Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Prize Fight

Having sent out another batch of resumes and applications today, complete with tailored cover letters and transcripts, I reflect back on the path I've been on now since departing the Air Force.  It isn't where I thought I would be.  It's not necessarily where I want to be.  Yet, here I am, on the road to...I don't know.  In today's tough times and hardships, I'm hardly alone on this path, yet the course I travel is mine and mine alone.  We all have our paths to take and crosses to bear.

There are days of utter disappointment and despair.  I vow to never fill out another application, send another resume, or to make any more follow up emails or phone calls.  I am done with all of this.  So I say and proclaim!

Yet, each morning, the coffee is on and the computer is running.  This is my routine.  Until I find what I am looking new identity...this is my life.  I have stated to friends that I do this because there is no alternative.  I have no other choice but to keep pressing forward.  Yet, they tell me that this is strength carrying me forward.  Others have suffered similar defeats and remain defeated.  Their last battle lost the war for them.  For me, I simply don't see it the same way.  I have too much to live for, too much to be thankful for, too much pride.  I say pride, yet in all reality, it is probably more stubborness than anything else.  I refuse to be beaten.  I get back up, learn more about myself and the ways of the civilian world, and go at it again...and again.

Many times, when others are struggling, we remind them that if this doesn't kill them, it will make them stronger.  I jest in stating that if this statement was indeed a fact, I should be Hercules by now.  Judging from my absence from the gym since departing the military, this is definitely not a true statement in the physical realm.  However, spiritually and mentally, I have grown stronger.  I believe in the Lord and His plan for me on the toughest of days (after all, He's gotten me through worse!).  I also have learned I am valuable to those in my life more than just from my career.  I am wanted for me as the person, not the monetary values I can bring home.  I know that as long as I don't quit, the battle may be lost, but the war will be won.

A great friend (SWork) told me that your true strength is not known until the need to display it is gone.  She continued with the thought that we feel weak and battered during this storm.  She is so very correct, I have felt rejected, battered, unworthy, and a failure.  Yet, I keep coming back like a fighter in the ring that has more heart than brains.  His heart tells him he can win, even when his brain is throwing in the towel.  I want to be that guy!  This is the guy that will win, maybe not today or this week, but he will win.  Why?  Because he refuses to give up.

There are days when my strength is no more than getting out of bed.  Yet, after I have done that, my determination takes over, I move forward.  I know not where God will take me, but it isn't here, this is temporary.  As I keep my eyes open, my heart in the game, my eye on the prize, and my brain in check, the days continue to tick by.  The lickings keep coming, yet I am not down for the count.  I may fall, I may be bloodied, but I will win.  There is no other choice!

So, as with every one else whom has traveled this road before and left a trail, I will find the crossroads soon, and this too shall be one of the prize fights of life won.  Ding, time to go to my corner!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Strong Will and Cup of Coffee

As I hopefully reenter the ranks of the working stiffs later this week, I had to reflect back on what the past months since departing the Air Force have meant for me.  How does one survive eight months with no place to be during the week and a loss of identity?  So I thought.  I've discovered a whole new way to look at my life, myself, and my purpose here on Earth.

During the first few weeks, things were easy...a trip back home to Roanoke, then almost a week at Myrtle Beach with my family and "adopted" daughter, then home to repair wind storm damage for several weeks.  That got me through the month of July, what happened from August to March is where things got interesting.

As I settled in for the unknown world of job searching, it became apparent that there are many things I needed to learn.  I had a strong resume, confidence in myself, a belief that veteran status would help, and a general feeling that hard work from age 16 until now would mean something.  I've since learned that it is a cruel world out there and many, many people are suffering and vying for the same positions to either better their professional lives or kickstart a new career themselves.  I did not stand out as I thought I should and would.  Getting a job as a vet was supposed to be easy, that's what we are told coming through transition classes.  Here I thought it was only the recruiter that was supposed to lie to me.

I went through periods of time where I started feeling I wasn't worth anything; I would never get a job...much less a career, and a sense of complete failing started to overtake me.  I became pissed at the world, frustrated with myself for not doing more with my life, and generally lost on what to do next.  It was during those periods that I suffered the most stress and anxiety.  To top it off, since I received a severance from the military for my honorable service, I was denied unemployment benefits and cannot receive my rightfully earned disability payments for permanent damage to my back until I am 104 years old.  After all, it seems only fair to count the severance against me more than once...thank you for your service Captain Ray, right?

Here's where the strong will and cups (if not pots) of coffee came into play.

I refused to be down.  I refused to give up.  I refused to devalue myself and what I have to offer my family, my community, and ultimately myself.  I asked God for strength.  He provided me with love, family, friends, courage, persistence, and yes...even coffee.

Each morning, a pot of coffee was started and the computer was turned on.  Job boards were reviewed, resumes were sent.  Emails were written, phone calls were made.  There were even the occassional interviews and job offers.  I say job offers because they were not careers and the offers also undervalued my experience, my education, and my abilities.  There were so undervalued, they were insults!  They caused a wavering of my confidence, but made me even more determined to continue.

I believe that I may be about to win the career lottery and land with a highly sought after opportunity with a very stable, growing organization.  I shall join the ranks of the employed, those with a sense of purpose, and return to the tax-paying ways of life.  Because of the lessons I've learned during this time, I will not return to the career identity shortcomings again.  I will define my career, not my career defining me.

I've learned that time with my family, being there for my friends, volunteering in the community, and giving my grievances and shortcomings to God define who I am.  I've become a much stronger, positive person from all my challenges and blessings over the past months.  When I left the Air Force, I saw myself as a military member first and then an individual second.  I've learned to define myself, not let my source of income do that for me.  For that, I will be forever grateful for this time to realign myself, my priorities, and my life.

Now, it's time for another cup of coffee...get back to work!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

It Was Only a Kiss...

Have you ever had a first kiss that could tell you the future? One that changed who you were? Heard the cliche that the first kiss would tell you everything?

I have on all three counts and all in one single moment in time that is frozen in my mind. It was in the snow, cold, dark, and in Olive Garden's side parking lot between rows 3 and 4. It was about 8:05pm. We had just had dinner for the first time and this was our first contact other than the cursory hello hug before the meal.

I was waiting for her in the lobby when she arrived. She walked in and my knees buckled slightly. I knew who she was, but hadn't expected this. The meal went well, but stayed on the realm of safe subjects, but we learned a lot from the meal. I learned she likes seafood and doesn't mind veggies. She walks in heels despite wet, cold, ice, and snow...that shows confidence in herself and her abilities. She maintains eye contact while speaking, she's true in character and spirit. She spoke of her daughter with a shine in her eyes that shows where her heart resides.

Then at the end of the evening, there was the good bye. We walked to her car and were at the point of conclusion when she came closer, leaned into my arms, and time stopped. She leaned in for the kiss and it was slow, soft, gentle, intense, trembling...and I forgot the snow, the wind, the time, and for a few moments, I forgot to breathe.

So, now when someone says that they "just knew" with the first kiss...I can now say, "so did I!"

Identity Crisis

Have you had a significant life change lately? Were you a student and reached graduation? Are you a parent with your kid(s) moving off to college soon? Have you lost a loved one recently? Perhaps, like me, you are now in the throws of a career change? Welcome to the challenge of an identity crisis!

If you answered yes to one or more of the questions, you are entering a new chapter in your life, either of your own making or as a natural progression of life and loss. The person you had become comfortable being and knowing is about to change. The people you’re used to having in your life are either no longer with us, moving off and the amount of exposure to them will change, or you yourself are moving on. Regardless of the circumstances, we are all in the same situation…we are losing who we are in order to become someone new! Are you scared yet? I sure as hell am!!

In my situation, I’m separating from the Air Force after 16 years, 5 months, and 25 days…talk about a culture shock! I’m going from a career that has dominated my entire adult life and provided me with a sense of being and security and entering…what? I’m totally not sure yet except that it is called the civilian world. Professionally, who I’ve come to be known as will cease to exist very soon. I mourn the loss of who I have been. I denied it for a while, I then accepted it, and…sometimes…I even embrace it. However, I am still just not totally to the point of celebrating it yet. Those of you around me more have seen me calm and collected about the changes in my life. In some ways, I am. I’ve known this day was coming. I’ve planned for all the external things (finances, location, possible career paths, etc) as much as any person possibly can. I feel comfortable with all of the worldly plans and what may be there for me professionally in the near future. What I fear the most is learning the new me…the civilian me.

This last paragraph is my story, you can write your own there and finish it with almost the exact same last sentence. Who are we now? What do we do with ourselves now? This is a time of retrospect to a limited scope. Knowing who we have been, what we are capable of doing, and what we’ve done that we don’t want to do again helps us. After reviewing these facts, stop looking back! Be proud of yourself for what you’ve done and where you are, now let’s look forward to where we are going. There is a saying that states the only thing certain in life is death and taxes…so, we might as well find what we want out of life, after all, we only get to do this once! Find your love and your passion in life and pursue it. Find time somehow to be the new you, learn to look forward to the new you, mourn the old you for a while, then create a new you that YOU love and can live with. Be strong, be brave, be adventurous, but most of all…be you!

For me, I know I love my new family and the community of friends around me. Without all of you, I honestly don’t know where I would be right now. I’m terrified of my new life, but excited at the prospects at the same time. I can find a job that allows me to be there for my family, support the community, challenges me with new opportunities, and gives me a new identity. I know I want a career that allows me to help others…it’s in my blood now and is part of who I am now that I want to keep. I know I want a career that doesn’t take away significantly from my time with my family…money cannot buy that time back. I want to provide a comfortable life for my family and myself, but not at the expense of my family and myself. I am ready to learn the new me…to have to decide what to wear each day…to have the freedom to spread my wings and fly or scale back and huddle with those I love the most.

Having an identity crisis is that we know who we are and who we have been, but not knowing who we are about to become. The challenge is taking advantage of that and becoming what we’ve always wanted to be and, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to until now.

My Farewell to Arms


-Originally written June 27, 2011
United States Air Force (USAF). Having spent the last 16+ years within the organization, I've come to gain a much greater appreciation of what those four words mean. As a child growing up, I was a citizen protected by this organization. As a young adult, I was aware of it, but not quite interested in what they had to is the road to success, right? As a college graduate with a baby on the way, the USAF all of a sudden looked like an opportunity. That opportunity turned into a way of life. First as a young enlisted troop, then later as an officer. Now, my time within this fine organization is almost over and I can now add combat veteran to the list of titles I can carry the rest of my life.

During my time at basic training, I tried to capture the experience in a poem I entitled, "Meaning of Blue". The transition into the Air Force seemed obvious: "We were all wondering just what should we do, lost and lonely was our definition of blue" to "You know what I'm talking about, Tears of pride for all we do; So as we go on to bigger things, Look at the Flag and be proud to be blue". That was written in 1995, a much simpler time in America...before 9/11.

As I transition out of the Air Force and return to the civilian world, I can't help but to look back. The unknowing young man who was about to gain a world of knowledge, experience, leadership, mentoring, developing, and guidance. I got to represent a world class organization and had the distinct advantage of getting to take advantage of the opportunities afforded me as well. Sure, there were sacrifices, but there was so much more most cases.

In twelve days, I take off the uniform for the last time. On 1 October, I'll officially wake up a civilian. I chose the profession of arms for most of my adult life...but now, it is my time to step aside. It is my time to lay down my arms. For those whom came before me, I salute you. For those whom still serve today, I salute you. For those whom shall come after me, I salute you. May God hold a special place in his kingdom for those whom gave the ultimate sacrifice and may we never forget that freedom does not come free. We've all seen the costs, let's continue in our lives to honor the memories of those lost, and live our lives embracing the rewards that came at such a high cost.

Captain James Lee Ray, USAF...proudly transitioning to just Lee...whatever and whomever that person is to become. I'll always remember the road traveled, but cherish the road ahead.

Thanks for the memories!

Bushels and Barrels namesake

Bushels and Barrels

Marriage Proposal to my now beautiful wife

A bushel is a measurement of food when being picked out of the fields by farmers. This is how they sell the food in the markets to make money for their families. This unit of measurement is also how they measure the food they will feed their families throughout the year. Each year, new crops are planted and new plants create new food supplies. The very same bushel baskets are used time and again. In essence, the same bushels are replenished each year.

I measure my love for you in the same manner. Some may say I will love you forever, but really can someone love forever? That is an empty measurement because forever can end in an instant. Others may say they will love you for eternity, but that is an empty measurement as well because no one can make a reliable statement as to how long that is. A heart pumps blood and volume is the measurement used to measure blood, a liquid. Therefore, it makes much more sense to love with something that can be measured in volume, in the bushel's case, a solid. Bushels are used to measure food for livelihood and substinence. My love for you brings me to life and feeds the happiness within me. A bushel is an appropriate measuring tool for my love for you. Time moves forward and our lives may get stale and boring, taking the fire of our love with it. But just like the crops, the bushel baskets come back out and replenish the cabinets and pantries, my heart is replenished and I love you all over again.

May the crops always grow and the baskets always overflow. I know my heart does.

A barrel is a storage mechanism for liquids or grains. Many times it is commonly used to store alcohol. As much as we all enjoy our drinks from time to time, we all know that too much of it can destroy our bodies and our abilities to function correctly. During the times of the Prohibition, there was an earnest effort to abolish alcohol, yet it still exists in earnest today. And people's lives are destroyed every day due to it. But if you look, it can also be used for times of celebrations and toasting. In moderation, there are few things in life that are harmful. A barrel is symbolic of those things which may be good in our lives unless we over indulge within them, then they are dangerous and volatile...alcohol and gun powder are excellent examples.

I measure my love for you in the same manner. God will present opportunites and challenges to us every day. Some are good, others are not. We will be tested throughout our life, we must make choices and traverse life in a righteous manner. The barrels represent the obstacles we will face, we must choose whether to go around them or jump over them and face them head on. How we traverse the arena of life and navigate the barrels in our life will define who we are and who we will become. The barrels also represent the opportunities that we will be faced with. Together, we must choose which barrels we want and we must ensure they glorify our God and fulfill our souls in a meaningful way. We must always be aware and prepared to pass a barrel by as some are dangerous and volatile. Our lives will always be full of challenges and opportunites, but our path we choose through the barrels will define who we are as individuals and as a couple.

Are you ready for the rodeo? I am.