After having the honor of meeting Taya, spending time interviewing her and reading her new book “American Wife,” I am blown away by her raw insights, wisdom, energy and strength. She is the epitome of the idiom… “behind every great man there is a great woman.” And let me say, she is way too humble to be comfortable accepting this compliment. She doesn’t see herself as great – just as a Mom trying to do the best for her kids; a widow working hard to honor her hero husband’s legacy and a foundation director working toward a beautiful goal.
The relatively recent launch of the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation is a springboard for Chris and Taya’s shared dream of doing their part to make the world a better place. Seeing no fruitfulness in keeping valuable lessons to themselves, the foundation can step in and ‘Pay it forward!’ The “ripple effect” of sharing kindness and providing resources can provide much needed hope to save marriages suffering from the often brutal ups and downs for those serving in the military, law enforcement and first responders.
Taya’s memoire “American Wife” is a beautiful account of love, war, faith and renewal. This is a must read for those of you feeling the effects of these tumultuous times of division in our country. I personally recommend her audio book because her lyrical voice will welcome you like a warm Texas morning. You feel like you’re just hanging out with her. Some of my friends and I have this saying after meeting someone we really liked… “She would be our friend.”
Interview with Taya.
What you have to face as a wife and mother is beyond imaginable. Can you tell us how you are doing right now?
Ya know, I’m making a lot of progress. I deal with a fair amount of emotional edginess. From struggling through the mud, I’ve realized I have to allow myself to cry more. I’m definitely working on being aware of where I need to concentrate when it comes to my well-being.
What do you do to relax and seek peace with all the noise?
I’m not doing a very good job with relaxing. A friend told me I need a hobby that has no goal. I come from a family of artist’s so I picked up some paints that are still just sitting there. So my passion for a “goal-free” hobby hasn’t been discovered yet but I’m working on it. I do make a point of honoring my sleep time. If I don’t finish something I’m working on, I make myself put it down so I can get the sleep I so badly need. (This was hard for me.)
I make time with my kids a priority. By putting my phone away, I focus on the quality of our time together. We like to do fun things together and I want to always be present for them, staying in the moment. That requires no phone, no electronics and more reading together. So there are not any big massive changes I’ve made with them, just the little things.
Can you tell us how the kids are doing?
Great! They are involved, happy, they love to laugh and have a strong foundation in God. Everyone says kids are more resilient than adults and I think this is true. I really love that my kids are deep thinkers and just plain kind.
Can you tell us what kind of man Chris Kyle was?
Sure, Chris was unique in that he was this great combination of quiet confidence and humility. He was all about adoring the people he loved. He made you feel special. I guess you could say he was an old school gentleman; never pushing, never pressuring. He knew how to convey how important I was to him. Just before he died, he had flowers sent to me because it was more special than just bringing them home to me. Very romantic.
Can you share a favorite Chris story? (Or two?)
Well, I’d say the day we were in Barnes and Noble for Chris’ first book signing. We had no idea what to expect from this and to our surprise there was a huge three-hour long line that wrapped up and down the first and second floors and out of the building. The store offered Chris a chair and he insisted on not having one because if these people were going to stand for him, he would stand for them. When the last person in line, an older gentleman, approached Chris saying “I’m so excited to finally meet you!” Chris responded “Well, I’m sorry, you must be disappointed to see just another dumb redneck.”
Chris had a way of making everyone he came in contact with feel like they were important. He always gave you 100% attention and would give you as much time as you needed. This was because of his innate strong sense of respect and just plain old fashioned good manners. As far as dealing with social media distractions and constant cell phone calls, Chris had a way to respect the person calling as well as the one he was with, namely…me. He would say “Hey, I’m talking with my wife right now, is this urgent or can I get back to you?” By doing that he is telling both of us that we are important to him. The funny thing is that when he would “catch” me texting when we were spending time together, he would call me on it and I’d say “Well, I can multi-task. Ha!”
There was something special that Chris always kept in his truck that you didn’t know about?
His Bible. One day we were talking about God and I asked him what he thought about the prospect of us living more than one life on earth. “Well, that’s not in the Bible but I can tell you this, if we do live more than one life here, I hope all of mine are spent with you!” I don’t know all the answers babe, but you should pull out my Bible and see what it has to say. “It’s in the truck, it’s always on hand.” I was so surprised that he had that Bible tucked away there but I shouldn’t have been. It made sense to me…he had a quiet sense of peace that he got from his faith.”
I read that Chris was known as “The most lethal sniper in American military history.” He was often asked how many lives he had taken. Can you please share his feeling and response to that question?
Publishers and reporters were always quoting that statistic. Chris would calmly respond to questions about this because to him…it was all about the number of lives he had saved, not taken. When we were promoting the book in Poland there was a reporter interviewing Chris who was visibly distraught whom I could tell was going to be trouble. He was very aggressive and verbal about how he felt that a man like Chris was indefensible and we should not take him seriously because he had taken so many lives. It was the first interview that I walked out of. I was so upset about how little he actually knew about Chris. But Chris, handled him calmly without a flinch. This was one of his gifts…not mine. Ha!
Can you share with us the story about the all night exhausting combat mission that ended with tears and the National Anthem?
Sure. On one of Chris’ Iraq deployments, there was a super intense fire-fight that went on through-out the entire night and into the “dawn’s early light”. There was no time for rest or breaks, only time to reload a weapon. You can imagine, they were all spent by day break. Everyone in their unit miraculously survived; there were of course injuries. As they dressed their wounds, another unit approached them in their vehicle with flags waving and music playing the National Anthem. They all stood up, and putting their hands over their hearts, began singing. Tears coming down their faces as the dawn broke and dust blew. To these men, words have meaning and the emotion of these particular words was palatable especially as they were exhausted and coming down from the adrenaline from the all night struggle. They were literally fighting for our freedom and the country they love. Real hero’s.
I know your husband called you a lot while he was in combat. How nervous did that background noise make you? Did you flinch every time you got a call?
Chris would always play down most of these firefights only for me to find out how intense they were afterward. What you learn as a spouse of a soldier, or of anyone in law enforcement or other first responders, is you can’t let the fear control you. I certainly struggled with that a lot and certainly didn’t want to even think about life without Chris. But there is this saying in the ranks… “until it’s you, it’s not you.” It’s not that you are unsympathetic to others, you are doing what you have to do. I had to learn that living in fear could overtake me and control me.
It was these daily fire-fights that brought me closer to God through prayer. I vividly realized how little control I had in this life and gratefully handed it over to God. At times, I could physically feel a warmth in my chest washing over me, a sense of peace and safety. The hand of God. The relief knowing that God was very present in my life… changed me.
Moving on to the movie…It is clear that “American Sniper” not only highlighted Chris and his seal and marine brother’s dedication to serve but your personal struggles with the military, marriage and family as well. Tell us about Chris’ choice to retire after 11 years of combat deployments.
Well, first of all, Chris found himself in back to back deployments that are really…not supposed to happen. Where soldiers are supposed to experience “shore leave” between deployments, Chris was repeatedly called into action under the auspices of “Needs of the Navy”. What was obvious to me was that the man in charge here, had clearly never seen combat himself. But also, this was difficult because Chris wanted to be there because to him, this was his job.
I lost complete trust in the military at this point. So many promises they had made…broken. Chris had two knee surgeries, and issues with his ears and eyes. I felt like I had to figure out what else would interest him so he would come home and be with his family. So I told him maybe I would move with the kids up to Oregon, near my family, for a more grounded family life and when he was back he would come visit us there. He told me “marriages don’t work that way!” He felt I was giving him an ultimatum, which I didn’t mean to sound that way. However, that is when he decided to retire in order to put his family first.
Before he died, he said he would never tell anyone to get out of the military but the joy he was experiencing post-military, spending more quality time with his family, was so much more than when he was serving. He still remained passionate about being willing to die for his brothers and his country. But now he had a normal family life; laughing, tickling the kids, being home for Thanksgiving. To see his joy, was a huge deal for me. I would have been devastated if he had felt for one second that he had made the wrong decision.
Are you comfortable with how the movie portrayed Chris and you?
I was 100% happy with how Chris was portrayed. Bradley Cooper and the screen writer Jason Hall spent hundreds of hours getting details together on Chris. I have to give them a lot of credit. At one point, knowing Chris so well, Bradley Cooper told Clint Eastwood, “Nope, Chris wouldn’t have said that.” When I watched the movie, I really felt like I was actually watching Chris so I would say…well done! They had truly captured the essence, spirit and life of a warrior.
It’s quite surreal to watch someone “playing” you, but Sienna did a great job being me! It was actually gut-wrenching to watch. As a military spouse you have to always be ready for what they throw at you. I didn’t even realize the extent of which the military lifestyle had affected me until I saw the film.
Any comments you’d like to share about Bradley Cooper? Sienna Miller? Clint Eastwood?
Well, people love to hear about Bradley and for good reason. He is phenomenal! Yes, his eyes are just as blue as they can get, even more than they appear on film. More importantly, he is the nicest, truly down to earth guy and he genuinely cares about other people. He is not like a typical Hollywood actor in that way. He is very resilient and is willing to let people in.
Clint, was very kind, down to earth, soft spoken and funny. He would say stuff under his breath that would crack us all up repeatedly. In my book I give an account of when he went “all Dirty Harry” on me. Ha!
Sienna Miller is not only beautiful, but brilliant as well. She is definitely a voice to be reckoned with. I was amazed to find out that she got the ‘Protective Paparazzi’ laws changed in England. She would say, If you want something done, do it yourself. Ha! She has a huge heart and I try my best to keep in touch with her.
I’m sure there was divine intervention with the cast and crew of this film. Everyone was so loving and made it their mission to pay attention to the details and get this story spot on.
Your head must have been spinning with all the media attention with the film and your life. How did this affect your family?
We had to put out a few fires but we worked it out. Our children haven’t seen the film. We wanted them to remain unaffected. But they know what their dad did and they are proud of him. In “American Wife” I went into more detail on this as well.
You and Chris had a shared passion to make the world a better place. Your heart for military and first responder’s marriages. Can you share about why you started your Foundation, “The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation”?
Chris and I learned a lot through our struggles, so we wanted to ‘pay it forward’ and help other marriages and families. The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation’s mission is to honor God, Country, and Families who serve. We do this by providing time and space for couples to re-connect after deployment.
After my parent’s gifted us with a weekend away from “everyday life”, we realized the importance of getting away for a couple days, away from daily distractions. It was important to Chris and me that we reach out to not just military but also to other first responders. We have many friends in law enforcement that go through much of the same things the military families deal with. There is a saying “When one person serves, the entire family serves.” With the specific goal to help marriages and families, the foundation is able to fulfill a real need in these communities. It is such a blessing to be able to witness actual changes in these families!
Are you working with any doctors or any specific therapies on the best treatments for PTSD?
We don’t specifically work with PTSD at the foundation but we are able to connect people with excellent resources to help specifically where they need it. There are so many advancements in this field like EMDR, MRI’s and talk therapy. One of the hardest pieces of this puzzle is getting people to acknowledge that they are suffering from PTSD.
How has your Christian faith grown or changed over the years?
I have always been a believer but my understanding of God and the Bible has grown in leaps and bounds. I have been empowered by sermons that have real life application and also Bible study. I have done the Beth Moore studies and I really enjoyed them. Lee Strobel’s book “A Case for Christ” has also had a major impact on my faith. My mom and I like to share insights via texts about our daily devotional book, “Jesus Calling.” Overall, what I grasped is that the Bible is still relevant in this day and age. Human nature has not changed over time. Technology changes, the environment changes but not human nature and God remains steady. There will always be conflict in the world, but with that there is also triumph.
If someone would like to get involved in your Foundation, what can they do?
They can follow us on social media and Facebook and spread the word about what we are doing. But I’d like to add that if you want to help someone in need, just show up for them. Don’t ask what you can do, just do what you see may need doing. You don’t have to run a big foundation to be a blessing to others in need. Many times it is the “little things” that make the huge difference showing people that they are loved and cared for.
Please tell us about your book “American Wife”. What inspired you to make this book a reality?
I wrote this book for people to see another side of Chris and to continue to honor his legacy. I also wanted other husbands and wives to know that they are not alone and to show them that it is worth it to make the effort to save their families and fight through the problems. This book is not for women only by any means. For fans of Chris and his first book American Sniper, I think you will find the stories of great interest. I share a lot of background stories behind what people have seen in the movie. I go on about details that followed the movie and talk about the pain and lessons learned through Chris’ murder.
Another note about the book… If you enjoy listening to books on tape, I am the narrator of the audio version of the book. I personally love to put on audio books when I’m working around the house.
Interested in knowing more about Taya’s book, American Wife, The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, or to become a part of their Facebook family? Please refer to the links below.
Note: Please take a moment to pray for the safety of our brave troops just outside the gates of Isis strong hold city, Mosul. Pray for them as they fight for our safety and freedom.