Fort Polk: Letters to Myself

The time has come to write my traditional “Some thoughts on __________ and why Fort _________ is the Army’s Best Kept Secret” post like I have done at Fort BlissFort Gordon, and for our short stay at Fort Jackson. I have found that writing these reflections are a vital part of my own closure on a place– a way to memorialize a season of a life that is replete with continued coming and going, arriving and leaving–a tension I don’t always bear well.

The truth I’ve wrestled with is whether or not in good conscience, I can call Fort Polk a “best kept secret.” There’s a widely used phrase about this place that everyone tells you: “You’ll cry when you come and you’ll cry when you leave.” In my own stubbornness and opposition I have vowed I will not cry when I leave here unless they are tears of joy.

As I have learned over and over, the more you draw a firm line in the sand and make proclamations about what you will and won’t ever do, the more God laughs or life just mocks you and allows that very thing to come to pass.

These are my personal reflections on what two and a half years at Fort Polk, (or 914 days–I did the math) of living here has taught me. Here are ten letters from June-2020-driving-away-Claire addressed to December-2017-crying-outside-the-on-post-hotel-late-at-night-Claire. She probably wouldn’t listen or believe me, but I’d tell her to take heart.

*****

Dear Claire, you’ll need to give yourself ample time and a lot of patience to acclimate to the area.

You’re going to drive in to Fort Polk under the cover of darkness on Monday, December 11, 2017. Driving west away from a snow storm in Atlanta, you will exit I-20 and still have over three and a half hours of driving before you see the gate. The closer you get, the darker the night will become, the bumpier the roads, the bigger the potholes, and the less frequent the chances to see a restaurant or gas station save for the drive through Alexandria. (You will learn to all it “Elec” before too long.)

Claire, it is REMOTE and it is RURAL. You are generally a city girl and it’s going to be culture shock to you. It’s going to take your sensibilities a good while to adjust. Not only is the surrounding Leesville area a “geographical oddity,” (two days hours from anywhere) but also, even as a Southerner, you are going to have to adapt to the climate, the critters, and the culture.

The climate. You’ve lived hot places before: Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina. Nothing will prepare you for the heat and constant humidity of Fort Polk. Everything you own and keep outdoors will mold or rust. Everything. It will be so hot some days, you will see the Devil himself walking around waving his pitchfork. Get used to living at the pool and running the AC year round. Coats and jackets? You’ll barely need them.

The critters. You don’t yet know what a love bug is, but soon enough they will overtake your life. So will INFESTATIONS of centipedes inside your house. You will see signage near every shallow body of water warning you to be on guard for alligators. The only one you’ll see will be dead on the side of the road a few hours from home. You’ll also discover that the millions of little holes in the ground are craw-fish mounds. You and Mae both will learn a great deal about goats. Your greatest nemesis will be the pair of raccoons that ravage and ransack your trash cans every single night. Don’t fight them. They will survive all of your tactics and mock you in the process.

The culture. You have entered Cajun country now. You will learn about Zydeco music and all things Acadiana. Walmart will have large seasonal displays for Mardi Gras. You will try (and love) Blue Bell Mardi Gras King Cake ice cream and Community Coffee King Cake blend. Stock up on both of these as they won’t be available year-round. You will eat a Gambino’s King Cake where Ryan will find the baby.

You will learn what a coonass is, that it is legal for drive-thru daiquiri stations to operate, and you will feel very frustrated that any word that can have an –eaux attached to it will. You like po-boys and meat pies but can’t quite give yourself over to boudain.

Your home girl Lacey will give you a first class education on the proper way to make a real roux and what does and doesn’t constitute an authentic gumbo. Many people widely accept eating a heap of potato salad on top, but you won’t support this. You will also realize a lifelong dream of seeing where Steel Magnolias was filmed.

*****

Dear Claire, the OPS GROUP life is no joke. Ryan will be away a lot. It will also be one of his most professionally rewarding assignments to date. This community will wrap its arms around you all.

When it’s all said and done, Ryan will have successfully completed TWENTY-TWO, yes 22!!!! rotations. Those who know, know!

Ryan will feel just out of reach a lot of this time. He will spend days and nights “out in the box.” It will feel like he’s here, but not here. He will be exhausted but excited about his work. He will lock arms with his work crew and they will become like family to him. It’s going to be easy to feel frustration with him and with the job. Some days it will feel really difficult for you to get into your own rhythm with his demanding and irregular op-tempo. You’ll learn to live with it and appreciate the times he’s here.

During rotation, when Ryan IS home, he will still be responding to group messages, monitoring from a laptop, and available via walkie-talkie. Don’t take this personally. He’s also not going to get a lot of freedom or flexibility to use his leave. Utilize the four-days when possible. And when Ryan can’t travel with you (as he couldn’t for your grandfather’s funeral), try not to take it out on him.

Probably weekly, he will tell you that his job as an OCT is the best job he’s had in the Army. You will see his natural instincts as a teacher/trainer, listener/encourager, patient but firm leader, Enneagram 1, and reformer serve him well. He will love everyone in the UMT and find his groove easily among OPS Group. He will repeatedly tell you that he is getting to work with the best and brightest of the Army’s future leaders.

You will find the same to be true of the spouses of these service members. You will be a part of one of the most life-giving coffee groups to date. These BMC (and task force) ladies will inspire you more than you’ll realize. They will show you “the way to Army,” the way to serve, and the way to embrace some fun along the way.

You may not realize it in the moment, but you are all walking a unique road together that will forge a common bond of friendship that you’ll carry with you for a long, long time.

Not only has the OPS community been outstanding, but the Installation Management and Command at Fort Polk has been top tier! It is a small and tight knit group. You will feel an overwhelming sense of peace and protection as the needs of service families are prioritized. From the housing, quality of life issues on post, working on solutions for improving local schools, all the way to how safe and secure you’ve felt during COVID-19, you will be grateful for the level of care you’ve received here.

*****

Dear Claire, many of the conveniences you thought you needed to make a happy life, it turns out, you really don’t.

When you first arrive, all you will have to compare Fort Polk with is what you’ve known at previous assignments and your civilian world. Previously you will have built a lot of your life around jobs you’ve loved, programming at local churches, an abundance of great restaurant choices, frequent weekend excursions, the arts, dance lessons, coffee dates, and more.

This will not be your experience at Fort Polk. You will look back and see that your days here were a mix of feeling fast and full or very slow and simple. There will be no in between.

You used to spend HOURS roaming Target, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Home Goods. You will decide quickly that it is rarely worth a 60-90 minute drive each way just to mindlessly stroll the aisles of these stores. In this you will begin to learn contentment and you will save thousands of dollars over a two and a half year period. (You will need to control yourself with Amazon Prime because you will use it a ton!)

You used to get a real joy out of grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, Publix, and Fresh Market. Here you will have the Commissary or Walmart– each with its benefits and drawbacks. It won’t happen until your last year here, but Walmart will start offering Grocery Pickup and you will be happier than you could imagine.

There is a Starbucks on post, but you will learn the art of making a perfect iced coffee at home. You’ll have a lot of back porch coffee sessions, coffee dates at home with friends, and enjoy your French press, percolator, and frother just fine. You will spend most Friday and Saturday nights at home. You will watch a lot of television.

You and Ryan will never find your coveted Mexican dive-restaurant here. At best, you’ll give each place a B+ for taste and quality. Your favorite Mexican restaurant will be inside a Motel 6. Some of your favorite burgers will be inside a Korean restaurant and gas station, respectively. There is a beautiful, impeccably decorated tea parlor, Hazel’s and some of the best pizza and pasta around found at Gilbert’s. You’ll get to know the families that own both of these places and you will love them.

Right away you will find (and keep) your favorite hair stylist you’ve ever had. Amber will keep your hair coiffed and colored and hold many life secrets with reverence. You will frequent Nichols when you need a fix for pretty home decor, cute boutique clothes and jewelry, or are in the market for cowboy boots, a weapon, a deer feeder, or an expensive cooler. You will have an ongoing struggle with wanting your creature comforts and finding contentment with a work-around or partial solution to your desires.

There will be a fair share of meltdowns to Ryan and family. You will feel bored and listless. You will occasionally cry real tears, sit around and stew, have pity parties, complain to friends and neighbors about all of the things you don’t have available here at Fort Polk. You will also leave with a greater understanding about delayed gratification and wisdom that the best things in life aren’t things–or stores–or restaurants–or convenience–or comfort.

*****

Dear Claire, you never thought you would teach 4th grade and “go to school” with your own kids. You tried it. You are so glad you did. 

You will get here in the middle of a school year. In fact, in December of 2017 you will have ended one school year in Georgia and started the next in South Carolina. By the time  you settle in here, you and the kids will have a difficult time finishing up the spring semester in your small home as you adjust to life at Fort Polk.

After seven straight years of homeschooling, you are going to get curious about what it might be like to put Thomas, Mae, and Kate into a traditional school. You won’t have much faith in the local public schools. You will also be cautious and frankly, a little worried about how your kids might transition to “real” school.

Near the end of the summer of 2018 you will realize you all need a break from home schooling. On a whim, you will stop by one of the local Christian schools. You will meet the elementary and secondary principals and leave with a lot of peace, stacks of registration paperwork, and a potential job offer.

You’ve never taught 4th grade (or any elementary school grades) before but like a handful of other situations in your life, you will realize that you will never know about something until you try it. From the word “go,” all things Faith Training just seem to fall into place.

You realize what a blessing it is for your kids’ first real school experience to be at a small school with small classes, loving teachers, and passionate administrators. This safe, low pressure environment will be a place you all flourish. You will also get to invest in the lives of 24 precious ten year old children who will steal your heart.

While it was great to be back in a classroom and work for Mrs. Reese, one of your best bosses yet, you will ultimately realize that the heart-work involved in teaching 24 ten year old children will be quite overwhelming and intense. All of their hardships, struggles, and home situations will now become the things that keep you up at night. On dozens of occasions, you will cry tears during the school days at some of the hard things these kids deal with.

This school year will fly by. Your days will be incredibly long and tiresome. The four-day school week will make for long days and your own kids’ involvement in sports and extra-curricular activities will be taxing on everyone. You will be reminded why you don’t love Abeka curriculum (personal preference only) and being held to such a tight, scripted format. Some days you will feel more like a babysitter, a counselor, a warden, a secretary, and a social worker than a teacher.

But you will be proud that you finished the race and had the chance to affirm these kids who you won’t soon forget. Seeing Thomas, Mae, and Kate come into their own in this setting will be very rewarding as outward signs that the home school years were not in vain.

*****

Dear Claire, it will feel like a chore to travel and see the sights during this time. Do it anyway. The change of scenery always does your heart good. 

You will spend a lot of time at Fort Polk longing to be elsewhere. It will feel like too much work to execute trips away from here without Ryan. There will be a few times Ryan and Thomas will need to get away and do guy things. There will be trips when family comes to visit and some when you drive back east to visit them. Each and every one of these excursions will be just what the doctor ordered.

Spring 2018: back to back visits to Natchitoches and Melrose Plantation when my folks and Ryan’s come for separate visits.

Summer 2018: Roberson family vacay to Seacrest Beach

Summer 2018: Ryan’s block leave boys’ trip to fish the White River in Arkansas.

Summer 2018: Weekend trip to Galveston courtesy of Ron and Becky.

Fall 2018: Strong Bonds retreat in Houston, TX.

Fall 2018: Trip to D.C. for Milspo Gurus Seed Spot Incubator.

Fall 2018: Strong Bonds retreat Houston, TX.

Fall 2018: (not pictured) Ryan’s trip to D.C. for work.

Winter 2019: Boys’ Trip to the Sugar Bowl to watch the Georgia Bulldogs.

Winter 2019: FTCA Boys’ Basketball ACEL State Basketball Tournament in Monroe, LA.

Spring 2019: FTCA State Literary Rally for Thomas at LSU in Baton Rouge.

Spring 2019: FTCA State Softball tournament in Abbeville, LA. (Mimi and Papa joined us!)

Summer 2019: Roberson family vacay at Big Canoe, GA.

Summer 2019: Ryan’s opportunity leave to Broken Bow, Oklahoma.

Summer 2019: quick trip to Gulf Shores with the Smith family.

Summer 2019: Kate and I drove round trip to Myrtle Beach, SC to pick up Maggie over the course of three days. IT. WAS. BRUTAL. but worth it for the pup. (Huge bonus: being benefactors of the Yates family’s hospitality!)

Fall 2019: Houston, TX with Mimi and Papa.

Fall 2019: (not pictured) Ryan’s trip to D.C.

Winter 2020: (not pictured) boys trip to NOLA to see Georgia play in the Sugar Bowl.

The start of 2020 will be the slow fade of PCS season and you’ll decide to minimize travel. In March, a global pandemic will hit and you won’t be going anywhere.

If you had more time or inclination, you said you wanted to see/do/visit these places as well:

  • New Orleans (whole family)
  • Swamp Tour
  • Crocodile Farm
  • Angola State Prison Rodeo
  • Natchitoches Lights at Christmas
  • The Box Tour (JRTC)
  • Houston Space Center
  • Pine Cove Family Camp

*****

Dear Claire, it may not seem like much, but the on post amenities, CYS, and MWR will save the day. Lean in to what’s available. 

You will like having things to look forward to on your calendar. Aside from the Vernon Parish library, there won’t be a ton to tempt you going off post, so you will get very familiar with on post amenities. You will find respite out at Toledo Bend–staying in the cabins, renting kayaks, seeing the kids on the blob, and just taking drives out to walk around and splash in the lake.

The community centers and pools will be frequent hangouts with friends and neighbors. You will bowl more games here than all of the other games you have bowled, ever. You will see dozens of $6 movies on post. This time will be the most up to date with blockbusters and pop culture of your life.

You’ll utilize the craft center, watch the kids enjoy the teen center, cooking club, the babysitters and first aid course, home school PE, CYS sports (softball and cheer for the girls, Thomas refereeing soccer), and Strongest Youth for all three. You will truly appreciate all of the MWR programming: concerts, outdoor movie nights, Right Arm nights, the Fort Polk Spouses club events, and more.

You will eat many, many meals at the PX: usually the orange chicken from Panda Express or a brisket taco salad from Qdoba. The AAFES gas station will completely eradicate Sonic happy hour with their half price icy cokes in the summer. You will get gas and use ATMs on post. (It will also anger you each time you spend $4.25 in fees to use your own money.)

You will walk miles and miles around the post sidewalks and the golf course. You will check out and read hundreds of books from the library. You’ll take the kids to ride go karts, play putt putt, and you’ll enjoy the awesome gyms on post (during times you are ambitiously motivated with your fitness).

*****

Dear Claire, chapel ministry will require a lot from your family. It will become your safe place, and your home and family away from home and family. Some of your deepest and most treasured friendships will flourish there. 

You and your family will participate in weekly Sunday worship with the ChapelNext service where Ryan will be regular preacher and worship leader. You will start at Main Post Chapel, move to Glory Chapel during its renovations, and finally move back to Main Post Chapel.

About halfway through your time at Fort Polk, you, Mae, and Kate will volunteer once or twice a month to serve in Kids’ Church. Nearly every week, Thomas will serve on the media team running slides. Every Sunday, you will drive two cars to chapel and never sit together with Ryan.

Ms. Chrissa and her team will run one of the best youth chapel programs your kids have been part of. She will faithfully plan weekly YOC meetings, camps, and events to keep your kids engaged spiritually with their peers. You’ll volunteer two summers with Pine Cove’s Camp in the City–one year you’ll host three college girls and it will be so much fun.

You will serve at PWOC in two non-consecutive terms as a small group facilitator. You’ll (sort of) learn the sound board. You will lead two semesters of Financial Peace University on Power Wednesdays. The kids will volunteer at LEGO camp and attend on Wednesday nights too.

You will prepare countless meals for all manner of people and events to the degree that you will consider it part of your tithe and give it a budget line item called “Feeding Fort Polk.” There will come a point in time that if you have to make one more casserole, or transport food to one more off-site location, you will think you’re going to scream. Just keep going. It may feel like you’re just feeding people food, but sometimes it’s fulfilling more than mere physical hunger.

You will help hang and take down Christmas decorations, speak at MOPS twice–once in tandem with Ryan on a couples’ panel. You will help coordinate some social events for ChapelNext–Halloween, Thanksgiving, and couples Valentine’s dinners. You will get acquainted with the religious affairs specialists, learn purchase orders, and spend hours cleaning up after events. You will make table settings, wash table cloths, and deep clean a chapel kitchen.

You will host baby showers, chaplain spouses coffees, and nearly every single Sunday after chapel you will help pull tables together at the PX for your Sunday Lunch Bunch. There will be advents, Palm Sundays, Easter Sundays, door holding, greeting, passing out bulletins, welcoming newcomers, and just before you leave, you will watch and help the pastoral team transition to an entirely online church format during the pandemic.

Some of your closest friends and framily will be other chapel families. These will be your people: the ones who love you, pray with you and for you, call you out when you need it. They will commiserate with you, but ultimately they also understand the call.

There will be a lot of turnover in the chapel leadership and some of it will leave you and others serving feeling like you are rowing against the current. Don’t let that get you down. Remember you are not working for man, but for the glory of God.

You should be warned that you will find it easy to stay busy doing and serving but please remember that you will sometimes do this to a fault and to the detriment of your own soul and spirit. You won’t always feel “fed” yourself at chapel or church. You will need to continue your own spiritual disciplines at home and on your own.

You’ll read a lot of books, come downstairs at night in the dark quiet duplex to pour your heart and tears out to God, listen to a lot of sermons/podcasts on walks around your neighborhood, and enjoy a new-to-you translation of the Bible. It is vital that you keep this up to have the strength and spiritual stamina to do the work, keep the pace, and serve like you will be called to do at Fort Polk.

*****

Dear Claire, there will be a great need for community outside of OPS Group and chapel. You may have to initiate some of it. Go ahead, hang with the neighbors, host the game nights, the home school moms nights, and the IF: Table. It will bless you far more than it does those who join in.

Just about everyone at Fort Polk (with some exceptions, of course) will be nearly starved for connection and community. They will crave it like the very air they breathe. You will too.

When you and Ryan and the kids first arrive, you are going to be welcomed by the Harrell Hood neighbors in the culdesac. You will spend many weekends outside talking to the gals. After dark, all of the grown ups will come outside, usually at the Lopez house, out in the grass circle, or at the Smiths. You will laugh until you cry with this crew. They are all almost finished with their time here, but they will show you that it can be beautiful and hard and fun all at once. They will inspire you to be for others what they were for you when you came here. HOPEFUL.

There will be so much fellowship out on Harrell Street. This crew will leave and you will see one or two more PCS cycles come through. You will connect with those groups too, but you will feel like the seasoned grandmother of the culdesac by then.

After your year at FTCA, you will think you’re only staying through Christmas of 2019. This will not prove to be true. You’ll find out the summer before that your time is getting extended by six months. All of your plans will change. You will get back on a summer move cycle. You are going to be mad and frustrated for a while, but then you are going to do what you always do. You will rally. And you will go on to create opportunities for new home school moms to gather. You will host an IF: Table that will prove to be such a wonderful, vulnerable community of friends.

You will continue to defy the space and layout of your duplex and invite your friends, your kids’ friends, and other couples to eat around your table, play games around your table, pray, cry, and laugh around your table. Just do it. No one will care about how cramped it feels or how dark the rooms get when the sun goes down. Get out your cloth napkins. Set your chargers. Fill your drink dispenser with something fruity or fizzy. Your table will continue to be one of your greatest ministry tools you have in your arsenal; use it often.

*****

Dear Claire, your house will be a constant struggle in contentment for you. It’s ugly and small. It will be BOTH a moldy duplex AND a wonderful safe-haven of home. 

This will be one of the smallest and ugliest dwellings you have lived in to date. You will constantly feel like you have more stuff, people, and dogs than you have space to spread out. Your carpet is old and will end up getting multiple patch repairs. You will have cheap, stark white plastic blinds with warm, off-white walls. It will drive you crazy. It will be next to impossible to fight the mold in your bathtubs here.

You won’t have an attic, a garage, or a basement. Storage will be at a premium. There will be three window unit air conditioners just to keep the house cool. There will be broken door handles, a visible fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and very bland, “builder grade” finishes. You will have linoleum in the kitchen and bathrooms and a tiny, apartment size refrigerator that you will empty every week in order to make room for groceries. It will feel like a feat of engineering each time you do this.

You will have a real struggle almost the whole time you live in “Old Palmetto” feeling that you are too good for this duplex that feels so small and dirty. You will feel like you are too old, too far along in life, too educated, or too ________ to have to live in this kind of house.

Your pride in this area will reveal itself as TERRIBLY UGLY. You will be tempted to make excuses for the state of your home when people come to visit. You will have to fight like crazy to silence that voice. You will feel waves of jealousy as others you know and love settle into their “midlife” homes that are really nice, really big, and really permanent.

For every moment you have to slay the beast of discontent over the deficiencies of your house, you will have a matched moment of feeling grateful. You will learn to look on the bright side. You will realize that your duplex sits on one of the “prime” lots in the neighborhood: it’s on a hill so rain drains away from it; it’s got an empty lot next door making us feel like we actually have a yard; we have no back yard neighbors so it feels somewhat private; due to the way the duplex sits on the lot, we get tons and tons of natural light during the day.

You will come up with a catch phrase on why you love living on post. You will say “It can’t be beat for convenience, community, and cost.” Living here has given you all a maximum opportunity for family time, a maximum opportunity for thriving and serving within our community, and a maximum opportunity for having nearly zero monthly living expenses beyond food, internet, and fuel for our vehicles.

When you ask the kids, they will tell you this has been one of their favorite houses they’ve ever lived in. Hearing that will make you cry and it will also humble you because they don’t care about the size or condition of the home.

They will only care about how they feel when they are there and apparently they feel very loved, happy, safe, and secure here. You will be so convicted over your horrible attitude that you will have to frequently check yourself and be reminded that what you have inside the four walls of this house cannot be bought, or built, or decorated.

You are going to learn to love having such a small space to keep clean that’s ready for company at a moment’s notice. You will spend a lot of time here sitting in the front room reading so many books. Your kids will love their rooms. They will come downstairs and as a family you will spend hours on the sectional watching The Office, Parks and Rec, Stranger Things, and Community. You will make thousands of meals in your small kitchen. They will be made with love.

Your plants will grow and thrive here. You will drink so much coffee out on your back porch, morning and afternoon. Hank and Maggie, your precious Boykins will love living here too. They will have so much chill they will find napping spots in every room.

Your laundry room will serve as your office where a lot of work will get done. Your kitchen table will serve double duty as the school room. Your pantry will also serve as your game closet. Your Christmas dishes will stay boxed up in the shed in your carport and you will jerry-rig stockings on the ledge of your bookshelves.

You will have a set of four metal kitchen chairs stacked in your bedroom closet and under the stairs will house two tables you’re storing along with family photos that won’t keep in the outdoor shed. You will  have to come to terms with whether or not to keep or find creative ways to store your kids outgrown toys. You’ll complain about the lack of space but the real meaning behind it will be your denial that the kids are growing up.

You will wear holes in multiple pairs of tennis shoes taking so many walks when your inner introvert just needs to escape the noise. There isn’t really anywhere in the house to be alone except for the bathroom and that will get old really quick. You will wheel and deal getting rid of and adding to your furniture collection by using Facebook Marketplace. There will be hundreds of board games played around your table. So many messages written on your chalk board, so many papers stuck to the fridge, and so many cups and water bottles left on the counters.

You will hunker down in the downstairs bathroom multiple times for weather threats. You won’t drink the tap water and some of your baths and showers will be questionable. You may need to keep a legal record of living here for future medical issues that may arise.

There will be days your neck will be sore from looking up at the blue skies and tall trees on the property surrounding your house. You’ll do this because it’s a pretty sight, but you’ll also do it to change your perspective–physically and figuratively. You will laugh here, cry here, and spend hours on phone calls and FaceTime with family members here.

Due to the layout, you and Ryan will have almost zero bedroom privacy. You will make it work anyway. You will end up with a third vehicle during this time and an empty duplex next door. All of your parking needs will be met. Your internet will be incredibly slow and unreliable. Your girls will go through various hobbies here: they will develop a love of baking. Kate will learn to sew and Mae will have a collection of instruments in her bedroom. Thomas will spend hours shooting basketball outside or on his Xbox trash-talking his friends.

You will always remember the struggle you faced with this house. You will remember that in the end, it wasn’t your favorite house, but the people inside it and the home you all built together is all that ever really matters. You were healthy and happy here most days.

*****

Dear Claire, this is going to be a wild few years for your family. You will arrive with kids and you will leave with teenagers. You will worry that this place is hindering you all in many ways, but it will turn out to be such a refining time of growth for all five of you. 

When you move somewhere new, you always dread starting over. Each time it feels more daunting than the last. The older the kids get, the higher the stakes on getting everyone settled and plugged in.

Fort Polk wasn’t any different. You worried and fretted. It all worked out. You waffle on decisions about everything. You don’t readily trust yourself, but you should. You are incredibly resilient, courageous, and strong. You model this for your kids and they exhibit these qualities too. Ryan thrived at work. You had some professional wins too (Legacy magazine publication twice, co-launched a podcast, started getting paid for writing, and a teaching job…).

Here we entered into the shaving and bras and period years.(I’m talking about the kids, but shoot–this could also describe pre-menopause!) We got braces on and off. We got glasses. We started caring about hair, makeup, and personal hygiene habits.

There was learning to drive and first jobs for Thomas (referee) and the girls (babysitting). There was staying home alone for longer periods of time. There were new cell phones and X-boxes and later bedtimes. Trust was built and continues to grow.

There were birthdays, Valentine’s, Halloweens, Easters, Anniversaries, 4th of Julys, Thanksgivings, and Christmases.

There were friend issues to deal with. There were personal obstacles for each of us to overcome. Fears, anxieties, and struggles to be met head on.

There were a highs and lows. There were moments when we wanted to quit and times when we all persevered.

Everyone grew on the inside and on the outside. The kids got taller while the parents got shorter.

Claire, sometimes you get mixed up thinking that the next thing or the next place or the next house will be the real thing, the real life, like you’re just in a holding pattern or on deck…but nope, this is it–you’re up to bat. These are the good old days.

You will get through this assignment at Fort Polk just like you’ve gotten through every other stage of life…one day at a time. You will wake each day to the sunrise. You will live. You will work and play and smile and cry and rejoice and grieve and have a million mundane moments in between. You will go to bed tired each night and wake up to do it again. Time will march on. You won’t always appreciate it in the moment, but when you drive away from Fort Polk you will realize that it’s been truly wonderful. You may even cry as you pull away, bumping along through the potholes of Highway 171 on your way out of town.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Fort Polk: Letters to Myself

  1. revmelissabrown says:

    I so enjoyed reading this Claire. Especially since what I thought was going to be just two years turned into four. But I truly longed for the simple days at Fort Polk when those days where gone. It’s a special place where God does what we can’t even describe within us. And the beautiful community there loves and covers us through it all. I thank God for my own life changing experience here.

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  2. Teresa Roberson says:

    Oh how I loved this Claire!
    My favorite words were, “ You will worry that this place is hindering you all in many ways, but it will turn out to be such a refining time of growth for all five of you.”

    Your family has touched and affected many lives at Fort Polk. Dad and I are so proud of all of you, and thankful for the sacrifices you make.
    Continued blessing sweetheart! ❤️

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  3. Kathy Milligan says:

    This is so good! It’s just like a good book, where you are drawn in by the writer who gives such vivid word pictures that you feel like you’re there! Like Teresa said, you guys have certainly touched the people you served at Ft. Polk. I know you will be remembered well…and you will be able to look back on your time there with thankfulness that you gave it your best! God bless and be with you as you go to your next assignment! Love you all!

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