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.