Military Spouses Open Up About Trials, Triumphs, and God’s Redeeming Love

July 3, 2018 • United States
Courtney and her husband, Army Master Sergeant James Keith, have been married nearly 20 years. During their experience in Alaska with Operation Heal Our Patriots, the couple found spiritual healing.
Courtney Keith and her husband, Army Master Sergeant James Keith, have been married nearly 20 years. The couple found spiritual healing during their experience in Alaska with Operation Heal Our Patriots.

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 and James Keith experienced spiritual renewal in Alaska.

Courtney and James Keith experienced spiritual renewal during their week in Alaska.

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.

War’s frontlines are a weighty duty, but handling life on the home front is a daunting challenge for military spouses, too. They fight emotional and spiritual battles of their own every day.

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.

Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple

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.

Courtney Keith committed her life to Jesus Christ and was baptized in Lake Clark.

Courtney Keith committed her life to Jesus Christ and was baptized in Lake Clark.

“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.

  • Army Staff Sergeant John Ricketts and his wife Christina share a tender moment after their marriage rededication.
    Christina Ricketts shares a tender moment with her husband John after their marriage rededication.

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.”

Choosing Joy

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.

Operation Heal Our Patriots 2018 in-article graphic

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.

Franklin Graham visits with Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rich Reid and his wife Ruth. The Reids rededicated their marriage while in Alaska.

Franklin Graham visits with Rich and Ruth Reid. The Reids rededicated their marriage while in Alaska.

“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.

“The chaplains made me feel like I’m married first and not a veteran’s spouse first. I didn’t get to hang my hat on the military problems,” Ruth said.

Ruth and Rich rededicated their marriage to God and to each other in a special ceremony at the end of their week at Samaritan Lodge.

“The chaplains made me feel like I’m married first and not a veteran’s spouse first.”

“I know that we are ready to go on with the rest of our lives together with tools and strength like we’ve never had before.”

‘I Just Saw Him

Christina Ricketts didn’t meet her husband, Army Staff Sergeant John Ricketts, until after an injury in Afghanistan ended his military career. A roadside bomb attack resulted in John losing both his legs below the knee and sustaining a TBI.

Christina and her husband, Army Staff Sergeant John Ricketts, with Lori Fisher. Lori and her husband, retired military chaplain Jim Fisher, counsel with couples and encourage them in their relationship with Jesus.

Christina and John Ricketts chat with Lori Fisher. Lori and her husband, retired military chaplain Jim Fisher, counsel with the patriot couples.

“I never saw the wheelchair or the brain injury. I just saw him,” Christina said. “He needed someone to love him outside his identity of the military or wounded warrior.”

That outlook didn’t come without challenges, and Christina was soon trying to manage John’s doctor appointments and run the household. She realized that a TBI would be much more challenging than physical injury, as John tends to get quickly overwhelmed and has trouble articulating his thoughts.

Christina also struggles to find the right balance of helping her husband while also empowering him to try things on his own and maintain his dignity and respect.

“Sometimes the lid gets lifted up and I see how much pressure and responsibility I have and I think, ‘This is impossible.’”

The couple’s week in Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots was restorative. It was one of the rare times Christina has felt safe and free to talk honestly about what she faces. She could just be herself around other military couples, all of whom face similar challenges.

The Ricketts with Cissie Graham Lynch and her husband Corey.

The Ricketts with Corey and Cissie Graham Lynch.

Christina has had to adjust expectations—accepting that John may never be able to hold a job again and that raising a family will be more difficult due to his injuries.

“All these things I had to lay at the foot of the Cross,” Christina said, “allowing God to work in his life instead of me trying to fix him.”

Christina and John rededicated their marriage in Alaska because they want to be more focused on pursuing Jesus Christ as individuals and as a couple.

“What drew us together is that we both wanted to live for the Lord,” Christina said. “The only reason John and I can be together is because of Jesus.”

Please continue to pray for Operation Heal Our Patriots. The season runs through Sept. 14.

Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple Operation Heal Our Patriots helps military couples build a strong spiritual foundation during a week of Biblically based workshops, relationship-building wilderness activities, and individual care by our retired military chaplains. We offer all this free of charge to these American heroes as a token of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. Your gift will help us cover the costs—including transportation, lodging, activities, and long-term Family Care—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.

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Suggested Gift: $60