Archive for December, 2011

Looking Back Over the Year

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

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The Coming of the Lion

“Safe?”  said Mr. Beaver.  “Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he is good.  He’s the King, I tell you.” 
 – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Long before Lucy asked if the Lion Aslan was safe, mankind has looked on this majestic beast with fascination and wonder.  Called the King of the  Beasts, the lion has captured our hearts through stories like the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lion King.  Two of the iconic lions that kids of all ages have fallen in love with. 

The lion is a symbol of royalty, strength and authority.  Some cultures view it as a symbol of being in control of the subconscious thought.  Balance and judgement.  Justice, ferocity, wisdom, dignity and honor.  It is said the one who is born under the symbol of the lion (Leo) has self-confidence and seeks out passion in their lives. 

The lion calls us to take our rightful place of power.  I’m not talking about Simba or Aslan, I’m talking about the Lion of Judah. 

There is a reason why God is symbolized by a lion.  He is powerful, royal and he came to conquer death and bring us life.  We don’t always remember how God moves in our lives, but he is there, leading us and giving us the strength to continue on.

I’ll leave you with another quote from the Chronicles of Narnia:

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mill so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
 – C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

As we await the second coming of the Lion of Judah, let us remember the birth of our Savior all those nights ago. 

God Bless and PEACE

The Problem with Holidays and the True Meaning of Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us.  We can see it in all the lights that adorn houses, trees decorated with ornaments standing in living rooms, gift wrapped presents and images of a big a big fat man with a white beard and a red suit.  We associate all this with Christmas, but when we look at it, none of it seems to fit in with the reason why we celebrate.  We all like to open stockings and presents in the morning, but we are still missing the greatest gift given to us on that day we celebrate. 

I’ve had enough of people telling me that it is politically incorrect to say “Merry Christmas” but insist that I say “Happy Holidays” instead.  I know that the tradition of the Yule Log originally has nothing to do with Christianity, but was a celebration of the Winter Equinox, the shortest day of the year.  I understand that the long night is a significant event, but I’m not out yelling that people shouldn’t be celebrating it. 

Many different faiths celebrate important days of their specific traditions during the holiday season.  It’s not just Christmas, but Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, New Years and hundreds of “Pagan” holidays that center around the shortest day of the year.  And yet, the outrage is against the Christian holiday of Christmas because the huge focus our society places on the different traditions we have adopted into this celebration. 

That’s the problem with the holidays.  Our society has blown it out of proportion.  We mix the traditions and celebrations of different faiths and make them American.  Our society has caused us to lose focus on what we celebrate.  As Christians, it is important to regain that focus on what Christmas is truly about. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
 – John 3:16-18

 As Christians, we find that the true meaning of Christmas is one of hope.  It is the hope that the prophecies of the Jewish people would be fulfilled.  That this child would be the sacrificial lamb that would save us all.  That this small child born in a manger would grow up to be the same man who would die on the cross for our sins.  That in this birth would give us hope through his death we would be saved from eternal damnation.  And through this death, he would rise again on the third day to return to his rightful place in heaven. 

We celebrate the birth of Jesus looking forwards to how he saved us through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. 

We give and receive gifts on Christmas day, sharing what we have with family and friends.  But in reality, we have already been given the greatest gift we could ever receive.  “For God so loved the world…”  We have already been given the gift of salvation through our faith, wrapped in swaddling and found in a manger all those nights ago in Bethlehem. 

God Bless and PEACE

Three Words

We look back and question ourselves.  Did we do the right thing?  Why didn’t we say what we really feel?  There are words that we never said that we realize we may never get to say.

When I left the M/V Africa Mercy, I left an amazing group of individuals, friends and those that I cared about.  I left and never told them how much I cared about them.  Many of them I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to due to various reasons (the repairs in Durban, vacations, and the day off).  I never told certain people who I would miss them when I left. 

It took me almost a full year (9 months) to tell those that I left behind that I missed them.  Three simple words, “I miss you” that were so difficult to say. 

And you thought I was going to go on and on about the ‘other’ three words that our society focuses on (maybe at a later date). 

I look back and I ask myself why it took me so long to say these simple words.  I’m still trying to figure it out.  But I realize now that it is important to make sure you tell those that you care about how you truly feel.  You may never get the chance to say because you never know what life will bring you. 

So, think about.  Next time your heart is telling you to tell someone how you truly feel, don’t ignore your gut. 

God Bless and PEACE

Diving Into the Flames

Several months ago, I headed down to Fort Campbell to join the Department of Public Work’s Forestry Division as a Wildfire Suppression Technician.  Basically, I run around the base and the back areas putting out the fires that the army and special forces start. 

While most of the fires on base put themselves out or are in the Impact Areas where we are not allowed to go due to Unexploded Ordinance (UXOs), active ranges and a multitude of other reasons that are too numerous to list, there are several fires that we are called out to fight.  Then, there are those that we light as prescribed burns. 

We have burned hundreds of acres of grasslands, fields and forests.  We ride around on ATVs, 4 wheelers, and pump trucks loaded down with hundreds of gallons of water, lighting stuff on fire and watching it burn. 

This job isn’t just fun and games.  Fire is dangerous.  We take all the precautions that we can, all the way from planning to having somebody up in the Fire Tower, 100 feet above watching the smoke drift up from the landscape.  We enjoy what we do because we know what we are doing and have been trained to react to the dangers that we face. 

God Bless and PEACE

Beneath the Surface

Several years ago I engaged in a discussion with a group of guys at school.  For several days, and possibly weeks, we discussed various topics on faith.  When the discussion came around to Baptism, we found a glaring separation in beliefs.  Like all passionate individuals, we discussed our individual views, beliefs and the different traditions of the Church (and the different divisions of the Body). 

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church.  As an infant, I was Baptized by a priest, parents and God-parents. 

Many of my friends at school were raised under different traditions and soon asked me if I believed my baptism as an infant, then later Confirmation into the Catholic Church, was the same as the tradition of baptism under the early Church and followers of Christ. 

Being baptized as an infant, you have no say in your beliefs.  With this commitment, the parents and God-parents take on the responsibility of raising the child in the Body of Christ.  They teach their children (and God-children) all they know about God, Christ and His sacrifice, raising them in the knowledge of faith. 

This is Baptism by water.  A symbol.  A commitment by the parents. 

As the child grows into who God has called them to be, the choice eventually becomes theirs to make.  In the Catholic Church, this is the act of Confirmation.  When the child confirms their faith and becomes an adult in the church.  At this time, the Spirit of God comes down and the individual is baptized in the Spirit. 

This weekend, I joined family and friends as I received the honor of being a God-father for my niece (Zoey) and being present for the baptism of both my niece and nephew (each just 6 months old).  I gladly take on the responsibility of teaching and showing them how to live out the faith, to be a part of the Body of Christ. 

In my personal journey of faith, in the years following my confirmation, I struggled to discover God.  I searched and wandered down paths of darkness.  I discovered the difference between the Religion that I was brought up in and the Faith that I seeked and found in the blood of Christ. 

Baptism is a rebirth into the creation of God.  As we are taken under the waters, we die and everything we were is stripped away.  We emerge reborn, washed clean in the blood of Christ.  It is in that moment that we invite the Spirit of God into our lives and we are forever changed. 

It is more than a symbol of faith, an outward expression of our beliefs.  It is a powerful commitment between us and God that changes us. 

As I discovered what it meant to live by faith, I asked a good friend to Baptize me in the lake near Anderson.  For me, it was more than a simple act, but it set me free to live how God was calling me to live.  This act was not saying that my baptism at birth and confirmation into the Catholic Church did not make a difference, but through this, I was reinforcing my dedication to live by Faith. 

I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Hold Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his thrashing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
 – Matthew 3:11-12

God Bless and PEACE

When It’s Hard to Forgive

A month ago I was told by my roommate that I was no longer welcome in his home.  When asked, he told me that I had brought darkness into his house and wanted me gone that night.  He threw accusations of witchcraft and demon worship in my face as I stood there in shock.  I left that night and never returned. 

Over the past month, I’ve looked back and wondered what actually happened that night.  I was angry.  Confused.  And relieved to be out of that house.  But something kept eating away at me. 

In the days that followed, one of the guys that I worked with asked a simple question that stopped me in my tracks.  We were talking about faith, religion and the topic somehow turned to forgiveness.  He asked me how I would ever be able to forgive my roommate who accused me and kicked me out. 

The simple answer that I wanted to say was that I already had, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t that easy.  I hadn’t found the courage to forgive. 

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, he included these words in what many of us call the Lord’s Prayer:

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 – Matthew 6:12

Verses 14-15 continues, stating “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will nor forgive your sins.”

Before we can receive forgiveness for our own sins, we must be able to forgive others who “trespass against us” (KJV). 

We preach on and on about how we have forgiven, but we too often forget about all those grudges we hold against others.  The guy who just cut us off on the road.  The woman who yelled at us.  The man who accused you of worshiping demons and turning your back to God.  If we cannot bring ourselves to forgive these people, how are we supposed to be washed clean by the blood of Christ? 

It is difficult to humble ourselves enough to let go.  I’ve struggled with it.  I still struggle with it.  But just as we learn to forgive, we learn what it means to be forgiven. 

It is difficult, but through the strength we receive through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for each of us, we begin to continue down the journey towards forgiveness. 

Have I forgiven my old roommate?  I still struggle with that question.  Just as I struggle with accepting forgiveness. 

God Bless and PEACE