It wasn’t an impulse decision.
I am not the kind of person who gets tattoos. I’m not entirely sure what kind of person that is, actually, but I never counted myself as one of them. I never thought there was anything wrong with them, per se, and I deeply admire a whole bunch of people who have many of them. I’ve just always said it wasn’t for me. Why would I want something that I couldn’t get rid of?
And yet here I am: a fairly permanent decision made, a word inscribed in a visible place on my arm — a constant reminder.
February 15, 2008. When I said “yes” to the boy with a ring kneeling in front of me in the sand on a California beach, I knew I was saying “yes” to love. I knew I was saying “yes” to adventure. I definitely knew I was saying “yes” to doing whatever the U.S. Army told us to do.
I did not know I was saying “yes” to grief, and loss, and hurt, and sadness, and fear, and, after it all, courage. I did not know that I was saying “yes” to a journey on which I would meet the biggest surprise of all: myself.
February 15, 2010. Two years later I sat alone in my little Washington State apartment, numb from others’ heartbreak. So much loss, so many babies left without daddies, women without husbands, mommies without sons. My husband had returned from war different, hurting — and dealing each day with the loss. We were muddling through with baby Dave two months shy of a year old. And we were fine, if only because he was home and others would never return. We looked in the mirror, we pulled together our heartstrings, we thought we marched forward. We didn’t know we were really standing still.
February 15, 2014. Life wasn’t what I expected it be. Recovery from war was far messier than I had dreamt even in my wildest wonderings. We weren’t supposed to be people who struggle. We were supposed to be stronger than that. I felt like all this time we had churned our legs with the same speed as Looney Toon’s Road Runner — but we had never moved. We are pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrap types. We are move forward, don’t look behind folks. We aren’t people who cry on the floor. But there it all was — the hopes and dreams and plans and everything that was supposed to be good just laying there, shattered all over the ground.
February 15, 2015. The pieces seemed to be mending, and although more heartbreak was to come that I couldn’t yet see, I knew that I had come thus far in the fire better and stronger. I knew that because of it I had met someone who could only be discovered in the heat of flames — me. I learned that I am strong. I found that I do not need any person other than myself to define me, and that I do not have to be anyone other than who God made me to be. Figuring out who that is may be a never ending process, but at least it was one that I finally knew how to tackle.
Today. February 15, 2016. And we finally know that recovering from war takes more than just moving forward.
It requires that we remember.
There’s a reason “remember” appears in the Bible almost more than any other word. It’s a command, really, reminding us that lessons from the past about who we are and how faith has led us are the keys to the future. Learning to remember is not being willing to live in the past, it is instead the key to knowing how to move successfully toward the future.
Remember that you have been through hell and walked there with others.
Remember not to lose yourself while caring for someone else.
Remember to take care of you, first.
Remember that you are strong.
Remember where you are going.
Remember to live.
Remember to love.
Remember to honor.
Remember that even when life is hard — you can move forward with purpose.