Archive for March, 2014

The Wolf, the Lion and the Bear

I’ve always associated with wolves.  I have always believed that the wolf was my spirit animal. I connected to their freedom of wandering through the woods, strong instincts of survival, and the fact that although they may wander alone, they are pack animals, always in need of that family.  I could see myself as the wolf.

I’ve never really been one to pay to much attention to dreams, but there have been a few that have stuck with me throughout my journey.  Last week I had one that I couldn’t get out of my thoughts:

I was running through the woods.  I wasn’t afraid.  I wasn’t chasing something.  I was just running.  I was me.  Long hair.  Beard.  Naked.  Human.  But I wasn’t.  To my right I could catch glimpses of shadows moving through the trees.  They weren’t threatening, they just were.  There was a sense of joy in the run, like the joy I once felt through Cross Country, when your legs hurt and that ‘runners high’ is just starting to kick in.  And I noticed something.  The shapes were wolves.  Larger than life.  Their shoulders coming up to mine. Their tongues panting.  Steam rose with each breath.  And one by one they faded.  Some fell back into the distance.  Others turned and ran in different directions.

And I slowed, finding myself alone in the woods.  Snow covered the ground that smoldered beneath my feet.  Smoke rose in the distance and I could smell the fires burning.  Burned snags rose from the ground like broken limbs.  And I saw a single flower at the base of a stump.  A pink dash of color in a black and white world.  I kneeled to cup it in my hand and a voice spoke, “The time for healing has come.”

I awoke confused.  Unsure of what I had witnessed.  What my mind was telling me.  And I fell back to sleep.  Then last night, I dreamed that I was a bear awakening from its slumber, entering a unknown world.

To be honest, I didn’t really think much of it until someone told me that I was like a bear.

Could I have been wrong?  Wasn’t I the solitary wolf?

I’ve always known I was a wolf, but somehow I knew that something has changed.  Some part of me knew that the wolf had departed.  That the years of hunting and fighting with myself had ended.

While I’ve known the wolf, I always strived to be something else.  I’ve always wanted to be a lion.  The king of the beasts.  The essence of strength and authority.  Justice and Ferocity.  Wisdom and Leadership.  Dignity and Courage.  Honor and self-confidence.  Where the lion reminds us that each of us was born powerful and divine, calling us to step into our natural birthright of power, the wolf brought forth instinct, intelligence and the appetite for freedom.  While they are similar, I knew I was never the lion.  It just isn’t who I am.

Part of this desire comes from my childhood favorite, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” where Mr Beaver speaks of Aslan:

“Safe? … Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he is good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

We all desire to be the lion.  To possess the majesty of his power.

I started thinking this morning, wondering if I was truly ever the wolf.  I believe I was.  But that season has ended.

I never saw myself as a bear until I took a closer look.  Heck, I even took one of the silly “What is Your Spirit Animal?” tests just to make sure.  Sure enough, I got bear.  The grounding spirit and guide to healing.  The bear is a totem of strength and confidence, traditionally invoked to stand against adversity.  He reminds us that there must be a time for healing and the importance of solitude, quiet time and rest.

Like the bear, I am a solitary creature.  I like to be balanced.  I find myself looking within for strength, fearlessness and confidence.  Each provided by the God of love who has healed me and washed me clean.  And when push comes to shove, I am willing to stand my ground for what I believe in.

During Mid-Year Review today, the Fellows praised me for my service and shared how I can improve in this journey.  I am striving to continue to grow, to share my passion and pass on my experience to those around me.  They reminded me that a leader doesn’t always need to be a lion.  We also need wolves, eagles, buffalo, and bears.

And so I smile.  And continue on this journey.

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The Flames and the Grass on the Other Side

I usually try to update my blog every weekend, but this past Saturday and Sunday I was unable to get internet access.  Even if I could, I doubt I would have found the time to write about my adventures.  Part of this journey with AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) is that our schedules are (and will always be) up in the air, especially during fire season and disasters.  My team, AmeriCorps Gold, was requested to extend out stay in Winona, MO with the USFS Eleven Point Ranger District due to the expected fire behavior over the weekend.

The five of us hunkered down with a perverse joy as we waited for fires to spring up throughout the Mark Twain National Forest.  Last week, every single team (with the exception of ours) participated in Prescribed/Planned Ignition Burns, so we were eager for our chance to go.  It didn’t take long before we started seeing columns of smoke (mostly from RX Burns with MDC to the north of us).

Then it happened.  In an instant we were rushing off to face off against the flames.

The adrenalin started flowing.  The excitement happens.  Your pace quickens.  And for a brief second, everything goes silent.  You’re in the zone.

But reality comes crashing back, pulling you into the present as the heat hits you like a blast from the furnace when the winds shift.  The smoke obscures your vision, choking your lungs.  Your eyes sting and water.  You cough, remembering that you forgot to put on your bandana.  And with drip-torch in hand, you continue behind the dozer, burning out the fuels between the line and the flame front.

Over the course of the weekend, we had three wildfires.  156 acres of blackened forest.  The first was caused by negligence, the others unknown (most likely arson).

As I lay there at night, I couldn’t help but remember the flames, the destructive force of nature.  I dreamed of wildfire.  Of flames and burning lands.  I awoke smelling of smoke.  And we set out once again to face what the next day would bring.

We all have patches in our lives where the ground has been scorched in anger.  We can look back and see the smoke that lingers in the spots where we have burned the bridges between relationships.  We can see the evidence of the flames, the scorch marks, and the wreckage when the smoke settles and we come to our senses.  I’ve seen it too many times.  In the lives of those around me and whenever I look back on my own journey.

Some bridges went up with a bang, their flames burning with such intensity that the fires spread throughout the rest of our lives.  Others smoldered into ruin from neglect and forgetfulness, crumbling over time when it could have been maintained.  And too many times we turned our backs and walked away.

Drive through the Ozarks.  The mountains of Colorado.  Many great wilderness areas out west.  You will see the result of the flames.  Many years later you can still see the blackened snags that reach skyward.  You can still see how the landscape has changed.

But look closely.  Notice the grasses and the flowers that have sprung forth after the flames have died.  Now look back at the bridges that once spanned the chasms between old friends.

So many times I see green grasses on the other side.  It’s a healing that cannot be explained.  A natural progression of the scars that slowly fade.  We can never forget them, but we can start to notice the beauty of time.

Yes, there are some places that still smolder and spit fire every now and then, but there is always a chance to rebuild those bridges.  All you can do is forgive and make an attempt to reach out.  It doesn’t always work out, but its better than the alternative: to live with the fires still burning away at your heart, leaving it blackened for the rest of your life.

We may never be able to completely rebuild the friendships and the love that we once had, nor can you reverse the destructive nature of fire through the forest.  But you can wash the ash off your skin, forgive and move on with love.  It may not be easy, but it can be done.

And the next time you face the fires, you may act with more confidence in the face of those flames.

Smoke and Flames

Yesterday evening, I arrived back in St Louis after a week-long stint down in Winona on Fire Rotation with the USFS (Mark Twain National Forest).  There, we assisted the USFS on two large prescribed fires, the Pineknot and Miller/King Burns (4,125 and 4,684 acres) and did another small burn out operation (10 acres) yesterday along the Miller/King Unit to complete the unit.  We returned exhausted, worn out, yet excited and smiling because we were happy.  The week was successful.

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Fires are, and will continue to be, a mystery to most people.  When we hear of wildfires and prescribed burns, many people think of the destructive fires out west that ravish the countryside, leaving black scars through the forest.  Our brains jump to the fires that consume buildings and homes and leave us mourning the fallen.  It’s natural.

We fear fire.  As we should.  It’s dangerous.  It’s destructive when out of control.  And one can never truly control a fire.

In the days leading up to these burns, our team helped to manage the fireline, cutting out snags and reducing the hazards that could cause these fires to become unmanageable.  We were a part of a team of 30+ USFS, Park Service, and Law Enforcement personnel that gathered to conduct these prescribed fire operations.  2 dozers.  3 engines.  9 UTVs (5 Kubotas, 2 Gators, and 2 Razors with Drip Torches).  A helicopter for Aerial Ignitions and scouting.  Holding Crews.  Ignitions.  Traffic control.  Contingency plans. We were a militia of personnel that were constantly moving.

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(NOTE: The above photograph was taken a couple weeks ago during a prescribed fire with the Missouri Department of Conservation.  The other two photos were taken this week on the Pineknot (below) and Miller/King (above) Prescribed Fires.)

I’ve been on a number of fires (wildfires and prescribed) through my adventures, but I have never seen a machine work as efficiently as these men and women this week.  Yes, it was chaotic.  Yes, there were setbacks and unseen hazards.  Yes, we had a small slop-over on our line and a spot fire.  But people knew what needed to be done and nobody was injured.

We left the fires each evening knowing that they were secure.  Smoky beyond belief in some spots, but the fire was going nowhere.  They made sure of it.

All fires have the potential to become monsters.  One spark is all it takes to leave a forest in ruins.  We’ve seen it hundreds of times before.

Through prescribed fire operations, we can manage the forest and provide some safety for those who follow.  For too long, we have suppressed fires, leaving us vulnerable to the high levels of fuel loadings, deadly fires.  Through management, we can reduce and remove these fuels, creating a protective barrier for those who enjoy being in nature.

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Fires are natural.  Without them, we wouldn’t have the forest that we enjoy today.  And as I looked back through the smoke as we departed each day, I knew that we were doing a good thing.

It’s an adrenalin rush.  We joke about eating smoke and lighting off these contained fires.  But in the end the simple truth is that, while we may not see it, we are protecting lives and property from the next big fire-storm.

It’s coming.  We’ve all seen it.  Over the past several years wildfires have gotten worse because of our aggressive suppression of a natural process.  We should be afraid.  But we should trust in the teams of firefighting personnel who use prescribed fire to manage our forests.

Smoke may be a inconvenience, but it’s better than having flames lick your feet as you run for your life.

Just some thoughts….

Blessings in the Darkness

I have been blessed.  I have been (and still am) surrounded by amazing brothers and sisters of faith.  I have a beautiful family that stretches across the nation and spans the oceans.  I have a roof over my head and food to sustain me.  I am blessed.  I have always been blessed.

But there have been times when I have been blind to those blessings.  There have been times of great darkness in which I could not (or refused to) see the blessings that had been laid at my feet.

All of us struggle at times.  Nobody ever claimed that this was easy.  Following in the footsteps of God is one of the hardest things to do.  Many times we find ourselves the lone light in the darkness only because we have closed our eyes in fear.

Looking back I can see the blessings in the darkness, but at the time all I could seem to do is try to hide from my own darkness.  It was never a darkness that surrounded me, but the darkness of my own heart, thoughts and fears.  A darkness within that consumed.

Recently a number of individuals have come forward to thank me for things I have forgotten that I did.  I never meant to lead, but I was leading others nonetheless.  I never planned on changing peoples lives, but God placed me where I was in the darkness to allow others to stumble upon me and recognize something different about me.  I was floundering in the darkness, blinded by closed eyes.

In the darkness, I was blessed by the gentle hands that reached out to guide me.  I was blessed through the conversations.  Through people who sat and listened.  By the bruises and scrapes that forced me to open my eyes so that I could see where I was going.  By the fear.

I used to try to run away from the darkness, but now I realize that it is a part of who I am.  I have been blessed by the darkness, even if I couldn’t realize it then.

God is funny like that.  He uses us in our weakest moments to teach us what it is to be strong.  He finds us in our struggles so that we learn to turn to Him for strength.  It’s just the way He is.  And I am thankful for that.

Finding Home on the Journey

Each day for the past two weeks I’ve been reading a chapter of Katie Davis’ book “Kisses from Katie.”  It’s a powerful telling of a young woman’s heart for God and the sacrifices that she makes in following the vision set out before her by God.  Within the words are her struggles and fears, her growth and unwavering trust that no matter what happens God’s plan will work out, with or without her.

On Friday, I was floored by a passage that I read hidden within those pages.  I posted it to my Facebook page to share, and it has been gnawing at my heart each day since.  It goes as follows:

I have come to the realization that I am somewhat of a nomad on this earth.  I am learning to be okay with that.  Human beings long for a place to call home, a nest, a sanctuary of their own.  I have many and none. … My heart lives in so many places.  With so many people.  But God whispers to me that I really have only one home, and that is with Him.  I will never be content on this earth.  I will always be a nomad.  It was meant to be that way.  My heart was created with a desire for a home, a nest, a sanctuary, and that can be found only with Him in Heaven.  And I will continue bouncing from one home to another, loving with everything I have in whatever location I currently reside, excitedly awaiting the day when I am called heavenward and He says to me, “Welcome home.”

There is a saying that I grew up with as an Army Brat:  “Home is where the Army sends you.”  But in recent years I’ve found myself saying “Home is where the heart is.”  To be honest, I don’t have a physical ‘home’ in which I call my own.

My parents live in N. Virginia.  Me, I’ve lived all over the place.  In my journeys since graduating college, I’ve lived aboard the M/V Africa Mercy (Togo and on the sail down to South Africa), Denver, CO, Clarksville, TN, Vicksburg, MS and now St Louis, MO.  Like Katie, I don’t have a nesting place to call home.  And part of me never wants to settle down.

I am most comfortable constantly on the move.  I learned that when, after staying in a single place all throughout High School when my father retired from the Army, I was ready to leave after the second year.  In college, I survived by venturing fourth during the summer months, serving up at Young Life’s Saranac Village (Upstate New York) and traveling forth on missions trips to Honduras and Uganda.

I know that one day I will be called home, but until that moment I will continue to seek God wherever He leads me.  That being said, I hope to return to my wanderings soon.  I don’t want to be tied down by commitments (debts from student loans for the most part).  I want to see the world and the glory of the Father that surrounds it.

On that same note, I have a friend that has been given the vision to go forth on her own journey.  I know her from Anderson University, where we both studied art and spent a good part of our ‘free’ time at the coffee shop on campus.  We talked and hung out on occasion, learning from and encouraging one another.  And while our paths parted ways years ago, we have kept in touch through the gift that is technology.

Ashley is heading out with The World Race in September to journey with God and serve Him across the world.  She, like hundreds of missionaries across the world, have forsaken their worldly home in the pursuit of something greater.  I urge you to read her story (that can be found at http://ashleyganahl.theworldrace.org/) and support her through prayer.  And if God is leading you to give, don’t wait.

I was asked recently how I live this way, without a foundation, a place to call home.  I smile because my roots are spread both deep and wide.  My family has taught me to rely on trust in both God and others.  My journey has given me the opportunity to reach out and my ‘family’ now stretches across the nations.

I challenge you to let go.  Find your true home.  If that means following the call to serve, Go!  Don’t hesitate, for we do not know if today will be our last.

Just some thoughts….

God Bless and PEACE