Category Archives: Chaplains

Connecting with the Spirit of the Season

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“On the first day of Christmas, the season gave to me: one cross-country trip, two white elephant gifts, three treks to the mall, four holiday parties, five credit card bills…”

That may not be how the original song goes, but if you can relate to this remix then it might be time to push pause and connect with something a little deeper.

The holidays can be a harried, hectic time of year, but it is also a time of hope, goodwill, celebration and renewal. Beneath the frenetic drumbeat of traveling and to-do lists, this is a time when we recognize the best in people and enjoy the rich traditions and unique customs of Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah to name a few. Whether you are leaving cookies out for Santa, placing candles in the Kinara or lighting a Menorah (or some of each!), try not to let energy spent on gift-giving and merry-making take time away from reflecting on the reason for the season that you identify with the most.

Spirituality can help you cope with stress by connecting you to something bigger than yourself, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. For some, spirituality may come in the form of relationships with shipmates, friends, family, nature, etc. For others, it may come in the form of a relationship with a Higher Power and religious practices. However you choose to express your spirituality, it can create values, beliefs, peace, purpose and connections that give life meaning. Spiritual fitness can increase happiness and well-being, reduce anxiety and depression, promote a positive outlook, mend feelings of moral injury, strengthen personal relationships and help maintain healthy lifestyle choices.

This FITmas time, take a moment to both reflect on your spiritual fitness and strengthen your bonds with these tips for a more fulfilling holiday season:

  • Be purposeful and find perspective. As Navy Chaplain Andrew Sholtes reflected in his post, “December: a Season of Goodness,” it’s easy to feel obligated to go overboard with shopping, cooking, decorating or pleasing others. Keep these things in perspective by pausing to think about what you’re doing and how it fits within the season’s meaning. Let this meaning guide your actions, rather than trying to please everyone or falling into the traps of commercialism.
  • Put your faith or spirituality into practice. Share thoughts and questions with others who have similar beliefs or can help you gain new perspective, read about spiritual teachings and focus on spiritual fulfillment. Explore your personal beliefs and find the best application for you and/or your family, staying connected to tradition. Give yourself and others the gifts of presence and forgiveness by using the spirit of the holidays to rekindle relationships that may have dwindled, mending differences and moving forward.
  • Make new friends, and keep the old. Another Navy chaplain suggests adding new tools to your toolbox during the holiday season by focusing on connection. Engage in fellowship by surrounding yourself with people when you can. A sense of community can warm even the coldest of moments. Reach out to others and make an effort to create new friendships, expand your circle of family and acquaintances and involve those who may be alone or struggling this season. A great way to alleviate your own struggles is to help others with theirs.

This season has different meaning for each and every one of us, but also common threads that we can share to stay connected. As you seek ways to strengthen your spiritual fitness—which can also include brief breaks for mindfulness practices and embracing the outdoors—remember that help is always available whenever you or others need it. Navy chaplains are always available, offering confidential support and guidance for Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and their families to help reinforce a sense of connectedness, build spiritual resilience and navigate life’s challenges. Call Navy 311 to request chaplain support in your area by dialing 1-855-NAVY-311.

Keep an eye out for more tips to help you strengthen your Spiritual Fitness this season as we continue to celebrate the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas!

A Chaplain’s Case for Gratitude

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Thankfulness and gratitude are powerful aspects of life.  Still, sometimes circumstances make it hard to look around and be thankful.  How does light get in during times like that? As a Navy chaplain, I too have days where I find myself battling such heaviness and challenges.  For me, it’s a matter of seeking perspective, finding meaning and connecting to purpose.  Sometimes that comes from my reaching out to another to allow them to shine a ray of light into my darkened view.  Sometimes it is someone reaching out to me for help, or just to say thanks.

There are times when a small ray of light is all we need to break the darkness. With that light, I am reminded that when we go through things alone we can become convinced that they will not get better, but when we have someone by our side we can find strength to move forward. With that small glimmer of light, I am reminded of my purpose.  Even a small word of thanks from one person to another can make all the difference.

Gratitude can be a source of hope when we are most vulnerable. I will never forget a time when I was preparing to say goodbye to another group of wounded warriors who had come for several weeks to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence.  As a chaplain, part of my role was to create a parting ‘ritual.’  Knowing that this was a vulnerable time, after making connections and beginning some healing, I wanted the ritual to give each person an opportunity to honestly own the challenges and fears ahead, and to say thank you for the little rays of light that they received through the work of the dedicated team of providers. Once again, I was reminded of the reciprocal benefits of not just being there for someone, but being with them in their journey.

Three of the guys—each uniquely challenged who all shared the same experience as the pivotal moment in their healing—decided to take the risk to travel on the metro to the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  They “just had to do it,” they said. For one, it meant facing an absolute aversion to going in confined spaces with lots of people.  For another, it meant being in wide open spaces with no security, and likely talking to others. It probably meant that they would have to walk a bit farther than the third of the trio had walked in a very long time. But together they decided that they owed it to each other and those who had gone before them to do this, and get each other through it. They decided to be with each other on a journey that was uniquely theirs as individuals yet shared between them at the same time.

You can imagine the team as they set out and then finally reached the wall. That was celebration enough. But what life had in store for them, they could not have anticipated. They each described in their own way how when they finally arrived, they spotted a woman standing at the wall in tears and they all felt drawn to her. The outgoing one of the bunch walked over and approached the woman.  The others followed. They all heard her describe how her husband had been killed in Vietnam.  This was the first time she had made it to the wall. All she wanted to do was to do a rubbing of his name, but it was too high up and she just didn’t know what to do. She was desperate and alone.

“Don’t worry ma’am,” they said. “We got this!” With that they leveraged their collective height to get to her husband’s name so that she could do the rubbing.  With mission accomplished, they were met with grateful hugs. And they quietly walked away.

The three men shared this story with the group of providers and reflected almost with one voice: “We knew from that time on- there was a purpose for our lives. There is still something we can do.” They drew strength from each other. And they found gratitude; gratitude from others and gratitude for still being able to give a little light or a tiny ember.

Maybe today you will reach out to say thanks, or reach out to ask for help. Don’t just be there for others, be with them to light their path and watch as they light yours. Connect with gratitude. Your perspective of your purpose may be mysteriously renewed beyond your wildest imaginings. Your own moment to make a difference may be just around the corner.

Cmdr. Kim Donahue, CHC, USN,  is the Director for Force Structure for the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office. She has previously served as Group Chaplain for USS Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Strike Group TWELVE. Check out her earlier NavyNavStress post on mindfulness and reconnecting with spirituality through labyrinth walking here.

New Resource! Commanding Officer’s Suicide Prevention Program Handbook

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Navy Suicide Prevention is committed to providing the fleet with practical tools to proactively address and minimize suicide risk factors, strengthen protective factors and be ready to respond in the event of a crisis. Leaders play a critical role in helping to fulfill this commitment by connecting with their people, building a sense of community and breaking down the barriers that may prevent early intervention and support. These are key ingredients for a comprehensive command Suicide Prevention Program and ultimately encompass the true meaning of being there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

To support these efforts, Navy Suicide Prevention has developed the Commanding Officer’s Suicide Prevention Program Handbook. This downloadable resource is organized into six key sections—Establish a Foundation, Foster a Supportive Environment, Build Skills, Be Prepared, Assess & Intervene and Reporting & Postvention—guiding commanding officers (COs) through the essential elements of local Suicide Prevention Program development and sustainment.

While the handbook is designed for COs, it was developed with suicide prevention coordinators (SPCs) in mind. SPCs are integral to the success of any local Suicide Prevention Program by serving as their CO’s program managers. The Establish a Foundation section outlines responsibilities for commanding officers and suicide prevention coordinators, providing a detailed checklist for maintaining an engaging and comprehensive local program that supports psychological and emotional well-being. Amplifying information for items in this checklist, such as guidance for developing a crisis response plan, can be located throughout the handbook.

Prevention doesn’t begin during the heat of a crisis—it starts with everyday actions to promote health, connectedness and readiness. The Commanding Officer’s Suicide Prevention Program Handbook provides practical tips to help COs and SPCs integrate Operational Stress Control and Total Sailor Fitness into their programs. This multi-faceted approach can better equip Sailors with the skills and knowledge they need to adopt ongoing healthy behaviors and prevent actions that may put them at risk for suicide or other destructive behaviors. Training is also an essential component of local efforts to build skills, at both the individual and unit levels. To that end, required training, additional educational resources and communications campaigns are detailed in the handbook to familiarize COs and SPCs with the many tools available to foster community and preparedness.

With recent changes to procedures for completing the Dept. of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER) following a suspected suicide, the Commanding Officer’s Suicide Prevention Program Handbook will help familiarize COs and SPCs with new requirements. The Reporting & Postvention section describes these changes—including timelines, roles and responsibilities and additional resources—to foster a multidisciplinary team approach to data collection and quality assurance.

From evidence-based prevention and intervention tools, to reintegration tips following psychological health treatment and postvention resources, the Commanding Officer’s Suicide Prevention Program Handbook provides answers to many frequently asked questions that arise in day-to-day program execution.  While it’s intended for COs and SPCs, it contains useful information for any Sailor.

The handbook is available for download on the Navy Suicide Prevention website and on Navy Suicide Prevention’s Issuu page for optimized desktop viewing and mobile access. SPCs should ensure that a printed copy of the handbook is kept in an easily accessible place at their command and stored electronically for quick reference.

Mindful Walking Using a Labyrinth

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Cmdr. Kim Donahue, Group Chaplain for USS Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Strike Group TWELVE, reflects on mindfulness and reconnecting with spirituality through labyrinth walking. To find a labyrinth near you, go to www.labyrinthsociety.org and enter your zip code. Like @NavStress on Facebook and follow us Twitter for more resources to strengthen your Spiritual Fitness as part of the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas, now through January 3, 2016.

-NavyNavStress Note

Have you ever started down a path and suddenly realized you had no idea where you might end up? Or maybe you thought you knew where the journey was leading and then all the signs lead you to know that you got it all wrong. Reflection and meditation are as old as the hills, and as seldom visited by most.

Recently, I have started to practice mindful walking. Having just served on board a nuclear aircraft carrier, walking is like a sport. You have to avoid knee-knockers, electrical outlets on the bulkhead, low overheads, other people who are transiting with a mission-paced walk, etc. With a mission in the back of my mind—and places to get to—much of my walking time is spent literally just transporting my body from one location to another. Quick “Hey, how ‘ya doin’s?” fly out of my mouth, answers noted, smiles and eyes lock, and I am off. I am a pretty fast walker!

There was a time about ten years ago—after some extensive surgery—that I had a “smell the roses” pace to my walk. It was absolutely imperative that I had a destination in mind before I began to walk, but along the way I had time to engage the dust bunnies in my path. I still remember the drastic change and the lessons learned as I had to take time moving from place to place. On a carrier, however, that would be dangerous.

As an action-oriented person, walking slowly helps me to slow my mind.  Initially, I am most aware of my feet touching the ground, my breathing and heart rate as they slow down, too.  Then the quieter prayers, thoughts, whispers of truth begin. One of my favorite places to do such mindful walks is in the comfort of a labyrinth.  Labyrinths are excellent tools for such quiet walks, with a single path leading to the center and back out again, no decisions to be made and no traffic to avoid.

Mindful walking is really quite simple. It makes every journey longer. One has the time to notice and pay attention to surroundings—even time to stop and pause. Insights and thoughts come pouring over you, offering a level of awareness that might otherwise be missed when one is walking with arrival being the only goal.  The world seems new and different each time you set out, even if the path is the same.  Wonder is reinstated as a soul state. The song “I wonder as I wander” speaks to this kind of journey of wonderment related to God’s purposes in our lives.  An anonymous author wrote, reflecting on the Christmas story:  “If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things… If we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi?  Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each of us, there is a desert to travel—a star to discover.  And a being within ourselves to bring to life.”

This holiday season, I invite you to become more mindful of life’s sacredness, brought to life in you.  Give yourself the chance to discover beneath all the hustle and bustle—to experience wonder along with the gathering of gifts. Reflect on mysteries as well as accomplishment.

Many Advent blessings to you!

Cmdr. Kim Donahue
Group Chaplain for USS Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Strike Group TWELVE

 

Marriage Is Like a Krispy Kreme Donut

U.S. Fleet Forces Command Deputy Chaplain Cmdr. Richard Ryan shares his reflections on strengthening connection with your spouse this holiday season. In addition to following Chaplain Ryan’s tips, you can reinvest in yourself and your relationship with your spouse through a CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreat. Learn more about free CREDO retreats and workshops in your area, here.

-NavyNavStress Note

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Krispy Kreme donuts are my favorite. You might not know this, but Krispy
Kreme donuts exist in different stages. Let me explain.

In college, my friends and I would go to the Krispy Kreme shop late at night when we saw their “Hot and Now” sign on. We knew that sign meant that the donuts would be hot, fresh, and would melt in our mouths. This is the first stage.

The second stage of a Krispy Kreme donut can be observed at a grocery store. Some grocery stores sell Krispy Kreme donuts, but not of the “hot and now” variety. These are room temperature at best, and are prepackaged.

The third stage is the worst, in my opinion. It occurs when you pick up a Krispy Kreme donut expecting it to be good, only to realize that it’s a few days old and stale.

Marriages are the same way. When your marriage is new, it is filled with excitement and joy, similar to how we felt when devouring our “Hot and Now” donuts. As time passes, your marriage may cool off a bit; your interactions with each other becoming more mundane among the bustle of family life. And without attention, your marriage may lose freshness and become stale. While I hope that is not the case, if it is, there is always hope. Here’s one idea that might help.

During the holiday season, talk with your spouse about committing to improve your relationship. Take time to connect like you used to connect. Growing closer is something that you cannot put a price tag on. Consider giving the gift of a new commitment. You don’t have to go as far as renewing your vows (although that’s not bad either), but there are several possible commitments to think about:

  • I will be encouraging.
  • I will pray for our marriage and our family.
  • I will make our relationship a priority.
  • I will revisit my expectations.
  • I will champion you.
  • I will be nurturing.
  • I will be responsible and reliable.
  • I will be honest.
  • I will be faithful.
  • I will connect with you.
  • I will reveal my inner self to you.
  • I will allow you to influence me.
  • I will work through issues with you.
  • I will forgive.

How will making each commitment change your relationship? Try picking a few of the commitments listed above or creating some of your own. Then look your spouse in the eye and let him/her know how you are committed to them. Reassure them that you are a person of your word. Then post your commitments on your refrigerator and keep talking about them throughout the holiday season. Pick a commitment of the week and leave your spouse a love note telling them how you are honoring that commitment and why it is important to you. This kind of thing will help keep your marriage fresh and alive.

Back to Krispy Kreme donuts…Do you know what happens to a stale Krispy Kreme donut when you put it in the microwave for 30 seconds? That’s right! It becomes “Hot and Now” again. The same can be true for your marriage.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas,

Chaplain Ryan

Looking for more ways to strengthen Family Fitness or other tips to stay fit this holiday season? Follow us during the 21 Days of Total Sailor FITmas now through January 3, 2016 for small acts to help you navigate stress and build resilience throughout the New Year.