"It won't be easy, but we can do this."
That is what Josh told me on July 16th. With that, he kissed me goodbye. Somehow, those words sank in and I nodded. Not just a "yeah, whatever" nod, but a "you're right" nod. For what felt like the thousandth time, I let him go. The car disappeared around the long, winding driveway of my parent's house and I turned to walk into the home of my childhood. I turned to face the next seven weeks.
Daddy embraced me when I walked in the door. I breathed deeply and knew that I had to stay focused, I had to live each day with only that day in mind.
I spent the first few days cleaning out my old bedroom. I joked that cleaning your childhood bedroom alone in your old home, when your husband has just been deployed can't be good for your emotions. A few days later, Daddy and I flew to Nashville to meet the rest of the family for the Fine Arts Summer Academy. FASA was exactly what I needed. The busy, sporadic living kept me occupied as I sang in the choir. Time flew straight to the glamorously, blissful performance at the Grand Ole Opry House. My beautiful sister, Kandace, clothed in a pure white, lacy gown stood at center stage to sing "Down to the River to Pray." I felt tears burn my throat at the organic, smoothness of her voice. I couldn't be jealous of her; this was too beautiful a moment to be stained by something so minuscule.
FASA ended and time at home drug on. It was wonderful to be with my family, picking tomatoes, the remnant of blackberries and hundreds of green beans. Yet the thrill of being busy wore off.
**I dug my toes into the dewy, late morning grass outside the fence of the garden. I pressed my cellphone tightly against my ear, pointing my head higher, hoping for better signal. I swallowed hard as I gripped the solid gate. My husband had said that same sentence again. It rang in my ears like a gong.
"We are strong. You know we are."
But knowing and feeling are different. I was thankful that only my schizophrenic cat could see me swiping tears. When we both hung up, I couldn't decided whether I wanted to wither into the damp grass and cry or run into the house and sniff up the sobs. I began, unknowingly, to do what I often do when nothing else helps. My shaky voice began to hum the tune of "Love Lifted Me." The pitiful sound coming out brought me to a place of peace, familiarity and hope.
When nothing else could help, love lifted me!
I let the last words drip off of my tongue like honey, and they were just as sweet. Nothing except for the pure nature surrounding me and God could see the innermost toil of my heart. The heart of a young wife, a big sister, an oldest daughter. A girl of a mere 19-years-old striving to remember that this is not her home - the earth isn't even her home.
Twisting my wedding band on my finger, I lifted my face to the blue sky and remembered that though I was only a speck on the foothills of the rolling mountains - only a single person in a world of billions; I was a precious gem in the hands of the King. I was bought at a great price. He gently promised never to let me go. His words were as soft at the wind through the tall oaks, yet, as solid as steel.
"I am strong, dear child. You know I am."**
Finding a new strength in God made things easier, but Satan must have seen my faith and allowed the evil forces to throw me a few curve balls. My strength wained a few times. People looked into my face when they felt like talking about the deployment and snapped, "You married it! Get over it!" I swallowed hard and kept many of my feelings to myself, offering information only when asked. Things got hard. Josh worked often and we would video chat when we could. The last few weeks, my countdown seemed to slow to a slug's pace. I got easily irritated and Josh was stressed. We caught ourselves arguing too easily, so with only a little ways left to go, we said it again, "We are strong." We focused on forgiveness and love and the days passed.
After a week in Williamsburg, VA enjoying time with my family, they dropped me off at my house. I hadn't been home in over a month and a half. Having spent so much time with lots of noise, the silence for nearly four days grated on my nerves. I cleaned and prayed, listened to music and thanked Jesus that Josh would be home soon.
Finally, the day arrived. The house sparkled and the refrigerator was stocked. I waited for Josh to tell me he had landed. At 10:00 p.m. I got ready to go get him on base. I sat on the couch with my phone's ringer on it's highest volume. A text came in at 11:53 p.m.
"Just landed. :)"
I grabbed my purse and keys and took off to go get him. The silent streets of my neighborhood were oblivious to the joy I felt as midnight came and went.
I made my way on base to where Josh had said to go, but the parking lot was so big and the building beside of it so long that I was confused. I parked near the middle and hoped that I was in the right spot. My preconceived idea that there would be bunches of family members around in a small, well-light area were bashed. It was empty, huge and dark. I texted Josh as I walked down the street, looking for a gathering. A lone marine saw me and asked if I was waiting for someone. I was like, "Um, I am woman in a flowery shirt and blue jeans who looks confused. Of course!" But I just said, "yes." He just walked off after a short, "okay." I texted Josh over and over. The panic was showing clearly. He texted back that we would figure out if I was in the wrong location. He had arrived, but had apparently been dropped off on the other side of the building, where I couldn't go. I walked back to the car and leaned against it as I noticed a few vehicles on the far side of the long building picking up marines. I got in the car and sat there. Frustrated and beyond anticipant, I called Josh. While it was ringing, I noticed yet another marine walking across the parking lot. He had several bags and there was no car to pick him up. I was casually wondering what he was doing when he stopped and lifted his phone to his ear. On my phone, I was startled to hear, "Hey!" at the same instant.
Being sometimes dumb, I thought how odd it was that that fellow should answer at the same time Josh did. Looking through the window, I squinted into the darkness at the man as he turned to face me. The street light shinned on his face and from even such a distance, I knew.
The man was Josh. He motioned for me to drive around to get him and so I did. Shaking with joy, I parked and he dropped his bags. I was taken back to a year ago and it felt like one of our many reunions prior to our wedding, so forgetting we were married, I only kissed him on the cheek! He quickly reminded me that we could do better than that.
I didn't cry then, but later, when I did, I didn't cry because I was just happy he was home. I cried in joy and humbleness and I remembered that day standing outside the garden. That day when I couldn't see the finish line. I remembered singing Love Lifted Me and when God said, "I am strong. You know I am."
It was then that I realized that His strength alone had carried us every step of the way. I knew that He would. I look back on the last month and a half and I am thankful. I'm even thankful for those hard days, because that was when we grew.
We did cross that finish line. And there will be more races to run in the future. But for now, I will praise my Father for His faithfulness. I praise Him that when I was weak, He... yes He, was so very strong.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
** An exert from my upcoming book