Grace Under Fire

Grace Under Fire

It is the color of light
The shape of sound high in the evergreens
It lies suspended in hills
A blue line in a red sky

I am looking at sound

I am hearing the brightness of high bluffs and almond trees
I am tasting the wilderness of lakes, rivers, and streams
Caught in an angle of song

I am remembering water that glows in the dawn
The motion tumbled in earth
Life hidden in mounds

I am dancing a bright beam of light

I am remembering love

— Pinkie Gordon Lane

She was a bright beam of light.
Gleaming gallantly for 20 years of life on Earth.
By all accounts, a shining star – full of life and glowing with heavenly
Her sun was really just beginning to rise, by dawn’s early light.
Her past – beaming. Her future – bright.

Her loved ones remember the 30th night of September 1999 as her
date of birth (the moment she first danced into our Earth‘s wind –
with holy fire ).

From the hill country of Houston, Texas – born and raised.
And those hills were alive with the sound of her life’s music – her
heart’s song bounding over those central Texas mounds (and under
baby blue skies).
Her spirit? Deeply-rooted in her family’s Catholic faith.
She bled Cardinal red.

Her blood relatives would freely say – as far as they could see – that
she was the family jewel.
One of our country’s best and brightest.
Even brighter than the golden necklace of the Virgin Mary that
she wore suspended over her heart – and never took off.
What so proudly she hailed.

She was brilliantly first-class (top 15% of her high school class).
Yet she shined just as splendidly in the sport of soccer.
Her motion tumbling on the earth. Rocketing.
Too fleet of foot to be caught in the angles of her opponent’s lines.

She was the other team’s worst nightmare – though her heart’s
dream was not just to serve her teammates or classmates.
But to serve her country in the broad stripes and bright stars of the
U.S. Army. Ever-green.

In June of 2018, she’d get her wish. Tasting the wilderness of Basic
Training. Crossing the red, white, and blue finish line of graduation
with flying colors.
E-3. Private First Class.

As fate would have it, her Army life would never take her north of the
Mason-Dixon line or west of the Rio Grande. Her first set of
orders to serve her country would station her in the hill country of
her home state.

Tumbling her back to Texas – Fort Hood.
Home of the brave. Specifically, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment (the
“Brave Rifles”). The 3rd Cav’s motto?
“Blood and Steel”.

For nearly 2 years, she would stand watch at that rampart –
maintaining the 3rd Cavalry’s gear as a combat engineer.
Her light still beaming – gallantly streaming.
And then – as fate would have it – she would cross paths with a
shadow figure. A dark soul, deeply depraved – anything but brave.
A Specialist (E-4) specializing in sexual harassment.
Suffering from an acute case of heliophobia – fear of bright light.
He would make her daily life a living hell – so much so, that she
feared to tell anyone who wasn’t her blood.

Her deepest fear? That he was cavalry.
Capable of all of the perilous things cavalry soldiers are trained so
well to do – tracking their enemy while staying hidden, harassing
their opposition, breaking enemy lines, fast attack, combat arms.

One April afternoon, she would discover an undercover affair he
was having with the estranged wife of another soldier.
Caught in an angle of adultery.
His deepest fear? That she would call his high bluff – and call him
out (shedding a not-so-little ‘red light’ on the subject).
So, they sounded off on each other – arguing the point.
He, watching his Army life flash before his eyes, locked her in a
cowardly red glare.

A perilous fight ensued.
Her worst nightmare came to twilight – in one of the unit armory’s
private arms rooms.
Bursting at the seams, his combat arms flailed a Hail Mary – striking
her head with a hammer, heartlessly.
Steel drew blood.
She tumbled to the earth in a mound. Lifeless.
No sound. Sudden death.
A flatline under a blue sky.

He concealed the shell of her former self in a box, which he then
carried to his car.
Alongside his girlfriend (the estranged wife), he drove east through
the night. Attempting to lay down his burden (and all the proof)
down by the riverside (the Leon River – 20 miles east of Fort Hood).
He tried to tumble her into the earth, hoping to make a rampart of
the hill country wilderness.
Hoping to break, burn, and bury her body – but, as fate would have
it, she would not burn.
Her light was not dimmed by death.
Even as her earthly form was technically suspended in those hills, she
glowed in the dawn. Her truth was a message in a bottle beside that
holy water –
No weapon formed against me shall prosper.
Not even steel.

And she would come to light.
As fate would have it, her spirit was explosive ordinance –
Politicians, the community, celebrities, and finally CID (Army
investigators) closed ranks around the holy smoke – and found her
Her temple was unearthed just before Independence Day 2020.
(Re)born and raised.
A light exponentially brighter than any firework in any 4th of July sky.
Caught in an angle of atonement.
Singing a siren song, in earth tones of just mercy.

Her killer hid in the shadows for weeks, fearing the bright flashlights
of law enforcement.
A cavalry of blue lights wiretapped his phone lines and tracked their
enemy (him). As he looked at the sound of being surrounded, he
used his own steel weapon formed – to draw his own cold blood.
Fast attack. Sudden death.
But his motion to strike – was dismissed.

And now, we in the military stand again at the crosscurrent of our
stream of consciousness. Calling our own bluff.
Shedding light on the blues (the hard truths) of sexual harassment,
rape, and murder in our ranks.
A cavalry of other souls who suffered her plight have bravely
stepped into this moment’s light.
Exposing the shadows. Exploding the shame.
Inspiring action that will reshape policy – prayerfully.
Giving voice and visibility to the most vulnerable among us.

They say hindsight is 20-20.
Perhaps, this was the parting gift of Specialist Vanessa Guillen.
30 September 1999 – 22 April 2020.
Killed In Action – by friendly fire.

We proudly hail you, Vanessa.
Full of grace. Your lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.
And blessed is the buried treasure of your tomb.
Pray for us now, as you surely did at the hour of your death.

For you are the color of light.
Reshaping, resounding – forever Army green.
Your heart lives on in the hills of your heartland.
As you now serve on the frontlines above the blue sky – in the air
We are looking at the sound of silencing – in this moment of

We are hearing your brightness in the high bluffs and almond trees.
We are weeping in the wilderness of lakes, rivers and streams.
Caught in the right angle of your swan song.

We are remembering holy water that glows in the dawn.
Your motion tumbled in earth – life risen from mounds.

We are dancing your bright beam of light.
We are remembering love.




  1. Amber Guthrie

    Anthony, once again your words are breathtaking – a feeling I became used to when listening to your sermons. Each line delivers the kind of emotional turmoil and truth I’ve needed since hearing of Vanessa Guillen’s death. *deep breath* Thank you for stepping back into this space with us, and most especially for sharing these words.

  2. A. Trip

    Anthony I am Breathless… I feel like I have no words.
    My heart aches for Specialist Vanessa Guillen , her family & friends . Me .. taking Deep breaths .. vemting … listening …learning .. engagement ..taking action . Thank you Anthony. ⚘🕯

  3. Tim Lattimer

    Wow. Such a powerful reflection. Such a sad story. May Vanessa’s light ever shine. Thank you so much Rev. Anthony! Sending our love to you and yours in hopes that you are doing well despite all.

  4. Carol Zika

    Anthony, thank you for this heartfelt tribute. Your soulful poetry is deeply missed by me and so many others at UUCC. Thank you for stepping back into our circle for a brief moment. Your voice is a balm when we are all struggling. Many blessings to you and your family.

  5. Rae Tyler Millman

    Anthony, I add my wow to those that preceded me. Your words and deep understanding are sorely missed by all of us here. What a moving tribute To one lost way too soon. Much to think about. Much love to you, Sarah, and the children.❤️Rae

  6. Sally Ann Cooper

    Dear Anthony, your words are powerful, yet so beautiful.
    Thank you for sharing Vanessa’s message with us.
    May you, Sara and the children be well and happy in your home in Texas.
    With love, Blessed Be, Ashe,
    Sally Ann

  7. Karyn B Marsh

    This was a beautiful tribute to Vanessa and a powerful reminder of the light within.

    Bright blessings to you and your family,

  8. Laurie Alderman

    When I saw your name, I dropped my phone, I was so happy to have you with us again. The prose that followed made me sit up and pay close attention. We must keep dancing on Vanessa’s bright beam of light. I’m grateful to you for starting us down this necessary and meaningful path.

    As with others, I send my best regards to you, Sarah, Tobias and Genevieve. ☮️

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