Dear Mom and Dad,

Twenty-three years ago today, you were wed to each other at 19 years old. You were two years younger than I am today, vowing to dedicate the rest of your lives to each other. A little over a year later, that life would include mine.

This is my favorite story to tell. You met a few years prior at a high school dance. You didn't even go to the same school. Mom was grounded for the only time in her life and Meme let her off the hook early to let her go to this dance with a family member that went to Dad's school. When Mom walked in, looking beautiful as always, Dad's chin literally dropped to his chest (and she saw it!) If that isn't fate, I don't know what is. That is where it all began. The rest is history. Your history; our history.

I have learned so much from each of you individually, but I argue that my most valuable life lessons have come from you both. Having parents who are high school sweethearts (that totally still act like it to this day, I must add) has taught me a lot about life and love.

You taught me the value of commitment.

Dad joined the Army shortly after you began dating, and by default, so did you, Mom. You have both stuck out 20+ years of the military. From basic training, to several deployments, to warrant officer school — it never really ends, does it? You married each other knowing that the Army would have to come first. You knew that your time together would be limited. This meant writing letters, lots of phone calls and a die-hard commitment to your marriage. This meant making every moment count that you did have together and being grateful for the little things. When I was three and Dad was deployed, I can remember his letters and phone calls being the best thing that could ever happen to us. We waited by the phone, we sent photos and we made the few weeks we had with him that year really count. That was hard for Mom, but she didn't give up. She stayed strong for me and she taught me about you. She never let me forget who you were. Dad was in a scary place, but he stayed strong for us and still made us feel like the most important girls in the world, even from an entire world away. I know it was hard, and it is still hard. I know it has had a toll on both of you, but you remained loyal to each other, our family and the military. You both showed me that these were big commitments and once made, there is no other option than to give them your 110 percent.

You taught me that marriage is often flawed and difficult. You never stop working on it, ever, and that's okay.

For a long time, I had a very cookie-cutter idea in my head on how marriage should be. A lot of that was due to being one of the few kids with parents who were still married growing up. You were quite possibly the only parents who were still happy and in love. This set a really high standard for me and gave me the idea that I should only ever be with one person. I thought I needed to marry my high school sweetheart and have this "perfect" relationship. Over the past few years, I have realized how unrealistic that is, and while you have something incredibly rare and special, you don't have that "perfect" relationship I had created in my head. You don't have perfect and easy. I see that never once have you stopped taking care of each other. You didn't just get married and stop putting in work. I see you both, every day, put in effort to spend time together and make each other smile. I see you communicate during the hard times instead of walking away and giving up. I see you forgive. I see you give respect and acceptance at each other's best and worst. I see you putting your marriage as a priority. I see you putting your love as a priority.

You taught me to never take loved ones for granted.

You have showed me the value of family and have blessed me with a loving, stable, secure life. You have provided me with a family I can count on and trust. For these reasons, I have a better relationship with you both than most people at my age have, or really ever have, with their parents. Again, it is not perfect, but it is always safe, always important and always present. I value the time I have with you and everyone else that I love. I make sure to remain humble and count my blessings every single day, always knowing that I have enough to be grateful for for an entire lifetime, because I am surrounded by the people that I am; because I have both of you.

Thank you. I love you both endlessly.

Love,

Your Daughter

7/10/1993. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.