Jan 27, 2014
For 10 years, our family avoided the three most dreaded letters a military family can hear: TDY. During those years, my dad worked at NORAD. I still remember how handsome he looked in his blue uniform as he pulled the car out of the driveway. I imagined him winding his way up Pikes Peak, which seemed like only a stone’s throw away.
As far as military life goes, ours was charmed. We didn’t move from place-to-place like so many military families. I never had to think about transferring schools mid-year or making new friends. We enjoyed as much stability as a military family can.
Until the year I turned 14. His number was up; it was time for him to go.
When it was all said and done, my dad was gone for nearly two years. Those early months were the hardest. He was allowed to return home every few weeks before leaving finally for Alaska. When he was away, my mom ran a tight ship and my brother and I adjusted quickly. Just when it seemed like we had hit our stride, my dad would walk through the door, eager to reconnect with us, only to be met with frustration and annoyance.
It was easier when he was finally gone for good. But easier doesn’t mean healthier.
Looking back, I realize that we didn’t adjust to his absence so much as we tolerated it. My mother, brother and I weren’t flourishing, so much as we weren’t wilting. We were treading water, but the fact that we weren’t sinking made us believe that things were fine.
And the truth is, we were scared of rocking the boat. Our three-person family functioned like a skeleton crew. We were efficient and got by from day-to day. But even the prospect of my dad’s return, which should have been met with joy, made us all anxious.
We dreaded his homecoming for the same reason we dreaded his deployment: None of us was certain that we could withstand more change. Isn't that something we can all relate to?
Today, I see so clearly how dysfunctional that season of life was. My dad’s absence left a gaping hole in our family, and we spent the next two years pouring water from a sinking ship. Where were the military family support groups you see on TV? Back then, there was no such thing. No one ever called us to offer meals or tutoring or babysitting. We were alone. And when you’re alone for long enough, you start to fear not being alone.
I’m an adult now, and I still live in a predominantly military community. Whenever a friend deploys, my first question is, “What can I do for your family?” The military has come so far in supporting the families of its service members. But as the Body of Christ, we have an even higher calling — not just to offer programs and assistance, but to extend genuine friendship. To be a family until, and even after, partners and parents return home.
Chances are good that your family has experienced deployment, or that you know a family experiencing it now. How can you be the hands and feet of Christ to that family? How can you help make the transitions of deployment and homecoming just a little bit easier?