I have spent almost all of my adult life around the military. I went to university in Washington, DC, so it was inevitable that I would see and meet service members. The summer after I graduated from university, I signed my contract and went to Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS). An injury ended my time at OCS early, but it was also the summer that I met my husband, John, who was enlisted at the time. After serious consideration and much prayer, I chose not to return to OCS as my relationship with my then boyfriend became more serious. There was a lot of time spent in prayer those days as I tried to determine where my career path would lead me. As my relationship with John developed, we faced the challenge of John receiving orders away from Washington, DC to Hawaii. While he was still on Oahu, communication was available, but a time difference was inconvenient. He arrived in Hawaii in November and by February he was deployed to the Pacific. In those days, there was no ready access to email or cell phones for him. There were weeks and even a month where we were unable to communicate. I often had no idea which country he was in until I did get a call. He once walked two miles with a friend to find a pay phone in the Philippines to call me. I became a devoted pen pal. It was a test of our relationship but also a test of my faith. It was a lonely time for me as I had time to think about “us” and where our relationship was going but little time to actually talk to him. It was also a time during which I began law school. My faith and commitment to attending church every week helped ease my loneliness and frustration. Shortly after John returned from deployment, we got engaged. Unlike most Anglican couples, we didn’t go through premarital counseling other than one session when my husband came back to DC for us to file for a marriage license. He was still stationed in Hawaii and living in the barracks on base. There was no Episcopal priest handy, and he wasn’t baptized. In April 2003, we were married in my church in DC. We briefly considered eloping or going before a Justice of the Peace, but I couldn’t stomach the idea of taking a sacrament or making a covenant without the blessing of the Church. After a four day honeymoon, John returned to Hawaii for six weeks. Our marriage began with a new duty station for John in Northern Virginia, a new home, me in law school, and my husband with a serious knee injury within three weeks of his arrival that required two major surgeries in less than two years. Our first year of marriage was a test of wills and a test of faith. Actually, our first decade of marriage was a test of wills and a test of faith!
An only child married a young man used to living with a hundred other young men. It was an adjustment for us both. I quickly realized that pursuing a career as a lawyer wouldn’t be as fulfilling as I thought if I was going to work 80 hours a week and never see my deployable husband. With the potential of moving every three years, I also didn’t want to spend my career clerking or trying to find a new firm with every move. I left law school after a year and a half. I was back to trying to figure out my purpose. I found my purpose, or at least one of them, two and a half years after we married. I became a mom for the first time. With my husband’s work schedule, I quickly realized that I was going to be essentially a single mom most days and many weeks. My son was two weeks old when we started going to church every week. When people talk about a ‘Cradle Episcopalian’, they are talking about my boys. Both were in church by the time they were two weeks old. This was also a time when I discovered my calling beyond motherhood. Through prayer and discernment, I realized that I had a calling to become a teacher.
Just before our first son turned one, we moved to Camp Pendleton. A brief house hunt and then an assignment to base housing was about as much help settling in as my husband was able to offer. With a toddler and a return to school for a graduate degree, it often felt like John and I were ships passing in the night. I quickly found Episcopal church services on base held at the Ranch House, but after only a few months of attending, the base chose to end the services because we were a congregation of 10 (on a busy Sunday).
I was “referred” to St. Michael’s by faithful St. Michael’s parishioners Chuck and Kathleen Ables who often attended services at the Ranch House while they were still offered. St. Michael’s became my church home and has been for 11 years. I’ve never church shopped – ever. All of my life, I have always attended the Episcopal church closest to my home. I live in Oceanside, and St. Michael’s is in Carlsbad, so this is the first time I “commute” to church. It’s been worth the drive every Sunday for over a decade.
Many people remember when I was pregnant with my second son and my older son was a toddler. Parishioners remind me of the days of carrying one on each hip. Soon I had two boys squirming over me; I would get sympathetic looks from the moms and grandmas in the congregation as I wrangled them in the back pew. While, as many parents know, it’s not easy keeping two kids less than two years apart still during Mass, I was, and am, committed to raising the boys in the Church. I wouldn’t trade the Sunday School education my boys have received for anything. The congregation has watched my boys grow up, and they feel like an extended family to us. They went from the toddler room to serving as acolytes in what seems like a heartbeat. I progressed from the back of the church to the front of the church, mainly so I can give them the evil eye when they wiggle when serving at the altar. Even though John doesn’t share our faith, he supports me in raising the boys as Anglicans, and they attend a Roman Catholic school.
Through all of this, John and I have weathered changes in jobs for me and a transition from active duty to being a DoD Civilian. The change from being a military wife to being a civilian wife was far harder on me than the transition was for John. He grew out his hair, grew a beard, and stopped wearing cammies. I had to find doctors, grocery stores, insurance, and all the things that I hadn’t thought about for almost a decade. During each of these phases of my life, marriage, motherhood, and career, my faith has sustained me. It isn’t always easy being married to someone who doesn’t share my faith. We don’t have the same guiding force in our lives. My husband’s experiences with organized religion have soured him, but despite all of this, I know that he believes in God, and that is why he supports the boys being raised in the Church. As our boys stand witness to the challenges that adulthood and married life present, I remind them often that, “While everything may change, family and faith will always remain the same.” This has been my guiding principle throughout life and one that I pray will always stay with my boys.
This article was written by parishioner Maria Mahaffey and published in the 2017 Summer Messenger.