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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 

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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.

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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.

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 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 poemhunter.com 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” https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-feel-alone-10/

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” https://peacewithgod.net

 

 

Accentuating The Positives

Many Thanks

I have notice I have a tendency to focus on the negative while ignoring the positives in my life.

I am sure I am not the only one who ignores the positive to focus on the negative. It seems many of us who live with trauma maintain our focus on negative beliefs and feelings. We tend to look at the “what’s not going right” instead of “what is going right” in our lives. We are quick to declare our treatment and recovery process too slow or not working at all. When in reality, there are many things that are going right for us. So during Thanksgiving day week, I set out to post on Facebook, three times a day, to share what I am thankful for. It was a wonderful experience to spend the last few days thinking of the positive things in my life. So here is a list of some of the things I am thankful for.

 Things I am thankful for:

  • I am thankful for Mr. Robinson a teacher who always told me “Kevin, I expect great things from you.” I’ve strived to not let him down
  • I am thankful for U.S. Army Chaplain Jim King, who was a great mentor and an outstanding pastor. He helped shape me as a Chaplain.
  • I am thankful for Therapist Dr. Carrin Harper who literally kept me alive and would not let me give into my suicidal ideations.
  • I am thankful for the LA Baptist Rescue Mission. I was able to preach every Saturday during my first year of Bible college in 1986.
  • I am thankful for all the Godly men and women who invested their lives into our lives, so we could spend our life in Christian ministry.
  • I am thankful for those who developed Cognitive Processing Therapy and for those who took me through the difficult process.
  • I am thankful for Candice, Samantha and Jacob our young adult children who still wants to spend time with us.
  • I am thankful for the Pastor and the congregation of Oswego Baptist Church for sponsoring my ordination in 1986.
  • I am thankful for “Train a Dog, Save a Warrior” for providing training and certification of my service dog Delrin.
  • I am thankful for my beautiful bride Elizabeth who has stood by my side in the darkest moments of my life. Love you Honey!
  • I am thankful that I had the honor of serving in the United States Army for 21-years.
  • I am thankful for LTG Funk for giving me the freedom to minister to his Troopers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.
  • I am thankful for my Cardiologist in Danville, NJ for discovering my heart anomaly and for the surgeon in Morristown, NJ who corrected the problem with open heart surgery in 2010.
  • I am thankful for the Wounded Warrior Program and the leaders of the Male Odyssey retreat who helped me realize I am not “unfit” to live my life.
  • I am thankful for Paster Jared at  First Baptist Church New Braunfels for letting me lead a small group Bible study.
  • I am thankful for the great memories we have as a family while we enjoyed family vacations together.

This is by no means even close to a complete list, but it is a good start. Why not start your own list? You can start by sharing in the comments below what you are thankful for. 

 

 

 

Tired of Just Exsisting

I wanted to find some way to start living my life again.

My goal for 2017 was to start living my life again. For the past five years I was living with the burden of having PTSD and being controlled by the symptoms of my PTSD. Each year I faced a significant trial and had to make difficult choices on how I would handle the struggles. Some choices I made were good, others not so good. 2016 marked a high water mark for me; I saw no future for myself, had no passion or purpose and was spending the vast majority of my day doing nothing. I stayed inside my house as much as I could, only venturing out if there was a real need. Towards the fall of 2016, I was beginning to really get discouraged with the direction or lack of direction of my life. In September of 2016 I went to a Wounded Warrior event, I spoke with one of the combat stress recovery specialist who told me of a new program they offered. The program partnered with different treatment programs around the country, which offered Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) for combat veterans free of charge. road-home He recommended I look into the Road Home Program at Rush in Chicago, Illinois. I looked into the program and made a phone call about attending the program. After a multi-part review process, I was accepted into the program and headed for my three-week IOP in January 2017.

I did not go with a great sense of optimism, my goal was simple; I wanted to find some way to start living my life again. I wanted to stop hiding in my house and avoiding people, events and places. I did not want to be controlled by my loss of purpose any longer. I went to hopefully find some sort of spark that would set me on the track to living again. I noticed about 10-days into the program nothing was happening for me. I began to think this whole experience was going to be a bust. Then I had a break through, I recalled a very traumatic experience I had in Bosnia in 1999. The experience served as

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My Office in the Camp Eagle Chapel Tuzla, Bosnia 1999

the basis of an overwhelming feeling of danger and a view that I was a liability to my fellow Soldiers. I never understand why I was so upset during my deployments to Iraq for not having a weapon and for having to rely on others for my protection. I knew as a chaplain, I would never carry a weapon and I would have to rely on others for my protection. I accepted that limitation and was ok with it, but my view changed when I deployed to Iraq. I saw myself as a liability to others; I thought I was putting people in danger. I resented the fact that Soldiers were assigned to provide protection for me. I wanted a weapon so I did not have to rely on others and put others in danger because they were protecting me. Once I was confronted with those feeling in therapy, I was asked why I felt this way, knowing as a chaplain I could not carry a weapon. That question led me to explore where those feeling came from. It was then; I was reminded of the very dangerous and traumatic event that took place in Bosnia. As we worked through the traumatic experience in Bosnia, I began to see some amazing changes in my thinking and my view of myself. When I graduated from the program and I returned home, I brought with me a new hope. A hope that I just might be able to regain my life again.

I came home with just a small spark of hope that 2017 would be different.

February 2017 was a challenge, as I had to make the decision if I was actually going to move forward or fall back into the pattern of 2016. I chose to move forward and in March I formed the foundation of Healing the Storm Ministry. My focus with the ministry is to help people find spiritual healing. With this goal in mind, I established healingthestorm.com. My purpose of the website and blog is to share my experiences with living with PTSD. I want to also share from a Biblical perspective how we can overcome the spiritual injury we experience as a result of trauma and traumatic experiences. There are many who think the only ones who suffer from PTSD are combat veterans. But we know this is not the case. PTSD can and does affect anyone who has experienced trauma in his or her life. I want Healing the Storm Ministry to reach all those who suffer from the effects of living with traumatic experiences. I want to share how a loving God and a loving Savior can bring healing to our wounded souls.

So far 2017 has proven to be a significant year for me.

Not only have I made the decision to start healingthestorm.com but I have also made efforts to overcome my desire to hide in my house. I have even gone so far as to consider getting a job for the first time since I was medically retired from the Army. 2017 also marked my 50th Birthday and the 10-years since my last deployment to Iraq. It was in 2007 that I began to experience my PTSD symptoms from my first deployment to Iraq in 2004 and from my deployment to Bosnia in 1999. More importantly, I do not want my 50s to be like the last five years of my 40s.

goal

My goal for 2018 is to make even more progress in living my life. I realize if I am going to make my 50s different from my 40s I must start now and not wait until later. At this stage of  my life, I don’t have the luxury to wait until later. If something is going to happen it must start now. I cannot afford to allow 2018 to be another year of simply existing. When I first thought of the concept for Healing the Storm Ministry I wanted it to more than just a website and blog. My desire was to one day develop it into an active fulltime ministry. My hope is to start a ranch for those who are seeking spiritual healing for their trauma. I had no idea how this would be accomplished or what was needed to actually make it happen.

I am currently working with a mentor who is helping me get back into the work force. I met with him last week and gave him some of my business cards. On the cards I have my website listed and he took a look at the website last week. He approached me yesterday and asked me what my thought was about expanding Healing the Storm Ministry into a non-profit ministry. He shared with me how as a non-profit I could pursue faith-based grants focused on reaching out to those who suffer with PTSD. He told me some grants would allow me to teach or conduct seminars and retreats. My mentor has experience with non-profits and is successful in securing faith-based grants to conduct seminars and retreats. He told me yesterday he would be very interested in helping me through the process and help take Healing the Storm Ministry to a new level. This is just what I needed to make 2018 and my first year of my 50s different from the previous 5-years. There is lots of work, challenges and discouragement waiting down the road, but there are also many rewards, successes and life changing opportunities down that same road.

This morning I was reminded of the Psalmist who wrote

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him Ps 37:1-7a

 

Lesson Four Notes: Where is God in the Hard Times

The lesson four notes are now available to view on my website. Just click on the “Where is God in the Hard Times” page. This week we look at the Application of the Biblical interpretation of Job 19:25-27.