Friday, September 12, 2014

My 7 Year Old Beauty

There's nothing that can prepare you for missing the moments that matter the most.  Today is the first birthday I have ever missed in my precious little girl's 7 years.  I'm truthfully distraught to miss it.  However, I am thankful for God's gift of Karis.  God has blessed us with a beautiful young girl who I fell in love with even before she was born.  She is extremely passionate, creative, funny, and displays her emotions so beautifully.  I love everything about her!
Even though I can't be physically present with her today, I am celebrating her life!  I love you, Karis.  Happy 7th Birthday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9-11 Mission Trip

It took me almost 13 years, but I'm finally on a 9/11 mission trip.  One thing about the Army is we never sleep.  Operations are going 24/7, 365 days a year, all in an effort to protect America and her freedoms.

I'm thankful the Army never sleeps.  I'm thankful the pursuit of those who smashed into our structures 13 years ago is a constant hunt.  We haven't stopped.

However, because we haven't stopped, families have been broken, war has worn down lives and souls, people have died, people have lost friends and family, and depression has ruined lives.

The need for Christ is enormous for our men and women in uniform and their families.  Many times, when a disaster strikes, the need to do mission work near that disaster is urgent and pursued.  However, what about years after the earthquake, tornado, hurricane, or flood. Who is ministering to the lives still wrecked and hurt?  Sadly, just months after a disaster, the help ceases.

I'm thankful God called me out of the bullpen late in the game to provide relief in this war on terror.  13 years ago, I would have never imagined being in Afghanistan closing the doors on this pursuit of those who brought tragedy to our nation on that fateful day.

However, I'm thankful He did.  It has taught me a valuable lesson.  That lesson is that people don't stop hurting just because we stop hurting.  A disaster will immediately call us to hurt with others for a brief time, because it's fresh.  But when time fades that disaster away in our minds, it still lingers for those who encountered it intimately.  We must always rejoice with those who rejoice and hurt with those who hurt.  In doing this, we elevate people's needs.  When we elevate their needs, that's when Christ gets displayed!

Happy Patriot Day!  Never forgot the fallen from 9/11 and all the war efforts that have followed.  Never forget their family, friends, and battle buddies.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Soldier's Secrets

I see Soldier's secrets.  I know the awful things they have done.  I know some of the crazy thoughts they've had.  This comes with territory being a Chaplain.  My time downrange has been filled with more counseling than ever before.  It has also been met with the awkward challenge of making some Soldiers feel comfortable around me after they have unloaded the dark recesses of their heart.  They know that I do not disclose their secrets to anyone, but I sense a shame in some that they can't even look me in the eye anymore after they've unloaded what's on their chest.

Interestingly, I've run into a lot of my former Soldiers downrange too.  Many of them have greeted me happily with a smile.  However, some have lowered their head, fearing I'll recall the things they shared with me.

Honestly, when I see Soldiers I do see the things they've shared with me.  I see the awful circumstances they've been in. When I look around, I see Soldiers who have beaten their wives.  I've seen Soldiers who have attempted suicide.  I see Soldiers who have cheated on their spouses.  I see Soldiers who have thought about killing.  I see Soldiers who have been raped and abused.


I don't say all of that to say that the scars and baggage a Soldier carries is how I define them.  Christ doesn't define us that way.  He wipes the slate clean.  I see the baggage as a reminder that while everyone may walk around with a smile, the mission field is ripe with need!  Hurt, anxiety, pain, and fear sit steady in the lives of many of our men and women in combat.  The need for Christ is overwhelming.  

My heart desires to see these secrets as a part of God's success story. I believe every person carrying around past and present hurts can be healed from what ails them.  They can overcome their circumstances and come out stronger men and women.  This only happens through the presence of God in their lives.  I must be an agent of God's presence.

Truthfully, we all have secrets.  Everyone walking around you has former pains and scars.  Some have life-altering tragedies in their past.  As believers, if we can grasp that perspective in our daily walk, we can invite beautiful change in people's lives.

The Wonderful World of Bagram

In the last 3 months, I have now spent about a total of 2 weeks in Bagram, Afghanistan.  When people look back at this long war, no doubt Bagram will be a popular place of reference.  And it is easy to see why.  This place is a massive hub.  Its the equivalent of a big city as far as military operating bases go.  Its like the New York or L.A. of warzone Afghanistan.
However, the world of Bagram is an interesting one.  Quite honestly, it almost feels like you're not in a warzone while being in Bagram.  It feels almost like a large American Army post.  It feels like a vacation compared to the other places I've lived and been during the last 3 months. 
Soon, I'll be on my way to a new location, more remote and more conventional military war post.  However, in reflecting on my time in the fabulous Bagram, I compiled a list of things I have learned in this interesting place.
1. PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO WALK IN PUBLIC:  Perhaps I've noticed this because Bagram is huge and there are so many people here, but I honestly feel like I need to teach a class on how to properly walk in a public setting.  You've got the "I own the sidewalk and will walk in the middle of it no matter how many other people are trying to also walk on the same sidewalk" people.  You've got the people who stop walking to stare or chat, creating a massive blockade in busy doorways and pedestrian intersections.  Then you've got the people who are just plain oblivious while opening doors or walking around corners, not thinking that someone else may be coming.
2. THE CZECHS CAN WORKOUT WITH THE BEST OF THEM AND THOSE BUBBAS CAN PUT AWAY SOME FOOD:  There are a lot of Czech military at Bagram.  Sharing the gym with them, I've witnessed their rigid workout routines.  Sharing dinner tables with them, I've seen these dudes hammer DFAC trays full of fried chicken, pizza, french fries, corn dogs, and salad.
3.  THE ROUND THINGS IN THE PORTA POTTIES ARE NOT MINTS:  Not that I put one of those things in my mouth, but the first time I saw these tiny peppermint looking discs in the urinal piece of a Bagram porta john, I almost thought someone had spit out their candy.  Turns out its just air freshener. 
4.  BAGRAM HAS A "DISNEY" SIDE.  HOWEVER, THE ONLY THING IT HAS IN COMMON WITH THE REAL DISNEY IS THAT IT IS OVERCROWDED:  Bagram has a Disney Drive.  On Disney Drive are shops, restaurants, coffee, movie theaters, and gyms.  Its not too shabby.  However, you'll wear your arm out saluting and returning salutes.  The amount of people on this strip is ridiculous!
5.  THE RUSSIAN ENGINEERS WERE EFFICIENT, BUT AT THE SAME TIME IMPRACTICAL:  One of the interesting things about many places in Afghanistan is seeing all the Russian military evidence from their conflicts with the Afghans spanning over the past 30 plus years.  The Russians built some crazy structures, many of which still linger like remains of an ancient city.  Those dudes built buildings literally out of the rocks on the ground.  Cost efficient, but not efficient when it comes to manning or retrograding these beasts.
6. JOGGING AROUND BAGRAM FEELS LIKE YOU'RE JOGGING IN A HIGH SECURITY PRISON:  Its been interesting getting up at 5:45, going out for my nice leisurely jogs, and getting to take in scenery that includes tall fences lined with wire, guard towers manned with guns, looking out into a scenic mountainous desert.
7.  GREEN BEANS COFFEE IS ALMOST AS GOOD AS STARBUCKS....I USE 'ALMOST' KIND OF LOOSELY:  First of all, mad props to the folks at Green Beans.  I have deep respect for the service they provide...gourmet coffee in a combat environment.  If only they'd serve the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte....that'd be wonderful.
8. NORTHFACE, COLUMBIA, and OAKLEY GEAR IS STILL OVERPRICED:  Bagram's Disney PX sells name brands like Oakley, Northface, and Columbia....all brands that sell items at extreme markup because of the brand written or sewn onto said item.  I witnessed one of my Soldiers buy 2 pairs of Oakleys at around $300.  One of the pairs was exactly the same as the Army-issued glasses we all get for free, except "Oakley" was painted on the sides.  He then remarked to me that I was whipped, because he assumed my wife would not let me make the same type of purchase he did.  True, I have 3 other people to think about other than myself.  However, there is no way I'd pay that much money for sunglasses that I will lose or break within the next 3 months. I gots mo betta things to do wit my cash money.
9.  MANY ON BAGRAM ARE CLUELESS THAT DANGER EXISTS AND THERE IS A WAR GOING ON:  Sure, Bagram gets the occasional rockets that get shot down by high-tech transformer-like machines. However, compared to the rest of the country, Bagram's strip mall, Vegas atmosphere make deployment seem like a cakewalk.
10.  THE CLEANING PROCEDURES BY THE AFGHANS ARE A LITTLE GROSS:  The Afghans like to clean, but they do it in strange ways.  For example....I watched a group of cleaners come into a tent in which I was staying, filled with multiple bunk beds.  They poured bottles of drinking water on the plywood floors of the tent, swept the water and dirt on the floor making a nice thin mud layer across the tent, and then they proceeded to sweep the beds with the same broom.  Seriously.
All in all, I've enjoyed the fabulous life at Bagram, but looking forward to going to a more remote and austere place to get refocused on the next 6 months of this mission trip!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Simple Ways to Save Your Marriage

Marriage is work.  It's not a game.  It's not easy.  It's not something you should try with the thought that if it doesn't work, you'll go elsewhere.  Marriage is constant commitment.  It takes consistent self-evaluation and examination to keep it strong.
  With that said, marriage is awesome!  It is well worth the work.  It can bring great joy to your life and the life of your children.  However, it will only do this if and only if it is gone about the right way.  
With all that being said, I think in order to have a healthy marriage that honors God it is really quite simple.  First of all, our marriages must be God glorifying mirror images of His love.  However, in order to maintain health and even save bad marriages, following God's simple strategy for all relationships is the key.  And it is in this strategy that I can give you 5 simple ways to save your marriage.
God's strategy is this:
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
Philippians 2:3-4
This is how relationships are maintained.  There are many other scriptures that also confirm this strategy, but very simply, maintaining a healthy relationship requires that we think about the needs of others before we think of our own.
So what are the 5 ways?
I tell couples in counseling to do an exercise that I believe if done sincerely will save any marriage.  And it all centers around God's strategy for relationships.  The exercise is this:
Write down your 5 biggest needs.
No, I'm not talking about food, shelter, water, and sleep.  I'm talking about as it relates to peace and sanctity in life, and of course as it relates to your marriage relationship.
When couples each write down their individual top 5 needs, I then ask them to share those needs with their spouse.  Its unbelievable how shocked husbands and wives are sometimes when their spouse reads out their needs.  It can be an overwhelming revelation, even with couples who seem to have a healthy marriage.  A husband can be seemingly doing everything right.  He provides solid financial stability for his family and has great plans for investment for his family's future security.  However, if his wife's biggest need is for him to spend time with her and less time at work, he could be silently destroying his marriage relationship.  His wife may like the financial security okay, but time is more important to her, so he will continue to miss the boat.
That's just one example.  Needs vary from person to person, and also NEEDS CHANGE OVER TIME.  That's why its important to constantly ask your spouse what their needs are.  If you miss out on meeting needs, you miss out on God's strategy and can do great harm to your marriage.
While the strategy may be simple to understand, implementing it can be a challenge.  Just the knowledge of your spouse's needs is not enough.  You have to begin to meet those needs, which means you have to lay your personal needs aside.  This can be tough!  BUT IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY!
I encourage you.  Try it!  See how God begins to strengthen your marriage in ways you never imagined!

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Proverbs 31 Wife

Today is my beautiful wife's birthday.  It's also our anniversary.  So you know if I miss this day, I'm in big fat trouble.......DOH! I am missing this day!  This is the first time in 14 years that I haven't been with my wife on our anniversary and her birthday.  I'm sad, but at the same time I count my blessings.  God has blessed me with a wife the encompasses Proverbs 31.  That's one of the biggest reasons we have stayed together and never come even close to thinking about walking away.  That, and we made a commitment long ago that divorce was not even an option on the table.  It's just an easy way out.  More on this when I post a marriage article later this week.

The truth is, I'm undeserving of my wife.  She is an excellent wife, far more precious than jewels (Proverbs 31:10).  I trust her with my heart completely (v.11). She does me good every day of her life (v.12).  She works hard for our family (v.13).  She takes care of us, cooks for us, and sacrifices sleep for us (v. 14-15).  She cares for others in need (v. 20).  She dresses and presents herself well (v. 25). She's an incredible teacher (v. 26)!  The kids and I love her (v. 28)! She fears the LORD (v. 30).  

I could go on and on. Quite simply, she is an example of God's grace to me.  My beautiful, talented, strong, and amazing wife is incredible.  I love her!  Happy Birthday and Anniversary to you, Stephanie! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hate to Death

Hate speech?  Sometimes our American culture can be clueless.  Admit it or not, we’re a sheltered culture.  We have no idea what real hate and persecution looks like. 

The news out of Iraq is sickening.  Families and children being put to death, raped, tortured, and driven out by hate-mongerers is reality for Christians there right now.  While many hear the news and turn their heads towards the business of the day, the grim reality doesn’t fully sink in.  Our culture thinks hate is disagreeing with someone or someone’s lifestyle.  Our culture gets disgusted with businesses like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby because they simply stand on their convictions.

We’re more concerned about speech, labeling it as hateful.  Don’t know about you, but if you want to see real hate, take a look at what is going on in Iraq.  That’s hate.  Real hate leads to death, not a civil disagreement.

Zealots who are completely misguided, warping their own religion, going way past disagreement to full on evil hatred is what we’re seeing in Iraq. 

Imagine living in a place where you cannot believe what you want to believe, say what you want to say, or live according to how you believe you should live.  Because if you did, you would be marked for death, like the Christians in Mosul.

That’s real tragedy.  That’s real tragedy that needs Godly people praying.  That’s real tragedy that should wake us up as a culture to the truth.  The truth is, we don’t see this type of persecution and hate in our land.  Be thankful for that.   Be thankful for God’s provision.

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