Archive for August, 2014

No Longer Afraid

I used to be deathly afraid of the dark.  I can’t explain why, but the dark was unnerving.  I always slept with a light on, be it the hallway light, a nightlight, or with the street light shining through the open window.  Then something changed.

I am no longer afraid of the dark.  I can’t tell you when it happened, but at some point I realized that I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.  Oh, I don’t like the dark, but there is no more fear of it.

I used to be afraid of not knowing what the future holds.  I would become paralyzed by fear when someone would ask what was next.  Where or what I was doing next year.  What my five and ten-year plan was.  I used to think I needed to know, and I was afraid that if I didn’t have the right answer, I wouldn’t be successful in life.

I am no longer afraid of what the future has to hold.  Sure, it still makes me nervous to put all my trust in Gods plan and to live life one day, one week, one month, one year at a time, but I am no longer paralyzed by the thought of not knowing.

It’s something that I am learning to live with.

I used to be afraid of the darkness that had settled in my heart all those years ago.  And then I realized that it was part of who I have become.  And it slips out into my art.  And I embrace it.

I used to be afraid of what others thought.  Of opinions of how I choose to live my life, how I choose to present myself.  But then I came to realize that if someone doesn’t accept who I am, then that has nothing to do with me.

I used to be afraid of God.  I knew my sins and I wondered how I could ever survive knowing that if I had stepped up and acted, spoken out, or lived differently, things could have turned out differently.  I was afraid that I would be defined by what I failed to do.  And then I found myself embraced in love by a family of friends who revealed that God’s forgiveness is a purifying flame.

I used to be afraid of what God was calling me to do.  Calling me to be.  I ran from the thought of Africa for almost a year and a half because I was afraid.  I found excuses because I didn’t feel like I was ready to be a part of something bigger.  But God chased me down and I came to discover that He does not call those who are prepared, He prepares the called with the strength of love, community, and fellowship.

It’s not that the fear is no longer there.  It is the simple fact that the joy, love, and call to adventure is much more powerful than the fear that struggles to hold me back.

I still have nightmares.  I still struggle.  But I do not let fear define my actions anymore.

I challenge you to live the same.  Don’t let fear define you and discover the potential that God has placed on your life.

Another Year of Service Past (A Look at ERT Year 20)

I heard it a couple of times before that when a group of individuals come together for an extended amount of time, they become family.  I’ve seen it happen with my various teams in the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and again with my close-knit team in FEMA Corps, so I shouldn’t be surprised to find it difficult to say good-by to this family that has formed over the past year of service.

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We started out the year as a bunch of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed individuals looking for an adventure.  Well, glad to say that we found one.  We didn’t know each other at first, but as we began to dive into this journey, we soon discovered how lucky we were to stand beside one another.

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The journey was one of intense beauty, as we soon discovered ourselves in the midst of the Beaver Head / Deer Lodge National Forest in Montana, surrounded by mountains of bright lights and explosions of color.  For one who has never seen the mystery of the northern mountains, it was like a shock and awe campaign.

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We found ourselves growing closer together due to the spacious living quarters and huge cabins that we stayed in (please, note the sarcasm).  We slept almost twenty in the Yurt that leaked while the rest piled into the tent city that sprang up around our headquarter just south of Butte.

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It wasn’t always that beautiful or easy.  For the majority of the winter, we were gripped by the chill of ice, snow and wind that pierced through all the layers that we piled on as thick as we could.  When I say it got cold, it got cold.  And I don’t think any of us were truly prepared for it.

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To be honest, none of us were truly prepared for what we were to face in the next couple weeks and upcoming months.  We had all heard stories, but in the back of our minds was a constant voice, that fear that kept us alert.  The fear that kept us alive at times.

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Oh, we messed up a time or two.  We got ourselves into pickles, wedged between a rock and a hard place, but somehow we were able to keep moving forward.  And we learned.  Sometimes, we learned the hard way.

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And as we learned, we began to experience things that changed us.  Looking back, none of us are the same individuals that walked through the doors of the Urban Activity Center that first day to complete paperwork.  We became something more.  A family, yes.  But as individuals, we became leaders, tree fellers, and trail builders.

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We also became cowboys and cowgirls, road-hands, rough-necks, firefighters, and friends.  We embraced everything that was thrown at us, from the chainsaw to loppers.  We embraced the culture of the ranches, the mountains, and the woodlands of the Ozarks, becoming one with our teams and with ourselves.

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A lot of what we do is based around conservation.  Felling hazard trees and snags.  Preparing fire line.  Spraying invasive species.  It’s not always glamorous work, but we love it.  Anyone who says otherwise is lying.  We love it because of one another.

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We also got the opportunity to get down and dirty with wild fires.  While a lot of what we did were small prescribed burns and mop up operations, we were glad of the change of pace.  You can only spray so many plants with chemical before you start questioning your sanity.

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We also got the chance to work side by side with the USFS on fire rotation.  I got to go on two large (4,000+ acre) prescribed burns and a handful of wildfires where we got to follow the dozer and conduct burn out operations.  It was a mix of excitement, fear, and confidence that allowed us to persevere.

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And besides, we look like complete bad[edit]s doing it.  Where else would we even get the opportunity to wield a chainsaw like a BAMF?  Admit it, we look awesome.

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Another bonus, facial hair.  That’s right, we don’t always shave, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  No-Shave November has nothing on us, just ask some of the ladies who I got the opportunity to work with.  Razors can’t touch us.  But when they do, nobody can recognize us afterwards.

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And somehow, we find the time to smile, laugh, and have fun while we save the world (okay, we may not be THAT important, but it sure feels like it).  We play games, give one another a hard time, and stay up late laying under the stars, in tents, or cabins talking and sharing our love with one another.

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And now, our paths diverge.  We have come to the end of our year of service, and I can honestly say that I am proud to have each and every single one of these individuals standing beside me on this journey of life.  They are more than friends.  Deeper than blood.  And I smile because I know that I will see them all again in good time.

As Rare As Unicorns

Several years ago, while helping my mother clean up my grandparents attic, we came across a stuffed unicorn in one of the boxes.  I’m sure there is a story behind this little stuffed animal, but I fear that I would get it all wrong if I wrote it out.  Fortunately, that is not the point of this post, so lets get back on track.  Before departing, my mom placed this stuffed animal on my dashboard for good luck.  He has remained there ever since, watching and guarding my jeep.  

A couple years later (maybe two and a half years or so ago) I picked my cousin up and took her out to dinner while I was passing through.  We talked and shared our adventures, but I remember very little of what the exchange was about or the words said.  As we drove back to drop her off with her friends, something she said has stuck with me since.  

She smiled at the unicorn that sat there on the passenger side of the dashboard and told me about a saying that she and her friends shared: “We are as rare as unicorns.”  She was talking about the gift they all kept and a pact that made them different.  She was talking about Virginity.  

I am reminded of this conversation every time I get into my jeep to drive somewhere.  I was reminded of it even more as several articles floated around the internet over the past couple weeks.  The main article shares how a woman kept her virginity till marriage and regrets the decision for various reasons.  Another article surfaced about how another young woman maintained her virginity, but in doing so, lost her purity.  

Our society is all about sex.  Listen to the music that we blast out of our radios.  Watch the movies that are played on our screens.  The industry has a hold of our hearts and, to be honest, sex sells.  

I have a good friend who is waging war against porn.  Fight the New Drug.  It’s an addiction that all young men face and many struggle with.  

So, why am I bringing up porn, purity, and virginity?  Because they are all part of the same conversation.  

I am a virgin.  I take pride in that, but I don’t flaunt it around.  It gets really awkward when I’m around people and the topic turns to sex.  Then it gets even more uncomfortable for everyone when they ask for my opinion.  Or when everyone is sharing where they had their first sexual experience.  Or when people notice that I have removed myself from the conversation.  

In keeping my virginity, I have, at times, sacrificed my purity.  Both are gifts from God.  I have struggled with defining what makes a relationship too physical, and have come away knowing that something doesn’t feel right.  Do we allow ourselves to kiss one another?  Cuddle?  When is it okay to take it to the next level?  

My hesitation came from within.  I didn’t want to sacrifice my beliefs, my code for second thoughts.  For shame when we parted ways.  It cost me relationships.  Friendships that will never be the same.

I was told (and believe in my heart) that it is extremely rare to find someone who is still pure.  Don’t, for one second, believe that maintaining ones virginity is the same as maintaining your purity (see This Article for more of what this means).  Purity comes from God, shown through how we live, breath, and act beyond our words.  It is a constant battle that we have to fight, every day.  Every night.  

And then comes our society.  I had a conversation with a co-worker as we traveled across the country over the past couple days and he noted that so many people speak out against derogatory comments about women, sex, and fight for their beliefs, but then we (as a society) turn around and blast music in which the lyrics talk about sex, idolizing the female body, and viewing each other as objects to be used for pleasure.  And we make the excuse that music is allowed to say these things because it is entertainment.  

Is there a difference between singing about sex and viewing porn when it comes to our purity?  That’s a question we have to ask ourselves.  And something that we need to be cautious of, for we tread a slippery slope.  Once we start going down that path, it is hard to come back up.  Trust me.  

We come back to something we keep on flirting with, but nobody wants to address.  The new drug that is porn.  We are made to believe that we can evade the truth by looking at images and not an actual person (which in itself is a lie).  We want to claim that it is innocent, but the voice in our head reminds us over and over again that this isn’t what God had in mind when He made us.  

Yes, I have walked this road and have fought tooth and nail to remove myself from it.  

So, I ask again, how do we know when our purity is at risk?  Ask yourself if there is any shame involved.  That is our biggest clue.  So we run from it.  It’s not easy, especially in our American society that glorifies sex, idolizes beauty, and tries to tell us to embrace the joy, the thrill, and drown out the shame beneath the waves of pleasure, booze, and company.  

I’ve come to realize that there are plenty of people who are chasing after purity with joyful hearts.  We come from all backgrounds.  From all paths of life.  And join together on the road of life.  We may not be perfect, but God is shaping us into unicorns.

Some Thoughts on Struggles

Life is always going to have its struggles.  There are times when others around you can see you struggling and times when nobody knows what you are going through due to various reasons (distractions, the mask of strength, etc).

Sometimes those struggles are internal, a battle between thoughts that threatens to consume us.  We struggle with identifying who we are as individuals.  We struggle with figuring out what we truly believe.  With relationships, with our actions, and with finding the words to speak.

Other times the struggle comes from outside of our selves.  From situations that the world throws at us.

These past couple weeks have been filled with struggles.

Just last week my cousin, who just graduated from high school, suffered a heart attack, spent several days in a coma, had a stroke, went through surgery, and has begun her own struggle of recovery with remarkable spunk, surrounded by an outpouring of love and prayers, family and friends.  Her struggle has thrown all of us cousins into a whirlwind of our own.

How can I be strong for them, for her, when I am nestled away in the mountains of Montana with barely any communication with the outside world?  How can I be strong for my team when my thoughts are elsewhere?  These are the struggles that all of us have been going through, so far away from home, so far away from family.

One of the struggles that I’ve been battling with all year has been trying to figure out where I stand when it comes to drinking and alcohol.  I personally don’t drink.  It’s a decision that I made years ago and I stand firm beside because it is a part of who I am.  I don’t mind if others choose to or not, that is their choice, but I have been struggling to find the words when it comes to how their drinking affects me.

I don’t mind it when people are drinking socially, but I don’t want to be around people who are drinking to get drunk.  It’s not an environment that I want to find myself in.  I believe that being in that situation (one where others are drinking to get drunk) compromises a part of who I am.  It makes me uncomfortable being around it.

The culture that surrounds us is a culture of drinking.  It’s a struggle that we all deal with, whether or not we drink and/or get drunk.  I avoid it as much as I can, but there are times when we are required to be places where others are drinking, when the plan is get everyone drunk, even when people don’t want to.

The struggles aren’t deciding which choice to make, it’s the struggle to find the words to defend your actions.

Combine all the struggles that we face and we discover the weight of the world that threatens to consume us.  To stand takes strength, an invisible force that we can sense, but we can never truly see and measure.

This strength comes from within, comes from God.  It comes from the brothers and sisters that stand beside us when we cannot stand alone.  It is the courage that comes from experience and the stillness that comes from finding ones place in the palm of God’s hand.

The struggles will always be there.  We will face them each and every day, for they will constantly evolve and develop, change and surge forth anew. What defines us is how we face them or turn away.

Just some thoughts…