Kenny Vaughn tells the story of a dad who inspired him, a dad who while in the line of fire never lost sight of his religious faith or the love of his kids. His story.
Saint Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach Jesus, and if necessary, use words.”
There is a lot of truth in this statement, especially when it comes to loving our children. Actions mean more to a child than words. Our actions, both when we are with them, and when we are separated, demonstrate to our children our love for them.
Unfortunately, the demands of work and the noblest of callings, too many times, separate us from our children for a few hours, days, weeks and months.
During these times of separation, how do we convey our love for our children?
My personal experience of being separated is limited to short business trips. I do my best to include my family on my business trips. But when my family cannot travel with me, I stay connected with them through telephone calls, text messaging, Skype and email. And I pray for them. I do my best to maintain constant communication with each child and reassure them that I love them. We may be physically separated, but I assure them constantly that I am thinking about them, and I am praying for them.
I have the greatest respect for the men and women who serve in the armed forces. The two gifts I have received and cherish most are my spiritual freedom and my physical freedom. I believe, Jesus paid the price for my spiritual freedom when He died on the cross. Members of the armed forces continue to pay the price for my physical freedom through their selfless service and sacrifice. I am so very grateful for both of these priceless gifts.
I have often wondered how soldiers and their families manage being separated for expended periods of time, and I marvel at the strength and love I have witnessed from these special people. Over the last 14 years, I have come to know and love one of these military families, the Dodd family.
I first met Col. David Dodd, his wife Sharon, and their beautiful daughters, Caitlin and Grace in 2002. Col. Dodd had just returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan and he was preparing to deploy to Iraq. The first thing I noticed about this family was the genuine love they had for one another. It was obvious to me, and others, that they loved each other deeply. I was intrigued to learn what their source of power was to build and maintain such strong bonds of love, respect and admiration for each other.
What I learned reinforced my faith in God and His incredible ability to use even the worst of circumstances for our good and His glory. I also learned what Col. Dodd and Sharon did to reinforce their love for each other and their children during times of separation. To best tell their story, I asked Col. Dodd to share what he did to reinforce his love for his daughters when he was deployed.
Colonel David Dodd’s story:
“Communicating love to my daughters during times of separation began well before the deployment. Spending time with them doing the things they liked while sharing a love for Jesus Christ was our foundation. For Caitlin, that was surfing, swimming, riding horses and watching funny movies. For Grace, that was riding bicycles, growing flowers, spending time at the beach and riding horses. Both girls loved for me to tell them funny stories and to joke around. We read together their children’s Bibles and talked about the lives of biblical heroes like David, Ruth, Mary, Joseph, Moses, Daniel and Jesus.
“We discussed how to deal with adversity and how they could rely on God. I did my best to communicate to them that God and Jesus are always with them. They always have a friend who they can talk too. I did my best to teach them to pray and to share their fears, hurt, challenges and desires with God. I modeled prayer to them and we prayed together. I told them that in life, other people will disappoint them, but God will never leave or forsake them. Another act of preparation was to connect them with others who could help fill the gap during my absence.
“Before I deployed to Afghanistan, we loved, as a family, to ride horses in the mountains of Arizona. Sharon was a good rider, but not comfortable riding trails with the girls, without me along. My chaplain knew a retired couple who boarded three horses at the stables we used. He asked if I would like for him to introduce the couple to my girls. I told him yes. Chuck and Mary immediately fell in love with Sharon, Caitlin and Grace, and the couple and our girls adopted each other: grand-girls and grandparents. Through this relationship, Caitlin and Grace were able to continue with an activity they both loved. By the time I returned from Afghanistan, Caitlin was barrel racing in rodeos and Grace was riding in Western show events. God blessed my girls through Chuck and Mary.
“While deployed, I wrote letters to Caitlin and Grace, and they sent cards and care packages to me. They enjoyed my letters and they greatly enjoyed building the care packages for me. Sharon took them shopping so they could select treats for me and Sharon helped them make cards for the care packages. I called home to talk with them, as often as I could. I did my best to call on birthdays and holidays. We exchanged emails.
“Sharon was so very important in nurturing the relationship between Caitlin, Grace and me. She was our biggest cheerleader. She knew I was very busy commanding an Army battalion during combat operations. She also knew my biggest responsibility in life was the well-being of my daughters. Sharon often reminded me that when I face God, He will be less concerned about how I performed as a soldier and more concerned at how I performed as a father. She knew how important it was for my girls to feel loved by their father.
“I kept in touch with the girls through email, letters and personal messages delivered by soldiers deploying from our home unit to my location; and Sharon reminded me of special dates, occasions and events in our girls’ lives. She always spoke positively about me and reassured the girls that I loved them. Even when I fell short or failed in being there for the girls, Sharon spoke positively about me. She knew that nothing good would come out of talking negatively about me to the girls. She put the needs of Caitlin and Grace before anything. I truly wish I was half the man Sharon claims I am. I am convinced that Caitlin’s and Grace’s self-images and their perceptions of a Heavenly Father remain so strong because of the mental picture Sharon painted of me to them. She is the absolute best thing in the lives of my daughters.”
As I mentioned, over the last 14 years, I have come to love the Dodd family and I agree with Col. Dodd: Sharon is an amazing person. She is unselfish to a fault, if that is possible. Her actions model the love of Christ to her daughters. She and Col. Dodd use their time to demonstrate love, through actions, to their daughters. As Saint Francis of Assisi taught us, “They preach Jesus, and use words if necessary.”