Dad, what’s your greatest fear?

General

“What’s your greatest fear?”

She asked me this on a Sunday morning at Whataburger over a pancake platter. Her little eyes looked directly into mine through her smudged glasses, with no trace of irony or humor. She wanted to know.

In our family, we’ve made it a practice to answer questions seriously with honesty and directness. It does not matter what the subject is – race, sex, math, dish washing – we approach everything the same.

And with L, she’s ALWAYS asking questions. Sometimes, at night, we’re forced to ban questions until the morning. Her brain is just always on and wondering.

But jeez, it’s our Sunday morning date to Whataburger, and talking about my greatest fear is… not my favorite.

“Well, for me, I have always been afraid that I’ll get a life-threatening disease right after I retire from the Army.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know that I only have about 3 and a half years before I can retire from the Army and be a civilian again right?” She nods.

“My greatest fear is that I will have made it through three combat deployments, three years as a prison chaplain, I don’t know how many field exercises and trips away from you all – just to get cancer after I’ve finally finished and gotten my pension. I’ve seen it at the hospital, and it scares me. I don’t think I will, but that’s my fear.”

“Oh.” She looked thoughtful and then said, “my greatest fear is spiders. I do not like spiders. With their legs and swarming. Did you know a dolphin…”

(She is an Enneagram 7 after all. She does not stay long with pain.)

We’re moving soon. For Sara and myself it’s old hat, but for the kids, it is not getting easier with age. It’s getting harder. Questions always get darker when we get closer to a move. There is anxiety and fear; death lingers in the air. Moving is like a death. The last month is so painful. It’s just one goodbye after another.

I am grieving leaving here. We’ve been here longer than any other duty station, and it shows. We’ve settled. The kids have found their people. It’s been a good few years. I am grieving leaving the CPE center where I’ve been the director for the last year; I have spent the last decade working for this job and leaving it hurts. I know that going to my next assignment – working at the US Army Chaplain Center & School and setting up a new center for extended CPE – will be fulfilling, but that does not take away the sadness of leaving this one.

Death is always present in life. I think we often spend so much energy avoiding it, we miss out on the life that is here, in the now. At least I do. I fear dying after my career is over and my new one is starting. However, for me, owning that out loud is what it takes for me to attend to the death anxiety and be in the moment. Perhaps that’s what happened this morning: L and I observed our greatest fears… and then enjoyed our pancakes.

Be well.

Dad+Fire=Happy

General

When I was a kid, we lived in a large farmhouse heated by wood during the day. There was, as I recall, a massive oil furnace in the basement, but by my count (I brought in all the wood – my memory) we heated Firewith wood. Winters in Michigan were so cold. The wind would whip over the field in front of our house and blow into the old house. On school mornings, Dad would stand at the foot of the stairs and call us to wake up. I’d stick my foot out of my warm blankets and feel the cold wood floor. 

He often had to call twice.

Sometimes, in the cold evenings, we’d all be drawn to the dining room which had an iron wood stove that could be piping hot. Sometimes, my mom would go into the living room and play her baby grand piano. It was always an indicator to me that she was in a good place and life was in order. The Ennea 6 “Loyalist” in me would feel safe and secure surrounded by the family I loved. 

The song I remember most was the Turkish Rondo by Mozart. To this day, the song has a peaceful, calming effect on me.

As a parent, I can look back on that and know that it may or may not have been true that my mom was in a good place but it certainly is the meaning I made of that memory.

This memory came back to me the other night when, after working on a table in the garage, I went to the back and started a fire in the firepit. It was a lovely Texas January evening and my pipe and whiskey were calling my name. I was fully immersed in the flame when I heard my 8-year-old come around the corner, take one look and say loudly:

“Dad + Fire = Happy!!!”

Then, she pulled up a chair and sat down telling me (seemingly without having the need to actually breathe) how much she likes fire and if she were a Pokemon she would have to be a fire type. 

Clearly, she too can interpret the mood of her parents.

Like father, like daughter.

Surprising Silence

General

One of the realities about camp life is that there is no silence. There is always noise. If you are in a tent, either the heater/air is running or the constant hum of the generator assures you that life is happening. Outside the tent, there are vehicles, machinery, the machinations of a war camp, and, lets not forget, the heart-stopping sound of the alarm letting you know trouble is coming fast.

Then, there are the people. Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors, Civilians, Local Nationals – people everywhere you go! There is no sanctuary where there are not people. Even in the portajon, a solitude against the ever maddening crowd, you can hear clearly the people in the stall next to you.

Tents are full of people. There are the day sleepers who work at night and the night sleepers who work in the day. Everyone is trying to be quiet and everyone is making noise. Sometimes the harder one tries to stay quiet, the more grating the noise. Especially when trying to sleep.

All the noise is for me reassuring. I grew up in a large family, one of 12 children, and noise really does not phase me. I’ve never really liked being fully alone. This is not to say that I like talking. The introvert in me loves silence and space but I also like knowing others are close by. At home, my family is ever present. In the field, my Soldiers are ever present. It’s actually one of the things I love about his work.

Two nights ago, I was reassigned to a new tent. I went into the tent and in it was the unit that we replaced, they were waiting for their flight home. Last night, after leaving Bible study at the chapel, I returned to an empty tent. It was surreal. I don’t think I have ever, in 11 years of Army service, spent a night alone in a tent. It was so odd. Even a little unnerving.IMG_20160229_083507520

I woke up with a start about 02 and heard nothing. The generator outside the tent had shut off and I could literally hear nothing. It was so weird. There was no shuffling about in cots, no rolling over, no hum of laptops playing movies, no hushed conversations, no clumping of boots from Soldiers returning from missions. Just silence. Then, the generator kicked back on and it sounded right again. It was still a little odd as I was the only one in the tent (there is another crew coming in tonight so it’s a one night experience) and could hear only my thoughts.

I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Such surprising silence.

Why I use “they” when writing

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The other day, I got a paper back in which I had been marked down for using the word “they” to speak of “Soldier” in the singular voice.

Here’s why – I am intentional about using gender neutral language when speaking about gender neutral things. If I am actually talking about a man – I’ll use masculine. If I’m talking about a female – I’ll use feminine.

However, when writing about commanders (CDRs), Soldiers, and Chaplains, I am inclusive about it. I’ve had female CDRs and certainly have experienced both male and female Soldiers and Chaplains. However, I consistently experience educated, thoughtful people referring to ALL CDRs, ALL Soldiers, and emphatically ALL Chaplains as… “He”.

The other day in class, I could barely suppress my annoyance when I pointed out, yet again, out loud and in class to the professor that not ALL my Soldiers were men.

And again, I say, “Really? You have to be reminded of that? In 2014??”

So here is a great video that highlights how the plural word “they” is increasingly being used as a gender neutral pronoun… even in the singular.

I’ll keep using it. Thank you very much.

Gender Neutral Pronouns …: http://youtu.be/46ehrFk-gLk

First Day

General, Two Pastor Family

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She was shaking her head, “no.” I really wanted her to say yes, so badly did I want her to say “yes.” But, she didn’t. She didn’t need me to stay. No matter how much I wanted to sit with her, hold her hand, keep her 6 forever, it was not going to happen. She was shaking her head and then said out loud, “no.”

It was time for me to go. It was time for her to grow.

This morning has been coming for months. She’ll be 7 in December. She had to start 1st grade sometime and sometime was this morning.

First grade is different somehow. Kindergarten is a separate issue altogether. When the numbered grades start, the clock starts. Today was 1. In twelve years, it’ll be done.

12 short years.

At breakfast, she was so excited. Anticipation was palpable. She had her new outfit, chosen for the first day of school, new backpack, new shoes, new everything. All I could see was my little one. My little girl I left as an infant on that second deployment. The little toddler I came home to. My oldest. My little that could now read and sing and reason. My pride.

We took pictures and off we went.

The process for this school is that everyone gathers in the school cafeteria and then the teachers take the students off to their assigned classroom. I walked her into the school, down the hallway and into a crowded cafeteria. I expected to hand her off to another adult but its 1st grade and she needed to do this on her own. I shook hands with a teacher who showed her where to sit.

We hugged. I saw a tear in her eye and that’s when mine started to get red. I asked her if she was ok and she said yes. Then I asked her if she wanted me to stay and she smiled, shook her head, and said, “no.”

She didn’t need me to stay.

Walking out, I’m reminded of Milne, “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

 

Purple Pizza – the skit we did for my CHOBC 2005 class ball

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For my old ensemble comrades, I pulled out the classic “Purple Pizza” in my Chaplain Officer Leadership Course military ball in order to make fun of my leadership. I ran across this little gem while moving. This was 1LT Fisher and company in 2005. Three days after this video happened, I was married and a week after that – on my way to Iraq with 2/121 Infantry Regiment. This was a young chaplain who had not yet tasted war. What a life!

How She is different from Me in the pulpit

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As an aside to the last post here were a couple of differences between she and me in the pulpit:

1. When She was done with her kids sermon, she told the children to get their coats on before they went to children’s church.

2. She is short. Therefore, when standing on a stool in the pulpit, she totally owned that she stumbled a bit. Congregation laughed warmly. #wearweaknessasarmor

3. I wander, she stands still. Congregation appreciates not having to worry about preachers getting in their personal space.

4. She never once said, “Saint’s of God…” (in that oratorical sort of way)

5. She does not wear a robe as I do. Not because she doesn’t want to, just because they don’t make them in her size and she refuses to wear a child-sized choir robe. #whatiswrongwiththeworld

6. Totally owns knee high boots in the pulpit. Respect.

More to follow…

“dad, can I preach you a sermon I wrote?”

General

Sophia looked up with hopeful and expectant eyes. 

“Of course!” 

“Ok. Good morning. Why does Jesus love us? Why is the law? How does Jesus help us?”

As she asked these rather profound questions, she began pacing back and forth. The questions kept on coming. 

Questions and pacing. She, clearly, is influenced by my preaching style. 

Conclusion? Jesus helps us keep the Law. 

There’s even some great theology in there… 

Here’s me just proud to be a dad of a six year old daughter who spent time writing her very own sermon. 

Back to the Future Grocery

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Question: Is the new “connected world” where a corporation can track your preferences etc. to target you with specific adds really that much different from the “old days” where your local grocer knew what you liked and offered that to you?

I’m listening to KCUR’s “Up To Date” and they are talking about how Meijer chain in Michigan and Indiana is developing an in-store wi-fi system to assist shoppers with their grocery (and everything else) shopping. The example that was given is that you are walking around the store – the system notices that you are looking at peanut butter – it tells you that there are 10 different types of PB at the store and three are on sale – you can access reviews etc across the internet to make an informed choice – then, the system generates a coupon for Peter Pan PB and Welch’s Jelly.

On the one hand, it’s creepy that the store could know you that well. However, my question stands – is that really all that different from “back in the day” when you might go into your local grocery store (the good ‘ole days when you had a relationship with your grocer) and talk to the owner who knows you and your needs. He takes you to the PB and notes the pro’s and con’s of each brand while offering you a deal on one particular one.

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Granted, one is big business and the other is local but based on personalized service alone, its actually very similar. Frankly, in a world of choices, it’s nice to have some information with which to make a decision. As someone who came into the internet age as a teenager, I like the idea.

Also, as a parent, the idea that I can hand my children a tablet on which they can happily watch Netflix while I shop?? Thank you. Really. Thank you.

Is that a fair comparison?