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Marshéle Carter Waddell is married to CDR (ret) Mark Waddell, USN, a U.S. Navy SEAL, who for seven years served as an enlisted sailor and since 1989, has served as a commissioned officer. They have three children, Joshua, Jordan, and Jenna. They currently live in Monument, Colorado. Visit her Web site.

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Double Duty for a Solo Spouse

By Marshéle Carter Waddell
Guest Columnist

CBN.comI remember a day intended for holiday cheer with my preschooler and toddler.  Mark was sailing the reefs and coves of the Pacific Ocean floor in a nuclear submarine as the rest of us returned home from the Christmas tree lot.

Too proud and too stubborn to ask my willing neighbor for help, I tugged, yanked and pried our newly purchased tree out of the trunk of the car.  Throwing it over one shoulder, I clumsily carried it to the side yard and plopped it on the ground.  I stared at it.  “O.K., tree, it’s you and me.”  I huffed and puffed, my face reddened like that of a straining shot putter, and managed to straddle the wild, prickly, green stallion.  I clanged a hammer against the bottom of the metal tree stand, making it fit snugly around the trunk.  With sweat beads on my brow, sticky sap between every finger, and pine needles in my bra, I wrestled the obstinate tree into the house.  When it surrendered, I stood back, and commended myself for mastering a “guy thing,” without my guy. 

The tree was leaning to the left.  I threw my arms around it again for another round, rotating it until I found the side that looked the least retarded.  “Job done,” I praised myself.

I filled the basin of the tree stand to the brim with water and went about contentedly decking the halls and walls.  An hour later, my four-year-old-son and I cheerfully placed the gifts under the tree, singing “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bells” for the umpteenth time, with all the Christmas anticipation I could muster.  With the last gift in place, the basin of the tree stand caught my eye.  It was already empty!  This was a mighty thirsty tree!  My rear in the air and my head under the tree, I reached past the gifts to refill the thirsty tree’s stand once again.

To my horror, the carpet within a three-foot radius of the tree was soaked!  The wrapping paper was absolutely environmentally friendly for the bottom of every beautifully wrapped gift was already biodegrading.  I bravely assured myself that it was too early in the game to fret.  I rescued the drowning gifts, performed CPR, marched outside to the storage room, grabbed a tube of caulking and set my mind and energies to repairing the leak.  After a few smears of caulking to the base of the stand, I refilled the basin and replaced the limp, crinkled gifts.

For future reference, caulking does not repair tree stand leaks.  Soon, white, milky water covered the same three-foot radius I had just blotted dry.  “O.K. tree,” I said, “you win…but just for today.”  With no ideas and certainly no energy left, I called it a day.  Because firs and spruces aren’t indigenous nor readily available in the Hawaiian tropics, we had ordered our tree in September.  There would be no replacing the tree this year.  I breathed a prayer that the uncooperative shrub wouldn’t die before I could find a new stand

That we did the next day, but only after searching the crowded aisles of not one, not two, not three, but four department stores before we found a new tree stand.  I have learned that there is a great shortage of Christmas tree stands in December.  I marched back into the house and showed the tree my new tree stand.  It shuddered at my newfound enthusiasm and determination.  It poked and jabbed me in defiance as I shuffled it back outside to the yard.  I pulled with all my strength and removed the leaking stand, revealing a trunk now plastered with white caulking.  “O, Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,” I growled as I stomped over to the tool shed.  Through sweat and tears, I sawed off the chalky base of the trunk and vengefully hacked several lower limbs off and finally made the new stand fit.  After 48 hours, 78 miles, two carpet drenchings, two tree stands and a million pine needles strewn in every direction, the ordeal was over.  The tree was lucky not to have been demoted to a yuletide log.

The Christmas tree chaos fades in comparison to so many other fiascoes that have happened while my husband was away.  There is one guarantee in the life of a military wife:  Everything that can possibly go wrong will and usually does within hours or days of the husband’s departure.  For instance, within the first four days of one of Mark’s deployments, the car died in the middle of a lonely, eight-mile stretch of towering green, Hawaiian sugar cane; I discovered a ten-pound rat had taken up residence in my kitchen; the air conditioner unit fell in through my bedroom window in the middle of the night (explain those physics!!), and the plumbing system coughed, gagged, then spewed forth a grotesque fountain of sewage from every sink, tub and shower drain throughout the entire house, during which time base housing’s emergency maintenance hotline stayed busy for over an hour!!  Then there was the morning my kitchen greeted sleepy me with a quarter-inch thick, wall-to-wall blanket of a zillion dead and dying, writhing termites that covered every possible millimeter of counter, sink and floor space.  A termite hatch had taken place somewhere nearby and they obviously had partied hard in my kitchen.  How could anyone have slept through such a massive orgy?  They had hosted Woodstock II, insect style, making free love all over my kitchen while my husband was away preparing for war.

I have one question:  why does none of this craziness happen when my husband is home?  Life seems to stay on the same predictable plateau, day in and day out, when he is around.  The moment he departs, the winds shift and gusty weather moves in.

I mean that quite literally.  The only ice storms that have caused major electrical power outages and the only hurricanes that have decided to move inland did so when Mark was 12 time zones away from us.  As a result I learned how to close-off and warm a house with just four blazing burners of a gas stove and how to board up and duct tape the doors and windows of my house and map out the city’s evacuation route.

Unlike my VCR remote, parenting has no pause button either.  The show goes on.  I remember photographing my three children’s faces up close to send to Mark when they all came down with extreme cases of chicken pox.  I wanted him to see a glimpse of the “bonding experience” we had all endured for eight weeks.  I also have had the dubious honor of answering the question for all three children over the years, the birds and the bees question.  The time for discussing the facts of life arrived on the scene only when Mark wasn’t.

Life’s everyday demands are enough for a wife who is left behind to man, or should I say woman the oars.  Add inclement weather, viral infections, the kids’ attempts at mutiny, keeping the house from falling apart and the bouts of loneliness and she has all the ingredients for the recipe of resentment.

I know women who, somewhere along the way, lost their soft, feminine side as a result of weathering life’s storms alone for too long.  They were torn from their moorings of gentle strength and feminine fortitude and are now sailing at top speed toward becoming the old, disheveled, gruff, sarcastic woman with shades on those Shoebox greeting cards.  She’s “over it” and lets everyone know it.  I’ve looked in the mirror and seen that woman looking back at me more than once. 

My grandmother advised me years ago, “You are the woman you’ve been becoming.”  The transformations, whether good or bad, won’t happen overnight, but one day at a time, bit by bit, situation by situation.  One day, we will each wake up, look in the mirror and see what we’ve been becoming—a sweet, old lady or a mean, old hag.

There is only one catalyst, one agent of change that can reverse the negative effect this military lifestyle can have on the beauty and femininity of a woman.  It is the recognition and reliance on Jesus Christ’s total sufficiency for every challenge.  He is in control, even when I’m not convinced, allowing that which works for my good and for His glory.  He allows the faith-building circumstances into my life so I will learn to draw from Him the strength, the wisdom and the love I need for every situation.  That includes termites, chicken pox and hurricanes.  Every contest comes with His guarantee that He is enough, that His grace will be there the moment I need it.

One Easter Sunday, the small, eight-person group with which I sang was to do the special music during the offertory of the three, packed morning services.  We had prepared for weeks.  I had rehearsed day and night the one line I was to sing solo.  I had it down pat, or so I thought.

The congregation was assembled, gloves, bonnets and all.  Thousands of eyes were on us.  The musical prelude crescendoed.  I stepped forward to a microphone to sing out my one solo line.  I opened my mouth and hollered, “Hark!”  Then I went blank.  I was wordless.  The music played on.  There was no covering this one up.  The entire church knew I had flubbed up.  There was no turning back.  I just stood there with my mouth as oval as an Easter egg.

Behind me, I could hear one of the male group members cuing me in a loud whisper the words I couldn’t remember.  With his help, unseen and unheard by the hundreds of fancied-up folks in the pews, I could have successfully sung the rest of my part but I was frozen in fright in all my Easter Sunday glory.  I stepped backwards joining the ensemble again.  We finished our piece, but I never fully recovered.  Since that day, my family and I have laughed countless times about my silly solo, “Hark!”

My point is this:  I didn’t have to fail.  My friend behind me had given me what I needed to finish well.  He spoke the exact words I needed in that awful moment.  I think about it now on days that close in on me, when all eyes are on me at home.  If I will only listen to His still voice behind me, I will know what to do and what to say in every circumstance. 

God encourages me, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).  I find strength and rest in Him alone.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

I am realizing that I am not left alone to bear the burdens by myself.  His name is Immanuel:  God is with me.  He has offered to carry my yoke in exchange for His, which is “easy and light” (Matthew 28:30).  I am convinced He is aware of my needs even in the most trying, seemingly deserted moments.  I know from experience that He stands ready and willing to meet those needs.

Just when I think I can’t finish my solo, I hear His voice reminding me that we are in this thing together, that we are a team.  I just need to listen to Him.  The result is perfect harmony.                                                                                  

Adapted from Hope for the Home Front: Winning the Emotional and Spiritual Battles of the Military Wife by Marshéle Carter Waddell.  Used with permission from One Hope Ministry.   To request a copy of Hope for the Home Front or the new Hope for the Home Front Bible Study, contact




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