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Life Lessons Learned From Beloved War Veterans

Veterans Day is always a day of great reflection for me. Growing up the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran and then later marrying a Veteran from Operation Enduring Freedom, I have known the hearts of a soldier intimately. They are brave, strong and fragile. And they have taught me life lessons from wars they fought for me, for all of us.

Last year I shared what I learned that veterans may need to hear, supporting them beyond “thank you for your service.This year I feel called to share the life lessons I know as a privilege of being the daughter of a veteran and the continued lessons as I navigate a marriage with a veteran.

Some prayers are meant to be unanswered.

Growing up I could probably count on one hand the times that I can recall talking about the war with my dad. There was always evidence of his experience, such as his Army fatigues that usually made an appearance on Halloween. One year my father joined our youth group on a mission trip as a sponsor and I learned more about my father’s war experience than I expected.

Halloween 1983
Dad dressed up as Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H using his old army fatigues

Each night we would have circle, a time when we would all speak to that day’s experience and have a lesson lead by one of the adults in the group. That my father volunteered to lead a lesson surprised me. I never knew him as a Bible reader or religious.

So, I was even more surprised when my father started his lesson with Bible verses about prayer. He spoke to each verse from his own experience and I found myself in silent shock as he told the group a story that I had never heard before.

He said there was a moment during the Vietnam War when it had gotten really bad that he prayed to God for the enemy to come out from behind the bush and shoot him dead. His lesson was that some prayers are meant to be unanswered. What if his prayer had been answered in that moment? He would not have returned home to lead this life, to meet my mom, to have a daughter.

Now I know that all prayers are heard, but it is us that must find the answer.

Storytelling is a key skill to belonging. It is how we can express all that we feel and know. It is how we connect and relate to one another.

I’ll never forget the evening I brought my now husband home to meet my parents. After dinner we gathered in the living room. Out of nowhere my father goes to the book shelves and pulls out his old books and photo albums from boot camp.

Dad during Vietnam War

I listened intently as my dad and my love swapped boot camp stories. I remember the laughs the most. And I remember how they instantly bonded through sharing their stories. All my life these stories were on a shelf right in front of me. All I needed to do was be curious and ask. This was a lesson to be observant, curious and embrace the connecting power of storytelling.

Hold Space to Cry

War is not a part of human nature (see 1986 Seville Statement of Violence), so when war becomes your duty, your job it is extremely damaging to one’s humanity.

During one of our family’s grand road trip adventures my dad mapped out a side expedition to a Vietnam War Memorial. One built by a father that had lost his son in the war. There was a moment when my dad broke off from mom and I as we entered a room filled with large prints of war-time photographs. I felt a nudge from my mother to go stand next to my dad.

I did and as I looked up at my father there were tears in his eyes. We stood in front of a photograph of soldiers saluting empty boots. With a quiet voice my dad said, “I’ve seen this.”

There were no words for this moment. You cannot simply fix the trauma of violence. So we stood together and cried.

I’ve held this lesson close as I grow in my marriage with a veteran. There are times when all you can do is hold space for tears. It is an honorable act, it honors our humanity.

Celebrate Each Other More

And every year, I cannot let Veterans Day pass without my personal urge to reach out to a veteran in your circle on any day of the year. Honor those that have fought wars for us. But, let it also remind us to celebrate their lives every day after.

Veterans were spit on when they returned home during my father’s era. During my husband’s homecoming he simply became a man trying to learn how to put his hands in his pockets again. We never forget 9/11, but have we remembered those trying fiercely to relearn how to be a civilian?

I’ve learned to be intentional in my gratitude that my father and my husband made it home from the wars that they fought. But more importantly I’ve learned the value of celebrating every brave act afterwards to heal, to forgive, to love. For when we feel celebrated, we connect to the happiness and joy of life. We cannot change what deeds have been done, but we can rise up the events in life that make our hearts happy. Celebrate each other more, for each life is worthy and a happy event.

Nikola Reinfelds

Nikola is a Kansas native that came to Northern Colorado by way of Long Island, NY. After running a successful business in NYC she's confident that the song lyric, "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" is the truth. However, she faltered big time through the unknowns and isolation of becoming a stay at home mom. She re-found her passion and confidence by helping others be obsessed with the skin they're in through her writing, community, leadership and friendship. Her other passions include being an exceptional partner to her husband, Hagen, a patient parent to her precious children, reading #allththings and getting out in nature as much as possible.

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