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). 


adventures à la mode said...

Love it, so well written and so TRUE!! I'm definitely going to go back and reread all these next time Mark and I are separated for an extended period. Especially love the parallel between desiring communication with God as much as we do with our husbands!

Anonymous said...

Must be so hard for you to remember the pain....but you know it has a purpose. I know you are helping others. The Lord has not only made you a teacher, but a writer as well! I love you! Mom

Anonymous said...

Wow! What great writing, and such an encouragement too. I'll be signing looking in, now that I've found you, (cousin-in-law) Jean Monaco