Giving Thanks for the Blessings

Every year we celebrate Thanksgiving, the start of the holiday festivities.  We fill our social media with things we are thankful for, amazing meals, and smiling faces of friends and family.  Each year, it makes me smile.  I love to see others blessings that have been poured forth once again.  And each year, at about this time, my mind starts racing and my thoughts get jumbled as I try to begin to process all the blessings in my life.  So, if the following words do not flow as they once did, forgive me (but, please, continue reading).

I have been blessed beyond all measure.  I am thankful for so much that has been poured out, shared, and given over freely.  There are too many to count and far more that I have forgotten, but still I am thankful for each and every single one of them.

A year ago, I stood with a group of friends, an extended family through service, in Washington, IL.  In the aftermath of a tornado, we watched and served beside the volunteers that descended upon the community to help rebuild.  Today, I write from Detroit, where I am serving in the clean up and recovery operations in the wake of flash flooding back on Aug 11-13.  A hidden disaster that has brought forth Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps Disaster Response Teams (A-DRTs) from around the nation.  Texas Conservation Corps.  Montana Conservation Corps.  St Bernard Project.  Conservation Corps of Minnesota.  Hoopa Tribal Civilian Community Corps.  California Conservation Corps.  St Louis Emergency Response Team.  NCCC.  FEMA Corps.

I am thankful for another year of service that I have the opportunity to pursue.  For the friends that have become part of my life and part of my extended family.  For the ability to serve.

I am thankful for my family.  Both my immediate and extended family, by blood and friendship.  For the love that they have poured out to bless my life and to act as guides for my feet on this journey.  I am thankful for their support and their willingness to put up with my constant wanderlust that takes me far from home.

I am thankful for healing and recovery.  Several months ago, my beautiful cousin fell to a stroke and heart attack.  Through the miracles of modern medicine and the pure grace of determination and will provided through the support of family, friends, love, and prayer she has begun the long road of recovery.  I am thankful for her constant smile through it all, her spunk, and determination to continue forward through it all.

Over the past several months (okay, years) I have been writing out my adventures and journeys to share with the world.  I am thankful for each opportunity that has been provided, the lives that have helped to shape my path, and the opportunity to put these into words.  I am thankful for the journey that God has led me on.  For the love that has been shared.  For the struggles and pain.  For the successes and failures.  For the battlefield of love.

This morning, I woke to two updates from missionaries out in the field.  Their lives are an inspiration to continue to serve with every fiber of my being.  I have been blessed to be a part of this journey with them and I am thankful for every moment we have shared together.  I am thankful for the love that God pours out through their lives and I pray for them, with them every day.  I am thankful for the opportunity to stand and support them in their journey.

I am thankful for the opportunities to love.  Relationships that have come and gone.  Friends who have drifted away and returned.  I am thankful for the rough lessons of life that have knocked me to the ground, and the strength to stand once again through the support of those around me.

I am thankful for the conversations and the stories shared.  For the words of encouragement.

I am thankful for the criticism, the words thrown out in frustration and anger.  They have revealed more truth than any gentle lies ever could.

But to be completely honest, the think I am most thankful for is each and every moment.  Every breath that I have the chance to breathe.  For every sunrise and sunset that has blessed the skies.  For God’s great love that moves me forward.

Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart.  When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light.  Give thanks for your life and strength.  Give thanks for our food and the joy of living.  And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.
– Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Tribal Leader

This is how I strive to live.  To be thankful for every moment.  And I am thankful for the strength to continue to do so.


Let’s Start a Riot!

Actually, don’t.  That would be a bad idea.  There are already enough people hurting in the world today.

Last night, the city that I come to know and call home erupted in flames, violence, and chaos after the announcement of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.  Buildings and cars burned.  Shots fired.  Injuries.  Death.

We saw our world descend into darkness.  And the flickering flames cast evil shadows into the night.

Riot!  Riot!  Riot!  The crowd yells for justice.  And yet they don’t seek it out.  Their actions speak otherwise.  The result of their actions speak otherwise.  The pain and destruction speak otherwise.  The ruins speak otherwise.

I can see why people are frustrated.  Angry.  Upset.  But what I cannot begin to comprehend is the fact that a peaceful protest turns violent so quickly.  That riots erupt and people get hurt when individuals have called for respect.  Begged for peace.  And now, we are all hurting.

Black.  White.  Rich.  Poor.  Upper class. And lower class.  We are all suffering.  It doesn’t matter if you are a police officer or a member of the community.  A business owner or an individual a hundred miles away seeing the images on a screen.

I’m angry.  And upset.  And pissed off.

And it has nothing to do with the verdict.  I am disappointed in my community.  In how we responded.  And I know that I, as a young white man, may never understand the reasons that have been given as justification for these actions.  And I am sad that these few individuals have defined their community.  That love and compassion were overwhelmed by anger and rage.

You see, we need a change.  We need a revolution.  But destruction, like these riots, will not propel us toward peace.  Only love can do that.

We need a revolution of love.  A riot of flowers.  A peaceful revolution that stems from forgiveness and healing.

My prayer at this time is for just that.  That we learn to embrace one another in love and forgiveness.  That we hold one another accountable for our actions through the love we have for one another and for our communities.  Our actions, reactions, and lack of actions should need to be answered for.  And the pain we have expressed needs to be mended.  And the hurt that we have caused needs to be healed through love.

For love is a powerful agent.  It is a force that moves in us and through us.

This is the action that we need.

Forgiveness and Love.

Live Dangerous

We all want to live closer to God.  To follow His footsteps.  To live a life that reflects Christ, our King.  We want to live as followers of Jesus Christ, and to spread His love to all the corners of the earth.

But there is one issue with that.  We want to be safe.

We don’t want to live on the edge.  We don’t want to be afraid.  It’s not something we enjoy.

We are called to follow God.  And we are called to live a life that is dangerous.  And we are called to die, so that we can truly live.

Danger is a part of our faith.  Danger is part of love.  Part of living.  Part of following God.

I seriously dislike it when people sell faith as something that is easy and safe.  That if you pray these words, all your pain, all your fears will fade away.  Faith doesn’t work like that.  God doesn’t make our fears disappear.  Following God puts a target on your back, that you live with for the rest of your life.

The forces of darkness, and the kingdom of Hell try to sell the lie that it will be easy. And when we move closer to God, the more dangerous we become.

Our lives are a battlefield.  And if we truly want to live closer to God, we must pursue injustice, fight our demons, and follow God when He calls us to move.  The forces of darkness win when we do nothing.  When we become comfortable with where we are.  When we have nothing to fear, and we put down our weapons.

I’ve said it before, and I say it again:  The most dangerous place to be is in the palm of God’s hand.

He calls us to be brave.  And He calls us to make a stand.

So live dangerously.  And forget what the rest of the world will think.  Or say.  Because when you take a stand for love, for faith, for God, your victory is an intimate one with the Father above and the fire that burns within will force the darkness to flee before you.

The Spark That Set the World On Fire

If you’ve been following this blog, or have kept up with me through my updates on various social media sites, you know that I’ve been working endlessly on a autobiography / memoir book that goes by the name of Journeys: the adventures of a Nomad.  In doing so, I have uncovered various struggles, trials, joys, and memories that have been hidden deep beneath the surface for so many years.  I’ve been writing about them.  Revisiting them.  And loving the act of writing about them because this is one step closer to sharing this journey with family, friends, and strangers from all generations.

And I started thinking about when all of THIS began to fall into place.

I guess the fuel for the fire was already there.  It was like faith.  It was always there, it just needed a spark, a question to ignite the interest and open my eyes to the possibilities.

I still remember the moment, when one of the guys that I was serving with up at Saranac Village, a Young Life camp in upper state New York, turned to me with all seriousness and stated that I should write down my story to share with the world.  I laughed and turned to walk off.  And that was the spark.

It was at that same camp, not 300 yards up the hill, that four years before someone asked me a innocent question that dropped a spark into my world.  And for years it smoldered in my heart, slowly growing, before it burst into brilliant flame one dark night in Uganda.

Like a wildfire, sometimes things get beyond what we ever imagined them to be.  I never expected to write a book.  Nor did I ever to expect to serve in a National Service program for four years.  Nor did I ever see myself pursuing my God with reckless abandon.  Loving to the fullest and praying until it hurts to continue on.

Oh, the years have changed the initial vision of that end goal.  Just as I have grown as an individual and learned what it truly means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.  And the fires have consumed who I have become.

With that being said, I pray that you, the reader of these words, allow each spark to flourish in your lives, and the lives of others.  Don’t be afraid of being that spark for someone else.  And don’t ever be afraid of the flames that God places in your heart.  It may be scary at times, but you will become a beacon of light for others (even if you never know).

Spiritual Fear

I’ve been writing a lot about fear recently.  It fascinates me.  It scares me.  But in the end, it has defined me in so many ways.  I’ve come to embrace it and make it my own.

There have been several instances in my life that I have truly been afraid.  But there is one that has been remained with me the longest.

In the summer of 2009, I ventured over to Uganda.  There, I experienced things that changed my life.  I witnessed both life and death, hope and healing.  I saw community members fighting for one another, loving to the fullest.  I saw hope in each new sunrise and the darkest of nights set over the land.

The fear that I want to talk about now is a fear that so many people do not like to talk about.  The night that I fell ill with Malaria (and yes, I was taking anti-malaria pills), I felt the physical presence of darkness.  This is the fear that I want to talk about.  The nothingness that consumes.  And the demons that fill our hearts with emptiness.  Hopelessness.

The opposite of love is not hate.  It is indifference.  And the opposite of faith (and the joy that comes with it) is emptiness.

We’ve all experienced it in small ways.  When life doesn’t feel like it satisfies anymore.  It’s more than the shadow of doubt, but a darkness that tries to convince us that everything we do is hopeless.  There is no one coming to save you.

I felt it.  I’ve felt it before.  And too many Christians write it off as not praying enough.  Not spending enough time with God.  Not doing enough to satisfy our hearts.  It’s a taboo that nobody wants to talk about.  It is the darkness of depression.

I’ve struggled with it before.  For years I hid it in the darkness of my heart as it threatened to consume everything that I am.  I still struggle with it.  And for so long, I thought that if I could only work my way closer to God, then it would go away.  If I could get close enough to Him, I could be touched and it would all disappear.  If only I could reach His robes.

That night in Uganda, I could feel the demons reaching out to me yet again.  It was more than spiritual warfare.  It was an attack by the power of darkness that resides all around us.  The pain and fear were present in that room.  And there was a presence, a power that could not be explained.

That presence, which I fear, was nothingness.  Emptiness.  The thought of spending eternity alone.

This is a spiritual fear that we all possess.  It wont go away when you pray.  It will only get stronger.

The thing is, every time you take a step closer to God, the stronger the forces of Satan will attack.

After serving in response to Joplin, I felt that same fear.  That darkness returned.  It tried to convince me that I could have done more.  I should have been able to save, comfort, protect more people.  That my service was not enough.  And when I spoke about it, one of my teammates asked me what ore could I have done?

We live our lives thinking that if we could just do more, be better, then we could make more of a difference.  If we could only love more.

But what we so often overlook when trying to do more is how much we have already done through our lives.  How many lives were affected and changed because we loved, served to our greatest ability.

It’s never going to get easier.  So get ready for war.

Do I believe that this struggle (depression) is a spiritual battle?  Of course I do.  BUT at the same time, it is a medical condition.  An imbalance in the chemicals within us.  I’m not a medical professional, so I don’t know all the details (nor will I claim that I do).  If this is a struggle that you face on a daily basis, I pray that you take courage and seek medical help.  I feel that God has given us this option, so it would be more hurtful to refuse professional help.

I still struggle with this darkness in my heart.  Some days it’s more powerful than others, but I have surrounded myself with family and friends that love without question.  I have changed the way I love, work, and live so that my focus is constantly on the things that matter (God, community, and joy).  It hasn’t all been rainbows and sunshine.  It’s been rough.  But I wouldn’t change a moment of it.

I’ve always been told that light will burn out the darkness, but at the same time, where there is great light, there is where you can find the darkest shadows.  We can’t make it through this journey alone.  I know that without warriors surrounding me, I would not be able to stand where I am today.

– P.S.:  I know we as a society do not like to talk about depression, but it is a conversation that needs to happen.  I know to many people who choose to ignore it, who try to fight it alone.  I have been told one to many times that I just need to pray more, serve more, be more active in faith.  Maybe I do.  But that is not going to make this darkness that I feel go away.  I’ve learned to live with it, to embrace it as part of who I am, but it is not that simple for everyone.



Duck and Run

I want to talk about fear for a little bit.  I’ll keep it short, as tomorrow morning several members of the AC STL ERT, including myself, are departing to serve in response to the 11-13 August Flooding in Detroit.  Our assignment is Direct Service, mucking and gutting homes affected by the rising waters that fell from the skies above.  We are scheduled to be out there for the next month, but as with everything, plans could easily change in a moments notice.

Several weeks ago, I was writing the rough draft of Journey’s: the adventures of a Nomad, and these were the words that were left on the page:

I stood in the doorway confused as the wave of nervous energy washed over me.  I grabbed a teammate as he slid past to ask what was going on.  We were being deployed to Joplin.

In that moment, I froze.  Those were the words I feared; we were being deployed to Joplin.  Everything stood still and the chaos faded to silence as my thoughts were filled with the cry of a mother that has haunted me since my time in Uganda.  All I could feel was that sinking feeling in my gut of being helpless, something I had promised myself I would never allow myself to experience again.

I don’t know how long I stood there holding my breath, but I found myself closing my eyes and forcing myself to breathe.  As suddenly as it faded, the chaos of the moment washed back over me, forcing the fears away from my thoughts.  I opened my eyes to see my teammates there before me, packing, and I knew that this was exactly where I needed to be.

Fear can be a powerful force in our lives.  It is natural to be afraid, our experiences teach us that there are in fact monsters lurking in the darkness of our thoughts and the past will continue to haunt us as we allow ourselves to run from our experiences.  I have run so many times.  Fight or flight.  And so many times our instinct of survival forces us to flee from that which we perceive as destructive, harmful, or to dark to face alone.

Fear has helped me to survive, to become the man I am today.  Facing those same fears, instead of running, has allowed me to grow through times where I thought was going to be my downfall.

The instinct is still to flee, to duck and run, but experience has shown me that I am stronger than the darkest thoughts and experiences.  Oh, they still haunt me.  I still feel the clutch of darkness at night.  I still hear the cry of that Ugandan mother whose child died within arms reach.  I still get that deep sinking feeling in my gut, the feeling as if I am about to loose my last meal.  And I embrace each as they come.

I accept my fears because they are part of who I am.  In a way, they are my armor, my shield.  My strength and courage.

The strange thing about fear is that it doesn’t ever go away.  No matter how strong your faith is, it will remain there.  Waiting.  Like a good friend.

We can run from it.  Or we can accept it.  Turn our path into a crash course and charge headlong.  Or wait in silence and stillness until it crashes over us.  Face it with eyes wide open.

So, take a breath and dive in.