The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
This is a photo I took of three items on the top of my bookcase in my bedroom. I had just moved the bookcase to my room, and I wanted to choose three things that are significant to me right now.
So, I chose a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary, a brass camel, and a rock painted with the Texas flag. Why did I choose these?
The Mary statue represents my desire to get closer to Christ through His mother, Mary. The small plastic figure was blessed by a priest in a nearby church.
The camel represents the past year and a half of my being in Saudi Arabia for my job. It was a very fun yet challenging time. I grew a lot from the experience. It helped me in good ways as well as in bad ways. I am still dealing with the bad effects.
The painted rock represents my mental anguish and my mental battle during these rough times with the Covid-19 isolation. My wife started a hobby of painting rocks, so I decided to paint one.
I chose the Texas state flag because that’s where my family and I have been living for the past 12 years. My children were born in Japan, but they’re basically Texans. I also love the flag because Texas has a rich history. You can read about it here.
Anyway, the real reason I am writing this post is because I was reminded of something last night. A promise that I made to myself when I first started this blog.
See, I was under the illusion that my blog would be a beacon of light in this dark world of ours, that my writings and examples from my life would impact others and turn people from a life of suffering to one of Christian joy and freedom.
But through the years and after countless blog posts, I couldn’t see where I even came close to any of that. In my mind, my blog turned from a righteous ministry/apostolate to a series of whiny posts about my depression and anxiety, offering little to nothing in the way of hope and faith to my readers.
Until last night.
I remember making the vow that I would keep trying to use my platform to reach at least one person a year. To me, that was enough for me to keep it all going. If I could touch the life of just one person in the course of 12 months, then it would all be worth it.
Well, I received a comment from a reader that brightened my whole evening. She said that she was a long-time reader of my blog. A long-time reader! Wow. I was touched. It meant so much to me that someone would take the time to write an encouraging comment on my blog.
I feel that I need to end this post with something positive since at least one person is reading and (hopefully) being encouraged by my words.
So, I’ll end with a quote that my cousin wrote on Facebook recently. Usually I don’t read her posts because they don’t interest me, but this one caught my eye.
Because I’ve recently been treated very unfairly at work by people who don’t like me. I’ve been an emotional wreck to be quite honest. This Bible passage really spoke to me. It is from Romans 12.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The older I get the more I realize that even if things do get better, it’s always temporary. The good days feel like a tease and a cruel joke because when the bad comes, it’s like it laser. It targets all those things to make sure I feel the maximum amount of pain.
People always give laughable examples of what could be my thing to fight for, but what is and isn’t worth it are very personal things to a soul. I need something to cling to that makes ME feel like I have a purpose.
For the last several years I had several things. They meant everything to me. One by one they all were taken. I don’t have it in me to start over again. Every few years I cycle through this. Just because it might be good again a few years from now doesn’t make it worth the suffering now.
Each and every time it gets harder. Each and every time I am more alone in the fight. And with the direction the world is heading now, I see only darkness and hopelessness for us all. I am amazed that so many people can just keep going on like things are fine. -Brona Storm
Well, I’ve completed three months here, so I’m officially one-fourth of the way from finishing my deployment.
Things are up and down all the time. It’s fun when my friends and I get a chance to leave the compound (We have to have a “battle buddy” when we leave), but other times it’s depressing to be stuck inside the tall barbed-wire walls.
When I first got here, I heard a few variations on how people end up on this compound in the Middle East. Things like: You either end up as a hunk (meaning all there is to do is work out); a chunk (becoming a couch potato); or a drunk (there is access to “tea”).
I heard one officer explain it this way: After a year, you either weigh 300 pounds or you can lift 300 pounds (meaning there are only two things to do on the compound: work out or eat snacks every night in front of the TV).
With my fragile personality and my mental issues, I tried working out at the gym which is pretty modern; it has everything that one would find back in the States. It gets old, however. So then I started taking walks around the compound which takes about 30-35 minutes – except I would do it right after work when the temperature was/is 110-115 F (43-46 C).
Why would I choose to walk in the heat of the day? I was silly and pretended that the hot sun was burning off my fat. With an average summer humidity of only 10%, it really wasn’t that bad.
That was back in June and July. Then I got a membership to the “tea room” where I ended up spending up to $200 per month on “tea” that I would binge on during the weekends. I never expected that I would become a “tea addict” in a country where it’s officially unavailable. I never did this in the States. Why was I doing it here?
Simple. 1) I was bored. 2) My family wasn’t here.
I’m having to ration my psych meds because I don’t know if they would clear customs if/when my wife ships them to me. Maybe that’s why I turned to “tea.” But that only helps on the weekends. During the week, I’m all alone to face my demons at work and to deal with life in Auschwitz (as my combat veteran friend refers to the compound).
The Army chaplain on the compound means well, but, no offense, he’s an Evangelical Protestant who graduated from Liberty University (the home of Jerry Falwell). Needless to say, he appears pretty phony and insincere.
The Catholic “Mass” happens every week, but since it’s so hard to get ordained priests to come to this location, most of the time lay leaders give their versions of homilies and distribute the consecrated hosts. The majority of the parishioners are Filipino laborers, so I have trouble making friends with them; I feel out of place and have trouble finding things in common with them.
I have a Catholic Bible app and a Rosary app on my phone, but with no one to hold me accountable, it’s hard to maintain any kind of spiritual life. Since the Qur’an is legal here, my friend who’s on the path to conversion loaned me a copy. I have read parts of it and find it comforting.
(By the way, some trivia: Mary is the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an by name, and she’s mentioned more in the Qur’an than in the New Testament.)
I finally confided in a friend at work (the one who is converting to Islam) about my depression, and she told me I’ve got to get hold of myself, give up “tea,” and start exercising again.
I agreed with her. I’m at that crossroads where either path could determine the course of my future. I choose the good path. No more “tea” for me. I honestly do not like exercising, but my friend encouraged me to at least walk around a sand “track” that is outside the gym, after dark of course so it’s not scorching hot. I think I will give that a try.
My youngest son just started middle school, so both of my sons sit together on the bus and go to the same school again. I try to Skype with them whenever I can, but with our schedules and the time difference, it’s hard.
My point, I guess, is that God is always with you and will use unlikely tools and people to help you in any situation, whether you’re in your own country, in a country where your religion is forbidden, or in a country where every religion is forbidden.
Hang in there. It will get better. I’m living proof.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.