I look back and wonder where this year has disappeared to. Surely it hasn’t been twelve months already. Then I realize how quick the time has gone. Between adventures with AmeriCorps and finding a job down here on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, I guess it has been a full year.
It’s been a year of triumphs and victories, struggles and failures, joy and sorrow. It’s been a year of growth and learning, discoveries and miracles. I’ve come closer to God and learned what it means to love unconditionally, to forgive.
Even in times of great light, shadows fall across out path. This year hasn’t always been easy, there have been bumps in the road and times where the darkness was so consuming that I couldnt see my own feet on the path that God had set before me.
A year ago I continued on my journey with AmeriCorps*NCCC. I headed out to complete the Wildland Firefighting with the El Paso County Fire Crew in Colorado Springs before returning to my own team. Despite the opportunity, I was torn when I was called up as an Alternate to join the Fire Management team, just two weeks or so after joining them in Tulsa, OK. After a massive snowstorm, dozens of conversations with teammates, dreading my hair and heading out in the early hours of the morning I joined the Fire Management Team down in Crown King, AZ.
It was a rough four weeks where I continually asked myself if this was where I wanted to be. I loved the work, but had difficulties connecting with the team that I barely knew. Soon enough, we headed back and I joined up with Shuffle Sun 6 as we headed out to Williamsburg, MO where we helped repair trails, cleared duck boxes, cut down Autumn Olives and proceeded to help with controlled burns.
As the team scattered for Spring Break, we watched as storms rolled past and tornadoes touched down around us. We felt the storms that slammed through the southern states, as a teammate desperately reached out to get ahold of family. None of us were surprised to get the call to pack up and be prepared to head out on Disaster Response and after several days of waiting, we headed out to St. Louis to help in the clean-up from the Good Friday Tornadoes.
It was there that we worked alongside All Hands Volunteers, members of the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) and the St. Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) as we cleared debris, cut apart fallen trees and helped homeowners rebuild their communities. Although we received the crushing news that we would not be returning to the teams that we had come to know and love, we came together and made it through.
A month after the tornadoes skipped through St. Louis, an EF5 slammed into Joplin and turned their world upside down. The next morning, we received the call to respond. It was in that moment that I knew that this was going to be the hardest thing we had ever done. We arrived in the pouring rain and darkened skies and began to relieve members of the WCC and ERT, preparing to head out the next morning into the wreckage.
I spent that first night in the Volunteer Data Entry Center working alongside volunteers and listening to their stories of survival, darkness and hope. Somehow, in the days that followed, I was put in charge of the room and helped to set up Google Spread Sheets to input volunteer information. Despite the suffering and brokeness that surrounded us, their stories of hope, close calls and courage gave me the strength to support them.
After 36 days on disaster (13 in Joplin) we returned to Denver and prepared for our last month of service. After an event that threatened to tear the team apart and a confrontation with our Team Leader, we headed out with one of the Office TLs for Lake Houston Wilderness Park to help out with several day camps for 9 to 13 year old kids. Despite our struggles with our site supervisor, we persevered through it all and learned all about fishing, kayaking, hiking, nature and archery.
At some point in January, my sister shared the news that I was going to be an Uncle to twins. While in St. Louis, she asked if I would be the Godfather for my niece, Zoey. After being born months to early, they had an adventurous first couple months as they were evacuated out of Minot, ND days after their birth to Fargo. It was there in the days after finishing AmeriCorps that I saw them for the first time. Barely bigger than a football, I gingerly held them. Their birth, survival and story is a miracle that proves that God is constantly watching over the littlest of his children. This past month, I journeyed home (to N. VA) for their baptism.
After helping my father rebuild the staircase in my sisters basement (destroyed in the flooding), I headed back home with him to survive the Earthquake that shook the East Coast and the passing of Hurricane Irene.
Last year, while aboard the M/V Africa Mercy, I met an amazing daughter of God. Although we kinda kept in touch after my departure, there was something that was never said. While in Williamsburg, just weeks before departing for Disaster Response, I sent her a message telling her for the first time that I missed her. That started a conversation that lasted several weeks that turned into months as we messaged one another back and forth. After she returned stateside, while I was in Houston, we started to talk over the phone.
In the weeks following my graduation from AmeriCorps*NCCC, I journeyed with my grandfather and several aunts and uncles, and cousins to Ireland. It was there that we traveled through Northern Ireland, learning the history of the nation and a little bit about our own distant relatives.
Upon my return, I had the opportunity to travel up to New Hampshire to visit Annie for the first time in over a year. We shared stories, watched movies and she got me hooked on the show Lie To Me. She had smuggled my favorite hot chocolate mugs back from the ship and I gave her a wooden Claddagh from Ireland.
After starting my job as a Wildfire Suppression Technician down at Ft. Campbell, KY, the home of the 101st Airborne Division, I had some issues with my first roommate and was kicked out with no notice. Despite this, I found a new place that is much quieter, peaceful and closer to work. It hurt to be accused and it was difficult to forgive, but God gave me the strength, the wisdom and the words to do so. For a month, I had a letter written that only said. “I forgive you.” After many prayers, I sent it (with no return address).
I’ve now been working on Ft. Campbell for three months. While I love the job, it isn’t exactly where I want to be. I am hoping to get back out West, into the mountains and the wilderness.
As we look into what this next year has in hold for us, let us remember all the lessons that God has taught us this past year. Through dark times and times of great joy, He has been there beside us to give us the strength to continue on.
God Bless and PEACE