I'm so eager for you to meet today's contributor. Ashleigh is the mother of two young sons, and she blogs at Heart and Home. She's also the wife of a Marine Gunnery Sargeant deployed to Iraq.
Here is her story.
I well remember the day I learned my husband--my Marine--would soon be heading to Iraq.
For the first three years of our marriage, he'd been in a unit doing a job that kept him from being deployed, so while we knew that as a Marine he'd most likely be heading to that sandy spot at some point, it remained something we thought of as "sometime in the future." I remember the quick catch in my breath the moment I realized that "the future" had caught up with "the now."
Shortly after our second son was born, we embarked on this, our first deployment. As I watched the buses pull away early that morning, tears streaming down my cheeks as I helped our then twenty-month-old son find Daddy amidst a sea of waving hands, I caught my breath again. What was ahead? What should I even expect? How on earth would we get through these months and months without him?
I spent the first few days feeling a bit numb. I was unsure what to do with myself, even in the near-chaos of having two very little children. I soon found that going to bed early, hoping to sleep away some of the evening time loneliness, only brought hours of tossing and turning. I began sleeping diagonally across our bed to take up empty space. I searched through my recipe box for meals that could be pared down to feed only me and a toddler. Still, fish sticks, macaroni and cheese, and burritos filled our dinner plates far too often those first few weeks. Though typically outgoing, I found I was suddenly unsure of myself in groups of friends. When I headed to church for the first time alone, I had to laugh all the way from the car to the building-I made quite the spectacle trying to juggle an infant seat, two diaper bags, my purse, my Bible, a plate of muffins, all while holding my toddler's hand through the parking lot. A few minutes later I was ferociously blinking back tears as I looked for a single seat in the auditorium--a fresh reminder I was on my own now.
It didn't take long to realize I'd harbored a whole slew of misconceptions regarding deployment over the past several years.
I'd assumed that while the first month or two was so hard, the loneliness would subside a bit as we all got used to being apart. A friend whose husband was also deployed told me not to expect it to get any better. She was right.
It's been a little over six months now since that day my husband headed to the other side of the globe. I miss him more now than I did the day after he left. Yes, I've stopped expecting to hear the door open in the evening and I'm used to cutting recipe ingredients in half, but the loneliness isn't one bit less intense.
Thankfully, staying in contact at this point isn't nearly as complicated as it was when the war started. We're able to hear from my husband frequently on the phone and we've even seen him via video feed twice. The boys color him pictures and he sends them "Daddy movies."
I think most military wives would agree that the evenings are the hardest. Once the little ones are asleep, and the busyness of the day has come to a close, there are still several hours to fill. Silence--when it's the only choice there is--doesn't always make the best company.
That first day my husband learned he'd be heading into the war zone, I felt my heart sink. The emotions I experienced were raw and intense, and I looked ahead, anticipating what I imagined I'd feel when he really did leave. By the time we actually reached his departure, I had a myriad of ideas and expectations for what was ahead.
And then it happened. He left. And it was nothing like I'd imagined.
In my mind's eye I'd seen ahead to the nights when both children would be awake at the same time and there is only one parent here to get both back to sleep. I'd known both boys would have a hard time without a daddy home. I knew I would too.
And yet, when I'd looked ahead, I hadn't seen Jesus there waiting for me. I wasn't experiencing His grace while just imagining what was to come. When our two-year-old cries in the night for his daddy and my heart is breaking, I feel my Lord's arms wrap around both of us, holding us close. When I wake up in the morning, unsure how to face another day and the loneliness is eating away at me, God gives grace like I'd never imagined. When my husband calls and listens over the phone to the boys playing, I know we've been given a blessing simply through technology. When I watch the news--which is purposely not often--and hear of a bombing in Iraq, the way God's peace replaces the initial fear is nothing short of miraculous.
He's also shown me His love through the wonderful people around me. People who have told me they were praying for me--and they really do. The friends and family who called and kept us busy while we made the initial transition. People who still take time to ask how we're doing, call, email or send notes of encouragement.
The most helpful thing of all has been when friends or family have simply called and informed me that they're going to help. I don't always know exactly what I need, and yet through many different people, God has provided what I'm not even sure of myself. People like the mother and daughter who have set aside one day a month to give me a day "off." Friends who call and say, "Hey, I'm at Starbucks. What would you like?" When we're sick--which has been, strangely, quite often this year--I've been surrounded by friends and family who come to my rescue, with medicine, diapers, food, or coming to stay with us when I've been too sick to get off the couch. I've even had blogging buddies send boxes to my husband's unit. I am unbelievably thankful for these people. God prompted them to do something... and they just did it.
Sadly, there are military spouses all over the place without a support system like the one I've been blessed with. Some are the families of reservists, some are stationed at military bases far from home. It makes me realize how many times I just assumed someone had help and didn't offer it myself, or forgot to hug a wife whose husband just left. I've been guilty of being "too busy," or imagining that a phone call wouldn't mean much. Of course nothing can take the place of a deployed spouse, but reminding the family at home that they aren't entirely alone can make all the difference in the world.
We're now getting closer and closer to the homecoming of our Marine. It will mean a whole new transition as we get used to having him around again. I've become accustomed to having things be my way around here! Our two-year-old has been missing his daddy more than usual lately and will be thrilled to see him. I just have a feeling he's not going to be as sure about the whole listening to Daddy thing. And the baby? He gets to actually find out just who this daddy-person is we keep telling him about.
To say we're excited would be the understatement of the century.
You can read more of Ashleigh's posts at her blog, Heart and Home.