One Brave Dude

Personally, I know very little about this man.

No doubt,  there are others whose feats of bravery are recorded elsewhere in more glorious detail than is generally tolerated in a simple blog post. Still, in the course of 20 minutes one evening, this dude deeply impressed me  with a type of courage rarely seen in men of his position and stature. So much so that months later, it hasn’t left my mind.

One Brave Dude

Fact is, he could have said far less and made a simpler and yet equally effective point to satisfy the requirements as the speaking “guest of honor” at this gathering.

Instead, he choose to go deeper, taking his listeners higher and brought a level of honor and humility to what was likely one of his most embarrassing personal and professional failures. More than doing his duty; to the room full of young cadets assembled for this ceremony, he represented a level of achievement and success they could aspire to. The sight of him alone was enough to inspire awe. But what he wanted them to see that evening would take them far beyond the glossy shoes, crisp uniform and chest full of ribbons standing at the front of the room. He had something much more awesome to offer them.

He told his story in more detail than I can recall but the “once upon a time” gist of it placed him in command of an intelligence detail stationed in a well-known place of conflict. He and his team were responsible for gathering and disseminating information and intelligence, and then producing reports used to give guidance to the following day’s activities.

Highly classified information was gathered, processed and released to various other offices while other bits were sanitized to be released for more public consumption.  His rank and position placed him very near the top of the dog pile— the “buck” stopped almost at his door with only a small leap to the next person in charge. Not a bad place to be when things are going well.

Courage as Virtue

His job was slightly more than supervisory and managerial. He was responsible for checking and clearing each detail and for making sure the information went where it needed to go— and no further. He explained the tremendous pressures to produce each night while others slept, which sometimes outpaced the amount of time and space given to his team.  As things got “hot” the need and pressures would intensify exponentially but the job was still theirs to do by dawn.

He’s not sure how it happened— how the rhythm and details of the flow got interrupted in such a way that would have led to a breakdown in the system. But it did.

One slip.
One forgotten check and double-check.
One  non-secure transmission of highly sensitive information flowing to a wide array of open media outlets would leave his team facing a security breach of catastrophic proportions.   There it was in black and white:            

FAIL.

Not in the sense of putting lives directly at risk but in the compromise of trusted information channels and relationships. Years of carefully maintained partnerships built on trust and mutual respect were now damaged undeniably with the hasty click of a button.

Of course there were other people involved in the mess. Everyone  knew the protocol— there were others who could justifiably bear the blame and shame seemingly with far less to lose in these matters. Power, position and rank could have shifted the cosmos just enough so that the stars to fall that night could have been far less bright. Blame shifting, finger pointing and diversion of details for the sake of self preservation.

It happens all the time.

On this particular evening, in front of this group of cadets, this man wanted them to know the truth about good leadership; the truth about being an excellent leader from start to finish. Standing handsome and tall in his smart uniform bedecked with ribbons and displaying an ease you wouldn’t expect— this man owned it all. 

He explained that as the leader of his team, it was not only his responsibility to bear the burden and take the heat for that devastating error, but in the wake and fallout to follow, it was his privilege as leader to lead them beyond that moment— to do the hard work of repair and restoration, to rebuild morale, faith and trust while the job was still his to do.

He stood there, every eye fixed on him in rapt attention and confessed:
“I screwed up. It was my fault and I was going to lead my team to make it right.”
The room was silent as we processed what he had said.

Failures Forgiven

What a leader.
What a Godly man.

There are many fine leadership qualities exalted in our world today with many strong and capable people willing to stand tall when the lights of glory and success are shining brightly upon their accomplishments. Then there are the fewer in number, like this Airman, who with the utmost candor and humility testify to what it takes to lead during, through and beyond failure.

To rise from the ashes of disaster and own their position as the one in charge of the box of matches.

I don’t know exactly what anyone else saw that night but in the conversations that followed, you could sense that much like me, everyone was grateful to be in the presence of a man of honor and integrity— a well-trained soldier, a truly great leader setting an example these cadets could follow.

I’m glad our son was there.

I had no idea then that his own young son was present looking to join this group of cadets. Somehow, this doubled the weight of his speech in my eyes because, no doubt— this man was intent on leaving a lasting impression and legacy in all the right ways.  I hope this boy was proud of his dad.

I know I was because as far as I can see, his father is one brave dude.

2500 Miles, A Story of Life, Death and Resurrection

We bought a large paper map.
Tri-fold.

It covers the entire Eastern portion of the United States and the major roads, towns and cities between here and there. I pinned it to the dining room door so I could take in the whole picture— see the entire journey spread out before me and somehow plot the course for the weeks ahead.  For a trip like this, a GPS or Google Map just won’t do.

2500 Miles

We’re back.

Of course, even a brand-new paper map can’t show everything. It didn’t show the place in Virginia where we pitched our tent that first night with hundreds of pet-grade bunnies hopping around.

It didn’t show Pennsylvania roadsides strewn with wild raspberries, ripe and ready for the picking by the hand, mouth and bucket-full. The mountain ranges were etched on there, but not the rows and rows of windmills planted along their ridges like monstrous, aluminum and steel daisies. 

In so many ways, this land we call America, is breath-taking and beautiful.

RaspberriesWindmills

There was a purpose for the going.

Practical, promised and somewhat sacrificial, the youngest had qualified for a special Ranger School that had us delivering him to the Eastern Pennsylvania mountains adjacent to the Appalachians and very close to the hills I once roamed in Northern New Jersey.

Kinda crazy and massive in it’s scope and somewhat bigger than any trip we’ve taken overseas, this was about as organized as we get.  Some parts were planned— the camping, the visit with dear friends, the whirlwind tour of DC. Others were tentative— open-ended and accidental, possible but not set in stone, leaving plenty of wiggle-room for change if something didn’t look or feel quite right.

Mountain RoadBig Beautiful Barn

My husband was insistent.

He’d never seen this part of the country—never imagined how beautiful it would be. I’d always told him about my childhood home— the open spaces, rolling hills, farms and fields and now he’d see for himself.

He insisted on taking me further.

Insisting I needed to go all the way back this time..and he was right. Going all the way back was the next step to going fully forward. It was time:
any sooner, I wasn’t ready. Any later, and I might have missed it altogether.

Franklin Pond SignFranklin Pond

Franklin Pond Waterfall

From a picnic at Franklin Pond where memories of day camp and swim lessons in the summer mingled with frostbitten remembrances of ice skating in the winter, to walking the grounds of Franklin Elementary school and remembering this place that sheltered me during some of my darkest years. I halfway expected it to be torn down, replaced by something more modern. Instead, the well-worn brick and mortar gave off a sense of warmth and familiarity I hadn’t expected to greet me.

Franklin Elementary

Driving around to park in front, my breath caught as spotted “her”: The Tree. I’m not really a tree-hugger by definition but I came close to hugging this one. I was so glad to see her. I’m pretty sure it was 3rd grade with Mrs. Fitzgibbons: every morning after the Pledge, as a class we’d turn toward the window look out at the tree and sing,

I think that I shall never see,
a poem lovely as a tree

I confess… the sight of this tree made me cry for all that was and was not… and well— never would be.

Trees 3

But now, it was OK. This time, I could say a proper goodbye and move on… thankful for what IS.

Nearly missing the turn, we found that trailer park and drove all…  the way…  to the top.
I think I spotted Elsie’s trailer.
I know I saw the other one.
It looks like she still lives there.
The place is a dump.
I didn’t knock.

It’s enough to know the slight satisfaction of having left as a weak and wounded child— and to now return as a whole woman of God— as an outside observer to the mess that was and still remains.

I came.
I saw.
Choosing to be moved lightyears beyond…
I walked on leaving her…. all that…. behind.

The last place would take me further than I thought I wanted to go. But he was waiting for me and in 26 years had never met my husband. Again, it was time.

The first pictures tell all: my shields are up, not quite ready for that “Hallmark moment” to be thrust upon me— not ready to easily  dismiss all the hurt and disappointment that had accumulated over the years. I didn’t mean for it to be so obvious but it’s just where I had to begin. I had to be sure. I had to wait and see.

Shield's upShields up TWO

Inside I watched him shuffle around the kitchen happily chatting and preparing for dinner. Watching as he helped feed and rock his great-granddaughter to sleep. Observing his frailty and age, his tenderness and patience to those around him. All the while, somewhat keeping my distance, looking in from the outside at this scene my heart had craved for so long.

Three times he told the story.

Warning them not to toss the baby around like that because once, he’d been playing with me that way.  I was eight months old. He was tossing me back and forth to my mother — and missed. I landed at his feet. “Horrible.” he said , “You just don’t know how horrible you’ll feel if you miss.” 

Three times….. I heard his voice quake at the memory.

I thought— “Really?!? Because 33 years ago, You dropped me again and walked away.”

Through the years I’ve struggled quite a bit with getting back up.   There were times I missed the mark, wrongly trying to fill those gaps through other ways and people. God picked me up, it’s true, and my husband has been a strong arm to lean on as we’ve walked this God-guided road together. I had to learn these GREATER things along the way and I wasn’t expecting any of that to change this day.

Listening and watching I stood my ground til he moved around the kitchen island toward me and with few other words, simply said, “I’m sorry”.  In that moment nothing would replace the relationship denied to both of us. Nothing would replace the damaged years or innocences lost.          Nothing could or was supposed to.

In that moment, yesterday was not the point tomorrow was.  Forgiveness was requested and it was mine to give. The power and the gift, first given to me by God, was mine to transfer to him then and there. He opened his arms for a hug…  and I let him. After 33 years, he came back to pick me up….to begin, somehow… again.  

It was time.

Ephesians 2-4-10

We all ate dinner together.  My husband took many more pictures.  I played with my niece and helped with the dishes. Then we said our goodbyes, got into the car and with a paper map in my lap, we turned towards home.

Towards tomorrow and whatever tomorrow brings.

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Hand to Hand Combat on the Battlefield of the Mind

We used to live about 40 minutes from a really cool interactive science museum. Budget cuts closed the doors but my kids loved going there and I regret not going more often. The displays were mostly the same—things designed to illustrate major-big scientific principles brought down to an appealing level of hands-on understanding for all ages.

Occasionally they’d host special exhibits and I recall the year there was a military science area with a variety of instruments and tools the military used to conduct “business”. This included the very cool, “PSYOPs” exhibit . It was fascinating to learn how battles could be fought— and won— without a drop of blood being shed.

Loudspeakers and leaflets containing carefully planned and planted words were used to psychologically suggest ideas to frighten, subdue or wear down the morale of the opposing forces, causing them to surrender and reducing the loss of life. Strikingly simple and yet utterly complex it’s a weapon that’s been used down through the ages— completely modern and yet as old as time.              Effective.

Hand to Hand Combat

It began in the Garden, you know. Those words spoken by the smooth-talking Devil-serpant “Did God really say…?” And it worked. The seeds of doubt were planted, the defining Word of God was twisted “just a hair” and the world came tumbling down. Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. But it’s also wasn’t the end of the devil and his schemes—for now, on this side of heaven, we’re doing battle against them on some level every day.

Someone close to me recently commented on how they don’t watch the news or read from news sites anymore because it’s always so terrible. They’d rather not know. On the surface it sounds irresponsible but stepping back, I completely recognize how willing I’d be to block it all out if I could—if only for a moment. I get it.

There are days…and some hard-to-get-to-sleep nights when I’m nearly overwhelmed by those thoughts. My head hits the pillow… just seconds from sweet sleep and some reckless idea breaks through and all my “Mama Feels” come rushing to the surface. Suddenly, sleep becomes an impossibility as every frightening scenario and “what-if” begins to play itself out with no end in sight.

Transform my mind?!??  Heck, it’s times like these when I feel like I need to just “gut the sucker” and start over!   

The painfully near disease and dysfunction of the world looms large as the headlines scream and cleverly insinuate some “new and improved” twisted-up version of the same bloody Garden curse over and over again. 

Here’s this daily ridiculous “all you can eat buffet” of information-potential— half truths and full-blown lies— swirling in and out of every moment and instead of feeling more secure and informed on most days, personally, I’d  like to board up the windows and exit quietly.

It seems like a lost cause to even begin trying to make a difference.

His Light Shines

Believe that and our enemy “wins”.  No, not the war, but unless we engage in the battle, satan can win the moment. He can force us underground and snatch away our ability to care, invest or conceive of seizing hold of the answers left by Jesus Christ. If we listen only to the lies, or entertain the doubts and questions a little too long, we can feel helpless and hopeless along with the rest of the world.

It’s Satan’s version of “PSYOPs”….attempting to demoralize us and forget he’s a DEFEATED ENEMY….creating doubt, divisions and distractions causing us to fight against one another instead of finding common ways to work together with God.

I’m hosting a little bible study with a handful of girls on my street. This past week we talked about this sort of “stinkin’ thinkin” and shared about the sorts of things that can cause worry and fear.  I think they were actually relieved to discover they’re not the only ones… even I still struggle with “stinkin thinkin”.

Together, we talked about where to find help: our “Family Album”, our battle manual, the Bible. Randomly I popped it open and read aloud Psalm 119:73-82. The Psalmist records the many ways we are troubled and tormented by the “insolent”, falsehood and and fear… but God will be our comfort and help.

It was the very thing we’d been talking about.

The Limitations of God at Work

What I want them to know is the very thing I need to remember— this Word of God and time spent with Him talking and listening in prayer— is exactly what we need to fight this battle.  It sounds too simple— almost cliché and yet THIS is the most powerful weapon we have against every scheme of the enemy: prayer.

When the lies, the fears and the confusion starts to spin us out of control— we can stand on the Truth and engage in the battle with some powerful “hand to hand” combat.

Not that it’s easy work….
Not that it’s easy to remember…

The hands that took the nails and then rolled the stone away clearing the path for us to get back to God.

It’s hands holding on to the truth spelled out in the living, unchanging Word of God who really did promise He’d walk with us through every valley and on every mountaintop and be our Guide as we go.

Then it’s hands getting to work— helping in whatever way they can  holding on to the trembling hands of another giving comfort and walking the hard road— or sharing in the joyful work of serving shoulder to shoulder…faithfully doing whatever it is God has set before them.

Glowing light of God

It’s hands raised in worship…in surrender… in faith and trust.
Even for the things we don’t yet understand.
Even for the nights that seem so terribly dark and long.    Even… and especially… now.Lorretta signature

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory