What I Learned From Winning Military Spouse of the Year

What happens when you take a woman who serves in the shadows, who is terrified of success and who is flawed like everyone else, and thrust her into the spotlight?

I have tried many times to communicate what I have learned in the almost three years since I was named 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, but words cannot contain it.

I have learned about my own strength, the crippling power of my own weakness, and both the ugliness and beauty that exists in community.

That intense character growth in such a short time often felt as if I were in a never-ending free fall, while still trying to accomplish everyday tasks.

I am forever grateful for the award and the doors it opened, but even more for the doors it exposed in my heart that I had not noticed.

Here is some of what I see now that I couldn’t see before.

There is great wisdom in listening and learning from those with different viewpoints.

We are often limited by our own points of view.

For years, I served “boots on the ground” as a volunteer at events and programming. When you are new to the military, you tend to see all the ways the institution could be doing things differently or better. We rally to make things more modern or culturally relevant. We advocate from the ground up, frustrated by leadership who may not share the same passion.

This approach is not necessarily wrong. In fact, the next generation can be crucial to any institution’s success. Good leadership must listen to those it leads, but there is great wisdom from those who have gone before us.

My experience of sitting at the table with wives of generals and mentors who have lived this life for close to 30 years has been eye-opening.

If we would only listen, there are incredible stories of courage and fierce advocacy that led to the benefits we now freely critique.

I have been in awe of the character that has been shaped by years of hard work, sacrifice and maturity of our most senior spouses. Each generation carries unique challenges and victories that are meant to be celebrated together.

We all must listen more.

The military lifestyle can bring out the best or worst in you.

As I have listened to your stories, I have heard of both victories and devastation.

I have seen military spouses do incredible things in their local communities and installations, start their own businesses, advocate on Capitol Hill and run organizations that serve thousands of people in need.

The military spouse community is a fierce force to be reckoned with when they are at their best.

But this lifestyle also has a way of sneaking resentment and pride into our hearts before we can even say “America.” In my own life, I vulnerably share in my book “Sacred Spaces” how it impacted my marriage.

The response from the military spouse community has only confirmed what an epidemic this really is. When you spend most of your life feeling out of control, you will control everything you can get your hands on. This inner tension can eventually breed resentment and bitterness if you don’t keep a close watch on it.

While there are thousands of military spouses doing great things with a healthy internal drive, there are others who are fueled by the need to have control.

The only way to truly succeed at whatever we have a desire to do is to keep a light on those dark corners, maintain our priorities and be open to truth from those around you.

I would have lost everything had I not held onto my faith, listened to my husband and given key friends access to my inner world.

Outside forces will tempt you away from what will bring you joy.

There are few things on this planet that can bring you real joy.

We think it is found in success, our kids’ success, promotion, financial freedom or popularity.

But I can assure you it is not. It is not found in being relevant, the number of likes in social media, paid gigs or even service to others.

I have learned in the last few years that there is an enemy that will distract you if he cannot destroy you — and I promise you his goal is to destroy you.

Most of us think of moral failings or destructive decisions when we think “temptation,” but the stronger, more disabling temptations are in seemingly “good” opportunities.

Our community, as well as the first responder community, is founded on protecting life and promoting peace. We serve our communities and country by sacrificing what is comfortable and convenient.

As military spouses, we often feel we are an extension of our service member by giving similarly in our own way.

It is hard to say “no” to a good thing, whether it is a new nonprofit idea or an unfilled volunteer position.

Across the globe, I have seen many marriages fall apart because of overservice.

Work and accomplishments are good for our spirit. There is nothing wrong with finding purpose outside of the home using our unique talents and gifts.

It is when we find our significance there that it is dangerous. There will never be an end to the need in the world, so we must develop self-control of our calling before our calling controls us.

Otherwise, we will have nothing to offer.

Seasons may change how we serve each other in marriage, but peace is found in the roles God created for us.

I know someone will argue me into the ground on this, but I have lived it and survived to tell you the truth.

And today I have nothing but gratitude and respect for my husband taking on the home for the last two years while I traveled.

In many ways, he did a better job at home than I have ever done folding laundry, cooking dinner and picking up sick kids from school.

I have heard many military spouses utter the resentful words that used to be in my heart, “It’s his turn to revolve around me.”

I now grieve that I ever entertained that level of selfishness.

The last two years of role reversal have been equally rewarding and difficult, to say the least.

Out of love, he wanted me to see my own potential — and I did.

I hear many service members wanting the same for their spouses, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. Once you get there, you will always want to go back home.

I constantly fought off an underlying feeling of unbalance and stress. My heart wanted to be home. My attention felt torn, and he felt the same way. It was difficult to concentrate on his own job that provided for our family.

I kept thinking about Nicole Spaid, the 2015 Marine Corps Spouse of the Year whom the other spouses and I call our “Mother Hen.” She turned down several opportunities during her year with that title so that she could be fully present for her family. Her resolve has more influence in my life than she could ever know.

Now that my husband and I are finding better balance and taking back the roles that we believe God created in us, we are finding peace in what we believe He originally designed.

I recently saw a quote by Mother Teresa that could not be a better summary of my last few years: “If you want to bring happiness to the world, go home and love your family,” she said.

As much as I find purpose in serving others, this season has taught me that there is no greater joy than being at rest with my God and at home with my family.

Entering into this next season, my eyes are open to loving my family with my best first, and then offer the world what I have second.

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