And the Battle Rages On

By now everyone has already seen that the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned Roe v. Wade. We have seen the outrage and grief of our mothers and sisters and friends who have lost the federal protections that have been in place for the past 50 years. And everyone has their opinion.

I’ve always had a strenuous relationship with the topic of abortion and reproductive rights. I still do. I’ve tried putting them into words before, but it never seems to come out right. So, I’m gonna try once again to share what I believe and why I stand where I do.

I have a good friend who has a beautiful little boy. A child that they never planned to have, nor did they desire to carry it to term. A child that they were forced to have due to decisions that were made for them, against their will. They had been partying and they slept with their significant other. Unbeknownst to them, said person intentionally sabotaged the condom and got them pregnant.

Upon discovering what happened several weeks later, they sought medical assistance to terminate the pregnancy. Due to the laws where they live, it was denied to them. And they were told that if they went out of state, upon their return, legal action would be filed against them. And their family threatened to cut them off. And due to the situation that they were in, they were forced to endure a pregnancy that they did not desire.

They eventually gave birth to a healthy child and made the decision to raise it on their own as a single parent, without the assistance and support of their family or church who shamed them for getting pregnant and then pressured them to give birth anyways. And they struggled with the trauma of childbirth, with carrying an unwanted child to term, with postpartum depression. It’s been almost five years and they still struggle and are very vocal about their decision and the choices that were made for them and what happened, even though they have come to love their child unconditionally.

Unfortunately, not every story ends up this way. Not every person makes it out on the other end.

Many years ago, one of the girls I served with confided in me and asked for my advice after they were assaulted by a family member. Charges were filed and the individual was arrested, but what remained was the pregnancy. She had always desired to have a large family with multiple children, but when she visited the doctors, they told her that the child she carried was not viable, it would never survive. And if she went through with the pregnancy, it would most likely kill her too.

We spent several hours talking about all the options. I provided my opinion, knowing that ultimately it was not going to be my choice. I let her know that no matter what the decision was, I was still going to love her unconditionally.

Ultimately, the pregnancy was terminated. She survived, barely. She was advised that if she were to ever become pregnant again, the stress of bringing a child to term and childbirth would most likely result in her not surviving. If she became pregnant again, the chances of either her or the child living were almost non-existent.

You may be wondering at this point why I shared these stories. Why these two in particular? Well, the simple answer is that both of these amazing individuals have influenced my view on the issue and brought me to where I am today.

If you have followed this blog for a while, you may know by now that I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. I was taught about the sanctity of all life, especially life within the womb. As a high school student, I skipped class to participate in “pro-life” rallies and the March for Life in D.C. I wore shirts that proclaimed “Pray to End Abortion” and “Some Choices Are Wrong.” And I called myself pro-life for many years.

In some ways, I still am. I believe that all life is precious. I believe that every single human being has been made in the image of God. I believe that our Father in heaven knew us before we were created in the womb. And I believe that the miracle of life begins at the moment of conception, even before a heartbeat is formed or air fills the lungs.

As a follower of Christ, I believe, above everything else, I am called to love unconditionally. To fight for those around me. To serve and support, and not to judge. But unconditional love is the foundation of my faith.

While I still consider myself pro-life, I am no longer part of the anti-abortion crowd. Anti-choice.

I believe that in a perfect world, there would be no need for the termination of any pregnancy, but the simple fact is that we live in a world and society that is broken beyond belief. I hope and I pray that one day, nobody would have to make the difficult choice between life and death. But we have a long way to get there.

We have thousands upon thousands of children in our foster care system that need homes now. They are waiting for someone to love them unconditionally.

But it is bigger than the simple fact that there are children needing homes. What about the health and well-being of the women who, in some places in this nation, no longer have a choice and are forced to endure the trauma of pregnancy and childbirth? For someone who does not want or desire to have children, to become a mother, what about their mental health? A lot of people being forced into these difficult situations do not have the support systems in place to deal with the physical and emotional trauma that results.

I have friends who have wanted to become mothers for years who have gone through pregnancies and childbirth and still struggle with the trauma. Some of them years later. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering of those who do not have a choice in the matter.

My faith calls me to treasure life. For me, the miracle of life is something that is beautiful and sacred. All life. Not just the life in the womb.

Unfortunately, as a society we have made this a black and white issue. We have vilified the opposing viewpoint and pushed each other into the extremes. This polarization is counter productive and prevents us from talking and having a conversation like rational individuals. Prevents us from listening to the other side and beginning to understand viewpoints other than our own.

The fall of Roe v. Wade has the potential to cause a lot of harm to many of the individuals that we have been called to love. It has the potential to remove treatment options and vital procedures to sustain life for more than just the women in our lives, but also our non-binary and trans siblings.

The simple fact is that the termination of a pregnancy can be a life saving medical procedure. To deny someone the choice to save their life and force them into a choice that is not their own is not medically sound.

And although I am personally pro-life, I understand that not everyone has the same views as I do. I am politically pro-choice, as I believe that trying to force my own views onto others is not what Christ has called me to do. If I am going to change the world, it is going to be through unconditional love. One life at a time.

As much as I would love to have conversations and convince people about the sanctity of human life, I know that I can only present my viewpoints and plant the seed with unconditional love and if their heart and mind is going to change, it will be through the grace of God.

Trying to force people to believe the same thing I do, through policy change, legislation, and/or shaming, is not showing unending grace or unconditional love. Forcing my beliefs and faith on people is not what Christ has called us to do. So, I choose to approach each conversation with as much openness as possible, to learn differing points of view and to understand where others are coming from.

And even if we don’t agree when we part ways, as long as I have loved unconditionally, the conversation will be a success.

Prayers, Guns, and Action

Every single one of us knows someone that has been affected by gun violence. I’m not talking about just those people who have been shot, but those whose lives have been changed due to gun violence. We have a pandemic in our nation, where war and violence have been glorified to the point where we are no longer affected by daily news stories of yet another mass shooting, another list of victims, or another individual who believes that grabbing a gun and opening fire is the best solution to whatever problem is going on with them in the moment.

I remember the fear that spread through my middle school on the anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, because there were rumors that something was going to happen. I had friends who were in the building during the Virginia Tech shooting, my freshman year of college, who are still processing what happened all those years ago. Friends that I went to High School with that still struggle with being in a classroom because of what happened. I remember arriving to work early and immediately jumping on the radio the day that someone opened fire on Townville Elementary School and shot several students as they fled inside to shelter. One of them eventually passed away from their injury.

It seems like every time these events happen, our nation mourns for a moment, promises change, and then does nothing to prevent it from happening again. We look for someone or something to blame, point our fingers in rage, and then brace ourselves for the next event, the next attack, the next assault.

And nothing ever changes.

I understand that thoughts and prayers are amazing tools to utilize when there is nothing else that we can do. When things happen so far away that there is nothing we can physically do, we offer up our prayers. As a follower of Christ, I believe that prayers can and do help in times of distress. But I also know that prayer without action is just noise being thrown into the void.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

– James 2:14-19

If our faith calls us to action, then why do we do nothing?

I can already hear the people shouting, “But what can we do?” Well, do everything in your power to prevent this from happening again. From mental health to common sense gun laws. Banning assault weapons. Volunteering with troubled youth. Speaking up and using your voice. Loving unconditionally.

I don’t have the magic answer to make all things better, to make mass shootings stop, but I do know that it is not one, single thing.

Our society is sick. Over the past two or more years, due to the COVID pandemic, every single one of us have been infected with the indoctrination we consume through our news sources and social media. We have become so polarized as a society, that we can no longer stand to listen to the other side. To have a civil discussion that doesn’t turn into an fight.

On top of it all, this COVID pandemic forced us into isolation. It put stress on an already fragile system that does not know how to provide mental and emotional support for those of us who struggle with depression, PTSD, mental illness, and/or a range of other mental issues. Isolation caused many of us to face our personal darkness, our depression, our mental challenges without an outlet to vent.

Our American society glorifies war and combat to the point where we make it fun. We’ve become numb to the violence that it causes. Look at the rise of violence and toxic behavior at airsoft and paintball fields.

Some folks have argued that it is first person shooter games that are at fault. Others have claimed that it is a mental health issue. And yet others argue that it is all about gun control. I think it’s a little of all of these.

I’ll be honest: I do not currently possess a firearm. I refuse to purchase one until I have taken a proper gun safety course and have a safe place to store said firearm when it is not in use. Once I take these steps and have my own place to call home, maybe then will I purchase a firearm (most likely a bolt-action rifle and/or shotgun for hunting).

I have multiple family members who own guns. I have several friends who consider themselves gun-nuts. A few people in my community have gone through training in how to properly and safely handle their firearms. A few of my friends have not. I know several people who own more than just pistols and hunting rifles, but assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

As much as I respect the Second Amendment, I know that over the years, people have used that as an excuse to purchase weapons that should not be in personal use. I’m all for people safely using firearms for hunting, sport shooting, and the like, but I’ll be one of the first to admit that most guns that people are talking about when it comes to their “Second Amendment Rights” are weapons of war. These are guns that have been designed for one thing: killing other people. Not hunting. Assault Rifles. Semi and Automatic weapons. Machine Guns. Large caliber firearms.

The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Our nations largest militia, the National Guard (and the smaller State Guards) provide all the equipment needed to their volunteers. So unless you are part of an official militia that can be called up by your state and national leaders in times of need, there is no need for an individual to own a weapon of war. Period.

It is time for the Senate and Congress to pass comprehensive gun reform. If this makes it more difficult for you to purchase a firearm because stricter background checks, maybe you are part of the issue. If red flag laws make it more difficult for you to keep your firearms, maybe you shouldn’t own them in the first place. A normal individual does not need a high capacity magazine or a semi-automatic weapon. Or silencers or suppressors. Or a weapon designed for one thing only: killing another human.

Every responsible gun owner should have a secure place to store their firearms, be it a safe, trigger locks, or a combination of both, to prevent their firearms from being used in an unsafe manner. Each individual should have to get a license, proving that they have taken a gun safety course, and register their individual firearms, much like how we control and regulate our rights to drive a vehicle.

If you really want to argue, I would say that having your firearms registered and providing your information via license is exactly what a “well regulated militia” looks like.

But let us be completely honest, once again: It is not just about gun regulation. It is a piece of the larger puzzle, that includes mental health and fixing our broken society.

Recently, a lot of the conversations around these mass shootings have barely touched on the complete lack of mental health access we have in our country. Access to comprehensive health care for all people should also be on the top of the list for our Senate and Congress, as well as our State Governments.

A majority of these mass shootings end in suicide. These people are at the end of the line. They are broken. When they needed help, there wasn’t anyone there to give it. Once they started shooting, it was too late to help them.

So, please forgive me when I tell you to take your thoughts and prayers and go help people. Take action now, so that there are not another 19 dead children lying on the floor of their classroom. If you really want to stop these shooting from happening, start pressuring your local, state, and national offices to make changes that help people. Gun reform. Comprehensive Health Care. Mental Health. Go out and volunteer. Make a difference in the lives of those around you. Love unconditionally.

As a follower of Christ, my faith calls me to act. To speak out. To stand and love unconditionally. And as much as I pray that we never have to face another tragedy like this again, I know that we live in a broken world that needs redemption. That needs love. That needs help.

And it starts with each one of us.

Embracing the Peace

As many of you know, I recently returned from a year long deployment down to McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. I’ve been out of the country for just about 13 months (give or take a couple days), and it feels like I’ve been going non-stop since I got back.

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to head up to the Wild and Free’s Farm Village for their Medieval Weekend with Fell and Fair. It is the first time in several years that I have actually felt at peace. Not just physically in a beautiful place, but at peace with myself.

Nestled into the mountains along the boarder of Virginia and West Virginia, a small group of us have been able to experience the peace of nature, away from the hectic chaos of normal life. Following the weekend camp, where we dressed up in medieval garb and led children and families on epic adventures (including a three way capture the flag, shield wall dodge ball, and various other sorts of games and challenges), we got the opportunity to stay behind for a couple more days and relax. To chill out with one another. To be still.

There is something peaceful about sitting in silence with one another, as we each read our books on the front porch of the cabin. Or listen to McBryde’s beautifully peaceful soundtracks that follow him around the cabin. Hiking and laughing with one another. Enjoying the challenging conversations about the words we read through our books, be it Master and Commander, Trauma Stewardship, Lord of the Rings, or various others that flow through these conversations.

There is no schedule. No set things we must accomplish for the day. So we are able to find peace and be comfortable with being still. Listening to the sounds of the wilderness that surrounds us and the occasional turning of the page. We are able to process our thoughts and place them delicately into journals without haste.

And it is the first time in many years that I have returned to the mindset of taking care of myself and my own needs without fear of abandoning others. Not just my physical needs of rest and recovery, but my emotional needs of fellowship and community. My spiritual needs of communion with my Father above. But also processing everything that I have experienced over the past year on the ice.

When I was in my storage locker, grabbing my kit that was needed for this medieval weekend, I rediscovered a book that I read years ago during my time in AmeriCorps, and I brought it along with me. I started reading it once again, in the quiet mornings on the porch and as the darkness descends in the evening and we gather in the cabin together, and it has helped me to begin to process all my fears and darkness once again.

The book in question is Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk’s Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. It is a beautiful book about vicarious and secondary trauma, often found in those who respond to disasters, emergency workers, and social service personnel. It is a sobering reminder of how much I still have to process and come to terms with in my own journey. And yet, there is a lot of freedom in opening yourself up to the unknown and facing the darkness with empathy and courage, knowing that I am not alone in this journey.

So I sit out here on the porch, typing away as we lounge around like cats in the sun, reading and enjoying each others presence (even if we are not talking to each other). I guess this is normal when you get a bunch of introverts together?

I know we are all beginning to think about returning from the mountains tomorrow afternoon, but for now, we will continue to enjoy the peace that we have been able to find in this place. And perhaps, we will bring some of it back with us.

Cages and Shrines

If you look around McMurdo Station, you will find all sorts of historical markers and memorials scattered across the area. We have the Richard E Byrd monument on the back patio of the Chalet, the Nuclear Power Plant plaque halfway up Observation Hill, Scott’s Discovery Hut and George Vince’s Cross down at Hut Point, the Observation Hill Cross that can be seen from almost anywhere on station, and plenty more smaller landmarks around the area and in town.

During the summer months, when the Hut Point Ridge trail is open to solo travel, I often find myself wandering up past Discovery Hut and George’s Cross and my feet lead me about a third of the way up the ridge to a memorial that can be seen from station silhouetted against the sky. It is one of my favorite spots to go sit, the pray, and get out of town to find some peace and quiet.

The memorial, originally constructed in 1957, is dedicated to Seabee Construction Driver USN, Richard T. Williams, who on 6 January 1956 lost his life when the tractor he was driving broke through the ice of McMurdo Sound while delivering supplies to McMurdo Station. Over the years, the memorial has gotten the unfortunate nickname as Roll Cage Mary due to the metal structure that encircles the statue of Mother Mary.

The official name of the memorial is the Our Lady of the Snows Shrine.

Back during the summer months, I did some research and discovered that the metal frame, the cage around the statue of Mary, originally held rocks in place, similar to the Grotto style of shrines found throughout the world. I also discovered that since its installation almost 65 years ago, it has only been restored once, during the summer of 1995-96, when the statue of Mother Mary was repaired and restored by the Carmelite nuns in Christchurch. Upon its return, the statue of Mother Mary, which originally faced McMurdo Station, was turned around to face north over McMurdo Sound, towards where Seabee CD3 Williams was lost beneath the ice.

All the stones that originally created the Grotto of the Shrine have fallen away due to time, vandalism, and/or natural weather conditions.

So, I approached Station Management and posed the question: what do I need to do to restore the shrine? Well, evidently it takes a little bit of paperwork and a lot of waiting. And then more paperwork and waiting. And more waiting.

And then everything was approved and weather hit. Ever wonder what causes the most problems here in Antarctica? Weather. And lets be honest, nobody really wants to be outside when its cold and windy. Especially those folk that were out at the airfield the other day when the wind chill hit -87 F! I don’t want to be out there.

But, over the past two weekend, the weather was good enough for a couple of us to head up the ridge with backpacks full of rocks to begin restoring the memorial shrine. Restacking the stones against the metal cage of the memorial began the transformation of the site back to its former glory.

Even though the increase in winds chased us off the ridge that first day, a couple of us headed out the following week to finish the restoration process.

It wasn’t difficult work, but it had its challenges. And with every challenge comes the opportunity to thrive, to become a better version of who you are. To build yourself up, along with the community you serve.

As I walked away from the Our Lady of the Snows Shrine, I couldn’t help but think of how the memorial used to look like a cage. Holding in Mother Mary. Protecting her, but preventing her from getting out. While it was still a memorial, it felt broken and abandoned.

It was called Roll Cage Mary because people had forgotten that it was once a grotto style shrine with stones stacked against the metal frame. It was never a cage, but a support structure. And I wondered how many times I have seen cages in my life, only to discover in time that they never held me in, but supported who I was. Who I was meant to be.

With the restoration of the grotto rocks surrounding the Our Lady of the Snows Shrine complete, we walked back to town smiling and laughing. And while I know my soul was happy that we had completed the restoration, I think a lot of it had to do with the epic ice beards we were sporting!

So, remember to laugh and smile. Those cages could easily become part of the shrine that is your life.

The Monsters in my Head

I’ve talked a lot about this constant struggle with the darkness in my thoughts throughout the years. I guess it’s easier to use metaphors than to say outright that I struggle with mental health, specifically anxiety, stress, and, at times, depression. That some nights are much darker than others.

As a society, we tend to avoid talking about our mental health. Yes, we’ve gotten better about it over the past couple years, but it is still taboo for many of us. It’s not something that is visible, so we tend to ignore it. We don’t check in with one another, because it is hidden from our sights. Because it makes us uncomfortable. And unless you are willing to be vulnerable, nobody will ever know that you have struggled. Or are struggling.

Over the past year or so, I’ve become more comfortable with myself and my own struggles, learning how to put it into words, but also engaging in conversations with friends and family about these struggles. And yet, it is still difficult to talk about.

I’ve been writing and rewriting and editing this post for almost three months because sometimes these monsters in my head make it difficult to process thoughts and words. Sometimes I can’t find the words necessary to tell the story I want to tell. Sometimes I don’t even know what I want to share until the words get written.

I struggle with anxiety on an almost daily basis. I suffer from bouts of depression that threaten to drown me in emotions. The constant stress from disaster response and dispatching have taken their toll. Sometimes I question my sanity.

When I signed a contract for this winter season I was apprehensive. Part of me was terrified. The idea of 24 hours of darkness scared me because I have struggled in the past. I was afraid the year of isolation in the lands of snow could become a trigger to unleash the darkness that I hold within once again. The monsters in my head, if you will.

But here’s the thing I discovered this winter season: I am stronger than I thought I was.

I think we all are, in one way or another, stronger than we think we are.

These monsters we keep in our heads hold us back. Fear and insecurities will hold you back from being your best you. Your expectations based on past experiences, past failures guide the decisions you make today and tomorrow. Your mind will try to convince you that you are not good enough.

And if you repeat that to many times, you will start to believe it about yourself as well.

The monsters in my head had convinced me that the darkness that I struggle with was bigger and larger than it truly is. Or was?

The first several seasons here on the ice, I was vehemently opposed to staying over the winter season because I was convinced that the 24 hours of darkness would be unhealthy for me. I thought the combination of complete darkness, physical isolation, and the cold would cause my mental health, the monsters in my head if you will, to plummet me back into the active struggle with depression and anxiety.

But guess what? Surprise. It didn’t. Or, it hasn’t yet (still have a little over a month left before I’m scheduled to depart the lands of ice and snow).

Part of it is that I have grown so much when it comes to my faith. Part of it is that I have become more aware of my own personal needs. Part of it is that I didn’t allow fear to drive my decisions.

Mental health is a journey, not a destination. I know that I will always struggle with the monsters in my head. It will require constant attention to ensure that stress does not threaten to become overwhelming. The same goes for the threat of anxiety. But I also know that I am strong enough to deal with them. I also understand that depression is more than thoughts and feelings, but a chemical imbalance within ones body.

I also know that, sometimes I cannot do this alone. But I also have some amazing folks around me. Coworkers and friends, healthcare professionals and family. They are all part of this team. My support system.

And while I don’t see myself staying over another winter season here on the ice anytime soon, I know that I am strong enough to do so if I choose to in the future. And as this winter season is quickly coming to a close, I know that I will return home with renewed strength.

Cairns Along the Path

There are events in our lives that become markers along our journey of life. These events come to define our time in any given stage of life. Each person has these cairns along their path, some are built through their own making and others are built through the experiences that cross their path without warning.

If you were to map someone’s life, these markers, cairns if you will, you would be able to follow ones journey and see what shaped them into who they became. Who they are.

Ten years ago I was a Corps Member with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps when a series of storms ripped through the Midwest. Having already responded to the Good Friday tornadoes in St Louis, my shuffle round team was no stranger to the world of disaster response. What we didn’t expect was the call to respond to the EF-5 tornado that ripped a mile wide path through Joplin, Missouri on 22 May 2011.

Ten years is a long time to process everything that happened, from the moments of panic to the long hours sitting with survivors at the VRC, the protests and outpouring of support to the sights and smells of the debris field. For years, I struggled to process what I had experienced in the short two weeks that I was serving on the ground in Joplin.

I’m still processing it.

The cairn of Joplin is an event that shaped many lives in the weeks and months that followed. Even years later, the threads that connect us to that event continue to shape us.

I still dream about those experiences in Joplin. They haunt me in the dark of night when I am unable to sleep. Every now and then, there are things that catch me when my guard is down and I find myself back in that moment of panic. That fear that held me back paralyzes me once again. I catch a whiff in the air and my throat tightens and my stomach curls into knots.

In the months the followed my departure from the devastation in Joplin, I struggled. I was in a dark place and I didn’t recognize it for what it was until years later. I was consumed with the feeling that there was more that I could have done.

There was always this feeling that there was more I could have done. Something that I missed. Even though I knew in my heart that I did everything in my power. Even though I did my best.

This cairn on my journey, this marker on my path of life that is the Joplin Tornado has become a pivotal point. It is here where everything from my past came together to give me purpose. It is here that I can point and say, “this is where the rest of the story began.”

In a way, it is both an ending and a beginning in this journey of life. A landing and a launching point.

A Different Perspective

By the time this is posted, Easter weekend will have ended. All the eggs that were hidden will have been found. Leftovers will be stored in the fridge. And everything set back into place after friends and family have departed. Or perhaps this year was a little different.

Growing up in the Catholic Church, Easter always seemed to focus on Holy Week leading up to the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Palm Sunday and the entrance into Jerusalem. His final lessons in that week. The Last Supper. The betrayal of Judas. Peter’s denial. The stations of the cross. The death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For years, this is what I remembered about Easter.

His death for my sins. And the candy come morning.

It surprises me every year how many times I have to remind people that the cross is not the end of the story. The death of Jesus Christ is not what we celebrate. The grave was not the final resting place for the one who defeated death.

It didn’t really feel like Easter for me this year. I think part of that is the fact that the nights are growing longer here in the lands of ice and snow and Spring seems like a foreign concept when the dark of winter is slowly creeping upon us. The last sunset of the season is in a few short weeks and 24 hours of darkness is almost upon us.

Lent came and passed with barely a ripple as we began to settle into the winter season here on station. And instead of reciting the stations of the cross that led to that fateful day, I found myself surrounded by joy of His presence.

I walked out to Hut Point a few weeks ago and sat in the stillness with Him. In those moments of silence, with only the soft hum of the power plant echoing across the calm waters of Winter Quarters Bay, I praised my King for the relationship that was bought through the shedding of His blood.

Even with the oncoming dark of winter in the near future, I can’t help but praise the coming dawn of each new day because I know that my Savior has already embraced me in His arms. He has gifted me each breath that fills my lungs. His blood is the reason that I have been adopted by the Father above, who knows each of us by name.

I didn’t send the weekend thinking about His death on the cross. Instead, I relished in the knowledge that He is no longer dead and THAT is the reason I am able to have a relationship with Him. I praised His resurrection and the gifting of the Spirit that resides in each of us. And I found joy in knowing my Lord personally in those moments of chaos and stillness.

Yes. This year has been different. I’m down here in Antarctica. And the pandemic is still raging across the world. But it is still Easter.

But the story of Easter does not end there.

That’s the beautiful and wonderful part of our relationship with our Lord and Savior. The relationship lasts much longer than the three days spent in the grave. This is a relationship with the Spirit of God that now resides in each of us, through His sacrifice on the cross.

His blood has washed us clean, not just in that moment, but for all time, allowing us to be in that perfect relationship with the God who knows us. The God who forgives. Who comforts. Who is ever present. Who loves unconditionally.

Yes, it is beautiful to celebrate Easter and Resurrection Sunday. But don’t stop celebrating just because the weekend is over.

Your Best is Enough

Let us be honest about something: None of us are perfect. I know that I am not. Never will be. Don’t really want to be. I am all sorts of messed up and I have come to terms with that.

Like many others, I struggle with anxiety. Sometimes stress catches up with me. Sometimes the darkness of depression can be overwhelming and all the demons of my past seem to be trying to hold me back from the things I love.

I’m sure by now, most people have seen the Oprah interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. While I have never really followed the Royal Family, I watched the interview as it aired down here in Antarctica (via the Armed Forces Network).

What struck me the most was not the accusations of racism within the Royal Palace, but the candid honesty that both Meghan and Harry shared about their struggles with mental health. Two of the most well known people in the world shared that they have struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Their courage to speak out and say that they sought help is a powerful weapon against depression. In the fight for mental health.

I know they are not the only people to struggle with their mental health. They are not the first ones to announce the very real fight against the darkness that is depression. And they will not be the last.

Everyone processes the trauma of stress differently. Some of us hold it within our chests, making it difficult to breathe. Others keep it locked away in their own heads, blinding their thoughts and dreams with fear. Some people allow this process to fuel their creativity, capturing it on the page, with words, or through photography.

But I have discovered that no matter how much you grow through this process, your trauma is always with you.

Almost ten years ago, I found myself in the debris field of Joplin, MO with several firefighters and AmeriCorps Members as they worked their way through the wreckage in the final sweep of search and recovery efforts. I can still smell the decaying garbage and filth. I can still recall every fearful thought of “what if…” that rang through my skull as we made our way through the wreckage. I still catch myself wondering if I missed something. The feeling that if I had just gotten out there a day earlier, would one of the missing be found.

I had to step away from dispatching at Anderson County because I would have panic attacks just thinking about going into work. After listening to hundreds, if not thousands of callers experiencing the worst days of their lives, it started to wear on me.

Through all of these experiences, the thought that kept weighing me down was this: “Did I do enough?”

It came in many forms, but it boils down to the simple question of if I did everything I could. And then, the thought that follows is if I could have done more. Did I miss something? Did I do everything correctly? Did I save the call fast enough? If I had answered the call a second sooner, would that have changed the outcome? If I had gone out into the debris field a day earlier, would that have made a difference?

These thoughts can paralyze us. They open us up to second guessing ourselves in that next event, that next call for service. And they can stay with us for years to come, constantly dragging us down into darkness.

And let us be honest with ourselves: we cannot save them all. Sometimes CPR doesn’t work. Sometimes you do everything right, but it is too late. Sometimes you have to accept that your best is enough.

Your best is enough.

Go back and read that again. Your best is enough.

This was something that a teammate told me when our AmeriCorps team was back in Denver after leaving the devastation in Joplin. Your best is enough. Nobody is expecting you to exceed what you can do.

Over the past several years, those words have echoed constantly in my ears, every time I begin to second guess or doubt myself. As long as I know in my heart that I did everything I was supposed to, everything that I was trained to do, my best is all I can give. My best is enough.

This was not the beginning or the end of my personal journey with mental health, but it gave me the opportunity to address and begin to handle the stress that came with the experiences of disaster response and dispatching. It gave me the breathing room I needed so that the darkness of depression could not pull me back.

Sometimes our best is realizing that we need to step away and take care of ourselves. Mental health is not just about combatting depression and suicide, but also about dealing with stress and our personal demons, handling trauma and learning that we can only give so much of ourselves before we are the ones that need rescued.

By admitting that they have sought assistance for their mental health, Meghan and Harry showed true strength. Some battles cannot be fought alone. And seeking assistance is one of the best things you can do.

There will always be events and things out of your control. Things will go wrong. You may not win every battle you face. But as long as you continue to do your best, it will always be enough.

I’ll leave you with this: Your best is enough.

Ruts

A couple of mornings ago (my “evening” thanks to being a MidRat), I got the opportunity to head out on a recreation tour to visit the Pegasus Wreck Site. I’ve been out there on the ice shelf before, during my first season, but this was the first time that I have gotten to drive a skidoo (aka: snowmobile) in Antarctica. Or ever.

As we were heading out over the ice road that leads to Phoenix Airfield, then past it out to the remains of the aircraft, I quickly realized that I did not want to get drawn into the previous path of another snowmobile or other vehicle.

There were ruts all over the place. Some made by other recreation parties that have headed out towards Pegasus or Room With a View (which I have not gotten out to yet in the three seasons on ice). Others were made by the graders who maintain the ice surface of the roadway. Others were created by various vans, trucks, shuttles, deltas, and other vehicles that displaced the soft ice and snow to form small canyons and ridges across the surface.

Some ruts are harmless. Others will catch the skis of your skidoo and pull you wherever they wander. Some will jerk your skidoo violently to the side and if you aren’t careful, you can easily loose control.

This made me think of how easy it is to be drawn into the ruts of others and how quickly your path can be diverted because of someone else’s desires, experiences, and/or events of the world that are out of your control.

How many of us were jarred and thrown after COVID-19 ruined our spring plans for 2020? And then continued to force its way into our lives throughout the rest of the year because of the actions (or lack of actions) of others. How many plans were canceled? How many of our daily habits were changed?

But it can be much smaller than world changing events. Take for instance the reputation of a group of individuals you work with and how that reputation can be a rut that can trap you in expectations.

Years ago, I got pulled into the ruts of AmeriCorps St Louis ERT and the reputation it had of excessive parties and drinking, but also the elitist mentality that existed within the program. That reputation still pulls at my path when people hear that I was one of its members.

Or here on the ice with the Fire Department. Over the past couple seasons, the entire department has had to fight to repair the reputation damaged by a few individuals in the past.

But if you look even closer, you can see that it is as simple as personal relationships. A friend makes a decision and, even if you disagree, you are affected by it because of your relationship with them. A family member makes a comment and because you are related, you must deal with the fallout when your friends see what they have done.

I am a member of the Fell Company, a collection of artists and friends that make up a small part of Fell and Fair. People know that I am part of this. So when the decision was recently made to host events in the middle of a pandemic, other people look to me for answers. Friends from other LARP groups that I am part of me think I agree and support that decision even when I don’t.

Their decision is like a rut that tries to guide me somewhere I am not going. If I am not paying attention, it has the capability throw me violently into conflict with others.

Or think even smaller and take a look at all the things you were taught to believe. You can see the ruts of racism, social justice, and societies expectations as clear as day, but what about your beliefs and faith? What about your feeling on history and current events? What about your opinions on other cultures and opinions that differ than your own? Can you see those ruts?

Think of how often ruts occur in our lives. But also, think about what ruts you leave behind you.

Not all ruts are hazardous. Some lead straight as an arrow, like parents teaching their children to love unconditionally. Some are gentle reminders of challenges ahead. Others are not dangerous when they diverge from the path you are on, but they are not going in the same direction.

At one point on the trip back from Pegasus, one of the skidoos in front of me veered suddenly as it hit a bump and almost went sideways. Sweets managed to keep control of the vehicle, but it could have easily rolled and flipped if she hadn’t have been paying attention.

Our journey through life is filled with dangers. But it is also accompanied by good people, great friendships, and families bound by the love we share with each other. So, yes, be aware of the ruts along your path, but do not be distracted from the beauty that surrounds you.

And remember to wear your thermals when riding out onto the ice shelf on a skidoo…

This New Normal

I understand that people want to get back to “normal” (read: how things used to be), but the stark reality is that the world has changed. We now live in the midst of a global pandemic that is fueled by misinformation, conspiracy theories, and those who don’t want to open their eyes to the proof of science. In fact, we’ve been living in this new concept of normal for quite some time now.

This idea of a new normal is not a lost concept, but something that I am familiar with through my time of disaster response. You can not go back to how things once were after your world is torn apart. This could be a tornado or a wildfire, hurricane or flood. And yes, even a pandemic like COVID-19. It’s impossible. You must relearn what normal is, now that things have changed.

A new normal is relearning what your life will be like now. What the world allows us to become normal because the normal that we once knew is gone.

Down here on the bottom of the world at McMurdo Research Station, this season has brought tons of change. Change that is not always comfortable. But change nonetheless.

We have a smaller population size, even if it is larger than what they told us it was going to be. We have extra precautions and procedures in place to combat the spread of this virus, going beyond each persons 14+ days of managed isolation prior to arriving on the ice. Following the arrival of any new personnel onto Ross Island (includes McMurdo Station and the Kiwi’s Scott Base), we enter Level Yellow for the following seven (7) days, which requires each individual to physically distance themselves and wear masks in shared spaces.

This new normal is difficult. But it keeps us safe.

And no matter how strange it feels when we are finally able to remove the masks and hug our friends when level green hits, it’s ultimately become part of our new normal here on station.

There will always be people who disagree with the decisions that management has put into place. There will be people who question these decisions and push back against them because they disagree or view things differently.

It’s a little different here on station, because we all signed contracts and agreements to follow said rules that are in place. It is part of our jobs. We either deal with this new normal or we can be on the next flight out. It’s that simple.

I watch the news and am thankful that I am down here on the bottom of the world, away from the hardest hit areas of the pandemic. And yet, my heart breaks for all those I love who are in the midst of the battle. My community and family.

I think it’s more difficult for me watching this pandemic from so far away than actually living in the midst of it. From here in Antarctica, we see a bigger picture of what is happening with the rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths being reported because we are so far away, instead of the limited ground level view that we had back home.

I understand people want to go back to going about their business like before. I understand that people dislike wearing a mask. People want to be with their communities and churches. People want to do things and live like we used to.

But we cannot cease to be vigilant. We cannot stop being diligent about wearing our masks. This pandemic is not over.

I repeat: This pandemic is not over. Stop acting like it is.

During our (sm)All Hands Meetings yesterday here on station, one of the leadership team made a beautiful point that I am going to repeat again and again. We are one of the only places in the world where COVID-19 is not present, which makes us able to enter into Level Green (like we will on Friday morning, after being in yellow for several weeks now due to the arrival of staff onto station) and interact with each other without the fear of COVID-19 being present in our community.

The rest of the world should be treated as Level Yellow (possibility of COVID in the community, take precautions) or Level Red (COVID confirmed in the community, take proactive measures to mitigate).

And yet I see so many people back home acting like it isn’t a concern. We see celebrations erupting around the country with little to no physical distancing and lots of people without masks. We have events returning without masks being mandatory for participants. Hosting events in general where you cannot ensure proper physical distancing. Communities gathering without keeping one another safe.

I understand that we had a massive breakthrough with a possible vaccine this week, but it is still going to be months before it possibly becomes available. And between now and then, we need to act to combat the spread of this virus.

Every single person should be wearing a mask and maintaining proper physical distancing, unless every single person they come into contact with has been in isolation for two weeks (and every person that they interact with and so forth). If we did this, our nation would no longer experience the 100k+ new infections each day and a record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths reported every day.

Unfortunately, not everyone pays attention to science or common sense. Some people are in a rush to get back to how things used to be. But we must all learn how to live in this new normal.

Is it going to be rough? Absolutely. It may even be uncomfortable. And difficult. But until there is no chance of COVID being present in our communities, we cannot allow ourselves to enter the mindset of level green.

We must learn to deal with our new normal.