I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was standing in the kitchen sorting the mail when my husband walked in to share the news. “I got the orders today. Our unit is being deployed to Afghanistan.” “What do you mean?” I said as if responding in disbelief would change what I had just heard. I had been so proud when he was promoted to Major and when he became Commander of his medical unit. Now, all I could think was “what?”
Once the initial shock wore off, thoughts raced through my mind. I immediately began planning. At the time, our kids were 4 ½ and 15 months old and I had a very demanding full-time job. He would be gone for one year. I can do this. I kept repeating that over and over to myself. As my husband prepared to leave, I kept reassuring him that we would be fine. I told him not to let worry about us distract him from the job at hand – bring himself and each one of his soldiers home safely. Survival mode kicked in. This would be my way of supporting him and our country. I would keep life as normal as possible for my kids and ensure that my husband felt my love and support while he was gone. I can do this.
He was gone for one year and while it was hard at times (especially holidays and birthdays), we made it just fine. However, no one prepared us for what happened next. He came home.
We were so excited to see each other at first, and then the reality of what we had experienced became abundantly clear. He was a soldier and in a position of authority. Soldiers did exactly as he instructed without question or hesitation. A tactic not so well received by a 2 ½ year old son, 5 ½ year old daughter and a wife who had been making all the family decisions on her own for a year. Even worse, when he wasn’t barking orders at us, he wasn’t talking. His physical presence should be enough, right?
He didn’t talk to me for months. The tension in the air was thick. I walked on egg shells not wanting to say or do anything to set him off. I tried to corral the kids and keep them out of his way and behaving well. It was exhausting. Any attempt I made to relieve the tension was met with cold, abrupt disinterest.
I felt isolated, disappointed and afraid. I was patient at first. Patience turned to anger. Anger turned to desperation. I feared that the man I knew was gone. Our kids needed their father. I needed my husband. I couldn’t believe that we had made it through the deployment just fine only to find ourselves in this awful place. And he was home safely!
One afternoon, I received a text message from a high school friend. She had seen a picture I had posted on Facebook and wanted to check in on me. The picture was of me and Tarren on the day he returned to Fort Hood. She said I looked scared to death. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had not wanted to admit to anyone how I was feeling. My friend could see it all over my face and she didn’t even know all that had happened since that picture. She told me of another friend who had been through the same experience. She and her husband struggled for two years. They even separated at one point – their marriage on the brink of explosion.
God really spoke to me through my friend. First, there was a time frame. Two years. Not forever. Not always. Two years. That was manageable. Second, this could destroy our marriage. I was not willing to even entertain the idea of separation. God gave me the choice. He needed room to work and my pushing and trying to control everything (even if was intended to make things better) was only getting in the way. It was not about me changing my husband. It was about me changing me. I had to stop pushing.
I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my marriage just to be right or in control, so I agreed to stop pushing. I let go of the way things “used to be” and accepted a new way of relating to and living with my husband. I created space for God to work. And then, I did what I knew I could do without getting in God’s way. I prayed.
I turned to God daily in prayer. I asked for patience, strength, courage and guidance on how to be the wife that he needed. I held firmly to Deuteronomy 31:8 which promises “The Lord himself will go before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.”
It took around two years before we were finally at our new normal. Frankly, I don’t remember much about our life before Afghanistan. I do know that the experience brought me closer to God – strengthening my faith and resolve to trust Him always. It is through our faith and our commitment to each other that my husband and I moved forward in partnership. It took a lot of patience, love and willingness to find our new path. In time, healing found us.