Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Surviving Deployment, Part 1

“If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him.  For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” (Deuteronomy 24:5). 

Ever since Matt and I started talking about marriage, we realized deployments were going to be a regular part of our life.  I fully anticipated him to be deployed within the first year we were married.  Thankfully due to all the training and schooling Matt had to attend, this wasn’t the case.  He did not deploy until October 2007, one year and four months from our wedding date.  Having been through the grueling three months of Ranger School, as well as four years of long distance dating, I was confident our marriage – despite its brevity – would survive a deployment.  In yet another example of God’s mercy to us, Matt was placed in a unit that was already in theater.  This meant he would only be gone for six months rather than fifteen.  6 months…no problem!

            We had just recently moved to Ft. Stewart, Georgia, where the Lord blessed us quickly and effortlessly with a house on post (our heart’s desire).  It turns out PCSing when half the division or more is deployed makes acquiring quarters fairly simple. 
 (Not our actual home but a typical looking version of the quarters we were given)
       In addition, about a month and a half after moving there, I started my first full time teaching job at a public school in nearby Richmond Hill.  I was excited and nervous but mostly thankful that after months of subbing, I would finally have my own classroom.  Plus, I knew teaching 5th grade, especially as a first year teacher, would keep me incredibly busy while Matt was deployed.  Within a few weeks of in-processing, Matt was placed in 2-7 Infantry with Rear D.  He was given an upcoming deployment date of October. 
Go, Cottonbalers!
      Since we knew he’d be leaving a few months after moving, we strove to settle in quickly.  We spent a lot of time setting up our house (super excited to be out of a 1 bedroom apartment!) and searching for a church.  Although we tried the chapel and a few other places, we decided to attend the local Baptist church, despite the fact that it didn’t quite feel like home.
FBC Hinesville
            With the start of the school year came a regular routine into which both Matt and I fell.  He began working fairly regular Army hours (anywhere from 0500-1900), and I a lovely teacher's schedule.  In the weeks leading up to the deployment, I grew more and more unsettled.  Neither one of us were exactly sure what Matt’s job would look like over in Iraq, and I had not met any of the other wives in his unit.  Although I made friends with neighbors and co-workers, I mostly stayed busy with work, coming home exhausted with still more papers to grade.  However, many nights I broke down in tears, worried about the unknowns, and mostly wishing I could just stop time so Matt wouldn’t have to leave.  Yet there was a part of me that knew this wasn’t only God’s will, it was His timing.  This is what Matt had trained for during the past five years, and it was time to get some experience “on the ground.”  Plus, it was 2007, and things had vastly improved in Iraq.  I knew the Lord would protect him, and in six months we would be back together soon.  In my mind I knew all I had to do was bear down and survive the next half a year.  Survival mode officially set in.

            When the day came for Matt to deploy, I took off work so I could spend every last possible moment with him.  He packed in the morning, and around 1 or 2 p.m., he had to report to the company area.  He said I could go with him so I quickly jumped in the car.  When we got there, I saw a few other soldiers and their wives.  Matt had to leave me a few times to sign paperwork, get his weapon, or stand in an accountability formation.  The other wives seemed completely fine - texting and laughing, as if this were like any other ordinary day.  My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing as I thought, “I’m not like these other women.  I’m not going to be able to do this.”  I couldn’t wait for Matt to come back and reassure me that all would be okay.  As soon as he returned and smiled at me, I was able to relax.  Although I didn’t want him to go, I couldn’t help but ask, “What now?”  He said we had to wait around for a few hours for the buses to arrive.  I will never understand the Army’s system of hurry up and wait.  So we found a ledge to sit on and just chatted casually, passing the time.  Although our minds were both wondering what this deployment would really be like, talking about everything else was better than talking about reality.  I told him about my students, and he told me about his job thus far.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop myself from asking questions, trying to ease my unsettled heart.  I asked him where exactly in Iraq he’d be, which led to him finding someone in the company to give me a map. 

       He said he would be in a remote area and didn’t know how great the communication would be.  Instantly, my mind flashed back to Ranger School and old school letter writing.  When Matt saw the panic in my face, he told me not to worry, that he would call or email every chance he got.  Certainly we would have more communication than Ranger School.  Right?!

            As the hours passed, my stomach got more and more nervous.  Waiting in anticipation of a goodbye is more painful than the goodbye itself sometimes.  Every few hours Matt would have to go check on something, and I’d be left alone with my thoughts.  This would have been the perfect time to pray or dwell on some comforting Scripture passage.  But I hate to admit, I didn’t do that.  I engaged my worries, tried to keep the tears at bay, and wondered how on earth I was going to be a strong Army wife.
Not my personal picture but one that captures the moment

           When the time finally came for Matt to form up with the others and load those white buses, my heart sped up and I began to panic, thinking we didn’t have enough time together.  Of course, this was completely irrational as we’d basically just been sitting together for the entire day.  Matt whispered it was time, wrapped his arms around me, and spoke a quiet, gentle prayer in my ear, asking God to protect us and speed the time until we could be together again.  I sobbed and kissed him tenderly, telling him I loved him.  He told me he loved me too, kissed me one more time, and say, “Bye, Melissa.”  The feeling that my heart was breaking was becoming all too familiar.  He joined the rest of the soldiers in formation, and I watched through bleary eyes as he loaded the bus.  I waved and blew him a kiss, wiping tears off my cheeks.  A glutton for punishment, I stood there in the now dark evening air, watching as the bus pulled away.  When I finally could move my legs, I found the car and drove the three minute drive home.

            When I got inside, I checked the computer – hopeful for some encouragement. One of my neighbors had instant messaged me, inviting me over for some Grey’s Anatomy.  She, too, was one of the ranks I had now joined – a deployed soldier’s wife.  With every intention of going, knowing this would help me, I attempted to pull myself together.  When I couldn’t quite stop crying long enough for the blotches to disappear on my face, I wrote her back, apologizing, and cried myself to sleep, resolving once again that all I had to do was get through these next six months.
            The next day I woke up, grateful I had a reason to get up – twenty two 5th graders would be counting on me. 
That's me on the left in the argyle sweater...I know I look just like one of the kids!
           Had I not had that job, I’m not sure getting out of bed would have been possible.  Teaching certainly kept my mind off things.  When the end of the day came, I was surprised at myself for not thinking more about my husband.  However, the thirty minute drive home and the greeting of an empty house (with the exception of my adorable Beagle Bassett Hound) gave me plenty of time to miss Matt and embrace the ache of loneliness and worry. 

Matt had told me he wasn’t sure when he’d first be able to call given all the travel time and transition from Kuwait to Iraq.  Thus in my attempt to survive the pain of deployment, I sought out as many distractions as possible.  I wish, looking back, that I would have dedicated this time instead to what the Lord wanted me to do.   Don’t get me wrong, my distractions were harmless.  They included things like grading inordinate amounts of papers, going over to neighbors’ houses for dinner, spending time on the couch watching TV, talking on the phone to my mom and other friends.  None of these things, in and of themselves, were detrimental, but they did not often help me thrive in the deployment.
     When I finally heard from Matt, I was so excited I didn’t care that it was the middle of the night.  He sounded tried, but I knew he was okay.  During our brief conversation, he told me that they were reassigning him to a new unit, 1-3 BTB.  He explained that this was a support unit with a mix of branches – not exactly the Infantry platoon he was hoping to lead.  In addition, he was no longer going to the town he’d originally been told.  Now he was going to Ramadi.  My first thoughts were of course, is it more dangerous there?  He said he didn’t think so, that it was a bigger city, and we should be able to talk more since they would probably have better communication lines.  Thank you, Lord!  After a few more exchanges, he said he had to go, and we hung up.  It was difficult to go back to sleep after that, but I was relieved to hear he was okay.  I also couldn’t help but be excited that we might be able to talk more often, even if it meant he was no longer with an Infantry unit.  I just wondered when I’d hear from him again.
Go Desert Cats?!
         The weekend dragged by.  Going to church and sitting by myself was especially sad.  Worship and praying just weren’t the same without Matt’s hand holding mine.  In vain, I tried to will away the tears that filled my eyes.  Listening to the pastor was more challenging than usual as my mind drifted to my husband.  How many more Sundays would I have to spend like this?  Oh yeah…26…give or take.  The Bible says, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4).  I prayed 26 weeks would feel like only a day’s time...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ranger School, Part 2

The next hiccup I experienced in this season occurred when I received a phone call from Matt telling me he had been injured and wasn’t sure if he would be able to complete the course.  I was in Los Angeles at the time visiting my best friend from college, assuming all was well. 
(This is us being goofy in college.  I couldn't find any recent pictures of Megan and I together...we're bad about taking pictures.)

No news is good news, right...especially in the Army?  Unfortunately, Matt's call informed me that a stick caught his eye and tore off his epithelial.  The medics told him the eye would heal and there would be no permanent damage to his vision.  In the meantime, he was put on heavy pain killers and kept in the troop clinic.  I instantly wanted to fly back to see him, but he reassured me this wasn’t necessary, and I wouldn’t be able to see him even if I was home.  Worry immediately set in.  Matt had just had corrective laser eye surgery a year before.  I wondered if this injury would wreak havoc on the corrections they had made.  I also struggled with whether I should fly home anyway just in case he was dropped from the school and sent home.  Matt had said he would call again when he knew more.  In the meantime, he asked me to just pray for God’s will.

The next day he called again and said they were going to let him continue.  He was still in a lot of pain and didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed about the decision.  I continued to stay in California but struggled to enjoy myself knowing my husband was in such physical pain.  I didn’t even know if I would get to talk to him again to find out if his eye had healed and he was out of pain.  If I remember correctly, he called one more time but with minimal change.  He just said to keep praying for God’s will.

About a week after I returned from California, it was time for me to pick up Matt for what should have been his 8 hour pass.  I was so excited!  I had already baked his favorite dessert, shopped for his favorite foods, and planned my outfit.  When I got there and saw the formation, I tried to pick out my husband.  When they broke apart, I finally saw a tired, dirty, but oh so handsome redhead walking towards me.  He hugged and kissed me but then told me he had been recycled and would have to repeat the Benning phase.  This meant no 8 hour pass today.  Instantly, I was disappointed and began to cry.  He said he didn’t have time to tell me more but he did think he would be able to see me for a few hours later on, since he would be waiting for the next group of guys to begin the Benning phase.  He said he would let me know when he found out more.  So like all Army wives do, I went home, put my life on hold, and waited anxiously by the phone.

That night, the tears wouldn’t stop.  I had so many things I wanted to ask Matt.  How was his eye?  Is that why he got recycled?  How was he feeling emotionally about all this?  Did he want to continue?  Unfortunately, I was not going to get those answers that day.  I went to bed that night crying, wondering if he was okay, and why he hadn’t called.  I hated the fact that I couldn’t just call him!

During this time, I begged God to let Matt call.  I was so desperate for a conversation with my husband that lasted longer than two minutes.  I felt like I was going insane.  Of course, the other wives I knew whose husbands were also in Ranger School had either already had their 8 hour pass day with their husbands or had found that that their husbands were Day 1 recycles.  I felt so lonely.  Once again, God was the only One I could count on to meet my needs.  Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  However, in all honesty, at that time I didn’t feel all my needs were met.  I just wanted my husband!

The next morning, Matt called (hallelujah!) and said he could see me for about two hours that night.  He told me the time and place to pick him up and said he couldn’t wait to see me.  I was practically jumping up and down with excitement.  All day I thanked the Lord for this opportunity – one I would not have gotten had he not been recycled.  I could now see how God was meeting my needs, even when I didn’t always feel it.

When the time came to pick him up, I could feel my face glowing.  As I pulled up in the parking lot, I could see a formation of soldiers.  In my head, I went back to a few days ago when I had done this very same thing but did not get to take my man home.  I prayed and hoped that wouldn’t happen again.  Minutes later the soldiers were released, and my weary husband walked towards me with a smile on his face.  I hugged and kissed him, asking if he was okay.  He reassured me he was and just asked if we could go home and get something to eat. I was more than happy to oblige!

We had a wonderful few hours together, and while it was difficult to take him back later on that evening, I was just thankful to have had some time together.  It turns out the Lord’s plans are way better than my own!  During the time with Matt, I saw for myself that his eye was okay and his vision unaffected.  He explained that he, of course, was disappointed to get recycled but that this was the best time for it to happen.  He went on to explain that had he gone straight through or been recycled in the later phases, we would not have had this extra time together.  Wow!  I promised myself I would never question God’s ways or timing again.

During the next few weeks as Matt completed the Benning phase I prayed for him fervently.  Though I knew little about patrols, I knew my God would take care of my husband as He had already faithfully done.  I also found out that due to this interruption, Matt was now back with some of the husbands of the wives I was beginning to know.  As a result, we wives decided to meet once a week for dinner either at someone’s home or at a restaurant so that we could stay connected.  This proved to be a very fun, encouraging time to which we all looked forward.

Matt and I continued to write back and forth.  He finished the Benning phase without any complications.  When I went the next time to pick him up for the 8 hour pass, he was actually able to come home with me!  We had an amazing day together filled with a lot of sleeping and eating.  During this time, he also encouraged me to begin looking and interviewing for teaching jobs near Ft. Stewart where we would move in the summer.  I was excited to begin this process since I had been subbing for a few months and was extremely eager to have my own classroom.

I completed online applications for several school districts in the area and was soon contacted for interviews.  God graciously provided two schools for me to interview with, and I was able to drive over for the appointments.  My first two interviews with both principals went surprisingly well.  I was offered both jobs immediately – yet another way God met my needs.  In God’s protection the first one fell through, and He led me to the second school where I would teach fifth grade.  I was beyond excited and couldn’t wait to share the news with my husband.  Unfortunately since I couldn’t call him, it would have to be written in my next letter.  Instead I celebrated over the phone with my parents.

About a month later, I received a call from Matt telling me he had passed the Mountains phase – praise the Lord!  He then reminded me to check his AKO email to see if he had any information on his orders to Ft. Stewart.  He had heard from a few guys that their orders had been changed.  Sure enough, when I checked his email, I was shocked to find his Request for Orders had been changed from Ft. Stewart, GA to Ft. Hood, TX.  I couldn’t believe it!  I had already secured a job near Ft. Stewart, looked at the housing, and was all set (and excited) to move there.  Texas was not in my plans!  Matt was just as surprised as I was, but he could not talk any longer.  Once again I was alone to contemplate the consequences and decide how to handle it.  The Lord encouraged me that my positive attitude and outlook on this would be key in helping Matt.  Although we were separated and could not talk often, if I remained positive in my letters about this recent change, it would put Matt’s heart at ease, knowing I could handle the change.  After all, the last thing a man needs is a complaining wife.  Proverbs 19:13 warns, “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.” 

In order to garner a positive outlook, I prayed for the Lord to give me His wisdom in how to handle this.  James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  Yet again, God was meeting my needs.  He immediately gave me an excitement and joy about moving to Ft. Hood.  Trust me, there is no way I could have manufactured that kind of happiness on my own.  Even when I had to call the school near Ft. Stewart to turn down the job, God gave me joy.  As I began looking for teaching jobs in Texas and researched places to live, my attitude became more and more positive.  I was able to honestly tell Matt in my letters what I had found out and how I excited I was to go to Hood.  I even speculated that God may be protecting us from something or preventing an immediate deployment by sending us there.

As time marched on, Ranger School was finally coming to an end.  The very last week I was able to see Matt on and off, and his family and mine came for his graduation.  It was a joyous occasion to say the least! 

While we were enjoying this time together, Matt asked if I had checked his AKO recently.  Since I had not, he got online.  Lo and behold, there was another email about his RFO stating his orders had been changed back to Stewart!  Thank you, Lord!  See, all that time I had been researching I had found out it was going to be difficult for me to obtain a Texas teaching certificate.  In spite of trying to keep my positive attitude, I was beginning to worry I would have to spend more time subbing before I could get my own classroom.  Yet all that time the Lord knew what He was doing.  We even found out later it was because Matt had been recycled that his orders were changed back to Stewart.  All of those who went straight through were sent to Hood. 

When I called to see if I could still have the teaching position near Stewart, they happily informed me that it was mine.  Not only had the Lord done a work in my heart, but He had protected my job and returned to me what I thought I had lost.  Now Matt and I were reunited, the nightmare of Ranger School was over, and in just a few months we would move to our first duty station – Ft. Stewart, GA.

This season, like most, was filled with ups and downs.  Not being able to communicate daily with my husband was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – even harder, in some ways, than deployment.  However, this season was the beginning of a change in my relationship with God.  He taught me that I cannot expect my husband to meet all my needs.  Although Matt is about as close to perfect as it gets, he is not God.  I realized in this season that I had idolized my husband in a lot of ways.  God is very clear about how He feels about idols.  There are numerous references in His Word commanding us not to put anything above Him.  When we read the Bible, the idols are actual statues or shrines.  In today’s world, they look very different.  In fact, we deceive ourselves into thinking we don’t have any idols.  But if we are putting our hope in anything or anyone more than God, we are worshipping an idol.

By taking away my husband for 3 months, the Lord taught me that I can only rely on Him.  Friends, moms, churches, jobs – none of those things can satisfy the deep need we have inside.  Even as a Christian, we try to fill our lives with ministry or friendships or fun times.    While none of these may be bad in and of themselves, we must remember that the best thing is God himself.  Once we let Him fill our love tank, we can be the people – the wives, mothers, daughters, neighbors, and friends – He has called us to be.  If you’re in a season of loneliness and depression, separated from loved ones, ask God how you can let Him fulfill your needs.  He is waiting!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ranger School, Part 1

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
(Proverbs 18:24)

            The second season of my marriage consisted of Matt attending Ranger School, and me dealing with the depression that stemmed from our most recent challenge, as well as stressful college years.  Graciously, the Lord gave me a wise mother who also struggles with depression and who could suggest that God provides help for such battles.  Although it is not always widely accepted in military or Christian circles, I sought out a doctor who could prescribe antidepressants and talk therapy.  I was going to have to return to the Army hospital – fun!

            I wasn’t even sure at this point that I was truly depressed.  After all, here I was a twenty two year old young woman with an amazing husband who had just stood beside me through a very challenging obstacle.  Now that we were past that, I should be happy, right?  Yes, he was about to go to Ranger School where our communication would mirror World War I era letters rather than the instant communication to which we had grown accustomed. 

         And yes, we wouldn’t see each other for at least two months (if he didn’t get recycled) except for a brief 8 hour pass early on in the course.  But hey – we dated for four years only seeing each other once every 6-8 weeks.  I could easily handle that again, couldn’t I? 
       Add in the fact that I had graduated from college in three years instead of four, married two weeks after my graduation, one week after Matt’s, have a hereditary predisposition towards depression, and was not working full-time, and you have a recipe for depression.  The realization didn’t dawn on me until I was sitting in that doctor’s office, answering a questionnaire.  When I realized I was sleeping more, not enjoying the things I used to enjoy, experienced uncontrollable bouts of crying, and had trouble concentrating, I knew I needed some type of help.  It’s funny when you sum up your life by answering questions on a scale of 1-10, things become a lot more black and white.  Thus, when the nurse practitioner suggested a mild antidepressant with minimal side effects and 4-6 sessions of talk therapy, I was less hesitant to accept the help than I thought I’d be.  Of course, it helped that my mom had been encouraging me that this was no different than a physical ailment and should receive the appropriate treatment.

            On the other hand, it did not help that my husband thought medication for depression was not the appropriate course of action.  Like many of his male military counterparts, and with the help of his optimistic upbringing, he thought it was just something I could snap out of.  After a few weeks of living with my misery and the insight that our impending separation would cause additional angst, he gave in to the idea and decided to remain silent on the issue rather than voicing his dissent.  I then began the course of treatment, all the while preparing for my husband to begin yet another part of his training.

            Ranger School, as had been explained to me throughout my life, was one of those schools you simply had to survive.  It was not fun, but it brought a certain value and significance to anyone who made it through.  Not only that but it was an unspoken mandatory course for anyone branched Infantry.  Of course, my husband was one of those lucky soldiers.

            His start date was 4 February, a Sunday, the same night as the Super Bowl that year.  Knowing that Matt would miss our first married Valentine’s Day, we chose to celebrate it early.  See, I am one of those people who like to make a big deal about holidays, and it’s just not the same to me when it’s not the day of.  My husband is the exact opposite.  My dad likes to call marriage a “cross cultural experience” because of this phenomenon (among others).  So the week before Matt was due to report, we went out for a romantic dinner and exchanged sweet gifts.  I couldn’t help but cry, feeling the sadness of never being able to celebrate our 1st Valentine’s Day, as a married couple on February 14th.  Of course, this would only be the first of many and something I was simply going to have to learn to get over.  Regardless of my emotional schizophrenia, we had a nice time.

            When February 4th came, Matt began packing his bags (a classic procrastinator), and we spent much of the day cuddled on the couch.  About an hour before his evening report time, he picked up his bags, handed me his wedding ring, and told me it was time to go.  I thought my heart was literally going to break.  While I know the truth of Psalm 34:18, I certainly did not feel God’s presence at that time.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  The tears started to flow, and I could not stop them.  In his compassion, Matt leaned down and kissed each of my tears, reassuring me that it was going to be okay.  We loaded his bags into the car and drove to Ft. Benning.

            I always hate these kinds of goodbyes.  There is so much I want to say, but as soon as I open my mouth, I start to ball.  Instead, I keep my mouth shut, desperately trying to stop the tears.  I remind myself that I don’t want him remembering me like this.

            Once we arrived, I saw some of the other wives I had gotten to know throughout the previous courses.  Many of us had been in the same coffee group.  Some of the guys were even Matt’s classmates from West Point.  Seeing the other wives always seems to bolster me and strengthens my resolve.  I know we’ll get through this together.  We each kissed our husbands, promised we would write, and waved goodbye.  Then we got in our separate cars and drove home.

            Coming back into my home without my husband is perhaps one of the loneliest and most painful feelings in the world.  It’s so real there is actual physical pain.  I literally feel a part of me is missing.  The whole way home I could barely see to drive.  Once inside the apartment, I grabbed my dog and cuddled him tightly, crying into his fur. 
         When my eyes began to sting and it became difficult to breathe, I finally got up and began to look around.  All of a sudden I started to laugh because my husband had left quite a mess for me to clean.  It looked like a tornado had ripped through an Army Supply store.  It was at that moment – laughter through tears – that I knew I was going to be okay.  Lamentations 3:19-24 reminded me of that.  “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”  His promise to be close to me and save me was coming true.

            Through this season, my depression began to lessen as the medicine took effect.  I wrote Matt faithfully every day and was overjoyed when I received letters from him.  One highlight came during church on a Sunday morning while my parents were visiting.  As many churches do, the chapel projected announcements and elements of the chaplain’s message on a large screen.  When the chaplain got up to speak, I was shocked to see a slide that read, “Melissa Hicks, Ranger Hicks loves you!”  I looked at my parents with wide eyes and an open mouth, looking around to see if by chance my husband was in the room.  The chaplain then spoke and asked if I was in the congregation.  I raised my hand, and he began to tell the story of ministering to soldiers at Ranger School last week when he met Matt.  He said Matt asked him if he was going to be at chapel on Sunday.  When he confirmed he was, Matt asked him to pass on a message to me - he loved me.  The chaplain promised he would, and as a result, I received this special gift.  Not only did Matt win major points with my parents, but he proved once again how much he loves me. 

God has been so good to me!  In the midst of a dark, sad, lonely time, He always provides hope and encouragement to carry us through the trial.  My mom likes to call these sweet times, “kisses from Jesus.”  It’s His subtle way of reminding me that He loves me and is always looking out for me.  He'll do the same for you, just watch and see!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Autumn = Beautiful Leaves, Dying Trees

Have you ever felt like everything is beautiful on the outside, but inside you are dying?  Have you felt like to everyone around you, your life looks perfect, but in the privacy of your own home, you know it is falling apart?  That's how the first six months of my marriage felt to me. 

The first season of my life as a military wife began with a glorious sixty days of leave.  Since my husband went to West Point, he was able to take considerable time off before beginning his officer training at Ft.Benning, GA.  This was a utopian time for us as we celebrated our marriage, as well as the weddings of friends and family.  We traveled the country and enjoyed spending every waking (and sleeping!) moment together after 4 years of long distance dating.  Although this was a period of time that seemed perfect on the outside, unhappiness and discontent began to worm its way inside.  Not many days after our wedding, we realized that there was a problem.  Intimacy was not happening as a result of a medical condition I had.  Being novices at this whole intimacy thing, we didn’t understand the ramifications of this.  We thought if we just kept trying, eventually it would happen.

However, so much was occurring at this time with all the weddings we were in, traveling to each, then moving and finding an apartment, that I did not see a doctor right away.  When I finally did, I went to see a civilian doctor, knowing the slow unhelpfulness of Army hospitals.  It took a few weeks to schedule the surgery that would correct the problem.  The day before I was to get my blood checked for the surgery, I received a call from the doctor’s office that there was a problem with the insurance.  In my naiveté, I had thought I could still use my dad’s insurance.  In reality, this policy was invalid as soon as I married Matt.  How I could have gone through all these appointments and almost made it to the surgery without knowing was beyond me!  Needless to say, when the doctors told me they could not perform the surgery with only my Tricare health insurance, I was devastated.
Of course, by this point Matt had already begun his training.  This particular day he was in the field, and I could not even contact him to tell him what was happening.  I remember lying on my floor in our newly rented apartment, clinging to our newly adopted dog, balling my eyes out and asking God why.  Why was He letting this happen?  Why couldn’t He supernaturally heal me?  Why did He allow me to think that soon it would be fixed only to have my hopes dashed the day before?  Why couldn’t I have found out earlier?  Is God punishing me?  What did I do to deserve this?

I had NO idea what God was trying to teach me in this season of our lives.  I only knew I wanted to get out of it as soon as possible.

About a month later (yes, it can take that long with Tricare), I was finally able to get an appointment with a family practice doctor at the local Army hospital who could begin the process of setting up another surgery.  Leave it to the Army medical community to be at their most insensitive.  As I saw the male physician, he insisted on examining me, despite my explanations and sob story of what I had already been through.  When he realized I was not lying, he tried to comfort me by saying, “at least it’s not cancer.”  He then proceeded to put in a referral to the gynecologist but said it would take at least 10 days before I could expect to hear anything from them.  Despite my tears and begging him to rush it, he refused, saying it wasn’t an emergency, and sent me on my way – a traumatized, weeping, inconsolable twenty-one year old newlywed.

In my despairing state of mind, I called my parents to garner sympathy since my husband was – again – unavailable due to his military training.  God intervened at this point and gave my dad the wisdom to tell me to go to Patient Affairs.  In spite of how embarrassing this whole situation was, I was desperate for a resolution.  God faithfully provided a sensitive, understanding woman at Patient Affair who heard my case and sprang into action.  She rushed my referral, and days later, I was seen by a gynecologist, and surgery was scheduled.  Although it would still be 6 weeks after the surgery before my husband and I could even try to be intimate, the solution was in sight.  The only problem was…could my husband get off work?
The training schedule did not look promising.  My normal tendency was to beg my new husband to be at my side as I underwent a minimally invasive surgery that was of maximum emotional pain.  Of course, I intellectually knew he had no control over his schedule, but I had yet to really experience it deeply.  Despite his intense desire to be with me through this, he knew he could not promise me something he could not guarantee.  Therefore, we asked my parents to come as I would need someone to drive me home from the hospital.  Since we were still fairly new to the area (not to mention this was an extremely sensitive issue), I did not have any friends I felt I could rely upon for this.  Thankfully, my parents lived only 4 hours away and were more than ready to help out. 

It turned out, Matt was able to get the day off for my surgery, but my parents still came.  The day of, we all went to the hospital and experienced one of our least favorite Army traditions – “hurry up and wait.”  After a few hours of waiting to be taken into the OR, the nurses finally came to take me in.  Having had my gallbladder removed in a German hospital in high school, I was not particularly nervous about the surgery itself, and it was certainly a relief and comfort to have not only my parents present but also my kind, loving husband.

All went well with the surgery, and I was able to go home early that evening. 

In spite of all of the challenges within this particularly trying season, the Lord taught me several things.  The first and most lasting impression this season had on my life was the pure, unconditional love my husband has for me.  I truly believe that God allowed this hardship early on in our marriage to show me that I will never have to question Matt’s love for me.  What for most guys would have sent them over the edge only strengthened Matt.  This is not to say it wasn’t ridiculously difficult for him.  But he stood firm, not only bearing the pain but continuing to show his love for me in spite of it all.  Regardless of whatever else happens in our marriage, I have that to hold onto, and I will be forever thankful for it.
The second lesson God taught me in this season was to trust Him instead of trying to manipulate people and situations according to my will.  Now this is a very difficult lesson so I am not sure I have learned it fully, but I am definitely making progress.  In this case in particular, my negative experiences with Army medicine growing up did not make me wiser as an adult.  I clearly did not heed the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-6.  In my attempt to bypass military doctors, I took the situation into my own hands, trying to make something happen without looking to the Lord to fix it.  Oh yes, I begged Him to heal me outright so I wouldn’t even have to go to a doctor.  But I never stopped to ask if He would lead me through the process He chose for us.  As a result, not only did I suffer longer than necessary but I got the same mistreatment I was trying to avoid.  Yet God’s grace led me to a caring, sensitive Army doctor (yes, they do exist!) to help me.  Had I trusted Him to start with, I think I would have missed a lot of that emotional angst.

But the great thing about the Lord is that no pain is ever wasted.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  Although I have been spared from heartache in much of my life, I do know what severe emotional pain feels life.  As my mom likes to say – pain is personal.  Whatever season you are in that involves suffering is personal and unique to you.  But in my personal pain, I truly learned what it means to have a Savior who can comfort me like no one else.  My husband, my mom, the doctors – despite their earnest endeavors – no one could make me feel better about this.  The only One who could comfort me was the Lord.  I can honestly say at my lowest point – lying on that carpet in Columbus, GA, begging God to take my life – I felt Him wrap His arms around me.  This probably seems utterly ridiculous, but I felt His warmth spread through me as I clung to my sleepy Beagle-Bassett Hound.  In the darkness, God is there, and He will bring the light of a new day if we will just hang on to Him.

 Maybe you are in a season of deep pain right now.  Pain so deep you don’t feel you can share it with anyone.  Please know that God wants to carry you through this season.  He not only wants to take you to the other side but He wants you to feel His love in the midst.  All you have to do is let Him love on you.  Don’t be afraid to tell Him how you feel, how bad it hurts, even if it requires railing against Him.  He can take it.  Give Him your pain and let Him give you comfort in return.