I wish words could describe what it is like to be in a room with military and first responder families. Some would think that they have little in common. First responders are addressing the evil in our communities while military is going overseas where we can’t see them everyday.
But the Empowered Spouses Retreat through the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation brings these two together on a regular basis, which is why I LOVE working with them. This program in particular takes the spouses of these heroes and gives them four days in the mountains with no connectivity to prove just how much they are heroes as well.
We often see in the nonprofit space that there are a hundred and one services and programs for veterans, and sometimes the family. But few, if any, address the spouse only. And this where people get it wrong. We think that veterans have all the influence, and they definitely bring in the donors. But it is the spouse at home that manages the budget, signs kids up for camp, and makes sure the family is on track that holds incredible influence. This is why empowering them to know that about themselves is critical.
So we, CKFF, take 24 military and first responder wives out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to build their confidence in new activities that they may not have done before- at least in the presence of each other. They have never met each other and have to immediately do what they do best, be vulnerable in order to find support. Their husbands are at home, watching the kids and perhaps getting to know Murphy’s law.
It is a time of self-care, deep reflection, and for me- a chance to meet many of them in person. Those that have been on one of Chris Kyle’s Revitalization Retreats as a couple have spent up to 5 hours with me in online coaching sessions tailored to their needs as a couple. So to see them in person, I am overwhelmed with gratitude, honor, and humility to serve them again.
The Tetons command respect and silence, so it is a perfect place for quiet, reflection, and for these women- a chance to hear their spirit speak again. Long has the world and chaotic schedule of the service lifestyle drown out their internal voices.
If that wasn’t enough, we take them out of their comfort zone (in front of each other). Many pick up shotguns and archery for the first time. Conquering the fear of kickbacks, loud noises, and even rewriting narratives of negativity associated with weapons. Without their sweet husbands over their shoulder, they find the inner strength to try. That, of course is rewarded by the cheers of those around them who know what they are overcoming. The staff at Safari Club International are not only the most amazing instructors, but have a teaching heart- filled with patience for all who come there. They serve with grace, love, and even the chef and his wife love each person who comes through the door.
Of course I try to get in a few opportunities myself to stretch out of my comfort zone:
It wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t push them to a new level emotionally. I guess that is my reputation now, which I had to laugh at. Many of them were afraid of me in sessions, knowing that I would see behind the curtain. Of course, it is in deep love and respect. But I know that what I love is to see people I work with reach inside and discover new truths, break down lies that have long held them back, and find encouragement again. Challenge, sometimes, is what breathes life into us and our family. It may not be comfortable, but it is usually rewarding. Many of these spouses let me dig deep along side of them. Many of them did it on their own, truly embracing the opportunity that was put before them. Every single one of them went home better.
My favorite part of all of it is to see them walk back just a little taller than when they came.
I could not be more honored to serve along side the amazing staff of CKFF. We all have different talents and together, it is a force to be reckoned with. Every detail is considered, every gift bag made with love, and the trust they have in me as a facilitator leaves me free to do what I love and I do not take that for granted.
Special thank you to Taya Kyle for sharing her vision and making it possible to serve these families. We could each not do it by ourselves. Today… I am thankful for a team I have long prayed for.
In the words of one of the spouses:
Last weekend I had the honor to befriend 29 beautiful, BADASS women… we laughed, we cried, and we laughed until we cried. We were vulnerable, completely out of our comfort zone, yet we shared some of the rawest and trying times we have ever experienced – not only in our marriages, but in any and every aspect of our lives. Corie dug deep and sometimes without trying. We learned that we have things we can internally work on within ourselves to better our relationships and who can and cannot be invited to a backyard barbeque; we also learned about self-love and that it is perfectly okay to take care of ourselves, as we, military and/or first responder spouses, have an enormous influence on our households, whether our husbands are home or not. Though, we found to have many things in common by the end of the weekend, one thing that stuck out for sure is that love conquers all (1 Corinthians 13) – we love our spouses unconditionally and given our circumstances, being a service member’s spouse isn’t for the faint; it requires strength and sacrifice, yet these women do life so gracefully. We all have a story. We all matter. You matter. Just remember to remind yourself periodically to practice grace, show gratitude, and always, always choose to forgive.
Are you a chaplain spouse? Do you love to write or is it something you’ve been interested in? Read on, my friend…
A few years ago, I came across a dissertation paper that was studying officer’s spouses. The study found that as the service member was promoted in rank (and the spouse became a more senior spouse), there was an increase in isolation which led to increased depression and anxiety.
That part may not surprise you. But then I came across one sentence that said that
the increased isolation these spouses experienced was very similar to what was commonly seen in a pastor’s wife.
Because I too, am a chaplain’s spouse, I realized that it is quite possible that our community struggles with a double whammy. This was what fueled my passion to do the Anonymous Chaplain Spouse Survey in 2015 and 2016. My research, along with many conversations with senior spouses, has confirmed what many of us know to be true. That being a chaplain spouse (although quite fulfilling) also brings difficulty that we must be willing to talk about. Whether it is real or perceived, chaplain spouses tend to feel some of the following:
Part of this will include content available just for chaplain families. Which is where you might come in.
I am inviting chaplain spouses who are interested in writing to join me in creating authentic, meaningful content, for our community. If you are interested, here is what you can expect.
Content contributors can/will:
UPDATE: Due to the wonderful response and great questions, here is a list of FAQs
I am thrilled by the response already, I think there is a definite need in our community and I’m excited about what’s ahead. I’m getting some great questions on what a contributor could expect, so I hope to answer a few of your questions.
The Lifegiver mission statement is purely to “provide a place for honest conversation and breathe life into our community.” Although that sounds pretty vague, it hopefully set the tone for positive content while remaining authentic.
Not at all. For those who wish to write regularly, I will definitely consider it and welcome having new and fresh content. I personally work better when I have deadlines each month, but you may be in a place where you want to write as you feel prompted by a topic. If you are working on a piece, I wouldn’t mind getting a heads up though!
At this time, no. I have heard from many people that they value having a place that is ad-free. In order to keep Lifegiver a free resource as well as a nice platform where people want to come I do not take sponsorships. I have hesitated reaching out for contributors or team work for a long time because I have not wanted to “ask” for more than what I know you already give to the community- especially as a volunteer. However, I also want to be obedient to the prompting I feel to give you a place to both give and receive positive, encouraging content.
I am not currently turning people away from this opportunity as of yet. I would definitely encourage you to turn in any brief writing samples you may have. If you are just beginning, that is ok, too! We all have to start somewhere. Just like a family, I expect to have various writing styles and experience. The great thing about a blog like this is that I can create categories like devotionals, educational, PTSD, support, etc.
However…. Any articles, or behavior, that is divisive, destructive, or does not have healthy movement forward will not be included as it does not align with the mission statement.
As of right now, yes but with some limits. This may change, but it would not be helpful to our community and in line with the calling of a chaplain family to not be inclusive. There will be limits to faiths that are attempting to proselytize through the blog. This is a place of support. I will also have the ability to create categories on this if necessary. Limits on this also go back to being filtered through the mission statement.
What is most important to me (and I believe to the community), is that it is authentic, relatable, and has movement forward. In other words, I would love for content to deal with tough topics that are rarely talked about openly, even if they feel negative. I only ask that the piece ends in encouragement and movement forward.
Consider writing on topics that other chaplain families are wrestling with and experiencing! Please try to steer away from personal blog style writing where you are documenting your own journey. Feel free to share parts of your story, but use your story make a point or make it more relatable to what someone else is experiencing. For more on this, consider watching my video on “Telling Your Story“
A note on editing:
Not if you don’t want to. If you feel especially talented in this area, I am open to it. More on this to come…
Some extra inside information:
I hope to launch this blog soon on a new Lifegiver site that will be separate from my site, which will make it more inviting. Even bigger, I hope to make a portion of this site a safe community for chaplain spouses where there is room for discussion, anonymously if desired. More to come on this as well, but I wanted you to know where this special blog is headed!
If you are interested in this exciting opportunity to serve, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m so excited to do this with you!
There is a moment in parenting where you realize that you no longer have the advantage and you now know absolutely nothing. For me, it was the moment I was schooled by my kids on the new word for “cool”, which is now “savage”. Savage? Really? What followed was daily lessons of new social rules and slang.
Trying to figure out the new world of pre-teen/teen is like my first few years as a new mom. You second guess everything and it seems like they are going to hit their head on every corner, or in this case be emotionally rejected on a daily basis. How do our military kids do this?
Generation Z, born from the mid-90s to around 2012, is already swinging the pendulum like every generation before them. According to my interview with Gary Allan Taylor from Axis, this group would “rather lose their sense of smell than their digital device.”*
Now before you freak out (I did), we adults aren’t doing so great in that department either. Unlike the Millenials before them, Gary Allan said Gen Z kids value the importance of family even more than career. This could be because they have watched their parents live out a heavy work ethic to secure the house, career, and status (maybe even our social media status). Considering it is their parents “work ethic centric” generation that is running the academic generation, is it any wonder that anxiety and depression is on the rise for these students? High school graduation requirements look more like college and grades/SAT scores are no longer enough. “Family” sounds like a good direction for the pendulum.
Even bullying has changed. Both civilian and military parents have told me their Gen Zs have started to disconnect by putting in their earbuds to avoid interaction with aggressive kids, much like adults do on the subway. I think I would put my earbuds in, too.
When it comes to military kid Gen Zs most adults I’ve spoken with agree that much of their character has been shaped by overcoming difficulty and rejection, resulting in more mature and confident kids. Many are often more comfortable around adults than kids their age.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t need connection with their peers. All kids gravitate towards peers developmentally, which makes our military teens even more desperate for it. Yet, as I’ve experienced and heard from other military parents, that’s especially challenging in a civilian school where peer groups formed over years of neighborhood cookouts and team sports. It is difficult to advance in athletic skill with frequent moves or their sport of choice isn’t easily accessible.
Gen Z’s have massive amounts of information at their fingertips. Gary Alan said in our interview that they rely more on internet research and their peer group than authority for figuring out their way ahead. However, our military kids are struggling to find that peer group and say they feel either completely ignored or bullied for their attempt to insert themselves.
The concern here is that some military Gen Z kids would almost rather not form peer relationships at all than address rejection, bullying, or the effort to assimilate when they will eventually leave anyways.
If you are like me and need encouragement (in most cases every week), here is what I have heard from reaching out to parents and experts in my current “Raising Gen Z’s” series on the LIfegiver Podcast.
I’ve looked forward to this season with my kids for a long time. I enjoy the dialogue, the jokes around the table, and watching them evolve into awesome bigger people. Parenting the next generation has been a lot harder than I thought, especially with the challenges of the military lifestyle. I know every parent in the history of the world has said that, but I now see the importance of educating myself. Even if that means my kids will be the ones to school me- memes and all.
The truth is that many of us have been in receive mode for far too long.
For the past five years I’ve watched the military tradition of mentoring fade or be attacked as unnecessary.
Our most senior spouses have told me over many cups of coffee why they believe that is. And it starts with where the tradition of mentoring came from.
World War II, Korea and Vietnam-era spouses lacked the programming we have today. To figure out how to navigate this lifestyle, they pioneered the coffee groups and clubs we so often think of as “old school.” They created a system out of nothing and a community now known for its tight knit support.
And for many years we gleaned from their mentoring, wisdom and servant hearts.They passed down etiquette, the art of asking for help and even tradition that our culture had otherwise long forgotten. I can look back now and see how fat and happy I got from the endless pouring out they did into my life and the lives of others around me.
But then things changed. The world changed, and war changed us. Social interaction became digital and deployment tempos exhausted everyone.
We relied on funding to keep the programs going. We didn’t need those volunteer dependent coffee and spouse groups anymore. But when the money disappeared, we found ourselves where we are today: multiple generations weary, sitting in our homes like self-licking ice cream cones needing more than we can offer.
But now that change is coming again, and it needs you. Think you’re not qualified? Here’s how to know you actually are.
You have been in this lifestyle for at least one assignment. This could be two years or five, but chances are you know the importance of an ID card, how to get on the installation, or what a commissary is.
You have been through a deployment. There are many spouses who are hearing about deployment orders for the very first time. Do you remember how you felt when that happened? A kind word, a few strategies, and you have powerful influence.
You have experienced a PCS and lived to tell about it. There are endless blog posts out there about how to navigate getting your household goods across the country, but a few tips over a cup of coffee will settle anyone’s nerves.
You have experienced the warmth of someone opening their home for a meeting. Remember when people actually invited you into their homes? Having social events at restaurants are convenient and have their place, but nothing is more vulnerable and inviting than being in someone’s home, not to mention easier to have conversation in. Make it a potluck or cater to keep it easy, but put down Pinterest and invite people back in.
You remember when readiness groups were a positive thing. Believe it or not, there are still installations and tight knit units that have hugely successful readiness groups. They still see it as crucial to their wellbeing. One of my favorite mentors told me when I came in as a new military spouse, “If you don’t like it, be part of making it better.”
Complain all you want about lack of funding or generations before you or after you, but the truth is that we all need each other. We always did — we just got distracted. Like the generation before us, it is time to build up what we find lacking. Without blame or indignation, we need to raise each other up, each lifting the weary one next to us until that one can reach out as well.
Experiencing the loneliness caused by a lack of camaraderie, direction and purpose will make anyone long for people again. It’s like a deployment. When your spouse has been gone for a long time you can actually experience what is called “skin hunger,” that physical hunger for a safe hug or touch. My biggest hope is that our community has been without it for long enough and we will not see it disintegrate further.
You might be wondering how you can be expected to give back and support others when you’re just so exhausted.
Although you may feel like you have nothing to offer, but mentoring does not have to involve a commitment of hours each week. The most influential moments I have had required little effort or commitment from a mentor. One spouse brought me a specialty cup of coffee during a deployment when it was nap time for my toddler. Another held me accountable to not overcommit during a deployment. Another let me co-host a coffee so I could learn how.
A change is coming and I hope you will join me in making a difference where someone once did for you.