Today mom was informed by her doctor that she has cancer. Spent time with her this afternoon. In the midst of trial God is good. We are more the conquerors through Christ our Lord. No weapon formed against us shall prosper. We do not fight AGAINST cancer. We fight FOR life. There is a difference. When I think that I have to fight against some "thing" I may often feel overwhelmed and defeated. But when I fight for LIFE I never fight alone, because my God is the God of life. He goes before. He stands beside me and he is my rear guard.
After two of the most challenging weeks thus far in my role as Executive Director of Armed Forces Mission, and after more than 80 hours of chaplain and pastoral care with many others in our community since January 13, I am more aware than ever that many people carry heavy burdens. I have many people ask me "What is the purpose of pain?" I can't say for you. It is a reality that you have to come to, but for me it has been in pain that I have found my purpose.
In a session today with a deeply hurting veteran I encouraged him to re-frame his idea that God was testing him into one that God was preparing him. God the Father was not testing Jesus in the Garden when he sweat drops of blood. He was preparing him to do what only he could do. The pain that we go through does not diminish the glory of God as some think; rather it reveals it, in the deepening of love and compassion. It opens doors for others to use their gifts of comfort to say a prayer (Kem Woody Williams). It brings tears that wash away the pain of past failures and opens the door to the ultimate truth that our God is the God of resurrection power.
I don't know what pains you today, but I do know that even now you can have peace that passes all understanding. He comforts the broken hearted. He heals the wounds. He restores passion for life, and brings us face to face with the truth that in Him we can face all that comes our way.
Peace tonight to all who are hurting. His grace is sufficient for you.
Two weeks ago I was called in to assist police and family members in the suicide of a veteran. Since that time I have fielded as many as 24 calls in one day; 14 hours on the phone late into the evening. The highly publicized and public loss of a hurting person has unvealed the reality that many in our community are hurting. Many nights as late as 3 AM I have carried on similutaneous chat conversations from those who have thought of suicide or had loved ones they were worried about and did not know what to do. Some have been members of your churches.
On February 9th we will offer the Listen-Learn-Lead Suicide Intervention one day workshop as part of the 4th annual I WILL INTERVENE CHALLENGE (IWIC). The IWIC is part of Armed Forces Mission’s NO MORE SUICIDE CAMPAIGN. Don’t let our name confuse you. Yes, Armed Forces Mission is a veteran led organization and our primary focus is veterans. But we are veterans serving the people of the United States of America in accordance with the creed we swore to when we donned the uniform. ANYONE who wants to learn the skills that save lives should join us. Register Now
Pastors. at this point we need a venue suitable for up to 45 participants. I call upon the faith community to heed the call. We are looking for as many churches as will join us and will continue this effort monthly throughout 2016. I have posted often that I am coming home to my roots to focus our attention once more on our local community, but I can’t do it without the help of those who believe that saving lives is a worthy cause. Normally we have many months of advance prep to secure venue, but time is of the essence. This is a call to action to all whose hearts break over the loss of life. If your heart breaks over the loss of life this is your CALL. As I heard on Sunday from another pastor “Do what is in front of you.”
In the midst of our losses the beacon of hope shines bright in Fayette County. To all who have reached out wanting to make a difference - THANK YOU!
We will courageously address life’s most difficult challenge with compassion, understanding and a willingness to do all we can to care for those who are hurting and to help those at risk. In our pain we will discover our purpose and we will see a better day. It’s what Kyle wanted, it’s what I want. It’s what anyone who has experienced loss longs for, and it is what this community needs. My zeal has been renewed. I will not waiver and I will not quit until all are safe in our community.
Postvention is a real word, even though I constantly get a spell check error when I type it. It's also a very real need even if Bill Gates doesn't know what it is.
Postvention is what should take place in every instance when their is a loss like what our community experienced on Wednesday evening, January 13th in Peachtree City.
In the nine days since the very public passing of Army veteran, Kyle Lovett, I have been inundated with people that needed to talk to someone. Two days ago I was on the phone a total of 14 hours. Even my wife is meeting with people; the demands have been overwhelming. Each story has been unique, but all were impacted in some way. For some it brought back memories of their own losses, others confided that they too had thoughts of suicide. Thus, the purpose of postvention. The postvention model displayed above was developed by my friend and mentor, Dr. Frank Campbell, PhD. The Active Postvention Model (APM) he envisioned has been used with great success in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the past 20 years. The cornerstone of the model is the LOSS Team and the primary goal is to let survivors of suicide know that resources exist as soon as possible following a loss. In 2013 Armed Forces Mission established the first LOSS Team in the state of Georgia; and remains the only one, in what has become a national movement in other states and communities across the nation.
On August 15, 2016 Armed Forces Mission will host the first LOSS Team Conference in the state of Georgia. Early Bird registration is now taking place for this Conference and participants who register before February 1 will also be able to participate locally in upcoming I Will Intervene Challenge one-day workshops at no additional charge during the months of February and March. Venues are now being sought and the dates will be announced soon. For all who have been asking "What can I do?" this is your opportunity. Suicide Intervention Training saves lives, just as CPR training saves those experiencing a heart attack.
The postvention stage that our community is currently experiencing is as Dr. Campbell would say, "prevention for tomorrow." The reality is that a community cannot simply focus on prevention or any one phase of the cycle. It all works together. Learn more in our workshops and at the LOSS Teams Conference.
If there is a church in the community with facilities suitable for a workshop venue we would love to hear from you. We also need corporate sponsors and civic organization to be involved in making this Conference a successful event that will do much to strengthen and heal our community as well as inoculate against additional losses.
It is my heart's desire to be fully invested 100% of the time in my hometown community, but until such time as we have greater community participation in the underwriting of the cause, we have to go where we are called to serve others. In the months of February and March we will be working with Lithonia Police Department, Veterans in Winder, Soldiers at Ft Lenard Wood and Ft Lee, Peer Support Specialist in Augusta, and even Jennifer O'Niell who now lives in Nashville and has asked AFM to train the volunteers associated with her equine therapy center for veterans.
I can't help but think of the words of American Hero, Chris Kyle when he said, "I want to come home." My heart also resonates with his regrets about the people he couldn't save. Kyle Lovett was one of them, even though I was only 100 yards away. Help bring us home that we can make our community the greatest beacon of hope and life in our state and an example to other communities of what LOSS Teams can accomplish when a community backs the mission as if our lives depended on it. God bless you and God Bless the United States of America.
Support the Mission.
Several years ago he took up the habit of shop-lifting. On one occasion it was a crate of bananas, another it was cigarettes (and he doesn't smoke). In the last incident it was a garbage pail and a shrimp ring. (value $51) and it happened to be on the anniversary of his father's death and a day after one of his four sons married and was headed out of country. He was very nervous about his son and new daughter-in-law leaving American soil. Also understand this behavior and the shop-lifting only began after the accumulation of a life-time of tragic events.
This veteran is my senior by two ranks and 13 years of age. He is a man I have always admired. Even now as a civilian he is always dress right dress along with the buzz cut to go with it. Today as we ate hotdogs, I learned things about my friend I had never known and I was overwhelmed. As I listened, it was very easy to understand that behind the smiles and the constant encouragement of others, that I have always known, there was a man that felt as if he was always dying. I was also overwhelmed by what he is going through now in the judicial system. Due to this last incident he is facing the prospects of going to jail. He knows that he did what he did, but only because others have told him. He has no memory of many of his experiences; particularly the ways in which he has saved lives.
Some would argue that he must have known he was breaking the law. I would disagree. Some would say, he slipped up and got caught. Again, I would disagree. He went to the lake and went to sleep for 24 hours. He only realized what he had done, when a family member called and told him the police were at his house with a warrant to arrest him for shop lifting. He immediately went home and turned himself in to authorities. Was it wrong what he did? YES, and he knows that. Is it right that he should go to jail, (this was his third offense for shop-lifting over a 20 year period), well I guess we will have to leave that to a jury of his peers. He is prepared for whatever the consequences of his actions will be.
In light of the current murder indictment against a Dekalb County police officer in the death of an unarmed, naked veteran I am compelled to enter into this discussion about my friend with his permission of course. It is not my intention to make excuses for his actions, but to simply raise awareness and perhaps discussion as we seek to understand. Here is man who faithfully served his country. In addition to the trauma that often comes from being a soldier; at the age of 10 he was only five feet away when he witnessed his father's murder; a father by the way who was abusive in a very dysfunctional family environment. He has been through the trauma of caring for his dying wife, and shortly after her death experienced the suicide of his oldest son and another son who was shot and almost died. For several years he has lived with feelings of guilt that his son's suicide was his fault; because he took his life on the very day his dad had told him to leave. Time does not permit to share the rest of his story.
I did ask if he was having thoughts of suicide and he said yes, but he doesn't have a plan. He said, "I just wish my son was back. I keep thinking this is only a bad dream." Imagine living everyday of your life believing that you are in a bad dream. What does that do to the mind?
Not long ago I was visiting with a friend that seems to be having lapses in memory. One day he got out of his truck, failed to put it in park, and walked in the house unaware the truck was rolling down the hill toward the street. I can't help but believe that in the same way my friend who is now facing jail time was unaware of what he was doing.
Certainly something needs to be done. I just don't believe it is jail time. When my forth son rear-ended a lady not long ago, we paid dearly. After our insurance paid the full amount of our coverage the insurance company dropped us. The first quote I received for replacement insurance was $16,000 a year. My son knows that rear ending other cars is wrong, but he came over the hill in a big truck and it was unavoidable. He couldn't stop the truck from hitting the other car. He did get a ticket, but he didn't go to jail. Has he learned to be more cautious? I hope so, but that doesn't mean he won't ever be in accidents again.
With PTSD one never knows what is on the other side of the hill. Things happen that we didn't intend to happen and we pay the consequences for it. I just question that jail-time is the proper use of the veterans time or the courts. What do we hope to accomplish? Are we trying to teach the man a lesson? What lesson? The one good thing that came out of my son's accident was that in going to the emergency room it was discovered that he had Brundle Branch Block, a condition when the wiring of the heart is not functioning as it should and it causes the heart to leak. How ironic that we fail to understand that with PTSD the wiring in the brain is not functioning properly.
I know that my dear friends in law enforcement are just as perplexed by the questions as I am. They also know that I am not advocating a hug a thug protocol in dealing with criminals. But is a man a criminal because he has mental disorders? Like me, they know that our jails are full of people that don't need to be there and that we need more appropriate resources to deal with the issues of mental illness. When law enforcement shows up at the scene of a man having a heart attack in the park they are there to help. They know what to do -someone's heart is not functioning properly, but they often feel helpless to help those whose minds are not functioning properly. It leaves us all scratching our heads wondering what are we to do? It's one reason that I am involved with law enforcement as a member of the Georgia Crisis Incident Team (CIT) and in the teaching of mental health first aid and suicide intervention. Many in law enforcement are now taking CIT training, because they want to find a better way. Now if we can only get the funding and the courts to join us in the effort we may just make a difference.
Personally, I put the full weight of this problem on the lack of funding for those who need help, especially with regards to veterans. We cut benefits for veterans and fill the jails instead. Someone appears to be slipping on bananas here, and its not the veteran or law enforcement who are mandated by law to follow standard procedures. Once again I am reminded that reveille is sounding across our land for the sake of so many that are hurting. I invite you to join me as a battle buddy in a fight to save heroes.
A Soldier doesn’t simply head home after work from enemy territory. He or she brings home every smell, every memory, every pain; not just his, but those of his battle buddies. In many regards, warriors never fully come home. They leave a part of themselves on the battlefield. For some it is a journey into darkness. Such was the case for Kyle Lovett.
In 2015 I lost five soldiers to suicide, but they were states apart, I never knew them. Neither did I know Kyle, but I was only 100 yards away when he died, and was immediately called upon to assist law enforcement and the family. His passing reminded me once more of why I continue in my work with those who on the edge of the abyss; wondering if life is worth living.
In my work with soldiers, I have come to believe that suffering has a way of heightening one’s mental acuity to levels others who have never experienced such suffering cannot fully comprehend. In suffering one becomes more aware not only that things are not right within oneself, but perhaps even more, those things that are not right in the world. Like many veterans, Kyle was overwhelmed by a pain he could not shake. Some of my mental health colleagues will chide me for use of the word “suffering”, as if somehow not using the word will reduce the pain, but I am reminded of an ancient writing that says, “We learn much by our suffering.” Suffering does not make change hopeless, denying it does.
In all the sorrow, I am thankful for thousands of compassionate voices in our community that have expressed their condolences to the Lovett family; and have encouraged me to continue the efforts of serving veterans and all at risk. I am no one’s hero, but I often times find myself walking with heroes that are carrying heavy loads. We lighten their load by our compassion, even when we cannot fully comprehend all they are going through, but we never fully remove it. The pain is ever present, even when it is covered up with meds or alcohol.
Since Kyle’s passing I have been inundated with calls and emails from people wanting to know what they can do. At AFM we are working on a program called LOSS Teams. LOSS is an acronym that stands for Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors. It is the first such team in the state of Georgia and part of a larger nationwide LOSS Teams movement. We will hold a community volunteer meeting Monday the 25th at 4:00 at the PTC Library for individuals interested in helping with the inaugural LOSS Walk to raise awareness this spring and the LOSS Teams Conference in August. Interested community members are invited to attend.
The past three days have been a challenge for me and many others. Just this morning I shared with a father who lost his son, "Though three days ago I did not know you; I know you now. Our lives inextricably woven together by the passing or your son; the brother I never knew.“
Yet in this difficult time the tears I have shed for a father, mother, wife and child yet to be born have melted the hardiness that was beginning to form in my heart over the pain that I see in so many lives almost every day. I see the tears now as fuel for the fire that I will never stop doing what I am doing. I can't turn away from my calling though I have often thought to try. Therefore I honor those today who stand by my side in support of what we do as I stand by those who are hurting.
"Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.” – Abraham Lincoln
At AFM I confront ignorance all the time. In 2015 I lost 5 soldiers. I can tell you that none of them were cowards or weak or being selfish when they took their lives. The human brain is the most complicated organ in the body - 100 billion neurons each connected to 10,000 synaptic bridges. Telling a person with depression or any other mental health disorder to just get over it is like telling a man having a heart attack to run a marathon. It is physiologically impossible.
When a community experiences tragedy like it did last night at an intersection 50 yards from where I was having dinner I often see the worst of the human spirit, but I choose to focus on the best of the human spirit. I have seen it over the past 24 hours in a compassionate Police Chief, detectives, and other LE personnel, I have seen it in a pastor wanting to reach out, and I saw it this afternoon in working with a grieving family as they focused on the one who is gone - his infectious laughter and incredible sense of humor, the way he acted like a kid when he was with his service dog and the way he smiled at those he loved.
One day ignorance will cease, but love never fails!