My Kids Are More Mature Than Me

I am in a position right now between the Navy and my family which is pretty rough.  I am handling it pretty well, but it is awfully hard.  As I have told my story to a couple friends, I have heard the response,

 

“You are a better man than me”

 

I usually dismiss that phrase because I know it just isn’t true.  These guys are men of character, men who would respond very similarly to how I am responding were they in my shoes.

My kids, on the other hand, really are “better” than me.  I hope they stay that way.

 

Because I did not make it through the school I was in, I fall at the bottom of the Navy’s priority scale for selecting orders.  As it turns out, the only set of orders that I am allowed to have right now are to a foreign country.  I’m not upset about that.  Jessica and I have wanted to take the family overseas for years.  Herein lies the problem.  Because the family is so large, we may have to be separated for 2 years.  The orders I am taking will allow me to bring my family with me, but there are other restrictions which can cause my family to be left behind and, at this moment, there is a very real chance that they will not join me.

Can you understand the sadness, fear, turmoil, and agony which I am swirling in?  It is hard stuff to say the least.

I knew I needed to tell my kids.  It isn’t fair to them to have them going to the appointments and screenings and for them to feel the tension in Jessica and I and to have no idea what is going on.  We have always spoken to our kids as though they are capable of understanding the life which swirls around them, and this is no exception.

I sat with my older 2 and explained to them that I may be going overseas and they will probably have to stay here.  Neither of them cried.  They got quiet, but didn’t even seem to get sad.  I explained it again… That I AM going overseas for 2 years and they ARE NOT going with me… for 2 years… separated… without me.  Again, no great emotion came out of them.  I asked them,

 

“Are you sad at all that your dad will be gone for 2 years?”

Answer:

Daughter – We are sad…

Son –  Yeah… but we don’t know for sure if we will be apart or not

Daughter – … but we can trust God

 

Whose kids are these?

Surely not mine!  Surely not the offspring of a man who walks with such uncertainty and fear upon his shoulders.  Surely not the son and daughter of a man who agonizes every detail of a plan in order to ensure the best possible outcome.  Surely not the kids of a man who can talk about God, Christianity, Faith, and Trust but falls hopelessly short when his back is up against a wall.

My kids are more mature than I am.

This little conversation we had, coupled with a Vacation Bible School song that they love (You Can Trust God) and play on their stereo over and over again, as well as other conversations I have had in the midst of this decision has me really pondering the goodness of God.

The congregation my wife came from regularly participates in a call and response during their Sunday morning worship.  The pastor says, “God is good” and the people say “All the time”.  Then the Pastor says “All the time” and the folks say “God is good”.  I believe this to be true.  God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.

But I am not a blind Christian, I don’t just check off the boxes without thinking (or feeling) about the stuff I am agreeing with and forming as a part of who I am.  This is one of those moments.

I can continue to walk around under this painful cloud feeling like I am under a storm and over a barrel because I don’t know whether or not I will be separated from my family for 2 years.  This is what I am doing right now.  It essentially says that I do NOT believe God is good… or rather, I do NOT believe God is good ALL the time.  Most of the time maybe.. A lot of the time for sure…  But all the time?  Do I really believe that?  My thoughts and feelings right now say no.

Now y’all hold on a minute before you send me encouraging and correctional emails and messages.  I know what the right answer is… and that is the point.  I could swallow what I am feeling and hide it from the world (which I did for SOOO LONG) and I can give the right answer and nobody in the world would know that a Man of God has a hard time grasping the full implications of the God he follows.

Here are the hard questions in my heart.   If I am separated from my family for a period of 2 years, where is God’s goodness in that?  Where is God’s goodness when it comes to my kids growing and struggling with identity/purpose/value troubles and my wife is left alone to encourage them?  Where is His goodness in this?  For that matter, where was His goodness when Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Jim Elliot, Ed McCauley, and Pete Fleming were killed on Palm Beach leaving their wives and kids behind?  Does God’s goodness address my desire for comfort or the feelings of security at all?

I am reminded of a verse in Romans that says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Where is God’s goodness in the death of His Son?  In the temporal perspective… I’m not seeing the goodness.  With an eternal perspective, the goodness of God is realized in the redemption of mankind.  In the temporal perspective, there wasn’t much good about the previously mentioned 5 men dying on a beach, but within a generation or 2 the rampant murdering and revenge killing of an entire tribe of people came to an end.

On the one hand I want to reject the idea of God’s enduring, timeless goodness in exchange for my own temporal comfort and pleasure.  But I know the way that seems right in my heart will lead me to my death.  I know the other hand leads down a painful road which, for some, has held certain death, but it ends with redemptive healing in the lives of others for generations to come.

I should be more careful with what I hope for… what I pray for.  Though I have asked many times that God would grant me influence in the lives of men so that His kingdom will advance through my labor to many cultures for generations to come, I do not want to take the road necessary for Him to use me to that end.

I want my family to go with me.  I have tears in my eyes as I finish up this post because of the pain which I feel when thinking of being separated from them.

I fear that my family will not be able to join me.

And I am resolved to bear my true character in the face of adversity with hope, trusting that the temporal pain to be experienced by my family will surely result in the realization of a theme of Scripture and Christianity…

 

God is good

                    All the time

All the time

                  God is Good

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…

 

Vulnerable Much?

Vulnerable, Wounded, and Broken

It seems as though I often get into conversations with people that are very similar to other conversations I have had with other folks recently.  Maybe it is because the people I spend my time with are all going through the same things in their lives (doubtful), or maybe it is because I see some things I my life and as I address these things in my life, I get to talking about it with other people.

One of the conversations that I seem to be having kind of often is about vulnerability, woundedness, and brokenness.

What is vulnerability?  It is being exposed.  Being open to something or someone which could cause me pain.

I just wrote about my sense of confidence and when I reread what I wrote, I saw a theme.  I saw that I did not want people to really see who I am because then they would not respect me… would not accept me.  In essence, I saw that I try to NOT be vulnerable.  I try to ensure that I am NOT open to other people, I do not want to put myself in a position which would allow somebody else to cause me pain of any kind.

I have come to realize over the last few years that this life of hiding who I am in order to protect me has caused me to shut my family out of my life.  My own kids, who love and adore me, have been placed on the outside of my boundaries.  As I got really good at being dependable, confident, and bold, I became good at hiding my fear, lack of confidence, and feelings of uncertainty.  When I started to hide who I was, I thought those who loved me would still be able to know me.  The real me.

I was wrong.

It seems to me now that I am great at building walls, but cannot put a door or a window in a wall to save my life.  Nobody can get to me because I won’t let them, even though I really want them to.  Boy oh boy am I NOT vulnerable!  LOL… who am I kidding.

Even in my “unvulnerability”, I was still being hurt, and the more I hurt, the thicker I made the walls.

I have recently started tearing them down.

As the bricks of my fortress came crashing to the ground, I felt really relieved.  I smelled the fresh air of love from my wife and kids, I saw the blue skies of genuine acceptance from my teammates, I walked free!

It was only a matter of time before I ended up hurt again.  I was faced with a dilemma… everything in me wanted to run and hide.  I was good at it.  I had mastered the art of running and hiding but making it look like I was still leading, still in control, still handling business.  I decided instead to just be hurt.  Which led me to really consider the words Broken and Wounded.

I know they are very similar.  I know that some people will tell me that there really is no difference.  I know that some people will tell me that I have the definitions backwards.

Wounded is what I was, and still am to an extent.  Wounded is not good.  Wounded is bleeding out on a battlefield, riddled with bullet holes.  Wounded is sitting in my house, hiding from life because I am dying and don’t know what to do about it.  Wounded is being hurt by people, hearing what they say, and believing them, right or wrong, internalizing what they have said to me, and choosing to react to life based on the effects of these hurtful things.

Broken is what I am, and what I really want to be.  Broken is a result of living life.  Riding a bicycle and falling, breaking an arm.  Broken is being hurt by what other people say to me and acknowledging that it hurts.  Broken is receiving the pain in me from my own actions towards others and realizing that I have inflicted wounds so deep.  Broken is acknowledging my weakness and my pain, hearing what is said to me, observing the worthless things that I do, but rejecting that any of that makes me who I am and instead, choosing to live out of a deeper sense of identity.  Wounded vs Broken is like this…

 

I am worthless

because I have a broken arm

and so I cannot complete these tasks

or fulfill these expectations.

 

VS

 

I am not worthless

because I have a broken arm,

I am just not capable of performing these tasks right now

    or fulfilling these expectations placed on me at this time.

The thing that I realize about being vulnerable is that it lets me be broken.  Building walls around me keeps me wounded.

Wounded is dying…

Broken is healing…

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but I need to go home and see my kids… I need to leave my fortress…

Are you broken or are you wounded?

Are you vulnerable or are you hiding?

And how have you moved from one to the other?

(If you don’t mind me asking)

I’ma Burn This Jungle to the Ground part 2

I had to take another look into this Jesus dilemma.  It was my understanding of Him and what He wants that got me into this predicament.

In the years that I have been labored for His Kingdom, I had seen some really fantastic things happen in the lives of other people.  I have seen a man who was abused for years by his dad call him and forgive him.  I have seen a girl who was trapped in an abusive relationship find the means, the courage, and the strength in order to put an end to the abuse and abandon the relationship.  I have seen young men and women work through major insecurities in their life and move on to fulfilling careers and relationships.  I have seen men who were deeply wounded and responded with anger to everything become peaceful examples of calmness and joy in the midst of strife.

And that is where my problem began.

I have carried deep wounds because of past experiences.  One of the easiest to talk about (easy in terms of it being a concise story, not in terms of it being emotionally easy to rehash) is a medevac I was involved with in Ramadi.  I saw how my predisposition to an angry manner was exacerbated by combat and produced an uncontrollable simmering rage.  As the Jesus I knew healed me, the anger was taken away, but was not replaced with peace, joy, or any such emotion.  It was as though the storm had gone but the clouds persisted.  I just knew that as I kept doing the things I was doing, Jesus would develop this joy, this peace within me.

It did not happen.

dark mountain

Then one evening while dealing with my kids, I had a flash of rage like I had not experienced in more than a year.  After the blinding outburst was over, I felt as though I was not healed at all.  That I had swallowed my emotions to a point of numbness, but that Jesus had not healed me at all.  If I had been healed, then where did this outburst come from?

I did what I usually do in these times, I evaluated scripture and my situation to determine what happened and what needed to happen next.  The Bible seemed to indicate that Jesus loves me and wants me to be healed.  I felt like it was pretty clear… I was yet unhealed.

So what is Jesus’ problem?

Is He not as powerful as the Bible says?  If He wants me to be healed and I am not producing the fruit that is congruent with a healed life, then He obviously cannot carry out His desires.  If He is incapable of carrying out His desires, then He is not all powerful.

Is He a liar?  If He says He wants me to be healed, and He is powerful enough to carry out His desire, yet I am not healed, then He must be a liar.

Am I effectively blocking what Jesus wants for me?  This could have been an option, but I felt pretty certain that I had maintained my discipline and walked according to the principles of the Bible.  I had given an honest, earnest attempt to comply with what I read in the Bible, I saw fruit being produced in the lives of the people who were taking my advice, and I could feel things change in my head and heart…  but I was still left with this wounded heart.

Since I had come back to a belief in the Bible and the God of the Bible, this was something that had to be reconciled.

As I spiralled out of control, I remembered a verse from the Bible in which Jesus says to Peter,

“Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have chosen to pray for you, and when you return, strengthen your brothers.”

This was an easy verse for me to dismiss.  I have seen so many Christians who start to fall apart and they run to this verse claiming that they are just being sifted.  While this may be true, I have found several of them who have not opened their Bible in months, other than when sitting in a Church, and have not prayed in just as long or longer.  They abandon the spiritual disciplines in their lives and then try to use this verse to explain why they feel the way they do.  This has happened enough times around me that this verse lost its power, and it became more and more impotent as it became more and more cliche.  Several weeks into this struggle I got to thinking about this verse again.

And then I saw a Jesus I had never seen…

The cliche part of the verse is that Satan sifts believers.

Let me make something clear.  I do not think any verse of the Bible is impotent or cliche.  I find that some verses are used in a very cliche manner and are often taken out of context in order either to make a Christian feel better about something in their life or to support a particular argument.  Neither of these are appropriate.

The part of the verse that hit me like a brand to an unsuspecting bull was Jesus’ response.  Let me put this in my own words for a minute…

“Peter… Satan wants to beat you up… I have decided to let him.  I’m not abandoning you, I will be right here through the whole ordeal, but I am going to allow you to feel the pain in the fight.  You will survive and when the fight is over I want you to encourage your brothers.  Be ready, Peter… life in this moment is going to be rough.”

Who in the world is this Jesus and where has He been hiding?  Jesus is a savior, a healer, a righteous judge, a man who got angry and flipped tables in the temple.  Jesus, as far as I knew, was not an MMA coach training a young fighter, sending him into the ring against a brute of an opponent, simply to strengthen his understanding of the battle and then use him to motivate and encourage the other fighters.  This Jesus is a tactician.  This Jesus is a warrior.

While I knew that this was true of Him, this truth did not make its way into my heart.

Could this be?  Had I just endured this garbage in my life so that Jesus could reveal another aspect of who He is to me?

Scripture proved to be true.  Jesus was powerful enough to heal me.  I had not blocked His power in my life.  He had not lied… He did want to heal me, but He wanted me to get into a fight first.

I had misunderstood His desire for me.

But why?  Why on earth would He allow me to create such caustic damage to His Kingdom in the process?

And why would He choose to sustain my life?

 

I’ma Burn This Jungle to the Ground part 1

I stood on the edge of a pristine beach.  My heart was broken within me.  All the hope I had ever known had just been flushed from my soul.  While other people rested at the waters edge upon the warm, sugary sand, I stood lost in a numbing,  bitter pain.  As the confusion faded and I began to realize clearly the position I was in, my pain became anger.  Anger became Rage.

And I decided the best choice I had was to burn the jungle to the ground.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  I have taught lessons, led studies, and hosted discussions.  I have given advice and counselled those who were looking for help.  I have read and studied so much and memorized entire books of the Bible.  I have spent entire backpacking trips focussed on prayer.

And I have collapsed to a point of suicidal hopelessness when it was all said and done.

The only analogy that I could come up with during this dark night of the soul was about me walking through a jungle all my life.  Surviving as best as I could.  I had been told at one point that on the other side of this massive jungle there is a magnificent city.  Paradise.  Rest.  Gumbo and cold beer.  As I encountered other folks cutting through the vines and brush, I would tell them about this restful paradise.  I would encourage them to keep pressing into the jungle.  I would help them sharpen their machetes and coach them as they started swinging again.  I was making my way to the clear meadow with warm sunshine and a bath, and I was encouraging and leading others to the same.

Can you imagine the way I felt when, all of a sudden, I could see the edge of the jungle.  I picked up my pace and feverishly hacked and slashed through the vines to get to the clearing.  As I got closer and closer the sound of water grew louder and louder.  Like a bowling ball striking the pins, I came bursting out of the jungle and onto the beach.

There was no city.

The very thing which I had set as my life’s goal had been washed away.  I had been deceived.  My life had no purpose.  I could not keep doing what I was doing because I had come out of the jungle.  Go back in?  Not hardly!!  That place is full of hard work to survive and I knew there was no point in pressing on.  There was nothing for me to press on towards.

I had never even heard of the beach and swimming was not a skill ever discussed in the jungle.  What I needed to do was communicate to everybody else that they were living a lie.  A sham.  The most effective way to do that is to light a match and watch the whole thing go up in smoke.

So I did.

Burn It Down

I would go for a run each day during work and I would cross busy roads without ever looking for traffic.  I would chant over and over again that my life was worthless and death would be better.  I did not care if I got hit by a car.  Getting hit by a car would have been an improvement.

I told my wife to take our kids and move back in with her parents.  I told her it would be better for them to not be near me.  I explained to her that I was about to put an end to life as I knew it and that she really did not want to be there for that.

I told the group of people who met in my house for a Bible Study that I was a sinking ship.  I could not tell them with any confidence that God existed.  I was sensitive to the fact that they cared about their beliefs and I did not want to cause them such turmoil and pain.  I encouraged them to leave, seek spiritual guidance elsewhere, and stay as far from me as possible.  I was full of poison.

I was hit by the bumper of no car.

My wife refused to take my kids and leave.

The men and women who had trusted me to teach and lead them in their faith risked their sanity and remained faithful to me.

So I was stuck.  Sitting on a beach.  I lit my match, I started a small fire, I warned the people to take a step back, and they just sat and watched.

Then the fire went out.

And I just sat…

Since there was nothing else to do but sit, I started to think.  Thinking can be dangerous.  My dad told me years ago that a mind is a terrible thing.  (We did not have many deep conversations growing up, but that one was a life changer for me.)

What if the goal of my life was wrong?  What if I had misunderstood who I was or been misled in the early years of my travels?  What if my entire perspective were wrong?

So I sat still and started rethinking my paradigm.

I could not be an atheist because of some of the things I had already heard and seen.  Just like there are some things in the world that are hard for a Christian to explain, and things within the Bible that are hard to reconcile with other things in the Bible, so also are there some things in the world that are hard for Atheists to explain, some things in life that are hard to reconcile to a belief without God.  So I maintained faith in a higher power.

I have read and studied a wide variety of religious writings which lead me to believe in a monotheistic God.  After getting to that point, it was easy for me to reaffirm my belief in the God of the Bible.

But this left me with a dilemma…

I believed this before and it led me to a beach instead of a city.

In order for this Jesus to be real, and for me to have been let down as I had been, then perhaps the Jesus that exists is not the Jesus that I knew.  Is it possible to be a Christian, pray to Jesus, read His word, and still not really know him?   Or to know Him but miss a really significant part of who He is?

 

 

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.