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By Sarah Sattelberg
This Christmas will mark the third Christmas out of four that my husband, Ryan, has been deployed.
Some people might think this would make me resent the Army or the war in Iraq, but it makes me proud of what his absence stands for. I do not wish to wallow in the self pity that being without the one you love can bring on. I want to revel in the true meaning of the holidays.
Christmas is not only the birth of our Savior but a time to reflect on the beauty of family and friends near or far.
Holidays become a habit for most Americans; it is something they do the same time every year. We just go through the motions with little thought.
Celebrating the holidays seems like our God-given right.
The holidays for me are no longer just something I do out of habit, but something I am inexplicably grateful for.
Every Christmas, birthday, or New Year’s that my husband and I spend together feels like a gift from God. The reality of war is he might never make it home to see another Christmas. So I cherish every time he does make it home.
Since the war in Iraq began, 4,356 American soldiers have been killed. Sixty-seven soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in October alone.
Holidays for the families of fallen soldiers are no longer habits but an obstacle in the grieving process. Every holiday marks the anniversary of the last one they spent with their fallen hero.
I will spend Christmas not alone but with friends who are the closest things to family without being genetically linked. Our friendships have been forged on long deployments, and we all now have a bond that can never be broken. We will put on our brave faces and try to make the best out of a crappy situation.
We will celebrate but not wholeheartedly because half our hearts are missing.
We will not open all of the presents, but keep them wrapped until our husbands and wives return in January at the end of this rotation.
Our spouses will celebrate as best they can in a place like Iraq. Their dining facility Christmas dinner will leave something to be desired. They will open the boxes filled with festive Christmas items, baked goods and presents we have sent them.
They will read the thank you letters that children and strangers have mailed. They will soldier on and pretend it’s not that big of a deal being deployed on Christmas.
I won’t pretend this is easy. Holidays are the most difficult time for families and deployed soldiers. It feels like if you celebrate you are forgetting them. If you don’t celebrate, you’re cheating your children out of holiday memories.
You just wish you could save all the holidays and put them on a shelf until your soldier comes home.
Sometimes I wonder how much my 2 ½-year-old understands about her daddy. Does she know it’s him who prays with her every night over the telephone? When I say, “Daddy picked you out this present,” does she know who I am talking about?
He has been gone 22 months out of the 30 she has been on this earth.
My son knows little of his father. He was 2 months old when he left. He will be 14 months when he comes home.
Even with all this, grateful is all I am.
Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have had a webcam to talk to him on. I am grateful that the snipers and improvised explosive devices he has come in contact with have not taken his life, limb or eyesight.
Christmas is a privilege. Many people don’t recognize that whatever holidays we celebrate are a freedom that has been paid for with the lives of our brave men and women in uniform.
So this Christmas, cherish every aspect of the holiday. Don’t just go through the motions. Reflect on the meaning of the holiday and give thanks to God that you are an American. Most of all don’t take anything or anyone in life for granted.
Take a moment to be grateful for all the people in your life, and make time to say a prayer for our soldiers.