Monday, May 28, 2012

A salute to heroes past and present.

      Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to the Nation's Capitol around Memorial day and see the sights. Among those we visited were two that will forever be woven into the very fabric of my memory, Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam War Memorial, I call it The Wall. Seeing Arlington adorned with all the flags for Memorial Day is a very sobering reminder of the terrible price so many have paid for the freedoms we all too often take for granted as is watching the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown. What a bunch of heroes those guys are. If you don't know the story behind them and their job or the selfless dedication with which they perform their tasks, voluntarily I might add, you owe it to yourself to research the details. It's a very moving story...

      The Wall was especially profound for me because during my time in service I acquired a POW/MIA bracelet. I chose one for an Air Force Sgt. who was from Michigan and over the years lost track of it though his name was eternally etched in my memory. SSgt Gene P. Stuifbergen lost 27 NOV '68 in Cambodia. I have since found the bracelet. I searched and  found his name on the Wall and spent some time alone with it, reflecting on what his sacrifice meant to me and my family and wondering what his time in the service had been like and how he might have met his end... It was a very deeply moving experience and one I'll never forget.

      I also take this day as a day to remember those who gave of themselves for the cause and made it home. They all left an awful lot of themselves behind during their tours of duty. War is hell, as it should be so that we never enter into it lightly or for frivolous reasons. Those who fight and survive bring back terrible memories and all too often horrific wounds. Not all scars are external and those may even be the worst. Wounds that run deep and weigh heavily on ones conscience and all too often go untreated. We would do well to remember these soldiers as well and make sure that we take care of them after their service is ended. Abraham Lincoln said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

      As we relax today, perhaps gathering with friends and family, let's take a few moments to put down the grill tongs, set our drinks aside and spend some time in quiet reflection of what has been given us and honor those who not only gave us this precious gift but gave of themselves in the giving and maintaining this our Freedom.


Monday, May 21, 2012

A Leap of Faith

So I was standing in church this morning listening to the band and singing along (and singing rather well I must say) I had a sort of epiphany. See, I have been struggling with finding my faith because I had lots of questions and I found myself unable to just swallow some huge horse pill that had been prescribed to me by some all knowing preacher. But then I came to Harvest Community Church and it wasn’t like that. That is to say that nothing was presented to me in a take it or leave it manner, but since I have been going there every Sunday that I am there it’s like God is speaking directly to me, albeit it through one of the pastors.
Then this morning I awoke with the feeling that everything was going to be ok, with a feeling of peace and contentment if you will. It didn’t just stop there either, it spread from me to Sarah and we just felt great! When we got to church a short while later and I was standing there singing, and I guess you could say worshiping, I had a thought. Perhaps it was God speaking to me, I don’t know. What I DO know is that it occurred to me that in order to have faith as a Christian I had to accept the whole thing. I had to make a leap of faith, but in doing so I would not be alone. I had a vision of sorts I suppose. In this vision I was at a place where I had to decide to take that step into the unknown, or what was unknown to me at least, and I had doubts and questions and all these other concerns and I was afraid. But I was not alone. There were all these other people there too. People I knew and that I trusted completely, and those closest to me told me that if I were to take those first few tentative steps with such a burden on my back that surely I would not make it. Like falling through the ice I would simply be too heavy and my faith (the ice) would not hold me up but if I would just let them take this or that off my shoulders they would walk beside me and help me should I falter. That as a group, a community, we could share in these burdens and none would be left behind. They also made it clear that some of those burdens would not be necessary as we journeyed onward and they could simply be left here.
And so I handed off some of those burdens to be cast aside as trivial and unnecessary and still others I let those that I trust take on, even if only in part, and I took those first tentative steps… that leap of faith and I have to tell you, it sure feels good to know that I am in such good company. I have found my path and it is leading me home.
Thanks for helping to shoulder my load and may God bless you as he has blessed me.
Peace, Tracy.

Long overdue...

      It's been a while since I last wrote anything and I realized the other day that there are a lot of people out there who are likely concerned. So if you were concerned please accept my sincerest apologies. Here's where things stand as of today, I continue to see a counselor and in fact have just recently extended the number of visits I'm allotted through the VA. That may sound a little strange, so allow me to explain. At the facility closest to me, and I suspect at many more across the country, the number of counselors on staff can't accommodate the number of patients that require counseling more than once a month (I've been seeing mine once a week) so they “farm out” some cases to therapists/counselors outside the VA on what's called a fee-based basis. This means the government pays for a given number of visits during a given time frame. What this boils down to is there aren't enough people to take care of the veterans that need help. Is it any wonder that returning Gulf War/Iraq War/Afghanistan War veterans are having difficulty reintegrating into society? It sure explains why an ever increasing number are hoarding weapons and getting into trouble which leads to them barricading themselves into their home and shooting it out with law enforcement... Please remember that as you vote in the future. These people did as they were told, were asked to do, voluntarily. Sure, maybe the wars in the middle east didn't have anything to do with our safety here at home but if you want to lay blame or punish someone for that, blame the politicians and don't vote for them again. Don't make the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen pay for the mistakes of others. They served honorably, some doing things that most of us could never imagine ourselves doing over and over again, and they did it voluntarily.

      That takes care of the emotional and psychological aspect, now on to the physical part of things. Things have been going very well, in fact so well at times that I cringe in fear waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thankfully my friend Jennifer is there to remind me that there IS no other shoe. Thanks for that, Jen. The boys and I continue to go to Knight's Quest Academy of Chivalry. They go twice a week and I go once a week for one on one lessons. I'm not where I want to be but in all honesty I have not been working at it enough on my own time nor have I been doing any other exercising. I realize now how important that is and will be making a more concerted effort to make some real, effective change. Otherwise it's really been smooth sailing. I go to the VA once a week to have a pint of blood removed. This is done to lower my ferritin (iron) level, which is elevated due to having so many blood transfusions in the years before my stem cell transplant. The procedure is not so intolerable as one might think. As an added bonus I have made a lot of new friends at the VA and get to see them every week and they share a genuine concern for my health.

      We are also planning another trip back to Seattle for my first annual checkup with the transplant doctors. We're also going to be doing some camping along the way, part of making the best of life and making memories that my children can tell their grandchildren about. It's time to enjoy life and take the opportunity to see some of the things that I have always wanted to see and maybe a few places I wasn't even aware of. I've got this really cool card that grants me access to any of the places operated by the Forest Service, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged. It even grants me discounts at camping facilities that are operated by the government. Time to start really taking advantage of THAT baby!

      I've also been busy around the house. We've converted the dining room into a hobby studio and it's almost finished. I've been cleaning out my desk and finding a lot of stuff that I've been carrying around with me. All of which has caused a lot of internal reflection and deep thought. I've come SO far in my life and SO many things have changed, some very drastically, and I have SO far yet to go. At least I hope so... Where my path will take me I have no clue but I intend to walk it with intention and to take note of the scenery along the way, to live what's left of my life in a very meaningful way and to make it count... Thing is, I don't know how to DO all that and it's a tall order to fill. In addition to finding my path I have to learn HOW to travel it because the way I've been wandering through life has not really gotten me anywhere meaningful. That is to say, I have yet to do things that my children will proudly tell their children, at least not in my eyes. Nothing monumental like my dad was a Navy SEAL war hero or a firefighter who rescued a dozen kids in an orphanage or even that I invented some amazing new technology. Much more down to earth things like remembering the way I would take them hiking, fishing, how I taught them how to fix the lawn mower or even how to grow their own food and cook it. That I was a great dad... That's meaningful enough, for now.

      I'm super excited to go on vacation with Sarah and the kids even though at the same time I'm extremely nervous about seeing the doctors again and finding out where I (we!) go from here. I know, Jen... there IS no other shoe! Still, for me anyway, there's a lot riding on what comes out of this checkup. If things go well it's time to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, or at least as I grow older. I have been giving this a lot of thought and I think I'd like to pursue a career as an architect but... that requires going to school and in the mean time I'll need to pay the bills if my disability is gone AND pay for school. SO very many things to think about and try not to worry about. Then there's teaching Connor how to drive (YES, he turned 16 last Saturday!!!), I wish I could have given him the childhood I had, or at least parts of it. Learning to drive while growing up on a farm is, in my opinion, far better and easier than being thrown into a classroom for boring textbook and bloody drinking and driving movies before you get on the actual road. And something as dangerous as driving a car isn't something that should be learned with a bunch of strangers. Then again, what happens on the back roads stays on the back roads, right?

      That's about all I have for now. I've been getting rather antsy to start doing more writing and even some painting and sketching. I know I need to do something other than just sitting around. I have been more active working outside and doing things around the house and have even been designing my own pedal car in my head. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes I'm feeling like this is my rebirth and a second chance to do things better than I was. It is my sincerest wish that you all take at least this part of my experience as an example. Don't put off the things you want most in this world. Get up, get out there and LIVE YOUR LIFE. Live it the way YOU want to. Don't find yourself laying in a hospital bed in 20, 10, 5 years from now or even tomorrow... You can tell yourself it won't happen to you but you'll just be lying to yourself because it COULD! I did things right, for the most part, and it happened to me. Don't waste the chances given too you. Make each day count and do something you'll be proud of tomorrow. You don't have to climb Everest every day but just make the little moments count. Go to bed every night knowing you have done some amount of good in the world and left it a better place for tomorrow. Trust me, you'll thank me for it later...

      Until we meet again either here on the interwebs or in person, I bid you peace.