ANDERSON, S.C. (BP)--As the leader of a military wives faith-based support organization and a military wife myself, I'm often asked by women's ministry leaders and churches what they can do to support military wives and their families. You might be unsure of how to minister to an older woman with cancer or a young mom with twins if you have never experienced those things yourself, and in the same way it can be hard to know what to do for a military wife if you've never walked in her shoes.
It's easy to assume that if you don't live near a major military installation that military wives don't exist in your community. But there are more than a million military spouses in our Armed Forces today and military wives are everywhere -- National Guard and Reserve families often live far away from where their respective bases are, and active wives make the choice to move home and live with family when their husbands are overseas. This gives you and your church some wonderful opportunities to make a difference for our military by supporting their families while they're away.
CONNECT WITH A MILITARY WIFE
If you meet a military wife whose husband is away for deployment, make a point to check on her regularly and let her know you're praying for her. Deployment is not an experience you "get used to." It's an emotional roller coaster from beginning to end and there are good days, but there are hard days, too.
With all the technology available today to connect with our loved ones, we can still go days and weeks and sometimes months without a phone call, an e-mail or a letter. We can get lost in all that we're responsible for and forget to make time for ourselves. Sleep can become an issue for a lot of women when they're not used to sleeping alone and the quiet of the house at night gives them the first chance they've had all day to really think about their husbands being away. Exhaustion can make a hard situation even worse and fray our emotions completely.
One of the absolute best gifts I received during my husband's first deployment was when my friend Allison, another military wife, sent me an e-mail on behalf of her small group from church and asked me to make a list of things I needed help with around the house. She had asked me this a couple of times before and I'd always dodged the request, but when she sent an e-mail in black and white, I relented and put together a list of little to big things I needed to get done, thinking I'd give enough options that the group would find a couple of things they would be willing to do.
On a warm spring Saturday, eight to 10 friends I'd never met came over to my house and took care of absolutely everything on my list. And at the end of the day, what touched me most wasn't the honey-do chores they'd completed for me, though I was very grateful for their help; it was the fact that they'd reached out in a physical way and let me know I wasn't alone.
One of the hardest things for a military wife to hear is "Let me know if I can do anything to help." It's very difficult to ask someone else for help, especially if you're unsure of what that person is willing to do.
The best thing you can do to help a military wife is to put yourself in her shoes and like the Nike commercial said, just do it! Would you get tired of planning dinner and cooking for a year without a break? Give her a gift card to eat out or call her up and let her know you're bringing dinner tonight. Would you have trouble knowing what to do with the car or the yard during the peak of summer? Rally the men in your small group to help change the oil or share yard duties. Would you be worn out if you were responsible for your kids 24/7 without another adult to give you a break occasionally? Offer to take the kids for an afternoon so she can do whatever she wants. Would it be hard for you to put Christmas lights up or other holiday decorations by yourself? Offer to do it for her.
If you offer to put a care package together for her husband, don't forget to put a little package together for her -- bubble bath, Starbucks cards, or a little book of Bible Promises are all little things that can make a world of difference for a military wife and give her encouragement and hope to keep going. And chocolate! Don't forget the chocolate!
As much as you want to be able to help and appear understanding to her needs, resist the temptation to compare your husband's two-week business trip to her husband's year-long deployment. Unless your husband is also trying to avoid mortars and IEDs (improvised explosive devices), it's really not the same.
Avoid saying things like "I don't know how you do it," or "I can't imagine being in your shoes." Most of the time she doesn't know how she does it either, but it's the only choice she has -- to do it or give up.
Encourage her. Tell her what a great job she's doing and how her husband will be so proud to hear how well she's doing holding down the fort at home. And then make sure he does hear how well she's doing.
If a military wife is in your small group at church, make sure there are enough activities happening she can attend that aren't strictly couples-oriented. Consider holding off on that Love and Respect marriage study and do another study that she'll be able to feel included in. When you do have events such as Christmas parties or Super Bowl parties, make a point to call her and make sure she's coming; there's a greater chance she will if she knows someone will miss her if she doesn't.
SUPPORT THOSE WHO SUPPORT OUR HEROES
Military wives don't want pity or to be felt sorry for, but they can use prayer, encouragement and all the emotional support they can get. Ask most service members what their greatest worry is when they're deployed and they may surprise you when they say it's not getting wounded or killed -- it's making sure their families are OK back home.
I believe God can use the hardest of times, like deployments, to grow us and stretch us and make us into the daughters He wants us to be. But we need others to come alongside us in the journey.
Help to make sure that the spouse and family are well taken care of and you also help take care of the soldier. So feel free to pass those hugs out to military spouses today -- they will thank you for it.
Sara Horn is the founder of Wives of Faith (www.wivesoffaith.org) and the author of "GOD Strong: A Military Wife's Spiritual Survival Guide" and "Tour of Duty: Preparing Our Hearts for Deployment, A Bible Study for Military Wives." She enjoys speaking to both women's and military wives groups about God's incredible strength. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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