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 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.

 

50th Birthday Musings And A Tragedy

 

perfect 10sToday marks my 50 years here on planet earth, the “big 5 oh”, “the over the hill” birthday, the “your eligible for AARP birthday,” the “your half a century old” birthday. I suppose most people approach their 50th birthday the same way I have. I am looking back on my fifty years, and I am thinking how different my life would be if I had the wisdom, understanding, and experience I have now when I was 20. To have what I have gained in 50 years and still have my youth, to be in shape and have all my hair would be tremendous. I imagine many of the decisions I made would be greatly different. I imagine I would accept those opportunities that were presented to me instead of passing them up, only to later regret not taking them. I wonder if I would still have made some of the same dumb decisions I’ve made over my 50 years of living? Hindsight allows me to look at the good choices I made and the bad choices I made. I am able to take pride in the many accomplishments and good choices I made as well as recognize the bad choices I made. As I look back on my life thus far, I realize hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight makes it easy to ask myself “what was I thinking.” It allows me to feel both regret and delight in the decisions I made over the last 50 years. It also allows me to play the “what if game” What if I had said no instead of yes, what if I had gone to another school or college? What if I had accepted or stayed at a particular assignment? While hindsight can give us a better appreciation of our past experiences and decisions, it cannot answer the “what lays ahead” questions that I am now faced with.

 

funny-50th-birthday-gift-straight-outta-1967-adjustable-apronWhen I went to bed last night, I thought about how different my life’s course has taken. I had many plans for this time of my life. On my 50th birthday, I expected to have reached the golden milestone of military service, 20 years on active duty. I assumed I would stay on active duty for another five years and retire at 55. Our goal was to retire and live in our RV full-time traveling across North America. What I did not anticipate was the results of spending two years at war. I went to war knowing  I could be killed or even come home with serious physical injuries. I was ok with that, and I freely took my chances and went to war. What I never thought about was coming home with the unseen injury of PTSD. I was unprepared for the emotional and spiritual struggles that go along with having PTSD. I did not anticipate the years of depression, hopelessness, suicidal tendencies and gloom that would follow me years after returning from war. I did not predict the extended psychiatric hospital stays, the treatments I would undergo and the medications I would end up taking. When I went to war, I never anticipated that soon after returning from war I would lose my military profession at the very pinnacle of my career. It never crossed my mind that going to war would cost me the opportunity to continue my lifelong love of being a full-time minister.

These were the thought I had last night when I went to bed. Then this morning I woke up and saw for the first time the horror that took place in Las Vegas. I was shocked and horrified by what I saw as the news was unfolding before me. I felt the same sense of disbelief I experienced when I turned on the TV on September 11, 2001. I watched about an hour of news this morning when I left for a doctor’s appointment. As I drove to my appointment I took the time to rethink my thoughts from last night in light of what happened in Las Vegas. I did not come up with any life-changing insights or ideas, I merely reflected on the fact that for many people life does not go as they plan. Not one of the 22,000 plus people who were at the concert last night had any expectations the night would turn out the way it did. Over an extended ten-minute period, the lives of tens of thousands of people changed forever. Hopes, dreams, and expectations all vanished in a hail of fire. Lives were lost, people suffered horrific injuries, while others suffered less threatening injuries. Some escaped the shooting with little or no injuries at all. Some will bear the hidden emotional and spiritual wounds of PTSD. In light of this terrible event, my life story seems small; my struggles don’t look as bad as others. My complaint of how my life is different from what I had planned, really does not seem all that important. My experiences, twists and turns and where I find myself today is just part of life.

My story is not unique; I’m not the only one whose life has taken a traumatic turn. I do not stand alone as an example of how life can unfairly mess with someone’s dreams. Although my life has taken a different course than I had anticipated, I still have my life. I still have those who love me, and I love them. I still have a future before me. I still have years of living before me, if God so chooses to grant me more days on this earth. I still have opportunities that lay ahead of me. I have no idea of what the rest of my life will look like, all I know is, I have this very moment in time, and it is my choice on what I will do with it.

 

Where is God in the Hard Times: Lesson Two Notes

I have published the lesson two note on my class Where is God in the Hard Times.  These note are found on the Where is God in the Hard Times page. 

Hope you enjoy these notes.

Faced With Three Choices

When I Woke Up This Morning I Had Three Choices And I Could Only Choose One 

Yesterday I was going through our closet as part of our ritual spring-cleaning event. As I was going through our “hopeful” section of the closet; this is the area where we put the clothes we like but have somehow shrunk on us. The cloths in this  section are the clothes we hope to one day be able to wear again.  However, we never seem to enjoy that experience. So from time to time reality sets in and we go through our “hopeful” section. As we are faced with reality, we finally relent and get rid of our “hopeful” cloths. However, we always make sure we leave some “hopeful” cloths to motivate us until the next onset of reality hits us. IMG_0518The far right corner of our hopeful section is where I have hung my Army dress and mess uniforms, they are in garment bags and simply occupy their space in the dark corner of my closet. As I was going through the hopeful clothes, I ran across one of my dress shirts and a pair of my dress pants for my dress uniform. They were on separate hangers so I combined the two and hung them next to the two garment bags that held my full dress uniforms.

As I looked at the garment bags I decided to unzip one of the bags and take a look at the uniform. I was greeted with my dress uniform, everything was in its proper place, my awards, my combat identifier badge, my name badge, my chaplain crest and all the other items I have on my dress uniform. The uniform was just the way I left it. I gazed at the uniform for just a few seconds and immediately felt a deep sense of sadness. So I quickly zipped the bag back up and walked out of the closet. For the remainder of the day I felt sad, I felt a little depressed, as the day wore on my feeling of sadness and depression grew. By the time I went to bed I was feeling pretty sad and went into a little funk. I told my wife that I was feeling down and she asked my why, my response was “I’m not sure.” Then I remembered how I felt after looking at my uniform this morning and it made sense why I was feeling the way I was. Those few seconds when I was looking at my dress uniform, I was reminded how much I miss being in the Army. It reminded me that at one point in my life, I woke up each morning with a plan and ended each day knowing I had accomplished that plan. I miss having that feeling of significance.

This morning when I woke up, I had a few decisions to make. Was I going to spend the day feeling depressed and just sit around the house all day doing nothing? Or am I going to sit around the house living in a “could have been” world? Would I spend the day imaging what my life would have been if I had not been medically retired due to PTSD? Was I going to imagine what my assignment would have been? Where I could be living and wondering what my promotion packet would look like. I also had a third and more difficult choice available. Will I get out of bed; appreciate the opportunity I had to serve in the U.S. Army for 21 years? Will I be thankful for what I have? Will I focus my day on the here and now and plan for my son’s arrival tomorrow from his first year of college? Will I prepare for and be busy getting ready for our family cruise on Saturday? Choices one and two are the easiest choices; I’m very good at sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and being depressed. I’m even better at choice number two. I have spent many days, weeks and months over the last few years living in my “what could have been” world.

The hardest choice is choice number three; it is the one that demands the most from me. It is the one that requires the most energy and the most commitment. It is also the one that has the greatest reward, the one that will continue leading me doIMG_0525wn the road of healing and overcoming the debilitating symptoms of my PTSD. It is the one that will allow me to enjoy the day, prepare for the homecoming of my son and the one that will move me a step close to living the life I truly want to live.
I loved my time in the Army, I am proud of my service and what I accomplished over the 21 years of my service. I am proud of the way my dress uniform looks. I am thankful for what I have now.

So I choose number three, the hardest choice of the three.

 

 

Had to Take A Break To Watch Some Cruise Ships.

When I started this blog in February, it was my intention to post a new post at least once a week if not twice a week. However, no matter how noble the intentions are, life gets in the way and in some cases the symptoms of PTSD get in the way. Last week I received a letter from the VA asking for a copy of my Physical Evaluation Board findings. They need the report to continue justifying one of the VA benefits I receive. This was no big deal, I had the form and it was no issue to drive to the VA hospital to drop it off. However, the emotional aspect of once again reading the report and seeing the phrase “unfit for continued military service” brought back a lot of uneasy feelings. I took the report with me to my Tuesday appointment with my therapist. We talked about it for a while and decided to continue the discussion during our next appointment. On the way home, I decided it would be a good topic to blog about. I started working on the blog post but found it was a bit harder than expected. While working on it, I came to the realization that it’s not going to be ready to post until next week. So I decided to write a short blog about one of our favorite activities. If you have read the get to know chaplain doll page, you will know that my family and I love to cruise

Taking our adult kids on a cruise May 20th, on the Carnival Valor.

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Living in Texas, as we do, makes it easy to take cruises, as the port of Galveston is about three hours from where we live. Which makes it really convenient to cruise, as we don’t have the extra expense of air travel, hotel stays and transportation cost between the airport, hotel and the cruise terminal. Living close to Galveston saves us about $2000 per cruise. As a result, we take about one cruise a year. Sometimes it just Beth and I, which our adult children thinks is unfair. But hey, there should be some kind reward for us, for raising our kids successfully. Taking a cruise without them seems like just the right reward. But at last, they made us feel so bad last year that we have been cruising without them. That we booked a cruise for all of us for May 20th and gave it to them as a Christmas gift. So as of today, we have 57 days before our next family cruise, which by the way will be our first cruise where all of our children are adults. Which is scary in it self. Anyway, we are getting excited and the kids (adults) are also getting excited. We are going to Cozumel and to Yucatan, Mexico. We have booked a four-wheel ATV excursion in Cozumel, which should be lots of fun especially as we have never done an ATV excursion before. When we go to Yucatan, we are going to visit the beautiful Mayan City of Uxmal, (pronounced Ush-Mal) considered one of the most beautiful cities in the Mayan world. I figured we needed to do this because we are taking the kids. Everyone knows there has to be an educational moment when one takes the kids on vacation, even when they are adults. Sorry kids, but that is the price of going on a cruise with your parents.

Continue reading “Had to Take A Break To Watch Some Cruise Ships.”