“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3).
Even though we’re still several months away from the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays, it isn’t too soon to begin planning for them, especially if your beloved military member will be on a deployment at that time. Deployments that run through the year-end holidays have the potential to cause loneliness and isolation. Communication and feeling connected are vital components for powerful growth during holiday deployments. During my first deployment that stretched through a major holiday season, I found six strategies that kept a sense of aloneness from completely sabotaging my holiday season.
1. Have an Agenda in Place. Even before your husband (or wife) has left on deployment, focus on nailing down your holiday plans. Putting plans in place communicates to your children and to yourself that yours and their world hasn’t stop when your beloved service member has deployed. Planned experiences also aid in bringing about the kind of growth you want to see manifested.
Do you live far away from family? Instead of traveling to see them, mix it up, and invite members of your family to spend Thanksgiving with you. Then, if the budget allows, switch, and travel to spend Christmas with them. If that isn’t possible, and you’re the wife at home, join forces with another military wife with a husband also on deployment. Invite her and her children to your home for a potluck Thanksgiving meal. For a more festive event, invite several women and their children over.
For the remainder of the Thanksgiving weekend, put on the calendar one or two activities with just you and your children. Take advantage of the command’s sponsored activities for the kids, plan a day trip to an event or place you and your children have been looking forward to. If staying home for the long Thanksgiving holiday, incorporate simple at-home activities like putting together a care package for the deployed parent and include his or her favorite cookies or treats.
2. Get Moving. If you are a seasoned military spouse with teenagers, or you want your children to acquire the skill and desire to help others, consider volunteering in a worthy cause. It is widely known that the most effective way to build personal growth is by serving others. In fact, one of the best benefits of volunteering is improved mental and spiritual health. Since deployments have the potential of creating isolation, by volunteering, you reduce your risk of depression. Other benefits include the satisfying feeling of making a difference in other people’s lives and bettering your community. You’ll may even make a new friend with someone you volunteer with, which can then become one of your support systems. Volunteering also builds bridges with other people who share a common interest with the cause you choose to help. If this is new for you and your children, start small and simple. Depending on the type of volunteering, fit your children’s age and skills, including communication skills, to the volunteer activity.
3. Learn a New Skill. During my husband’s third deployment, I returned to school. He was nearing his time to rotate off of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and go to shore duty. You don’t have to return to college in order to learn a new skill, but a six month deployment may afford you the opportunity to learn a skill you’ve always wanted to master. Have you always wanted to take a course in creative writing, PowerPoint or Excel? How about something fun like learning to watercolor paint or take a dance class? The key is to find something that contributes to your spiritual and mental health and development. Even your volunteer activities may lead you to discover a new skill you’d like to enhance. By homecoming, you’ll feel more confident about yourself and your abilities.
4. Seek Out Spiritual Experiences. If leaving a legacy of faith to your children is important to you, participate in your church’s Christmas activities. In each of my husband’s duty stations, we found a church home. As a military family today, you can benefit from churches that have implemented a military ministry. When God is a part of your family, He establishes your home. A family that incorporates faith creates its own unique spiritual bond, enabling the family members to see the military lifestyle through the lens of faith. It is this spiritual bond in which God’s strength is infused and enables the military family to overcome challenges that result in deeper relationships and spiritual unity. When there’s spiritual unity in your military home, it makes togetherness a richer experience and diminishes a sense of discontentment and aloneness associated with deployments.
5. Incorporate Fun and Reflection. The military lifestyle seems naturally bent towards seriousness. To even the scales, we must be intentional about incorporating periods of fun and reflection. Plan simple, yet fun activities like playing board or card games with your kids, or put up a tent inside the house and for one night everyone sleeps in it. Here’s one idea I did with my kids and it was a big hit. Create a story together. The idea is to make the story funny, meaningful, crazy, or amazing. It doesn’t even have to make perfect sense, just have fun.
The parent at home begins the story with his or her paragraph, then each child adds to the story with their own paragraphs. If your child can’t write, have your that child speak their part of the story and another family member writes it down. When everyone has added their part of the story, send it to the deployed parent to read and enjoy (and laugh). Then the deployed member builds on the story by adding in a twist or a surprise. He then mails (or emails) the story back home. Repeat the process several times so you have a beginning, middle, and end to the story. When the deployed parent returns, share the entire story at a special homecoming dinner. This can also be a time when everyone shares points of reflection about the deployment. It is through the exercise of reflection that we can truly measure personal growth.
6. Begin a Deployment Journal.If you enjoy writing in a journal, consider keeping a separate Deployment Journal. Record people and events you’re grateful God put into your life during your deployment. Include your circumstances, prayers, concerns, praises, or anything that was notable during your deployment. You can even include the fun story your family created above (for great laughs later). When you spend quiet time before God, His peace will still your heart. His peace will protect your heart from rampant worry. And years from now when you reflect back on your deployment journal you’ll seen fresh insights of God’s faithfulness. That is a gift in itself.
Faith Steps for Military Families – Spiritual Readiness from the Psalms of Ascent uses fifteen psalms to convey biblical concepts for building spiritual readiness in military homes. Each psalm carries a theme and Faith Steps for Military Families translates these relevant themes into the lives of twenty-first century military families. Through vivid pictorial metaphors, the themes cover:
- Hope for when life as a military family is on hold
- Understanding how God’s strength and love protects His own
- Honoring God while living out the difficult military lifestyle
- How unity builds resiliency in the military home
- The danger of a complacent faith
- Seeking God for a downtrodden spirit
- A deeper understanding of God’s nature as Protector, Keeper, and the Night Watchman, and other topics.
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