Last week we celebrated our ten-year anniversary.  I catalogued the decade by looking through our wedding album, the album from our first year of marriage, and then lamenting the fact that not a single photo from years 2-10 has made it into an album.

As I flipped through a few of my favorites from our wedding day, I pulled this one out to leave near the coffee pot.  I scrawled a short note on a post-it to accompany the photo and started thinking about what I’d tell that girl in the picture and jotted a few notes to myself. 

I’m sharing here because this might be what you need to read today, and it’s probably what I will need to read again next week. 

Dear Katye, on your wedding day,

I love the joy I see on your face.  You know why you said yes to this gypsy life, you have only an inkling of what it will require of you, and yet you cannot wait to do life together with this man.  Don’t ever lose that.  That joy – fueled by love and embraced by choice – will be your compass.  Hold his hand and remember that no matter where you go, as long as you’re together, you’re never lost.

Here’s 10 tips from 10 years down the road:

Remember why you’re “here.”

No matter where the military sends you, you’re there because he picked you, and you said “YES” and “I DO.”  As tough as military life can be on a marriage, and as much as you really may not love some of the places you’re sent, you’re there because you chose to be together and you’d rather be with him in the Badlands than without him anywhere else.  You’re stronger together and your partnership makes your life in the military better. Take care of HIM, take care of YOU, take care of your “us.”  Those little things will be life-giving as you pour out into your unit and your community.

Be you.  Wear your pearls. 

Plenty of well-meaning individuals will offer advice or stories about what a particular type of spouse does or doesn’t do.  {They might even tell you to take your pearls off.} There may seem to be a lot of “should” and “do” and “be” as a military spouse, but there is no rulebook, playbook, or gospel for salvation in this life. Filter those voices that try to direct (or redirect) you.  Don’t let them silence your voice.  Learn how to listen thoughtfully, to get to know those who offer to guide you, and to discern whether their true north matches your own.  Take the best ideas, but don’t feel like you have to do it exactly their way. If you’re ever worried about doing it “right”… remember, he picked you– you exactly as you are.

You’re not alone.

Yes, you will miss your family.  You will miss your friends.  You will miss having people who know you.  It will be easier to criticize this new place or raise a skeptical eyebrow about those new neighbors than to admit the hard truths that you are lonely and homesick.  You will feel alone, even in a crowded room.  You. Are. Not. Alone. Dismiss that lie and don’t give it power in your life.  Look around, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that can remind you: You are stronger than you think and braver than you know.

Military spouses are real life superheroes and if you need a pep talk, call your mom. She’ll be your loudest cheerleader and the biggest kick in the pants when you’re having a pity party. She will remind you that it was ten times harder for her and for Gigi.  Gigi had a newborn with a husband at war and then sent him off to war for a second time while raising two kids and working full time. Mom will remind you that she has moved 26 times with her dad and your dad.  And don’t you remember that when you were little and Dad left town all she got was a number to the Pentagon?

You’re standing on the shoulders of giants.  Channel their strength and silence the bully in your head.  Then ….

Find your tribe. 

Remember those other mothers that showed up for your wedding? Rose, Paula, Donna, Nancy – they were just a few of your mom’s tribe and their laughter made life better – hers and yours.  Now it’s time to discover your people because life flourishes in community.  You’re wired for connection {we all are} and that’s where you’ll become your best self.  When we’re our best selves, we bring out the best in everyone around us.  {And together you’ll finish a half marathon or four.}

So when you find yourself looking for community, build it.  If you stare down a street of houses longing for people to hang out, put the fire pit in the driveway and make s’mores.  {If you build it, they will come.}

Gone is gone.

There isn’t a hierarchy of hard, and don’t let anyone make you feel less-than for hating every minute of a two week TDY just because it’s not 180+ days to the desert or a 365 to the other side of the world.  Every separation is the hard regardless of the distance or duration.  You chose to be together, and when the military asks you to be apart, that is not what you signed up for.  {It’s ok to be sad, just don’t dwell on it.}

Those who compare the challenges and designate who had it worst just sow division. When the military asks you to subtract one from your household, be a multiplier.  Add seats to the dinner table, and instead of staring at his empty chair, marvel at the community built among resilient moms and their kids.

Make Plans.

Don’t surrender your calendar, your goals, or your dreams to the military.  They’ll tell you that flexibility is the key to air power – I’ll tell you flexibility is key to living a fulfilling life while constantly proving your ability to stand on your head and juggle all. the. things. You may not make it to the beach every summer, but you’ll never make it if you don’t plan to try.

Celebrate special days.

Early on, you’ll discover that it’s rarely convenient to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, and you might be hard pressed to find sympathy among other military spouses.  But don’t be dissuaded by those voices encouraging you to “get used to it.”  Celebrate!  As you are, where you are, when you can.  Don’t wait for the perfect time or place.  One or two simple traditions will be all you’ll need to make memories.  Taking the time to celebrate the milestones will train you to be grateful in the mundane too.

Goodbye doesn’t get any easier, but keep making friends.

Nearly every year, whether you move or not, your world will splinter and you’ll say “see you later” to the friends who’ve been your safe space.  They’ll take a piece of your heart with them, and as you look at that moving truck unloading a new family next door, you will seriously debate whether your heart can handle making new friends.

Yes, you can. These new neighbors will be your people, too. We’re better together, and these are the friendships survive distance and transcend time.  She just might be the one who shows up at your daughter’s wedding.

Enjoy the little moments, they add up to a lifetime of memories.

Years from now you’ll celebrate your anniversary and talk about where you’ve been and how differently life has turned out compared to what you expected. You won’t remember all the vacations you didn’t take or the plans that got cancelled.  You will remember the nights you spent walking around the lake, dreaming together about the future.  You’ll laugh about driving in circles waiting for the baby to fall asleep.  You’ll remember Sunday suppers with friends and tea parties with little girls and their dolls.  It may not be exactly what you expect today, but it will be richer and fuller than you can imagine.

Thank you.

Years before Mark picked you, he raised his right hand and pledged to protect and defend.  When you said “I do,” you pledged your love and surrendered your life to follow.  In the years to come, your sacrifice will often go unseen and unheralded – but it is not unimportant.  Just as Mark salutes as a sign of respect, you salute with your life.  Thank you for serving – your example will encourage others who choose this same path.