Berlin

In 1988, I was 19 years old.  I was a US Army Infantryman.  I had just finished my first tour with the Bco 2/237 (No Slack) infantry regiment at the 101st Airborne division.  I was both Airborne and Air Assault qualified and had been predominantly an assistant M-60 gunner.  (this basically means that I carried all the heavy stuff of the M-6o machine gun but not the actual “hawg/pig” itself and I never got a chance to shoot it.  This was the “rookie” job for any private in a weapons squad).  I has just landed in Frankfort as I was being reassigned to the Berlin Brigade.  A military official met me there and told me that  I needed to board “the duty train.”  This was one of the only sanctioned way for US forces to travel some 80 miles behind East German/Soviet lines into Berlin.  Its was like going back in time.  A surreal post World War II world where Russian and US forces stood toe to toe, locked and loaded, guarding the same wall.  It was also the center of all the espionage activities of the time.  This was the Cod War and private Jon was stuck right on the front lines.  My world began to immediately shrank.  I could speak neither German nor Russian, I could read absolutely no signs, or and other information that might assist a foreigner in a strange land.   A Russian soldier walked the the car  with an AK-47 in hand.  This was the enemy.  I was trained to kill him, and I figured, that he was probably trained to kill me.  The Cold Wars seemed to be heating up to me.  The Russians were professional and disciplined soldiers.  So was I.  Thirteen weeks at Fort Benning’s Harmon Church completed that work in me.  I was 17 years old when I met my first drill sergeant and turned 18 while I was there.  Here I was, some 15 months later, facing the enemy and was grateful for the rigorous training.   I was as ready as I would ever be, but still scared.  That’s just part of being in Berlin in those days and I talk more about this in a minute.  I was relieved to arrive in West Berlin.

In my orientation process, I was sent on a tour of East Berlin.  I was required to wear my Class B uniform.  We boarded a bus, drove through Checkpoint Charlie and into a completely different world.  There was absolutely no color.  All was gray.  All the cars were exactly the same and all the clothes that people were wearing were all the same also.  I had read George Orwell’s 1985 in high school and felt like I had walked right into that book.  It was surreal.

The Berlin Brigade trained for inner city fighting.  The thinking was that any fighting that we would do would be in the city of Berlin.  Hence, there was a “mock city” set up for training which was affectionately called “dough boy city” though I am not sure as to why.  Additionally, to this day, I have no idea why the area in which we trained ran right along the side of the Wall.  The logic of this escaped me because the Russians observed/filmed our training exercises.  One day as we were setting up, I heard a low rumble that sounded like thunder.  When I looked up to see what it was, it was a Russian Hind-E helicopter hovering along the wall and filming us.  It was the largest aircraft I had ever seen.  It was bigger than the home that I grew up in back in Ohio.  In my orientation process, they tell you, be professional when you encounter the Russians at the wall.  Don’t point your weapons, make any derogatory gestures or otherwise provoke an international incident.  When I saw the size of that helicopter, this was a “no-brainier” to me.  However, the guys in my platoon, 3rd platoon B co 4/502 starting yelling obscenities, flipping them the bird, and one guy even mooned them.  I thought, “Oh shit, were dead.”  My supped up 22 M-16 rifle would be no match for that war machine.  fortunately, they did not feed into our negativity and they flew off.  Then it occurred to me.  If we ever had a conflict we were going to get “creamed.”  We were 80 miles behind enemy lines, we were outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned.  We were all going to die.  This was daily life on the front of the Cold War.  It was psychological and for some, even traumatic. A life of constant fear.  It bothered me but I also knew there wasn’t a thing that I could do about it.  Just drive on.  I think it was this mindset that led the guys in my platoon to react the way they did to that Hinde-E.  A kind of last act of defiance.

A few months into my time there, I began to notice that the Russian soldiers became increasingly less professional.  They wanted to talk across checkpoints, they didn’t carry their weapons, they wanted to trade Vodka for Marlboro’s, and exchange regimental lapel pins.  Eventually, they would drink and smoke at their post.  This gave me some peace of mind because I thought we might have a chance to kill all these drunk guys if it came down to it.  Shortly thereafter, the Russians left and East German guards replaced them..  They were even less professional than their Russian counterparts.  I was to young and naive to see the writing on the wall but I was glad to see the Red War Machine was beginning to crack.  This gave me some hope.  We saw no more Hind E helicopters, guard towers were left unmanned, and the un-professionalism of the East German soldiers continued.  Then, President H.W. Bush was coming.  This is never good news for an E-3 private first class.  Why?  This would mean that it would be my job to clean and make shiny every damn thing around because Big Brass always accompanied the President.  We would have to do a damn parade.  Don’t get me wrong, the actually parade itself is an awesomely patriotic event, especially in that milieu.  It’s the 75,000 rehearsals that we would have to do to make all things “Dress Right Dresws.”  The President came and went.  Things then returned back to normal or at least, what was normal for me We were going to the field.

We were going back to dough-boy city.  I wasn’t looking forward to it because it was going to be cold.  East European cold is a completely different level of cold and the concrete of dough boy city didn’t make anything all the more cheery.  It was Novenber the 9th 1989.  I was beginning to unload our gear when the First Sergeant said, “Pack it in boys were going in, the wall has come down.”  I thought he was joking.  I kept unloading all the stuff then my squad leader said, “Ricketts load all that up we are leaving.”  I still didn’t believe that the wall came down until we had arrived back at McNair barracks and guys from other companies were telling me the news.  We had to get down town.

US forces were permitted to use the subway for free in Berlin if we had our military ID with us.  So, my roommate and I started the journey to the Kufurstendam, Berlin central street.  I had been there hundreds of times but this time, I  couldn’t believe what I saw.  There were so many people.  Thousands of them walking up and down the middle of the street.  Absolutely no cars just waves and waves of people.  All cheering, dancing, drinking, celebrating, and overall having the biggest party that I’ve ever been too.  It was an incredible night of fellowship between Germans, Americans, English, French, and East Germans.  We made our way down to Checkpoint Charlie and met Peter Jennings down there.  He shook our hands and thanked us for our service.  The people of the East were coming through the checkpoint to cheers and free drinks.  It was like V-day.  It was a type of V-day.  It was the end of the Cold War.  I consider it one of the highest honors of my Army career to have been a part of it.  Shortly thereafter, I rotated back to the 101st and eventually got out and went to college.  However, I look back on those days of my soldierly youth with fondness and pride.  I was glad to have been there and proud to have served there.

Check Your Ego At the Door

Humility has never been my strong suit.  By all appearances I seem to be put together and confident.  I’m really not.  Oftentimes my appearance of confidence is just overcompensation for my own fear and insecurities.  I have so many that I’m barely aware of them most of the time.  I’ve overcompensated for so many years that is just “what I do.”  Slowly, God has been working with me on this stuff.  Because He loves me and there is simply a better way to live than giving off appearances and hiding insecurities.

I really like lifting weights.  Partly because of what I previously stated, partly because of what I do for a living (oftentimes I deal with violent patients who require hands on restraints) partly because I like to exercise, and partly because it is a coping skill and I feel close to God when the Spirit within me sets a new PR (personal record).  However, about three weeks ago I had to deal with new insecurity.

I’m not as young as I used to be.  Nevertheless, about three months ago I set a goal of benching 305 pounds.  I accomplished this goal for the fist time in my life but it wreaked havoc on my left rotator cuff in my shoulder.  When discussing this with a friend, he told me that my form may be off (flaring my elbow to much to recruit the shoulder muscle) or that I was just using too much weight.  “Couldn’t be either one of those because then I would have to change something.  I would neither be able to repeat nor improve upon this PR.”  I said back to him.  To which he replied, “Your going to hurt yourself.  Check your ego at the door of the weight room, drop the weight and work on your form.”  He told me.  “Sh_____!”  I knew he was right and I knew that God was telling me this through him.  So that’s what I did.  I also remember telling my wife that I would change my workout routine once I hit this PR as she is not a fan of large bulky muscle.  She married the right guy.  So, checking my ego, I dropped thirty pounds of my one rep max and began doing a 5-3-1 workout that a friend had given me based on Jim Wendler’s boring but big program.  And, I feel great.  My shoulder isn’t keeping up all night, I’m not eating Ibuprofen everyday and, believe it or not, by adding reps to this workout I’m actually in better shape.  Yes previously, I could waddle over to the bench and press 300 one time, but after that, I was done and running for medicine cabinet to take the maximum amount of NSAIDS to kill the pain.  This is not healthy but man, did it ever fuel my ego.  I’m beginning to realize that my ego may lead me to do some things that are destructive but really make me feel good about myself.  This is my deception.  Hurting yourself to fuel your ego is not wisdom, it the final result of fear and insecurity having its impact in my life.  I’m grateful to God for my friend and for His patience and Love for me.

Fear and Expectation

Rina and I recently have been attending marriage counseling.  We needed it.  Not because we were on the brink of divorce but because we had become complacent in loving each other.  This, of course, leads to conflict where I am, always, right.  Or so I think.  If she would just do what I wanted/needed/expected her to do, all would be well.  She just wouldn’t do it.  This would fuel a desire inside of me to fix her or should I say conform her unto my image for her.  If she would just sit down for 5 minutes and listen to the voice of wisdom and reason, she would see all this my way and start doing what I expected.  She just wouldn’t do it.  She really has got some problems! What I didn’t understand was the she wasn’t the problem, the problem was me.  Unbeknownst to me, I had also done the same thing to God.

I had certain expectations for God.  God should be blessing me, watching over me, and be on the verge of making me a millionaire over night.  “What are you waiting for?”  I would say to God through a prayer of doubt.  My current financial situation is a bit of a disaster. I do know that He will sometime deliver me financially because He has told me this on several occasions.  He just isn’t doing it up to my expectation. This triggers one of my core fears which is a fear of failure.  I have this fear of not being able to pay my bills and so I beg God for deliverance but I really don’t believe He will do it because if He were going to do it He would have done it by now.  I do know that He will do it He just isn’t doing it right now.   Do you see the insanity in all this?  I didn’t.  When He doesn’t meet my need according to my expectation I am barely capable of being grateful what He is doing.  Then, when He doesn’t live up to my expectations, it triggers my other core fear.  The fear of rejection.  I feel rejected by God because if He loved me He would’ve rescued me from this terrible disaster by now, but He hasn’t because He doesn’t like me.  He only has to tolerate me because of what Jesus did for me but If He had another option, He would cast me out of His sight forever.  Isn’t this nonsense?  Yes, but it’s how I felt.  Here is what counseling has helped me realize.

God will not serve my fears or my expectations and neither should my wife.  He will not bow down to them and neither should she.  I had to let fear and expectation both go.  Let God be God and Rina be Rina and just love them and allow them to love me as they see fit not as I expect.  Rina triggers my core fear of “being controlled.”  There are certain things that I do that trigger her core fears which leads her to respond with an effort to control.  This is the dance that we have done for a number of years and we’ve decided to stop dancing.  I don’t dance all that great nowadays anyway, since about 1985 (I danced pretty good back in the day but that ship has sailed). I am not responsible for either her reactions or God’s actions.  I can only control my reactions and actions and I have chosen to love them both regardless of what they do (Rina and God).  For me , this was a tremendously freeing revelation and simply, just a better way to live.

Books that are helping:  DNA of relationships Gary Smalley

Telling yourself the truth:  William Bachus and Marie Chapain

Our therapist

I’m back! What’s the point?

Howdy, I’m back.  Its been 2 years since I’ve written anything on this blog.  One might say that I had a bit of a faith crisis or that I just didn’t have anything else to say or that I shut down.  Wanna know what happened?  A little bit of all of that.  I used to run a small church group at work, be in a ordination program, and do some home churching on the side.  Why?  Because I had some expectations that I was going to lead world revival and social reform.  God shut all that down because I had missed the point.  When He shut that down, I shut down.

When I was asked to stop leading the church group at work, I thought “what’s the point”.  What was the point of studying scripture, ?Greek, Hebrew, Latin, apologetics; and archaeology if there was no audience and no revival to lead?  I had missed the point.

You will notice, on this blog, that there is very little (outside of my testimony) any real personal information.  This will change.  This must change.  For who?  For me.  What I have discovered over the last two years of desert dwelling is that writing is creative.  It is personal.  It is spiritual and it connects me with God.  The purpose of my study, writings, and learning should never be with the idea of preaching, publishing, and saving the world in mind.  It should be done because it brings me and God closer together.  It is about intimacy with God and nothing more.  I’ve started writing again as a spiritual exercise.  This is the point. This is what I have missed for so many years.  I should not put expectations on God to do something grand with what He reveals to me.  It’s for me.  It’s not really for anybody else, it’s for us.  So, why have a blog?  In short, it is a great place to store writing for a good long time.  I’ve journaled in the past only to have them lost, damaged, destroyed, and be unable to read my own handwriting when I would review them.  Blogging solves those problems.  That’s why I’m back in the blogosphere.  For me and my relationship with God.  If reading something here blesses you.  Good, Writing it really blesses me.  This is the point.

To catch some of you up.  I still work at a psychiatric hospital.  Still work with addiciton.  Still am clean for alcohol and other drugs.  Still am married to by darlingest.  Still have a bunch of kids.  Love to lift weights, shoot guns, fish, farm, trap, and hunt.  I you want to know anything more than that, visit my wife’s blog.  She’s a better writer anyway.

My Major Doctrinal Issues

I thought it might be best to consider exactly what are my own major doctrinal statements concerning my Christian faith. I have never really been affiliated with any sect, denomination, or any other religious affiliations but, I thought it best to consider what are the “major things” that I have gleaned out of scripture. So, here they are:

1. God created the heavens and the earth: science agrees with this rather than refutes it.

2. God is omniscience, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

3. Jesus was fully God and fully human. Can’t really explain it and I don’t have too, if I could then I would be God.

4. Jesus did exist in history as an actual person.

5. Jesus is a healer; baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and coming King.

6. Love is the greatest commandment: Love of God first, then everyone else

7. Jesus shed his blood for atonement of sins. He is the Savior because of His Sacrifice.

8. Jesus was raised from the dead. History declares this and the resurrection validates Him as Messiah.

9. Salvation alone is obtained through Him. As C.S. Lewis once said, “We know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” We only know His plans for us that are in relationship with Him, the others, we don’t really know how it will work with them. Hell is not a major issue.

10. The Primary Agent of God on Earth, is the Holy Spirit.

11. The Holy Spirit causes regeneration of the human nature and empowers believers with spiritual gifts as listed in I Corinthians 12.  The Holy Spirit also empowers the five fold ministry of Eph 5.

12. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is available to all who believer in Christ, and this is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

13. God’s commandments have a place in the life of a believer, it is up to each individual to determine just how much of a place.

14. The Bible is inspired by God, even if it has issues from the human writers and translators.

15. God desires for all humanity to have a relationship with Him.

Here they are, these are the “major things” of my faith. I think it an error to have an exurbanite list of majors. Smaller list promote individuality and unity.

 

 

God on the Golf Course

Every six months or so, I give my wife a vacation. She is a stay at home mother of our six children, all under the ages of 8. She stays very busy and maintains a photography business on the side. However, even super-woman needs a vacation every now and then. I give her a choice, she can go and we can stay at home or we can leave and she can stay at home. Her choice this fall, to stay at home. So, off we went to Ohio, where my mother lives and right outside the area where I grew up.

My mother is wonderful and gracious. Prior to my trip, she told me to be sure to bring my golf clubs and she would watch the kids and I could play golf. Awesome, I was getting a bit of a vacation also. I played a lot of golf. I played 9 holes on the day we got there, 54 holes the next day, 36 the next day, and 18 the final day. That’s right, it was a grand total of 108 holes in four days. It was awesome. During these rounds, I had an opportunity to play the course that I grew up on, its called Cliffside golf course in Huber Heights, Ohio. I was excited to play it as I had not played it in 25 years.

As I pulled onto the road of the Golf course. It was like going back in time. The place hadn’t changed in 25 years. The clubhouse was still this terrible lime green color and had the smell musty smell of 25 years ago. Twenty-five years ago they had a stand-up poster of the three stooges in the corner where they were holding golf clubs. It was still there. I was dumbfounded.

As I began to play, all of the holes were exactly the same. With the exception that the back nine in years past is now the front nine; otherwise, it was like going back in time. It was a nice round down memory lane and then God showed up. Let me explain a little about my background.

You see, I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and have been clean for 10 years. Many of the issues that I treated with alcohol and drugs stemmed from a bad relationship with my father. I never felt “good enough” and the only thing that made me feel loved by my father was achievement. Athletic achievement made me feel like my father loved me. When I didn’t “make par” I would feel like Dad was rejecting me. Well, many of the issues that I had with my dad developed on this particular golf course. However, it had been 25 years since it happened and Dad has been dead for almost ten. (He died of lung cancer) As I was playing this course, God showed up and revealed to me that many issues with Dad were developed on th is course. It was on the number 5 that Dad promised me that he would stop smoking. He broke that promise and eventually died. It was on the number 10, that he made me feel very inadequate by chastising me for making a double bogey. I had no idea that all of these issues still lingered till God showed up on the course and began revealing things to me that I had forgotten about. It was becoming more than a leisurely round on the lynx.

As I was approaching the 17th tee, I noticed that the hole that ran behind it was my Dad’s favorite hole. It was a long par 5 where the first 160 yards are a water hazard. I was the only one on the golf course so I decided to leave the tee box and go down to this fairway and just sit for a minute. As I got there, I remember a really nice time when Dad and I had both birdied the hole and it really brought us together. As I recalled this forgotten memory, God told me that this was the way that He always see me regardless of my failures or my success. It was a healing moment for me. I no longer needed to work in order to please God the way that I had to do with Dad. I got a little emotional. Then, I headed back to the 17th tee to finish the round. When I got back to the tee box, I noticed a golf ball on the tee. (I hadn’t noticed it before) I told God, “Alright, If I’ve received something from you let this ball be a Titleist Pro-V1. These are expensive balls and generally all that I play with because of my prima dona golfer status. So, I pick up the ball, and it’s a Pro V-1. It was a number one, and someone had drawn a symbol of the trinity on it. (Three circles joining each other in a triangle) That ball continues to serve me as a constant reminder that God loves me not matter what I succed at and no matter what I fail at. I just went out to play some golf, but God had other ideas.

Grace and Golf

Many of you who know me know how much I love golf. Many of you who know me also know that last week I had the best nine holes of my life scoring six straight pars and finishing with a 41 on the front nine, and a 47 on the back nine for a total of 88. A great round for me. Many of you also know that I had a tremendous encounter and healing with God on the seventeenth hole. It was an amazing time. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty confident about my game. So, with an unexpected opportunity to play this week, I was hoping for another great round. Much to my surprise, I had the worst round of my life. Ridiculously high score, somewhere in the 100’s. With this in my mind as I went to prayer with God, this is the word that He spoke with me and the lesson learned from the worst round of my life.

Be careful with sports and exercise, it doesn’t fulfill you. Be careful with diet, it doesn’t fulfill you (either doing good on one or bad on one). Be careful with study and learning, they don’t fulfill you. In short, be careful with your successes, they speak nothing of your self-worth and value. Additionally, be careful with you failures, they speak nothing of your self-worth and value. Fulfillment and acceptance come only from the love of God. God’s love for me and his desire for relationship with me is dependent upon neither my success nor my failures. If I am righteous, this love for me remains unchanged. If I sin, His love for me stays constant. Hence, my fulfillment and acceptance are secure whether I succeed or fail. We don’t achieve to receive fulfillment. We are fulfilled, so we are free to achieve.

I’m grateful and glad that I played that terrible round of golf. It helps root our my own sense of pride. I felt so unworthy and rejected by this terrible game of golf. I felt like a complete failure. It really shook me to my core. Then, I realized that golf wasn’t the issue, but something inside of me was the issue. As I prayed and asked God to reveal to me what He wanted me to learn about this experience, Rina came into the kitchen and wanted to share something with me. This is what she read: “It is of great importance to guard against vexation on account of our faults; it springs from a secret root of pride, and a love of our own excellence; we are hurt at feeling what we are.” (1) It never occurred to me that I had a “secret root of pride.” I just never knew it was there until I had a great round of golf and then a terrible round of golf. Through this circumstance, He has revealed more of me that needs more of Him. There were some lessons for me to learn in this.

We mustn’t despair when we make mistakes. We are imperfect creatures moving, in a process of sanctification, into perfection. He has created a milieu of grace for us to exist inside, one in which we can practice righteousness without fear of condemnation or judgment. Despair and depression over our own faults and shortcomings, is a deep form of pride and a false humility. Bill Johnson writes, “In my own pursuit of God, I often became preoccupied with ME! It was easy to think that being constantly aware of my faults and weakness was humility. It’s not!…By being sold on my own unrighteousness, the enemy has disengaged me from effective service…It may sound strange, but I don’t examine my motives anymore. That’s not my job. I work hard to obey God in everything that I am and do. If I am out to lunch on a matter, it is His job to point that out to me. After many years of trying to do what only He could do, I discovered I was not the Holy Spirit. I cannot convict and deliver myself of sin. Does that mean that I never deal with impure motives? No. He has shown Himself to be very eager to point out my constant need for repentance and change. But He’s the One with the spotlight, and He alone can give the grace to change.” (2)

The soul that is rooted and grounded in love will recognize that failure, shortcomings, and faults are only indicators of one simple thing. A further need for dependency upon Him and His Grace. They do not define who we are, and they are not indicators of any future events. They simply indicate aspects of the fallen nature that have built a resistance to the Holy Spirit. These, He will root out. Humility is not despairing over our faults, but recognized the need to turn more to God than to ourselves. Our failures and success should turn us both likewise, unto God, not to ourselves.

Endnotes

1. Guyon, Madame, A Short and Very Easy Method of prayer; which All can Practice with the Greatest Facility, and arrive in a short time, by its mean, at a high degree of perfection.”

2. Johnson, Bill, When Heaven Invades Earth A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, Destiny Image Publishers, Inc. 2003, page 147-148.