Sweeping Streets

Today was difficult to get through and to be quite honest, I almost didn’t try to make it.  I was very close to just calling my boss and letting him know that I was not going to be able to make it in to the office today.  I could have, but that would have been the wrong answer for me.  I have already missed several weeks from work and I know that even though I was far from 100% today, that I needed to make it.  Two main things made me go into work today.  First, I had promised a friend that we would meet and study the Psalms today and pray together.  Second, I intellectually know that every time I stay in my safe zone at home that I am in fact reinforcing the opposite that I want to occur in my life.  So, I went out of the house and, in fact, made it through the day.  Though I really did feel quite “off” today, I was able to accomplish what I needed to.

Funny thing is that when I got home I decided that I was just not ready to be in the house with the family yet.  I know that they can tell when they need to keep their distance and I know when I am feeling agitated.  So tonight, when I arrived home and was feeling this way, I decided that I needed to sweep the street clean of the aftermath of our long winter – gravel.  I swept from our mailbox all the way to our side street.  I had to move our vehicles, dodge some traffic, and shovel quite a bit of the aggregate off the road but it now looks freshly swept and I ended up gaining a good bit of weed cover in my front yard.  By the time I was finished I realized that I was feeling better and that I was ready to be around family again.  It reminded me of another time I that I swept up and took great satisfaction in the task.  Iraq is known for its amazing sandstorms, Haboob’s, and when I was assigned to 25th ID/3DBE’s Bronco Chapel (we were on an extended downtime from Transition team rounds) we had one of the most epic sandstorms I can recall.  After 2 days it finally died down and we were able to finally see the results to our office and chapel.  There was a thick layer of sand covering everything.  I ended up helping my immediate supervisor move all the furniture, electrical equipment, instruments – everything – out of the chapel and began to sweep up the mess.  It took hours, but I remember just being so happy to do that work and I loved how clean the place looked and felt afterward.  You see, I’m one of those Chaplain Assistant’s who really believes that a chapel is not just a place we do church but is in fact the place where we go to worship and cry out to God.  I also understand that it is a testament to His mercy and grace that we are even allowed to have life in our body, and that each moment that we are allowed to continue is just more evidence of His matchless compassion for us.  I know…with all the struggles that I have been having, that seems a little confident.  But, my struggles are not with HIM.  My belief in Him has never wavered and actually has never been stronger.  My struggles are something internal to me, and in my practice and expression with others.  I know, it’s confusing to me too.

Regardless, I have always held a high view on the place and manner of worship.  So for me, it was an act of duty and service that brought much enjoyment to clean and prepare that chapel for use again.  And that was not the only time.  In Jordan and Afghanistan I was just as focused on making sure that there area that was set aside for ministry met my standard for personal and communal worship.  Now, what does that have to do with sweeping the streets today making me feel better?  There is something to be said for just getting to work and making something better than it was.  The longest hump I have ever accomplished started the same way that the shortest one did, I took a single step.  Psalm 51:10 says “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.”  God certainly can use majestic and radical events to make instant change in our lives.  I know that is some people’s experience.  But God can also use the unexpected and the small gesture to do the same.  That’s more my experience.  Not the crashing thunder, but the still small voice.  Taking the small first step today and just getting out my door, and finishing the day with some good solid labor that is observably obvious is that still small way that the Lord helps to bring me back.  I may try to hide from it at times, I may even fight it at times, but the nice thing is that He never stops.  And I sure keep leaving plenty of messes that He needs to help clean up…but at least I’m on the road to renewal again.



Why Can’t I Sleep?

Well, tonight is a difficult night.  I live in a home that has an amazing view of the river.  It sits on a bluff overlooking the mountains and the city.  Most days I love the view and I love that I can see all around my area.  Tonight, though, I am leaning towards moving away.  You see my house also has a great view of the local airport.  Normally, this doesn’t bother me.  It is a small regional airfield that services small craft, rather infrequently.  But it also now houses the local life-helicopters.  For whatever reason, they are just sitting at the airport with the rotors turning, and I can’t seem to block it out.  Just hearing it takes me straight back to Iraq.  My CHU (container housing unit) was right on the edge of the airfield and all day and night I would hear helicopters.  Sitting and warming up, taking off, landing.  And that was when I was on down-time.  When my unit was moving around, we would have to ride on those helicopters and would spend all night in and around them.  So now, when I hear that very familiar sound, I close my eyes and it seems like I am right back there.  I know I’m not, but part of me seems to think I am.  I can almost smell the sand and the petroleum smoke.  I guess it just reminds me of things that I’d rather not remember too, like the night we took a helicopter up to Mosul to provide a memorial service for a BiTT team member that we had lost.  What a horrible day.  We had started that morning having breakfast with our team on the Syrian border after a great week long visit.  Since this was one of our most remote teams, they hadn’t had Chaplain services in quite sometime.  That morning we waited for a helicopter to take us back to our home base at COB Speicher to rest and reset before going back out on our battlefield circulation.  It had been a long tour, we had decided to hit all of our remote teams and had been gone longer than our usual due to weather and distance.  That morning our team was going to be taking a convoy trip off their post and waited until we left to head out.  Our helicopter picked us up and away we went on the very long trip back to Speicher.  I remember getting back sometime in the later afternoon and heading back to our chapel and by brigade to get mail and set up meetings for our next itinerary.  We had dinner and were just getting ready to get some well-earned down time when we received a communication from division.  Our team had taken casualties and one servicemen had been killed.  The division general routed his personal helicopter and we were sent to Mosul to meet with the team to send our fallen brother home.  Something that is important to understand is that these small Transition teams were only 12 Soldiers strong, and my 2 man chaplain unit was responsible for all teams in Northern Iraq, about 35 teams.  We had just spent a week with this team and when we landed to meet them in Mosul, they were noticeably in shock and pain.  SSG Ryan Zorn had been killed.  It remains my greatest honor that his team asked me to be one of his pall-bearers to send him on his honor flight home.  We walked the casket of this Soldier that we had just had breakfast with that morning and placed him on a flight that would ultimately take him home to his mother.  The whole base in Mosul came out to honor this fallen Soldier and upon the plane taking off for Dover, they marched back to their rooms and to their duties.  And my Chaplain and I went to ours.  It took less than 24 hours for me and my Chaplain to prepare and perform a memorial service, but it took days to do the critical incident debriefing with our team.  My job was to run interference and do the logistics and admin responsibilities so that the team could grieve and receive vital counseling.  And all the while, we were on that damn airfield with those helicopters warming up, taking off, landing…We spent 96 hours with the team and I don’t remember sleeping much, I just had so much to do and it felt better to work and move than think about how fragile our lives can be in combat.  Man, I hate the sound of helicopters now.  Reminds me of things I’d rather not think about and takes me back to places I never want to go again.