In my early twenties (not that I'm so far removed from that, lol) I spent three years as a missionary. The organization I worked for, Youth With A Mission, has bases all over the world, and the one I was attached to was in Los Angeles.
Looking back, I see a bit of God's plan for my life, and how he used that time to prepare me for becoming a military spouse. I'm not saying that that was the sole purpose God had for me in me joining the organization, but it is pretty awesome to compare everything that I learned from that time, and how directly it applies to me now:
Living a transitional lifestyle-
In the missions world people are constantly moving here and there. They are coming back from a trip, or moving to another country. Moving every few years in the military is actually one of the (pretty much) constants. Over time I have learned to adapt to saying goodbye, and how to say hello. Saying goodbye never gets easier, but I have learned to accept it as part of my life, and really, the world is such a small place that you never know when you will run into people again, and I can attest to the fact that it really does happen! Unfortunately I think I am a little too good at saying goodbye, and not good enough at saying hello, to reaching out and making new friends.
Experiencing different cultures has taught me the value and beauty of people and traditions that are unlike my own. Just because I do not understand something does not invalidate it, and every single time there is something to be learned. Accepting and celebrating differences can add a richness to life. Every base we go to has something to teach us, and all of the people we meet we can learn something from.
Flexible, Adaptable, Teachable- (but let's call it phat, not FAT! :)
This is the motto of a successful outreach in a foreign nation. I can not stress the importance of these three words as the military dictates several aspects of our lives. Remaining flexible is invaluable; it seems to me that the military likes to throw curveballs, and learning to roll with the punches makes for a much less stressful life! Being adaptable means that no matter where we may live, we can learn to thrive, whether it is the below-zero temperatures at Minot AFB in North Dakota, or the humid temperatures at Anderson AFB in Guam. Maintaining a teachable heart ensures a rich life full of growth. No matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in, finding the lesson learned, and applying it to other situations in life will enhance our roles as spouses and parents, allowing others to do the same.
Going to foreign locations-
Having visited a few different countries has allowed me a rare opportunity to relate to my husband, as his job takes him around the world as well. I understand the feelings of culture shock, of confusion and just wanting to go home! I also know what it feels like after it is all done and you have returned to America again, the feeling of wanting to go back; because no matter how hard it was, it became normal, and there is a comfort in that. (I also want to say that I understand that I will never truly understand. I may relate on a very-tip-of-the-iceberg level, but the only people who will ever know exactly what he is going through are the people who went through it with him.)
Valuing the importance of the work-
While missionaries and the military have some very different goals, both are equally important. Remembering the bigger picture when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry has been, so far, invaluable to me. It has given me a sense of peace instead of wanting to rip my hair out.
For much of my career as a missionary I was a leader. I staffed two schools that taught tools for ministry development, I also was a staff member of the core training course for the organization. Some of my responsibilities included the physical and spiritual well-being of the students, organizing and leading two-month outreaches for groups, and helping run a weekly summer outreach program that saw hundreds of students come through in the space of two and a half months. It was a lot of responsibility (imagine being in charge of twelve passports and 12,000 in cash, while traveling to new locations every week across Asia!) While none of those will be my responsibility as a military spouse, often times I will be running the household while my husband is away on field exercises, deployments, and short trips. What am I saying, I run the household even when he is home. :) When we have children, and if he deploys then, I will have to learn to step up and be both the mom and the dad as well.
Some tools I have learned throughout the world:
South Africa- You are not in charge of the timeline. Roll with it. You'll be happier. South Africans have a saying: 'just now'. It can mean anything from one minute to five hours later. There were many times when our team would be ready and waiting to go...only to keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting. We don't get to dictate when our spouses work, where they go, how long they are gone for, how long we get stationed somewhere. Accepting this is crucial to your happiness and success, I believe.
Nepal- Valuing the protections and freedom offered by America, and our soldiers. As a woman, it was not safe for me to travel alone, even to the corner market; I always had to have a male chaperone. And a woman, so it wouldn't look improper, since men and women do not socialize together unless they are married.
Thailand- Don't take things at face value. There is always something deeper at work. I spent my time in Thailand teaching English to women who worked at the bars; they learned various other skills as well, as a means to earn income, rather than selling their bodies. The stories we learned about the women we encountered was deeply impacting. (When you don't understand the orders he's been given, or the way the system works, remembering there is more to the story is crucial.)
Philippines- The beauty of all people, no matter how different from you. We are a family. Filipino culture is all about family, and the people I stayed with certainly became my family. The military is also a family. You don't always like it, but you're in it, and they (the friends you make, the people you work with) are always there for you and understand in a way no one else can.
It's kind of crazy to think that these two lifestyles have so much in common; I am so glad to have been/be a part of both, I live a very blessed life indeed. :)