Improvise, Adapt, Overcome


by Dr. Charles L. Houston, Jr.

Charles Houston

“You are not okay,” his wife sat him down and continued, “even though you think you are. You are angry, agitated, depressed.” He got ready to argue but was silenced by her last sentence that stopped him in his tracks, “People are afraid of you.”

Then he remembered driving on the freeway thinking he was back in Iraq in a Humvee, filled with the urge to ram other drivers who got too close. His wife had to “talk him down” after he pulled over. Crowds rattled him so he “made it a game to see how hard he could bump people, watching them recoil in fear.” He felt sick as he realized the fear that he had worked to overcome was still there, causing him to inspire fear in others.

His was a fear born of childhood and an abusive stepfather. That fear had ruled him until he discovered an out–ballet. Yes, that’s right, ballet. He dealt with his fear by graduating with a degree in dance. He believed he was destined for great things until his dream was shattered by the reality that he would never have a full-time job in ballet.

For two years he bounced around until he found something totally different. Serving in the United States Marines, he had learned to “improvise, adapt and overcome.” He was on his way to defeating his fears. He had felt betrayed, but now he’d show folks!

He joined the reserves, met the girl of his dreams, a ballerina, and got a job as an advisor in a boys’ dorm. Life was good!

Then came 9/11 and his unit was deployed to Fallujah. He spent “an incredibly tense eight months” living through heavy mortar attacks, the constant fear of IEDs, snipers and booby traps. He hunted insurgents at night and took care of villagers, passing out food, water, and school supplies.

Finally, home, he married Lisa and began building his life. And then…that conversation. “We need to talk.”

As he admitted to himself that he was not okay, Lisa asked what would make him happy. The answer “flew out of me–I’d start a dance company.” He did, and through that process of turning “emotion into movement, my anger and anxiety melted away.” As he merged dance and Marine, he had improvised, adapted and overcome.

A veteran came up after seeing his dance about his days in Fallujah saying, “Thank you for telling people what it was like. It’s important.” He knew his life had been guided, and he was doing what he was meant to do–“ballet, Marine, husband and partner to Lisa. ALL OF IT FEARLESSLY.”

Roman Baca told his story in the March 2014 Guideposts article, “Fearless.”

If you, like Roman, are dealing with challenges holding you back, I pray in 2020 you will realize there is One who is ever seeking to mold us and make past and present into a beautiful expression of life. Let God do it! It’s a New Year!

Dr. Charles L. Houston, Jr. is the Senior Chaplain with the Georgia Department of Public Safety (Georgia State Patrol/Motor Carrier Compliance Division).

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