A Child Laughs — Soldier’s Heart: Reaching out to Veterans and their Families

Tuesday’s child is full of grace.” For the next four months I am sharing sections from the new book — A Child Laughs — Prayers of Justice and Hope (edited by Maria Mankin and Maren C. Tirabassi) Pilgrim Press, May 1, 2017.

In honor of Veterans Day in the United States I am sharing on Monday rather than Tuesday this week for those who may wish to use these materials in worship services. This is Sharyl Peterson’s chapter, Soldier’s Heart: Reaching out to Veterans and their Families (I include all of it for your use) Sharyl does not speak of her deep involvement with veterans’ ministries, though we see it in her chapter, but she says this of herself: Sharyl B. Peterson is a UCC pastor in the process of retiring after twenty-five years in ministry. She is getting ready to spread her wings as community storyteller, poet, hospice volunteer, and maker of artists’ books. And she is trying to stay open to the new possibilities that retirement will bring.

For many combat-veterans, spiritual challenges run even deeper. Their condition, once called “soldier’s heart” or “shell shock,” and now called PTSD, involves not just physical but emotional and spiritual woundings as well. The resources here may help faith-communities, individual care-givers, and family and friends assist veterans to find some of the healing they need in their lives.

Personal prayer

It is difficult for any serviceperson to handle deployment. If married, they worry about their spouse’s well-being. If parents, they worry about how their children will fare. Their family members and friends worry about their safety. Here are two prayers, one for a child whose parent is away, the other for a family whose member is leaving.

Dear God,
You know how scared _____ is right now. You know her/his mom/dad is in _____, where there is a war. Please protect ________ (parent) and bring her/him home safely. And please help _____ remember that _________ loves her very much, and that you do, too. Amen.

Dear God,
We pray for this family as _____ leaves to go to _____. Please keep them safe while they are apart. Give them courage and patience as they wait. Help them all remember how much they love each other, and keep fresh in their hearts good memories of their very best times together. Let them look forward to the day when _____ comes home, when they will celebrate together. Amen.

Coming Home
Vets returning home often suffer feelings of estrangement from their families and friends, anxiety about building their lives anew, and residual trauma from their military experiences, especially if they served in combat.

I just got home, God – and everything is strange.
I still hear gun-fire, still smell fear and sweat and blood, still see horrors.
Quiet me, God. Heal me, Holy One.
Help me unclench, and open my heart and arms to those I love.
Help us, together, become family again.

Finding a Home
Vets make up one-fourth of the homeless population. On any given night, some 200,000 of them have no safe shelter, no food security. Homeless women vets may face additional challenges as single mothers, or as survivors of military sexual trauma. May we both pray and work together so that all veterans may have a safe place to live.

O God, we pray for warm, safe places –
with clean floors, a chair for sitting, bright bed-quilts,
and doors to close and lock out dangers,
for (this veteran) and for all your children.
We pray for good food on the table, each and every meal.
We pray, God, that (this veteran) will find friendship and support in this community,
and help in growing a new sense of home here.
And we pray, God, that you use all of us so that veterans are honored and cared for
when they return from serving their country, and Your causes of justice and freedom.

In the Hospital
After 25-plus years of visiting vets in the hospital, I’ve learned that Veterans’ hospitals vary widely in their conditions and services. What seldom varies is how lonely so many of the patients feel. Some have lost their families because of the stresses of their military service. Some have outlived their comrades. Many feel abandoned by their country and their God.

The grizzled vet, iron-gray cheeks stubbled or downy,
scars visible and invisible,
lies in bed
in a plain gray room
with concrete-block walls.

He waits … for the doctor’s daily visit,
for a nurse to take his vitals (and touch him … oh, human contact),
for the lunch-cart (will there be ice-cream today?).

She hopes … for just one visitor today,
maybe a friend with a good joke, or
a chaplain to wheel her out to the garden, so she can feel sunlight on her skin.

In spite of pain … loneliness … they have not given up. They still seek hope.

And so, O God, hold this child of yours tenderly. Wait with him. Be with her in the visit of a friend. Touch them with the hands of loving caregivers. And always, help this brave one know, You are here. Amen.

Community Prayer

One: On this day, O God, we celebrate the many gifts of freedom.

Many: Freedom from old prejudices, old hatreds, old ways of thinking
that separate us from our sisters and brothers,
freedom from hardships and constraints that so many live with,
freedom to stop, and begin again, this time on Your path.

One: On this day, Holy God, we give thanks for those who
have worked, served, sacrificed in the service of their country’s ideals,
that others might be free.

Many: We thank you for the men and women who serve or have served
in our military forces. And we ask that You bless them.

One: We thank you, God, for those whose consciences led them to serve in
ways other than as combatants, working on behalf of their communities
to create peace and justice at home.

Many: We give thanks for their faith commitments and their service.
And we ask that You bless them.

One: We also lift up, honor, and celebrate the families of those who have
worked, served, and fought for freedom.

Many: We pray for those who held their families together while loved ones served far away, for those whose loved ones never returned, and for those still working to heal their families as loved ones do come home. And we ask that You bless them.

One: Gracious God, we pray that You keep all these in Your care this day. And we
pray that as we honor them, we might rededicate ourselves to Your service,
praying and working for peace, in our nation, and for all nations.

Many: We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus, our Christ, and Prince of Peace. Amen

Questions for Reflection/Action

What are the needs of veterans in your community? How can you learn more about them? Is there a way to ask veterans themselves rather than turning to online resources?

What resources does your congregation have to help address these needs? Some of these may be volunteer time, space, money, energy, advocacy. Stretch your imagination – don’t stop at your first answer.

With whom can you partner so you can be more effective?

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