Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Change of Command

Before I begin this week's post, the winner for last week's giveaway, Called to Serve, is...Lauren!!!  Congratulations!  I will be emailing you shortly to obtain your mailing address.  For those of you who did not win, you can order the book at the Monetti's website or on Amazon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Called to Serve Giveaway

I had the recent privilege of reading a unique resource for military families entitled Called to Serve.  Below is the review and interview I did with one of the authors.  If you would like to enter to win a free copy of the book, see the end of this post!

          Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Monetti and his wife, Penny, are a seasoned military family who have written this inspirational book – Called to Serve - to encourage military families to stay the course in the rapid deployment cycle so many are facing.  Offering wisdom, humor, and advice, the Monettis explain how they have handled various situations from moving multiple times to living overseas to deployment to raising children in an unstable environment.  What is unique about this book as opposed to many others written for military families is that the Monettis each write from their own perspective, often alternating chapters.  This makes it great for the military couple to read together.  So much is being written for military wives, but this is an excellent resource for husbands, as well.  In addition, when wives read Lt. Col. Monetti’s perspective, it can provide insight into their own husband’s thoughts and desires.  Thus, I highly recommend this book to any military family seeking help from someone who’s already walked down the arduous road of a life of service to our country.
      Below is an interview that Penny Monetti graciously agreed to do exclusively for this blog.  Continue reading to find her answers to some pertinent questions:
Melissa: How did you get started writing?
Penny: My daughter faced a life-threatening illness when she was an infant. I knew God had blessed us by her miracle of life, and I wanted to share with other mothers how fleeting and precious life is. Through my daughter’s experience, I learned to “Dance,” or embrace our golden moments together before they slipped away. I knew in an eye’s blink she would grow up and be packing her suit cases for college. This is why I wrote, “Choose to Dance: A Mother/Daughter Guide to Tackling Life’s Tough Issues.”
Melissa: What was your favorite “season” of military life?
Penny: Every season contains beautiful memories that I pray the cobwebs of age will never erase. Every PCS brought us closer together as a family as we leaned on each other for comfort, friendship, strength, and security; however, my favorite times were homeschooling my children while living in Europe.  When we studied the Renaissance Era, my children visited Michelangelo’s renown Duomo in Florence and Rome’s Sistine Chapel. They learned about the Roman emperors and stood on the step where Caesar was assassinated. When we studied World War II, my children experienced firsthand the cramped barracks of Dachau, Germany as they sandwiched their small bodies into the very same bunk that six adult Jewish prisoners once shared. Their skin felt the cold harsh November wind and rain while bundled up in heavy coats with protective umbrellas in the courtyard where the Jews were corralled together with no coats or hats to ward off the elements.  We stayed in a quaint chateau in Normandy, France where the elderly owner showed us the hash marks he carved into the barn door as a young boy to count the days that he was forced to live there while his mother lived inside their home with the Nazis.  No school text books could teach the life lessons we experienced together as a family.
Melissa: What encouragement can you offer a wife who is on her 2nd, 3rd, 4th, deployment? 
Penny: Divorce has become the newest casualty of war. In order to help avoid this trauma, I encourage home front spouses to acquire PMS, but, this is the type of PMS that they will want to have: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual balance.  PMS keeps home front spouses strong so they can take care of everyone else. Just as the flight attendant on a plane instructs the passengers to administer oxygen first to themselves before their small children in the case of a pressure drop, home front spouses need to maintain balance so that they can be the rock of the family while the warrior is gone.                                          
Physical - Eat and rest. So cliché, right?  How many spouses binge when they are nervous or skip meals all together? When their honeys come home, many spouses go on crash diets. Now’s the time to enroll in a fitness program with the fitness center or a local gym. Brisk walks clear the mind and burn stress. Sleep disorders? I took medication for three years because of stress induced insomnia. I decided to get a book and learn to balance my hormones through diet and exercising regularly. I eliminated caffeine, fast food, and preservatives. I have been medication free for over a year now. It’s a fact that when your body is tired, your metabolism doesn’t function as well, which means that you don’t burn calories.  Rest affects your weight as well as your moods.                                                                                                       
Mental - Get rid of the negativity in your life! Limit the news and avoid rumors and gossipy people. Surround yourself with friends that ENCOURAGE and do the SAME in return! I absolutely love Mark Twain’s quote, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too, can become great.” Now, we can still be a role model and love the negative Nancys’, but be careful not to let them sap your energy from you. Phillipians 4:8 says: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.                                                                                                         
Spiritual - Know that you are not alone. Joshua 1:9 states, “Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” There were trying times in my life when I felt my dog heard my prayers better than God only to realize that if God had answered my prayer at that time, the tremendous spiritual growth would have never occurred. I learned to memorize scripture so I could pull it out when times got tough. Surrendering my cares each day before the feet of God rejuvenated me daily and instilled a peace that only God can give.
Melissa: In your book, Called to Serve, you talk about “the military spouse’s troublesome trio: fear, uncertainty, and worry. “  How can women stop these three emotions from taking over their lives?
Penny: By surrendering our concerns daily to the Lord, God will smoke the trio out of their foxholes and defeat them. God cares about the trivial pebbles as well as the huge boulders that block our paths to a relationship with Him.
Melissa: Tell me more about the title – Called to Serve. How did you know the Lord called both you and your husband to military service even though he was the one wearing the uniform?
Penny: I fell in love with a military man, and when I walked up to the altar, I knew my vows were not only to my husband and God but to the military life, as well.  I have always gotten teary-eyed whenever a military plane flies overhead or I hear a patriotic song. I’m a real sap! God is calling me in a different capacity to serve the military now that my children are nearly grown through our Called to Serve Ministry (calledtoserveministry.com). I am blessed to give motivational presentations to military spouses at bases nationwide regarding transitions, marriage, PTSD, and triumph over tragedy. Because I’ve “been there and done that” myself for the past 24 years, spouses can really relate.
Melissa: Some military wives tend to distance themselves from the military community.  Do you think that’s wise?  Why or why not?  
Penny: Being involved with friends, church family, and maintaining a strong connection with God wards off destructive behaviors and fosters a positive environment where a spouse can communicate with other spouses and caring friends. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Just as a lion watches for a weak gazelle to stray from the herd, there is an enemy that lurks, waiting for us to become weak and isolate ourselves from our friends and God. There is strength when we are united with friends, church family, and ultimately, God. This is where we can find strength when challenges arise. When we are alone, destructive behaviors set in, such as depression, alcohol, self-medication, etc. It is crucial to stay connected.
Melissa: What wisdom and advice can you offer to the mom who is worried about moving her children every two to three years, putting them in multiple schools, and exposing them to worries and fears about a daddy at war?
Penny: Immediately after receiving orders, I would pray Deuteronomy 31:8: The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” This verse always comforted me, knowing that God was already at the next base finding our future friends, schools, etc. For the military child, who commonly attends numerous schools, smooth moving transitions depend on the child’s self esteem and the parent’s attitude. My oldest son attended three different high schools and three middle schools. Although extremely difficult at times, moving became a positive experience and he became more outgoing, confident, and a self-assured traveler as a result. My younger son, who wasn’t a big fan of change, required more effort to get him involved with other kids, but once the ice was broken, he blossomed. Your child’s self esteem first starts at home. You are their biggest cheerleader, and leading by example is the best model for transitioning into new situations.  Listening to a child’s fears and worries and not trying to solve problems helps them process their own insecurities. The “deal with it” parental attitude only causes stress and fear in a child. Being available for a child to “unload” is crucial. In our upcoming book, “Called to Serve II: Transitions,” we go into great detail about making smooth family transitions, including hints to help children relocate to new schools, make new friends, and how parents can help make this challenging process easier.
Melissa: How did you and your husband approach church hunting when moving to a new area?  Did you ever settle for a lesser quality church home when you knew you would only be there for a year or two?  Or did you invest the time searching for the right one despite the fact that your time to serve there would be limited?
Penny: I always took great comfort in the verse from Deuteronomy 31:8 Tony would first ask those in his new squadron where they went to Church. He would immediately find out who was excited about their faith. We would visit a church each Sunday until we found one that fit our needs.  Many times, when our children were small, Tony and I would take turns each Sunday and scope out the church service, kid’s Sunday school, Bible studies, etc. alone while the other stayed at home with the kids rather than drag our children into a new environment each week. (This did not apply when they became teens.) One big church determining factor for me was how friendly the congregation was after the service. I could always feel love and warmth in a congregation that was truly Christ centered. When we thought a church might be a good fit, we then would see how the kids responded to the Sunday school, youth groups, etc. and give it a trial period. If we felt it was enriching to our children and we could spiritually grow as a family, we knew we had found our church. One mistake I wish I could rewind time and change is when we lived in Italy. There were no English speaking churches, and the military base was an hour and a half away. Rather than take our kids where they wouldn’t completely understand the language, (and I envisioned them being bored stiff) we held home church and made the drive to the base chapel periodically. This was a wonderful bonding time, and a chance for us to grow spiritually as a family, but I believe my children could have additionally grown spiritually in the Italian culture. In the long run, each family must make the decision as to what works best for them and pray, pray, pray.
Thank you, Penny! 
The Monettis’ have graciously donated a copy of their book, Called to Serve, for me to giveaway.  If you would like to enter to win this wonderful autographed resource, please leave a comment below telling why this is of interest to you.  Also be sure to include your email address within your comment so I can contact you if you win. 
You can also order the book or learn more about the Monetti’s ministry at www.calledtoserveministry.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Winner of Giveaway AND Duties of a Platoon Leader's Wife

Before I start on my weekly post, let me announce the winner to last week's Faith Deployed...Again giveaway.  The winner is...KitKat!!  If you would please email me your mailing address at melnicke@aol.com, I will send you the free copy of Faith Deployed...Again asap.  Thanks!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Faith Deployed...Again Review and Giveaway

Attention Military Wives: Below is a review of Faith Deployed...Again.  Leave a comment to enter to win your free copy!!

Similar in format and content to its predecessor (Faith Deployed), Faith Deployed…Again is an outstanding resource for military wives.  Written by women hailing from all the branches (including Reserve) these short devotionals will encourage, inspire, and convict you to be a better wife/mom.  Even if you are busy and on-the-go, you will have time to read at least one excerpt a day.  They’re so short - you can even read one during a commercial break of Kathie Lee and Hoda!  (It’s true, I tried it!) 

I’ll be honest.  When I first read the book, I wasn’t sure how much it would apply to my current situation.  I read the first one while my husband was deployed, and it was certainly a comfort to my soul.  However, now my husband is in one of the Army’s “gentleman schools,” and has fabulous hours.  I wasn’t sure I would still benefit.   I was pleasantly surprised to find that, indeed, on more than one occasion, the authors spoke to my exact situation.  Whether it’s keeping track of how many days you’ve been together versus days you’ve been apart, loving difficult people, coping with overseas assignments, or maneuvering a tricky in-law scenario, this book offers guidance and words of encouragement based on the Bible.  You would be hard-pressed to read the entire book without gleaning at least one tidbit of advice.  Go ahead, read it, and see if you can prove me wrong!

Faith Deployed…Again written by Jocelyn Green, Marshele Waddell, Alane Pearce, Sarah Ball, and many more!

Giveaway:  I’m excited to give away a FREE copy of Faith Deployed…Again thanks to Moody Publishers and Jocelyn Green.  All you have to do is leave a comment below telling me a little about your season of military life to enter.  I’ll randomly draw a name from all those who left comments and announce the winner on next week’s blog post.    

Or if you want to purchase your own copy, check here!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Casualty of Youth

            A few months into Matt’s time as a platoon leader in the Rear, I had the wonderful chance to attend a Kay Arthur, Beth Moore, and Priscilla Shirer women’s conference with my mom in Atlanta.  It was an amazing weekend filled with powerful teaching, genuine worship, and sweet time with my mom. 

            The night before I was going to drive home, Matt called to find out how I was.  But before I could tell him all the wonderful things I had learned, I noticed the tone in his voice.  He sounded exhausted!  When I asked him if he was okay, he said it had been a long day.  I was surprised to hear this as it was a Saturday.  I had thought he had been at home all day playing computer games or watching movies.  As he elaborated, he told me that one of his soldiers had gotten in a car accident the night before and was in the hospital.  He explained that he had been at either the office or the hospital all day long.  He hadn’t even had time to eat!  He said the soldier was in ICU, and they weren’t sure he was going to make it.  I told him I would be praying and would be home early the next day.  He said if he wasn’t at home when I got there to call his cell phone to find out where he was.
            When I returned home from Atlanta the following day, Matt was there but in uniform.  As it was a Sunday, I was surprised to see this.  He looked just as tired as he sounded on the phone.  He told me he was going to have to go back to the hospital that night because the soldier’s parents were flying in from California.  I asked if I could come with him, and Matt was more than happy to have some company.
            Due to the soldier’s critical condition, he had been taken to a civilian hospital in downtown Savannah.  It took us almost an hour to get there from post.  When we got to the waiting room, several of Matt’s other soldiers and their wives were there.  No one looked rested or at peace.

            Matt had previously informed me that many of these soldiers had had a party the night of the accident.  While there had been drinking involved, the soldier who hosted the party assured Matt that his friend had been sober before he left his house.  The police had tested his blood for alcohol but said the results would take several days.  Meanwhile, he was in ICU with increased intracranial pressure, and his friends waited with grief-stricken faces and feelings of guilt for letting him leave.  As my eyes moved from face to face, I felt inadequate and unprepared to comfort them.
            When the soldier’s parents arrived, Matt briefed them on the situation, took them back to see their son, and waited with them while the doctor explained the prognosis.  I stayed back in the waiting room, silently praying and asking God to show me what to do – how to help.
            Once the parents came back out, I hugged them and told them how sorry I was.  They met the rest of the platoon and expressed gratitude for all the support.  Matt told them that the Army had paid for them to stay in a hotel nearby and would take them there when they were ready.  They wanted to stay a few more hours so Matt and I waited with them, until they were ready to go.
            As we waited I tried to find out if they knew the Lord.  Through our conversation, I discovered that they had some basic knowledge of God but did not seem to truly know Him.  I prayed inwardly that somehow Matt and I would be a witness to them.  After taking them to their hotel for the night, Matt and I went home and promised to come back tomorrow.  When I realized that their hotel was not close enough to the hospital that they could walk to it, I asked Matt if we could loan them my car since it was the summer and I didn’t need it.  He said we should think and pray about it that night and decide when we went back.
            The next day Matt had to go into the office for a bit to work on reports and brief the commanders in the battalion on the soldier’s condition.  Later in the day, he came home and said we could take two cars to the hospital so we could leave mine with the soldier’s family.  I also brought along my book of Scripture promises in case the Lord prompted me to give it to them.

            As soon as we arrived, Matt checked with the doctor about the soldier’s condition.  I spoke with the parents and asked how they were holding up.  Intermittent tears told me they were doing as good as could be expected.  Matt came back out and joined the conversation, asking if they were okay at the hotel and if we could do anything to help.  The doctor had said the soldier was doing better but we would know more in the next few days.  We reassured the parents that we were praying for their son and for them.  Then we told them we would like for them to use my car while they were here so they wouldn’t have to rely on others to get around.  The smiles on their faces and the hugs they gave me were the only thanks I needed.  I instantly knew we had done the right thing and God would use this.
            On the way home, Matt told me more of the soldier’s background.  While they had been deployed, his wife cheated on him.  He was very distraught having just found this out.  Only a few weeks before the car accident, he had brandished a gun and, although not suicidal, he was obviously emotionally unstable. Additionally, Matt was worried that alcohol was contributing to his problems. My husband was not altogether certain this car wreck wasn’t a failed suicide attempt.
            My heart broke yet again for this poor twenty year old.  Here he had been to war and back, but injuries sustained from the results of a broken heart were threatening his life.  Not bullets, not RPGs, not even IEDs were the impetus behind his afflictions.  No, it was an unfaithful wife and unstable emotions that brought him to the brink of death.

            The more I heard about the situation, the more upset I got.  In spite of the Army’s ability to prosecute adultery, this case could not be proved.  In addition, the soldier had not told his parents about the infidelity, which meant they still thought of her as their daughter.  Meanwhile Matt was working behind the scene to ensure that the soldier’s life insurance (should it come to that) would not go to his wife.  Unfortunately, he could not change what the soldier had put down on paper.
           So not only had this woman defiled her marriage, she was probably going to gain financially from it as well.  I was livid!  However, I soon found out I was not the only one feeling this way.  The rest of the platoon was furious, having listened to their friend anguish over her.  The day she came in to visit him at the hospital was a day filled with tension and hatred.  Matt had to quickly step in and remove some of his platoon from the waiting room, ordering them not to express their feelings towards her since the specialist’s parents still did not know.

            During this time, I tried to keep the parents distracted from the other members of the platoon.  I engaged them in conversation about their home in California and their other children.  Thankfully, they were willing to share and eager to have a listening ear.  Soon, as a result of my wise husband’s leadership, the tense situation dissolved.
            The next day, the specialist’s condition worsened, and the doctors were not sure he was going to survive.  Matt and I rushed back to the hospital.  The soldier’s parents were visibly shaken and upset.  I sat with them and held the mom’s hand while Matt went back to speak to the doctor.  When he came back out, his faced was pale and he said he needed to make a call.  Not much later, a chaplain came to speak to the family and prepare them for the worst.  A few hours later, the soldier did not improve or worsen so the parents decided they would go back to their hotel to sleep.  It was at this moment, I felt the Holy Spirit tug on my heart to pass the book of Scripture promises on to the parents.  Even though I knew they didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord, I knew the Bible could comfort better than any words we could offer.

            During that night, Matt got the call that his soldier had died.  While my heart grieved for his family, a part of me was relieved that it was over.  Unfortunately, the days preceding the memorial service were just as stressful and required still careful maneuvering as the soldier’s widow became more visible and demanding.  Casualty Assistance took over more control at this point, but Matt and I were still heavily involved.

            The day of the memorial service, Matt told me he would have to sit up front with the family.  He urged me to come a little early so I could find a seat.  When I arrived, I was surprised to see the chapel so full already.  I managed to find a seat and began to look around.  At the front stood the soldier’s boots and rifle with his helmet placed on top.  As the family processed in, I watched in horror as the “widow” trailed behind her in-laws playing the part of a grieving wife and treated as though she was to be pitied above everyone else.  Yet I quickly realized I had to put aside my personal feelings and be available for this family, as well as the hurting members of the platoon, with whom I sat.

            If you have never been to a soldier’s memorial service, there is no possible way you can understand the raw pain that thickens the air.  Although I had been to a few as a child, not even that could prepare me for this service.  Standing there within the ranks of grown men and women, in uniform – men and women who had stared death in the face in the deserts of Iraq – as they break down over the loss of one of their own, my eyes filled with tears and my heart sunk with other’s pain. 
            When I thought it couldn’t get any more painful, the platoon sergeant began “roll call.”  First, he called the name of a few soldiers who alphabetically preceded the deceased.  They all responded with, “Here, Sergeant.”  Then he called the specialist’s last name.  When there was no response, he called his rank and last name.  Again, no response – the quiet was desperate around us.  Finally, he called the rank and full name of the dead soldier.  All around me, people shook with sobs and the sound of sniffling was heart-wrenching.  Outside, the rifles sounded their farewell, and somber guests bowed their heads for a closing prayer. 
            Pulling ourselves together, we made our way through the receiving line to pass on our condolences and words of comfort.  When my turn came, the parents hugged me tightly, communicating what words could not express.  I again told them how sorry I was and promised to pray for them fervently. 
I walked outside to wait for Matt, watching others grieve, again feeling inadequate to comfort.  Matt came a while later, took my hand, and told me we would take the parents to the airport in the morning, but for now, he needed to go back to work to finish up some things.
I went home and questioned whether I had done all I could do for this family and the families of the platoon.  I asked God why this had to happen, why the wife seemed to get away with her lascivious and greedy actions.  I asked God if I should have spoken more bold words of witness.  Instead of an audible answer, I just felt a peace.
The next morning, Matt and I met the parents at their hotel where I got my car back.  We then took them to the airport and hugged them tightly.  The mother handed me a letter and made me promise if we ever wanted to come visit, we would let them know.  We said our goodbyes and drove home.
In the mother’s letter, she thanked me for the book of Bible promises, saying it helped her through the worst pain.  She thanked me for letting them use my car, and for sitting with them in the hospital.  She said Matt and I were like angels to her and she would never forget how we helped them through a tragic moment in their lives.
            When I finished reading it, I smiled up at God and thanked Him for using me, and asked Him to do it again…
            You never know when or how God is going to ask you to serve Him.  It may not look the way you thought it would, but it will always end the way He wanted.  We just have to be sensitive to those tugs He makes on our heart and be obedient to follow through.  Then we will get a glimpse of how to truly bring Him glory.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My First Hail and Farewell

          As a little girl, I remember watching my parents get dressed up to attend a “Hail and Farewell” – the Army function that welcomes new families to a unit and says goodbye to those moving on.  I remember my parents going out to a nice restaurant, staying out late and coming home tired.  Occasionally my mom would complain about going, but more often than not, these functions seemed quite glamorous to me.  Thus, when Matt came home one day from work and said we had to go to a “Hail and Farewell” that weekend, I was excited.  I’d finally get to meet his newest boss and the people he worked with.  I might even meet their wives – potential new friends!

            Unfortunately, the version of a “Hail and Farewell” that I had in mind was not quite what I experienced.  While I did meet Matt’s company commander, XO, and other platoon leaders, it was not the fun evening I had dreamed up in my head.  As the pub quickly filled with big, tough Infantrymen, alcohol began to flow, and conversation began to loosen.  Profanities flew, gross topics of conversation were engaged, and a host of Army acronyms jumbled in their slurred speech.  The evening seemed to drag on and on.  When they announced that the formal portion was about to begin, I groaned inwardly, knowing I would have to suffer through at least 2 more hours.  While I did meet a few of the wives who seemed just as uncomfortable as me, I mostly sat in silence trying not to listen to the disgusting talk around me.  How in the world did Matt put up with this?
            During the formal portion, I was shocked to hear commanders mock and lie “all in good fun” as they welcomed the newbies.  As Matt’s name was called, I was surprised to hear the booing when the commander announced he was from “that” school.  I had mistakenly thought West Point would be well-received…what was I thinking?  We both went forward – he to receive a coin, me to receive a rose.  When we sat back down, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable.  Was this really the environment God wanted us in?

            The rest of the night continued with a few more welcomes and several goodbyes to prominent people within the battalion.  Since I did not know any of them, my eyes glazed over when their speeches began, and I drifted off in thought.  I was reminded of a few thoughts from God’s Word.  The Bible says we are to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-18).  I felt, at this Hail and Farewell, that I was as “in the world” as I could be, but not partaking in the abuse of alcohol, indecent language, or condoning of inappropriate humor surely must mean I was not “of the world,” right?  In addition, Peter says we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11).  I certainly felt like the people around me were from another planet!  Yet God also calls me to love these people – after all, look at the kind of people Jesus hung out with.
       I am currently reading a very good book by Lysa Terkeurst called Becoming More than a Good Bible Study Girl.  In the chapter I read today, Lysa reminds her readers that we must be open to “living completely with God wherever He puts us” and have eyes to see the opportunities He gives us (p. 185).  As I reflect on my first Hail and Farewell, I am sad that I didn’t see the opportunities God gave me - the people I wrote off as unworthy to be my friend.  Had I been open to experiencing God daily, praying for my heart to be in sync with His, I might have been able to share the hope that is within me (1 Peter 3:15).  I might have experienced God’s touch and seen His power firsthand.  Unfortunately, I was not in this frame of mind, and therefore, did not “find God in an unlikely place” (Lysa Terkeurst, p. 197).

            As I continue asking God to refine me and make me more like Him, this is one area in which I am greatly challenged.  While I have gotten better at looking for opportunities and asking God to give me eyes to see when He shows up in the unlikeliest of places, there is still much work for me to do.  No doubt the military is a mission field, but am I willing to open my eyes to the opportunities God gives?
            It is a choice – a decision I must make daily.  When I’m in the commissary, am I going to notice the mom with four kids struggling to accomplish her weekly shopping?  Even if I see her, am I going to do anything to help her? 

         When I’m at an Organizational Day with families I would not choose to spend time with, am I going to keep to myself and not engage in conversation?  Or am I going to seek out that lonely wife who knows no one and is desperate for a friend?  Am I going to join the banal conversation about whether the commissary is the better place to shop?  And if I join that conversation, am I going to look for ways to turn it towards the things of God?

            It’s amazing the ways God is at work daily, even in the mundane.  We just need to pray for eyes to see His fingerprints, a heart to melt in compassion for the lost, and hands and feet to follow in obedience.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reintegration and Reset

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12

         About three weeks prior to the unit’s homecoming, the battalion FRG held a redeployment briefing.  This being only my second FRG meeting and my first deployment, I figured it would be beneficial to attend.  During the meeting, I was surprised by the emphasis placed on reintegration – the time when a soldier returns home and reintegrates with his family.  Many of the wives asked questions and expressed fears that this would be a difficult time in their marriage.  They raised concerns over how to return decision making to their husbands, when it was okay to leave him alone with the kids, how many responsibilities and chores he should assume, and when.  After the meeting, my mind was swimming.  I had never even considered these challenges.  Since virtually everyone there seemed to suggest reintegration would be an arduous time, I began to worry.

            In my heart, I knew that Matt and I had a strong marriage.  And unlike the majority in that room, he had only been gone 6 months as opposed to their 12-15.  So would we have those problems they addressed? After all, we didn’t have children nor were there that many responsibilities shifted to me from Matt when he left.  Since we knew deployment was always on the horizon, I had been involved in the finances, chores, and major, as well as day-to-day, decisions. 

            But here I was, never been through such a long separation before, and hearing all these discouraging experiences from women who were on their third or fourth deployments…I couldn’t help but be a little preoccupied.  Before Matt came home, I shared what had happened in the meeting.  He reassured me that we would not have any trouble.  He said that yes, some marriages really do suffer from deployments and he would explain why when he came home.

            Needless to say, the Lord did protect our marriage, and we did not have difficulty reintegrating.  Through our emphasis on communication and our priority on relationship with God and each other, we were able to unite as a couple, stronger than before.

            During those first few months that Matt was home, he took off 15 of his guaranteed 30 days of leave.  This was mostly due to the fact that I was still working and could not take an entire month of school off.  I did, however, take two weeks and never regretted it! 

         Although it can be stressful to take that much time off, it is well worth it to make up for the lost time with your husband.  It was during this time that Matt began to share with me the real stories from his deployment.  He told me of a corrupt commander who gambled with his enlisted subordinates, of soldiers who engaged in inappropriate relationships and others who stressed over their wives’ frivolous spending back home.  It was then that I realized how tough reintegration would be for families who faced the consequences of such actions.  No wonder it was a breeze for us!

            However, God is very clear that we should not boast in what we have accomplished.  1 Corinthians 10:12, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  It was only by the grace of God that my marriage did not suffer those same pitfalls – grace that I cannot begin to thank Him for.

            Not only did God protect our marriage through that deployment, but He gave us such a sweet and easy reunion.  We slid back into our routines as though Matt had never left.  I don’t credit that to our doing things right.  I attribute that to the grace of God, making Him such a vital part of our marriage – He is what holds us together!

            As the school year ended, I looked forward to a relaxing summer, more time to spend with Matt.  With the change in literal seasons came a drastic change in Matt’s work.  He was transferred out of the support unit back into 2-7 Infantry where he had originally been assigned before the deployment.  He was given a platoon, and I soon began to learn what it meant to be a platoon leader’s wife in the “Rear.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Surviving Deployment, Part 3 - Homecoming

Continued from Part 2...

After the holidays, time continued to pass, and Matt’s return grew closer and closer.  I wish I could say that those months were filled with times valuably used and dedicated to what God had for me.  But in my survival mode, there was no room for that.  I could only go through the motions – get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, and start again the next day.  I still did my quiet time, still prayed, still went to church, but I wasn’t all there.  You know that quote, “Wherever you are, be all there.”  I did not heed that wisdom.  I foolishly thought that if I didn’t enjoy myself too much, if I kept missing Matt until it hurt, I wouldn’t ever get comfortable with him being gone.  I don’t think God ever wanted me to be happy that Matt was gone, but I am sure that He wanted more for me in this deployment.  I just refused to listen and obey.  I was too consumed with despair and loneliness to see beyond myself.  I did not give myself wholly to God, letting Him use me in unique ways that could only happen while my husband was gone.  It was a wasted opportunity.  Instead of thriving, I just barely hung on.   

Regardless of the way I handled the deployment, Matt’s return was no less thrilling.  As the days got closer to his arrival, I grew more and more excited.  See, I am the type of person who thrives on anticipation.  Unfortunately, the Army doesn’t always cooperate with me.  Despite my persistent questions, Matt could never tell me the exact day he would come home.  He simply did not, and would not know until a few days before.  I did not let this stop my planning.  I had an approximate time frame and would work with what I got.  I began shopping for the perfect “welcome home” outfit, ordered a sign to hang outside, and began prepping lesson plans for the days I would take off of work.

The excitement on my wedding day couldn’t compare to the excitement I experienced on that day in April when I walked to Newman Gym for the Welcome Home ceremony of 1-3 BTB.  Although it was drizzling outside, nothing could dampen my spirits.  My neighbor who had become a good friend throughout the deployment graciously agreed to come with me and take pictures of our sweet reunion.  Sitting in those bleachers, anxious for the doors to open, and the troops to march in formation across the floor, I was very thankful for her company.  The frenzy of excitement around me was deafening.  Balloons were waving, signs were hoisted, air horns were buzzing, people were laughing, and children were antsy.  The announcer finally gave the word that the buses had arrived – those same white buses that had taken my husband away were now bringing him home!  Our family members would soon be within arms’ reach!  I didn’t know whether to jump up and down or dissolve in tears.  The weight of the world on my shoulders was slowly dissipating.  No longer would I be solely responsible if anything went wrong.  When something bad happened, there would be two of us to shoulder the burden and discuss the options.  Life would be shared between two people, husband and wife, the way God intended.  Sweet relief would soon be mine!

Seconds later, the doors opened and soldiers began marching into the gymnasium.  My eyes frantically scanned the rows, searching for my wonderful redhead.  Soon the marching stopped as the announcer introduced the garrison commander.  We sang the National Anthem (trust me, it was never sung more passionately), the commander spoke a few “job well done” and “welcome home” words.  Then the moment we’d all been waiting for – “go find your soldier!”

People rushed out of the stands.  I joined the dash and ran out to find Matt.  We had set up a meeting point, but that was when the ceremony was going to be outside – before the rain.  However, a few minutes of searching ended in a sweet embrace as my husband called my name and slid his arms around me.  We kissed and hugged, smiling until our faces hurt.  My kind friend snapped a few pictures of us – the happy couple – and sneaked away so we could enjoy time alone, with several hundred other reunited families.

We walked out of the gym and over to the tents to find his bags.  All the while, we never let go of each other’s hand.  Once he found his duffels and shouldered his ruck, we walked across the street to our home.  Absolutely nothing compares to that feeling of wholeness, knowing that we were together again.  Words cannot accurately describe the ecstasy, fulfillment, peace, and relief that filled our hearts.  My husband was home for GOOD!  This was one season I was so very happy to see ending.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Surviving Deployment, Part 2 - The Holidays

Continued from Part 1

The work weeks melded together, and the weekends were just something I had to get through.  Fridays were both a welcome relief and an impending torture.  But far worse than the weekends were the holidays…

When Thanksgiving came, roughly 6 weeks after Matt left, I was thankful for a chance to get away from my lonely house and visit my parents.  However, growing up an Army brat with my dad retiring while I was in college precluded me from ever associating a city or a house with home.  On the other hand, the good thing about being an Army brat was that my parents were no strangers to separation.  Therefore, they would prove to be consistently supportive and understanding.

By this point in the deployment, Matt and I had established some semblance of a communication routine.  Every few days we would talk online through instant message (sadly, bandwith on his end would not support webcamming), and about once a week he would call.  Like any Army wife, I never went anywhere without my cell phone and constantly worried I would miss his call.  When I was at my house, this was hardly ever a problem because I had a consistent routine. 
But driving to my parents’ and staying with them for a few days set off my worrying streak, fearful I might miss a chance to talk to Matt.  Needless to say, I was not much fun to be around.  I turned down opportunities to see movies or go out shopping, knowing the moment I did, Matt would come online and I’d miss him.

Clearly, I was not trusting God with this.  As I so often do, I thought I could handle it as long as I stayed in control.  However, all the waiting around and refusing to have a life just made me cranky day after day when I still didn’t get a chance to talk to my husband.  Wasn’t God big enough, trustworthy enough, to make sure Matt called or came online when I could talk to him?  Obviously, I didn’t think so. 
When Matt was finally able to call, I had little to tell him since all I had done was sit around and wait for him to call.  As he realized that I was doing this, he reassured me that if ever he couldn’t reach me, he’d just keep trying until he could.  While I smiled at his sweetness, I still knew this wasn’t entirely possible.  The poor guy worked long hours and couldn’t sacrifice what little sleep he got just to talk with me.  No, for six months, I could rearrange my life to ensure talking with my husband was possible.

It’s funny how I don’t treat communication with God as important.  Do I ever rearrange my schedule to talk to the Creator of the universe? Surely He’s a bit busier than Matt.  Do I turn opportunities down to ensure it won’t interfere with our talk time?  Do I make Him that high of a priority in my life?  Do I sit on pins and needles waiting for the Lord to speak with me?  Or do I just take Him for granted knowing He’s always there?  Perhaps I should have re-evaluated.

Instead in my survival mode I was not only miserable myself but made everyone around me suffer too.  What’s that old saying – “misery loves company” – yep, that’s me!  My loving parents graciously accepted my foul moods and loved me despite my depressing outlook.  They did their best to make Thanksgiving a joyful occasion while still being sensitive to my emotions. 
Unfortunately, other members of my family were not so astute.  My grandparents were visiting for the holidays.  While I should have been thankful to spend time with them, I instead chose to dwell on their insensitive comments.  My grandma (an old, retired Infantryman’s wife herself) told me to get used to Matt always being gone – that was the life I’d chosen.  Then my Papa (the retired Infantryman himself) told me to sit by him at dinner since I was the only one by myself – a reminder I didn’t need.  Bristling at such tactless comments, I often escaped to another room to cry.  So much for being Army strong…

When it was time to go back to my house, I partly dreaded the silent rooms but was partly relieved to go back to my busy teaching schedule.  At least I would have my routine and wouldn’t feel so bad about making everyone around me depressed.  I could cry and hurt in peace.

In the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I was determined to not completely wallow in self-pity.  Despite the fact that I would spend Christmas with my parents, I still wanted to decorate my house.  I went to the PX and bought an artificial tree (sad that it was not the real tree I would have gotten had Matt been with me), brought it home, and began to decorate.  When I was finished, I took some pictures for Matt to include in his care package.  I also tried to divert my energy into finding the perfect gift for him and preparing a box that would fill him with a little holiday cheer.  It felt wonderful to do something that I knew would make him happy.  I also realized it made my spirits lighter.  The Bible is right – “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b). 

When it was time to make the 7 ½ hour drive back to my parents’ house, I knew that it was going to be difficult to get through the holiday.  However, I resolutely determined to still enjoy the time and try not to bring down my family with my pity parties.  After all, this would be two weeks off of work and yet another holiday closer to Matt coming home.  And let’s not forget the rejoicing over Jesus’ birth!

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were the two most difficult days of this deployment, in spite of my best efforts.  Even though I had pledged to be more upbeat, I simply could not ignore the fact that my husband was not celebrating with me.  It was also compounded by a snafu in his present for me, and my brother and his wife enjoying time together prior to his first deployment.  I hate to admit that I was jealous of their time together. 

I struggled to celebrate the meaning of the season and see past my selfish needs.  By the time Matt called on Christmas Day, I was a wreck.  He tried to encourage me, but ultimately I just brought him down with me.  He was already struggling, and I only made it worse.  We had a very sad, quiet conversation, which left me in tears and him depressed.  When we hung up, I felt even worse about myself knowing I should have done more to encourage and build up my husband.

Thankfully after calling me, Matt called his parents.  They were with all of their extended family having a joyous time in Washington State.  Their bright moods, eternal optimism, and carol singing cheered Matt right up.  He called me back afterwards sounding like a brand new man.  He shared his happiness with me, lifting my spirits as well.  I was just disappointed that I wasn’t able to do that for him.  It was a powerful reminder that to be a good wife to Matt I had to take better care of myself.  I could not let myself get that low again.  It wasn’t good for me, and it certainly didn’t help Matt.

This was a lesson for me in the responsibility I have as a wife.  As the other part of the “one flesh” with my husband, I need to be his cheerleader, his biggest fan.  This is not hard for me since my husband is truly wonderful.  However, it can be difficult for me verbalize at times, especially when I’m feeling sorry for myself.  Yet, Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  Therefore, I must be careful to ensure my words build up rather than tear down.  If I am too focused on myself and my list of complaints, I won’t be able to build up my husband.  That is why it’s important for me to take my concerns to God and spend my time thinking on the good, right, and true (Philippians 4:8).  Then my words will reflect that which is in my heart, and my husband will be blessed (Matthew 12:34).