One photo stopped me in my tracks a week ago. While scrolling through Facebook, I saw a young couple embrace and my eyes filled with tears. For this couple I have prayed was all my thoughts could repeat. Their young marriage had been tested and worn and through it all their love had survived. Their struggle wasn’t from all the things that normally pop into mind when thinking of troubles in matrimony. The wife in the photo is a former student of mine and I have loved her from the first day we met. She is a sweet, kind, and gentle spirit, an amazing friend, and most importantly, a true follower of Jesus. In her two-year marriage to the love of her life, they have lived half of it apart … because her sweetie is a soldier.

While my personal story is somewhat different, like my young friend, I married a soldier too. We met shortly after he returned from wartime service, but for the next six years of our lives there were times I was single while he served. One of those times coincided with the birth of our first child, but thankfully due to the kindest of commanders my husband was able to be there to meet our first son.

Waving flags in a parade and praying for our troops are both patriotic and admirable things to do, but truly walking alongside a blue star flag* family requires a bit more intention and sometimes sacrifice. I am incredibly thankful that although there were other active duty situations, my husband wasn’t called to serve at that time. We were young, in an even younger marriage and parents of one baby with another one on the way while living hundreds of miles from our families. I am not sure how I would have survived. I would have made it, but the going would have been tough.

I am incredibly proud to be the wife of a veteran, but the fear of his leaving for deployment is  why families who are “single while serving” hold a very special place in my heart. A few years ago, some of our best friends received freedom’s call and the husband/father was sent for an almost 14-month deployment. During that time, our home became the place of respite and refreshment for the mom and three young children. There were daily prayer texts, phone calls with many tears shed, several freezer meals made, and weekends spent just relaxing. During those visits, my best friend would walk in the door and hand her children off to us, visit for a bit, and then retreat to one of our bedrooms to finally rest with the deep sleep which often eluded her back home where she was mother, father, home maintenance worker, bill-payer, household manager, chief worrying officer and many other things. At home, her guard was never down. Our home became their refuge.

They are some of our favorite people so it was a treat for our family, but knowing my dear friend as I do, I knew our weekends were a place where she could escape the hardships of military deployment and the single parenting that are part and parcel of that. While we supported our friends on the homefront, we also worked diligently to support their soldier away from home. Letters, packages, and cards were sent on a regular basis just to let him know that he was never far from our thoughts.

There are many friends who will walk the first mile with you during times of hardship; true friends are the ones that go along for the second mile and beyond. I have had many second-milers in my life, including the refuge seekers, and for my military family friends, this is my fervent wish for them because even after troops return the transition to life “before” is not without challenges. Life while serving away from home is hard, and life after returning home can be even harder, at times.

Seeing the picture of a girl in red, white, and blue, and a boy in fatigues brought me tears. The joy and celebration of a safe return reminded me of how much we can do to support our military families because “single” while serving really should never be synonymous for “lack of support.” In the wake of celebrating our country’s Independence Day, may we never lose sight of the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform and the families at home who support them.

Always remember to pray for those serving, and follow-up with several practical ideas for supporting those who are “Single While Serving”:

  • Prepare a meal
  • Provide child care for a much needed evening out
  • Assist with yard work (mowing, raking, snow removal)
  • Visit often
  • Help with housework
  • Provide gift cards for restaurants, discount centers, supermarkets
  • Offer to help with auto maintenance
  • Pool resources with other friends to provide a small getaway trip
  • Create Daddy/Mommy dolls for the children
  • Take the children to outings
  • Stand in for the missing parent at school, church, and community events

* Blue Star flags: The Service flag is an official banner authorized by the Department of Defense for display by families who have members serving in the Armed Forces during any period of war or hostilities the United States may be engaged in for the duration of such hostilities. For more information on the blue star or gold star flags, visit here.