Who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus came to earth as a savior and a servant. When He could have had the world at His fingertips, He sacrificed His life for us. He lived His life in service, and He urged us to as well. Many of us find our calling to serve in ministry, in daily interaction, and also in the occupations we choose. As we approach our nation’s Independence Day, it is another reminder of those who follow a calling that exemplifies a servant’s heart; jobs that require time away from family, extreme sacrifice, and the strength to put others’ lives above one’s own.
In 2015, 1,302,941 Americans were actively serving in the military*. Of those, 150,560 served in foreign nations. Many of our family members, friends, church family, and neighbors spend each and every day working to keep our country and so many people around the world safe. As we sit in our cozy homes or go about our days, it’s much too easy to forget that everything we have comes at a cost to the men and women who serve, as well as their families. We go out to the lake on Memorial Day and the fourth of July, and we may only passively acknowledge those who have given the greatest sacrifice. We may send much needed prayers for our troops overseas, but there are families and military personnel all around us that need our love and support as well.
In preparation for this post, I spoke to April, a sweet woman who used to put up with me when I was her silly, college roommate. She now lives the life of a military wife. April’s family has been through four deployments, and her husband completed two before they were married. She is no stranger to the realities of taking on full responsibility here at home while her husband is serving. She graciously offered to answer my questions, and for that, and for her incredible dedication to her family, I am so appreciative and greatly humbled.
In what ways can the church/community support military families that are going through deployments?
As someone who doesn’t have military personnel in their immediate family, I discovered I was completely unaware of the stresses that many military families face. As I mentioned before, April’s family has been through four deployments, but, additionally, she has had to relocate several states away from her home. Even when military families are under one roof, they may be new to a town, state, or even country when they are relocated. Being in an unfamiliar place and away from extended family only adds to the stress of seeing a family member leave for months at a time.
April said that the deployments are especially difficult, and there is a lot of anxiety concerning the “what-ifs.” Without her support system and her spouse, she took on the full responsibilities of the home during deployments. The normal separation of tasks completely shifted to her, and she said “there were times when I would be calling my dad trying to have him talk me through things.” Because of this, she said it would be nice to have help with “around-the-house” things her husband would normally do.
I know that many of us feel like we don’t want to impose on families, or we tell them to let us know if they need anything. What we forget is how hard it can be to ask for help; especially when these families may be new to a community. When we are given the opportunity to meet military families, we shouldn’t be afraid to reach out. These families are comprised of individuals who give their lives to service in both the military and in the dedication to keeping a strong family, even in the most difficult times. They deserve our service in ministry. From a 9×13 casserole dish of tater tot casserole to an offer to mow the lawn, we can ease the stress. Our care can take something off the to-do list and reassure a soldier that there are people looking out for their loved ones at home.
April also emphasized the importance and necessity of friendships. She remarked that “a close friend makes all the difference on how you get through a deployment.” These families, just as we all do, long for connection with those around them. Tough times are easier with support, and military families may not have time to organically form friendships before the comradery is really needed. This is yet another reason to be bold. Step out and ask these families to play dates and local events. Show them the love of your church and your community and help them feel more comfortable in new surroundings. If you have a scheduled playdate each week, see if they can join. If there’s a free movie in the park, invite them along. They may not always say “yes”, but the first step to making a new friend is letting them know that they matter to you.
Are there things you wish non-military individuals better understood?
When asked this question, April said, “I feel like people don’t get how hard it is on the family.” She mentioned that kids may not recognize their parents after a deployment and may even need time to feel comfortable enough to hug them. Transitions, relocations, and deployments affect each family member in some way. They all make compromises and sacrifices to make sure their family gets through these times.
April also mentioned the need for sensitivity when interacting with military families who have been through deployments. She listed several inappropriate questions that are often posed to her husband that may bring up painful memories from times of service. The public, who is often so detached from the realities of a military life, can forget that it’s not like the movies or what they see on TV. These are very real experiences, and those who serve and their families deserve respect and privacy.
For those of you like me who have not experienced a military life, we shouldn’t assume we know what’s going on. Every family and individual experiences that lifestyle differently; the life can be extremely taxing and stressful. We need to pray for those serving and send them reminders that we’re thinking of them. We need to support spouses that are forced to take on extra roles in the house. We need to include children that may not understand why one of their parents has to be away for a time. Ministering to the military is a complete family ministry.
And when we are able to serve military families all under one roof, we need to remain aware of what we say. Our minds should be focused on care, concern, and spreading God’s love, not on what stories they can tell.
Open Your Eyes to What You Can Learn
After speaking with April, I couldn’t help but appreciate her husband’s service and respect her even more. I honestly do not know if I could keep everything together without my husband by my side. These families are beautiful pictures of loyalty and strength. They give so much and love even more. Before I sum this up, I wanted to include a last word from my wonderful interviewee, April:
“I am grateful for the life I have. Being a military wife has shown me how tough I am. How much I can do. I am a capable woman on many things I didn’t think I could do…But I wouldn’t trade the journey we’ve had for anything.”
How could we not reach out to these families? They are inspirations of the service that Christ so desperately wants us to follow. We may not be able to fight and serve by their sides, but we can care for them here at home. We can serve those who serve. Through ministry, we can honor not only these men and women, but we can take up Christ’s call.
*Source: D.O.D. Defense Manpower Data Center
Photo courtesy of: @lovingmyhero