Between Lakes and Oceans

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It’s getting to the end of our time in Georgia. We are checking items off our bucket list such as visiting SeaWorld one last time or eating at our favorite burger joint in Savannah. As a chaplain family, we can expect to move every two to three years, but specific training or “school” can mean as little as six months in a post. This means that about the time a place starts to feel normal, we leave. But moving house is just one piece of the story.

It is wise for military chaplains to experience many different types of battalions early in their career as it prepares them for the duties of higher ranks. This means that my husband went from a cavalry squadron (the soldiers heading into a war zone to do reconnaissance, but they ride helicopters, humvees, or tanks instead of horses) to a support battalion (the soldiers stabilizing the wounded, fixing humvees, hauling water and food, and generally keeping everything and everyone running). Our new adventure that begins this summer is hospital chaplaincy training. My husband will be the chaplain at a soldier’s bedsides when he or she is suffering the aftermath of the ugliest war has to offer. It is, as a mentor put it, “Ranger School for chaplains.”

This life is in stark contrast to my childhood experience. My family lived in the same house and my dad worked at the same job my entire childhood. We practically wore a rut in the road from our house to my maternal grandparents’ home on the other side of the lake. We were as settled as we could be in our neighborhood, church, and homeschool group, and sometimes I miss that feeling of stability and familiarity. I look at pictures of my birthday parties, the faces mostly the same each year, and ponder that my children will never have the same set of friends longer than a few years. I think of that rut in the lake road and mourn that grandparents will always be hours or days away. FaceTime calls only reach so far, and wanderlust suppresses homesickness only so long. It’s why you hear experienced military wives talk about “forever homes” with wistful looks and long sighs.

But as I have pondered how this life has affected me so far, I keep coming back to euryhaline fish. Stay with me through some science talk.

Homeostasis is how an organism regulates its biological processes to maintain optimal functioning in its environment. If you have or know someone who has insulin-dependent diabetes, you know exactly how this works. In a diabetic one of the mechanisms of homeostasis has broken down and the person must consciously monitor and regulate blood sugars and insulin to survive. All organisms adapt to their environments, but there are limits to how far that adaptation stretches. Most fish can survive only in either fresh or salt water. If you take a fish from the ocean and toss it in a lake, its cells will take on water until they burst and the fish becomes an ex-fish. But a euryhaline fish can survive and thrive in both fresh and salt water because they can regulate the amount of water that enters their cells.

Okay, stop nodding off. I have an important point to make!

Everyone experiences change, but with the military it is often sudden and extreme. One of my friends moved from Georgia to Japan with barely a month’s notice. Another came to Georgia from Germany. In cultural, social, and spiritual terms, I’d call that the equivalent of being picked up out of the ocean and thrown into a lake. And as in homeostasis, the work that must be done to survive that type of change is internal. You can hang new curtains, paint a wall, discover new parks for the kids, and expand your palate, but survival depends on your heart.

As my husband begins the next chapter of his job in a brand-new city, we will encounter situations I cannot imagine, and if our marriage and ministry are to thrive, I have to adapt at the heart level. I am a cerebral sort who leads with facts and logic, so I’m reading Grunt by Mary Roach to get my head around what he will see in the hospital from day to day. While I house hunt on Zillow, I pray for a sensitive compassionate spirit that is tender when he is hurting at the end of a long day. While I look for churches, play groups, museums, and hiking trails, I memorize verses on how God binds up wounds and is close to the brokenhearted. This fish intends to survive and thrive no matter where He sends me.

Maybe one of those places I’ll finally figure out how to grill salmon.

Oh look! We found Dory!

Oh look! We found Dory!

Sandpaper Hearts

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Over ten years ago my fiance and I were sitting in the pastor’s office for premarital counseling. We were barely in our twenties, trying to finish college degrees and find part-time jobs that would pay the rent for married student housing after the wedding. After passing us folders filled with questionnaires and devotions on marriage, the pastor cleared his throat and said, “Let’s start with this. A good marriage is like sandpaper. God will use your spouse to smooth out the rough edges in your character if you let Him.” I thought that was a nice metaphor, but we were still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. I had no idea what it really meant.

Our first argument was about the bathroom towels. One evening he came out of the bathroom and said, “Okay, you have got to stop.”

“Huh?”

“You’re hanging the towels wrong.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The towels in the bathroom!”

“Uhh…”

I was hanging the towels “wrong”. They were supposed to be hung on the bar so the folded edge faced the door. I stared at my new husband carefully creasing and smoothing our green bath towels and wondered for a moment if he’d lost his mind.

“Hubby, you’re lucky I’ve hung them up at all, much less thought about which direction the fold faces.”

“You can’t keep doing this! It’s wrong!”

After a good ten minutes of exasperated explanation on his part and incredulous laughter on mine, we came to a compromise of folding the towels in thirds so that no matter how I hung them, a creased edge would face the door. It was my first scrape against my husband’s need for order and orderliness, and I caught a glimpse of what the pastor meant about sandpaper. It took us almost eight years to realize he was so picky about the towels because he was in the middle of Officer Candidate School where they had to make every room identical right down to the towels in the bathroom. I still fold the towels in thirds.

After ten years of marriage, there have been countless other scuffs and scratches. I’m a chatterbox while my hubby can go for hours without speaking. He is a calm even-keeled man who rarely gets angry. I’m easily excited, easily discouraged, and easily irritated. He likes to buy presents and treat me and our children to trips, meals, and other fun things. My friends tease me about my gargantuan collection of unused gift cards and my unspent Christmas money from 2014. I’m barely on time or late to every appointment. He’s fifteen minutes early. Every argument or problem has exposed rough places.

Because of my husband I realized I’m a really bad listener.

Because of him I have had to apologize for laziness more times than I can count.

Because of him I know just how arrogant I am and how much I need to learn humility.

Because of him I have seen how my complaining made good jobs bad, bad jobs worse, and miserable situations almost unbearable.

Because of him I was convicted that my temper wasn’t truly under control, no matter how much I claimed it was.

Because of him I have seen how ugly my heart can be.

I’m grateful.

After ten years we don’t look like we did when we met in the lobby of the men’s dorm as juniors, outside or inside. We have more wrinkles, gray hair, and scars. Our sandpaper hearts have been scraping against each other, scouring and scrubbing until we both have tender, even raw places in our souls. But this isn’t the cold unfeeling process of entropy. We are being shaped by the hand of the Carpenter, and the coming glory is worth the discomfort.

 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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