We are not the sum of our trauma, Our trauma is simply a part of who we are now.
The attack on our Combat outpost Taji Market delivered a spiritual blow that shook the very foundation of my spiritual life. The following morning I woke up to the reality of the attack on our COP. I was faced once again with the duty of supervising another memorial ceremony, but this time I asked myself what difference does it make There is no way our Soldiers could sit through another ceremony and listen to our empty words of encouragement and hope. I could not bring myself to accept that what we offered to our Soldiers mattered and that our message of hope had any real impact upon anyone. How many times could we read the Psalms, pray for God’s comfort and healing, share our belief of God’s protection and yet watch as even more Soldiers die? I was convinced that our Soldiers must view us with contempt and view our message as senseless and offensive. It was a revelation that hunted me for many years, a revelation that brought me to the deepest spiritual struggle that I had ever faced in my life.
Between August of 2007 and through the first six months of 2012, I hid this struggle. I ignored the deeply soul troubling questions I was faced with. In August of 2012, I was transferred to FT. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Where I was assigned as the Deputy Installation Chaplain. I had undergone open-heart surgery in 2010 to correct a birth defect and due to some complications, I was still going through the recovery process when I was transferred to Ft. Sam Houston. As I was going through the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC), I was once again confronted with the reality of war. SAMMC is one of the major military hospitals for treating our wounded military personnel. They have a world-class burn unit and the Center for the Intrepid is a world-class treatment center for those who have lost limbs. For the first time since I left Iraq in January of 2008 I could not escape my deepening struggle of doubt and anger. Each time I went to the hospital, I would see wounded men and women and I would be reminded of my struggle. Each wounded service member I saw, brought back the painful doubts and spiritual struggles that I was struggling with since that moment in Iraq.
All this came to a head one winter morning as I was heading to the hospital for an appointment. As I walked towards the front entrance, I saw a service member in a wheel chair waiting for a ride. As I looked at him, I noticed right away just how dejected he looked. I instantly thought to myself “this man needs a chaplain”. At that moment I saw a man who needed someone to minister to him. I was reminded that I was a chaplain and I was the chaplain he needed at this moment. However, every part of my wounded soul cried out to me to ignore him. All my doubts, questions, debates and issues of whether my message had any significance at all came flooding back. I only had a few moments to decide what I was going to do. As I contemplated what I would do, I found myself in a battle of a lifetime; what was I going to do? The time was short; I only had a few seconds to make a decision. Then I finally decided what I was going to do. … I would simply walk past him without acknowledging his presence.
Our Trauma defines just a part of who we are, not who we are.
I knew at that moment I had lost. I had lost my compassion, my sense of caring, my soul had given over to the hopelessness of despair. I was so tightly wrapped up in my own despair, denial, and spiritual anger that I could not even recognize myself any longer. I knew at that moment, I was in deep trouble and I needed help. I wish I could say that, that moment in time was a major turning point for me, but in reality it was not. It sunk me into even more despair and anger towards God. It was just the continuation of a very long struggle that led to four hospitalizations, an intense struggle with suicide, the loss of my career, the incredible emotional pain of being told that I was “unfit for military service” and an even more intense questioning of God and the truth of my message.
It is easy for us to lose our identity and lose who we used to be. It is true that our trauma has changed us forever. We will never be the same, our life experiences has changed and we cannot go back to the way it used to be. The way we look at the world, our safety, our family, ourselves and how we understand God, has all changed. That is just reality. But it does not mean we need to be lost in a meaningless life. This meaninglessness happens when we stay focused on what has changed and not on who we are now. We have not stopped being ourselves, we have not somehow vanished and ceased to be. We are not the sum of our trauma, our trauma is simply a part of who we are now. Our trauma defines just a part of who we are, not who we are. Our understanding of God may have changed, but the truth of who He is, has not changed. While we may feel that we have lost the ability to love or be loved by God. God’s love for us has not changed. His care, compassion and love for us, is just a real as it was before we experienced our trauma.
“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.”Ps 118:5 NLT