We have been a military family ever since I met my husband, Jay. In fact, when I first met him, I too was on active duty in the Navy—right up until we had our first child. As a family, we have moved ten times. We’ve loved our time in the military and have enjoyed the assignments, friends, and experiences. But we have also endured challenging times, deployments, and sudden changes that tested my trust in the Lord.
Our first big test came in the spring of 2006, when Jay received new orders to relocate. We had been living with our four children—three boys and a girl under age seven—on a military base in New Jersey, close to our extended family. This reassignment came at the cost of leaving our relatives behind. In Corpus Christi, Texas, we wouldn’t have any help with our young children. That was going to be difficult enough. But when Jay checked into his new command, he found out that he was to be deployed to Iraq a few months later. “Seriously?” I thought.
The Pain of Separation. My head was filled with anxious questions. Why did we move so far from our family just before a deployment? How will the kids understand? And the worst, most agonizing thought: What if their dad doesn’t come home?
It was a painfully emotional day when Jay and I told our kids about the “long trip” he would be taking. Our son Trevor asked if he could draw a picture for Jay to take with him so that he would not forget his family. I could see in the little faces of our kids that they would miss their daddy. The night before Jay left, he gave each child a pillowcase with a photo of him and them on it. He wanted the children to be able to hug it every night as they slept.
The next morning, Jay was supposed to leave before sunrise while the kids were still sleeping. That didn’t feel right to me; I wanted our children to see him leave to help them process what was happening. As it turned out, his flight was delayed and we all got to share lunch with him at the airport and steal another hug before he left. God fulfilled my desire to give the kids closure. Back home, the house felt empty and lonely. I hid my tears from the kids, thanked God for the flight delay, and begged him to keep Jay safe.
The Body of Christ in Texas. Newly settled in Corpus Christi without Jay, I felt so isolated. I even started to sleep in the bedroom that all four of our children shared. We read books, talked about Daddy, and hugged the pillows he left them. This was precious time for me, but part of my heart was sad that they weren’t enjoying this with their grandparents and other relatives.
God must have known this to be a deep desire of my heart, because just a couple of weeks into Jay’s deployment, I met an older, retired woman down the street from us. “Are you the woman with four kids at home whose husband just deployed?” she asked. I felt like a cheerful angel had dropped out of the sky. She immediately gave me her phone number and said that she wanted to help. She offered to play with the kids or watch them if I had errands to run. She and her husband became the family we needed. They quickly became “Nana” and “Papa K.” to us.
We did everything with them while Jay was away. By the time he returned, they were such close friends that they helped to organize a great homecoming for him. As the kids and I were at the airport to meet him, Nana K. was gathering neighbors to line the street we lived on. Through our neighbors’ love and support, we had everything we needed. It wasn’t a coincidence; God was providing.
It was a lesson I learned over and over again. God was in control, not me—like the time in 2012 when we suddenly had to change course and move to Germany instead of Memphis, as we had planned. Only by seeking God’s will and his voice could I remain steady and calm amidst all the changes.
Let God’s Voice Be Loud. As Jay completes thirty-eight years in the Navy, our connection to the military isn’t likely to end anytime soon. A year ago, my oldest son, Ryan, began to feel God tugging at his heart to join the military.
I thought he was happy at school. I thought he was at peace playing college baseball, his lifelong passion, until I received a distraught call from him. “Mom, I have something to tell you.” My mind raced with possibilities. “I don’t think I’m supposed to go back to school next semester,” he said. “I’ve been ignoring the voice in my head telling me to join the Marines, and I don’t want to wait another three years.” My gut twisting in knots, I took a few deep breaths. Then, somehow, I gathered the strength to tell him, “Ryan, you will only be at peace following God’s will. If that means joining the Marines, then you have my support.”
Truthfully, it took many days for God to calm my emotions and my heart. I knew the path we had planned for our son was about to change drastically. I knew it would be hard for him to tell his baseball coach—and hard for us not to see him pitch anymore. But gradually I realized that God was directing Ryan’s life and sending him on his way. I knew that, once again, I had to allow the Holy Spirit to help me hand my family over to God.
God has shown me that the best place for my family is wherever we are doing God’s will. The best plan is to let God’s voice be the loudest—the one that leads us.
Tracy Woelkers and her husband, Capt. Jay Woelkers, live in Middletown, Maryland. Jay is the Commanding Officer for Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command in Bethesda, Maryland.
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