Friday, May 12, 2017

101 Reasons I am a Terrible Military Spouse

There aren’t really 101 reasons I am not a very good military wife, but a recent blog optimization article said that titles of articles with numbers in them are more likely to be read.  I wanted you to read what I have to say, ergo, 101 reasons (or whatever the real number is) reasons I’m a terrible military wife. :)

I don’t write that to put myself down, but a recent YouTube parody called “I have a Mom Crush” got me thinking about all the things we assume about our fellow friends, family, colleagues, and social circles that probably aren’t all that right. Sometimes, we need to be willing to let it all hang out there honestly, so that people in your same situation, with your same fears and anxieties can relate.  When people relate, they don’t feel alone.  When people are not alone, they are a lot less likely to make destructive or harmful decisions.  This is why the Army (or military or community) family is so vital to the success of our society. Finding connections between people isn’t just the hallmark of success amongst the military.  When we can find connections between people anywhere, in any situation, it’s good for communities.  When we are together, we ARE stronger—no matter how cliche that sounds. It’s just that social media is set up to show the best sides of ourselves, so we tend to assume that other people don’t have problems that could relate to our own struggles.  We don’t share the pictures of ugly cries, or the snot bubbles of frustration, anxiety, and anger experienced by everyone.  It’s easy to capture of a profile picture of joy.  It’s a lot more difficult to capture one that expresses us when we are really at our lowest...and then post it so others know they aren’t alone.  Plus, ugly pictures make people uncomfortable.  Trying to empathize in 140 characters can sometimes push people out of their comfort zones.  Others feel that sort of reality is private and others think there is just too much TMI on the internet anyway.  The problem is that more and more people are seeking to use social media as their communities, and yet it's very difficult to be authentic in the online world.

Professional Head Shots make everyone look perfect.
Thanks to my secret life as a writer (it’s probably not so secret, but I like to pretend that it’s my alter ego), I have the opportunity to come into contact with a lot of people that can take a look at my gorgeous head shot and bio and sum me up in five minutes. People have said to me: “I don’t know how you do all you do” (I don’t really do either, I just do it); “You have it all together” (I don’t really, it’s just a controlled level of crazy that makes you think it’s normal); “You’ve done so much” (I’ve done stuff where I’ve applied my passion, there are other parts of my life that I’m terrible at: kids crafts for example); “You are so beautiful, I don’t know how you could possibly understand” (What you see in the mirror and what I see in the mirror are probably two different things); “You make moving look so easy” (That’s because I kill myself trying to control everything and I fail all the time); and a bunch of other stuff that just turns into a long list of platitudes, but rarely captures the nitty gritty of truth. My head shot and me are two different things.  It’s just one glimpse of me.  Same thing with my profile pictures, or what you see about me from the outside.

The truth is:  I’m just like you.  A mom, wife, woman, just trying to do her best.  I also happen to be a military wife, military brat, and military-grandbrat (the military runs deep in my family).  I love military life, but let’s face it, it has its moments where we are called to embrace the suck.  My friend Sara tells me at my whiney moments to “Ruck Up.”  The rucksack is the military backpack soldiers carry their gear.  To “Ruck up” is to put your back pack on and keep moving.  In the civilian world it equates to “put on your big girl panties and get on with it.”  Much of life is rucking it up.  While it’s all good and well to have a boo-hoo, sometimes you need a friend that listens and then says “Ruck Up.”  Let’s move on, part of life is embracing the chaos and crazy as your own.  I can whine through it all, but it’s a lot more doable  when I acknowledge the uncontrollability in my life and choose to make it my own, instead of letting it make me.  I am pretty good at rucking it up in the middle of the chaos.  It’s the moments before the backpack goes on my back and the moments before I get to take it off that trip me up. I call these the bookend moments.

Living out of boxes.
I can excel at a deployment; a transatlantic or transpacific move; the regular change in my life; getting to know people and hosting things; but I suck at either end of it.  I loathe the bookends.  I am a mess waiting for assignments.  The anticipation kills me.  In fact, anticipation in general kills me.  I’ve been known to read the end of a book just to make sure that everything turns out okay.  I loathe the time leading up to a deployment and waiting for the last good bye.  I loathe the last couple of weeks waiting for my soldier to come home. I stress when I am planning a party and worrying about making sure everything is okay. I want everyone to be happy. Packing up my house, or waiting for my precious stuff to arrive make me hum with stress. I’ll confess, my soldier has come home more than once to walk through the door and I bust out in tears, throwing my hands in the air, and dramatically proclaiming, “I just can’t do this anymore!”  True story.  Luckily, we’ve done this for awhile now that that my dude knows to give me a hug, pour me a glass of wine, and take my to-do list out of my hands for awhile.
Take the "to-do" list and pass me a glass of wine, and no one gets hurt.

We’re heading into a big move right now and the truth is that it’s hard.  I am running around with my house half packed in boxes and storage bins, trying to mitigate the damage that my movers look at as junk, but are precious memories to me.  I am trying to figure out how to feed my family healthy food and not eat out all the time, when my kitchen will be packed up for somewhere between 6-12 weeks. You think the Freshman 15 is bad?  Try the PCS 20.  I’m trying to figure out how to work through it all.  I’m worried about where my kids will go to school and if they’ll be happy. I feel guilt when they are pulled from their friends, although I know their passport and adventures rival many of their peers.  I both want to see my friends, and am loathe that each time we get together is yet another good bye.  I worry about our families when we travel far away, and I often pray that no one dies while we are overseas.  I often wish I was strong like that other military spouse I just saw post about her PCS binder or her teacher gifts worthy of Pinterest or the one that is weathering her 6th deployment. We all have things we wish we could do like someone else, but you know, you’ve got qualities too that someone else wishes they have.  The diversity of our abilities is what makes the world pretty awesome.

Polish Pottery will get broken.
As my mom tells me, no matter how many broken pieces of furniture I try to prevent, no matter how many lost boxes I try to label, and no matter how many ducks I try to put in a row, something will happen.  And whether I worry myself to death (which I probably will continue to do—Type A here), the move will happen, the party will be thrown, the deployment will end at some point, the teacher will be thanked, and we’ll do it all again because military life is nothing if it’s not cyclical. You can’t control everything.  You can’t be everything.  You have things that you are good at, just like me.  And you have things you could work on, just like me.  And you’ll have things you never achieve, just like me.  It doesn’t mean you are a bad person, or a bad military wife, or a bad any-type-of-spouse.  You are you, and I am me.

So, if you look at another spouse, military or not, and think you’ve got that “Mom Crush” or that she (or he) have it all together, remember that the way you see another person isn’t always the way they see themselves.  I’ve got 101 ideas why I think I’m bad at what I do and 101 wishes I could do our life like someone else, but I’ve also got 101 reasons why I love our life and the way we do it is just right.  Be yourself and find someone willing to be authentic with you too and you’ll succeed at anything, even when you think you aren’t.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Have You Met the Post Traumatic God?

I am trying to remember when Facebook told me that David Peters and I should be friends.  In an unusual pattern, David and I have social networks that intersect at multiple levels: we have connections in both the church and the military, and he is an avid runner with a military running organization, similar to me (albeit, I am more of a walker these days).  Then, I found out that David was a fellow author at Church Publishing Inc (CPI).  I was immediately fascinated by the title of his newest work, “Post Traumatic God.”  I contacted CPI for the opportunity to get a copy of this book and provide a review since as a military spouse I’ve sent my husband off to war three times now, and as a military kid, I watched my dad become medically retired from the Navy following a traumatic brain injury during a naval exercise.  From personal and professional levels, I’ve intersected with the post traumatic God and I wondered what else David could possibly teach me.

Admittedly, I wasn’t sure that David could say anything that resonated with me.  After 16 years as an active duty spouse and a civilian nurse with the Army, I’m a little numb to any discourse on readiness and resiliency and anything to do with the war.  But I was intrigued with David’s view.  I was very interested to hear his perspective about war and trauma through the lens of spirituality.

What I learned was that what David experienced in war and his feelings about God, the church, and healing are not so different than my own feelings after losing my hearing, getting cancer, watching my dad deal with TBI and PTSD, and trying to figure out how to deal with these life shattering events while still being faithful.  No, I have never been to war.  I have never seen someone shot up or had a bomb go off near to me, but my husband has, my dad has, and I have my own experiences that the feelings David expresses resonate deeply with me.  On page 80, David reflects, “The slow drip of anxiety in the back of my brain affected everything I did….” My heart squeezed in response to these words.  I know of the feeling that David writes. I may not have been to war, but the words of trauma and our shared experience reflects the commonality in our pains.

When you face a tragic event, you have to rethink your relationship with God and what you hold to be true and dear about your beliefs.  Tragic events force us to pause and ask ourselves, “what do you believe?”  David frankly shares of his experiences, his thoughts, his beliefs, and how his research into the church fathers experience with war shaped their own beliefs about God and war. The book sea-saws between the raw reflection of grief to glimpses of hope that is found in the resurrection and forgiveness of God.  It is with fierce belief that David writes, “[the sacraments] are God’s pledge be faithful to us in times of stress and fear…I knew whatever I had done wrong, no matter how many times I had failed, God still loved me”  (pg. 67). 

There is an important point I need to make about David’s book:  while any lay person can read and appreciate where David is coming from, he digs deeply into the theological study of war and God with an aim of educating other priests, pastors, and ministers with similar educational background.  This is a book for his peers, not necessarily the average reader.  David wanders through church, theological, and Biblical history to provide evidence of the moral injury of war throughout time, and God’s faithfulness through out. If you go into reading this book with that understanding, you will gain much more from the content and his process.  It is not an easy and simple read.  It will challenge you to dig deep.

This leads me to a second point of importance about David’s work:  his message to churches is critical:  there are people in the pews that have dealt with trauma, who have gone to war, who may have killed someone and they do not feel as though they belong to a church or community.  Many soldiers and sailors have left the church because they felt that there was no way that God or the church could ever forgive them for what they did during war.  It is crucial for churches to minister to those that are suffering from moral injuries and provide guidance towards spiritual healing.  A church has a place in the lives of those that are suffering for moral wounds.  A church has a role in teaching these individuals that God loves them just as much as the next person.  As David discusses in the chapter on the “Post Traumatic Pilgrimage,” the church is ideally suited to provide those with moral injuries a place of solace in which to experience reconciliation through a journey of lamentation, repentance, and redemption.  

One of my favorite parts about David’s book is that he not only teaches leaders about moral injury, the perception about war and the church over time, but he provides an action plan for churches to put in place to address these issues.  David isn’t just teaching you about the problem, he is also teaching you what you can do about.  I am an action kind of girl, a problem solver, and a do-er; David clinched the book for me when he not only told us about the Post Traumatic God, but he also told us how to make our churches havens for those who have met the post traumatic God and still want to be faithful.

Copies of Post Traumatic God can be purchased on all the major outlets as well as from the Church Publishing Website:

David W. Peters, served as an enlisted Marine and an Army Chaplain, deploying to Baghdad, Iraq in 2005. His ministry experience includes youth ministry, hospital and military chaplaincy, as well as parish experience in Central Texas. He is a graduate of Biblical Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Erskine Theological Seminary (D.Min), and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest (MAR). David's writing has been published by the Huffington Post, Oxford University Press, and Tactical 16 Press. In September 2016 his book, Post-Traumatic God: How the Church Cares For People Who Have Been to Hell and Back, was released by Morehouse Press. His sermon, "Learning War and Reconciliation," won the Reconciliation Preaching Prize from Trinity, Wall Street. On 9/11/2015, he preached it to first responders at Ground Zero in NYC. David currently ministers as a reserve instructor at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Ft. Jackson, SC and as the Assistant Rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Austin, TX. He enjoys speaking to groups about war and the trials of homecoming, long-distance running, reading novels, extra-dark chocolate, and bicycle commuting. He is the father of three sons and is married to the lovely Sarah Bancroft, a museum curator and the Executive Director of the James Rosenquist Foundation.

Anna Fitch Courie is an army wife, nurse, layperson, and the author of “Christ Walk: A 40 Day Spiritual Fitness Program” (Church Publishing, Inc., 2015); “Christ Walk Kids” (Church Publishing, 2016); “Sally the Comet (CreateSpace, 2015); and “Sally and the Constellations (CreateSpace, pending). Anna finds her calling where health and spirituality intersect. Anna is a registered nurse by training and has been working in the health care field for the past eighteen years. More recently, she has been a consultant on building community coalitions on health. Anna is a graduate of Clemson University, the University of Wyoming, and Education for Ministry at Sewanee: the University of the South. In her spare time, she fights cancer, consults in public health, and runs Christ Walk, retreats, writes books, and blogs for “50 Days of Fabulous” and “Lent Madness.” In her dream world, she hikes the El Camino and Mount Rainier, sails, travels, cooks, reads, and attends every Clemson football game each season. Home is currently in Virginia, but really, home is wherever the Army (and God) sends her. You can find her on her blog at Christ Walk; on Facebook; on Twitter @christwalk1; and on Instagram @christwalk1.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A 12 Step Program for Worriers

I was on the phone with my mamma.....the conversation follows along these lines:

Mamma opens with her usual, "How are you?"

I respond, "I am worrying about all sorts of things.'

She replies, "You do that a lot."

Me, "Yep.  If there were awards in worrying, I might win something."

I worry.  I think it's a part of me.  I am not sure.  I've been told when I worry it's because I don't have enough faith (I don't think that's it).  I've been told when I worry, it's because I don't trust  God enough (I don't think that's it, but there could be some kernel of truth to this).  I've been told when I worry that I don't know how to have fun and live in the moment (this can be true at times).  I've also been told that when I worry it's because I am a control freak (this is probably 100% true).

I've always worried.  I come from a long line of worriers.  I think it's a part of how God made me, but it does make me pause.  I know worry contributes to my stress life, which isn't good, but worry also makes me very organized, usually prepared with a plan, and ready to take on any scenario that's thrown at me.

But I confess that worry sometimes gets the better part of me.  Much like it gets to the better part of many people.  Worry is the part of us that wants to be able to control every eventuality, when that is simply impossible.

Worry can be an addiction, which led me to think about the 12 Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous .  I am not sure anyone does addiction support better than AA.  At a minimum, it is the most worldly know support system for alcoholics and their families.  Which led me to take a deeper look at their 12 Step Program (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1981).  I think the 12 Step Program applies to many aspects of life and the things we struggle with each day.  As a world champion worrier, I took the 12 Step Program and applied it to my worries.  I share it with you so that you too, can have a path towards managing your worry when it spins out of control:

  1. We admit we are powerless to worry--our lives feel out of control.
  2. We need to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. We need to make a decision to turn our worry and lives over to the care of God.
  4. We need to search inside of ourselves to understand what makes us worry. 
  5. We need to admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the nature of our worry.
  6. We need to be ready to release our worry to God.
  7. We need to ask God to forgive us when we continue to worry. Sometimes, worry just happens.
  8. We need to make a list of all those things we worry about, and put them away.
  9. We need to ask forgiveness of those who are impacted by our worry. 
  10. We need to be continually self-aware so that when worry starts to take control of our lives, we promptly redirect it.
  11. We need to breathe, ground ourselves in the present through our five senses, and practice prayer and meditation to improve our relationship with God to help us with those things we worry. 
  12. As we begin to master our worry, we will share these skills with others and continues to practice acts of prayer, breathe, presence, and meditation in all our affairs, putting the worry aside.

    If you worry like me, you'll continue to worry no matter what.  It's a constant process of identifying the worry, redirecting myself to the present, engaging my five senses to ground me, breathing through the moments when the worry takes control, and praying fiercely for God to be in control.  I visualize some days like a mountain climb...we go up the worry mountain, and then practice patterns of behavior that let us go back down to the valley of calm and peace.

    The good thing about worry, is that there are things you can do, much like any of our behaviors.  we just have to practice disciplines that support the change we seek.  I'll probably always worry, but at least now, I have ways of ensuring it doesn't drive me too crazy, and now you have 12 steps to help you too.