One thing you learn in the ministry and especially in military chaplaincy is home is where the heart is. You take that attitude because one is often moving around, especially in the military. But you will find many military folks hae soemthing on them or in their work space that reminds them of home from a trinket or picture to a locket of a child's hair. Then every now and then home has its way of reaching out to you and reminding you of your roots. For instance, the other evening I was thumbing through a National Geographic and finding an article on the Smokey Mountains, a place very near my home in upper East Tennessee. Then in the mail today came a huge load of items from soap, shampoo, and other items to all kinds of snack items, almost 1,000 pounds worth, from a couple of congregations I got to know in my ministry in Cincinnati, another place that was home to me.
Usually in the ministry one is used to not being too close to home and to making other sacrifices and in the military even to being away from family and learning to call a tent or some small shelter home. People who are deployed together can develop a sense of family, just like pastors can become very close to the people in their parishes.
But there are sacrifices to be made, and not only by ministers and chaplains, but by all who serve, such as our military folks. Many who are deployed will suffer from not being near loved ones this holiday season. Many miss anniversaries, milestone birthdays, and graduations. Sometimes, there are tough days and tough situations. Even in the parish there are tough days. Sometimes people are a dissapointment. But then something will happen to remind you of the blessings found even in the midst of dissapointing situations.
East Tennessee is home to me. I was thankful when I had the opportunity to minister in Tennessee for a period of time before I heeded the call to return to the military. The hills of East Tennessee will always be home in the true sense of the word, but I was glad to be leaving behind some mean spirited people when I came on active duty even while I was deeply missing so many others. I admit that my time there was not what I had hoped it might be, but sometimes God and people have a way of reminding you that rarely is effort completely fruitless. This week a hand reached out to me in the form of a young lady who I had mentored in the faith in my previous congregation. She has continued to be rooted in the faith and is even planning to attend a Christian college, one that I doubt she knew I had taken some courses in during my college days. What a small world it is. But even more so, what an encouragement to know that seeds that are planted, even in difficult times, can bear such wonderful fruit. Truly touching lives is what it is all about. Sacrifices are worth it, even not being home, if lives can be touched and changed.
Our people make a lot of sacrifices, but everyday we recieve letters and packages from home and other such reminders that we are not alone and home awaits us. They remind us that to our families and friends we are important and we make a difference in their lives. Then we turn and we see in the face of locals how we are making a difference here. That is truly a great thing.