December 29th, 2010
05:00 AM ET

My Take: Hating the war, loving my husband

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Afghanistan • Belief • Christianity • Iraq • United States • Violence

soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. sacchrainkiss

    My husband is in the army, he just spent a year in Afghanistan, so I can understand the pain and uncertainty of sending a loved one off and not being sure they will return.
    As far as the Great Debate raging. I can understand both sides. I consider myself Pagan, although different than most. I don't really buy into the idea of one single all-knowing God, but I certainly don't discount the idea of something Other than what we can see and feel that is in motion in the universe. Personally, I do not fall down and pray for every little thing that I want, I find that unbelievably selfish. That being said, when my husband deployed, did I pray? You bet your behind I did, not only for him, but for his brothers and our friends. My view on prayer can be summed up thus...

    Once there was a man driving his team down a deserted stretch of road. His wagon was heavily loaded down with goods to sell and it became stuck in a patch of mud. The man immediately threw himself down and began to pray to the gods to release his wagon from the mud. Shortly, another wagon came along and also became stuck. The second man turned to the first and said, "Help me to push my wagon out brother, and I shall help you so we both might continue our journeys" And the first man replied, "That will do no good, kneel down with me a pray that the gods might dry this mud, or that Herakles might come to us and push our wagons free." The second man did not pray, but unloaded the goods off his wagon and pushed, coaxing his oxen with promises of good oats and fresh grass should they succeed. After a time, when the second man and his beasts were nearly exhausted from trying to free the wagon, Herakles appeared before them and, putting his own shoulder to the back of the wagon, pushed it free from the mud. The second man bowed down to Herakles, thanked him, offered him some food and wine, loaded his wagon and continued on his way. The first man watched all this in disbelief, then asked the Hero, "Mightly Herakles, have I not offered many sacrifices to you before now, and have I not prayed with great fervor for your help? Why did you help this man who offered you nothing?" And Herakles said to him, "The Gods do not give help, nor respect simply for your asking. It is only when you have done all that you can do that we reach out our hands to help you."

    So basically, there is no All Powerful Great Spirit hiding in the sky, but I do believe that there are things in this universe more powerful than us, who might sometimes trouble themselves to help us or interfere in our lives. I prayed for my husband to return safely, and he did. Might he have if I hadn't prayed? Of course, but I don't think it hurt his chances any that I did.
    Above all, I make it a point to respect others beliefs as I would like them to respect mine. If they don't, I can always ignore them, but I like to try things the nice way first.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  2. ya'll are just sad

    Ya'll are just sad. Why is it everything comes down to name calling. That is usually a sign of someone who only wants to make others feel worse than they do themselves. If you don't believe, well, you've heard what the Bible has to say and made your choice. Why can you not allow the others the same freedom without criticism? Are you so insecure in yourselves that you must try to make others feel bad?

    For me: I'd rather believe in God in this life and die and find out I was wrong, than to not believe and find out He was right all along!

    January 3, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Well IF that is what you believe then you are saying you do not believe (it's a conditional qualification). You need to cross over and have FAITH and go with that (FAITH). You need to understand too that it is a spiritual being that comes after .. not a second physical being. And no we do not know what that is like because we are imprisoned (so to speak) in the flesh. (Plato's allegory, Paul's "through a glass darkly." So it is on faith .. and that is when we receive grace. We have faith that the sun will come up, the stars will shine, the rivers will flow ... we also have faith in our abstract calculations (math) .. when we predict things based on rates of change. We have faith in aircraft electronics (life is trusted to it - thousands of lives every day). Most commercial planes make instrument landings. We don spend a lot of time fearing the Mississippi will disappear or the planes will all crash or that the water supply will cease. (we have faith .. absolute faith .. we trust our lives to our belief that it will all go on.) Every time you drink water from a tap or turn on a light switch you have faith in who ever is on the other side. So it is that we have faith in God. God created it all and it all works in harmony. We exist beyond all mathematical probability (even if the universe were some kind of "accident" it is mathematically improbably that there would be earth and life - incredible that there would be human life) so God must be loving and gave us a wonderful place to live (call it Eden or Paradise or lovely earth .. wouldn't want to have it destroyed .. would you?) God gave us children (what a miracle that is and we partake in it. God gave us a sense of beauty, LOVE, comfort, integrity (integral) ... these are a some remarkable attributes (and they do not just "happen") they are GRACE. A wonderful gift. So we do not believe in God "just in case" - no we perceive Him (constantly) and cannot understand those who do not perceive Him .. but we love them anyway. So you have jump in with both feet. Just go for it. Have faith in God and let life happen. The rest will become part of you .. it does .. like your shoes or you hair colic.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • yall are just sad

      actually you missed my point. But that is ok. I am not one to sit and argue it out. I live out my beliefs, which by the way are wholly in the fact that there IS a God and he has proven it to me over and over again.

      My point is that it is sad the way people are attacking others for their beliefs. None of the people who have sat and spent hours posting are ever going to change thier minds over other people's posts. However, it is very sad that they cannot allow people to find comfort and believe in God without calling them names and insulting them.

      January 4, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  3. RightTurnClyde

    In WW I I I was young. The Western Union boy turned down our street and my mother dragged me into the house and locked the doors and cried. The telegram went to a neighbor whose 18 year old son was in the Pacific. All the ladies knew. There is no theology for war: God does not declare them; men do. And other men(often boys)(and women) fight them. When we are under fire we pray for deliverance, courage, (wisdom to survive) and .. for our salvation in case we don't. "we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother;" (easy for Henry to say .. he will not shed his blood .. and none of them will be his brother ) or for Henry to recite Psalm 115:1 (Non Nobis Domine) .. "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory,.." but that's not theology (that's psychology) .. the psychology of Agincourt. We are born and we live our time, and when our time is up it's up. That's the theology of here (this life). We have faith, however, that there is another life and a Kingdom where there is no war and no separation; no pain, no hatred, no killing. "in the sure and certain hope .." of our Christian faith we will all be together in the Kingdom.

    January 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  4. David Johnson


    I have a job. I am in charge of fries and hot apply pies at our local McDonalds. When I get my GED, I may get to flip burgers. I am taking a break from my education. I'm only 35. Plenty of time.

    I have my own place in my parents basement. It is truly a man cave!

    I am living the American Dream.

    I can't afford cable, so I poke the believers for fun.


    December 31, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  5. RLS

    David Johnson needs to get a life, and maybe even a job. Really, sitting around all day posting on blogs and bashing Christians? Go outside and play dude. Get some air.

    December 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  6. Lin McKay

    What an interesting blog to find online. The twins are darling. I appreciate what Mr. Tank has endured as a Seal and the support of Mrs. Tank as he helped keep America free and safe and strong. Happy New Year to the Tankersley family.

    December 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  7. tallulah13

    I appreciate the sacrifices made by our military and I hope for all the best for them. I truly appreciate the difficulty and pain of knowing a loved one is in constant danger, but didn't this woman think of this possibility when she married a soldier? I confess, I'm a little confused by that she seemed so surprised when he actually had to do what he was trained and paid to do.

    December 30, 2010 at 11:47 am |
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About this blog

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.