Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Civilians Don't Know

No civilian has any idea what it really means to be a soldier. And, no, Civilian, you don't know. So don't even begin to argue with me. 

This is something I have come to realize while on my journey as a Marine wife. I was once a generic civilian. The most that I knew about the military was what the media fed me and what I had learned in school. I also knew that I had family in the military - some of them were POWs, some of them were reservists, they were in all branches if service, some of them died, some of them were "career" (a term I learned in the military - it means that they stuck with it until retirement), and some of them hated it so much they couldn't wait to get out. I knew generic things: boot camp/basic training is hard - regardless of the branch you're in, they're trained to fight, they get deployed, they shoot guns and some pilot helicopters or jets or drive trucks or tanks. I also knew that a lot die, and many have been prisoners - to be tortured, sometimes to die, too. But I didn't really get it, not really.

Boot camp begins by breaking down these men and women, these soldier-hopefuls, so that they can be built back up and conditioned. A soldier isn't born; a soldier is created. And there is pain and struggle in this process. There is strength and triumph in the end for most, but in the interim, there is also loneliness and fear. Often, a soldier is on the high of being strong and triumphant, but there is also disappointment and disillusionment, too. I have never heard of a soldier who lived the rosy picture that their recruiter painted for them.

It's an endless sea of early mornings, late nights, and days that seem to go on for weeks. There is sleeping on the ground, in the dirt and the cold, or the heat. There's gunfire and danger - the excitement, but also the fear of never returning home. You get to "see the world", but often that is limited to the portholes in an airplane or from inside of a Humvee, and at the risk of your life. On top of that, there's still the mundane details of daily life: cleaning bills for intricately cared for uniforms, weekly hair cuts, the immaculate cleaning and care of the space you live - compound that with caring for a spouse and children. And did I mention the piles of bureaucratic paperwork, the career ladders to climb, the politics? That's there, too, and sometimes its cruelty runs a race with that of civilian corporations; sometimes the military wins that race.

Soldiers aren't faceless. They have hearts and souls - they have families and friends, hopes and dreams. Yet, many are expected to live as if they have no emotions at all. Often, they have to learn to cope with all their challenges alone. They also "get broken". It is a cruel way of saying that they've become injured or lived through trauma - basically, they cannot operate at "optimal levels" and their worth has been reduced to that of a misfit toy. Sometimes, they are altogether forgotten - until they are dumped back out into a world of civilians, most of whom have never faced the kinds of challenges and horrors that a soldier has faced. They expect sugared words and softened truths, not the harsh realities and blunt, in-your-face honesty they receive from a soldier.

It may sound like I understand, but I can tell you that I still don't. It's because I am still a civilian, despite being as close to a soldier as one can get without actually being one. 
Spouses probably come the closest of all civilians because they live and breathe a lot of the lifestyle, too. They know what it is like to live in military culture, being under the scrutiny of what seems like everyone. They know what it is like to laugh boldly in the face of some of the cruelest stereotypes. Spouses are the ones awake and alone at midnight, lighting candles in their windows or at their church. They are the ones raising children virtually alone for months (sometimes years) at a time, waiting for the return of a person that they love but may hardly recognize - physically or emotionally. They are the ones standing hand in hand in battle, if only in spirit, with their soldiers. No civilian has any idea what it really means to be a soldier's spouse either.

But, even then, despite our best efforts to try to understand, even we spouses really just don't get it. And heaven knows we try to understand - all the classes, all the counseling, all the support. Our men and women in uniform deserve so much credit, too, for their immense effort toward making it understandable, though I doubt it ever will be - not truly.

So to every generic civilian (and perhaps even spouse) who says "Oh, I get it", I'll tell you where to cram it - because you don't know it until you walk in those boots, fight in those boots, bleed in those boots, and sometimes die in those boots!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Current Preoccupations...

  • I posted about Proverbs 31 the other day, but I think I am going to have to put that on the back burner. I ordered some books from Barnes & Noble (I know, I know. I hate them, but I had a gift card so I took advantage of it) and these new books have a higher priority. I got So Long, Insecurity: You've Been a Bad Friend to Us by Beth Moore (and oh, heck yes, I am linking you to Amazon for that one) and the associated devotional book. Some people have a bit of issue with Beth Moore, but I absolutely love her. She's a woman after my own heart and I love how her ministry really gets into a woman's perspective. I've had so many problems understanding what it means to be a woman and so much trouble learning how to be a "good" woman - and even more confusion as to what a Christian woman is all about. I didn't really have a great role model in my mother, and though I love my husband, being a woman really isn't something that he can teach me. I've closely watched other women in my life: my paternal grandmother, my step-mother, my paternal aunts, my mother-in-law, etc. It has helped, but learning about women in the Bible and learning about God's plan for women has been phenomenal. And Beth Moore's books and studies have resonated the most with me and have taught me the most.

  • In all the confusion of all my moving around these last few years, I lost the comics I drew for my friend Lauren while we worked together at the casino. Today, I found a large portion of them, so I want to scan them and re-touch them. I might even expand some of them, but that really depends on how much time I have on my hands - time without the background music of a screaming, cranky toddler.

  • I have a digital art project that has been "in the works" for months now. I am colouring the Asterodea Lineart by the talented Cat Craig, aka "Catzilla". It is going to be shiny and gloriously gaudy, because I seriously only just discovered masks in Photoshop! lol. Though, completion might wait until after taxes - we're looking at new laptops and rearranging our current computer uses. And it might be easier to do that than make the desktop computer that I am working on now art-friendly. :/

  • I am working on uploading my recipes. I have a notebook template mocked up in Microsoft Publisher and I plan on offering a printable file for each recipe I post, plus a link back to wherever I found the recipe or was inspired to create it. Honestly, aside from the Beth Moore book above, this will probably be my priority until new laptops come in.

Aaaaaannnnnd, that's what I'm up to...

I've also been on a World of Warcraft break for about two months now, and I am not sure if I will be going back. Just getting that out there...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Proverbs 31 Obsession

I don't remember when I first discovered The Virtuous Wife, but I have been in love with it for quite some time now. She is really an amazing woman, and it is no wonder that a mother would wish for her son to find such a wife! It's no wonder that a man would search for a woman!
Proverbs 31:10-31 - The Virtuous Wife 
Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.

Recently, I have felt compelled to participate in a bible study or devotional about the Proverbs 31 wife. Most women, myself included, find the Virtuous Wife to be incredibly intimidating, so I am curious to read the suggestions that other women have for being more like this amazing woman!

So, I have scoured the internet for any decently formatted study or devotional. And I've found a few:

  • Liberty University's Online Ministries: Virtuous Fear (free download)
  • Pursuit of Proverbs 31 eBook (approx $3.99 at Amazon, old [possibly incomplete] version here)
  • Women Living Well's Proverbs 31 eBook (sign up for the email list to get the link for it)

I'm gonna work through them and see how they turn out... I promise to post about it. :D

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A day that changed my life... (a long post)

I don't think there has to be just one day that changes a life. There have been so many days that have made such profound changes in mine that I do not think I could single out just one. I suppose that if I had to choose, it would be the day I accepted Christ into my life - because it was really only then that I truly lived - but I am not talking about that day in this post. No, what I am going to talk about happened three years ago yesterday when my husband left for boot camp.

I remember curling up together the night before. We had silently promised that it would just be another normal night, nothing special. We hugged each other close as we nestled down into the soft sheets that my husband bought as a honeymoon present only four short months before. We watched the movie "Moon" and as it got closer to sleep time, I tried not to cry. I clung to my husband as if he were a lifeline; I was so very scared for the future.

We woke up early the next morning and my husband's parents took us on the hour drive to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) by the Kansas City International Airport. I don't remember a lot of it. I was numb and cold inside, terrified, and struggling so hard to not fall apart into a soggy, weepy mess. That wasn't how I wanted my husband to remember me. He needed to know I was strong; I would be ok... miserable and lonely, yes, but still ok.

It wasn't like I had ever seemed very strong in the past. One might say that I had overcome a lot, but I am not sure I could have done any of it if my husband hadn't come into my life. That day at MEPS, the future held a challenge that I wasn't sure I could overcome. But my husband was heading into a great challenge all his own and I knew that he did not need the burden of worrying for me to be on his shoulders. Whether I had success or failure, I was determined to see that he would only have success.

MEPS was a nice, simple building with tile floors and off-white walls. It reminded me of a hospital or a school. It was efficient and official but tried so very hard to be inviting and reassuring. Whatever it tried to be, though, the burden of its purpose seeped through the walls and permeated the building: decisions that changed lives were made here.

There was a lot of waiting around. I didn't get to see a lot of my husband because they had him all over the place filling out forms and getting processed. My husband's parents and I waited in a small waiting area off to the side but still part of the main room, our eyes scanning the various employees, searching for a sign of things to come. Every time my husband passed in and out of the main room, he made eye contact and gave me a nervous, reassuring smile. I had a death grip on a package of tissues. I felt like my life slipped away with every passing minute.

Seven years earlier, my husband had been my saving grace. I had just come tumbling out of a terrible and emotionally scarring escapade that could hardly be called a "relationship" with a notorious slut of a man. My mother had defended the man who had hurt me, only transforming insult to further injury. I had just graduated high school a few days prior to all of this and was set for a trip to Florida with a friend - a commitment that could not, would not be broken. I had no plans for the present, let alone the future, and I felt like a ship lost at sea. When I experienced that toe-curling, goose-bump inducing, electric-shocker of a first kiss with the man that would someday be my husband on the night before I left, I knew I had the reason that I had been searching for, a reason to come back home.

In the years that followed, that man that would be my husband led me back to Christ and saved my life. He liberated me from my mother's abuse and encouraged me to salvage the decaying relationship I had with my father. That man that would be my husband gave me strength and stability when I knew none. He gave me a home when I felt adrift and orphaned. He was a kindred soul. He wasn't perfect, but he loved me and he stuck by me through my darkest hours.

As I sat in those plastic chairs at MEPS, attempting to hold back each wave of sorrow with mere tissues, I wasn't sure I'd be ok. My husband had made sure I had everything I needed: passwords and numbers for bill pay, repairs on the house and car updated, etc. Surely if I were to make it through this, I was at an advantage with the preparation he put into it. But I wasn't convinced. I had never balanced a household. Until his departure, my husband had handled all the bills. I had never cooked for one. And I had never spent so much time alone - I had never done so much without my husband by my side.

I had a lot I wanted to prove. In all honesty, I wanted him to go as much as I wanted him to stay. I burned with a desire to show him exactly how strong and independent I could be. He had taught me so very much about being an adult and being in control of myself. I knew I had the capability to survive, but my heart was breaking, too. I would be so very alone again.

My in-laws tried to occupy my mind while we waited at MEPS. I could hardly imagine what kind of emotions they were going through, they were putting on a brave face. When my husband finally swore in, the significance of the ceremony was lost on me. I was spiraling into that dark place where panic resides. All the waiting was agony.

There were so many questions in my head, so many uncertainties. Would he miss me? Or would he realize that he didn't need me in his life after all? How much would this change him? Would he still love the "me" that I would become in all of this? Would I like the "him" that he would become? Was this a new beginning or the beginning of the end? Finally, I got to give a last hug and kiss goodbye. That was when my carefully and precariously constructed flood gates came down. The tears began and didn't abate until my in-laws and I were well on our way home. 

We ended up eating out for lunch, though I was too sick with grief to eat much, and we went to a movie. My in-laws were an incredible blessing for keeping my occupied that day. Honestly, I think they needed it as much as I did. We watched Avatar, and for the first time in the previous 24 hours, I was released from reality and swept away by a story of great courage about a Marine who gave up everything he knew for love. It was exactly what I needed, and I felt a surge of hope. I could do this! I HAD to do this!

That evening, I cried myself to sleep, a breath of hope alive in me amongst the fear and heartache that I feared might consume me.

In the next week, I mourned my husband's absence like a death. I barely ate, barely slept, and surrounded myself with work and family. Finally, I got a letter from my husband and I felt like I could breathe again!

With the weeks that followed, my strength grew. In these new-found hours of solitary quiet, I found myself. I also found that I needed God to have a more active role in my life. My in-laws visited me every weekend, and though I felt loved, I still felt like a large piece of me was missing. I wrote a letter to my husband every day and made the trip to the post box part of my daily routine. I poured my heart out to him with an honesty I had never known. And in return, I was gifted with heart-wrenching letters affirming his love and affection for me. He missed me! Sweet validation!

When he finally returned, I was so terrified. Would I recognize this man that is my husband, this man that was now also a Marine? Would he still like me? It seemed a silly question, but also a pertinent one. After all, it had been so very long since we had participated in a real conversation. And so very much had happened in the interim.

It took two days of Marine Corps fanfare and family-induced headaches before I got my husband all to myself. We curled up in bed in front of the television at the hotel and he ordered a pizza. There wasn't any wild, passionate sex, as one might imagine. No, we were just content to have the blessing and gift of simply holding each other in our arms. And I knew everything was going to be ok.

Even though we both knew that what challenges my husband had faced could probably have eaten my challenges (and still have been hungry), he was proud of me. The look in his eyes told me that he knew, perhaps for the first time, that he wasn't alone shouldering the burdens or this marriage. I was no longer a dependent; I had accomplished my goal!

In truth, though my strength and courage had grown and continued to grow, I never felt the full gratification of it until about three months later. I booked a flight to Sand Diego, California, and drove three hours across the state (some of it in California rush hour) to see my husband in Twentynine Palms. To this day, I figure that if I can do all that alone, then I can tackle anything!

I learned that though one day may be hard or life-altering, it is just one day in a cascade of days. And it is what we do over that cascade that builds up to great changes and great redemption. My husband joining the Marine Corps changed my life, and it showed me that God's plan is real and intricate. Three years later, I can attest that it hasn't been an easy journey, but it has been a good one. As I said before, I am not sure I would be the woman I am today if my husband had never come into my life - I also am not sure I would be the woman I am today if he hadn't joined the Corps.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quit Complaining! (a long post)

My husband and I love Calvary Chapel, particularly Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale in Florida and their pastor Bob Coy. Now, we've never attended the church, but we have followed their media publications, The Active Word, for some time now. (We had the luck to be able to visit Horizon North County in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, after they ministered to my husband while he was in boot camp, and we wished we could have stayed.) We just have a deeper resonance with their messages - we agree with what we have encountered of their beliefs much more than we agree with the Southern Baptist ways that my husband was raised with and that I was later introduced to. (I, alas, was raised by two parents badly burned by a falling out with The Way International. My mom begrudges my dad for leaving and my dad considers it a cult - and they both have kinda messed up views on God because of it. My mom is mentally imbalanced, and my dad is, I dunno, a new-age Buddhist, I think. So my lessons about Christianity as I grew up were... odd.)

Anyway, when my husband left for Marine Corps boot camp, I started on Day 1 of their 365 Devotional (volume 1). I copied the short(-ish) devotionals into every daily letter I wrote to him and also wrote out a little bit about what I learned from the passage. I made it all the way to Day 80 before I got derailed from it. Boot camp is roughly 90 days, and as I got closer to the point in time where I would actually get to physically see and speak to my husband again (no, I never got a successful phone call with him the entire time), well, there was a point where letters stopped because they would arrive after he had already left, but mainly, I got distracted with all the preparation... and anticipation. There's a lot of trepidation involved in seeing the man you love for the first time in 90 days - and not just any 90 days, but 3 whole months of life-altering curriculum and conditioning - however, that is for a different post!

I tried to get back into the devotional. It had been such tremendous encouragement and support through, probably, the hardest 3 months of my life. But my makeshift, index-card bookmark remained on "Day 80: Quit Complaining", no matter what I tried. A whopping 3 years later, I am just now beginning to think that was a bit of Divine Intervention at work. This is the passage (bold lettering and underlining done by me):

"...nor [let us] complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer." (1 Corinthians 10:10 NKJV)
Paul wrote this passage nearly two thousand years ago. A lot has changed in the world since then, but one thing that definitely hasn't is man's preoccupation with complaining. Add this to the list of problems that plagued the Corinthians and add it to ours because we live in a world consumed with complaining. An Internet search on the work complain reveals countless sites dedicated to teaching us how to complain effectively in today's world. No longer seen as a sin, complaining has become an art form.
There are certainly those isolated moments in life when a complaint is appropriate. That's not what the Bible is referring to here. Instead, it is drawing our attention to a general attitude where everything is wrong and where our expectations are never being met. Let's tell it like it is - complaining is a form of idolatry. It sets "self" up as an idol to which everything in life must bow, including God. Whether we want to admit it, complaining is a matter of putting ourselves first in the universe. When we complain, we're basically declaring that our own opinions and expectations are more important than God's ordered will for our lives. My work, my wife, my world - none of it is what I deserve or want! God has given us these things (John 3:27), so when we complain about them, aren't we saying that we are wiser than Him and could do a better job of being God than Him?
Notice what the end result was for those who had complained in Israel's past: [they] were destroyed by the destroyer. This is referring to the incident in Numbers 16:41-49, where God sent a plague upon those who were complaining against Moses' leadership. Complaining destroyed 14,700 Israelites that day. What is our complaining destroying today? It destroys our Christian testimony. Nothing smacks of the world more than a heart that's constantly complaining. Let's allow God to be God in our lives and be thankful for what He decrees and determines for us.
"...giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV)
After 3 years of returning to the same passage, you would think that some of it would have sunk in. If you were to read my journals for these years, however, you would learn that anything I gleaned rushed right through me. It seems like all I have done is complain!!

In life, it seems like there is always something a person can think of to complain about, and at times, I sure have thought I've had it worse than most. Within the last three years I have moped and complained about: the 7 months spent apart from my husband while he went through all of his Marine Corps training, getting uprooted (leaving a great job, not to mention my entire support infrastructure of family and friends) to move to an incredibly boring area of the country, only getting 4 months with my husband before he deployed for another 7 months away from me, getting pregnant in those few months with my husband, being pregnant and delivering our baby (yes, at home with friends and family, but) alone and separated from the person I trust most in the whole world, returning to this boring area to tackle the joys of new parenting, homemaking, postpartum depression, military stereotypes (and just general bullshit), PTSD, and post deployment reintegration virtually on my own. And that's only the big stuff! Wah, wah, wah - woe is me!

In the meantime, aside from damaging my Christian testimony (yeah, the one that I wasn't sharing with anyone), I was damaging myself, my marriage, and my family. All my wallowing had me feeling like I was trash, incapable of being successful at anything. My bad mood and self-pity disgusted my husband and made it where he didn't want to spend time with me - he didn't need my self-inflated problems and self-loathing on top of all the stress he was dealing with from day-to-day work! His repulsion of my attitude led me to believe that he was repulsed by me as a whole, and all my inner insecurities fed on that as if it were Thanksgiving dinner! This led me to feel dried up and cranky and I had a short fuse that my daughter often exploited to make the day blow up in my face. I felt sedentary and lazy, burying myself in the escape of video games and novels while my house decayed around me. This further aggravated the bad situation with my husband. My life was falling apart!

This wasn't something that happened a long time ago. Four days ago I posted about being sick and depressed and I started complaining about the things that seem hard and unfair in my life. A day or so later, I bit my tongue, pulled the post, and read the devotional again; I needed to make a change.

God has given me so many countless blessings, beyond the greatest blessing of all given by Jesus Christ. It reminds me of the Chinese story of the Vinegar Tasters:
... three men are dipping their fingers in a vat of vinegarand tasting it; one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a sweet expression. The three men are ConfuciusBuddha, and Laozi, respectively. Each man's expression represents the predominant attitude of his religion: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddhism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state. Another interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, the "three teachings" are one. (Wikipedia)
 Now, I know that this is not a Christian lesson, but that does not mean that one cannot learn from it. What I take away from this story is this... It is true that these three reactions are one in the sense that we can see world to be "in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people", "dominated by pain and suffering", and "fundamentally good." And depending on how we look at the world, that is how we will react. Each piece is good to think of from time to time because it lends perspective, but if we focus on adhering to the rules (or the old Laws of the Bible, the Laws that mankind is unable to ever perfectly adhere to due to sin) or zero in on the pain and suffering of our lives, then we will be sour and bitter people. But if we let go of the control and the expectations and give it to God, we can be thankful in all things, big or small, and we can live a sweet life.

I am tired of being sour and bitter. The vinegar is sweet, and I need to quit complaining! I suppose that, if anything, this is my resolution for the new year.

~ Mollie

Friday, January 11, 2013

I love/hate urban legends, let me explain...

I wrote my senior English paper on urban legends. They fascinate me to no end. The length of idiocracy that people will believe all because of fear utterly amazes me. And I am not immune to them either, I'll admit. I've fallen for a few chain-emails and social media posts. But, speaking of social media, urban legends posted on such sites annoy me to no end!

It could be because I can't stand to see the length to which the people I know personally are stupid and/or gullible. It irritates me when they fall for silly, simple, and see-through hoaxes (like Facebook supposedly donating money to a cause based on post shares and "likes"). 

But I think there's more to it... "Don't believe what you're told; double check" is one of my maxims. I think that what bothers me the most is that it doesn't seem to even cross the minds of other people. So very few just eat what they're fed and don't ask any questions. (I feel the same way about people and what they chose to eat.)

That is probably why I get so very irritated when I fall for them myself. Because I should have known better. They're still incredibly fascinating, though.

Birth of a blog...

I've been wanting to start a blog for years now, but I've never gotten around to it...

I've gotten hung up on the name of it - shouldn't a blog have a meaningful name, a name that explains and describes it?
I've gotten hung up on the design of it - shouldn't a blog have an eye-catching design and pleasing (or at the least, meaningful) graphics?
I've gotten hung up on the content - what is a blog without content? And, do I have anything interesting and worth sharing?
And my blog attempts have floundered and failed.

I decided to go with a variation on a name a friend suggested. Instead of fussing over a fancy, hand-crafted design, I went with a Blogger design and a pretty background that I found on the internet. As for the content, I don't really care if anyone reads it or not. It's more for my enjoyment than anyone else's... I have project processes I want to document, recipes I wan't to back up, and opinions that I'd like to just get out of my head. If anyone likes what I have to say or the work I create, then that's just an added bonus.

So, cheers to a new blog attempt. Maybe this one will stick! (I certainly like it best so-far.)  :D