I washed my hardwood floors today. A monumental task in this current season of my life, but I managed it. And as the smell of Murphy’s Cleaning Oil was wafting through my house, I found myself rushed back to a life, that now seems very far away, full of fear, anticipation, pain, and waiting.
My first deployment was, as it is for many, thankfully my last. This, however, in no way lessened the severity of it. As any Veteran military wife will tell you, each deployment holds it’s own challenges, whether it is your first or your seventh. The rumors leading up to this particular deployment had been rushing around the Battalion for months; it was not a surprise. When the orders officially came, I braced myself for the onset, fully aware that our lives were about to dramatically change.
And so the waiting began. I washed my floors.
We talked, we planned, we prayed – he started to shut down… I cried and washed my floors.
We held each other; he reassured me of his love that stretches far beyond any ocean that could separate us. I told him it would be fine. We would be fine, he would be fine; everything would be fine… I washed my floors.
He started packing, spent nights standing in our baby’s doorway watching her sleep… took his toothbrush. I clung to my last shred of composure and washed my floors.
He left… taking with him the very air in my lungs. And I froze.
There are no words that could adequately depict what happens in that moment, the moment your world gets on a plane and leaves you. Hollow. My body was there, clinging to our 7-month-old. Pain coursed through my veins as I bit viciously down on my bottom lip to keep the tears from escaping, which told me I was still alive. But that was all I could feel. The air on my skin, the ground under my feet – everything was lost in that moment; I couldn’t feel anything… except a strong, thudding ache that began in my toes and slowly ran the course of my body. I felt like the life had just been sucked from my soul.
I can’t breathe. My best friend whispers, “Just breathe.” She knows… she’s been here. Just breathe.
Tears fill my eyes even now as I write this. Not for my pain, thank God it’s over and I don’t ever have to feel it again. But for the pain of a heart that’s ever felt this way, I grieve.
It became my mantra as I turned with my loved ones and my sweet baby girl and we got in the car and drove away. Just breathe. As I spent that first night away from him, not the first… we had spent many apart, but never with him on his way to another country for who knows how long…. just breathe. As the tears came, because no one can hold them back forever, just breathe. As a day passed, then a week, a month… six months… just breathe. On lonely summer nights, in the middle of a crowd, on our baby girl’s 1st birthday, still autumn afternoons, Christmas… just breathe. My floors got a lot of attention that year.
I know our little family was incredibly blessed to have a short deployment, a safe deployment, and one that didn’t cause our baby girl any pain. She found a picture recently of her daddy in his ‘funny clothes’ (uniform) holding her in an airport and asked why – she has no idea. I find myself stunned by how much our life has changed in just three short years. At the time it felt as though it would never end… but it did. He returned safe and sound, thank you Jesus, and at long last my soul was filled with life and joy and I found myself breathing without the pain – I was whole again.
I can’t reflect on that time in our lives without that sinking feeling threatening to overtake me again – it’s like talking about your delivery less than a week after the baby is born. But, just like labor, I found the experience was worth the pain. And do you know what else I’ve discovered? If given the choice to relive that time in my life, I would do it again.
Deployment strengthened three relationships in my life: with my husband, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and yes, with myself. I met myself during deployment. Through the grace of my ever-present, ever-faithful God, I grew into myself during deployment. Those 10 months were but a blip on the screen of my life when measured in time, yet God used that season to make me into the woman only he knew I had the potential to be. That’s why I thrived. Anyone can survive a deployment. It’s miserable and you’ll hate it, but it won’t kill you. It also won’t change you… unless you let it.
Here are a few things I learned in deployment that taught me to seize the opportunities for growth regardless of the pain:
❤ Live for the big picture, not the moment.
I know we so often hear the opposite, but for a wife who’s husband is on the other side of the world, the ‘moment’ is not always worth living for. Again with the labor analogy, when you’re pushing out a baby the ‘moment’ isn’t the incentive you draw your strength from, the end result is. On any given day in those 10 months, the ‘moment’ could find me curled up with my baby, holding back the tears, aching for the time to rush by. That ‘moment’ took me to church, parties and weddings alone, found me making dinner for one, and saw me overreact to my nervous fears by grasping my pepper-spray and ‘clearing’ every room and closet after arriving at our quiet, empty house.
The big picture, on the other hand, offered hope. He would come home, we would pick our lives back up where they left off, and go on like it never happened. And I was right on all counts but one – we could never pretend it didn’t happen, it had changed us both for the better in so many ways.
❤ Set achievable goals that you want to accomplish, and re-structure your life around them.
After dropping him off at the airport, there was no ‘going back to normal life’ for us. Everything had changed. So, instead of trying to make it feel the same way it used to despite the gaping hole that had just lodged it’s way in my world, I went for something completely different. Before deployment, I had a conversation with a very wise military wife and service member herself, my cousin Sarah. She and her husband had experienced multiple deployments in varied circumstances (she deployed, he stayed home; he deployed she stayed home; both deployed to separate bases, etc.). She advised making goals, both personally and as a couple, to help the time go faster. She said that having something to work on together, albeit from opposite ends of the earth, would help hold your marriage together and keep you close. The personal goals also helped make the days go by faster, and gave them a purpose. Instead of making my full-time occupation waiting for my life to start back up again, I made achieving my goals my first priority and waiting became more of a hobby.
❤ Embrace your support system and accept help.
This one was especially hard for me. I have an amazing support system, and was blessed enough to be within 20 minutes of the majority of my family during deployment. But asking for and accepting help is hard for me. I found myself putting on a brave face and, more often than not, refusing the offers for company, a babysitter, or a helping hand. It wasn’t until a few months in that I realized if I kept saying no, eventually they would stop asking, and every time they asked I felt a little less alone. So I started saying ‘yes’. Overnights, childcare, dinner for no reason – their thoughtfulness helped carry me through what those middle months which, in many ways, is the hardest part.
“Nothing lasts forever,” my mom used to say to me as a child when I would cry over something that would no doubt be a non-issue the next day. To one degree or another she told me that very same thing nearly every day during deployment, and she was right. He came home. It ended. It’s in the past now. But what I didn’t realize at the time was how, even though it still fills me with dread to recall those days, they were a precious gift. It grew our marriage, drew me closer to the Lord, gave me a sweet season with my baby girl that will always be near and dear to my heart, and introduced me to myself. That season of our lives is over now – my husband can grow a beard, get the haircut he wants, and I haven’t washed anything printed in that rough, worn camouflage fabric for months. And it’s sweet. But I’ll always be thankful for the lessons we learned, together and apart, during that time.
No matter where you are in your own journey, I hope these thoughts bring you comfort, peace and hope.
Comfort because you are not alone: even if we never meet our souls are tangled in a bond that is forged in the fires of like experience. Peace because I survived, and you will too – no matter the pain you might feel in the moment, it is but a glimpse of your journey. And hope – hope that God can, and will if you let him, use this time in your life to grow you in ways you never had dreamed; to make you stronger in so many ways. So don’t settle for just getting by; thrive. And soon it will be you telling your own story to bring comfort, peace and hope to the lives within your reach.
To all military men and women; to their wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and loved ones: thank you for your service! We are blessed to live in the Land of the Free because of the Brave. You are forever in our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers.
Update: Like this post? Check out Part 2:
Special thanks to Kalyn Griffin for the beautiful photos!
Special thanks to Noel Small Photography for the incredible reunion photos and for her generosity giving her time and resources to photograph our reunion! See more of her work at noelsmallphotography.com