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Missionary Romance Perseveres Military Missions

Missionary Romance Perseveres Military Missions

by Ben & Renee Dekker, Epilogue by Pastor Nathan Irving, IABC Certfied Biblical Counselor, USMC SGT, Three Tour Combat Veteran, Retired

Renee's Story

My husband, Ben, and I met in high school at a school for missionary kids in the Philippines. Because of some unconventional timing in our earlier years, we ended up in the same grade even though we are two years apart in age. Now I can see that those events were orchestrated by God even before we met because it was all part of His plan.

We were sixteen and fourteen, young and in love. Many people, including teachers and our own parents, urged us not to be so serious at such a young age, but I think deep down we knew we were made for each other. God’s timing doesn’t always make sense to everyone, but He knew we would need a strong foundation together in order to endure our future. After graduating from our high school in the Philippines, we left for more opportunities in the U.S. Ben went to California and I went to Texas. We were young adults learning to live in another country on our own. That, combined with the long distance, was incredibly hard on our relationship. But it forced us to grow up and learn how to communicate better and continually choose each other. God knew we would need to learn how to maintain a close relationship through distance and hard times.

A year later, Ben proposed a few days before Christmas. After the excitement and celebration, we began to plan for our future. We soon realized we would need stability and security to survive. So, on a whim, or more truthfully through God’s leading, Ben walked into a recruiting office for the United States Marine Corps. By November the following year, he was off to bootcamp and by June we were married. We packed up all of our meager belongings and Ben’s Labrador Dee into a pick-up truck and moved into an apartment near Camp Pendleton. We spent the first few months sleeping on the floor, saving up to buy a few pieces of furniture. We couldn’t wait to have friends and family visit our new home. A few months into our marriage, Ben went on his first deployment.

Two years in, we were pregnant with our first child and were working on buying our first home when Ben deployed again, this time to Afghanistan. He left two days before we got the keys to the house, but some of his buddies helped us move in.

A few months into the deployment, one of Ben’s best friends in the Marine Corps was killed in action. It was a shocking and devastating loss. Communication at that time was extremely limited, and we could only speak on the phone for a few minutes every few weeks. This time, long-distance was even more difficult to endure. There were long periods of not knowing where Ben was or if he was okay. I wanted to be there for him in his grief, but I had no way of communicating with him. I had to pray every day that God would give me peace in knowing that He had a specific plan for Ben’s life, and I felt I had no choice but to trust that He would protect him.

Four months into this seven-month deployment, I gave birth to our son, Noah. Days later, Ben found out he was a father via a Red Cross message. It felt so surreal bringing a child into this world without Ben by my side. I was so scared to bring him home from the hospital and wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the next few months. My loving family was with me for the first few weeks, but then it was just me and our baby. I remember in the haze of sleepless nights with a new born, I would sometimes forget for a minute that Ben was deployed, and then it would hit me all over again that he wasn’t there. I cried out to God at all hours of the night, begging for strength and for courage. I did not want fear to take over, but I knew I couldn’t make it through on my own. I was surviving day by day, asking God for enough strength to get through each night. It was also in those hours I prayed for God to take hold of Noah’s little heart so he would grow in wisdom, stature, and knowledge of Him. Finally, Ben made it home and held his three-month-old son for the first time.

There was so much joy in having Ben home, but there was also heaviness. Grief from losing a friend and sadness for time missed that we could never get back. It felt like a bad recurring nightmare when Ben came home from work about nine months later to tell me he was deploying again, back to Afghanistan. We knew this time would be different, that it would be the most difficult goodbye. It was heartbreaking to watch little Noah throw his arms around his daddy’s neck before he left. I took a photo of that moment and framed it for Noah to have next to his bed. Every night I would point to the photo and say, "Remember Dada? He loves you, and he will be home soon."

By the grace of God, I met some fellow Marine Corps wives who invited me to join their Bible study. It was led by an amazing woman who had a heart for service members and whose ministry was to the wives left behind. I felt loved and supported and, most importantly, understood. Through this group, I felt like I wasn’t just surviving through a deployment. I am so thankful for the women God put in my life at that time. They helped me emotionally, spiritually, and in the day-to-day. They showed me how to deal with deployments in a healthy way and the importance of community. Before Ben returned home from this deployment, he was warned not to be discouraged if his young, one-year old son didn’t take to him right away or even remember who he was. But God answered our prayers and showed us how much He cares for us, even in the small things. Noah’s face lit up the minute he saw his dad’s face in a line-up of men all dressed in uniform. Noah gave Ben a huge hug and clung on to him so tight.

Ben’s next enlistment was spent at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, where he worked as a drill Instructor. He was finally "home" stateside, and yet in many ways his responsibilities were more grueling and time-consuming. He spent most days and nights at the depot, coming home only on occasion for some food and a few hours of sleep. Our daughter, Quinn, was born in the middle of a cycle, so Ben was back to work by the next day, but we were so thankful he got to be there to experience her birth. The kids and I would drive down late at night to bring Ben food and try to get a hug or two in before he had to get back to his quarters. All this was incredibly physically and mentally demanding on him, so at the end of this enlistment, we decided it was time to transition out of the military.

We were full of hope and couldn’t wait to ease into a more "normal" way of life. We weren’t expecting the next few years to be so challenging. Many of those months are now just a blur. I had many expectations for this change, but none of them included feeling hopeless as I watched my husband struggle to find his way. Although I knew God promises to never leave us nor forsake us, I still felt so alone. I thought we had made the right decision, thinking we would have more time together as a family and Ben wouldn’t miss out on his kids growing up. I wasn’t prepared or equipped to help him navigate feelings of hopelessness and suffering from anxiety and PTSD. We moved to a city ten hours away, in part to get a fresh start, but perhaps also as an attempt to escape our problems. God brought us reprieve and a chance to learn how to be a family in the day-to-day, but Ben was still searching for a new purpose. I think at times he felt directionless and found it hard to cope with everything he had endured as a Marine. We made another move and another career change, but that brought only temporary relief until the problems settled back in.

I begged Ben to get help; I hated watching him suffer, and I wanted so much more for him. I started to lose faith in God’s plan for our lives. I couldn’t understand why He would carry us through so many difficulties, only to allow us to suffer in this way. I felt resentful and very confused. I wondered if we had made wrong decisions, and I asked God why this was happening. But I still prayed. I prayed for God to bring Ben peace and healing. I prayed that God would bring the right people at the right time. I prayed for patience, and I asked for faith.

Then one day, six years after Ben’s last day as a Marine, he applied to attend a week-long conference put on by the Mighty Oaks Warrior Foundation. I think he felt a reserved hopefulness when he got his acceptance letter, but I could see him struggling to find the courage to go. The morning he left, I prayed that God would work a miracle in Ben’s life. I found out a week later when he returned home that he had almost turned around instead of going. I am so glad God gave him the courage and strength to stay. He has a renewed hope in his life and God’s plan for his future. I can’t lie and say all of our problems have disappeared, but we have a fresh perspective. "God works all things for the good of the those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28 xxx). God can heal the broken hearted, the poor in spirit. He sees us and knows our anxious thoughts and promises to lead us in the way everlasting. I am so thankful that God gave me Ben—a man who continues to put his family first and is the most loyal and kind husband. We have renewed hope for the future and pray that God will continue to grow us and use us to show His love to others.

Ben's Story

I was raised as a missionary kid in a remote village in the Philippines. When I was a freshman in high school, my family moved to Manila, where I when to a school for missionary kids. While in high school, I met the love of my life at a young age. Lots of people told us to not take our young relationship seriously as a lot of times these high school relationships don’t work out. Someone once told me to pray for my wife as a young man even if I didn’t know who God had for me, so even before I met Renee, I would pray that God would let me meet her young and build our relationship. And He answered that prayer. We built our relationship through high school. After graduating, we moved across the world and landed in two very different parts of the country. Looking back now, I can see God was using this time to give us tools we would need in the future. We got engaged and two years after high school graduation we were married and I was enlisted in the Marines and stationed on Camp Pendleton in California.

While I was in the Marines, I had a lot of ups and downs, and it seemed to me that there were a lot of downs. I deployed three times while stationed in Camp Pendleton. One cruise with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the other two were to Afghanistan. During this time, I was gone a lot, so Renee was left home to do most everything. We bought our first home, and she handled everything and managed to move in with the assistance of a few close friends while being six months pregnant. Our first child was born when I was deployed to Afghanistan, and just before he was born, a close friend of mine was killed in action. Shortly after returning home, I began another work-up for my second deployment to Afghanistan. Upon returning from this deployment, I received orders to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. We were excited about the opportunity for me to be "home" for a three-year assignment, not realizing the demanding nature of being a drill Instructor. I quickly realized being home was much different from being home working as a drill Instructor. Because our house was about an hour from the depot, I rarely went home. The high level of stress and intensity of this new assignment began to catch up to me mentally, and by the end of my time as a drill Instructor, Renee and I decided it was time for me to get out. So, after my second enlistment ended, I transitioned out. At this point I was hopeful for the future, but I didn’t realize what was to come.

While I was raised in a Christian home as a missionary kid, I had never really built a strong foundation in my faith, and during my time in the Marine Corps I was basically in neutral. When I was home, we would go to church on Sundays and I knew Renee was attending a women’s group, but I never did any more than that. So, when I transitioned out of the Marines, I did not have an active open relationship with God. When the weight of my experiences in the Marine Corps began to flood in, I began to drown in them.

For years, I shoved them down and blocked them out. I don’t remember much of the first few years after leaving the Marines, but it was not years of joy and peace. My wife was hurting because I was hurting, and I did a lot of things to drown it all out. It got to the point where I thought the answer was to pack up and leave, start fresh. We moved away, I started a new career, and I quickly excelled in this new job. However, not very long after, I realized all the same dreams, hurts, anxieties, and problems were still there, and the new place, home, job, and friends were not going to cover them up. And I began to spiral down again.

I would have months of feeling nothing but doom and misery with a few days in between that wouldn’t be so bad, but those better days were few and far between. My only answer for this was to keep drowning them and run. Uproot the family and start over again and maybe this time things would be better. During this time, I knew the changes were taking a heavy toll on Renee, but I always thought it couldn’t be as bad as what I had going on in my head. So, despite the pain it was going to cause her and the kids, I was determined to move again. So, we sold our home and moved. Things were good again. I had a new job in a new career, and I was excelling at it. Things seemed to be fixed. But I quickly realized everything in my head was still there and was coming back heavier and harder than before. I got to such lows that I thought my wife and kids would be better off and happier if I just wasn’t there. They would have all the good memories, and I wouldn’t keep dragging them down my endless hole of misery.
I felt hopeless, without a purpose, and that the sacrifices we had made when I was in the Marines were for nothing. Constantly depressed and anxious, I didn’t want friends. I pushed away everyone who tried because I believed they could never understand what I was dealing with. The worst part was I was so embarrassed feeling the way I was feeling because I knew men who had been through far worse hells than I had. So, all the things going on in my head, combined with this shame of being so weak, caused me to refuse any kind of help offered and kept me from seeking any help.
But God had a plan. For all those years since I had been out of the Marines, Renee had never stopped fighting for me. She would beg God to heal me and bring people into my life who would speak to me and I would hear. She never left or gave up; she endured and pressed forward. She uprooted with me and supported me when I thought I was doing what was best for us, when she knew I was only running from my issues. She knew I would find the same hopelessness wherever we went.

One evening we had been talking about everything, and I was back to the idea of more change. Moving again to somewhere else to do something else. Find a new purpose, something that meant something. She encouraged me to do something about my issues even if it wasn’t talking to someone. She just asked that I do something. After this I was scrolling through some sort of social media and happened across the Mighty Oaks Warrior page. I saw they offered a Men’s Legacy program. I had a close friend who had attended one and thought it may be a nice get-away with like-minded men, so I applied. I was accepted and scheduled to attend the program.

I think the most difficult part of attending this program was getting there. So many times on the drive to the location, I stopped and nearly turned back. I got in the area where the program was and drove around until the last hour of check-in. I can’t explain why it was so difficult to get myself to go or what I was feeling. It was like a hurricane in my head, and ultimately, I think the shame of quitting before trying was what got me there.
During this program I learned that I was missing God in my life. I learned that God does have a plan for me and a purpose for me and right now His purpose for me is to love and serve my wife and my family, to love, support, and raise my kids. I was searching for a purpose, some kind of meaningful, life-changing career that would positively impact the world. However, I found that right now God wants me to build my relationship with Him, love and serve my wife and kids, and be ready and willing when He opens the next door.

During this program, one of the leaders encouraged me to seek biblical counseling and got me linked up with Fallen Soldiers March. After leaving the Men’s Legacy Program I spent eight weeks meeting with Nathan Irving, a biblical counselor, who encouraged me and gave me tools through Scripture to build a strong foundation in Christ. I learned so many things through this counseling with Nathan, and now every day I use the tools I learned. I spent years of my life not listening because no one knew what I was dealing with, but hearing counsel from a like-minded man that I respect and knowing he understood was exactly what I needed and it made such a difference. God knew this and blessed Nathan with the wisdom and ability to break down those boundaries. God is working in my life and healing my wounds. Working with Nathan was a huge blessing in my life. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 NKJV).

Not everything is perfect, and there are still things I deal with daily, but Renee and I have a renewed hope in Christ. He has been and continues to be faithful. Life is still difficult, and there are hurts and things I still need to deal with, but now I have the tools to do that. True healing is from God. He is working in my life, and I have been truly blessed.

Renee has been through so much and has stood beside me for so many years. God put her in my life to help me through these last six years since I have been out. God has shown me grace and mercy, and He is doing great things in our lives. I find my strength in Him and His promises. "Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mathew 11:28 NKJV). "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and who do not live in accordance with the flesh but in accordance with the Sprit" (Romans 8:1 xxx).

by Ben & Renee Dekker

 

Epilogue  

"Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11 ESV)

I have the privilege of writing the epilogue for this portion of Ben and Renee’s life. As I was considering what to say, I began thinking about the final Epilogue. What will be said at the conclusion of all things? When this earth passes away, when all stories culminate, what will be the final word?

It will be this: Worthy is God, to receive glory and honor and power, for He created all things, and by His will they existed and were created! Worthy is the Lamb, for He was slain, and by His blood He ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and has made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth! (See Revelation 4:11 and 5:9–10)

It is all of God! Nothing will be said of Nathan Irving in the Great Epilogue! All things are from Him and through Him and to Him (Romans 11:36)! The work that has been done in Ben and the work that has been done from the dawn of time has all been of God! It was an act of divine condescension to work through a weak and imperfect man like myself. And this just proves all the more that He cannot fail, His counsel will stand, and He will accomplish all His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:10)!

In God’s appointed and acceptable time, he is pleased to call effectually, by his Word and Spirit, those he has predestined to life. He calls them out of their natural state of sin and death to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. He enlightens their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God. He takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh. He renews their wills and by his almighty power turns them to good and effectually draws them to Jesus Christ. Yet he does all this in such a way that they come completely freely, since they are made willing by his grace (2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, 10:1).

Notice all of the pronouns in this paragraph from my favorite confession. He is pleased. He predestined. He calls. He enlightens. He takes. He gives. He renews. He turns. He draws. He does all this. It is all of God!

Since we know that God being glorified is the end where all things must meet, we do not judge success as those do who have no such knowledge. Many, even among the churched, are pragmatists. They just want to see results. They want to see the drug addict become sober, the couple whose marriage was on the rocks renew their wedding vows, and the veteran stop wanting to kill himself.

In order to procure these ends, they are often willing to commit and approve of idolatry. Whether it is through offers of belief in a "higher power" or through self-esteem or by calling sin sickness, they whitewash the tomb full of dead men’s bones and wash the outside of the cup, leaving the inside filthy.

The analogy I often use goes something like this: The counselor begins by identifying the main issue. There is a big, nasty, stinking idol in the counselee’s life, and it is causing problems. If the counselee’s heart were a house, the idol would be taking up residence in the living room. The whole house is full of the fumes from the idol. So, the counselor moves the idol from the living room to the great room. He sweeps out the corner where it once stood, wipes away the cobwebs, and sprays some air freshener. Presto! The counselee is no longer a drunkard (in deed)! Through self-love and blame-shifting, he is now a presentable idolater. Success . . .

The problem is that the counselee is still going to hell.

God does not share His glory with idols (Isaiah 42:8).

Nothing really changed in that counselee’s heart. He simply went from expressing his damnable idolatry as a drunkard to expressing it in some more culturally acceptable way.

But we have the gospel! We are servants of the One who called light out of darkness and who sheds light on the darkened hearts of idolaters, for His glory and for their (true) good. We have Jesus Christ—the (only) way, the (only) truth, and the (only) life!

And when the Creator of all things does a work of re-creation in a human soul, it is the most wonderful thing that ever happens under the sun. It is then that the work of a biblical counselor is all joy, his task easy, and the result (the only one that matters) sure.

This was my experience with Ben, and I will forever be thankful that I was allowed to have a front-seat view of God’s work.

Let us abandon all human inventions, foolish philosophies, and vain tactics. The answer is Christ. He is worthy.  

SDG

by Pastor Nathan Irving, IABC Certfied Biblical Counselor, USMC SGT, Three Tour Combat Veteran, Retired

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