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Messiness of Life

Written from OP Mustang overlooking FOB Bostick, Afghanistan

If we are to glean anything from this life and give more than we get, we must embrace the messiness of life. We must realize that in our lives, no plan survives first contact and we will constantly have to adjust and readjust, sometimes just in order to make it through the day. On many occasions it will seem like sheer, uncomfortable survival. But there is always a reprieve. There is always a moment when the storm subsides. This, too, shall pass.

There are very few days that go by where I don’t feel like I am in bizarro-world. Maybe it is seeing the size of the spiders or hornets out here that look they feast on livestock and steroids, or maybe it’s accepting that I live right next to a very busy helicopter landing zone and very loud gun line. You could be going right along with your day, and then *blam* goes the test-fire of the cannon. And you are quickly reminded that you aren’t in Colorado anymore. And oddly enough, I kind of smile, because I have never really liked the status quo, and here it is anything but.

So my rotations around to the COPs and Ops are wonderfully rewarding. The opportunity to jump in and help dig a trash-burning pit or level some ground with a shovel, to help carry the fuel containers or watch a hillside in the middle of the night with those on guard. Those are really the moments I live for, when you feel like you are a part of this humongous system called the Army. But this past visit to OP Mustang was exceptionally interesting, because we bought a sheep.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and pets aren’t allowed, but our Afghan brothers were adamant about how wonderful that sheep would go with our new, air-dropped 50 gallon drum turned into a grill. And they weren’t lying. So I woke up and stumbled up the CP to check in with SGT Mike Tullis and made some coffee, when I was invited down to where the ASG lives for milk chai (absolutely delicious) and to pray over the sheep before we…um…prepared him for dinner. Not a normal morning by any stretch of the imagination. And as I walked down and offered my thanks, “manana,” for the chai and wished everyone a good morning through my interpreter…we moved off to the hillside to thank God for the sheep and watch him die.

There really isn’t a nice way to put that is there? For those raised in the country, you probably had little to no response about the following actions (which I won’t detail), but for you city-folk it is difficult to wrap your mind around what was almost a sacred act, at least in my estimation, as this animal gave up its life in order to sustain ours.

It was done quickly, and as painlessly as possible, before the ASG self-appointed “butcher” skinned and prepared the meat. Yet all the while, there was a recurring thought about how intentional and “messy” the job is of preparing meat. And I thought about the priests of the temple, and how what I was watching was just like what they were tasked to do on behalf of the people of God. I’m sure that back then they thought nothing of it because they couldn’t exactly run down to the commissary for some delicious, 98% lean, pre-packaged meat when they wanted some dinner. Providing for life took effort and sacrifice and messy-ness. And when I think about it, not to many people are really comfortable getting messy anymore.

We avoid our neighbors if we feel that inviting them into our lives will make it messy. We end conversations and try to walk away when we feel like we won’t be able to cleanly wrap this up in time for X, Y or Z. We want our own lives to be comfortable, predictable and uninterrupted. We place everything in a calendar and hope that it will go at least 90% according to plan, in order that things don’t get messy. And when they do, we keep telling ourselves that when this or that calms down and things aren’t messy anymore, then we will get back on track.

Unfortunately, the mess never goes away. Kids still throw up in the cars after perfectly good days. Relatives calm at inopportune times and despite the massively impressive brain-trust that is NASA, we cannot eliminate the common cold from our monthly lives. Life is just plain messy.

I left the church because they didn’t like the mess. Or maybe I was asked to leave because I wanted to work more in the messy lives of real people, rather than in the white-washed tomb lives of those who pretended they weren’t messy. All in all, I like the mess. I like getting dirty and grimy. I thrive in what is known as “the suck.” And most of these wonderful men and women who wear dusty ACUs do, too. They will gripe all day long about every aspect of the conditions of deployment, but when you ask them how they are doing, and ask them again with an emphatic, eye-to-eye realness, they still say, “outstanding.” Even when they are doing nothing but being out (side)...standing.

If we are to glean anything from this life and give more than we get, we must embrace the messiness of life. We must realize that in our lives, no plan survives first contact and we will constantly have to adjust and readjust, sometimes just in order to make it through the day. On many occasions it will seem like sheer, uncomfortable survival. But there is always a reprieve. There is always a moment when the storm subsides. This, too, shall pass.

In closing, one of my favorite moments from the Bible has God playing the role of human-farmer. In the second creation story in Genesis, it seems like you could picture him digging in the dirt to form humanity out of the mud. And then at another point, he gives himself up, just like that sheep with an “if this is what it takes” attitude towards the messiness of humanity. He was willing to get messy for the sake of humanity, and I wonder what is it that makes us so reticent to get messy in order to help one another?

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