Friday, January 28, 2011

Epidemic of Disconnection

Yesterday, Oprah invited soldiers, reporters, and even the First Lady, to talk about honoring our military families. I was somewhat skeptical about watching the program, since I have been disappointed by many, many programs that have attempted to address this issue before. But, I must say that Oprah did the topic justice, and the show left me in tears.

One of Oprah’s guests, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, discussed what he calls our “Epidemic of Disconnection.” He explained that many Americans are simply not paying attention to what is happening in this war. People are disconnected from the war, from the soldiers, from the families. This term struck a nerve with me. I've been amazed, and discouraged, by the lack of attention given to this war, and to our soldiers. I was glad to see attention being brought to this epidemic, finally.

We are, as a country, very disconnected. This has been a war met with apathy and disinterest. When I hear news reports of people who have been killed, I am of course sad for their families and for the loss of life. But, I also wonder about all of the soldiers we lose each and every day who no longer make it on the news. As my husband sits quietly during news reports of shootings, I know what he's thinking. He, too, is saddened by these tragedies. But, I know that part of him is wondering, “what about us?” He, thank God, is safe at home with his family. But, many of his friends and colleagues are not. Many are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan now, and many never made it home. I know he wishes that, just once, public respects would be paid to these fallen heroes as well.

On this show, Oprah and Michelle Obama admitted that, until recently, they did not know anyone who was serving in the war. And that, without this connection, they too were part of the epidemic of disconnection. To be honest, before marrying my husband, I knew a few people who were serving, but I didn’t really understand their, or their families’, sacrifice. I, too, was very disconnected.

My husband's second Iraq tour was while we were dating. And although I worried about him every day, I didn’t fully comprehend what he was experiencing, or the impact that this war would have on him, or on our relationship. It wasn’t until his homecoming, and seeing the effects of his trauma, that it started to sink in. I started to understand what this could mean for us, just in time for him to leave—again. This time, we were married, and dealing with this separation and fear as a family. And it was harder than I could ever have imagined. I felt, during those eleven months, more disconnected than ever.

Even as a military spouse, I have fallen into this epidemic of disconnection. During his deployments, we lived an hour away from post, I never attended an FRG (family readiness group) meeting, and had very minimal contact with other military spouses. I justified that I didn’t need the support, that I could handle his deployment and our readjustment period alone, that I was strong enough to do this on my own. All typical justifications, and all completely delusional.

I, thankfully, had many supportive friends. They tried their very best to help me through the difficult times, but they couldn’t fully understand. And, to be fair, I didn’t give them much of a chance to. I would joke about how tired I was, but never really admitted how truly exhausted, depressed, and afraid I was. I didn’t talk about how worried I was that the man who was coming home may not be the same man who left. I didn’t talk about how alone I felt. I did break down, on occasion, but always brushed it off as fatigue. I know that my closest friends saw through this façade, but didn't really know what to do.

I never truly felt connected to military spouses either, until recently. It wasn't until we moved halfway across the country, away from my comfort zone, that I started to realize how much I needed this Army wife community. Not long ago, my daughter asked if an event we were attending was 'on or off post' and talked about 'stopping by the PX' on the way home. “Wow, you really sound like an Army kid,” I quipped. “Well, I am,” she responded. Of course. I guess she understood our connection even sooner than I did. She knew that she was part of, not only our family, but of the military family. And when her teacher brought up the topic of the Iraq war, she proudly raised her hand and said, "my Dad has been four times. And we're really, really glad he's home." She knew that we had experienced sadness and difficulties that many other military families have felt. It took me a bit longer to make that connection.

Now, I can say that I am honored to be an Army wife. I finally feel connected to the thousands of other women who have cried themselves to sleep at night, waited for the messenger to buzz or phone to ring, and counted down to homecoming, only to wonder what the effects of this deployment may have been. I wish I would have reached out to this sisterhood sooner, for my sake and for our children's. But, I am so very glad that I have now.

Military families rarely ask for help. I know that this is true for me, and for many of the military wives I have had the fortune of meeting. If we do ask for help, it is usually of another military spouse. But, part of the reason that civilians feel disconnected is because we segregate ourselves. I truly believe that it is important for military wives to stay connected to, and build new connections with, women who are not married to the military--we need to be connected to them, and they need to be connected to us. If you feel like they can’t understand, help them. People want to be connected, they want to understand, they just need to know how. And we can never bring attention back to this war, and to our soldiers, until we start speaking up.

For civilians who are reading this, I'm asking you to find a way to be connected. It doesn't matter if you support this war or not. Many military members and their families don't support it either. But, they're fighting in it, and sacrificing, so they...we...deserve your support.

Bob Woodward suggested simply Googling "injured soldiers in {insert your city}" to find an agency that supports soldiers and their families. Excellent idea. But, I would also suggest finding the military families in your area and asking them what you can do to help. You can find a military family in your neighborhood, or your children's schools, or a faith group. They're close to you, somewhere. They may not ask for your help or your shoulder, but I can guarantee you that they probably need both. Whether you volunteer to build houses for wounded soldiers, or simply offer to shovel your neighbor's driveway while her husband is deployed, there are ways to get involved. You just have to ask.

Don’t let this be the war of apathy. Don't let this epidemic of disconnection continue. We have a chance to make soldiers feel like heroes again. We have a chance to make military families feel loved and appreciated. And we, as military families, have a chance to reach out and receive the help we so desperately need.

It’s time to help one another. It’s time we get connected once again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes

We talk about lots of things in our family: politics, religion, movies, bodily functions, pets, chocolate. You name it, we probably talk about it. (Some discussions are obviously more pleasant than others). Today, my 10-year-old daughter asked me what I think the world should be like in the future. I gave her what I thought was an insightful answer. But then, I asked her the same. This was her response:

1. There should be no more gasoline or electricity. Everything should run on solar and wind power. Oh, and cars should fly. (Duh).
2. We should find a material to build houses out of that's strong, but cheap. That way, everyone could have a home.
3. All animals should have a safe home, too. Well, the domesticated ones, like dogs and cats. And the wild ones should be in the wild, not in a circus or a zoo.
4. World peace. No, really. No more wars. Enough already.
5. People would stop being mean to each other because they're a different color or gender or ability or love people differently. It shouldn't matter if you're brown or beige, move or think differently, whether you're a girl or a boy, or if you love a girl or a boy. It's just who you are. And it's cool that we're all different.

Sounds easy enough, right? So, how about we get started on this now?

What would you add to this list?

Be Careful What You Wish For

You may have noticed from previous posts that I’m struggling a bit with staying home. I’ve always worked. Always. And even though I’ve now started working from home, I have definitely missed interacting with coworkers each day, the thrill of impending deadlines, getting dressed up, and yes, even the rush of trying to balance a 9-5 while caring for my family. Being a working mother is part of who I am, or at least, who I was.

I’ve been praying for a job opportunity to come along. I’ve been working on my business, writing, and preparing for an online class, but spending a good portion of my time searching and applying for full-time, outside-of-the-home work. I've been applying for everything. After two major disappointments, I started to get discouraged.

And then, I received a call about a position I had applied for, but really was not very excited about. I know that sounds ungrateful, or picky, or something else not-so-good. But, it’s true. It's a position working for a big law firm, helping with litigation, something I have never, ever wanted to do. (I’m a lawyer, but I’m not that kind of lawyer). I went to the interview, nervous and unsure, and, to my surprise, was offered the job.

I came home to tell my husband, expecting him to be thrilled at the prospect of being a two-income household once again. But, instead, his response was, “It doesn’t seem like you’re very excited about it. I want you to be happy. So, if this isn’t the one, don’t take it.” I was grateful for his support, but even more confused.

When my daughter came home from school, she asked why I was so dressed up. (She has become used to me coming to get her in jeans, so this interview suit seemed foreign to her). I told her that I had a job interview, and that I had been offered the job. I explained that it was a position working with a firm and that it would probably be a 9-5 job, although there may be some nights or weekends.

Her face dropped. And, of course, so did my heart. “Oh,” she said, “I guess that’s good.” “Ok, so tell me what you’re really thinking,” I prodded. She went on to explain that she wants me to be happy, and knows that I miss working, but that she’s really enjoyed having me home. “Besides, Momma,” she added, “you’re a lot nicer and less stressed out now.” Wow. With this, my husband smiled and turned away, which meant that he obviously agreed.

I have always made sure my work schedule was flexible, so I didn’t realize just how much time I had taken away from my family, especially my little girl. Even though I went to work after she left for school in the morning, and got home before she did in the afternoon, I often had to work late, or bring work home, and out-of-town travel was common. So, I did miss out on a lot. And, in addition to being sometimes physically absent, I was also emotionally absent, often worried about work, and therefore unable to be fully present at home.

Since we moved across the country two months ago, I've enjoyed being here to help my daughter get settled in to her new school, new home, and new routine. I've enjoyed having more time to write, exercise, and even, surprisingly, cook. (Many of you know that the only thing I used to be able to cook is coffee. But, now, I'm becoming quite the chef. Kinda). Most of all, I've enjoyed my long walks and talks with my daughter in the afternoon, catching up on the excitement, ups and downs, of her day.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s bad to be a working Mom. I’m grateful that my daughter got to see me pursuing my education and career, while still caring for her each and every day. She knows that she can accomplish anything, she understands the importance of an education, and she is passionate about pursuing her own career some day. So, yes, I’m glad that I have had a career, and I have no intention of giving that up. I just wonder if it’s time to re-examine what that career should look like. (And I'm fairly certain it won't involve a law firm).

So I am now praying, not for a job, but rather for patience and guidance. In fact, most of my prayers recently are not requests at all, but rather a list of all the things I am grateful for, including this time at home. God has shown me numerous times that I don’t always know what’s best for me. But, what I do know is that I am incredibly blessed, and have many, many things for which I need to say, simply and truly, THANK YOU.

I still don’t believe I am ready to be fully self-employed, especially working from home. I haven't decided what to do about the job offer, but I know I will make the right decision. I'm grateful for the offer, grateful for any glimmer of hope in this dismal economy, but also cautious. I know that I still want to find a career that I’m passionate about, and that will make this world a better place for our children. I want to find that career that fuels me, that makes me want to go to work, and leaves me feeling energized. Anything less, is simply not worth the time away from home. So, my friends, be careful what you wish for. You just may find that it’s not really what you wanted at all.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Dream I Never Knew I Had

As a child, I never dreamed of being a wife and mother. I didn’t fantasize about my wedding day or scribble my hypothetical future children’s names on notepads. I rarely played with dolls, and if I did, I usually pretended they were the neighbors’ or some distant relative who came to visit. I did enjoy playing with my Barbie, but Ken was never Barbie’s husband, he was her assistant. (I know how anti-feminist Barbies are, but it was the 80s, we didn't have a lot of toy choices). My Barbie was a busy executive (or veterinarian, journalist, or President) and obviously needed a lot of help. So, along with her driver, GI Joe, Ken would keep her on schedule. Obviously.

(Confession: There was a brief period when a dear friend of mine and I would play ‘house' and pretend that we were grown and married—she to Patrick Swayze, I to Richard Grieco. But, I think we can safely blame this unfortunate period on too many episodes of 21 Jump Street, not on some general desire to be married).

After surviving a less-than-fantasy-like childhood, moving out at 15, and juggling ambition mixed with a high dose of bad decisions, I was on the path to becoming a single, professional woman, as I had always imagined. And then, it happened...

I was a 20-year-old senior in college when I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter. Odd pains sent me to the emergency room, where a nice, but way too rushed, nurse asked if there was any way I could be pregnant. “No,” I laughed. “I’m not having kids.” “That’s not what I asked you,” she said (as if she had heard those words from very pregnant women before). And, after making her administer the pregnancy test three (yes, three) times, all of which came out frighteningly positive, she quipped, “well, I guess you are having kids after all. In about 8 months, to be exact.” Touché.

After a makeshift proposal (involving an ad for a minister and a guilt-inducing speech about the importance of a two-parent household), I married her father, a man whom I had only intended to pass the time with until I graduated. (My moral compass has thankfully shifted closer to North since then). I had no idea how to be a mother. I knew nothing, except that I was scared to death. But, somehow, I also knew that, whoever this little person was inside of me, I would do anything for her, even ... get married.

The day my daughter was born, I fell in absolute, unreplicable, undeniable, overpowering love. I looked into her tiny brown eyes and saw everything that mattered, every reason for my life, every beauty in the world. And from that moment on, my once fiercely-independent, very non-maternal life became all about her.

My career path shifted from business administration to working in the movement to end violence against women, because I, I needed to make this world a safer place for her. Having a flexible schedule became much more important than having a big pay check. Spending time with people who were good to her became much more important than being with people who were fun (thankfully I've been blessed with many friends who are both wonderful and fun). My search for homes now focused on safe neighborhoods rather than proximity to adventures. In every decision I made, her needs and well being always came first. And I would have it no other way.

If you read my previous post about the divorce I endured five years ago, then you know how well my marriage to her father worked out. But, I will forever be grateful to him for our daughter. We were divorced when my daughter was five, while I was in my second year of law school. I finished school, began my career as an attorney (for a non-profit women's organization), bought a house, and was raising an amazing little girl on my own. Until, once again, God decided to throw me a curve ball, proving that I’m really not as in control as I’d like to believe.

In 2006, I met a handsome, kind man with sparkling eyes and an intoxicating smile. And I couldn’t deny that I had fallen in love again, this time with 3 men—the man with the great smile who made my heart melt, and his two young sons. I never imagined falling in love again. I never imagined getting married again, especially to a soldier. But, then again, maybe all of our greatest blessings are things we never would have, or could have, imagined.

Today, five years after falling in love with them, three years after once again saying, “I do” (and this time really meaning it), I can honestly say that I love being a wife and mommy. (Who would’ve thought?) It is my greatest accomplishment and my greatest joy. As I watch our three angels—the one whom I gave birth to and the other two who joined my heart and soul when I married their father—I feel complete bliss. They are what my life was meant to be. And although my career is still very important to me, my passion is doing work that is important, and will make their world better. Nothing can compare to the love and devotion I feel for them.

Although I never knew it, this is my dream. And I’m so very blessed to be living it.

Besides, I think Barbie would be happy that I married GI Joe.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Keeping His Dream Alive

Today is the day we remember a great man, a visionary, who taught us peace, equality, non-violence, and the power of love to conquer hate. Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, which is credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompting the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Of course, this great man is known for, and should be remembered for, much more than this singular 17-minute speech. But, the words of this speech are a great reminder, not only of his dream, but of the dream that should be carried within each and every one of us. The dream of a world in which which we can love one another, live together peacefully, strive to help those in need, and never be silent in the face of injustice.

The following is the exact text of the spoken speech, transcribed from recordings.

Let us all use this day to not only honor Dr. King, but to do something to help keep his dream alive.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

You may also watch a recording of the speech here

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Helping, Just Because

I started writing this a few days ago, after becoming enthralled with the story of the man with the golden voice, Ted Williams. I have always pushed and encouraged friends and family to give to people in need, especially those on the street. I was so happy to see that someone finally did, and that the miraculous results were being broadcast nationwide. I was touched by Mr. William’s statement that the $20 the reporter initially gave him was almost as miraculous as his multiple job offers and television appearances. I was humbled and inspired by his story. I had such hope that this story, and this man, could finally change people’s outlook on helping the homeless. Unfortunately, many have found a way to not only blame Mr. Williams for his mistakes, but also to use his mistakes as an excuse not to help anyone.

But, what really pushed me to finish this post was a Facebook discussion with a dear friend last night. She asked what she should do to help a homeless woman she encountered on the street. Many people responded to her with comments like “leave her be” and “she probably just wants money.” These comments broke my heart. When did we become a “leave her be” society? When did it become acceptable, and even encouraged, to pass by someone who is cold and hungry and do nothing?

People were upset that this friend had offered the woman something, which she did not accept. I don’t understand why we think a homeless person has to accept everything we throw at them. If a wealthy person comes to your home and offers you an item that you know you cannot or will not use, do you have an obligation to accept it, just because they have more money than you? Of course not. There are many reasons someone on the street may not accept what we offer. Maybe it’s too much to carry around, maybe they’re too proud to take it, and maybe they’re just as mistrusting of you as many people are of them. I’ve seen people offer a person on the street their half-eaten sandwich and then get upset when the person does not seem grateful. Why should they be? And even if it’s new food, why should the person trust that you are genuine and not trying to hurt them? If you spend your life on the street, being yelled at and having things thrown at you, it doesn’t give you the most faith in people. But, really, it doesn’t matter how the person reacts to your gift. All that matters is that you give.

Let’s talk about Ted Williams. He served in the military and was honorably discharged (which means he completed his duty). He’s been in many duty stations, including the one my family is at right now, and served an overseas assignment in Korea. But, then, he left his wife for another woman, he abandoned his kids, and he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. He was eventually introduced to crack cocaine, and was unable to pull himself out of the addiction. After being given the chance of a lifetime, some believe he has gone back to drinking and drugs, and possibly even violence. So yes, he has messed up in his life, and may continue to make bad choices. But, haven’t we all? Have any of you ever been given a chance and messed it up? I know I have. Several times. And we can’t expect someone to go from living on the streets, addicted to drugs, to being on every national television station, all within a week, and not have some ramifications. He’s a human being. Why can’t we all be a little understanding? I agree that his ex-wife, Patti, is a hero. She raised four children on her own, after being abandoned by her husband. But, even she has found a way to forgive him. So, what business do we have judging him? He deserved this chance. We deserve this chance to remember what it means to help. Hopefully he uses his new gifts wisely. But, even if he doesn’t, that should not turn us away from helping someone. It should encourage us to keep on helping, as much as we possibly can.

For those of you who are Christians, what do you think Jesus would think of comments like, “leave her be”? "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" (Matthew 25:35-40) Does this mean nothing to us anymore? I truly believe that when Jesus comes back to us, He will not appear as a middle aged business man in a suit. He will appear to us as someone in need, possibly even someone on the streets. Will we pass Him by? Will we stop to question whether He’s worthy of our help? I hope not, for all of our sakes.

I have heard so many people say that they tried to help, tried to give food or clothing, and it wasn’t met with gratitude, so they stopped giving. But, that’s giving for the wrong reasons. I give to people in need, people I see on the streets, not because I expect anything in return, not even gratitude. It doesn’t matter if the person says ‘thank you’ or ‘screw you.’ It doesn’t matter if they use the money to buy cigarettes or a meal. What matters is that I gave, I offered my time and gifts. I offered the gifts that God has given me, as we are expected to do. Yes, the woman on the street probably did want money. So what? Don’t we all? Can you imagine not having any money? And I don’t mean not having extra, I mean not even having a quarter. Wouldn’t you also want, and need, money? Who are we to judge whether the person, or how they will use our gifts, is worthy? God continues to give us chances and gifts and blessings, even after we use them frivolously. Do we think we are actually more discerning of someone’s character than God? If you get nothing else out of this post, please hear this: Do not give because of what the person will do with it, or what you expect from him or her. Give because you can, and because at some point, someone has given to you.

Many people on the streets are war heroes, domestic violence victims, child abuse survivors, people just like you and I who have fallen on hard times. It could happen to any of us. Many of you are probably thinking, “yeah, but they should just get a job and work for their money, like I do.” Again, this is passing judgment. But, above that, it’s not that easy. Try applying for a job while wearing dirty clothing and without an address to list on the application. We currently have the highest unemployment rate that we’ve had in years. If people with homes, an education, and resources cannot find a job, how do we expect someone on the streets to do so? Sometimes what someone truly needs, above all else, is hope. And maybe you can provide that, just by stopping and asking, “is there anything I can do to help you?” Is that so hard?

I know that the people who said “leave her be” are not bad people. The people who keep on driving when they see a sign asking for help are not bad people. We have all been taught not to trust, to protect our own families and beware of everyone else. Especially during these hard times, we’re all making sacrifices, and guarding each penny. I’m not asking you to go bankrupt or mortgage your home to give. But, if we really think about it, we can all give something. If you’ve ordered pizza or bought a new pair of shoes or gone through a fast food drive through recently, you have enough to give. Don’t give what’s convenient or easy, give what you can. If you have $15 in your pocket, why can’t you give $10 of it (or, if you’re able, all of it)? If you need the $10 to buy food for your family, why can’t you give the other $5? Teaching your children the joy of giving is much more valuable than any toy you gave them for Christmas, or any happy meal you could buy them with that $5. I promise.

I remember once when I stopped to give a man on the street a $20 bill, and the pure shock and joy on his face was incredible. I was poor at the time, and $20 was definitely a stretch for me. But, I certainly had more than he did. I had it, and he needed it, so I gave it. He began to cry and thanked me for taking the time to stop. He wasn’t only grateful for the money, he was grateful that anyone actually cared. Knowing that I had done something to help him was so much more valuable than anything I could have bought with that $20. If I gave him some hope that people still care about him, that’s the very best gift I could ever give. No, I have not received that type of response from every person I’ve stopped to help, but that’s ok. I will keep on stopping and keep on giving, as long as I have the ability to do so, because it’s the right thing to do.

I know that I’m overly sensitive to this topic. I’ve been homeless, I’ve struggled, and I’ve fought to get to where I am today. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, as are so many people on the streets, and I was thrown out of my home at a young age. Thanks to caring friends and many blessings, I was not without a home for long. But, I know that I am no more deserving of the blessings I received than is anyone else. I know that I was given a chance to succeed so that I could help others, not so I could brag about how far I’ve come. I was not given these opportunities so that I could tell people to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps.’ I was given a chance so that I could be someone’s bootstraps. I would not have gotten anywhere but for the grace of God and kindness of others. And people who are currently on the streets have no hope of survival without our kindness, without our help and our love. Don’t we want to be the kind of society that, rather than asking “why should we help?” instead asks “why shouldn’t we?” Don’t we want to be the kind of society where people feel loved and supported, rather than disregarded, judged, and forgotten?

I’m asking you all to do one simple thing: think about all of the gifts you’ve been given. Think about the blessings you’ve received, even when you may not have deserved them. And now think about what you can do to return those gifts. Just try giving, try going out on a limb and offering a helping hand. If we all do so, imagine the difference we can make in our world. I promise you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Goodbye, Old Friend

I’ve been visited by an old friend this week. This friend has been in my life for many years, usually showing up during trying times: final exams, family traumas, breakups, most of law school. And this friend stayed with me for almost the entire eleven months of my husband’s last deployment. This friend even caused me to have a wreck—my first wreck—on Mother’s Day of last year. In fact, any time this visitor comes around, whatever difficult situation I’m dealing with tends to get much worse. I guess you could say we have a love-hate relationship: She loves to visit and I hate the chaos she leaves in her path. You know, maybe she's really not worthy of the title “friend” after all. Nemesis. Yeah, that’s more like it. She's intrusive and rude and stubborn, definitely nemesis-like. This old friend/nemesis is Insomnia. And, yep, she’s ba-ack.

I’ve never been a very good sleeper (whatever that means). The slightest sound will wake me, potentially causing me to toss and turn all night. And stress, well…consider it a personal invitation for Insomnia to come on over, and stay a while. But, why is this annoying house guest visiting now? I know that I’m worried about finding a job. Worried that this cross-country move will land me in eternal career purgatory (or worse for an attorney: personal injury work). But, it doesn’t feel like that’s what’s keeping me up at night, all night, every night. We’ve also had some hurdles in our family recently—namely the financial burden of selling our home in this awful market—but, nothing that we haven’t worked through. Besides, money issues have never been enough to beckon Insomnia to my door. I've always known that money can and will work itself out. So, why is she here now?

I understood why Insomnia stuck around while my hubby was in Iraq. I was worried all the time: waiting for the phone to ring or the instant messenger to buzz; dreading a knock on the door. And worry, of course, is what Insomnia feeds on. And, I have to admit, she was very well fed back then. I tried to get Insomnia to leave, shooing her away with lavender scented pillows and classical music, even resorting to sleeping aids to push her out the door. But, she wouldn’t budge. So, eventually, I accepted the fact that she wasn’t going anywhere. Defeated, we would pass the hours together writing letters, eating unhealthy midnight snacks, and watching even unhealthier reality TV. Yep, I knew she’d be there for a while, at least until he got home safely and could finally reclaim his side of the bed, pushing Insomnia out once and for all. And it worked…until recently.

So, why now? He’s been home for six months. We’ve made it through the harsh readjustment phase (or, at least, I'd like to think we've made it through the roughest portion of it). We’ve navigated and accepted the changes that we have both undergone. We've talked through the hurt we've both endured in the past year. We’re laughing again, sneaking constant kisses again, finally together again. Everything is good. Well, except for the undeniable fact that we don’t know where our next duty station will be, where we will be next year, and if and when his next deployment will be. And maybe that’s just it. Maybe Insomnia is here waiting for that other shoe to fall—the one that will send him back out the door and leave me here to eat Reese’s peanut butter cups and watch The Real Housewives of Anywhere…with her.

Well, Insomnia, that's a clever plan, but I'm not going to let you stay here. Not this time. My husband is in the next room, safe and sound, asleep in our bed. Our daughter is dreaming peacefully, too. We are still in transition, still unsure of what tomorrow holds. But, for now, we are all OK. We are all healthy, happy, and safe. And really, that's all that matters. So, you see, you’re not needed here. Not now, and hopefully never again. Maybe you should find a law student to pester, eh?

So, I'm sorry, Insomnia, but it's time for you to leave. I’m going to close my laptop, politely escort you out the door, and get under the covers with my husband. He's so much more interesting than the Real Housewives, and a much better companion than you've ever been.

Goodbye, old friend. Sweet dreams.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Embracing Change

There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
~Anais Nin

Our lives are rarely constant. We experience changes all the time--changes in jobs, assignments, home life, friends, security. My life has recently changed in many ways, some anticipated and some frighteningly new, but all exciting in their own ways. Previously, I may have let these changes scare me, but not anymore. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Plus, it's a new year and a great time for new experiences. So, I'm greeting these changes with alacrity and hope for amazing new adventures. I hope that in 2011, we can all embrace change and allow it to help us grow, and blossom. What changes are you experiencing this year? And how will you embrace them?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Enough Already!

Today, it has been exactly two months since I’ve had full-time employment. It’s been two months since I had to get up early, find heels that matched my slacks, and make the drive to work. Well, to clarify, I still have to get up early. But, now, I’m waking up early to wake up my family, prepare sack lunches, and make sure everyone has breakfast. And then, I stay home, often in sweatpants. I, like so many others, used to dread the Monday morning alarm. I worked too many hours and had too much stress. I looked forward to Saturdays and the rare day off. Putting on a pair of sweats felt heavenly. But, now, it feels restrictive. I want to put on heels that match my slacks. I’ve been tempted to wear heels while doing laundry or vacuuming, but it seems silly, and potentially dangerous. The first month was ok. I was busy getting the house unpacked, getting my daughter settled in school, and getting familiar with our new surroundings. Plus, my husband was on leave, so we relished our time together, just the two of us. I enjoyed being at home during the holidays. Being able to spend every day with the kids and not have to worry about day camps while I was busy working was wonderful. I didn't miss out on any of the special moments we shared, and for that, I'm very grateful. But, now, I’m ready to be back--back at work, back in my career, back out in the world with everyone else. I’m not completely sedentary. I’ve been keeping busy with freelance writing gigs and teaching online courses. I have plenty to do around the house, still getting it in order after our move. But, it’s just not enough. Or, maybe it is enough, but I just don’t feel like I’m enough, without my career, that is. I’d like to think I wasn’t defined by my career. But, I have to admit that it was a huge part of who I am, a huge part of my strength, my independence, my feeling of success as a woman. I need that back. And while I realize that many people have been without work much longer than I, I truly feel like two months is enough. I have a few possibilities on the horizon, and I am confident that the right opportunity will present itself soon. And I’m sure that, when it does, I will once again long for a day off, a day to just wear sweats. But, today, I just feel like it's been long enough.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Having Your Own

Recently, I was speaking to a woman, an Army wife, who was telling me about how difficult it was for her to meet friends at her husband’s last duty station. They didn’t hold many activities for spouses—no FRG, no family events--so, she spent the entire two years that she was there without a single friend. She would stay at home with her children during the day, anxiously awaiting her husband’s arrival home from work, so that she would have an adult to speak to. She did, on occasion, speak to family and friends in other states, but never had a friend to actually talk with in person. Not only did this make me incredibly sad for her, but it made me wonder how many other women are in similar situations. Military spouses are especially susceptible to this, due to the frequent moves, isolation, and lack of resources, including often sharing one vehicle. But, I think that all women risk falling into this rut. It's a rut of only becoming friends with your husband’s friends’ spouses or your children’s friends’ parents, of building your life entirely around your husband and children, and therefore never having anything of your own. That, to me, is tragic.

I believe it is crucial for a woman to have her own—her own money, her own friends, her own interests, and her own life. Let’s start with probably the most controversial of these: Money. Now, I will admit that my husband and I have joint accounts. But, I also have a savings account that is completely my own. In the beginning of our marriage, I insisted on keeping things separate. This had nothing to do with a lack of trust in him, but more to do with my own sense of security. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my first marriage ended badly. I was in my second year of law school when my then husband drained all of our accounts and moved out. I was left to figure out a way to pay the rent and support myself and my four-year-old daughter, with no money in the bank. It was hard, but I made it. And I vowed that I would never again be vulnerable to having that happen. Now, I know many of you are saying, “but, my husband would never do that.” And hopefully you’re right. But, I can tell you that I would have said the same thing back then. And now, although I fully trust, respect, and love my husband with all my heart, I know that I still have to be able to stand on my own two feet, with my own money. Even if we are together forever in perfect health, as I certainly hope, I wouldn't feel complete without my own sense of security. I have my own career and know that I am fully able to support myself. My husband knows that I have my own account. And of course, if we were in a bind (as we were at the end of last year with the sale of our home), that money becomes our money. Ultimately, it’s about our well being, not just my own. But, it’s something I have for myself. I’m not advocating for keeping secrets. It is perfectly fine (and advisable) for a woman to keep her own savings account and her husband to know about it. He shouldn’t have a problem with it. And if he does, you may have more issues to address. But, that's another blog.

Second, let’s discuss friendships. There is no reason that a military spouse who relocates to a new area should have to limit her circle of friends to only other military spouses. Yes, they are the most logical connections to make, and often the easiest. But, there are so many other women in your area with whom you could build a connection, and eventually, a friendship. I have friends from elementary school, high school, college, previous jobs, and just random events I've participated in. I enjoy meeting spouses of my husband’s friends, and have made some great friends that way. But, I also need to have my own friends, who I have met on my own, and who I have something else in common with. For stay at home moms, there is no reason that your circle of friends should be limited to the parents of children in the playgroup. Yes, it’s great to spend time with other moms, especially when your children are friends. But, there are incredible women out there whose children may be younger or older than yours, or who may not have children at all. By limiting your circle, you are missing out on getting to know some phenomenal people. If you don’t work, it may be hard to meet other women, but there are definitely ways. Join a book club, volunteer somewhere a few hours a week, meet your neighbors…anything. There are so many friends-to-be just waiting for you to venture out and meet them. And with each new person you meet, you will learn and your life will become enriched. Which, of course, benefits your family as well.

And finally, it is important for a woman to have her own interests, hobbies, and career. I'm not saying that you have to work outside the home to be independent. If your children are young, and you and your partner have decided that you will stay home with them, that’s wonderful. Spending time with your children is the most valuable experience you will ever have. But, once they’re in school, you should be able to cultivate your own interests and career as well. And, even while they’re at home, there are ways that you can keep your interests and career alive. You can take online courses, work part-time from home, or even just volunteer a few a week. Find a cause or issue that’s important to you and find an agency that needs help. You’ll feel good because you’re doing something good, you’ll build skills that can enhance your resume, you’ll meet new people (aka, friends), and most importantly, you will be doing something for YOU. I know it seems like there’s already not enough time, but finding a way to do something for yourself is just as important as taking care of your family. And being invested in something that interests, and is important to, you will greatly enrich your life, and your sense of self.

I would ask every woman reading this blog these simple questions: How do you define yourself? And what do you have in your life that is just for you?

If you struggle with these questions, or all you can come up with is that you are a wife and mother, or you have a favorite TV show that you watch every week, it’s time to venture out. It’s time to find your own something, anything. Your husband and children may be anchors in your life, but they should not be your entire ship. So, get out there, make friends, find new interests, and develop your own resources. I think you'll find that there are few things more rewarding than truly having your own.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

7 Things to Start Saving For on January 1st

With the hustle, craziness, and expense of the holidays barely behind us, saving may be the last thing on your mind. But, as America falls more and more in debt, and many people are still plagued by un- or under-employment, saving has never been more important. And what better time for a fresh financial start than the new year?
Here are a few things that I believe every family (including my own) should start saving for, if you haven’t already, on January 1.

1. Christmas presents for next year. How much did you spend on your children, friends, and family this year? Was it painful to look at your December bank statement? First, before you even begin saving, it’s important to set a realistic budget for gifts. If your children are anything like mine, they are done playing with their gifts shortly after they’re opened (and, if they’re anything like my youngest son, they’ve probably started playing with the boxes). Be purposeful about the gifts you give, and ask your family to do the same. Once you’ve developed your budget, divide that number by 11 (January-November) and you’ll know how much you need to save each month to prepare. Then, once December comes along, you won’t have to stress over where the money is coming from. It will already be there, waiting for you to spend!

2. Family vacations. Whether you’re planning to take a weekend camping trip down the street or a weeklong trek across Europe, vacations cost money. Once again, budgeting is essential. There are numerous websites and resources to help you save money on vacations, so use them. Think about when you want to go, where you want to go, and how much you can afford. Then, divide the expense by how many months you have until the big trip. So, for example, if you’re planning to take a family cruise in July, and you’ve discovered that it will cost about $2,400 (after doing diligent research), then you know you’ll have to save $400 per month in January-June. It may sound like a lot, but it won’t hurt as much as charging the expense and paying interest on it later.

3. Summer camps. Even if you stay home with your children, I am a big believer in summer day camps. My children have attended amazing camps—everything from horseback riding to jewelry making to martial arts. It’s a great way to keep your kids’ minds engaged while school is out, and also helps them learn new skills and make new friends. But, these camps can be expensive, so plan early. You certainly don’t have to fill up their entire summer, and probably shouldn’t. But, you should aim for at least a couple of weeks of fun, interesting, and challenging camps. Most camps will release their schedules by March. But, you can get an idea of what camps your children would be interested in, and how much they will cost, by looking at the camps’ fliers from last summer. Prices usually don’t go up by much, but just to be safe, plan for about a 10% increase. You should also look into any scholarships that may be available. Many camps offer sliding scale fees or scholarships, such as some for military children. I keep a summer camp spreadsheet for the kids each year (which I usually start in February) which lists the week, type of camp, location, registration deadline, and fees. The list usually starts off as a wish list and gets narrowed down to something more doable based on our financial ability that year. Once you have your camps selected, let the saving begin!

4. School clothing and supplies. Picture this: It’s August 1st. School is starting in a few days and your children need supplies. Lots and lots of supplies. Plus, the jeans that needed to be rolled up last year now make your darling son look like he’s expecting a flood. It’s time for new school clothes. But, where will all the money come from? If you’re like many families in the US, you get out your credit card to pay for all of these new-school-year expenses. But, you don’t have to. Think about how much you typically spend on supplies and clothing (again, try to find savings), and then start saving. If you typically spend $600, saving $100 per month in January-June will lessen the blow of the end-of-summer financial blues.

* Numbers 1-4 can be saved for in a short-term savings account through your regular bank. Put the money aside each month and then don’t touch it until it’s time to pay for the intended items.

5. Emergencies. Everyone needs to have an emergency fund of at least $1,000. And no, this is not the morning-Starbucks-trip fund. While I agree that coffee can, at times, be an emergency, that’s not what this account is for. This is for car repairs, busted water heaters, and sprained ankles. Because, as we all know, emergencies can and will happen. Save for this as quickly as you can, depending on your ability.

6. Independence Fund. Women, this is for you. I strongly, strongly, strongly believe that every woman needs to have her own savings account. Even if you and your spouse share bank accounts, which is fine, you should also have your own. I’m not encouraging keeping secrets. In fact, it’s perfectly fine for your husband to know about it. But, this is your money. It has nothing to do with not trusting your husband, or planning to separate, or any other negative intention. It’s about you, your independence, and your right to have it. It’s that simple. (Did I mention that I strongly believe in this?)

7. Retirement. If you aren’t doing so already, it’s crucial that you start saving for retirement now. Immediately. Today. For the military families who are reading this, please don’t depend on your military retirement. If it’s difficult to make ends meet now, imagine doing so with half (or less) of your current income. It’s not likely. And you don’t want your golden years to become your ramen noodle years, right? Everyone needs to save for retirement, no matter how secure you think your future might be. This money should be saved in a 401K, TSP, or Roth IRA that you never touch. If you can deposit it automatically from your paycheck or as an allotment, do it. And then, pretend it’s not there. Saving for retirement may be rough. But, struggling to save now may prevent you from struggling to live later.

I know this list probably seems overwhelming. But, most of us have some funds that we could save, with just a few minor lifestyle changes. Look at your budget, trim anything that you can, and then decide how much you can afford to save each month. Now, add 20%. Because yes, you can afford it. You just have to try. And, if it looks like you can’t afford to save for everything on this list, it’s time to start cutting back. If you can’t afford that family cruise, consider taking a float trip at a nearby river. If you can’t afford the amount you’d like to spend on Christmas gifts, consider making gifts or drawing names with family. And, if you absolutely cannot afford summer camps for your children, at least plan free or inexpensive activities for them, so that summer is about more than television and video games. But, no matter what, establish an emergency fund, start saving for your retirement, and put aside some money for yourself—and start doing it now. I guarantee that you’ll be glad you did. And you never know, when 2011 comes to an end, you may just look forward to saving in 2012!