When my husband deployed to Iraq with Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield in 1990, I was overwhelmed.
Sean and I had a three-year-old daughter and an infant son, and I was left alone to cope with all of life’s challenges. And, of course, I had to deal with my fears—for my husband, and for the other service men and women and their families.
One day I found myself sitting on the floor in our upstairs hall, with one child in the room at one end and the other child in the room at the other. We were all crying. I thought, “I can’t take this anymore.” But through my tears, loneliness, and fear, I prayed, and God listened. Beneath all that pain, he was with me. Now that I think of it, he was probably weeping with me as well.
That moment marked a profound leap in my faith journey. I learned about letting go, turning things over to the Lord, and trusting him with all our needs. I learned to place Sean in God’s hands each day and say, “Protect him from harm,” followed by “but not my will, Lord, but yours be done.”
Stay or Go? Military families face the challenge of being reassigned and having to move every few years. We were living in Heidelberg, Germany, when Sean received orders to become commander of an armor brigade. It would be headquartered in Friedberg, an hour away, and he and his soldiers would deploy from there to Iraq.
Convinced that nothing is impossible for God and that our lives are in his hands, I begged him to change this dangerous assignment. I didn’t want to be part of a unit in which service men and women would be killed. What if Sean were one of them? But also, I didn’t want to become friends with these military wives and then have to deal with their grief when their husbands died. Not ever having spent much time around grieving people, I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to help them or what to say. I didn’t want the pain and sorrow and tears. But when Sean’s assignment didn’t change, I accepted it as part of God’s inscrutable plan for us.
I had the option of remaining in Heidelberg and making the hour-long drive to Friedberg only when it was necessary. The idea was especially appealing because I was concerned about our son, Philip, who was going into his second year of high school. He had been looking forward to running cross-country, but the school in Friedberg didn’t have a cross-country team. Since the school was much smaller, we also had concerns that his education might suffer. And how would Philip make friends at a base that didn’t have many other teens?
I was torn about the decision, though, because I knew how important it is for spouses of soldiers deployed on the same mission to live in the same place. You can support each other and don’t feel so alone. As the commander’s wife, I wanted to be there in solidarity with these women.
Stay in Heidelberg or move to Friedberg? I prayed about it a lot, asking the Lord to guide me.
Give Me Your Only Son. My husband took up his new command on June 30, 2005, which also happened to be our twenty-first wedding anniversary. The next day, my decision still unmade, I went to Mass. I was a little early, so I sat in the Blessed Sacrament chapel and prayed fervently for direction and for the grace to do God’s will.
It must have been the Holy Spirit who prompted me to go up to the lectern and look up the Mass readings from the previous day, June 30. I got no further than the first one, the familiar story of how God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son: Abraham demonstrated his obedient faith and trust, and God intervened to protect Isaac, providing a ram for sacrifice instead (Genesis 22:1-18).
In that moment, I knew that moving to Friedberg was the right thing to do. God’s presence filled the room, and even if I had heard an audible voice, the message could not have been clearer: “Give me your only son, who is so very dear to your heart, and I will take care of him.” The Lord would protect Philip; the Lord would provide—I just needed to trust. My fears relieved, I tearfully thanked God for giving me the tangible answer I had been seeking.
God did indeed provide. Just before we moved, so did two other families with boys our son’s age. They became good friends and still keep in touch. Philip did well in the Friedberg school—and even got to run on its first cross-country team, which was started when we arrived!
Jesus, I Trust in You. I won’t say that the assignment was easy. Over that next year, ninety-five of the brigade’s soldiers, Marines, and sailors were killed in Iraq. The news of each death tore my heart but somehow God gave me words to comfort the spouses and their families. As I helped organize prayer services and various supportive activities, I truly felt the Holy Spirit inspiring and working through me.
I worried about my husband, of course. Not only for his physical safety, but also for his spiritual and emotional well-being, since he felt responsible for each life lost. I responded by praying—for the troops, the wounded and deceased and their families, and for all the victims of war. I prayed for wisdom and peace for myself, asking God to be my strength. I don’t think I could have gotten out of bed each morning without his help.
“Sometimes I feel like running out of here screaming,” I remember telling a friend as we sat in the chapel before yet another memorial service for a fallen soldier. What keeps me sane in such moments is the simple prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Like Abraham, who couldn’t see the future and yet put his trust in God, I entrust myself—with all my fears and troubles—into the Lord’s infinitely loving and capable hands. In this safest of all places, I am no longer afraid.
Lynda MacFarland has been a military wife for more than twenty-five years. To find out how she prays the rosary for service men and women, visit the Web site of the Military Council for Catholic Women: http://www.mccw-worldwide.org.