For most of the 5,000+ sailors on-board, it was a normal day on the USS Nimitz—but not for me.
For months, my wife Stephanie and I had one main prayer request: that I be home for the birth of our firstborn — a baby boy we (according to doctors) shouldn’t have been able to conceive. Steph’s due date, we had realized, would occur a month into my six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.
There’s a Form for That
But… there was a glimmer of hope. I could fill out one of the military’s countless forms and request that time off. So I did my part, and waited.
Months went by. No answer. We persisted in prayer, believing that a father wanting to be home for the birth of his son was surely a prayer God would honor.
On September 6, 2009, after awaiting an answer for seven months, a friend ran up. “Hey Benton, pack your bags, you’re going home!” In an instant, I was at the payphone, calling my already-overdue wife, crying happy tears, and offering prayers of gratitude. I begged the baby to “wait till daddy gets home!” I told Stephanie to buy me a plane ticket and went to pack my bags, gliding on cloud nine.
But it had been a clerical mistake. I soon learned my leave hadn’t been approved. Sheer euphoria turned to grief so deep I still don’t like to recall it. I broke down.
I forced myself to call my wife back. When Steph picked up, I was crying again—but these were far different tears. I could hardly speak. “I’m so sorry, I’m not coming home. They made a mistake baby, I’m not coming home.”
“Sheer euphoria turned to grief so deep I still don’t like to recall it.”
The months that followed were some of the hardest of our lives. I was spiritually alone. Sure, I had friends on the ship, but they weren’t friends who encouraged my soul. Yet I will be forever thankful that the Church was there for Steph. She was surrounded by our small group—people who loved her, stayed at her side, cried with her, and cared for her.
My deployment extended into almost nine months. By the time I first held my son, he wasn’t even really a baby anymore.
During that time, I became acutely aware of how hard life is—especially military life. It’s much harder than you can imagine if you haven’t experienced it. It can be brutal. Without community, it’s downright impossible.
What They Endure
Military men and women have a special place in my heart, and as the holiday season approaches, I know they will acutely feel the loneliness of being away from those they love. They will endure things that many of us won’t ever have to, and many of them are in our proverbial backyards—not just overseas.
What about you? Will you take the opportunity to notice and support military families? Invite them to dinner, a get-together, and your small group. Be their home away from home.
To those who are serving or have served, we see you and we thank you. You mean more to us than we can express, and we want you to know, we’d love for you to be a part of our family.