Tips for Surviving a Military Move

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We’ve begun the process for our next big military move, so I thought I would give you a few tips for how to enjoy random strangers handling your underwear and antique china while you eat pizza off of a Frisbee because you accidentally packed the paper plates while wondering when the government is going to patent the cloak of invisibility it loaned your husband. (Hint: they call the cloak “out-processing.”)

The sarcasm is strong, folks.

You’ll be tempted to complain about the fact that a power of attorney is the Holy Grail of paperwork while that fancy marriage certificate might as well be TP in the latrines. Allow me to teach you a mantra: “This is the military. Logic does not apply.” Repeat as necessary or until comatose.

Sort through and organize all your stuff because the packers will appreciate how much easier it will be to find your throw pillows to pack with your Chinese wok and your husband’s old work boots.

Cull your children’s toys to sell at the garage sale because we all know there’s nothing better for a kid whose life is being turned upside-down than getting rid of that “most favorite of all” broken McDonalds toy that said child hasn’t played with in two years.

Yell “Why do we have so much stuff?!?” every half hour throughout the packing process. It’s the military wife version of the primal scream. It also keeps your packers slightly terrified which is a good mental state for packing ceramics and glass.

Expose your children to as many friends and public places as possible as you say goodbye to your home to insure they’ll be good and sick when the move happens, preferably with different illnesses to pass between themselves during leave.

Buy an industrial-sized box of toothbrushes from Sam’s Club with which to clean your garbage can according to the housing management company’s standards. 

Pin every possible restaurant, museum, and recreational facility near your new post on Pinterest because you’ll want to document how many things you never try to do. 

Schedule a haircut, a dental visit, chiropractic adjustment, oil change, date night, and that visit from the Mormons you’ve been putting off all on the same day because you’re moving and you’re not looking for a new stylist, dentist, chiropractor, mechanic, babysitter, or religion for at least two months after you get to the new post.

Eat chocolate and drink coffee. I personally don’t like coffee, but I make an exception for packing household goods. Java chip frappuccinos are my drug of choice until someone invents a portable caffeine IV drip. Get thee to a Starbucks.

And most of all, keep your sense of humor. Preferably dark humor. It’s the best kind.

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How a Baptist Does Lent

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Some people think really hard about what to fast from for Lent. I’m a Baptist, and we don’t “do” Lent, so my choice to give something up for it was an odd impulse decision. I’d had several long discussions with my sister about social media and my frustrations with it, and rather late in the evening on Ash Wednesday we both decided to fast from social media. My only social media is Facebook, and I don’t have it on my phone, so you might think this was no big deal for me. You’d be right. Lent for me was not about the fasting so much as focus, so giving up social media removed a primary distraction.

I wanted to focus on fellowship with other believers, not an online facsimile of it. I wanted to invite people into my home more often. I wanted to spend the time I usually spend on Facebook on things that make me a better Christian, better mom, and better wife. I wanted to read my bible more consistently. I wanted to get more sleep because the secret to holiness is adequate shut-eye when you’re a mom of three. I wanted to work on my novel.

I was unevenly successful. I spent entirely too much time watching backlist episodes of Good Mythical Morning and Blimey Cow on YouTube. I didn’t get any extra sleep, but my littlest is primarily responsible for that. I didn’t work on my novel much. I did, however, work on lots of blog posts and even finished several! I had a few fun days baking and cooking with friends while my children scribbled all over the back porch with sidewalk chalk. I even read a daily bible study for Lent. It was good to unplug.

But the fundamental thing I learned from saying goodbye to Facebook is this: don’t do it right before a big move without explaining what you’re doing. It makes people think you are mad at them and hiding in your house.

All of you who do not suffer from unbelievable social awkwardness are shaking your heads. You don’t know the half of it. Only I would choose a Lenten fast that accidentally confuses and insults people.

Chalk art by McCary

Between Lakes and Oceans

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It’s getting to the end of our time in Georgia. We are checking items off our bucket list such as visiting SeaWorld one last time or eating at our favorite burger joint in Savannah. As a chaplain family, we can expect to move every two to three years, but specific training or “school” can mean as little as six months in a post. This means that about the time a place starts to feel normal, we leave. But moving house is just one piece of the story.

It is wise for military chaplains to experience many different types of battalions early in their career as it prepares them for the duties of higher ranks. This means that my husband went from a cavalry squadron (the soldiers heading into a war zone to do reconnaissance, but they ride helicopters, humvees, or tanks instead of horses) to a support battalion (the soldiers stabilizing the wounded, fixing humvees, hauling water and food, and generally keeping everything and everyone running). Our new adventure that begins this summer is hospital chaplaincy training. My husband will be the chaplain at a soldier’s bedsides when he or she is suffering the aftermath of the ugliest war has to offer. It is, as a mentor put it, “Ranger School for chaplains.”

This life is in stark contrast to my childhood experience. My family lived in the same house and my dad worked at the same job my entire childhood. We practically wore a rut in the road from our house to my maternal grandparents’ home on the other side of the lake. We were as settled as we could be in our neighborhood, church, and homeschool group, and sometimes I miss that feeling of stability and familiarity. I look at pictures of my birthday parties, the faces mostly the same each year, and ponder that my children will never have the same set of friends longer than a few years. I think of that rut in the lake road and mourn that grandparents will always be hours or days away. FaceTime calls only reach so far, and wanderlust suppresses homesickness only so long. It’s why you hear experienced military wives talk about “forever homes” with wistful looks and long sighs.

But as I have pondered how this life has affected me so far, I keep coming back to euryhaline fish. Stay with me through some science talk.

Homeostasis is how an organism regulates its biological processes to maintain optimal functioning in its environment. If you have or know someone who has insulin-dependent diabetes, you know exactly how this works. In a diabetic one of the mechanisms of homeostasis has broken down and the person must consciously monitor and regulate blood sugars and insulin to survive. All organisms adapt to their environments, but there are limits to how far that adaptation stretches. Most fish can survive only in either fresh or salt water. If you take a fish from the ocean and toss it in a lake, its cells will take on water until they burst and the fish becomes an ex-fish. But a euryhaline fish can survive and thrive in both fresh and salt water because they can regulate the amount of water that enters their cells.

Okay, stop nodding off. I have an important point to make!

Everyone experiences change, but with the military it is often sudden and extreme. One of my friends moved from Georgia to Japan with barely a month’s notice. Another came to Georgia from Germany. In cultural, social, and spiritual terms, I’d call that the equivalent of being picked up out of the ocean and thrown into a lake. And as in homeostasis, the work that must be done to survive that type of change is internal. You can hang new curtains, paint a wall, discover new parks for the kids, and expand your palate, but survival depends on your heart.

As my husband begins the next chapter of his job in a brand-new city, we will encounter situations I cannot imagine, and if our marriage and ministry are to thrive, I have to adapt at the heart level. I am a cerebral sort who leads with facts and logic, so I’m reading Grunt by Mary Roach to get my head around what he will see in the hospital from day to day. While I house hunt on Zillow, I pray for a sensitive compassionate spirit that is tender when he is hurting at the end of a long day. While I look for churches, play groups, museums, and hiking trails, I memorize verses on how God binds up wounds and is close to the brokenhearted. This fish intends to survive and thrive no matter where He sends me.

Maybe one of those places I’ll finally figure out how to grill salmon.

Oh look! We found Dory!

Oh look! We found Dory!

What’s In A Name?

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Why platypus? What are we asking it? And what possessed me to name my blog such a thing?

Many moons ago in middle school I gave a report about echidnas. Thus was born a love of all egg-laying mammals. I long to visit them in Australia, and I’ve fantasized about a pet platypus, so it was natural to think of a platypus when I went to name my blog.

First of all, my writing is weird. I’ve written about ghosts, mermaids in the Gulf of Mexico, tall green men on Mars, and a musician in post-apocalyptic Kansas. I’ve also been told that my current novel doesn’t easily fit into a particular genre. The first time I tried to explain the plot of my novel, my friend scratched his head and said, “My brain hurts. Start over.” My posts are similarly scatterbrained.

Memories of my experiences as a pastor’s wife

A short story about killer snowmen

Stream-of-consciousness-style rant

To quote Charles Wallace in A Wrinkle In Time, I’m “…not flesh nor fowl nor good red herring.” I’m a weird little platypus.

The other reason I chose a platypus is simple: have you ever looked at a platypus? They are hilarious. I like to imagine God putting all the spare parts from the rest of the animals into a box, shaking the box, and dumping it out with a giggle in Australia. It has a duck bill, a beaver tail, and venomous spurs on its ankles. It lays eggs and sees underwater by sensing electrical signals. People thought the taxidermized animals coming from the Outback were fake. I suspect all egg-laying mammals were a divine prank on naturalists.

But most of all, there’s a delightful sense of whimsy in the humble platypus. She is entirely nonsensical and adorable, and God clearly designed her to be amusing. If we are made in His image, then we are made to appreciate the joke and the Comedian. In that vein, I created “True Tales of Unbelievable Social Awkwardness.” If you want to laugh with me (or at me is fine, too), take a look at these posts:

The Embarrassment of Emily Rose

Spa Pizza Hut

The Consequences of Three Instead of Two

(I have six more tales at various draft stages, but I’m sure I’ll never run out of them.)

I hope this blog is amusing as well as inspiring, just like a platypus. And I’m grateful for all the wonderful people who take the time to read it.

I believe God has a terrific sense of humor. If you do not believe me…

O Come, Emmanuel!

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My favorite Christmas story actually takes place after the birth of Christ. Jesus had been circumcised and named according to Jewish law, and Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem to present their firstborn at the temple. Can I set the scene for you? The story is found in Luke 2:22-35.

The temple was the center of Jewish religious life, and I picture it bustling from dawn to dusk, full of people waiting to see a priest about their skin conditions, money-changers hawking their wares, and pens of animals for sacrifice. A young woman carries her newborn while her husband handles the two doves for the sin offering required after the birth of a child. Doves are the lesser offering for those who cannot not afford a lamb. At barely over a week after the birth of her child, the young mother is tired and sore, but the law must be followed. They are faces like any other in a loud and busy crowd. We only notice them because someone else did. His name was Simeon.

Simeon lived his entire life in expectation of the Savior of Israel. He is described as righteous and devout, and some sources believe he was a rabbi. God guided Simeon to the temple that morning by the voice of the Spirit.

Imagine how many times he had been in the temple, hoping for this exact moment. How many decades of waiting have built up to this day? I picture him near the entrance to the Court of the Gentiles, shading his eyes to look at every person passing through the gates. He glimpses a young mother with her baby, and his heart leaps.

“Simeon, this child is my promised Messiah.”

In that moment, we hear the death rattle of the Old Covenant and catch our first glimpse of the New. In the Holy of Holies, a thread in the veil is loosening.

Simeon has lived his entire life looking for the salvation of his people. Modern Christians often forget Israel was looking for a political savior, not a spiritual one. The traditions of the Pharisees and teachers had long convinced the Jews that the law was the permanent way to salvation, and it stands to reason that Simeon would have been expecting a warrior-king like David who would free Israel from Rome. His old heart must have ached as he looked at the newborn and realized he would never see his people freed from their Roman oppressors.

Simeon steps forward to this little family and asks to hold the helpless infant. This is the unremarkable beginning of the God-Man. The miracles and ministry, the triumphal entry, the trial, the cross, the burial, and the resurrection are over thirty years away. He is just the baby of a poor carpenter and his young wife, born out of scandal in a stable for animals, but Simeon prophesies what He will become.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Did anyone notice this moment? Did the rest of the crowd hear this prophecy? Every prophet, priest, and king from Genesis to Malachi was hoping they would live to see Messiah’s rescue, but Simeon holds Him in his arms. He blesses the child and his parents, and then he prophesies again to Mary, “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will through your own soul also) so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:21-35 (ESV))
This child is so much more than a warrior-king. He will turn an entire world upside down. He will call the holiest among the Jews fools, blind guides, and “whitewashed tombs.” He will command nature, sickness, demons, and even death, and all will obey. He will shatter expectations, destroy temples, break down prejudices, and reveal sin. In Simeon’s prophecy we are reminded that this newborn baby will be a Man of Sorrows, the Lamb of God, by whose stripes we are healed. This is the hope of Advent. This is the power of the Nativity.
May our hearts be full of hope this Christmas. He is coming again, brothers and sisters. Let us look to His return and the end of fear, pain, sin, and death. Echo Simeon’s prayer over the infant Christ: “…my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 
Merry Christmas! O come, Emmanuel!
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