Out of Place Series: Jenny Lynne’s Story
At the check-in desk, my escort to the administration offices asked why I was visiting the building. I told him I was there for an interview for the for the position of “Outreach Coordinator.”
He gave me a quick once over and asked, “You done a lot of outreach before?”
“I’m a military spouse. Outreach is my life,” I responded.
He chuckled, nodded, and led me through the labyrinth of a building to my destination.
My response to this gentleman was initially said in partial jest, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I realize how true it actually is.
I currently live in a town where I am one of thousands of military spouses. Even though I am surrounded by people like me, I still had to build my own community from scratch, just like I’ve done every two to three years since I married a sailor. Outreach.
But at our last duty station I was the one of one. I was the only active duty spouse some people had ever met. Full stop. Not like, “Oh, I have a spouse friend from another branch of the service. Or, my sister’s boyfriend’s cousin is married to someone in the Army.” We’re talking, the only one.
During this tour God taught me that outreach not only meant reaching out; it also meant pushing me to reach farther than I ever had before.
I began our tour in New York City by spending a lot of time drowning my sorrows in Ben and Jerry’s, Netflix, and my couch, while I mourned the loss of what was. Our previous duty station was in my hometown and we were stationed there for three consecutive tours. When we moved north, I left behind not only my house, but my family, and lifelong friends. It was quite a shock to the system.
Yet, deep down, I knew living that way for the next three years wasn’t advisable for my waistline or my sanity. I needed a new place to belong.
Outreach. Reaching out.
In order to get off the couch, turn off Netflix, and eat something other than Ben and Jerry’s I needed somewhere to go. I needed a purpose to leave the comfort of my new house.
I joined a local MOPS group out of convenience, truthfully. It was literally a block and half from my house. At the time I signed up I still couldn’t find the grocery store without the GPS, so the idea of walking into a room full of people I didn’t know, at a place far from my home was too much for me to bear.
Thankfully, this group was the smallest MOPS group I have ever been a part of; twelve women total and five of them were on the leadership team! The good news for me was that though this group was small in numbers it was HUGE in heart. It only took me reaching out to be brought in. To belong.
Outreach. Reaching further than ever before.
With no ready-made Navy community in the greater NYC area, that duty station stretched my capacity to build community for myself and my family.
I was the mom of a preschooler and a toddler, and a wife to Naval officer, who twenty-five days prior to moving to Connecticut, was on a deployment in Afghanistan.
Living in Connecticut was the first time all four of us lived under the same roof for more than a few days at time.
I was at max capacity. New home. New school for my oldest. New job for my husband. Everything was new. Except being a stay-at-home mom, that wasn’t new, and I wasn’t happy about it.
I was struggling to find normalcy, solid ground, routine. I knew I needed support. But I always had my two-year-old in tow. MOPS was great for this, but the group only met once, every other week. What was I supposed to do the other twenty-eight days of the month?
I found I had to invite people in. Literally. Into my home.
I had to get past the crummy parking in complex. I had to get past the toys on the floor. I had to get past the idea that because I lived a different lifestyle than everyone else, I couldn’t let them in.
During that time of so much new, so much change, God taught me that outreach is the cure for feeling out of place.
That outreach lesson gifted me belonging in a place where the one of one often stands alone. It is a lesson that stuck.
When I arrived at our current duty station, I knew that both reaching out and reaching further than ever before was required. But in a different way. This time it wasn’t about me finding a place to belong, it was about being that place for someone else.
It was about being like those twelve women in my first very first MOPS group. The ones who welcomed me and gave me a place to belong with no strings attached. The ones who rewarded my outstretched hand with a tight grip and an understanding smile. It was my turn to draw others in from uncertainty and isolation. It was my turn to show them they belong.
Have you ever felt like a palm tree in a pine forest? Have you ever been transplanted to foreign soil, unsure if your roots will ever grow deep enough for you to thrive? Have you ever looked around, and felt so different, so other, that you wonder if you’re going to make it?
If so, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive these scripture cards and adult coloring pages about belonging in the kingdom of God:
About Jenny Lynne
I’m Jenny Lynne. Two words, one name, it’s a Southern thing.
I am a Navy spouse, teacher, writer, and active member in both military and civilian communities. My work is featured on Her View from Home, Task and Purpose, Sandboxx.org, and my personal blog. You can connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.