*This is the final installment in this particular piece of our story. Thanks for reading, for encouraging. Now you know a little more about me, about our Army life, about the beginning. Ever and always, my prayer is that you see grace here.*
. . . My darkest days were in the aftermath of her funeral. Highlighted in my beat-up leather study Bible is Psalm 69:1-3, and scribbled by it is the date, Feb. 26, 2006.
“Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is dry; my eyes fail while I wait for my God” (NKJV).
In March, I drove to Knoxville for drill on a Thursday night. During my stint in the TN Guard I was fortunate to spend the weekends with a family whose threads shine bright in our story, and are still being sewn in as their children grow to adulthood and start their own families. In 2006, their second daughter, the Free Spirit, was a teenager, sleeping in the basement and offering up her room to me once a month. It was late: I was tired, and worn out from the week. By the end of the six hour drive, I was starting to see things dart out in front of the car. That night, I crawled into her bed, exhausted and battling the fear, my constant companion. My composure was slipping away as I lay there, stiff, achy and afraid.
It started with a vague feeling of unrest. The kind you get when you think you left the door unlocked, or the water running, or the stove on. Husband’s unit was currently forbidden from the communal phone bank for abusing the time limits and we hadn’t talked in two weeks. I was spiraling downward quickly, as I began to obsess about the potential dangers Husband was facing right that very second. I nudged the teenager, sighing loudly, hoping she would wake up and ask me what was wrong without me having to wake her up and freak out on her. Leaky, silent tears were rolling down my cheeks as I faced down my fear, mentally, physically, and spiritually empty. At 2 am, shaking and sobbing, I grabbed my phone and called my mom. And somewhere, between the tears, and the comfort from my mama, and the bleary eyed teenager who loved me enough to wake up and know I needed her to listen, in the depths of the deepest well . . . I saw the brightest stars.
I didn’t have to bear the weight. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:27-29, ESV). For the first time in my life, I truly surrendered. I relinquished my deal. In that moment, I knew, unequivocally, that He could take H., He could take Jaime, He could take the Husband, and I would live. And eventually, live well. But I could not take another breath without Him moving the air in and out of my lungs. I would not survive without Him. I said He could have Husband and I meant it. From that moment, forward, I was mending. Slowly, mind you, but I was rebuilding on a foundation that cannot be moved. “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1, ESV).
Moving through days, the details were interchangeable. My emotions were still volatile, my fear a daily companion, caged in by the grace made new every morning, the burden made light. I had my moments, monumental defeats, really. I cried a lot. Fat, quiet, unstoppable tears rolling down my cheeks at odd moments of the day. One morning, bent over the Nurse’s deep ceramic sink, my arms up to my elbows in dishwater, my sister called. She said she had a bad feeling, wondered if I had talked to the Husband that day.
I bowed my head, the tears dropping into the greasy bubbles. I hadn’t. And how was I supposed to go on washing dishes, tutoring children, speaking normally, breathing normally, until I knew he was safe. Well, I couldn’t. Until her eldest child wandered into the kitchen, and I asked her to pray with me. She put her arms around me, this 14-year old grace bearer, hugged my neck tight, and I breathed prayers. Not eloquent, probably not even coherent (the prayers). But heartfelt, and enough. Enough to slow down the tears, enough to finish the dishes, enough to keep breathing until the phone rang and his “I love you” kept the fear at bay until morning.
For some reason, the shower was my quiet place. Every morning, I would lean my head against the wall in the narrow purple bathroom, yellow light bouncing weakly off the walls, and start to worry. In a matter of minutes, I could build the wildest scenarios, a Job-like pyramid of disasters piling one on top of the other. Most days I would brace myself in the scalding hot water, close my eyes, forcibly stop for a moment, and pray. It went something like this. “Lord, take this feeling away. I can’t do it myself. I won’t survive if you don’t.” Brick by brick, building on the Rock.
I was a real smooth talker. But it worked. Most days.
I had an overwhelming fear of intruders. On the days I ceased praying and the fear uncoiled, I would lay in the bed obsessively reviewing my plan should some uninvited guest make an appearance. I fully intended to be the craziest, wild-eyed, pajama clad lady my imaginary burglars had ever seen. Should they make it past the flimsy front door lock and my protective chow lab mix who fancied herself human and kept Husband’s spot warm on the bed, then there would be jumping on the bed, gun-waving, and foul words aplenty. And shooting. Lots of shooting. I called my pastor several times throughout the year for counseling sessions, mainly just to convince myself I wasn’t completely, not-coming-back-from-this, insane. (As it clearly seems like I was).
Even still, I wrestle with fear. We all do. I always tell others, mostly fellow Army wives, that battling fear is a daily struggle. I share the story I’ve told here, of my first year. There is no magic pill, special prayer, specific activity, pithy quote, adult beverage, etc, that instantly unfreezes you. That keeps you calm when you haven’t gotten the daily phone call and he’s on a mission and you are spiraling into crazy, imagining all that’s gone wrong. When dark closes in and you are stiff-legged in bed, flinching at every noise, hand resting on your gun that you debated keeping under the pillow but at least left under the bed. You fight every day and slog through it and towards the end, you sleep a little easier, you breathe more. You surrender every day to a loving and merciful Savior with a Master Plan and irresistible Grace. But it still lurks.
Just months ago, on this most recent New Year’s Day (2012) – I found myself momentarily paralyzed.
There was a hailstorm. Out of nowhere. I was so confused. As I was scrambling to pick up the chalk scattered all over my garage parking space so I could get my car inside, I had an epiphany. I was contemplating how (or if) I wanted to write about the last year, to wrap it up in a neat little package, or maybe write about next year, what I want to do, hope to do, have fooled myself into thinking I will do … but I realized that the weather told all the story I need.
It was beautiful. Then stormy. Out of nowhere. And in this life, I pick up the pieces and scramble for the shelter I know I have in the arms of the Almighty. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’” (Lamentations 3:21-24, ESV).
As a dear friend wrote to me after a second heaven-bound baby, “Weeping may endure for a night, or a week, or even a month, but Joy – Joy always comes in the morning.”
That was 2011. For that matter, it was 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 . . . you get the picture. And I felt it coming in 2012. I didn’t know how to describe it, and maybe I shouldn’t have been articulating it – or anticipating what God will allow – but I felt it coming. In that moment I was struggling desperately with fear already, the vague harbinger of a specific storm. I felt it in my gut.
A move. A new job. Another deployment? Another deployment. Fear.
I was praying for a verse, a passage to hold fast to this year, an anthem for 2012, and I couldn’t shake Isaiah 43 (NKJV).
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;mand when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;”
My heart was sinking, hardening a little . . . moving, more goodbyes, another year apart, more loneliness. And then in the deep dark, I knew . . . I know . . . there is sunshine in between. There is sunshine after. There is joy in the morning. There is shelter in the storm. I am His. The next morning, January 2, the sunrise was perfect. Cloudless. Bright. Calm.
And oh, there is sunshine. There is joy. A bubbling, overflowing, grief-tinged joy on a windy night in October, 2006. Joy when “I’ll see you next week” really was next week, when I stood in a cavernous hangar that was echoing with brassy patriotic anthems and the barely contained excitement of a hundred other families, living out their own stories in the spaces around me. Joy when I caught a glimpse of my handsome, head-shaved man in lockstep, and he slid his eyes sideways and saw me and started to grin, my so serious, always composed, always professional soldier-Husband who couldn’t keep the smile from splitting his cheeks. Joy when he folded his arms tight around me, my head fitting tight under his chin, my gravity restored, albeit slightly off-kilter, because we were different, not better or worse, but different.
And that was the first year.