A Christmas Apart—But Closer Together Than Ever: Leslie Gould

From March of 2011 to February 2012, my Army Reservist husband, Peter, was deployed to Afghanistan to command a field hospital a few miles from the Pakistan border. It was a challenge for me and our four children to have him gone, but nothing we went through compared to his experience.

Peter and I saying goodbye at the airport before he left for Afghanistan.

Peter and I saying goodbye at the airport before he left for Afghanistan.

He was on a base routinely targeted by rockets, and one of his nurses was killed in an attack a few weeks after their arrival. Other enemy attacks killed several more soldiers on the base during Peter’s deployment.

He oversaw the care of American and international soldiers, Afghani citizens and children, and enemy soldiers, too. He lived every day in a war zone doing his best to save the lives of each person who came through the hospital. And for the most part he and his staff were successful—but every death was a horrible loss.

I, on the other hand, escaped into my world of the Amish, writing Courting Cate in the fall and winter of 2011. It wasn’t that I didn’t worry about Peter. I did. Every single day I had to struggle to trust God with Peter’s life, and then I’d gladly enter my writing world filled with nonresistant, Anabaptist characters who lived where there was no war.

As Peter neared the end of his deployment, we had one more hurdle to face: Christmas.

Christ is the soul of our family’s Christmas, but Peter is the beating heart. He loves the holiday. Everywhere we travel he buys a Christmas ornament. He’s the one that picks out the tree as early as possible and then wraps thousands of lights onto individual branches, preparing it for the rest of us to decorate. He’s the one who puts Christmas music on the stereo, starting the day after Thanksgiving, playing his favorite—“Little Drummer Boy”—over and over.

Through a stretch of hard Christmases—including my mother’s death and a series of losses in our extended family—Peter kept us centered. I couldn’t help but dread doing Christmas 2011 without him. True, our kids were older—two young adults and two teenagers—and that made it easier than it could have been, but still I balked at what was ahead.

In the meantime, I packed a Christmas box for him in November. An artificial tree. IKEA ornaments. Gingerbread. Tea and boxed milk. A couple of weeks later, I started in on our own Christmas. Our girls and I picked out the tree. I realized when we got it home it wasn’t as tall or as wide as Peter usually chose, but it would do. Our oldest daughter took on the task of stringing the lights, while our youngest son put up the outside lights and our youngest daughter put on the Christmas music. “Little Drummer Boy” is her favorite too.

As the big day neared, I thought of the Reserve Unit that would soon be replacing Peter and his staff. The families of those soldiers would be celebrating their last holiday together for the next year. Their loved ones were soon to be leaving—but my husband would soon be coming home. I was genuinely joyful that the incoming group had Christmas with their families instead of us. We were short timers now—they had the long haul ahead of them.

We weren’t sure if we’d be able to Skype with Peter on Christmas Day, but we set a time to try—8 a.m. our time, 8:30 p.m. Afghanistan time (yes, they’re on the half hour). That morning, my oldest son had the fire going in the fireplace before his siblings were up. I placed Flat Daddy (an enlarged cutout photo of Peter) on the couch, and by the time the others rolled into the living room, I was trying to get through on Skype.

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The Gould kids with Flat Daddy.

Finally we connected. As we all gathered around Peter’s face on my laptop, we were so thankful for the good connection and for all of us being “together” that we hardly noticed we really weren’t.

Peter (standing, closest to the Christmas tree) in Afghanistan with other soldiers.

Peter (standing, closest to the Christmas tree) in Afghanistan with other soldiers.

That gratefulness for our family continued through the day as we celebrated with my extended family, including my nearly ninety-year-old father, and then the next day with Peter’s family.

As more years go by, I know Christmas 2011 will never be remembered as one of our worst. In fact, I think we’ll recall it as one of our very best. God’s peace truly filled our hearts that Christmas.

Are you remembering anyone who isn’t able to be with you this Christmas?

Connect with Leslie on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

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Most Recent Release: Adoring Addy

Adoring Addie

Can Addie and Jonathan’s love finally mend the feud between their two families, or will their forbidden courtship drive everyone further apart?

31 thoughts on “A Christmas Apart—But Closer Together Than Ever: Leslie Gould

  1. Leslie, your story touched my heart and I couldn’t finish reading it without tears. How hard it must be for loved ones in worn torn places to be away from loved ones and their loved ones missing them so much on the home front.

    Yes, I am remembering loved ones who I can’t be near this Christmas. The ache is very real and very powerful. BUT, I have the peace of Jesus in my heart. I know I will make it through.

    Blessings!

  2. Leslie, thank you for sharing this! What a great story of your family pulling together to make what could have been a miserable Christmas, one of your most cherished. You have a wonderful family!

  3. Pingback: Christmas 2011, via Afghanistan | Leslie Gould

  4. I remember Christmas of 2011 well, not mine but yours. I remember praying for you and Peter and the rest of the family. And I remember thanking God for giving all of you the inner strength to handle the difficult separation. You continue to be an inspiration!

  5. What a beautiful reminder that God is never far from us and that we may experience peace in the midst of what could be a peace-less time. Thank you for sharing & for your encouragement to remember God is faithful and near us and our loved ones!

  6. I remember that Christmas very well, along with the ones I missed being overseas. I just finished Adoring Addie and am looking forward to your next book. Your characters are also well rounded and real, I get sucked into their lives everytime. It is hard to put them down. Thanks for writing.

  7. Thanks for sharing your recollections of Christmas 2011. I’m so glad Peter is home to celebrate with you this year. I will be praying for all our military men and women who can’t spend Christmas this year with their families. We are so fortunate to have people like Peter and others willing to serve our country. Thank you!

  8. Lovely story. Thanks to men like your husband and families like yours who sacrifice so much so we can all be safe.

    God bless and Merry Christmas.

  9. What a beautiful description of Christmas 2011, Leslie! It’s hard to believe that was two years ago now. Knowing what those 11 months were like for your family has really made me sensitive to the absences of other members of the military. I’m amazed that you were able to support Peter from afar, parent 4 children, keep home and hearts alive, and write “Courting Cate” (which I loved, by the way!) during this time. Thank you to all of your family for this sacrifice. It’s good to have Peter home this Christmas!

  10. That was such a beautiful story, Leslie. I’m so glad your husband is home safely. Wishing you and yours a very blessed Christmas and peace for the New Year!

    All the best,

    ~ Jen ~

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