God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
I am sure this is a prayer that all of you have heard at one time or another. However, to some people this prayer has a lot of meaning. Alcoholics Anonymous members use this prayer with their twelve step program. When I was about 13 years old, my father recited this prayer to me. At the time, it didn't mean much to me, but over the next 15 years it would pop up at the most challenging times in my life.
Basic training was pretty easy for me. The physical aspect was a little challenging, but as the days went on, it became second nature to run three to five miles in the morning, get very little sleep at night, and see through the psychological games the drill sergeants tried to play with us. I was 26 when I joined, so I was mentally stronger than the younger members, and was completely prepared for anything the Drill Sergeants could throw my way, or so I thought.
One evening, as we were all getting ready for bed, one of the Drill Sergeants decided to do an inspection of our lockers. He opened one girl's locker and found a dirty band-aid on one of her shelves. Instead of punishing just this one soldier, he decided to make all of us pay for her mistake. The Drill Sergeant ordered us to all pack up our lockers, haul our gear down three flights of stairs, and be on the drill floor in formation in five minutes. If we were unable to do this, there would be consequences. He knew very well that it would be virtually impossible to pack up all our equipment and uniforms and be on the drill floor in five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes pass, and most of us are still packing up our lockers. I happened to be halfway out the door when he stopped us, and made us all get down and start doing push ups with all of the gear on our back. When he was done punishing us, we formed up downstairs, and he then started his stopwatch again after telling us we had seven minutes to unpack all of our gear and put it perfectly back into our lockers. If we were unable to do this, we would have to repeat the process all over again.
No one was able to put their lockers back in order, so of course we had to pack everything back up, and head back downstairs. This continued for at least five cycles. The Drill Sergeant even threatened to make us sleep outside if we were unable to follow these simple instructions in the amount of time given. This is the first time I ever got frustrated at Basic training. I was so upset, I started to cry on the fourth trip back up the stairs. It was going on eleven PM, and we got up every morning at four AM. I wanted to go to sleep, I wanted to be left alone, and at this point, I wanted to perform violent actions on the girl who left the used band-aid in her locker. Now that I look back, I understand that it was not that girl's fault. If the band-aid had not been there, the Drill Sergeant would have found some other excuse to use this form of punishment on us that night.
As I was packing up my locker in fast forward speed, crying and trying not to beat someone up, a book fell out of my duffel bag. It was the prayer book my mom had given me before I left for basic. It fell open, and the prayer that was looking up at me from the page was the Serenity Prayer. I immediately stopped crying, calmed down, and just went along for the ride. I realized at that moment, that no matter what I did, I had no control over the situation, could not change it, and must accept it. Eventually, when the Drill Sergeant tired of his entertainment for the evening, he let us all go back upstairs and go to bed.
A few months later, I was again training for the military. I was in San Antonio studying to be a medic. My bunk mate, Flea, and I made a pact at the beginning of the school cycle that we were going to help each other out. I wanted to graduate valedictorian of our class of four hundred, and she wanted to graduate with the highest physical training score. If I accomplished my goal, I would earn a medal, if she accomplished her goal, she would earn a patch and recognition of being the strongest in the company. We both were well on our way to attaining our goals until one fateful night.
Flea and I had just finished our last test in EMT training. I had gotten the highest score on the test, and she had just gotten her best score on the physical training test. We decided we wanted to go out and celebrate by shopping and eating wings and watching Ohio State football. We left the bar in plenty of time to make curfew, but our driver took a wrong turn. When we pulled up to our barracks, we had three minutes to make it to our bunks. As we bolted across the drill floor, heading to the door to our barracks, a female sergeant who hated both of us made us stop and start doing push-ups. Although our phones said we had three minutes, she decided that we were late, and needed to be made an example of. Up until this point, neither one of us had gotten in trouble. We were both known as the goody-two-shoes in the company, and this sergeant was ecstatic to ruin this reputation.
After an hour of getting "smoked", she promised us there would be more punishment to come. The problem with this, is that I would not be able to receive my medal if I had any negative activity on my record. I dreaded what would happen all week. She decided that our punishment would be that the following Saturday we would have to stay in the barracks as opposed to going off base like all the other soldiers. We would have to surrender our civilian clothes, wear our uniforms, and sign in the office every hour on the hour. We also had to sign negative counseling statements that would go into our record, and ultimately prevent me from graduating "Distinguished Honor Grad", and prevent Flea from getting the recognition she deserved, "High Female PT".
While we were carrying out our punishment, we popped in a movie titled "Mr. Brooks". The opening scene starts with this man reciting the Serenity Prayer. I was once again reminded that I had no control over the situation, and I needed to accept that. However, I did have control over how well I would do the rest of the school cycle. It was at that moment that I decided I would not allow this sergeant to get me down or destroy my goal, even if I would not get the recognition. The rest of the term, I studied hard, dealt with more harassment from this woman, and kept my spirits up. The day they announced who would be leading our class in graduation, to my surprise, they announced my name! I was confused. The negative counseling I had received should have prevented me from obtaining this title. I inquired with my platoon sergeant, and he explained that the statements for all of the people involved with that punishment had mysteriously gone missing.
The day of graduation, the female sergeant came up to me and asked, "Who did you bribe to get this honor?"
"You, sergeant. Didn't you get the check in your mailbox?" I responded with a slight smile on my face.
"Well done Finneran! You deserve it," she said as she patted my back and walked off with a grin on her face. I found out that she had done all of this to see if I would give up. She wanted to see if I would still try my hardest knowing I would not get the reward in the end. Because I heard the Serenity Prayer, I did NOT give up, and continued to try my hardest even though I thought I would not get the medal.
This weekend my family endured another tragedy. JJ's mom, Mama JJ, passed away. She has been battling with pancreatic cancer for months, and decided to give up the fight and go home to our Father. She is one of the most amazing and giving women I know. She was vibrant, always laughing and smiling, and close to Jesus. She had grace and beauty up until the very end. Mama JJ took care of everyone, and put everyone before herself. She was so too young. I have to admit that I was slowly becoming angry for the first time since losing Rosalynn. They say that a miracle happens following the death of a child, and I was praying that since my child did not have the chance to live, that God would grant Mama JJ an additional 25 years with her family and friends here on Earth. I know it is up to God to make these decisions, and miracles do not always come in the form we ask for, but I could not help but hope this prayer would be answered.
As I was walking into the church for Mama JJ's memorial service, I was asking the question "Why?" I was actually getting a bit angry. The night before I had watched Papa JJ sob and become weak with sorrow. I had watched my best friend cry and mourn the death of her mother. This did not have to happen! If God had just granted us a miracle, we would not have to say goodbye to this loving, amazing woman. I signed the guest book at the entrance of the church, and picked up the prayer card. The blessed mother Mary was on the front, and on the back was, as you guessed, the Serenity Prayer. I started to cry. As I read it, I realized there was no reason to be mad at God. I realized that no matter how much I prayed or hoped, I have no control over this situation, that it is all in God's hands. That I have to take this world as it is, and not as I would have it. I have to trust that He will make all things right, and He will bring peace to our hearts in this difficult time.
I do have control over how I proceed from here. I will be the best friend I can be for JJ. I can keep my promise to Mama JJ to help look after JJ and help her through this grief. I will be an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and even a punching bag to hit if she needs it. I love JJ and her family as my own, and will do anything they need. I just pray that this is the end, that there is no more tragedy from here on out. Instead, we need some hope and a little light in this family. However, if this is not the end, I know I can't change anything, but will continue to remain strong in my faith and close to my family.
I love you Mama JJ. You will be dearly missed.