Friday, December 1, 2017

Telling the Story

A lot of times I get stuck in the past when it comes to relating to Jesus. He's stuck in the context and culture of His time on earth. To make it personal and relevant to now I have to look at what makes Him present to me now. How do I re-tell or at least view the Gospel at the street level, if I was in the scene. What draws me to Him now?

To do this I have to look at who I am and bring Him into the context of my life now. For example, yesterday I was on another search and rescue mission. I was caught by media in a few pictures and videos after turning down an interview and referring them to one of my soldiers who is also our recruiter. As I fought my way through the swamps with my team trying to not stray off from our navigator I was praying for help. Soooo who do you think I prayed to? Who's the patron saint of lost things?  I found myself repeating the prayer "Tony, Tony look around, someones lost and must be found". We haven't found him yet but I think St. Anthony is guiding the search and he'll be found today. So how do I bring Jesus into this context? Well we have Jesus in the Gospels talking about how He came for the lost sheep of Israel. We have the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, we hear Him speak of how Heaven rejoices of the return of one repentant sinner and on and on. So let's wake up and see that Jesus entire life is one big SAR mission, He's all about Search and Rescue.

So if I bring Him into the context or my life what does that look like? Well I see him in an ACU uniform, He's my battalion commander, we're pouring over topo maps, we've got our compass and protractors out. We're talking about Lost Person Behavior, identifying search areas, breaking them down into search grids doing a group consensus on the probability of location, assigning search teams and heading out into the bars, the back alleys, going door to door, hitting the drug houses, the shopping malls, etc. Guess this is an urban search not a wilderness search.He looks pretty good clean cut, He's demanding but not bullying, somehow He's got it down pat helping His soldiers develop into the best person they can be. I'm no longer at the top of the food chain when it comes to the Ruck Challenge, where I fell short of the 100 push-ups by 3 He beat me by 5. Sit-ups He got me by 15. Let's not talk about the run.

So this is Jesus in the context of my life. What does He look like if I insert myself into His time? I mean really, not the blue eyed, brown hair, sculptured beard, flowing robed Fabio version.
We have to tell the story on our terms, meet somewhere in the middle, He in my time and I in His. We just went to the movie The Star and I have to say I was a little nervous as you never know what spin the entertainment industry is going to put on a story, but they nailed it. Presented it as it was but from the street level on our terms. They told His story in our time.

Take some time to re-tell the Gospel in your own words. You might find it enlightening, educational and fresh. He probably won't be out ground pounding with you in the swamps on a SAR but you might be surprised.

Here's a little Seasonal inspiration. Enjoy! Christmas According to Kids


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Mother of All Battles

It was cold snowy night, supplies were running low, casualties were mounting, moral was fragile, the enemy was closing in. The battle started as most do, a blast of shock and awe meant to fill us with fear and doubt... it did. We made our battle plans to fight the best fight we could. As the years progressed things seemed to be moving along pretty close according to planned. Of course no one knows for sure how things will play out but for the life of me I'd run every scenario in my head and the plan we had seemed like the best option. As we grew closer to ground zero I worked on fine tuning our exit strategy. We knew the heart of the battle was closing in, the strategy was to absorb the attack, mitigate our loses, move through ground zero and exfil asap. Then within months of Armageddon one of our own was mortally wounded, the outcome was uncertain. This one-two punch was certainly meant to finish us.

This story is a true story. It is the story of my life... and I'm in the middle of it as I write. If you've followed this blog for a while, two years ago I wrote about a major blow to my family that came in the announcement of the loss of my wife's job. The silver lining is that they gave us two years warning so we could start planning. The "sunset date" as they so compassionately phrase it is no later the New Years Eve. We've acted accordingly downsizing everything, paying off bills, selling off non-essentials and planning a trip to see my son out west in September. Funny thing, up until the day we arrived in Wyoming it had been a nice fall, warm in the low 80's and sunny. The day we arrived the snow came and it lasted all week. The first night we were there they issued a winter storm warning with 10-18 inches of snow predicted with more in the mountain pass.

The second blow came the evening before our last day there. My daughter was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. It was one of the longest nights of my life and the weeks that followed as we waited to find out the extent and how far it had spread were nothing less than absolute hell.  The prognosis is good, the cancer has not spread and it is treatable. I sat with her during her 3rd of 6 chemo treatments Monday. Her attitude and faith are amazing, I call her my Joan of Arc. The battle plans are up in the air now as the fog of war has moved in again, with major surgeries in the near future for her it is unclear if my wife should seek new employment or we take the financial hit and have her take care of my daughter.

All of our spiritual life is training for times such as these. I knew it before and I'm living it now. I also know it's about so much more than just prepping for the hard times, it's about love and helping others as well. These later have been my focus for so long and now I'm constantly shifting my efforts to take care of family first and thank goodness this is something that they drum into  us with emergency and disaster response.... to take care of home and family first, as it doesn't come easy when I see so many others suffering. I'm forced to drop some of my outreach activities and prioritize others. My position with the state guard is highest on my list right after family and my recent promotion to Warrant Officer and position as Platoon Leader  has been a huge boost to my fortitude in dealing with other issues in my life. It is a humbling experience to have battle hardened soldiers come to you and say "we need a leader and we can't think of anyone we'd rather follow than you".

When I was with the band we had a song called The Break of Day the first verse started with "why does the night have to be so long?" It went on to say how I grip my pillow tight and pray for the break of day. Yup. Many nights I pray myself to sleep after consoling my wife and my favorite mantra comes from  the Divine Office.... "God come to our assistance, Lord make haste to help us" and I just repeat this over and over until the night finally grants me mercy and takes me.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis with 25,000 amazing youth and presenters/artists. It was a great retreat from my life and as I stepped away from the battle at home and got a birds eye view of exactly what we're up against it was almost overwhelming. I woke up on the last day of the conference knowing that I was about to be inserted back into the front line. I didn't want to go. It took me a bit to get myself together and get over the urge to retreat. I found a stainless steel bracelet I had to buy as a reminder, on the top it says Soldier of Christ and on the back are verses from 2 Timothy 2:3,4 and on one side it says Man of War and on the other it says Man of God. It's a daily reminder of who I am and what I'm called to do.... to fight the good fight to the end no matter what and never surrender. The highest point of my experience at the conference came during Eucharistic Adoration with Matt Maher leading worship singing "Lord, I need you". As I closed my eyes and sang silently with him all I could think about was my family. I felt tears running down my cheeks and didn't even bother to wipe them away as I didn't want to draw attention to myself.. This experience was a reminder of who I follow and how I fight. The battle is bloody, exhausting and lonely. One day I was struggling with the words to best encourage my daughter and help her as she carries the brunt of the load seemingly by herself and all I could come up with was "When you're leading the battle all you see is the enemy in front of you, what you don't see is the army behind you". I kind of like that, that comes from my own experience and perhaps a bit of Divine Inspiration to put into words.

Thank you for listening to my dump. I hope it helps in your battles to know you're not alone. Processing things, trusting God and self awareness are key to overcoming. I have found many times that I quite literally have to remind myself to breathe. I hold my breath as I would when enduring physical pain, and I remember that the breath comes from God and is the Holy Spirit filling me with courage, hope and energy for the fight. And so I end with a paraphrase of something C.S. Lewis is credited with saying..... My hope is that when I die all of hell rejoices because I am out of the fight!


Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher

Monday, September 11, 2017

Be Significant...

I'm going to share a video with you of someone who has had a major influence on my life. Here's the kicker.... until 2 days ago I never heard him talk more than 60 seconds despite the fact that I've been a fan of his for the last 30 some years. His philosophy of life parallels mine exactly, not that I live it perfectly but that I am committed to it. I've never read it, I've never heard it (until 2 days ago), I've never heard about it, I've only seen him live it. So I challenge you to be Significant.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pieces

It's almost midnight here. I've been watching news feeds from Florida, Barbuda and Texas. I talked with friends who've been put on alert status to deploy South. The death toll in Mexico is climbing from the Earth quake. Barbuda is desperately trying to evacuate the entire island as Jose is only hours from mopping up what Irma left behind. In actuality many will die in the hours and days ahead and many, many more will lose everything. And I don't even know the name of the third hurricane further west. It doesn't matter at this point.

I'll be going south eventually if not sooner. I used to be chomping at the bit to jump into the fight but the truth is I'll get mine. There's enough pain to go around. We'll all get ours. I'm a thousand miles away and there's nothing I can do to stop what's coming. Closer​ to home, I see people every day who's life is coming apart at the seams. Drugs, alcohol, violence, poverty, apathy on the part of others, prejudice, hate, sickness and on and on, all around me people who's lives have been obliterated by category 5 storms. It tears me up as well as I may not be in the eye wall but I'm in the swirling arms of their storms and I daily crawl back to the One who puts me back together and makes me whole. Losing yourself in the service of others IS a lifestyle. This it, the Christian calling, to give yourself to those whose life is in Pieces by Red.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Truth

St. Francis said "You are what you are before God. That and nothing more". I would go further and add "and nothing less". That is the truth.

One of the most basic questions of all times is "why am I here?" Well to answer that with the truth you have to understand who you are, and to understand who you are you have to go back to what St. Francis said and if you don't understand that at the foundation then everything from that point forward is a dream, a fantasy, an untruth.

So many times we fantasize about who we are, how others view us, how important we are, how unimportant we are, what we want to accomplish and all the while we forget the two basic questions.... who am I and why am I here? Annnd we're back to square one. Want a reality check? Record your voice and listen to it. Is it different than how you think you sound? My guess is that it is. In my mind I think I sound different, look different and am perceived different. But again "What I am before God..." I have to admit, often times my sin is based on my imagination. I make up excuses, rationalize why my behavior is ok, minimize my sin or it's impact and the fact is none of this is the truth, and back to square one.

To become fully alive and human we have to find ourselves in Christ and Christ in ourselves... and then we have the truth and "the truth will set you free".  The culture is so absolutely efficient and nearly flawless at throwing up illusions and interference and diversions to keep us from the truth that we loose ourselves in some sweet, seductive fantasy of life and we're lulled to a place in our minds that we neither care who we are or why we're here, we're just enamored with the bling that's pulled over our eyes. This can even apply to our Faith. We've complicated things by breaking it down into theories and formulas and tenets and regulations. But Jesus tells us to have the faith of a child, to look at life with a sense of wonder and awe and mystery, not get lost in the intellectualization of the Mystery but to accept, trust and embrace It. Our Catholic Faith, if we don't get to tangled up by the letter of the law, will lead us to this Mystery. The meat of our Faith is not in the teachings, the Catechism, the prayers, but rather in how it impacts our daily life, our behavior, our love of God and neighbor. If it's only a mind trip and has no bearing on who we are then it's truly that... a mind trip. This is the truth.... and sometimes when we learn the truth it can be difficult to accept. It's not pretty, it doesn't feel good, we may not like what we see but it is necessary to become who we are before God and find our purpose in the life. If we choose to live in our fantasies and become our lies we run the risk of becoming a Monster by Starset.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Pain

Some interesting things happened this weekend, totally unrelated yet intimately connected. While spending four days on Base training and being evaluated on our ability to react quickly, efficiently and effectively to a major weather event the real deal was pounding the tar out of Texas... and continues to do so as I type. The five things we were evaluated on, mass casualty, triage, search and rescue, shelter operations and emergency operations command and control are being played out in Texas right now. I didn't have a lot of time to catch the news but while at the chow hall the news was on and in the 20 minutes I had to scarf down my meals I knew that people were going to be hurting and in need of my services.

Meanwhile back at the ranch we were ramping up our skills, equipment and units to respond when needed here at home. Part of this included my promotion to a Warrant Officer which includes assuming the responsibilities of Communications Officer and Platoon Leader. Suddenly things are different. I have new responsibilities and expectations, not just things to do but a large group of talented, skilled and committed troops to lead. As I walked from building to building entire groups of soldiers would stop, turn and salute. As I walked and talked with others from my battalion I was caught off guard by the attention often times forgetting that they were saluting me and would hold the salute and position of attention until I saluted back. A couple times my comrades had to remind me... "sir, they're waiting". While our platoon has only one position of Platoon Leader I do not lead alone but rather as part of team of amazing other leaders and we all come together with those we lead to accomplish our mission. While there are multiple leaders my role is unique, to act as a liaison between those officers above me and the leadership of those below me to insure training, discipline and troop welfare.

We were fortunate to add two new recruits to our unit, both were prior military service and skills but their service ended early due to outside circumstances bringing both physical and emotional pain. As I learned their stories and got to know them better it began to sink in that the discipline, commitment and respect they showed towards me as a leader came with a huge responsibility on my part to return that with my discipline, commitment and respect to insure that they are able to continue to serve and grow in their new role to serve others.

To bring it full circle.... there is a world of hurt happening right now on this planet. Some is at the hands of Hurricane Harvey and there's also the ongoing pain from a monotonous daily grind of life circumstances that include poverty, hunger, violence and abuse. We will all have our moments in the crucible. Some will be asked to endure more than others but in the end we are all in this together. We must work together to pull each other up, serve the needs of those around us and sacrifice ourselves in the process. While I've not mentioned it... it is overtly Christian. This is what Jesus did on the cross and does on a daily basis. We are all connected and when one part of the body suffers we all suffer. We must focus on unity and put away the division that has poisoned the recent past.  We must focus on each other and helping those around us through the suffering, whatever it is, call it X and plug in it's name and put the past behind us rather than let it own us. This who we are, "... fully mature with the fullness of Christ" and together we can say Dear X, You Don't Own Me by Disciple.

Our prayers and thoughts to all those in Texas, victims and responders, some who trained me personally and shared their horrific stories from storms past. Daily you're in my thoughts and prayers as I hear the horrific stories and see the terrible images that you are living.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rewind

Well after taking a couple of days off to get away with the family I'm back in the trench today. I started my day by cleaning up some piles and doing some things on the to do list which was good. I feel like I'm making some headway. One thing that I needed to do was clean out my email. After spending some time marking everything from the last time I did this I ended up with quite a list. It was like watching an email synopsis of my summer. I've got a couple of things nagging me that I probably won't be able to do.... like our Emmaus Hike where we take time away and hike the trails while taking a deeper look at Jesus with us in our daily grind, the natural order of things and the world around us and how it's all hinged together using basic survival skills as a symbol of how He's with us and guides us.

One of my granddaughters is starting to develop a deeper awareness of her emotions and as she get's ready to start school she's getting a deeper understanding of the world around her. She is very sensitive and reacts more to positive and negative things around her. She get's very upset when she knows an opportunity is lost and it breaks my heart when I let her down. More and more as we celebrate funerals in the parish I think about how they will react when I die and can no longer be there with them physically. I think that's the hardest part, how to explain the separation that comes with death. I think of loved ones I've lost and it's hard sometimes to tune into their presence with me, as I know they're there but our fallen state has muddied things so much. And that's sin.... separation to the nth degree. We're experiencing it more and more in our world and especially right now in our American society.... Divide and conquer.

As I look back at the quickly fleeting summer with all it's busyness and a couple of missed opportunities I'm also drawn to think about all those other things I can't undo. Namely the pain and separation I've brought through sin. I can't undo the pains caused and I can't unsay the nasty things said. All I can do is seek forgiveness through Christ and I need to followup it up with seeking healing, something this world desperately needs. I can't rewind time and if I could I'm not quite sure things would be different. I hope so but can't say for sure. All I can do is recognize, repent, and rise. Our God is not a God of the past but a God of the now and now is the time to Start Again by Red.