Dear California,

When we started looking at orders about five years ago, picking your location was more out of dislike for the other options rather than a strong desire to move across the country. When we learned that the Navy accepted our pick and we were moving there, I felt so many emotions, but mostly anxiety and fears of the unknown. How was I, a self-proclaimed homebody, going to survive 3,000 miles away from home?

I was determined to stay positive, to find reasons to look forward to this new adventure. I could see Hollywood, maybe run into a star. I would see landscapes unlike any I have seen on the east coast. I moved there looking forward to the touristy charms. I got so much more…

I found a church that instantly felt like home.

I found a worship team that welcomed me and found ways for me to continue serving even when my husband was deployed and I had a preschooler and toddler in tow with no babysitter to call on.

I found some of the strongest friendships that I have had in my adult life—women who embraced me, supported me, and stretched me; women who have left a lasting impression on my life.

I found a new appreciation for my home and family, especially my mom and sister, realizing that I cannot take them for granted but also seeing, in action, just how far they are willing to go for me and my little family. I will never be able to repay them for all they have done for me.

But I think, most importantly, I found me. I discovered my own strength and came into my own. I grew as a mom, as a friend, and as a person. I found my voice, learned what I needed from friendships, learned how to be a better wife, learned how to better trust in God. I truly believe that this move was designed for my own self-discovery. I could not have grown as I did if I always remained close to home and safe in my own comfort zone. California was my leap of faith.

My first dip in the Pacific circa Aug. 2015, just days after we moved to CA

I cannot believe how quickly four years in California flew by. We have been back on the east coast for a week now and it still has not fully set in that we will not be returning to the home we worked so hard to create for ourselves in Port Hueneme. I do not know if it will fully hit until we are leaving my mom’s and making the long drive to our next adventure. 

California, you were a place I was scared to move to and you became a place that broke my heart to have to leave. Thank you for the lessons, the love, and the friendships. 

Until we meet again, xo

An unexpected answer

A month ago, I vaguely posted on my Instagram that we, as a family, were trying to figure some things out. The short version of that story is that we thought that, despite being on a BC pill at the time, I might have been pregnant. After being over a month late and countless negative home tests and labs at my doctor’s office, I finally got a referral to see an OB. An ultrasound confirmed that I am definitely NOT pregnant and everything looked completely normal and healthy. I am now on a medication that is supposed to restart my cycle (we still do not know exactly why it stopped).

Before all of this happened, I was still longing for one more baby and, as a mom of two boys, let’s be honest, I desperately longed for a little girl. But I felt so strongly that our family was not yet complete, boy or girl did not matter. My husband and I did not see eye to eye here. As far as he was concerned, we were complete with the two children that we already have.

I prayed constantly for God to change the mind of whoever’s plan was against his. In other words, if we were done, change my heart, if not, change my husband’s. After over a year of praying like this, my desire burned stronger than ever, but so did my husband’s feelings on the matter. I began to get frustrated. We were at a stand-still on this and I was so worried that eventually one of us would start getting resentful; neither of us showed any signs of wavering.

Then, I was a little late, it was odd, but we both just kind of shrugged it off at first. Then days and weeks started passing without any signs of my cycle starting. We started buying tests and wondering. Despite the negative results, with each day that passed, I began to think I could be pregnant and that this was how God was answering my prayer. We began talking semi-hypothetically about what having a third child would mean and where in our lives we would need to make adjustments.

In an unexpected twist of events, the more we had these conversations, the more I realized that a third baby was not what our family needed. I became increasingly content with my little family, just as we were. I began hoping and praying that my cycle would start and got worried when symptoms that I had dealt with in my last two pregnancies appeared. When I went for the ultrasound, I honestly did not know what I wanted to see. I didn’t want to be pregnant, but I also knew that if I wasn’t, that left more unanswered questions. As I said, earlier, the ultrasound confirmed that I was not pregnant.

The rest of the medical stuff is not important; my change of heart was the point I was trying to make. I was positive that God used this situation to show me that my desires did not line up with his. I had a peace about it now. I have since seen little babies and not felt that longing ache for one more of my own. It was such a sudden change; I knew it was definitely the answer to all of my prayers about this.

Fast forward to today at my MOPS meeting. Before our scheduled speaker, a representative from Compassion International was going to briefly speak to us. I hate to admit that I was not too phased by this. Our church has partnered with them for a while so we have heard the speech and seen the pamphlets before—sponsor a child out of poverty. Before you think I am heartless for being so quick to dismiss this woman and her cause, let me add, that I have sponsored a child before. I was a sponsor to a little girl that stole my heart during a missions trip in Kenya. But I was young, working a low-paying job, and did not fully understand the commitment at the time but rather got swept up in the emotions of the trip. After about a year I had to stop sponsoring and let someone else take over for her.

But today was different. I did not walk into the meeting today even knowing we would be hearing about Compassion let alone did I wake up today thinking I would sponsor a child. I saw the pamphlets on our table with the pictures, but I didn’t pay them much attention. Then the representative played a video, and we heard from some of the children, and my heart began to open. I looked in front of me on the table and there was this adorable little girl who was just over a year younger than my “baby” and it was like she was looking right at me. At that moment it was as if God was saying, “Here you go. This little girl is the one you have been praying so fervently for. This is the child you knew you were missing.”

I couldn’t put her packet down. I felt, without a doubt, that she had been placed there for me to see. I immediately took a picture of her info and texted my husband along with the words, “I want to sponsor a child.” I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be, it was so random, and it was another expense. He asked what it would cost. I told him and added that I would delete my Starbucks app (I know, right?!!) to cut back on one of my biggest impulse spending traps. To my surprise, he answered right back telling me to go for it! I quickly filled out the form and turned it in before doubt could try and weasel its way into my head and heart.

In the end, I was half right—God WAS using the mystery of my missing cycles to answer my prayer, just not in the way I thought. I am a certain that if I still felt like I was meant to physically bring another child into this world, I would never have heard God’s plan for this little girl. I am one of the first people to say to someone who is waiting for an answer to prayer that God does not always answer us in the way we expect him to; but I am still blown away every time it happens in my own life!

Finding my tribe

When I first became pregnant, I was advised by many to avoid “mommy” groups, chat rooms, etc. I was told about how toxic they could be and how judgmental other moms could be to each other. I am sure, if you are a mom or you are pregnant, you have heard similar advice. As a first time mommy-to-be, I was grateful for the warning, but it was also a bit deflating—if I cannot turn to mom groups for advice and support, where could I turn? I was the first of my friends to have a baby so I did not have a circle of influence that I could relate to and with.

So I tried the chat rooms and a few local groups, mainly, at the time, for breast feeding support (that is another story for another time). Despite being in a room of women, I felt incredibly alone and isolated. I felt judged for the littlest things and some bigger things, none of which were really anyone else’s business. But when you are a new mom, the feelings of isolation and aloneness are real on their own, so to feel ostracized among other moms is one of the hardest and lowest feelings to endure. When we learned that we would be moving to a new duty station, I felt defeated. I was already struggling so much to feel a sense of belonging at home where I had my family, how was I going to survive when I had no one?

It is an interesting feeling, as an adult, to have to relearn how to make friends, but it is something military wives have to do frequently. I had to decide to go against my introverted nature and “put myself out there.” I remember posting on a spouse page on Facebook, admitting that I felt like I was seven again, but asking how I could go about making some friends here. I got a few responses encouraging me to connect with my “Family Readiness Group” (FRG), but my husband’s command doesn’t have one. Then one woman enthusiastically encouraged me to check out a group called MOPS, informing me the first meeting was in just two weeks. Great!

Then I looked into it… MOPS stands for Mother of Preschoolers. A mommy group? Oh no! I was told to stay away from these and my limited experience had affirmed those warnings. But, I needed to at least get out of my house. I did not go to the first meeting because we were still settling into our house, but I made it to the second one, with my 5 month old in tow. I was assigned to a table and the women seemed friendly enough. I cannot remember who the speaker was that day or what was discussed. But I will never forget the defining moment of that meeting for me—my son was hungry and needed to be fed. I had to take out a bottle and mix in *gasp* formula. “Here it comes,” I thought, “the judgmental looks, the know-it-all comments about how bad formula is for my son even though they don’t know the feeding struggles my son and I had dealt with.”

I took out the bottle with pre-measured water and, while holding my son, attempted to carefully add in the formula, all the while bracing myself for the backlash. Instead, I had one woman offer to hold my son while I mixed the bottle and another offer to mix the bottle while I held him. That was it, there were no comments about the contents of the bottle or my “choice” to bottle feed my son. Instead there were women who genuinely wanted to help. It may seem so small, but to a new mom who had already endured a lot of shaming, it was huge. I continued going to the meetings and, fast forward four years, I am still going and I am now in my second year on the leadership team. I meet some great women each year. Not all of them turn into amazing friendships, but they are what I need at that time.

This a photo of my table this year and, while it may not look like much, it represents a lot—it is conversation, connection, understanding, a safe place to be me unapologetically. While I have continued to go to MOPS and have some incredible friendships that have come from the group past and present, my California tribe is now comprised of women from a few different circles. Going to that first meeting opened a lot of other doors. That was how we found our church and through that I joined some small groups. I now have an amazing tribe of women surrounding me, a group that I am absolutely dreading having to say “good-bye” to in just a few months.

It is so important, especially as stay-at-home-moms, to find our circle. It may look different for you than it did for me, but you need to just put yourself out there and find what fits. I had to deal with some really sour grapes before I found what worked for me, but once I found it, motherhood seemed less daunting; I now had a sense of family while I was so far away from my own, and I had an incredible support system. Yours is out there too, you just have to go and look for it!

Changed Thinking

Working out has always been a struggle for me. It has been something that I had to do “to be skinny” (a mindset that was instilled in me far too young). As I have been working on reshaping how I view my body, my relationships with food, etc., I have been really trying to also change how I view exercise. This quote perfectly sums up the shift in thinking that I have been trying to make.

Image taken from weheartit.com

Today I went to a Barre fitness class. I’ll be honest, I was terrified. I have looked into this class for a while and always landed on the same, ridiculous conclusion: I need to get more fit before I can take this class. What?! Even I can read that and know it makes absolutely no sense. But again, I grew up learning very skewed, unhealthy things about fitness, food and my body.

I went on my first diet at the age of 12, which I actually thought made me “cool” back then because dieting was what adults do. But now I look back and I can see just how much that messed up my idea of what it meant to be healthy. Food was also a solution chameleon in our house growing up—you had a bad day? Food. You’re celebrating? Food. Catching up with friends? Food. Watching a movie? Food— I could go on and on, but you get the point. Now, at almost 32, I don’t know how to truly be healthy. Sure I can hop on the fad diet bandwagons, but when you have an unhealthy relationship with food already, cutting things out and limiting is just repeating the cycle in a different way. Exercise, growing up, was never something that was a normal part of life. It was not viewed as fun, it was painful and it was what you did to make up for what you ate.

But, today, I ignored those demons and I went to a class that intimidated me. And you know what? I didn’t die. There were many moments in the class where it was really hard, and it hurt. Just a few weeks ago, those struggling and painful moments would have cemented my mindset that exercise was something I needed to do TO my body, a punishment almost. But today, I kept repeating in my head “your body can do this, it was made to do all of this” and I pushed through. Now let’s be real, I had to take breaks, my muscles were shaking, there were definitely moves that I am far from proficient in at this point and I know I am going to be really sore tomorrow. But I also know now that being sore tomorrow is not because of what I “put my body through” in that class, it is because of what I put it through each day that I just sat on the couch, each day I made an excuse not to take care of myself. Realizing that, and claiming that new truth, is what I think has been the missing piece for me trying to get healthy and fit.

I have nearly 32 years of wrong thinking to undo, I know it is not going to change overnight. But today, pushing through in that class helped start the rethinking process.

N/A—Not Applicable

There is a saying that goes: take it with a grain of salt. It basically means, “take this lightly”, usually when referring to advice. I have had to learn to take this expression to heart in my life. Often times, “tried and true” advice simply does not, and cannot, apply to the military way of life.

I remember, three years ago, we had a speaker at my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group come and talk to us about keeping the spark alive in our marriages. I went to the meeting full of anticipation and an excited heart, ready to listen and learn. At the time, we had a one-year-old and I was pregnant with baby boy #2. Our marriage had become about babies and pregnancies and I looked forward to getting some tips on how to bring it back to “us”. Some of the advice was great, but then he talked about “two of the most important things you can do for your marriage”—make date night a priority, scheduling one at least once a week, and intentionally talk to each other, face-to-face, for at least 20 minutes a day—and my heart just sank. I honestly don’t think many people understand how hard it is to have a “normal” life when you are a military family. 

Currently, we live on the opposite side of the country from our entire family (in-laws included). We will never have the luxury of grandma wanting to take the kids for a few hours, we don’t have “built-in babysitters” at our disposal. We are fortunate enough to get a date maybe twice a month, thanks to a wonderful program at our church out here. We love those, and we cherish the time, but to expect more than that is nearly impossible.

Another mom in my group that day was a fellow Navy wife and her husband was currently deployed. She asked the speaker, during the Q & A time, what he suggested a couple do, regarding the suggestion of intentional, face-to-face conversing, when a spouse is gone a lot for work. Now, I knew what she meant by this, the other few military spouses in the room knew what she meant by this, but our speaker had no clue what she meant. His answer showed that, suggesting that when you can’t guarantee face-to-face interactions, plan to at least talk on the phone daily. I’ll be honest, at this point, I was defeated and getting a little bitter. I just remember thinking: not all of us have that privilege, when my husband is gone, he is not staying at the Hilton on a business trip… I am lucky if he has access to a computer for a weekly email.

So, does this mean that military couples are doomed? If you had asked me that day, I probably would have said yes. My heart was heavy. But, I realized that when it comes to our marriage, we just need to do what we have learned to do so well in every other aspect of our lives—adapt. My husband and I still can’t have a weekly date night, but you know what? We are OK. We survived 8-months of only communicating through texts while he was deployed to Afghanistan. The fact that I could text him almost daily made me very lucky, the fact that we got an occasional video chat made me the deployment-lottery winner.

My point is that, sometimes, we will hear advice that just cannot apply to us as a military family. It will be easy to get angry and cynical. But, we need to remember that our marriage and our lives have stood up to struggles much greater than finding time for weekly date nights and we have met those struggles head on, coming out stronger on the other side. My husband and I are still intentional about the date nights we’re lucky to have, we make time for each other in our day to day, and we continue to actively seek each other in ways that work for our current situation. Working on our marriage will not always “follow the rules” right now, but that does not mean that we don’t try, it just means that we read between the lines and take that advice with a grain of salt.

Uncertainties

I am a planner. I like my lists. I like having all my ducks in a row and I like to have a sense of control in my life. There are times in life when this behavior is helpful, but as a whole, I know that this is actually one of my bigger character flaws, especially as a Christian woman. By desiring that sense of control, I am taking control away from God, relying more on myself than on Him. I think this is why he had me marry my husband!

Military life means that I have no say or control in some of the biggest aspects of our lives. Currently, where we will live is at the top of that list. We are in a state of limbo right now as we wait to hear where we will move next. My husband’s contract here in CA will be up this summer and we will be moved to a new location. This go-around for picking orders has been a whirlwind. We have had our selections denied twice now, and we are waiting to see if any of our round three selections will be accepted. If they are not, then we fall into a category where the Navy decides for us, we get no say, we are just told. To say my anxiety is through the roof is an understatement. Sitting and waiting with no ability to do anything to influence the outcome is debilitating.

image downloaded from Research Gate

It is amazing to me how God uses our defeated spirits to let his voice speak the loudest. While in the car the other day, I was listening to K-LOVE and singing along to the Casting Crowns song “Held” and a line stopped me in my tracks:

I knew, without a doubt, that God was using that line to remind me of how much he has taken care of us in our often-uncertain lives. I was blessed that, during our first year and a half of marriage, my husband’s station was “home.” This meant that all of the transitions of being a newlywed and new mom were ones that I was able to make in the comforts of the familiar, with our friends and families close by. So when it came time to move, I was unprepared for the throws of military life. I was terrified when we got orders to CA, clear across the country from everything I have ever known. I cannot remember a time where I needed to trust God as much as I did then.

When we moved, it was an incredible growing experience, especially in my faith. When we found the church we have now called “home” for the last 3+ years, the sense of peace and belonging was so strong. There was no doubt that it was where God wanted us. The friends and connections that I have made here happened so quickly, but they have been so strong. I have a village and they have showed up when I needed them the most!

When I heard that song lyric, I was reminded of how beautifully our lives here pieced together. I was reminded that we may not know where will be in six months, but God does, and he has been preparing our lives there already. So for now, I need to go against every instinct and impulse I have to worry, to obsess over the unknown, and just trust. Trust that God will continue to take care of us, continue to provide the people and support we will need during our time in a new place, and continue to grow and stretch us. My life as a military wife may be full of uncertainties, but God will always be my constant, and I can find peace and rest in that promise!