By Karen Whiting, Crosswalk.com
Military families face unique challenges of long separations, moving, trusting God when a loved one serves in a dangerous area, and even disrespect given to our loved ones who serve. At the same time, military families serve a higher purpose, see more of the world, and gain a global perspective. Families, even in our early history faced these challenges.
Abigail Snelling, born in 1797, became one of the first to be surrounded with family who served, Her father served in the American Revolution, her husband served in the War of 1812, and one son and a brother also served. She lived in Fort Bellefontaine in St Louis when Lewis and Clark came through. She suffered the loss of both parents to illness, captivity with her husband, and hardships of living in the frontier. On the Minnesota frontier, she made friends with some friendly native Americans and stood beside her husband as he fought warring tribes.
Abigail cared about people and led Sunday school for children, fed passing travelers, and helped organize parties, dances, always kept up correspondence with family and friends, and outdoor activities. After her husband died, she spent four decades petitioning for a widow’s pension that helped future widows. Understanding the challenges and joys helps people appreciate military families.
1. Seek to Understand the Challenges
When spouses and children hear news of skirmishes, enemy attacks, and other dangerous situations around the world they feel it deeply. They understand that may mean their spouse's unit will be called to action and war might be declared. When orders come, they know the move means finding new doctors, churches, schools, handymen, and more, especially if they will live off base. They will need to make new friends and help their children do that too.
When deployments start, they face challenges of being separated, decisions to make alone if a car breaks down or disaster occurs, and the continual work to stay connected while apart. They also need to comfort children missing a parent and that parent missing big events. They also need to be ready to get the family working smoothly again when the parent returns.
2. Be There for Military Families
When a family is separated by deployment consider acts of kindness that help them get through the weeks or months.
- Babysitting, especially around holidays or just before the return of the service person
- Gas or grocery gift cards
- Helping with repairs or yardwork
- A phone call, as some days a parent just wants an adult to listen
- A greeting card that says you care and pray for them
- Make a care package for the family/kids
- Help your church show appreciation with stickers or other item for little ones in Sunday school with a parent who serve
- Take a friend whose family member serves out to lunch or coffee
- Give to one of the military scholarship funds, operationhomefront.org, or the morale welfare and recreation fund (MWR)at a local base
- Churches can post photos of the families of those who serve
- Donate to Fullcirclehome.org that provides a way for deployed service people to send a care package home.
- Encourage your church to connect with a military church to give them support.
3. Stay Connected
When a family moves away with new orders, they may feel a range of emotions from sadness, loss, and fear to excitement and adventure as they transition from one home to another. Be supportive then too by calling, emailing, and connecting on social media. Ask how they are doing and share news of mutual friends.
Send a note and tuck in a church bulletin or a page from a local newspaper to help them feel the roots they put down are still growing.
4. Befriend Military Families
When you meet a military family, don’t avoid making friends because they will move away. Instead, be the friends they need and know you can develop a lasting connection that continues with online chats and possible visits. Greet them, exchange contact information, and ask how they are settling in.
Show interest. Ask about where they have been stationed and what they liked and learned in those places. Listen to their joys as well as the hardships. Share information about your town. Let them know about annual events they can enjoy, nest shopping spots, and recommend emergency and repair names and numbers. Set up play dates if you have children about the same ages or help them connect with children who are their ages.
Offer to give them a tour around the town or region and introduce them to your friends. You will all widen your circles!
5. Appreciate Military Families
In 1993, Armed Services YMCA established military family appreciation month. The U.S. government recognizes it. Many restaurants and businesses offer military discounts so shop at those places to honor them for their support. Some churches hold appreciation dinners and activities. It is heartwarming for people to say thanks for your service to the family member serving and also to thank the spouse and children for their sacrifice too. Fly the American flag in honor of those who serve and their families. Show your patriotism as that also shows your support.
6. Be Patriotic
Note special patriotic dates and wear the colors of the flag. Thank them on those days for their service and commitment. Encourage your church to pray for those families or have a special treat or handout to honor them.
Engage your children in extra history to understand how our freedom came at a price and their friends are willing to serve to keep us free. Pray with your family to thank God you live in a free country.
Karen Whiting’s late husband (retired as a Commander) served in the US Coast Guard, her father served in WWII, her oldest son served in the US Air Force, and her older son-in-law served in the US Army. She encourages people to support families of people who serve in the military and other areas of service. Her newest book is 52 Weekly Devotions for Families Called to Serve. Her co-authored book Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front shares daily stories of the courage and faith of women and others during more than 250 years of America’s wartimes.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Wyatt
Karen Whiting is an author of 26 books including a Bible study and many devotionals. She has written more than 700 articles for more than sixty publications. She has served in Officer Christian Fellowship for decades including working with the ministries at the Coast Guard and Naval Academies (16 years total). Currently, she facilitates an adult Bible study group at her local church.