Veteran’s Struggles and Small Groups

Have you ever noticed the different ways one gathers strength to endure those struggles that pop up in life? It may be the quiet of a starry night. It may the freshness of the air in the fall as you hear a breeze gently blowing through the leaves. It may be the presence one feels as they read a book, listen to music or contemplate a piece of art. It may be the rippling of the water as the children play close by. I do these things, but the most important thing that I do to find that inner strength, the energy, the peace to do the thing that I do, is to connect with other people. I have a true story to tell:

As an RN for the Tomah VA, I am not a clinical nurse giving patient care at the bedside. I try to determine the eligibility of veterans and their caregivers for additional benefits. In trying to accomplish this, I make home visits in which the veteran and caregiver discuss the struggles they are enduring. Over time, the trust is there, and the conversations become more personal. I hear the stories of the combat veterans and those unspeakable things they try to forget. As I listen to these men and women I find myself wondering, what is it that I or others can do to give these people some peace? I don’t always have the answer. I have been asked by so many people “ where is it that YOU go to find your strength and peace to do this thing that you do ?”

The place however that gives me strength and helps me to connect with people would be… small group.

I am a nurse. I go from patient to patient or veteran to veteran, expecting to be a wall of strength. Don’t let the stories get to you, don’t let the emotion bog you down. Build a wall, and you’ll be safe—or so I told myself. Then one day, after a series of events, the wall cracked. I wasn’t even the first to notice it. I came to realize that I not only didn’t need the wall, but I was not alone. Where do I get my strength? From several places, each serving a different need within me. I find my strength on Sundays when we all gather for worship. Another place that I find my strength is in that rock that stands before me. The person who helped me bring down the wall and realize that I was not alone. The place however that gives me strength and helps me to connect with people would be… small group.

For so many years I had been away from home and decided that with all of us getting older, it was time to move back home. After a few years here, I still didn’t know anyone. I didn’t seem to fit in. My church wasn’t even the same. “They” turned it backwards (in my eyes). My sister-in-law and I were getting to know each other better, and a bond began to form. Mary invited me to her small group. Though hesitant at first, I decided I needed to take the first step to get to know those around me. For the first few weeks, I quietly observed. I wasn’t going to say too much. That small group is now an intricate part of my life. We call ourselves the women of the house, for the place in which we meet. We study the Bible or at least have conversation about it. We read books and learn of the women and men of the Bible, only to find out—it’s not much different than the struggles today. We laugh, we tell stories. We turn to each other with our struggles and passions. We cry over good and sad things. All these things we share. The struggles we endure is what binds us as we remind each other of “His saving Grace.” We are friends and wouldn’t mind more friends.

There is another group to which I belong that meets on Wednesday early morning. Coffee with Karyn is a diverse group that includes men and women of various ages. The feel and perspective of this group is entirely different, much as our experiences are. I joined this group because I wanted to learn. What do other people think about Jesus, the Bible or what is happening in the world. We ask each other questions and get different perspectives to an issue. Pastor guides us and gives thought provoking questions that often we are still pondering later in the day or even later in the week. One morning we had a concept or issue that we all had a hard time grasping. A member of our group tried to explain by giving a parable he called, “the parable of the cats.” We loved it. It was such a joy to hear him explain in such an unusual manner. Sometimes you come away with a different way of thinking than when you walked in. We don’t need to have correct answers. The concepts that we may struggle with, Pastor gives us a better way to comprehend it. This is a fun loving, warm group. We are reading and discussing “The Radical King.” As soon as we chose this subject, excitement filled the air. It would be great, if more folks joined us. We all like to share

During the church year, women are invited on the second Saturday of every month to “Drawing from the Well.” Again, the feel of the group is entirely different than the previous two. This is a great way to connect with other women within our church community. We discuss topics that would be of interest to women. We have conversation on issues that affect our daily lives. We make new friendships and are free to relax and be ourselves. Any woman can come to any part or the entire event. The things you find out in conversation may surprise you.

Where do I get my strength? Who do I speak with who can keep me in balance? Where can I go to be myself and have intelligent conversation about the things I struggle with? Where can I go so that my life isn’t made up of only serious things? Small group. The people within these groups walk with me, whatever the issue may be. I laugh with them, talk with them, cry with them, hug them and feel very much a part of them.

We have treasures within our congregation that have lived through events of history. WWII, Vietnam, McCarthyism, riots of the 60s, assassinations, Cuban missile crisis and more. We have high school students sitting in the pews who don’t realize who sits next to them. What if there was a mentoring group between the generations. What were the struggles that you went through? How did your faith fit into the issues of the day? Are the issues today different from back then?

Not too long ago, I mentioned that a good study group would be one that meets to color and laugh. Though I was kidding, the response was overwhelming. You see, people tend to get to know each other over things that are relaxing and enjoyable. Coloring, quilting or campfires are activities during which people talk to each other on a different level. The get to know each other and find things they have in common.

What if there was a small group that mixed music and writing? Folks don’t write letters anymore. They hardly write at all and yet, such a tool is so important in expressing and feeling.

The point is: We need to connect with each other. We each have struggles. We each need the support of others. We each like to know that we are cared for and loved. But, if we don’t get to know each other, if we don’t connect, especially within our own congregation how do we support each other? One of the reasons I can have the conversations I do is because of the support I get from these small groups. I will become a part of others. There are more struggles for me ahead as is the case for most. What’s different is that I won’t be alone to face them.

If you have an idea or suggestion for a small group, contact Bridget. We’re already talking.