Imagine growing up in an America with no war. That’s hard to imagine for us Millennials, but there was a time - not too long ago - where America was involved in no wars for almost 20 years.
Cathy’s upbringing was quintessentially American - she was blessed to be raised in the church during the time America wasn’t engaged in war. Things were peaceful and pretty predictable. And the tests of her faith revolved around normal life situations: relationships, college and career decisions, etc.
Cathy married her husband Oscar and became an army wife. But becoming an army wife in the late 1980s meant something very different than it does today. The possibility of a deployment in the late ‘80s just wasn’t something that crossed your mind. Everyone was accustomed to the peacetime culture.
You can imagine how Cathy’s entire world was turned upside down the night her husband received an alert and, shortly thereafter, flew off to the Middle East to fight in Desert Storm.
They had been married a year. Oscar was an Artillery Battery Commander - a grueling and demanding job. He was just finishing up his 18 months of Command time. They were relieved to be wrapping up that chapter to begin - hopefully - an easier job. Little did they know he wouldn’t be relinquishing that Command job until he was in the Saudi desert.
It was Oscar’s birthday and his parents were in town when he received the alert. Within three weeks, the entire division had deployed. Fort Stewart and the surrounding community was a ghost town.
Driving Oscar to the airfield for that final farewell was most certainly one of the most intense and devastating moments of their young marriage. They had never done this before and there were no clear details about the mission; they didn’t know where he would be going, how long he would be there, what he would be doing, or really anything except that he was likely going to war.
Family support groups or FRGs didn’t exist in the army like they do today and there were no cell phones or internet. As an army wife, you were truly on your own when your husband deployed.
“I can't believe this is actually happening.”
Along with all the other couples, Cathy and Oscar stood on opposite sides of the airfield fence, holding hands and bidding their final farewell through the chain links. The farewell certainly felt like it could be the last.
After their goodbyes, Cathy was completely alone for the nearly hour-long drive home. As you can imagine, it was a long and dangerous drive as she just sobbed and sobbed. The devastation sunk in deeper and deeper. The unknown, doubt, and fear took center stage.
To make matters worse, when she got home and opened the mail, she found a life insurance solicitation. Was this a sign? Did she really need another reminder that this could be it?
That first week was the absolute worst. She cried and cried and struggled to choke out a prayer.
“God, I did not sign up for this...If this is part of your plan, I’m not sure I want any part of you.”
Cathy had been a believer for as long as she could remember: she went to Christian school; she regularly attended church; she knew all the Bible answers. God had always been an intricate part of her life. But this was outside the norm; this was her crisis of faith.
“If this [life and death] is the control you have over everyone, I don't know if I want it.”
It was a very dark night of the soul. She laid everything she believed on the line.
“Am I going to believe that God is good? If Oscar dies, how is that good for me?”
After grappling with these realizations, doubts, and fear, Cathy hit a turning point. She thought of how she’d grown up seeing God to be faithful in so many different ways.
“If I’m not willing to put my trust in Him at this point in my life, what else would I do, where else would I go, who else am I believing in?”
Regardless of how alone and isolated she felt by her fear, she realized she had no one else to turn to. God was it. It was either Him or no one. The entire deployment was this discovery of how and where theology becomes biography. Trusting in Him turned the crucible of her faith into a lifelong love and relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, she had to live out whatever she said she believed about God.
From the day he left, it was one long, grueling month until she heard from Oscar.
Along with her newfound trust in God, Cathy learned to live her life while he lived his life there. There were countless big opportunities to trust Him throughout the deployment. Day in and day out she had to ask herself, “Am I going to believe that God is good no matter what?” She had to meditate on the truths God presented her. “Yes, I am going to choose to believe that God is in control, even though I don’t like it. I am going to believe even though I don’t understand.”
Oscar had left in August, landed in September, and in January the big bombing campaign to start the invasion began.
“Looking out the window at night – the same stars I see at night, my husband sees, and God put them there. He made our worlds closer.”
Whenever there was a knock at the door, her body would freeze - afraid of who was on the other side and what news they would bear. She learned to listen to the sound to make sure it was just the mailman. She had to learn to open the door as each knock became an opportunity to lean into Him.
Thankfully, Desert Storm was the fastest and most decisive war in American history and Oscar was home by mid-March.
Cathy remembers saying, “Thank you God for ending this. Now I don’t have to do this again because I learned all my lessons.” So you can imagine her shock when the next deployment came and was scratching her head…“I thought I learned my lesson.”
Military life has a built in reminder system that God is truly our husband. He uses every lonely, fearsome night to draw us closer to Him. For He is the ultimate source of security, peace, and love. Our Father manifests His love through the love of other people - but even when those people are gone, His love remains.