by Annette Bridges. ©2006.  All rights reserved.

This is my family’s first holiday season with a loved one deployed overseas. Our son-in-law, Justin, is serving in the United States Air Force. It’s been a difficult time, but as we’ve been praying, the idea for a new tradition emerged.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving theme of gratitude, our son-in-law’s empty place will be set. Before we raise our forks, those of us at the table will express gratitude for Justin and his willingness to put the safety and security of his fellow citizens before his own.

We will pay tribute to his ideals, dedication, passion, patriotism, courage and conviction. We are very grateful for Justin and these wonderful qualities he expresses so freely.

We’re all the children of the one Father-other God.
As we’ve been praying for Justin, we are reminded that we are all brethren with one Father-Mother God who is loving and cherishing each of Her children.

Of course, the United States is certainly not the only country who has soldiers and families separated from each other. So we’ll also be thinking about all of those selfless and brave hearts serving their respective countries throughout the world.

I imagine that most families think about their deployed family members and friends frequently, and we’re no different. We keep our soldier close in our thoughts, conversation and prayer. We never leave him out.

We mail him packages and cards frequently. And we hold on to every word he says when he gets the opportunity to call. We appreciate technology that helps the world stay more connected via the Internet, and often look at photos he sends us by email.

Our prayers give us the most comfort.

We feel connected to Justin because of all these things, but it’s the prayer that gives us the most lasting comfort and peace of mind.

Through prayer and Bible study, we’re reminded that God is as near to our soldier as He is to us back home. There’s an implied sense of safety in this truth. We’re all together in God’s embrace.

But sometimes we get fearful about Justin’s safety. Like other military families, there are days upon days when we don’t hear from our serviceman. That’s when fears and anxieties run the highest.

We’ve found the Book of Psalms in the Bible to be particularly reassuring at those times.

“If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there.”

Psalm 139 affirms: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.”

We’ve discovered Psalm 91 is a very powerful prayer. We personalize it by putting our soldier’s name in place of the pronouns:

“[Justin] dwelleth in the secret place of the most High [and] shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Or “He shall cover [Justin] with his feathers, and under his wings shalt [Justin] trust….” As Justin is in the Air Force, we especially love the verses that mention wings.

It’s wise to turn to God for protection.

And these thoughts about safety aren’t just wishful thinking—they’re powerful forces for good. I’ve experienced the power of prayer in my own life, and I know turning to God in matters of protection is a wise thing to do.

I admit that in the past I didn’t give more than a passing thought to the sacrifices made by those in the military and their families, but our current circumstances will change that forever.

I’m making a promise in my heart to continue our new tradition. We’ll have an empty place set at our dinner table every Thanksgiving and Christmas to remind us to love and pray for the thousands that are separated from loved ones during precious holiday gatherings.

And most importantly, we’ll pray for their safe return home.