I remember the stomach ache I had the morning I attended the elite military special operations class graduation that July morning. I became more nauseas as I listened to the Master of Ceremonies gloat and bellow about the absurd pride of this military unit. It was disgusting to me how much weight and glory was put into human striving and human achievement. I didn’t want to see my young husband become part of something that would puff him and make him feel like he had finally achieved the gold standard. I wanted a humble, present, compassionate husband. Instead, I felt that after six months of training and eight months of marriage that I had been given an arrogant pompus-ass for a husband.
I never thought I’d see what it was like for my husband to endure rigorous, mind-numbing, grueling militant training that forced him to suffer and willingly suffer and find a way to survive. That was all of six months and then POW training as well. But I witnessed it the day my husband fought through sweat and tears to save our daughter’s life and I watched him for months into years fight for survival in the memory of her sudden death. When I hear of war heroes and how they drug their half blown body out of a trench, how they ran for their lives from the enemy, how they carried their bloodied colleagues through mine fields- I saw my husband live that when his daughter had died.
He stood in the hospital room by her bed where she lay newborn and lifeless and screamed, clutching the box of her hair lock and her clothes she’d been wearing that night, “NO! NO! I want my daughter back! NO GOD! NO!” He tore at the wood deck of our house when he’d come home from the hospital without Heidi. He writhed and thrashed and screamed out and pulled at his face. He tore at his clothes. He wept bitterly and shouted at God. He clung to people with the grip of a bear and wouldn’t let them go from holding him up while he cried out in turmoil and agony. In the days following, he would fall asleep and then wake up in terror- screaming horribly and in cold sweat. He went from being an unwavering soldier to being like a desperate child- he feared being alone, he feared falling asleep, he feared living in our town, he feared losing me, he feared seeing death, he feared the darkness of tomorrows. His mind and his heart were reduced to mere weakness and was like that of jelly. He went from a man of great success to a man of broken pieces. It was as if there was nothing left of him but a shell and there was a ghost inside.
BUT. My husband’s story did not end there. It was as if his legs had been blown off in the trench; it was as if he had an enemy who was trying to destroy his freedom; it was as if he were carrying bodies through a mine field. I watched him drag himself from one counseling session to another, from one trauma therapy session to another; I watched him read and write and seek to process with people he trusted and professionals who wanted to help; I watched him choose not to drink himself into a drunken numbness; I watched him determine to stay the course of his career and overcome his traumatic flashbacks; I watched him fight for our marriage and choose to change the things he didn’t actually want to change; I watched him pray and pray and pray over our family and our future and our hopes and our griefs; I watched him fall in love with our second daughter and our first son; I watched him support me even when he didn’t have the emotional strength; I watched him fail and fail and fail and then get back up to try what only Christ can do- succeed in the face of death and the hope of eternal glory.
Watching your spouse suffer is one of life’s greatest agonies. It can tear us up and throw away the key. But God. My husband is not a Saint (not yet anyway ;). He is just a man. That God did not abandon. And this son of His clung to Him and has fought for freedom in life’s greatest grief.