A popular military spouse/family saying is, “bloom where you are planted.” I have seen that phrase stenciled on wood, etched in glass, and stamped on cards going on almost a decade as a military spouse. I love the sentiment. But I’ll admit, it often takes hard work and dedication to bloom where one is planted.
This past PCS season, we moved from a tropical duty location that was the first place I have ever felt “at home” as an Army brat, turned civilian, turned Army wife. It truly became “home” to me for more reasons than one. We PCS’d to a place which I have found—while literally surrounded by millions of people—to be quite isolating.
My husband left for a tour in the Rockpile one week after moving into our newly rented house. We got a grand total of less-than four weeks together in the strange metropolis before he was sent down range. It was supposed to be for twelve months, and we were blessed when it was cut down to nine months.
As I struggled to adapt to this new duty location, I was attacked by the proverbial “deployment gremlins,” almost every single time I turned around. I also began slowly building a network of support.
A couple weeks into the deployment, I decided that my struggles during the deployment could perhaps be used to help a soul exit Purgatory and enter into full communion with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the communion of Angels and Saints who are in heaven. In fact, after the first couple months, I began fervently praying with everything that was hitting me left, right, and center, that maybe my deployment experience could be used to save multiple souls from Purgatory!
I also began turning my thoughts toward service – how could I be of service toward others?
Throughout my life, I have always contributed in some capacity to the running of my parish, whether it was a civilian parish or a Catholic military community. I am, however, “one of those ladies” who dislikes the notion of putting my child into the nursery when I am going to church. I enjoy my sidekick (affectionately known as my son), and I enjoy being able to teach him—even at his toddler age—about church and the importance of attending church. I don’t judge those who put their children in the nursery because, quite frankly, there are definitely times we need to recharge our spiritual batteries without our children present! But, as a whole, I try to take my son with me to Mass as often as a possibly can.
In these last few months, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why I struggled so much with this (now past) deployment. I truly think it was because I had such difficulty finding a “home parish”—a spiritual haven for me to call “home away from home.” While I enjoy a civilian church I frequently attend, I feel strongly about attending Mass at military chapels and contributing to the support of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, which provides spiritual support for the entirety of the military Catholic community. To make matters worse, thanks to this deployment, my second pair of hands wasn’t at church to help me corral my son. Thus, I could no longer properly volunteer my time to assist during Mass. I went from an active participant at Mass to one who showed up in time, tried to keep her toddler “seen but not heard,” and quickly went home.
I was recently talking to a lady at our Regional MCCW Retreat, who stated that “my season in life is one that may not see me able to volunteer right now.” I liked that statement, and it has stuck with me the last few days. While I was able to aid a Catholic Women of the Chapel group to re-start while my husband was deployed, I wasn’t in a season of life where I could lector, EM, or participate in any other significant contribution to make the running of Sunday Mass (or Saturday evening Mass) feasible.
I did, however, do what I could, given my family’s circumstances.
While we, as military families, approach PCS season this year, I encourage you to begin considering what season of life you are in, and what the PCS may hold for you and your family. I encourage each one of you to consider what gifts and talents you may be able to offer your next chapel community, and to begin establishing connections at your next duty location to offer your gifts and talents for the Lord. I encourage you to have open, honest discussions with your family members, to see how they can also help contribute to the chapel community—even teenagers can usher and greet people coming into church, or sing in the choir!
Matthew 18:20 states, “for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Keep in mind that your military chapel may not be the largest community, it may not have the most personable priest, or it may not offer the most charismatic service. It does, however, serve to provide a safe “home away from home” no matter where we are stationed. And for so long as we utilize it, we will provide the Chief of Chaplains of whatever branch to which our families belong, the basis to continue encouraging seminarians and to seek increases in the size our chaplaincy corps, so that they may be able to continue providing services to our Catholic military families.
So, “Bloom where you are planted!”
Get involved, even if this is your first duty location or time in your life to volunteer at a chapel—training is always provided. You can read, you can help dispense the Eucharist, you can join a Catholic Women of the Chapel group (or help start one), you can even provide linen service for your chapel. And, if you aren’t in a season of life where you can be personally be involved, support those who are volunteering, or support those who may want to be a little more involved. It may require some creativity on your part, but it is definitely well-worth the struggle to help adjust to that new “flowerbed” in which you’ve just been planted!