Archive for May, 2012

It’s Not All About Cookouts and BBQs

This three-day weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day.  A day where we honor all those men and women that have fallen in the service of our country.  We celebrate this day with cookouts and gatherings while celebrating the freedoms and joys that living in the United States brings.  Too many times we forget the sacrifices that brought us those same freedoms. 

Over the past ten years thousands of brave men and women have stood for our freedom and have fallen.  Many of them are young, brothers and sisters of my own generation.  Over the years, countless more have given their lives on foreign shores and in far away lands. 

These are the unknown soldiers who occupy unmarked and unnamed graves.  They are brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends and loved ones. 

As you enjoy this day off, remember all those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for out freedom.  Remember, too, the families that are now missing an integral piece.  Remember the spouses, the brothers and sisters, and the children of those that have fallen.  They are the ones that have sacrificed the most as they continue on through the strength of those that they lost. 

So, take a moment as you flip a burger or grab yourself another drink and remember all those that are no longer with us.  If you drink, raise your glass to the men and women who have given their lives to this country and to all those that continue to serve.

God Bless and PEACE

The Finger of God

Today marks the one year anniversary of the EF-5 Tornado that ripped through Joplin, MO.  It was on this day that thousands of lives changed forever.  The stories of survivors still stir our hearts as they speak of loved ones that passed from this world that night.  Scars can still be seen across the landscape, even though the wreckage no longer litters the ground.

For hundreds of AmeriCorps members, this was the moment in their term of service everything changed.  Members of the St. Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) and the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) responded that night.  Others received the call the following day and in the days and weeks to come, hundreds poured in. 

I remember that day like it was yesterday.  While responding to the Good Friday tornadoes in St. Louis, a small group of us decided to take our first real break from disaster response by going to Six Flags.  It was a beautiful day, where we spent time reflecting over the year, enjoying the day off of work and coming closer as team members and friends. 

Throughout the day, we were constantly receiving alerts and texts about the weather.  As the day wore on, the clouds began to build up and the winds increased.  Soon, the distant rolls of thunder could be heard as we departed the park. 

Upon our return to our housing, we heard the first whispers of Joplin.  As I checked in with family, I discovered how true it was as my parents informed me of the damage that they were witnessing on national news. 

I went to sleep that night knowing that we may eventually get called to serve in Joplin. 

The next morning, I woke early to help set up breakfast.  Oddly, nobody showed up, so I sat and ate in peaceful bliss.  Upon my arrival upstairs, I was met with a scene of chaos as the 21 other individuals from two teams were frantically packing.  We had recieved the call to respond to Joplin, and nobody had bothered to tell me.

That was the beginning of the deployment that changed all of us.  Joplin challenged us.  Brought out the best in us.  Changed us.  We were no longer Corps Members, but part of something that was bigger than all of us combined. 

We became leaders.  Organizers.  Teachers.  Family. 

Yes, Joplin changed us.  It shaped our experience and it molded the lives of each person who lived there, who poured in to volunteer, and who supported one another when it felt like life could no longer go on.  It changed us as individuals.  It changed us as a team.  As a community.  As a nation. 

It’s been a year since the tornado hit the ground.  It seems like it was only yesterday.  Tomarrow, another day will have passed.  But we will still remember.  It has become a part of who we are. 

God Bless and PEACE

[note: For those who missed it, the title of this post if from the movie Twister.  When asked what an EF-5 is like, the table of tornado chasers goes silent.  The response, “It is like the finger of God.”]

What We’ve Lost

A couple weeks ago I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks and made me smile.  I’ve always been an artist, putting all my focus into my work.  In college, I would loose track of time while in the painting studios, spending hours hunched over the canvas, spreading paint across its surface.  I start a drawing and can’t seem to put it down until I discover that I need to sleep or there is nothing more to do. 

I put my heart and soul into my work and have lost my mind in the process.
 – Vincent Van Gogh

I think he may be refering to the obsession that led to cutting off his own ear and sending it to ‘the love of his life’ as a sign of affection.  Or it may be the fact that he was loosing his mind because he was cleaning his brushes by licking the lead based paint clean. 

Fortunately, I’m not that far gone.  Have I lost my mind?  Possibly. 

We all have.  We put all our focus into our work.  We are a society driven by the need to continue moving.  We go and go and continue to go just to keep going farther.  We set everything else on the back burner and we loose track of time.  We loose track of a lot more than just time, we loose track of what is truely important to us. 

We distract oursleves from our own thoughts.  We loose ourselves in things that don’t really matter.  We loose our minds because we have poured everything we have into our work. 

And yet we still do it.  And still, I smile. 

My art is an expression of my faith.  Yet at times I’ve felt that I’ve poured so much into my art that I have nothing left to give back to God.  Sometimes I’ve lost more than my mind, I’ve lost myself.

It’s dangerous putting all our heart and soul into what we do.  It’s dangerous forgetting who we are. 

Step back.  Listen to the silence.  Learn to be still. 

God Bless and PEACE

Black, White and Shades of Grey

We live in a society where the lines have become blurred.  There is no right or wrong answer, but we try to play nice and appease both sides.  We answer in ways that never answer the question because we know if we take a side, someone will be offended. 

Some people see the world in black and white.  There is the right way and the wrong.  Purity and sin. 

We justify our actions before God and before ourselves.  “He’s only going to go buy a drink if I give him anything.”  “I’m just one person, what difference can I really make?”  “Someone else will stop and help.”  Sound familiar? 

We tell ourselves that one sin is worse than another, even after we read where Christ told his disciples that thinking about the action is just as bad as committing the act.  We reassure ourselves saying, “I only cursed at the guy, I didn’t kill him.”  Does that make it any better?

When it comes to sin, there is only black and white.  Purity that we can never achieve on our own and all the shades of grey, no matter how light they seem.  It is still sin.  It is still impure in the eyes of God. 

I’m not perfect.  I’ll be the first to say it.  I sin.  I fall short. 

But when we live in the light of Christ, as true followers of His way, we shouldn’t have to worry.  The blood of Christ has washed away our sins, our impurities, no matter how dark they were. 

If we are truly striving to follow God, we should be striving for purity.  So why are we settling for shades of grey?

Just some thoughts…

God Bless and PEACE

The Strength of a Mother

While aboard the M/V Africa Mercy, one of the day workers told me that my mother must be a strong woman.  According to the West African saying, “A mothers strength can be seen in the courage of her children.”  If this is so, I have the strongest mother. 

My brother, upon his 18th birthday, joined the volunteer fire department.  He’s gone on many trips overseas and throughout Central and South America, many times without knowing exactly where he will end up.  He just graduated and will soon depart on his own adventures. 

My sister, the mother of two amazing, ten month old twins.  Days after she gave birth to my niece and nephew, they were evacuated out of Minot, ND due to the flood, which flooded their basement.  She has faced several battles throughout this past year and faced each of them with a courage and strength that can only come from a mother. 

And then there’s me.  Always on the move.  Never in one place for very long.  Africa.  Mercy Ships.  AmeriCorps.  Wildland Firefighting.  My mother has seen me through it all, even though she rarely sees me on my journeys. 

My courage comes from the strength that my mother has provided these past 24 years.  Without her willingness to let me explore and her encouragement to leap into the unknown I would never have done many of the things I’ve done, nor would I be where I currently am. 

My mother was the one who always told us to leap.  God will soften your landing or teach you to fly. 

Remember the courage that your mother instilled in you.  Your courage is her strength. 

God Bless and PEACE

The Community of Faith

They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowhip, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  … Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoyin the favor of all people.  and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 
 – Acts 2:42, 46-47

I’ve been blessed to be part of and witness several communities of faith throughout my journeys.  At school, it was the Cockins Family and the Radius community.  The crew aboard the M/V Africa Mercy.  The Akia-Ashianut group that journeyed over to Uganda together.  Here in Tennessee, the Stronghold community. 

We find communities of faith everywhere we look.  They surround churches, universities, youth groups and bands of friends.  They give us strength, sharpening our beliefs.  We surround ourselves with fellow believers because they share our passion, our faith.  They build us up, just as we help to lift them as well. 

We were created to be in community, because we were created in the image of God. 

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
 – Genesis 1:27

God the Father.  God the Spirit.  God the Son.  Three aspects of the same God.  Three distinct individuals within one.  God is the image of community.  He didn’t create human being to be alone.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  … Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 
– Genesis 2:18, 22

God created us not to be alone.  He created us to be with one another.  To be in community with one another.  Man and woman, together, are the image of God. 

The strongest of communities are those that incorporate both brothers and sisters in Christ.  Women see things different than men.  We were created seperately, together we are one in the image of God. 

We were not made to be alone.  Some of us were called to marrage, others missions.  Some are called as teachers, pastors, evangelists, prophets and apostles.  While each of us may be called individually, we must have a community surrounding us to have the strength to answer that call. 

It’s those one-on-one relationships that define us as followers of Christ. 

Just some thoughts… (and thanks Reuben for the conversation that sparked this post)

God Bless and PEACE