Between Lakes and Oceans: Surviving Change as a Military Spouse
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 in 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 saltwater 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, playgroups, 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.