Jenny Thuen, Volunteer Head Mom
Finding our purpose can feel elusive. The everyday distractions that consume our lives make it harder to be deliberate about finding our calling.
For veterans, finding a calling can be even more challenging.
"Purpose is an especially difficult problem for our veterans as much of their past had such an order, with the mission properly directing attentional focus and giving day-to-day tasks and other distractions a place in support of a higher end goal," my husband and Army veteran Adam told me.
We all find ourselves in similar positions from time to time, but for veterans, it is a certainty and has a predictable timetable.
It's important for us all to give candid, honest assessment to the question of purpose. What is your purpose?
For those of us transitioning between phases of life (like many of these warriors), our answers can be persistently challenging to ascertain. Where do I go next? What am I meant to do? How do I simultaneously lead myself and my family while pivoting careers, social networks, locations, and "missions"? How do I know I have oriented myself with a proper purpose and direction? There are no easy answers to these questions.
I've come to understand that my purpose is both unwavering and dynamic, expanding and contracting, and constantly under assessment, prayer, and scrutiny. My purpose is service to others.
This very purpose led me to help for my sixth year with Warriors & Quiet Waters as the Head Mom. The Head Mom is in charge of meal planning and preparation for a week-long program. This year, I was tasked with leading the mom volunteers for WQW's newest program — Hunt for Purpose. I was leading my favorite "dream team" of kitchen volunteers into what we hoped would be another great year. However, Hunt for Purpose would be different from the other programs we volunteered for. Hunt for Purpose is a program designed to guide post-9/11 combat veterans to a greater sense of clarity around their identity, values, potential, and purpose. Hunt for Purpose is an intensive, six-month pursuit to plan, prepare for, and execute a successful archery elk hunt in Montana's backcountry. Participants learn the basics of elk hunting and backcountry survival, improve their physical fitness, learn healthy nutrition, and work alongside fellow Warriors and loved ones toward a common goal. I was tasked with making clean, healthy food to nourish these warriors' bodies (and souls). We knew this week would be different, but I had no idea how different it would be. To prepare, I built an entirely new menu based on nutritional guidance in the genuine belief that this was how we could best support this particular program.
Then everything changed. After putting about 10 hours into this new menu, within the first 24 hours, we stumbled upon gluten, dairy, soy, coconut, and rosemary allergies and directions to avoid sugar. "Then what do we cook with?" I remember one Mom (a tremendous Scandinavian cook whose 79 years of recipes were predominately based on flour, butter, and sugar) asking me. Humbled in our perilous start and fridges bulging with leftovers needing reinvention, we scrapped our menu altogether.
We leaned into eggs, meats, and vegetables. Although simple foods, they were clean, accommodating, and supportive of their health goals. It did feel a bit underwhelming to have scrambled eggs, again, and try to imagine 100 different ways we could integrate the five gallons of corn salad we had left over, but we did it. We supported our people. They needed clean food, and we dug deep (sometimes very deep) to make it happen.
These warriors, who had come into this program with estranged purpose, focus, and discipline, had — through their own efforts — made truly tangible progress in their wellbeing. It was evident the warriors had found a purpose — not just in their technical capability to hunt elk, but to rediscover themselves, ready to tackle whatever challenges lay ahead. Warriors & Quiet Waters successfully built a program that can act as a conduit to rebuild veterans' physical prowess, mental discipline, and spiritual awareness. WQW has helped warriors transform their lives over these past six months, and we can only imagine where they land months from now.
It was an honor and pleasure to help amid challenges, and seeing the optimism, hope, and transformation was revolutionary. If they can rebuild themselves and their lives, what can we do?