Archive for September, 2014

Another Begining

I’m going to keep this short because it is late and I have to be at the office early tomorrow morning, but I wanted to share my thoughts.  I’m a little scatter brained at the moment, so please bear with me…

Tomorrow (or later this morning by the time this gets finished) I start my second year with AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (the ERT).  It will be my last year as a Corps Member with AmeriCorps, but it isn’t getting any easier.  My thoughts are elsewhere.  Joplin.  To a time three years ago when I didn’t know how to respond and I froze in fear of what I may encounter.

It doesn’t get any easier.  The fear is still here, in the back of my mind.

I’ve met a lot of people on this journey of life.  I’ve been on teams through my time aboard the Africa Mercy, with NCCC, FEMA Corps, and the ERT.  My friends are scattered across the nation and around the world.  I’ve seen people come and go through this life, and I have loved, been loved, and have shared my heart and soul with each one.  They are my family.

I started to meet all the new members of this years ERT.  We had a potluck last night and gathered to play crumpets earlier this afternoon.

NOTE:  Crumpets is a game involving wooden sticks wrapped in pipe insulation and duct tape, a ball, goals, and very few rules.  It is extremely physical and tons of fun.  I may try to get video of it at some point this year to share with everyone.  END NOTE

The thing with meeting new people is that you share a little bit of your soul with each person you meet.  You grow through the experience, but for me, it can be extremely draining.  Add to that we were running around whacking a ball around a field, it is exhausting.  But I enjoy it.  At the same time, I need time and space to reflect.

I’m currently working on two new paintings, attempting to finish writing out the rough draft of Journeys, the adventures of a Nomad, and trying to mentally prepare myself for a week packed full of activities, orientation, and packing to head up to Montana on Friday.

This beginning is something that I should be used to.  But I’m not.  I should be comfortable meeting this new group of teammates.  But I don’t know how I am supposed to lead them.  They are my peers, my friends.  They are part of this family.  And I can’t seem to wrap my head around all of this.

I was writing about my first night responding to Joplin this evening (while watching Criminal Minds) and I noticed two things:  The first was that in that moment, when I first heard that my team was deploying in response to Joplin, I froze.  I was afraid.  The only thing that got me through was knowing that I needed to be there for my team.  I needed to be present and focused because we needed each other.  That was my strength in those eleven days, my teammates.  My family.

The second thing I realized was that the fear never truly went away.  I am still afraid of what I see each night when I close my eyes.  It defines me.  It has shaped me into who I am.  And it’s not just Joplin, but my experiences in Honduras, Uganda, Togo, and through service here State side.

I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds where JJ, the community relations member of the BAU, was speaking to the unsub (The Longest Night, Season 6 Episode 1).  Something her character says jumped out at me:

… it’s okay to be afraid of the dark, and it isn’t silly to think thee might be monsters in your closet.  …  Yes, there are monsters, and it’s okay to be afraid of them.  But it isn’t okay to let them win, and it’s not okay to be one.

I am afraid.  I am afraid of a lot of things.  But I cannot let those fears paralyze me ever again.

We can train and prepare ourselves all we want.  We can go through scenarios and can consume our lives with trying to live knowing how we will react, but the reality is that we will never truly know.

I don’t know how my life will change with these new people in my life.  It’s a scary thought.  But I am willing to accept the risk and begin this journey again.

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How Can We Forget

I woke up this morning like every morning for the past several weeks, without an alarm clock.  It wasn’t until I got online and checked Facebook that I realized what day it was.

I saw numerous posts, photos, and words that remind us, “Never Forget.”

13 years ago, this nation faced its darkest day and was shown its brightest hope, allowing us to rediscover what it means to be brave, to stand with one another, and to love unconditionally.  In the midst of that terror, the darkness as the towers collapsed, we watched as people ran in panic, in fear.  But we were shown another face that we can never forget.  343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers gave their lives to save countless others.  Hundreds more rushed towards the scene in response as people ran away in fear.

This is the face we remember.  The face we choose to remember.

These men and women gave us a glimpse of bravery.  Were they scared?  Were they afraid?  I’m sure of it, but they came forwards anyways.  Their example gave us the opportunity to rediscover who we were, who we are as a nation.

How can we ever forget that?

Fear.  Fear is the ultimate goal of acts of terror.  To make us afraid of living.  To have us cower behind closed doors and constantly looking over our shoulder.

As a child in 8th grade, I saw the world as this distant place.  Sure, I knew where New York City was, but it had nothing to do with me.  A field in Pennsylvania?  I could probably locate it on a map.  But then the Pentagon.  That struck home.  Several years before, I walked those very halls.  That was something real to me.  My father worked there years ago, but that was something I knew.

Sitting there in Mrs. Black’s Georgia History class, working on a Native American research project with two other Army Brats, we heard the news in clips and hesitant comments.  We were told that the military base, Ft Stewart had been put on lock down, and all we could think about was how were we going to get back home.

Children pick up on things.  Sure, I knew that something bad had happened, but it wasn’t until I walked into the house and saw the television sitting in our living room.  The TV was never in the living room.  We barely watched anything other than Atlanta Braves Baseball Games.  And suddenly I understood.  This was bad.  Really bad.

Last year, I got to walk on those hallowed grounds.  Ground Zero.  In the chilly morning hours I read the names and stood in that place, surrounded by the memories of those brave men and women.  I knew there were good men and women in the world.  Brave ones who remind us what it means to live.  I grew up surrounded by them.  Men and women who serve in our armed forces alongside my father.  My dad.

It was that moment, 13 years ago, that reminded us that there are so many brave men and women that surround us each and every day.  They are the first responders.  The police officers, paramedics, and firemen.  They are the search and rescue personnel that arrive while chaos still reigns and fear is still settling in our hearts.  They are the countless stories of nameless individuals who took people in, that comforted those in need.  They are the hundreds of boat captains who evacuated the island of Manhattan, who answered the call.  It was revealed that day that we could all be brave.

Never Forget.

Bravery showed us how to stand together.  Bravery showed us the ultimate act of love.  Bravery showed us that it is okay to break down and cry, but it also showed us how to act.

We can never forget their sacrifices.  We can never forget how they chose to live, especially in those last moments.

Looking into Other Worlds

It is said that books are windows into other worlds and a way to experience lives that are not our own.  Reading opens our minds to new experiences and allows our hearts to explore and discover the meaning of love.

I have a bunch of books.  I’ve read hundreds.  I love the feel of my fingers turning the page and getting lost within the words of the page.  I enjoy the smell of a good book.  It’s almost like a drug, an addiction.

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When I say I read a lot, I’m not exaggerating.  I read everything from sci-fi to historical fiction.  Adventure novels to books about wildfire, disasters, and ancient warfare.  But my favorite are biographies and autobiographies.

There is something about reading about someones life.  Their story.  Their adventure.  Discoveries.  Thoughts.  Struggles.

Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram.  Katie Davis’ Kisses from Katie.  Hiroo Onoda’s No Surrender.  John S. Burnett’s Where Soldiers Fear to Tread.  Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk.  Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave.  Eric Greitens’ The Heart and the Fist.  Rye Barcott’s It Happened on the Way to War.  Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild.  Just to name a few of my favorites that I own.

And I’ve noticed something in each one.  We are all trying to discover our calling in life.  We are all trying to discover what it means to fight for something we believe in.

From the stories of missionaries to military men and women out in the field, they are all warriors in some way.  Some fight with traditional weapons of war, while others fight with love, compassion, expression, and through sharing their lives.  I believe that they are all warriors, fighting for what they believe.

I am currently writing out my story as well.  Journeys, the Adventures of a Nomad.  It’s a simple step in this path of life.  It’s a battle, a struggle.  But it is a window into discovering who I am.

That’s why I read.  That’s why I write.  To reveal the warriors within and to provide a voice for the thoughts in my head.

I think that is why all writers have documented their lives through words on the page.

 

 

Demons in the Dark

I am a broken, fractured being.  I am not perfect.  But I am loved.  I am surrounded by friends and family who have embraced me for who I am.  These people accept me despite all my faults and failures.  And what’s better yet, I know that God has paid the price and has opened His arms and embraced me as His child.

I am loved.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Say it out loud.  Embrace it.  Accept it.  Take it in and sit still and just know.  Let your heart sing.

These three words changed my life.  They opened my eyes in faith and they changed everything.  They changed how I saw the world.  How I react.  How I respond.  How I move.  Act.  Love.

They were the light that pierced through the darkness.  A darkness that threatened to consume everything I was, everything I was created to be.

I wasn’t always this way.  Optimistic.  Joyful.  Loving.  I had a weight that I thought was mine to carry.  A weight that dragged me down into a place I never should have been.  And I was consumed by that burden, tied down by fear.  I thought that living was all about just trying to survive, just waking up to go through the motions once more.  I was filled with bitterness, anger, frustrations, and the poison of doubt.  I was consumed by darkness.

But then it all changed.  It didn’t happen overnight.  It was like a growing whisper that soon filled my every thought with a thunderous noise.  It was the answers that left me with more questions, and I seeked them out.  And while I never truly found all the answers to the questions I was asking, I found the only one that mattered at that time:  I am loved.

What started as a spark grew into an uncontrollable wildfire.  A destructive force that changed the landscape of my life.  It hurt.  There was pain.  But it gave me the space to grow.

I am loved.

It was the hope that I found through faith that showed me the path to the light.

But, when you stand and face the light, your own shadow becomes your darkness.

I have many demons that continue to haunt me.  I can feel them clawing there way beneath my skin and into my thoughts.  I still have doubts.  I don’t think they will ever go away.  I still remember the darkness that had ahold of my heart when I believed that there was nowhere else to run.  That darkness is part of who I am.

I cannot deny it.

I wouldn’t want to.

I can’t.

The simple truth is that it will always be a part of me.  It is my past.  Something that I learn from in the present.  And it defines who I will be in the future.

But it cannot take away the fact that I am loved.  I have always been loved.  I will always be loved.  Even when I can’t feel it, or see it, or believe that I deserve it, I am loved.

This is why I can smile when things don’t go as I planned them.  This is why I can find joy when my heart breaks.  This is how I can learn how to live once again.

And when the thoughts come creeping in once again and the demons continue to haunt the silence of the night, I know that this love will continue to be the hope that allows me to live.  To be the light that guides me home.  And while the darkness waits at the edge, I stand knowing that I am loved.

I am loved.

You are loved.