Archive for February, 2014

Into the Darkness (Moving Forward)

Today marks five years since I started writing this blog.  Five years of shared words.  Thoughts.  Hopes.  Dreams.  And always a journey.

I started writing to define who I was as a Christian.  To discover a way to process all the thoughts that raced through my head and to define what I truly believed.  I have shared my journey of discovering faith, the struggle of escaping religion, and the adventure that God has led me on.

For Christmas, my parents provided me the opportunity to put these words into print.  I’ve reread the words that I wrote so long ago, words that seem like a shadow of who I am now.  I smile at how much I have grown, how much I have experienced in these past few years.

I have moved my writings away from doctrine and beliefs, focusing on my own journey of faith, where God has led me, and the adventures that He has allowed me to take part in.

I write because I love it.  I won’t lie, it’s a challenge at times, but I write to share who I am.  I write to let others know both the struggles and joys of this journey.

People keep asking me what is next.  Where am I going?  Am I ever going to settle down?  Do I have a plan for the future?  The answer:  I have no clue.  I will try to follow the path that God has laid out in front of me, but he only reveals a step at a time.

I’ll go ahead and (semi)quote the Joker (from The Dark Knight), because his answer somehow fits: “Do I look like a man with a plan?”  Or this one: “I’m like a dog chasing a car.  I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught it!”

I’m still going to write.  I think I always will.

Speaking of writing:  I may or may not have announced it that I am working on a semi-autobiography titled “Journeys: the adventures of a nomad.”  It is a collection of my adventures, from growing up on military bases to constantly moving, missions trips to Honduras, Uganda and Togo to working at Summer Camps, and my journey with AmeriCorps, from NCCC to FEMA Corps and the ERT.  In it I attempt to show how all this has made me into who I am today.

I’ve been working on it for a little over a year and a half, and I don’t know when it’ll be completed.  I’m still writing the rough draft and transposing it from handwritten on paper to typed up neatly so that others can understand what I am attempting to say.  It’s an adventure in itself.

As for where I am going, when I figure that out I’ll let the world know.

It’s been an amazing five years, so here is too more to come (hopefully)!

God Bless and PEACE

And God Smiled…

The last time I wrote I was struggling with feeling the presence of God.  I couldn’t seem to see where he was leading me when, in the past, the signs were so obvious.  It was if I had grown used to not hearing him, filling my time with the noise of the world.  It was if I had grown distant from him, not able to recognize the gentle pull on my heart.

I was floundering in the sea.  And then a series of small events took place that reminded me of who I was.

I stumbled onto a sermon from several years ago.  For some time I have had a podcast saved on my phone, but never got the time to return to it.  But I did, and hit play.  And the words blew me out of the water.

Several years ago, when I was a student at Anderson University, a small group of us would drive up to Greenville, SC each Sunday evening to join the community of Radius in worship, fellowship and teachings. A year ago I discovered their podcast with the intention of continuing to listen to the sermons on a weekly basis, but it slipped my mind as distractions of leading a team in New York City set in.  I found it again this week and began listening again, hoping that something would change in my heart, allowing me to hear God again.

The teacher, a great friend, father and leader, spoke of finding peace and contentment with wherever God had led us.  Sitting there in our housing, I sat back and smiled stupidly.  It was as if I knew this, but never realized it.  He spoke of how, when we give ourselves over to God, we can find peace and contentment with whatever we have been given.  Be it we are rich with material wealth or find ourselves with nothing but God.

In that moment I knew that I didn’t need to know His plan.  And for the first time in years, I was content with not knowing.

I knew that I could be satisfied with where God has led me because of the blessings of the adventure that He has poured out on this journey.

I knew that even though there was so much noise in my head, I would still hear His call.  And although I couldn’t hear (and still can’t) hear his whispers every day, I know that He has never abandoned me.

And then I received a beautiful email from my cousin, whose words confirmed all that I had heard through the speakers and headphones.  He gentle reminders of how blessed we each are lifted my heart to smile.

I’ll be completely honest, this will continue to be a struggle.  I know it.  But I have come to realize so much in a short amount of time.

God has never abandoned us.  Though we have wandered and strayed, He has always been at our side.  We are not alone in the darkest of nights.  We have a community, a fellowship of believers, an army of warriors who stand beside us, support us through our struggles, even if they don’t know the details.

And when we think He is done teaching us, God smiles.

As if all that wasn’t enough, when I returned to St Louis this afternoon, I found several pieces of mail waiting for me.  I hesitated as I opened them, reading their words with disappointment before I realized that this was all part of God’s plan.

Am I frustrated?  Upset?  Yes. But I know that God has something more in mind.  I don’t know what it is at this time, but He has been opening doors and shining a light at my feet.

I asked for a sign, an answer at where He was leading me.  And He provided one.  It wasn’t the one I was expecting.  Nor was it what I wanted.  But He is faithful and I trust that He knows where He is leading me.

So, when you are struggling, open your heart to God and you may find the peace that He has offered.

God Bless and PEACE

Sleepless Nights (and a growing fear)

The past several weeks have been difficult and challenging.  I’ve spent countless hours awake a night, thinking.  Praying.  And all I hear is the silence screaming out in my head and echoing throughout my heart.  I’ve woken from dreams that I cannot understand, that vanish into the mist of unconscious thought.  And part of me knows that they were trying to tell me something.

I’ve been distracted by the silence.  So I try to fill it with background noise.  Music.  Reading.  Movies.  Conversation.  But nothing can fill this emptiness that I feel eating away within me.

I once knew where I needed to be.  What I was called to do.  I used to understand where I was going, who I was becoming.  But now I no longer recognize those dreams.

Yesterday I was challenged to think of what I truly want to do with my life.  Where do I want to go, after all the distractions, expectations, and commitments are taken away?  Who do I wish to be if I were free to follow my dreams without any reservation?

Several years ago I wrote that my dream job would be to travel across Africa to tell the stories of missionaries and share the light in the darkness of that continent.  Since then I have drifted off from that path, but my dream is still the same.

My heart yearns to return to Africa.  I want to chase after the light shining in the darkness and share it with the world.  I want to be an instrument of God, sacrificing all that I want, all my dreams, to walk in the Lord.

Sometimes I can barely hear, but cannot make out, the whispers that stir my heart.  I fear that I have forgotten what it’s like to hear His voice with certainty.

I used to know without a doubt.  Now, I doubt every single day.  And it is consuming me.

Nobody ever told me how hard it would be to live for Christ.  But then again, nobody ever told me it would be easy to follow the path He has set out for our lives.

My feet have found their way into the world of disaster response, wildland fire, and conservation.  I believe that God has placed me here for a reason, to learn and to experience all that I can.  And to see both the power (and destructive nature) of his creation and the blessings that pour forth in response to the suffering.  I am learning how to see disasters as marvelous, destructive blessings.  I am in awe as I watch a blackened field regrow into something beautiful once again.  I am constantly surrounded by His creation and the gifts He pours out to us through nature.

So I ask myself why I feel so distant.  I know in my heart that God has (and will) never leave me, so does that mean that I have drifted to far from Him in my journeys?  Have I lost focus on where He is leading me?

I am distracted.  I know it.

I’m distracted by expectations.  By others opinions of how I should live my life.  By what society tells me who I need to be to be successful.  Ambitions.  Wishes.  Hopes.

All I want is to live in the presence of my Father in Heaven.  To be in communion with Him, to know Him on a personal level.  And I want to allow Him to take control and lead me to where I need to be.  Where He needs me to be.

Maybe I’m exactly where He wants me, but I am to distracted by the future to realize the ‘here and now’ of His plans….

Maybe I need to clear my head of everything that has been (and still is) distracting me.  Maybe then I will understand where my feet are being led.

I know I’m not the only one.  I’ve talked to several friends who are going through the same thing, so my prayer is that we can quiet out thoughts and free ourselves to not only listen for the whispers of God, but to follow the pull on our hearts wherever He chooses to lead us.  I pray for clarity and for strength, wisdom and compassion, that we see the needs in those around us and act in accordance with the will of God.

God Bless and PEACE

Beards and the Essence of Man

Our society is obsessed with facial hair.  It is an obsession that consumes our televisions, our blogs, and our sidewalks.  We have “No-Shave November” and beard growing and sculpting competitions.  We are told that, to be a ‘real’ man, you must be able to grow a beard.

I was once (jokingly) told by a friend that a boy is just a man without a beard.  It sounds ridiculous, but too many young men (and women) believe this to be true.

I’ll be honest, I’ve sported facial hair since the time I could grow it out.  From the goatee to the full-blown beard.  I’ve gone months without trimming before (record is just shy of 6 months).   Part of it is that I’m lazy and don’t like to shave, but the real reason that I’ve constantly kept my facial hair is the fact that without it, I look much younger than I really am.

It has nothing to do with being a man.  I know that.

A year ago, after a discussion very similar to these current words, one of the guys I was talking with asked the question that every young man has asked over the ages: “What makes you a man?”

The answer isn’t that simple.  It never is.

Legally, you reach adulthood and become a man at the age of 18 (or 21 if you want to be extremely picky and obnoxious).  In the Jewish tradition, a boy became a man when he offered up the sacrifice for his family upon the altar during the yearly festival in Jerusalem.  In some tribal cultures, you become a man after you kill a rival, specific rival, or overcome some extreme feat of endurance.

I believe that, to be a man, you must make the decision to live as one.

We’ve all seen the billboards that read “Real Men Follow Jesus.”  Or “Real Men Love Unborn Babies.”  Or “… Go Hunting.”  “… Walk Old Ladies Across the Street.”  “… Volunteer.”  “… Rescue Puppies from Burning Buildings.”  Yes, some men do these things, but not all men are ‘good.’

When a boy becomes a man, he decides what he is going to live for.  He decides what is important to him.  He finds love.  And he discovers how far he is willing to go before standing his ground with his beliefs.

A man knows where he stands in his Faith (be it Christian, Atheism, Agnostic, etc.).  A man is conscious of how his actions relate to the world around him.  A man is aware of who he is at each moment and takes responsibility for who he has become.

And of course, a man must be able to grow a beard (note the sarcasm).

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I don’t know if it is just a status symbol or a sign of rebellion, but beards are becoming quite popular again.  Maybe people just want to connect with nature more.  Or look like lumberjacks.  It’s becoming the popular fashion and I’m not sure if I like it.

It’s tradition to grow a beard while working outdoors (mainly because you don’t have time to shave) and many wildland firefighters sport beards during fire season to help keep their faces insulated from the heat.  In the winter, facial hair keeps our chins warm and it has saved me on several occasions.

While I like to think that just because I have a beard means I should be treated as a man, I know that that is not the case.  Men have to earn that right through both their words and their actions.

Just some thoughts…

That Which is Underneath

On Thursday, my ERT team in Eminence, MO headed down to Winona to grab a bite to eat and enjoy music at Flossie’s, a local dive that we have learned to love over the past several years.  There we met up with the crew working out at Peck Ranch and a NCCC team based out of Denver that is working in the Mark Twain National Forest.

One of the Corps Members from the NCCC team, Sun 6, was a member of FEMA Corps who served out of Vicksburg, MS with me a year ago.  While she was not a member of my team during our term of service, she was well-loved and known by all, my team included.

Like most days, I was wearing my ERT “Fire” shirt, but underneath I had on my NCCC long sleeve greys.  I made a comment at the table, and on social media accounts later that night, that went something like: “Underneath my ERT uniform, I still wear my NCCC ‘A’.”

I’ve been thinking about that simple comment ever since.  No matter how much flack I get for being an “N-Trip” or partaking in the adventure that was the inaugural year of FEMA Corps, that is part of who I am.  Nothing can change that.  Even if it could, I wouldn’t allow it.

Our experiences shape us.  If I hadn’t spent my summers volunteering at Catholic Heart Work Camp or journeying to camp with Young Life, experiencing missions trips to Honduras, Uganda, or aboard the M/V Africa Mercy, or spending a year in service with NCCC and FEMA Corps or the year between at Ft. Campbell, KY as a wildfire suppression technician, I would not be who I am today.  If I hadn’t poured out my heart to those that I have loved, supported friends in both their darkest moments and through the joys of the journey, or walked away and cut ties with those I once knew, I would be a different man today.

We are all that we have experienced.  The good.  The bad.  And the Ugly.  And, as I told a friend the other day, many times we will look back and realize how beautiful those moments truly were.  They have made us who we are, and though many of us hide from them, try to forget them, or block them out, I have chosen to embrace them.

Just a thought…

God Bless and PEACE