I remember the first year I chose to really celebrate Lent, by making sacrifices, doing penance, and spending extra time in prayer. It was 2007, and Will and I hadn't even been married a full year. We were living in Germany, he was deployed to Iraq at the time, and I was very involved with our church on post. I played my violin at Mass every Sunday, and while I don't remember what I gave up that year, I do remember the peace that I had been so desperately searching for finally coming over me. That particular deployment of Will's had been hard on both of us. Will had gone on some very dangerous missions with his bomb dog, Cris, and Special Forces. I was worried about him all the time, and since he was stationed in a remote area, communication wasn't always the best. I was living by myself in a foreign country, and there were many nights when I wouldn't fall asleep until 3am, if at all. I was an exhausted mess at work the following day, and I dreaded the weekends, when I knew the silence in our house would become deafening, and the loneliness I was able to ignore during my work week would overwhelm me.
I remember when the season of Lent began that year, I was more worried than ever about Will. There had been several blackouts (for those of you not familiar with the military, when a soldier is killed in a combat zone, there is a "blackout" across the country. Phone lines and Internet are shut down, so the government is able to send someone to the home of the deceased soldier, and notify the family before someone else can call them or message them online). I was always sick to my stomach when Will said he would call or email me and I wouldn't hear anything, because I knew that more likely than not, someone died and there was a blackout. I would pray incessantly that my husband was spared, and I would cry in relief when I heard from Will again. Then, of course, I would cry for the family who wasn't so lucky, and I felt so ashamed for being grateful that I wasn't the one who lost her husband. I don't know why, and maybe I never will, but that deployment was a particularly dark time for both of us. It was the worst (as in, the most dangerous) one Will ever went on, and it was hard on me for a variety of reasons.
Despite everything, though, I drew closer to God during this time, and I remember during the season of Lent, I finally found peace. I don't remember what I gave up that year, but I do remember adding three Hail Marys to my prayers every night. I would pray for Will's safety, recite the Hail Marys, and fall asleep with my rosary wound around my fingers. For the first time in months, I started sleeping through the night. Since I wasn't an exhausted mess in the mornings, work became easier and more enjoyable. I met some new friends, and started hanging out with them in Frankfurt on Friday nights. I began volunteering at our church, in addition to playing my violin there every Sunday, and I went to confession for the first time in a long time. I slowly began to emerge from a place of sadness and fear, and find joy in everyday life once again.
While I certainly don't wish to return to the state of mind I was in during Will's deployment, I do feel that I need to approach this season of Lent, and my faith in general, with more passion, more enthusiasm, and more gratitude. I worry that I've become complacent these past few years (because let's face it, even with some of the challenges our family has faced in the past five years or so, I really believe that once you get through multiple deployments in a war zone, everything else pales in comparison), and I need to snap out of it. I have a beautiful family, and a beautiful life, and so much to be grateful for, yet I often forget to be grateful. I'm not proud of it, but it's true.
I haven't decided yet what I'll be giving up for Lent this year, but I do intend on bringing back my three Hail Mary's every night, and volunteering more in our community. I want to set an example for our children, and most importantly, I never want to forget the sheer gratitude I felt during Lent/Easter 2007, when my husband came home safely to me.
Home again!!! April 2007, Hanau, Germany