The Longest, Most Unexpected Good-bye

I am a military spouse.

My husband is a pilot with nearly fifteen years of service under his belt; I’ve tagged along for thirteen of those. We spent the first five years of our marriage overseas, traveling both Europe and Asia. Afterwards, we returned to the States where my son was born, along with a daughter three years later. In the eight years since we’ve been back, we’ve moved four times to three different states, the last one coming just a few months ago.

In short, I live life as a nomad. It’s all I’ve known in my adult life. It’s what I’m used to, what I’ve come to expect.

But nothing prepared me for a move in the middle of a global pandemic.

Somehow, no matter how short or long a time you spend in a place, it inevitably becomes home. You develop a routine. You find a community. You become comfortable. And, even though you know it’s coming, there is a certain kind of grief associated with each new assignment, each order to leave the familiar and venture into yet another new unknown. Boxes have to be packed. Good-byes have to be said. Ties must be severed.

Grief, fear, uncertainty–it’s all part of a move. This time, however, we also had COVID.

We arrived at our new home at the end of May, just as lockdown restrictions were starting to lift across most of the country. By the time the physical part of the move was over–boxes unpacked, rooms painted, shelves decorated–many of those same restrictions were starting to be put back into place, due to rising case numbers.

Essentially, we were back on lockdown again. Only this time, we were in a new town and a new neighborhood with new housemates–anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

Moving leaves you in a state of limbo: you don’t belong anymore to the place you left but you don’t quite feel home in your new home either. That takes getting out, exploring, meeting friends.

All things we weren’t able to do with the COVID restrictions.

Despite our beautiful new home in our lovely new neighborhood, I felt homeless.

My heart felt empty. I struggled with praying. I snapped at my kids, felt inexplicable anger towards my husband, broke into tears for no reason. My soul was choked with an apprehension I couldn’t name.

We’d traveled so much over the past several years, and yet for the first time I was lost.

Slowly I began to realize that the pandemic did more than just change the world; it changed me. Confined inside the walls of my previous house for over two months, I had begun to view my home as my safety net. Out there was scary but in here I was safe. COVID had disrupted my routine, but I had created a new one. And while chaos reigned outside, in here I had control.

Not only that, but my very sense of identity and self-esteem had been changed. At our previous location, my community, my friends, my role was defined. The outside world had changed, but I knew who I was, how I should act, what I should do. Because even though I was inside my bubble, I was still a part of that community, I was still communicating with my friends, I still had a role to play. Here–without those social signifiers–I didn’t even know who I was anymore.

I talked a good deal about trusting God through all the changes, but moving brought into harsh light just how poor a job I was actually doing following through with those commands.

I was reminded of the story of the Israelites and their forty years of wandering in the desert. Their plight makes my feeling of homelessness laughable; they truly were homeless! Chased from Egypt yet forbidden from entering the promised land, their state of limbo was excruciating physical as well as mental. The grief they felt at their loss and their desire for the familiar was so great that they actually begged to go back to Egypt–the land in which they had been enslaved!

And yet during this time of limbo, of fear, and yes, even of sin, God never left them. They may have left behind all that was known and yet they were never truly facing the unknown because God Himself–the God of all days–had already planned and purposed for their journey. As He reminded them at the end of their exile, “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked for anything.” (Deuteronomy 2:7)

You see, everything changes…except God. He has promised to be with us (Matthew 28:20) and our physical location does not change that. God is just as much with me here in my new home as He was in my old home. He did not allow the Air Force to move us to a new town just to abandon me here. The world may make me feel alone; it may make me feel deserted. But that’s only when I allow my security and my identity to rest in the things of this world–like the home that is no longer my home or the community I left behind.

No matter where my body rests, I am a child of God. No matter what friends I make, I am a child of God. No matter what church we find, what school my kids attend, what squadron my husband serves, I am a child of God. Every single one of those things has changed–and will probably change again–and yet I will remain a child of God.

He is where my security lives. He is where my identity lives. And, while grief over goodbye is normal, healthy, and expected, He and He alone is also where the healing lives.

He has called me to a life with shallow earthly roots so that my spiritual ones will be that much firmer. A life of continuous change requires a constant not limited to one place or one person; military life has shown me this, but COVID has driven the point home.

“So then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Plant your roots in the only soil that never erodes, friends: Jesus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s