Saturday, August 17, 2013

Letting Go While Grasping Tight

"Yeah, we were a military family for 11 years, but we got out," the lady told me.

Looking up from my lawn chair, the garage sale moneybox in my lap, I asked why.

"Well, by then we had a few kids," she explained, "and I didn't want them to be away from their family anymore. Cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents."

My heart dropped into my stomach, and I shot her a look that hopefully said, Thank you so much for buying our junk and for your husband's service to our country, but please stop talking before I lose it.

She kept talking. "Because family is just so important," she finished. "I wanted my kids to know their family, and the military lifestyle just wouldn't let us do that."

Yeah, I know.

Nick and I have been beyond blessed to be an Air Force recruiting family for the last 4 years. It's let us be around our own families, to live in Oregon and temporarily forget the existence of deployments. But that's ending now.

Ever since we got orders, I've been in mourning. Not over where we're going; England will be a great adventure. But over the place where we're leaving.


I grew up in a small town -- so small that the kindergarten and high school graduating class photos pretty much contain all the same people in 13-year cycles. You can't skip class without a friend of the family spotting you at the driving range and informing your parents before you even get home. You date cousins (not your own!), you know everyone's addresses, phone numbers and birthdays and you eventually realize that you and your best friend have kissed the same half-dozen crushes or so (I'm looking at you, Nick and Owen!).

It was safe, secure and happy. And I loved it.

I never wanted to live in Creswell forever; I wanted to see the world. But someday, even as a small child, I knew that I wanted to eventually find my own small town and raise my family there with that same sense of belonging -- that feeling of being known and loved and placed.

When I married my high school sweetheart and he joined the military, it never occurred to me that my own children wouldn't have the same sort of childhood. Because like Nick promised me, we were getting out after six years. A decade later, here we are, still an Air Force family and in until retirement. I'm okay with that; it provides for our family and my husband enjoys his job.

But this last four-year tour in Oregon made me forget (temporarily, anyways) that staying put isn't an option.

Watching the friendship that my five-year-old son Jack has formed with his cousin Josh thrills my heart. So too does watching the joy Jack gets from his school, his teachers and his many friends here in Salem.

Two-year-old Jude, meanwhile, loves his class at church, driving tractor with his grandpa and playing with his cousin Nina and best friend Lizzy (and no, not Jack's stuffed lizzard).

And Avinly. She's only just beginning her life, and will only know her extended family through Skype, photos, letters and the occasional visit.

And my heart breaks, and through deep breaths and long runs, I put it back together again.

Yes, I know that thousands of military kids the world over are in the same situation and thrive. Yes, I know that we've been spoiled by the last four years. And yes, I know that my kids will learn some fantastic traits like resiliency, flexibility and adaptation.

But as these last few months drip through the sand timer, I am in mourning.

Yesterday, as we drove to Sunriver (another perk I will sorely miss when a family vacation home isn't just around the bend in the UK), the song "The House that Built Me" by Miranda Lambert came on. I was in the backseat entertaining my trip-hating daughter, and I began to sing the words in a funny voice. But then the lyrics hit me, and I had to stop.

I know they say you cant go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
Ma'am I know you don't know me from Adam.
But these handprints on the front steps are mine.
And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom
is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar.
And I bet you didn't know under that live oak
my favorite dog is buried in the yard.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I'm someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself
if I could just come in I swear I'll leave.
Won't take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.

Mama cut out pictures of houses for years.
From 'Better Homes and Garden' magazines.
Plans were drawn, concrete poured,
and nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama's dream.

You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.
I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I'm someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I'll leave.
Won't take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.

And I realized, through choked voice and teary eyes, that I have to let that dream go.

If we get out in 10 years, that will put my children at ages 15, 12 and 10 (roughly)
. So while there will still be some time before college to establish roots, my kids' experience will not be like my own experience.

And part of growing up is realizing that's not a bad thing.

My sons and daughter will never know the permanence of living in the same house, town, county, state or even country and continent year after year. They will not have the same piano, Sunday and school teachers that their older siblings and cousins have had. They will probably not marry someone they have known since elementary school. They will not have a special spot in a favorite tree where they go to think at ages five and 18. They will glance through old class pictures and not know every person.

Jack, Jude and Avinly will know change. They will know roll-with-it. They will know all sorts of different cultures, ethnicities, languages and lifestyles. They will know bonding together, picking up the pieces and working as a family unit when Dad is gone.

They will know that God is still God no matter your location or how many family members are close by.

So I'm letting the dream of small-town-security for my babies fade while grasping tight to the positive memories we're taking from our beloved West Coast.

Because in the end, that dream is far inferior to my ultimate goal as a mom: to raise children who know, love and serve their Creator -- no matter their location on the planet that He made