Monday, February 27, 2012

Where is the Good in Goodbye?

       About 3 days leading up to Matt’s actual deployment date, we were still trying to make the most of every moment.  Yet in the midst of that, duty called.  Although I wasn’t working, Matt was busy getting last minute preparations together for the General, including shipping his car and packing his small house where he lived as a geographical bachelor.  While it is difficult to think of anything else during this time and not get your feelings hurt over the smallest thing, I was reminded of God’s purpose.  He knows what is best for us always.  Even though I would not have chosen for Matt’s last day to be spent moving someone else, God knew that we needed to stay busy.  Had he been given the day off, he and I would have undoubtedly spent it together.  However, I would have been in tears and unable to do much of anything besides mope.  That is NOT how I wanted my husband to think of me for the next year.  That’s not to say that I didn’t cry that night before he left, but I also resolved to enjoy the time with him.

            The next day – a Saturday clouded over and drizzling with rain – Matt and I drove over to his company area to begin the long process of saying goodbye for a year.  Last deployment, this took the whole day.  Matt told me that things should move a little faster since he was traveling with the General.  Sure enough, he signed out his weapon at the company area, we waited a few minutes with the General’s Personal Security Detachment guys and their families, as well as the Engagement Officer until their Blackberries started to ring.  The guys were instructed to pick up the General directly from his office and leave from there.  While this was very different from how the 1st deployment went, I was somewhat relieved.  I wouldn’t have to wait with all the hundreds of families watching their tearful goodbyes as children clung to their dads and asked their moms why they had to go.  Nothing breaks your heart quite like that! 

            Instead, Matt and I said goodbye in a parking lot in front of black Suburban’s instead of those awful white buses.  Although we’d been preparing for this moment for weeks, I still felt like it caught me off guard.  “Wait, we’re saying goodbye now?”  Matt smiled and kissed me, promised he would call as soon as he could, and hopped into the Suburban.  I watched them drive off, tears streaming down my face, my heart unbearably heavy, and headed home feeling like I’d been run over by a Mack truck.  I was glad the goodbye was over but desperately wanted my husband to come back.  Yet when I walked into my dark, echoingly empty house, I couldn’t help but smile.  Yet again, Matt had packed his bags at the last minute and left our house in an undisputable mess.  I have found that cleaning is one way I cope, so I instantly began to clear the clutter, wiping away my tears, glad for a task to complete.  I couldn’t help but smile thanking God for giving me a mess to clean when I needed to do something productive.  Funny what we find to be thankful for in the midst of hard circumstances.  Lest you think that was the end of my meltdown, read on.

            After the mess was clean, sadness engulfed me anew as I thought, “it’ll be a year until my husband is home, leaving messes for me to clean up.”  What I wouldn’t give for him to make a pile of Army equipment in our living room!  But having learned that if I let myself cry for too long I would not only get a headache but would have a much harder time digging out of the depths, I gave myself a time limit in which to be sad.  I cried for about 30 minutes, then called my mom who always knows the right thing to say, then I spent some time reading God’s Word and asking Him to carry me through this deployment.  With 365 long days stretching out before me, I asked Him to help me not count the days but to make the days count.  What that would look like, I had no idea, and I honestly didn’t know if I was up for the challenge.  But as always, God is faithful, and He sustained me in that deployment.  He helped me thrive instead of just survive.  (More on that in the posts to come!)

            So while I struggled to find the good in goodbye, God stood by my side, whispering in my ear that in this too, He would bring good (Romans 8:28).  No matter what goodbye you are facing today – whether it’s a husband going off to war, a child leaving for college, friends as you PCS once again, or an old pattern of behavior, know that God is with you.  And one of the best things about Him is He will never say goodbye!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pre Deployment your Mind

       In the weeks leading up to Matt’s second deployment, my mind covered a lot of ground with its various musings and questions of “what if.”  No military wife faces a deployment without wondering if her husband will come back, if he’ll be the same person as when he left, if they will be able to weather the toll a deployment takes on a marriage and family.  There are nightmares and arguments, with self and spouse, over (often) the most petty and trivial of matters - so much so that you don’t even know why you are fighting but can’t seem to stop. 

        Then on top of all of that, there’s the most driving force: to soak up every moment you can and make as many memories as possible to hold you over until the time when you are together again.  Most of the time, the military recognizes this and gives the service member block leave.  However, since Matt recently changed jobs and his deployment window moved up considerably, we didn’t get this chance.  Rather than being bitter about that, Matt reminded me that I wasn’t working.  While in a lot of ways, I did not appreciate this fact, the truth is, it did enable me to spend any and all time with Matt that was available.  Sometimes that meant ten minutes mid-morning when he stopped by the house to pick up a different uniform or staying up at night to talk when he got home from a late-night meeting.  Had I been working, 9 PM would have been as late as I could go.  Thankfully, as always, the Lord sees the big picture and knows exactly what we need when we need it.  (This is a recurring lesson in my life so obviously I haven’t fully gotten it yet, but more on that later.)

            So just prior to deployment #2, Matt and I tried to make the most of our time together while still trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.  Since it was fall, we decided to carve pumpkins together one weekend, even though he would leave well before Halloween.  While Matt did all the work, I encouraged and directed, suggesting we use our dog for inspiration.  The results were amazing (if I can just brag on my husband’s talent for a moment)!  It was a fun weekend activity that did just the trick – it made an impression on our hearts and minds of sweet moments spent together.  Might I suggest that for those of you in this situation, you take time to do these “smaller” activities?  It doesn’t always take a big trip or an extravagant vacation to make an impact.  Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference, especially for a girl like me who loves her holidays.

            One of the positive things about deployments is that they make you re-evaluate your life.  You appreciate the small, seemingly insignificant things so much more. Lingering over a kiss when your husband leaves for the day takes on a whole new meaning when you know you won’t be able to do it for an entire year.  Slowing down to appreciate those things is something we could all stand to do a little more often.

            And since I mentioned slowing down, if you’ve ever experienced a deployment you know, time seems to go in slow-motion the week or two prior to D-day.  You’d think this was a good thing, but most of the time, it isn’t.  Never do you have an exact departure date; it’s more a window of time, like between the 5th and 7th of October, for instance.  And if you haven’t experienced this, trust me, when it’s the 2nd, and you still don’t know if you’re saying goodbye in 3 days or 5, it can drive you crazy.  Both you and your husband begin to want the time to speed up, to just get the goodbye over with.  There’s such buildup and waiting, you can no longer enjoy the time you have left.  He’s still working regular hours, if not longer at this point, and you’re just thinking, “Man, I wish I could spend time with him, but I also wish the beginning of this deployment would just be over!”  Needless to say, it’s an incredibly stressful time.

            Quite honestly, I’m not sure how people handle it without the Lord.  Matt and I know that deployments are hard, and most of the time, you don’t even know what you’re up against at the time.  There’s no way of predicting the types of challenges and obstacles you will face when you’re apart.  The only thing you do know is that God is the One holding the marriage together, holding you together.  Without that assurance, you can literally lose your mind allowing fear, doubt, worry, and mistrust to take over.  The only solution is to rely on God and renew your mind.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”  Which means that when those thoughts come in to your mind (and they will – whether you are a Christian or not), you have to replace them with truth.  The ultimate source of truth is God, and what better place to find truth than in His Word.  So during a deployment – whether it’s not even started, 3 months in, or days before reunion – you must discipline yourself to remove the fears and doubts and replace them with truth.  Truth like, God is in control and No. Matter. What. Happens. You can’t be separated from His love (Romans 8:35, 38).  Deployments, and especially the weeks preceding them, will wreak havoc on your mind, if you let it.

            I wish I could tell you that I am a pro at this and don’t struggle at all to remove fear and doubt from my life.  But as I write this, I know I have a VERY long way to go.  Lest you think I’ve got it all figured out, let me let you in on a little secret.  When I sit down to reflect on these seasons of my life and explain what God has taught me, those lessons aren’t always readily apparent.  It’s often not until my pencil hits the page that God shows me the lessons I should have learned then and need to continue practicing now.  So thanks for letting me write and remind myself of how I should be living.  Maybe by writing about it, I’ll be more likely to do it!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Call that Changed It All...

         Once I had established my new plan to follow God’s will for me even if it didn’t meet my former expectations, life went pretty smoothly.  That is until one night when Matt’s cell phone rang.

            It was not unusual for Matt to get a call any time of the day or night since he joined the Army.  It was just annoying when it rang at an inconvenient time.  Since Matt no longer had numerous soldiers directly under him, we wondered who would need something at 9 o’clock at night.  We soon found out.

            I remember listening to Matt as he first answered the phone and proceeded to respond to the caller’s questions.  I was trying to piece together what this could be about, but to no avail.  When I asked him who it was, he mouthed back the answer, but I couldn’t make sense of it and gave up.  I merely watched him as he paced around the room fidgeting with papers and anything else that crossed his path.

            Since his tone carried a surprised quality to it, I was anxious for him to get off the phone and tell me what was happening.  I reminded myself patience is a virtue.  About 15 minutes after the initial ring, my inquiring mind was finally laid to rest when Matt sat next to me on the couch and explained what happened.

            He immediately told me that it was a fellow platoon leader from his first deployment calling to see if he would be interested in the Aide-de-Camp position for the DCG-M.  This buddy of his was now the Engagement Officer for the BG and recommended Matt to be his new aide.  At this point, I asked a lot of questions like, “Is an Aide-de-Camp anything like a normal aide?” and “What the heck is a DCG-M?”  Matt patiently answered my questions with “Yes, an aide is someone who assists the General with his duties.” And “DCG-M stands for Deputy Commanding General of Maneuvers, which means he is the deputy to the Commanding General over all of Fort Stewart.”  Ahhhh.

            “Wow!”  Was all I could think.  Matt quickly told me he didn’t want to be the aide and was happy as the battalion S-4.  Nevertheless, his friend told him to talk to the battalion staff because the General wanted Matt to come in over the next few days for an interview.

            After filling me in on some more details, Matt then called the battalion XO – his boss – to inform him of this development.  The major was not happy to hear they could be losing their S-4 so close to the deployment.  Matt reassured him his loyalty lay with the battalion, and he had no desire to leave.  The XO was relieved but told Matt he would need to call the Battalion Commander.

            When Matt got off the phone, he continued pacing while I sat on the couch in shock.  Is this how jobs are changed in the military?  One minute you are happy working in the S-4 shop, the next you get a call from your buddy asking you to interview for a prestigious position?  This was certainly not what I was used to growing up an Army brat.  Who knew you could get a phone call at 9 o’clock at night and your life change instantly?

            Soon the Battalion Commander called Matt, echoing his XO’s sentiments that they didn’t want to lose Matt.  However, he quickly added that Matt should go to the interview and proudly represent their battalion.  Matt confirmed he would and hung up.

            When he told me the conclusion, I asked him how he felt about it, not knowing how I felt about it myself.  He said he was of course flattered and honored to be considered but was pretty sure he did not want nor would he get the job.  We agreed that we would just pray for God to have His way and see what happens.

            Within approximately one week, Matt interviewed with the General and was offered the job, at which point he accepted.  (In case you aren’t familiar with the military, that’s how it works.  You don’t say no to a General).  As the idea sunk in and Matt’s unit gave their congratulations and reluctant acceptance, Matt and I were excited by this new prospect.  We knew it would be a great experience for Matt, and that he would have an entirely different deployment as a result.  However, with the job change came some other big changes.

            First, Matt was issued a Blackberry, on which he received 100 times the amount of calls he ever received on his personal cell phone.  Second, his hours increased late into the night and over weekends.  Third, he traveled more frequently – whether it was to D.C. just for the day or Ft. Irwin for two weeks.  Fourth, and the biggest of the changes, his deployment date was moved up by 6 weeks!  No longer was he deploying in late November/early December.  Now, he would deploy the beginning of October – a mere 2 months away!

            A whirlwind of emotions captured my heart.  I was overwhelmed with pride for my husband, anxiety over the upcoming deployment, and fear that it would be a long, lonely year without my husband, starting much sooner than I was prepared.

            So what does a military wife do when she finds out the season of deployment is coming at her much more quickly than expected?  Well, I don’t know what most women do, but I cried.  Yet there was my sweet husband next to me reassuring me this was God’s plan – just like we asked.  Then he said, “The sooner I leave, the sooner I get back!”  That phrase rang over and over in my head.  My optimistic husband was right.  If he left in October, that would of course mean he would miss Christmas that year.  But, it would also guarantee that he’d be home for Christmas the next year.  If he left with his previous brigade, he’d leave in December with no reassurance that he wouldn’t miss two Christmases right in a row.

            So I sighed, wiped away my tears, and resolved to think positively.  I chose to be happy for my husband and embrace the meaning of Philippians 4:8, which says, “Finally, brothers, 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.” 

While it wasn’t always easy, it was possible only when I relied on God to change my thoughts.  If I let myself have a pity party (which I did on more than one occasion) it was much more difficult to focus on the good.  But if I prayed and asked God to give me His eyes, I would see a splinter of hope, a small reason to be thankful.  Soon that led to another and another.  Before I knew it, practicing Philippians 4:8 became a daily goal.  I still struggle to dwell on what is noble, right, true, and lovely, but when I succeed, I always receive a blessing.  Sometimes I just need to re-frame my situation, refresh my vision, and relish in God’s plan for me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


      As the summer of 2009 began drawing to a close, I grew more and more anxious about a teaching job.  I still had not heard anything.  I called DODEA, emailed with some of the principals on post, and continued to wait.  It was a rollercoaster of emotion.  One day I’d receive an email from a principal asking if I was interested in a possible interview.  The next day I’d find out I didn’t make the list of candidates from which DODEA hires.  It was very difficult to go from adrenaline pumping excitement to devastating disappointment.  However, despite the ups and downs, I knew God was in control and He would sustain me no matter what.  Or at least, that’s what I was telling myself…

            In the light of my recent lesson – to live an abundant life despite my circumstances – I thought I had learned a lot and would be okay.  Even though the school year had already started, and I still didn’t have a teaching job, I looked for ways to stay busy.  After all, that’s always the advice I received about deployments – stay as busy as you possibly can.  Knowing the deployment would get here sooner than I wanted, I strove to find an acceptable routine to my days so it would already be established once Matt left.  However, I still struggled.  I cried, begged God to give me a job, and constantly asked “why” when things didn’t seem to go my way.  Eventually, I had to surrender my expectations.  See, I had expected to have a teaching job by the time the school year rolled around.  When it didn’t happen, I was upset, angry, and miserable.  It wasn’t until I relinquished my “plan” and adapted my expectation that life got a little easier. 

            After discussing it with Matt, I decided to call the university and start my master’s program a few months earlier than originally planned.  I knew deadlines and assignments would give me some purpose to my days and a schedule to my hours.  I also submitted an application to substitute on post.  Since I knew from experience this could take a while to process, I asked one of the schools if I could just come in and volunteer.  They were more than willing to put me to work.  In addition, PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) started, and I attended faithfully, meeting new people and relishing the fact that three or four hours of that day were spent outside the house. 

            In fact, it was at PWOC that I met 2 women who would be faithful friends through the deployment.  One had taught with me at my first school and subsequently taught on post (where I was attempting to gain employment).  When she had her son, she stopped teaching and thus was able to be at PWOC, and we re-connected.  The other friend I met had a similar situation to mine in that she was not working and did not yet have children.  She and I talked one day after Bible study when we realized we knew some of the same people.  Later we met at Starbucks and almost immediately developed a heart-to-heart bond.  Both of these women had husbands in the same brigade who would deploy around the same time as Matt.  I began to see the Lord’s hand at work!
My joyful, sweet friend Maggie with her adorable son
My sweet, wonderful friend Amy

            It’s amazing how our own expectations can sometimes be our worst enemy.  This is especially true if you are a planner like me.  It’s often not until we surrender our idea of what life should look like that we receive the blessing the Lord has in store for us.  Had I held on to my own plans and expectations, I would have missed deep, meaningful, heart-enriching friendships.  I also would have missed out on extra time with my husband before he deployed.  I realized that by not working during this particular season, I would be able to spend more time with Matt through all of block leave.  I wouldn’t have to worry about taking time off and preparing sub plans just to be with him before he deployed.  Clearly, the Lord’s plans are better than mine.  I simply have to trust Him that this is true.  After all, He can see the big picture.  My perspective is limited – only seeing what is right in front of me.  So if instead of fighting against God because He didn’t give me what I wanted, I look for ways He is going to meet me in this time, I will save myself a lot of tears and wasted emotion. 

If only I could be more like Ruth.  I’m sure she didn’t expect her husband to die, leaving her childless, and then feel a call to go with her mother-in-law to a foreign country, leaving behind all that was familiar to her.  I’m sure she didn’t expect to marry again or have children.  She might have, but surely she didn’t initially want an older man from this foreign country.  Yet, she followed God.  We don’t know if she cried and asked God why.  We only know how she obeyed and adapted to what God had for her.  As military wives, our lives change frequently, and we are called to be flexible.  So often we pick up and start over again in a new place but how quick are we to change our expectations?

How much more pleasing to God would we be if we took after Ruth, held our lives with an open palm, and say, “God, your way is higher than mine, but I know You have a plan.  Help me to see it and show me what to do to bring You glory.”  Then maybe our expectations will match the Lord’s plan for our life.  Maybe not.  But either way, our hearts and attitudes will be more in line with His.  And when He asks us to change course, it’ll be a little easier to relinquish control and say, “not my will, but Yours.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Field Time and How I Keep from Going Insane

        In the summer of 2009, Matt received his promotion to Captain and was re-assigned to the battalion level as the S-4.  With this new job came a change in FRGs, as we now fell under HQ Company.  I enjoyed the larger, more diverse group and quickly signed on as a key caller.  As it was the summer, I was not working and therefore had lots of time.  Coincidentally, I was looking for a new teaching job as I had left my previous school.  My heart’s desire was to work on post, near our house, and enjoy the benefits of working in the DODEA system.  Since I had already submitted my application, all that was left for me to do was wait.  Needless to say, my days were filled with a lot of nothing.

            Meanwhile, Matt’s summer was anything but slow.  His hours continued to be long, especially while learning the new job.  However, he had a much more amiable boss which was a breath of fresh air for both of us.  One of his most interesting tasks as S4 was to gather supplies for a training exercise involving several units who practiced war-fighting tactics in a mock-up version of an Iraqi town.

            I remember one weekend Matt came home with a shopping list of bizarre items necessary for this event - items such as long-hair wigs, plastic baby dolls, rugs, fake food, and tires.  My mind couldn’t possibly understand this combination of supplies.  However, Matt quickly explained that some of the units would take on the role of Iraqi townspeople, sheiks, and mayors to complete the experience for the units practicing their missions.  Thus, he needed wigs to help these Infantry men with their high-and-tights look a little more like Arab men and women.  He explained away the rest of the list as props that would be used in Iraqi homes which the soldiers would search for militant extremists and their weapons.

            Since I was eager to help out (and cure my boredom), I accompanied Matt on his quest to find this curious mix of odds and ends.  When Matt asked me where in Hinesville we could find wigs, I laughed and said, “How should I know?”  Then, I got an inspired idea (or so I thought).  In my jaunts around town, I remembered noticing a hair supply store.  When I suggested we look there, Matt was not so sure.  However, after searching Wal-Mart (where we looked for Halloween-esque wigs in mid-June), the Dollar Store (where all they had were pink wigs designed for little girls playing dress-up), and the PX (where the closet thing was a hair net), Matt finally gave in.

            So we traipsed over to Liberty Square, looking for suitable hair pieces.  When we entered the shop, we were overwhelmed with all the choices.  All along the perimeter of the room sat mannequins with any and all kinds of color, cut, and style of wig.  The only people in the store were African American women who eyed me and my red-headed husband quizzically (to say the least).

            Matt and I looked around (trying to blend in), attempting to figure out first, how much they cost, and second, how to purchase them.  Do you just take them off the mannequin and carry them up to the register?  We had no idea!

            Although Matt was ready to leave as soon as we came in, he eventually agreed to buy 2 or 3.  Despite being more expensive than we thought, he didn’t want to waste more of the day driving to Savannah searching for wigs, nor did he want to return to work empty-handed. 

            When we found a saleswoman and explained why we needed them, she raised an eyebrow but quickly rang us up and sent us on our way.  I died laughing all the way home while Matt, on the other hand, tried to resist his gag reflex.  He was desperate to hand over the wigs to the “actors” as soon as possible.  Apparently what I considered a fun part of his new job simply turned his stomach!

            Not long after our shopping adventures, Matt was, of course, required to participate in the training exercise.  This meant field time – how I dreaded it!  Field time (at least in the Infantry) means Matt spends long weeks camped outside (often miles from post proper) with minimal, if any, phone calls home.  Not being able to see or talk to my husband always makes me crazy.  I hate it!  Needless to say, field time isn’t my favorite part of Army life.

            It turns out that virtually the entire summer Matt was in the field preparing for NTC and the next deployment.  As the S4, he had to go early, prior to the rest of the battalion, to scope it out and lay the groundwork for the unit’s training there.  So even though his battalion wouldn’t go until September, Matt had to go set up in July.

            While I did not get to talk to Matt much while he was in the field, communication improved slightly when he went to Ft. Irwin (aka NTC Land).  During our time apart, I struggled with worry and fear of the unknown.  Since I wasn’t working and didn’t yet have a job prospect for the fall, I felt like I was getting a taste of what the next deployment would be like if I remained unemployed.  I didn’t like it!  I quickly fell into a pit, wrapped my whole life around what Matt was doing, and emotionally wilted…frequently.  I knew this could not continue. 

            Thus, I began looking into graduate school.  Matt encouraged me to pursue it, knowing it would help my frame of mind.  While I did not really want to go back to school, I knew it would count towards renewing my teaching certificate and would give me some purpose to my days.  I researched schools that offered the program I wanted, found out how long it would take me to complete, and what kind of financial aid I could receive as an Army wife.  Soon I called the university, began the application process, and registered for the start of the New Year, after Matt would have already left for Iraq.

            During this time, I also took a trip to see my parents.  Although I missed having Matt with me, it was good to have a change of scene and spend time with my family.  I was able to celebrate my mom’s birthday with her, in person, on the actual date (something that doesn’t happen frequently).  I also went with my parents to a wedding for one of my dad’s golf buddies.  I missed Matt a ton, but I knew missing him there was better than missing him at home by myself.

            It was during this season of my life that the Lord showed me how to enjoy life even when I wasn’t with my husband.  Prior to this (and sometimes even now), I fall into the trap of thinking we can’t be happy unless we’re together.  This is simply not true.  While we are certainly happier when we are together, that doesn’t mean we have to be miserable apart.  Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b).  He doesn’t say I will have a full life only when I’m with the one I love.  If I believe that, I am once again putting my husband before God.  I have to constantly shift my perspective and remember God is the only One who can meet all my needs.  While my husband makes me happy, it is my Savior that makes me joyful.  I must be careful not to confuse the two.

            During that summer, I learned a little better how to trust God in spite of my worry and how to take charge of my life to make it meaningful.  No one ever told me I had to stay at home, be miserable, and bemoan the fact that my husband was off training somewhere.  Instead, I could make the choice to fill my time with visits to family, plans to continue my education, and consistent efforts to obtain a job.  It’s a choice I had to make: whether or not I would trust God to meet my needs and have faith that He would do it.  It’s a choice I still make, regardless of my circumstance.  God promises me an abundant life – will I make the choice to obey Him and reap the reward?