Archives For May 2010

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields

I remember memorizing In Flanders Fields when I was in Mrs. Schaeffer’s 3rd grade class. Although it was composed well before my time by Lt. Col. John McCrae in the spring of 1915 during the 2nd battle of Ypres in Belgium during World War I, it’s simple verse and haunting cadence make it one of the most memorable war poems ever written. I can still quote it today.

But, I’ve never been to war. I’ve worked with people who have. I’ve watched a number of films about war–The Patriot, Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Stop-Loss, Glory, The Hurt Locker, and more–in my attempt to understand better what soldiers endure, survive and come home from. But I’ve never seen war up close and personal. But a lot of people have. Some volunteered. Others were drafted. But all of them served.

I’ve been spared from the horrors of war because of the sacrifices of others. I’ve had the privilege of being in the company of vets and listened as they shared what they experienced in war. After watching Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino with one vet from Nam, he lean over and reverently share in his gravely voice,  “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends. People who aren’t soldiers doing get this. That’s what soldiers do.” At that moment I felt like I’d been ushered into holy ground reserved only for soldiers.

The quote came from none other than  Jesus. His words to His disciples in John 15:13 are never more true for a soldier than on the field of battle. I understand that better now.

I’ve also listened to what soldiers have brought back home with them from war . . . PTSD.

So as I approach this Memorial Day (the last Monday of May in the United States, but I’m sure there are similar days of remembering in countries all around the world), it’s not just the holiday that heralds the beginning of the summer vacationing season, but it’s become even more meaningful this year because of the time I’ve spent in the presence of some veterans who served with honor.  But I would suggest that not only is it a day set aside to remember the sacrifices of those who died in the service of our country, but that it also be a day to remember and pray for those who did make it home and who are still sacrificing as they battle with the aftermath of the war in the form of physical wounds and the invisible wounds of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Maybe that’s where you or someone you love is today. Maybe Memorial Day provokes more stress than celebration because of the memories of war that get stirred up. Do you or a loved one need help wrestling with the stuff they brought home from war in that internal duffle that needs to be unpacked? Let us help you start on the path of healing.  Check out The War Within: Finding Hope for Post-Traumatic Stress and out discussions and insights on PTSD from HelpForMyLife.org.

Men and Ladders

Allison Stevens —  May 25, 2010 — 4 Comments

I remember as a little girl seeing my dad climb ladders. He climbed ladders to get into our attic above the garage; he climbed ladders to build our playhouse. He climbed a ladder to look at something on the roof once.

Then I married a man and he climbs ladders. Lots of ladders all the time. His father climbed ladders. And my girlfriends with husbands tell me that their husbands climb ladders, too.

Apparently, men love ladders, at least married ones do.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The ladder betrayed my husband. The ladder wiggled, gave way and then he fell. About 6 feet off the ground, he fell directly on his feet, and for a split second, I was so relieved that nothing appeared to have happened. I thought he’d likely be a little sore, but no real tragedy occurred.  Seconds later, however, the swelling began and then the odd way his foot was going one direction and his ankle was angled in another direction was a telltale sign that it was going to be a long summer. After an ambulance ride and hours in the emergency room, we found out that he broke both of his feet.  His heels to be specific.

So one reason I write about this is to plead with all men, young and old, who, for whatever reason, find themselves on ladders, to please remember safety first. Be careful out there and don’t participate in any activities that require ladder use without a buddy system.  You may not be on a ladder all by yourself, without anyone holding on to your ladder for you. You may not climb ladders that are wobbly and over 3 feet tall.  And you may never, under any circumstances, stand on or straddle the top step. We women appreciate all you do for us on those ladders, even though we may have no idea what you’re doing, but really, we want you safe and sound. We can hire the job out.

This ladder talk reminds me of another guy who apparently had a thing for ladders. He even dreamed about them. I’m talking about Jacob and his dream about angels descending and ascending into heaven on a ladder. “Jacob’s ladder.” The ladder went from earth up to heaven; and of course God was at the top of the ladder.

 What’s so great about this dream?  It’s so incredible because it is a picture of the powerful and loving work of Jesus Christ. He is our ladder to heaven. He makes it possible for us to enjoy all the benefits of being in a right relationship with God. Jesus, our friend and brother, is with us and has made a way for us. We are not alone. As a matter of fact, Jesus, who is in charge of all the angels, sends them to us from time to time to help us out. They protect us and guide us. We can’t see them, but they are there because of Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for loving us and for being our way, our bridge, our ladder to heaven.

In 1967-68, Phil Downer was a 19-year-old Marine lugging a M-60 machine gun through the jungles and rice patties of South Vietnam with the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines. Phil’s outfit saw some of the heaviest fighting in the Fall of 67 in Operations Swift and Essex. In one of these battles, his unit was ambushed by the enemy and within 90 seconds lost 20% of his men either dead or wounded. After 13-months in-country, Phil left the war front in Nam and came home to peace . . . or so he thought. What he didn’t expect was that he carried the war back with him . . . inside.

When I asked Phil to describe his battles with PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this is what he shared:

“Well, one minute you’re with a buddy you’ve fought with, you’ve seen the pictures of his family, you’ve shared your C-rations, you’ve saved each other’s lives, and in a second, he’s a bloody mess and you’re writing his mom about how he died. You don’t know what to say. The screams of the moment he was hit–you live with. They wake you up at night. You have no place to put the guilt. Why not me? You have no place to put the pain, the anger, the rage, and then you come home–to people who are at least indifferent if not angry with what you’ve done and the whole thing seems to be for nothing. And when that happens to you, it’s a pool of pain that radiates in every relationship and aspect of your life.”

And what Phil experienced has been the story of so many of our service men and women who come home from war. Whether it’s Vietnam, Gulf War 1 or Iraq and Afghanistan, the struggle is still the same. There is a war within that comes home and there’s no place to put the pain, the loss, the guilt, the fear, the rage, and the isolation.

But Phil’s journey home from war didn’t stop with the struggle. He broke into a smile as he also spoke about the healing he has and continues to experience from his internal war wounds:

“I’ve experienced a lot of healing from that war. A lot of wonderful things have happened in my life that have been restored, but I don’t think I’ll ever fully be over that war or forget the trauma of what I went through and had to deal with on a daily basis.  People ask me sometimes, ‘When were you in Vietnam?’ And, sometimes, my answer is quietly, ‘last night in my dreams.'”

Maybe you’re like Phil, and your war has come home with you in too many ways that you never expected. Maybe you’re overwhelmed and not sure what to do with it all. Maybe you don’t see it, but others close to you do. They’re telling you that you’re different. And somehow you know they’re right. You’ve been changed by what you experienced in war.

You can’t go back. You can’t undo what’s been done. But you can grow through this. Yes, in spite of the pain, you can grow through this. Just getting through it–surviving the firefight like you did over there–isn’t enough. The pain is too painful and too precious to waste. So, use it. With the help of God and those who love you, you can learn to grieve, grow, and live again even through this pain. You were taught how to survive in a war zone. Now you need to learn how to thrive back at home. But remember: it’s a process that takes time and effort. Get help.

For more help with PTSD, check out The War Within, Hope for the Home Front, Point Man Ministries, and round table discussions and insights on PTSD on HelpForMyLife.org.

And for all you Vet’s who have served, let me say personally and on behalf of RBC Ministries and HelpForMyLife.org, Thank You For Your Service. We are grateful for you and your sacrifice.

When war comes home

Tim Jackson —  May 4, 2010 — 6 Comments

I’ve just spent the last several days with the HelpForMyLife editing team working through the videos we shot two weeks ago dealing with the issue of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Wow! Talk about an intense topic.

This production has been especially tough, and yet so good. I’ve had the honor of working with two veterans and their wives who graciously invited us into their lives and shared their stories of struggle with PTSD and how it has impacted their lives.

Phil and Susy Downer hail from Chattanooga, TN. Phil is a Vietnam Vet who served a 13-month tour in Nam as a machine gunner with the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines. Phil’s unit was involved in some of the heaviest combat of the war. Some of the most horrific events of the war for him involved two major search and destroy missions, one in which his unit was ambushed by the enemy and in 90 seconds, 20% of the men in his unit were either dead or wounded.

Phil came home to a country that was less than appreciative of his and his unit’s efforts to serve faithfully. And the wounds they’d suffered and the sacrifices that they’d made, well, let’s just say that they were virtually ignored and discounted, leaving them in what Phil describes as “a pool of pain.” He met and married Susy and they began their lives together. But they soon discovered that the war didn’t stay 9,000 miles away in Southeast Asia. Unknowingly, Phil had brought the anger, fear, distrust, hyper-vigilance, guilt, shame, nightmares, flashbacks, and memories back home with him . And no matter how hard he tried to drowned out the screams, the smells, and the memories of war by all of his successes and achievements,  none of it was enough to heal the war within his soul. And it just about destroyed his marriage with Susy.

Lt. Col. Dan Nigolian  and his wife Kathy flew in from Colorado Springs, where they currently reside since Dan retired 9 months ago from a 26-year career in the Air Force as a chaplain. Dan was the senior chaplain on 5 combat deployments throughout his career. Three were special ops deployments, one was in Iraq, and his last was in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was the senior ranking chaplain of all NATO forces.

It wasn’t until he was going through his requisite retirement interviews that it was recommended to Dan that he be evaluated for PTSD. And although he initially shrugged it off saying, “No, I’m fine,” he consented to the tests at the request of Kathy who knew something was up. Given his 5 combat deployments, during which he was shot down in an airplane and later blown up in a convoy outside of Kabul, it was no mistake that war had taken its toll on Dan. He was diagnosed with moderate to severe PTSD, moderate traumatic brain injury, and severe depression. The experiences of war had etched permanent marks on his heart, soul, body, and mind that he and Kathy are currently in the process of working through.

These are the people that I’ve had the privilege of work with on this series. They poured out their hearts because they have and are experiencing healing from the war within that came home with them. While it’s never gone, it can be redeemed. What I learned from them is that although war trauma (or any trauma for that matter) inflicts invisible wounds on the human soul that are impossible to erase, there is a Wounded Healer who sacrificed Himself so that “by His wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

These two couples echo a message of hope for the 1.8 million men and women in uniform who are coming home from war. War will change you. You can’t experience the horrors of war and not have it impact you. You need a safe place to talk about your experiences, what you felt then when you were deployed, and what you are wrestling with since you’ve come home. And, as Dan would say, “you need buddy care when you’re over there, and you need buddy care when you come home.”

So, if you or a loved one you know is struggling with symptoms of PTSD, check out our HelpForMyLife.org website later in May 2010 (within the next 2 weeks) for the release of the new series on PTSD. Our sister ministry, Day of Discovery, has also produced a 4-part documentary that will begin airing  on the Ion cable network starting May 23, 2010. Tune in as Phil Downer and Dr. Mike Wilkins return to Vietnam for the first time since the war and tell their stories of horror, hope, and healing through PTSD.