There was an organ in my grandparents’ living room. It sat next to the ferny terrarium, in front of the window that faced down toward the garden and the pony pasture. My grandmother let us piano-trained kids play it too. The double-tiered keys and dozens of buttons were intimidating enough, but then I would look down and there was not even solid ground beneath my swinging feet. The pedalboard triggered anxiety; I was always afraid of somehow damaging it. When Grandma Jackie played, her feet would glide side to side over it so effortlessly that I didn't think they would catch the next note in time, like it was all an accident. Her dainty ankles looked weak and fragile, almost floppy.
In my memory she had different mocassins for the house, for driving, and for organ playing. (My older sister tells me this is true, so it is definitely true.) She padded silently through the cold, sprawling house. She was thin as a hummingbird, and she had an owlish way of peering at you through her big glasses. She had excellent manners, was brilliant, and she kept horses and ponies and dogs and cats and flowers and acres and grandkids and her temper (around the small grandkids anyway). She was tough. Once, I heard, she confiscated an inappropriate tape and smashed it with a sledgehammer on the driveway. Another time a horse she was boarding kicked her in the face, and she wandered around the pasture with her concussion until my grandfather found her; she recovered. On the weekends she would go down into her garden and clip and arrange a bouquet for church. At church she was florist, organist, and vestry, and that's just what I noticed as a clueless kid. In my memory, she didn’t make a big deal about any of it. (She was also a professor with a Ph.D. from Columbia, but that didn’t mean much to me at the time.) She was once a good dancer, and she was so graceful; I pondered her haphazard organing ankles with some bemusement.
A couple of springs ago, we stayed on a farm in Umbria. They let us do a little sheep herding, and the farm’s inept golden retriever chased down and nearly ate a stray lamb in front of our kids. Our hostess stereotypically wouldn't abide by me picking at my food and asking for plain noodles without explanation; she was soon proclaiming that this baby would make it, for sure.
In one corner of the agriturismo she had created a chapel. It was cave-like, cool and stone and chiaroscuro, with a heavy Franciscan tau cross half-swathed in darkness. I intended or pretended that I would go sit there and pray and be still, but as I recall I spent all of my spare time in (appropriately) the fetal position with my phone, my nausea, and my fear. But it is nothing new to be brought so high and so low by a tiny heartbeat in one’s belly. My distraction-escapism benefitted no one, but by God’s grace that chapel is solidified in my memory anyway, and that’s not nothing.
In Ghent there is a painting that an old pastor of ours insisted that we had to see: the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in St. Bavo’s Cathdral. Our first summer in Belgium, we dutifully went. I dragged through the heat in a fog of morning sickness, but with that innocent, dogged hope that accompanies pregnancy when you’ve only tasted success there. This will all be worth it. We were appropriately moved; the painting is amazing, and I agree that you must see it. Just as much as that priceless metaphorical triptych, though, I remember standing behind the organist as he practiced. The blasts from the pipes resonated through the building and drowned out the tourist hubbub. It was Europe in July and the church was full of us, sweaty and uncouth. A couple of times the organist hit a wrong note, stopped, and restarted; it was like watching an ocean wave start to break, pause, back up a little, and begin breaking again. Or like hearing thunder pause mid-roll, clear its throat, then resume. He was playing something lively; there was a shiver of excitement and a tiny bit of toe-tapping among the crowd, but one boy (almost a young man, really) saw no need to contain himself. In the semicircle between the audience and the organist’s back, he swayed and spun and finally danced. Nobody obeyed the church’s silence rule, and most flouted the no phones rule, but we all obeyed our own inner whisper: No dancing for joy and for the sheer loveliness of music and life while in public! That is right out. But this boy—probably not someone who will succeed in life in a way most would recognize, or ever be what we call neurotypical—he soaked in that moment better than anyone else. He danced.
The man commanded this enormous instrument in tempo, and the bass shook our chests, and the boy danced. We had a full view of the pedalboard and the organist’s ankles, which looked fragile and floppy; his feet arced to and fro, just so, in a familiar way. And I finally put it together: what I had once taken for weakness was grace, flexible and strong, anchoring everything. For a moment the inexpressible was obvious; I can’t explain it, except that the dancing boy (who could be thought foolish) and the organist’s ankles (which could be seen as weak) were getting it right, and all of us standing like strong statues were wrong. For a moment in that big old stone church, everything in the world and the heavens made sense, or at least I could taste that one day it would. I had a tiny glimpse of coming eucatastrophe; deep called out to deep and brought to mind last things first, weak made strong, and foolishness to shame the wise. That moment contained a sweetness that clings more closely to my tongue than all the bitterness I’ve tasted since.
Lately I've been hunkering down a little bit. The world has always felt so terribly loud to me, and any way I can step out of the rush helps. Sometimes I feel guilty; our peculiar circumstances can make for an inwardly-turned kind of life. I could do more, push myself harder, run myself ragged doing loud good in the big wild outside. But bodies are limited, callings are different, and sometimes (more often than I think we like to acknowledge) we are called to the small thing. And anyways, if all the small callings get lost in the hubbub of the big ones, where will we be then? Sometimes all we have in us is to claim back a small holy cave from this shiny, raucous world. The all-important call can be simple: to be a safe place for a small child, to ask a thoughtful question of a friend or a stranger, to provide a table to sit around and talk past midnight, to pray for fortitude to survive another day of sickness (morning or otherwise); to create a piece of art, a dance, a prayer, a song, a bouquet, a tiny chapel; to quiet one’s own opinion, to leave room for grief, or to be humbled by a pair of skinny ankles swinging over a pedalboard.
This is something I wrote to share with my local women’s church group. It’s adapted from the stand-up-there-and-read-it-aloud format that I had to use because you guys, they don’t pay me to talk pretty. I’ve decided to share it here because although there is much more miscarriage talk online than in person, I still hope this can encourage any of you who have gone or will go through this who don’t happen to live here.
A year and a month ago, we lost our second son, Afton, in a late miscarriage. I have three reasons for getting up here and writing about it (or, honestly, four reasons if you include "Therapy!"). The first is to break the silence that can surround miscarriage. The second is to reflect on how we can relate to God and how He relates to us in this circumstance. Third is to acknowledge that it is not OK, and yet somehow one day it will be.
[I’m leaving this next paragraph intact even though it doesn’t make as much sense in writing—but I stand by the message and encourage you all to talk about this topic in real life.]
As for the first thing: I am constantly reading things online about how miscarriage is surrounded by silence and shame. I feel completely inundated with messages about how miscarriage should be talked about more. I’m always seeing another article about “10 things you should never say to a friend who’s had a miscarriage!” (I think there must be dozens of things-you’re-not-allowed-to-say by now.) It seemed like we were all thinking about miscarriage quite a lot, at least in certain female-centric realms, until I compared how much I was reading with how much I was talking about it—and there was a huge imbalance between the two. There is a ton to read on the internet about it, yet I have found that it very rarely comes up in real life. So I’m here to talk about it out loud and in person. If we can’t talk about it here, among sisters in Christ, then we’re doing this wrong. I know that statistically, several of you have probably had miscarriages or may have them in the future. And you are so far from alone—which brings me to my second point.
This one is about loneliness and whether or not our God understands. Before I get into the weeds with this, I want to point out that when Jesus understands it also means God the Father understands and the Holy Spirit understand. They are one. I find this in Hebrews 1: “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” And in Colossians 1: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” And in Colossians 2: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Don’t buy into the lie that Jesus is on our side, his Father is up there throwing thunderbolts, and the Holy Spirit is doing woo-woo things with extroverts over there.
I’ve heard some say that Mary can understand childbirth in a way that our Savior cannot, so they’d prefer to ask for her intercession over it. I’m not here to poo-poo anyone’s particular beliefs on that topic, but I do want to question the idea that our Christ is distant from us in one of our greatest times of need. Obviously he never physically went through it. But I would argue that he understands the female experience better than you might think at first. One reason is Romans 8:26: “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” That sounds, to me, like a God who gets it, who knows how heavy life can be for us. Another reason is that Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, whom he was about to resurrect, and wept. I think he wept for the pain of the presence of death in the world, and for his friends’ grief, and for being physically faced with his friend succumbing to the brokenness of creation. If selfish humans are capable of empathy, surely a God so tender and wise can empathize well with the unique pain of miscarriage.
The third reason I believe God understands is because of Christ’s passion. This was best illustrated to me in a song. It’s from one of my favorite albums, by a husband and wife pair who couldn’t read music and so they went through a hymnal making up their own tunes to old words. I had always overlooked this particular track before—it’s quieter than the others, like an afterthought, and sung by a man. But I had printed off the sheet music for the album and was playing through one day when the lyrics and quietly triumphant melody, played by my hands and sung by my voice, suddenly felt very personal. It was like God, through these words, was specifically addressing each of the wounds from my miscarriage.
I’d love it if you’d pause and give it a listen HERE, or scroll down for the lyrics.
Miscarriage is lonely and makes you feel trapped, as there is no way out but through—Jesus sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane, begging for the cup of suffering to pass from him, while his friends slept. Miscarriage is bloody—Jesus’ wounds were deep and red. Some women are deserted by friends or endure extremely hurtful comments regarding their miscarriages—Jesus was publicly denied by his friend Peter three times. The process of losing a baby can be physically humiliating and scary, as it was for me—Jesus suffered shame, scorn, and disgrace. Miscarriage is one of the many tragedies coming from a creation broken by sin. “But they whom sin has wounded sore find healing in the wounds he bore.” The beauty and the wonder is that Christ’s death paved the way for our redemption, and his resurrection is our hope for ours. I hope that whether you’ve experienced miscarriage, or you’ve had some other lonely, painful experience, this song will encourage you.
This last bit is about scars, permanence, remembering and redemption. Some people just want to move on when they have a miscarriage, and I cast no judgment their way. My reaction has been that I want Afton to be remembered. I am grateful that we got to see him, to know that he was a boy, and to talk about him in definite terms. I find myself wanting to talk about his brief presence in our family—he was here, he was real, he mattered. He left an indelible mark on us and divided our lives in a terrible and beautiful way into the Before and the After. I see a parallel in how Jesus’ healed, resurrected body bore the scars of his crucifixion. Now, the holes in His hands are not just marks of sorrow and indescribable physical and spiritual pain, but of joy and triumph. He is not only the firstborn of all creation, but also the firstborn from the dead—his empty grave points the way for all of us who live in Him. This life we are living today matters and is part of our eternal story. One day, my scars will be transformed as my body and soul are renewed.
In the new creation, as Sally Lloyd-Jones writes in “The Jesus Storybook Bible”, “everything sad will come untrue”. We live in a cursed land—loved ones die, we get cancer, we have chronic illness, we have pain and suffering and so many frustrations and tears. From what I read in the Bible, it does not sound like these facts will just disappear or cease to matter when we reach eternal joy. My hope rests neither on forgetting the wrongs of this world, nor on seeing my third baby again one day—though I do hope for that. Instead, my hope rests on the One who will redeem all of this mess, who is making a new thing, who brings beauty out of ashes, who takes our sin and our pain and who hands us wholeness and joy, and who will one day wipe away the tears from our eyes.
Deep were His wounds, and red on cruel Calvary
As on the cross he bled in bitter agony;
But they whom sin has wounded sore find healing in the wounds He bore.
But they whom sin has wounded sore find healing in the wounds He bore.
He suffered shame and scorn and wretched, dire disgrace;
Forsaken and forlorn, He hung there in our place.
But all who would from sin be free, look to His cross for victory.
But all who would from sin be free, look to His cross for victory.
His life, His all He gave when He was crucified;
Our burdened souls to save, what a fearful death He died.
But each of us though dead in sin through Christ's eternal life may win.
But each of us though dead in sin through Christ's eternal life may win.
Words by William Johnson, 1953.
If any of you have gone through this or are looking for information on what going through a late missed miscarriage is like, please email me. I'd be happy to talk.
There is something about the pool.
The line to pay stretches out the door and stinks of beer sweat. It’s a sunny day and we’re not wasting it, none of us.
The dressing rooms are crowded and stressful. Everyone walks in together, boys and girls, to a psychedelic rainbow-lit hallway. It’s a row of a few dozen individual stalls; you go into one side and emerge on the other in your suit. Find a locker, dump your stuff, and close it with your rubber entrance bracelet. Join the claustrophobic crowd waddling on wet floors down the narrow passage. Don’t use the bathroom, if you know what’s good for you. You emerge from the locker room exhilarated at having survived it.
We’re mostly parents--only here because our kids wanted to come, yet we’re not having the worst time either. Nothing makes us happier than making our kids happy. That is the uniting factor here: old and young, single parents and double, one child or many, fruit of our wombs or flown in from another continent--we paid kind of a lot of money in order to cram ourselves into choking lycra and chase them around and get splashed in the face, jiggling as we go, trying not to run into other parents doing the same thing. All for some smiles (or some exercise or some therapy or some life skills--I won’t pretend all parents are as short-sighted as we are).
I have friends who refuse to swim in public pools, and I don’t think that’s an unwise position.
We spot a two-foot span of empty cement next to a lady sunning her back with her bikini unclipped; my husband spreads my towel for me then heads for the baby pool with our enthused minions. We all know what’s in the baby pool.
We’re a tribe of lumpy flesh and crowded bodies: wedgies, cleavage, speedoes (loose trunks not allowed!), bikinis, swimming dresses, love handles, cellulite, scars, sunburns, stretch-marks, bald and hairy spots, regrettable tattoos. Entrance bracelets dangle on our arms like notches on a procreation belt, one for each of our children. Or one for each of our living children, if you think of it that way, which I do now. Only two six-packs in the whole place, and those are both rippling under shaven and oiled torsos above feet which kick a soccer ball in the grass over there. I see 20-year-old dads, matching high-and-tights with their toddlers, and I see women who could be grandmas or could be moms, you never know with the smoking and the tanning and the hard lives. Oh, the humiliation we endure, putting our flaws on display! But we’re not looking up, we’re looking down at our dunking, sputtering offspring.
The Belgians are comfortable with the crowd. When I sit on the pool stairs for a bit, my little boy rests his hand on the thigh of the lady next to me and she doesn’t flinch or even look.
There is one girl posed on the edge of the baby pool with no attachments in sight. Later I see her leaving alone. She’s free of lumps, a perfect olive hue, big sunglasses, shaved head except for a towering bun of ombre dreads piled artfully on top. I wonder how she can stand the chaos and what she is thinking. She stands up and walks away and I realize two things: there is a whole world--childless or childfree but there doesn’t seem to be a neutral world for it--on the grassy side of that hedge right there, and she is escaping to it. Second thing: she has laces tattooed up the back of her calves, topped with red ink bows.
I lounge on my towel on the cement, as much as someone with zero muscle tone can lounge with nothing to support her but her own muscles, and the lady with the Belgian flag bikini sits down next door, six inches away. I flop to my stomach and my wet three-year-old dives in for a quick cuddle. The lady to my other side softly asks me in French to fasten her bikini top. I understand the intent if not all the words and pause for a split second--am I really about to engage in this way with a stranger when I’m not completely sure what she said? I dive in and snap it. She thanks me profusely. I realize that she’s been trapped there on her stomach for a few minutes trying to refasten it, and maybe working up the nerve to ask for help.
All the teenagers are in line for the thing inside that we’ve come to call the Crazy River. Don’t put your little kids on it. Just don’t. It has a distinctly unamerican disregard for safety. The inside pools are heated but we don’t mess with them today.
It’s 77 degrees and sunny. It’s a perfect day, one of three or four that we’ll see this summer. We’re all at the pool here together.
Perhaps some of you are reading this to find out what you’re in for, and perhaps some of you are reading to decide whether SHAPE is for you, as you’re lucky enough to have some say in the matter. Regardless, I want to preface this with a thousand disclaimers, which boil down to: this is one woman’s opinion. (Don’t blame me if you move here and decide I was wrong!) I like to judge an opinion by knowing who it’s coming from, so a very brief biography: I’m a third-generation Army wife with roots on both coasts; I’ve been doing this Army thing with my husband for 10 years, including three overseas tours (two in Europe and one in Asia); I have two young kids; we’ve purposefully pursued overseas assignments because we think they’re awesome; I do my best to like wherever we live because otherwise life is sad. So.
The most glaringly obvious thing to mention is that SHAPE is different.
It’s not American, so the installation itself comes with a host of unfamiliar sights, sounds, activities, and cultures. All 28 NATO member nations are represented at this base. You’ll see soldiers in a visual potpurri of uniforms taking beers in front of the cafe in the midafternoon, while housewives sit with cigarettes and cappuccinos nearby. You’ll hear people who don’t speak the same language communicating as best they can in English or French, though you’re likely to hear Italian, Turkish, or German floating by as well. You’ll meet American moms who have their kids in the Canadian school, Belgians who have their kids in the American school, bilingual families trying to decide between German, American, and British schools. You can get library books in French, Norwegian, Croation, etc. as well as in English. The speed limit on base is a little higher than the 15 kph you might expect, there’s “motorbike” parking in front of the grocery store, and look out for some cultural confusion in the roundabouts! The on-base bureaucracy is, quite frankly, a labyrinth bathed in molasses, so best to come mentally prepared for that. The year-round festivals for each NATO country are plenteous and scrumptious. You will not find a mini-America here. (Go to Chièvres Air Base for that.) I would call the SHAPE experience slightly less comfortable but a lot more culturally rich than your typical American installation overseas.
One of our many bovine neighbors
Like any military base, though, it does have a distinct culture from what’s around it, after you make your way past the typical near-base blight (abandoned car dealerships, a sketchy club, a burned-out building--but we all know you could find those things next to almost any military base). Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium where SHAPE is, is a pleasantly low-key place that rocks the shabby chic. The roads are potholed, but the drivers may let you in--and their priority-to-the-right rule is the single most civilized driving concept I’ve ever encountered. (On paper, that is. In real life it doesn't always turn out quite so civilized.) Like everywhere in Europe, the modern and practical is mixed with the ancient, the elegant, and the crumbling--efficient apartments next to rambling farm houses, cow pastures next to gas stations, butchers next to computer repair places, a gargantuan cement factory straddling the banks of a quaint canal, grand chateaux nestled in suburban sprawl. And in a style very typical of this particular place, everywhere, bricks: bleak city-house bricks pressing in along narrow roads; perfectly weathered country bricks tracing the path of where a chimney used to be; sleek new beige bricks on an energy-conserving modern house; ivy-laden pockmarked bricks on that bit of falling-down wall in the pasture; the creepy brick spines of early 20th-century coal-fortune mansions. Bricks to walk on and bricks arching above you. I even saw a small brick building being transported on a truck once; I don't know how that's possible, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
And then there’s the climate. It, along with the northern latitude, was my top concern about moving here. We’ve been here a year and a half now, and I came prepared for the darkest, gloomiest, rainiest existence I could take--and I’ll tell you that these expectations were not met. Yes, it is frequently misting and it rains often enough, but we see the sun more than I expected. Yes, in the winter it gets dark awfully early and stays dark late, but when the spring comes around the tilt of the earth moves awfully fast in the other direction--catastrophically, even, for a mom of young kids who like to be up when the sun is--and you find yourself photographing the remnants of the sunset at 11 PM. (Dear everyone who lives north of here: respect and excellent black-out shades to you, brave folk.) The whole cycle from dark to light is a little bit extreme, but it’s certainly no Alaska or Norway. With the proper window dressing, eye masks, and maybe a little light therapy lamp and vitamin D for the winter you’ll be fine.
A typical "snow day"
You will find yourself wearing your fleece and rain jacket in every month of the year here, and there’s a pleasant stability to it with the temperature being between 45 and 65 Farenheit most of the time. Yet it is not without variety. Winter is dark and cloudy, no doubt. But in March the sun breaks through and winds push shapeshifting clouds across the blue. Last April for two weeks our weather was exactly the same as Sicily’s. In May we had daily 10-minute hailstorms. In July we groaned sleepless under ceiling fans for a week, the heat blanketing us. There are swings that keep things interesting, but the weather always returns to something reasonable, if a tad moist.
After only a year, I’m not sure how to speak about the culture without engaging in the most base stereotyping, but I’ll try. Wallonia is not the "northern-European" creature that many expect--I know now that would be Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north. Locals have more in common with the French than with the Dutch. Francophones love their language dearly, and they appreciate it when you try to speak it. Aside from those associated with SHAPE, you often won’t find much English spoken. There is a delectable, wry sense of humor that runs through the current of daily life and transcends language. The Mons area has historically had a very heavily Italian influence, which is evident from the restaurants to the culture to the number of “I” plates you see around. The Montoise, like elsewhere in Belgium, love their mussels, their fries--or their potatoes in any form--their waffles, and of course their beer and chocolate.
One of the loveliest things about the area around SHAPE is how green it is, even in January. The grass is lush year-round. If you leave the confines of base, you will find a fascinating area with plenty to explore. Whether it’s one in a string of overseas assignments or your only foray into the rest of the world, I believe it’s worth it.
A local summer scene
This is my attempt to bring to life for you one of the military’s slightly more obscure postings. Growing up an Army brat, I would occasionally hear about SHAPE and be left with so many questions. 1- It’s in Belgium? 2- Why is it called that?? 3- Who gets stationed there? We’ve been here for a year now and I’ve learned some answers: 1- In fact, yes! 2- Because acronyms! 3- A small number but a wide variety of people. My intent here is to wax eloquent on some of the basic facts of life at SHAPE. Part II will cover more of the feeling of living here.
SHAPE stands for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. It’s different from any American military base, because it isn’t one--it’s a NATO installation. It’s where the military headquarters of NATO are located. People from every NATO member nation are stationed here, so the group is diverse. You get access with a NATO ID card. (In fact, it’s possible while stationed here to lose your U.S. military ID for weeks without realizing it. Ask me how I know!) It is located in the suburbs of the university town of Mons in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium.
Hôtel de Ville on the Grand-Place in Mons
SHAPE is complemented by Chièvres Air Base, 25 minutes up the road. This is a small installation, complete with American amenities like Commissary, PX, gym, lodging, barracks, thrift shop, kennel, library. Everything else is located at SHAPE: schools, CDC, clinic, mailroom, most jobs, the main chapel, some housing, library, gym and pool, club, book shop, et cetera. Most people would agree that SHAPE is the center of life while stationed here. There is some government housing available, some located on SHAPE and near Chièvres and some spread throughout the area, but most Americans live in rentals on the economy.
At the local zoo (a major tourist attraction), Pairi Daiza
The clinic is basic and for any specialists or baby-having you will have to go off base to a Belgian doctor, of which there are plenty of local options or almost-local options in Brussels. The clinic staff makes this easy. Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is also an option, if the minimum three hour drive floats your boat.
There is a grocery store on SHAPE--Carrefour, a common local brand. Along with food, it carries a small selection of household electronics, baby items and clothing and is a great resource for getting set up when you first move here. Americans do not pay certain taxes in this particular store when they shop with their SHAPE ID, so buy your new vacuum and iPhone here and not on the economy!
There is a CDC on SHAPE, along with several off-base care options for young kids and even more options once they reach age two and a half (when Belgian public preschool starts). There is an American DoDEA school on SHAPE, as well as others: a Canadian school, British school, Belgian school, and several others. Some parents apply to send their kids to other countries’ schools. It is also not uncommon for parents to send their kids to off-base Belgian schools, which are free and open to all residents.
SHAPE is in such an excellent location for travelling to diverse locales that sometimes just staying in country gets overlooked. It is 45 minutes from Brussels, and one and a half hours from Antwerp and Bruges (actually, just about everywhere in Belgium is less than two hours away). Belgium borders France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg. SHAPE is 25 minutes from the French border, two hours from Aachen (Germany), less than three hours from Paris and Amsterdam, and just a few from London. Belgium itself is drenched in history from both world wars and further back, has beaches on the North Sea, and includes small but beautiful wild mountains in the Ardennes.
Grand-Place in Brussels
It is a trilingual country--primarily with French in the Wallonian south and Dutch in the Flemish north, but also German. Geographically, it is relatively flat but not overwhelmingly so, and it has with a temperate maritime climate--cool, but not too cold and not too hot. Winter is long and summer is short, but everything is marvelously green year-round. I’ll expound the climate next time, as it’s a frequent concern raised by those moving here.
OK, you say, I am starting to get the facts. But what is it like? How does living there feel? Well, please stay tuned for Part II.
SHAPE Fest, an annual celebration of all the NATO countries
I resolve to sing hymns with friends.
I resolve to stop moaning and learn some French. (Update: the other day at the tennis club I overheard and understood a grandpa sighing “La vie est pas facile…” How appropriate.)
I resolve to occasionally be on time, sometimes even with my hair dried.
I resolve to look in the mirror less, and when I do, to never again label my body pathetic or weak or broken or to throw any other curses at this thing the Lord has knit together and sustained.
I resolve that even if I spend another whole year in survival mode, I will accept it not with resentment but with gratitude, not with worry and white knuckles but with humility and open hands. I resolve to greet each day with gladness as a thing the Lord has put in front of me, to do this even if my hands only swell more and my knees never fully straighten, if pain remains a constant and if my wonky eye turns out to be a Thing. I will hold in front of me the words “He makes me lie down in green pastures”, so when He literally does this I will remember it is out of or for goodness.
I resolve to dare to want and to dream, two things I am terrible at, and not to fall into the comfortable rut of no expectations. I resolve to hold my wants and dreams loosely in the face of a generous God who says yes, a wise God who says no.
I resolve to speak truth instead of tickling ears with flattery.
I resolve to become a reader again. I resolve to read fewer headlines and more articles. I resolve to not consume so much of the internet that I am utterly jaded. I resolve to read more of my friends’ blogs and fewer of strangers’. I resolve to actually answer personal emails sometimes. And also: books. Those are a thing.
I resolve to hold my kids’ souls tight and their bodies loosely. I will get lessons for my daughter in the instrument she wants to play, not in the one I wanted her to play. I will not treat my son like an alien--but man, boys are weird, am I right?
I resolve to stay in touch with the dear ones, the ones who slip away so naturally with the kind of life we lead. I resolve to let neither shyness nor laziness nor time zones stop me.
I resolve to continue buying pain au chocolat every blessed time I go into the grocery store, because life is short and European tours are shorter. I resolve to try not to devour them immediately in the car in the parking lot in a ravenous carb-lust. Yay planning!
I resolve to not tally up my ten thousand small failures, or yours, because His mercies are new every morning.
I resolve to not trouble you with any more blog posts in which I repeat a word so very much. Here’s a pseudoinspirational picture of a shrubbery.
::Bertha the Sleepy Blog Bear stirs from hibernation, streeeeetches, tries to hit snooze and smacks her paw on a rock, resentfully concludes that it really is time to get up::
(I once had a high school substitute teacher write “Bertha” instead of “Martha” on a bathroom pass. I was devastated, but boy did it improve my enunciation.)
So. This is a post about a Kickstarter campaign. No, wait, read it, you may at least forget the monotony of your life for a minute, and I won’t even call you out if you don’t give! (Unlike my husband’s high school annual gift campaign...)
Parenthetical expressions, animal metaphors, and ::these thingies:: aside: I’ve reemerged to present to you a concrete way to support military families. I almost didn’t write this, because…awkward. Self-licking ice cream cone and all that. But then I remembered that I’m not only writing this for me or families like mine. Here’s the thing about military life:
You may know that with few exceptions the Army and other services, for mostly antiquated reasons, make military families move every 2 to 3 years (or after 1 year, or after 18 months…). It is exhausting. (I happen to mostly like living overseas, but even so this most recent move is going to go down in history as the Move That Broke Me. No fault of the location, or our amazing sponsors, or anything other than sheer exhaustion.) If you know our Gypsy Camp, you know that we have for diverse reasons requested several overseas assignments. That is not the case with many people who are sent hither, thither, and yon. Many military families want nothing more than to attempt to maintain normalcy, in the same state/country/continent as “home”, and yet are not allowed to. Some have never even left their home state until they step off the plane in the new country: sweaty, sleepy, jetlagged, confused kids in tow, airport germs incubating, wondering if their dogs survived hold and if their ride will show up at the airport for them and if their household goods have molded and if their car will get dropped into the Bay of Naples…and so on. Some of those things they aren’t worrying about yet, but they will learn the hard way to worry about them soon.
Some eagerly jet away from home and find unexpected hardships in the new location. Some move reluctantly, then find that they thrive and don’t regret it for a moment. You just never know. Regardless, for pride or humility or not wanting to whine or not wanting to gloat, we all do our best to make it look good on the other side of the Facebooks and the Instagrams. That’s the part that you see back home. The curated, sanitized part. But let me tell you, there is a lot of floundering, getting lost, struggling, bureaucrat-battling, crying, being foiled again, and frustration behind the scenes.
These are two extreme cases, the travellers and the homebodies above. But we both benefit hugely from resources like these Overseas Yes websites—currently Germany Ja, Korea Ye, Okinawa Hai, and Turkey Tamam. They provide all kinds of information about military locations abroad, from housing to navigating bureaucracy to schooling to outings to restaurants to all new activities. Watch the Kickstarter video for a more complete idea of what the websites do. Okinawa Hai helped in deciding whether I was OK with moving there (odd situation—we had a bit of a choice), with finding toddler-friendly things to do on the island, and with dealing with logistics on our way out of the country with a dog. In turn, I was able to share on Okinawa Hai about some of my more unique experiences after I got my footing. Especially when you’re having a hard time or when budget is a major factor—as it is for many military families—it really, really helps to have a little nudge, a little extra info so you can plan best, or just a great idea to get out of the house.
Yes, most bases do have Facebook groups, but let’s be real for a second: those, alone, are only marginally helpful. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
So if you have even $10 to help de-stress military families headed to places like mainland Japan, Bahrain (can you put that on a map?), Guam, and maybe even one day little old Belgium and other European locations besides Germany, please support this campaign. If you need me to twist your arm, I could tie it in to mental health (It’s in YOUR power to reduce stress and anxiety on frazzled Household Sixes* everywhere!) or plain old national security (You know that the active duty family member works best when the home is happy, physically together, and if not thriving then in possession of hope that they soon will be.) So give to this Kickstarter; it’s basically as patriotic as enlisting yourself, but you get to stay in your pajamas! ‘Merica!
Or at least pass the word on to your rich uncle?
*Facetious term for military spouses, AKA the ones who run the households. There, you learned something. (And I just learned how to spell “facetious”. From spell check.)
We just spent two nights in Bruges and if someone were to make a word cloud of it, except not a cloud more like just a list, it would go something like: cold rainy COLD dangerous stairs traditional Flemish step-gable houses really old stuff Christmas bells KIDS' NIGHTMARES so much walking medieval medical instruments aaaahhh primitive Flemish masters how many things could my kids get maimed by in this city canals and vistas down them Venice Venice Venice medieval TRADE capitalism so expensive but why does the indoor port have to be gone? stroller wheels on cobblestones WAFFLES chocolate beer horse! drawn! carriages!
Being a person who falls no less prey to the monster of internet jealousy than the next, I've always struggled with how much to blog about travelling. I'd be lying to you if I didn't say my first reaction upon seeing Europe photos when I live anywhere else is--I won't put a rosy lens on it--green-faced, angry envy. But I'm sure you're all much better people than I am, and the long and the short of it is that I've decided that it would be stingier to keep it to myself. (After all, you clicked the link...unless I baited you into that? I will TOTALLY take you to Bruges if you come visit. After we get thoroughly lost while driving there because I get lost when talking and driving, as anyone who has had the misfortune to visit me anywhere knows.) Anyway, this is my pledge to you that I will share 20 photos (or fewer, if you're lucky) of anywhere we take a major trip to.