The clock struck midnight and I was still lying there wide awake. I had tried everything: Reading. Essential Oils. Praying. Gilmore Girls. Nothing was working. My flight would be leaving in few hours and I knew I needed rest. But my head and heart were working hard together to ensure I wouldn’t accidentally sleep through my 3:30 AM alarm. Like I was ever going to let that happen.
A selfless friend had spent the night so we could easily beat the sun to the airport. With tired eyes, she squeezed me goodbye and I swiftly turned to check in. Of course, my bag was over the weight limit. I’ve always been an over-packer. I could feel my stress level rising as I ripped open my suitcase and threw 2 nonmatching shoes and a handful of LARABARS into my already full purse, praying that would be enough to take it down 3 pounds. I could feel the glares from the line of people, who hadn’t had their coffee yet, behind me.
“Take a deep breath…only 8 more hours”, I kept reassuring myself.
I safely made it to Atlanta, where I had a 2 hour layover, before my highly anticipated flight to Honduras. It had been a couple of months since I had last seen my husband, who currently calls Honduras “home”. I impatiently paced around Concourse T, trying to remember the (not very detailed) instructions my husband had given me regarding my arrival. Unfortunately, he would have to work all day but he promised there would be a shuttle that would pick me up from the Tegucigalpa airport and drop me off at the Soto Cano Air Base, 2 hours later.
How will I know where to find the shuttle? Does it know what time I will arrive? Is it safe? Will the driver speak English? Will he help me with my bags? Do I need to pay him if he does? Will he take American dollars? … Question after question raced through my mind, knowing I wouldn’t have cell service when I touched down in Central America.
But then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a camouflage backpack hanging off a muscular, young man near my gate.
Hmm… Perhaps he is going where I’m going? If so, maybe he actually knows what he is doing? Maybe I can atleast follow him to feel safe? Maybe I should just ask him…? Ugh, but what if I’m wrong and he thinks I’m crazy? I mean, anyone could have a camo backpack. Okay. He doesn’t even know me… it will be fine… just do it, Brittany…
“Um excuse me, sir?, I don’t mean to assume… but I noticed your bag… is there any chance you’re going to Soto Cano Air Base?” He side smiled, observing the worry all over my face, “Yes, I am.”… “AH! Me too!! Any chance you’re taking a shuttle there from the airport?” … “Yep.” He held up his phone, “I just got an email confirming its pick up at 1300.” … “Really? Well would it be okay if I follow you when we get there? I’m not really sure what I’m doing.” … “Sure”, he chuckled, knowing he couldn’t say no.
Phew. Thank you, Lord, for blessings that come camouflaged. Deep breath.
Three hours later, we landed in Tegucigalpa and to my surprise there was a nicely dressed man holding a ‘Soto Cano Air Base’ binder when I reached customs. We made eye contact and he smiled like he had been waiting for me.
Hmm, well that was easy, maybe I was a little too worried after all. Sigh. What else is new?
My new ‘friend’ in camo pointed past me, making sure I had seen said man with binder. I gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up across the counter while mouthing “thank you”. It felt good to know someone was watching out for me. I grabbed my bag from the conveyer belt and quickly began to follow my new friends. There was now only a 2 hour bus ride between me and the moment I had been counting down the days until.
“Huuhhhh!!! … AHHHH!!!!”, I screamed, right before bursting into tears bawling my eyes out. Everyone turned to see what they had missed. That lying-“working all day”-stinker-husband of mine was standing 3 feet from me and I almost walked right by. “Surprise!”, he whispered into my ear as I soaked his shirt with tears. A moment I hope I’ll never forget.
No wonder he gave such little detail about the shuttle. I should have known. It suddenly all made sense. And suddenly all felt right.
We jumped on the shuttle as if we were leaving our wedding reception, holding hands and smiling from ear to ear. I introduced William to my ‘travel buddy’ and caught him up on our conversation back at the gate in Atlanta. William laughed at my innocence and my ‘travel buddy’ seemed relieved and thankful his job of letting me shadow him was over.
The ride to the base felt long, but I would have stayed on that bus all day next to that handsome Lieutenant whom I had missed so much. “I feel like I have so much to tell you but I’m trying really hard to spread it out”, I said, as I took a breath from talking his ear off. He smiled and continued to point out landmarks along the way. There was nothing that could bring me down the next 2 weeks.
We finally arrived at the base and luckily my military ID wasn’t one of the things I forgot at home. We exited the bus, said “Gracias!”, and transferred my bags to a golf cart named ‘Oscar’ (Am I the only one that thinks that ridiculously cute?). Oscar is William’s main form of transportation in Honduras and I was so grateful for him when I realized how far our walk to the living quarters would have been.
“Well, this is it”, William said, as we pulled up to a beige stucco building with a red tin roof. He proceeded to grab my bags and lead me inside.
It felt unusual entering my husband’s home. And I wasn’t prepared for my excitement to shift so much when I did. Obviously, I know he is deployed and living somewhere else, but entering through his door made it feel all too real. I now had a visual of his life apart from mine, from ours, and I wasn’t sure whether I felt relieved or uncomfortable. And unfortunately, that was just the beginning of my mixed feelings.
I plopped my suitcase down in a corner, squeezed between a dresser and a microwave. I tried to unpack but all of the drawers were already full. Moving to the bathroom, I tried to find space for my toiletries, but the shelves were full with shaving butters and hair gels. I quietly studied his bare but sufficient room, trying to take it all in (and ignoring the mess). “Would you like something to drink?”, William asked, like all southern gentlemen are taught to do when a guest is over.
That’s when it hit me. I was a guest in my husband’s home. Something most married couples never have to experience.
Trying to not waste any of our precious time together, we quickly ignored the things that felt hard, and decided to go to dinner. After all, food always makes things better. Right?
We got to the DFAC (Dining Facility) where I followed William’s every step, not wanting to do something wrong and embarrass him at “work”. We got in line for food that I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to eat (but knew I had to) and I worked hard to hold a pleasant face.
If only we were at home, I could be cooking William a healthy meal in our small but sweet kitchen right now. And then we could dance around to our favorite Ben Rector songs as we load the dishwasher.
I felt like I was back in middle school, standing there with my tray wondering where we were going to sit. I followed William to a long table of men and women (but mostly, men) in uniform and snagged a seat on the end. William began introducing me to his friends, and suddenly I wasn’t sure whether I felt relieved or uncomfortable again.
But these aren’t your friends. Your friends are at home in St. Louis, where we live. The people we go to church with and have over for bonfires. Friends that love us on good and bad days. Don’t you remember?
I shook their hands and told them it was nice to meet them. Because it was. I was thrilled (and not surprised) that William had made so many friends so quickly. And that he was on a softball team. And that he was already leading a men’s bible study. And that he already had plans for the 4th of July. I was truly happy and proud about all of these things. But it still stung me deep inside. And I debated how to tell him without upsetting him, as we drove Oscar ‘home’.
“This feels unnatural”, I began to cry. “What does?”, he questioned. “This. All of this. Us being married, but living apart. Sleeping in different beds. Eating from separate fridges. In different homes. In different COUNTRIES. With different friends. Eating different foods and watching different shows at night. I’m your wife.. not an old college friend. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! I hate this!”
“I know you do”, he said softly, trying to calm me down. “I don’t think God planned marriage to be lived apart with occasional visiting hours!“, I yelled, as I fell into his arms.
I think we were both surprised by my reaction to being there. What we expected to be 2 weeks of pure excitement quickly turned into a lot of excitement with a side of reality. Everything seemed to be a reminder that I’m simply a visitor that would come and go. But William would remain. And we would again have to go about our separate lives.
A few days passed and
our my emotions leveled out, as they always do. From there we made a choice to enjoy each day, knowing we would regret letting them slip by. Although William still had to work while I was there, many of our favorite things slowly reentered our routine: A kiss goodbye before work, singing and dancing while getting ready, writing in our journal, gin & tonics after work, eating dinner together, watching funny YouTube videos, praying together before bed. Just being us.
It sureee did my heart good.
Finally it was the weekend and we got up bright and early to head back to the airport for a 4 day get-away to Roatan, Honduras. It was already a rare case that I could visit William at his deployed location, but for him to be approved 4 days of ‘leave’ was a true blessing from above. We knew this wasn’t the norm and we. were. grateful.
Roatan was the most beautiful island I have ever been to. A third word country, rich in beauty and life. We fit as much as we could into those 4 days while still enjoying our time together. My recent thoughts and fears of life apart were long gone as we explored, tasted, and created memories on this gift of a “2nd honeymoon”.
We spent our last day there on the Little French Key island. We were side by side, lying by crystal clear water, drinking ‘Monkey La La’s’, and pausing to reflect on how special and fruitful Roatan had been to our marriage during this hard season.
I looked over at William and asked, “Do you think these are the moments we will tell our children and grandchildren about one day?” Surprised by my question, he looked back at me, “Yeah, I guess so… I hadn’t thought about that.” Our eyes shifted back to the artwork that was in front of us. The sunset that God had so effortlessly created just for us — in all His glory.
An oh so timely reminder that he’s present. And still working. And that even when life and marriage don’t feel like they’re intended to be, He’s still good. And still teaching us. And still captivating our hearts.
The Lord held me that day and opened my eyes to bigger things than this season of life. Like our future generations, our many more years on earth, but even bigger than that, our eternity with Him, our Creator. Years from now, I hope we look back and remember the joys we found during deployment, but never forget how we learned from our fears of it too.
I can’t wait to sit and watch William tell our grandchildren about his days in the Air Force, as they nuzzle up on his lap. He’ll tell them about how their grandmother flew over to visit him when he was deployed to Honduras. And how she complained that she was hot and didn’t like the DFAC’s food. And how his boss was so gracious to let us go on a trip for a few days, even though we weren’t suppose to. And that we didn’t know it then, but we so needed that time together.
And they’ll be quick to ask trivial questions like, “Did you have a gun, Grandpa?” or “Did you get to fly a plane?”, because they won’t understand the depth of the story or the absolute sweetness of these two weeks like we will.
But we’ll just smile and laugh… and keep tellin’ them our story, His story. And continue to thank Jesus for camoflagued blessings.
**A video from our trip to Roatan: