What Christmas is Really About – From a Soldier’s Wife

Over the past year, I’ve been blessed to make a new friend, Jennifer Ireland.  She’s been featured in this blog many times as she’s often “the friend” to which I refer.  The entire time I’ve been friends with Jen her husband, Nate, has been deployed to Kosovo with the Army National Guard.  Each week, Jen and I – along with another friend – meet for Bible study and prayer.  We’re also in the same care group at church and like to text about….well, anything:)  Through this growing friendship, my eyes have been opened to the daily life of a military family.  Jen’s life, struggles, perseverance, and (most of all) faith have changed me this past year.  I hope you’ll read her story below and be changed too.  

As we get close to Christmas we feel a sense of urgency to get the tree up, decorate the house, fulfill our Christmas list, and make this year the ‘best Christmas ever.’ We stress ourselves with all the things we need to have for December 25th.  All of this so our families, and let’s face it ourselves, are happy and filled with warm fuzzy feelings on Christmas day.

This year my anxiety has quadrupled  as I try to get into a new house, get all the normal Christmas ‘stuff’ done, and wait for my husband to return from deployment.  This sentence all but spirals me into an anxiety attack because as I sit here writing none of these is completed. In all actuality, I just received news that my husband’s day to come home has been drawn out making the anxiety in me grow. The new house is still ripped apart, my Christmas tree is still sitting in a field somewhere, presents are not purchased, cards are not sent, and my husband is still sitting in Europe frustrated and tired.

Because we don’t live near a military base, much of our community is unaware of the lifestyle military families live. Sarah asked me to write this blog to bring some perspective to those who might not know a military family. Without living it, I would have never known the real depth of service and sacrifice these men and women in uniform make.

My husband, Nate, is in a Blackhawk unit based in Wheeling, West Virginia. He started his journey with the military the week after we began dating.  So, essentially, our entire relationship has catered to the Army National Guard. Our wedding was planned in four days so we could marry before his Iraq deployment. Our first daughter, Launa, whom Nate affectionately refers to as our pre-deployment daughter, was born 24 hours after he landed for his two-week leave.  In between deployments, Nate came home to a woman whose entire life had changed from single college student to married momma.  My husband, who had seen death and destruction, who had lived a life of rank and military orders for 18 months, came home unable to convert back to ‘normal’ life for several, anger-filled months.  Then, we had our post-deployment baby, Briege, and our family started to become ‘normal’ through lots of prayer and family time.

Three years passed, and Nate was deployed again last January. Only this time Nate had two little girls clinging to his leg not understanding what ‘Goodbye’ would mean for their lives in 2011 while he deployed to Kosovo. Nights of crying, sobbing, screaming for daddy engulfed my life.  When the girls see the American flag, they now excitedly yell “it’s Daddy’s flag!”  – usually followed by tears and tantrums.

One afternoon we passed Da Vinci’s restaurant in Williamstown and several men in uniform were standing in the parking lot. I tried to distract my girls as we drove by, but Launa spotted the uniforms and was convinced we were driving by daddy.  Holidays, birthdays, anniversary, graduation from college – all our milestones this year were missed by Daddy. We try to make some fun out of it.  We have missed two Thanksgivings together, so we now have two photos of Nate with cardboard signs saying  “Happy Thanksgiving from Iraq” and “Kosovo.”

One of the hardest parts of deployment for me is taking over all the duties that Nate typically does while home and piling those duties on top of my typical responsibilities.  For example, trash night is not my duty–so every Tuesday evening you can find me grumbling down the drive, garbage can bouncing down the gravel behind me….always in the rain. Did I mention that it only rains when garbage night is my duty? One year of every Tuesday evening pouring the rain.  Cars – again not my duty – and not normally a big deal because,  really,  how many times a year can there be a car problem from two well-maintained foreign cars from this decade? Well, when Nate is gone magically this becomes a part of our year several times, leaving me with two rambunctious impatient kids in a dirty waiting room wondering if this will be the guy to take advantage of my pocketbook because I’m a girl who knows nothing about cars.

Then, when Nate does return home, it’s hard for him to accept the fact that these duties weren’t done the way he would have done them. And I become resentful and mad at Nate while I’m doing double duties even though he has no choice. In fact, recognizing this tendency to resent him and processing it before he calls home is the biggest hurdle to deployment. The days he calls during a bad moment or before the processing is over….dangerous.

So far, it sounds like deployment is nothing but ugly. And, there are days that I truly feel this way. However, there also has been amazing, beautiful, and humbling parts to deployment.  This single word “deployment,” requires my family to truly embrace and experience the word “community.” Before deployment, I lived very much in the bubble of my immediate family, venturing out into the church only for prayer and socializing…never truly allowing anyone in from the church to really know the inside and weaknesses of the Irelands.

This year the church has become real for me and my girls. Our care group, the youth kids, the Vine student ministry volunteers, and the other people who have ‘adopted’ us through their love of Christ have surrounded us and carried us through one of the hardest years of my life.  While my biological family has been splintered and is trying to heal through the death of both of my parents due to cancer, the church has carried us through – supplying everyday needs and prayer.

Another beautiful aspect of these trials and struggles this year – my husband has begun his walk with Christ. Through the rollercoaster of Army life, the imperfections of his wife, and the death of a dear friend, Nate’s heart was awakened to the need and desire for his Creator.

Finally, as I wait for this crazy year to come to an end and the anxiety builds, God continues to put people and things into my life to remind me that despite the yoyo of the Army timeline,  the Christmas ‘stuff’ that I feel needs done, and the house that’s not ready, I am truly His and He is enough.

Yesterday, I listened to Matt Chandler’s sermon “Substance over Shadows.” Through his sermon and God’s word, I was reminded that the Christmas season –beautiful shadow; my husband –loving devoted shadow; and my girls –joyous shadow. Christ alone is our substance and everything else that was given to us through Him is merely a shadow of what we have in him. It’s so easy to focus on what I don’t have in this moment: the house, Christmas, my parents, my husband…but when I focus on Jesus, the anxiety falls away and everything else becomes a lovely shadow reminding me of all His glorious promises as I wait.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head, the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:15-18

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17

Both Jen and I  pray that this season you remember He is all you need – He is the substance. All else?  Merely shadows. 

Comments

  1. Nicole Finch says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I often grumble and complain about mundane things and I need to realize more that He is all I need.

    • Jennifer Ireland says:

      Much easier said than done 🙂 I’m actively trying to say a prayer of Thanks for even the small things when I catch myself getting tired, grumpy, overwhelmed….certainly doesn’t just magically transform my attitude, but most definitely is chipping away 🙂 Thank you for taking your time and reading our story!Merry Christmas Nicole!!

  2. May God bless you Jennifer for the heartwarming story. I received a tremendous blessing when I read that your husband had ask Jesus into his heart. God is so Good…All the Time!! Ashamed as I am I find myself grumbling about things that makes no difference at all in the scheme of things. Thank you for reminding me that God is all that matters. I certainly will keep you and your husband in my prayers as with all the other military men/women and their families makes such a sacrifice to allow us to live in the land of the free!!

    P.S. Bless your heart Sarah for asking Jennifer to post this to your blog.

    • Jennifer Ireland says:

      It’s so easy to grumble….fall into this trap way too often. But, when I stop myself and realize how big and awesome and faithful our God is, makes it so much easier to stay on track 🙂 thank you for taking time out of your day to read this and pray for us! Merry Christmas Tammy!!

  3. “Shadows”…another great way of putting things in perspective! Love you, Ireland family, and prayers for some rest and restoration for 2012!!! It’s coming!!!

  4. Thank you for opening your heart and posting your story. My family did 20 cards this yer for Holiday Mail for Heroes. It touched me more than I expected giving thanks for duty and sacrifice! I have no idea who will receive my note but for a moment I felt connected. How wonderful that your husband has received the LORD! HE is the perfect gift and all we need during the holidays or anytime! May you have a Merry Christmas and 2012 be your season of harvest! P.S. Tuesday is our trash night and it seems always in the rain…lol

    • Jennifer Ireland says:

      Lisa, thank you for sending cards to soldiers 🙂 I take sucb comfort that the guys receive so much love from our communities while their away, takes some weight off the families’ shoulders to know others are sending them love too!! Merry Christmas!! and prayers we have no more rain on Tuesdays!!

  5. I’m a few days behind in coming to this post, but I’m glad I didn’t miss it. Your candor, Jennifer, is powerful. You have given voice to a large group that is oftentimes voiceless and underscored the truth of John Milton’s words…”they also serve who only stand and wait.”

    Also, a beautiful testimony to what a church and Christian community can be. May God give back to you the time that seems eaten. Peace to you.

    • Jennifer Ireland says:

      Marilyn, Thank you so much for all your prayers and love over the past year! I feel so blessed to have God cross our pathes this year and share your story and service!! Merry Christmas!!

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