By Cindy S.

(previously published)

Sometimes I have a hard time connecting my daily ministry tasks to what God is doing in the lives of the people I serve and work with. Sometimes it feels like a lot of squeezing for a little bit of juice!

But this summer, God allowed me to serve in a ministry that helped me draw a very short line between my efforts and God’s results.

In June, I had the opportunity to volunteer for four weeks with Operation Heal Our Patriots (OHOP), a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, reaching wounded warriors and their spouses with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For 16 weeks each summer, Samaritan’s Purse flies ten couples to their remote Samaritan Lodge in Port Alsworth, Alaska, for a five-day retreat focused on marriage enrichment and spiritual renewal. The staff that serves these couples consists of seasonal employees and short-term volunteers, working in maintenance, housekeeping, cooking, and food service. I was assigned to serve in the staff kitchen.

Because I had met several of the people connected with OHOP before I flew to Alaska, I had some idea of what to expect as a volunteer: long hours, physical labor, no stores—so bring everything you might need—and no transportation beyond my own two feet.

But what surprised me during my month there was the single-minded focus on sharing Jesus that characterized the staff, from the chaplains who work directly with the wounded warrior couples, to the volunteers and staff who provide support.

Daily we exhorted each other to stay strong because our work would bear tangible spiritual fruit. And every Friday, as staff and guests gathered around the fire, our work was rewarded as guests gave testimony of their new faith in Christ and their desire to be baptized. What a celebration as we walked down to the lake to witness the new believers enter the water with the chaplains!

Then, we happily returned to our tasks because we knew our efforts had grown fruit. We had connected the dots between our jobs and God’s moving in the lives of the wounded warriors and their spouses.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Webber, one of the season-long OHOP staff members and wife of GARBC-endorsed Navy chaplain Tom Webber, and talk about the unique focus and teamwork I experienced at OHOP this summer.

Karen has served at OHOP during the last four seasons as a cook in the staff kitchen. Her job is not an easy one. As one of four staff cooks, Karen not only prepares meals six days a week, but also plans menus and orders food which is flown in once a week on Samaritan’s Purse planes.

Long hours and hard work don’t discourage Karen. She sticks to her motto: “Be kind and gracious and cook good food.”

And good food it is! While I was there, the staff ate shrimp, salmon, steak, fresh watermelon, scratch-made yogurt, apple pies, and gourmet pizza. I had to ask Karen why the food was so good; it requires substantial effort and expense. Her answer was, “It’s my goal to serve tasty, nutritious food to allow the staff to serve with strength and joy.”

Even though Karen’s position as a staff cook doesn’t directly impact the wounded warrior couples with the gospel, she knows that great meals renew the spirits of those who are interacting with the guests at OHOP. It is hard to minister to hurting people when you are feeling empty yourself, and Karen’s food fills the stomach and the heart. It certainly kept me going strong!

If you are like me, it is tempting to discount the small contributions you make to a ministry.

It is easier to see a personal impact when you are serving in a leadership position, or when you are directly sharing Christ’s love, but this is a misleading viewpoint.

Karen and her fellow cooks are solely responsible for the nutritional needs of 40 people who serve over a 16-week period in a location where they cannot purchase food for themselves. The volunteer kitchen helpers make sure the dishes are clean and sanitary for the next meal. The volunteer housekeepers keep guest and staff areas tidy and hygenic. Fail at these missions, and the staff members who counsel with the couples are too sick or tired to be effective.

So, we all work together, and even the smallest or simplest contributions are connected to the greater mission of sharing the Gospel.

Of course, this only works if we know and understand the mission.

If the mission ends at good food, clean dishes, germ-free bathrooms, and personal satisfaction in a job well done, our motivation won’t last for long. My experience this summer helped me reevaluate the impact of my ministry tasks on the cause of Christ, and to take the long view.

At OHOP, there were just a few dots to connect between my tasks and God’s results. At home, there are countless dots, sometimes stretching years into the future, requiring faith in the working of the Holy Spirit.

As a senior spouse in the Army chaplaincy, my role is often like Karen Webber’s at OHOP—demanding, yet far from the action—but I too can help other chaplain spouses on the frontlines of ministry “serve with strength and joy.”

What a lesson to learn! And what a gift to know that God will use all our efforts, large or small.

When we faithfully fulfill our roles “as unto the Lord,” we can trust God to connect those dots for us and use our efforts for His glory.

By Kristin T

In February of 2012 I welcomed my husband home from his second tour in Afghanistan. I couldn’t have told you anything about Super Bowl that Sunday, but the energy inside that Fort Campbell hanger was tangible with a certain mix of nervous energy, sheer exhaustion, and impatient longing.

We still have the double-sided sign in our attic: “CH T Belongs to Me” on the front and “Merry Anniversibirthday” in big thin lettering across the back.

My favorite guy was home.

We knew the drill. After the mandatory hold time, we decided to take a few days to ourselves before coming “home” to my parents’ house where he’d be reintroduced to our then two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and the son he met the first time via Skype only eight months prior.

It was a wonderful plan. We rendezvoused at a sweet B&B in Serenbe, GA and discussed our past, present, and future plans, uninterrupted, face-to-face.

We had filled out our “PCS (Permanent Change of Station) Wishlist” in the eleventh month of deployment and soon learned that we were headed to another deploying unit (out the door in twelve months) not on our list at all.

We believe the wisdom of Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of the man plans his ways, but the LORD directs his steps.” Location was no big deal…as long as we were together.

But this next assignment did not seem to be lining up with our desires nor our expectations.

Uncle Sam had given my husband some invaluable training and a wealth of experience in a relatively short amount of time. But another deployment? Again? Already? Emotions were high and feelings were mixed. Can we do this again? What if the next twenty years is like this? Will our children know their father? Will this break him? Will this break me? We didn’t know.

It had been a long year. He was tired; I was lonely.

A Bit of Background

Our initial introduction to active duty had been a whirlwind. My husband graduated seminary and welcomed our first child within ten days of his reporting to Fort Campbell to fall in on an already-deployed unit. He would be replacing a chaplain who had burned out, as we understood it.

I took our newborn and settled back into my parents’ home in SC and off he went to ready himself for his first adventure halfway around the world. Not unlike anyone else’s story, ours was exciting. And it was shocking. It was like nothing we could have prepared for.

On his very first day, before he was able to get upstairs to meet his rear detachment commander, he was caught off guard with a somber, “Oh, good, Chappy, you’re here.” He was led to a grieving father, set to retire in the next few months, who had just lost his son in a boating accident. He had missed so much over his career and was desperately looking forward to making up lost time.

This encounter was the first of many etched on my husband’s heart.  

Time in garrison post-deployment was non-stop reaction to crisis. Many counselings, many losses, many divorces, many suicides. We didn’t realize until much later that his aviation support battalion was larger than most by at least double.

I know my husband can thrive under pressure, and I believe he does only through the power of Jesus Christ.

God Met Us At Our Crossroads

We knew something had to give. He had been gone nearly 35 of our first 72 months active. He had trained aggressively and cared tirelessly for every family, it seemed, except his.

Certainly families can and do thrive in an active duty environment. This was a very personal decision. It was time to release, to leave and cleave. We began to pray for God to open doors as we began to emotionally separate ourselves from active duty.  

Like only He does, God flung the doors open. A pastoral position opened up at his father’s church where we had completed his seminary internship, a house not yet on the market became available (it was less than two miles from the church!), a National Guard position was offered, and, as a special surprise, we discovered we were pregnant with our third child without the help of fertility treatments.

We crunched numbers, set calendars, filled out a gazillion pages of paperwork, and packed our bags for our new adventure together.

A Few Thoughts and a Healthy Dose of Hindsight

  • Timing is (not) everything.

We know better than to discuss important issues when we’re tired (or hungry); but we’re not always granted that luxury, especially pre/post deployment or PCS season. To say we were exhausted is an understatement. We took what energy we had at the time and threw it into re-evaluating our situation.

With the prompting of a senior chaplain,we ran our decision through five filters (in no particular order): Family, Finances, Future, Faith, Fun.

What was the best possible scenario within these five areas? Facts and assumptions? We knew the short dwell times of AD were not what we wanted for our family. We knew our finances would take a big hit leaving AD for a small-town pastorate.  We knew that we still wanted and needed the military as part of our future. We knew we wanted to minister our faith together rather than independently as we’d been experiencing. We assumed anything could be fun as long as we were sensitive to the Lord’s leading. We knew it was time for a break.

We had peace, we had purpose, we had a place to go, and we had a plan.

  • You can take a soldier out of active duty, but you can’t take the active duty out of a soldier.

So, what about all those glowing plans of quality time together? Well, I’m still not sure whether to blame genetics for his high-octane energy level or the military for this ingrained op tempo, but our first year with that DD214 was nearly as lonely and independent as the years prior.

I recall moving into our new home and my husband spending many of his evenings working on the house. Everything was time-to-task, whatever it took to get the job done. He even put up a ten-foot fence by himself…in winter…in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps it was partly his bewilderment at my preoccupation with our three children under age three, but we were certainly in a stage of independent taskings. Again, timing isn’t everything. We were together and I wouldn’t trade that bumpy year for anything.

In addition to the unexpected restlessness, there was the actual marked lack of sleep, the continued speaking in acronyms, the higher-than-normal personal expectations, the detailed evaluation of systems, and (perhaps more so for a pastor/chaplain) the constant analyzing of people.

These aren’t bad things, just things that tended to carry over for us.

Of course, there are also things we miss. First, the simple wardrobe. I love the uniform; it’s practically a wearable duffle bag that looks so good on my mister. I doubt he’d admit it, but I think he enjoys lacing the combat boots for his Mdays. Then there is the unity, organization, efficiency of personnel that is just not the same in the private sector.

You still might catch my good-natured eye roll at the church potluck. Why won’t folks just walk down both sides of the table?! It became a joke pretty quickly, “Just sigh and say ‘civilians.’”  

Until we got our medical coverage straightened out, I even missed Tricare Prime. I know!

We laugh about it now, but active duty has a rusty on/off switch.

  • The grass is greener…where you water it.

One benefit of being married to an amazing chaplain/pastor is that he knows the delicate art of communicating to need. I can always count on him to diffuse my mood, break my cynicism, and encourage my heart.  

The fact was, we were just in desperate need of pausing to patch up and refill the watering cans. It seemed clear that another move with another deployment would have likely left us high and dry, at least for a season.

It wasn’t a lack of faith that the Lord would care for us. We knew He had our best interest for His glory through struggle.

It wasn’t discontentment; we refused to dwell on “the luck of the draw” when it came to assignment.  

It wasn’t an unwillingness to be “spent” for the work of the Lord. For the believer, life is ministry.

We were just ready to enjoy the gift of marriage a bit closer positionally (insert smiley emoji).

And now, always ready for our next adventure.

 

By Anonymous

When my husband came home to tell me he had received orders for a year-long unaccompanied tour to Korea, I remember thinking how different life would be.

I didn’t expect just how different.

He had only been an active duty chaplain for three years and we were still at our first duty station. We had established a good routine and had a great supportive community. I had grown up as a military kid, so not having a “home town,” we decided that I should stay at our current location with our two children. Our oldest was five and our youngest turned two, three days before my husband left.

The day came for him to leave, and although extremely sad, I was determined that things would go back to “normal.” We got up early the next day and made it to chapel (on time). I remember looking around that day and things just felt different

My husband had been the chaplain over the contemporary service for the three years he was there and it grew to be a very tight community. The people attending were consistent and willing to serve. However, it didn’t take long for that to go away. The transition to a new chaplain was hard for people, and for me.

Slowly, people started finding churches off-base and I finally made the decision to go elsewhere as well. So not only did I lose my husband, and my children their father, we lost our pastor and our church community. It was a very lonely place to be.

Our new church was wonderful and welcoming and understanding of our situation, but it was small and a bit of a distance away. And for me, who was getting used to being a single parent, it was hard to get plugged in.

We lived on base, and our community was great. It was surprisingly filled with fellow believers. We had different denominations we associated with, but our foundations were similar. In the beginning, people were very kind and thoughtful. But, after about three months, they kind of forgot about us.

So while my community was always supportive and willing to help in any way possible, it wasn’t always inviting. Not to say they were rude, it was quite the opposite, but I found myself being more of an outcast.

I do not think this was new. I probably always was kind of an outcast. I was surrounded by pilot wives. I was not in their “group.” I did not always understand the language they spoke in terms of their husbands’ jobs. But I always had my husband to talk with at the end of the night. We went out on dates and I could “get away” if I needed a break.

Well, that was no more. I found myself, on most nights, tired and overwhelmed, looking on Facebook at all the things the people around me were doing with each other–but not with me.

Our houses were very close together, making our lives pretty transparent. Sharing fences, and windows and doors often being open, we heard and saw real life. My neighbors on most Friday nights would have people over. I remember one particular night seeing four other families being invited over, their children having a blast together and the parents enjoying conversations while my kids and I sat in silence eating our frozen pizza.

I didn’t understand. Why was I left out so often?

I started seeing this pattern more and more. People would say encouraging words, would invite the kids and me over for dinner (usually no one else would be invited), and would say we need to do it again. But then they would have a birthday party for their kid and invite everyone else in the neighborhood except us.

I remember talking to my husband on FaceTime in tears, just asking him, “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t people like me?” He, of course, was encouraging, but at the end of the night, I was alone with my thoughts.

So I started thinking, maybe God is trying to teach me something. Maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I’m too vocal with opinions, or joke around too much.

I decided I would start being less like myself and try to work on things. But when I started doing this, people would ask me, “What’s wrong? I’ve noticed you’ve been different.” All this just brought confusion for me. I didn’t want to tell them what was going on, so I always simply said it was personal.

After a few months, I started noticing something.

When I was invited to a Chick-fil-A playdate or I randomly ran into a few people on the street and we started talking, there was something that always seemed to happen. One of them would use bad language, immediately look at me and say, “I’m sorry,” and keep going.

I always found this a little odd. I never directly said, “Please don’t use that language around me.” They just assumed I wouldn’t appreciate it. They were right, but I never said anything.

I noticed it more and more. Even around different groups, I could tell they were more cautious with their words–start to say one word, pause, and use a different word.

It finally hit me. Maybe there was nothing wrong with me. I was simply a chaplain’s wife.

Now, I know not all chaplains’ wives are the same. We each have our own convictions and struggles. I know that not everyone’s personalities mesh well together, and some of these people may have had a problem with just me. But the simple fact was, when I was around, they weren’t acting the way they usually did. I never told them my convictions, they simply assumed what they were because of my husband’s job.

After this “ah ha” moment came, I then had to start asking myself if I was ok with being an outcast. Was I ok not being part of a “tribe”?

The answer was yes. I still had support and knew these people would be there for me because they genuinely loved me and my family. I just may not be “their people.”

I wasn’t going to change the values I had because I might be invited to more birthday parties. And I didn’t want them to feel they couldn’t be themselves with me being around. I just had to be ok with being alone sometimes. Ok with seeing others go out together having fun while I sat binge watching Netflix.

In the end, it should never have been about me. It should have been about God. Once I finally came to that realization, and I took the focus off of me, I no longer felt alone.

I felt free.

Free to go out and be who I was, and to show others who I really was. I decided that even if I was ok with being an outcast, I was going to try and not be one. At least on my end.

I started inviting families over for dinner more and letting them see my real life. Making more of an effort to go out and let others in. I think people started seeing that even if we had different convictions, we had more in common than not.

Towards the end of the tour, I felt more a part of things. Looking back now, however, I don’t think much changed around me. Instead, I had changed. I had a different outlook on life. My convictions and values were a part of me, but that didn’t mean I needed to sit and be lonely because others didn’t share them.

I needed to go out and make myself available. I needed to invite instead of waiting for an invitation.

The Lord definitely sanctified me in ways I never thought possible during that year. The fact remains that my husband loves being a chaplain, and I love being his wife. I will proudly wear the title “chaplain’s wife” no matter what assumptions come with it.

Because, let’s face it, assumptions will be made about us no matter what our husbands do.

Let’s get out there and invite people in before too many of those assumptions can be made.

By L.G. McCary

Making friends isn’t the simplest thing for me. I have a quirky sense of humor influenced by British sitcoms, Shakespeare, Calvin and Hobbes, and my dad’s affinity for puppets. I contemplate the zombie apocalypse on a regular basis. I repeat the phrase, “I read an article the other day…” so often that it’s become a joke.

Needless to say, finding my “people” can be a bit of a process.

But making friends within the military sphere is hard for a different reason: friendships have parting dates from day one.

One of the first questions I ask upon meeting someone new is, “How long have you been here?” From their answer, I calculate how much time I have to get to know them and whether it is worth it.

It may sound terrible, but I know the person I’m speaking to is making that same calculation. Is it worth exchanging numbers? Should I friend her on Facebook? Is this someone I will never see again because new orders are in the pipeline?

I met several fun people as we prepared to leave our first post, and they all gave me the same look: “I like you, but I’m not going to talk to you again, sorry.” I’m sure my face said the same.

The truth is, friendships rarely last a lifetime with job changes, changing schools, having children, and a hundred other things small and large that shift your social circle. It may not feel like it, but every friendship is always somewhere between hello and goodbye.

For military spouses, the continuum is compressed into a few short years or months, and it changes the way you approach relationships in some comical ways. For example:

  • Asking someone you met an hour ago to be your emergency contact isn’t weird for a military spouse.
  • If you’ve been at a post for six months, you’re officially the expert. Be prepared to tell the newbies the best restaurants and kids’ activities in the area because they will ask.
  • You could be asked to teach a Bible study at PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) when you’ve never been to PWOC before and have only the vaguest idea of what it is.
  • Having a ten-minute conversation with a stranger in the produce section of the commissary or the bathroom at chapel may net you a new hairstylist, dentist, chiropractor, and best friend.
  • Someone you barely knew at a previous post is now your instant best friend at a new one because she’s the only person you know.

For someone who takes a long time to trust people, it’s been an education. A very wise senior chaplain’s wife told me at our first post, “What you used to do to make friends won’t work anymore. You have to think differently.” She was right. I don’t have the luxury of taking my time.

Instead, I have to take the approach of my lovely friend Tayler who grabbed my arm after chapel one day and said, “I’ve heard we should be friends, so let me give you my number, and we’ll hang out this week.” And we did.

Non-military friends get to stick around somewhere long enough to grow deep roots and enjoy a wider space between hello and goodbye. I admit I envy the breathing room, but I also see how easy it is to waste time.

If there’s anything I have learned in four short but intense years, it is to cherish my friends because time is short.

While social media allows us to communicate news and enjoy pictures of friends who have moved on or stayed behind when we have moved, it isn’t the same as chatting while your kids play at the park or laughing over coffee together at the Starbucks on post.

You won’t get this moment to laugh, cry, pray, and encourage each other again. That goodbye is looming on the horizon, and new hellos will come. You can’t walk alone for long.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

P.S. If you’re still lonely, lure new friends with homemade baked goods. Brownies are especially effective.

Are you a chaplain spouse? Do you love to write or is it something you’ve been interested in? Read on, my friend…

A few years ago, I came across a dissertation paper that was studying officers’ spouses. The study found that as the service member was promoted in rank (and the spouse became a more senior spouse), there was an increase in isolation which led to increased depression and anxiety.

That part may not surprise you.  But then I came across one sentence that said that the increased isolation these spouses experienced was very similar to what was commonly seen in a pastor’s wife.

Because I, too, am a chaplain’s spouse, I realized that it is quite possible that our community struggles with a double whammy.  This was what fueled my passion to do the Anonymous Chaplain Spouse Survey in 2015 and 2016.  My research, along with many conversations with senior spouses, has confirmed what many of us know to be true.  That being a chaplain spouse (although quite fulfilling) also brings difficulty that we must be willing to talk about.  Whether it is real or perceived, chaplain spouses tend to feel some of the following:

  • Isolation from family, friends, and sometimes military spouses we are assigned around
  • No consistent church home/community (especially active duty)
  • An internal struggle to be involved out of calling vs obligation
  • Difficulty with being authentic/vulnerable for fear of feeling weak or jeopardizing a spouse’s career
  • Watching or experiencing your chaplain’s experience of burnout and stress
  • and so much more.

I am looking to create a space for chaplain spouses that is authentic and safe.

Part of this will include content available just for chaplain families. Which is where you might come in.

I am inviting chaplain spouses who are interested in writing to join me in creating authentic meaningful content for our community.  If you are interested, here is what you can expect.

Content contributors can/will:

  • Remain publicly anonymous if desired, but must be confirmed as a chaplain spouse
  • Touch on authentic topics for our community
  • Write content that breathes life into others rather than be divisive
  • Have the option to write content that is faith-based
  • Find community in an ad/political free platform

UPDATE:  Due to the wonderful response and great questions, here is a list of FAQs

I am thrilled by the response already; I think there is a definite need in our community and I’m excited about what’s ahead. I’m getting some great questions on what a contributor could expect, so I hope to answer a few of your questions.

The Lifegiver mission statement is purely to “provide a place for honest conversation and breathe life into our community.”  Although that sounds pretty vague, it hopefully sets the tone for positive content while remaining authentic.

1.  Is there a commitment?

Not at all.  For those who wish to write regularly, I will definitely consider it and welcome having new and fresh content.  I personally work better when I have deadlines each month, but you may be in a place where you want to write as you feel prompted by a topic.  If you are working on a piece, I wouldn’t mind getting a heads up though!

2.  Is there any payment involved?

At this time, no.  I have heard from many people that they value having a place that is ad-free.  In order to keep Lifegiver a free resource, as well as a nice platform where people want to come, I do not take sponsorships.  I have hesitated reaching out for contributors or team work for a long time because I have not wanted to “ask” for more than what I know you already give to the community- especially as a volunteer.  However, I also want to be obedient to the prompting I feel to give you a place to both give and receive positive, encouraging content. 

3.  How will you decide who will be a contributor?

I am not currently turning people away from this opportunity as of yet.  I would definitely encourage you to turn in any brief writing samples you may have.  If you are just beginning, that is ok, too!  We all have to start somewhere. Just like a family, I expect to have various writing styles and experience.  The great thing about a blog like this is that I can create categories like devotionals, educational, PTSD, support, etc.

However… Any articles, or behavior, that is divisive, destructive, or does not have healthy movement forward will not be included as it does not align with the mission statement.

4. Will you be including faiths other than Christian? 

As of right now, yes but with some limits.  This may change, but it would not be helpful to our community and in line with the calling of a chaplain family to not be inclusive.  There will be limits to faiths that are attempting to proselytize through the blog.  This is a place of support.  I will also have the ability to create categories on this if necessary.  Limits on this also go back to being filtered through the mission statement.

5.  What topics can I write on?

What is most important to me (and I believe to the community), is that it is authentic, relatable, and has movement forward.  In other words, I would love for content to deal with tough topics that are rarely talked about openly, even if they feel negative. I only ask that the piece ends in encouragement and movement forward.  

Consider writing on topics that other chaplain families are wrestling with and experiencing!  Please try to steer away from personal blog style writing where you are documenting your own journey.  Feel free to share parts of your story, but use your story make a point or make it more relatable to what someone else is experiencing.  For more on this, consider watching my video on “Telling Your Story

 6. What is the process of submitting an article?  All correspondence can go to info@corieweathers.com

    • Turn in a brief writing sample if you have one.
    • Send me an email on a topic you would like to write on.
    • Consider asking for feedback from me or other chaplain spouses on your topic.
    • Start writing!  Aim for 800-1000 words.
    • Send in your article and wait for editing.
    • You will receive your article with edits; approve or appeal any changes until an agreement is made.
    • Article is submitted and waits in the Lifegiver queue for publishing. You will be notified of the dates of your publishing.
A note on editing:  
Please know that all articles will be screened and possibly go through some editing before they are made public.  I know first hand that it is quite vulnerable to have someone edit your work.  If this is new for you, I understand completely! I promise you will value it as it may even sharpen your skills as a writer!  Your article will not be published without your final approval 🙂

7.  Do I have to make images for my article?

Not if you don’t want to.  If you feel especially talented in this area, I am open to it.  More on this to come…

Some extra inside information:

I hope to launch this blog soon on a new Lifegiver site that will be separate from my site, which will make it more inviting.  Even bigger, I hope to make a portion of this site a safe community for chaplain spouses where there is room for discussion, anonymously if desired.  More to come on this as well, but I wanted you to know where this special blog is headed!

If you are interested in this exciting opportunity to serve, email info@corieweathers.com

I’m so excited to do this with you!

Corie Weathers

By Rebekah C

I have considered writing a blunt and honest blog for quite a while. I thought about calling it, “The Worst Chaplain Spouse Ever.” (Hey, there is a “Very Worst Missionary” blog out there and people seem to respond to her candidness.) But I’m not sure just how honest I can be.

Perhaps people would enjoy reading our stories, but would they judge? Would it harm my husband’s career as a chaplain? Would it harm our ministry with soldiers? Or would it encourage them?

During the last deployment, I became weary of Facebook. It made me depressed because what was happening in my home was nothing like what I was reading in my friends’ posts. I couldn’t post things such as, “How many scholarships my senior received,” or “How many touchdowns my son made.” If I posted, it would read, “How many bizarre places my son spent the night this year,” or “How many times the police come to my door at 3 am,”  or “30 ways to fight with your husband over Facebook messenger with no chance of kissing and making up.”

I never thought my family would have to deal with these issues. Thirteen years ago, my husband was a successful businessman and I was a stay-at-home mom. I homeschooled, and we went on business trips as a family. We went to church religiously. I read Bible stories to the kids. We prayed. I read all the right parenting books on how to raise your children for Christ.

Then, one day, my husband came home and told me that he needed to go to seminary. I laughed because I thought he was joking. He is a funny guy.

He wasn’t joking.

He had been sitting outside of a conference room waiting to speak with some very important people–CEO’s and what not. And suddenly, an overwhelming feeling rushed over him and he knew he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to be doing. He had to go into full-time ministry.

Fast-forward to eight years later and he was a military chaplain in the United States Army. During those eight years, we dealt with trials, seminary, church internship, and unemployment. We both taught at classical Christian schools for a few years, which provided the kids an excellent Christian education. We had a wonderful church family and an incredible neighborhood community.

The transition into the military lifestyle for my two teenaged sons was traumatic. They froze up emotionally. My husband had quite a welcome to the Army, as well. Within a couple of weeks, his battalion had two suicides in one weekend. That was just the beginning. He was the chaplain for a support battalion and it was the largest in the Army, with over 3000 soldiers.

By the end of the year, he was depleted. I was depleted and I felt alone. He was carrying so much on his shoulders, and I had no idea how to help him.

His second assignment was a Signal unit with an immediate deployment to Afghanistan. Let me just say, nothing that anyone writes or tells you will ever prepare you for the heart wrenching experience of deployment. Not just the deployment, but the reintegration. It is not all love and romance when they come home. “It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah” to quote Leonard Cohen.

Deployment made me feel like I was missing a limb. My heart was missing half of itself. Reintegration didn’t sew my limb back on, nor did it mend my heart. At least not immediately.

And then a year passed, and we were told we were PCSing. We were even told where we were “penciled in.” I love to move. I love the experience. House hunting, meeting new people, finding new treasures. I was on Realtor.com every day. When the orders came, they were for the current duty station, but a new battalion. We weren’t moving.

I was disappointed, because emotionally I had already detached and pulled away. A week later, he got a call. The unit was deploying a couple of weeks after his new assignment started. I was devastated. Our relationship had not fully mended from the first deployment and now he was leaving again. My husband tried to be optimistic. He tried to find “the good” in the situation.

I was not so holy. I threw a huge pity party.

I was a single mother, for all intents and purposes, with three teenagers. During the first deployment, I had discovered my oldest was an atheist. He was and always has been respectful towards me and a pleasure to be around. But I knew he was making choices which would lead him into a downward spiral. And my heart ached for his pain. I wondered what I did wrong. I won’t go into details, but he was reckless, and I was terrified.

I prayed for his heart to turn towards God once more. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t believe in Jesus anymore. It had to be my fault, even though I thought that I read the right books and did the right things. He knew Christian theology. He had memorized God’s Word. He knew his Bible. How could he not believe?

In another vein, I found out my second son, the one who never cared about school or received an academic award, was dyslexic. He had managed to hide it from every teacher, including me, his whole life. Which explained everything, but his story is for another post. He learned differently than other students and now there were accommodations that would help him succeed. I thought everything would be great, but he instead just gave up academically.

My daughter, the youngest, suddenly started dealing with stomach issues. The amount of doctor visits during the deployment was ridiculous. They found nothing “wrong” and I still think it was caused by anxiety due to the separation from her father.

Those nine months were the most difficult of my life. But you know what? I survived. No, my family did not “thrive,” but we all survived.

An important aspect of enduring difficult times is how one grows. I not only found out I could fix anything that broke, including air conditioners, car mirrors, and coffee makers, but I found that when I dug in deep, I was stronger emotionally than I thought.

Yes, I pleaded for God to turn my son’s heart from stone to flesh. I had nightmares that my son overdosed on drugs. I accompanied him to court and watched him stand before a judge as he pleaded for mercy, due to his reckless behavior. Unrelated to the court issue, I answered the door at 3 am and talked to police officers twice. I had to let him go and set him up in a college dorm by myself. After my husband came home, we got a call that he had been taken to a mental hospital because he tried to commit suicide.

But there was Hope. And Grace. And Mercy.

My son is doing better and he had no serious consequences for his behavior. He is a different kid now. He is now agnostic, which has given me hope since he can’t discredit the possibility that God exists. I trust that the Holy Spirit will work on his heart and he will come back to Christ.

The military life is not an easy lifestyle. But the issues we dealt with during deployment were not caused by the Army. They were caused by the human condition, and the depravity of our sinful nature.

What the deployment did was expose our sin, wounds, and imperfections. It allowed things to come forward and allowed us to be in a place where Christ could work in us.

Why did I write all this?

Many assume chaplain families have it all together. Maybe they all do. Maybe I am the only chaplain spouse who doesn’t have all my ducks in a line. Maybe I really am “The Worse Chaplain Spouse” ever. But maybe there are those out there who relate. Maybe I’m not the only one who smiles and pretends I have it all together.

The other reason I wrote so candidly is because I believe there are always reasons why we go through hardships, and many of these reasons we will never understand until we see Christ face to face. I think that the trials we endure help us empathize with soldiers and their families in a truly authentic way.

These trials make us “real.” These hardships give us compassion and wisdom. They also humble us and cause us to cling to Christ.

Christians are human, just like everyone else, and we have issues. The difference is where we go for consolation. We have this beautiful hope, that no matter what happens in this life, God is in control. And one day we will be in eternity in His Presence.

And there will be no more tears.