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.

IMG_2246
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 snowfall. 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 the 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 may be 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, you 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 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 the 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.

 

WAKING UP TO ANOTHER DAY WITH PTSD.

Sometime I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “Yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.”

When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I was pretty critical about the diagnosis. I thought the diagnosis was just a convenient way for my treatment team to wash their hands of me. It seemed in my mind; by labeling me with PTSD, they could resolve themselves from the responsibility of actually helping me through my problems. I did not believe I had PTSD, I had not engaged in combat, I had not been “blown up” or received any type of physical injuries. I was a chaplain, a non-combatant; I did not even carry a weapon of any kind. There was no way I could have PTSD.dejection 2 What right do I have to claim such a diagnosis when so many others have a legitimate reason for having PTSD? For years I struggled with the question “Do I actually have PTSD or am I just making all this up?” To be honest, there are still times I wonder if I really have PTSD. I often feel guilty about being labeled with PTSD when there are others that truly suffer from PTSD. Sometimes, I wish I had physical wounds I could look at and tell myself “yea, you have PTSD all right, just look at the scars.” What I really wish for is some traumatic story of a horrific event that I survived, so I can look back and say, “This is the event that triggered my PTSD.” But my PTSD did not come from one event alone, it came over many events. For me, it is like I have to string together all these “little” events to somehow form a reasonable justification for having PTSD. I think some of the feelings come from Hollywood and the string of Iraq war movies that are coming out. Some films tackle the issue of PTSD. Pretty much all the movies are based on the Service Member going through a horrific battle or ambush where they survived while others died. The other scenario that seems to get a lot of attention in movies is a Humvee being blown-up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). All this leads to a sense of guilt for me. I often feel as though I’m playing a game and one day the truth will come out that I never had PTSD. Then I will be exposed as a fraud, a dirtbag, and a lazy bum just trying to get one over on the government.

“Sometimes the Greatest Wound a Soldier Suffers from is the Wound No One Can See”

It is hard some days to deal with my PTSD. There are days when I want to wake up and say “It’s all a lie, I’ve been duped by all these doctors and counselors who just threw this label on me.” Sometimes, I want more than anything to tell myself “Get over it and stop acting like you have PTSD, start living your life like a normal person.” There are other days when I wake up, and I tell myself, “Its all over, I no longer have PTSD, I’m cured, and I have conquered it.” Then a memory creeps into my mind, I have disturbing thoughts and dreams, I hear a loud sound, I see something that reminds me of Iraq, a car speeds up behind me on the freeway, I get lost and end up on a narrow road that I don’t know where it goes. So I become hyper-vigilant, I get scared; I have the urge to defend myself or run away from danger, I’m overcome with an urge to hide and disassociate myself from the world around me. When I first went through treatment for PTSD, I heard people say “I would never wish PTSD on anyone.” To be honest, I thought they were melodramatic; they were simply seeking someone to feel sorry for them. I know better now, and I understand what it means to “not wish PTSD on anyone.” Yet despite my desires and wishes that my PTSD would just go away, I still wake up each day facing another day with PTSD.  Some days I am very good at it, other days not so much.

Finding God’s Peace in the Midst of Hurricanes

At this this very moment there are millions of people experiencing the very real despair and pain of living through the hurricanes over the last few weeks.

As I began to write this morning I wanted to see when I last posted and in doing so I decided to take a peek at my stat page. What I found surprised me and caused me to pause. I enjoy seeing what countries people are from as they read my blog. What I saw this morning surprised me, I have had some people reading my blog from the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands in the last few days. At first, I was a bit puzzled why people were reading my blog posts from the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands nations, especially as many are recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Irma. I wondered why people who are recovering from Irma would take the time to read my blog about my PTSD. However, I notice the blog posts they were reading was not about my PTSD experiences or struggles, they were reading the posts I had written about God’s grace and healing in the midst of our storms. they were reading my post on “God our refuge” “Our hope is found in Christ” “Caught in the storm” “The Psalms 91 Crisis.”

At this very moment, there are millions of people experiencing real despair and pain of living through the hurricanes over the last few weeks.  For some, they are just now beginning to experience the emotional and spiritual storms that inevitably result from living through a traumatic event. Over the next few days, weeks and months people will start to seek answers to their questions, and some will look to God for some kind of peace and deliverance from their storms.

IN THE MIDST OF THESE GREAT NATURAL DISASTERS GOD HAS NOT CEASED TO BE! atlantic-ocean-hurricane-irma-jose

My message for those who have experienced the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia over the last few weeks is that God has not forgotten you. He has not forsaken you nor has He cast you aside. God understands your anguish, pain, suffering, brokenness, and hopelessness. In the midst of these great natural disasters God has not ceased to be, He has not and will not turn His back upon you.

Continue reading “Finding God’s Peace in the Midst of Hurricanes”