Yesterday my friend Melissa called to tell me her dishwasher broke. This would probably not be a big deal except for one little fact: The day before yesterday, her husband deployed.
Of course he had.
Military wives know that deployment gremlins, as some like to call these coincidental mishaps, come with being a military family. For me, it was a perfectly good garage door that was working fine the day I kissed my husband goodbye as he left for Iraq, only to completely refuse to budge the next day when I needed to drive my son to school.
These kinds of setbacks have a way of either making us laugh or reducing us to tears, and in my 15 years of living through drill weekends, two-week trainings, three-month schools, and ten-month deployments, I have done both. It never gets easier to be separated from your husband, and with different seasons of life come different challenges. But we persevere. We push through. We pray hard. And if we're willing to look, we can learn more than what we started out knowing.
As my husband gets ready to leave for his third deployment in the last six years, this time to Afghanistan, it's perhaps as good a time as any to think about the lessons we military spouses learn over the course of our service.
Lesson #1 - Marriage takes work. If you've been married more than a day, you know this to be true, whether your spouse wears a military uniform or not. Just like civilian marriages, military marriages require lots of patience, lots of love, and a whole lot of grace for a couple to be successful. I've learned to forgive when I didn't want to and overlook when I really wanted to finger-point. I've learned not to sweat the small stuff, but to be grateful for the things that really matter. I've discovered that focusing on my husband's strengths is so much better than concentrating on his flaws, and he does the same for me. I am quicker to say, "I'm sorry," and slower to accuse or get defensive because I've also learned that …
Lesson #2 - Life isn't always about me. If life were always about me, the military would understand when I need my husband home for my birthday, or just to help cook dinner once in awhile. But military life has taught me, instead, how to reach out and help others who are in the same shoes and hurting. Sharing my experience-the good, the bad, and the ridiculous—not only helps others feel less alone, but also helps me find purpose in this life God has given me. The lessons he's teaching me can't just stay with me.
Lesson #3 - God is bigger than my biggest disappointments. One of the hardest lessons I've learned as a military wife is that my strength eventually runs out, despite my best intentions to be super woman. That's often when disappointment sets in. Sometimes it's my husband who lets me down. Or a friend who doesn't call. A family member who doesn't help when I really need it. A dream that doesn't become reality the way I was hoping. In my weakest moments as a military wife, though, I have seen the strength of God. I have observed the hope he offers when my own self-made hopes are dashed. I have heard his gentle whisper over the hiccup of my sobs, reminding me that in all things he works for my good, because I love him and he has called me for his purpose. So even when I feel broken, in him I know I'm whole.
Lesson #4 - Blessings are often closer than they appear. Life sometimes has a way of consuming us with the hard stuff. The bad threatens to make the good disappear. But as a military wife, I've seen the good. Friends and strangers who say thank you through their words or actions. The friendship and the dependence on one another between my husband and the men and women with whom he serves. The little things my husband and I do for each other when he's home and the soft words of encouragement that come from phone calls or e-mails when he's not. Laughs with friends, bedtime stories with my son, an encouraging e-mail in my inbox. These are the bright spots in my days. These are the blessings that I know don't happen by accident but sometimes at the exact moment I need one. Sweet blessings softly assuring my soul that my Creator has not overlooked me, but that he loves me. Greatly.
Lesson #5 - Sacrifices that don't get noticed still mean something. It used to offend me when civilian friends or even strangers didn't seem to catch the importance of what my husband does-and countless others do-for our country. I'd swallow hard when someone said something stupid, like "Don't you get scared something will happen to him?" or "Well, I guess you knew what you were signing up for." But I've realized over the years that what someone else thinks really isn't the point anyway. My husband doesn't serve for the praise of many but for the calling of one. He serves because he believes God's called him to serve. And I serve by his side, whether next to him or at home waiting for him, because that's the role God's called me to as a military spouse.
Military life isn't an easy life, but in its own way, it's a blessed life. The challenges we face as military families make the blessings that much better.
Sara Horn is the founder of Wives of Faith (wivesoffaith.org), a military wives ministry, and the author of several books including GOD Strong: A Military Wife's Spiritual Survival Guide, and her most recent, My So-Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife. Her newest book, My So-Called Life as a Submissive Wife, releases this August. Visit her online at sarahorn.com.