Enumclaw Washington is one of those rare towns that still observes a very old and noble tradition, that of visiting the cemeteries to honor the graves of the dead. Kathleen’s family generally visits the cemetery on Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and Father’s Day. In fact, our very first Family Friday ever was about Memorial Day cemetery flowers. The local Catholic parish used to go to the Old Crane cemetery on All Souls Day (not sure if they still do), and a lot of Enumclawnians go to the newer Enumclaw cemetery to put candles on the graves of loved ones.

We went up there today for the Memorial Day weekend, and planted flags and flowers.

And of course, as with most of you, my facebook feed has been flooded with “Remember the Fallen,” posts all day. My friends are pretty evenly divided between military guys and their families who honor the fallen with a fierce, almost touchy respect, that almost dares you to go ahead and say something against our fallen servicemen and women; and the more left-leaning crowd who gently acknowledge that, yes, they were brave to lay down their lives, and we can respect that sacrifice, but let’s take a moment to question the political and economic structures of violence and oppression that sent them over there in the first place.

And then there are the folks that are more like: “Any excuse for a BBQ, y’all!”

My own thoughts on memorial day, patriotism, sacrifice, courage, honor, the military service, politics, violence, peace etc. are too complex and complicated to deal with here. I have known my share of guys who were wounded, inside and outside, by the war. I have attended more military funerals than I wished to. It is definitely right and just to honor the fallen.

But as a Catholic, as I was walking through that cemetery today, a phrase kept repeating itself in my head:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.

From the Traditional Requeim Mass

You see, I’ve known a few military guys in my time. Most were decent sort of guys, according to their lights. Some few were humble, heroic giants among men. A few were sleaze-balls. But all were sinners.

This is where the Catholic understanding of visiting cemeteries differs from that of most people in the world. For us it is not primarily about remembering our loved ones, or honoring the courage of those who laid down their lives, or trying to connect with our past. These are all good things, but they are not the real reason we go. The real reason we go is to pray for their souls.

There is a tendency in our world to eulogize the dead, especially the military dead. We no longer say “funeral” we say “Memorial service” or “celebration of life.” We say “so-and-so is in a better place now,” or is “with Jesus.”We tell stories that cast our loved ones in the best possible light, magnify their virtues, minimize or make light of their faults. These are good and healthy instincts. Time should soften our memories, make us deal mercifully with those who went before, as we hope to be dealt mercifully with we go. But that is not the real business of the funeral Mass, the Requiem, and the subsequent visits to the cemetery.

The Church’s business is to remind us of the hard truth that we are all sinners. The greatest saint stands in need of mercy. We have forgotten the doctrines of hell and purgatory. Some people may be refusing friendship with God, even down to the last minute. Many more may be putting it off, or ignoring it, or too distracted or busy to think about it, or bound up in some addiction and unable to accept it. We say “So-and-so is in heaven now” but what we should say is that we hope they are in heaven. The truth is we don’t know.

This may sound harsh. It is not meant to be. As I said it is good and healthy to remember the best, forgive and forget the worst, and hope all things on God’s infinite mercy. That is exactly the point. Instead of prematurely canonizing our loved ones when they die, we should be praying for them. Offering sacrifices for them. Requesting Masses be said for them.

I have known a few military guys who are no longer here. None of them were saints, any more than I am. All were sinners, just as I am. I honor them with flags and flowers, with my training, with our gardening and barbecuing. But I also pray for them, as I hope someday someone will pray for me:

God, have mercy on their souls.

 

Fort_Bragg_SignI have spent a good deal of my life at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It is the home of the Airborne and Special Forces, and I spent a little over two years there in my Q-course days. When I graduated I was fed up with that place. I had spent two years suffering there, what with the heat and the humidity and getting smoked and yelled at and the hardships of Special Forces training. Perhaps it was petty of my, but when I graduated my thought was, “Screw this place! I am done with it. I am never coming back here. Ever!”

I have since proceeded to return to Fort Bragg at least once per year nearly every year since. I do a medic refresher course every other year, of course. But it is also the home of the Special Forces. You want to go to a leadership school? You’re going to Fort Bragg. You want to deploy? You’re going through Fort Bragg. You want to do any cool shooting schools? You’re going to Fort Bragg.

Over time I have lost my hatred of Fort Bragg and eventually I have even come to regard it as a sort of messed up home-away-from-home. A huge part of that reason, both the reason that I stayed sane when I was in the Q-course, and why I don’t mind Bragg nowadays is the Catholic community there.

I have lived on half a dozen different military installations in my life, and I have never seen a Catholic community like St. Michaels in Bragg. The heart and soul of that community is the daily Mass, conducted every day at noon in Pope Chapel (so called because it is on Pope Army Airfield). There is a core crew of about a dozen retirees led by a retired General who attend every single day, but it isn’t only the old people. Every day there are at least a few young active duty folks. There are some single guys and gals who go, there are some married officers and senior enlisted, and often there are wives and children of soldiers there. And there is almost always at least one or two Q-course students.

Why that is the case, I do not know. It has been my experience that while Special Forces has its fair share of avowed atheists and functional atheists, it also has a higher number of truly committed, disciplined men of faith than other parts of the Army. Purely anecdotal, of course, but I can’t help wondering if the stress and danger of the life doesn’t call up a higher level of commitment in some of the men.

I also know that Fort Bragg has been very fortunate in having some extremely dynamic and charismatic Catholic chaplains in the last few years, and in having a couple of civilian priests on staff as well who can provide long term continuity.

Fort Bragg Chapel
The elderly gentleman in the blue plaid shirt is the General, preparing to lead the Chaplet.

Whatever the reason, it remains the thing I look forward to most whenever I am Braggward bound again. It is like coming home to break away at lunch time, make the five or ten minute drive to Pope Chapel and slip into my old pew near the back on the right. If I can get away early enough I can even take advantage of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and daily confessions. It does my heart good to see all the old soldiers and old soldiers’ wives slowly shuffling in. The General always recognizes me and asks how I am and how my family is doing. The Mass is reverent and celebrated with love and devotion. Afterwards they say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy Novena, or the Rosary. I usually can’t stay.

As I was leaving last time the General told me to stay safe and to do my best to keep the bad guys off their backs. I laughed and said I would, but I rather suspect that those old soldiers and their wives are doing more to keep the evil in this world at bay than any deployment ever will.

Welcome back to Family Friday, folks. Sorry we missed it last week, but we were quite busy. This week Ryan is typing this blog from an Internet café, and he was only able to access a few pictures, so it’s going to be a short blog.

Daddy was away from home all last week, home for a few days, and then is away again this week. This has been hard on the Family, but they are handling it pretty well.

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She is getting so big!

Evie is now big enough to help load the washing machine, to help move laundry from the washer to the dryer, and even to help a little bit with putting laundry away. She is such a big help to Mommy when Daddy is away.

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Having tea with Deedee

Deedee and Papa have been helping out so much taking care of the girls at night while Daddy is gone and Mommy is working nights.

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Ellie likes grabbing Papa’s beard and pulling his nose.

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She is already five months old!

I don’t know how these two keep growing so fast. It’s actually a bit frightening, especially since Daddy has to be away for a while. He is going to miss so much growing and happening that he will never get a chance to see again.

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Ellie likes her sister. And why not?

Evie is a pretty darn good big sister.

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This picture was too perfect, and I snapped it literally a split second before Evie decided she was done sitting still.

That’s all for now. Keep us in your prayers. God Bless!

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a buddy of mine. He knew that Ellie had been sick for the first half of the week because I had been a bit tired and groggy at work. On Thursday he asked if she was better and sleeping through the night again. I said that she was better and was almost sleeping through the night, plus Kathleen was home off night shift and home again at night.

“Oh, so she only got sick and couldn’t sleep when you really needed her to be asleep?”

I laughed. “Yep. That’s usually how it goes.”

“Gosh, dude, that sounds rough.”

Not wanting to lie I replied, “Yeah, it can be a little rough sometimes, but it’s still pretty awesome having kids.”

“How’s that?”

So I shared a thought with him that I have been formulating for the last few months. “You know, I think that the absolute worst tragedy that can befall any man, is to have no one who depends on him.”

He looked at me sheepishly. “Are you just trying to make me feel bad now?” (He is single with no kids).

“No, I’m just speaking in general terms. When you have children they depend on you for everything, so when they are at their most needy and demanding, they are also at their most fulfilling.”

He was quiet for a few seconds. Then he said, “I’ve never heard it said like that before. Mostly people just b—h about it.”

It is true, though. Having a wife and children has absorbed my focus so completely in the last few years that I have not had as much mental horsepower to think about myself. I don’t live inside my own head like I used to. I think about myself a little bit less, and I live for others a little bit more. When I do have time to think about myself, I notice that I am happier, more peaceful and more purposeful. Life is just better, as a sort of side effect of being surrounded by people more important than myself.

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I love this happy little goober 🙂

 

I highly recommend it. If you don’t already have someone to live for, find someone. Or just start living for the people around you.

Of course the idea “I am going to live for others so that I will be happier” is completely self-defeating, but that is a topic for another blog.

*To “Wear your red hat” is a slang term in Army planning for the process of viewing a situation from the point of view of an enemy.

A while back, during some Army training, I had the opportunity to participate in a planning exercise. The scenario was that a small team of Special Forces guys (us) was going to be inserted into a country that had recently suffered a violent coup. We were to link up with the remnants of the legitimate government and begin working to enable them to cooperate with conventional U.S. forces in order to retake their country.

It’s a pretty standard scenario for SF, and has been since our legacy days with the OSS in WWII. That was a large part of the “special” warfare, preparing resistance forces to work with the Allies when they arrived. The details of the scenario don’t really matter, except to note that in our fictional Area of Operations (AO) there was an enemy infantry division of 6,000 troops garrisoned in the capital.

Now, part of the planning process involves looking at the entire situation from the enemy’s perspective and planning what they would do so that we can develop contingencies for our own plans. The official term is “war-gaming” but we often call it “wearing the red hat.” Of course the potential range of activities for the enemy is virtually limitless and it is impossible to foresee and plan for every contingency, so instead, by convention, we limit ourselves to two specific courses of action (COAs). These are the most likely (MLCOA) and most dangerous (MDCOA).

Without getting into all the details, we decided that the MLCOA was for the enemy to keep doing what they were doing in their area, continuing to consolidate their hold on the country, register people, disarm, conduct atrocities and war crimes and maybe launch an occasional small scale anti-guerrilla operation. The MDCOA, we decided, would be for them to take that division sized element, mass all 6000 troops in the various small towns throughout the AO, and conduct huge sweeping search maneuvers all through our territory. We reasoned that this was the most dangerous because it would pin us down and cause us to be surrounded by a vastly superior force, and eventually fixed and destroyed by their superior firepower.

I don’t know about you, but certain death usually counts as “most dangerous” in my book.

That was what we came up with, and that was what we briefed to the senior SF officer who was playing the role of our task force commander. After we had finished explaining that, we ended up contradicting ourselves by saying that our plan was deliberately to trigger that MDCOA to divert the enemy’s attention away from the oncoming friendly forces (and hope that our people could get to us before they did). Then we asked him if he had any feedback.

65076032He did.

“So, your MDCOA. If that is what you guys are trying to do to facilitate the war effort, why do you consider it the most dangerous?”

We reiterated the line about enemy troops massing, fixing, battering us with artillery, etc.

“I get that,” he said. “And yeah, I grant you having 6,000 dudes chasing you through the woods is probably pretty dangerous. But is it dangerous to you or to the mission?”

We were silent.

“I guess what I am saying is, if you can disrupt these guys enough that they feel they have to send in an entire division to hunt you down, some people would consider that a good example of you winning. That is what is going to draw the people to your side. That is what is going to make way for the cavalry to come in guns blazing and clean house. So yeah, you might get killed, but them coming after you isn’t going to damage the overall mission.”

wpaqixhAs we digested that he went on: “You know what would damage the overall mission? If they didn’t come after you, all guns blazing. What if, instead of launching division sized sweep and clear, they started beefing up their secret police? Buying out the local citizens? Sending out propaganda messages that de-legitimize everything you do? Bribe your fighters with offers of power, money and privilege? What if they slowly stripped away your support and then sent in little assassin cells to hunt you down quietly? Or even just capture you and send you out of the country? Do you think that would be more dangerous to your mission?”

All of a sudden it was a paradigm shift. We had been thinking in terms of what was most dangerous to us, and from a purely conventional mindset as well. Now we had to think what was most dangerous to the mission, in an atmosphere where the enemy could use any and every dirty trick in the book to get us.

It got me thinking. Isn’t that kind of how it goes in the Spiritual Warfare? Have you ever had the experience of trying to grow spiritually, maybe during lent, or Holy Week, or maybe you decide to start a novena or a ministry project, or a new morning prayer routine? And did you ever find that plan instantly beset on all sides by temptations, distractions, and even outright spiritual panic?

If you’re like me your first thought when that happens is, “What am I doing wrong?”

However, as a priest said to me in confession once, the question in such situations might well be, “What am I doing right?”

What is it that has caused Satan to ramp up his game against me? Why is he massing troops and conducting counter-guerrilla operations? Unlike in an earthly war where we might want to scale back whatever we are doing that triggered that, in the spiritual warfare, once we figure that out we need to keep doing it. Even when it feels like we are hemmed in on all sides and taking indirect fire every five minutes and about to be wiped out, we need to keep doing what we are doing. That is not his most dangerous COA. It is his most desperate COA. We have superior firepower on our side (that angelic air-force is badass!) and we cannot lose, even if we die.

I will tell you what his real MDCOA is. It’s that slow, steady, creeping discouragement, as prayer-spiritual-warfare-thumbhe slowly and methodically strips away all of our bases of support. Whenever he can convince us to neglect prayer, that’s a supply run that never happened. Avoiding Mass or confession is like not going out to get our resupply bundles.

Worse if he can bribe us with promises of money, power or privilege (or even just comfortableness) to give up Sunday Mass, or to commit a mortal sin. (Can you imagine the damage a Special Forces Team could do to a war effort if while they were inserted behind enemy lines they periodically defected to the enemy? That is what happens every Sunday that we do not go to Mass. That happens every time we commit a mortal sin.)

I guess what I am saying is don’t be discouraged by temptations, or even by sins. Just keep trusting and plugging away (this doesn’t mean be stupid about not avoid occasions of sin). Keep coming back to God, trusting that His mercy and love are enough and even my less than stellar attitude in the armpit end of a losing battle is raw material that He will use to bring about victory.

Absolute trust.

And damn the torpedoes! Full Steam Ahead!

 

515isidore10St. Isadore of Seville is one of my favorite saints. I think I have mentioned this before. (If I have, and I am boring you, feel free to skip down two paragraphs).

The only story I know of St. Isadore is the well-known legend of his habit of attending Mass every day, despite his occupation as an agricultural day laborer. In those days when they said they wanted a day-laborer, that meant they wanted you to work from the moment it was light enough to see, until the moment it was too dark to see, with maybe a quick break for lunch… if you had any food that is.

St. Isadore, however, had a habit of leaving his work to walk to Mass in the village. His fellow laborers noticed this and told the boss about it. The boss had never noticed any less work from Isadore than from any of the others, so he was surprised. Then he was angry because he realized he wasn’t getting his full 14 hours of work out of him. He went to the field one day to catch his hired-hand red-handed shirking his chores. He probably had it all planned out. He would be standing all impressive and frowning in front of the idle plow when holier-than-thou Isadore came waltzing back from his unauthorized ventures. However, he was in for a surprise when he arrived at Isadore’s little patch of field and found, as predicted, no Isadore. Instead, an angel was walking behind the plow, keeping up Isadore’s quota while he attended Mass.

father-dolan-ministers-to-militaryA typical Army lunch break goes from 11:30 t0 13:00. (That’s right, civilians, it’s all right to be jealous). Today we shifted it a little bit because we had some events planned for early in the afternoon, so we left class at 11:15 and were supposed to be back at 12:45. This was a lucky break for me because on Wednesdays there is Confession, Benediction/Adoration and Holy Mass at the chapel nearby. It is not a long drive. It takes 8 minutes to go there, and about 11 minutes to get back (12:30 traffic on post is always a bit congested as everyone tries to get back to their units at once).

I made it there before the priest did. I attended the first half of Benediction, and then was first in line for Confession. I enjoyed the remainder of the Adoration period and Benediction at 12:00, but then I was faced with a problem. You see, Mass is supposed to start at 12:00 exactly. It typically lets out around 12:30, give or take a couple of minutes. It takes 11 minutes to drive back and 4 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the classroom. When lunch hour lasts to 13:00 that is not a problem. When lunch hour is over at 12:45, that is cutting it really, really tight.

Add to that I am acting class leader right now so I have to be there a little bit early to get accountability, and then Mass didn’t start until 12:07. All of a sudden the numbers weren’t adding up!

I thought about just leaving, maybe trying to catch an evening Mass somewhere later. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and I wanted it right then. I didn’t want to wait, and I didn’t want to have to cut into homework and calling family time in the evening. So I said, “Whatever. I’ll stay at least until 12:28 and see if Father just does a short homily or something.”

But at 12:28 he was just finishing the Eucharistic prayer. By the way, trying to be present and collected at the Sacrifice of the Mass while also stressing out about a time hack is pretty much impossible. So I (mentally) tossed my hands up and turned off the stress switch. I was going to Communion, and let the chips land where they may. I said, “Jesus, don’t let me be late,” and stayed.

When I left after Communion I was late. It was 12:34.

29381_web_new082009trafficlightsBut then I made it back to the parking lot in 6 minutes! Out of the dozen or so traffic lights I had to pass, only one was red, and it turned green as soon as I got to it. Every time I reached a stop sign, no one was coming and I had right of way. I made that trip in absolute record time, and even had time to stop by my room and grab a protein bar on my way to class, and still walked in with about a minute to spare.

This is a good thing for me to remember. I want to meet Jesus in the Eucharist on a daily basis, but sometime business gets in the way. However, sometimes I am being a little bit sluggish, and I secretly welcome business getting in the way. Or at least I stay on the conservative side, not taking any risks or accepting any discomfort to meet Jesus. I am afraid that I might miss a hit time (unless you have been in the military, you’ll just have to take my word for it how much the idea “missing a hit time” freaks me out). (Then again, Kathleen was never in the military, and she is just as serious about hit times, maybe even more so. Weird!)

But Jesus has ways and means. He can literally do whatever He wants. My experience throughout my life has been that He typically matches my efforts. Whatever risk I take or inconvenience I have to accept to make it to Mass, Confession or Adoration, He is several steps ahead of me, already doing one better. This is not the first time He has worked things like this for me, although I admit it has not been quite so spectacular. But I think of all the times during the Q course that I was almost late getting back from Mass, or was late, but then the instructor was later. Whatever time I offer Him, He always gives back to me. I have never lacked what I needed to fulfill my responsibilities.

Take the risk. Be bold. Jesus is waiting.

Second heat of the 2008 combatives tournament, winning my Pankrates fight by TKO.
Second heat of the 2009 Fort Riley combatives tournament, winning my Pankrates fight by TKO.

I sometimes think that fighting is really one of those things that either you get it, or you don’t. Most people don’t. Some people just love fighting. They are mostly people with a high inborn level of badassitude, for whom a physical struggle is actually fun. It is more than fun, it is deeply fulfilling. They feel alive and energized and on fire.

Most people aren’t like that. Most people hate fighting.

I will let you in an a secret. So do I.

Fighting is hard. Physically it is exhausting to an unbelievable extent. In fact, the only thing I have done more physically draining is rock climbing, for the simple reason that I am more afraid of heights than I am of fighting, and therefore I clench harder.

But yeah, I am afraid of fighting. I always have been. The last scene from the Korean movie “Fighter in the Wind” has always resonated with me. I am afraid of losing. I am afraid of not knowing what to do. I am afraid of freezing under the stress and looking like an idiot. I am even a little afraid of getting my head pounded in, (although that actually doesn’t really hurt while it’s happening).

Looking back at all the martial arts training I have done I realize that it is kind of a microcosm of my entire adult life. It is a bit… neurotic, almost?… How much of my life I have spent doing things that I hated doing and was terrified of. I humped out of airplanes, literally forcing myself one step at a time towards the door, visualizing a swimming pool outside the aircraft door (which doesn’t actually work, by the way, I still see the ground). I force myself out knowing that even after that sickening drop, and the catch of the opening shock, and that initial, “Whoosh” moment, I still have the even worse fear of landing.

I climb rocks, even though I could almost puke from fear the entire way up. That fear actually goes away after a while, leaving behind a pleasant exhilaration. I was terrified of the sleep deprivation and starvation and physical hardship of the Q course, and yet I forced myself through that. I was afraid of the competition, the endless peer and cadre evaluations, the constant judgment from everyone asking “Do you measure up? We assume that you don’t. Prove us wrong.”

You have no idea how stressful that can be.
You have no idea how stressful that can be.

The urban assault course was miserable. An entire month of high stress shooting from flat range to room clearing, firing live rounds inside closed rooms with my buddies. Constantly being watched, being judged every second of every day. Worrying that I won’t pick up the skills fast enough, that I will make a mistake and be out of position and get the air horn called (no one wants to be that guy), or worse that I will turn the wrong way or make the wrong split-second decision and shoot a non-threat target. Or another guy on the team. That was a miserable month.

Heck, I am afraid every time I go to the gym and I know that I have a gut-wrenching workout ahead of me (Wednesdays are the worst). When I set myself a goal for that workout, simultaneously I feel that sinking feeling of, “Oh hell, this is going to suck.” That never changes. I feel it every. single. time.

And yet I go to the gym. I went through the Q course. I passed the mountain course. I passed Airborne school, I passed the company’s Urban Assault course. I trained at Martial Arts and I fought in tournaments.

I am the guy throwing the kick. I lost this fight to split decision after three rounds.
I am the guy throwing the kick. I lost this fight to split decision after three rounds.

Why did I do that?

I don’t know. Just to see if I could? Maybe because I was more afraid of being afraid than of any of the particular things I am afraid of? I have always had this feeling that to be afraid of something is to be weak. That fear is a weakness which must be faced and beaten. Because otherwise the commies win, if that makes sense?

To live in fear is to live a diminished life, and that seems to me worse than dying, or falling from a cliff, or getting beaten up, or even making a mistake and shooting the wrong person. I cannot agree with those who think that it is better to be safe than sorry, the more because that is my natural inclination. I naturally want to stay at home, eat pizza, play video games and never take the risk of failing. But, thanks be to God, I was taught early on to recognize that that is actually a fate worse than death, because it is a sort of living death. So I said, “Screw it, I guess we’re doing it live,” and I went.

Not only that, but I actually miss it. Life is too easy when I am not forcing myself through the suck on a regular basis. Life without fear is boring. Preferring entertainment and rest to action and growth is boring. Kathleen will tell you, if life gets too easy for more than a day, I become a very cranky person.

I think my next challenge is going to be fulfilling a childhood dream of mine, and learning to fight with the German Longsword.

Hopefully that and the ongoing spiritual warfare will tide me over until I have my PA license and can start looking for an interesting job.

Yes, we know. Family Friday 17 should have been last week. However, squarespace has been having issues lately, which has rendered it inoperable on the laptop. We are not sure why. I don’t know if squarespace knows why. It just goes to show, I should have bitten the proverbial bullet and built this website on wordpress.

But here we are, better late than never, right?

Week before last (12 – 18 Sep, for those keeping score at home) was an eventful one for the Kraeger family. It began with a trip to the Washington State Fair. Kathleen says that is not to be confused with the Evergreen State Fair. Ryan wasn’t confused before because he didn’t know such a thing existed. Now he is confused. He gets that way easily.

Transporting four pizzas in the back of the car. We really need to get around to building the pizza carrier we have been scheming up. Transporting four pizzas in the back of the car. We really need to get around to building the pizza carrier we have been scheming up. Homemade pizza and microbrew is a winning combination. Homemade pizza and microbrew is a winning combination.

Wait. Back up one. Friday night, Evie hung out with Grandma and Grandpa, so Mommy and Daddy could pretend to be grownups for a change. Ryan made pizza, and we went to the Odd Otter Brewing Company in Tacoma for microbrews. It is the sort of bar that doesn’t serve food, so you can bring in whatever outside food you want. We brought homemade pizza. This created a bit of a dilemma for the bartenders when a number of other customers tried to order some of that “amazing looking pizza.”

Sorry folks. This pizza is not commercially available… yet. When Aunt Renee gets her restaurant up and running, we’ll send you her way.

Anyway, back to the Fair.

Evie has not napped yet today. You can see it in her eyes Evie has not napped yet today. You can see it in her eyes

Of course we had to take Evie back to her roots by visiting the livestock. for being such a tired baby girl (she was doing a sleep strike that morning to protest the unfairness of napping) she was still pretty happy and engaged.

Wow, those little horses are almost Evie sized! Wow, those little horses are almost Evie sized!

We also visited the milking parlor where Evie got to see cows being milked for the first time.

Ryan visited the Marine Corps Recruiters’ pullup bar, twice. The first time he did 22 pullups and got a t-shirt. The second time he did 20 and got a little toiletries bag. Maybe he should join the Marines?

Become a Marine? Please! And give up this awesome facial hair? No thank-you. Become a Marine? Please! And give up this awesome facial hair? No thank-you.

One of Ryan’s favorite stops in the fair is the Fred Oldfield Art Exhibit, a showing of cowboy, western, animal and wildlife themed paintings by various artists. One of the artists, Don Crook was there painting when we went by. Last year we bought the “Moby Dick” painting that hangs in our family room from his exhibit. This year we actually got to meet him and listen to him talk about his artwork and painting methods, and the story of the painting we bought.

Mommy, Evie, Don Crook, and four cows. Mommy, Evie, Don Crook, and four cows.

Mommy and Evie got a picture with him and some of his artwork. He is a cool old man.

And... face plant. And… face plant.

And Evie finally lost the battle against sleep, but instead of laying back on her nice comfortable stroller bed to sleep, she held herself upright to look around until she finally passed out with her head on the tray.

Hello small black ursine friend! Hello small black ursine friend!

Ryan had to go to the airport Saturday night to fly to Fayetteville North Carolina for medic refresher training. On the way we stopped and had frozen yogurt for supper, and Evie got to hang out with her Black Bear Buddies.

Hmmm... let me see, what am I in the mood for? Hmmm… let me see, what am I in the mood for?

She has become increasingly mobile in the last week, and that mobility has brought with it an increased passion for exploring her world, and seeing what lies under, inside, on top of, and behind. It is pretty exciting to watch, especially when she is outside. Unfortunately, it is getting to be fall time in the Pacific Northwest, and that means wet and cold and not the best going outside weather.

Ryan made it to Fayetteville by hook and crook. It was seriously a fiasco, which you can read about here if you are so inclined. The training was supposed to last almost two weeks, and that is a long time for Evie to be without her Daddy, (or for Daddy to be without his Evie) so Mommy and Evie flew out on Thursday night to join Ryan in North Carolina.

It was a red-eye flight, which gave us some pause when we were planning it out. Who knows how a 7 month old baby would do on an airplane and in airports all night?

What's over there? More people? I love people! What’s over there? More people? I love people!

Turns out she did just fine. She hung out and flirted with the people, and then slept for several hours on the plane.

Turns out she is a born traveler, just like her Mommy (and unlike Daddy, who would rather be at the places doing the things, and doesn’t much care for the process of getting there) .

In the meantime, Ryan was hanging out in Fort Bragg and its environs, learning more stuff about medicine, practicing skills long since gone a bit rusty (that’s what happens when you are just a long haired hippie college student all the time). It was a bit surreal, being back in the old stomping grounds, where so many of the most intense years of my life were spent. That’s topic for a whole other can of worms right there.

The best part of being in Fort Bragg. however, was hanging out with Uncle Matthew, who is stationed there now. (Evie’s Uncle Matthew, that is, Ryan’s little brother Matthew).

Attempting 5 consecutive slow reps of the dragon flag. It's good for what ails you. Especially when what ails you is a weak core. Attempting 5 consecutive slow reps of the dragon flag. It’s good for what ails you. Especially when what ails you is a weak core.

It is so great working out with someone like Matthew, especially with bodyweight exercises (which is really all we did). He brings such an intensity to everything he does, and he is close to my level of strength, pound for pound (and well past it in a few exercises), that his intensity and energy level rub off on me, and my own workout is so much more effective.

Lean and tough, that's Matthew. But with some coaching, he has potential to become leaner and tougher and mighty! Lean and tough, that’s Matthew. But with some coaching, he has potential to become leaner and tougher and mighty!

And that brings us up to last Thursday night, which is really when Family Friday’s usually cover to. Many more adventures ensued the following day and week, but those will have to wait until next time.

No Pictures, Please. No Pictures, Please.

God Bless!

Celebrating signing off Active Duty, Aug 8 2014. Celebrating signing off Active Duty, Aug 8 2014.

Having been off active duty for a year now, I am looking back to think about what I miss most about it. I miss the training, obviously. It is hard to get that level of training in the civilian world, obviously. On active duty I was paid to come in to work and train, theoretically all day. In reality, of course, only about 10% of our time was actually spent training. The rest was jumping through bureaucratic hoops to plan, schedule, risk assess, troubleshoot, and grovel and beg for training.

I certainly don’t miss the missions. Some of them were okay. Teaching Advanced First Aid in Thailand was one of my favorite times in the Army. Working to sort out refugees in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan was my finest hour in the Army. If the majority of my time had been like that, I never would have left. As it was, I count 15 weeks in my almost 12 year career where I felt like the mission was worthwhile. 8 of those weeks were in training (Hospital rotations in Virginia and Arizona), 4 weeks teaching medicine in Thailand, 2 weeks teaching Counter IED in Thailand, and one week organizing refugees and relief efforts in Tacloban. 15 weeks out of 12 years adds up to about 2.5%. At that point, it is time to start looking for a new job.

This photo reminds me of my old buddy Stephen who walked for ten days in SFAS with no skin left on his feet. This photo reminds me of my old buddy Stephen who walked for ten days in SFAS with no skin left on his feet.

No, what I miss most is being surrounded by other Special Forces guys. Green Berets are hardcore people. This does not mean that they are always doing hardcore stuff, or that they despise comfort. Most of the Green Berets I know have a talent for enjoying comfort, luxury and convenience that I envy. What sets them apart from normal people is not that they don’t enjoy the ordinary things in life, but the fact that they know they can do without, because they have voluntarily done without. They have sucked at life, and if necessary they can bring that to the front again.

The experience of going through SFAS and the Q course changes you. It is not an unmitigated suck fest from start to finish, but there is enough heartache on the docket to ensure that everyone who goes through will have to dig a little deeper at some point. People who have the experience of digging deep are different from people who do not. They are more confident, less timid. They are more able to say, “Why not?” when someone says, “You can’t do that.” This is true of different people in different ways. Anyone who has gone through hardship and come out the other side has this quality at least latently, but it is more developed in those who voluntarily put themselves through hardship.

The downside of this quality is that those who have it tend also to be arrogant, cocky, insensitive, brash, close-minded, entitled, etc. When I think about my Special Forces friends and compare them to my Bible Study friends, I cannot help but acknowledge that the Bible study friends are:

  • Kinder
  • More understanding
  • More sympathetic
  • More intellectual, or at least interested in the life of the mind
  • More spiritually aware.

But my Special Forces friends are more:

  • Assertive
  • Indifferent to what people think
  • Willing to suffer hardship
  • Willing to stand up for what they believe (such as it is)

Which brings me back to my perpetual question, really the question behind the whole experiment that is this website: Why can’t we have both?

People tell me things like, “Well, if you build up one side of your personality it stands to reason the other side would be neglected.” People point to the great artists, poets and composers, the great scientists, all the greats really, in whom great ability in one area was balanced by crippling disability in other areas. You can’t be good at everything, they say. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

To which I say, what the hell is the point of having cake in the first place if you can’t eat it? What use is anything if you can’t have everything? Anything is too small. Only everything can satisfy us humans, because we were made for God.

It doesn’t matter if you are a hardcore human being, you can survive in the wilderness for weeks, you can kick in a door and shoot every bad guy in the room in the head three times before any of the hostages can blink. If you are an unfaithful spouse, or even just a jerk, you will still be miserable and make other people miserable, and you will never be a Saint. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how nice and sympathetic and understanding you are, and how much you would never hurt anyone, if you cannot stand up for the truth, cannot suffer willingly for the greater good. You will never reach your full potential as a human, you will eventually lie or keep silent to spare someone’s feelings when you should speak the truth, and again, you will not become a Saint.

That is what this blog is all about, this whole website, in fact my whole life is about, how to embrace every good thing as fully as the limited time we call life allows. In the final analysis it is the desire to love God as fully as possible from as many different angles as possible, and to know that under the multiplicity of interests the God whom I seek when I seek anything is everything and One.