She doesn’t hold it against you…

It’s not your fault Matt.  The blame for how my life has turned out does not rest upon your shoulders. I can think of nothing for which to blame you.

If you did anything at all, it was provide an open door for my escape.  For my testing.  For me to respond to a visceral call to manhood.  For that, I am grateful.

This came at a price.  I know that you saw some things change in me.  I know you saw the raging anger and the bitter cold that took up residence in my heart.  You are correct.  I did get that in Ramadi.  I lost my ability to control the pain of my past and hide the brokenness from the rest of the world, and I took on a lot of things that turned cancerous to my soul.  You have no part in contributing to this brokenness.

I appreciate the phone call you made.  I wanted to belong for a long time and my heart was crying out during that time of my life to feel like I was wild and dangerous and free.  I was working in a warehouse in a tiny medical clinic in Key West.  Nothing wild.  Nothing dangerous.  Not free.  Caged, contained, pacified.  Not challenged.  Not encouraged to concquer.

Your phone call inviting me to return to Camp Lejeune could not have come at a more opportune time.

Jessica knew there were some ugly spots in me.  She had already experienced some of the poison that I had to offer her.  The things you saw change in our marriage after my deployment were not completely new or fully unexpected.  There were storm clouds on the horizon from the moment we said our vows.

While I did sustain some deep wounds from that deployment, you did not give them to me.  You did not make me deploy.  You did not make me act the way I acted, or respond to the circumstances I was in in the manner which I responded.  You simply made the phone call.  I filled out the paperwork.  I moved my family.  I tried so hard to earn the respect of my platoon and fully integrate into one of the teams.

I do not know if you still feel as though the hard things that Jessica experienced because of the negative change in me is your fault.  She holds you responsible for nothing.  Again, she doesn’t hold anything against you.  My wife loves you like she loves my little brother.  She cares about you and honors our relationship deeply.

Not all of those bad days resulted in unmitigated floods and storm damage in my life either.  That time of my life can easily be called a blizzard of blizzards.  Ice cold, raging, furious, and violent.  Over time the snow has laid quietly in my life while I tried to figure out what do with it.  Because of the good counsel and the encouragement I have gotten from several men in my life, spring has returned.  Now that the storm has passed the snow has melted and nourished the roots of some really amazing things.  My character has developed really well.  I understand my identity, purpose, and values now because of some of the work I had to do to mitigate the damage from the blizzard.

I know what the winter is like now and I can appreciate the spring that much more.

Thanks so much for calling me that day.  It was one of those unexpected moments, walking around in a grocery store, and I get a phone call that ended up changing my life.

Thank you so much for that fateful phone call.

Jessica holds nothing against you brother…

… and I am so very thankful that you made the call.


The Baker and The Flour

“I cannot complain about the flour… or the early mornings”

That was what she said.  That is what set me free to pursue the things I enjoy and feel led to do.  But did she mean it?  There is no way she did because she had no idea what she was talking about… but she said it all the same.

We were riding through Key West at the time and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I was set to get out of the Navy within the year and I was really torn between going to college, becoming a cop, or trying out for SARC, Special Amphibious Recon Corpsman.  I knew that I should involve my wife in this decision making process.

As we sat riding in the Jeep, we talked about my desires for the future.  I would talk about being a cop and then tell her that I wanted to steer away from that.  My dad was a cop for as long as I can remember.  I remember how it felt to be a kid and have my dad gone so often with the strange hours and rotating schedule of a Police Officer.  I remember watching my mom’s face when she would get the phone call saying daddy would not be coming home because he was standing on the side of the road taking care of a traffic accident.  I remember what it felt like to know that my dad had arrested the brothers and fathers of some of the kids in my class and that I had to watch out for the retaliation against my dad that might be served to him through my broken body.  It was a rough life and I did not want that for my family.

I mostly did not want that for my wife.  My mom spent a lot of time raising us kids by herself.  My dad would ask her how we were and he would tell her what he would like for her to do with us, but my mom was really the active one in raising us.  I did not want my wife to be that “single” parent because I was gone so often.

When I shared these ideas with her, she responded by talking about a baker.  She said,

“You are not the man that you are because of the job that you do, you do the job that you do because of the man that you are.”

That took a long time to sink in.  She continued by explaining that she could not marry a man who enjoys the early morning, serving breakfast, and exercising his creative spirit through baking, and then complain about the early mornings, the smell of pastries, and all the dirty aprons.  If she marries a baker, she has to put up with the baking.

It still took a little while for my identity to be refined and for me to understand what that meant.  As I started thinking through these things, I started to question my motives for choosing my future job.  What it boiled down to was pretty simple.  I wanted a job where I would be required to think under stressful conditions, use my body to bring about the desired results of a task at hand, and to serve people in a manner in which they were not able to serve themselves.  I wanted to protect, defend, and serve.  I wanted to think, strategize, and make things happen.  There does not seem to be many jobs that put such a high emphasis on intelligence, “outside of the box thinking”, and physical prowess and stamina.  That kind of ruled college out.  It also set Recon above getting out to be a cop.

But I was afraid that Jessica did not fully comprehend what she was asking.  In my extensive wisdom, I made her watch Black Hawk Down and then go talk to some of the wives of the instructors at the Army’s dive school on Flemming Key.  She spent a few days in a very somber mood.  When we continued the conversation, she confirmed what she had said before.

I started looking for a bakery.

We lost everything we owned to Hurricane Wilma.  While walking around a grocery store making a list of the food items we lost for the insurance claim I got a call from a friend of mine.  He was a part of 3/8 (Third battalion, Eighth marine regiment, pronounced Three Eight) and they were deploying to Ramadi.  He said the platoon sergeant had requested 2 Corpsmen for the deployment, and that the battalion wanted to support this decision, but had already assigned their other stellar performers to other sections.  He asked if I wanted to go to Ramadi with 3/8 Scout Sniper Platoon.

I hung up the phone and talked to Jessica.  The next day I started the paperwork and within 2 months had all the signatures I needed to move back to Camp Lejeune.

Right after Christmas 2005 I slid into the platoon.

I’ve been baking ever since.

Thanks Sweetie for recognizing what it meant to marry a man like me, embracing the difficulties and making the sacrifices required of you, and for not ever complaining about duty days and deployments.

Pack Out

I am so sorry that it has been a while since my last post.  We are SUPER busy right now getting our lives to a point that we can move from Bremerton to Groton.  Transplanting this family of mine is no simple task.

The packers showed up and made quick work of getting our stuff ready to go.  They were friendly enough and got right to business.  They moved so fast that they were able to go home right after lunch each day.  Awesome!!


Maybe not so awesome… They completely missed a cabinet full of towels and wash rags, all of our eating utensils, and several other items.  Those things would have filled 3 or 4 boxes.  All in all not too bad, but I would expect that packers actually pack all the stuff.

I really appreciated their professional manner and the speed and intensity with which they worked.  I really appreciated how much wrapping material they used to protect my stuff.  I did not appreciate at all the lack of follow through.

I find myself often telling my kids that they need to have some speed and intensity while doing their chores.  Folding clothes, unloading the dishwasher, cleaning their rooms, do these things quickly and with focussed purpose.  But in the end of the day, it does not matter to me how the job got done as long as it is done.  I would prefer quick, focussed, professional, efficient, etc., but thorough is a not negotiable.

Jessica is doing great with this move so far.  She really does have a gift for managing so many things with such efficiency.  We are both “dropping the ball” frequently with some of the smaller things, but so far we have completed each task which needs to be completed by the required time.

The kids have gone through some pretty wide ranging emotions.  We let them come into the house for a couple minutes each day that it was being packed and loaded so that they can experience the transition.  I was hoping that it would be less of a shock to them if they got to see the process instead of just leaving the house one day like normal and returning a week later and seeing it completely empty.

A couple of them cried when they saw their stuff in boxes.

All in all we are doing really well.  The house is packed up.  The movers have loaded all of our goods and we are preparing to get underway in a week.

We will see some of you on the road next month!

I really will try to keep these little, short posts rolling pretty steadily throughout our move.

Thanks for following us in our adventure.



I Hated Me

I have typed this first paragraph several times now.  I keep trying to work up a metaphor for the pain and bitterness that I carried around with me.  A metaphor depicting the way that I hid this the best that I could from the people around me and how I would ignore the sore spot in my soul.

There is no metaphor that I can think of to describe this.

I would ask really good questions when I was around other people and I would tell stories and get involved with their life and their projects without ever really letting anybody else get into mine.  I would share my story and my life and I would be “transparent” at the drop of a hat.  The trouble is that transparency got me nowhere and I wonder if the fruit produced in the lives of others because of my “transparency” was short lived or actually fruit at all.  Just like when my math teacher would work problems on her transparency sheet and the work was projected on the wall, I would keep my problem on the transparency sheet and broadcast it to an audience.  They can interact with the problem as though it were projected on a wall, but I was behind the glass.  I did not mean to be, I never thought about that, I did not recognize it as it happened. I just now am able to see what was going on.

I have often tried to figure out just when I started to hate myself.  I never considered the idea that, should I figure out when and why I started to hate me, that I could spend some time thinking about it and praying about it and see if Jesus would redeem that part of my life.  That never crossed my mind.  I just wanted to understand me a little bit better.

I got a chance to go to Colorado last summer and met with a really sharp guy from Australia.  This guy is really good at helping people get to the root of some of their pain.  During my time with him, he had me do some ridiculous things like making a memory timeline.  I had to write every memory I could think of down on a timeline, then we talked about them!

One of the memories I had occurred when I was about 10.

My brother was a really wild and rowdy kid.  He is a couple years younger than I am and was a lot more aggressive than I was.  He would chase me from one end of the house to the other end of the house when were toddlers.  He thought it was great fun!

Life was hard for my family at this point in time.  We had just moved from Missouri to Louisiana and did not have a home.  Somehow my dad was able to arrange for us to live in a house way out in the country.  Because we lived so far out, and my dad’s work schedule was not a 9-5, we did not see my dad much during the week.  He worked hard and commuted a long way.  My mom was left with the task of managing my brother and I on her own during the week.

My brother seemed to be in a serious “boundary testing” phase of his life too.  He would pick at me and pick at me incessantly until I would complain to my mom and she would intervene.  After one of these episodes she explained to me that my brother was going to keep pestering me until I stood up to him.  She may not have said it, but I understood that what she meant was that I needed to fight my brother in order to put him in his place.

I was a good student.  I was a sweet kid.  I know I had a “little black cloud” that followed me around and I would get moody or upset, but all in all I remember being a really sweet child.

One day while waiting for the bus, my brother was being a pain.  He was shoving me and pushing me and I kept taking it.  As the bus came into view, he grabbed my backpack and threw it in the ditch.  There was several inches of water in this ditch and so I ran to get my backpack before my school work was soaked.  As I got near the bag, he shoved me in.  I grabbed my bag and jumped out of the ditch while the bus rolled to a stop.  It never crossed my mind that I had an option to go inside and get cleaned up.  I simply got on the bus and went to school.

That afternoon my brother was still at it.  I ran to my mom and started complaining about what he was doing.  She picked up my little sister who was really young and told me not to break anything in the kitchen.  She then went into another room and closed the door.

Commence Thunder Dome

I was petrified.  I had wrestled and fought with my brother before, but somehow I always knew that there were limits.  That if I got out of hand or he got out of hand, somebody was going to step in.  Not this time.  He started in on me and I remember grabbing a broom.  The next memory I have is standing over him while he laid in a fetal position crying silently.  I had a broom in my hand and was shaking.

I have remembered this fight for a long time.  I can see it in my head, I can smell that damp kitchen, I can see the sobs coming from my brother and I can still feel the terror that I saw in his eyes as he laid there trying to protect himself from me.

This is what I did not realize until last year.

I loved my brother.  I deeply loved my brother.  I cared about him.  I wanted to protect him.  I was often called bossy because I would tell him what to do, but my heart was trying to guard him.

I would get worked up when he would get in trouble.  I hated seeing him hurt and I did not like the people who caused the pain.

And here I was, standing over him, having just completed delivering the beat down of beat downs.

But it was not so simple as that.  It was not simply that I hurt my brother and so I was mad at me.  I hurt my brother believing that what I was doing was the right thing to do.  I had been coached to engage in this manner in order to teach him a lesson and restore order in the house.  What I had done in my young perspective was noble and appropriate.  I was in the right.  I had done the honorable thing.

But I felt so horrible seeing him like that.  This is where the root of cancerous self loathing seems to have really developed good roots.  I started to feel that I was incapable of doing what was good or what was right.  For me to do what is noble, what is right, I would be left feeling like this.  If I really were a good boy, then I would not feel so despicable for doing what was good.  The only reason for me to feel this way after doing something good and noble is because I was a horribly bad and ignoble boy.  No matter how good I behaved or how much people praised me, I knew deep inside that I was an agent of pain and destruction.  Those were not the words that would go through my head.  What I would hear often is that all I am capable of is hurting other people, letting people down, and ruining things around me.

As I thought about that memory I started to realize that in that moment, watching my brother lay there in pain, something changed deep within me.  I lost a part of my innocence and started to believe deep inside that I was worthless.  The rest of my life I would hear my own voice in my own head telling me that no matter what I did, my best contribution to my family would be for me to cease existing within it.

None of this was my parents fault.  This wasn’t my fault.  Kids are great observers and horrible interpreters.  This was simply the result of me being in and reacting to a situation that was not so bueno.

And for the record.   I no longer hate myself!

I’ll write about that part later.`l

And one more thing…   to my brother…

I am very sorry for beating you with a broomstick.


Why I Loved Frozen

I heard and read several reviews of this movie before watching it.  I was fully prepared to watch a pop culture propaganda flick eroding traditional gender roles and pushing a homosexual agenda.

I don’t know what movie the critics watched to come up with the ideas above, but I saw none of that in Frozen.

***    Spoiler Alert   ***

I heard that the male characters in the movie were morons and the only purpose they served was to show how inept men are compared to women.  What I saw was a woman trying to rebuild a relationship with a sister.  I saw a woman attempting to climb an ice covered mountain with great ambition and terrifically little skill.  I saw this heroine embark upon a journey ill prepared and rescued time and time again by a man.  How is this a slight to the masculine world?

I try to communicate to my daughters and model to them through my relationship with my wife that they will need a rescuer.  That they will need a man in their lives to encourage them, protect them, and rescue them.  I have watched more chick flicks and princess movies than I can count, waiting each time for there to be a healthy representation of a male female relationship.  I am left disappointed every single time.  Either the guy is a worthless, spineless, brainless clown, the woman a bimbo, weak, dumb, clutsy, or an ugly man hating she beast that consumes men  until the right fella happens to get through to her.  This movie depicted a woman being independent, brave, forward thinking (even if unprepared), proactive, and bold.  It showed a man who was fully committed to his adventure, his calling, who was willing to stretch himself to love a woman.  I would be very happy to have my daughters look up to Anna.  I would be just as happy for my son to look up to Christoph.

And before I get any criticism about my thoughts regarding the way Anna demonstrated her independence, boldness, and proactive way of living, I would like to turn to a little phrase from the Bible…

“…She considers a field and buys it…”

I see that character in Anna.

I saw no homosexual agenda at all.  I read several critics who said that Disney made a movie in which the two main characters save the day, without the aid of men, and set the kingdom free because of their love for each other and, because these characters were women, it is a homosexual propaganda film.

That really saddens me.  The theme of this movie was a woman’s frozen, broken heart caused by a wound inflicted by family who meant well but acted in ignorance and was set free by the selfless love of her sister.  This movie is actually quite deep.  It does not appear to me as though there are 2 heroines, but 1.  Anna saved Elsa, Elsa reconciled and redeemed the broken relationships in her life caused by her reaction to her brokenness.   It just so happens that that redemption and reconciliation extended to the entire kingdom.  There is nothing homosexual in the genuine, deep, intimate love of a sister for a sister.  I have seen that between my wife and her sisters.  I see it developing now between my daughters.  This is a very good and healthy thing.  Ironic as it may be, this kind of affirming love between women seems to give them the courage to take a stand on the things they want to stand for and to engage life fully in the areas they feel the desire to engage…  And that is exactly what I saw Anna doing.

I rolled my eyes when, near the very beginning of the movie, after the character development was mostly complete and the plot was beginning to get underway, I heard the phrase, “the one.”  Standard Disney romance language.  I do not believe there is “the one” out there and that a single man and a single woman need to find that one in order to be truly happy.  That should be a post I write later.  I was so refreshed when “the one” turned out to be a slug of a fella.  I was actually kind of pumped!!  There is not “the one” in this movie.  What there is is a man who meets a woman under less than ideal circumstances, is not romantically interested in her, chooses to do the right thing and serve her for her protection and guidance, and in the end he develops a love for her.  I see a woman who meets a man in less than ideal circumstances, recognizes she needs him, pokes him in the ribs and challenges him to stand up like a man, and then submits to his guidance and develops a love for him.  I see a man and woman struggling to figure out how to interact in this relationship which results in heartache, fear of loss, and being dragged behind a sled while being chased by wolves.  An actually astute summation of what I would say is a healthy relationship.

Anna is in need of an act of true love.  Go figure a bunch of rock trolls come up with the idea that this will be a kiss from “the one.”  I don’t know if Disney thought this through or not, I doubt it, but it fits that a bunch of trolls came up with this idea.  Not just a bunch of trolls, but a bunch of rock trolls, like trolls that are as dumb as a box of rocks!!  I kept thinking throughout the movie that there were acts of love which could have solved her problem.  The weather is cold, there is a raging storm and Christoph takes off his hat, puts it on Anna to keep her warm, and endures the rest of the ride bare headed.  That silly little snowman (my oldest daughter LOVED him) risked his very life next to a fire to warm Anna.

But the act of true love?  Not a kiss!  So happy this movie did not cheese up the ending with a magic kiss.  This was not a romance movie at all.  The act of true love was a final act of resignation to the point of death in order to save a sister even though she was lost.  The act of true love was a sister recognizing her brokeness and accepting the act of love from the one who made the sacrifice for her!

I have seen a picture of a Corpsman laying dead in a street in Falujah.  The caption is actually a verse from the Bible… “Greater love has no one than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends…”


Finally a Disney princess chick flick that has a wounded, broken hearted princess living out of her insecurities instead of her idyllic innocence, a family that loves each other but still hurts each other, a wounded sister, innocent and devastated, a man who looks like, sounds like, and acts like a man, and Love being represented in a manner other than the tired, tried, and cliché, “Kiss… The One…” tradition.


Maybe I’m going soft in my old age…

But I LOVED Frozen!!

Define Integrity

I think the standard definition I get for integrity when I ask folks what it means is, “Doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”

While I agree that doing the right thing when nobody is looking is a very good thing, a noble thing, an appropriate thing, a thing that needs to be done more often, I have a hard time standing on that definition.

This may sound bad, but I actually have a hard time with integrity.

I hear the phrase, “Man of integrity” often and I am left wondering what, precisely, is being said of this man.

For all the side conversations and implications that come with my different ideas about integrity, I think it is fair to say that integrity is primarily a qualification of a person and their character based upon their actions.  But even this thought troubles me a little bit.  It means that the label of integrity is granted by an observer to the actions of a particular person.  Who defines what is “right” in a particular moment?  How do we know that the “right” action was “right” enough?  Could there have been a better action?  If the action was just good enough and not the best decision for the given moment, then does that mean that the person’s integrity is weak?

I got to thinking about a phrase I hear often in the Navy… Hull Integrity…

Hull…   Integrity…

What does that mean?

It means that the hull, the skin of the ship, is completely intact, there are no holes or cracks that were not planned in the hull, and that the hull is still strong enough and sound enough to fulfil the specific role for which it was designed.

What if that is the definition of integrity?

What if integrity means to act in manner that is completely congruent with who we are?

Integrity would no longer be a subjective judgement based on the actions of an individual, but an objective affirmation that an individual is in fact what/who they say they are.  A lack of integrity would no longer mean that somebody did something that was not right, but that somebody has acted in a manner that is not in accordance with their identity.

I understand that there are troubles with this definition too.  It means that the observers to the situation must understand the identity and the purpose of the person they are observing.  It means that the person being observed has to understand their identity.

I think that integrity and identity go hand in hand.

If a thief steals, have they violated their integrity?  I say no.  They have not violated their integrity at all, they have merely acted in accordance with the designated purpose which was determined by their identity.  I am not saying that it is okay to steal.

I think if this is the crux of integrity then the solution for “integrity violators” is not behavior reform, but identity and purpose development.

When a person has done something that is out of line with what is expected then we need to evaluate the expectations placed upon them, their identity, and then the action.  If a person has been put into a position which is not appropriate for them, then the organization that put them there has set this person, as well as themselves, up for failure.  If the person is in an appropriate position for them, but acts out of line with what is expected, then they need to be counselled regarding their understanding of who they are and how they fit in then grand scheme of things.  There must still be some kind of repercussion for the wrong which has been done, but the repercussion is not the solution or the correction.

I had a Senior Chief one time who had a leadership style that seemed to drift between psychotic and brutal depending on which way the wind was blowing.  One of his favorite phrases was, “Hold a man accountable for his actions, then get that man the help that he needs.”

I am now very careful about the labels I place on somebody.  If I have a junior sailor who shows up to work late several times in a week, has a uniform that looks like a bag of doorknobs, seems to be trying to shave with a polished rock, I am careful to not call him a dirt-bag.  I might call him lazy, or nasty, or weak, but I don’t call him a dirt-bag, a worthless sailor, a cancer to the team.  I used to, I don’t any more.  If I give him one of these labels and he feels as though he will not ever please me or the Navy at large, then what stops him from developing a defeated, “it is what it is,” kind of attitude about it and then internally resigning to be a dirt-bag?  Nothing stops him from doing that.  If I punish his lateness, his nasty uniform, and his hairy face, then spend my time later talking about what it means to be a servant of the American people, about personal sacrifice and honor, and about who he is as a man and a sailor, then I can hopefully set him on a course to root out the weakness that he brought to the table.

If I punish a thief for being a thief, I should not be surprised when he steals later that week.  I told him he was a thief and he agreed with me.  If instead of punishing a thief for being a thief, I punish a man for stealing and then connect with him as a man, then there is a chance I have helped him build a bridge to move past his current behavior.

Integrity…  Easy for me to understand on the surface.  Difficult for me to understand the full reaches of the topic.

If it is doing the right thing when nobody is looking, then it is a description of compliance to rules which have been placed upon the individual.  If it is acting in line with identity, then it is a purposeful act of affirming the maturity and stature of the individual in their identity.