Friday, July 19, 2013

Ten Thousand Hours

Nobody is perfect but EVERYONE will have moments of "inspired brilliance." Every shot will go in, every ball will be hit, everything will be wonderful.

But it doesn't mean you won't suck sometimes. No matter how hard you try to prevent it, we all will have off days. And you'll feel like crap. You'll think you have let your team down. You'll think you have let yourself down.

The great thing about performance is that it's not static. There is always room for improvement. If you compete at your highest level, there is no "working harder" after a loss, because you'd have worked that hard every day before that. That's where you want to be: at the height of your peak performance. This way, when the inevitable valley comes, you'll be prepared to fight like hell to get back to the top. And it'll be easy.

Don't be dismayed and discouraged because it comes easier to other people. "It" is different for everyone. Their talents are different than yours. God made you into a unique, special person and He wants you to find your individual talents and make them your own. He also gave us the ability to be great at anything.

But when someone says you have "it," they know. Be that person. 

Sometimes, it just takes a little bit more work. Ok, a lot more work. But every rep, every shot, every little thing you do is making you better. Either you're getting better or going nowhere. Don't make excuses. If you preface everything you do with, "Oh, I wasn't trying," guess what, you'll never win.

Practice! It'll pay off before you know it. And have fun, no one likes a sourpuss. Dance. Laugh. Smile. It makes those grueling hours in the gym a little easier to stomach.

Inspired brilliance is the side effect of believing in yourself. Luck is the side effect of skills honed to perfection in practice. Train until there are no contingencies, no defenses, and nobody who can stand in your way. WinForever.

Monday, July 15, 2013

And if this life doesn't give you the love you expect, there's always the next.

For so many memories we've yet to make...

She leaned over the balcony, a winter wind whipping her scarf around. It wasn't uncommon to see girls like her, Northern socialites come to escape their frosted domiciles in New York or Montauk; but she wasn't like the other Daisy Buchanan types. Now she was stunning, there was no doubt about that. Her face radiated a soft smile, the kind you wanted to come home to, especially in this Blue Star world we had finally fallen into. Her eyes were cobalt, a twinning, amorous call to the sky above that bared just as much of her soul as her sadness I was leaving. She often teased me before I left for the war that she could keep me home just by staring at me. I was half-inclined to say she was right. The dirty blonde halo of hair around those eyes roiled with her scarf in the wind, and I knew the moment she saw me that pouty, farmhouse smile was coming.

It kills me to leave her. Ironic given the circumstances, I know, but watching those eyes fill with tears upon my annoucement was the darkest moment of my life. I couldn't bear to watch her collapse in my arms, cursing epithets at the war, at Hitler, at my luck. She was not an innocent in this fight anymore, and nothing could change that. She has friends that now wear their engagement rings as a memory, no longer as a promise. She didn't want that for us. New Orleans lends itself to a peculiar version of love between the banquettes and beignets, she believed. It was my favorite story of hers, and one her mother used to tell her before bed. The city wasn't built to last, not in this delta, but years of celebrating nothing more than survival became a covenant between the citizenry and their city. In every heart that passes through New Orleans, she would tell me, a love mightier than the Mississippi's current would resonate forever and in very special cases, it would manifest itself in two souls. Their love would be stronger than coffee with chicory, sweeter than the sweet olive trees, and deeper than the roots of an oak tree. She always giggled when she told me this, but our last night together she fell asleep without even a recollection. The next morning she awoke under an oak tree, delicate petals of sweet olive in her hair, with a note wrapped around a solitary diamond ring and an Army Air Corps patch ripped from my flight suit, 


If you are reading this I am gone. And I am sorry. I long to see you again, but you won't have to worry about me. Your love found me, fixed me, and sent me off to war. It shall return me and when it does, I will make you my bride under this very oak. I love you. More than you will ever know."

I kept a copy of that letter. It's in my breast pocket as I fly another sortie against the Luftwaffe. I celebrate nothing more than fact that one day here is one day less until I can see her again. Survival, if you must call it that. 

And all the smiles that are ever gonna haunt me...

I felt the aileron being sheared off. A sudden bang flashed in cabin and the thud of my port wing against the fuselage indicated the death of my Mustang. My stick was useless, my instruments smashed. I frantically looked out of my cockpit for the Kraut who most certainly destined me for a grave in the English Channel. Nothing. Damn. I tried the attitude controls one last time as the smell of petrol and hydraulic fluid filled the cockpit. At 5,000 feet I felt my stallion lurch and begin her slow roll into ignominy. I had twenty seconds to egress, otherwise Addy was doomed to wear a gold star on her heart forever.


The was the color of her eyes. She wouldn't. No, she couldn't be.

Another violent roll pinned me back to my seat. Fifteen seconds. I grabbed my chute and tried bashing the cockpit cover open. Dammit, it's not opening. Ten seconds. 500 feet. The English Channel beckoned to me, destined to be my steel coffin unless...

I pried the cover open and jumped out without my chute. Five seconds. The water rushed up to meet me and...

"Darling, come home! Darling, I love..."


The last thing I remember seeing was the name of my Mustang. I named her Audacious Addy after our first date. We spent the night under that oak tree, soaked from the squalls of a tropical storm. It was after a USO dance. I took her on a carriage ride and then the storm picked up. We ran for shade under that tree, Addy giggling the entire way. I sat her down at the base of the oak and told her I loved her. We had known each other for a whole three hours. She didn't hesitate, leaning in and pecking me on the lips. When I went to release, she rolled me over and finished the kiss. Then came the smile. "Darling, I love you," she declared, throwing away every promise she made to her parents to marry someone of stature and class. I was nothing more than a farmhand, drafted to serve for reasons I didn't want to understand. But she knew, and that memory kept me alive.

Et mon coeur, il ce débat tout seul...

I awoke to giggling. 

It was short and sweet, high-pitched. Definitely that of a little girl. I looked around the room and a sharp pain erupted from my shoulder blade. Is this what Heaven is like? I know I didn't survive that crash. The giggling got louder. Instinctively, I reached for my firearm but grabbed flesh. Where was I? It was sunset and the dying rays of light illuminated a small room with exposed beams and a fire in the fireplace. I grew up in a house like this on our farm down the river. I longed to hear my mother calling my siblings and I down for dinner, the smell of gumbo in the air, and Addy in my arms. But if I really was in Heaven, why did Addy sound like she was five?

The door creaked and I jumped behind the bed, immediately crashing down onto my lame shoulder. I howled as I rolled over and up, using the bed as cover, and as I emerged from the floor my vision caught hers and suddenly I was peering into a pair of beautiful emerald eyes. They were tinged with the same sadness I had seen from Addy's eyes before I left, but as soon as I straightened up the sadness disappeared and I was wrapped in an adoring hug. Which sent another major jolt of pain through my body. 

"Qui êtes-vous? Who are you?" the little girl implored. It was one of the few phrases we learned over in England. "Je m'appelle Timothy," I replied, "Je suis un...American." That reply sent the girl into shrill giggles as a man walked in. He shooed her away and closed the door. "My name is Henri and I see you've met my daughter Adorlee." Henri motioned me back into bed and told me he was a member of the Free French Forces. If he hadn't been, he explained to me, I probably would've woken up in a concentration camp or not at all.

At that moment Adorlee burst into my room with a bowl of soup, sloshing it around and spilling drops on the floor. When her father calmy chided her, those emerald eyes flashed of joy and mischief and she ran out the door again, happier than when she initially came in. Henri excused her behavior. He told me Adorlee came into my room every morning and night and read to me from her school books. She was learning English and she figured the best way to study was with an unconscious American. It helped one of her favorite fairy tales was Blanche-Neige, or Snow White. She had grown to love me, Henri said, and her English had improved tremendously. I asked him how I ended up in... Asnelles, he replied. Asnelles, France. 

He was fishing in his trawler about two weeks ago. It was one of the personal liberties allowed the Nazi commander of Normandy. The area was under heavy German occupation but the commander was an Alsatian and sympathetic to the French citizenry. It was over open waters that he witnessed my dogfight. I then calculated my flight had veered hundreds of miles off course. Had my plane survived, there was no way I would've gotten home. He saw the flash and heard the bang then saw my plane disintegrate. He watched as I punched out of the cockpit and hit the water and immediately began sailing to my location. Henri pulled me out of the water as the tide threatened to pull me under and brought me back to safety. I had stayed in a coma for two weeks, with the world not knowing the better of what happened to me. Henri knew I was an American from my flight jacket and garb and he profusely thanked me for my courage. My jacket and sidearm were unretrievable, unfortunately, so I was in France with borrowed clothes and perhaps on borrowed time. I thanked Henri for saving my life and for his interminable generosity. As a member of the Allied fighting forces, I promised him I would do everything in my power to help the Free French Forces liberate Europe. The date was December 27, 1943. 

I stayed with Henri and his family for the next six months. I became the big brother of the family and trained Free French soldiers and guerillas in basic combat maneuvers. Adorlee and I became inseparable, of course. I walked her to school everyday and helped her with homework. At five years old, her English had become good enough to where she was translating my notes on combat into French for her father's soldiers. I felt at home in Asnelles but the memory of Addy kept me awake every night. Adorlee did a lot to soothe the loss I felt but nothing would replace that smile, those eyes, the silliest things about her that made Addy unforgettable to me. Little did I know her parents had sent her to college in New York and she didn't yet know I was declared as missing in action. Yet, every day, Addy wore my ring to her classes and disregarded the advance of every suitor. When her parents prodded and pressed, she told them she was waiting for me and I would be home soon. I couldn't write letters or send telegrams, it was too risky. The night of June 5, 1944, I settled into bed with the windows open and a tired Adorlee resting on my chest. My thoughts conflicted openly as Adorlee snuggled up to me. Perhaps I was in heaven, the kind where the worries of the world don't affect you and life is as perfect as it could be. Or maybe I was in hell, not being able to see the one girl I truly cared about in this world. Well, one of two. An adoring little sister can do innumerable wonders to a shattered soul. 

Make me think that maybe heaven is where you are...

I always keep my promises. 

Timothy's ring dug into my wrist, waking me from another night of restless sleep. How was he doing? What was he doing? Where was he? The questions I couldn't answer haunted me the most. My parents were moneyed and relentless in their pursuit of a suitor for me. Bankers, lawyers, football players; they all tripped over themselves to make me feel like their princess. It made me laugh sometimes. I went to New York's finest restaurants with them and none of those dates felt right at all. I'm a simple girl, my parents are loathe to understand that. I was happiest in New Orleans with him. Those long, moonlit walks on the levee. The way he would chase me arounds tombs in the cemeteries only to end up kissing under our oak. I miss those moments together with him the most.

My parents wouldn't have any of our marriage. I returned the morning after Timothy left with his ring on my finger and a smile on my heart. I had come to New Orleans every summer since I was a little girl and the city spoke to me in ways New York couldn't. It was a prettier city, devoid of the dreariness and dread of the piercing skyscrapers and downtrodden slums. The air was sweeter, especially at night. Over the years, the melody of a single saxophone player or far-off jazz band became my personal lullaby. I missed New Orleans more and more as the years progressed and I became aware of the tawdry state of affairs in my family. It was nothing more than lies, cheating, and deceit. The trips to New Orleans stopped and it became my green light as my boat flailed against the current. When my mother offered a short vacation before the factory assignments began, I leaped at it, eager to escape my family's affairs and the fake refuge New York never offered me. 

When my parents saw the ring, the accosting began. My mother called me a whore. My father said he was better off not knowing me. It was a bitter taste of irony from those two, whose words cut deeper than their black books and pockets. I was kicked out of the house and left to wander the streets alone. Without a family. Without my fiance. It's better Timothy doesn't know this, but I ended up the one place I knew how to get to by heart. I longed for the clock to rewind, that he would be here with me. I cried the entire day as the city of New Orleans watched one of her own adopted flowers wilt. I finally left him at our oak and slept on a bench by the river. My father found me the next morning and dragged me home, cursing my being the entire way. The next day, I was on a train bound for Stony Brook, where I would unceremoniously begin classes as a freshman. 

I lie awake every night openly conflicted by my dreams. Timothy doesn't know I'm starting to show. I guess that one night was more than magical. It feels like a girl. He wouldn't like that. The soft sheets and twirling fan do nothing to distract me. I want Timothy more than anything. It's the night of June 5, 1944. The New York skyline is lit up like a thousand stars. But I don't want to see those stars, twinkling because of greed and money. I want to see the night, the purest expressions of our love. The stars made to shine when two lovers find a single pinprick in the sky and fixate upon in, wherever they are. Oh Timothy, wherever you are, I hope you see those stars and think of me. I love...

And all the wounds that are ever gonna scar me...

The shells whistled overhead, giving Asnelles mere moments of warning before death rained down on the Norman town. I heard the first impact across the street and then the familiar whistling from my training exercises in the States. I grabbed Adorlee and rolled under the bed as an explosion crumpled the house. What the hell was going on? Shouting in German and French erupted as the whistling continued. I attempted to get up but another wave of debris pinned me to Adorlee under our bed and I felt my forearm snap like a twig. Howling in pain, I rolled over and saw Adorlee. I thought she was still asleep until I saw her eyes, her beautiful emerald eyes glazed over in a permanent fear. She couldn't be. I wasn't going to let the other part of my heart go. I grabbed her and somehow pushed my way out of the rubble. The house was decimated, her parents and siblings long dead. I don't remember much after that, I awoke the next day in an Army hospital under a heavy morphine drip as my story was recanted to me by the medic. 

"Lieutenant? Lieutentant? My name is Corporal Spearing, I have been assigned to this wing. We thought...we thought you had been killed in action months ago. Sir, you're a hero."

I'm a what? 

"Sir, one of the Canadian troops witnessed you carrying a small child from the ruins of a building. You engaged multiple German soldiers and then passed out on the beach. Lord knows where you were going. You were transferred here with multiple broken bones and fractures. Frankly sir, it's a miracle you're still alive."

Wait, broken bones? Fractures? A small child...Adorlee!

I asked the medic where the child was. He replied she was clinging to life in the other tent. She had lost a lot of blood in the bombing. Too much blood. She would be another innocent lost to the mindless cruelty of a world she never had the chance to understand. I pleaded with the medic to bring me to her. She was under my care. He denied me. Until I stood up and felt a crack as the morphine did nothing to dull the pain of a freshly broken femur. I undid the IV and walked to the civilian tent, collapsing upon reaching her. 

I was issued a bed right next to Adorlee and for the next few hours I prayed she would awake one last time. I spoke to her in French and English, telling her how much I loved walking her to school and the beach, planning jokes on her sisters, and sleeping with her knowing tomorrow would be the best day in the world when she woke up. I called her by my pet name for her, Pipsqueak. A few hours later, with my tears exhausted and every word in my French dictionary spent, I held her hand and asked to see her eyes one more time. She obliged. 

"Mon frère," she replied weakly as I saw her eyes light up one more time. "Where am I," she inquired. With me, I told her with a breaking heart. Forever with me. She smiled and grasped my hand. I took the rosary Addy had given me before I left and wrapped it around her tiny wrist and kissed her on the forehead as I felt the warmth running from her body. With one last embrace I bid the brightest part of my heart farewell. My heart would never be whole again, not as long as my petite little Pipsqueak was on the other side of a Heavenly gate. 

Adorlee died a few hours later and was buried with her family in a beautiful cemetery overlooking Juno Beach. I later found out the shelling was from Allied ships in advance of D-Day. My nightmare had been caused not by the Axis, but by my own brothers-in-arms. I was declared a war hero after my exploits with the Free French Forces had been found out. It earned me a ticket back to the States. Back to New Orleans. Back to Addy. But before I left, I stopped by the house I had lived in for six months, now a smouldering pile of rubble. I managed to extricate a necklace from the remains of Adorlee's room. It was a solitary gold cross that she wore every day. The day before our world ended, she took it off for the first time in forever. When I asked her why, she giggled in that angelic voice and told me she didn't want to upset the other children at school who couldn't afford such things. My little Pipsqueak, I told myself...

I placed the cross around my neck and walked to the beach. Without Adorlee. And with a tear in my heart no one could mend. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Summer of Pirates and Persia (Life WithOut Limits)

"One day baby we'll be old. Oh baby, we'll be old. Think of all the stories that we could've told..."

 - "Reckoning Song" by Asaf Avidan

My summer began in January. I was working through day eighty-something of a placement at a chemical terminal in Braithwaite. The work had long since ceased to be tedious, but the hours hadn't. Twelve-hour shifts with monitoring and sampling every hour on the hour. We were essentially separated from the outside world. The nearest food store was ten minutes away, the nearest McDonalds was not even worth the drive. Braithwaite had been devastated by Hurricane Isaac, a forgotten storm that flooded this part of Plaquemines Parish with over fifteen feet of water. Yeah, I had been through Isaac. In fact, I watched this exact terminal get flooded in real-time and wondered who the fortunate people would be to assist in the clean-up. Well, if there was any proof the world has a sense of humor, this was it. I was atrophying on a per diem. This wasn't what I had signed up for in the least. The days dragged on, levied only by the crew I was working with. It was there my summer started to come to fruition.

The ideas started to appear slowly but surely. I wanted to do more than log meter readings. I wanted to have fun again, be part of something that fed my soul, not my pocketbook. I thought of my undergraduate summers, how summer camp alleviated the pressure that kept me wound up during the school year and how VBS had always been the best week of my year. By January the longings became a plan. I would leave my job in May and cut myself adrift in the seas of change, free to wander with the tides. It wouldn't be easy. There were grave concerns about my future, but interestingly enough, they came from everyone else, but not from me. I knew God has planned this and he was preparing me to take a very literal leap of faith. I would leave just in time to have an unfettered summer vacation and walk into graduate school with a clear conscience, joyful heart, and renewed belief in myself and that plan.

Over the next the few months I revealed my plan to a select few of my friends and family. No one really recoiled, but I could tell from their tone and expressions that they were racked with doubt. This was a crazy plan: quit your job in a questionable economy and land on your feet. They saw through the thousand-watt smiles and confident demeanor when I laid everything out, but through that they only saw...more enthusiasm. I'm sure a lot of people think I'm crazy for doing this but at every level I questioned myself at, it just kept making more sense and I'll tell you why.

My summer truly didn't begin until Vacation Bible Camp. Sure I went to Europe for two weeks but I was so excited about the prospect of having VBC and summer camp back that everything I did in Europe was like one big, long appetizer. Every church I visited reminded me of home. Every museum I visited contained teaching points and tools I could use in my own lessons. It was an incredible trip because I had a purpose and the stories I created added to the wonderful journey I was on. When I returned the preparation became unbearable. I had literally waited six months for this. I had walked to the cliff and jumped off of it for this moment, when I would stride through the doors of First Pres as a tribe leader. My summer of Pirates and Persia was about to commence.

If there was ever a testimony of how God validates your faith in His plan, the last two weeks of my life would be it. Every part of my leadership experience was tested and to be completely honest, at the end of the second week I was spent. Just completely knocked out. But it was the greatest feeling in the world. I knew I had given everything I had to make VBC and summer camp the best I could make it and I knew the kids had responded in kind. It was so amazing to see the smiles every morning and receive the hugs knowing you were a huge part of their day, if only for a few hours.

Working with kids always resets my core values. Growing up is a painful process and we all have to suffer through the iniquities of a culture that worships at the twin pillars of fortune and fame. We live in a poisoned world and the antidote sometimes is just simply to see that world through the innocence of a child. Complex problems shrouded by deceit and vain ambition become child's play when the patina of adulthood is scrubbed off. Sure, children will test your humility and patience, but those are necessary tests in becoming an adult. I can't say I'm there yet but as every camp year passes I understand more that the best way to grow up is not to puff your chest and call yourself a grownup. Nay, growing up is to retreat into your childhood and see that the childish things you once discarded are brought into your present and that those are the truest markers on the road map of your life.

I always wanted to be a grownup when I was kid, so it's only natural God saw fit to bless me with these (sometimes) summers of Pirates and Persia. It always feels like when my spirit needs a re-calibration, I'm chasing after someone playing tag or dealing with a myriad of sprained ankles. And that's ok. I know to dial the big boy act back a bit and do a little bit of growing up in reverse. And it's true. I'll enter graduate school with a soul that is joyful and a song in my heart. I'm truly happy now even though those two weeks are gone to the seas of change. My life is back where I need it to be and frankly, I can't wait for that next leap.

I Never Wanted Nothing More.