I can once again declare with all certainty “That God’s love is never-ending, that He does not leave us in a state of hopelessness to wonder by ourselves in the midst of trouble.”
One of the symptoms of PTSD is the inability to remember details or facts about the traumatic event. Frequently when we are missing details about our traumatic events we experience unexplained fear, anger, resentment or even dazed confusion. Generally, this loss of memory can affect us for years. Instead of remembering the event itself or the details of the event, we are merely left with a big black cloud of nothing. Many times we wish we could remember what actually happened because staring into the dark abyss of lost memories is exhausting and wears upon one’s emotions.
A few weeks ago, I came across one of my Battalion Chaplains Dan Kersey on Facebook. He was the chaplain for the historic 1-7 Cavalry Battalion when I was the brigade chaplain during Iraqi Freedom 2006-2008. I have not talked with him since I left the brigade in the summer of 2008. 1-7 was the unit I referred to in my first blog post “A Moment in Time.” I wrote that the attack on 2-8 Cavalry Battalion in Taji Market happened during the memorial ceremony for 3 of the 1-7 Soldiers. I knew the attack against 2-8 happened in August of 2007 but I was unaware of the exact date. So I messaged Dan and asked if he remembered the date of the ceremony. He told me he would check his records. Roughly an hour later, he messaged me and said the only ceremony they had conducted for multiple soldiers was in December of 2007. I was surprised by this news, I was sure the attack took place during the 1-7 memorial ceremony. I began to doubt myself and wonder if the memories I had, really occurred. I spent the next few hours searching the web trying to match up these dates. During my search I found two websites. The first was a website that listed the names and dates of Texas service members who were killed in the Iraqi theater. The second website listed the suicide attacks that occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Between these two websites my memory of that day become clearer.
The first website listed one of our brigade sergeants who was killed in a mortar attack on our Forward Operation Base of Taji. SGT S. was hit with a small piece of shrapnel while walking back to the housing area from the shopette. The attack took place on 15 August 2007. The mortars landed in the housing area just behind Warrior Chapel, where my office was located. I have debated whether I should go over the details of this day in this post. I have ultimately decided that I’m not ready to share publicly the detail of this day, as it was one of the worst days during my deployment with the 1st Brigade. I will say though, I remember standing outside the small ER and watching the medical team treat SGT S. The only physical wound that SGT S. had, was a small puncture wound near the heart. When the doctor cut into SGT. S so much blood pour out, that SGT. S literally floated in the pool of blood that formed in the depression of the gurney. SGT S. died that day on the gurney. Since I was the Brigade Chaplain and I was there, I was asked to Identify SGT S. so the doctor could call the time of death. I remember looking down at SGT S. seeing the gray ashen body that had lost all if its blood. At that moment all I could do was stare at the body, I could not remember SGT S’ name. The doctor kept asking me to identify the remains and I could not remember the name. I truly tried but I could not remember, so I just stood there staring.
The second website I found listed the twin suicide vehicle attack on the joint U.S. and Iraqi combat outpost in the town of Taji. This attack took place on 22 August at 8:45 P.M. This was the same night the memorial ceremony was held for SGT S. The ceremony was not the 1-7 memorial ceremony that I thought. It was in actuality the ceremony I conducted for SGT S. The night of 22 August 2007 was the culmination of a very traumatic week. I do not remember much of this week; everything seems to run together. I remember the last thing we did on 15 August was to escort the remains of SGT S. to the Angel flight (Angel Flights are flights that move the remains). The next thing I clearly remember is walking out of the community center after the attack on 2-8 and heading back to my room in utter despair. It was not until my discussion with Dan a few days ago that the truths of this “Moment in Time” for me become clear. As I look back and remember sharing this event with my counselors and writing about it. I somehow equated the 1-7 memorial ceremony to the day 2-8 was attacked and the day I come to my spiritual and emotional breaking point. I am not sure why I did this. In hindsight, I assume I was trying to hide the real reason I come to my braking point. On that day, I stopped believing what I was preaching and teaching about God’s care and protection.
As I was writing this post I decided to dig through my files and I found the memorial ceremony message that I gave on that night. This is a portion of what I said the night of 22 August 2007.
David writes in Psalms 138:7-8 “ Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my enemy, with your right hand you save me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands” While death is a reality for us all, we are reminded in the Scriptures that God is in our midst even when we walk amidst great trouble. David tells us that God’s stretches out his hand against the wrath of our enemies, and it is with his right hand that he protects and keeps us. We are reminded that the love of God endures forever; this means that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Paul writes in Romans 8:35-37. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.
My friends we can take comfort tonight in knowing that no matter what happens in this life, we are never separated from the love of God. The pain of death cannot separate us from the love of God; neither can the hand of the enemy separate us from the love of God. For God’s love endures forever. When the love of mankind fades and the support and comfort comes to an end, the love of God still abounds. My friends, I declare unto you that God’s love is never-ending, that he does not leave us in a state of hopelessness to wonder by ourselves in the midst of trouble. No, we cannot and are not separated from the loving hand of God. The hand which he stretches forth to comfort us in our trouble, the right hand of God that reaches down and steadies us in the uncertainties of life, the hand that wraps around our grieving and trembling soul to comfort us in our deep anguish. The Scriptures declare that God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, the one who comforts us in all our troubles. So this evening my friends I urge you to turn to the loving and comforting hand of God, the hand that will never forsake us nor leave us in our sorrow.
Approximately 30 minutes after saying these words, I heard and felt the explosion coming from 2-8. In my mind, the words I had just spoken were proven to be a lie. I had just finished telling the soldiers that God would not leave us nor forsake us to the enemy. Yet here we are, not even finished with this ceremony and it happened again. It was at that “Moment in Time” that my road of despair, hopelessness, confusion, suicidal behavior and anger towards God began. This road led me thru a long dark journey that I was unprepared to take. Yet through this dark journey God has never forsaken me, He loved me even in my anger and slowly brought me back into right relationship with Him. After many years on this journey, I can once again declare with all certainty “that God’s love is never-ending, that he does not leave us in a state of hopelessness to wonder by ourselves in the midst of trouble.”