Have you ever struggled to make a wise decision or choose the right path when the answer wasn’t clear? What did you do? How did you make up your mind in the end?
Cruising down winding country roads with nothing but a cornflower sky and snow capped mountains stretching out before us, we were a real-life minivan commercial: four humans, one dog and our bare necessities, taking on a long journey to someplace wild and unfamiliar.
A tsunami of snacks, suitcases and camping equipment set the scene, spilling into every inch of the spacious interior, all of it threatening to overpower the new car smell that still wafted from the fabric. Following a brief stop in Texas to visit family we hadn’t seen in too long, we were on our way to our next stateside duty station after three years in Germany.
As we continued on through Montana (or maybe it was Colorado, Wyoming or even Idaho), Dan interrupted the odd symphony of rattles and clinks emanating from our clutter to announce a surprising revelation.
“I think I’m ready to get out of the military,” he said quietly, almost regretfully.
Even though we’d approached the topic a dozen times before, the confession still caught me off guard. Reflecting on the ramifications of his words, I took a moment to respond.
“Okay… interesting. Now, tell me how you feel about that,” I replied in my best counselor voice.
This is a ritual for us. Road trip therapy.
The highway has a hypnotic way of unraveling and revealing thoughts we never knew we had.
With my feet on the dashboard and his hand on my knee, we tossed our options back and forth like paper planes, testing the what ifs and maybes to see how they might land.
Four-and-a-half years earlier, he’d made a similar confession on a long drive from El Paso to San Antonio.
Still tender from a year-long deployment, we’d agreed it was time for him to transition out of the military. With a second baby boy on the way, we couldn’t bear the thought of facing another 12 months apart.
Silently counting down the days until his commitment was up, my heart hit the floor when he turned the radio down to reveal what was on his mind.
“I think I need to stay in the military,” he’d said in a similar fashion.
At first, I was confused, hurt and angry. I felt betrayed, as if he were going back on a promise he’d made to our family (he wasn’t).
In the midst of our confusion, we found hope in a local church we had connected with in the tough months following Dan’s return from the Middle East. A seasoned military couple we met at a week-night Bible study took us under their wing.
Together, they encouraged us to read scripture.
Seek counsel from trusted individuals.
Then, were asked to take a good, hard look at what we’d learned, choose the best option (even if none felt good or right), and trust God with the outcome.
I’m laughing as I type this, because this is so much easier said than done.
When the time came for us to make our decision, I had somehow made a complete about-face in my stance on the matter. Dan and I agreed to extend his contract by six years.
Right or not, God worked through our indecision and temperamental emotions for our good in His mysterious way. The following years weren’t easy, but they were full of growth, life-changing experiences and amazing people we never would have met otherwise.
Now, here we are again.
In a few months, we will be forced to make another downright impossible decision: stay in for the long haul or transition out before my husband hits the halfway point?
If Dan continues down his current career path, he could retire in 13 years, but that would likely mean another round of lengthy separations and uprooting our family four to five more times before our boys graduate from high school. We are all feeling pretty weary right about now.
Could we handle that?
If he transitions out, he could use his bachelor’s degree and military training to serve in the civilian workforce, but that is unfamiliar territory, and he is so good at what he does now. The thought of taking the risk is slightly terrifying.
Could we make it financially?
We’ve learned what’s best and what feels right in the moment are often two different things, and making long-term decisions based on short-term emotions (like the ones that accompany an international move, for example) is not the best idea.
We are exploring our many options, weighing pros and cons, and preparing ourselves for either outcome the best we can, but we are fickle by nature (especially me), and what we think we want changes day by day.
The truth is, it isn’t possible to control the outcome of our choices, regardless of the well-intentioned decisions we make. In every situation, we must learn to make the most of the options we have in front of us, even if none of them feel good or seem right, and trust God with the outcome.
So, we’re going to scripture. Praying. Seeking advice from wise, trusted individuals, and trying not to scoff when it isn’t what we want to hear.
When the time comes for my husband to sign his name on the dotted line to either re-up or release himself from the commitment, we will do our best to let go and have faith as we take on yet another long journey to someplace wild and unfamiliar.
Where do we go from here?