I swear to you, this is exactly how the conversation went:
My mother: “What’s wrong with you?”
Me: “I think I have ‘survivor’s guilt.'”
Mom: “What? Who died?”
Me: “Well, no one died… I just feel guilty for having too much fun or for being too happy while The Pilot is deployed. It just seems wrong. He’s off somewhere without AC, working all the time, eating bad food and getting a poor night’s rest on some awful twin size cot. Meanwhile, I’m busy seeing friends, traveling to visit family, eating at great restaurants and shopping like I’ve got nothing better to do. How can I not feel guilty?! Shouldn’t I be wearing a sack-cloth while I mourn or something?”
There’s a good chance that this kind of deranged mentality is unique to me and that I am an expert level of crazy that most will never reach. BUT, in the event that I’m not the only one that struggles with how to balance the hardship their husband faces with the sometimes really sweet and blessing-filled time that you’ve been given while they’re gone, feel free to join the club! I’m the president and we’re now taking applications.
The Pilot and I have only one deployment under our belt but there is another one fast approaching this year so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to gracefully thrive, not just survive, the upcoming season of separation.
So far, I’ve come up with three ideas that I’m going to try and filter every single emotion through. No matter what it is; if it be fear, worry, doubt, small victories or success, I’m going to look at each through three different lenses.
People tend to think that prayer has to be this really stiff, ultra eloquent, mind-numbingly memorized formula, void of any personal and truly honest requests. I’d like to set the record straight by saying this: Prayer is a conversation. And conversations are different every day. Some are long. Some are short. Some are detailed and some are really vague. Some conversations are brave and bold and sure. And some conversations are timid and too overwhelmed for words. Whatever your prayer is on any given day, I’d like to encourage you that God hears them all. He listens to what you say and He understands everything you don’t say. He listens to your prayer and He hears your heart’s cry.
I can think of no better thing to do when your husband is gone, the kids are sick, the dishwasher breaks, and you didn’t get to the commissary before it closed, then to take every care that fills your heart to nearly breaking and lay it at the feet of Jesus.
If we look at every circumstance as an opportunity to ask God to give us eyes to see what He’s doing in the midst of our trials and sometimes mundane routines, I think our perspectives could be revolutionized. What if, instead of just trying to survive deployments, we prayed everyday that God would help us to see how He’s growing and changing us into stronger women, more Godly wives, and more beautiful pictures of His grace? What if we prayed that He would help us to thrive when we felt most alone so that we could better see just how big He really is?
The morning The Pilot left for his first deployment, I wrote about prayer on my friend’s blog. You can read it here.
Let me get straight to the point– if you’re plan for passing the time during a deployment is to do nothing more than draw large X’s on each calendar day, you may as well watch water boil. It produces the same result.
Instead, why not try setting goals? Make a list of various things to work towards or accomplish while your husband is gone. Like training for a half-marrathon, reading a book or several books, learning a new language (because they sell Rosetta Stone at the PX!), cooking and mastering some new recipes, learning to play an instrument, taking a course on photography at the local community college, etc.
The way I see it, there is a silver-lining during deployment. For a brief time, you are given the opportunity to invest a little more time into you. When the husband is home, it’s a little harder to make to time for yourself but you gladly sideline things you’d like to do because when he’s home, you want to be home. This is one of the sweetest sacrifices to make; it’s called marriage. And I can honestly say, it’s hardly a sacrifice.
Given that this particular career necessitates that they leave for extended periods of time, go out on a limb and spread your wings. Look for ways to grow and to learn and enrich your life so that when he comes home, you can share with him all the new things you tried, all the ways you succeeded and the lessons you learned along the way.
Lastly, the lens I want to look through during the months of separation is service.
With all this “free time,” how can I reach out to wives who are in the same boat? How can I use my strengths and my availability to show another wife that she’s not alone? How can I meet a real need in my own community?
It doesn’t have to be extravagant or complicated. Just do something for someone else.
Maybe you know of a woman in your squadron who has a new born baby. Make her a meal. Or offer to babysit so she can have time to get her hair cut. Or buy her a gift card to get her hair cut and ask another friend to volunteer to babysit if you’re afraid of babies (talking about myself).
Or maybe you know a girl who’s in-laws are coming to visit while their son is deployed and she wants to clean the house but hasn’t had time because she’s got three kids. Offer to clean her house while she’s out to lunch.
Or maybe, you know someone who’s newly married and new the Marine Corps. Maybe she just needs to talk. Maybe she just wants to listen. Coffee dates can be a lot more than just coffee. They can the place where a girl goes from “I know I’m alone because I’m new and everyone else has done this before,” to “I’m not alone now because everyone else has been where I am.”
At the end of the day, we’re all on the same team and we’re in this together. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to thrive in the midst of deployment, but I do believe that there are ways that enduring the separation can be made easier: prayer, goals, and service. It’s just a start.