Keep the End in Mind
Thoughts of reintegration for Larry and me always began before he even left. Looking ahead is a powerful motivator--the childlike mindset of counting down to Christmas, the high school student's thought of college, the young woman's dream of marriage, the young father's hope of one day naming his son.
Looking ahead motivates us to live, work, and plan while we wait--and it is the key to living in the present with energy and hope.
When Larry and I had our pre-deployment talks, we focused on coming back together. We envisioned long walks, picnic lunches with the children, standing on the beach and holding hands as we marveled at God's handiwork, silently and verbally thanking God for our reunion.
This looking ahead perspective had its practical side, too. As we purposed to begin with the end in mind, we had to decide what that looked like in pre-deployment, mid-deployment, and post-deployment. This minimized the emotion of departure and separation for both of us. It exposed the frightening unknown. Practically, looking ahead meant several things.
Preparing for Deployment
First, we would keep life as normal as possible. Attending church, helping the children with homework, making plans for purchases--we refused to put regular things on hold.
Next, we forced ourselves to talk openly about concerns, anxieties, missed celebrations, and the "what ifs." This included talking to the children, bringing them in on the vision for what God might want to do for us--and through us--in this separation, and allowing them to voice their fears.
Finally, it necessitated careful thinking and planning. I wrote Larry letters to take with him. Larry wrote notes to the children that they would read later. He recorded himself reading several bedtime stories so we could connect with him as we prepared for bed each night. The children did their part by hiding notes in his socks and books. Because we were actively anticipating our separation, we were not being controlled by it but were cultivating closeness--a unity that would nourish us in the months to come.
The first letter I wrote to Larry characterizes our mid-deployment approach to reintegration. "Keep putting the positive spin on everything. Really get involved with the chapel program. Seek to invest yourself into the lives of other men. What an impact you have made in the lives of the men here! Do that at your deployed location. Be consistent in your Bible time; that encourages us greatly and builds you up. Get aggressive with the must do's (whatever they are). Set goals again--short and long-term--so we can be ready when God shows us what's next. Memorize Philippians 4:8 on the plane."
The words I wrote to Larry were ones I had to put into practice myself, a decision which made our time apart productive, and insured that we would stay in pace with each other. Near the end of that first letter I reminded Larry of what a friend had written in his Bible. "No Reserves! No Retreat! No Regrets!" I continued: "Give yourself fully to the work of God there. Don't turn back when things get hard. Move away from regret and on to victory."
Those are good words for us spouses as we face deployment after deployment. Move away from regret. Look to the future victory when you can tell others how God strengthened you.
Three Simple Steps
A unified, optimistic view toward separation will maximize the reintegration process. Three simple ground rules will help.
First, communicate expectations and feelings before his return and routinely after the return. Listen to each other's heart. Really listen.
Next, the mutual exchange of needs, and expectations must happen--without demands. This exchange can be open and friendly. Remember the way we bartered as children: "You do my dishes, and I'll fold your laundry."
Finally, be willing to give and take, free of grudging and false assumptions. And don't pull rank! Reintegration is no time to "grasp" or demand your rights. Christ did not grasp onto His equality with God but humbled Himself.
Such positive, healthy reunions are possible. They happen most often to couples and families who begin with the end in mind, who determine to thrive--not simply survive--during deployments.
But what if the spouse returns physically or emotionally injured? What if either spouse was unfaithful during the separation? What if the heart of one or the other grew tired and cold from going it alone? What if numerous "life events" occurred, which have created a wall between the two?
Unexpected troubles of life happen in all marriages! Reintegration will look remarkably different for those with such challenges, but resources are available, and God is near.
Don't quit when your best intentions and plans don't work out. Don't turn back when life gets hard. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.(Jeremiah 29:11)
If you say, "Lord, this is not what I expected," His response will be "This is not the end."