“It was the first day of the term, and 16 West Point cadets were filing into their C Hour class in Leadership in Thayer Hall. At 09:50, the instructor called the class to attention, received the attendance report from the section marcher, and told the cadets to take their seats. ‘There’s one interesting thing you should know about me,’ the instructor said, ‘I’m blind. I can’t see anything. So, raising your hand in this class is pretty much going to be a waste of time.’ The cadets laughed. It was a joke. Everyone knows there are no blind officers in the army.” (http://www.blindteachers.net/west-point.html)
Yet there are blind officers in today’s Army. Captain Scotty Smiley is one of them. Scotty’s amazing story of resilience is best captured in his book, Hope Unseen. Scotty and Tiffany Smiley’s life experiences compose that priceless “picture worth a thousand words” which allows us to observe resilience in action. I encourage you to read Scotty’s inspiring book.
We are warriors, all of us. As warriors, we must be prepared. We can build bounce and increase resilience ahead of time before encountering the next tribulation and trauma that are sure to come. This is the preventive phase and we all must consider and act upon it.
The best Biblical exhortation for this phase is “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11, underline emphasis added). Scotty Smiley received spiritual nurture from growing up in a Christian home. He learned about the armor of God. During his West Point years this continued and prepared him to arrive on the battlefields of life, and the battlefield of Iraq as a spiritually fit soldier.
Scotty’s fitness in other areas, physical, mental, emotional, and relational was equally sound. In U.S. Army terms, he was “comprehensively fit” as a soldier and young leader. In her own way so was Tiffany, his wife. Scotty and Tiffany were part of a healthy relational network of family, friends, and professional comrades. They enjoyed bonds of trust and confidence borne out of vibrant faith and common values. In this network they shared the hardships and enjoyments of life.
A familiar Chinese military maxim says, “We train in peace so we will not bleed in war.” Scotty was part of a high performing unit that had trained hard in peace and performed well in combat. They were a solid team with good leadership. They understood their calling and their mission, they knew well the rules of engagement, they were practiced in actions on contact, they respected their leadership, they led their soldiers well, and they would never, ever, leave a fallen comrade behind. Even before the fateful VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive devise) detonated and blinded him, Scotty and every other person in that unit knew they would be taken care of in every way possible.
This is a key aspect of resilience: the knowledge that you are part of a good team, whether a combat unit, sports team, loving family, supportive faith and community group, brings confidence and courage as you face potential trauma, and hope and encouragement once the trauma comes.
Among innumerable passages of comfort from the scriptures, a fitting passage is, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;” (Psalm 46:1, 2). No doubt each military person, business owner, pastor, parent, child, single adult, actually every human being on earth, can identify with the inevitable storms of life, both large and small. None of us are immune. Consistent with the maxim “No Atheists in Foxholes,” there are few that turn away God’s help in times of severe personal trauma.
From the moment Scotty was wounded a keen awareness of God’s help in time of need was critically important to him and the many others who were impacted. While in the early weeks of his rehabilitation Scotty experienced pain, mental anguish, hours of hopelessness, and a sense of extreme and permanent loss, he also overwhelmingly experienced God’s love, presence, and comfort. He quickly rebounded from living in bitterness to striving for growth for the betterment of himself and others.
Tiffany went through the same cycle. They would be quick to tell you that their strength, joy, and commitment came from their deep roots of Christian faith. This faith was the predominant factor in their resilient response.
God truly allowed them and others who walked with them, to weather the storm with grace and full confidence that God was going through the storm with them. While waves of remorse and doubt understandably roll through periodically, this couple has consistently been remarkably, and some would term miraculously, positive and productive.
Having been up close and personal with the trauma of war, the Warrior David said, “For I am afflicted and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” Psalm 109:22. This was certainly true of Scotty Smiley. The observable wounds to his eyes and body were evidences certainly, but also the unseen wounds to his heart, soul, and spirit (which often take longer to heal) were acknowledged. With the comfort of his personal faith and the love and support of their rich relational network, Scotty avoided the isolation response often characteristic of such trauma and quickly transitioned from an inward focus, which is necessary and understandable while working through the initial grief and loss process, to an outward focus keyed to contribution and comfort to others.
Following the iterative nature of the Resilient Life Cycle©, Scotty and Tiffany became predictably stronger and more resilient for the inevitable future challenges of life which would come their way. Overall, together they have become a blessing to many, dispensing hope and light to those languishing in the darkness of despair.