For Christmas, Lindsey M. Roberts, the editor of the All About Jesus blog, wrote about her experience being a single mom while her husband was deployed. Now, for New Year’s, Stephen, a U.S. Army Reserves chaplain, responds with an overview of his experience missing his son’s first year of life. 

Just over a year ago, I was wondering if my wife and unborn child would be alive a year later. I could not have imagined that in 2013, I would be the one missing.

When doctors found a mass on my wife’s ovaries in October of 2012, I remember feeling helpless and asking God why he would take from me my opportunity to fight for my wife and child. I asked him to please take me rather than them.

God spared them. On April 21, 2013, our precious boy was born. But three weeks later, I was on a plane to Afghanistan via Texas as a U.S. Army Reserves chaplain. God had also answered my prayer, and taken me from them in an unexpected way.

As 2014 opens, I cannot deny that I miss my wife and little boy. When I first left my then-three-week-old newborn, he couldn’t do much besides snuggle up on my chest and fall asleep. Later, when he was three months old and and he and my wife visited me in Texas, I could enjoy the early days of his budding smile.

Everything else has been snapshots of his life. I can watch him crawl on FaceTime, catch a few of his firsts in photos on my wife’s baby blog, and steal the occasional glance of his handprint, which I keep near to me in my office.

This past year, by God’s grace, I had my son, but he did not have me.

One of my greatest memories from this deployment, though, was provided by my son. As our family chatted on FaceTime one day, my wife stepped away and I was left alone (virtually) with the little red-headed monster. I called him away from his manifold distractions until he took a deep breath and grinned when he noticed me. All of a sudden, he was charging toward the screen. All faded to a fuzzy red before I was taken around the room in his little baby hand.

As much as I miss my wife and little boy, I do not bemoan my present circumstances. Something about loneliness and separation seems much more natural for this time of year than gathering with family for gifts and New Year’s celebrations.

When Jesus was born, unlike the depictions in paintings, it was not into a warm, festive atmosphere. He was born amidst a mother’s screams and cries, engulfed by the smells of animal waste, and forsaken by men, who left no room for Jesus in their inns or their hearts.

From the day of His birth, Jesus experienced the humiliation and suffering attendant to life in a fallen world, and would carry that humiliation and suffering to the cross, where again, men showed that there was no room in their hearts for Jesus.

So as I celebrated Christmas, and now New Year’s, in the dust-coughed, wind-bitten lands of Afghanistan, I am grateful.

Why? Because there will be a spot on the bed waiting for me alongside my wife when I return home. There will be a seat at the table and a patch of carpet next to my goofy, excitable little redhead.

And there is room in each of our hearts for Jesus, only because He made room for us at the foot of the cross by His grace alone.

No, considering the difficult providence of a year ago, I wouldn’t trade this year—with family far away and Jesus ever near—for anything.

Stephen Roberts is a chaplain for the U.S. Army Reserves and evangelist for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in northern Virginia. A graduate of Westminster Seminary California, Stephen is also an avid runner and on the board of Joy to the World Ministries, a nonprofit Christian organization that is helping revitalize poverty-stricken Malawi, Africa. He’s looking forward to coming home in 2014 and spending time with his son.