Archive for January, 2013

Who Is FEMA Corps

While serving with AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps we have laughed at what people think of us.  We’ve all seen the conspiracy theories and heard the “facts” about our program, but what people often overlook is the fact that we are a bunch of youth out to change the world.

We are comprised of wide-eyed dreamers, hippies, troubled youth, and wandering souls who have come together to find where we fit into this larger picture.

Several weeks ago, we were challenged to answer the question, “What does FEMA Corps mean to you?”  The answers are different for each of us, but we are all here to serve.

The following videos are perfect examples of how diverse this program is:

The first is from Bayou 4, a Community Relations team of unique individuals that reveal the meanings behind service.

Next we have Summit 2, a Public Assistance team.  This is a prime example of how much fun people can have through serving in one of the largest disasters this nation has ever seen.

Last, but not least, we have Summit 5, who blends fun and games in with their work.  I have had the privilege of working beside them on several occasions both here in response to Hurricane Sandy and in the FEMA Region IV Office in Atlanta, GA.

We cannot change the entire world by ourselves, but if we can change the life of a single survivor, we have changed their world.  And so we serve for all our different reasons, each just as diverse as those I have a privilege of standing alongside.

God Bless and PEACE

Walls, Moats and Fortresses of the Heart

We’ve all heard the saying that the walls that we build to protect ourselves are the walls that confine us.  We build up defenses and find ourselves alone within the walls that have become our own prison.

I was talking to a Corps Member earlier this week and they made an off-hand comment that sometimes they feel alone within their empty halls, even though they have kept the doors of their castle open.

It’s not the open door that scares others away.  It’s the walls that rise up to the sky, crowned with parapets and towers.  It’s the moat that we have filled with our troubled thoughts and emotions.  It’s the defenses that we have built up to protect ourselves that ultimately harm us through loneliness.

It doesn’t matter how big your door is, it can always be closed in times of stress.  In times of danger.  In the moments that really matter.

Our defenses cut us off from those we love.  They shield us from the compassion of others as well as the attacks that life lashes out at us.

It’s easy to tell someone to tear down the walls, but the action of leaving yourself vulnerable is one of the most terrifying thoughts.

I once had my walls built up as a fortress, spanning across the heart and soul in an effort to save myself from the pain of the world and I found that I used it to hide from those that I now know to love me dearly, those who care for me.  It took me years of struggles to throw off that first stone, but the walls did not come crashing down all at once.

Sometimes I still retreat to those ruins that still stand.  I hug the broken walls to feel their comfort, but I know that the more I hide, the more I hurt myself.

There is a saying that we cannot make it in this life alone.  We can build up our walls and survive.  Only for some time before everything comes crashing down on top of us.  By tearing down the walls, I have come to know what it means to live with and for others.

I have found a solid community that stretches across the nation and over the seas that I can stand shoulder to shoulder with.  They have given me the strength to tear down these walls, but they didn’t do it for me.  It was a choice.

I realized as I learned to fight for one another.  Standing side by side with those who love me for all my faults and weaknesses has taught me that an army, even if it seems like a rabble, is able to defend itself a lot more than a lone warrior behind a wall.

Just another rant late at night…

God Bless and PEACE

What is Service

n.: The action of helping or doing work for someone.

Today we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr National Day of Service.  “It’s not a day off, but a day on” as they say here in AmeriCorps.  And so the hundreds and thousands of Corps Members from various programs poured out into the streets and spent the day throughout communities across the nation, serving those less fortunate.

I spent the morning with my team, helping to repaint the all-purpose room at the Red Fern Community Center in Far Rockaway.  Working alongside Summit 5 (another FEMA Corps team from Vicksburg), we spread paint over the walls at record pace.  We enjoyed the time together as conversations renged from conspiracy theries to art, singing along to Les Mis to discussing literature, family to ‘war stories’ from our various adventures in and out of AmeriCorps.

We walked away knowing that we were able to make a difference in this community that had been devestated months before.  As we talked, we all came to understand that there is so much more to service than taking action.

A good friend once told me that what I do changes the world.  In the moment, I laughed because all I was seeing wer my own footsteps along this path to life.  Years later, I look back and cant even begin to comprehend how many lives I have touched through the simple action of showing up to serve.

This is my job.  Service.  But it is so much bigger than any of us can comprehend.

Our actions may not alter the rotation of the world, nor will they stop the night from swallowing the sun or the changing of the seasons, but our service here in this world can change the world for that one individual.  Our work, our kind words, a passing smile can guide someone back to the rising sun, or alter the seasons of their lives, bringing a new beginning.  Or understanding.

I catch myself saying “Whats the big deal, we only painted one room and part of a hallway.” But then I am reminded of the hundreds of children and young adults who use the community center each week.  In just a short bit of time, we altered all their lives.  We gave them hope.  A new beginning.

Super Storm Sandy took so much away from these communities that we find ourselves in.  Between the flooding and the fear of what is to come, we find that there are thousands, if not millions of individuals who now find themselves somewhere in the dark, both literally and figuratively.  If we can be the ones to lead them, point them towards the coming sunrise, give them hope of a new tomorrow, then we have changed their world.

I know that service is so much more than taking action.  Service is learning how to change peoples lives through the small actions.

Everyone can be great… because everyone can serve.
– Martin Luther King, Jr

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God Bless and PEACE

Questions

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you are here?  Why do you do what you do?  It’s a difficult question to answer, even if you have spent hours thinking about the reasons and trying to figure out the rhymes.

I’ve found that I often get in trouble when I answer this question without going into depth behind the reasonings.  It’s so easy to step up and answer honestly, “I’m here because I made a commitment to this program.”

It’s true, but there is so much more and the words are so hard to find because I have still yet to discover them all for myself.

I’m here because my team is here.  I’m here to lead them, because they have led me to discover what it means to not only serve, but to lead.  I’m here not only to support them, I find that I love it here because I am supported by these individuals.

I do what I do because I am drawn to serve.  I want to be the change in the world.  I want to prove to myself that I am capable of saving myself from my own thoughts and fears.

Looking back, I’ve discovered something that scares me.  That reveals so much.  That is still a mystery in and of itself.

I chase the thrill of disasters, be it tornadoes, wildfires, or hurricanes.  I thrive off of that chaos.  I thrive off of the chase.  But it is also one of my greatest fears.  I fear what I will find.  I fear what I will see.  Experience.  Witness.

I am chased by my own demons.  Memories that continue to haunt the silence of the night.

I couldn’t save that little child that was brought into that little clinic in Africa.  I saw my fears in the nightmares that surrounded Joplin.  I couldn’t sleep because I saw things, heard things, smelled things for weeks after departing the city had been leveled by the roaring winds.

The darkness of night scarred me.  It scares me to this day.

I joined AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps to serve.  To make a change.

To save someone.  Even if it is just myself.

After writing and thinking for several days, I’ve come to realize that I chase after the disasters to find myself.  To rediscover myself so that I may be able to help someone because I was helpless before.

There was nothing I could have done.  I know that.  But deep down, somehow, I’m trying to prepare myself for that instant when I don’t know who I am anymore.

I did make a commitment to this program.  I’ve turned my back on so many opportunities, but I know that this is where I am supposed to be.  I’m here because for so long I was lost, and I am finding my way back to who I am.  Back to my center.

It is not the questions that leave us asking for more, it’s the answers that reveal who we are.

We live in a society that is broken.  We are filled with our past.  Our trauma reveals who we are.  We fall and we learn to pick ourselves back up.  That is what makes us human.

God Bless and PEACE

Love One Another

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

There was a time not too long ago that I thought I had given up on love.  I thought that my heart had been broken for the last time and I was going to walk away once and for all.  I was going to focus on God and let him lead my feet along the path of service.

For a long time, I was afraid to love.  I didn’t trust myself because I saw the pain that I had caused through my actions.  I had hardened my heart like stone.

The missions field changed me.  I witnessed true love through those serving others and I began to see it in a new light.  I came to understand love was not as fragile as I thought I was.

I took a chance and God said otherwise.  I didn’t understand him, but I trusted what he spoke into my heart.  And I thought I would just walk away.  And I can see God just laughing at me, smiling because I am the fool.  Again.

I have rediscovered love.  More like discovered what love truly is.

God commanded us to love one another.

This is my command: Love each other.
– John 15:17

Loving is so much more than holding a significant other close, but to give them the support needed to follow their own path laid before them by God.  There are many individuals that I care greatly for, that I have loved and continue to love.

I don’t know how to say it, but I have fallen back in love.  I was blinded by the chaos of life, but spending time in silence at home has freed me to turn back to God and find the love that flows forth from his sacrifice on the cross.

I embrace it once again because that is God’s command.  Without love, we are nothing.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love
1 Corinthians 13:13

God Bless and PEACE

Looking Back to See What’s To Come

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 [edit] 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