Tag Archives: spiritual growth

How to Handle the Fragmentation of Civilian Life

Have You Prepared for All Aspects of Your Transition?

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52

You may not have thought about it. But military life is integrated. On base, you have facilities serving your physical needs: exercise, medical care, food, and clothing. You can get mental and spiritual support. To a large degree, every unit in the field and ship is self-supporting. Civilian life is fractured. When you transition you need time to rebuild a whole life from scattered pieces.

How to Handle the Fragmentation of Civilian Life

Transitioning Creates Outer and Inner Conflict

The fragmented nature of civilian life makes leaving the military chaotic. That’s why I often talk about reintegration. Transitioning requires more than finding a new home and job. You need to restore a complete structure for daily life.

In the days of wooden sailing ships, rope makers twisted and wove strands of hemp, cotton, and other fibers together to make ropes as thick as seven inches or more. When pulled, any individual thread would snap. But entwined, they often withstood gale force winds.

It took at least four to six months to grow hemp and make such heavy rope. For a life, Parshas Ha’azinu explains the process:

“For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob a rope of his possession.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 32:9)

This week’s parsha ends this cycle of Sabbath readings. Moses taught how G-d and the Israelites’ existence would intertwine. He noted how Jacob combined the strengths of three generations. Abraham’s kindness and Isaac’s sense of justice integrated with his spiritual strength. So he overcame his struggle with the angel. (Genesis 32:22-23) He was ready to face life in all its complexity. The Israelites could follow this example.

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The multifaceted nature of life is just one of many ways rope symbolizes your transition.

Ensure You're Strong

Our military service binds us together. But if we braid our rope from delicate or worn out fibers it will break under stress. Each of us needs to revitalize himself. Then, despite some of us being so fragile we snap, the rest of us can maintain our unbreakable bond.

Each of us intertwines character traits that make up our personalities. Some will serve our reintegration. Others will hamper it. Transitioning entails strengthening the positive fibers. At the same time, we have to engage in the laborious process of unraveling the negative ones.

To rejuvenate, know a rope connects you to the Almighty. Each deed strengthens or breaks a filament connecting you to the Creator. Through daily work on this relationship, you create the ability to tug on the rope. This brings G-d’s presence closer to you in this world during times of trouble.

A rope made of inferior hemp will break in a hurricane. Likewise, transitions made in haste with insufficient thought unravel when hardship strikes. Focus on growing stronger through each step of your reintegration. Give yourself enough time to weave sturdy bonds before taking on extra burdens. And remember, G-d is a tug away.

What daily task strengthens your connection to G-d?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Create a Cadence to Overcome the Transition Blues

2 Cornerstones to an Unbreakable Reintegration Foundation

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Nitzavim-Vayeilech – Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30

A few weeks ago I heard sailors in formation calling cadence for the first time in quite a while. They brought back memories of my days as a Boy Scout. World War II and Korean War veterans ran my troop. Among the military influences, when we hiked someone called cadence. They were corny…

“I had a good wife but she left.” “You're right!”

“Look what the horses have left.” “You're right!”

“Sound off…” “One, two…” Sound off…” “Three, four…” “Cadence count…” “One, two, three, four, one, two, THREE, FOUR!”

But to a scrawny kid struggling to carry a 50 lb. backpack they kept my spirits from flagging. Civilian life could use some cadence calls, especially when the transition blues hit.

How to Create a Cadence to Overcome the Transition Blues

The Timeless Formula

No matter how meticulous your plan, you’ll have bumps when reintegrating to civilian life. In my case, a week before the movers came to pack up my on-base house, the business venture I had worked on for six months fell through. We got to Los Angeles with lots of expenses and no job.

I could have used a cadence, even a corny one, to help me lift my feet. I felt anger toward the partner who deceived the rest of us. Worse than the lost money was the lost time. My internal dialog flooded with doubt.

I had to make some changes. Fast. I’ll bet you can relate.

Parshas Vayeilech holds the clue for what to do:

“For, the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:14)

The Israelites stood on the cusp of the Promised Land. Moses reminded them they didn’t have to go to extraordinary lengths to figure out the right thing to do. Though daunted by having to change their mode of life, the Torah would still direct them. G-d would provide comfort and protect them. If their hearts remained true to the Almighty, they need not despair.

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Concerned they don't know the new requirements for success. Needing to change their way of life anyway. Being hopeful and apprehensive at the same time. Sounds familiar?

The Burden of Previous Transitions

If you ever struggled to transition, you carry that baggage now. Starting school. Changing schools mid-year or going from middle to high school. Trying to make a team. Crossing over from Webelos to Boy Scouts. Acclimating to your parents getting divorced. Long forgotten emotions from these events can resurface during times of uncertainty.

You may have made an irreversible mistake. You vowed to move on only to find yourself caught in an emotional loop. Realizing you're in a similar situation now, you doubt your ability to prevail.

If destiny haunts you, remember it’s in your mouth and your heart, to move forward and succeed. You’ll ease your way with a cadence to overcome emotional inertia. Create yours by:

1. Purpose. Reimagine who you are. As you transition to civilian life, you’re no longer solely a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coastguardsman. These remain a part of your identity. But now you’ll add new facets to them. Write down a word picture of you reintegrated to civilian life.

2. Mission. Your values don't need to change. But the focus of your life and work does. Family-wise and professionally, create a plan for a lifelong journey. Does your religion give you direction? Consider what 10 to 30-year work goals will motivate you. Don't worry about their changing over the years. Encapsulate your current vision into a powerful sentence or two that describes your life’s trek.

Post these on your bathroom mirror and read them aloud every morning. Keep a copy on your phone so you can read it when the transition blues hit.

Each time you start over, you strive anew. Obliterate worries about the times in the past you said you'd change but didn't follow through. Recognize all that matters is what you say and do now. The required tasks are neither too extraordinary nor too complex for you to handle. These weren’t empty platitudes for the Israelites. Nor are they for you.

Fill in your knowledge gaps. Create a cadence to keep you marching when your energy flags. And always remember, G-d is there to comfort and protect you.

Do you have a mantra that gets you through a difficult situation?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Battle Lack of Preparation for Your Transition

2 Lessons You Can Apply to Leaving the Military

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ki Savo – Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

You decided to move on, retire, or got told to leave the military. The prospect of civilian life fills you with excitement. New horizons are there to conquer. No kicking back and enjoying life. Then reality sets in. Job-hunting turns out to be harder than the TAP folks said. You face dozens of problems without a sponsor. Finding a decent place to live. Getting your kids in new schools. The excitement turns to trepidation.

How to Battle Lack of Preparation for Your Transition

A Whole Nation Disoriented by Change

If you're not careful, the blessing of civilian life will become a curse. Your confidence will change to uncertainty. How could things go SO wrong? How will you handle dashed dreams?

We’re not the first people to make a wrenching change. The story in Parshas Ki Savo will sound familiar:

“…so that you can enter the land that the Lord your G-d gave to you, a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 27:3)

Moses sets out the terms under which the people will live in the Land of Israel. The fundamental rules of life won't change. The Torah will still guide them. But in the wilderness, G-d led them from place to place. He prepared manna for them to eat. Their clothes didn't wear out and they didn't have to do laundry. They studied and celebrated the Sabbath and festivals. Some of them got into mischief.

In the Land, the Israelites will have to adapt to a different life. It may flow with milk and honey. But someone will have to feed and milk the cows. The honey won't gather itself. The Almighty will still guide them, though more hidden now. Each man will have to make numerous decisions.

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Civilian life should flow with milk and honey. But it doesn’t.

Combat Unpreparedness with Outlook

Remember in the military how you handled unexpected problems? You used your training to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Of course, therein lies the key. Your service branch drilled you to meet pretty near all contingencies. For the most difficult ones, someone senior to you had the answer. And, he took the responsibility.

Now you’re in civilian life. You may not have proper training. You haven’t drilled handling unforeseen problems. You're not sure who has the experience to give you sound advice. And all the responsibility rests on your shoulders.

The Israelites faced this situation. Moses gave them a choice: blessings or curses. The Torah lists twelve lines of blessings but an astonishing 54 of curses! You can learn two lessons from their experience:

1. Once you commit to negativity, you’re on an almost endless, downward spiral. The pain will be long and drawn out. You’ll think you’ve hit bottom, only to find there are deeper layers of garbage.

2. If you accept life’s problems as blessings, soon you’ll see some fruits of your effort. They won't come all at once. But living with gratitude for the struggles AND the good times means achieving greater comfort.

I’ve asked transitioning veterans to offer advice to service members about to leave the military. Some say, “STAY IN!” Sadly, they’ve chosen the first path. Instead, resolve to convert negative aspects of your transition into growth lessons. Make curses blessings. And put the excitement back into your transition to civilian life.

Where do you see or anticipate blessings in your transition?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Why Everyone Needs a Guide for Life

What You Have in Common with the Ancient Israelites

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Re’eh – Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

Life in the military acclimates a person to oversight. Someone supervises your work. You have standard operating procedures to take you step-by-step through processes. You have to pass a periodic physical fitness test. The military uses surprise urinalyses to prevent drug use. Training in sexual harassment and assault emphasize how such behavior impairs mission readiness and hurts your comrades. Notice anything missing?

Why Everyone Needs a Guide for Life

The Israelites Needed New Guidance

In 2013, I participated in three rounds of sexual assault prevention training. The substance varied little from one to the other. It was clear the Navy felt the first two hadn't gotten through to sailors. But, there seemed to be no point in presenting the same material yet again. Before we embarked on the third series, I sat down with my commanding officer.

I pointed out to him a glaring gap. Nowhere did the training make an unequivocal statement that sexual harassment and assault are wrong. The Navy set the rules. But it wouldn’t make moral judgments. Each sailor had to fill in the void. Was it surprising that some came to the wrong conclusion?

In Parshas Re’eh G-d makes it clear that people shouldn't make unguided moral decisions:

“Beware for yourself lest you bring up your elevation offerings in any place that you will see.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 12:13)

This Sabbath’s parsha continues preparing the Israelites for life in the Land of Israel. During their wanderings in the wilderness, G-d was close by. Moses instructed them daily. Now they would live dispersed throughout the land. Moses would be gone, G-d farther away. Making the right moral decisions would be more difficult.

Lest people come to think they could do whatever they wanted, the Almighty gives a reminder. Don't fool yourself into thinking something that’s wrong is right. The rules still apply. In fact, now that I won't be so close, you’ll have less leeway in which to act.

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In the third round of briefs, my CO began each one by stating sexual harassment and assault are wrong. I followed up by asking the question, “How would you feel if a shipmate treated your sister or mother that way?” A crusty old chief petty officer got incensed at our moralizing. But younger sailors appreciated the guidance. One said to me he had never thought about it in moral term until I personalized the behavior.

You Have to Play by Different Rules

The rules of civilian life are different than the military. I asked the members of my veterans Facebook group, Passport to Success – Military Vets (click here to join), what they learned on their first day in a civilian job. Some of the responses were:

“Using F*** every other word was not ok lol.”

“Kill is not a proper response to anything, especially when talking to ER nurses.”

“Based on my coworkers shoes, a good shine is no longer a priority.”

“Your assumptions about civilians is no better than their assumptions about veterans. We have to work hard to break the stereotypes about veterans.”

Experience is a tough teacher. Better to get a trusted advisor who can help you learn the rules of the civilian world. Some are moral. Others are practical. But they're all important to reintegrating.

Earlier today I took sexual assault training again. The Navy still doesn't say it’s wrong. Don't make the same mistake. Find someone, perhaps a fellow vet farther along in the process, to be your guide.

Who do you know who can help show you the way in civilian life?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Do You Have This in Your Marriage?

How to Strive Beyond Solid Communication…

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Eikev – Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

Have you had this experience? The other day I infuriated my wife. Then before I could apologize she did something amazingly big-hearted. I stood in awe of her. She was still mad at me. But despite her anger, she wanted to make my life easier.

Do You Have This in Your Marriage-

It just didn't make sense to me. When I’m angry with her we have to talk the matter out to clear the air. Sometimes it doesn't take very long. But once in a while, the discussion will go on for hours. Everything you read about good relationships says to work conflict through. That way you can reconnect with your spouse.

How can Melanie, even temporarily, skip that step? And even though she does, wouldn't it be better to resolve the conflict first? Doesn't her overlooking it incentivize me to do other things that might enrage her?

The Nature of True Love

Here's the rub. She’s not trying to make me feel guilty. Her actions are genuinely kind. That’s what makes them so amazing. Sitting here writing this, the times Melanie has described how much she loves me come to mind. As wonderful as they are, when she acts in spite of her anger she SHOWS me the depth of her love.

At times I live the curse of being a rabbi/chaplain/guy people come to to fix their relationships. I default to rational steps. Identify the source of conflict. Use good communication skills. Talk it through. Reach for compromise and resolution. Reconnect.

Except, that’s not how G-d does it. Two verses from Parshas Eikev explain what I mean:

…He fed you the manna that you did not know…” and “Now Israel, what does the Lord your G-d ask of you? Only to be in awe of the Lord your G-d…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 8:3 and 10:12)

Moses reminded the Children of Israel that the Almighty fed them in the wilderness no matter what they did. Then he reminded them He asked for nothing in return. So, they should revere Him for such generosity.

Bookended by these two verses, Moses recounted the story of the Golden Calf. With subtlety, he showed them the nature of true love. G-d miraculously fed you. You sinned. No impact on your food supply. Such devotion is awesome.

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The Israelites had to deal with their sin. But G-d did want to disconnect for even a nanosecond. So much for the rational process of working a dispute through in order to be able to reconnect.

Put Process in Its Rightful Place

My wife better understands the nature of true love. I don't know if it's intentional or intuitive. But I’m well advised to learn from her example.

It’s worthwhile knowing processes for working through conflict. Disputes left to fester will destroy your marriage. But in the end, they’re tools. The ability to deal with disagreements is an interim goal for your relationship.

Join me in striving to continue to do loving acts before a dispute is resolved. Imagine the quality of your marriage if you succeed only once in a while. Awesome.

How do you decide your response to an ethical challenge?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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