What I Learned at my First LARP

Over this past weekend, I made my way up to Culpeper, Virginia to don a tunic, pick up a sword and charge into battle at Weekend Warrior, a Cinematic Experiential Entertainment Event put together by the crew of Fell and Fair, The Forge Studios, and the likes of Ron Newcomb, Zan Campbell, Samantha Swords and Skip Lipman.

Now, before you throw in the cards and call me a geek, nerd, or whatever, I already know. I admit it. I’m weird. Whatever.

Yes, this event was a LARP. What is a LARP, you ask? It is a Live Action Role Playing event. When each of us arrived on site, we put on the persona of characters we create. It is an opportunity to step out of the real world and into a fantasy realm.

For this event, we dove into the world of Adrasil and the Kingdom of Olaran, where we journeyed to discover who poisoned the King and Queen. It was a weekend full of questing, battles, and friendship.

While running around the winery as Aethel of the Lords of the Sea, I (re)discovered some things about myself and learned that sometimes it is better to turn and walk away.

Weekend Warrior Battle

One of the things that happens when you play a character that is not yourself, you do things that you may never expect. You discover the strength you had within you because you are no longer held back by fear or the belief that the person you want to be is not who you are.

I found myself standing between the rush of oncoming forces and my fellow warriors. I was positioned as a warder on the flanks of our line, shielding the archers. In my head I always pictured myself a fighter, but it wasn’t until I was fighting for someone else that I found the strength of the warrior.

I came to realize that I can be fierce. Yes, I can raise my voice to be heard. I can shout with confidence. But I can also be a force to be reckoned with.

Throughout the weekend, situations came up where we, as both individuals and as part of a greater unit, had to make choices. Many times I found myself moving with a purpose; the same purpose I felt years ago when I responded to disasters across the country. I became a physical force at times, shoving through the crowd and swinging a sword at those across the field of battle.

There was time for shouting and yelling throughout the entire weekend. There were even moments of frustration and flashes of anger that were reigned in and controlled.

I also realized, after getting into a shouting match with an NPC (Non Player Character, basically, an extra who is helping run the event), that sometimes it is best to step back, take a breath, and let go of all the frustration. No good will come out of being frustrated and taking it out on someone else, even the person or thing that may be the source of that frustration.

Sea Lord Mtg

I also got the opportunity to meet and share this adventure with some of the most amazing people. In real life, we are IT specialists, dispatchers, retired military, law enforcement, actors, students, and friends. Our paths crossed this weekend and our lives changed for the better because of it.

I got to spend three days hanging out with my brothers and sisters who proudly call themselves Lords of the Sea.

Over the weekend, I learned what it meant to be a warrior. To be a part of a crew who stands together as a family to support one another.

There are plenty of amazing memories that have come out of the adventure. From watching Boar laugh and smile through his Trial of Desperation to living out the adventures alongside the crew of the Leviathan, meeting the Sirens to talking with participants from around the world, I had tons of fun.

Having never done something like this before, I would say that it went as smoothly as it could. Yes, I know that the organizers had to scramble to adjust the story line after we, the players, didn’t quite follow the directed path set before us. But besides a few incidents, like an arrow to the eye or a blow to the inside of the knee while practicing, everything seemed to go really well.

Shout out to the valiant men and women who worked countless hours to put this event into motion!

Until next time…

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The Fight

A little over a week ago, I walked a woman through CPR. She was a nurse. I stayed on the phone with her, counting compressions until first responders got on scene and took over. She knew that her husband was dead. He was stiff. Cold. But yet, I knew that she needed to fight and do something.

Anything.

A year ago, a little boy passed away. He died a hero several days after he was shot at school. When the events of that day unfolded, many people felt helpless. Many of my coworkers answering the phones and monitoring the radios felt helpless because they were not there on scene fighting back. And yet they fought.

With everything they had, they fought, because that is what we are trained to do.

Nobody ever warned me how difficult dispatching would be. Nobody told me the struggles of answering the phone and assisting caller after call.

You fight with all your effort to save that one life and  it gets passed off to the responders on scene. You hang up the phone and it starts ringing once again. It never stops.

And in those moments, you have to fight.

I struggle some days. I’ve gotten frustrated with the little ole ladies who call in every time that the wind blows or the shadows move. I’ve gotten an attitude over the radio when a medic asks for the house number after we’ve already given it three times before. I’ve yelled at callers who refuse to listen or answer questions, refusing to tell me where they are.

There are mornings when I get back to my apartment and I question every decision that I made throughout the night. I lay awake in bed and listen back to their voices, trying to find what I may have missed.

When I first started working in dispatch, I was told that everyone that worked there was medicated. If it wasn’t a prescription, it was self-medication. I was told that if I wanted to survive in this field of work, I needed to find my medications.

They laughed when they heard that I didn’t drink alcohol or take any medication. I was told that it wouldn’t last that long.

And yet, still I fight.

I have an amazing group of guys from my community group that I meet up with every week, where we dive into each others lives. We seek out God together and are learning to fight for one another. To stand shoulder to shoulder through difficulties and struggles.

But many times it is hard to tell them about the battles that I face each night. How do you tell someone that you are struggling when you can’t find the words the describe it to yourself? What words could be used to express the feelings of helplessness and despair that creep in as questions and second thoughts?

While it would be easy to hide behind the silence or glance over the struggle with vague deflections, I have discovered over the years that it is better to face what is stirring in your heart and fight to bring it to light.

Years ago, after I found myself returning from the devastation in Joplin, I didn’t know how to process what I saw when I responded with my team from AmeriCorps NCCC. I didn’t know how to talk about all the things I saw and the stories I experienced.

It took me years to comprehend everything, but I learned that no matter what, I had to fight.

The fight may not be something you notice. It may just be the feeling that you can no longer sit still and do nothing. It may be an urgency that fills your thoughts or a struggle that consumes you.

For me, it is the darkness that threatens to overtake me when I believe that I am not good enough. It is the fear that I missed something or didn’t do everything that I could. My fight is the questions that creep in, guiding me away from who I know that I am.

When I returned to the Denver campus after seeing the debris field of Joplin stretch across the horizon, one of the staff members gave me the chance to learn to fight. As I started questioning if there was more that I could have done, she rephrased the question and asked me what I had done and if I had done that to the best of my abilities.

I learned that there are some things out of my control. I can do everything that I am supposed to do and ensure that I do everything correctly, but things may still happen. And as long as I know I did everything I could to the best of my ability, there are some things I needed to let go.

I still second guess myself. There are times when I wonder if I could have done more. But I know that I fight every day to be my best, to trust in my training and my experiences.

And I fight because sometimes, that is the only thing that keeps me from being consumed by the darkness.

The Warrior Within

On Friday, after I got off from my twelve hour shift at work, I drove down to Lander University to attend an Active Shooter training designed specifically for Dispatchers and Telecommunicators. Put on by one of the SLED officers, it was an amazing class full of facts and statistics, but more importantly, personal accounts, stories, and emotions.

The officer made it clear from the beginning that Dispatchers and Call Takers in a Communications Center were just as valuable, if not more critical, than the officers on the ground. He made it know that it is time to accept that we are a part of the first responder family. Those of us who work in the Communications Center are no longer civilians. Without our voices behind the radio, officers would never receive the call. Would not be able to respond.

Dispatch

As he shared his experiences of talking with and interviewing the dispatchers and first responders that responded to Sandy Hook and Aurora, as well as countless other incidents, he put the faces and names of the victims up on the screen. He had us look at them and listen as he told us who they were, what made them special. He made them real for us.

He made sure that while we classify these incidents as “Active Shooter” incidents, these acts were not about guns, it is a issue about violence. It doesn’t matter if a subject uses a gun or a knife, a car or a hammer, the goal is the same: to inflict as many casualties as possible by any means necessary. These acts are pure evil, and the only way you can combat evil is to become a warrior and face it head on. To crush its head beneath your feet.

His passion was evident in every word and syllable that he spoke. “Law enforcement runs towards the sound of gunfire,” he told us. “We bleed so that the kids don’t.” The goal of first responders in a mass casualty incident is to save as many lives as possible, but to do that, they have to stop the killing first, then stop the dying.

The sooner an officer engages with a subject, the quicker the killing stops. And before an officer can respond, a call taker must gather a location and a dispatcher must give out the call over the radio. This is the critical step between Telecommunicators and first responders on the ground.

The remainder of the class, we talked about what Dispatchers can do from behind the radio, saving lives through proactively supporting those who arrive first on the scene. From organizing staging and containment to getting more resources before the requests are made, to gathering and providing information collected through callers.

When a disaster hits, be it a active shooter incident or a tornado or the death of someone in front of you, you have to make a choice. You have to move. You have to act. Do you flee or fight? Do you falter or freeze?

Like the stages of grief, there are three stages of responding to a disaster. The quicker you move through them, the faster you act. Denial. Deliberation. Decisive moment.

We all want to believe that something would never happen to us. We want to believe that “it”(whatever it happens to be) cant or wont happen here. But the fact isn’t if it will happen, but when. And when it does, you have to face the reality of it. Denial has no survival value.

You must deliberate at what you will do. And until you are in that moment, you will not know the choice that you will make. But that choice is made through experience and training and preparation (or the lack of it). And once that choice is made, you must act.

The quicker you act, the more lives you will save. The quicker you respond, the faster your units get in route. The faster law enforcement personnel is notified, the quicker the killing stops.

The more you train and prepare yourself for what will happen, the quicker you make that decision. The sooner we can stop the dying.

When we, dispatchers and telecommunicators, get behind the mike, we are no longer civilians. We become lifelines and support for our officers and first responders. We take up that mantle of the warrior and fight the darkness and evil of the world that threatens to destroy what we have come to love.

One of the things the SLED officer said was that the only way into the Warrior Class, as he called it, was to learn how to love something. To love with all your heart. And until we learn to love, we will never rise to be warriors to fight to protect our communities.

It’s not enough to hope that we know how to react, but we have to train to be warriors. We have to get angry and let the rage give us the strength to fight. We have to learn to go on the offensive instead of constantly thinking defensively. But most importantly, we have to learn to love.

In the end, dispatchers and first responders get paid for what we are prepared to do.

As I headed home after the four hour training, I was filled with courage and the knowledge knowing that when the next big thing happen, I know a more than I did before and that training could mean the difference between saving someones life and having their name on another board full of victims.

The Struggle of Writing

I haven’t written for a while because writing has become difficult. I sit here staring at the blank screen and so many words pass by, but so few have been captured by the key strokes or the pen.

It has become a challenge because every night that I go into work, I sit and I type away trying to capture the worst moments of peoples lives. I listen to their fears and as they cry and plead for hope, it is my job to document. To type. To write. To gather information and make sure it gets passed on.

What is the location of your emergency? What is your phone number? What is your name? Can you tell me exactly what has happened? Are there any weapons involved? Do you need medical attention? Are there any drugs or alcohol involved? Which direction did they go? Can I get a description of that individual? The vehicle?

These are the questions that echo onto the page every time I try to write.

I am haunted by the stories that I hear every night. It’s the voices that I cannot escape, even after a week away from the headset.

And yet, here I am writing. It is a struggle to form the words that I type. It is difficult, but we persevere.

Today, I made a conscience choice to write. To choose to use words. To express a struggle. Instead of keeping it hidden in my thoughts.

And honestly, that’s all that I can do at this point. Sometimes that’s all that we can do, put one step in front of the other and make the conscience choice to move forward.

Taboo

I’m about to write something that is difficult for me to put into words. It is difficult for us as a society to talk about. It is something that we too often want to push beneath the rug because we feel that it is to painful to talk about. I am about to talk about depression, suicide, and that new show that came on Netflix that everyone is talking about (13 Reasons Why).

DISCLAIMER: Trigger Warnings going off here.
Let me preface this before anyone continues reading. If you struggle with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. This is not something we can take lightly.

If you need help, do not be afraid to seek it out. There are many resources out there for you, including people who are willing to sit and listen to you (including, but not limited to, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)).

It seems like every day we get rocked by the news of another promising life cut short by violence and bloodshed, but the sting is so much more potent when we discover that the person lost the battle against themselves. Suicide brings a pain of regret because those who are left behind will forever ask themselves if there was something that they missed. Something they could have done to prevent this tragedy.

We cry because looking back, we can see the signs that led up to this point. And the more we ask and seek the answers to why, more is revealed. More evidence that, if we had only known … and we find ourselves taking on the burden of death. If feels as though we were the ones that, through our words and actions (or the lack of them), killed them.

Here’s the thing: We, as human beings, are good at hiding things. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I know how easily it is to hide behind the mask of a smile, a laugh and have people not see. It hasn’t been until recently that I began to be open with myself enough to start talking about the struggle I faced all those years ago. I talk about it in terms that I understand, my darkness within, because it makes it easier for me.

For years I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to discuss how I felt or how close to the edge I had gotten. I didn’t want to share it because it scarred me. But here’s the hope that I share now: while that darkness never fully left me, by talking about it, it has become easier to carry within me.

This is something that is important for everyone, no matter if you have been in the shadow of depression or not. If someone comes to you, it isn’t your job to fix the problem. It isn’t your job to burn away the darkness. What your job is, in that moment, is to listen. To be still and be present with them. If someone shares, through words or actions, then it is your place to journey with them. To let them know that you will help shoulder the burden of the darkness that they face. That you will be there for them as a refuge of light.

I started talking about my personal struggles because I knew I could not shoulder it alone. Even after all these years, there are moments when I feel overwhelmed by doubts and fears and it feels as though the night is physically reaching out to drag me down.

Reaching out to talk does not make me weak. Asking for help does not make me stupid. Having thoughts of self harm does not make me a coward.

A couple weeks ago Netflix released a new series based off a book by the same name, 13 Reasons Why. It is a powerful and painful story that follows the main character who receives recordings from a friend and classmate who had committed suicide. As he listens to the tapes, he begins to hear the reasons why she took her own life.

I watched the entire season in the course of one weekend. It was painful to watch at times. But not because of the darkness that I hold within, but because years ago, I found myself in the position of asking if it was something I did or didn’t do that led a classmate to attempt to take his own life.

Recently, the show has caught a lot of criticism because of the graphic details that it portrays. It covers topics about shaming, jumping to conclusions about people, bullying, turning a blind eye, depression, teenager drug use and drinking, rape, and, yes, suicide. I’ve heard it say that it glorifies death. That it doesn’t give people hope. That it doesn’t provide the resources necessary for people who are standing on that edge. That it pushes people.

But it’s a story for the survivors, not for those who are in darkness.

LISTEN: If you have thoughts of self harm or suicide, DO NOT watch this show. If you have been traumatized by your past and still struggle finding the light of each day, you may want to skip this show. Or watch it with someone who is willing to have an open conversation with you. Even if you have never struggled with depression, with bullying, with rape you may find this show difficult to watch.

Let me say it again: the show is not for those who are struggling with depression, with darkness. The show is for the rest of us. Those who may not realize how our lives intersect with another’s. How a little comment can break someones spirit. How an action can seem innocent, but destroys the confidence of friendship. How much damage our words can cause, even when we speak it as a joke.

The show is about how everything we experience can pile onto our souls and drag us down into darkness.

I’ve always believed that if I was strong enough, I could survive on my own. But I know now how dangerous that way of thinking is. It wasn’t myself that rescued me from my darkness, it was the love of those who were willing to listen. It was the strength of others who encouraged me to talk. To talk about anything. To write when speaking was too difficult. It was the people who stood up when I was unable to on my own. It is all the individuals who have poured out their love.

Depression is something that our society tells us to keep hidden. If you can smile, they tell you, then you can get through it all. Laugh. Get out more. Be active. Put the darkness into a box and lock it away. The world tells us to lie and say that everything is okay. But sometimes pretending is not enough.

Sometimes talking about it is not enough. Sometimes, no matter how many people pour out their love into our lives, it is not enough. Sometimes, despite the smiles, laughing, and activities, it isn’t enough.

There is a stigma about mental illness, about depression, that causes us to do more harm to ourselves by trying to hide it. Depression is more complicated than an emotion. It is a chemical imbalance. It is an illness that can be treated.

If you struggle, there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Just know that you aren’t alone.

Defeat is No Longer an Option

We’ve all lost battles. I’ve suffered defeats. Sometimes, it feels like no matter what we do, we never win. I’ve walked (and ran) away from so many things in life. I’ve given up on countless people and turned my back on opportunities without giving them a chance to flourish.

We learn to live with the shame of defeat. Society tells us to submit, so we don’t put up a fight, even when we know in our hearts that we should fight. We compromise our values and our beliefs. We step back and let others rise because we feel that we could never be that artistic, articulate, or knowledgeable.

I learned that it was easier to accept defeat than to face my fears and persevere. It was easier to walk away. To let go. To step aside. To fail. To sin and ask for forgiveness.

There is something humbling about admitting defeat. But there is power in standing up to the fight.

Late at night, I end to blast my music while working on sketches and drawings. And I heard a line in a song that made me pause. In the song Destroy by Worth Dying For, there is a line that states “Defeat is no longer an option.” I heard those words and I thought to myself, if I truly believed that God has already achieved victory through the death of his Son on the cross, why doesn’t my life reflect what I believe?

Victory. It is more than a simple word. It is the belief that God has achieved something we could never accomplish ourselves.

There is a freedom in victory. Freedom from fear. Freedom from mistakes. Freedom from second guessing ourselves. From failure. From defeat.

I feel that so many times we see how many times we have been defeated and broken by the world that we turn to our faith and feel the same way. We question if we could really love our coworkers and neighbors that surround us. We compare ourselves to others and see how ‘blessed’ they are and struggle with accepting who we are in Jesus. We are reminded of how many times we have come up short and question if we could ever overcome the sin in our lives.

And that is where we discover that victory has already been achieved.

Our faith reveals to us the love of our Father, poured out through the sacrifice of His Son of the cross, has already given us victory. God has given us His Spirit who lives in each of us, pouring out His love into our lives so that we may also love unconditionally. This is the love that reminds each of us that we have been accepted by God, not by something that we have done, but because of who He is. This is the love of forgiveness, that has washed us clean of our sins. Not just the sins of our past, but the sins that have yet to come.

This is the victory that brings us freedom. The freedom to love unconditionally. To love those around us, as well as ourselves. The freedom to accept grace that is offered to us. The freedom to forgive. The freedom over temptation. Freedom from sin. From death. From not knowing our identity.

The victory that allowed us to be in a right relationship with our Father.

The beautiful thing about this victory is that there is nothing we are able to do. It is already won. The battle has already been fought. And victory has already been achieved.

The choice we have is not whether or not we will fight. But will we stand in victory or turn our backs to the grace that has been offered to us.

And once we learn to stand in our Faith, the battles we seem to face in our every day lives fade away into the background. And the defeats our world and society throw in our direction wont affect us, because we know who we are in Christ.

Rough Nights and the Fight That Matters

It’s been a struggle to write over the past couple weeks. It’s not that I haven’t had the time to write, it’s that it feels as though I don’t have the energy to put my thoughts into words. It feels like no matter how hard I try, I cant find it in myself to open up enough to write. To put thoughts and words out for everyone to read.

This week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. A week in which dispatchers around the nation shed light on those who work so diligently behind the radio. 911 call takers. Dispatchers. The first first-responders that the public comes in contact with when the chaos of darkness begins to consume their world. When disaster hits.

I work 12 hour shifts through the night, hidden from sight behind a bank of computer screens. I primarily work as the dispatcher for EMS and Municipal Fire, sending out emergency personnel to respond to medical calls. To structure fires. To cardiac arrests. To motor vehicle accidents. To the suicidal caller. To the new mother giving birth. To the frantic parents who are being walked through the process of CPR for their child who has stopped breathing.

I was told once that the night holds the darkest moments of our lives. I was told that the darkness of night holds all of our fears and struggles. Our demons hide within that blackness, just out of sight, waiting for us to stumble and fall when the darkness consumes us. I have seen that darkness. And I have faced it. We all have faced it.

It is said in dispatch that we get more of the interesting calls at night. More domestic disputes and violence. We get more of the prowlers and the suspicious people calls. The crazy people. And while a lot of this is true, when something happens, everything happens at once.

We go from having a screen clear of calls one second, and the next moment you are struggling to figure out what unit to send to each call. It’s not just that single call that comes in, it is that cardiac arrest where your partner is walking a family member through CPR, the structure fire that came in at the same time, and the truck that just flipped upside down and the caller doesn’t know where they are at. And on top of all this, any call that you answer or send someone to could be your friend or family member.

There have been some nights recently where I have struggled. There have been nights recently when I have asked myself “Is this really worth it?” Was I really doing something that was helping people? The darkness of night brought forth doubt.

There have been nights recently where I have gotten angry with people that I work with. When a coworker makes a mistake, I have lashed out in anger. I have held that mistake against them, and the trust that allows us to work as a team has begun to corrode. And I find myself asking if I will ever trust them again. The darkness of night has stolen that from me.

There is something that I have discovered about the darkness of night; it eventually fades to day. Another thing I have noticed, it is easier to see the flickers of light in the darkness.

Sometimes I find myself going from one small victory to the next. Like when your EMS unit comes over the radio to state that the patient is breathing again. When fire personnel announces that nobody is inside the structure as it burns through the night. That the patient has been removed from the vehicle and is being transported. That the lost child has been found. That officers are out with the person you talked to for the past half hour as they hid behind a locked door.

When the voice on the other end of the radio finally responds. That everything is 10-4 (okay).

We don’t really think about telecommunicators as emergency responders. We don’t go, but we are always there as the voice on the other end. Be it a phone line or a radio, we are the voices that cuts through the silence. The men and women behind the scene.

When the [edit] hits the fan, we are the first to go into action.

Dispatch

I think the struggle to put thoughts into words is that if I speak them, or put them down in writing, they become real. I struggle because as much as I try, I can not leave it all at the communications center. I can’t let go of the hundreds of thousands of calls I have answered when the line disconnects and the next begins to ring. They have become a part of me.

Every victory. Every failure. Every setback. They have become a part of who I am. And no matter how much I fear them at times, I am thankful for each of them.

There is a saying that between the thin blue line of law enforcement and the thin red line of the fire departments (and the thin white line of EMS) there is a thin gold line that holds everything together. I am proud to be part of the family that makes up that thin gold line of dispatch.

And in the dark of night, I will be the voice on the other end.

The One Regret

I got to do some amazing and beautiful things in my four years of AmeriCorps. I had the opportunity to serve my community, to respond to disasters when they happened. I got to remove debris from peoples yards, helping to begin the process of rebuilding communities ripped apart by the fury of nature. I got to serve alongside survivors and listen to their stories. I got to lead a team of young adults as they discovered how to change lives through service. I was able to travel across the country serving, digging fireline, building trails, removing hazard trees, and felling invasive species.

I got the opportunity to do all of this, and so much more. And in those four years of service, I only have a single regret.

It wasn’t something that I did, but rather something I didn’t do.

Each year, the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) would make two trips up to Montana to serve alongside the USFS in and around the Beaverhead-Deerhead National Forest. It was a long three day drive as we made the journey out packed into several trucks loaded down with gear. It was on one of these long days driving across the stretch of interstate that I recently looked back upon and felt ashamed of something I didn’t do.

At the beginning of my second year with the St Louis ERT, which happened to be my fourth and last year serving with AmeriCorps, I found myself in one of the pick up trucks with four other teammates. One of them I knew after we served together the previous year and the other three were teammates that I had just met.

We were riding in Blue Hulk (yes, our trucks were named, along with our chainsaws and various other equipment) near the back of the procession of vehicles as we made our way through one of the Dakotas (I believe we were in South Dakota at the time) when we happened to pass a serious wreck. By the looks of it, a driver had crossed the median and oncoming lanes, went up the embankment underneath an overpass and wedged themselves underneath the bridge. Several other vehicles that were not traveling with our group had already pulled off to assist, but first responders had not arrived on the scene.

And there I was driving past it.

Even after two of my teammates asked if we should pull over, I didn’t stop.

And to this day, I regret that decision.

One of those teammates was an EMT. Two others were certified first responders. We had all taken first aid classes. We could have helped. But I didn’t. I kept on driving.

Several minutes later, we saw the ambulance speeding past in the opposite direction towards the wreckage. And that was the moment that I began to regret my decision.

After my time responding to the Joplin tornado three years earlier, I struggled with the thought that there was so much more I could have done. Due to policy, my team was pulled off that disaster response 13 days after we arrived. I struggled with knowing that people still needed our help. There was still something more that we could have done there. I was angry because instead of serving where the immediate need was, we found ourselves heading down to Houston, TX to help out at a youth camp.

At the time, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know how to express the frustration that consumed me. Yet, after several meetings with campus staff and teammates, I found myself at peace with it. While I was there, we had done everything we could to help. I had done my best, and there was nothing to be personally ashamed of.

And as I watched the ambulance fade into the mirror, and I saw the disappointment on the faces of my teammates, I knew that I could have done more. We could have done more. Made a difference.

It’s been over two years since those events on the interstate took place. And that moment stands out. Out of the four years that I served in AmeriCorps, that decision is the only one that I look back on and regret. Out of all my travels and adventures that make up my journey, that decision is still the only one I regret, because I didn’t do what my heart knew was the right thing to do.

Looking back on that moment seems like forever ago. How much has changed since then?

Why are you sharing these words? I hear you asking.

I’m sharing them because I have never put them into words. In the years of serving and writing, I never shared them, and I knew I had to. I have to live with that decision and it is a constant reminder that I never want to feel that way ever again.

I now work in realm of the first responder. I answer 911 phone calls every night that I work. I dispatch law enforcement, emergency medical, and fire personnel to calls day in and day out. And I never want to feel that shame of regret ever again. So I do the best that I can. I continue to serve to the best of my abilities.

And when I think about giving up, taking that easy path, I see that ambulance in the rear view window again. I take a breath. And I give it my all.

Dear Mr President

To the President of the United States, Donald Trump,

I understand that these words may never reach your eyes, but I feel that I need to share them with you and the world. Like many people, I did not vote for you. I did not want you to represent me, but the fact is that you are my president.

There are many things I wish I could say to you, but for now I will focus on a single issue.

After graduating from college in the spring of 2010, I joined the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and served my nation through a program of national service. I entered into communities and helped to meet needs that were addressed. I was part of Class 17, based out of the Denver campus. For seventeen years before me, members of NCCC had ventured forth to serve communities in projects that focused on infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, energy conservation, urban and rural development, and disaster response.

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During that year, I served with teams that assisted the Huston Parks and Recreation with invasive species removal and linear forestry, helped to create a fire-wise community in Crown King, Arizona, and served alongside members of the Missouri Department of Conservation to remove invasive species, assist in prescribed fire operations, and maintain and improve hiking trails in various locations across the state. After the 2011 tornado outbreak that dropped hundreds of tornadoes across the South, I responded to the Good Friday Tornadoes that hit the communities surrounding St Louis. A month later, we responded to the EF-5 tornado that tore its way through Joplin, Missouri.

During my short time responding to the Joplin tornado, I was part of the team that helped to recruit and supervise more than 75,000 volunteers who contributed more than 579,000 hours of service. This operation, led by members of AmeriCorps who had pledged a year or more of service to their communities, helped to defray over $17.7 million in emergency match dollars owed by the City of Joplin to the federal government.

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A year after completing my term of service with NCCC, I returned to AmeriCorps after a year away to lead a team for the inaugural class of FEMA Corps. I became a Team Leader for an amazing group of young adults who stepped up to face the unknown that was a new program within AmeriCorps to serve alongside members of FEMA. We were tested by fire as I led my team to respond to Super-Storm Sandy after it hit the coasts of New Jersey and New York. My team served the residents of Rockaway and Far Rockaway in the New York City borough of Queens after the storm surge submerged most of the homes and businesses on the peninsula.

Over the following two years, I served alongside the AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT). It was there that I dived into the world of conservation as I assisted the USFS and the Missouri Department of Conservation in prescribed fire preparation and operations. I traveled up to Montana on several occasions to assist the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest with trail construction and maintenance, hazard tree removal, and firewood collection, as well as various other projects, including invasive species mitigation and site maintenance for several campgrounds.

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I responded alongside my teammates to numerous wildfires and prescribed burns, as well as the flooding in Detroit (11-13 August 2014). In my time with the ERT, my teammates responded to multiple tornadoes and floods that hit the Midwest.

A year and a half ago, I completed my fourth and final year of service through AmeriCorps. I joined the growing community of 800,000+ people who have served as members of AmeriCorps since its induction in 1994. I have seen lives changed because of this program; from the teammate who I have served beside and seen grow to become a leader and those who we have served in the field of disaster response, who needed assistance in their darkest hour.

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Recently, you released your proposed budget that would cut funding to the Corporation of National Service, effectively ending the AmeriCorps programs that serve the communities in which Americans breathe and live. Your budget would create a devastating hole in the lives of American citizens who currently have the opportunity to serve their nation and those who have been touched by the hands of service. It would devastate our nations ability to efficiently respond to disasters, both natural and that which is created by the hands of man. It would cripple my generations ability, and the generations that follow, to serve our nation, outside of wielding a weapon of war.

I have already contacted my representatives and made my voice heard, but I am now addressing my President, the man who was elected to serve this nation; If you cut funding to the Corporation of National Service and to AmeriCorps, you are putting our country at risk. Look at the research and see how effective these programs are before you cripple everything we stand for.

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As an American citizen, I am proud to have been a Corps Member and Team Leader with AmeriCorps. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to serve my nation, making it a stronger place to call home. I am honored to be a part of something bigger than myself.

I will leave you with the pledge that over a million members have sworn:

I will get things done for America –
to make our people safer, smarter and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member and I will get things done.

I hope that you read these words and listen to the voices of National Service as we make our voices heard; “Let Us Serve.”

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Sean Kerr
Corps Member Class 17, NCCC – Denver, CO
Team Leader Class 19, FEMA Corps – Vicksburg, MS
Corps Member and Second Year Member Class 20 and 21,
St Louis Emergency Response Team

Finding God in the Chaos

A couple weeks ago, someone asked me a question; I was unable to put the answer into words. They asked me why God would allow so much chaos in the world. They asked me why God would let their child go into cardiac arrest. And as I walked them through CPR over the phone, I didn’t have an answer. And yet, in some ways I still don’t have an answer.

The community that I have been journeying with has started the process of reading through the entirety of the Bible (a journey together called Halak, but you can find out more about that here), and over the past week or so, we have been going through the book of Job. In it, Job asks God the same question.

Why? He asks why these things happened to him. Why did his belongings get taken from him? Why did his seven sons and three daughters perish when the wind swept in and collapsed the house on top of them? Why was he afflicted with terrible sores and blisters? He cried out and questioned why.

His wife tells him to “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). And then for the next 36 chapters, his friends are unable to console him, to answer his questions of “Why is this happening to me?!” He never looses his integrity, he never sins or turns his back against God, but his answers are unanswered until God speaks.

And yet, God speaks from the storm.

Imagine yourself in Job’s position. Your children had been crushed beneath their home when a mighty wind swept in and struck the four corners (Job 1:19), and now your God speaks to you from a storm. Many translate it as the whirlwind. This is your chance to curse God to his face. But then He begins to ask you questions.

God asks Job a series of questions.

  1. Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (Job 38:2)
  2. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? (v.4)
  3. Who marked off its dimensions? (v.5)
  4. Who stretched a measuring line across it? (v.5)
  5. On what were its footings set? (v.6)
  6. Who laid its cornerstone? (v.6)
  7. Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”? (v.8-11)
  8. Have you ever given orders to the morning? (v.12)
  9. Or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? (v.12-13)
  10. Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea? (v.16)
  11. Or walked in the recesses of the deep? (v.16)
  12. Have the gates of death been shown to you? (v. 17)
  13. Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? (v.17)
  14. Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? (v. 18)
  15. What is the way to abode of light? (v.19)
  16. And where does darkness reside? (v.19)
  17. Can you take them to their places? (v.20)
  18. D you know the paths to their dwellings? (v.20)
  19. Have you entered the storehouses of the snow? (v.22)
  20. Or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? (v.22-23)
  21. What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed? (v.24)
  22. Or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? (v.24)
  23. Who cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? (v.25-27)
  24. Does the rain have a father? (v.28)
  25. Who fathers the drops of dew? (v.28)
  26. From whose womb comes the ice? (v.29)
  27. Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? (v. 29-30)
  28. Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? (v.31)
  29. Can you loosen Orion’s belt? (v.31)
  30. Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? (v.32)
  31. Or lead out the Bear with its cubs? (v.32)
  32. Do you know the laws of the heavens? (v.33)
  33. Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? (v.33)
  34. Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? (v.34)
  35. Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (v.35)
  36. Do they report to you, “Here we are”? (v.35)
  37. Who gives the ibis wisdom about the flooding of the Nile? (v.36)
  38. Or gives the rooster understanding of when to crow? (v.36)
  39. Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? (v.37)
  40. Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? (v.37-38)
  41. Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? (v.39-40)
  42. Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? (v.41)
  43. Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? (39:1)
  44. Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? (v.1)
  45. Do you count the months till they bear? (v.2)
  46. Do you know the time they give birth? (v.2)
  47. Who let the wild donkey go free? (v.5)
  48. Who untied its ropes? (v.5)
  49. Will the wild ox consent to serve you? (v.9)
  50. Will it stay by your manger at night? (v.9)
  51. Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? (v.10)
  52. Will it till the valleys behind you? (v.10)
  53. Will you rely on it for its great strength? (v.11)
  54. Will you leave your heavy work to it? (v.11)
  55. Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor? (v.12)
  56. Do you give the horse its strength? (v.19)
  57. Or clothe its neck with flowing mane? (v.19)
  58. Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? (v.20)
  59. Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings towards the south? (v.26)
  60. Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? (v.27)
  61. Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? (40:1)

At this point, Job responds: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5) But God continues:

62. Would you discredit my justice? (v.8)
63. Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (v.8)
64. Do you have an arm like God’s? (v.9)
65. And can your voice thunder like his? (v.9)
66. Can anyone capture it (the behemoth) by the eyes? (v.24)
67. Or trap it and piece its nose? (v.24)
68. Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook? (41:1)
69. Or tie down its tongue with a rope? (v.1)
70. Can you put a cord through its nose? (v.2)
71. Or pierce its jaw with a hook? (v.2)
72. Will it keep begging you for mercy? (v.3)
73. Will it speak to you with gentle words? (v.3)
74. Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? (v.4)
75. Can you make a pet of it like a bird? (v.5)
76. Or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? (v.5)
77. Will traders barter for it? (v.6)
78. Will they divide it up among the merchants? (v.6)
79. Can you fill its hide with harpoons? (v.7)
80. Or its head with fishing spears? (v.7)
81: Who then is able to stand against me? (v.10)
82. Who has a claim against me that I must pay? (v.11)
83. Who can strip off its (the leviathan’s) outer coat? (v.13)
84. Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? (v.13)
85. Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? (v.14)

Job’s reply has struck me as something very beautiful: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You ask, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:2-3)

It hit me as I sat in the Gathering as these questions filled the screen before us; we are not in the position to ask God “Why?”

None of us can provide an answer to the questions that were asked of Job. We never have been, and we never will.

All we can do is to keep out integrity before God and stand firm in our faith.

Instead of asking God “Why?” when I’m walking a parent through CPR on their child or when I’m on the line with a child who is hiding while their parents fight in the other room, the question is “How do I show your love?”

Instead of cursing God and giving up, even if for the briefest of moments, we must refrain our lives so that our response is to accept that this chaos is part of a larger picture that is His plan.

I hope my ramblings made sense…

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