My 17th wedding anniversary came and went without the person I’ve spent the last 17 years married to. Yet again, our family has taken a blow from the Army, and in a place that just might hurt the most: the heart.
I woke up on my anniversary praying that God would bring me joy rather than tears, as Bill had left for training a few days earlier and would be gone for a month. A thirty-day stint is baby stuff compared to the deployments of the past, and you’d think after 17 years (we’ve been in the military that long too) that I’d be used to him not being here, but it never gets any easier. Actually, it gets worse the older you get and the longer you’ve been in. When we first enlisted we couldn’t imagine retirement. That was way far away, and besides, the journey and adventures before us were too hard to resist. But now we are approaching that breaking point, when enough is enough. We aren’t old people by any stretch of the imagination, but we are looking forward to “settling down.” To having routine. To knowing that we’ll always be together for whatever occasion.
Weeks earlier I had bought tickets for the both of us to tour the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for our anniversary. The DMZ is that strip of no man’s land that lies between North and South Korea. It’s probably the best stretch of wilderness habitat for flora and fauna anywhere because no one has stepped foot on it since the cease-fire of the Korean War. One toe over the border could mark the beginning of WWIII, or at the very least, a major international event between the world’s communist leaders and democracy. No one is that daring.
Not the most romantic of outings for an anniversary? True. But the getting there, sightseeing, and returning takes all day – literally – and asking folks to watch your three children for an entire day requires a special occasion. Besides, we’ve been married a long time. I don’t need romantic picnics on a hillside whilst watching the sun set. What I want, however, is to experience the key tourist areas of this foreign country while I have the opportunity.
Alas, about two weeks before our planned excursion to cheat death Bill got word that he wouldn’t be around to peer over the expanse of the DMZ with me, attempting to catch a glimpse of the elusive and mysterious North Korean.
But I really don’t mean to complain about our military life. Without it we wouldn’t be who or where we are today, and I love both. And so, I accepted the fact that my plans and my husband had been stripped from me and instead prayed.
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (19:21)
As I rose from my knees on the morning of my anniversary I felt the beach calling me. Despite the fact that the forecast called for rain, I packed up snacks and towels, sunscreen and water, and headed out. Even running from the truck to the shore in the midst of a downpour, dipping our toes in the water, and then running back to our Korean hooptie was better than sitting on the couch all day moping.
Sure enough, it poured down rain for almost the whole drive. But once we reached Yongdo Beach the rain stopped and the clouds gave us coverage from the sun’s harsh rays. The kids and I built a sandcastle, dug almost to China, hunted for seashells and ran with our dog. We were creating memories that none of us would soon forget, happy memories, and as the day went on, I looked toward the heavens and thanked my gracious and loving God for answering my morning prayers.
How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. (Psalm 31:19)
We stayed at that beach long enough to watch the sun set. The cloud coverage had cleared by then, and we witnessed God’s great and beautiful light show. But, as late as it was – and we were an hour and a half away from home – we still were not ready to go home. The four of us swam in the salt water until the evening lights shown on the beach in the distance. In these last moments, swimming in water that could be felt but not seen, we giggled and pointed fingers at each other, laughing when one of us jumped at the brush of a stray piece of seaweed on our legs. I held my kids tight, planted smooches on salty cheeks and once again thanked God for moments like these.
We didn’t get back to our truck until 8:30pm that evening, no one truly wanting to leave. We weren’t on the road 30 minutes before all the kids – and the dog – were fast asleep. At every red light I turned around to steal glances at my little family sleeping soundly. I let my eyes soak in as many details as they could before the light changed again. Their hair was matted and fashioned in a way that only salt water can create, beach sand stuck in their hairlines. Arms and legs were flopped this way and that, intertwined with the warm, equally as matted, fur of our dog. It was a peaceful moment that smelled of seashells and clams taken from the beach before the things living in them had left their shells. These are the moments on earth only God is capable of creating. Joy and contentment formed from circumstances that I called sadness.
By his power he churned up the sea…By his breath the skies became fair…And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power? (Job 26:12-14)
It was 10pm when our truck pulled into the driveway, and after showers for all, including the dog, we crashed, exhausted from the day but our spirits overflowing with joy. I truly believe God wanted me to take away more than beautiful memories from our day at the beach. Here are some photos I took while we were there. For me, they reflect the beauty of God’s creation, the handiwork of man bestowed by his Creator and the power of answered prayers.