The Heartache of Being Half a World Away From My Family

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Photo by Topaz

Military families know all about this: It’s hard being away from family for long periods of time.

Although I’m not military, I work for the government which requires me to be deployed to remote areas for anywhere from six to twelve months.

My main heartache comes from missing my two sons, ages 13 and 11. I get a lot of benefits for volunteering for deployment, but it’s still really difficult to miss one of my son’s birthdays, to miss their summer vacation when they go with my wife to the beach or water park, and other occasions.

It’s just plain difficult not being able to see them while they’re still young.

A previous supervisor (who I hated) told me once that I should stop working volunteer overtime and go home to my kids because “they’re only young once.”

There is so much truth in that. Earlier this year I missed my oldest son’s birthday. Ever since he turned 3, he has always wanted to celebrate his birthday at a restaurant called Rainforest Cafe. We have continued that tradition up to now, except for the first time in 11 years, I wasn’t there at the festive table in the middle of mechanical jungle animals that come alive ever so often.

And later this year, my youngest, my little baby, will turn 12. 12 years old! I can’t believe it. I won’t be there for that as well.

I won’t see their first day of school; my youngest will start middle school this upcoming school year.

And, most of all, I will be breaking a promise I made to them before I left for the Middle East: I won’t be able to take them to grandma’s house for Christmas. It’s the highlight of their year.

I won’t be there to watch the final installment of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars Episode IX. This has been a family tradition ever since my mom took my sister and me to the therater to see the original (Episode IV) back in 1977.

I know it sounds weird, but I was looking forward to coming full circle and seeing Episode IX with my mom and my sons, especially my oldest who has become a Star Wars fanatic.

But none of that will happen, either.

Being in the middle of the desert, stuck on a fortified military compound (I’m still able to see the local sights; it’s just hard to get clearance, and it’s a challenge to actually get off the compound) has given me lots of time to think.

I spend my free time exercising: going to the base gym or walking laps around the compound in 110-115 F (43-46 C) heat. On weekends I’ll grab a “battle buddy” and we’ll go into the local city for shopping, going out to eat, and just enjoying the freedom to move around that the compound doesn’t offer.

Before I was deployed, my psychiatrist took me off everything except Xanax and Quetiapine. They don’t help much when I’m feeling down, though. For the most part they make me feel tired and groggy. That’s why I’m trying to exercise daily: to make up for my lack of effective medication. I’m getting by.

All I can say is thank God for Netflix. I don’t know what I’d do without it in the evenings.

My wife’s birthday was recently, and I was able to get her present in the mail weeks ago so that it would arrive on time. It was fun imagining her opening the box and seeing the gift that I bought for her over here.

This may be my last deployment. As a civilian, I have the luxury of volunteering. The money is pretty good, but at my age (and at my kids’ age), is it really worth it? I mean, it’s true. They’re only young once, and I’m missing out on some great times in their lives.

I guess the true test will be to ask myself 10 years from now: Was it worth earning a few extra thousand dollars while missing precious time in my children’s youth? Was it really worth breaking my promise by staying overseas instead of spending my family’s favorite holiday away from them?

I’ve read many studies where senior citizens on their deathbeds list things that they regret. Usually at the top of every list is regretting not spending more time with family. I think we can really learn from this.

My wife has a friend whose husband spends years at a time in Eastern Europe working for a contractor because he’s raking in tens of thousands of extra dollars per year. However, he has two daughters that he never sees.

They have gotten to the point where they’ve become numb to it; they prefer him staying there and sending all that money home. The girls seem like they’ve lost connection with their father. To me, that’s very sad. But that’s them. It’s their choice.

Speaking of Netflix, I really like a series called Black Mirror. There’s a melancholy song that is recurring throughout the series. It sort of sums up my mood. It even makes me feel better after listening to it, like I’m not the only one going through hard times. Click here to listen: Irma Thomas – Anyone Who Knows What Love Is

Stay cool.

~t


Advice to My Son, the Future Soccer Pro

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I’m back in the Middle East for my job. Before I left home, I wrote a “book” for my youngest son who is really into soccer (football). It’s a book where each page is one piece of advice on how to become a pro and how to do your best to achieve your goals.

It all started when he told me that he wanted to be a pro football player someday. The kid has talent. He’s the best player on his team, and it’s in a league where he is playing against 15 year olds. My son is only 11 by the way.

Did I mention that he is obsessed with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus?

I started giving him little nuggets of advice because I want him to go pro. What parent doesn’t want their child to be a professional athlete? I realized I was giving him so much advice that I decided I would write it all down to remember. Then I realized that if I had enough nuggets of dad-wisdom, I could print it out and bind it for him. I even made a cover for the “book.” It’s the image above of Cristiano as a badass.

Some of my advice in the book:

Don’t let anyone get in your head. Once you do, it’s all over.

Being a pro is 90% mental and 10% physical.

Always ask yourself: What would (Cristiano) Ronaldo do?

Live to fight another day. Is your game off? Live to fight another day. Your team lost? Live to fight another day. Don’t lose hope or give up.

I used the Notes app on my iPhone to record my little nuggets. While I’m watching my son in a game or practicing, a line of inspirational advice will come to me. I type it in my Notes and save it, sharing it with my son at a later time.

Someday, after I think of enough quotes, I’d like to find a publisher and put it out there in the world to inspire other kids. If I have to self-publish, then so be it.

What’s cool is that my advice can be applied to anyone in any situation like Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

It has really boosted my self-esteem and self-confidence. I go back and read the book full of my very own quotes (I don’t steal or rip off anyone else), and I feel proud of myself. I feel like a successful father helping his son achieve his dream.

I told my son that while I’m on the other side of the world for six months, I want him to read my book of quotes before every game. I told him it would be like daddy is right there with him, urging him on proudly.

~t

 


I Thought I Was A Good Person

I thought I was a good person. Then I realized I yelled at Gina.

I thought I was a good person. Then I went off on Paul.

I thought I was a good person. Then I sped through town and chased away an angel.

I thought I was a good person. Then “too much screen time.”

It’d be nice to get clean. How do I do that? You go all in.

I thought I was a good person. I sat staring at Mary and Joseph, then I left.

I thought I was a good person. And I believed it to be true.

Why don’t you come to your senses. Before it’s too late.

I thought I was a good person. I lied along with him. His mom caught him.

Supper’s waiting on the table. No one is there to touch it.

It turns to gore and goes away in the mist.

I thought I was a good person. But I screamed at the only ones who love me.

I thought so. But yet I’m going away.

You did it for us. No, I did it for me.

Death holds the stage.

~t


Attending my First Illegal Mass

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An illegal Mass at an undisclosed location in the Middle East

I just got back from a business trip in an undisclosed location in the Middle East. It was supposed to last six months, but I had some medical issues that prevented me from finishing my mission, so I ended up coming back home after only two months.

In the region where I was living and working, any religion other than Islam is strictly forbidden. This not only includes, for example, Christian services and Mass, but also contraband items such as Bibles, rosaries, crosses, crucifixes, and images of Jesus and the saints.

To be honest, I wasn’t aware of the underground Masses in the city where I was staying. My purpose for being there was for my job. In my free time, my plan was to see the local sights and enjoy myself, taking a break from church since it was “illegal.”

However, something inside of me (the Holy Spirit) prompted me to search out one of the illegal Masses held every Friday. They’re held on Fridays because that’s the Muslim holy day; Sunday is the first day of the work week in Muslim countries, and, thus, is just an ordinary day.

After gaining the pertinent information, I showed up at the designated meeting place. I can’t go into details, but when I walked into this nondescript room, I was suddenly in the middle of a makeshift Catholic chapel! It was amazing.

About 20 to 30 people milled about, chatting and waiting for Mass to begin. Most of the parishioners were from the Philippines (a lot of workers in the Middle East are from the Philippines). I saw an African man in black jeans and a black hoodie in the back. It turns out that he was the priest! I watched as he opened a portable closet in the back of the room and put on borrowed purple vestments.

I was told that any religious contraband brought into the country could be punishable by death, so, needless to say, I left everything at home in the U.S. I didn’t even try to smuggle in my St. Jude holy card that I always keep in my wallet.

Before Mass, the priest, who had come from a different Middle Eastern country where Christianity was legal, began distributing little pouches. He gave me one, and, sure enough, there were little handmade rosaries inside. He risked a lot by bringing them into the country.

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Contraband:  a simple handmade rosary in a patriotic pouch

I was so happy to be holding a rosary! I guess the little “America” pouches were part of the plan to conceal the contraband.

Also before Mass, a Filipino couple were handing out booklets that were given out during the Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi earlier that month. I was now holding a piece of history. I could have kicked myself for not seeking out Mass sooner.

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From the Papal Mass held in Abu Dhabi in early February, 2019

As soon as Mass was over, the priest took off his borrowed vestments, returned them to the portable closet, and all the parishioners began taking down statues and other objects used during Mass. They hid them in other portable closets and locked them up.

I was truly blessed. A wonderful couple invited me to breakfast at a nearby restaurant along with some other parishioners and the priest. Father (I forgot his name) had to catch a flight back to Kuwait later that day, but that didn’t stop all of us from having some amazing fellowship.

The nice couple, Margaret and Stan (not their real names) filled me in on the underground Masses during breakfast. Apparently, in the city where we were, Catholics (mainly Filipinos) meet for church at a different house each week in order to evade the authorities. Margaret said that, a few weeks ago, the police were tipped off and were waiting outside a house where the Catholics were supposed to gather that week. They all got arrested, thrown in jail, and were finally deported. Their livelihoods were destroyed since they would never be allowed back into the country again.

Margaret also told me that at the particular congregation where we had just attended, a priest is only able to come once a month. The other times, a lay leader reads Scripture and distributes the consecrated hosts to the people.

I was humbled beyond belief. Here I was, a rich American by their standards, able to return to my country whenever I wanted, able to practice my faith in big fancy churches.

Needless to say, I haven’t missed a Mass since I’ve returned to the U.S.

Please pray for persecuted Christians not only in the Middle east but all over the world. They are risking their lives for something that you and I take for granted every Sunday.

~t


Sunday Musings: Hurting My Children

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  • I leave for the Middle East in four days. I will be gone for most of next year.
  • I was in a road rage incident with my two sons yesterday. My 12 year old was begging me to stop, but I didn’t listen to him. I didn’t stop until I rammed into the car that had made me angry. The police came, and I was in trouble. Luckily it won’t affect my business trip.
  • This is not how I wanted my kids to remember me. My oldest isn’t even talking to me.
  • Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I went to Mass to beg God’s forgiveness. The four Advent candles were lit in front of the altar, reminding me that God’s forgiveness is complete.
  • I tried to make sense of the readings. Hebrews 10:5-10 says Jesus overcame the power of evil that separates us from God. He became our bridge back to God when we fall into evil.
  • I got up and left before communion. I couldn’t stand it anymore. On my way out, I prayed in front of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was looking down at me as I asked her to pray for my forgiveness. I touched her cloak before I got up and left.
  • I can’t forgive myself.

~t


I Won’t Be Back For A While

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I’m gonna take a holiday,
Be somewhere far away,
I won’t be back for a while,
For a long long time.

— Hanoi Rocks, “Oriental Beat”

Topaz has been doing better. Back in July, his supervisor (who is also his friend), challenged him to remember this single word: believe. Topaz made a poster with that single word for his office wall at work.

In autumn of this year, Topaz volunteered and was selected at his job for a very long business trip to the Middle East. He can’t be any more specific than this. This has shown that Topaz has been growing and overcoming his mental health issues (with the help of medication of course).

Topaz isn’t healed, nor has he “arrived.” He is simply trying harder and doing better than he has in years. He praises God for this. Through His help, Topaz has become more self-reliant and confident in his abilities.

Will this very long assignment halfway around the world change him more? Perhaps. We will just have to check in later and find out.

Today happens to be the third Sunday in Advent. Topaz was especially struck by this reading. It is Philippians 4:4-7:

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Topaz has a long, exciting journey ahead of him. He will keep you updated (he doesn’t post very often though).

~t


To The Fearful of Heart: Be Strong and Do Not Fear

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I’ve been having a hard time lately. My wife and I are to the point where we actually hate each other and are bringing up divorce. My faith is at an all-time low, and I have no friends to talk to.

We bought our dream home last year, and now it looks like we’ll have to sell it and get two apartments: one for me and one for her and the kids. I honestly can’t afford two apartments plus child support on my salary, so she will have to get a job before any of this happens.

I’ve been thinking about suicide again. I know I’d be able to see my sons anytime, but it wouldn’t be the same.

I’m not being recognized at my job no matter how hard I work…

Et cetera, et cetera.

So what did I do yesterday morning? I went to Mass. Every nerve in my body said No! Stay in bed and pout.

But I refused to listen.

I prayed on the way, God, please give me a jolt of the Holy Spirit and show me what to do about everything. My life is a mess. It’s too hard to go on.

I’ve asked God to show me certain things about myself during Mass, and he always has.

This time I was desperate. I was at the end of my rope. Actually I still am.

The first reading during Mass was God’s answer to my prayer. It was Isaiah 35:4-7:

Say to the fearful of heart:

Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God,

he comes with vindication;

With divine recompense

he comes to save you.

Then the eyes of the blind shall see,

and the ears of the deaf be opened;

Then the lame shall leap like a stag,

and the mute tongue sing for joy.

For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the Arabah.

The burning sands will become pools,

and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

The first two lines spoke to my heart. My heart is full of fear. However, God says to be strong and not be afraid. He doesn’t say that He will do these things for me; rather, I need to make the decision to be strong and stop being afraid.

It gave me peace and hope. Later that day, my son was scheduled to sell popcorn for the Boy Scouts in front of a supermarket. I went with him, and we ended up having a good time.

Normally I hate Sundays because it’s like I’m just waiting around for Monday morning to come. But it was a good day.

Then at 8:00 last night my wife and I ended up fighting again.

I want to lie right now and say that I kept that Bible verse close to my heart for the rest of the day, but I really didn’t. I ended up forgetting about it.

But the good thing about God is that we can repent and believe again.

Then I went to work this morning to find out that I was passed over for a promotion for no apparent reason. So I forgot about the verse yet again.

But now I’m sharing it with you. Hopefully you’ll remember it.

~t