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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mindless drones


     They join to fight for freedom. In the end, freedom is what they sacrifice. Indeed, their very freedoms they wish to share with others are the very first things demanded of them. Honor, integrity, selfless service- values espoused and preached from day one, yet actions speak so much louder than words. What is sought are men who are malleable, easy to mold. Men who have formed opinions and who have a firm set of morals to which they fall back-for it is said that once you have principles, most every decision you'll make is already made for you-these men never survive in this environment.

     Men who are blind, men who are young at heart, who have yet to awaken the inner warrior and stand up against the outright tyranny and enslavement around them- these men are prized above all else. To the men who welcome the outward influences, who are easily controlled by intimidation and manipulation, to the men who cannot go to work each day as their own person, but who feel they must adopt the personality that is projected by their leadership- these men will serve a great purpose as mindless drones, always under the guise of doing so for the "greater good, for the good of your country".

     My roommate, for example: brand new to the military, and was always served life on a golden platter. His family flew fighter jets for the Navy, and now flies to his rescue whenever he needs anything-a new car? A new phone? All his, without his even lifting a finger. "Honestly, man, I've never adulted before, so you'll have to kind of show me the ropes" is how we got our friendship started. What he truly needs is a swift kick of reality. He comes to the military at 21, with high hopes of following in his family's footsteps, down the promising path of military glory. Ranger school is his ticket to bigger and better things, or so they say. He so easily swallows the lies about training, reasons for reenlistment, and that the Army life can't get any better. Never once does he realize the fact that he is but a pawn in their hands: this unit only survives by sending men through Ranger school, doing so simply to mask the fact that it is breaking men left and right. The numbers of men and women in our battalion getting a medical retirement have attracted the attention of various generals from Division, as have the number of people getting kicked out for disciplinary reasons, not to mention the high numbers of suicide and drunken driving, psychiatric cases, and domestic abuse records.

     Some men have no concept of what is going on behind the scenes, and worship the men they follow. Others know, but worse than any other kind of person, they simply choose to do nothing. It's the age-old masculine weakness: we abdicate authority, and choose to do nothing in the face of adversity. In reality, it looks like this: men here know what kind of treachery and tyrannical leadership we have, and refuse to stand up. Refuse to say no, refuse to sacrifice their Army careers for a higher and nobler purpose. They wish for the ripples to calm down, for the boat to stop rocking.

     Many of us have little power as individuals- there is so little we can do, simply because of what is (or what isn't) sewn onto our uniforms as rank. As a group, as a collective, however, men who can indeed think for themselves, who can think critically and independently-we hold one another accountable, taking a daily stand against the evil of encroaching leadership. We cherish our freedoms, the very freedoms that caused us to join in the first place. Now, we leave the military in disgust, because the very freedoms we love so dearly are trampled on with disdain and a haughty attitude from our leadership. This Army is not worthy of men like them, men who do not need the Army. Indeed, the Army needs them to survive this era of self-serving, political correctness. The Army has forgotten why it even exists, and men who have a strong internal moral compass are just the type to save it, but in a twisted sort of way, these are the very men the Army is so afraid of.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fellow travelers

     I hear a knock on the door- "Can you please get me a bottle of vodka? I want to get lit tonight. And then drink my way through tomorrow, too!" I gently dismiss the plea for alcohol from my 20-year-old friend. Personally, I view age as just a number, and think most age laws regarding firearms, drugs, and drinking should be revoked; however, how could I willingly benefit his desire to "get lit" for the next 36 hours? Such a common occurrence, I'd think they'd learn by now. So many men, drowning in despair and darkness.
     Another friend, falsely accused and in the stages of prosecution- he stops answering my phone calls and texts on the weekend- he too turns to liquor to phase out the dark terror he faces during the work week. I challenge him to not let this happen, to keep fighting, but he's more and more depressed each time I see him. And he knows better, too. But I sympathize- I too am persecuted on a regular basis, for standing up for truth and freedom, and human decency. Ostracized for not blindly following a path of a rote "yes, whatever you say" style of living. Outcast for trying to better myself and think critically, outside of the prescribed norms. It happens daily. We suffer for succeeding, and pay the price for being upwardly mobile in spite of the limits these small-minded tyrants put on us.
     Still another, voice shaking, tells me through the fog of a downed fifth of vodka that the painkillers he took from a friend of his to ease the pain of recent oral surgery will now be the downfall of his career, now that the labs report a drug in his system that wasn't prescribed. We hug several times, but I don't know if he is coherent enough to sense the care in my heart.
     I heard from another friend today, finally free of the grip of this slavery and tyranny. He's a free man now, but shackled to a relationship he and his wife failed to invest in while the distance apart became the norm. "Being apart really took it's toll, man- we have a lot of work to do." I offer a teary prayer for him and his wife, yet another casualty of a system that takes men and their families, guts them from the inside out, and leaves them by the wayside to bleed to death.
     One man confides in me, that after a successful early career, college education, and a beautiful wife, he too feels the overwhelming evil that besets us each day. "I want to go see a therapist- I know I have symptoms of depression, but I don't want them to flag me for when my contract is up and I'm a civilian again. The stress is just wearing on me, man." Forced into schools and jobs he never wanted, his heart and mind are breaking under the load of posing each day: each man is an actor, we all put on masks before we go to work. Not a single man enjoys it- our commanding officer's lengthy history of alcohol abuse testifies to that-
and we all live for the moment we're "allowed" to return to our homes for the day, a sort of twisted slavery.
     Some men kill themselves to end the pain. Many are heavy drug and alcohol users. Still others will chase after the myriad of broken women that are a side effect of broken men. Some pretend to not care, and stuff down the stress and anxiety. This isn't a type of worry that is circumstantial- this comes from knowing that what they are trying to mold you into is someone that you never, ever, even in your worst nightmare, could ever dream of being. You're afraid of the new outbursts of anger, of how you wish sometimes you'd sleep and never wake up. Most of all, we're afraid of becoming like the tyrants we're forced to serve under. These are the fellow travelers that I walk through this season with, each of us carrying separate burdens, and feeling very alone.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Difficult Memories

     It's funny how little things will bring you right back to places you don't want to return to. These memories savage a good moment in time, and ruin what is happening in the hear and now. They can turn light into darkness, and laughing joy into searing pain. Growing up, we were always one misstep away from bombs being dropped upon us, only one mistake from a living hell. The target we were supposed to hit was always moving, the bar always ever higher. I don't think he himself knew what he wanted from us, living life through a twisted and warped reality.

     Nothing good comes easy, at least that's been my experience. One of my mentors would fill pages with tales of broken young men, being led back to the pain, back to the terror of a boyhood gone wrong, brought there by a loving and faithful Father who knew that the only way to experience wholeness was to conquer the fears and horrors. Much like Yoda takes young Anakin back to face Darth Vader in a vision, I too have been mercifully pushed into the ring with a myriad of enemies, ones that I would have been too fearful to face without the gentle push from a God who hears my tears drip down on a sometimes heartless and awful earth.

     Last night was one of those nights, where I knew he was in the teaching, in the experience, there to heal. I'm learning to take him at his word, and when he talks about how he came to bind up the broken-hearted, he certainly wasn't kidding. For many years, especially as a rabid car nerd, I had longed for someone to teach me how to drive a manual. YouTubing things can certainly be of value in a pinch, but God intended for men to teach other men skills, iron sharpening iron, and much is lost in the relationless drudgery of typing a question into a phone. A friend recently purchased a 2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI, heavily modified to go faster than the dreams of a young soldier. He saw my instant delight in the car, and offered to show me how to row the gears in an empty parking lot.

     I was never shown these things as youngster- doing physical things or using fine motor skills, and so when I have a teacher or others are watching, I feel like I'm right back at 5 years old, attempting something both my father and I know I have no business doing. He would never take ability or age into account- there I'd be one minute, playing with legos, the next minute, being forced to help him cut wood on a shrieking table saw. It all comes rushing back, even at 25. Every damn time. I have no reason to complain- this was the hand dealt me; I could not choose my parents. But this is the hand I have.

     We chose an empty parking lot, empty save for a sleepy patrol car. Calmly, my friend would walk me through the launching procedure from stop to first gear: "Butterfly it, smooth clutch out, smooth gas in. Too fast, try again. C'mon bro, don't get flustered- it took me forever to learn how."

     Those feelings came back, as they always do. Stall after stall, and the hands sweat, adrenaline begins pumping, as all my Type A tendencies begin to echo the voices of my past. But that's never the end of the story. He coached me through my mistakes, refusing to let me get too anxious and quit. I finally got the hang of it, and was soon laughing my head off as we raced around post, tires shredding as the worked-over motor was given room to run.

     I've learned to expect a rush from the past during such times. Difficult memories, indeed. It comes with the territory, but the trade-off is a one-on-one with the maker of heaven and earth, someone who sees that 5 year old me, crying in terror, and refuses to let me stay there. He knows I was a victim, but is making me into a victor.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Death, you old friend

     Death is something I haven't thought about in years. It surrounds us, is all around us, and waits for us at the end of our own lives, but until it penetrates the bubble we've created to shield ourselves from the realities of living in a broken world, death is only an afterthought. Even for me, whose job it is to bring death upon the enemies of my nation, and risk death myself in doing so. That was me, until a week ago today, when my Uncle died. We knew this day would come, ever since that fateful phone call- I still remember mom, years ago, crying as she spoke with him on the phone. The doctors had found brain cancer. It was a miracle that he fought on this long, with such a high quality of life, too. What a gift it was, to see him for many years, suffering as if he was in perfect health, never once complaining or even mentioning his ill fate. He never ran from the future that awaited him; conversely, he embraced it, and lived life to the ultimate fullest, even right up till the end, where his body and mind slowly ceased to function. 

I was able to see him four days before he entered into Paradise, and even though he was unaware of my presence in that hospital room on a chilly Minnesota morning in the springtime, it was an unexpected gift to me. Being able to see my cousins, specifically my two male cousins, weep, kiss, and embrace their comatose father one last time before they had to fly out of town was an experience I'll never forget, and as painful as it was, I would not trade it for anything. With assurance that they will take to their own graves, they each told him, "It's OK dad. It's OK to go now, you don't need to hang on any longer, we'll take care of mom and the family. I can't wait to see you again, this time without the pain and the cancer and the chemo. We'll see you again in just a few short years." 

Or even to watch his wife, bending over his hospital bed as he slept, so swollen and bruised as the cancer began its final victory over his body, knowing he would never hear her words again, knowing they'd never share another meal, or embrace in the sunlight, or babysit their myriad grandchildren, or serve together at church, or clean a freshly killed deer: "Thank you, dear. Thanks for everything. I love you so much, it's been an incredible journey with you. Thank you." 

I haven't wept this much since I was a little child, as the emotions hit home in ways I never expected. He was like a father to me, taking the place of his brother, who left the picture many, many years ago. In fact, he was a father to me. I have known no greater man that has lived, and if I can look back on my life, when I get to his age, and if I can see that I am half the man he was and is, I will be so, so satisfied. He was larger than life, a man whom I am so blessed to have known, and leaves behind such a legacy that it will take years to fully realize his impact, now that he's gone. 

Being the reading comprehension guy that I am, it's far easier to write down my feelings than it is to verbalize them. I was only able to kiss him goodbye, as my tears fell upon his aged face, skin feeling like sandpaper, with a heartfelt "I'll see you later" being the only words I could muster. The day he died, this is what I was able to finally put on paper:

Goodbye, sir, until we meet again. You, upon arrival into Heaven this morning, it was said, "Of whom the world was not worthy", and "Well done, good and faithful servant." You, who taught me how to be a man. You, who had the most profound effect upon my young life, who loved me like another son, who showed me what love really looks like. You, who represented Christ in a deep Minnesotan accent. I now win awards in the Army because you took the time to show me how to shoot a gun. I began a landscaping empire because you gave me my first truck while I was still in high school. You showed me how to be a husband and a father. You taught me that it's OK for a man to cry and show his family he loves them. You were a man that the enemy feared, a grandpa treasured by many grand kids, adored by your wife of many years, loved and respected by your kids, and us... my sisters and I are eternally indebted to how you took the place of a father in our lives. A phone call at the right time, the way you would never let us leave without a hug, all the laughter, the jokes, the tears, the conversations, the hunting and fishing together, even walking one of my sisters down the aisle- these memories will never fade from view. You inspire me to stay hungry for God, to love deeply, to take a stand and never back down, to be all that I was created to be. I love you, I love that I am related to you, and that I can proudly imitate the life you lived. Goodbye, sir, until we meet again.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Is this fair?

     Sometimes, you wake up one day, and everything changes. Is that fair? With no warning at all- your life changes, your dreams change, your plans change, the way others relate to you- it all changes. For the obvious worse. Is that fair?

     I went into the doctors that one morning, just a few mornings ago, almost certain I had a hernia. It resulted from... I'm not sure, to be honest. Really, really light training, the kind that my body is now so trained for and used to that it does not even generate soreness. And somehow, someway, something else tore besides the abdominal muscle wall, and the doctors tell me I may never be able to have children as a result. So much changes in just a day. Is that really fair? I go from perfectly healthy, to waiting on multiple surgeries, stemming from injuries that I don't even remember happening. I can't do my job, I can't do anything but take painkillers and go to countless appointments. Is that fair? I didn't think my story was supposed to go this way. No one saw this coming.

     Oh yeah, and is it fair to her? The first week we start dating, I have to call her and tell her the bad news from the doctor. "At least it's not the cancer they initially thought, but it's still pretty bad. We may never have kids. Do you still want to do this? Does this change 'Us'?" She's still with me, never wavering in her commitment. I love her so much- We're getting married. But to have her walk with me through all this? Why couldn't I have faced this before we started dating? Why is she subject to the pain of the uncertainties that the medical field brings? How is that fair in any way? And to immediately have her dreams - not just my dreams of being a father- but her dreams of giving birth to OUR very own children... to have these dreams immediately jeopardized. Is that fair?

     Yes, it is fair. I don't believe in this world that I come to the table with any prerequisites or demands or rights, other than what I have earned, and what I have been given by God, and who he says I am. Certainly, perfect health isn't listed anywhere that I can find. I've done all that I can to take care of my body, and the doctors are working as hard as they can to give us this chance to have children. The rest- it's up to him. This is his story, and I don't see any reason to think that he has left us during a season of life with lots of cloudiness and storms. I'm a realist- the chances are low that I'll ever be able to have kids, and even though it's explicitly his will that humans reproduce, only time will tell if he bestows that gift to us specifically. I ask him each day to fix me, and give her this gift of motherhood, but in the end, I don't care. She doesn't either. This tragic turn of events in a seemingly storybook romance:  It is fair- it's fair because he is who he says he is, and that's all that matters. Let's say the doctors are right- this immensely interwoven desire to produce offspring and raise and nurture our very own, has now been torn from our grasp, never to be enjoyed. Does that somehow reflect upon God? Yes, yes it does- it does in the grace the doctors and co-workers are showing me, on the love that we are choosing to walk in with one another, her and I, in spite of uncertainties, in the support of family and friends. It's all a gift and a reflection of a God who chooses to be so deeply personal with her and I, and when we turn off our phones and shut down the business of today to listen, even as tears are falling, he's there. 

     So I can confidently say that I don't care what the doctors say, or if they're right or wrong. I know him, and I'm not ashamed of him whom I know. He says he'll be with me, and that he loves me. Sounds fair enough to me.