Days both good and bad

My good days are just like anyone else's, I think. I get up, I go to work or whatever the day brings. I buy things. I read web comics. I lose at Scrabble with my wife. Pretty normal stuff. Saturday was a good day.

Bad days are a little different. I don't think of them that way--to me, they are Afghanistan days, or maybe deployment days. To my wife, they are sad days. Sometimes they start with a nightmare. More often, I just have the gradual realization that it's not all together. Sunday was an Afghanistan day.

It should have been a good day. I slept enough, if not as much as I might prefer. There was no nightmare that I remember. Just the same, I woke up and discovered that I'd gone back to day zero--I was just back from Afghanistan and everything was fake and too fast and not entirely to be trusted. I did my best to ignore the feeling and the crowd at church and tried to participate in class. I sat with my wife in the auditorium for the service and tried to ignore it, but the disconnect was just too much. I got up to go blow my nose and managed not to come back.

I stood outside and watched the rain, a drizzle that comes down over 2/3 of Bremerton's calendar and yet seemed unreal compared to the dust and mud and baking sun and ice and snow of Afghanistan. I breathed in the thick pine air, nothing at all like the ever-present choking moon dust of Helmand province. I looked at the colorful variety of civilian cars--every make and model and shade to be found in North America--and wished myself back in the dull tan M1114 up-armored Humvee turret.

Travis came out to see me standing outside the door and asked me a simple question and I lost it completely. Apparently, "How are you" is an emotionally loaded question for me. Even juggling an irate toddler in one hand, he had time to talk and pray with his friend having a breakdown in the church parking lot. After a few minutes he had to go preach or something--I waited in the car until I was reasonably sure I could walk in the auditorium safely, well after service had ended.

I did not heed his advice. We spent the afternoon with the in-laws--corned beef and cabbage were on the line, not to mention homemade German chocolate cake. I did spend the evening at home with my beloved, however, who doesn't really understand but doesn't really need to in order to know I need some time away from people.

There's no rational motive for it, but on bad days I find myself wishing I were back in Afghanistan. Life in a combat zone is life "turned up to 11"--much more intense. That's obvious, I suppose, but that doesn't make it less important. It's also a lot simpler. I don't worry about how I spend my life or where I work or how I pay rent or whether we're getting a good deal on the car--I worry about not letting my team down and shooting Achmed before he shoots me.

I have been privileged to see life in a place that really really sucks, and it puts an entirely different perspective on things when I come home. On a bad day, everything and everyone seem fake, as though I were watching it all on television. I marvel at the narcissism and materialism of our society and remember the people I saw over there--just as petty and selfish, but with much less to be petty and selfish about. It amazes me when I come back from mortars and helicopters and hillsides and airstrikes that people can honestly care about things like professional sports or a television show.

The bad days are relatively rare. Monday was a good day--you'd never know I'd just had a bad one. But I'll have more. Maybe I'll have a lot of them and go see someone about it. Or maybe I'll have just a few and after a while I won't even notice when they've stopped.

There's no good reason for it. My life has been so richly blessed in so many ways, including the privilege (for so I count it) of serving in my nation's military defense. I have a wonderful wife who loves me and a supportive family who laughs at my stupid jokes and sends me care packages. I have a stupid dog who is as supportive and loving as his limited brain is capable of being, and a cat who is only passively hostile to my existence. I've got it good.

Still, on a bad day, the only thing worse to me than the idea that I might go back over there again is the possibility that I might not.



Thank You

I'm sure this post was difficult for you to write, but I wanted to thank you for doing so. As someone who's never been in combat, it's difficult to comprehend the stress that returning veterans experience. While I sympathized before, I feel like I have a slightly better grasp on the experience now. Thank you for being so honest about your experiences.

the truth of the matter...

It was an honor to be with you on Sunday and an honor to pray with you and weep with you and care for you. Many times I think we get fooled into this sick and twisted theology that if we really have God we're going to have this all figured out, and if we are weak, or if we don't get God, or if the walls come crashing in it must automatically mean that our faith isn't valid, or it's broken, or just not strong enough. I mean, God wouldn't lead us into the valley if He really loved us, right?

But that's the thing I think we miss. What if God not only could lead us there, into the uncomfortable, but sometimes He wants to? I mean, what if to God, who wants to love us intimately, the pressures that break us and force us into His arms are worth it to Him, because from His perspective, that's when He finally gets to hold us close and carry us like He always wanted to? I know it seems strange, but I don't think God resents our brokenness or even merely tolerates it. I think sometimes He delights in it, because then He gets to save us.

I've been praying for you alot on the route. I had some big financial crises, prompted by the recurrent breaking of cars, come to a head on Monday and take the wind out of my sails. It wasn't anything like your experience, but I found myself just praying for both of us Monday night, really crying out in frustration, because neither of us get why what is happening is happening. And I found myself thinking about the verse that is in Luke 5:36-39 where Jesus is talking about old wineskins versus new wineskins. I was thinking about our lives, and how it seems like when we let God in and let Him really start doing things, our lives always go from nice and ordered to messy, and trials start, and things start happening that we don't get. Solomon said in Proverbs that where the stall is clean, there's no ox. It's the same with my life, where it is clean and sterile, there is no Spirit of God there.

Jesus was talking and saying that the new wineskins can handle the new wine poured in, but the old, rigid ones can't and they burst and break open, and they are wasted and the new wine poured into them is wasted, and I realized that Jesus was saying there isn't any comfortable option when you decide to let God be God and when you let the Spirit in. He's going to pour His new wine into you, His life of the Spirit, and you either stretch, which hurts, or you break, which hurts more. the key is whether we have been letting God soften us up and keep us supple like a new wineskin, which involves constantly massaging and working the leather so it retains its flexibility. I began to understand, I guess, that this is what God is doing with us, working us, twisting us, stretching us, so that we stay in the state of needing Him, otherwise we would become rigid and inflexible in our own priorities and routine, and then when he tried to give us the fullness of His Spirit, we wouldn't be able to handle it. So instead, He guides us through trials that work, twist and stretch our faith, and though it is painful, then when He pours His Spirit in, we're already supple and used to being stretched by him so we can take the pain of growing. I guess it's all happening at the same time, actually, the working, stretching, filling and growing.

Too deep for simple blogging, I know, but I want you to know the prayer I settled on for you, me and everybody else was not that God takes this stuff away from us, because evidently we need it to stay supple and able to be used in Him. Instead I asked Him not to stretch you beyond what you can handle, and that He will hold you close and shepherd you through the rain and the valley, keep you supple, but keep you close to Him, too.

I'll see you tonight

something similar, sort of

Some police officers get something similar, especially after an especially traumatic event. Most of us become adrenaline junkies, on and off the job (with a lot of marital carnage in its wake). I am still waiting to have some sort of "day" or "days," and can only think that the fact I haven't yet had nightmares and the like is that I'm probably some sort of sociopath. That being the case, the fact that you feel the things you do, however troubling when they occur, proves your humanity.

It takes courage to share these things you do. Real courage. I, for one, am grateful to know that my military contains such men.