by Cindy Stumme
Military spouses are like Velcro. We arrive at a new post and find new friends to bond with. When it’s time to move to the next post, we pack our belongings, rip ourselves away from our community, and travel to our new home, hoping to quickly match up with new friends again. This ripping and repairing process repeats itself every time our soldiers receive orders to a new post. Each time, we pray and hope to find our new match, because without each other we just aren’t very effective at life or our mission.
As one of the leadership chaplain spouses on Fort Bragg, I have the unique opportunity to help the Velcro pairing process for new chaplain spouses. In January 2017, Rebecca Whitlock, wife of FORSCOM Chaplain (COL) Robert Whitlock, and I began developing a mentoring curriculum we call Connections for new chaplain spouses, with the goal of helping them thrive in their roles as supporters of their chaplains, parents to their children, and members of the larger military community. We cover a wide variety of topics, such as learning the role of a chaplain spouse, developing identity as a chaplain spouse, surviving deployment, supporting a military chapel, and understanding how the Army chaplain corps functions. On June 5, 2018, we presented our final installment of the program. Of course, with chaplain families moving in and out of Fort Bragg regularly, we will soon begin the program again with a new group of spouses as the Velcro process continues.
The final Connections meeting focused on the challenges of moving to a new post or staying behind while good friends move on. Since Army assignments are typically three years long, each year we say goodbye to about 30 percent of our friends if we are staying—but all of them if we are going. Quickly connecting with new friends is essential. Most of our extended families live far away, so we depend on our friends. Here is an example: Have you ever moved into a new home, met your neighbors, and immediately asked if you could put their names down as emergency contacts for your children on their school enrollment forms? If so, you are probably a military spouse. The Velcro needs to connect quickly, because the Army expects us to get busy supporting the mission!
The topics for the final Connections meeting covered the skills that are essential for building and maintaining community in a military environment. We divided up the 20 attendees into four focus groups to brainstorm best practices on each topic, and after a lively discussion around the tables, the new chaplain spouses reported their results to the whole group. Here is a snapshot of the participants’ recommendations.
Whether your family is moving away or waving goodbye . . .
- Don’t check out too soon. Stay connected as long as you can and cherish your friendships.
- Be aware of how your attitudes affect your children. They watch and imitate our responses to people and challenges.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment in finding new friends.
- Pick a “breakdown day.” Take some time off to recover from the stress of moving. Take a walk, read a book, or just rest.
- Make a list of what you loved about your current home and what you are looking forward to at the new one.
When seeking new friends . . .
- Be an encourager. Be available. Be genuine.
- Look for someone in your same stage of life.
- Join activity groups that reflect your interests, such as Bible studies, fitness classes, children’s groups, or outreach ministries.
- Represent yourself well on social media. If you wouldn’t put it on a billboard on your front lawn, don’t post it on the internet.
When you arrive at a new place and you can’t find ready-made community . . .
- Practice hospitality! Host a game night, block party, or barbecue.
- Be creative and build your own community by starting a book club, Bible study, or small group.
- Avoid complaining and whining. Keep a positive outlook.
- Gather a team of like-minded people to help you.
When you experience conflict in your community . . .
- Ask God to help you respond with love. Ask God to change and grow you through the conflict.
- Avoid all gossip.
- Listen and seek to understand. Assume positive intentions on the parts of the people involved, but don’t be afraid to ask for clarification about the issue.
- Determine if the problem is a moral issue or a personality conflict. Handle the situation accordingly.
- Practice forgiveness as Christ forgave you.
At this final Connections event, our junior chaplain spouses demonstrated that they are ready to meet the challenges of military life. More than that, they are ready to build strong community wherever they are and to use that as an anchor point for reaching out to other military families with God’s love. Of course, you don’t have to be a military spouse to benefit from their tips on friendship! Perhaps in your church you have met the wife of a deployed soldier or a new family, and you would like to make sure she feels loved and included. You might even be looking for community yourself. Feel free to use some of our junior chaplain spouses’ suggestions for making connections. God calls all of us to live in community with Him and our fellow believers, and the family of God needs us all to play an active part. That’s how the world will know we are Christians—by our love for one another.
Cindy Stumme is the wife of Chaplain (COL) Jack Stumme. They have been married 30 years and have been serving on active duty for 22 years.