Archive for June, 2013

It’s Not Enough To Just Survive

Imagine, for just a second, that you were barely surviving through this experience we call life.  Each day is a struggle to locate the necessities; food, water, and shelter.  You are in a constant state of fear because you don’t know where your next meal will come from, if you will be safe enough to sleep at night, or if someone stronger than you will take what little you have, or kill you outright.  At times, you make it through the day by the kindness of a stranger, but more often than not you feed off the scraps that others have left behind.

Unfortunately, this is the fate of thousands throughout our cities who have been forced by bad luck, addiction, poverty, or choice to abandon the life of living to surviving day to day.

With many of us, our faith suffers this same fate.  Several years ago, while aboard the M/V Africa Mercy, I wrote briefly on the difference between surviving and living when it comes to our faith.

God doesn’t want us living out our faith trying to survive day by day, he has greater plans for us.  When the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, God promised to deliver his chosen people back to him:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.  I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
– Jeremiah 29:11-14

We are assured that if we truly seek out a relationship with the Father, our cries will be answered.  It’s not a one way street.

Too many  of us are merely surviving in our faith, slowly starving but making it through day by day, week by  week.  We go to church every week.  We have our daily devotional when there is time.  We pray when times are rough.  We give thanks after we return from the extremes.  And, when we remember, we sit down and dive into the scriptures that outline our faith.

We are starving ourselves and merely surviving in our faith.

Have you ever wondered why God made us man and woman?

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them
– Genesis 1:26-27

Have you ever asked yourself why God made two human beings?  Why didn’t he just create one single being and call it a day?

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky.  He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.  So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
– Genesis 2:18-24

God created man and woman, male and female because we are created in the image of God.  In this image, we are created to be in relationship with one another.  We have been created to be in a relationship with God.

To truly live in our faith we must daily participate in this relationship with God.  We must foster this relationship in everything we do, from waking each morning to entering the realms of dreams at night.

This isn’t something that you  can check off your ‘to-do list’ once a day, but its a constant conversation that is ever-changing, ever developing through every action and inaction, through every spoken and unspoken word of the heart.

Living your faith is more than knowing about God, it’s about knowing God.

What makes us Followers of Christ is not that we know the scriptures and everything there is about religion, faith, and God, but that we live out the followings of the one we consider the Son of God.

It’s time to stop surviving and learn how to live life to the fullest through our relationship with God.

God Bless and PEACE

Images of this Past Year

Throughout this past year, I watched as an amazing group of individuals become leaders, unknown people become friends and then family, teams rose up against challenges, and a hundred paths converged within the chaos of the inaugural year of AmeriCorps NCCC – FEMA Corps.  Through it all, I carried my camera with me, hoping to capture the memories and images of this year.  The following is a photographic reflection of my time as a Team Leader with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps – FEMA Corps, Class XIX based out of Vicksburg, MS.

DSC_0056

It all started peacefully as Team Leaders (TLs) arrived and started to discover that we had no clue at what this year held for us.  Like the calm before the storm, we enjoyed the time together and getting to know one another.

DSC_0008

We weren’t the most graceful group of individuals, but we made it through by relying on one another.

DSC_0109

As Corps Members (CMs) arrived on campus, there was a lot of paperwork and unknown, followed by more paperwork and even more questions.  We remained positive, even as Hurricane Isaac bared down on us and plunged us into darkness for several days.  It was our first taste of a life in emergency management.

DSC_0171 (2)

While many people seemed to panic when faced with adversity, the CMs (and TLs) looked towards one another for strength, calm and presence of mind.  These individuals were the rocks that we built this program on.

DSC_0225

As our teams came together, we learned how to work with one another and support each other, physically and emotionally.  And when it seemed like we were going to fall, we knew that there were going to be people there to catch us.

DSC_1375

We took a leap into the unknown, entering into a brand new program as trailblazers, guinea pigs, and test pilots.

DSC_0704

Where a majority of the CMs and TLs embraced the unknown, several people panicked.  After some screaming and laughing, we all got down to business.

DSC_1433

We served communities through our daily work schedules and national days of service.

DSC_1963

I helped to lead my team through the chaos and we helped to lead the charge into responding to Super Storm Sandy.

DSC_2046

It wasn’t always easy, being outnumbered.

DSC_2037

But we answered the questions that we could and I am proud of my team for constantly seeking direction and answers, always eager to learn and serve.

DSC_2141

We remained an integral part of Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) 9 in Rockaway Park in New York from its first couple days of service until it eventually shut down in early December.

IMG_0389

It wasn’t always easy, as we found ourselves leaving out housing, the SS Empire State and the SS Wright, as the sun was rising and often found ourselves returning long after the sun set.

DSC_2746

After returning to NYC, we served alongside the staff of DRC 41 in Staten Island, reviewing cases and assisting applicants and survivors of the storm.

DSC_2997

It wasn’t always paperwork as we found opportunities to serve the communities that we lived and worked in.

DSC_3283

We remained positive and dedicated to service, even when it seemed like the weight of the world was against us.

DSC_3574

Faced with adversity, we found ways to persevere and accepted the challenge.

DSC_3571

We stood tall and accepted the trials, unafraid because we knew we were not alone.

DSC_3481

We came out of this year stronger, more determined, and surrounded by a network of individuals who will support us for the remainder of our lives.

DSC_2598

As our paths now diverge from this experience together, I am certain that we will remain a family, created under the chaos that was this first year of an amazing program, under the guidance of some amazing people.

I cannot thank my fellow TLs for supporting me so much this year.  My team that is now my second family.  The staff of the Southern Region Campus and CNCS for providing us this opportunity to serve.

It was a year to remember, and I doubt any of us will forget it any time soon.

God Bless and PEACE

The Art of Making Art

If one was to look through my sketchbook, they would find the pages filled with thoughts and ideas that hang in the balance of existence.  It’s a chaos like the beginnings of a new universe.  Through all of this, the artist must discover who they are and where they are going.

For me, my sketchbook is a reflection of my thoughts, dreams, ideas, and struggle of defining who I am through my  faith.  For several years I have continued with the project that defined my Senior Showcase, Self Portraits of Faith.  Over the years, I have modified it, shaped it to encompass so much more.  It still focuses on aspects of my faith and the aspects of the barbarian, the lover and the warrior, but it includes portraits of others.

I’ve renamed the series that I plan to work on this summer as Portraits of Faith.

Over the past couple of years, I have not had the opportunity to pursue painting, so I have relied on drawing, which I enjoy, but it’s not the same.  There is just something about spreading paint on the canvas that makes me feel like an artist.

Within my sketchbook, I have held onto ideas for paintings.  They have developed and consumed pages upon pages throughout several sketchbooks.  While not every idea will be painted, by my last count, I have about twenty ideas that will eventually become paintings.

IMG_0447

Now that I’m home for a couple of months this summer, I decided it was time to get back into creating canvases for paintings.  This past Friday, when I had enough light to last all day, I went out onto my parents back porch and set up a workspace to build my stretcher bars and canvases.

IMG_0460

Due to the fact that neither myself or my dad had a powered reciprocating miter saw, I got the next best thing, a miter box.  While it took slightly longer to cut each stretcher bar at a 45 degree angle, the satisfaction of meticulously cutting each piece paid off and it made me smile as I worked outside in my Green Team Leader shirt.

IMG_0462

By the end of the afternoon, after about three and a half hours of work, I had completed constructing, stretching and gessoing four canvases to use for paintings.  While it wasn’t the quickest process, I enjoyed it nonetheless and it reminded me of why I love all aspects of painting, especially the art of constructing my own stretcher bars and stretching my own canvas.

IMG_0464

At the time, I questioned Professor K when he urged us to learn how to make our own stretcher bars, requiring it for at least one painting.  I haven’t looked back since.  I don’t think I could ever return to preconstruced stretcher bars or canvases now that I have fallen in love with fabricating  my own canvases.

I believe that all painters should at least know how to construct their own canvases.  Maybe I’ll make a tutorial next time I make some stretcher bars and canvases.  That’s a plan.

God Bless and PEACE

What I Made in FEMA Corps

Two days ago, the first inaugural class of AmeriCorps*NCCC – FEMA Corps, Class XIX based out of Vicksburg, MS, graduated from the 10 month, national service program.  During graduation, several speakers, including NCCC National Director, Kate Raftery and FEMA Deputy Administrator, Rich Serino, challenged us to rethink how we reflected upon our experiences in this program.

Mrs. Raftery asked us the simple question, “What did you make this year?”

It would be easy to put the answer to this question into numbers.  As a Team Leader, I made about $10,000 ($15,500 if you include the education award).  Corps Members made slightly less (right around $10,000 if you include the education award).  It isn’t much when you think about it.

With a requirement of 1,700 hours, this equates to less than a dollar an hour.  Add in $4.75 a day for food and you are still living under the poverty limit.  Of course, this doesn’t take into account that housing and uniforms are paid for.

But the answer isn’t that simple.  You cannot equate this experience into dollar amounts and leave it as that.  There is so much more to this experience that when we walk away from this year, we are all changed.

This year, my team, Ocean 7, participated in the response to Super Storm Sandy, working alongside FEMA staff and reservists at Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) 9 in Rockaway Park, NY, where we assisted hundreds of survivors each day.  We helped to canvas neighborhoods in Queens, NY and found ourselves in Staten Island pulling up applicant cases and files.  We found ourselves working at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, MD, participating in Functional Exercises, editing FEMA courses, and ensuring that individuals were entered into the system to receive credit for their courses taken.

Over these past ten months, we touched so many lives.  Hundreds of thousands were served in response to Sandy.  The way FEMA operated changed.  We brought a new perspective to emergency management.

We made a difference.

Mr. Serino reminded us of how much our presence has shaped and reshaped FEMA.  Our voices were heard and we charged headlong into the unknown to create a better tomorrow.  Our efforts have produced new policies and transformed a workplace that didn’t know what or who we were.

We made a difference in the lives of all those we touched.  From the survivors of Hurricane Isaac and Super Storm Sandy to the FEMA personnel that we had the privilege of working alongside, the members of FEMA Corps moved people.  It wasn’t always easy, but it was an adventure that none of us will ever forget.

Now, as all the CMs have departed campus and returned to the world that they once knew, we ask ourselves “What did you make this year?”

Personally, I made a difference in the lives of the 10 CMs who I had the privilege of serving beside (the 7 who graduated and the 3 who departed the program).  I made myself a better person for staying, for refusing to throw in the towel when everything seemed to be falling apart.  I helped to create leaders who will change our world.

It wasn’t always fun, nor was it what any of us expected, but in the end we survived and made it through to another day.  Another year.  Another adventure.

I cannot thank my team enough, without them, I would not be here.  They have been my rock and my frustration, and I love each and every single one of them.

God Bless and PEACE

The Story Behind the Images

In the summer of 2009 I traveled to Pallisa, Uganda with Akia-Ashianut (Medicine Blessing in the native language of Ateso), a group of 11 other college students who spent four weeks of the summer serving alongside the staff and volunteers of the Agule Community Health Center.  The one building clinic in the Agule Sub-County of Pallisa District was built and is funded by members of the community that it serves who are committed to seeing their community pull itself out of poverty and poor health.

My beautiful picture

I made the journey to Africa in an attempt to tell the story of this community through written words and captured images to share with others back home.  I spent countless hours alongside the medical staff, watching the careful, healing hands of the nurses and listening to the soothing voice of the on staff physician as he addressed the concerns of individuals from the community.  In the evenings, we would sit outside and talk as all the local children flocked around us and pressed in close to see the mzungus (white people).

My beautiful picture

In those conversations, I found myself struggling to tell the story of the community that we were serving.  I felt that it was my job to share the story of the clinic, but couldn’t find the words to do so.  I was troubled by my inability to put all the emotions and feelings that surrounded us into words and soon found myself wandering the grounds of the clinic, camera in hand, followed by a trail of curious children.

My beautiful picture

I began to focus on capturing images of our time at the clinic.  Soon, I found myself talking to Anneka, one of the leaders of the trip, as I shared my frustrations of being unable to find the words to tell the story of this community.  She listened and explained that the people here already had a voice and so did I; those two voices are not the same.  As she said this, I began to realize that the only story I could ever tell was the story of my own experiences in this place.

My beautiful picture

So I began to tell the story of our time at the Agule Community Health Center through the lens of the camera.  I worked to capture the raw emotions of life and death, the daily battle of emotions, and the community that embraced us with open hearts.

My beautiful picture

These images are part of that story.

God Bless and PEACE