As a kid, growing up military definitely had its perks. We were always stationed near a large body of water, which meant we swam in a lot of different oceans. It also meant we lived in places people paid a lot of money to visit (translation: we lived in great vacation towns). We lived in cool houses—both on base and off—with maid’s quarters, balconies and great places to explore and build forts. We met people from all over the world who became our family (and still are). My parents took advantage of each place we lived in, dragging us to national monuments, museums, large cities and exposing us to things that most people never get to see—building memories that still impact me today.
So while the military lifestyle is difficult and unique (most civilians will never be able to fully comprehend what military families go through on a daily basis), it’s also incredibly rewarding. When you grow up surrounded by military, this way of life becomes second nature—normal, even. My sister, brother and I were literally raised around uniforms, watching guys do PT every morning and hanging out in the barracks. We went to church on Sunday on my Dad’s ship, worshipping on the flight deck. We respectfully stopped and saluted every evening at dusk as taps were played; we bought groceries at the commissary and shopped at the exchange.
So when my Dad retired in 2006, our lives as we knew it were literally changed. I lost privileges to go on any base (unless I was with my parents who now had retired I.D. cards). I couldn’t shop at the commissary or exchange, I had to find my own doctor and dentist and the transient culture I had always been surrounded by now became stagnant and…civilian. I was no longer allowed to be surrounded by what I considered “home.” I belonged to that culture but I was also cast out. On the outside, I looked like everyone else. On the inside, I felt like a huge piece of me was missing. I have been wrestling with these feelings since 2006.
A few years ago, I tagged along on one of my husband’s business trips to a Navy base in New Jersey. My family used to be stationed on this base and I thought it’d be fun to take a walk down memory lane with him. I contacted the chaplain on the base, who happened to know my Dad, and on Sunday, we went to the chapel for church. As soon as the worship service started, I was transported to a different place in time. Everything about worshipping there felt right. As soon as I heard the first chords to “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” I broke down in tears. For three years, we sang that hymn every Sunday. I knew it by heart. It was familiar. I was home.
I didn’t expect to feel that way—that all these years I had been missing an arm and suddenly, it was reattached and I felt whole again. That feeling made me think and pray and ask God what He was saying to me, how He wanted to use my past in my present. A lot of time passed, I prayed about my future and I continued to wrestle with feelings of missing the military lifestyle, feeling like I didn’t belong as a civilian, knowing the military community has a lot of needs and knowing I have a lot to give back.
Because of a number of circumstances that God brought into my life simultaneously, I decided to apply to a local graduate school, taking counseling classes while continuing to work full time as a writer. One class led to another and what started as me getting my feet wet in a new field led me to knowing that God was leading me down a new career path. For the last year and a half, I have been taking classes part time, continuing to ask God how He is leading me.
This January, I will stop working and go back to school full time, pursing a counseling degree, within the marriage and family therapy track. At this point, I feel that God is calling me to use this degree is to counsel spouses and kids of active duty military personnel. This is a culture that has a lot of needs but I know, love and understand it in ways others will never be able to understand. While I’m continually open to how God is leading (and He may open other doors while I’m immersed in my program), I am incredibly excited about this new career venture. This truly feels like a calling.
As a young girl, I always used to think God was using my military background to prepare me for something great in the future. I always thought it meant I would marry an active duty military man. But God is creative and uses things to align with His purposes and further His Kingdom in ways I could never imagine. And I am incredibly honored to be a part of that plan.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps (Proverbs 16:9).
About the Author:
Kristin Schwabauer Rydbeck, daughter of a retired U.S. Navy chaplain, is a writer, photographer and editor at Gordon College for only a few more weeks. At the end of January, she’ll be a full time counseling student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, in the marriage and family therapy track. When she has spare time (which is hard to come by), she enjoys pottery, gardening, writing letters, organizing, eating ice cream as much as possible and spending time with her husband, among other things. She loves to travel the world with her husband and dreams of someday being able to minister to the (military) community who gave so much to her. For now, if you want her to write about certain topics, leave a comment. She’d love to answer your questions.