Thursday, March 12, 2020

Deployment


I knew right away after getting to know Colton that he would be leaving for a year-long deployment, however I didn’t have any idea what that looked like. I spent 12 days with him from the time we had our first date until the time he returned to Fort Bragg, NC. He would leave a couple weeks after we met, in mid-August for the Middle East. I had completely fallen for him, and we spent as much time as we could get with each other during his time home before deployment. I had been married before, and I had a 1-year-old daughter. I was broken with a broken past. But I felt like God was taking my story and rewriting it (God does that well). I saw a love and a life with Colton that I didn’t know existed. He loved me and loved my precious little girl too. He was and is unlike anyone I have ever met, and I knew I wanted him in my life. Yes, even this early on. So even after only 12 days spent with him, I was committed to staying with this beautiful man through the deployment. Like I said, I had no idea what that would look like, but I was committed. 

I was with Colton for many of his goodbyes. I watched his family hug him and cry and his friends reminisce on their friendships and talk about how important they are to one another. Even as I watched their emotions play out in front of me, I didn’t know how the good-bye would affect me. I wanted to take in every last moment with him, so didn’t allow any other feelings to come in. The morning he left, I went early with his dad and stepmom to the airport. I cried, tried to focus on any other distractions, and pretended the next year would fly by. When I got in my car to drive home, I decided to open the letter he left me. This is when everything hit me. I had just spent nearly two weeks falling in love with the man of my dreams, and he was leaving for a year. A YEAR! To the Middle East, not a quick plane trip across the U.S. This was going to be incredibly more difficult than I could have imagined. 

And it was. I would wait around clutching my phone so tightly, you’d think it was a part of my hand. At the beginning of his deployment, I would see unknown numbers calling and answer just hoping it would be him on the other end. He was 10 hours ahead of the time it was in Nevada, and while he was working or gone all the time, I was working and in school. We had such a small window of time we could talk. When we did, he was either not able to share much, or didn’t want to. I can only write this from my perspective but I can’t imagine what it would be like hearing about a normal day for me while he was in a completely different world away from all the comforts of home and family.  On those long phone calls, I did my best to be present with him, and we spent a lot of time learning about one another and laughing together. It helped to distract each other from being 7,000 miles apart. 
There were often times we would go days without being able to talk, and I found myself feeling extra melancholy those days. I would drive around town, looking at houses and fall colors and then winter snow, just wondering what he was doing. I imagined him with me, holding his hand in mine and dreaming about all of our future plans together. People often take for granted just being in the presence of their loved ones. I would have given anything to have him across from me at the dinner table or just next to me on the couch on so many quiet nights alone. I listened to Billie Holiday alone in my kitchen while I cooked, sometimes with “I’ll Be Seeing You” on repeat. I was comforted knowing he’d be looking at the same night sky I saw that night. Cheesy, I know, but the kind of missing someone deployment did to me was incredibly foreign. I clung onto any strand of anything that made him feel closer to me. 

We went birthdays, holidays and milestones without his presence. Then in early January we learned he would be able to take mid-tour leave for a couple of weeks in February. Colton and I began spending our FaceTime conversations planning our time together. We daydreamed about making meals together, spending time with family, and going out to breakfast. After long months of waiting and hoping to see him soon, February 15th finally came. I met his whole family at the airport as we stood with anticipation watching the arrival times on the screen. Gosh, that feeling seeing him come down the stairs was amazing. I could feel my whole body shaking with excitement. I stood, allowing any of his family members to run to get the first hug when I felt his dad push my back slightly, as if saying it was okay that I got the first hello. I hustled up to him and wrapped my arms around his neck. I heard him say “Hi, my love,” as I stood there melting in his arms. 

The next couple of weeks were nothing short of amazing. We took a quick trip to Disneyland, since my parents only lived four hours away. We ate ice cream, held hands and it truly was so magical. We were able to do all of the things we talked about doing for the last seven months. But the inevitable goodbye on a cold morning at the airport came, and back he went, for another five and a half months. We were back to sparse FaceTime calls and care packages. It was a harsh and annoying reality that we were able to get into a rhythm with the distance. 

A few months before Colton’s homecoming, he rededicated his life to Jesus. I cried when he told me, because, WOW, how amazing is that?! While he already knew Jesus, this was him professing his new commitment to walk with him fervently. I am thankful he made a good friend there that loved the Lord and would pray with and encourage him over the next few months. This new commitment made his homecoming all the more sweet. 

That wonderful day in mid-August came that I was able to fly to North Carolina and see him, as he was finally finished with deployment! We went to Wilmington, a nearby beach town, where Colton took me to a picnic on a lake. It had rained the whole morning, so to our delight, the sky cleared up and we had the whole area to ourselves, everyone else having stayed away from the rain. He laid down a big blanket and began taking snacks and sparkling juice out of the picnic basket. Next, he put on some of my favorite songs. He handed me a beautiful handmade notebook he had bought at a shop in Iraq. Inside, were pictures of us, and two pages where he had written me a very special note. This was just about as romantic as it sounded, and I began to cry as I read on. Toward the end of his note to me, he told me to put the notebook down, and to stand up and dance with him. I did as instructed, where I found myself looking into Colton’s sweet brown eyes, hearing him tell me all the ways he loved me and how special this love was to him. He proceeded to get down on one knee, whip out the most stunning ring I’ve ever seen, and ask me to be his wife. I was crying waterfalls of joy! I said yes, of course, and we celebrated with kisses and pictures and tears of excitement (I was obviously the one with the tears, I was ugly crying I was so happy). 

That evening we went to dinner at a restaurant with the perfect view of the Cape Fear river. I had blackened halibut with mango salsa, and he had NY Steak. We enjoy celebrating, and not only that, but Colton had been eating reheated, processed food for the last year, so this was extra special for him. We finished dinner with full bellies, hand in hand, and walked around the river walk exploring cute shops, collecting candy from the old-fashioned candy stores. After, we went to the beach nearby, conveniently right at sunset. It was like God was celebrating with us, as he painted the sky the warmest hues of pinks, blues and purples. We got our feet in the water and looked for seashells. This day could not have been any more romantic or well-choreographed. I left that Sunday, glowing, delighted to work on solidifying plans on how we would elope. We had always talked about eloping. We figured since we had spent most of our relationship away from one another, that this would be a perfect way to be intentional with our time and focus on each other and nothing else. 
I came back to to North Carolina a few weeks later with a white dress. We began the morning at the local magistrates office, where we were legally married. We held hands and said traditional vows, but waited until later to say our own to each other. We drove down to Charleston, SC, where we checked into our hotel and got dressed in our fancy wedding outfits. We met our photographer at White Pointe Gardens and spent about 2 hours taking photos, in all the most beautiful places in Charleston. It really was so gorgeous on that day in early fall. Our photographer took photos of us reading our vows we wrote to each other, and we put on our rings at that time. It was so special, and WOW, my husband's vows were incredible. These vows were the moment we both agree it felt like we were officially married. His words held weight, I could feel his emotion in them, and I could tell he would mean them forever. We had dinner, just the two of us, and drank champagne toasting our lives ahead of us together.  The next few days were spent walking around, holding hands, eating amazing food, riding bikes down Rainbow Row, and kissing on our horse drawn carriage through the beautiful homes. We laughed, took pictures of each other and ate breakfast on our hotel’s rooftop. Eloping was everything I always wanted it to be and more. It was romantic, special, and we were able to be together alone, like we had dreamt of all the months during deployment. I loved every moment with my brand-new husband and all the experiences we had together. 

Colton was able to take a couple of weeks for leave, so we flew to our hometown together to celebrate our marriage with family. We got to take Emma fishing, we took her on a quick trip to Disneyland, and we spent evenings playing liar’s dice with my parents or making smores at the cabin with his. After having the most amazing time of my life with my husband, he would return to Fort Bragg, while I stayed in California. I would have to get approval from a judge to move my daughter out of state with me. Now, months into waiting and still being away from my husband, we are in a strangely familiar place yet again. We catch each other on the phone in between the hours after work and before bed and try to stay positive that everything will be in our favor when the judge hears our case. I have learned I have to always be so reliant on God. I desperately need God to fill my weaknesses and heartbreak with his strength. The one whom my soul loves, the other half of me, my husband is living on the other side of the country. The best way I can describe the feeling is for you to imagine what it would be like peeling off your skin, or cutting off your limbs, and shipping them hundreds of miles away. A part of me is absent. I feel like I’m standing at the base of a wall, looking at Colton through a window, just waiting to run through a door to get to him. You may be thinking, “Didn’t you know this before you got married?” Well, we did, yes, but we had no idea it would be this hard or take this long. 

Driving home the other night, the song “I’ll Be Seeing You” came on. I was driving near a lake at night, and the moon reflected so beautifully on the water it looked like sequins on a New Year’s Eve dress. I was taken back to the memories of months with Colton oversees. My heart ached for my husband. My heart aches for him constantly. I’m tired of being in the middle, I feel like I’ve been in the middle for far too long. I’ve been in between places, for seasons of my life, time after time. I am desperately ready to close the chapter of long distance. Waiting on God, trusting in his timing is hard. Most days I don’t know how I make it without my heart crumbling into pieces and landing on the floor by my feet. Scripture is loaded with stories about people waiting on the Lord, and it’s so true, God is faithful, and he is good, and will always deliver. I just read a book where the author, Craig Groeschel, talks about how we often hear people say things like “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. I’ve heard that enough times that I’d buy myself a yacht if I had a nickel every time someone says that phrase. The author offers the idea that maybe God does give us more than we can handle sometimes so that we can lean on him in our weaknesses. That could not be more true, Mr. Groeschel. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during Colton’s deployment, and our distance now, is that I need God, and I need him every day. 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul is saying we’re made strong in Christ when we are weak. These truths are ones I cling to often while I’m missing my husband and dreaming of the days where I get to see him come home through the door after work every day. 

“All night long on my bed
 I looked for the one my heart loves;
 I looked for him but did not find him.”
Song of Songs 3:3











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