The route is just as important as the finish…
(Word of the Week 18-24APR) #WOTDseries #Drop17
The route is just as important as the finish…
(Word of the Week 18-24APR) #WOTDseries #Drop17
I was happy to drop my ruck, fall on top of it and get off my feet.
We finished at an old unused beachside restaurant, which used to be part of the French Marine base located here many years ago. We sat on a broken patio, leaning back on our rucks…watching the sunrise break under a volcanic canopy of clouds. An ever so slight drizzle of rain breezed over us.
Most were exhausted from the 12 mile road March to the beach, especially me. This was the final event for our Expert Infantryman Candidates. The Expert Infantry Badge (EIB) is a highly coveted badge by all Infantrymen in the US Army and can only be worn by those who earn it as an Infantryman. The EIB requires an Infantryman to earn 100% pass rate in 37 different Infantry tasks with no assistance or use of notes. This involves the exact memorization of hundreds of steps for 7 weapons, combat casualty medical treatment, tactics, land navigation, communications systems…all tied up neatly with a 12 mile road march. Army-wide, of those who test , only an average of 17% pass. This EIB class started with 118 candidates, yet only 18 earned the EIB.
The road march, or ruck march, was the second to last task required to merit the EIB.
The route stretched through the Arta mountain range in central Djibouti. We stepped off at 0215 (yes, in the morning). EIB standard for completion of the 12 mile ruck march is 3 hours. One second too late means no EIB. Each EIB candidate carried at least a 35lb ruck, rifleman’s kit, M4 (rifle), and wear their ACH (Kevlar helmet). Total carried weight is easily over 50lbs. As chaplain, I chose to march with the candidates minus the weapon and helmet…similar to the cadre uniform during the march. As one of my mentors says, “90% of ministry is in simply showing up.”
The mountainous terrain involved slight inclines and declines along the road we traversed. The “road” consisted of well-worn tire tracks over loose-gravel and dirt. Switchbacks dotted the course. At times you could see the front and the back of the column of Soldiers within the same 50 yards by chemlights attached to the rucksacks, or “rucks.”
The light of the half-moon poured onto us the whole night. Yet, it didn’t drown out the millions of stars blinking in the heavens…the amount of stars you can only see when you are 30 minutes outside of nowhere. The moonlight and stars exposed the towering vertical shadows of the mountains that bracketed the valley through which we trekked.
Our Battalion Commander (an EIB holder) and Battalion Executive Officer led the pace the entire route. I trailed the pack, catching up to groups here and there to hand out a Jolly Rancher or Life Saver. I would like to say it was by design, but truth be told, I trailed because I wasn’t as prepared as I would like to have been. Yet, I was resolute to complete the route, come what may.
Enroute, I stuck an earbud in one ear and listened to a Bill Hybels talk titled “The Intangibles of Leadership” from the 2015 WCA Global Leadership Summit. I simply wanted something to keep my mind occupied, but a few minutes into the talk, Hybels stated the first intangible of leadership is “grit.” He defined it as “long-term tenacity” and “steely determination demonstrated over decades” and “the willingness to utilize every last drop of human effort to move something ahead to cross the finish line.” He declared that “gritty people play hurt” and “don’t quit, ever.” They “expect progress to be difficult but believe to the core of their being that they can overcome whatever obstacle stands in their way.”
I was inspired by these thoughts…and I would need to be. For me, the course was tough. With a half-mile to go to reach the finish line, the toe of my left boot caught a rock and my momentum sent me into a nose-dive. My only fall, but what I lacked in quantity, this fall made up for in quality. My right knee, hands and face took first contact. I rolled with the momentum. Took a second or two to do a mental check on if everything was working. Then I had to get up and get going. Up and away I trudged.
I crossed the finish at 3:01. One minute past the cut-off. I walked over to where some of the finishers were resting and there dropped my ruck. I was happy to complete the course, but I wasn’t satisfied. I crossed the finish line, yet plan to train harder to make up for that :01 in the future. However, thoughts for myself soon subsided for the pride I felt for these Infantrymen who showed grit and earned their EIB.
Near the finish, spray-painted on the wall of this abandoned outpost were the words “It takes some dying to feel alive.”
(Word of the Week 28MAr-03APR) #WOTDseries #Drop16
We ran to the sunrise.
The faint trace of nautical sunlight carved the early horizon. As we left our outpost, we knew where we were running, but none of us knew what we would encounter once we arrived. Resurrection Sunday. “Easter.”
I was the slowest. The younger men led the pack. But I wasn’t ashamed, rather proud to be in such company with these men (and another slow runner in the bible)…in such a pursuit.
Almost 2000 years ago, on a similar morning, two young men set off on a foot race, not with each other but with expectation. The younger reached the tomb first…yet the elder ran straight into the tomb. They were looking for Jesus.
This is what we ran for as well…to find Jesus this resurrection morning.
The sun met us at the end of our 2-mile run. We gathered around the makeshift altar on a peaceful beach at Manda Bay connected to the Indian Ocean off the coast of Kenya, perhaps similar to the beauty of the garden of the tomb mentioned in the Gospels.
We were sweaty, breathless, and alert. We found ourselves connected in disbelief or doubt to those two earliest disciples, Peter and John. They saw and didn’t know what to believe (John 20:9-10). Yet, Christ would later that day reveal his resurrected self to them…but only after first revealing himself to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) and Mary, his mom (Matthew 28:1-10).
We, too, eagerly await his revealing; his promised return and creation’s reunion and resurrection (Revelation 21:1-5). Until that day, we find the power and hope of Christ’s resurrected body in the legacy of community that bears his name. As Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:27), Christians – “the church” – are the living witness until he arrives to conclude this age.
After the service, some walked, some ran the 2 miles back to our outpost. Along the way, I tried to imagine what Peter, John, Mary, and Jesus’ mom were thinking…feeling…as they walked back to Jerusalem to bring this news…
…and what they would experience as today continued…
Neither life, nor eternity, would ever be the same.
(Word of the Week 21-27MAR) #WOTDseries #Drop15
He was as happy as only boy at play can be.
He was swinging on a make-shift swing on a short tree a few feet outside the front door to the shack his family lived in. His swinging was ferocious. He was placing every ounce of his effort into it.
The motion of the swing caught my eye as we were driving through a mountain village along the Djiboutian countryside. It’s not the kind of living conditions most Americans would choose, but it’s normal here. Simple. Primitive. Practical. Small huts are bunched together close to the commerce center of the village. Personal lawns, a luxury mostly for American homes, are impractical as well as impossible in this rocky desert terrain. Any relatively fertile soil – that doesn’t consist of a top layer of centuries-old lava rock stacked above 18-24 inches of dirt/rock – is used for a community garden. The larger lava rocks are moved aside to establish pathways between the huts and through the village.
Those trails surround this boy’s hut. He is playing alone. He is happy. The truth is, soon his days of play will end. He will enter the workforce as an adolescent and work for the rest of his life if he is fortunate…leaving his childhood behind.
In contrast, back home in America, sociologists and anthropologists have noted that during the past 30 years, adolescence has functionally extended into the mid-20’s. Essentially, we are a nation with the reasoning capacity and self-expectation of maturity as that of a teenager. We package “youth” as a virtue in itself and see adults jettisoning commitment, maturity, wisdom, sacrifice, responsibility, and loyalty for the misconception of reliving or extending the perception of their own youth.
Youth loses its value if it is perpetual. Childhood becomes counterfeit if it is continuous.
“You who are young, make the most of your youth. Relish your youthful vigor. Follow the impulses of your heart. If something looks good to you, pursue it. But know also that not just anything goes; You have to answer to God for every last bit of it.“ Ecclesiastes 11:9 (Message translation)
It is with this perspective that I cherish my time with Gabe. Since he’s a four-year old, I encourage him to play as hard as he can, like the boy in the swing. I want him to cherish his time as a boy, yet eventually anticipate his transition to manhood. It will be bittersweet to watch my beautiful little boy grow into manhood, rather than chasing the shadow of his childhood like Peter Pan, refusing to grow up.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
Only through learning responsibility, loyalty, sacrifice, trustworthiness, discipline, and the value of every era of our lives can we truly value every passing day and each passing era.
(Word of the Week 22-28FEB) #WOTDseries #Drop14
v. to continue a course of action in spite of difficulty, opposition, fear, boredom, apathy, etc.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~Winston Churchill
“The lesson is, the rewards in life don’t always go to the biggest, or the bravest, or the smartest. The rewards go to the dogged; and when your going though hell, to the person who just keeps going.” ~Bear Grylls
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” ~Romans 12:21
In what do you need to persist?
(Word of the Week 01-07FEB) #WOTDseries #Drop13
“Lack of direction , not lack of time, is the problem.” ~ Zig Ziglar
“Focus is about saying ‘no.'” ~ Steve Jobs
“Give careful thought to the paths of your feet and be steadfast in your ways.” ~ Proverbs 4:26
It’s is easiest to lose focus and sense of direction and purpose during the middle of an endeavor. The halfway point encounters a slump in motivation and enthusiasm. We’re past the excitement of the beginning but not near the thrill of the finish line.
It is during the “middle” in which we must stay focused, stay on azimuth, and keep putting one foot in front of the other without getting distracted. Often this involves saying “no” to those small distractions that lure us off course
(Word of the Week 15-21FEB) #WOTDseries #Drop12
A straight line of hand-placed rocks, each the size of a football, stretched for 9 miles across an ancient desert bowl in Djibouti called the Grand Bara Desert. I couldn’t see where the rocks ended and the desert continued.
Over 3000 of us rendezvoused at the starting line on a “cold” morning in Djibouti – meaning in the low 70’s. It would soon reach the mid-90’s (in December). We had to race the heat to finish line.
The start line wasn’t spectacular. A few French flags and Djiboutian flags and a white chalk line marked the launch pad of this adventure. I was flanked by many of the Soldiers whom I serve and deeply love. After a few initial comments by the hosts of the race, the French 5th Marine Regiment, we readied ourselves for the start signal. It was inbound…but right on time at 0700 that morning.
Thunder! Three French Mirage fighter jets marked the start, flying about 500 feet above us. We felt the blast of their pass. It took me a moment to realize I needed to get going.
The “sand” was hard-packed for the most part. It was more of a talcum-powder type dirt than sand. It was a good surface for running. I carried a Camelbak just in case I needed water #bigmistake #100ozExtraIdidntNeed I discovered that there was a water point every 3 miles along this narrow lane.
If you’re familiar with me by now, you realize I’d never waste an opportunity like this. Nine miles of this unique race was going to be a great time for meditation and prayer. But don’t let me sound too “super-spiritual” – I listened to a lot of music and talked to a few Soldiers along the way (grunted more like it, as we passed one another).
#Soundtrack: RUN DMC, Coldplay, R.E.M. (“Everybody Hurts”), Fitz & the Tantrums, Dave Matthews, Fort Minor, Lifehouse, Linkin Park, Muse, Switchfoot, U2, Fall Out Boy, and the Black Keys among others.
But after the distraction of the music got to be too much and its energy wore off, I still had to kick out those last 3 miles. I sensed that nudge… the tug… the whispered invitation… to finish the run with my best running partner.
I looked at the expanse of the desert around me. I thought to myself how I’d never want to be stranded in this desolation… this isolation. I kept watching each rock in the line pass behind me. I was impressed by how straight the line of rocks was. That was part of the mental obstacle… running in a straight line without seeing the finish line or being able to reckon how far you’ve gone or how far remains. Plus, as I stated before, the lane was narrow. It was narrow because a straight line tends to create that, plus the French Marines and Djiboutian Army were providing security for the race… helicopters flew overhead, personnel carriers patrolled the sides, and Djiboutian soldiers were stretched the length of the course about 100 yards apart #RunningInDjibouti. To run outside the lane meant danger, no matter how appealing it looked.
Straight. Narrow. I recognize these concepts from somewhere else.
I was raised with this toxic impression that God somehow was just waiting for someone to mess up so he could kick them off the path… into desolation… into destruction… But that’s not correct at all. Unfortunately, that seems like a widespread misconception these days.
God is doing all he can to keep us on the straight and narrow. That is the story of the Hebrew and Christian scripture. God indefinitely pro-acts toward creation and the universe and offers covenant and community. That’s where we find security, not freedom from danger, but security. That’s where we find sustainment, not freedom from hunger, but sustainment.
The straight and narrow is not a campground. It is intended to get us to go where we need to go. It’s our choice whether we stay on it or not. We are free to choose other paths, roads, and highways.
*Many modern translations use the term “small” more commonly than “straight.” However, “straight and narrow” is a term that has been wedged into our vocabulary thanks to the King James version of the Bible. Although, I do not use “small” instead of “straight” to offer this reflection, I am certain it holds true to the deeper scriptural meaning of Christ’s teaching.
(Word of the Week 15DEC) #WOTDseries #Drop11
Happy New Year!
I read a recent article about Cam Newton and how he is bringing fun to the NFL because he displays a kid-like enthusiasm, or as the article stated it – “joy” – to the game. In the midst of a bunch of poor sportsmanship and questionable role-models, Cam gives us a glimpse at the simplicity of having fun like a kid. I like the guy, even though I typically cheer against his team (ever since Auburn). I’m inspired by his joy – “flying” like a kid pretending to be a airplane, miming a Superman shirt rip, and jumping side/back bumps. Joy.
Some might comment that they’d be as happy as Cam if they made millions of dollars or got paid to play football, and so on. But, I don’t think so. Joy is a choice. People without joy are people without joy, regardless of their circumstances. There are plenty of wealthy people without joy. And there are plenty of people living in poverty with joy. I’ve discovered this in hills of Appalachia, the villages of Haiti, the mountains of Afghanistan, the roads of Djibouti, the jungle of Kenya, and the streets of inner-city Miami, OKC, and Jacksonville.
Therefore, Cam’s behavior confronts me with a challenging question…I’ll get to it in a second.
Jesus teaches something similar when he says, “Trust me, unless you change and become like little kids, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3, NIV ~ with ‘Lance emphasis’).”
Become like a little kid. Joy. This is what I see when I see Cam’s behavior on the field.
The question I ask myself – “Why don’t I do that too?” “What’s keeping me from expressing joy in the work I’ve put my hands to doing?” “How can I finish each day or each task with a double fist pump or a Superman shirt-rip?” This applies to my role as a husband, dad, friend, and employee.
It is up to each individual to find or make joy in the work of their hands. No amount of money or other people’s behavior toward you will give you joy.
This New Year, I will exercise more fist pumps, high fives, and “Superman shirt rips” as I do my job, love my wife, raise my son, and be a friend.
“Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the brokenness and baggage that just won’t let go. Let’s run with endurance the race that is ahead of us.” Letter to the Hebrews 12:1
A big “THANK YOU” to my hometown race company 1st Place Sports in Jacksonville, FL for making this event possible. This race has become an annual tradition for me. When I discovered I would be deployed and would miss this year’s Thanksgiving Day Distance Classic half marathon, I contacted 1PS and asked if I could register for the race in JAX but run it in Djibouti.
I got the thumbs up. Then, I thought that other Soldiers deployed with the battalion would want to run a half marathon also. So I asked 1PS if I could host a remote version of the race. As the Battalion Chaplain, the extra-fun aspect is getting to plan and host this as a ‘Spiritual Fitness Event’ for my battalion. Thumbs up again.
So, we are a few days before the race. We have over 150 runners ready to hit the pavement at 0330 (yes…in the morning). We have runners representing each branch of the US Armed Forces, as well as a number of our beloved French 5th Marine Regiment allies. We will each earn our Thanksgiving Day feast later that day.
The Word of the Week is “Endurance” which I will share as part of the opening ceremonies.
We’re ready. I sense it in every conversation with each of our Soldiers. The atmosphere is thick with anticipation.
It feels like pregame of a contest we know we’re fully prepared to win. There is a razor’s edge to their sharpness. The farewell’s to our families, friends, and loved ones have only served to fuel our drive to get overseas and begin mission.
I never cease to be inspired by the quality of Soldiers I have served with in times such as this. The challenge brings out our best. These Soldiers are confident in their craft. They are expert warriors…there’s no other way to say it. Yet they temper their fury until the moment for which it is called.
These are the sons and daughters of a good nation. If you ever doubt America’s grit, tenacity, integrity, and resilience, spend an hour talking and training with these Millennials and GenXers. Doubt will be removed. These Soldiers are the leaders of their generations. They are high-order thinkers and tireless workers. If they complain, it is only to each other. It is their earned privilege which actually serves as fuel for their continued diligence and critical awareness of their missions’ objectives.
Our leaders are ready. They have scrutinized and vetted multiple strategies, options, and actions for the mission ahead. They carry a paternal love and burden for each of those in their formations… even the rowdiest ones. They hunger to be called on to lead the hardest missions, but are faithful and humble to give the same drive and effort to even the smallest of assigned objectives.
We are ready because we are confident. This confidence is not false motivation that dries up in the face of real adversity. Rather it is true confidence that seeks to be proven through adversity.
Readiness is not best measured by a checklist of trained tasks. It is best measured by the character, commitment, competence, and grit found in both the individual Soldier and their team here in the Seminole Battalion.
We’re ready. Never surrender.