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11 Years as a Firefighter’s Wife: The Things No One Tells You.

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I met my husband 12 years ago. I can remember it like it was yesterday. He was interviewing for a position as the pastor of our church, giving the sermon that morning. I walked into church expecting to see our regular minister, but instead was greeted by a strikingly handsome man with blond hair, blue eyes, and muscular arms for days. If I’m being honest, I didn’t care for his goatee but I could let that go for those arms. Ahem, I digress.

I had no expectations of ever finding Mr. Right as I was single parenting my one year old son then. I had a lot of baggage that I was carrying around with me and I didn’t feel worthy of a partner who would love and cherish me. How could anyone love me with all my imperfections and flaws?

God had plans and boy was I ever wrong.

There he stood that day.

Right in front of me.

Welcoming me to the church with open arms and secretly crushing on me at the same time.

Little did we know that his interview with the church would turn into a lifetime commitment to each other just a short year later. I had no expectations of what marriage would be, other than what you see in the movies. Romantic dinners for two, white linens, clean floors, brunches with friends, and long walks on the beach. And while some of those things happen occasionally, they do not make up even the majority of our marriage. It isn’t snuggling by the fire drinking wine every night or even those sappy interactions that you see in the movies. and to be clear, there was no honeymoon. I had a baby that could not be left behind.

When I met him he was in graduate school progressing through a masters degree in divinity. I had no idea he was also a firefighter. I mean, being a pastor’s wife doesn’t sound so bad. Right?!? Well, he decided that he could not support a family on a pastor’s salary and God was leading him to something else entirely. At the time he was trying to be a firefighter and a pastor and it wasn’t serving him or anyone else well. So, he put down his bible and took a job with Cal Fire. and friends, the rest as they say, is history. Oh, no? Not quite.

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From the outside looking in, one may think we have it made in the shade, it’s easy street, we’re the lucky ones. I have been asked more times that I can count if I married him for the uniform. Clearly not. Those arms, maybe, but not that uniform. and if I’m being honest at first I despised it for taking him away from me for extended periods of time. I felt like he was married to the job more than he was to me. So today, I want to quash those pesky fantasies of what being married to a person in uniform is like by telling you my experience with it for the past 11 years:

  • Marriage is taking out the trash yourself because he’s stuck on shift again.

  • Marriage is piles of laundry that will never get folded.

  • Marriage is Netflix and chilling alone at night because he’s on duty.

  • Marriage isn’t sexy abs and biceps, but it is a choice to be selfless and understand that the needs of the many outweigh my own.

  • Marriage is knowing that even though he’s well trained for his job, things can and will go sideways. It’s the reality that one day he may walk out that door and never come home again.

  • Marriage is taking care of the kids when he is away. It is listening to them ask over and over when he is coming home.

  • Marriage is driving 3.5 hours to visit him at his station because you haven’t seen him in 20 days just to find out he will have a day off tomorrow.

  • Marriage isn’t fancy dinners for two, it’s pizza at the firehouse with his brotherhood.

  • Marriage is a decision to tune out the chaos of fire season and just breathe.

  • Marriage is masking my own worry in order to comfort the public when their world is burning down.

  • Marriage is being rock solid even when you feel like sinking sand.

  • Marriage is trusting in a higher power to bring him home.

  • Marriage is believing that no news is good news in all catastrophic events.

  • Marriage is being his soft spot to land when he’s had a rough call, and knowing that he’s had his fair share of them.

  • Marriage is about seeing someone when they are most broken and loving them instead of trying to fix it.

  • Marriage is not wanting sympathy for the life we lead, it’s about sharing our experience so that the next generation does better.

  • Marriage is making time for each other because if we don’t schedule it, someone else will.

  • Marriage is knowing that even when he is away, I am the most cherished and loved person in his life.

  • Marriage is fulfilling his needs and sometimes having to find a solution for my own.

  • Marriage is loving myself first, so that I am able to feel loved.

  • Marriage is choosing to stay even when everything is telling you to run.

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Here’s the thing, before I married my husband, I thought that this life looked pretty easy. I mean, how many people can say they work 3 days and then have the rest of the week off? I saw other fire families having 2-3 weeks off together to spend as a family and thought that was all the time. I pictured all the romantic parts of marriage and while those exist and are wonderful, most of what marriage consists of is sacrificing for the other person and choosing to love them through the icky and sticky parts of life.

I never really understood that love was a choice until one day about six years ago, I had to choose whether I would run or stand firm in our marriage. Until I broke under the pressure. Fell to my knees and cried to God asking him to help me weather what I thought at the time was the worst fire season we would ever go through. He had been gone a week. Today, 6 years later, a week seems so short. We’ve weathered 30-40 days at at time. I wish a week was the norm.

Being married eleven years brings perspective that a newlywed can’t even imagine. In the beginning it was thrilling to be waking up (most days) next to the person I would spend the rest of my life with. It was romantic just to sit and drink wine and play cards together or hang out in our beanbag chair watching the latest episode of Bones. But after 11 years, I am just happy when he walks through that door after his 72 hour shift unscathed. I am ecstatic when he doesn’t go to the latest campaign fire that burns down an entire town. I am happy to know he is sitting safe in his station putting a fresh coat of paint on the wall. I have no fantasies of romantic dinners or long walks on the beach. The only walk I care about now, is the one from his truck to the doorway when he returns home safe from his last shift. Every single time he comes home to me, I am thankful.

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Marriage is the hardest and most beautiful thing I have ever done in my life. Loving one person through the highs and the lows, humbling myself enough to put my needs aside and take care of him has been one of the most rewarding thing I have ever done. When he is successful, I am too. When he celebrates an achievement, I celebrate with him. When he weeps over a lost brother, I weep too. When he has a tough call ( and believe me there have been too many) I experience it with him. And friends, that’s what marriage is. It’s hard and rewarding choices mad every single day to honor the commitments that we made 11 short years ago. and just in case you were wondering, we committed to spend the rest of our lives together through sickness and health until death do us part. Choosing to love him even when it is hard, feeling his love in return, choosing each other every day, trumps romantic walks on the beach any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Now, I would love to hear from my married readers, no matter how long you’ve been married, what is one thing you have learned about marriage that you think may benefit our newly married couples to hear?

Photos by: Lindsey Roman


CHELSI IS A DESTINATION WEDDING  AND PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER BASED IN FORT BRAGG, CALIFORNIA. SHE LOVES TO TRAVEL AND WILL GO ANYWHERE TO CAPTURE YOUR LIFE'S SWEET MOMENTS. SHE LIVES FOR SEEING THE WORLD, CAPTURING AUTHENTIC LOVE, AND MAKING PEOPLE FEEL FABULOUS. HER STYLE IS AUTHENTIC, REAL, AND EMOTIONAL. SHE BELIEVES IN LAUGHING TOO MUCH, SINGING TOO LOUD, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST AND PREFERS CAPTURING EVERY SINGLE AUTHENTIC BEAUTIFUL MOMENT THAT EVOKE EMOTION OVER PERFECTLY POSED PHOTOS.

Survivor || Jug Handle State Reserve|| Fort Bragg, California

sur·vi·vor

noun

noun: survivor; plural noun: survivors

  • person who copes well with difficulties in their life.
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This is Mandy.  She is one of the most inspirational people that I know. This photo was taken 5 years ago after she fought a battle with Lymphoma and won. Last week, I had the immense honor of photographing her again in celebration. 


Today, She celebrates 5 years cancer free

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A word from Mandy: 

"Let me start off like this...Cancer effing sucks! Plain and simple. I hate it and I most certainly hate what it does to people. To their lives. To their families.

But, a few things I do have to say, are, that I can appreciate life. Appreciate the little things life has to offer. For starters, my second chance. My second chance to continue to be the best damn Mom to Conner. To be the wife I'm meant to be. To have our miracle, Payton, (after beating this nasty beast). To be a good friend...and the AMAZING opportunity being a coach at my local high school guiding my girls to become not only successful in their HS basketball career but in all aspects of life.

So, with that...I'm 5 years. 5 FREAKIN YEARS CANCER FREE! 

They say that with my "disease" hitting the 5 year mark is gold. Well, come on people...who doesn't want gold.

I'm taking it. I'm taking it that 5 years means my chances of recurrence slim down to some good sounding statistics! I can say I'm officially "cured"!!!!
I get to be with my family, my friends, my teams for LONGER!
I've made some stick with you friendships through this. Even after 5 years I'm finding myself connecting and becoming the best of friends with fellow survivors...people I wouldn't have imagined being close with before. These are friendships that no one else can understand (I'd never wish my closest loves to understand it). So, for them, these girls, I'm just a little more thankful that my journey this many years out, has brought them into my life.

5 years ago I was waiting for the call. The call that would change my life. The call that would tell me I'd be "ok" and able to move forward with a bit more ease OR (the dreaded) I'd need to continue a much harder fight. That one call brought me so many happy tears. I beat it. I won that ugly ugly beast that was trying to break me down. It didn't win. I DID!

I've lost long time friends through finding myself again, which is tough, but I've also gained more from it. Those whom love you will be there. No matter life's challenges. Something I've always believed in. And something I've learned the hurtful way. 
But thank goodness for my family and friends, my tribe that I've got on my side...then and now. I love you all!

Today, 5 years later, I'm stronger.
I'm happier. I'm more frightened.
But, I am me. More so than ever before. I know what life is and how I want it to be for myself and my family.

Life isn't fair. And sometimes it's taken from people we love too soon.
So, love what you have and Love who you have! Let others know. Enjoy your life...because it will pass you by regardless of what's thrown your way.

To 5 years! To 5 more years living life! 5 is a number I'm forever continuing to strive for.💜"

We all have a plan for our lives, or at least we like to think we do. Some of us have a 3 month plan, others a 5 year plan. No where in Mandy's plan, did she ever imagine a year with cancer, but she didn't let it stop her. I had the great privilege of photographing her entire journey from start to 5 years later, and I can honestly tell you that I never heard once say anything negative. 

Of course there were days of doubt, many questions, but she was determined to survive. At the time I remember thinking about what a courageous person she was and how beautiful it would be if she got to share her story of hope and courage with the others. 

Well, she got to do that and more. That's a story for another day, but, Mandy, you are so amazing!

From our family to yours: Congratulations on today's HUGE milestone! I can't wait to travel down this road with you all for the next 5 years, and the 5 after that! Love ya girl!

 

 

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Valuable Lessons Learned While Loving a CAL FIRE Firefighter

Living the life of a firefighter wife is not easy. It requires commitment, honor, respect, and sacrifice. Being married to a CAL FIRE firefighter requires all of that and more.  When duty calls and the California is burning, our loved ones can be gone for a month or more at a time. It can be very hard on this mama and her boys, but we carry on. 

Today, I want to share with you some valuable lessons my boys and I have learned from loving a CAL FIRE firefighter for 10 years. I know that for many who love a CAL FIRE firefighter, right now things seem out of control. We are all a little tired. Fire season will end and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We all need to hold on to positivity and giver ourselves permission to relax.  

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Today, I want to share with you some valuable lessons my boys and I have learned from loving a CAL FIRE firefighter for 10 years. I know that for many who love a CAL FIRE firefighter, right now things seem out of control. We are all a little tired. Fire season will end and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We all need to hold on to positivity and giver ourselves permission to relax.  

We are independent. We love having our firefighter at home with us, but when he is forced or away on a strike team, our plans can go on without him. We may miss him A LOT but we can still have fun without him. 

We are stronger than we think. Things go sideways sometimes. We get texts in the middle of the day that say, “I am safe” and then don’t hear anything for 24 to 48 hours. We pray, we ask for support, and we muster up the courage to go on with our lives. We depend on the theory that “no news is good news”. We are strong even when we feel weak.

Find a tribe, love them hard. Finding a group of ladies who live and understand the life of a CAL FIRE is invaluable. The old salty firewife is your best ally, she’s been through most of it, and she probably has a solution for your problem. Find her and love her hard. 

Going to counseling doesn’t mean you are broken, it just means you need support  and to be validated. Our marriage was on the brink of disaster just a few years ago. We made a very good decision to call Employee Assistance and went to counseling. We were not communicating our needs to each other neither were either our feelings being validated. The counselor both gave us sound advice and validated our feelings. Seek support. It’s good for both of you.

If there was a handbook, you would have to throw it out. Every single one of us has a different experience in life. There is no exception in the fire service. We all experience it differently. That’s what makes us unique. Do your own thing unapologetically, and if it works, share!

Our kids may be disappointed from time to time, but they will be proud of their parents. I don’t remember a time when my kids didn’t announce with pride where their daddy was when asked. They wear every “daddy shirt” with pride and they want to be just like him when they grow up. So, when they are disappointed, I just remind them that he is doing an important job of helping other people. 

Make a visual countdown to off duty time. In the winter, it’s the regular shift days. In the summer, its counting down the days until MOU Vacation. If the number goes down because he calls and says he’s on his way, it’s a surprise! Win/win for everyone. No more answering heartbreaking questions.
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Give the kids something to look forward to doing as a family when he is off duty. We plan something big at the end of fire season every year for the kiddos to look forward to. This year it was Disneyland, next year it will be a Disney Cruise. The year after that, who knows. The point is, they need the light at the end of the tunnel just as much as we do. 
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Don’t hide your feelings to spare his, even if he is on a fire. He doesn’t get a free pass just because he has a stressful job. We all have jobs to do and one is not more important than the other. It is important for him to be safe, however, it is not your responsibility to shelter him. When you have a bad day, tell him. If something goes sideways at home, share. If you need a break, he needs to know. Talk to him. He’s wants and needs to know so that he can help. This season, I needed a break, so my firefighter saved all his MOU for fire season. It sucks for him because he hasn’t been to any fires, but it’s helped me to get valuable rest. Next season, he can proceed to party, but this season is about me. That’s what being partners is all about.

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Most importantly, we are lucky to live this life. I don’t know many people who get paid to take 2 weeks off at a time, or that get 4 days off a week. We get more time with our firefighters than we really think. Yes, we sacrifice during the summer, but we get so much time as a family during the rest of the year. That’s awesome if you ask me. We form stronger bonds and make better friends than most people. We have a support system at our disposal whenever we need it. We have kick ass insurance and access to medical care that most people would kill for. And most importantly, our significant others get to do what they love and we are privileged enough to love and support them while they do. 
 

If you have read this far, chances are, you love a CAL FIRE firefighter too. If you are and you haven't found or joined our facebook group for CAL FIRE Wives/Girlfriends, today is the day! Please join us, you won't be sorry you did! 

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