Have you ever found yourself somewhere you never thought you’d be? Found yourself living with unmet expectations? I have–and here’s what I learned from it.
As a young career woman in love, I adjusted the ideas I had for my life with my boyfriend, Jason. At the height of my career, I was working as an Intake Assessment Coordinator in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. This position combined my counseling skills and my love for marketing. At one time, I had the expectation that Jason and I would marry and live in Huntingdon, all the while continuing my career.
But after Jason enlisted in the Airforce, I had to adjust more than my expectations.
Jason proposed at the conclusion of his basic training. Details of our actual wedding were unclear because of being dependent on the Airforce. Initially, Jason thought he would attend a Tech School, allowing us to be married in Huntingdon when he was done. However, the Airforce assigned him to a 9-month Tech School in Biloxi, Mississippi. Once beaming bride-to-be, I was confused, frustrated, and at a stand-still in my blissful momentum for a the wedding I imagined.
It seemed exciting and surreal, like sort of a fairy tale. When I threw my wedding dress and some snacks and cash in Jason’s truck, I pulled away from Huntingdon with the ultimate hope in my heart. Down to the day, we timed our wedding when Jason could first leave base overnight during Tech School. I was in town, waiting two nights in a cheap motel the wedding. I would have waited weeks in the cheap motel to be in the same town as Jason.
Finally, the time had come to collect Jason in his own truck. He and I spent the night before our wedding in the swanky Beau Rivage where we slept in silky sheets. Jason was not nervous, the most confident I had ever seen him. I, on the other hand, could not sleep, anticipating our life-changing event scheduled on the Biloxi sands. Truly, there were times in my life when I thought I would never marry. Men in my past had been unreliable, untrustworthy and seeking everything but a committed future. Here I had Jason. It was the real thing.
Jason left our hotel in the morning to pick up his buddy who agreed to be our photographer. The urgent wedding plans precluded having any other guests in attendance. I took my time getting ready for the happiest day of my life. As my wedding dress adorned my body and my sparkly barrette, I added the slightest mascara to lengthen my eye lashes. One thing I loved about Jason was that he found me to be beautiful the way I was.
Jason pulled up in his truck with his friend sitting in the middle seat. Jason promptly got out of his truck, muttered “wow,” and opened the door for me. I hiked my dress and climbed in.
We were married on an overcast day, standing on slightly cool sand, next to the Tiki torches brought by our Justice of the Peace. We spent a glorious day and wedding night at The Beau Rivage, with an in-room brunch bought by friends from home. The next day, Jason had to return to base. I flew back Pennsylvania. I was to finish out my current position for a couple of months and make calls to find us a Biloxi apartment.
We were accepted by Royal Gulf Apartments in Biloxi. Military service members do receive extra perks. Once I left Pennsylvania for good, I was now Mrs. Jason Dibble, a temporary resident of Biloxi, Mississippi. Jason worked the day shift, and I had secured a temporary job selling newspaper ads for the Biloxi Bay Press. We had every evening and weekends to spend together.
“I put us down for Italy, Germany and Australia” he said, regarding future areas of service. Though I loved him, my reaction included yelling and tears of uncertainty and condemnation. It was bad enough I had to leave my career…..I had worked from the time I was 15. Upon every move with my single mom, every summer and semester as an undergraduate at UCONN, I worked. It was how I survived: I excelled at whatever job I had and earned my own income so I did not have to rely on anyone else. Though I appreciated the job security Jason had with the military, I was not going to sit around for four months. My salary in Huntingdon, PA was $40,000 per year. In contrast, my salary in Biloxi was $10 per hour.
My brain started spinning. Could I even work if we went abroad? I had all my credentials and letters of recommendation from the beginning of my career- surely, I could find something…..but when would we see family and friends? Email existed, but Jason and I did not own a computer. Phone calls would certainly be expensive–I wondered if the military paid for calls home.
Being young military family, Jason decided to use our time wisely. Why stay in the USA when we could travel? He also heard he was less likely to be deployed if he was abroad. So, on my 34th birthday, we were off to Italy. As I boarded the plane that day, I kept thinking, What do you mean we are going to Italy?
We arrived at our Posta, the Italian boarding house for married military couples while they awaited their belongings. Prior to coming, we sold Jason’s truck and my car, of which I loved. We bought a new vehicle with hopes to start a family. A couple days after landing, I still felt air-sick and was sad; my world was unfamiliar, sterile and utterly overwhelming. I had never been out of North America before. Things were so different.
That first week in Italy, we discovered we were pregnant. It was exciting news, but I had nobody to share it with. With a baby in our future, I longed for family closeness. Though we could call family, we could not talk long. It felt like we were on a different planet. Our new time zone was one of the biggest challenges adjusting to “new”–new phone calls, new marriage, new “home,” new job, a new language, and a new pregnancy.
Sometime between that first week in Italy and getting our apartment, I met an angel named Dolly. She worked at our Posta. Dolly married an American military man and was happy to live in her home country. She was an encouragement while staying at the Posta–she was friendly and eager to provide helpful hints about living in Italy. Though I reserved and unsure in my new environment, Dolly helped me by accepting me for who I was, a struggling new wife who was teetering the edge of depression.
Interviewing Italian landlords was difficult without knowing much of the language. Many of the apartments in our price range were not warm or inviting; most of them were plain white without carpet. When we met Senior Crosilla and his son, we knew we had found the two-bedroom flat we would call home here. These men were kind and very sensitive to the fact we were expecting a baby. Senior Crosilla did not speak English but his son did, which greatly reduced my anxiety in the ability to understand the intricacies of renting on the Italian economy.
I recall my first wake up in this apartment; Jason had been picked up for work, as our car had not made it across the Atlantic Ocean yet. I got up, got dressed, ate breakfast and simply felt blank. There was nothing on the walls, and my breath seemed to echo in the emptiness. All our belongings were still in transit; the Airforce provided some temporary items any household would need to function. I felt alone and useless. I found a broom and began sweeping the tile floor in the living room. I thought to myself: I wonder how much time people spend cleaning their homes because I need something else to fill my day; there is no question in my mind I will not survive here if I cannot work.
The day of my interview with the Aviano Base Human Resource Department, I dressed business-casual; clothes were beginning to strain over my baby bump. I carried with me my leather portfolio full of documents that proved I had a life before this. The woman was nice, but not nearly spunky or encouraging enough for my liking. The woman said the assistant job would include filing and some other duties for $7.00 per hour. That was it; she had no further suggestions and no advice for a new Airforce spouse who recently left her career. Trying to conceal my insulted ego, I left and went immediately home to check the Aviano Base childcare rates. There was no point in entertaining work outside the home here in Italy, as we would not make a profit.
For my post graduate school life until age 34, I had been a successful career woman. My identity vanished seemingly in an instant. Even though I had moved a lot in my life, this transplant to a mountainous region of Italy with its tightly narrowed streets and long afternoon siestas left me feeling powerless.
That first year in Italy was the worst. I felt stripped of privileges I once freely enjoyed. There were no convenience stores or department stores. The closest Walmart was rumored to be in Germany. On one income, I would not be shopping much. Jason and I would share a car. I was excited and thankful to be a mom, but I also conflicted about a life without family or friends. Jason enjoyed his job, but I was a mess.
Arriving in Italy amplified gut-wrenching loneliness that accompanies loss. I had been independent at a young age, taking care of a dysfunctional household in which parents were not emotionally available. I had many losses in my life, including my mom dying when I was 21. This contributed to low-level depression. I imagine how our Great God was watching me from above, wondering who He could place in my path in Italy that would lead me to Him. Surely, Dolly was God-given in my path. The love she showed me and my family was God-inspired.
Throughout my pregnancy, I made another Airforce friend in the neighborhood. We walked and talked together, which provided some sense of normalcy for my girlfriend needs. Family and friends back home were excited for our baby to arrive and sent us baby things via the United States Postal service. Receiving packages in Italy gave me something to look forward to. Being isolated and pregnant with our first child in an Italian neighborhood made me wish for a large family gathering to celebrate our baby. But God put several things in place for me. Jason’s women friends in the squadron and the couple of friends gave me a baby shower. Another military mom gave us a gift and a huge bag of baby boy clothes. If it weren’t for that bag, Braedon would have had nothing to fit his premie-body. Last but certainly not least, Jason’s mom and dad booked a trip to Italy so they would arrive a couple days after our boy was born. God granted me a family visit I longed for, even though I did not know Him or the power of prayer.
God also provided in miraculous ways for Braedon’s delivery. I was in the hospital, one week overdue and not progressing as the doctor-on-call thought I should. Several attempts were made to break my water. My regular doctor walked by the room in his street clothes and saw me; he asked what was I doing there? I trusted him. His welcoming smile turned into a furrowed brow and squinty eyes when he checked the machine monitoring Braedon’s heart. He calmly said, “Julie, we are going to take you in for a C-section.”
The doctor identified the need to act quickly as Braedon’s heart rate was dropping with each contraction; I was fully sedated when they performed the surgery. My first memory of our first-born is waking up on the recovery table and seeing Jason behind me holding our baby boy. In my view, they were upside down. As my eyes gained focus, I wanted to sit up and turn around to welcome both loves into my arms. That pesky stomach surgery humbled my actions, and I lay in wait while Jason introduced me to our tiny, but healthy, baby boy.
So, both our children were born in Italy. We spent a total of 3 years there, and decided the military lifestyle was not going to work for our family. Military life is a struggle in many ways; it challenges your hopes and expectations of how marriage and family compare to those living a civilian life. It is characterized by a constant coming and going that tugs on your heart. It strains the very thread that binds a husband and wife. I can look back on that time and learn so much.
In fact, it is with the utmost faith that I proclaim God sent me several angels during my 3 years and two pregnancies in Italy. God knew at that season in my life, I needed extra support. Though I did not know Jesus until later, the seeds planted in my life were watered there.
God gave us beautiful friendships that have stood the test of time and distance. He gave us two precious boys Braedon and Jackson. God protected Jason as he served our country and through his deployment in Afghanistan. Our marriage experienced trials while in Italy and more trials with the adjustment of returning home and separating from the military in 2007. After coming to Christ in my 40’s, my husband and I renewed our vows at our church last summer with God and our family as our witnesses. We cherish both weddings, as the first one in Biloxi represented Hope in things to come. Sweetly, the second one represented the Love which had grown in each of us for God and for each other, eleven years later.
Be blessed if you know God, his son Jesus and the Counselor who lives in your heart, The Holy Spirit. The truth of His love and his forgiveness prevails over every lie the Enemy can conjure. Should you ever feel like you are losing hope, look up to Him who is the beginning and the end. Our God is with us always no matter where Life takes you.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 from (NLT Study Bible, 2008)
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
May God bless this story in honor of His Holy Name!
Julie Ann Dibble