Double Duty

for a Solo Spouse

by Marshéle Carter Waddell

America is an exhausted, frenzied, sleep-deprived nation on a senseless, ruthless treadmill speeding headlong into tomorrow's to-do list. Our calendars stay so packed with so much activity that we don't even really know how tired we are. We sense that something isn't right, but we haven't had the time or energy to figure it out.

There are many reasons why women in particular are tired to the bone. Many of us are often alone in life's responsibilities and are forced to carry the load solo. Military spouses, like civilian spouses married to businessmen who travel constantly, face weeks, months, and years of keeping the home fires burning by themselves.

There is one guarantee in the life of a military wife: Everything that can possibly go wrong will and usually does within hours or days of the husband's departure.

For instance, within the first four days of one of my husband's deployments, the car died in the middle of a lonely, eight-mile stretch of towering green, Hawaiian sugar cane; I discovered a ten-pound rat had taken up residence in my kitchen; the air conditioner unit fell in through my bedroom window in the middle of the night (explain those physics!); and the plumbing system coughed, gagged, then spewed forth a grotesque fountain of sewage from every sink, tub, and shower drain throughout the entire house, while base housing's emergency maintenance hotline stayed busy for over an hour!

I have one question: Why does none of this craziness happen when my husband is home? Life seems to stay on the same predictable plateau, day in and day out, when he is around. The moment he departs, the winds shift and gusty weather moves in.

I mean that quite literally. The only ice storms that have caused major electrical power outages and the only hurricanes that have decided to move inland did so when Mark was 12 time zones away from us. As a result I learned how to close-off and warm a house with just four blazing burners of a gas stove and how to board up and duct tape the doors and windows of my house and map out the city's evacuation route.

Parenting has no pause button. The show goes on. I remember photographing my three children's faces up close to send to Mark when they all came down with extreme cases of chicken pox. I wanted him to see a glimpse of the "bonding experience" we had all endured for eight weeks. I also have had the dubious honor of answering the question for all three children over the years, the birds and the bees question. The time for discussing the facts of life arrived on the scene only when Mark wasn't.

Life's everyday demands are enough for a wife who is left behind to man, or should I say woman the oars. Add inclement weather, viral infections, the kids' attempts at mutiny, keeping the house from falling apart and the bouts of loneliness, and she has all the ingredients for the recipe of resentment.

I know women who, somewhere along the way, lost their soft, feminine side as a result of weathering life's storms alone for too long. They were torn from their moorings of gentle strength and feminine fortitude and are now sailing at top speed toward becoming the old, disheveled, gruff, sarcastic woman with shades on those Shoebox greeting cards. I've looked in the mirror and seen that woman looking back at me more than once.

My grandmother advised me years ago, "You are the woman you've been becoming." The transformations, whether good or bad, won't happen overnight, but one day at a time, bit by bit, situation by situation. One day we will each wake up, look in the mirror, and see what we've been becoming--a sweet, old lady or a mean, old hag.

Christ is Sufficient

There is only one catalyst, one agent of change that can reverse the negative effect this military lifestyle can have on the beauty and femininity of a woman. It is the recognition and reliance on Jesus Christ's total sufficiency for every challenge. He is in control, even when I'm not convinced, allowing that which works for my good and for His glory. He allows the faith-building circumstances into my life so I will learn to draw from Him the strength, the wisdom, and the love I need for every situation--including termites, chicken pox, and hurricanes. Every trial comes with His guarantee that He is enough, and that His grace will be there the moment I need it.

One Sunday, the small, eight-person group with which I sang was to do the special music during the morning service. We had prepared for weeks. I had rehearsed day and night the one line I was to sing solo. I had it down pat, or so I thought.

The congregation was assembled. All eyes were on us. The musical prelude crescendoed. I stepped forward to a microphone to sing out my one solo line. I opened my mouth and hollered, "Hark!" Then I went blank. I was wordless. The music played on. There was no covering this one up. The entire church knew I had flubbed up. There was no turning back. I just stood there with my mouth open.

Behind me, I could hear one of the male group members cuing me in a loud whisper the words I couldn't remember. With his help, unseen and unheard by the folks in the pews, I could have successfully sung the rest of my part but I was frozen in fright. I stepped backwards joining the ensemble again. We finished our piece, but I never fully recovered. Since that day, my family and I have laughed countless times about my silly solo, "Hark!"

My point is this: I didn't have to fail. My friend behind me had given me what I needed to finish well. He spoke the exact words I needed in that awful moment. I think about it now on days that close in on me, when all eyes are on me at home. If I will only listen to His calming voice behind me, I will know what to do and what to say in every circumstance.

God encourages me, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9). I find strength and rest in Him alone. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

I am realizing that I am not left alone to bear the burdens by myself. His name is Immanuel: God is with me. He has offered to carry my yoke in exchange for His, which is "easy and light" (Matthew 28:30). I am convinced He is aware of my needs even in the most trying, seemingly deserted moments. I know from experience that He stands ready and willing to meet those needs.

Just when I think I can't finish my solo, I hear His voice reminding me that we are in this thing together, that we are a team. I just need to listen to Him. The result is perfect harmony.

Adapted from Hope for the Home Front: Winning the Emotional and Spiritual Battles of a Military Wife by Marshele Carter Waddell. Used with permission from One Hope Ministry.

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