by Randy Bishop, who traveled to Samaritan Lodge Alaska earlier this summer to report on the couples who have gone through the marriage enrichment program offered by Operation Heal Our Patriots
I met Brien and Annie Kirkpatrick while in Alaska covering Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse ministry to military personnel wounded or injured after 9/11 and their spouses. Brien, a 32-year-old Gunnery Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, sustained multiple injuries over multiple deployments and trainings, including a difficult tour in Iraq in 2005.
We went fishing together the first two days of the wilderness retreat. Boy, can those two fish. The couple took it seriously, and they were rewarded with lots of catch-and-release action.
“It’s amazing,” Annie said. “I’m glad to get to spend time with him [Brien].”
As they cast flies, we talked about the incredible Alaska scenery, how they met and became high school sweethearts back in Idabel, Okla., and the two kids they have now.
The couple also shared about their recent visit to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., where they saw numerous specialists in traumatic brain injury and psychological health over a four-week period. It was very helpful, though the back pain and debilitating headaches continue.
“I have completely changed my entire life around my back and head,” Brien said.
What sustains the Kirkpatricks is their strong faith in Christ. They shared about the vibrant, new church they attend near Camp LeJeune in eastern North Carolina. All the equipment and chairs for the church are stored in a mobile unit that has to be unloaded and reloaded every week. Brien is one of the main volunteers in charge of this work.
Perhaps the highlight of the week for the couple was seeing fellow Operation Heal Our Patriots participants Marine Master Sergeant Shawn and Anne Demenkow baptized on a warm, sunny Friday morning. For years, the Kirkpatricks have been praying for and witnessing to the Demenkows, who happen to live just a few doors down from them. Undaunted by the chilly lake waters, Brien and Annie had the privilege of assisting in the baptisms alongside one of our chaplains.
A Team Effort
I enjoyed getting to know the Kirkpatricks. I think their story probably could have been told from many angles. But on Thursday night, as Brien carved wooden crosses to give his friends in celebration of their baptisms the next day, he and Annie shared what I believe is the secret to their marriage.
“I have seen a different beauty in her than I would have ever seen before,” Brien said, as he described some of the ways Annie has had to adjust to life with a wounded patriot.
She helps with yard work and medical appointments. She picks up the slack when his memory fails. She drives on long car trips and comforts him when he wakes up at night from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m more in love with her than I ever have been,” he said. “She’s a beautiful person inside and out. I thank God.”
Perhaps trying to deflect his praise a little, Annie’s straightforward response was nonetheless profound. “I just view that as part of marriage. We’re a team.”
I think Brien and Annie make a great team, both going out of their way to help each other and others in the larger community. Their secret is one that’s worth sharing. It’s found in the pages of Scripture and reinforced by the teaching they heard at the Operation Heal Our Patriots retreat.
Marital happiness is not found in always getting what you want or having smooth sailing through life. It’s found in learning to humbly serve your spouse and humbly accepting service from him or her too. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10, ESV). Then, as described in Ephesians 5, we can see God’s sovereignty and goodness to us in the great mystery of marriage.