Flying Blind

But flying all the same

Tag: confusion

I Found My Max Capacity

I was frustrated.

I was angry.

I was moving away from Washington State.  I had developed some really intimate relationships with some of the men I met up there and had started meeting with them at least once a week.  I was spending close to 8 hours per man each week praying for them, studying with them, counseling them, challenging them… shepherding them.

I had prayed for a long time that God would send a replacement for me or that He would develop one of them to step in and start shepherding that little flock in my place after I left.

It didn’t happen.

A couple weeks before we left Washington, I heard that another fella who is a part of the same ministry team that I am a part of was moving into the area.  I was excited to say the least.  I then found out that he had no plans of connecting with our little posse… he had no plans to lead it, to shepherd it, or to even meet with it.

In my frustration, I called the head guy for our team and expressed to him my frustration.  The team leader’s response was pretty simple…

This man will be working a very specific and demanding job while

in Washington and simply does not have the capacity right now to

be involved.  I’m sorry.

I was dumbfounded.

He doesn’t have the capacity?

What a poor excuse!

The team leader tried to explain to me that not everybody is capable of the same amount of stress, or relational tenacity, or multitasking agility.  It was so hard for me to understand.  I kept thinking that if I could do it, while being a husband, a father of 4, and a Sailor, surely this fella could do it.

Fast forward a year and a half.  A long, painful, cold, and dark year and a half.

I have been in school for a long time.  I was dropped from my original class and placed in the class behind me… akin to repeating the 3rd grade.  While going to school, I had a handful of “distractors” stack up in my personal life.  To name a few, and just a few, my grandpa passed away last Thanksgiving, my brother had a tumor removed, was diagnosed with cancer, and started chemo, we went through an eviction proceeding following a long period of no income on our rental home in NC, and have been the recipients of a lawsuit threat from an employee of a real estate company.

It all finally stacked up against me.  Between the rough relationships in my extended family and me feeling like I have a responsibility to mend them, the loss my family has suffered, the strained (but healing) relationships between my wife and I (and my kids and I), and the lack of local friends (because I was too busy with school, there are good people here who care about me)… I cracked.

I would sit before my open books, read the same line a hundred times, and be consumed with thoughts that I was neglecting my family.  I would close my books and go see my family but my heart wasn’t there.  I would hear in the back of my mind that I was wasting the taxpayers dollar, that my family is doing just fine and that I need to do what I have been chosen to do… study and do well in school so that I can go forward and do great things on behalf of the US Navy.  This cycle continued until I started to feel simply paralyzed.

I would sit in front of my books and just stare at them.

I would stand in my yard with my kids playing around me and just stare at them.

I went in to take a test a couple weeks ago and failed it.  I needed a 75 and I earned a 74.  A weak 74 at that… tons of guessing!

This test fail triggered an academic investigation.  I told the investigating board all of what was going on in my home life.

The end result?

I have been dismissed from training.

Not for a lack of trying.  Not for a lack of intellectual ability.  Not for a lack of time management or failure to prioritize.  But for a lack of capacity.

I had in my head that being capable of succeeding was directly related to my ability to perform when the time came.  I now understand that life isn’t just about performing when the time comes.  There is a lot of life that happens behind the scenes, when the curtain is down and the seats are empty.

I do not live in a vacuum and I cannot continue to ask my family to wait for me.  As life has gotten a little thicker, a little more tricky, I have come to understand that I do not have the capacity to do what I wanted.

I am okay with this.

I am becoming very happy with this.

I was frustrated and angry before because I had no concept of somebody knowing where the edges of their envelope existed and choosing to stay within those boundaries.  I am sorry for the way that I reacted to that situation (and I will get in touch with the parties involved in order to communicate that).

I now know what it feels like to be stretched beyond my capacity and I see the damage that that causes to me and my family.  I also now recognize what it feels like to approach the limit of my capabilities.

I had a friend in Washington, a man I met with from time to time who coached me as a husband, a father, and a young shepherd.  He would tell me often that I needed to learn to say no.  He would tell me that he was afraid that I did not know where my boundaries were and that I was on a crash course for taking on more than I should and potentially causing great harm to myself and my family.

Rob, if you are reading this, you were right!  I was on that train.  I was not over committed in Washington, but I quickly ran out of space out here.  By the grace of GodI did not cause great harm to me or my family.

I have learned what my limits are and , more importantnly what ifeels like to reach them.

I found my max capacity and I managed to get off that train before it wrecked my life.

Thank you to all the friends and family who have supported us, encouraged us, and prayed for us as we walked through this part of our journey.

Call It What It Is… Fail

Fail

I don’t know if ever I have come across a word as painful, demoralizing, or heavy to me as this one.

Fail

It doesn’t hurt when it is being used in the typical pop culture manner of the word, but when bestowed upon me as a reward for my actions not meeting the requisite standard…  Sigh…

And fail I did.

I have had many people who care about me try to soften the blow.  I have had some very encouraging people attempt to encourage me by saying things like, “If you did your best, its not a fail,” and “Your wife and kids still love you, you didn’t fail.”  There were a good number of these kinds of statements being sent to me.  On the one hand, I really appreciated them.  They made me feel good for a moment.

On the other hand, they were frustrating to a deep level.

I felt as though the encouragement that was being given to me was a dismissal of what had happened, a denial of the facts, an enticement to live contrary to reality.

And so I write this now…  I’m calling it what it is.

It is a fail.

I failed to meet the minimum requirements to move forward with my training.  I failed to accumulate the required minimum number of points on a battery of patient scenarios.  I failed to perform my job in a manner commensurate with the predetermined standard which was required of me.  This is the simple reality and truth of the matter.  There was a standard.   I did not attain it.  Fail.

I understand what these encouragers were communicating to me.  I am not a failure.  I felt like one.  The weekend after I got the news, I walked around in a strange fog of disbelief.

It is humiliating.  It is painful for me.  I am heavy hitter, a hot runner.  I have been ” they guy that gets things done” for a long time.  For me to engage in something this difficult and not succeed is a foreign concept.

I spent a lot of time thinking about failure and how it is handled by the folks around me.  I think we need to adjust fire.

I had some folks tell me they were sorry that I failed, that they had faith in my ability to pass, and that they hoped I would get back to the plate and start swinging again.  This is the healthy approach.

We cannot redefine a word when we don’t like how it makes us feel.  We do not have the ability to redefine the standards placed upon us after we have committed to the task.  We do not have the luxury of walking through life sans consequences.  We had better not communicate to those around us that we believe we can do these things.

I have started to wonder… how many times have I redefined something in my life, or in the lives of those around me, because the truth was too bitter to swallow.  Have I looked at a friend and told him that what he was doing is healthy, appropriate, just, wise, or even “not that bad”, when in fact it is unhealthy, inappropriate, unjust, unwise, or quite frankly “bad”?  Has this quickness to redefine what is offensive so that I don’t have to really deal with the source of offense stretched into my beliefs?  Or rather, have my beliefs failed to stretch into my daily interactions with others to such an extent that I believe that I am the authority who decides what is a fail, a pass, wise, just, unjust, good, bad, etc., without really understanding that that is what I am doing?

I am not the one to determine a fail.  I simply perform.

Those who wrote the course, set the objectives, presented the material, and evaluated my performance are the appropriate judges.  It is on their shoulders to define the fail.

Likewise, it is not me who determines what is right or wrong, just or unjust, fair or unfair.  I simply discern what I see.

The Author of all life is the one who wrote the course of my life, set the objectives, determined my purpose, presented me with the resources required, and is the only appropriate Judge who determines what is right or wrong, just or unjust, righteous and unrighteous, pure and holy, or sin and…  well… fail.

Another thing I got to think about was my struggle with “failure.”  I fought, off and on, with feeling like a failure for years.  I had such a ridiculous, strict, narrow view of success that practically everything I did failed to measure up.  I would recall all the things I “failed” at and would feel as though nothing I did was good enough.  I really felt as though I was a failure.  Interestingly enough it took a legitimate fail for me to see that I have not legitimately failed at much of anything in my past.  I know it is ironic, but a couple weeks after my first fail and I am realizing how awesome I have been in this game of life!   (feel free to roll your eyes)

In summary, I failed and I  want to call it a fail.  Calling it a fail is not the same as calling me a failure.  Saying I did not fail is redefining reality and calling “bad” “good”.  I am simply the one who failed.  After getting the bad news, the Navy went through the required procedure and, in the end, decided to send me back to the beginning of the course with another class.  I hear repeating the 8th grade isn’t so bad…

 

Confidence or Something Else?

If you would have asked me about my confidence a year ago today, I would have told you that, though I come across as being very confident, I am really not.  I felt as though I was lost in a cloud, flying blind, a lot of the time (and still feel this way a lot).  I would make decisions and if they went poorly, I reacted very badly.  I tended to pour anger and frustration all around me because I felt as though I was not capable, or was not ready to be in the positions in which I found myself.

Ask me now about my confidence and I will tell you with great assurance that I am no longer as confident as I used to be!  I will also tell you that it is okay.

My parents, in-laws, wife, and kids can all tell you about times that things have not turned out the way I had hoped they would because of a simple mistake or oversight on my behalf, and how I feel as though I have failed at so many things.  Having come to this school, I have been placed in some very difficult positions.  The pace is so quick, the requirements so strict, the instructors so demanding, I have been forced to start pushing the envelope which contains my sense of “everything will be okay.”

Everything will in fact NOT be okay.

I am going to fail and I am going to screw stuff up.

I have been told by past leaders that I am a leader, that the bar I set for my peers is pretty high, and that I outperform those around me.  I never saw that.  I saw that other people would get worked up a lot more about the requirements, would work harder at their tasks than me, and would spend more time getting their tasks accomplished than I would.  My perspective was that they were better equipped and more motivated to succeed than I was, that they understood what was going on better than I did, yet somehow my leadership, and those working around me, started to rely on me as the “go to guy” for things that involved me.  I was so afraid of screwing up what I was working on, that I never pulled the trigger on a project or task until I was absolutely, positively, 100% sure that the task was complete and met the standard.  By the time I executed my task, I felt absolutely confident that it was right…  but I would not act until then.  This did not breed in me a sense of confidence though, it simply created a sense of focus, speed, and intensity in me that caused me to work my tasks faster than those around me.  While they were still unsure of what to do, I had finished my work and called the shot… confidence in my ability or quickness to finish because of a lack of confidence in my environment?

I would stay at work until 3 AM working on some tasks.  Think about that!  I would do almost 2 days work at night while my peers were home asleep because I was afraid I was going to miss a deadline or turn in a job that was incomplete.  My “confidence” was purely fueled by a true lack of confidence.

I do not have the time or resources to work my current tasks until they are absolutely 100% complete.  I am having to turn things in, run reports, finish tasks when I am mostly sure they are okay.  That is a long way from 100% complete and correct.  I am turning things in that meet the standard but require some correction instead of turning in perfection.

Having worked for so long in an environment where my work was pretty close to perfect, turning in things that simply meet the requirement is really hard.

It got even worse this month.  So far I have failed 1 test (made a mighty 64 on it), and have had to redo one of my tasks 7 times before it met the standard!  Talk about a death blow to my paradigm of confidence.  In the midst of the rework, I had the privilege of writing lines like I was back in middle school in order to correct one of my deficiencies.  I am faced with a Gastrointestinal lab, Head/Ears/Eyes/Nose/Throat (HEENT) lab, Cardiovascular exam, and HEENT exam all stacked up next week.

Guess what… my world did not come to an end.  I have royally screwed up several things this month now that I am having to perform on a much higher level than I have in the past and it is okay.

I don’t feel as though I have clearly communicated what I am feeling…  let me summarize like this…

I was so afraid of failing and having other people see me how I see me that I worked really REALLY hard to make sure everything I did was absolutely spot on.

Now I am in an environment where I cannot do what I used to do.

I was super afraid that I would drop the ball and the people around me would see me for the fraud that I so often feel I am.

I dropped the ball… I dropped it many times!

The people around me, family, friends, co-workers, leaders, looked at me, gave their advice/criticism, and moved on.

I had to do a lot of work because everything is not okay.

Apparently that is life…

And I really am okay!

Confidence is a thing of irony for me now.

What others may see in me and call confidence is really just me learning how to fail, recover well, and live with the grace and mercy that has been given to me.

Everything in life is not okay, but with grace, I can be.

…  So Joey, when you ask how I am doing, and I say, “I’m doing really well” and you say, “Awesome… I would like to hear why you are doing well…”… well…  this is why.

Thanks for asking!

 

How to Connect With an Introvert

For those of you who read this blog but do not know me personally, let me make something clear…

I am not an introvert.

Though I do not always enjoy being the middle of the crowd, I do enjoy being around people.  I love backpacking.  The only thing better than backpacking is backpacking with somebody else.  I have spent quite a few hours by myself sitting in the woods on hunting trips, but I would much rather spend that time sitting in the woods with somebody else.  I have found that I enjoy bird hunting more than big game hunting because it is a more social event.  Drawback… you have to kill a lot of birds to equal a deer.

I love who I am.

I love how I am.

There are still things about me that need to mature and develop, but on the whole… I love being me.

I have four kids.  When they were very young, they were your typical toddlers.  Into everything, running around, making noise, making a mess, spontaneous.  Our house seemed to vibrate constantly with the activity and noise that simmered perpetually within the walls.  My home is not a safe place for an introvert.  I understand that and so, when I am hanging out with an introvert, I meet with them outside of my home.  We meet somewhere quiet… like the mall…

I have all these ideas about ways to raise my kids.  I have these ideas about things to do in order to communicate just how much I love them and to really connect with them in a meaningful and intimate manner.

It never crossed my mind that any of my kids would turn out to be a calm, quiet, introvert.

What do I do with that?

How on earth do I communicate my love to a little girl who would like to just sit and look at a book… or look at art!

How did this happen?

On a more serious note, it really is pretty fascinating to see the budding personalities coming out of my kids.  My oldest is displaying her individual personality more and more.  The girl loves art.  We have a friend of ours who graduated with an art degree teaching private art lessons to my daughter.  I have found myself reading blogs from artists, both Christian and non, in order to broaden my ability to appreciate the same things my daughter appreciates.

Instead of going places and doing things with her, I have started making it a point to simply sit next to her.  We sit down to watch a movie and I invite her to sit next to me.  I try to make it a point to have her sit in my lap when I read books to them instead of always letting the toddlers sit on my lap.  I have started paying closer attention to which kids are running around downstairs and when I don’t see her, instead of calling her down to see what is wrong, I go upstairs just to sit on the floor of her bedroom with her and make small talk.

I take each of my kids to breakfast on Sunday mornings.  The oldest gets the first Sunday of the month, the youngest gets the last.  One of my kids wants to go to a busy sit down style place that serves great pancakes.  My oldest prefers to buy a donut and a juice in a grocery store and sit in the front of our car to eat.  I used to ask her why she preferred to sit in the car instead of going to a restaurant.  I do not ask any more.

I know she values these moments with me and I know they are good for her, good for me, and good for our relationship.

I have no clue how to evaluate these moments.  I see these times through my own perspective as an extrovert.  If I am comfortable, I am talking or doing, not sitting and stewing.  So when I sit with my daughter and we just sit there… something feels wrong.  When I ask a question and get a little short answer, I feel as though something is wrong.  I believe that things are not wrong, but that is how it feels.

It makes it very difficult to relax and just enjoy being with her when everything in me is convinced that something is wrong.  She must be upset with me.  I have to have hurt her feelings in order for her to sit so quietly for so long.

As I sit and analyze this, my questions tend to drift from wanting to connect with her to wanting to diagnose the break in our relationship.  It is so difficult to diagnose a problem that is not there.

I love my little girl and I know she loves me.

But I really wish I could figure out how to connect with her, and her introverted little soul.

Painting a Car

Never Perform CPR in Combat

At least that is what I was told.  That is not, however, what I did.

I don’t know if it was good or bad.  I feel like my soul was caught inside the insidious meat grinder of hell.

On the one hand, I had my brothers’ piercing eyes, seemingly judging my every move, their very sanity and composure hanging on the effectiveness of my actions and the sincerity with which I applied my craft.

On the other hand, I had my own precarious psychological state evaporating like ether on a hot day as my actions invited the demons and nightmares to prey on my heart and soul at will.

I knew performing CPR in this moment was futile.  My brother was dead.  The more time I spent with my lips on his, my nose blending the boundary between my vitality and the burnt flesh of his face, and little bits of that flesh being swallowed by me each time I took a breath throughout the ordeal, I knew I was doing irreparable damage to me.

But I could feel the eyes of those around me.  I am sure they were just watching.  I am sure they were just hoping for all the good in the world that their brother would open his eyes, cough and sputter, and breathe on his own.  I knew as sure as I was kneeling there, that, should I choose to do nothing else, I would never be able to recover that image in their eyes.

Doc.  Kneeling next to a dying brother.  Doing nothing.

This… This I could not do.

This brother of mine was a really small guy with South American ancestry from New York City.  Significantly different from me.  The guy had heart.  He was one of the smallest guys in the platoon, but he never used that as an excuse for not being able to perform.  He never needed an excuse to be honest… he was simply a verifiable little beast.  I held a deep respect for him.

He was a “comm guy”, one of the Marines who takes care of the radios and taught the rest of us how to not sound like morons when sending messages across the net.  In our living area (hooch), the Corpsmen and the Comm guys had our racks (beds) in the same area.  The teams had their own areas around us.  Unless there were missions which kept us out of the hooch, I woke up and saw him every morning, shared tuna and protein with him for breakfast or lunch, and talked about culture, religion, and movies before bed.

We were doing a joint team operation in Ramadi, and we staged at one of the combat outposts.  Around 2 in the morning the two teams departed friendly lines in order to execute justice in a city in which order and honor were severely lacking.

We were good at what we did.  I remember feeling like a ghost.  We would drop off the trucks, and disappear…  nobody had any idea where we were, and then we would appear when we would choose, get on a truck, and go home.  Man, we were good.

So we are slithering around the city, making our way to our destination for the next day’s mission, when all of a sudden the night sky lit up really bright.  I remember this happening sometimes while we would be out walking.  They sky would light up, a resounding boom would roll across us, and we would find out later that some poor platoon had taken casualties from an IED.  I remember thinking that life must be really hard for the guys in that platoon.  I mean, they just got blown up.  I do not remember ever hearing the explosion.  The next thing that I noticed was the debris that started to rain down on me.  And then it clicked.

Life got really hard in that moment.

Chaos was ringing out on our radios as each team tried to gain accountability of the team members.  “Doc’s good” and then I went silent in order to let the other guys communicate.  I looked up and saw that a couple of my Marines were already at the end of the street, gaining entry to a house.  We were all right there with them so fast, and the house was secured and being searched.

One of the guys was counting the members of his team and calling out their names as they came through the door.  Then the horror set in.  We were missing one.  And then I heard his name.

I went busting out of the house with my team leader, running without any regard to what could be happening around me, looking for my brother.  We found him.  He was in a bad way.  Really bad.

And I got to work.

I ended up in the back of a truck that was not meant to be used for QRF (Quick Reaction Force).  The “rescuers” grabbed the wrong truck.  Power steering had failed, the driver’s Night Vision Goggles did not work.  We were on such a tight street that the troop carriers could not turn around.  I got in the back of one of the small trucks with 2 more guys and off we went.

By ourselves.  No gun truck support.  No truckload of killing machines in a troop carrier behind us.

I did all I could do and the last thing on the list was CPR.  I started.  Shortly after that I looked up out of the back of the truck to see where we were and I recognized one of the bridges which took us to Camp Ramadi, home of the Fleet Surgical Resuscitation Team (FSRT).  These guys were sharp.  Really solid surgical team that set up right in the backyard of “this is where everyone dies” alley.  I started to relax a little bit because I knew we were just minutes from the front gate and we would be safe once we crossed that line.

I did not cross it in that truck.

There are these barriers set up in random places in order to control the flow of traffic and prevent vehicle IEDs from making contact with the Marines and Soldiers who guarded the gate.  The ones around us at the time were about 6 or 7 feet tall, solid concrete, and shaped like a capital “T” sitting upside down.  We hit it.  Hard.  Both of the Marines who were riding with me were ejected.  The driver broke a leg, and his passenger dislocated a shoulder.  I slid out of the back and landed on the body of the Marine on which I had been working.  I could hear the screams of the injured Marines coming from the front of the truck.

And then it was really calm and silent.

I looked up at the sky.  Crystal clear and full of stars.  I’ll never forget that, how intensely peaceful and beautiful that sky looked.  I cried out from the very pit of despair.  I was alone, the dead and injured around me.  All that came out of me was a little chuckle and, “Okay… what next?  What do I do now?”

The truck with the rest of the team on it came around a minute later, the Marines who were ejected from the back got on the truck with me and the Marine I was working on, and off we went.  I performed CPR all the way to the FSRT.

As soon as we pulled up, the FSRT staff unloaded my patient.  I got off the truck, took a couple steps, and doubled over on the ground.  I don’t know how long I cried, but it had to have been a while.  I stood up in time to see one of the FSRT staff coming out of the Operating Suite to tell me that my Marine had passed away.

I was ashamed for crying.

I was ashamed for having had my hands so bloody and having done nothing to keep him alive.

And I was sick.  From the stress of what had happened and the little bits of my brothers lips and face which had been burnt and then swallowed by me.

That smell, that taste, those feelings still linger deep in me.  I smoked a cigarette that night and got a dip from one of my Marines in order to get that flavor out of my mouth.  I cannot smoke a cigar to this day because of that.

Maybe I am weaker than my Marines.  Maybe they can carry these kind of painful things and be okay.  Not me.  I am fighting back the tears as I sit here and recall these memories.

I don’t mope around and I am not depressed.  I genuinely love and enjoy my life, but I do have days that are harder to get through than others.

I forgot where I wanted this post to go…  For that I’m sorry.

Hopefully some of this helps you understand a little bit better what it feels like…

Thanks for reading.  I’m sure I’ll talk more about this night at some point.

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