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Get Up!

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The enemy is real. The battle is real, and though we only see the battle from our earthly perspective, it is spiritual in nature, and it wages nonstop for our heart, mind, body and soul. All around us, the devil and his demons are trying to penetrate our defenses and gain a foothold. The earthy walls we put up to defend ourselves are powerless to defend us. They serve only to shield us from reality…to isolate us from the world around us.

If the battle is a spiritual one, then the walls we must put up should be spiritual as well. Get up and face the battle…don’t run and hide. Gear up and man up. Put on the Helmet of Salvation, the Breastplate of Righteousness and the Belt of Truth. Slip into the Gospel Shoes and pick up the Shield of Faith in one hand and the Sword of the Spirit in the other and claim the victory in Christ’s name. You’re His child and your destiny is sealed in the Book of Life. Go claim the victory. Go. Go now.

Love,

Dad

  

Somewhere Between Here and There

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As he sits, nearly motionless, the world is moving all around him…people walking past like he’s not even here. Indeed, he’s not here. He’s nowhere close to where “here” is right now.

Here is a place he longs to be with every fiber of his being. Right here is good. It’s where his family is…and wants him to be. It’s safe. Secure. Comfortable. Peaceful. Relaxing. Oh how good here really is…if only he could be here to enjoy it.

He’s here physically, but he is constantly fighting to stay here mentally. An inner turmoil that rages deep within his soul, the daily struggle to stay here is real. And it wears on him…emotionally, physically, spiritually. Here is a place that fades in and out of reality for him. Reality for him is constantly bouncing between here…and that other place.

“There” is a place all too familiar to him. Every semi-loud sound jolts him back there…a world he’s left behind and returned to so many times over two decades it’s hard to discern which is real and which isn’t. There is a place like no other…where the memories of past runs reside. A collection of all the worst incidents he’s responded to in his 20 years on the job. Many so gruesome he’s wept afterward, then been forced to bury in the depths of his mind so he can run the next one.

No matter how hard he tries to forget, he can’t. Some things can’t be unseen. Unfelt. Unheard. Unlived. Even with his best efforts to forget, they always seem to find their way back to the surface every now and then…often when he least expects it.

Today is the first day he’s had the whole day to spend with his family in awhile…a day that’s supposed to be spent making fun memories. His children are playing nearby, laughing and screaming with joy. An all too innocent scene, but today the sounds bring the pain. They instantly carry him back there.

There, a mother’s child screams in pain while he and his crew desperately work to cut the metal from around them, trying to free his mother and him from a mangled mass of what once was their family minivan. Moments earlier, he was giggling and laughing as his family was off on an adventure. Their first family vacation ended before it ever began, and no family vacation will ever be the same for them again, as his dad lay lifeless over the steering wheel.

Here, as he watches his children playing, he has repositioned the chair he’s sitting in so his back is in the corner, and he faces the exit. Ready to bolt at a moment’s notice, he’s on edge when he can’t see what’s going on behind him. He quickly surveys every room he enters for threats and a quick way out. It’s the same in every situation. He sits on the outside of an aisle. Close to the exit. Every time. If he arrives too late to pick the ideal seat, he’d just assume stand in the back of the room and watch from afar than be confined in the middle of the room. You’ll never see him standing in the middle of a group of people if it can be avoided. Instead, you’ll find him on the edges, just close enough to participate, yet able to slip away unnoticed when his senses overwhelm him and force him to leave.

There, he’s watched colleagues ambushed and killed, and been verbally and physically assaulted by the very people he’s come to help more times than he can count. He’s been hit, kicked, spit on and yelled at so many times he’s become callous and indifferent. He’s constantly wondering what’s lurking behind him. His mind is conditioned to accept the reality that as noble as his profession is, there is evil lurking all around him…an evil that preys on him and his people. He’s come to accept that it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

Here, the boys are talking loudly behind him. His daughter is watching a loud video beside him. Traffic is swirling all around him as he drives the family home. The combination of so many stimuli all at once is all too reminiscent of what he faces every day on the job, and it keeps him there instead of here.

There, he’s consistently multitasking on a level above average, walking into life threatening situations and assessing all that is happening in a traumatic and high-stress environment, processing multiple solutions, weighing the life and death outcome probabilities of each possible one, choosing the option with the hope for the best possible outcome, then implementing those actions to bring order out of chaos. All in just seconds as life hangs in the balance. As much as he wants to be here in this moment, there has ahold of him and won’t let go. 

And he hates himself for it…all this emotional baggage he carries now is the price he pays for what he signed up to do. And he knows it…accepted that long ago. Although never fully able to truly grasp the real cost at the time, he willingly stood when his time came…jumped at the opportunity. He was young and eager. Ready to save the world. If only he knew then what he knows now about the emotional turmoil his new career choice would bring over his lifetime, maybe he’d have passed.

Probably not. Ignorance is bliss. And helping others is in his blood. Serving others is who he is. No matter the cost. He knows the job has to be done, and if not him then who…if not now then when. Even if he knew everything he knew then, he still would have jumped in with both feet, ready and willing. He just hates that his family has to sacrifice so much for it too. He signed up for this…they didn’t. He hates how it’s affected his family, and his ability to enjoy them in the here.

As his family mingles around him, he bounces between here and there. It’s the end of the day now, and they’re settling into bedtime routines. Life is slowing down for the night. Night often brings the nightmares and sleepless nights, but for now he’s content to embrace the night and hopefully a peaceful night’s sleep. Right now, he’s not here or there. He’s bouncing between the two, but not settling long in either. And that’s alright to him, because when he’s somewhere between here and there, he isn’t there.

I Can’t Call My #3

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Some days I just want to call her.  And then I realize that even though she’s still #3 on my phone’s speed dial, it just can’t happen.  There is no  speed dial that will connect me with her now.

There will come a day when you’re grown and out on your own that you wake up and want to call your mom, but get wrapped up in the business of your day.  You’ll put it off, and then before you know it months will have gone by without having heard her voice.  Don’t be that guy.  Don’t do to your mom what I did to mine.  She has always been, is now, and will always be your greatest fan and there for you whenever you need her.  Even if it’s just to hear her voice.  Don’t wake up one day wishing you could call her but knowing you can’t because she’s gone.  Well over a full year after her passing, she remains the top commenter on this blog.  She always had my back.  Always.

This woman right here…your granny…she loved each of you, with so much passion that I just can’t even write about it…there. are. no. words.  If ever there was an example of what “All In” looked like, it was her love for you.  I’m saddened to the point of tears as I write this, knowing how much of her life you missed.  She always had your back.  Always.

Mom

Mom & SD in March 2008

Mom

Mom with NE and SI in November 2009

mom

I Miss You Mom

I miss you mom.  That is all.

Never Forget Means NEVER FORGET

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On the eve of what was the worst attack on our nation’s homeland in recent history, I lay my head down for what I pray is a restful night at the firehouse. Like it was for so many Americans that day in 2001, my day was filled with more emotion than one should have to face in such a few short hours. I say short, because the elapsed time, when reflecting back on that day with the gift of hindsight, flew by relatively quickly. On that day, though…time stood still. Minutes seemed like hours and hours like days.

I sat glued to the television while at work for 10 hours straight, and came home still unable to turn it off. All day long, all I wanted to do was hold my family. To hold your mom and sister tight and offer a sense of protection and safety that deep in the pit of my soul I knew I could no longer provide. That day, we all faced the reality that our lives are so much more beyond our control than we ever knew. The safety net was gone, the walls lowered, and our vulnerability was undeniable. It was a day that changed so many aspects of our lives.

It was a day that helped me realize I can’t do this life alone. It brought me to my knees seeking answers. Seeking justice. Seeking peace and comfort. Seeking truth. I found the Truth that day. I found that I am a sinner and worthy of death. I found that I am reliant on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for my very existence. I found that He took death in my place so that I might be spared. I found the cross. And it’s on that cross that I surrender my all to the One who took the fall.

Life has never been what it was before that day. And for that, my dear children, I am sorry. You will never know a world like I knew growing up. You will never experience the same freedom I had as a child. Your childhood will always be in a post 9-11 world where trust is low and tensions are high.

As our lives unfold, we move closer and closer to the day of Christ’s second coming. The time is now for believers to share the Truth. We will undoubtedly face many trials, adversities, pain and hardships before that day arrives, and it’s my prayer that as you face those moments you look beyond the pain and suffering. Beyond the evil and malice. Beyond the bad. To find the good that lies interwoven in those events. When evil people do unthinkable evil, there are others who rise to help. To serve. To render aid, to support and to save. There are heroes in your everyday life. Some where a badge or a uniform. Some wear only the blood of their country on their hearts as they bleed with pride in the citizenship of our nation.

It’s my prayer that as you grow, those of us who lived through those days can help you to know. To remember. To never forget. Many people in our nation seem to have forgotten. And that, my child, brings a sadness to the very essence of my core. Some have forgotten what “Never Forget” meant. They’ve taken the images of that day down and tried to erase them from our collective memories. They’ve removed them from our mainstream media in hopes that they won’t offend anyone. And even now as I write this, our leaders are discussing the possibility of going to war in Syria to support the heinous people who attacked us twelve short years ago tomorrow! What we all need to remember is that Never Forget means NEVER FORGET.

To the families of those who were killed that day, I offer my prayers. Prayers that the God of love and grace will continually keep you. That His arms will wrap around you, not just today on the anniversary of your loss, but everyday. That you might find a peace and comforting rest in His arms like none other. I pray that your grief, though always present, is comforted slightly by the knowledge that there are more of us who know what Never Forget means than those that don’t. And I pray for safety and blessing on those still fighting in defense of our freedom…at home and abroad…on the front lines and behind the scenes…career and volunteer. You all do your part in providing for our safety and freedom, and the very fabric of our lives is interwoven by your sacrifice.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

Love,

Dad

The Tomato Soup Changes Everything

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I tried something different today. I’m not a soup guy, but my throat has been sore…so I ordered the creamy tomato soup, hoping its warmth would provide some relief as it went down. And as I sat down to enjoy my lunch at Panera Bread, I jumped right into my normal routine of checking emails and browsing the web as I ate…ya’ know, the monotonous, time-consuming activities to keep my self-diagnosed ADHD mind constantly moving. Because simply enjoying a meal while doing three other things simultaneously just isn’t normal for me…it ain’t right. And then a fleeting thought popped into that over-tasked head of mine. Am I alone in my constant need to be multi-tasking? Are there others like me…people who just find it difficult to sit and do nothing but eat? What do those “simple-minded” folk do when they eat? Just eat?

So I tried something else different today. I put my phone down. Now if you know me…or are anything like me…you know that me doing that is like asking a bird to not fly south in the winter. It just ain’t normal. But I did it anyway. After the initial shock to my system, I began to notice something. Something I rarely see most days. I saw people. I saw the people all around me. I saw:

  • coworkers on a lunch break,
  • a businessman eating by himself,
  • a mom on a lunch date with her two young daughters,
  • a college student studying while he ate,
  • an older gentleman leisurely reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee,
  • friends meeting up for their weekly get-together,
  • a pregnant woman picking up lunch to take back to her coworkers at the office,
  • a business meeting between two coworkers and a prospective client,
  • a husband and wife enjoying their lunch break together…what may well be their only hour together as husband and wife between work today and their kids tonight.

And as I watched, I began to have a heart for complete strangers that I’ve never had before now. You see, I go through my day, completely immersed in what I need (or want) to do at any given moment. Me. Me. Egocentric me. At any one time, a perpetual to-do list is running through my head as I’m running through my day. I go from task to task, focused on what I need to do to accomplish my goals for the day, and I rarely take time to just stop and notice what (and who) is around me. Yes, I’m that guy that’s got his head buried in his phone as he’s walking down the street…or through the store…or pretty much everywhere I go.

I’m connected in so many ways, that I’m actually very disconnected. We’re living in a fast-paced, non-stop society where the pressures and demands for our time are constantly vying for our attention. The tools we have at our disposal now to keep us more connected than ever before are actually creating a disconnect that, I believe, is contributing to the moral decline of our country and the disconnected state of our communities. We’re emailing, texting, IM-ing, Facebooking, tweeting, and pinning like never before. And although it allows us to connect in ways we’ve never been able to connect before, all that virtual contact with others is breeding up a generation that doesn’t know how to connect with people. And even my generation is losing its ability to really connect with others on a personal level. I am losing that ability. I’m losing it because, like any skill that’s not used, you lose what you don’t use.

Connecting relationally is crucial to our survival, and I fear that I’ve unknowingly been sucked into a world where it’s become all too easy to be connected without connecting. Every single person in that restaurant with me at lunch today has similar goals to mine. I have to admit, though with some hesitation, that it was kinda fun to just sit and watch, wondering what their story is. I found myself really studying each person, asking what brought him here today? Where is she going? What’s going on behind the scenes in their lives? Do they have school-aged children like me? What health concerns is he facing? Will they make that sale to the prospective customer? What’s he hope to do once he’s out of college? What’s his passion and how is he going to change his part of the world?

And as I began pondering those questions, allowing the warm tomato soup to soothe my sore throat with each bite, I was able to better see the hurt. The pain. The despair. The joy. The loss. With each bite, God revealed to me that it’s not enough to sit behind a phone or computer and expect that our communities and country will miraculously turn toward God and be restored. If we want change, we need to go out and be that change…and that might just call for something as drastic as ordering the tomato soup and disconnecting so that we can connect.

So…what will you do to connect with the people you encounter today?

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:37-39

Love,

Dad

Hope Comes in Many Forms…Where I Am Today

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My head is full. It needs to do what it does when it’s full…vent. There is no order to what comes next, so be forewarned that I’m simply letting loose of the mess currently in my head. My apologies if what you read next is not what you’ve come to expect from me. I’m human, and this is where I am today. Writing is my outlet, so here goes.

Since Saturday, I’ve been in a sort of fog. Haven’t felt close to God. Haven’t felt like much of anything. Worship with dad and my brothers here at church on Sunday was okay, but I just didn’t feel connected to God, ya’ know? Last night, I was searching for the lyrics to a song that express how I’ve been feeling…and all I could remember was “oh God my God, your beloved needs you now.” I don’t remember the song, so it’s probably good that that’s all I can remember.

This morning, a text from my wife asked how I’m doing. I am…

Numb. Alone. Trapped. Spent. Drained. Overwhelmed. Lacking hope. Disconnected from reality…From life…From God. I’ve been better. I’ve been worse. I’ll push through though because that’s what we do. I just want to put closure to this period of life and move forward. I’m an action guy. Waiting is not something I do well. Too much waiting…not enough moving. I’m ready to crawl into the arms of my best friend and our kiddos and not have to make a decision or problem-solve for awhile. I’m ready to come home.

Dad, as you first read this, please know it’s not you or anything you’ve done or not done. It’s just my process. Being with you this week has been a blessing for me more than I’ve shared here yet…sharing that part of all this will come after we have some closure this week…and I hope I’ve blessed you in some small way by being here. I wouldn’t take any of it back or change my choice to stay…it’s just part of being out of routine…away from my wife and children…feelings I’m sure you either already have had, or will, soon after we all leave this weekend.

Yesterday’s hope came through an email from a dear friend on staff at church. The day before that, it came in an email from our Men’s Ministry leader, another good friend. Before that, it came daily in various emails, texts, phone calls and conversations with friends and family back home. Today’s hope comes from a thirteen year old angel…God has been employing her as my angel since the first day I met her in the hospital. Her momma sent me a text this morning that simply read:

Your daughter just prayed for you all by herself. It was so sweet. I looked over at the table and she had eyes closed, head bowed, hands clasped in front of her. And said, “Dear God, please keep my Daddy safe. Amen.”

So yes Lord, your beloved needs you now. Do not forsake me Lord. Your hope comes in many forms…and I have not lost sight of the truth that my hope comes from you. You have met my daily need for hope this past week and a half. SD’s prayer this morning has provided me the hope I need to sustain me today. I’ll take it. Thank you Lord for providing me hope though I deserve nothing.

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Love,

Dad

Honor Flight

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It was a day of firsts. It was my first time to ever wake up at 2:00am to start my day. My first fight to Baltimore. My first visit to our nation’s capital. My first time meeting Mr. W, my veteran for the day. My first time volunteering for Greater St. Louis Honor Flight, an organization whose mission is to take veterans (specifically WWII vets) on their first ever visit to the WWII memorial and other memorials in Washington DC. I pray it’s not my last trip with this wonderful organization.

It was a day of firsts for Mr. W too. Not his first trip to DC, but his first trip to his WWII memorial. His first trip to the Vietnam War Memorial. His first trip to the Korean War Memorial. His first trip to the USMC Iwo Jima Memorial. I cannot put into words how proud I am to have been allowed to escort Mr. W and 21 of his compatriots today.

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These men (and one woman today), along with 16 million of their fellow Americans left their lives of comfort to serve in WWII. Some stayed stateside, others served in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters and saw acts so gruesome that they are beyond understanding. They were, and are to this day, the greatest generation. I cannot even fathom the level of their sacrifice. It supersedes words and comprehension.

We stood in the place where 4048 gold stars are set in memory of the 405,399 heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during that war…the war that was to end all wars.

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Later, we touched the wall with the names of over 54,000 men who never returned from Vietnam.

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And gazed upon the statues remembering the over 45,000 heroes who died for freedom in Korea.

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We stood at the base of the USMC Memorial, honoring the sacrifice all Marines have made throughout our nation’s history.

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We walked among the dead at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Witnessed the dignity and respect paid to the tradition of honor and duty at the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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Nothing I have ever experienced puts into better perspective what the true cost of freedom is than a day like yesterday. Spending time walking among these memorials to our heroes has renewed my love for country. And refreshed my love and respect for our veterans.

I enjoyed listening to Mr. W’s stories. His marriage advice was simple…never go to bed without a kiss. I would tend to agree. He shared that he once figured over the course of a 67 year marriage to his wife they had kissed over 66,000 times. That may seem like a lot, but I did the math…it’s only 2.7 kisses a day. That’s not really all that much…although I’ve not figured out how to give seven tenths of a kiss yet. Your mom and I will have to “work” harder at that.

We talked religion and politics, and we talked about kids. His parenting advice was pretty simple too. Enjoy them while they’re young, because when it’s gone…it’s gone forever. I would agree with that as well. Time waits on no one. I’m writing part of this in the midst of the funeral visitation for Jr., and this truth is never made more clear than when facing death. Jr. served in WWII. I wonder if he had a chance to see the WWII memorial before he passed. I sure hope so.

Mr. W shared some of his stories with me, and I enjoyed seeing the passion in his eyes as the past came back to him. Right before we left the WWII Memorial, he said that being there brought the memories he had buried deep within his mind back to the surface…”it’s like I’m right there all over again.” He kept saying things over and over that I imagine any man who’s seen war up close would say…”why do we have to do this to ourselves? There’s got to be another way.” And at the Korean War Memorial, he commented in agreement with the 4 words inscribed on the wall:

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I couldn’t agree more. Four simple words never held such deeper meaning. I imagine Jesus thought the same thing as He was dying for our freedom.

I wish I knew more of my own family’s stories. With all my grandparents gone now, the stories of our past are fading into the past with them. I’m encouraged a little for y’all, in that you’ll have these notes to look back on some day. I just pray that our country is in better shape by then than it is now so you can enjoy the freedom for which so many have sacrificed so much.

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Never forget, children, that we live in a nation whose freedom was earned through the blood, sweat, tears, lives and sacrifices of the men and women who stood up when their nation called. Who responded by running into harms way because they knew that freedom is never free. I’m honored to have experienced this day. I’m honored to have sat among these true heroes. I’m honored to have met them and shared their day with them. It was an honor to show them a little piece of the great honor they deserve. The honor they’ve earned. It truly was a day of honor.

Love,

Dad

P.S. If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a veteran.

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