FORT LEWIS, Wash. - During the week of Thanksgiving, we as Americans often take time to reflect upon the people and opportunities we're most thankful for. And while all of us in the military community are always thankful for the incredible men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces - our comrades and our spouses - we aren't necessarily always thankful for the sacrifices their service sometimes causes us.

I've spent two of the last four Thanksgiving dinners at the homes of friends - amazing people who took me under their wing and adopted me when my husband was deployed for 16 months to Iraq.

My prayer on those Thanksgiving Days was one of thanks for their blessings of friendship and compassion in my life. But even as I thanked God for those special people, I couldn't help but also ask God why - why I had to spend two Thanksgiving dinners without my husband, why I had to make alternate plans when I married a man who promised to be there until death do us part, why I had to sacrifice not just one, but two Thanksgiving holidays in a row, when most of my friends complained about having to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the husbands who were warm in their homes.

The life demands a lot, and sometimes - especially during those dark deployment days where we wonder how we are going to bear another holiday alone through the pixilated image of a Web cam on a computer screen - we forget that there are indeed many things to be thankful for about this life.

We forget that, because of the commitment of the Soldiers we love, we can freely celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and celebrate them as we choose.

We forget that the sacrifices we make as families, when we allow them to, only make us closer and stronger.

And we forget that, though we might not be eating it together, the military at least provides the money for us to buy a Thanksgiving turkey.

Four years and two missed Thanks-givings into this military life, I'm realizing that God doesn't place these challenges in my life because he's disregarding me; He allows these challenges because He's growing me.

Gratitude is an attitude - it's more than a quick "thank you," more than admitting that there are indeed bright spots in this military life. And it's definitely more than celebrating your blessings on one day of the year. Gratitude is an attitude that reminds us that, if we are alive and able to miss our loved ones on this special day, we already have two blessings on our plate - our health and the health of a spouse who, though away, is still alive and able to be missed. Those are not blessings that all military families can count.

When we remember how blessed we really are, that kind of gratitude can sustain us not just on Thanksgiving, but throughout the challenges of this demanding and rewarding military life.

Fort Lewis Army Wife Michelle Cuthrell is the author of Behind the Blue-Star Banner: A Memoir from the Home Front ( She is a regular contributor to Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.