My entire life has been connected in one way or another to the military.
I grew up the daughter of a Master Chief in the United States Navy. I joined (albeit shortly) the Army National Guard, and in 2005 I married a Marine.
All these years later, I realize just how much that military life strengthened my faith in Our Heavenly Father.
Each situation, transition, and experience added another brick to the foundation of my belief in God’s almighty power, His endless love, and boundless wisdom.
God is Always There
When my husband and I first married, we were immediately stationed on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
This sounds like a dream destination, but for us it wasn’t.
We struggled, and there were times it didn’t seem possible for us to make it through together.
Looking back it’s easy to see, God had a plan for us; we just weren’t listening to Him or leaning on Him.
We experienced many different things during our eighteen months there.
Most of it separately.
My husband spent a good portion of the time we were stationed there deployed to Afghanistan–or preparing to deploy.
Because of this, we relied heavily on ourselves, and then expected each other to fill the empty spaces in our lives.
It was rough.
I’d never been away from my family or my friends, and living on an island–basically alone–showed me a weakness in myself I’d never known.
Even though I wasn’t intimate with God during this season of my life, He was there.
Taking the hard moments and using them to help build a strong foundation for my future faith.
The LORD Does it Again
When we left Hawaii we were stationed in Virginia.
We struggled to build our relationship, because neither of us understood the other. We didn’t communicate, and we hurt each other deeply time and time again.
Military Life Isn’t Easy.
Not even for people with strong marriages.
Being young made it harder.
The Marine Corps was a tough employer, and my husband worked long hours and was rarely home.
When he was home he would unwind by playing computer games.
A solitary activity that didn’t include me.
Between the stresses of his job, and our lack of connection I was emotionally exhausted.
After two years, I was ready to call it quits.
Then a Miracle Happened.
I’d been told after the loss of my son I’d likely never carry a child again.
God, however, works miracles all the time; in His time it happened.
With our marriage on rocky ground, we made it through the pregnancy and birth of our eldest.
It wasn’t easy, and we still didn’t turn to God or acknowledge Him in our lives.
We continued to go it on our own, and made each day harder than it needed to be.
Again, the LORD wasn’t deterred.
He used our experiences in this new place to add more bricks to the foundation of my faith.
Deployments, PTSD, and Selfishness
My Husband Deployed to Afghanistan Twice.
The second time he deployed, our eldest was a toddler, and that changed everything. His absence was no longer only affecting me, but was affecting a little girl who didn’t understand why her daddy wasn’t home to tuck her in.
This wasn’t the first time he’d been gone from our lives since her birth, but it was the first time the military had taken him to a war zone.
Those seven months were both a struggle and a blessing.
I just didn’t realize the ‘blessing’ part until years later.
While he was gone I experienced a number of things that would have been so much easier with God actively in my life.
Learning Experience: God is Faithful
My daughter ended up rushed to a children’s hospital when her temperature elevated and the local hospital didn’t feel capable of caring for her. We rode in the ambulance for over an hour, to a hospital in the middle of the desert.
I’d left my car at the local hospital with no idea of how she and I would get home.
Without knowing it at the time, God was there.
Her fever broke and we made it back home.
A problem that seemed insurmountable was solved.
Back to Back Deployments Are Traumatic
When a service member returns from a deployment it takes time for reintegration.
Not only for the member, but for the family he left as well.
We’d spent seven months apart, and during that time both our daughter and I had grown and changed.
He’d changed too.
You can’t deploy somewhere, see death, destruction, and misery, and not be irrevocably changed.
It was really hard to connect.
He and I had never really been great at communicating in the first place, add in the stresses of his returning to a safe place, and the communication was practically non-existent.
God used these struggles too.
I couldn’t see it at the time, and if you’d asked me during those days I would have scoffed at the idea of any god, let alone the God.
Then He Deployed to Okinawa
Within weeks of his return, my husband was back scheduled to deploy again.
Granted, this time it wasn’t to a war-torn country where anyone could be planning to kill you; it still meant he would leave his family for another seven months.
Prior to any deployment, service men train for what might happen while they’re on mission.
This training takes months, and at times feels like a deployment itself.
We never saw him, and when we did he was angry.
I was angry.
Something was going on with him, I knew it and so did our daughter. He didn’t agree.
The week before he deployed to Okinawa, the dam broke. I was tired of seeing my baby girl hurt by her father’s indifference.
It was the first (and only time) my husband has ever sworn at me.
He was in pain, I could see it, but I couldn’t fix it.
I couldn’t help him, and he wasn’t willing to help himself.
My Decision: To Love
The night before he left, I made a choice.
It was time to stop being selfish. To stop placing blame, and just do what I should have done all along.
The same thing Jesus would have done.
I wrapped my arms around him, and loved him.
Regardless of my anger, my confusion, and my own hurt, I felt peace wash over me.
This was the right thing to do.
He wouldn’t leave our home with an angry, bitter wife. He would leave with a wife full of love for her husband.
It’s obvious now what that peace was.
That change wasn’t because I’m a naturally forgiving person.
God had wrapped His arms around me, and said, “trust me”.
Seven months later when my husband returned, he was a different person, and so was I.
This time however, I saw something better in him.
There was a light in him again. The pain wasn’t gone, but it was receding.
God had worked on him too, it seemed.
In the solitude of long runs around Okinawa, God had started to heal my husband.
Military Life: Relocating Time and Again
From the East to the West and Back Again
Our active duty military career continued until 2017.
During those years we moved from Washington State to Hawaii.
From Hawaii to Virginia
Then onto California.
Back to Washington State, just to do it once more– across the Continental United States to Virginia.
We grew our family from that first miracle to four miracles.
How This Helped My Faith
Soon after we had our second child, our eldest son, we were given orders to return to Washington State (where our relationship originally began).
Just like that, a light came on.
Like a program working in the background of your mobile device, God had been working on me.
I’d discovered what had been missing from my life.
For so long I’d been trying to fill the empty space, and nothing had worked.
With the knowledge I was heading back to the home I’d run away from, I surrendered.
God broke through my stubborn pride, and with open arms accepted me: scars, bad choices, confusion, and all.
Through it All, He Remains
Since that summer day in 2013, many things have changed in my life.
I’d be lying if I said my marriage suddenly became perfect, and all our problems magically disappeared once I accepted God back into my life.
That we never struggled.
I’d be lying if I said our lives have been perfect and there hasn’t been a day of worry.
It doesn’t work that way.
There has been pain and loss (My father passed away in January 2015), and there were times of deep fear within this Momma( when the doctor discovered on Mother’s Day 2018 that my youngest daughter has multiple VSDs in her heart)
Being a Christian is hard. Really hard for so many reasons.
Jesus never said it would be easy.
But, I can tell you without a shred of doubt it’s worth it.
He’s worth it.
We’re worth it.
Through all the ups and downs, God continues to strengthen my faith. Not in myself, but in Him.
My family grows, matures, and loves each day, because of His love and righteousness.
And through everything–including the change from active duty military life to reserves–God continues to love me.
When the Marine Corps payment doesn’t come in when its supposed to, and the bank account is too low to cover everything, I trust God.
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Living in the Pacific Northwest is Hard
Almost four years ago my little family and I returned to the Pacific Northwest. This relocation has been a struggle for several reasons, but one of the biggest struggles we’ve had to deal with is my ongoing battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder–SAD. Although the struggle didn’t start out as hard as I expected it to be, it has recently gotten worse.
I spent four years living in the desert, a place where it was sunny almost every day. On those rare occasions when it wasn’t, every part of me knew it. Those days were miserable for me, and made me grateful for each and every sunny day.
I also realized how blessed I was to no longer be living in the PNW.
The LORD had other plans for my little family though, and one day we packed up and headed back to the trees and mountains I’d grown up around. The PNW is beautiful. There is no denying that, but to be beautiful it spends quite a bit of time gray and dreary. For someone who needs the sunshine to be mellow and happy, the trade-off comes at a high price.
Summer Makes Me Come Alive
Today is beautiful. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and there is just the right amount of breeze rustling the trees. Spring is here, and summer is approaching. I’ll be honest and say summer makes me come alive.
The past few months have been hard for me. Our family thrives on schedules and routines because, when it comes to me living in a state that spends close to six months a year with little sunshine, routines help me to not completely become a hermit. It also keeps the SAD from getting so out of control that I end up becoming a shadow of myself.
Sadly, this year those schedules and routines haven’t helped as much as they have in the past.
Making the Connection
I can’t really lock down when this ongoing battle became noticeable; when the depression started interfering with my life. All I know is one day I realized I’d started putting off going places. I’d started finding reasons to not leave the house–to excuse myself and my family from social events because they felt like obligations–and that feeling stressed me out.
During the winter months I struggled with this a lot. Since the loss of my father and the suffocating feeling I had from the bleakness of the weather, I found myself leaving my home less and less. I’ve stepped away from several things I enjoyed doing, because I couldn’t convince myself the recovery time it would take me afterward was worth it.
The only things I’ve managed to maintain throughout this time are things directly involved with my children. No matter how hard it is for me, I don’t want to let them down. They enjoy their time at AWANA and Classical Conversations community day. It wasn’t (and isn’t) their fault that I have a hard time functioning without glorious sunshine.
I’m Worried Too
My husband worries about me, and my friends worry about me. They’re afraid I’m not just going to become a hermit, but a full-fledged shut in.
If I’m honest, I’m worried about that as well.
You see, I love my church, but when this suffocating sensation turns to panic at the thought of leaving my home Sunday morning and facing people, I know there is reason to be concerned.
Today, I’m feeling great, and that knowledge can lull me into a false sense of security. It can cause me to forget the way I feel when it isn’t sunny and beautiful.
Sunlight therapy isn’t enough (though, I highly recommend adding it if you suffer from SAD!), and neither is the medication I gave in and started taking four years ago.
I need God to help me through this, the same way I need Him in every aspect of my life.
Recently my mother sold the house where I grew up. This may not seem like a big deal, and months ago when she made the decision it wasn’t. Unfortunately, like with many events in my life, the true feelings didn’t become noticeable until much later.
Suddenly, today, my heart is breaking all over again.
The house–a mere pile of wood, cement, and nails– where my father and I discussed books over tea in the cool and quiet of the (always partially finished) basement, belongs to someone else.
No matter where I went, or what happened in my life, that man-made structure with forest surrounding it was my constant. I knew it would always be there, and I’d always have a place to return to.
The house already looks different. My mother, sister, and brother, have spent countless hours updating it, fixing it, and making it perfect for the new family to live in. The basement (which is finally finished) isn’t my father’s anymore. His books no longer line the walls, his cat no longer curls up in his chair, and his tea and teacups are no longer on the mini-fridge.
I know it doesn’t make sense, but knowing the house will no longer be the place I call home, feels like the death of my father all over again.
My mother doesn’t need that large of a house, and she’s already purchased her new home. One where she will undoubtedly be happier, and where she can make new memories. It’s funny how I can be happy for her while I still feel like I’m being buried alive by my own sorrow.
Today, turning to the LORD hasn’t been as spiritually lifting as it usually is. Instead of answers I have more questions. Instead of peace, I have unstoppable tears.
Good thing He is stronger than my doubts. His love is deeper than my sorrow, and I know that even though things aren’t clean and clear at this moment, tomorrow is another day, and He will still be there, offering His peace, joy, and comfort.
May God’s light shine on you today, and every day.
Three days ago we scattered my father’s ashes in the Puget Sound. A place he’d always loved. The week leading up to the memorial was rough and emotions ran high with everyone. I wanted nothing more than to forget about the whole thing and keep my father’s ashes on my shelf, because as soon as they were removed from their place of honor, lonliness enveloped me. He’d been there since February, a constant companion in my home. It was time to let him go, but I wasn’t sure I was ready.
At the approximate time the sun would have been setting, had the rain not decided to join our tears, we said a final goodbye to the man who had taught us so many things. There was laughter amidst the inappropriate humor my father was so used to from my sister Rae, and me. As she shared her memories, it occured to me that my father was a wonderfully flawed person. He swore, he drank, he was selfish, and was always impatient. I realized much of my personality came from him. Many of my strengths and many of my weaknesses were nurtured and ingrained at his knee. My father made many mistakes in his life, but one thing he did that wasn’t a mistake, was loving his children inspite of our differences, and sometimes because of them.
With that knowledge, it was important to remind myself that we all grieve differently, and that emotions are strong factors in the way we react to situations. That night wasn’t about who we were, it was about who he was. There was no right or wrong way to memorialize him. Whether it was drinking a bottle of wine in his memory as the rain poured down, or closing off from others and holding inside whatever emotion was burning the heart. We needed to set aside our various differences, ignore the typical family dynamic and just be there for one last moment with the man who had raised us in the only way he knew how.
After the others left, I sat on the bench beside the water with my dear friend. We watched otters play in the current, and I cried. Big, ugly, body wracking tears. For months there had been a pain inside my heart that couldn’t seem to heal. It was like a splinter left just beneath the surface, and it was festering as the days went on. I didn’t realize it, even as I sat there, that the healing had finally began. For the months since my father passed, I was in a holding pattern, not really grieving, but not really healing either.
Three days before Father’s Day, the proverbial splinter was finally removed, the wound cleaned, and my body and soul could really begin to heal.
When Sunday arrived I was leary of attending church. It was my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was concerned I’d break down and not be able to stop. In fact, I almost decided not to go, to stay home and be safe from the emotions, smiles, and warm wishes of others.
Instead, I prayed.
Then I put on my big girl pants and joined my family in church.
It was a wonderful day. The words were exactly what I needed to hear, and my heart didn’t ache. For the first time in months I didn’t feel like I would get blown away in a stiff breeze, or shatter like glass. I felt free. With the scattering of my Father’s ashes, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. My Father is truly at peace now, and even though I might not be completely there yet, I am on my way. My heart is light and I am filled with the Joy of the Holy Spirit.
Life moves on and changes, much like the tides of the sea.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy and may you forever be at rest in the place you loved best.
He’s no longer here to celebrate it, but each year on this day, I still say a prayer and send him a wish.
It’s quiet, and it’s ours.
My whole adult life, my father was my closest friend. Even when I made mistakes, I knew I could talk about them to him.
As an adult I never felt judged by him.
It wasn’t always like that.
Teenage Sare was an angry, bitter girl. I resented my father for working all the time and no longer being around to play buffer between my mother and me.
I missed him joining my NJROTC drill teams on our trips, and being home with me in the evenings for dinner. I’d become a latchkey kid.
Not everything was bad though.
I can look back now and see the good things that happened during those years.
The Past Can Be Sweet
When I was in junior high and high school, my father and I would get up early in the morning, before either of us had to leave for the day, and we’d drink Irish Breakfast tea in the quiet kitchen.
Living in the PNW meant waking up to complete darkness and rain streaking the windows. Tea was a perfect accessory to strengthen our resolve to leave the house.
Especially on those really early mornings in high school when I had zero hour swimming. I was definitely not a morning person as a teen.
Drinking tea together was a calming ritual that made even the worst days a little easier to deal with.
That short amount of time was always a wonderful experience.
The pang of my father’s absence still lingers in my heart; sometimes more poignant than others.
This morning was one of those moments where sweet memories I hadn’t thought of in years flooded my heart. I found it fitting that they came to me while spending time with my Heavenly Father, and drinking my morning cup of Irish Breakfast tea.
Memories Help Us Grow
Though my father is no longer physically with me, and we haven’t shared the early silence of a rain-soaked morning since I graduated from high school, those moments led to the moment I had this morning.
Everything we experience in life leaves a mark on us, whether good or bad.
These experiences with my father leave me with the desire to make similar memories with my children.
Remember today to embrace the good moments, even amid the chaos and pain of living life in this fallen world.
God doesn’t promise it will be easy, but He does promise it will be worth it.
Today would have been my father’s birthday. I’ve been aware of the date my whole life, and for the past few weeks I’ve seen the date staring at me from the calendar. Up until this morning I hadn’t realized it would be so hard to breathe when the day actually arrived.
It became very obvious this morning when I woke and realized I wouldn’t be contacting him for our yearly conversation on aging and the unimportance of celebrating birthdays after the age of 21. I wouldn’t hear him chuckle over the phone when I asked what he wanted for his birthday, and there wouldn’t be a gruff reply of “new eyes” or “working ears”.
Grief is amazing when it hits. The feelings can blindside you, and leave you groping for a foothold. For me, I often don’t realize it’s hit until I can no longer see for the tears. I’ll be a curled up mess on the floor, the bed–or when I’m really lucky (and by lucky, I mean not at all)–in the car driving through the rain in crazy “Oh my goodness, it’s raining!” Pacific Northwest Traffic.
My grief today has been like a world-class roller coaster. The loops alone would leave even the biggest thrill seeker checking their throat for their stomach.
I know healing takes time, and on most days, I’m good with that. Today however, I’d love if grief would show itself to the door so my lungs could resume functioning properly again.
There’s always tomorrow, right?
Until then, Happy Birthday, Daddy.
I ask you to guide me through this day LORD. Help me to see the light through the darkness, and to embrace joy rather than crushing despair. Amen.