Never Alone: A Military Wife’s Guide to Combating Loneliness and Getting Closer to Christ
Military wife and author Jessica Manfre recently talked with The Stream’s Nancy Flory about Jessica’s new book, Never Alone: Ruth, the Modern Military Spouse, and the God Who Goes With Us. Within the pages of Never Alone, Jessica examines the biblical book of Ruth and compares Ruth’s and Naomi’s journeys to military spouses’ everywhere. Her book is a guide of sorts for military spouses who struggle with loneliness. She encourages military spouses to seek God for His presence and to remember that He never leaves, regardless of the circumstance.
Nancy: Why did you write Never Alone?
Jessica: When I was approached by my good friend and fellow author, Megan Brown, her encouragement was infectious and I couldn’t not write this book. I was raised Catholic and the practice of that particular line of the Christian faith is pretty quiet and traditional. The idea of writing a book based around my faith seemed unimaginable. Megan was a constant motivator, if I am being transparent. As I began outlining what I wanted to write about, loneliness was always going to be the topic of discussion. As a military spouse it was a feeling or experience I’d been navigating for so long. But the entire world felt it during the shut downs and isolation of the pandemic. It couldn’t be any other topic!
I also felt like it was vital that I craft a resource that offered my raw experiences, paired with not just my clinical knowledge but Scripture as well. A cup of coffee and my Bible pointed me directly to Ruth. I felt called to use her journey with Naomi as the study for navigating loneliness. Despite their extraordinary circumstances and deep loss, it would take a Pagan woman (Ruth) to bring the two of them out the other side. In their story we witness the beauty of God’s love and the reminder that we’re never alone.
Nancy: Who is your audience?
Jessica: I wrote this for veteran and military spouses. I believe deeply that although there are many military related books, military spouses specifically appear mostly absent from today’s literary conversation. It was vital that I build something for them as they navigate this life. I also make it clear in my introduction that the book is written in a way that anyone can take away something. Whether it’s a peek behind the curtain of a military spouse’s life or a different look at your own loneliness experience, I believe deeply in the importance of understanding and healing from it.
Nancy: What is the takeaway from your book? What do you want people to be talking about after they read it?
Jessica: Loneliness can manifest in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious, wreaking havoc on your life. I pray that readers not only walk away understanding what it is, but also add healthy coping skills to navigate their way through it. I hope it’s also a reminder that God is walking with us as we do. When people finish this book, I hope they feel more connected to their faith, and that it brings about a reinvigorated passion for having hard conversations with transparency and grace. We need each other … and when we’re vulnerable, there’s such beautiful healing in it all.
What Civilians Don’t Realize
Nancy: What struggles do military spouses experience that civilians may not understand?
Jessica: Many civilians assume that the government provides everything we need and we want for nothing. The reality is we live in high cost areas many times and our junior enlisted families are struggling financially. This leads to all sorts of negative outcomes when paired with loneliness. Community is vitally important in combating loneliness and it starts with our civilian peers understanding how deeply we need to feel included. This is also a calling to the local church to not just say we’re welcome but to actually make us feel as though we belong.
Nancy: Why did you choose the story of Ruth? How does her story connect us to the hope and loving kindness of Jesus?
Jessica: We start the story watching Naomi leave her homeland for a pagan land. From there, she loses her husband and both sons. She’s disconnected, grieving and begins to build a bitter heart towards God. This was all so resonant with the military spouse experience. Then we watch God use her pagan daughter-in-law to not only restore her faith but bring about a kinsman redeemer. The result of her faith, loving kindness and devotion to Naomi would lead to the birth of King David. He would be the ancestor of our Savior, Jesus. As we examine their story and the acts of Jesus during his time on earth, it’s a reminder to never judge a book by its cover, and to hold fast to our faith in God … even when everything appears to be on fire around us.
Nancy: What led you to become a passionate advocate for the military community?
Jessica: I’ve been a military spouse for 15 years now. Soon I’ll have lived this life longer than anything else. There’s a shared struggle but also so many incredible opportunities and beauty. When I weathered the shutdown of 2019, with our Coast Guard not getting paid, it awakened my need to serve. I was one year away from graduating with my master’s in social work and though I knew I would ultimately become a therapist, it was vital to me that I also become an advocate for my community. At this point I am a seasoned spouse and I feel a deep responsibility to ensure I pave the way for the generation coming behind me. It’s an honor and a privilege.
Fighting Isolation with Community
Nancy: Describe how military spouses share a unique connection rooted in longing for community.
Jessica: We move every two to three years. It doesn’t matter how much we shine it up with adventure and goodness. It’s still really hard to constantly start. When you add children into the mix, it means a whole new level of stress. Despite the good I find in every move I’ve gone through, I know that my friends and I are all pretty united in our need for community. We want to feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves and soak in every moment, even when it’s temporary. Social wellness is an important part of navigating life and we’re certainly not immune to needing connection.
Nancy: How can loving kindness serve as a restorative tool for military families to help combat isolation and poor mental health?
Jessica: When we lose ourselves in service to others, it releases all sorts of happy hormones. I am a firm believer that if we are struggling, volunteering our time to those less fortunate helps shift the mindset. No, it doesn’t solve whatever problem we’re working through, but it allows us to have the mental capacity to weather it in healthy ways. I believe engaging in loving kindness can be the key to improving mental health while also forging connections in the communities we reside in. Not only does it help us feel good. It puts us with other like-minded people, offering opportunities for connection and new friendships. Though technology has advanced much in our society, I believe it has also caused a decline in our ability to socialize and connect in healthy ways. Practicing loving kindness as a couple and a family can be the way back to basics while also combating things like isolation.
The Role of the Church
Nancy: How can churches support military families in their congregation?
Jessica: Get to know your military families and help us become connected, not just a body in a seat at Sunday service. Reach out when something feels off and allow us to be part of ministry. A lot of times that isn’t an option given due to the nature of our nomadic lifestyle. But remember, Jesus called us all to be disciples. What better way is there to spread the Good News than to allow military families to do it? We’re quite literally all over the globe.
Nancy: Tell me about #GivingTuesdayMilitary, your initiative that captured national media attention.
Jessica: I shared a makeover we did for an active duty Coast Guardsman whose spouse was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When GivingTuesday headquarters saw it, they asked if I’d run a campaign for the big day. I got together with Maria Reed and Samantha Gomolka (my soul sisters) to come up with our plan. Within 10 minutes, we knew we didn’t want it to be about fundraising but rather acts of service.
With our community all over the world we had the idea to create ambassadors willing to go into the local areas and engage in intentional acts of kindness. Our goal was 1 million and with the national media attention, we’re sure we surpassed that. This year will be our fifth campaign and we are over-the-moon excited! This initiative fueled us to form Inspire Up, the nonprofit behind the program. In three years we have given away roughly $250,000 to support not only our military and first responder community, but people in need as well. It’s our ministry, if you will, and a passion project outside of our busy lives.
Nancy: Tell me about Inspire Up and what you hope to accomplish with it?
Jessica: What the name says: We want to inspire a wave of generosity and good in this world. Though we focus on the military and first responder community, we hope to not only serve as many people as we can, but show folks that anything is possible when you infuse kindness into it. We are the change we’re seeking. There’s no need to look for someone else to be the good when you can make all the difference in the world.
Nancy: Where can people find your book?
Jessica: Never Alone is everywhere books are sold. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, some AFFES locations, Walmart, Target and more. You can also go to my website, www.JessicaManfre.com to learn more and read the first chapter for free!