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494 || Foul-Weather Friends

When my husband went to Afghanistan, I knew things would be difficult, and I knew communication would likely be hit and miss. I knew he would be tired, and I would be tired, and that would make things hard. In short, I knew I would have a hard time trying to connect or communicate with my man half the world away.

What I didn’t expect was the inability to connect or communicate with my old friends who were right there, only miles away.

Unexpected Shift

I moved home from Denver that summer and decided against returning to school during his deployment to Afghanistan. I believed being near family and old friends would help carry me through the experience. But I’d heard that expectations can ruin relationships, and I would soon learn how true that is.

When I moved home, I expected my old friends would rally around me like I imagined I would for them. I expected them to meet me for coffee. I expected them to reach out with a text or a phone call to check in. I expected what felt normal to expect from old friends. But what I failed to factor into my expectations equation was an unconsidered truth: None of my friends had ever experienced a deployment.

Very few even knew a service member, much less had a loved one deploy. On top of that, most deployments at the time had experienced no true combat. So, as the deployment got underway and the battalion lost nine men within the first three weeks, my friends dropped out of my life like stones.

To be fair, I did absolutely nothing to stay connected to them either. At the first hint of desertion, I closed all doors to my childhood friendships. I made sure that when they did finally touch base, they would be met with a cold shoulder.

I felt abandoned and small.

I’d grown up telling people who were in hard situations they were never alone. I reminded people constantly that God was with them, and He promised He would never leave them. As the hours slipped into days, however, I felt I couldn’t be sure He meant the same promise for me.

I started to pray for any friends who might understand — or at least be more available to talk to. I decided to reach out to women in the same position. First, I looked at a list of my husband’s platoon-mates. Then, I went to Facebook and searched for them on his friends list. This was before a profile could be private, so it was easy to find their wives and send a message and a friend request. On my first attempt, I sent out some five messages. One girl responded, Jess.

A Cynic

I’d heard about Jess at a family “mandatory fun day” the Marine Corps threw right before the deployment began. They served burgers, and some live band played while we were supposed to get to know each other. I sat awkwardly, trying to make conversation with my husband and five other Marines, when one of their wives called out to her husband. The boy picked up and walked away.

The whole table made remarks about her. By all accounts, she was drop-dead gorgeous — the kind of girl any man would be lucky to have. She was lean and tan and perfectly put together. They didn’t know how the boy had managed to get her, and they were a table full of envy.

I was nervous to send her a message, but I was desperate for anyone in the same shoes. Her response showed signs she was totally creeped out by my contacting her. Thankfully, she decided to push through her understandable cynicism at my thin grasps at friendship and gave me her phone number.

The days that followed our husbands’ deployment were mutually difficult, and we began to text back and forth when things became especially trying.

We were both newlyweds. Actually, we’d been married on the same day in August. We’d chosen similar men, similar dresses and the same color scheme.

At first we thought we were very different people. Jess was organized to the last detail – I tended to fly by the seat of my pants. Jess was direct and assertive – I was, well, a doormat. But when I started to truly get to know her, I found we were more similar than we realized. We were both swimming in an ocean of fear, self-doubt and shaky hope. We were both painfully in love with men in danger. We were both trying to make the best of ourselves and our situation, sometimes successfully, sometimes with failure — in tears and yelling at nothing.

Within weeks, Jess and I became each other’s closest confidante. Suddenly, I felt less alone in a seemingly insane nightmare. Having a friend, even a distant one, in my corner rejuvenated me enough to push through the weary and impossible days.

Not Alone

During that first deployment, Jessica and I carefully mapped out life after deployment. Together we traveled to California to search out apartments. We moved into the same development days apart. Our doors were less than ten steps from each other. When the boys came home, we enjoyed time all together. As the two men dealt with the culture shock of coming home, Jess and I dealt with the ups and downs of being newlyweds all over again.

She was a true godsend.

For over a year, I looked to God with scrutiny at the unexpected journey He had taken me on. When I hit walls searching for answers, He reminded me of the gift He gave me in Jess — another woman in the same boat, one who didn’t shy away from difficult days and who told me like it was when my emotions were confusing and thin.

When I couldn’t hear God’s voice clearly, He often delivered grace through Jess.

All Kinds of Weather

Jess and I walked two deployments together. When our husbands left the Marine Corps, we stayed closely in touch, seeing each other as often as possible. Eventually, Jess called with the news that her husband was re-enlisting in the reserves. Soon after, I was calling her with news that my husband was joining the Army.

We both lamented together and talked out why we understood their desire to serve. Lots of hard conversations with Jess bolstered my spirits and cleared my head through training operations, deployment timelines and long nights alone. She provided constant encouragement.

When my husband first deployed, God knew I couldn’t walk the long path alone. So He sent me Jess. Seven-and-a-half years later, God knows my deepest fear still is being alone. He knows I have doubted Him. He knows I will likely doubt Him again.

I feel Him acknowledge my weakness and this fickle faith that reminds me so of my humanity. Then He prompts me to think of the friends He has placed along the rocky road who have uplifted the worst days and brought balance with their unfaltering resolutions of friendship.

And when I feel at my lowest, it is not uncommon to get a text out of the blue from Jess or one of my other dear friends. And though their words don’t say it, in them I can hear Jesus say to me,  “You are not alone.”

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