“Daddy, when are you coming home?” My kids often ask this question whenever I have a chance to call home. I reluctantly tell them, “By Christmas,” but the reality is, there’s no guarantee that we’ll leave our current location in time to make it before my kids open their presents. I’m on deployment, and since leaving, I’ve missed birthdays, holidays, family vacations, my son’s T-ball games, and more—“normal” activities that I’d forgotten to cherish while I was home.
While this deployment has been difficult, it has also allowed my kids to mature and take on extra responsibilities—especially serving one another. Our oldest child is seven years old and has learned to wake up early nearly every day to serve our family by making breakfast for his four younger sisters. Just recently, he taught his five-year-old sister to ride her bike without training wheels—something I would’ve done if I’d been there.
Being gone has also caused me to love my wife more. Throughout our marriage, she’s always been self-sacrificing, but that’s become even more evident. She’s the one who takes our kids to church, piano lessons, birthday parties, and other activities. She reads to them, prays with them, and tucks them in bed. She pays the bills, calls the exterminator, and cuts the heads off snakes when they try to crawl into our house (true story!). She wakes up early and goes to bed late, cooks and cleans—all by herself—and has yet to complain about any of this.
As we celebrate Veterans Day, here are five practical ways that you and your church can serve deployed soldiers like me and their families:
1. Pray. Praying for one another is not only commanded in Scripture but is also one of the first things we learn to do as Christians. We pray for one another—not simply because there’s nothing else to do—but because we desire to see growth and God’s goodness in each other’s lives. Through prayer, we are trusting that all good things come from God’s generous hands and that he is kind and gracious and loves to answer our prayers.
2. Care packages. One of the highlights of deployments is receiving care packages. These often include snacks, hygiene items, books, magazines, and personal letters of thanks. These care packages are often a little “taste of home.” Churches or Sunday School classes can easily put together these packages, and soldiers will love them. But don’t be disappointed when they don’t send you a thank you card. Postage stamps can be hard to come by, and what few stamps a soldier has, he’s probably planning to use for his family.
Churches or Sunday School classes can easily put together care packages for deployed soldiers.
3. Gift cards. When National Guard and Reservist Soldiers deploy, they often take a reduction in pay from their civilian careers, as well as take on extra expenses. You can help alleviate those costs by sending Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play gift cards. As a National Guard chaplain, my church wanted to support my ministry here and sent me $4,000 in Amazon gift cards to give away. I’ve been able to help host numerous game nights—basketball, softball, volleyball, dodgeball—as well as set up televisions to watch college football. Each week, I give away these gift cards, and Soldiers are stunned that my church would provide these.
4. Help with home. Another great way to help a veteran is to step in and help his or her family. Our church family has been an enormous help. Every week, men stop by to mow the grass and edge our yard. They’ve fixed our fence, automobiles, and a ton of other things that have helped us financially. The ladies from our church volunteer to watch our five kids, giving my wife a much-needed and well-deserved break. They’ve helped with laundry, house cleaning, and are often bringing homemade food over to help alleviate the burden this deployment has placed upon my wife. One Sunday School class even took up a collection, bought groceries, and filled our pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with the types of foods my family enjoys. If you really want to help a veteran, serve his family like this while he’s deployed.
5. Help when he or she returns. A soldier will be eager spend time with his kids when he returns home, but he’ll also need time to reconnect with his wife. You can offer to watch their kids and pay for their date. Surprise them with a gift card to a restaurant, movie theatre, or their favorite coffee shop. Yes, the soldier will want to see you, but make sure you give him plenty of time to reconnect with his family first.
While I’m away, my wife has been intentional to tell our kids that their daddy is a hero, that I’m providing for our family, and that both husbands and wives make sacrifices as they do the hard work to which God calls them. She’s teaching them that this life is more than about seeking our own comfort and happiness; it’s about furthering the Kingdom of Christ and trusting that one day, he will reward a hundredfold all that we’ve given up to accomplish that mission. Let’s uphold and support deployed Soldiers and their families in this calling by using our gifts and resources to serve the body of Christ.