When War Comes Home

When a soldier comes home, War comes home, too: the smell of it, the frenetic energy of it, the despair and horror of it moved home with his foot locker. A story of healing through faith.

When a soldier comes home, War comes home, too. When my husband came home last time, it was our hardest yet. He came home to a stressed-out wife getting ready to start her next school year and a toddler daughter he barely knew. Reintegration was going to be tougher than it had ever been on top of the extreme stress of cumulative deployments.

Reintegration means readjusting. Where is my place? What is my role? How do we do this together?

For me, a small positive of deployments is getting to organize my house to my little OCD heart’s content. I get to color code and label. And everything stays where I put it. Hooray! A little thing I can enjoy while trying not to worry about my husband being in a war zone.

But when he comes home, things have moved. His stuff got relegated to the back of the cabinets. He feels put away, like he doesn’t quite fit. Our lives went on without him, and we did just fine. It isn’t true, but it feels true to him.

Coming home took away his sense of mission and purpose. He felt like he left the job undone in Iraq and didn’t know how to change gears. He struggled to find his place in our home and lives. I had to learn how to let him back in, let him be the dad and do things his way.

Truly reintegrating took time. Think marathon, not sprint. Sometimes, it was a relay race who is coping better today? You’ve got the ball.

When a soldier comes home, War Comes Home, too. Becoming one again is a marathon, not sprint. Click To Tweet

Deployments are also tremendously physically demanding, adrenaline pumping continuously 24 hours a day, everyday. The previous deployments had at least prepared me to be patient with him. He was a hummingbird around the house, zipping from place to place, barely lingering long enough to be still a moment. I got exhausted watching him.

When a soldier comes home, War comes home, too.

It was weeks before he sat down, then all he did was sleep. His body was wrecked from getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night and wearing 100lbs of gear all day everyday for a year.  When he finally crashed, he slept every empty minute for weeks. My heart broke to watch him sleeping through those precious hours, when I so desperately just desired his presence.

As much as I wanted to authentically celebrate his being home, it took almost a year to feel like he was really home. And then the really hard work started.

I was not as patient as I could have been. I felt like I’d been alone raising this baby by myself for so long, but he wasn’t ready to be home with us. He felt robbed of another year of his life, hunting and fishing, and having any time alone after being continuously with others (even on the toilet). As a mom, I can better relate now!

And then the loss of time with all of his kids was so much, he didn’t know how to cope, let alone how to begin reconnecting with them.

A special kind of hurt wraps itself like a noose around your heart when you lose time with your children, much less a cumulative 4-5 years of their lives. Just writing those words grieves my heart. I. CAN’T. EVEN.

Additionally, the unique violent experiences he had in combat came home with him, too; they live in his heart and mind in a way I’ll only barely grasp. They were tearing him up inside, and I didn’t know how to help or that I was inadvertently making things worse.

We said the word “divorce” too often in the heat of bickering over mundane domesticities that turned vicious. Our house became the war zone.

We reached a point nothing on earth could save us, at least nothing OF earth.

God doesn’t want us to turn to Him because we think His way might be better. God wants us on our knees screaming for Him to save us. He wants us so desperate for Him we won’t take another step without him. He wants our full surrender, that moment we truly give it over to Him, quit playing at Christian and become a disciple.

For me, the path to that moment of surrender started when I truly realized that war comes home. The smell of it, the frenetic energy of it, the despair, bravado, and horror of it moved in with his foot locker at the end of his 4th deployment.

When a soldier comes home, War comes home, too: the smell of it, the frenetic energy of it, the despair and horror of it moved home with his foot locker. A story of healing through faith.

And things got bad. Really bad. Not everyday was bad, but we fought a lot. Tension and anger were the under current of our marriage and home. I didn’t know what to do. I started crying out to God.

But I wasn’t completely ready for total surrender. It took another year for the moment I stood in front of God and said, I just want you, to follow you, Lord, no matter what. I’m standing here until you make me move.

I remember feeling like Paul when the scales dropped from his eyes, my vision changed almost physically with living the forgiveness I finally understood. I didn’t have to get cleaned up to come to Christ. I just had to come and he would clean me up.

The next step for me was a book called When War Comes Home: Christ-Centered Healing for Wives of Combat Veterans. God placed this book in my path at just the right time to make dramatic changes in my heart and marriage. I spent the next several months reading a chapter a week and discussing it with a dear friend. We were both struggling with how combat had changed our husbands.

The book is written by combat veterans, wives, and experts from a Christian perspective. It costs about $25, but is a priceless resource. The book deals with everything from grieving the changes any combat veteran might experience to the most severe PSTD, offers insight and biblical solutions, as well as resources for help, counseling and domestic abuse if necessary.

I learned so much about forgiveness and commitment, God’s truths, and our real enemy in this world. Some content might not relate if your spouse isn’t a veteran, but so many raw truths about love being an action, not just emotion make this a trusted marriage manual I could recommend to anyone.

I was able to start understanding what he had seen and how he had lived in a way I hadn’t before. Compassion blossomed in my heart.

I had prayed for God to change my husband, and He did, but His answer was, “you first.” Today, I am tearfully thankful for that.

I remember I was having a rough day, standing over dishes and a mess not of my making. My husband was being kind of a jerk. My mouth clamped shut and I prayed in my head, “Lord, help me see him the way you do.” Instantly I saw the chains around him dragging him down: war, anger, death, loss, grief, shame. He wasn’t a jerk on purpose; he was too wounded to be anything else.

Lord, I prayed, please change my husband. His answer - You first! Tearfully grateful for His… Click To Tweet

“Oh, you’re having a hard time just being you today . . .” I said. He froze. His eyes immediately softened and changed. “Yes, I’m having a hard time being me.” “What can I do to help you?” “Give me five minutes to myself.” Done! Easy peasy lemon squeezy as my kiddo likes to say. So simple.

And that was the beginning. I stopped expecting ANYTHING from him beyond going to work, coming home. While that sounds drastic, he couldn’t handle the pressure of my expectations. And I had been counting on him to make me happy when I should have been finding my joy in Christ.

I finally realized, he couldn’t fill my longing for true and everlasting love. Human love would always disappoint, but God never would.

Eventually, he began to unfurl in the security of God’s love for him through me and be able to relax again, laugh more, and take back some leadership in our home.

It’s been a couple of years, and I am still just barely scraping the surface of how war comes home, how what he has seen changes everything for him: the sound of a child crying, watching political debates, going to the movies.

But God has worked miracles in my heart that are healing both of us and our marriage.

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Divorce him for the Dishes by the Sink?

He leaves dishes by the sink sometimes and doesn't pick up his dirty underwear. He thinks dusting is a waste of time. Should I divorce him for that?

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Divorce? He leaves dishes by the sink occasionally. Sometimes, he doesn’t pick up his dirty underwear and believes dusting is a waste of time. He rolls his eyes when I disinfect the kitchen. He gives it a lick and a polish when I would use bleach and a flamethrower.

And my personal pet peeve – If I give him a ‘to do’ list, my husband will find the one thing he’s been meaning to do that is NOT on my list, and do that.

These things can drive me crazy or hurt my feelings. Sometimes, I feel disrespected and ignored . . .

but divorce him?

Not even kind of.

Can I unpack this viral post written by a man whose wife was apparently driven to divorce by dishes by the sink? In the end he understood how he could have better loved his wife, but I was left wondering if she ever learned how to better love him?

He leaves dishes by the sink sometimes and doesn't pick up his dirty underwear. He thinks dusting is a waste of time. Should I divorce him for that?

I have had many days my heart was broken over something he said or did. I’ve said goodnight in a huff wondering how I could be married to this selfish man for the rest of my life. I’ve cried myself to sleep.

But truth really is often about perspective.

Those same nights, he went to bed defeated, wondering why he married me, feeling disrespected and unloved. He wondered if I could ever think he was good enough just the way he is, if I really loved him or just the man I wanted him to be?

Ladies, I get it.

I see those dishes and underwear on my ‘to do’ list that never gets done. I’m child rearing, blogging, homeschooling, homemaking, friendship building, small group leading, Bible reading, part-time working. I need three of me on our slowest days.

When he adds to my list, it is the mic-dropping-straw on the proverbial camel’s back.

But, I’m the one reading into those choices. Dirty dishes by the sink really say I’m too tired to do one more thing. The dirty underwear shoved into the corner screams it’s 3 a.m. and I haven’t had my coffee.

His Army job is long and hard, but he comes home to me everyday. He kisses me goodnight even when we’ve been snippy. He brushes our daughter’s hair and flies her around the house, even when she is getting too big, even on his bad shoulder.

I can choose to see it his way. If it only takes 4 seconds to move that dish to the sink, can’t I just do it? Even if I hate folding his stupid Army socks, better to be folding them than wearing them 16 hours a day.

Because he just wants my respect and love and to make me happy, even if he sometimes has no idea why things are important to me, even when I don’t really either, but really, really just like it my way.

I’ve learned that if I really don’t have the energy to wash the dishes by the sink, they’ll wait until one of us makes it a priority.

In fact, when I stop trying to keep every spinning plate spinning and some drop, he sees my need and picks up the slack. When instead of nagging, I just said, “I can’t, I’ve got nuthin’ left,” he’ll get out paper plates and frozen pizza.

Again, humility and broken realness win.

When I said, “I know it’s just a cup, but I work so hard to keep the house nice. I would feel so loved if you would just put it away.”

He replied, “I’ll try. But it’s just a cup. I’ll forget.” I said, “Thank you for trying. If you forget, it’s ok.”

Then he didn’t forget often because I made it about being a team against the chaos, not me versus him.

I am really saddened to see Christian women sharing this viral post because it doesn’t take a faith-based view of marriage at all.

I vowed for better or worse in a rose-colored fog, but that was the promise: for worse.

“WORSE” was this vague undefined something like a tragic accident that might happen to other people, but probably not to us. I didn’t picture dirty underwear, empty toilet paper rolls, arguments about dishes and countertops, parenting squabbles – the boring mundane worses that make marriage hard.

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I read the entire post, I know he was exaggerating to demonstrate how he hadn’t really respected her and his callousness pushed her further away. But oh, how I wish I could interject into every woman letting these little molehills become mountains.

Don’t let dishes by the sink destroy your marriage!

My marriage isn’t perfect, but we’ve come a long way since I stopped seeing everything from the world’s perspective. Marriage is part of the refining fire that makes us more like Christ.

Mark 8:34 ESV /  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Deny myself. Deny the human parts of me that say, “I deserve.” Deny that I deserve anything except to serve God with all that I am everyday. With ALL that I am.

Jesus carried a cross. I can pick up dirty dishes by the sink. Real marriage takes grace. Click To Tweet

God gives me grace and forgiveness when I fall down. When I yell at the kids or gossip or ignore His directions. Over and over.

Forgiven people forgive people. We don’t say divorce.

It isn’t easy, but that means when I’m tired or sick, I try to do one more thing, take one extra second to think before I speak, to honor my husband by respecting what he does and thanking him for everything he gets right and the hearty attempts, and choosing carefully when, how, or IF I approach those things I wish were different.

Learning how to talk with him is a work in progress. We are learning a common vocabulary of patience and grace. And divorce isn’t in it.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness….” 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’ll be honest, sometimes the chaos wins these days, but happiness does too. The house is dustier but the laughter is louder. Because I quit seeing dishes by the sink as a failure of his love and just there waiting for one of us to clean them .  .  .  eventually.

Communication is a work in progress. We are learning a common vocabulary of patience and grace. Click To Tweet

There is a difference between ignoring dirty dishes and abuse. If you're being abused, get help.

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Bloom in Any Season

I was crying, running on vapors, trying to do it all myself. Why do I keep forgetting I didn't get this far alone? I need Him to bloom in any season.

Last Sunday, I held this beautiful rose in my hand as it bloomed defiantly in November. I heard God’s quiet whisper,

“Even this rose can bloom in any season.”

What wonderful encouragement! I have been truly relying on God during this difficult season in the Army, tired but coping.

And isn’t that when the bottom falls out? the minute we think we have it all together? the minute we try to do it ourselves .  .  .

God was encouraging me after the month we’ve had.

My husband has been gone 18 hour days, 6-7 days a week, most Army related but some hunting, and selfishly, I get tired of being ‘all the adults.‘ I was on vapors, holding on desperately for a break. When making frozen pizza seems overwhelming, I’ve hit rock bottom. I thought I had no more to give.

But God was also preparing & instructing me for the week to come.

Monday, the text message came, “Don’t expect me home.”

At all, for at least 72 hours, maybe a week. No warning, no planning ahead. Just gone. Not in war, not deployed. Yet, tiny heartbreaking nights that he just isn’t home.

I was crying, running on vapors, trying to do it all myself. Why do I keep forgetting I didn't get this far alone? I need Him to bloom in any season.

A piece of sensitive equipment (read expensive) went missing and the entire unit was put on lockdown. It wasn’t done appropriately. Soldiers were left with no food, denied necessary medications, while others were let walk to the convenience store or go home to tend to pets.

My husband was stressed and furious. If there was a way to make this situation more disastrous and less compassionate, they found it. Helplessly watching it unfold via text message was so incredibly difficult. Knowing how this would ripple through every inch of our next weeks, I could feel my anxiety building.

But I tried to push it down, jump those hurdles without breathing hard. We can do this! I’m not who I used to be. I’ve totally got this  . . .

. . . but the pressure built inside. I could feel God mentally tapping me on the shoulder, trying to get my attention.

“Even this rose can bloom in any season.”

But I didn’t want to bloom. I wanted to BE MAD. I mean had a good reason to lose it, right?

By day 3, I broke my #30DaysWithoutComplaint challenge. While I tried to be strong and calm, I ran out of steam. I cried. I complained, launching into the unfairness of it all, but I didn’t feel any better.

I was cooking  two separate, multi-step meals for a friend whose husband was having surgery, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for my house, making a week’s worth of meals for my husband, plus packing a suitcase, trying not to forget anything since we live 45 minutes from his training facility.

Meanwhile I was trying to parent, home-school, check in with family, fellowship with friends, deal with accidental Facebook drama, and take care of my personal needs, like eating. And deal with a 5-year-old who was having her own missing daddy breakdown. When I would look up from the chaos, all I could see was the dust, dog hair, and general filth and clutter taking over my house.

I was running out of steam because I was trying to do it all. I. Me. ME.

Ephesians 2:8 ESV  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”

Where was God in there? Yeah, I was giving Him a nod, keeping my exterior calm, but I wasn’t giving Him the anxiety in my heart, not asking Him to guide my emotions or attitude.

NOT MY OWN DOING. I didn’t change and grow through my own will, why can’t I remember this?

Why can’t I remember I will never outgrow needing Him?

I was trying to multi-task, poorly, trying to avoid burning down my house literally (I do have a nicely browned potholder now) and figuratively, not destroy months of work I’ve done living some big changes Christ is working in me.

And God whispered, you can bloom in ANY season when you live by faith. #BloominAnySeason Click To Tweet

Again seeing the rose in my mind, I heard God calling me to bloom in THIS hard season. I opened my bible app and let it start reading to me while I worked.

James 1:3 ESV For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Just last week, I wrote about the beauty of our marriage through the testing we’ve survived, the way we’ve learned to rely on each other. So did I mean it?

When I wanted to cry, I said, God “let me put down my agenda for this week and pick up YOURS.”

My prayers changed from bring him home to ‘how can I be calm despite the storm, help me prioritize,  and be a blessing and encouragement to my husband and friends.’

Why can't I remember I will never outgrow needing Him? Can't do this life on my own.… Click To Tweet

It was draining and emotional, but I managed to focus on one moment at a time and to be a blessing when my husband finally came home frustrated and exhausted.

Instead of demanding he talk, I let him work through his feelings. When he was sharp, I took a deep breath instead of firing back. I offered whatever support he needed and let him set the tone for the weekend, so he would have the fortitude to face the new week, including a 24 hour duty on Thanksgiving.

One way I learned to bloom in any season was to realize that sometimes messy can be beautiful because the house doesn’t get our attention – when we give it to people instead.

We are in the last years of his career, but the constant trials of Army life are surrounding us. We can focus on the difficulties or know that we’re being shaped and pruned to face every struggle, beautifully able to bloom in any season.

 

Beautifully Taken for Granted

I went to bed last night giggling to myself because after years of marriage, long months of hard work, my husband takes me for granted. I have worked really hard to be beautifully, taken for granted.

Last night, I was giggling to myself over a sink full of dirty dishes because after 9 years of marriage, countless hours of diligent sacrifice, my husband finally, beautifully, has taken me for granted.

I have worked really hard to be taken for granted.

I started a couple of years ago when I stopped nagging him to pick up his dirty underwear, and instead started praying over it. His empty toothpaste tube left on the vanity gets silently replaced. His lunch is quietly waiting each morning.

Our marriage was in a rough place after his last deployment. Out of the six years we had known each other, he had spent three of those deployed. The trials of war were a heavy burden that I didn’t know how to carry with him, and he didn’t know how to let me.

We tried to pick up and move forward, but we had changed. I had spent a year just being a  mom, and he felt like an outsider to our little all girls’ club. We didn’t really know how to overcome the abyss between us.

Let me tell you, pretending it wasn’t there, wasn’t pretty. We were almost on the brink of disaster when Jesus began to intervene.

I wanted God to change my husband, who returned from war angry and different. I prayed and prayed that he would change. I got angrier and more bitter when he didn’t, sitting all self-righteous on my pious side of the room, waiting for him to change before I would.

But God began a quiet work in my heart. He answered my prayers for change by changing me. I began to see love, not as an emotion, but an active choice. I could decide to love him everyday.

However, my husband didn’t trust that love. He wouldn’t ask me to do his laundry. He wouldn’t ask for help with even the littlest things, and seemed perturbed when I would offer, like depending on me was weakness. He didn’t see us as a team. He was running his own life and I was a corollary player.

To change his perception, I had to learn to be trustworthy, be willing to serve, be gentle instead of nagging, instead of shouting louder, get quiet. I had to serve him without complaining, joyfully. I had to ask him everyday – what can I do for you? And then do what he asked, even if I didn’t want to.

So this week, when he dragged himself to bed after an 18 hour day, leaving his cold, stale coffee in his thermos, his dirty lunchbox full of trash, and a pot simmering on the stove for me to watch, a midnight load of laundry to do, I almost got frustrated. Hey, I’m tired too!

but then I heard, God’s quiet voice, ‘what a beautiful blessing.’

I went to bed last night giggling to myself because after years of marriage, long months of hard work, my husband takes me for granted. I have worked really hard to be beautifully, taken for granted.

A blessing? beautiful? to be taken for granted?

YES! Yes, the fiercely independent husband who wouldn’t ask for help, didn’t want to need me, now relies on my help, and beautifully takes for granted that I’ll be there and do for him.

Our marriage that almost ended in bitterness and anger, is stronger than ever, full of laughter again.

Psalm 85:10 ESV  Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

This verse from Psalms almost brings me to tears today. I never could have imagined my marriage in it, but today the words leapt from the Bible into my heart.

I never thought I would celebrate being beautifully taken for granted, yet today on our 9th anniversary, while the words, “I love you” are more poignant than ever, hearing him say, “I know” means even more.

Its Own Way: Having 1 Cor. 13 Love in my marriage

If real love does not insist on its own way, how much of the problems in my marriage are from failing to live this scripture. Heaven Not Harvard

Sunday, my husband and I decided to cook spaghetti together. We had different ideas about making the sauce. Tomato sauce is one of the few things that I have worked to perfect, so I started to fight for my way.

What should have been a simple discussion about which step should go first, started to be about who was a better chef, smarter, and generally the most rightest person in all the universe.

What should have been a simple discussion became who was the most rightest in the universe… Click To Tweet

I silently prayed for the right heart in that moment, and adjusted my attitude before it became a fight. Yet, I should have stopped before I started.

The next day, God pointed me right to what He wanted me to see. My daughter was having a rough day with her attitude. She decided to try her hand at talking back. After her third or fourth visit to timeout, I tried some instruction about why she should talk to me with love and respect. Because of who God is and what love means, so I pulled out the bible and began to read to her 1 Corinthians 13, verses 4-7 specifically.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

And like most times I start to use the Bible in parenting, the person that gets most convicted is me. If real love does not insist on its own way, how much of the problems in my marriage are from failing to live this scripture. Heaven Not Harvard I know this familiar passage, many people do.  But I was really struck by how I can be convicted new of its truths. In that moment, I had a renewed spirit to be patient and kind with my testy child. Then I read verse 5 and flashed back to the spaghetti incident the night before.

1 Corinthians 13 says that love does not insist on its own way.

Period. Not sometimes, not even when your spaghetti sauce recipe is perfect.

Bummer.

I started thinking about what my marriage would look like if I quit insisting on my own way. I started thinking about why the sauce mattered to me. Questioning my method felt like attacking my competency in the kitchen, as an intelligent person, even.

Ooooh, I was making him feel the exact same way. Men need respect. They crave it, but American culture has done a great job of teaching us to treat men like overgrown children. We’ve forgotten what respecting your husband looks like.

I didn’t realize how many times, over little things, I had been disrespecting him by arguing. I’ve been so afraid of the consequences of doing things his way, I never thought about the consequences of insisting on mine. I was casting aside his leadership and opinions without really considering his expertise and wisdom, or even his feelings.

I wonder how much resentment and frustration I’ve caused in our marriage from insisting on my way without a good reason except my personal preference. I could be such a loving example of grace by respecting his ideas. I need to give him freedom to express his way. And do my best to let it go when that isn’t the way I like it. Its Own Way - Heaven Not Harvard - learning to let it go instead of fighting for my own way. Loving my husband through respecting him.

Turns out being “right” is a lot less loving than letting him be right. Are there times to insist? Yes, when we’re insisting on God’s way, not our own.

Turns out being right is a whole lot less loving than loving RIGHTLY. Have a 1Cor.13 Marriage… Click To Tweet

For the rest, learn to fold his socks his way, organize his drawers the way he likes them, make the sauce his way. Who knows, when I stop insisting, he might decide he likes it my way once I give him the freedom to choose. Heck, I might learn that I actually like his way better. I’ll work on admitting that later.

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