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!