not my will, but His...
I will never forget that weighty pit in my stomach. I felt it every single time my husband’s impending deployment crossed my mind. It would be our first deployment, though he had been in the Air Force for nine years already (and for all seven years of our marriage at the time!).
And yet, even so, I will now (one year past his safe arrival home, praise God!) also never forget the immense blessings and deepening of my faith which the Lord brought about as a direct result of that very deployment I had fought against and dreaded so fiercely.
Not My Will, But His.
I did not grow up with anyone close to me in the military, and I never expected to be a military wife. In fact, when my husband and I were dating and he was prayerfully contemplating enlisting, I fought it tooth and nail. Try as I might, though, I simply could not find a way to convince my then-boyfriend that he had heard from God wrong and was not, in fact, supposed to join the Air Force. I finally surrendered, however, knowing that if I was to marry this man I had fallen so deeply in love with, and if he had been led by the Lord to enter the military, then I had to be willing to surrender to God’s plan for our future family. And I finally was. The Lord did bring a sustaining peace to my heart as he officially enlisted and, upon our wedding day, I became a military wife. Nevertheless, every time the mention of a deployment would come up in the years that followed, I would feel sick to my stomach all over again.
His strength in my weakness...
Fast forward seven years and two children later, and I was finally staring down the barrel of our very first deployment. There had actually been a deployment on the calendar for all seven years of our marriage, but the powers that be kept changing the schedule and delaying the inevitable. I had been so grateful for all those years with him at home with me, and then our children too, but no number of years together felt like enough when the day finally came when I had to hug and kiss my husband goodbye at airport security, not knowing if I would ever see him again this side of heaven.
Determined to be strong for him in those final moments before his departure, I held it together and didn’t cry a single tear until he walked through security and turned the corner. That very moment, though, when I couldn’t see him any longer, that was when I turned to my sister-in-law who was standing beside me and collapsed into her arms crying, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”
I remember that day like it was yesterday rather than the over a year and a half that it has actually been since then. The dread, the fear, the anxiety, the grief were all so heavy that I truly did not know how I was going to go on from where I stood that day in the airport.
Would my husband make it home from deployment?
If he did, was he going to return to me the same man, or was he going to change in some way?
How was I going to solo parent our two little ones? How were they going to make it through missing their daddy so much? How was I going to meet their needs?
How would my children endure both of their birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all without daddy around?
This, dear friends, is where I can honestly say the strength of God is, indeed, made perfect in our weakness. I had never resonated so much with those words of Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as I did during the 207 days of my husband’s deployment.
So often in life we say things like, “I could never do that!” or “I don’t know how you do it!”. And I received my own fair share of those messages from loved ones during my husband’s time away. But one of the blessings God so kindly brought into my life as a result of the deployment was a lesson in strength - and when we do and do not receive it.
For so many years of my life, I spent my days as an expert trouble-borrower. I would borrow trouble like nobody’s business, daily assuming the worst and allowing myself to be consumed with worry about all the “what ifs?”. And, along the way, saying things like, “I could never do that!”. But here is something the deployment experience taught me: you do not receive the strength you need when you are busy worrying over what might happen, when nothing has actually happened yet at all. No, you are given the strength you need when you need it, when you are actually going through and experiencing that really hard thing you never thought you could endure.
His strength is all-sufficient like that.
The seven month long deployment taught me firsthand the beauty and truth of Deuteronomy 33:25b, “As your days, so shall your strength be.”
You see, I had a never-ending pit in my stomach leading up to my husband’s departure for his deployment. And sitting here typing this out for you today, I have a bit of a pit in my stomach at the thought of ever going through another deployment. But when push came to shove, and he was actually away on that dreaded deployment? I possessed an inner God-given strength unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was a peace that indeed passed all understanding. And it was visible to those around me as they verbally marveled at the hope they saw within me.
That, my friends, is the gift of God’s strength that is given right when you truly need it.
blessed are those who mourn...
Lest you believe, however, that the strength I felt was somehow because the deployment was somehow all sunshine and rainbows, I can assure you it definitely wasn’t. My husband experienced some incredibly challenging situations - so much so that my strong man would FaceTime me beat down and in tears on occasion. He was deployed to a dangerous area. The situation at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan in August of 2021 occurred while my husband was deployed (though he was not in Afghanistan). I had fears that would course through me, I had days when I truly didn’t think he was coming home to me. I couldn’t fathom the blessing of having him back in my arms again. I grieved. I put up the Christmas tree without him and threw our son a birthday party alone.
But it was in those very moments that God revealed to me another passage of scripture I had never truly understood until the deployment took place.
Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This never made sense to me until the deployment. Once my husband had returned home safe and sound and we were back at church for the first time as a united family again, it struck me how empty and lacking in meaning for me the praise and worship songs suddenly felt. I had distinct memories of them touching my heart so deeply during the deployment, bringing me to tears on a regular basis. And that’s when I understood the words of Jesus in this verse.
You see, as I had mourned over what we were losing during the deployment and feared what else we might lose, I had been comforted. Through the worship time at church and my personal times along with the Lord in the comfort of my home, I had been comforted by the God of the universe in an intimate and tangible way unlike anything I had experienced before or have experienced since. It was truly a deeply meaningful experience.
what I want for you...
Why do I share all this? Why do I delve back into the struggles and emotions of the deployment, putting them all down on the page like this?
Because even though you might not be able to resonate with being a military wife and even though I don’t know what you might be going through in your own personal life, I do know this: God does. He knows. And I want you to take comfort, hope, faith, peace, and strength from what I have shared with you today, knowing that just as it was true for me, so it will be true for you, as well - “As your days are, so shall your strength be” and “Blessed are those who mourn.”
May God bless you, dear friend, and comfort you with His tender comfort that heals all hurt and peace that passes all understanding. He’s got this. And He’s got you, too.
Rebekah is a military wife, mother, author and lover of Jesus. She has committed her work to teaching us how to apply the gospel to all aspects of our lives. Rebekah is revived by quiet moments of silence and solitude in the Lord's presence. She finds joy in hearing her children giggle, and getting lost on a walk with her husband, hand-in-hand, talking about inside jokes. She is a lover of books, vanilla scented candles and endless cups of hot tea and coffee with cream.
Follow Rebekah on Instagram @rebekahhargraves, and check out her book, Lies Moms Believe, on her website!
Photos by Carly Kristin Photography. Headshot provided by Rebekah.