Sunday, December 26, 2010

Saying Goodbye (for now)


It's the day after Christmas and I have decided to write one more blog entry and then close it down (for now). It has been 4 months since I returned from Afghanistan, and I've had plenty of time to reflect on the past year. In fact, sitting here with family in my own home makes quite a contrast to where I was one year ago. I spent time thinking back to where I was and what I was doing on Christmas and New Year's 2009, and I realized how thankful I am for being home this year! I still know a few Chaplains over there now, and I can sympathize with them for being away from family on the major holidays, but I know how fast it goes by and I know they will both be home with their families soon, too. I keep them in my prayers often.

The transition back into my old groove was harder than I anticipated. I took some time off initially and then went back to my old job as a counselor at a local hospital. I really struggled in my spirit because I did not want to be there. I was so certain that God was going to open a "new" door for me once I returned. I was dreaming of ministry opportunities in churches all over the country (even sent out a few resumes), but nothing panned out. I was disappointed. In fact, I have to admit that I went through a period of spiritual disappointment with God. Phillip Yancey's book by the same title was helpful to me, as was Timothy Keller's book, The Prodigal God. I could relate to the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, the guy who is angry with "dad" for not rewarding him for obedience and faithful service. I was that guy! I was upset with God for not rewarding me for my service to Him. Instead, I got silence from God and the opportunity to go back to my old life -- the very life I was anxious to leave behind when I left for the deployment in the first place.

But God is faithful. He was slowly allowing me to reassimilate into my olf life (family, home, job, church, etc), and it takes time. Too much change too quickly would have been a bad thing for me, and God knew it. He was allowing me to heal and grow. Which, I am proud to say, I think I have done. I made the decision to begin looking for a new church home (for reasons that I will not go into here), and so we will begin that quest in the New Year. But other than that, things are pretty much back to normal. Well, a "new normal." I am still doing counseling at the hospital, still in the Army Reserves, and still taking seminary classes on-line. But I can see light at the end of the tunnel now and maybe a few new opportunities for me at the hospital where I work. So I have learned that God's silence may not be a bad thing. He wants us to be obedient and confidently move ahead with His Will -- even if we cannot hear Him at the moment. I have been a Christian long enough to know that God loves me and will never leave me nor forsake me. He has a perfect plan for me, and all I have to do is believe it, walk humbly with my God, and wait patiently for Him. (I never said it was easy, but it can be done).

So for now, I will add a few final pictures from this Fall and say Goodbye. (The State Fair with the kids, kissing my wife, my daughter and her new puppy, at a Purity Ball with my oldest daughter, and at my friend Stephen's wedding). Thank you for following along with me over the last two years. If and when God has another cool adventure for me and my family, I will get back on and start the blog up again. But for now, all good things must come to an end. (I found a company that will help me turn this blog into a book, so I'll keep these memories in hardcover print forever. Maybe lay it on the coffee table, who knows?). I hope you all have a great 2011!

Thanks again..... Chaplain Darren

Friday, August 27, 2010

Finally Home

27 Aug Friday

I am finally home. It was a tearful reunion at the airport, as both my family and members of my local Reserve Unit came to greet us when we arrived. It was awesome. I finally got to hug and kiss my wife and kids and know that I will not be leaving again anytime soon.
Now that I'm home, I plan on not doing a whole lot for a few weeks. I'll then take a good look at my options and see what God has in store for me/us next.
I want to thank you all for following along with my blog over the last year and a half. It was fun to write and I hope it was (almost) as much fun to read. Thanks for joining me on this fantastic journey to Afghanistan and back, and I can only hope that God has spoken to you through this in some way shape or form. I know He did for me!
Check back in again soon. I am not exactly sure how I want to finish this little blog-journey, but I know that I will bring it to and end sometime soon. I understand you can publish your own blogs and turn them into personalized books. I may do that in the near future. But as for now... I thank God for bringing me through this safely and I praise Him for te opportunity to serve Him as a Chaplain and come home to my family. Now I want to relax and do a whole lot of nothing! Talk to you again soon....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Going Home Tomorrow

Thurs 26 Aug
I have been waiting for a very long time to be able to say, "I'm going home tomorrow!" Today is our last day of this de-MOB process -- and therefore this deployment -- and we will all be released to go home tomorrow. They will fly us all to our home states and local airports, so it will be a glorious day! I can't wait to see my wife and kids at the airport (yes, I may shed a few tears), and I'll even make it home in time to celebrate my mom's birthday coming up soon, too. It should be a great weekend.

Way back when this trip started I had someone tell me that deployments will change you, so I should pray that God changes me for the better. I remembered that advice and began praying that very prayer even before we left the USA back in October, 2009. And I am here to tell you that God answered that prayer in more ways than one. We grow the most through difficult circumstances and trials, and this sure was a growing experience. Overall, I think I am a more tolerant and patient person. Although I suppose the crowds at the mall or a traffic jam will test that theory pretty quick! I know I have grown to appreciate the little things in life more, as well as the people who mean the most to you. We take so much for granted in our country, it's truly unbelievable. That is, until you live with and see people who have far less.

So I have been pondering the Apostle Paul's words in Colossians 3:2 and 3:5 where he writes to put away the desires for things of this earth and to set our hearts on what is above (i.e, the Messiah). This is a very hard thing to do, as you can imagine. Having been away from our society for a year, I now find myself wanting "things." I catch myself admiring that cool new iPhone that my buddy owns, or that sweet pick-up truck that just drove by, or some other material possession that I don't currently possess! I want it. In fact, I want it all.

But the Scriptures say don't do that. God tells us that He wants to give us the desires of our heart, but I don't think that means a Farrari and the iPhone! I think God wants the desires of my heart to match the desires of His heart, and then He will gladly give them to me/us. OK, sounds easy, but what does that look like or really mean? Well, I have stumbled upon something else in my devotionals recently. Have you ever noticed how often the New Testament teaches us to love others? I think it may be the central, guiding principle of both Christ's and Paul's teachings. To truly love each other, and to show the world we are different through this one simple act. (I wish it were that simple!). But it can be done. Sadly, we Christians look and act and sin too much like everyone else in this world, and we are failing miserably in attracting a lost and dying world to the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I am praying that God helps me learn to love the un-lovable, and love those who persecuted me this past year. A pastor friend once told me that "sheep sometimes stink and bite." He was right. So maybe through it all God is teaching me to learn how to love and feed His sheep. I hope so.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Prayers Needed

Tuesday 24 Aug
I am very frustrated. The last five days have been so slow and inefficient that we all just want to scream. Here we are, just days from being done with this thing and home with our families, and the Army (in it's infinite wisdom) decides to take a four-day process and stretch it into eight! It has been unbelievable how much time has been wasted since last Thursday and how much sitting around we have done during that period as well. The schedule calls it "decompression time", which is basically a fancy way of saying we don't have anything scheduled for you, so just sit around. It's absurd. We could--and should--be done with this process already, but NO, that would make sense. Instead, they have us here a few more days before we all get released. We're all going stir-crazy.

But I had another reason for blogging today: I wanted to ask for your prayers. I have been seeking God's guidance regarding my immediate future after this deployment. But God has been very silent on this topic. I am not sure why, but I know enough to trust Him and wait. So I would like to ask for your prayers to do just that, and to have the spiritual eyes and ears to discern what He wants me to do. Thank you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back in the USA !!

Sunday 22 Aug

It has been an eventful week since I last posted from Kyrgzystan and the sports bar scene. (I added a picture of the candy-bar rack available there for the soldiers heading to and from theater. Crazy, huh?). So the day finally came for us to leave and we boarded the DC-10 and flew back to the USA on Thursday. It was an interesting route home, since we stopped in Romania and again in Ireland to refuel. Both times we got to get out and roam through the respective airports. Romania was beautiful; Ireland was dark and rainy. But from there we flew to Maine and refueled again, before heading on to our final destination here at Ft. Bliss, TX (near El Paso). We are currently staying here for our final week. This is called the "De-Mobilization" process, where they have you turn in your weapon(s), Individual Body Armor (IBA), and then go through a medical and dental out-processing. (I found out I may have 1 cavity, oops). Tomorrow we all go through a mental health evaluation -- boy that should be fun! But today is a down day on the schedule so I went to church already and later plan to hit the weight room (maybe a nap in between!).

As for the pictures, notice the band playing for us when we landed at Ft. Bliss. They had a nice little reception planned out for us, and even a few families made the long trip to greet their loved-ones when we arrived. But I could not resist the temptation of one final picure of my ol' buddy, the port-a-john! It was really hard saying goodbye to him (or her?), knowing how close we'd become over the past year. But I had to do it nonetheless. Goodbye old friend! (sniffle, sniffle). I now look forward to a few of the more taken-for-granted pleasures of being back home, such as not needing to wear flip-flops in the shower for fear of who knows what fungus is growing there, and then indoor plumbing -- that is, not having to physically go outside and walk to the bathroom. Especially at night! Boy, it will be good to be home!

And one final note, remember what I said last blog about the General Orders #1 (not being allowed to drink)? Well, we had a few of the Soldiers disregard that order two nights ago. They went into town (which was allowed), but decided to come back drunk. Not a good idea. Now all 7 of them are in hot water. A "Field Grade" Article 15 means they can all lose rank as well as a lot of money for violating a direct order. The Battalion Commander (BC) decided to put everyone on "lock down" since the incident, which means no one can leave Post anymore until we fly home. No one can go to an off-base restaurant or movie, or visit wth their family members who may be staying in a local hotel. Those families who are here and were hoping to spend time in the evenings with their Soldier are out of luck. So as you can imagine, the rest of the Soldiers are angry -- at their buddies for breaking the rules as well as at the BC for her decision to restrict passes. Basically, people are tired and grumpy and just want this to be over. I can relate. So please, keep us in your prayers for a little bit longer. It's almost over!
All I know is this is my last weekend of this deployment. I will be back home with my wife and kids by the end of this up-coming week. Thank you, Lord.