I remember as if it were yesterday . . . that fear-filled day in April of 1972. I had only been a military wife for four short months when my husband, Mike, came home to our base quarters and announced that he had received his orders. In two months he would be leaving for a year—heading off to Southeast Asia.
My first reaction was denial. I was sure that the Air Force had made a mistake. My husband had only been in uniform for such a short time. I was sure Mike’s supervisors would change their minds, agree that it was all a mistake, and then change his orders to a base stateside.
Looking back, I did not know what to expect when I became a military wife, and going off to war certainly had never entered my mind. We were so young, inexperienced, and “in love”!
Arriving at the Air Force base in January with my marriage license in hand, I remember getting my first military I.D. card. The lady behind the desk asked me what my “last four” were. I said, “my last four what?” I had no idea what she was talking about. Then she added, “The last four numbers of your husband’s Social Security Number.” “Now, how would I know that?” I reasoned.
Little did I know that I would live as a military wife for 23 years and see Mike retire from active duty in 1995. And little did I know that more than 36 years after Mike showed me his orders to go to war in 1972, God would use us to help military couples facing war and geographic separation.
Some things about military deployment don’t change. In 1972 my fears included:
- How will I manage alone?
- Will my marriage be all right while we’re apart?
- Will Mike be safe?
- Where will I go—what will I do?
- What if he changes while he’s gone and we’re not the same when he gets home?
- What if the worst happens?
- How will we stay connected even when we’re apart?
These same questions are being asked today by military couples as they prepare their hearts and families for the challenges of wartime separation.
Some things do change
But some things do change—there are ways in which today’s global war on terror is different. When Mike and I, and our coauthors Keith and Sharon Morgan, began writing a HomeBuilders study to help military couples deal with the marital challenges of deployment today, we spent time with brave military families around the world. The new technologies for communication, availability of the Internet, high operations tempo and multiple deployments, women deploying to the front lines, and the large percentage of National Guard and Reserve units involved—with their unique challenges—are issues impacting our military families today.
All of these current issues, combined with common stresses from the past, highlighted the need for a relevant Bible study addressing deployment. We wanted to help couples realize that it is possible, with God’s help, to grow in marital strength and spiritual maturity during the separation caused by wartime duty. At every base we visited, God led us to incredible military couples who are demonstrating their faith in Jesus Christ. These couples have perspective, perseverance, patience, and peace that come from their faith.
Sharing questions in an atmosphere of trust
We knew that their stories were worth sharing, and that in the fellowship of a small group, other couples would see hope—perhaps for the first time in their marriage. In a small-group HomeBuilders setting, answers to questions are shared in an atmosphere of trust. Couples discover that they are not alone in their struggles, and they encourage one another.
We will never forget one particular military couple in our first HomeBuilders group at our local Navy base. We knew that their marriage was teetering on the brink of separation and divorce. The issue? Returning from deployments—and the power struggle that ensued over children’s discipline, family schedule, finances, etc.
Neither the husband nor the wife knew what to do, and they had given up hope. During the discussion in our second session, one of the husbands brought up a similar problem that he and his wife had experienced after deployments. This husband described how they had begun to recognize the problem for what it was and had dealt with it over time. The husband of our “troubled” couple nodded in agreement, and then turning to his wife said, “Well, we can do that!”
Two months later their chaplain called to inform us that this husband had made a commitment to Jesus Christ, they had recommitted to their marriage, and the whole family had been baptized. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit at work in a small group!
Communicating through homework
We organized 13 field test groups for our Making Your Marriage Deployment Ready HomeBuilders study. Besides recognizing and sharing solutions for common trouble-spots, our couples have expressed appreciation for how HomeBuilders allows a couple to communicate during their “homework” project during the week. Sometimes deployments create extra stress in the area of communication because of timing and unwillingness to talk about some tough topics—like money, in-laws, new assignments, etc.
After a HomeBuilders discussion one evening at a local church, a military wife shared, “We’ve been able to talk about things that we’ve never talked about before—because it’s in the lesson!” Topics which had been labeled “don’t go there” became “we need to address this.”
It is our desire for every military couple facing deployment to go through this Bible study and allow God to teach them His power to carry them through their unique challenges. If Mike and I would have had this chance to learn and prepare for our wartime separations, we would have been so much better off!
Copyright © 2009 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Linda Montgomery has an online devotional for military families, excellentorpraiseworthy.org.