Archive | Army

Can Time Apart Be Good for a Marriage? + A Few Thoughts on Deployment

Have you ever spent time away from your spouse?

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A younger version of us on the day Elliott was commissioned.

Maybe you were surprised at how easy some things were without him around. I’m betting most of us have. Marriage is hard work!

Earlier this year, my husband was deployed for one month, which sounds long to some and short to others, depending upon what is normal to you. But still, no matter what your normal is, a month is a month. It’s 30 days and 30 nights without your husband going through the rhythms of life with you: greeting you after work, helping you put the kids to bed, spooning you as you fall asleep, waking up with morning breath, kissing you goodbye for the day.

It’s a month without someone checking in on you, hearing the nuances of your day (both praiseworthy and not), parenting with you, and holding you accountable.

Can a break be good for a marriage? Can a deployment be a positive thing?

For us, I think it was good in some ways. Here’s why:

First of all, for us, this deployment was long anticipated. Elliott had wanted to do a “combat” tour ever since he joined the Army, but he’s been in for five years and has volunteered to go many times. And he had never gotten that chance.

For any service member, there is camaraderie in a real deployment, and there is honor in serving “over there.” So when Elliott found out that a SEAL commander needed him, urgently but probably briefly, in the Middle East, I was genuinely and truly thrilled for him.

Of course my next question was, “For how long?!?!”

Elliott said it would be a month at the most. I nodded, relieved. I thought I could handle a month.

That month apart had its really low points. I want to make that very clear! Most of them involved tired children bawling, “I want Daaaadddy! Daaaaaaadddddyyyy!” some time after 7pm. I didn’t always like the person I became at that time of day. I’d rather not ever meet her again.

But it also had adventure and renewed purpose for Elliott, and that was good for him. He is a better soldier because of it, no doubt about it, and a wiser and better man.

And here is my second point about why deployment was good for us.

That deployment had adventure and renewed purpose for me, too.

There was something about being the only adult in the house that was empowering as well as freeing. Gone were the questions like, “Is he going to do that? Or do I have to?” If the trash needed to be taken out, I had to do it. If the diaper was dirty again, I was the only one changing it. If the car or the garden or the kids or the neighbors or the government or the landlord or someone needed something…

… it was all on me.

And it was hard, yes, but in some ways it was so simple. I just had to get it done.

There’s also freedom in letting things go, especially in the kitchen. When Elliott is home, we eat dinner together as a family every night, and I work hard to make healthy, varied meals. That preparation of a main dish and a couple sides, though, routinely takes me over an hour every evening. Because 4-6pm is also post-nap-grouchy time with the kids, it’s often the most stressful time in my day.

Now, Elliott has often told me to not stress about dinner, to serve us leftovers and raw fruit and vegetables before cooking more food, and to eat things before they go bad. He also likes PB&J sandwiches for lunch every day. He’s easy to feed and easy to please. He is not holding me to this full-dinner standard. I am!

Without Elliott home, I didn’t focus quite so much on my role as home chef. As in, I barely turned on the oven. I made a lot of pasta, and I also made this weird sauerkraut and sausage thing he doesn’t like but I love. Mostly, though, we ate a lot of leftovers, a couple rotisserie chickens, and Trader Joes pizza. We cleaned out the freezer, too, which really needed to happen.

“Cleaning out the freezer” is actually a metaphor, I think, for a how a lot of wives approach their husbands’ deployments or long business trips. Just like moving or having a baby, the purging and nesting instincts kick in when your routine is disrupted. I found myself doing things I’d never do in my normal, everyday routine.

Some of them can be good. Some of them can be fun! Like watching chick flicks. I watched a lot of chick flicks the first two weeks of Elliott’s deployment. What is is about lonely nights and chick flicks? They go together like salted caramel ice cream and… me, that’s for sure.

That disruption in routine can also inspire me to take on new projects and start new things. One big change I made during Elliott’s deployment was that I applied for a writing job at a local online newspaper. I think I still would have applied whether he was here or not, but it was fun to share the exciting developments with him from afar, too. He came home to a wife who is now a paid writer for a local paper, an official reviewer of films and critic of restaurants, a local columnist with new co-workers. It gave me a boost of confidence and can-do-it attitude right at the end of his deployment.

I really liked the person I was when I just got things done – rather than the person who waits, calculating, mentally nagging, wondering if and when my husband’s going to step in and help out. I want to have a servant’s heart and a can-do attitude about life. Both of these qualities are beautiful, and I know that such an attitude – when correctly applied and received – is much more encouraging, inspiring, and refreshing at home.

And it’s amazing to make things happen! Like applying for the kind of job you’d like to have. Getting projects done. Becoming the person you’d like to be.

Now. ALL. THAT. SAID!

I have one more, final, most important thought.

It is very easy to walk away from this post (or these thoughts, for me) and think, “Maybe being apart for a month was really good! Maybe I could even be a better person if we were apart more, and I could be a better, more accomplished, more can-do wife when we’re together.”

And that attitude, I realized, is toxic.

Marriage is about togetherness. In a Christian marriage, it’s a union of two people who, with all their rough edges and quirks, are committed to helping each other become more and more like Jesus, more and more holy. And the process of becoming more like Jesus is not about building ourselves up, having our personal space, having our freedom, having our “me time.”

No, it’s about laying ourselves down.

It’s about becoming one flesh. It’s about loving one another through thick and thin, through all the changes of our lives, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

When Elliott and I made those marriage vows, we committed to living life together for the ultimate benefit of the other for the glory of God. We knew it would be hard, and that we would both change, and that we would need to adjust and accommodate. We are diamonds in the rough, and by constantly rubbing against each other – over the breakfast table, on long plane flights, through major holidays, in bed at night – we are revealing the diamonds within.

I still think the deployment and the time apart was good. We really did enjoy a lot of things about that month, and we both grew as individuals. I think it genuinely was healthy for us as a unit, too.

But I refuse to think that being away from my husband is better than being with him. I love him, and there’s not much else that compares to belonging to him in this life. And I know choosing him is right, every time. I vowed to do so, to build a marriage with him for God’s glory, and the rewards are eternal.

Have you ever felt this way about time away from your spouse?

Has time apart been more healthy or more damaging to your relationship?

45 :: in Army, deployment, marriage, military life

He was deployed… but now he’s HOME!!!

becca-garber-deployment-home-2 There’s a good explanation for the radio silence around here…

… Elliott came home from deployment!

becca-garber-deployment-home-3 We welcomed him back last Wednesday, and it was such a joyous day. There’s just nothing like that day your husband comes home. I stood there in a dress he loves, hugging the children and saying, “Daddy’s coming any minute! Can you see him? Where is he?” We held our crumpled “Welcome Home!!!” signs and looked and looked until finally, at last, there he was! Alive and well and hugging them and kissing me and the waiting is over and he’s home.

becca-garber-deployment-home-4 Elliott was “only” gone for just over a month — a mere blip in the military world we live in. Around here, servicemembers are routinely gone for deployments that last six months (or longer). I was hugging and texting friends that very day whose husbands are where Elliott was or are going there soon.

But a month is a month, and the Middle East is the Middle East, and he’s home and safe and there’s nothing like it! I feel only gratitude and relief when I look at these happy, everyday photos that are dated March 4, 2015… meaning he’s home and the deployment is done and we are together again.

becca-garber-deployment-home5 I’ll be back soon with some photos from our wonderful weekend, where we did everything we possibly could to enjoy Elliott’s return and friends and beautiful Southern California.

I also have some more honest — and maybe controversial — thoughts about how this deployment was actually good for us, but those notes need more editing first. Can time apart be a good thing in a marriage? What do you think? I’ll share those thoughts soon.

In the meantime, we’re so glad he’s home!!!

21 :: in Army, deployment, family, husband

Confessions of a Third Culture Kid + A Book Giveaway

Update on 11.4.2014: The winner of the book giveaway, according to Random.org, is #10: Karen. Congratulations, Karen! I’ll email you to get your address. Thank you for all your wonderful, insightful, and beautiful comments, everyone!

——–

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On the L: With my siblings and dad at the pyramids circa 1996. I’m the one with the unfortunate bangs on the far left.
On the R: Back at the pyramids with Elliott and Lena (!) in 2010.

A recent Monday morning. Six women sat around a table, plates filled with food, ready to talk.

“Let’s get to know each other a little better by sharing about the cities we’ve lived in,” my new core group leader suggested, shifting the baby in her arms as she surveyed our small group. “Might but a fun way to tell our life stories. I’ll start…”

In my seat next to her, I tensed inwardly. I felt my otherness, my weirdness, slipping back over me. I had dressed like the others, talked like the others; I fit in, they thought. I looked the part. I looked like a nice, average American girl, just like everyone else in the group.

But that’s just part of my story. It’s only the last eight years of my life story, actually. The eight years that involve living in America, going to an American school, marrying a semi-American boy, and having two cute and semi-American children.

The 19 years before the last eight were what had me sweating.

I didn’t grow up in the States. I was born in Egypt and lived in Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, Singapore again, India, and Brazil all before I started college. It was a different life, a life studded with foods and holidays and cultures and languages that I can taste on my tongue, see in my memory, and long for without warning.

As I waited for my turn to share my life story last week, I remembered a book I was reading at home called Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. The author, blogger Marilyn Gardner, is a friend of mine, and recently I had agreed to read and review her book. However, I had no idea how relevant the book would be to me. Marilyn also grew up overseas; she spent her childhood in Pakistan and her adulthood between Egypt, Pakistan, and the States. (Sound like someone you know?!)

becca-garber-auc-graduation-egypt

With my dad when he graduated from the American University of Cairo in 1987.

In her book, Marilyn writes with poignant understanding about third culture kids: children who spent most of their childhoods outside their passport country. Her observations and anecdotes flooded me with memories, sometimes bringing me to tears, sometimes leaving me running to Elliott, saying, “Listen to this! I have felt this way and it’s so true!”

Here’s one of my favorite quotes (which perfectly captured how I felt that Monday as I prepared — again — to share my “third culture kid” childhood):

As a child raised between worlds… I was neither of one world nor the other; I occupied a culture between…. In this other world called the United States, the blue passport bearing my picture and various stamps told me, told the world, that I belonged. That I was a citizen. But I never felt like I belonged in this other world. At any given time I was less or more comfortable, but I always felt like a bit of a fake. I didn’t know how to buy clothes. I didn’t know how to dress for winter. I didn’t know the idioms, the slang that was so important at that age. I had no clue about pop culture. I was trying to fake it, trying to fit, but at heart an imposter.

I got it. I knew how the author felt. Especially in college, fresh from a childhood overseas, I struggled daily just to fit in. I worked so hard. What did the other students wear? What did they do in their free time? Where did they live? What did I need to do to fit in? I transformed my wardrobe, made friends, joined organizations, moved out of my far-away dorm into the center of student life. Packed my life full just to fit in, to lose my otherness, to stop feeling so awkward, so left out. So lonely.

I just wanted to belong.

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My first smile on a bus in Cairo. I have a  feeling I will look exactly like this when I am 92 years old, plus wrinkles and including chub.

I’ve spent the last few years synthesizing my childhood and my future, trying to blend them into a cohesive whole. Elliott — my multifaceted, amazing husband and best friend — has enabled me to do this. To embrace our American-ness and combine it with a life overseas.

Marilyn’s book, though, brought back wave upon wave of memories. I remembered afresh the delight of living in another culture, of assimilating new and old, of learning to navigate a foreign land with ease and awareness. I remembered how my heart sings as I stride through international terminals, as I hand over my passport, as I find my seat on a plane, as I feel the dip and the lift as the plane climbs into the air. I remembered the deep pain of leaving a country behind forever, of re-entering the States, of reverse culture shock, and of feeling achingly far from home. Marilyn’s words, memories, and stories brought it all back.

Some passages in her book felt like I could have written them myself:

The day my passport expired and I realized there was no upcoming reason to renew it, I felt as if I had been robbed of my identity.

My passport was my grown-up teddy bear. [When it expired], I made up my mind that no matter what, I would not let my passport expire again. While I knew that my identity was far more than a document that had expired, the symbol represented too much of my life — people I loved, places I had been and pivotal events that shaped who I had become — to let go.

I am an invisible immigrant….. I can adapt a chocolate chip cookie recipe to taste good without brown sugar or chocolate chips. I can decode idioms in Arabic or Urdu. I am completely comfortable in crowded bazaars or navigating any major airport in the world. I can make an orange-cranberry salad without the cranberries…. And I understand the importance of identifying friends with commissary privileges and make sure they are invited to dinner so that next time I see them there will be cranberries for my orange-cranberry salad.

(All throughout my childhood I loved being friends with kids who had commissary privileges and could buy cranberry sauce and Blue Bunny ice cream and chocolate chips. And then in Italy I became the friend with commissary privileges… and it was glorious.)

Third culture kid envy… It is what I feel when my feet are trapped on the ground for too long while I watch others travel. It is what I feel when I hear others, sometimes worthy and sometimes not, talk about Pakistan or Egypt, my beloved places. It is what I taste when I hear that someone is going on a long trip, leaving from the international terminal just minutes from my house. It reaches crisis stage when I find out someone is moving overseas. And I so long and need to overcome this syndrome, but there are times when I think that it is impossible.

(Yes, it’s true. I’m not proud, but such envy has consumed me, especially since we moved back to the States this summer.)

What happens when the third culture kid becomes an adult and settles in their passport country? For a time everything seems backwards and contrary. Few of us had the dreams of owning our own homes, or becoming “successful” as defined by middle-class America. Our parents had lived counter-culture and had passed that on to us. Nothing really prepared us for a life in suburbs or small towns of the Western hemisphere.

Perhaps our unspoken fear is that if we learn to sing songs of joy in this new place, this new land, then we will forget the old, we will lose our identity, all that we know, all that is familiar. As one person put it: “I wanted to preserve my identity, to hold dear the soil in which my roots are settled, to Never Forget Who I Am. After all — my identity has come at such a high cost.

This past Monday, when my turn came to share my life story, I chose to start it in a new way. I chose not to blush, smooth over my strangeness, downplay the different childhood that I’d had. I chose to own it, to share it, to explain it and hold it out and offer it without reservation.

Take me or leave me, here I am.

“I’m a third culture kid,” I said. “I spent most of my life overseas until I started college, and I got back overseas as soon as I could after that. Living overseas is a huge part of my identity, and I want to live as much of my life outside of the U.S. as I can. My story starts in Egypt when my dad was in graduate school…”

May it not be too long (oh please, Lord, don’t let it be too long) before I’m standing in the international terminal of another airport, passport in hand, ready to fly away into the Great, Beautiful World once again.

——–

image via

Would you like to win a copy of Marilyn’s beautiful book? For the third culture kids who read this blog (I know there are many of you!) or for the parents out there who long to raise kids overseas, this book is for you! Marilyn has an autographed copy just waiting to send to you.

Entering to win is easy. Just leave a comment in this post and tell me why you’d like to read this book!

Giveaway closes next Monday, November 3. Happy reading!

P.S. If you haven’t seen this crazy-but-true list yet, it’s guaranteed to put a few smiles and eye rolls on your third culture kid-lovin’ face.

70 :: in Army, book reviews, giveaway, home sweet home, memories, thoughts, travel

Happy Updates, Simplicity Parenting, & Good Books

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“I’m making a gelato cake, Mama. BUT DON’T LET GIL TOUCH IT!!!”

Hi, friends! It’s a much happier Becca that comes to you today. Thank you so much for all your kindness on this emotional day; your comments and prayers meant so much. My whole family felt hugely loved this July 7.

It’s a quiet Wednesday night here, our last Wednesday in Sicily. This time next week we’ll be in Virginia with our family! I’m a mishmash of happy and sad and relieved and ready and torn and nostalgic and thankful. The usual emotional rooooollercoaster of moving.

After I blubbered about all our problems in the last post, God came along and took care of a lot of them for us. He helped us to sell our antique guest bedroom set that very night! And someone agreed to buy our car the next afternoon! The car isn’t sold yet, but I have their cash deposit in the bank, so I think it’s going to happen. Please pray that it does!

The movers came yesterday and took away the last of our belongings, leaving us with just the things that will fit into our suitcases. We still have military-issued loaner furniture and kitchenware, but otherwise the house is very echo-y and empty.  Everything feels much more packed away, organized, simplified. Finally!

On the subject of simplicity, I wrote two guest posts for my friend Courtney’s wonderful motherhood blog. I discussed my favorite parenting book, Simplicity Parenting, and talked about how I keep my parenting simple, choose our toys, avoid screen time, and refresh myself as a mom. Step on over to read Part 1 and Part 2 here!

Last update: today we went to the beach with everyone from Elliott’s vet clinic, and it was SO much fun. (See photo above!) I love all his soldiers and their families, and they have been a great group to work with and know these past three years. After all, it’s not every job where everyone loves taking a whole day off to hang out at the beach together. And what a beach! Hashtag grateful.

Ok, just one more thing. Book nerd alert. I’ve just spent the last 15 minutes perusing this amazing book list and seeing which ones our library has. I know, I have six days left! But maybe time to read one more book. I laughed when I saw the first four books she recommended. Remind you of anything? ;)

That’s what’s going on in our little corner. Thanks for reading! What are you up to this week?

12 :: in Army, beach, guest post, life lately, military life

Where We’re Headed Next: San Diego!!!

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I think it’s time for an official “what happens after Sicily?” update around here! My husband Elliott wrote a blog post this week about our next move, and there are a lot of juicy details in that about rejections and deliberations that lead to our final decision: after we leave Sicily in July, we’re headed to the beaches and bustle of San Diego, California!

Some of you might remember this post about the difficult decision we were making between D.C. and San Diego. Most of our family lives in D.C., and we lived there as newlyweds. After this summer, Elliott had been planning to get out of the military and find work in the D.C. area so we could spend more time with them for a year or two.

However, somewhat out of the blue in December, the Army offered him a dream job. Would he be interested in filling a new position that just opened up for a veterinarian with the Naval Special Warfare Command, home of the SEALs?

For more than 10 years, Elliott had dreamed of a job like this: a chance to work with the elite of the world’s military, to care for their working dogs, and maybe even to work with their dolphins and sea lions. His eyes lit up whenever he talked about it. We both couldn’t imagine how he could turn this down.

After lots of conversations with family and lots of time on our knees, we decided to take the job!

One of the things we’re most excited about is the location of Elliott’s new base: the beautiful peninsula of Coronado just off the coast of San Diego. I’ve only been to SD twice on quick visits, but both times included an obligatory trip to Coronado to admire its long white beaches, darling cottages, picturesque shops, and famous hotel.

Working in Coronado will be amazing, but living there would be a dream come true. Unfortunately, Coronado housing is proving to be a bit of a problem. (Anyone who knows Coronado has a wry smile on their face right now.) The rental market is extremely competitive, and so even though Elliott has been super proactive about looking for a home, so far we’re still on the hunt.

Another option we’re prayerfully considering is living in a completely different part of the city, closer to the church we’ll probably attend. There are a lot of unknowns, so it’s hard to make such lifestyle-determining decisions from thousands of miles away. If you’re the praying kind, we’d appreciate your prayers!

We’ll leave Sicily in July, visit family along the way, and arrive in California the first week of August. But as I type this, there are brownies in the oven, and still-sandy swimsuits drying outside, and Jonathan and Erika — our latest visitors — are sharing the couch with Elliott. There is absolutely no sign that we have less than three months left in this beautiful home in Italy.

I’m excited about what lies ahead, but for now . . . the kitchen timer is going off, and I’m ready for hot brownies with our guests. Let’s savor “making room in Sicily” for a little longer!

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29 :: in Army, Coronado, husband, military life

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