Help Your Kids Understand The Meaning of Memorial Day


How can we help our kids understand the sacrifices made by those who have fallen while defending our country? I’ve wrestled with this question personally even though we had been a military family up until last year when my husband retired from the Air Force. I know I’ve been guilty of making the day more about the fun stuff and less about its real significance.

It can be even more difficult to help your kids grasp what the day truly means when you don’t have any personal experience with military service. Growing up, I didn’t know anything about what it meant to be in the military, but I fell in love with my best friend’s brother who had left our hometown of Nashville, TN to go to college at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. After four years of dating long-distance, we got married, and I spent the next seventeen years of my life as an Air Force wife. During that season of our lives, we moved every three to four years, made incredible life-long friends, had our three sons (all in different states), and made it through overseas deployments.

Whether or not you have any personal experience with military culture, we all get to experience the benefits of security and freedom that are made possible because of those who volunteer to serve. Helping children understand those freedoms and cultivating hearts of gratitude in them will ultimately make them better citizens and help them to live lives that honor God and bless our nation and our world.

The tradition of Memorial Day began in this country as a day to remember those who died in military service while protecting all the freedoms we enjoy. We express our gratitude for their sacrifice by honoring their memories and by decorating their graves.

Memorial Day took on a very personal meaning for me in 2011. One day that April my husband came home and told me that his friend, Frank Bryant, had been shot and killed in Afghanistan. My husband and Frank had been roommates during their four years at the Air Force Academy. My husband had flown out to be in his wedding two years earlier. Frank and his wife had a one-year-old son at the time. Our hearts were broken.

We flew to Washington, D. C. for Frank’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery. As we sat in the chapel waiting for the service to begin, I was hit with a wave of emotion when his wife walked in holding their son’s hand as he toddled happily beside her. I felt a sense of panic as I looked for the nearest exit out of fear that I was going to completely lose control of my emotions and make a scene. This beautiful wife and mother was living out my very worst nightmare. I managed to hold it together while I sat fervently praying that God would hold her together and get her through this. Four years later, I still try to remember to pray that prayer.

My husband’s favorite verse is John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This heart of sacrifice is what compels men and women in the armed services to take an oath to defend our nation and to be willing to lay down their lives for one another and for their country. Memorial Day honors those, like Lt. Col. Frank Bryant, who believed in something bigger than their own lives. They knew that their individual story was a part of a bigger, more important story, and they were willing to play their part, even though it meant giving up their life.

I believe a life of sacrifice for something greater than ourselves is a common thread among all followers of Jesus whether we’re military or civilian. We have been called to lay down our lives for the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” (Matthew 16:25 ESV). Laying down one’s life is about showing the love of Jesus to others–love that is real and tangible–love that gives hope to hurting people. We can help our children learn to love in ways that stretch around the globe as well as loving big and giving of ourselves right where we are.

Memorial Day is a great time to ask our kids:

  • How can we pray for military families who have lost their loved ones?
  • Who has made sacrifices for us and how can we show them gratitude?
  • What sacrifices could you make for your brothers and sisters or your mom and dad to show them that you love them?

Sacrificial love, in all its forms, points us back to Jesus. As we let Him pour this love deep into our hearts, we are in turn able to pour this love out to others. And I believe that acknowledging these sacrifices, in all their forms, helps our children to see the bigger picture–a vast and beautiful drama in which God is calling them to play their unique and invaluable part as they lay down what God created only them to give.

flags-memorial-300Frank’s family placed a memorial at the cemetery on the grounds of the Air Force Academy near where we live, and last Memorial Day, we went and placed small American flags on that granite bench, and we remembered his sacrifice. It’s a tradition we will continue, and one I hope we can share with others this year.

Originally published in May 2015.

jenni-mccadamsJenni McCadams is a wife, mother, photographer, and graphic artist who currently lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her husband, three boys (ages 13, 10, and 8), and their giant goldendoodle Max. She loves  interior design, hiking, growing things, and is officially the world’s worst meal planner. You can follow her on Twitter @JenniMcCadams or Instagram at @JenniLane15.

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