Saturday, January 19, 2013

A day that changed my life... (a long post)

I don't think there has to be just one day that changes a life. There have been so many days that have made such profound changes in mine that I do not think I could single out just one. I suppose that if I had to choose, it would be the day I accepted Christ into my life - because it was really only then that I truly lived - but I am not talking about that day in this post. No, what I am going to talk about happened three years ago yesterday when my husband left for boot camp.

I remember curling up together the night before. We had silently promised that it would just be another normal night, nothing special. We hugged each other close as we nestled down into the soft sheets that my husband bought as a honeymoon present only four short months before. We watched the movie "Moon" and as it got closer to sleep time, I tried not to cry. I clung to my husband as if he were a lifeline; I was so very scared for the future.

We woke up early the next morning and my husband's parents took us on the hour drive to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) by the Kansas City International Airport. I don't remember a lot of it. I was numb and cold inside, terrified, and struggling so hard to not fall apart into a soggy, weepy mess. That wasn't how I wanted my husband to remember me. He needed to know I was strong; I would be ok... miserable and lonely, yes, but still ok.

It wasn't like I had ever seemed very strong in the past. One might say that I had overcome a lot, but I am not sure I could have done any of it if my husband hadn't come into my life. That day at MEPS, the future held a challenge that I wasn't sure I could overcome. But my husband was heading into a great challenge all his own and I knew that he did not need the burden of worrying for me to be on his shoulders. Whether I had success or failure, I was determined to see that he would only have success.

MEPS was a nice, simple building with tile floors and off-white walls. It reminded me of a hospital or a school. It was efficient and official but tried so very hard to be inviting and reassuring. Whatever it tried to be, though, the burden of its purpose seeped through the walls and permeated the building: decisions that changed lives were made here.

There was a lot of waiting around. I didn't get to see a lot of my husband because they had him all over the place filling out forms and getting processed. My husband's parents and I waited in a small waiting area off to the side but still part of the main room, our eyes scanning the various employees, searching for a sign of things to come. Every time my husband passed in and out of the main room, he made eye contact and gave me a nervous, reassuring smile. I had a death grip on a package of tissues. I felt like my life slipped away with every passing minute.

Seven years earlier, my husband had been my saving grace. I had just come tumbling out of a terrible and emotionally scarring escapade that could hardly be called a "relationship" with a notorious slut of a man. My mother had defended the man who had hurt me, only transforming insult to further injury. I had just graduated high school a few days prior to all of this and was set for a trip to Florida with a friend - a commitment that could not, would not be broken. I had no plans for the present, let alone the future, and I felt like a ship lost at sea. When I experienced that toe-curling, goose-bump inducing, electric-shocker of a first kiss with the man that would someday be my husband on the night before I left, I knew I had the reason that I had been searching for, a reason to come back home.

In the years that followed, that man that would be my husband led me back to Christ and saved my life. He liberated me from my mother's abuse and encouraged me to salvage the decaying relationship I had with my father. That man that would be my husband gave me strength and stability when I knew none. He gave me a home when I felt adrift and orphaned. He was a kindred soul. He wasn't perfect, but he loved me and he stuck by me through my darkest hours.

As I sat in those plastic chairs at MEPS, attempting to hold back each wave of sorrow with mere tissues, I wasn't sure I'd be ok. My husband had made sure I had everything I needed: passwords and numbers for bill pay, repairs on the house and car updated, etc. Surely if I were to make it through this, I was at an advantage with the preparation he put into it. But I wasn't convinced. I had never balanced a household. Until his departure, my husband had handled all the bills. I had never cooked for one. And I had never spent so much time alone - I had never done so much without my husband by my side.

I had a lot I wanted to prove. In all honesty, I wanted him to go as much as I wanted him to stay. I burned with a desire to show him exactly how strong and independent I could be. He had taught me so very much about being an adult and being in control of myself. I knew I had the capability to survive, but my heart was breaking, too. I would be so very alone again.

My in-laws tried to occupy my mind while we waited at MEPS. I could hardly imagine what kind of emotions they were going through, they were putting on a brave face. When my husband finally swore in, the significance of the ceremony was lost on me. I was spiraling into that dark place where panic resides. All the waiting was agony.

There were so many questions in my head, so many uncertainties. Would he miss me? Or would he realize that he didn't need me in his life after all? How much would this change him? Would he still love the "me" that I would become in all of this? Would I like the "him" that he would become? Was this a new beginning or the beginning of the end? Finally, I got to give a last hug and kiss goodbye. That was when my carefully and precariously constructed flood gates came down. The tears began and didn't abate until my in-laws and I were well on our way home. 

We ended up eating out for lunch, though I was too sick with grief to eat much, and we went to a movie. My in-laws were an incredible blessing for keeping my occupied that day. Honestly, I think they needed it as much as I did. We watched Avatar, and for the first time in the previous 24 hours, I was released from reality and swept away by a story of great courage about a Marine who gave up everything he knew for love. It was exactly what I needed, and I felt a surge of hope. I could do this! I HAD to do this!

That evening, I cried myself to sleep, a breath of hope alive in me amongst the fear and heartache that I feared might consume me.

In the next week, I mourned my husband's absence like a death. I barely ate, barely slept, and surrounded myself with work and family. Finally, I got a letter from my husband and I felt like I could breathe again!

With the weeks that followed, my strength grew. In these new-found hours of solitary quiet, I found myself. I also found that I needed God to have a more active role in my life. My in-laws visited me every weekend, and though I felt loved, I still felt like a large piece of me was missing. I wrote a letter to my husband every day and made the trip to the post box part of my daily routine. I poured my heart out to him with an honesty I had never known. And in return, I was gifted with heart-wrenching letters affirming his love and affection for me. He missed me! Sweet validation!

When he finally returned, I was so terrified. Would I recognize this man that is my husband, this man that was now also a Marine? Would he still like me? It seemed a silly question, but also a pertinent one. After all, it had been so very long since we had participated in a real conversation. And so very much had happened in the interim.

It took two days of Marine Corps fanfare and family-induced headaches before I got my husband all to myself. We curled up in bed in front of the television at the hotel and he ordered a pizza. There wasn't any wild, passionate sex, as one might imagine. No, we were just content to have the blessing and gift of simply holding each other in our arms. And I knew everything was going to be ok.

Even though we both knew that what challenges my husband had faced could probably have eaten my challenges (and still have been hungry), he was proud of me. The look in his eyes told me that he knew, perhaps for the first time, that he wasn't alone shouldering the burdens or this marriage. I was no longer a dependent; I had accomplished my goal!

In truth, though my strength and courage had grown and continued to grow, I never felt the full gratification of it until about three months later. I booked a flight to Sand Diego, California, and drove three hours across the state (some of it in California rush hour) to see my husband in Twentynine Palms. To this day, I figure that if I can do all that alone, then I can tackle anything!

I learned that though one day may be hard or life-altering, it is just one day in a cascade of days. And it is what we do over that cascade that builds up to great changes and great redemption. My husband joining the Marine Corps changed my life, and it showed me that God's plan is real and intricate. Three years later, I can attest that it hasn't been an easy journey, but it has been a good one. As I said before, I am not sure I would be the woman I am today if my husband had never come into my life - I also am not sure I would be the woman I am today if he hadn't joined the Corps.

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