Grace and Grit: Getting Through A Holiday Deployment
I’ll never forget the oddest comment I ever received regarding the military lifestyle. After just starting a new job, my supervisor asked me how I managed to get through deployments, especially over the holidays. My reply was something like, “one day, one week, one month at a time.” To which she replied, “I don’t know how you do it, but I didn’t get married to sleep alone.” I never looked at my military marriage from that perspective because I believed military service is honorable and a worthy vocation. After all, our military protect America’s values and beliefs. Experiencing Christmas is one of those important faith values. Still, that didn’t make deployments any easier.
I read on military.com last year that holidays are like a coin; happy times on one side and stressful times on the other.1 This is especially true for military families enduring a deployment that includes the holidays. The Thanksgiving-Christmas season can be brutal on our emotions, let alone the stress of being separated by thousands of miles. And if not stationed near extended family members, as was my case, keeping up that inner strength takes more than sweet Facebook posts of positive sentiments. It often means knowing Who the source of our help and strength comes from.
Give Yourself Some Grace
When my husband, Ray, left on deployment in mid-August one year, I felt a rip had occurred in our oneness. Deployment blew a hole in our sense of unity that came from family togetherness. Those first few weeks I struggled with an inner battle–a battle between my new reality and what my heart wanted. Before Ray left I wanted him to get going so I could move beyond the ache, but then when he was gone, I wanted that time together back. My feelings were in a flux. And feelings, I learned, are neither right or wrong, they just are, so with each deployment I gave myself a little grace–a reprieve from expecting too much out of myself too soon. I knew these rollercoaster emotions were normal and would ease up.
When Thanksgiving arrived civilian friends invited me and the kids to their home to partake in their Thanksgiving dinner. My kids enjoyed the outing and I enjoyed the fellowship, plus it kept my mind engaged.
By December, we were now into the four month of the deployment. This fact alone provided a dose of determination knowing we had passed the halfway point. It seemed all downhill from here, except for one unexpected emotional detour.
I was on my way home from an evening class I took after work. Before picking up my children at the home of a neighbor, I stopped at a home improvement center to pick up a few things. Upon entering the store, I noticed the Christmas trees on display. The sight warmed my heart. They reminded me of the four foot Christmas tree my kids and I sent to their dad on the ship two months earlier. Complete with simple ornaments, it arrived in time and Ray set it up in the Chief’s mess. Each time he came for a meal, there in the center of the mess hall was a visual reminder of the love waiting back home.
I continued walking to the isle I needed as holiday shoppers passed by. Then, just ahead of me was a couple probably in their mid-thirties walking with their arms intertwined. As they strolled along, her body leaned into his with their hands clasped together. Their two young kids skipped ahead of them, squealing jubilant sentiments while pointing to yard ornaments of reindeers adorned in lights.
Seeing this family together poked at my emotions. I had been going for months holding up that tough inner resolve, but suddenly, I felt my heart starting to cave. This couple was a stark reminder that we wouldn’t be all together as a family this Christmas. A huge piece was missing. Instantly, my emotions rose to the surface; I couldn’t stop the tears. I wanted to be that family – together at Christmas. As hard as I tried, the tears wouldn’t stop. Embarrassed that I’d be noticed, I found an empty isle and brushed away my tears. How I missed my husband in that moment. Disheartened, I got what I needed in the store and hurried out to my car.
The Gift of Grit
On my drive home the tears freely flowed once again as discouragement swamped my heart. Feeling forgotten and a bit insecure, I began to dread Christmas Day. With no family in my state, I questioned whether or not the military lifestyle was worth it. I had managed well enough up to this point, but now my feelings threatened to sabotage what inner strength I had. I gave myself the normal lecture reminding my heart that I was in no ordinary marriage. I was in a military marriage and lived according to a different set of circumstances. I put on a brave face and got my kids from the neighbor.
After my kids went to bed, I curled up in my favorite chair and meditated on God’s Word. I turned to the psalms. I was familiar with King David’s story and his bouts of loneliness and discouragement. Have you noticed when your feelings turn negative, God’s Word has an answer to address them? For my discouragement, God’s answer was Psalm 3:3: “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, …and the one who lifts up my head.” When downcast, God is our ultimate encourager. For feeling forgotten, I found Luke 12:6,7. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight…you are of more value than many sparrows.” I’m not forgotten because I’m highly valued and belong to Him. For the grit I still needed to get through Christmas Day, Romans 8:37 offered assurance of His provision of strength. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors…” Then I noticed the words, in all these things–it doesn’t matter what the struggle is, even in the pit of deployment God can provide the needed strength. As I prayed and contemplated my circumstances, God refreshed my heart and improved my outlook.
On Christmas morning, opening gifts without my husband was still hard, but the kid’s excitement kept me in the moment. Later that morning my husband called. We each had our turn on the phone. Hearing his voice on the line was like healing salve to my heart. “I wish I was home with you, but we’re almost there, dear,” my husband consoled me. “Remember, this is our last deployment.” Those words were the best gifts from heaven that day. They stayed with me the rest of Christmas Day and into our final weeks of deployment. Later, my dad called, as did my husband’s parents. How God reminded me that the kids and I weren’t forgotten! And that evening I prepared a Christmas dinner of three Cornish hens and all the traditional fixin’s for the kids and I.
1 Dr. Vladmir Nacev, “Handling Holiday Separations,” http://www.military.com/spouse/military-deployment/dealing-with-deployment