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.
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?
despair, fear, hopeless, joy, loss, pain, suicide
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.
confusion, hopeless, loss, pain, shame