Good-byes for adults can be difficult. Goodbyes for children can be devastating, both for the parents and the child.

Gene and Laurie Hawks celebrated Christmas of 2002 with their little girls, Katherine and Mary...over Thanksgiving weekend. Gene was scheduled to ship out for an undetermined length of time and an undisclosed location. The night before his departure, the family gathered on board the Truman.

They tried to make the best of it. Gene's father, a thirty-year veteran, and his mother came along, and they'd toured the carrier. The family ate dinner together and decorated a small Christmas tree for Gene in his officer's stateroom. Now they were back in the minivan, saying their last goodbyes as the chilly Norfolk evening grew later.

Five-year-old Katherine wasn't happy. "But why does daddy have to leave?" she asked for the fifth time, tears streaming down her face. Gene patiently tried explaining where he was going though he knew his little girls didn't understand.

He tried hard to assure her he would be home soon. Then it was kisses and hugs, and Laurie drove the family car home, minus one very important passenger.

Gene admires her courage and sympathizes with the burdens she carries. "The toughest job in the Navy is that of a Navy spouse," he says, sitting in the officer's wardroom having lunch on board the Truman, somewhere in the East Mediterranean.

"I come out and do the same job I do back at the base, but Laurie's at home taking care of the house, the yard, the vehicle. It's a lot for one person to handle, but she doesn't complain."

Married for eleven of the fourteen years Gene has served in the Navy, this is their second deployment to experience but the first as parents. Both agree it's a lot harder this time around.

"Now that we're almost five months into the deployment, the rough days are more frequent," admits Laurie. "It is really tough trying to handle all the responsibility by myself and not only worry about my heartstrings but the heartstrings of my five-year-old as well."

Not long after Gene left, Laurie began making frequent trips to the emergency room with Mary, their one-year-old, for problems breathing. Doctors later concluded she was suffering from asthma, but there were early indications she might have something much more serious. Gene says God drove him to his knees when he heard they were testing Mary for illnesses like cystic fibrosis.

"That whole situation really forced me to rely on God," says Gene. "You get out here, and your job is to make things happen. But things like this make you realize you're not in control."

Their church back home goes a long way toward making this out-of-control feeling more bearable. Laurie and Gene, members of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Chesapeake, have experienced a huge outpouring of love and support from these Christian friends.

"They sent me a tape of their Christmas cantata awhile back, which Laurie sang in," says Gene. Different members of the church have also sent Gene cards or care packages, just to let him know he's missed. At home, Laurie receives help with yard work, babysitting, and plumbing problems.

"First and foremost, our church has been such a blessing through prayer, " says Laurie, not to mention "the simple things, like asking how Gene is. I try to make it a point to specifically tell him who asks about him through the week. It lets him know he's not forgotten and that our church family does think about him and recognize he's not there."

And that he's coming home one day...to see two little girls whose daddy is doing the hard work of freedom.

Adapted from "A Greater Freedom: Stories of Faith from Operation Iraqi Freedom" with executive editor Oliver North and stories by Sara Horn © 2004 by Broadman & Holman Publishers. Used by special permission of Boradman & Holman. For any other use, please contact Broadman & Holman Publishers for permission. All rights reserved.