Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Being True to Yourself

The last couple of years have been very confusing and frightening for me, but also very enlightening as well. Most of my adult life has been spent performing primarily military, law enforcement, and intelligence work. However, after over 20 years in this career field, I began experiencing terrible attacks of anxiety and panic. I could not drive a vehicle by myself. I feared being around people, especially large groups. There were even some days I was too scared to even leave my home. There were also physical symptoms like dizziness, memory loss, high blood pressure, headaches, and poor balance. Why? I haven't the slightest idea. When these symptoms did not go away, I was eventually forced to say goodbye to everything I spent almost a lifetime developing. Doctors were useless, and psychiatrists were even worse. Eventually my condition became labeled as Anxiety, Panic, and Somatoform Disorders. The symptoms have lessened somewhat but they are still present. You might say I have just gotten better with recognizing them and learning to adjust. What it comes down to is that in my mid-40s, I am forced to re-create myself, to build a new career and life. That covers the confusing and frightening part, but how is all that enlightening? Let me explain.

When I was growing up, I was a totally different sort of person than I am now. The Steven Sanders of my youth was a musician, an artist, and a writer. I was compassionate to others. I began playing in the band and orchestra in the 3rd grade. I played the tuba, trombone, baritone horn and, later on, learned to play the guitar, bass guitar, and even a little piano. I sang in the chorus at school and the choir at church. Every summer, I went to a performing arts camp on Long Island in N.Y.. While other boys were getting in trouble for fighting at school, I would get notes sent home saying I was off in my own little world, humming and whistling music to myself in class. Besides music, I excelled in English. I read about any book I could get my hands on and wrote poetry and short stories. I wasn't a total nerd. I played soccer, little league baseball, and enjoyed playing football with my friends. But my passion was always for the arts. It came natural to me and it made me feel alive! So naturally, after graduating high school I joined the Army. Whaaat?!

Well, you see, my family never had alot of money. I never knew much about things like student loans, scholarships, or grants. So while I dreamed about becoming a musician, I had no idea how to make it a reality. The military seemed foreign to me, but it at least seemed a better option than working on the loading dock at the mall where I had been slaving away since graduation. My enlistment into the military would set the course for roughly the next 25 years of my life. I spent a number of years in the Army, worked private security of all sorts, and spent time working for government law enforcement and intelligence agencies. I learned how to be an authority figure. Much of my training was focused on observing people, profiling people, subduing people, and yes, killing people. I learned to be proficient with firearms and weapons of all sorts. My learning taught me the tactics and mindsets of the "bad guys". I even came to learn that some the "bad guys" were playing on our team. I have since come to realize that my own mindset had drastically changed as well. I became distrustful of almost everybody and everything. Inside I became hard and cold. When you live in a world where very little is as it seems, there is really very little to trust in.

While I was quite good at this kind of work,  I can't honestly say it came naturally to me. Were there enjoyable times? Certainly! There are also certain skill sets that serve me well in serving others. Life is what you make it, but most good memories over my past career had more to do with the people I worked with or with certain experiences, rather than the work itself. In the rare moments when I was honest with myself, I mostly felt like an impostor, like I was playing a role. And then...after all those years of training and service, I just sort of melted down. Now psychiatrists will theorize it was the result of too many years of bottled up trauma...too much exposure to death, danger, confrontation, and stress. Perhaps that played a part. But I think there is more to it than that, and it has to do with being true to yourself.

I have given this great thought over the past few years. I have come to believe that God graces every person with certain gifts when they are born. Certainly we can learn skills and develop tendencies from parents, friends, and teachers. However, there are certain talents people have that come naturally to them, that bring out a passion in them, and cannot be explained by genetics or education alone. God's gifting can be witnessed in a pair of couch potato parents having a child who is an exceptional athlete, or a brilliant musician being born of parents who are, shall we say, rythym-impaired. How many youth are forced into careers by their parents for the stated objective of achieving a high standard of living, when the child has a passion and a gifting for something totally different? Every person has a gift or gifts that is unique to them. Wise parents will recognize these gifts in their children and  encourage them to develop them to their full potential. Smart youth will recognize their strengths and passions and run with them. To do anything less, to deny your giftings, is to be untrue to yourself. Worse yet, it is a denial of who God intended you to be and a waste of a gift from your creator.

So to the youth who may read this blog I would say this: Develop your strengths and follow that which brings you joy. Allow no one else to determine who you will be. And don't listen to people who tell you that you can't achieve something. They are usually people who never followed their God-gifts and just want you to be as miserable as they are. Believe in yourself...because God certainly does.

As for myself, I think there will be much more writing in my future. Who knows...I may be persuaded to pick up a musical instrument again. These things bring me joy. But my greatest joy is found in compassion and service. I want to spend what time I have left sharing from the wealth of my mistakes, to have compassion on those who struggle, and to help them find the joy that God has intended for their lives.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Walking in Faith

Abraham Lincoln once said, "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day." This insightful quote seems very appropriate to my current state of mind. I am deciding whether or not I should consider this year to be possibly the worst ever of my life. Certainly there have been times of greater emotional pain and suffering, but never have I been at a place of such physical weakness and material need. So far this year I have experienced the death of a brother, a heart attack, having to rebuild the Jeep's transmission, A/C went out at the house and was fixed, the water has all but dried up at the house, we're being overrun by insects, and now the A/C has gone out again. This has left me with seemingly insurmountable debt and for the very first time in my life I honestly don't know how our family will make it through the next two weeks until I get paid again....or possibly longer as the government argues over the debt ceiling. Yes, I rely on disability as part of my income. I am not proud of it and am going through the long process of rehabilitation and retraining to be useful once again. For a man who has struggled and sacrificed his whole adult life to support his family, this is unfamiliar spiritual territory for me. There has always been something that I could do in the physical to solve our financial problems. Today, however, I feel totally helpless and at the mercy of the world.
Before anyone accuses me of being a whiner, let me state for the record that, despite my current circumstances, I consider myself to be greatly blessed.  For one, I am still alive and breathing, which was hammered home to me in several situations, is a blessing not to be taken for granted. I have an incredible family whom I love with all my heart and soul. It is because of my love for them that I feel much shame over not being able to be come up with the answers or resources during our current trials. As broken as it is, we have a nice home on a nice little piece of ground. And, so far, nobody in our home has ever had to go to bed hungry. I don't have to look far to find people who are dealing with far worse than our current troubles; people who are facing hunger, homelessness, crippling and fatal diseases, abuse, violence, death, and war. In a global perspective, our current problems are probably laughable. Yet, they are our problems and we struggle with them.
God has given me a wonderful wife who tries patiently to remind me, as I'm stressing and panicking, that the Lord has always been there for us and seen us through the hard times. It is a new thing for me but she reminds me that I should be faithfully speaking God's promises as we pray and seek answers for our difficulties. In my natural mind, there is anxiety, doubt and fear. Yet in my spirit, I know God is faithful. I do not understand why things do not always happen the way we would have them happen. I am not God's equal so I cannot totally understand His mind and His purposes. Yet I have seen His goodness and His mercy in my life and have experienced seemingly unthinkable results when I have pursued Him. I know that He is capable of anything and that He wishes goodness for all His children. So, despite my weaknesses of anxiety and fear, I stand fast on His promises as I pray and wait to see in what way He will move. Below are just a few of the scriptures that I am meditating on through these tough times. I hope that in sharing them you will be blessed by them. There are so many more. Feel free to share!

  • Jeremiah 29:13

    New International Version (NIV)
    13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
  • 1 Chronicles 16:10

    New International Version (NIV)

    10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. 
  • Isaiah 40:29

    New International Version (NIV)

    29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:7

    New International Version (NIV)
    7 For we live by faith, not by sight.
  • Matthew 11:28

    New International Version (NIV)

    28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
  • Psalm 46:1-3

    New International Version (NIV)

    1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
    2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
    3 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.[

Monday, March 21, 2011

Libyan Lunacy

 I find it curious regarding the Libya situation that the press is reporting that Moammar Khadafi (Gadafi, Gaddafi, Kadafi) is attacking "civilians."'s a civil war...of course he is. By definition, anyone not in the Libyan military, and not on the government side, is a civilian. It seems like the more common term for a person who fights against their government to be called a rebel or domestic terrorist. But I have some questions about these "civilians." Mainly because, from the pics and video I have seen, they are certainly the most heavily armed civilians I have ever seen. They have tanks, armored personnel carriers, rocket launchers, grenades, and heavy machine guns. Even for the U.S., that's pretty beefy weaponry for a civilian. Given the fact that Khaddafi has kept his country impoverished for many years, where did the average Mohammed on the street get the money to afford these toys? Has someone from the outside supplied the people with weapons? If so, why? What are these rebels wanting? How did this uprising start? What was the defining event that caused it? Who is leading the "civilians?"

Khaddafi, who is not necessarily trustworthy, says Al-Quaeda has taken over certain areas of his country and is fomenting this rebellion. This could be a lie, but let's look at that statement. Has this happened before? We know in Afghanistan the Taliban have taken control of certain regions of this nation. In Iraq there are many areas still under control by Islamist insurgents. So is it really that far fetched to believe that this couldn't be occurring in Libya? If that is the case, wouldn't Khaddafi be justified in fighting against insurgents who have stirred up rebellion among the people? our supporting these unknown factions, aren't we fighting on the side of potential terrorists?

I think there are alot of questions that need to be answered here, certainly before we commit American lives to this conflict. Unfortunately, it appears that it is too late as the Obama administration has jumped into the fray, going   against the advisement of their military advisors. More questions. Should the president have sought congressional approval as he sought U.N. approval? What is his motivation for involving the U.S.? Did the relationship of Obama's mentors with Khaddafi play a role in his hesitation to act? What are our interests there? How long will we be there? What is the "end game?"  

Some are equating our involvement to President Bush's decision to attack Iraq. Not comparable in my view. With Iraq, there were over 48 separate violations of U.N. sanctions by Saddam Hussein. Long periods of national debate were spent on the subject before we got involved. Bush sought and got the approval of congress, a Democratic congress I might add. He did not worry about U.N. approval but was undoubtedly upholding the enforcement of their sanctions, which they themselves would not do. With Libya, we have a civil war that is only a few weeks old. Up until this point, the U.N. considered Khaddafi to be a peachy guy, even allowing Libya to hold a spot on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. He was a tyrant, although a very benign one. So there is a sudden and mysterious uprising, The Arab League speaks out, and suddenly the U.N. is moving with unprecedented speed toward taking military action against their buddy Moammar. Hold the phone! With Saddam, it took the U.N. years of debate and mountains of sanctions before action was taken against a dictator who abused his people, and even then not by the U.N. but by the U.S.. Hmmm...something's different here and it doesn't smell right.

Stay tuned kiddos...this is gonna get really messy before it gets better. And...oh yes...there will be blood! Blood that will be on American hands. Shouldn't we have a better idea of why and what for before we commit ourselves to killing people of a foreign nation? Just a thought.