I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things I take for granted. Blessings of everyday life, like being able to turn a knob on the kitchen sink so clean water flows into my glass. Loading the washer with detergent and more clean water, instead of scrubbing clothes in a dirty stream. Heading off to church on Sunday morning without fear of persecution or arrest.
My lifestyle isn’t showy, but it’s comfortable. It’s what I’ve enjoyed for my entire life, a byproduct of freedom. I’m well aware, though, that freedom is not free. It has been paid for by generations of patriotic types who were willing to step out of their comfortable cocoons and serve their country well. I learned early on in our marriage what it means to commit to a military man. Together, we learned how to create a sense of home wherever our country sent us.
I’m 23 years old, and my plane has touched down 7,000+ miles from home. My husband meets our toddler son and I at Frankfurt International Airport, and hugs us like he’ll never let us go. We’re amazed that all three pieces of luggage have arrived safely, and within minutes we’re heading up the autobahn towards home. We chatter nonstop, trying to make up for the five months we’ve been apart. Home for the next three years will be a cozy two-bedroom place on the second floor of an American apartment complex. Welcome to the world of military families who are skilled at sinking roots, making new friends, and adapting quickly to a new environment.
Yet…I’m hungry, jet-lagged, and already homesick.
Delivery trucks scream past, their sides plastered with words that I can neither pronounce nor understand. A few miles later, rain is slapping the windshield like a mood-detector. The wipers beat a monotonous rhythm that my weary brain interprets as, “You’re stuck! You’re stuck! You’re stuck!”
A good night’s sleep works wonders. I awaken refreshed and happy to be living under the same roof with my husband again. In the following weeks, I’m convinced that God often works best when one feels stuck. I pore over the book of Jeremiah, where it describes the Israelites’ adjustment to their new life as exiles in Babylon. I’m certainly not in exile, but the advice God gave to his people back then also rings fresh and true in this new chapter of my life: “Build houses and make yourselves at home. Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.” (Jeremiah 29:5, The Message)
In other words, sink roots. Trust God. Carry on as usual.
So, with a determination to make the most of my time overseas, I think of reasons to celebrate our new surroundings; small, shaky steps that fuel my enthusiasm. I ask God to renew my mind and open my heart to new experiences, sort of like little Samuel in the Old Testament: “Speak, Lord…I’m listening.”
Within days, I meet two new friends who also happen to share my Christian faith. We talk about the churches we left behind, and the ladies’ fellowship groups we belonged to in the U.S. It seems only natural to begin a new fellowship, and we invite others to join us every Thursday morning at my house. Over the next six months, our group of three grows into a circle of almost thirty women! We split into two groups and take turns hosting. God is hard at work changing not only us, but our community.
God soon opens another door, as well. I apply for a job with the local military chaplaincy and am hired for a position that includes greeting newcomers with “welcome packets”. The packets are filled with practical information about our community and the surrounding German countryside and culture. It’s a perfect opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of other military families, who often feel like their lives have been shaken up and blasted out of a time tunnel. It’s a paid position, but in my heart it feels more like ministry. Young wives far from home respond well to the outreach. I invite them to our Bible study, and our numbers continue to grow.
Three years overseas pass surprisingly fast. Our family has increased in number from three to four. On the morning of our return flight, I’m not at all surprised when my eyes suddenly cloud with tears at the sight of our temporary home fading from view. What began as a dreaded assignment became a period of memory-making opportunities and a chance to grow closer as a family and as believers. Over the course of three short years, the Lord transformed my homesick heart into a fertile garden plot. There, precious new relationships took root. New challenges stretched me as a person. The seeds He planted would grow into a bumper crop that not only met my immediate needs, but would continue to nurture my soul for many years to come.
Freedom isn’t free. It’s the hard work of men and women who willingly go when they’re sent, and who represent our country well. That freedom blossomed long before you and I were born, and with God’s blessing, will continue long after we’re gone.
©2008, Bonnie Bruno
For more slice-of-life stories, visit Bonnie’s Macromoments blog: http://macromoments.blogspot.com