December 29th, 2010
05:00 AM ET
Editor's note: Leeana Tankersley is the author of "Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places," a spiritual memoir of the year she lived in the Middle East with her Navy SEAL husband. Follow Tankersley at www.gypsyink.com.
By Leeana Tankersley, Special to CNN
Unknowingly, I took a bullet to the gut when I married Steve, a shot right through me that has left me tender and - at times - doubled over.
No one ever told me that marrying a Navy SEAL would leave me so vulnerable. At first, the job seemed sexy and noble, being the wife of a clean-cut pirate with health insurance and a retirement. Who could resist his green eyes in that camouflage uniform?
And then we went to war.
I was standing in the San Diego airport the day the Iraq war started. As if we were watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, cheers erupted when the bar TVs announced "shock and awe." I was numb with fear, my sense of pride quickly giving way to panic.
I had no idea where Steve was. He was my fiancé at the time. His last correspondence was a postcard of Cyprus sent from the HMS Ocean, a British naval vessel with which he liaised.
Later that night, breaking news of a helicopter crash belted through the car radio. “Helicopter down in the Persian Gulf. Four British Marines and a U.S. Navy officer aboard. Flight originated from the HMS Ocean.”
I waited for a phone call. None came. I cried on and off all night. I was shot through. Bleeding out.
An e-mail arrived after a few days. He had been in Kuwait the entire time, participating in the invasion. I began breathing again, but never the same since. My first face-off with war, and war was playing for keeps. What a brutal game.
All these years later, the fight still rages. In the meantime, we have survived work-ups, deployments, an overseas tour in the Middle East, lost teammates, trauma after relentless trauma.
Every time I feel the fear, the powerlessness, the soul-bullet lodged in me, I question the cause as well as the cost. Ultimately, I question God. How could he leave us so cruelly vulnerable?
The theology of war is impossible. I have tried to reconcile my faith with the realities of the fight, the inevitability of cost whenever there is a cause concerned. But the clarity does not come quickly or easily for me.
Because I am a believing person, I must face God in the trenches of my faith, that raw place where I am welcomed to wrestle but rarely given the satisfaction of airtight answers.
Efforts of men such as my husband and his teammates produce fresh wells, schools, medical care, safety. These same efforts produce death, violence, damaged minds, damaged bodies. Very little is black and white.
I wrestle over Scriptures such as Ecclesiastes 3: "There is a time to die ... a time for mourning ... a time for war ... God is making all things beautiful in its time ... yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
The most difficult thing in all the world is to see a young life snatched up right before you, an entire community left to work through ravaging grief. What could you possibly say to a young widow that would ever assuage, even one tiny bit, her vast loss?
Let me tell you, a sentiment does not exist.
How could any kind of beauty emerge from this kind of pain?
When Steve went to Iraq for the second time, in 2006, I watched him ride the airport escalator to his terminal. I watched every bit of him go, until the heels of his shoes disappeared. I knew there was a chance I’d never see him alive again.
Would I open the casket to see his face one last time if he were killed? I remained haunted by that question.
I crawled into the trenches - weary and wounded - and I seethed at God, spewing out my hatred for the war. I had to accept the fact that my faith wasn’t going to save my husband from harm. A bitter pill.
So what was I believing in then?
I have seen young widows - 25 years old - survive. I have seen war-torn marriages heal. I have seen battered veterans recover.
Perhaps this is the divine beauty-making I am trusting in, a God who puts things back together after they have been so deeply damaged.
I spoke a vow to Steve that promised only death would part us. I had no idea when I took that vow that death could loom so imminently. I had no idea how deeply disastrous our bond would feel on some days. I had no idea how violently this war would break my heart. And I had no idea that God himself would crawl into the trenches with me, binding and bandaging my brokenness.
In this way, I am able to keep going. Hating, loving and asking for the grace to navigate the mystery.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Leeana Tankersley.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.