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Shannon Jones - The Strength Within

           Sitting in a small, cluttered, unpacked apartment on a military base in Kentucky, I watched in silence as the lives of the American public were forever altered. My two year old daughter sat blissfully unaware of the horrific events that would change our lives forever. The images burned into my memory, thoughts racing through my mind, the uncertainty became overwhelming. The first thought that came into my mind is, “What does this mean for my husband, will he be deployed?” This was not what I had planned for our life, and I was definitely not prepared to send my husband off to war. The rest of the day seemed to be moving in slow motion; waiting for the phone to ring was unbearable, and not knowing where he was weighed on my heart. As the hours passed and day turned into night, I grew more impatient. The door finally opened, well after ten that night. I could tell by the look on his face that he was just as worried as I was about what was coming next. We spent the following months signing everything the Power of Attorneys, payment of bills, to making his first will. Not very convincingly, I kept telling myself, tears in my eyes, “You can do this, you can do this.”

            It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my mother-in-law that I realized I could tackle whatever lay ahead of me if I had the right focus. After spending some time reading my Bible, the verse “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) spoke to me and has since been my inspiration to keep going no matter what obstacle lies ahead.

            After months of planning and preparation, the dreaded day finally arrived. On March 5, 2003, my husband kissed us goodbye and boarded a plane for his first deployment to Iraq. As the girls clung to my legs, my heart breaking the loading door closed and the plane made its way down the runway. Tears made their way down my cheeks as I loaded the girls into the car and drove back to the emptiness of our home. The days that followed were some of the most difficult in my life; I wasn’t sure if I could survive twelve months without him next to me. Even the simplest tasks like making dinner and mowing the yard could be overwhelming at times. It was in moments like these I found myself turning back to the verse, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). I realized I could do this.

            One night as I was putting the girls to bed, Natalie looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Daddy come home.” My knees gave way and I found myself sobbing on the floor. I had many emotional moments like these throughout the deployment, but I just kept reminding myself, “You can do this, you can do this.” Two weeks had passed before I received the first phone call from my husband, his voice instantly calming me. There were so many things I needed to tell him, so many missed moments I wanted to share with him. We had talked for a while when a voice interrupted.

            “You have three minutes remaining.”

            I paused.

            “What does he mean three minutes remaining?” I questioned.

            My husband’s voice echoed back to me, “They only give each of us ten minutes to call home.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; it angered me and broke my heart at the same time.

            “It’ll be okay,” he said.

“No, it won’t be okay. You mean to tell me I only have ten minutes to tell you everything that has happened in the last two weeks?” Then there was silence, the call disconnected.

            Calls like this came very seldom over the next few months, and when they came it was in the middle of the night. I began writing down the most important things so I could remember them when I was jarred from my sleep by the ringing of the phone. Conversations usually started with, “How are things going?” or “Is there anything important you need to tell me?” I lived for these phone calls, even though my heart broke every time we hung up. The girls seemed to follow my lead, and as the days went by, we fell into a nice daily routine.

            The summer brought lots of changes for us. One morning he housing office called to let me know we would be moving into a brand new home on the base. While I was excited to have more space, I was unsure about how I was going to move all of the furniture by myself. The following week during a routine doctor visit I was told we were expecting our third child. Our calm daily routine turned into pure chaos as I tried to pack up the apartment for the move and find the money to get ready for a new baby. The monthly phone call I had come to expect never came, and I felt myself falling into the familiar habit of worrying. I again reminded myself of the verse that had carried me this far. Finally, a few days later while I was making dinner, the phone rang. I was excited to share my news; I just hoped he would be able to hear me over the unreliable line we had come to expect.

            “Hello!” I practically screamed into the phone.

            “Hey, beautiful, how are things going?”

            “I have some great news, we are getting a new house next week. We’ll have three bedrooms and a fenced-in yard. Plus, the house is one of the brand new ones.”

            “That’s awesome, but how are you going to move all of our stuff?”

            “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.”

            “I wish I was there to help; I feel helpless being so far away.”

            “You have four minutes remaining.”

            “Before I let you go I have one more thing to tell you.”

            “Yes, beautiful.”

            “We are going to have another baby!”

            Click, click.

            “Shannon, are you still there?”

            “Yes, can you hear me?”

            “Did you say we are having another baby?”

            “Yes, I am due in November.”

            Click, Click.

            The line went dead.

            After three days and six trips with a friend’s pickup, our move to the new house was done. The chaos of the move made to hard to worry about anything else, so when the phone rang that night it caught me off guard. To my surprise, the normal ten minute call went past twenty minutes. It felt good to talk without the feeling of being rushed. We talked about the move, the new house, and, of course, the baby. He had found out that he would get two weeks of leave to come home, hopefully when the baby was due in November. The next phone call brought bad news; unfortunately, his leave would be in December. Trying to be positive, I suggested he try to trade with someone whose leave was around my due date. He didn’t seem as positive as I, but he said he would ask around in hopes someone would be willing to help us out. The closer we got to November, the more unlikely it seemed that things would go our way, but I never lost hope.

            The next few months flew by, and it was November before I knew it. On a beautifully crisp day in November, I loaded the girls into the car, and we left to pick my husband up from the airport. The girls’ giggles filled the backseat; they knew we were going to get daddy.  At the airport we sat impatiently waiting for the plane to land, both girls with their faces pressed against the glass facing the runway. The sight of the incoming plane instantly made by heart skip a beat, and I knew at that moment everything would be fine. A few minutes later the loud speaker came to life, “Flight 897 is now landing at gate 9.” Once the gate door opened it seemed like an eternity before passengers came flooding out. One by one passengers walked past us, then came the familiar sight of army uniforms. “Daddy, Daddy!” the girls shouted with glee, as they took off running toward the gate. He scooped them up in his arms and headed my way. At that moment, every person in the airport rose to their feet and began to clap as we made our way through the terminal. The American public, united we stand.

            With our family back together, we welcomed our third daughter into the world. With the past year now a memory, I have learned to have faith in myself because, “I can do all things with Christ, who strengthens me.”