Deployment: the Best Worst thing -Anna Schulten
Deployment is the best “worst thing” that has ever happened to me.
How can deployment be the “best” of anything? I asked the same question after dropping my husband off and watching him disappear into the company headquarters. It was the last I would see of him for nine months, and I had no idea what to do. How could I possibly find the good, much less the beautiful, in my life for the next nine months while my husband was twelve time zones away?
My husband and I both grew up in active Catholic families and built our marriage on our faith. He is a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus, and I work full time in junior high and high school Youth Ministry. The “obvious” answer to my struggle was to rely on God, but on the brink of deployment and a long, dark Alaskan winter, I was utterly lost and acutely aware of my loneliness.
The first month wasn’t easy, but it was manageable: I kept busy as I adjusted to the new schedule and responsibilities. But the temperatures dropped, the days became shorter, and I found myself becoming more and more isolated. I was going through the motions in my faith and in my ministry, but I was broken in every sense of the word: physically exhausted, spiritually drained, and emotionally devastated.
It was the first time I came face-to-face with the reality of my dependence on God. I had to trust in him, and trust him completely, because I was so far out of my element. Because there was nothing I could do to change my situation. Because my husband’s life was in his hands. Surrender to God’s will was so hard. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to really let go.
Time and time again I found myself at the foot of a summit I could never climb: A daily fear of disappointing my husband. Questioning everything I’d built in my ministry and doubting the value of my own dignity. A thousand broken promises and a self-loathing of who I had become in all my shortcomings. The lingering fear of a knock on the door from two soldiers in dress blues with a folded-up flag. All my insecurities and uncertainties magnified to the greatest degree in the face of the unknown.
I did not find my way through those first few months under my own power. God’s grace was always with me. I can see that now. Piece by piece, with the help of the sacraments and my community, I began to assemble a real faith life, deeper than I’d ever known. I surrendered to God’s will in the sacrament of reconciliation and began attending daily Mass again. I prayed the St. Andrew novena during Advent and then renewed my Marian Consecration. I began to read the Bible. I saw a counselor. I forced myself to make a few more friends who loved me despite my brokenness.
At the midpoint of the deployment, I had a startling realization: I was becoming the saint God made me to be. Of course, the seeds of holiness had been sown in my childhood and began to germinate in my high school and college years, but this faith was different. It was a faith born of deep desperation, stronger and more consistent than the faith of my past. God was breaking through to me, to a closer relationship, in spite of—or perhaps because of—my imperfections.
God used this deployment to make me into the Catholic I am called to be.
Not every couple is “lucky” enough to go through a deployment, but many families face something similar on one level or another. To those who are experiencing it all for the first time, here are a few words of advice.
· Pray, and be honest about it. God is not annoyed by the messiness of our lives. He wants us to bring our brokenness to him in prayer. Pray for your spouse, your family, and yourself. Receive the sacraments often and find the form of prayer that works for you: the “best” way to pray is the one you’re comfortable with and will stick with when the going gets tough.
· Be kind: to yourself, and to your love. You’re both stressed, and the situation is not fun. Celebrate the little victories when you can and communicate as often as possible. And don’t fight over the phone. It’s never worth it.
· Get a good calendar. As responsibilities shift from one person to another and back again, it makes all the difference to have a way to track what needs to be done. In a world where nothing is in control, getting a grip on your schedule will lighten the burden on your mind.
· Little gestures mean a lot. Don’t underestimate the power of the little details. Know your significant other’s love languages and love them in the way they like best. It means the world to know that your love has gone out of their way to love you well, even across distances.
Our battle is certainly not over yet, literally and figuratively. There are a few months left of the deployment, and I still struggle on a daily basis with finding a healthy tension between Catholic guilt and painful self-depreciation. But I am stronger than I used to be, and my relationship with Christ has grown in leaps and bounds. I would not be who I am today without the deployment, and as strange as it sounds, I am grateful for this time of suffering. It has made me who I am today.
Anna Schulten is a Youth Minister in Anchorage, Alaska, where she lives with her husband, cat, dog, and assorted fish. Anna loves all things creative, especially painting, crochet, and writing. Her two published works include "Encounter: Advent Reflections for Catholics in Transition" and "Creative Catholic Prayer Journal." Both are available on Amazon or at annaschulten.com.
Anna can be reached directly at email@example.com.