A Reminder to the Rescued

I’ve been watching the clouds and the bands of snow roll across McMurdo Sound over the past couple days, bringing with it a beautiful mix of blues and grays that obscures the mountains of the horizon.

It’s a bittersweet view, knowing that in a few short days I am scheduled to fly off continent and return to the lands of plants and flowers and grasses. So I soak it in from the window in Dispatch. MacFire. Whatever we are calling this room in BL165 these days.

With over 900 people still on station, there are plenty of people that are unhappy with the flight delays that this weather is bringing. While I may not share the same feelings (I want to be delayed until the 21st so I can watch the first official sunset of the year), I can’t blame them for being upset. If the planes can’t fly, we cant go home.

The other night, right after the inbound C-17 boomeranged back to Christchurch due to weather (turned around without landing), one of the Kiwi Fuelies that I’ve gotten to know over the past couple weeks jokingly stated that they would never be rescued.

That night, I finished the last chapters of the Circle Series by Ted Dekker, a beautiful reminder of how much our Father pursues us, especially when we feel like everything has been lost.

When Thomas, the main character, cries out to Elyon (God) in desperation. For rescue. He receives a simple and powerful answer:

I see you
I made you
I love you

Sometimes, we forget that our Father in heaven sees us and watches over us. Sometimes, we forget that Lord has crafted us into perfect images of His being. We forget that our Savior sacrificed everything so that we may know His love. We forget that our King has already rescued us from death.

There are times where I feel distant from God. When my heart is heavy with loss. When the darkness threatens to consume me. When I feel like I am not good enough.

Sometimes we need a little reminder that we have already been rescued.

I love you
I choose you
I rescue you
I cherish you

Over the past couple hours, the clouds have begun to clear and, for the first time in several days, glimpses of blue skies are peaking through. And while I know the storms of this life are far from over, I can find beauty in the stillness of the freshly fallen snow as I watch the mountains reveal themselves in the distance knowing that this is only a brief moment of beauty compared to what is to come.

No matter what your storm may be, remember that you have already been rescued. You are chosen. You are loved.

On Being Your True Self

Several weeks ago, one of my coworkers and an amazing friend recommended that I read the book Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown. It is a beautiful book about courage, the strength of vulnerability, and over coming shame in our lives and culture. I’ve been taking my time reading it over the past several weeks because each section and chapter is like a sledgehammer striking true.

If you’ve never read it, I suggest you go out and purchase a copy for yourself (or borrow it from a friend).

Today, while reading at lunch, I came across a passage that was speaking about the differences between fitting in and belonging. Her words say it best:

One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is all about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

She asked a group of eighth graders to come up with differences, and, like her, I am floored by some of their definitions.

Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.

Looking back, I can see that I fit in almost everywhere that I go, but there are very few groups in which I feel like I actually belong.

These groups in which I find belonging, they are my community. Eliakim. Fell and Fair. My family back home. My Ice Family here at MacOps and around McMurdo Station. These are the people who I don’t feel like I need to put a guard up when I’m around them. I can live and love freely and be the real me. No masks. No shields.

The truest self.

It’s terrifying to let others see who you truly are. We are accustomed to shielding ourselves from judgement, from shame, from fears. To let go of all that weight can be extremely freeing, yet vulnerable.

That’s what Daring Greatly is all about: Vulnerability.

There are many places that I go and people that I interact with that, as the eighth graders put it, don’t care one way or another if I am there. And that is okay. I know that I will not belong everywhere, but this year, my focus will be on remaining true to myself and stripping off the mask, no matter who I’m with or where I find myself.

Perhaps this will be a chance to see the world in a new light, without the filters of defenses and masks to hide behind. Perhaps it will be terrifyingly beautiful in ways I could never begin to imagine.

The only way to know is to be one’s true self.

It’s a Harsh Continent

A couple weeks ago, I was in the craft room late one night, and one of the folks I know through the galley came in to try their hand at some origami. As we chatted, me working on my tablet weaving and her working on folding a paper into a dinosaur, we caught up on how work was and how the season was going and the usual rumor mill occurrences of McMurdo Research Station. And then something happened.

A simple question broke down a barrier and the mask that we allow ourselves to hide behind was revealed.

The simple truth is that Antarctica is a harsh continent. Down here, we joke about it in reference to the weather and the environment. But the reality is that no matter how much you prepare yourself, or how big your shield is that you hide behind, this place has a way of stripping us raw and forcing us to confront our fears, emotions, and truest selves.

I asked her how she was doing. Not her job. Not the surface level chatter. And that simple question was enough to break through the barriers we throw up around ourselves.

Our conversation changed at that moment, as we dove in to discuss the struggles of this place. The distance from family during the holiday season. The social aspect of living and working with the same people for months at a time. The effects of 24 hours of daylight, and the same for darkness during winter. And what drives people to seek the adventure of this place, despite its harshness.

Yes, this place is extremely harsh. Between the distance and isolation, the harsh environment in which we choose to live, and the constant, long hours of work, over time, it will get to you. It gets to everyone.

But that is why it is important to reach out and talk to people. To take the opportunities to laugh and enjoy fellowship with one another. To let your guard down and be real with yourself, if not with others. To embrace your friends with a hug.

For me, the greatest way to combat the harshness of this continent is human interaction. To embrace others with unconditional love and connect with them through this journey together.

So, while this may be a harsh continent, it doesn’t mean we have to be harsh too.

 

Grace and Thanksgiving

There are many things I am thankful for, especially as we enter into the holiday season. I sit here in Dispatch, looking out over the McMurdo Sound towards the Royal Societies, hidden behind a foreboding cloud bank that paints the skies in blues and gray. The sea ice blurs with the windswept twirls of snow, and I am thankful for being able to return to this beautiful place once again.

Every day down here in this land of ice and snow is a reminder of how much I have been blessed on this journey. In this life.

There are so many things to be thankful for, from my family and community back home who pour out their support and love to all the friends I have made that connect me to places around the world. The ability to step out and go hiking, a long bike ride, or participate in photo shoots, filming, and LARPs to the simple fact that I am able to live this wild adventure, traveling from place to place, and meeting people from all walks of life.

But there is one thing that I am more thankful of than everything else in this world. A gift that I am unable to repay, but one that I accept gratefully. That is the gift of grace.

Grace is the one thing that I am most thankful for.

When we begin to think about grace, we become overwhelmed by how magnificent this gift truly is. And I realize how thankful I am, even though I can never repay it.

Grace gives us the ability to live. To live with no strings attached. To love with reckless abandon. To be able to appreciate these little things we are thankful for.

Yes, I am thankful for this adventure of life. I am thankful for the amazing friendships that I’ve made along the way. I am thankful for the beautiful moments of each day that reveal glimpses of God’s personality. For each day I get to spend knowing that I am loved by our Father in Heaven.

Each day, I wake up with the knowledge that His grace has brought me out of death and granted me the opportunity to live once again. The grace He gave to us, through the birth, life, and death of His Son on the cross, is why I am thankful for each and every breath I breathe.

STK_6465 (edited)

God Bless and PEACE
STKerr

Another Day, Another Season

It’s crazy to think that a year ago, I was waiting to step foot on ice for the first time. It’s crazy to think that I’ve been back for my second season here in Antarctica for a little over a week now.

This season has been different. Interesting. But good.

I’ve just finished the transition to night shift and am now an official Mid-Rat (named for the Midnight Rations that is the “lunch” for those working night shift). The Fire Dispatch that I worked last year has officially combined with MacOps, the non-emergency radio dispatch used by the scientists and field camps, into Central Communications (or MacFire depending on who you ask).

I did not have a delay in Christchurch this year, so after the one day of training, we boarded the Kiwi Airbus and made our way down to the ice and snow. The first C-17 doesn’t come down till tomorrow, and it is bringing the new helicopters.

The station is slowly growing as more people make the journey down. Scientists are starting to do science stuff and the field safety people are finding ways to safely make it across the ice that has a lot more cracks than last year.

I’m not sure how the pressure ridges look, but the recreation point of contact just made it down to the station yesterday and is hopeful to start tours as soon as possible. I’ve already been eyeing some hikes in the next couple days (I’m eyeing you, Ob Hill).

I’m also continuing my venture into film and whatnot, as I continue to capture two seconds of video a day like last season (I’m not sure if I shared it or not, so I’m sharing it again for your viewing pleasure):

I’m looking forwards to what this season brings. My team is an amazing group of dispatchers, most of us returning but one who is here for their first season on the ice. There are several people that I know who are making their way to the station, so it’ll be good to see them again in the next couple of days.

And the views are beautiful, as always! In the new communications center, we actually have windows, so I will be able to see out over the sea ice to the Royal Society and Asguard Mountain Ranges. And it’s perfect for time lapses of the sunsets and, eventually, the open water and breaking of the ice.

Part of me can’t believe the opportunities that have brought me to this place. And every time I go outside, despite the wind and the cold, I smile.

This place is special. And I thank God for the long journey that has brought me here once again.

Let’s Talk Safety

Everybody wants to look cool when they go to an event. Specifically, I’m talking about LARPs. We dress up in medieval clothes, grab our foam weapons, and head out onto the battle field to swing at one another, to test our strength. To prove to one another that we indeed are warriors.

At my very first LARP, one of the ladies got hit in the eye with a foam arrow. Two inches of foam padding and she walked away with a very beautiful black eye, blurry vision, and the name Fiery One-Eyed Maiden. She also spent the rest of the weekend wearing an eye patch.

Last year, we watched as LARPs around the globe banned round head or high velocity arrows after an unlucky participant of an European LARP lost an eye due to the impact of getting hit (at least that is the rumor). Most events switched to flat head, low speed arrows due to safety concerns.

Even at Bicolline, round head arrows have been banned, only flat head arrows are allowed.

And even with that change, I know of three fighters who suffered eye injuries due to arrows during the fighting at Bicolline, be it fighter training, skirmishes, or the grand battles. One of the guys took an arrow to the side of the face, resulting in a partially ripped cornea. Had he been closer to the archer, the force of the impact could have damaged the interior and back of his eye. And while it is hopeful that he will fully recover, there is a chance that he may have permanent loss of vision in his left eye.

But arrows and projectiles are not the only danger when it comes to LARPing. Many battles take place in forested areas, where you run the risk of tree limbs, branches, and thorns that seem to grab at the eye sockets of those passing by. You have dust and dirt drifting through the air and sweat dripping salt into your eyes.

When it comes to eye safety, it’s not strictly projectiles and environmental hazards that you have to look out for. Accidents happen and sometimes people make poor judgement calls and suddenly, you are taking a face shot from a spear or sword.

During Thursday’s fort battle at this years Bicolline, I took a halberd to the face. Twice. Both times it was enough force to knock me off my feet and see stars. The second time my vision went black for several seconds. And I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t wearing my helmet, I would have been making a trip to the hospital for some broken bones.

We all want to look cool out on the battle field. We put so much effort into our costumes and our garb to look our best at events. We want everything to be decorum, to fit into the world to make it more immersive. And too often, safety is pushed aside.

I purchased my helmet specifically for safety at LARPs. While many events, like Weekend Warrior, ban strikes to the head, accidents still happen, especially when you have arrows flying through the air. At Bicolline, heads are a legal strike zone, except for the face, so there is more risk to getting hit.

My helmet, an Italo-Norman style of helm, includes a full face shield made of 14 gauge steel. There are many great decorum helms to protect your face and eyes, from viking style ocular helms to visored helms styled after medieval knights.

Yes, they can get expensive, but your safety is worth it.

Want a fun trick: snag yourself an inexpensive nasal helm. Fashion a face shield out of leather (6+ oz) and attach it with rivets.  Paint it. You now have a customized helm that protects your eyes and your face.

If you don’t have funds to snag yourself a helmet, grab yourself a pair of safety glasses. I don’t care if they are decorum or not, without your eyes, you will not be able to fight effectively. Protect your eyes.

I’ve seen people use modified paintball masks, field hockey masks, prescription safety glasses, hardened leather battle masks, and sparing / fencing masks. If it protects your eyes, it works.

LARPs are supposed to be fun. Yes, people get really serious about the battles, but everyone should be enjoying themselves. Your safety allows you to continue having fun. So, protect them eyes!

Voyaging North to Bico

A couple weeks ago I joined The Voyage North at La Bataille de Bicolline, the largest LARP in North America. It was an amazing experience, filled with adventure, combat, great people, and hundreds of thousands of memories and stories.

There is an unwritten rule that all great stories from Bico start out with the phrase: “No [edit], there I was…”, so lets get it started:

No [edit], there I was driving into the Duchy of Bicolline, a magical wilderness consisting of several hundred acres, two towns of over 200 buildings, and thousands of people who come from around the world, when I look over to see Stag Alley for the first time, the home of Ordo Cervi. A glorious green and tan walkway tucked between two buildings with a bridge and banners overhead, the tavern and its deck filled with gear, and some amazing folk who greeted us into the herd!

Those first moments of stepping into the world of Bicolline was like diving into the deep end of a swimming pool. Yes, it feels like a festival and a never ending party, but there are plenty of opportunities to participate in some role-playing if you are willing to put some effort in as well. And lets not forget the battles!

No [edit], there I was, standing shoulder to shoulder with my herd mates (Ordo Cervi is the Order of the Stag), proudly wearing the tabard of green and tan, facing off against a force that outnumbered us across the field. And then the horn sounded and the chaos of battle commenced in full. And suddenly, as we slowly marched forward, we turned and raced towards a different objective, the fort. I never made it. An arrow to the leg stopped me, and then an approaching wall of spears behind shields finished me off.

That first battle was chaos. We got slaughtered. But it was a lot of fun.

We had some training earlier in the day, but nothing can really prepare you to be on the field of battle with 2,500 or more other people. I chose to head out with a nine foot spear, commonly referred to as a win-stick. It’s a different style of combat than most LARPs.

Where most LARPs tend to gravitate towards a hero-style of combat, a lot of one-on-one, skirmisher style of fighting, Bicolline forces you to work together as a team. So a lot of the fighting tends to be the soldier style of fighting, working together in shield walls and formations.

No [edit], there I was putting on a gnome hat and dancing through the street in a joyful gang of playfulness as we made our way from New Town to the stage at Old Town. Why, you ask?  Why not!

We made our way through the streets, passing out gnome hats and adding to our number till we made it to the stage. And then the dancing began in full. Ridiculousness contained in the joy of having fun, laughing, and shouting until the band joined in. By the time I left with a small group of friends, we had run out of hats and people were still asking for hats!

We even saw some of those gnome hats the next couple days on the battle field.

No [edit], there I was standing side by side with one of our ally gilds, Lys Noir and the rest of the pirates, privateers, and corsairs for the Vermin-tide Skirmish against the Skaven (rat-folk), when suddenly the giant monster, Urr (who was playing a large rat-folk) came rushing by and I got the perfect opportunity to tap him on the head and back with my sword and he gives me a beautiful death as he dives head-first into the ground.

No [edit], there I was outside the fort during the second large battle, fighting around one of the open windows. I was on the side of the opening with one of those awesome, nine foot win-sticks, when out of nowhere a halberd slams into my face. Well, into the face plate of my helmet (one of the best investments that I’ve ever made for safety reasons).

Let me explain something real quick: while head-shots are allowed at Bicolline, the face is a no strike zone. And, blind shots around corners are off limits as well.

The horn sounds and we switch sides. So, now instead of trying to get into the fort, I’m trying to prevent the opposing side from getting in. Again, no [edit], there I was on the side of one of the open windows once again, when around the wall, the same halberd comes crashing directly into my face plate (again). This time, I not only see stars when I get knocked off my feet, my vision goes black for several seconds.

No [edit], there I was sitting on the side of the road with several things to trade and sell for solar (in game currency) when one of the gentlemen who stopped wanted to purchase a drawing and one of my tarot decks, and instead of giving me the agreed 20 solar, he hands me 40 and walks away before I notice.

No [edit], there I was on the left flank during the final battle, after our side had pushed the pro-slavery forces back almost to their respawn point, when I notice a group of opponents to the right that didn’t realize that their flank had fallen. So, I turned and hit all six of them in the back with my trusty win-stick, killing them before they realized what happened. As I turned to find more opponents, I heard them arguing in French as they pointed at one another and waved their hands; The only words I could understand were “[edit]ing Ordo Cervi” and I laughed as I went after another couple of opponents.

69309182_10156236663346960_4756485347548856320_nNo [edit], there I was sitting in the Tavern in Stag Alley singing along with my herdmates and all the new friends that I realize that the chaos of this place is what makes it magical. I sat back with a smile as we laughed at raunchy lyrics and out of tune antics as we came to discover that it wasn’t the physical place that made the journey so beautiful was the family that had formed.

And as we departed that place, I couldn’t help but think of all the things that I want to do next year!