About what 9/11 means to a veteran’s family.

This post took many months to compose. I wrote it, then left it to sit for a while. I worked on it a little more, then asked my husband to read it. He advised me that it was too sanitized, so I worked on it again. This is raw…what it was really like for me. Out of respect for him, some of my husband’s story is left out. Mine, however is all here.

I married my husband while he was still in college. A year later, he graduated and was commissioned into the U.S. Army. This commissioning magically turned him into an Army officer, and me into an “Officer’s Wife.” I didn’t know it at the time, but these titles would become a significant part of our personal identities, and would greatly influence our worldviews.

His first duty station was Ft. Campbell, KY. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was not just his duty station, but our duty station. He was pursuing his career, and I was in graduate school. I was also going to the events that were expected of an officer’s wife…coffees (monthly evening social events for officer spouses), hail and farewells (monthly social events for officers and their spouses), sometimes meetings for the unit’s family readiness group. As an introvert, these were excruciating events for me. I hate small talk, and I don’t make friends easily…the revolving door of membership in these communities added to the discomfort. However, I understood that politically, my presence was expected. I hosted and co-hosted coffees, and I was at my husband’s side at other events. On the other hand, I loved hanging out with my friends from graduate school, and found myself enjoying their company more frequently when my husband was away for various training events and missions. 

Then came 9/11. My husband was away for a deployment (de-mining operations) in Kosovo, but things changed back home. Soon there was talk of war. When he returned home from Kosovo, he was promoted, and it was time to plan the next move. We relocated to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO for several months of training and the birth of our daughter.

When our time at Ft. Leonard Wood was complete, our next duty station was Ft. Hood, TX. After about a year there, my officer husband deployed to Iraq. I became more involved in the military community, and enjoyed taking care of our daughter. He, on the other hand, was experiencing horrors I would know nothing about until months or years later. He also lost a fellow officer during this deployment. At home, I started having strange sensations…being fully “in the moment” when the phone rang, wondering if it was bad news…feeling like my heart was about to pound out of my chest when there was a knock at the door (to this day, I despise solicitors at my door). Modern technology helped us keep in touch easily, but on those rare occasions when I didn’t receive my daily emails at the “regular” time, I worried until I heard from him. Holidays were depressing. Birthdays were a struggle. Anniversaries were ignored.

When my husband came home a year after he left, the adjustment to being back together was tenuous. While he was away, I had learned how to live and parent without him, so I needed to learn how to live and parent with him when he returned. He needed to be comfortable around us again, and get to know our daughter, who had been about 18 months old when he left. Adjustment is not the only challenge. Although families are happy to be back together, the unrelenting stress and experiences in war can come back to haunt the soldier, which, in turn effects the family as well. We experienced some very dark moments in our marriage, and I was unhappy. Eventually, we found our footing, our second child was born, and it was time for my husband to deploy again. A series of terrible events happened during this deployment, which riddled me with depression and anxiety. There were times when I hated my life, and the only reason I got out of bed in the morning was because I knew my children depended on me.

Before my husband returned from his second deployment, I moved the family from the military community to be close to my family, and it was time to leave the Army behind us. Although I was happy to be with family again, part of our identities were gone. We had known how we fit into the military world, but felt out of place in the civilian world. I preferred not to be around other people because I knew that there was no way they could relate to my experiences and the identity that I had left behind. I felt bitter toward everyone, and resented people for complaining about the little things or making excuses for not being responsible. My life had been turned upside down because of our sacrifices, so I had no patience for anyone who fell short of my expectations. Although I was able to function by holding a steady job and taking care of my children, I was miserable. I’m sure I was miserable to be around as well. My husband finding a steady job also proved to be much more of a challenge than either of us anticipated. After a couple of false starts, he found a civilian contractor job…in Kuwait. Yep, he had to leave again for another year. Our marriage had deteriorated so badly by then that I gave up while he was away. By nothing short of a miracle, I had a change of heart, and we found hope again before he returned.

In all, it took us about 5-7 years to adjust to civilian life. In a way, we are still adjusting. We’ve been married for 19 years, but have just now lived together for a little more than 2 years without at least a month (usually 4-12 months) apart. Those horrors he experienced on the streets of Iraq still haunt him at times, and occasionally, he allows me to see a glimpse of that part of his life. After years and time to reflect, I have learned a little more about why we struggled so much when he returned the first time.

My point is this. As a military family, 9/11 changed our lives, so when you choose to honor veterans, allow yourself to consider that these are multidimensional people, who represent more than simply a uniform. Think about their sacrifice, with the understanding that you may never know the full extent. If you can, be willing to listen when they speak, and be willing to do more than stand and applaud in a stadium full of people. (Many times, these gestures ring hollow for veterans.) It may take a little extra patience, but be a friend. The sacrifice of combat veterans and their families can last far beyond the time that was sacrificed, and likely has several layers that are difficult to navigate. We developed resilience during active duty, but we needed it most after the military days were over, when we were left with broken pieces. Only through the God’s grace did we find a way to put those pieces back together.

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My Thoughts About Freedom of Religion

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

Full Definition of RELIGION

1 a :  the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1) :  the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) :  commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2:  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

3 archaic :  scrupulous conformity :  conscientiousness

4:  a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Full Definition of FAITH

1a :  allegiance to duty or a person :  loyalty b (1) :  fidelity to one’s promises (2) :  sincerity of intentions

2a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion

b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) :  complete trust

3:  something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially :  a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

on faith :  without question <took everything he said on faith>

http://www.merriam-webster.com/

What does Freedom of Religion mean to me as a Christian? To me, it means that I may go to the church of my choice and worship in the manner that suits me best (as long as it does no harm to others). Freedom of religion also means that I, as a public school teacher and an employee paid from taxpayers’ pockets, I do not impose my Religion on my students or their parents. However, I do get to practice my Faith. To me, there is a significant difference between religion and faith. Although religion and faith are aligned, and sometimes used interchangeably, they are not necessarily the same. In this format, for religion, I will use Webster’s definition 2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. For faith, I will use Webster’s definition 2a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God.

All four gospels state that Jesus communicated a new commandment: To love our neighbors as ourselves. (Shout out to the Pilgrims Sunday School class at HCUMC!) Wow! That’s pretty big! Now, I ask, how do Christians love others when they attempt to use the state or federal law to further their own Religious beliefs? Remember, I see religion as an institutionalized system. My faith is belief, trust, and loyalty to God. So, in my faith, I love my students and their parents. Certainly not perfectly because I am human and sometimes my human frustrations with other human decisions cloud my judgment. However, I, in no way believe that my freedom of religion is being denied. It is not up to me, as a public school teacher, to impose religious beliefs on students. However, it is up to me as a Christian to be a vessel of God’s love. Maybe, at some point, my students and their parents will recognize God’s love through me. However, no one will stop me from praying for, worrying about, or brainstorming for my students.  Similarly, I do not want my own children to be influenced by the religious beliefs of their public school teachers. Maybe I do not agree with the teachers about religion, and do not want my children swayed to pray in ways that I disagree with. No one will stop my children from quietly praying at school or for their classmates and teachers. (FYI- Texas schools continue to say the US pledge and the Texas pledge, which each include “under God,” and many have a moment of silence every morning.) My choice is to take them to a church where we, as members of the same denomination, share similar beliefs and values. This sharing of beliefs is what family and church are for. My church has adults who teach, guide, and care about my children, and choosing my church was intentional.

When people who stand on their “Christian” beliefs in order to implement law to impose them on (and sometimes oppress) others, I wonder whether it’s really about Freedom of Religion, or about thinking everyone else needs to believe what they believe. Freedom of Religion in the United States is not just Christianity. It’s also Judaism, paganism, Muslims, and others. So, when Christians ask for prayer in school, do they want Freedom for all Religions or just their own? What about freedom to deny services or health care benefits? Should I be denied services by a Muslims because I do not cover my head? How about Scientologist business owners… should they deny health care contribution for Psychiatric care?

Why do some Christians not spread the message that our God is a loving God? Why must some Christians use their religion to invalidate (and sometimes oppress) others, and then cry lack of freedom of religion when they are challenged? Now, I know it gets pretty ugly, and some people may be pushing the Christian business owners a little too far, and that is sad. However, to me, standing on religious beliefs rather than spreading God’s love through faith is not what being a Christian is about (as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog). The fact that some pastors are saying that they will not be forced to perform marriages of gay couples is a little silly. Of course they won’t be forced to do so! They are part of religious establishments. Maybe they use their churches as businesses, so they don’t know the difference between a business and a church? Maybe they just have not actually read the first amendment? Maybe they are just using their black robes as a platform from which to send the message that they don’t approve? I don’t know. Whichever way you look at it, it’s ridiculous because they should know better an ALL accounts. Hence, I am so glad I’m not being forced to attend their churches (which is freedom of religion)!!

So, my Christian Friends, I just ask you to please be careful when you “preach” freedom of religion. How are your religious practices really being imposed upon, and are you really representing Jesus’ primary commandment to love others? Also, do you really want to promote politicians who use your faith to advance their political aspirations? (It seems I heard something about that in a sermon recently…) No, I’m not perfect…I have a nasty little spark in me that can use ugly words to bring grown men to their knees. I’m not proud of it, and I work to keep it under control. However, I also intentionally teach my children to love others, regardless of their abilities, their sexuality, the color of their skin, the languages they speak, and the religions they practice.

Yes, I’m a little defiant. Why wouldn’t I be? Growing up, I had two families and two religious denominations. One believed in their “close” communion, and the other welcomed everyone to the table. One continues to bar women from pastoral leadership roles, and the other has ordained women as ministers for many years. I am married to a veteran, and together we have experienced some of the grittiness in life that many people only hear about. I have spunk and fight in me. However, I also have compassion. I am compassionate toward the parents who are doing their best to bring up their children with very few resources. I am compassionate toward individuals who know firsthand that you don’t choose who you love. I am compassionate toward the teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality and to those who have chosen to end their pregnancies because they felt like they had no other choices. Christians should not deny these people their stories . These stories are theirs, and they get to own them.

Oh, and by the way, yes, I pick and choose my definitions of religion and faith. I also pick and choose scripture. Everyone does, but not everyone admits it. I cut my hair, I have 4 tattoos (which I must conceal for work but not for church), I used oral contraceptives for many years (without remorse), and I actually speak directly to the pastors at church (I don’t  go through my husband first). I am so glad I have the freedom to worship at a church where I am welcomed and valued – tattoos and all!

Just a thought…about the gay thing and religion

I’ve had this blog page for a few years, but never had the courage to actually write something to share. I’ve had enough of a certain topic, and it’s time to share…about the gay thing and religion.

First, I will say that I have some gay friends whom I love and respect dearly. Next, I will say that yes, I am a person of Faith (trying to reclaim the word Christian, but I’ll share more on that later). I believe in God, I pray, I have read and studied scripture. I was even encouraged (ahem…expected) to memorize scripture at a young age. 

I just watched a brief clip on my CNN app about florists in Georgia who want a law to pass so that they would not have legal consequences for refusing to provide services for a commitment ceremony for a gay couple. Wow…all 5 florists said that they would refuse goods/services if they could! In an interview, one of them stated that they would still serve adulterers and people who did not honor their parents (ya know…the 10 commandments). That’s part of what I take issue with. Why choose this “sin” (assuming, just for a moment, that it’s a sin)? Why not adulterers, people who remarry after a divorce, people who are abusive, people who do not share the same religion??? Hold on…these are all PEOPLE. Not some other-beings, but people! Jesus came to be born, live among us, suffer, die, and live again to save ALL people (ya know…even the least of these). 

Now, let me dig a little deeper. First, I do not assume that gay people are living in sin just because they are gay. We all live in sin…that’s the nature of humanness. Although scripture addresses some acts that are associated with gay sexuality (in certain context), those scriptures do not address loving, committed, gay relationships (read Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible). 

Next, I am going to share what it means to me to be a Christian. I tend to shy away from that term because there are so many people who call themselves Christian (quite loudly), but do not experience and express Christianity the same way I do. I believe that being a Christian means not only believing in Jesus Christ, but also in trying to be Christ-like. To me, being Christ-like means loving all people. (I’m not one to discuss this without having to ask forgiveness…I know there are people whom I’ve alienated because of my own frustrations and un-Christ-like behavior. I had some very dark years in which I had no patience for people who did not “step up” the way I thought they should. This was a reflection of my own issues, and I’m trying to shed those frustrations and see things through a more loving lens. So, to those whom I have alienated, I’m sorry.) Honestly, I do not want these loud “Christians” representing me and my faith. I do not share in their beliefs that allow them to see and speak of gay people in discriminating, shaming, judgmental ways. It’s very difficult to discuss this without judging those who judge, and this is where I need to be careful. I do not think that I could have a good conversation with these people who discriminate because my patience would just wear thin, but I need to remember that we are all children of God, and that we are called to love each other, even those who are not representing Christianity the way I experience it.

I’m not going to address the Religious Freedom Restoration stuff, other than to say we need to be very careful about mixing government with religion. Regarding these business who wish to turn my friends away, it’s just bad business. I will say that I work in the public schools, where I am privileged to provide services to ALL students (and families) who walk through our halls. I love that God can work through me to love these kids and their families. I’m not perfect at it…I become frustrated and lose patience sometimes, but I would never consider denying services due to the parent’s sexuality, religion, marital status, or the personal financial choices they make. Being an American means all children are educated, and being a Christian means all of us are loved by God. Maybe it’s a weak connection, but it works for me 😉