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Profiles in Resilience

Captain Scotty Smiley

Doris Francois

A Profile in Resilience:  The Wounds of War

Extracted with permission from Resilient Warriors, Chapter 4

 

“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.

 

BEFORE

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.

 

DURING

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.

 

AFTER

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.

 

A Profile in Resilience:  Pursuit of HappinessExtracted with permission from Resilient Nations, Chapter 7 What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoiceand to do good in one's lifetime;moreover, that every man who eats and drinkssees good in all his labor--it is the gift of God.~ (Ecclesiastes 3:9, 12, 13) Early one morning I found myself with some unusual "idle time" in the Nashville airport. Walking past the entrance to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) checkpoint, I noticed an elderly African-American lady scurry up, looking very dignified in her well-pressed volunteer clothes. Her apparent duty was to serve at the volunteer desk just outside the security checkpoint, answering any questions for harried travelers, and imparting a final dose of Nashville hospitality to departing visitors of "Music City USA." Drawn by her sense of dignity and purpose, I walked over to the volunteer desk as Mrs. Doris Francois was getting settled. I knew there was probably a powerful life story behind this dignified elder and I was right. Beginning the conversation with something like "You are really up early!" I spent the next thirty minutes hearing about a fascinating life that I knew had to appear in the pages of Resilient Nations. Doris Francois was brought up Catholic, in New Orleans, poor, the eldest of five children. She was very involved in healthy activities as a child-competing in basketball all over the city with the Catholic Youth Organization, playing the piano, and singing in small operettas. Her grandfather, one who had a significant impact on her life, played jazz music in New Orleans. In her early years of schooling, Doris threw herself into learning, despite the decrepit text books with pages torn out and marred with writing. Early on she wanted to be a missionary or a nun. Most women at that time would be a teacher, an office assistant, or work at the Post Office. Despite the odds, and after praying the Lord would direct her path, Mrs. Francois decided she wanted to be a doctor-this would be her "pursuit of happiness." While persisting with her medical education, she worked part-time for $3 per shift and car fare (7 cents for street car and bus to get to her job). Wanting to attend a good medical university up North, she was told she had many strikes against her as a woman, poor, colored, Catholic, entering a field dominated by males, and being hearing-impaired. Many predicted she would fail, yet Doris Francois stayed the course to become a medical doctor, a pediatrician. Her subsequent distinguished medical career allowed her to be the hands and feet of the Great Physician in varied children's hospitals, internal medicine and family practices, community-based clinics, and State of Tennessee care facilities for disabled clients. Interestingly, Doris Francois married in 1963 as racial tensions were heightening and the government was preparing to launch Great Society social programs in America which would initially help but eventually condemn millions to social and economic dependency. She was not lured into complacency, an entitlement mentality, or racial antagonism, however. With her cardiologist husband, she would make house calls for those who couldn't come during the week or didn't have the money. They also made opportunities available for other young people by providing funding for education, books or lunch money, or helping them improve in their studies.Retired since 2000, Mrs. Francois at age 78 still volunteers and makes a difference in someone's life every day, now working with the Flying Aces volunteer group at the Nashville airport for over ten years. The pearls of wisdom which flow from her years of caring for others read like the Proverbs: "Do not exploit people. There are no failures, just challenges in life. Be kind and good to people and you will have impacted them in a positive way. Do what you are passionate about. Be self-sufficient and independent. Learn from your experiences every day. Always wake up being grateful." This is sage advice from one who could have easily succumbed to the lure of dependency and entitlement. Her reflections on the current status of America are equally profound. In her own words: "We don't seem to share and care for people and their welfare, racing on the fast track of selfish pursuits. Taking prayer out of schools has impacted our national morality. Loss of discipline and respect in the family, as well as preoccupation with cell phones and 24/7 media, has robbed us of the ability to play and worship together. So many are learning to take the road of least resistance, seeking whatever is pleasurable for the here and now. So many brilliant and talented young people whose minds should be prepared to lead us in the subsequent decades are being poisoned by privileged living for the moment, with the acquisition of material things defining their successes so that caring for their neighbor and others has been discarded. Drugs and pornography have become the real weapons of mass destruction in our children's minds." She has certainly put her finger on the Spiritual Infrastructure challenges of America in 2016 and beyond.Doris Francois' ultimate advice to America in 2014 turns to the power of personal faith: "Pray and ask God to lead you. It is not about religion, but about what is in your heart. Love and respect the individual, not knowing when you may be touching God Himself."Maybe you, too, will be privileged to meet Doris Francois one day. It would be worth a trip through the Nashville airport. She is an inspiring example of one who could easily have spent her life homeless, poverty stricken, dependent on handouts, and bitter at the world about her. I'm sure you appreciate the realities she navigated as a young African-American woman in the 1950s forward. Yet, she fought to be educated, worked hard, contributed greatly (to the health care others), forgave much, loved many, spoke kindly, and fostered unity in her pursuit of happiness. She benefited from hand-up opportunities, but never depended on handouts. She pursued happiness in true American fashion -and certainly achieved it . ... she fought to be educated, worked hard, contributed greatly(to the health care others), forgave much, loved many,spoke kindly, and fostered unity in her pursuit of happiness.She benefited from hand-up opportunities, but neverdepended on handouts. She pursued happiness in trueAmerican fashion -and certainly achieved it.  

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