SAMARITAN’S PURSE BRINGS VETERANS AND THEIR SPOUSES TO ALASKA TO EXPERIENCE MARRIAGE RENEWAL AND SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT.
Sometimes the call came in the middle of the night, and her husband would be gone by morning. She often had no idea where, for how long, or when she would hear from him again.
Courtney Keith began to fear an officer’s knock on her door—the signal that her husband had been killed on military deployment—so much so that she asked friends and neighbors to come to the back door instead of ringing the front doorbell.
Over the past 19 years, Courtney’s husband, Army Master Sergeant James Keith, has deployed 13 times. When James was not deployed he was still away weeks at a time for training. Even when James was home, Courtney was burdened by the persistent anxiety that he may have to leave her and their two boys at any moment.
“I’m not sure which is worse—waiting for him to leave or waiting for him to come back,” Courtney said.
That’s why Operation Heal Our Patriots—the Samaritan’s Purse project open to military personnel wounded in combat or combat-related activities after 9/11—is for both the veteran and their spouse. Patriot couples participate in outdoor adventures together and in Bible-based classes led by retired military chaplains and their wives—all with the goal of strengthening their marriage. The final piece is encouraging each spouse to establish or continue building a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Courtney discovered spiritual healing this summer in Alaska when she gave her life to Jesus and was baptized in Lake Clark.
“We can’t do marriage alone. This week was a course correction,” she said.
A Greater Love
For Courtney, being a military spouse meant doing everything on her own and “trying to be everything to everyone.” Over time, that wore her down.
“I didn’t take care of myself; I didn’t have time,” she said.
When James would return home after deployments, neither he nor Courtney knew how to best integrate him back into family dynamics. Courtney and the kids learned to function without Dad because they had no choice, but they still wanted him involved when he was home. James also wanted that, yet he struggled knowing how to connect with his children or how to parent in cooperation with his wife.
“He was gone so much I became robotic. I shut my emotions out. You had to build those walls to keep going,” Courtney explained.
James faced a number of close calls in combat, and Courtney walked with him as they worked through his injuries, which include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
At the end of the day, love held them together when they felt like giving up. “I loved James and wanted to be with him. When he came home after deployment, it was like falling in love all over again,” Courtney said.
Now, as Courtney was saved and James rededicated his life to God in Alaska, the Keiths know a never-changing love upon which to center their marriage: Jesus Christ.
James will soon retire and their children will soon move away and begin college, signaling a new life stage for the couple.
“Operation Heal Our Patriots is a great opportunity to reset our marriage and prepare for this transition,” Courtney said. “This week was a big part of our healing and seeing what is important.”
Ruth Reid met her husband, Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rich Reid, when they were children in Peru and growing up with missionary parents. They married a few years after high school, and although they have walked closely with God, faith hasn’t protected them from affliction.
Rich has been out of the military for 10 years, yet Ruth came to Alaska still struggling with the imprint military life has made on her heart and her marriage.
“We had gotten into a pit of not understanding each other,” Ruth said. “I couldn’t move forward or walk the rest of our lives this way.”
Rich has PTSD, which has resulted in times of anger, impatience, and depression—none of which Ruth was prepared for. She also experienced intense depression, and “knowing that the joy of the Lord is my strength is the only way God got me out of bed. I had to choose joy one day at a time,” Ruth said. “Jesus is always the love of our lives.”
Ruth had to learn that mourning isn’t just for those who grieve a physical death. She mourned while Rich was deployed—due to his absence—and also for the loss his injuries represent.
“Injury and trauma creates a distance that’s not the same. I wish I had the same closeness I had before with Rich. I hope that God will create that closeness again in a different and deeper way,” Ruth explained.
Ruth also mourned her life before the military.
“You have to let yourself grieve that you’re not going to be the same person you were before the war. I can’t recreate the life I had before. I have to let God create a new life,” Ruth said.
Ruth was reminded in Alaska that God loves her family, His love is unchanging, and that a strong marriage comes by focusing on who they are as individuals and as husband and wife.