This year has been crazy. I can’t help but wonder how I got through all of this chaos alive. From wildland firefighting throughout the training areas of Fort Campbell, KY to responding to Super Storm Sandy with the inaugural class of FEMA Corps with AmeriCorps*NCCC, I feel like I’ve seen it all. But I look back and realize that there is more to this year that is beneath the surface.
A year ago, I was just getting to know the amazing individuals of Spring Creek where I was going to church on a regular basis. I was diving into faith with reckless abandon and loved every moment of it.
For a time, I returned to my art, self portraits of faith that revealed where I had been, what I had done. I focused on my time in Africa and reflected on how that had given me a broader view of the world. I revealed a broken soul that was still healing from the pain and haunted by nightmares. I began to see, through my art, that I was still struggling with all that my journey had brought me through and I couldn’t make it on my own.
I dove into discovering someone to fight for, someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with and felt the chill of silence as the one I thought God was calling me to love slipped away. I guess I still love them, but not in the way that I once did.
So I searched for a community and found a Stronghold. I found a group of individuals that knew what is was like to stand before the fury of hell and know that there were others standing alongside them. I yearned for that courage and they welcomed me with open arms. I learned about friendship, love and community as I waged war against my own demons and found it within me to forgive myself before I could begin to forgive others.
I had long conversations with family and friends, searched for something more as I spent long hours atop a 101 foot fire tower, watching for smoke and praying that the helicopters and fires steared clear. There were flames and I watched as they scorched the land. Some we fought, others we watched as they burned themselves out. I learned how to handle myself, to face the heat and continue on until there was nothing more we could do.
I loved wildland firefighting, but I discovered that it wasn’t for me. I held conversations with colleagues and discovered that it was a world foreign to me. I love the hard work, the dedication that it takes, but there is something about the recklessness that surrounded the fire fighting. I couldn’t take the lack of respect for one of natures most destructive forces.
I jumped at the chance to lead a team with AmeriCorps newest partnerships. FEMA Corps sounded like something that fit me. Like many others, I jumped without looking to see what was beneath me. Fortunately, I was caught by some to the most amazing individuals that I have had the privilege of working beside. Yes, we butt heads and argue, we fight and shout, but if it weren’t for them, I would not have made it to where I am now.
FEMA Corps didn’t turn out to be what I expected it to be, but I rolled with the punches, only to continue dodging and fighting for the nine Corps Members that made up Ocean 7. We didn’t find chainsaws and debris removal awaiting us, but filing and research that pulled us in different directions. We watched in anticipation as storms spun out on the Atlantic and then waited in disbelief as the storm of the century loomed ahead.
Super Storm Sandy changed our experience in FEMA Corps. We were no longer waiting, but rushing up to New York City with what seemed like no plan of attack. There was no organization, except for what we fought for and claimed as our own.
Training will only get you so far in a disaster. Until you discover yourself in the midst of the chaos, you never know what will happen when the  hits the fan. I found that none of us were prepared for what we were facing. I wasn’t ready for the struggles of leading a team in one of the most stressful situations we could find ourselves in. And we were trained for this.
Through the struggles, I discovered the courage of my team, the young men and women that surrounded me. I saw their strength as they came together and charged head-long into the fray.
I’ve learned a lot over this past year. Courage. Fear. Love. Community.
I’ve started writing my story, searching for and discovering the connections between my physical journeys and my faith. I have seen the mountain peaks and darkest valleys with fresh eyes and have rediscovered God again and again.
I have begun writing not to boast about all the cool things I have done, but to empower a generation to serve. You do not have to be part of the military to have war stories, but you must engage in the fight.
I have learned to fight for what matters. I have put my heart out and loved only to come out of the fight bloodied, bruised and broken. I have learned to tear down the walls and reveal the scars that make me who I am, revealing that I am just a man.
I have loved again. And again. And again.
I have learned what it is to love. To give yourself to someone and trust in them. Long conversations have revealed that I still love, and will continue to love even if it brings me to my end, for that is what God calls us to do. Love.
In my writings, I have revealed the darkest parts of my life. It’s part of who I am. I can no longer ignore it, but embrace it.
In discovering our past, we find ourselves. We begin to know who we have become. Through this, we reveal where we are heading.
This New Year is about looking forwards, to writing our stories within our own hearts and embracing what we have become. I look forwards to discovering where God will lead my feet, for the future is uncertain, but I face it with the knowledge that I am loved.
God Bless and PEACE