Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When it just clicks ...

If you're looking for them, there are a few lines in every movie when the writer moves beyond creating dialogue for the characters in the movie, and expresses their own personal sentiments. Scenes where the producers turn the camera on themselves, and share their own inner resonation with their work of art - surreal moments when you finally understand the purpose behind what you’re watching.  And not only is this true of Hollywood - it's true in our own lives as well.  Surreal moments - what you've been seeing in your own life finally makes sense.

I’m going on a bike ride with my brother and some of his friends in northern Arizona. Actually, “ride” is quite a generous term. I soon find out that could more appropriately be called a bike climb. After several miles, we reach an even steeper portion of the trail, and I decide it’s time for the hiking part of this duathalon. As they push on ahead, I jump off and slowly start the trek up the ridge.

One of the things about bike-hiking mountains is that the top is always elusive. By the time you see it, you round a corner and it magically becomes much, much higher. As I was slowly making my way up the mountain, I decided that, contrary to appearances, the end was not in sight. Much to my surprise, my skepticism was invalid, and I was rewarded with a great downhill segment after a short rest at the top.

In mountain biking, the bad thing about awesome downhill segments is that they lead to horrible ones. Times when a nice winding trail changes to a rocky creek bottom, and your hands ache from the constant pummeling of the handlebars. But you know what, if all uphills were moderate, and downhills silky smooth, it would be called road biking. In the end, all uphills lead to downhills, and all horrid downhills become a badge of honor and a good reason to find another trail.

I’m pounding down a concrete two-lane road in southern Mississippi. I’m with a fellow senior cadet at Camp Shelby – we have some time off from instructing the younger cadets, and decide to go on an afternoon run. Only thing is, afternoons in Hattiesburg, Mississippi typically run high 90’s in both temperature and humidity. As I’m wondering why I signed up for this workout, and why we are pushing such an incredibly fast pace, something I’ve known all along hits me in a profound way. Exercising isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be incredibly hard – if you want to improve yourself and meet the goals you've set. And the feeling of accomplishment is more than enough reward to motivate me to head out the next day.

In these moments, my life suddenly makes sense. I see the purpose for the stress and hardships of my life, and how they've had a major part in building who I am. And regardless of how difficult life can be in the moment, eventually I’ll reach the top, and see the bigger reason for what I’ve been facing.

God gives all of us a few lines in the script of our lives when the words explain everything else. A few scenes where we get a birds-eye view on our lives. I think the Amplied version really brings out the meaning of this passage in Romans 8 – and is a really good place to sum up our thoughts.

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son ...

"And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below-indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Picture Slideshow

Spring Break 2011

Wrapping up an amazing spring break trip!  2,889 miles of awesomeness.  Click "larger map" to see our route.  Pics and video to follow!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Break!

In the interest of spring break and changing my routines, this post will have no deep insights, no thought-provoking sentiments.

Just a suggestion to look at the right sidebar and see how close we are to SPRING BREAK!  One test and one quiz, and I'm there!

This is all.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Perspective is everything!

This post was written during the trip to Canada to start Christmas break.  I just now got around to editing and posting it.  Enjoy!


Well, it's the end of another semester. It's amazing how they have their own way of coming to a close. You're preoccupied with an ever-growing crescendo of homework assignments and tests to study for, and it seems like the work will never end But before you know it, you're waiting for final grades to get posted, and are in amazement that you have finished off yet another four months of school

This particular night, I'm driving up to North Virginia to fly out of Reagan for Christmas in Canada. It's the conclusion of a long day of driving from my aunt's house in Nashville, and for the last stretch I decide to fire up some Eagles on the Ipod. As I have mentioned before in this blog, the Eagles are my perfect road trip band. They have this indescribable way of capturing classic Americana through their tight harmonies, classic instrumentation, and unique blend of country and rock elements. As I drive through the moonlit, snow-covered countryside, I reflect on the past semester. This drive is as good a time as any to step back and take stock of how things are going away from the constant din of classes and homework assignments.

It's been a interesting semester. Starting even before the beginning of the semester with my dads final health decline, to his passing on September 11th and the funeral services, this semester has been about much more than just academic assignment. I don't think there is a way to really process mentally the loss of a family member that close to you, one you respect deeply and see in him a reflection of yourself on a deep level.

As I am zooming along the snowy countryside, thinking about the past months, I realize that in spite of the challenges I have faced, this semester is the moment that my faith has been preparing for all my life. What is the purpose of my belief in Christ if it is only for the sunny days, the green pastures of life, and not for the times when we must go through the valley of the shadow of death with someone we love? When life doesn't make sense, Christ offers us the chance to step out of our own minds and intellects, and view things from His perspective. You know, if we look at something as basic as how we are supposed to pray, we see this change of perspective illustrated. This is what the Lord's Prayer is all about. Recall the words:

Our Father which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be THY name.
THY kingdom come.
THY will be done on earth
as it is in heaven

Yes, there is the petition for daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from temptation. But then Christ brings the focus back to Himself with the closing lines,

for THINE is the kingdom,
and the honor,
and the glory,
for now and forever,

Life has its moments. Not only the happy moments when you have the world by the tail. Also moments when it just doesn't compute, when you are wondering how you should even feel. Through the times I have felt this way in the past few months, it is a blessing to be able to rely on God and His infinite perspective to give guidance and comfort in my life.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shared Moments

From Dad's pictures

Well, six weeks ago I stood up and gave one of those speeches no one wants to give - the eulogy for my dad's funeral.  After sharing thoughts about his life and his influence in mine, I ended with these words:

"September 11, 2010, the Air Force lost one of its' best retired officers.  
But my dad - he got the best promotion of his life."

In the weeks since then, it has been a slow acceptance process.  One of the therapists who worked with Dad in his final months shared with me the importance of allowing myself to go through the natural phases of grief.  Well, when you're a 22 year-old engineering student who is trying to chase down life and grab it by the tail, you aren't terribly interested in psychological mumbo-jumbo that doesn't fit into a math equation or engineering formula.  But I have found that this is no psychological nonsense.  She was exactly right.  You have to give yourself permission to deal with grief in your own way.  

I think I found part of the healing at, of all places, an air show.

My good friend Nate Cromer and I were in Georgia during fall break, and when we drove down to Atlanta, we saw a sign for an air show.  45 minutes later, we had entered Naval Air Station Atlanta and were on the perimeter road, 150 feet from the runway.  We arrived just as the Blue Angels took center stage.

This wasn't the first airshow I had been to.  But I will never forget it.

The first aircraft we saw were numbers 5 and 6 rolling down to the end of the runway, waiting for some signal before they took off.  As we were watching them run some control surface tests only 100 feet away from us, the fourship streaked by.

My dad spent his life in a mad love affair with the airplane.  He spent his entire professional career learning the engineering principles behind their design, flying them, fixing them when they broke, buying the Air Force more aircraft, and engineering completely new aircraft designs.  His passion for all things aeronautical was contagious.  I spent hundreds of hours over the 22 years I knew him discussing everything from stealth fighter aircraft, to the angle of the engine inlet on a 1960's F-104 and how it made for excellent supersonic performance, to putting an airliner engine in an attack aircraft and how bad an idea it was.

I don't know how to describe what went through my mind as I watched those blue and gold F-18s thunder down the runway in front of us and take to the sky.  Yes, I know they didn't belong to the right branch of the Department of Defense.  But hearing those eight GE engines come to life and fill the air with their thundering symphony was absolutely awe inspiring.  The combination of their raw, mind-blowing power, afterburners literally tearing the air to shreds, with the complete control of the pilot and aircraft over that power in precision flying - even though we are decades and now lifetimes apart, I knew I was sharing a moment with my dad.  He couldn't be there to watch every pound of those aluminum airframes take to the sky, so I watching and thrilling to the roar of the engines for two that day.

Regardless of how amazing those golden streets are, I know Dad was watching me that day and was probably a bit envious.  And regardless of the amazing technical specifications of angel wings, my dad would have gladly traded for a flight suit and strapped into the cockpit for one last flight.

High Flight by John Gillespie McGee, Jr. is a classic poem that we both memorized for Air Force training.  McGee was a British pilot during World War II who wrote this after a particularly incredible flight.  The last few lines are truly inspiring:

Up, up the long delirious burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark or even eagle flew,
And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Reached out my hand and touched the face of God.

That burning blue is missing one Air Force colonel.  Maybe some day I can strap into a cockpit and take his place.  But regardless of my future, it's comforting to know that my dad's flight through life took him past those windswept heights, through the untrespassed sanctity of space, beyond the confines of our math equations, space, and time, to a place where he can see God's face forever.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Col. Phil Bruce's Final Promotion

From Dad's pictures
The words of a Sheryl Crow song caught my ear today.  Even though it was unrelated to death, it has an uncanny correlation:

But is there someplace far away, someplace where all is clear
Easy to start over with the ones you hold so dear
Or are we left to wonder, all alone, eternally
But is this how it's really meant to be?

Thanks to Christ, we aren't left to wonder why.  1Thess. 4:13: "But we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve like other people who have no hope."  

It looks like I will be sharing a eulogy at my father's services.  While it is not easy to reflect on his passing, I think it is theraputic to do so.

Col. Philip Bruce was a classic, best-of-the-best, old-school Air Force officer.  Although he retired when I was very young, and I never really got to see him during his prime years in the Air Force, he never lost his sense of military honor, discipline, and courtesy.  He did not treat his Air Force rank and pilot wings as a job, but as a supreme calling.  He gave the Air Force all of his time and energy, and he was rewarded greatly.

Not only was he a quintessential officer on and off the job, he was also very humble.  He didn't talk much about the prestigious positions and awards he received in his 27 years of service.  In fact, I didn't realize how amazing his AF career was until I asked him as a teenager.  He never made a big deal of being a pilot, and most of the people he interacted with never knew his rank.

I will always remember Dad as a guiding influence on my life.  His understanding of science and technology helped me to see the world in that light, and encouraged me to consider studying engineering.  Talking with him about tools, cars, and airplanes gave me a solid foundation for intuitive understanding of technological areas.  He helped me understand the basics of math and science, and I am grateful for this every time I use scientific notation, unit analysis, or any number of other skills in college coursework.

Last week in Air Science class, we discussed how the Air Force is not merely a job, but is best viewed as a profession, with all the dedication and responsibility that a true profession requires.  Reading in preparation for the class, I realized that because of Dad's example, I already knew the dedication required for a successful AF career years before I ever joined AFROTC.  I knew that an Air Force career comes only second to God and family.  It is a calling, just like being a pastor or missionary.  It is fulfilling, worth investing years of whole-hearted time and effort.  Commissioning as an officer isn't a take-it-or-leave-it, see-how-it-goes experiment, it's a go/no go decision point in life that will require total dedication.  Without being harsh or demanding, while still being a consummate gentleman, he prepared me for the sacrifice and commitment that the military requires.

Through two years in the program, and four weeks of intense training in Alabama and Mississipi, I never once questioned whether I wanted to stay in ROTC.  I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt, and when I heard that Dad's health was failing two weeks in as I was in Mississipi, it was truely surreal.  The man who inspired me to take this course, to go where I was being yelled at and challenged 24/7, was about to pass into the next life.  I think part of the reason that I was able to stay strong and finish well was because I knew it was what he would have done if he were in my boots.

Ever since the afternoon of 19July, when I got called out of that mission debrief by my CO and advised of my dad's possible passing, I have worn my dad's dogtags as a symbol of my devotion to our common cause.

I guess what I'm trying to say is actually one of the best things that could be said of a retired officer - years after retirement, he was still an officer whose very aura automatically instilled qualities and characteristics in his children - qualities that the Air Force has to alternately teach, critique, and yell into cadet's heads through years of training.

Col. Philip Bruce, even though we never crossed paths in uniform, I salute you.  It was an honor to observe and be influenced by your life, and I would like to think that Grandpa was with Peter at the gates as you reported in to your final duty station.


Link to pictures from Dad's life and career: