Today in America we celebrate our Veterans. This is especially poignant for me because I’m married to one. Aaron enlisted in the Marines during college and found out he was going to Iraq shortly after we started dating. He spent a year training for and completing his deployment before safely returning home. On occasion it occurs to me that things could have been very, very different. Sometimes I have a little flashback to those days of wondering “Will I ever see him alive again?” when I see a supportive bumper sticker or hear a clueless person rant about war and the middle east, and my heart jumps to my throat whenever I hear a phone with the same ring tone I used while Aaron was in Iraq. I call these things my own “mini post-traumatic-stress” episodes. I mentioned that I had a small kitchen disaster yesterday and my 4-year-old glasses protected my eyelids from strands of hot, exploding squash. As I reflect on the kindness of God’s common protection there, it’s very humbling and a little terrifying to know my own husband’s life was preserved by a much grander series of unknown providential defenses.
I can’t say exactly what reflections Aaron would offer, but on this Veteran’s Day I’ll share some of what I first wrote to friends and family shortly after Aaron’s return from Iraq four-and-a-half years ago.
Have you appreciated the legs and arms and lives of the people you love today?
It is no secret that everyone is “dealt a different hand” in the “card game of life.” God plans different things for each of us. I don’t understand why some things happen to me and not to other people. Why do I have the life I do when others face different circumstances? Why did I get this life and not someone else’s?
My boyfriend was deployed for a year. For seven months he was serving in Iraq, fighting at the front lines. Lots of men in his battalion were killed. This country needs many brave men and women to serve in different capacities. Some work on computers or cook on the bases. Others, like Aaron, kick in doors and perform raids. These men are made almost entirely vulnerable to attacks of the enemy during their operations. On the relationship side of things, his sporadic phone calls were quite infrequent, poorly connected, and very short. I prayed fervently for him every day, and am overwhelmingly grateful for his safe return.
While he was deployed, I found myself occasionally considering the mystery of God’s will that this man was for me and in danger so far away when others can spend a lifetime without dealing with anything nearly so harrowing. Now that he is home, I find myself marveling the Divine plan with a totally different perspective. Why is it I get my love home safe and free from injury when others don’t get a safe return, or any return at all?
At his homecoming, when the families lined the walkway where our Marines marched into the gymnasium, we saw men coming in on crutches, in wheelchairs, missing arms. In the crowd, I saw a man cradling an inconsolable woman. Was she just an emotional mother, aware that her healthy son battled the same terrorists these men did? Was one of these wounded men her son — carried inside her body for nine months, raised for two decades and then sent to war? Did this woman have a son who died in Iraq and should have returned with these men? I don’t know who she was and I don’t know her story, but I can’t forget her tears.
After Aaron’s return, when I was still at school, someone gigglingly said: “I bet you are glad to have him home in one piece!” It made me want to cry. By the grace of God, I don’t even remember who said that to me. They certainly hadn’t seen the same scene I did at Aaron’s homecoming. Many people have used the “in one piece” phrase in conversation with me and I never know how to respond. It isn’t that I don’t like having Aaron home safely; I have never been more glad about anything in my life. Referring to someone as being “in one piece” is relevant for this situation precisely because some people don’t come home in one piece. Or come home at all. And I don’t think it is cute or thoughtful to reference that sad fact in the least.
I am fully, completely, absolutely thankful for Aaron’s safe return and I am so proud of him. Unlike those who throw powerful words around tritely, I know what it is to be glad that someone is in one piece.
I am so glad last year is over!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. …Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. – Psalm 23, king james version.