I met one of my new neighbors while out for a walk one morning. Well into her nineties, she was out working in her garden. I introduced myself and told her how much I admired her beautiful flowers, particularly the hollyhocks. That’s when she told me how she fell in love with them when she and her husband were stationed in England. When I said I was also a military spouse, she immediately stuck out her hand to shake mine and said, “Well then we’re sisters!”
She invited me into her lovely home full of treasures from all over the world. She told me stories of assignments they loved and the hard times, too. Her husband passed away long ago, but she spoke of him so fondly. It was a solemn reminder to me of both the unique joys and sacrifice of this military lifestyle. It was also a reminder that nothing lasts forever.
I left her house thinking about the wisdom she poured into me and I wondered what, if anything, I would go back and tell my younger self when I was first starting out on this military spouse journey. I was just 21 years young when we married — a baby really. I had absolutely no idea what this life would look like. I do remember feeling both excited and tremendously afraid. I was afraid of the scary unknowns like deployments, moves, and wars. I was excited for the surprises and adventures that might come our way.
Looking back over the last 19 years, I wish I could have told myself this:
You Will Gain More Than You Lose
As a girl who lived her whole life in one town, I was intimidated by the thought of not living near extended family and friends that I had known my whole life. Who will I be if no one knows me? I would tell my younger self to be whoever I was in the process of becoming. That’s the beautiful part. It might not always look beautiful, but each new experience and home will become a part of you and your identity. You will learn to take the good with you and hopefully leave a little good behind. The gain of new experiences, new homes, new friends, and new eyes to see the world will be far greater than the loss of stability and comfort.
You Will Love More Than You Hate
I would tell my younger self that it’s OK to hate being away from extended family at the holidays or crying every time you leave home for the first few years (or decade). You don’t have to like deployments or keep it all together every time your spouse walks out the door. You can lean into your feelings and you won’t fall or fall apart. You will learn to ask for help and be the first to reach out. What you will love will be more than what you hate. You will love the sound of your spouse’s footsteps when he comes home after a long time away. You will love the happiness in your own voice when you get that unexpected call. Your heart will skip a beat when you hear him fly overhead.
You Will Become More, Not Less
Lastly, I would tell myself not to fear that this life will leave you with less. The challenges and obstacles that you will face will make you so much more than you can imagine. You will learn to be fearless and unstoppable. You will learn to embrace the new and unknown. You will become more loving, more compassionate, and more of who you were meant to be. You will make friendships that feel like family and it will fill your heart with so much more of everything. This lifestyle may feel like it will break you, but you will become unbreakable. You will value more of the things that matter and less of the things that do not.
When I walk past my neighbor’s house and admire her flowers and her strength, I think about how much those hollyhocks really aren’t supposed to thrive here in the high mountain desert. And yet they are. That’s where their true beauty lies. They’ve adapted and changed. They’ve been born out of a love that has walked foreign soil, states, and regions to find themselves remarkably at home anywhere in the world. How wonderful it is that they’re lighting up this particular corner of the earth.
Sisters, may we enjoy the journey and bloom wherever we find ourselves.