled up into one messy, magical thing called:  Marriage.

So, if I had known that our journey would involve over half of our marriage being spent on different continents, and overworking, and PTSD, and parenting challenges, and family issues, and painful self-discoveries and and and and … what would I have said on that warm May day in the Vegas gondola? 

YES and YES and YES!

Because while I had no idea how challenging this road would be, I also could never have imagined how wonderful it would be either.  I would say YES every day of this life, even on the hard ones.  Because he has taught me how to love.  He has taught me how to trust.  He has helped me become the me I am supposed to be, and helped me discover the parts that needed healing.  He has driven me crazy and hurt me, as I have done to him.  But, he has loved me more than I ever believed I deserved.  And he taught me to accept his love, and to believe I was worth it.  I hope I have done at least some of that for him as well. 

I would say yes because the gushiness is still there.  The romance and love and passion are still there.  Even though years of war and separations and trauma have tried to tarnish their glow.  They’re in there.  We are in there.  And we are even better than we were when we were covered in lust and naivety.  We are us.  And he is still the most incredible, most loving, most amazing and sexiest (ok, the lust is still there, too) man I have ever known.   And he’s the man who challenges me each and every day to be the very best me I can be.  And I love him for it.    

This is marriage.  This is love.  And to this, to him, I say YES.   

Monday, May 27, 2013

On Sacrifice and Love

On Memorial Day, we honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and given their lives for us.  We stop and think about those who have left us way too soon.  Or, at least, too soon for us.  But, perhaps, we should be honoring the gifts they left behind. 

I believe each of us is given a unique gift in this life.  And our job is, simply, to figure out what it is and then give it away.  Before we are born, we are completely aware of our gift, and divine self.  And we are aware of the divine nature of everyone else. In fact, there is no separation—we are all one.  We are everything.  We are part of all.  Then, when God decides it’s time, he sends a piece of that all, a piece of himself, into a physical form.  The purpose of this form is to bring a piece of heaven to earth, and to share their gift. 

I don’t know much about how this process works since, you know, I didn’t invent it.  But, I am fairly sure that this purpose has absolutely nothing to do with a BMW or granite countertops or having 728 Facebook friends.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, of course.  And if they bring you joy or help you in some way become more connected to one another or be more at peace—then maybe they are helping you get closer to discovering and sharing your gift.  But, usually, these material things and desires actually keep us away from our true purpose, since they tend to be, at best, distractions and, at worst, addictions.  And addictions of any kind—sugar, drama, alcohol, social media, success, codependence—all keep us from finding out why we’re truly here.  (But, hey, that's another blog).

I think our purpose usually – no, always – has to do with love.  Loving someone else.  Letting someone else love you.  Loving everyone else.  Seeing the love in everyone else.  Truly feeling love.  Helping someone else truly feel loved, too.  Or, something like that.  As I said, I didn’t invent the process.  I just know that, when I’m doing anything that helps grow love, I feel closer to God.  I feel more at peace and closer to my gift.  So, that has to be part of the plan, right? 

And then, sometimes people leave their physical form—they leave us—long before we are ready for them too.  Today, we specifically honor those who came to earth and gave their life in service.  For me, this includes those who were killed in combat and those, like my Grandfather, who died a slower death—caused by untreated trauma and alcoholism—years after they returned home.

I can’t understand why some people are taken so quickly or brutally.  I don’t know that we are meant to truly understand.  At least, not while we’re here on earth.  Someday, maybe, it will all make sense.  But, I do believe that, just as God decided when to give us a physical form, so too does he decide when we no longer need it.  We are brought to earth to fulfill our purpose.  And I believe we leave earth, and our physical form, when that purpose has been fulfilled. 

And while I can’t imagine the heartbreak of losing a spouse (though all military spouses live with this fear), I hope and pray that those who have lost their soul mate know that he or she had accomplished what they came to do.  They loved.  They served.  They felt love.  They saved others, either directly or by serving so others didn’t have to.  They fulfilled their purpose.  You helped them do that.  And then, God brought them home.  They melted back into all. 

They are not gone.  They are in God.  And God is in us.  They are in the trees and the air and the sunshine.  They are in each of us.  They are in you.  And their sacrifice, their love has made our earth a better place, which helps each of us to find our gift, too.  Isn’t it a beautiful, incredible circle, this life of ours?  A painful, confusing, and sometimes unbearable circle—but, a beautiful one nonetheless. 

To everyone who has lost someone—the one— you love, I am so very sorry.  My heart hurts with yours.  I thank you for loving him or her and helping them fulfill what they were sent here to do.  I know it may feel unjust and horrible, because it is.  I just hope you can also, someday, feel and be comforted by how truly beautiful their life, and everything they gave us, is as well. 

For all of us, let’s not spend this day in sadness or anger over the things we cannot understand.  Let’s instead honor their sacrifice by giving and receiving what we were sent here for:  Love. 

Live your life in a way that honors them.  Live fully and passionately and without fear.  Live so that you can find and share your gift, too.  And give and receive love as much as you possibly can.  Someday, our time in our physical bodies will be over, as well.  But, we will not be gone.  We too will melt back into all, and will remain in those who love us.  Until that day, we owe it to God, and to one another, to LIVE. 

Rest in peace, heroes.  And live in love, survivors. 

Note:  I realize some people reading this may not believe in God.  Or, may believe in a different form of God. And, that’s ok.  Because, really, love is love.  And the message is the same.  Live in love.  That is all. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Goodbye, 2012

Confession: I typed, deleted, and re-typed this particular blog post about seven times. It started as a post about the new year--about hopes and aspirations, about resolutions (or the lack thereof). It morphed into something a bit different, and something much more honest. While I believe  the new year is a time for great celebration and hope, I also think it's a great time to get real, with others, and especially with yourself--with myself.  So, that's what I'm going to do. Here's a little tale about 2012, and how it kicked my butt. 

First, my husband and I committed the cardinal sin of military families: We planned.  Since PCSing to a training base two years ago, we became comfortable with the idea that he was done with deployments.  After numerous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and endless separations, we were so very happy to finally be together, we let ourselves believe it might stay that way.  And in this glow of our own naivety and bliss, we even bought a home. 

Actually, we bought a huge home--bigger than we need--with an even bigger yard.  But, we thought we could handle it.  Homes are very affordable here, and we love the neighborhood and the little lake (pond, really) it sits on.  It may be a lot of work, but we can do it, we rationalized.  After all, we'd be doing it together.  

The year began with my husband going away for a six-week school.  Just six weeks. That's a mere blink of an eye compared to deployments.  But, this separation hit me harder than I ever could have imagined.  I became depressed. I stopped socializing.  I was angry, sad, and lonely.  I've always been able to make it through separations with support from incredible friends. But, I don't have the same support system here that I had in our previous home.  I became angry that I was isolated, and reacted by isolating myself even further. I know, not a smart move.  But, as I'm sure many of you know, sadness doesn't bring out the best in us. 

I've also struggled (a lot) in my career this past year.  And by struggled I mean, overworked.  A lot. Overworked to the point that I rarely slept, I have a seemingly permanent twitch in my left eye, and an ulcer I recovered from years ago has resurfaced.  At first, I thought this job was a miracle.  Shortly after moving here, an opportunity arose to become the director of a statewide agency addressing domestic and sexual assault--issues I've worked on for years, and am incredibly passionate about.  I thought the heavens had opened and hand-delivered my dream job.  But, as soon as I started, I dove head-first into 60-70 hour work weeks (sometimes more), staffing disasters, financial meltdowns, and spats between colleagues that can only be adequately described as drama. I found myself completely responsible for the well being of this organization, of my staff, of all victims all across our state (or so I believed). I worked day and night. And even when I wasn't working, I was thinking about work.  This hit home while I was apologizing to my daughter for yet another out-of-town trip.  "I don't mind that you travel, Momma," she said.  "What bothers me is when you're home, but you're not really here."  Ouch.  And so it has been for the past year and a half. My work has consumed me. My family has suffered.  And I allowed it to happen.

Of course, having my friends to support me would have made this stressful career much easier.  But, how could I possible have time for friends?  In previous jobs, I've always become close with my coworkers. But, as the boss, that's not really an option.  (I know it sounds cliché, but it really is lonely at the top).  And when you're at work all day and many evenings, there's no room for a social life.  So, I was alone.  Yes, I have a few great friends I met here. But, I didn't give them the time they deserved. I didn't allow the friendships to develop as they could have, because I was too ... busy. 

(By the way, telling a mil spouse to just stay busy is really not helpful advice. We're always busy.  And staying busy doesn't take away pain, it magnifies it.  I'm learning to really loathe that word). 

When my husband came back from the school, we tried to work through the resentments that had built--not necessarily at each other, but by each of us at the situation we were in.  As he worked to address the PTSD he's experiencing due to years of combat, I had to face the reality that my own PTSD, from years of sexual abuse, had resurfaced.  We spent the year treading around, and often tripping over, each other's triggers.  I would lie awake at night, watching him sleep, and waiting for the next nightmare.  He would sit by helplessly as I shut him out, trying to deal with my memories on my own, as I always have.  And because neither of us did a good job of holding on to friends, all we truly had was each other--each other to lean on, each other to cry to, and each other to let things out on.  Again, not a great decision. 

Just as we were starting to figure out how to support each other, without bringing each other down, we received the news.  My husband would be leaving for another year.  Not on a combat deployment this time, but on an unaccompanied tour.  It hit us hard.  Very hard.  He thought he would get to see the kids get older, be here for their birthdays and holidays.  After 18 years in the service, he was ready to finally be home.  And we needed--we need--him to be here. 

I tried to convince myself that it would be better, because at least he would be safe.  But, having him away and not at war almost felt worst.  At least when he's in a combat zone, I know he's there for a reason.  But, what reason is there to rip him away from his family--away from me--just to work in an office?  I know the military has their reasons.  But, it all just seems and feels wrong.  And once he got there, we found out that this may be a two-year assignment, not one.  Two years?  We've survived one-year deployments, even 15 months.  But, two years? 

And what about my husband?  Who is going to gently wake him and tell him everything's ok when he has a nightmare?  Who is going to support him when he's weak, and when he's pretending to be strong?  I became very worried about my husband, and about our family.  And honestly, worried about me.  Here I am in this new home.  The new home that we proudly picked out and bought together.  The new big home with the huge yard.  I didn't plan to be responsible for all of this--all by myself, again.  I know I should have. I mean, I'm an Army wife, separation and independence is what we do.  I've done it before.  But, I wanted so badly to believe that we would, that we finally could, do this together. 

How can I possibly keep up this strenuous job while taking care of an almost-teenage daughter, two very sad and confused step-sons, five pets, and (did I mention) the humongous yard?  I ended 2012 being completely overwhelmed.  And afraid.  That's what it really comes down to--fear.  I've survived so much in my life, and consider myself to be a courageous person.  But, now, I'm truly afraid.  2012 brought that fear back, paraded it around, and sat it squarely in the middle of my living room, so I can see it every. single. day.  But, as I look back on the year, I realize that maybe I needed that fear to be out in the open, so I could finally address it.  I have always said that everything happens for a  reason.  Maybe it's time to start (truly) believing it. 

Yes, 2012 was tough.  And now, as we start a new year, I am trying to be--no, I am--hopeful. And I am excited for the new opportunities it will bring.  A new year is always a blank slate.  And heaven knows, I need it.  And while it will be incredibly difficult being away from my husband for nearly the entire year, I really do know that, somehow, some way, we will get through this separation.  Because that's the kind of love we have--the kind that can survive combat and nightmares and past hurt, the kind that can span oceans and time zones, and the kind that can survive anything.  We will get through this.  Because we have to. 

As for me, I am going to work on facing and finally letting go of fear.  I want that monster out of my living room, and out of my thoughts--for good.  I'm going to try to focus on the blessings I have right now, today.  And I'm going to start making decisions for my career, for my life, based on my dreams, and what I truly want, not on just what I'm afraid not to do.  It's time for some changes.  It's time to reconnect to friends, old and new.  And it's time to focus, not only on my family's well being, but also on my own.  Because I have to. 

It's time to say goodbye, 2012.  You really did kick my butt.  But, you also taught me a lot of lessons, and gave me some great moments.  So, I am grateful for you.  And now, 2013, it's just me and you, kid.  Let's do this.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

If I Had Known ...

Recently, I heard a woman on Married to the Army: Alaska say that if she had known what the military life had in store for her, she would have run as fast as she could in the other direction.  This sentiment is understandable.  This life is hard.  Incredibly hard.  The countless separations, unpredictable cross-country (or international) moves, constant fear and worry.  It often seems like too much to endure.  This made me wonder:  If I had known, what would I have done? 

If I had known that my husband and I would be apart for more than half of our marriage, would I still have said yes when he asked me to go on a date with him?  If I had known that my life would eventually revolve around where and when the Army decides to move us, would I still have fallen in love with him?  If I had known that our children would cry themselves to sleep many nights missing their Daddy, would I still have stayed by his side through that first 15-month deployment? If I had known that I would spend much of our marriage in fear for his safety, would I still have said yes when he asked me to marry him?  If I had known that I would spend so many nights with a cell phone clasped in my hand, would I still have held his hand and vowed to love him forever? 

The answer is yes. 

In fact, if I had known how weak in the knees I would get when he kissed me on the forehead after our first date, I would have agreed to go out with him much earlier.  If I had known that he would become my best friend and strongest supporter, I would have given my heart to him much easier. If I had known what an incredible father he would be to our children, I would have married him much sooner.  If I had known how safe I would feel lying next to him, I would have held him much closer.  If I had known how incredibly painful it would be to be away from him, I would have loved him even more. 

If I had known what an incredible man I had found, I would have cherished him from the beginning. If I had known what this life had in store for us, I would have been more grateful for every kiss, every moment of joy and laughter, every second of our lives together.  

And even today, as we're separated yet again, I know that despite all of the heartache and loneliness, and even with everything I know now, I still--and always will--choose him.