I had a conversation with a mom a few days ago that still has me thinking.  I was advertising a Parent Workshop that we’re sponsoring – “How to Help Your Teen Thrive Amidst the Stresses of Military Life.”  She handed me back the flyer immediately and said, “Oh, we’re 29 days away from out.”

I hear the same idea from kids often – oh, I don’t have long left here.  If I’m moving to a new community, why do I need to resolve conflicts?  If I’m about to PCS, why does it matter what my reputation is?  If I’m leaving, why can’t I say whatever I feel like to that person?

If it’s an ETS move (we’re getting out of the military), the sentiments are even stronger.  I’ll be next to WalMart (or Applebee’s, or Olive Garden, or Target, or the mall), and everything will be better.  There will be lots of church choices, so I’ll start going again.  I’ll be able to drive, so I can have more time with friends, and I’ll find a group easier.  I won’t have to deal with my soldier-parent being deployed, so our family will be happier.

A PCS isn’t just a move.  It’s a way of life.  The military lifestyle is, in large part, defined by its mobility.  The military culture is restless, transient, changing, adaptable, and flexible.  Military kids are shaped by that culture – it often defines how they understand the concept of home, of family relationships, of independence, of service and sacrifice, and of friendship.

Military kids often struggle with long-term relationships.  It’s too easy to avoid walking through conflict and resolution when you can move away from it – literally.  It’s too easy to re-define yourself and your reputation.  It’s too easy to say things will change with the next move and fall into lazy or self-destructive habits for now.  It’s too easy to look to a mythical future and say, “If only this were different, I’d be happy.”

I love the military.  I love what it teaches.  I love that I’ve learned to understand what Paul means by being “a stranger and alien here.”  I love the possibilities in each move, in each new relationship, in each change.  But to learn the lessons well, we have to be willing to walk through the struggles, to share the stories, and to learn from one another. 

And that’s another great spiritual lesson – God teaches us along the way.  The lessons aren’t in the end state – when we’re settled in after a big move.  The lessons are in the mid-stages – when we’re cleaning house, when we’re celebrating time together, when we’re adjusting to a new place and new challenges and new opportunities.

When do we help military teens thrive?  All the time.  Yesterday.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Before a PCS.  After a PCS.  After they’ve left the military altogether.  All the time.
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