Finding Abundance in a Pandemic
By Peyton Roberts
This is the latest post in a series where guest bloggers share how God has shown up in the stories they never expected to live. May these stories stir you toward hope and give you a glimpse of God’s goodness. Read previously published stories here.
All we wanted was time together. But from the start, Nick and I were destined for long seasons apart.
Young and in love, we start dating the week of high school graduation. This proved an especially terrible time because Nick was leaving to join the Navy.
The trouble was, I was hooked. Through friendship in our church youth group, Nick’s strong faith and admirable virtues had captured my heart. Our rich and winding conversations lasted hours. Everything we did, whether going to church or watching movies, felt more enjoyable together.
As I learned what long-distance military relationships entailed, I reluctantly agreed that continuing our journey was more tolerable than breaking up. During those first brutal weeks apart, we could only communicate by snail mail. Every night I wrote Nick a four-page letter, addressing it to Maryland. Every afternoon, I hoped to find his handwriting and soul-filling words in our mailbox. Even in his absence, having Nick in my life felt like a gift.
Shortly after starting college in Florida, 9/11 rocked the world, jolting us from childhood to adulthood in a blink. Suddenly, the future of Nick’s military service intensified. I questioned why God would lead me to love someone who was destined to spend so much of his career away from me. The more I learned about wartime military life, I wondered if I could endure the rollercoaster of being attached to someone who would constantly leave me for harm’s way.
Our first hard year of long-distance turned into three before I could join Nick in Maryland. We spent his last year at the Naval Academy making up for lost time, strolling the historic streets of downtown Annapolis, tailgating at Navy football games, and planning our future. Of course, it didn’t matter what we spent our time doing. I loved just holding his hand and being by his side.
But distance kept finding us. Three weeks before our wedding day, Nick received news that the start of his next training block was dramatically moved up. He was suddenly required to check in to his new command across the country the following week. As he drove away from Maryland to California, we didn’t know if he would be granted permission to attend our wedding, which we’d planned to celebrate with family and friends in Texas.
Thankfully, the Navy approved his leave request. Nick flew in on a Thursday night. We were married in a joyous celebration on Saturday afternoon. He flew out Monday morning. Married but apart, I resumed my life on the East Coast until the Lord opened a door to join Nick on the West Coast.
I wish this is where our long-distance relationship ended, but the seasons of separation kept coming. Over the next dozen years, Nick deployed eight times to various combat zones across the world. I lost count of the nonstop training trips that found us saying even more hard goodbyes.
Some of the separations came with a particularly harsh sting. One Saturday morning, Nick returned from a training trip, missing my graduation ceremony from graduate school by just 30 minutes.
The day we brought our firstborn baby home from the hospital, Nick dropped our bags inside the house then raced off to base to complete some required qualification, leaving me with a newborn who wouldn’t latch. Our first deployment as parents began days after our daughter took her first bites of solid foods. A few tiring years later, Nick deployed again before our infant son was even rolling over.
As I handled night wakings and diaper changes on my own, I longed for the Lord to grant us a season of time at home as a family. Not only did I need Nick’s help, I missed my best friend and wanted his company. I also hated how many sweet moments he was missing. Looking ahead to his prescribed career path, a long stretch at home felt like an impossible prayer. But the Lord found a way to answer it.
Five years into our parenting journey, Nick received an opportunity to attend a graduate program at a civilian university. The second week of December, he called from Africa to share the news of his grad school acceptance. The promise of a new chapter for our family helped us soldier through another Christmas apart.
Our family moved across the country, and though Nick was sleeping at home every night, the rigor of his intensive program made him difficult to catch. The kids became busy with friends and activities. I searched our calendars for time together and couldn’t find it.
Desperate to put the brakes on our overscheduled lives, I started researching homeschool options. That was in January 2020. We all know what happened next.
As the pandemic unfolded and plans for the rest of the year evaporated, we joined the rest of the world in being frustrated, sad, and scared about the uncertainty of COVID-19. But as that dark cloud engulfed us all, I felt my long-time prayer being strangely answered. Nick’s university trip to Japan was canceled. The military banned recreational travel, forcing us to stay local. Classes were moved to Zoom, which Nick attended from our apartment. Instead of clawing at schedules for time together, we were suddenly eating three meals a day around our own kitchen table.
I hesitate to shine a rosy light on the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s incomparable how many people have suffered horribly and lost loved ones, livelihoods, and more during this tragic time. At the same time, I can see how the Lord used this season to push our family together. Like every other family, we endured our own stressful transition to sheltering in place, working, and schooling from home. None of that was easy. We prayed along with everyone else for loved ones to stay safe and for life to return to normal.
But for the first time in our 19-year military relationship, my husband and I spent every single day of an entire year together. As a family, we went on walks every day, rain or shine. As a family, we collected rocks and wildflowers at a nearby ditch. As a family, we played countless rounds of hide and seek and taught our young son to ride a two-wheel bike. As a couple, we snuck in dinners on the patio and frisbee dates in the field behind our house.
No longer drowning in solo parenting, I learned to enjoy being a mom. My confidence grew, enabling me to homeschool our daughter that fall. And Nick didn’t miss a milestone. I saw the Lord at work in answering my longtime prayer. My best friend, home with us, was all I’d wanted.
When the whole world shut down, we found abundance in a pandemic: an abundance of time together as a family.
As life returns to normal and we begin another cross-country move, I find myself strangely grateful for the image in the rearview mirror. Unable to change the pandemic, we were forced to sink down into it. The Lord met us where I least expected it: in the walls of our own home, under the same roof, all four of us living life together, inseparable.
About the Author
Peyton H. Roberts, M.A., is a writer, mom, and military spouse who grew up sewing dresses on the sunny Gulf Coast. Her extensive travels studying abroad, leading mission trips, and living overseas on Guam forged a passion for writing and speaking about social impact causes. Her debut novel Beneath the Seams tells the story of a dressmaker who gets tangled up the dark side of the global fashion industry. Peyton is currently on a cross-country road trip to move their family from California to Virginia. Follow her journey and connect at www.peyton-roberts.com.
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