We had a new experience this Christmas–our family was separated for the first time in 27 years. Rick and I had made two trips to Virginia since our move to Tampa in December and we had assumed that our grown children would be able to come south for the holiday. But Erick has a new job and has not yet built up any leave time and Mike needs to work consistently because of his upcoming wedding and so the guys really felt they could not make the trip to Tampa. Luckily for us, Kate can barely wait to be a Floridian, and she drove down (all 13 hours alone) the Sunday before Christmas. Her arrival brought the first day of Christmas for us!
On Christmas morning we woke up and while we were eating Christmas bread, both Mike (in Delaware with Stephanie’s family) and Erick (in Virginia with Amber) had called and texted Merry Christmas! Later on in the morning we were able to Skype with both sets of children as they opened some gifts and it made the separation a little easier. It’s hard to be apart from people you love. So even though we weren’t with our whole family, we did everything we could to feel like we were there.
The first time we didn’t go home (Philadelphia area) for Christmas was in 1989. Erick was 6, Mike was 2 and Kate was just a hope in my heart. Rick had Christmas services to do onboard ship and he ended up with the second Christmas leave cycle. We were stationed in Charleston, SC, so my brother, Brad came from Fayetteville, NC and we had Christmas dinner with our friends, the Stewarts, which was about as close to being with family as it gets.
We decided to do everything the way it was done at home–Nanny’s meal. Rick found a big tenderloin at the commissary–the main component of her special meal. I made twice-baked potatoes, Holiday Soup and Christmas bread, and Jesus’s birthday cake. We opened stockings around the breakfast table, while we ate Christmas bread and we napped at the familiar times while watching football games. So, even though we weren’t at home with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, we did everything we could to make it feel like we were there.
With this year’s Christmas being so different, it forced us to focus on other aspects, since we didn’t have those who we love the most in the world by our side for the first time. For Rick, he found solace in the Christmas carols that he re-discovered on Christmas Eve… the theology and the encouragement of the fact that God IS with us… even though others weren’t… the real truth of Christmas that God sent His Son to be with us all the time to a lost and lonely world.
I think the fact that we couldn’t be with those we loved made me think of all of the service members who are far from home and those they love. I tried to make Christmas feel normal and familiar, but to those who are so far away– normal is just a dream. And to some who come home, but find that nothing can go back to the way it was before, there is no “normal” any longer.
These are the people Military Ministry serves. The warriors and their families who keep us free from terrorism and radical Islam, so that we don’t have to change all of the ‘normals’ that we take for granted. We are also seeking to help those who want go back to normal…those with the invisible wounds of war…the injured souls, brains and bodies… and those with bruised marriages and families. We are grateful to our military and we are so blessed to be called to share the good news with them that the Son of God became a man so that all men could become sons of God (C.S. Lewis). There is a ‘new normal’ that God wants to bless all people with as they come into His family and IS with them…Immanuel.