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Top Ten Things I’ve Learned During Deployments:

10) A blinking red light on the dashboard means it’s probably already too late.
9) Chocolate-Nut cookies left out on the table equal a $400.00 emergency vet visit.
8) Arguing long distance over finances equals a $400.00 phone bill.
7) Taxes should definitely be deemed ‘Man Work’ (so should mowing & taking out trash)
6) Ear infections always pop up the night before ‘Mommy’s Day Out’
5) Emergency rooms don’t care what time it is for your two toddlers.
4) Toddlers don’t care what time it is for you.
3) Brush up on funeral liturgy and theology of death for pets.
2) A possum will attack and chase you if cornered in the garage with a broom.
1) If it can break or stop working, it will.

Having grown up traveling all over the world, being married to a military man seemed right up my alley. I loved moving around and he needed someone who could pack in five minutes. I envisioned the smart uniform, the pomp and parades, the ball gowns. It all sounded like an amazing adventure. What could be more exciting than going on an adventure with the man of your dreams? Being stationed on tropical islands, beautiful beaches, shades of Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific playing in the background. A Roman holiday in Europe… being whisked away on the train for a lovely weekend in Venice… seeing all the fountains in Italy, tossing coins over our shoulders and kissing… how divine. Then of course there’s the whole ‘hero’ thing. John Wayne storming the beaches of Iwo Jima… Steve McQueen escaping from Nazis, Charlton Heston, shot and dying, sacrificing his life to save others as he flies his burning aircraft into the warship. I’m marrying a hero!

Oh, but then there’s that other part… Shhh… come closer… don’t even say the word out loud… they might hear you… deployment. You know, the part where you drive him to the dock, airplane hanger or bus and stand with hundreds of other families trying to get in that last hug, one more kiss, one final look in his eyes to memorize his features and burn them in your brain. All the while wondering if he is feeling as terrified as you because he looks so brave and stoic in his gear.

So, here you are, holding down the home team, being mom and dad, keeping the family unit together as he misses birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and even births. Then there’s the wee hours of the morning when all is quiet and the noise and busyness aren’t there as a distraction from the pain. Going out with the girls and holding in the tears as you say ‘goodnight’ and watch them all drive home to their husbands. One of the loneliest times can even be going to church… sitting alone in the pew while everyone else sits as families.

Needless to say by our fifth month of marriage I’d pretty much figured out that this was not going to be as I had envisioned. After five short months of marriage he left me for the first time, in a skuzzy port town no less, and was gone for more months than we’d been married. I’ve been through many deployments now ranging from seven-month-long separations all the way to fifteen months. But early on in the beginning I realized that something was amiss.

Eager to learn how to survive I tried observing how other spouses coped with deployments. It ranged from drunkenness to compulsive spending or as one spouse explained she used the ‘Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Method.’ I met bitter women, indifferent women, depressed women, living in denial women, constantly in crisis mode women, super-mom women, hyper-spiritual women, meditate this negativity else where women, etc.

After two deployments I thought to myself “My God, there has to be a better way.” Did we all miss God? Did He mislead us into our marriages? I knew from scripture that God would never call me to something that I could not endure. I had promised to stick with my husband through good times and bad times. There had to be an answer, a key to surviving this trial. I asked God for wisdom and just as His word promises, He gave it to me. I began to formulate a strategy. In order to make it through I had to be prepared. I needed a battle plan. After years of trial and error here’s some of what I’ve come up with.

1) Find a healthy church.
Church is going to be a lifeline to me and to my children. This means a healthy women’s group, a strong Christian Education program for my children, meaningful worship and solid teaching from the pulpit.

2) Develop a small (2-3) inner circle of mature, Christian women.
This keeps me accountable. They agree to covenant with me and are not afraid to ask tough questions and challenge me as a woman, wife and mother. I can call them at any time of the day or night. Even though we move duty stations these godly women remain on my support team.

3) Establish a regular sitter that will watch the kids for several hours every week.
This allows me to do things that are fun and/or pampering. I try to keep this time free of errands and focus on fun things like getting my nails done, getting a massage, going out with friends for dinner and a movie or just plain ole window shopping.

4) Try scheduling a monthly massage.
Many women don’t realize the emotional toll that lack of touch can take on your psyche. We all expect to miss the intimacy of sex, but sex aside there is a lack of human body contact that occurs. Not only is the massage totally relaxing and therapeutic but I feel human again and not just like a robot going through a routine in survival mode. Plus it’s good to be pampered now and then.

5) Set up a good communication system.
This enables us to stay in regular contact with ‘Daddy.’ It is a far cry from the first deployments when we had to send numbered letters and wait for 4-5 weeks to hear back. Today we can email almost every day and once a week we set a time to ‘meet’ with our web cams. This gives the kids the opportunity to see dad and he loves seeing them.

6) Know your child’s mood and try to head things off at the pass.
It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to be disrespectful. Family team rules don’t change with deployment. Our local public school has a deployment group for kids. They meet once a week with a licensed counselor during school hours. The children talk with other kids their own age and share about their parent and hear each other’s stories. It has been very good for the kids to see that they are not alone and to learn to put their feelings into words.

7) Stay plugged in to the Word.
My husband and I use the same devotional book so that we are always reading the same scripture passages on the same day. We also journal about what we’ve read. This allows us to share with each other and pray together. Not only am I connecting daily with God, renewing my mind and spirit but I’m also connecting with my husband, even though we are oceans apart.

So, in conclusion, have I learned to survive? I think so. But more than that I have learned to thrive. Oh, I still dread hearing the word ‘deployment’. And I have moments of crying and feeling lonely, but being prepared has made me a stronger woman and a better-adjusted Navy spouse. I’m in charge of the home team. As a result my spouse can focus on his task unencumbered from worries on the home front. Preparation is the key to success. Strategically formulate your battle plan and choose to thrive!

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