Christmas in Iraq 2006 & 2007

During my last deployment we spent the Christmas of 2006 and 2007 in Iraq. We were initially going to be in Iraq for Christmas of 2006 but due to the extension of our 12- month deployment to 15-months during the surge of 2007. We spent two Christmases in Iraq, below are some pictures of the two Christmases. 

Pictures of my Office and my Room 


Warrior Chapel Christmas 2007



Christmas Eve Service 2007



Dining Facility Christmas Celebration 2006



Have a Very Merry Christmas 2017 


The Magic Of Wassail Fest 2017

wassail festEvery year on the first Thursday of December the town of New Braunfels, Texas celebrates Wassail Fest a holiday tradition of wassailing while people enjoy steaming cups of wassail (pronounced wäˌsāl). Now you may be asking yourself “what in the world is wassail and why do people go about wassailing?” Wassail is a hot, mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and other secret ingredients often associated with the Yuletide and drunk from a ‘wassailing bowl’. Wassailing refers to a traditional ceremony that involves singing and drinking to the health of trees on the Twelfth Night in the hopes that they might better thrive. The purpose of wassailing is to awaken the cider apple trees to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the autumn. This year was the first time Beth and I attended Wassail Fest. To be honest, we really did not know what wassail was so I had to do a bit of research. At first I concluded wassail was simply hot apple cider. However, I soon learned wassail is not just hot apple cider, but it is a unique drink in its own right.

wassail 2

This year the week of Wassail fest was unique in itself. As the weather turned uncharacteristically cold for South Texas, which is best known for its hot and humid summers rather than for cold winters. We woke up on Thursday of Wassail Fest to a cold front with intermittent rain and drizzle. During the day there were rumors and hints from the weather forecasters that we might even get a bit of snow. I did not think much of it and never imagined that it would actually snow in the San Antonio area. That evening although it was cold and drizzling we made the decision to go to Wassail Fest despite the lack of ideal weather. So we went on a hunt for our hats and gloves that were hidden in the dark recesses of our coat closet and ventured out to enjoy our first Wassail Fest.

 My Wife Beth and I enjoying our first Wassail Fest 

As we arrived downtown the drizzle turned into a slight rain and the temperature continued to fall. About 45 minutes after we arrived the light rained turned into sleet and people were getting enthusiastic and saying “look it’s snowing”. Being from Alaska and having lived in the Midwest and the Eastern portion of the United States, I knew the difference between sleet and snow. So I was not impressed. But as time went on the sleet turned into small snowflakes, however they melted as soon as they touched anything. About fifteen minutes later it started to truly snow albeit very lightly. We noticed kids and adults were shouting and laughing as they watched the little bit of snow come down. Again being from Alaska and living in the snow states of the Midwest and the Eastern states I was not captivated by this snow fall. Then a miracle happened, I noticed the snow was beginning to stick to our jackets but not only that, it was actually accumulating on the ground. By this time there was an exhilarating feeling going around as many people experienced snow for the very first time.

People began to be aware of the magical moment that was going on around us; the moment was straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie. That evening in downtown New Braunfels kids and adults who had never experienced snow before were caught up in the wonder and excitement of playing in the snow. Just as others were caught up in the excitement so were we. While this was not the first snow we had experienced in our lives, it was unique enough for us to experience the magical moment that others were experiencing around us. For us the snow brought an additional awe as we started remembering the snow experiences of our past. We shared memories and stories with each other, recounting the first time our kids were old enough to remember playing in snow. These were special memories and brought joy to us as we recalled those days. The only thing we lacked that evening was having our son with us, he was 6 hours away at Texas Tech University enduring a very cold but snow free night.

As we returned home and saw our yard and patio furniture covered with snow, we were elated and were taking pictures like everyone else. What made it even more magical was up and down the street kids and parents were building snowmen. A sight I never thought I would see in South Texas. It truly was a magical and unforgettable moment.

For those of you who live in snow country you maybe asking yourself “what is the big deal about a little snow which did not even last for 24 hours?” Well, the last time it snowed in San Antonio was 32 years ago in 1985. I was a junior in High School in 1985; I was still living in Alaska experiencing a “real” winter and only dreaming of a winter without snow and cold.

But this post is not about snow, it’s not about the magical evening or about an additional “snow story” we can tell one day. What this post is about is the moment. It is about the decision I made a year ago to start living my life again. It is about not simply existing in my house isolated from people and the world around me. It is about the ability to step out and take the “risk” to go outside of my comfort zone and the protection of my house. It is about the joy I experienced when I choose to participate in life and choose to engage with my family, friends, neighbors and community. It is about my refusal to be trapped by my fears and the controlling symptoms of my PTSD. It is about you and your struggles, your fears, your need to hide, your refusal to live your life again. It is about the lies we tell ourselves: that it is not safe out there, that no one cares or understands. It is about the life robbing anger we harbor deep in our souls that keep us separate from others. It is about the false belief that we are happy and content held up in our dark and lonely houses while others are experience life without us. What made Wassail Fest so magical for me? Was it the snow? That was a part. But what really made this evening magical was I choose to be a part of it and I choose to venture outside of my so called safe haven of my house. I was there, I was with my family, friends and my community, I experienced life and it was magical.


Lost in Loneliness

One of  the most difficult parts of dealing with trauma and the effects of PTSD is the overwhelming sense of loneliness that one continually faces. Loneliness that is brought on by the thought “I am the only one who feels this way.” Loneliness that is brought on by the thought “No one understand what I’m going through.” Loneliness that is brought on by the belief “I have to be strong, so I can’t ask for help.”

loneliness femaleLoneliness that is brought on by the feelings “I can’t trust anyone.” The loneliness that is brought on by the belief people will see me as a “monster or evil.” These feeling invade our very soul and the view of ourselves so much so, that we find ourselves living a lonely, isolated and friendless life. Desperate for how things used to be, but never having the courage to break free from our loneliness. Thus, we never find a new acceptance for who we are now.

I found this poem on written by Mohammad Skati and I think it sums up what many of us feel as we deal with our loneliness.

                                                                 I Feel Alone

“There is nothing pretty like my loneliness Simply because I feel alone and lonely anytime, anywhere, and everywhere… There is no doubt that I am alone in every direction I turn to and I am lonely in the opposite direction… The more I look forward to encourage myself, the more I find myself greatly alone and lonely… I can explain some parts of my loneliness and I can’t explain some other parts fully… It’s not bad to be alone for a while, but It’s bad to stay alone for ever and ever… I feel as if I am lonely in this world Simply because everyone looks for one’s benefits… To be alone and to be lonely Mean to suffer greatly Simply because one needs others to listen to anytime… I feel alone… I feel alone… I feel alone”

As I read this poem I was reminded of Job’s cry over his frustration in not finding God.

“But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job 23:8-12

This cry is also echoed by David in Psalms 21:1-2.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

There is no crueler feeling than to feel we are abandon, that we suffer alone, and  feel secluded from all others.

lonliness maleThese thoughts are often the cry of our hearts. We face so much pain and suffering, we proclaim we suffered “more than our fair share.” We cry out because our hearts are lonely and we feel as though God has abandoned us. There is no crueler feeling than to feel we are abandon, that we suffer alone, and feel secluded from all others. One of the things I learned from my inpatient treatments is no matter how I feel, I’m not alone. While my experience may be different from others and the circumstances of my trauma is unique to myself, the effects of trauma are the same for all of us. I struggled with wanting to know where God is, why God allows evil and suffering and why people die in war. My struggles are no different from the struggles Job and David faced as they asked the same questions of God. What I find interesting is Job never receives an answer to his questions on why he was suffering and in the midst of David’s trials he had to wait patiently upon the Lord. I know what it is like to stand in the darkness of trauma, to be confronted with the questions of why, where and how and yet never seem to find the answers to these questions. I know the experience of the blackness that loneliness brings into our lives, the hopelessness that ensnare and robs us of even our desire to live. I also know the peace one can find in knowing God has not abounded us. Job says that while he is unable to find God, God still knew where Job was and the paths he takes. David finds peace knowing that in his anguish God still exists and He is enthroned as the Holy One.

Finding Peace with God

I wonder where you find yourself today? Are you lost in your struggles? Do you feel desperate? Are you living without hope? Is your loneliness so great that your only hope now resides in taking your own life? Is suicide your only remaining answer? My friends, I want you to know there is hope! You can find meaning and acceptance of who you are now. You can turn away from your suicidal thoughts and behaviors just as I turned away from my suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Where does this ability come from? It comes from many different places, individual and group therapy, it comes from family and friends, it may even come from medication. It certainty come from within, when you make a commitment to seek healing for yourself. But ultimately, true and lasting healing only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Here at Healing The Storm Ministry our belief is when all is said and done. It is our relationship with Jesus Christ that will deliver us from the life controlling power of our trauma. The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” If you want to know how to cast your cares upon Christ and experience the life changing power of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to check out Billy Graham’s website “Peace with God”