Out of Darkness

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema  sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
– Matthew 27:45

Last week, all the Southern Region FEMA Corps teams returned to the Vicksburg campus for transition.  While normally this is a time to relax and recover from projects, the week has been full of trials and struggles, late nights and long days.  (NOTE: not all of this week has been a nightmare, there have been plenty of great, amazing moments with the team and friends.)

This past week has also been Holy Week, something that I had forgotten about at times.  Long days followed by long nights have caused me to lose my focus on what truly matters.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
– The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Sometimes I find myself asking if I took the right path.  If the choices I have made are the ones that will lead me down the path that God has set out for me.  I wonder if I have gotten lost in all the confusion and cannot figure out if I am lost or not.

Sometimes it feels like I have wandered so far from God that I can no longer hear him.  Sometimes it feels like I have entered the darkness and cannot find my way back.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.
– Luke 23:46

Good Friday, while I waited at the ER with another Team Leader (TL) and their Corps Member (CM), I began to remember the sacrifice of the Cross on Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” or Calvary.  As hundreds of Christians gathered in churches, gatherings, and as families around the world, I sat in the parking lot of the hospital waiting, thinking about the death that changed the fate of the world, the fate of my own life.

I’ve started rereading old journals that I kept during my time in Honduras and Uganda.  Even during the darkest days out in the missions field, I always had hope in God.  I always trusted that there was a greater plan than the things I could see.

If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
– Romans 6:5

In the morning, as hundreds of thousands of individuals celebrate the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, we will rise to face another day filled with our own, personal demons and the darkness of our own lives.  We remember this man’s life, death, and resurrection.  We celebrate the day  that he will come again.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”
– Luke 24:5b-6a

This is our faith as Christians.  This is the promise of new life that we celebrate now and for years to come.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
– 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

God Bless and PEACE


You Can’t Go Back

I’ve heard it so many times here in AmeriCorps and out in missions field: “I just want to go back to the way it used to be.”

Life used to be comfortable.  It used to be secure.  It made sense.  And ever since we took those tentative first steps of faith (be it Faith following God or faith in something else), our journey has led us out of our old lives and into something so much bigger.  So unknown.

We face trials and struggles in our personal lives, within out teams, and we wonder how we got to this point.  And we look back at what our lives used to be and we wonder if it will ever be that way again.

There is a simple answer: No.

We are no longer the people we used to be.  We cannot go back because people change, we have changed, and we have grown.  Like it or not, life is no longer simple.  There are no easy choices, no simple formula to finding your path in life.  Every day will be a battle that we wage not against others, but against ourselves.

As children, we ran free.  As we began to grow older, we became burdened with responsibilities and commitments.  If we don’t focus on finding a job with good pay, we become irresponsible.  If we chase our dreams, we become the fool.  Our mindset changes, and we put aside our dreams for financial security, becoming responsible adults.

Over the past week, I have heard multiple Corps Members comment that they want everything to be like is was back during CTI, almost 6 months ago (or more).  The simple fact is that we can’t go back.  People have left the program.  Teams have changed.  Hurricane Sandy hit and our lives were turned upside down as we saw things that we never wanted to see.

Life has changed us.

Sometimes I look into the mirror and don’t recognize the eyes staring back at me.  These experiences have given us new focus, given us purpose.

Hoping to return to how things used to be is to try to undo all these experiences.  All we can hope for is to continue to grow, to continue to develop as individuals and as a community.

God Bless and PEACE

Far From Home

In the first Lord of the Rings movie, as Sam and Frodo are leaving the Shire, Sam stops and when Frodo asks, he simply states that his next step would take him the farthest away from home that he has ever been.

All the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen
A million stories that made up a million shattered dreams
The faces of people I’ll never see again
And I can’t seem to find my way home
– Far From Home, by Five Finger Death Punch

Yesterday, the team did a Service Learning activity titled “Songs of Service” where each of us chose a song that revealed how we felt about our service with AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps and our time here in New York City in response to Hurricane Sandy.  The songs ranged from REM’s “End of the World as We Know It” to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, Alabama’s “Angels Among Us” to Dave Mathews Band’s “Funny the Way It Is.”

Each of us had a different view on our service, a different song that described how we felt.  As my song, I chose “Far From Home”, by Five Finger Death Punch.

(NOTE: Other songs that I was choosing between included Noah Gundersen’s “David”, Disciple’s “Worth the Pain” and Flobots’ “Good Soldier”)

I feel that every person that I have talked to, every survivor has changed me.  Their stories have echoed within the depths of my heart.  There has been so many of them that their faces have begun to blur.  Their stories blend together within the chaos of this disaster.

For so long I have been away from a place, a location to call home.  For so long I have been traveling around the nation, moving from place to place, never in one place long enough to settle down.  At times it does feel like each step is taking me farther away from those that I love.  Farther away from home.

I look back and can no longer see where I started.  I cannot find my way back to how things used to be.  And while that scares me, it has also given me the strength, the courage to continue on.

Cause it’s almost like
Your heaven’s trying everything to break me down
Cause it’s almost like
Your heaven’s trying everything to keep me out

I feel that God is trying to break each of us down so that He can build us up, give us the strength to let go of the past and continue on.  He has put us in this situation, this place for a reason.  He has given us challenges and he has provided us with the strength to make it through, even if we do not believe that we can make it on our own.

Like any journey, we must continue on before we find our way back home.

Here in response to Hurricane Sandy, all we can do is serve these survivors to the best of our abilities.  To love them unconditionally and to care for them in their darkest of days.

If this is all the love my spirit can give
There is not a reason more to live
– The Tide Began to Rise, by Demon Hunter

God Bless and PEACE

Decisions, Struggles, and a Life Lived to the Fullest

I was sitting in the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC 41 in Staten Island) today, working through the National Association for Search and Rescue’s (NASAR) Introduction to Search and Rescue (looking to get my SARTECH III cert) and couldn’t help but to begin thinking about what was coming next.  I am still several months away from completing my year of service with AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps and it already feels like I am being pulled in what seems like a thousand different directions.

Over the past several weeks I have thought a lot about the path God has set before me, spent countless moments in prayer, and held conversations with fellow Team Leaders (TLs), FEMA and CNCS Employees, and friends back ‘home’ (actually, in various locations across the nation(s)).  While I feel that many of the details are still up in the air, I have come to the conclusion on what path God is leading my heart down.

The decision to join the inaugural class of AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps was an opportunity that I jumped at.  I knew this is where God wanted to use me, to be here for this team, to struggle with them, for them, through this journey.

People continue to ask me why I left a well-paying position to earn next to nothing, leading a group of 18-24 year olds.  Yes, I am receiving a (much) lowered paycheck, but the experience of leading a team, of working in Emergency Management, of helping to create a brand new program for the future, there are some things that money alone cannot get you.  I did leave a huge paycheck to come here, but I feel that it was worth it in the long run.

I made a commitment to National Service when I entered this program.  I promised to serve 11 months and I plan to see this commitment through till the end.  No matter how hard the struggle gets at times, no matter how many survivors scream and shout, no matter how many times I have to comfort my team when they break down, no matter how much it pains me to get up each morning, I made a commitment.  I am here for my team, for the survivors.

If I were to walk out on them, I don’t know if I could ever forgive myself.

I don’t know what I’m doing immediately after finishing this program.  I still have several months to figure that out, but I have made some decisions in regards to my future.

While Emergency Management and Disaster Response will always be a part of who I am, I feel that it is time to return to what I have always loved and what I wish to pursue.  Since graduating from Anderson University almost three years ago, I have continued to dive into art and (re)discover new aspects of faith, mediums, and techniques.  My love for art has never burned as deeply as it does now, as hundreds, if not thousands of ideas race through my head on a daily basis.  Because of the nature of the work, I have been unable to fully invest time and effort into these ideas.

I have started to dive into researching Grad Schools and creating a portfolio that showcases my skills and perspective as an artist.  I am continuing to discover what it means to be a follower of Christ and have continued to develop the series Self Portraits of Faith that was showcased at my Senior Show.  While I have branched out to different media, I hope to return to painting as I begin to settle down and focus on my art.

I have begun looking at different programs throughout the nation (Univ. of Georgia, Univ. of Indiana at Bloomington, Rhode Island School of Design, Laguna College of Art and Design to name a few) with the hopes of starting in the Fall of 2014.  The end goal is to develop as an artist and eventually begin to teach at the collegiate level.

I feel that God has called me to be an artist.  He has given me the opportunities to experience wildland fire, disaster response and leading a team through emergency management to open my eyes to what truly matters.

It’s going to be a struggle.  Its going to be difficult.  But I know that I need to return to who I am, who I will always be.

Another project that I have been working on (and hope to complete) is one that I am calling Journeys: the adventures of a nomad, an autobiography of sorts that reveals my adventures in the missions fields of Honduras, Uganda, and Togo, my discovery of faith, and the stories that I carry with me through my time in AmeriCorps*NCCC, responding to the Good Friday Tornadoes in St. Louis and then the devastation of Joplin, my time as a Wildfire Suppression Technician at Ft. Campbell, and my trials as a Team Leader for AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps in response to Hurricane Sandy.

I started writing just before I arrived in Vicksburg back in August and have written on and off for the past several months.  I hope to have the time to put all my focus into the stories that have changed my life, to share with the world that even the youth have the power to change the world.

It isn’t my wish to glorify my deeds, but to reveal the power of faith and challenge this generation to become something more.  My goal is to encourage the youth to live life to the fullest and give hope to those that have lost their faith in the human race.

While the big picture may be figured out, the details are filled with thousands of shattered pieces that lead in a multitude of directions.  While still months out, I’ve begun applying to positions all over the place.  It’s frustrating, job searching.  I don’t know how I will ever survive.

My journey might not be the most logical, but when has God ever led us on the easy path.

After wandering for so long, I have finally found the path that God has led me towards.  There is a comfort in knowing, but, at the same time, a hesitation because it has never been this clear before.

God Bless and PEACE