Archive for December, 2014

To A Year Well Lived

It’s New Year’s Eve.  We survived another 365 days.  We have thrived.  Grown.  Learned.  Oh, how much we have changed.  And now, we wait for the dawn of a new year.

Looking back over these past several months, I see so much that I have done.  Oh, I have served many hours alongside my fellow Corps Members here with the Emergency Response Team (ERT).  I have survived flames and smoke.  Wind and rains.  I have thrived within a community, surrounded by individuals who have made it their mission to support and encourage one another.  I have felled trees, lit fires, mucked flood affected homes, and helped organize and support teams out in the field.  I have learned to lead and to follow.

I have reconnected with several people with whom I had lost touch with.  Friends from school. Missionaries out in the field.  Teammates.  Friends.  I have rebuilt bridges that were lost to lack of maintenance, deliberate destruction, and the chaos of life.  Yes, there have been some that I have let go in the hopes of growing.  I hope in time, those, too, will be reclaimed.

This past year, I have been challenged.  I have taken a stand.  I have fallen.  I have gotten back to my feet.  Only to fall again.  I have learned the value of perseverance.  Of faith.  And I have accepted that I do not have to be perfect.  I just have to do the best that I can possibly accomplish.  And in that moment, I have to accept my best.  And continue to move forwards.

I have learned that, while looking back may allow me to see my mistakes, and looking forwards may allow me to plan my future, I must live in this present moment.  One of my good friends revealed this to me, if we are not in the present moment, we will miss everything that God is trying to show us.  We have to stop, refocus, and find our center in God above.  Abba.  The Father.

I have spent a number of hours wrestling with God.  I know I will lose, but still I struggle with Him.  Through this, I have remembered how much He loves me.  I have seen how much He cares for me.  And have come to grow closer to Him.  He has guided my feet, a shuffling series of nervous steps down the path of life.  The journey that is home.

In this past year, I have shared my stories.  I have written.  And I continue to write.  I have spoken freely about the great and devastating things that I have seen and experienced both here and in the missions fields.  I have shared my fears, the paralyzing grip of disaster and the haunting cry that echoes through my past.  I have allowed my words to wander through the debris field of Joplin and the winding path of my youth, growing up as an Army Brat.  I have shared both love and hate, fear and joy.  Because, when we embrace the journey that we have been on, we grow and allow ourselves to move forward.

Sometimes, I wonder where I am going.  But I smile.  I have learned to embrace joy, despite the pain, fear, and devastation that comes with this life.  This past year, I have made the choice to be happy.  To fill my heart with joy.  And break the chains of hate.  I have chosen to fill my life with positivity, to flee from the negative influences and embrace love.  It has changed my the way I live.  It has changed the way I relate to those around me.  And it has made me a better person.

As this year comes to a close, I am thankful for every moment that came with it.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me in the upcoming days, weeks, and months!


Mary Did You Know?

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
– Luke 2:8-20

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Did she know?  Oh, how could she know the glory that had come into her life!

We celebrate the birth of Christ, giving gifts to one another, and singing songs that remind us of the Christmas Story (shepherds, Angels, wise men, and the manger).  We post images of Santa and elves.  And we question if we, as Christians should wage war against the saying “Happy Holidays” because we all want to “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

And as we begin to argue, we realize we have already lost sight of what truly matters.

My sister wrote a beautiful piece on why and how she still includes Santa in Christmas.  You see, Christmas is about family.  Look at the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  It is about receiving gifts that you do not necessarily deserve.  The Magi.  God coming down to earth to save all of us from our sins.

Do I think that Christmas has become bigger and that society has lost sight of all of this?  Maybe.  But I know too many people who do not celebrate the birth of Christ, and if I raise a fuss and shout about how they need to focus on something that they do not believe, how is that showing them love?  If I tell them how they should live, that isn’t love.

Christmas is about love.  Unconditional love.  A love that none of us could ever deserve.

Like Mary, we treasure these things, holding them in our hearts.  I know that God has a plan.  It may not be the one that I have envisioned, but I know that it is far greater.  Mary held a glimpse of God’s plan, but how could she ever know the miracles that Jesus would perform?  If you are asking if she knew, take a look at Luke 2:41-52 and John 2:1-12 (young Jesus in the temple and the wedding feast, respectively).  Oh, she knew her son was the Son of God.

The gift of love is evident in how we live.  If we do not love, we cannot claim to be followers of Christ.  So, this holiday season, smile and share that love that you treasure and hold in your heart.  Your life may be the only Gospel that someone may see.


Let It Go

Tonight, Christmas Eve, I watched Disney’s Frozen with my three-and-a-half year old niece and nephew (the beebops).  I’m sure I know what several of you are thinking:  It’s Christmas.  Why aren’t you writing about the birth of Jesus, Santa, and all that good stuff.  Simple answer, my family postponed the arrival of Santa until my brother is able to be here in several days.  (There may be another post tomorrow night about Christmas, so just chill out.)

Back to Frozen.  I’ve seen it twice now.  The first time I watched it with two of my cousins.  And then tonight with the beebops, my sister, brother-in-law, and parents.  It’s a beautiful movie with a powerful message of love.

There is a part that everyone knows and sings along to, when Elsa, the older sister, sings Let it Go.  If you’ve never looked at the lyrics before, they contain a beautiful message about being true to who you really are:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry!

Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on!

I’m never going back,
The past is in the past!

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!

We can learn so much from the lessons we teach our children.

I love this song because it speaks about the mask that we wear each day.  So many times we hide who we truly are because we are afraid of what others may feel, think, or believe about us.  We change who we are, how we act, how we hold ourselves up, in the hopes that people don’t notice our flaws and perfections.

We are all broken creatures.  We have all experienced shame and fear.  We have all made ourselves out to be heroes or villains.  And we have all experienced that moment when we wished that we could tear off that mask and shout out who we really are.

I’ve done it so much in my journey.  I’ve hidden behind ignorance.  I’ve tried to make myself sound better than I really am.  And so many times I have been held back by the assumptions, fears, and opinions of others.  I wish I could strip them all down, start anew once again.

I guess that’s why I loved moving so much as a child.  Fresh beginnings.  Heck, that is what saved me at times.

I’ve asked myself over and over again, what would people think if they knew the real me.  The one hiding behind the mask of confidence.  The one that bites his tongue so often that he has lost his voice.  The one that would rather hide behind a good book and make art than socialize (oh, wait, I already do that at times).  What would people do?

Better yet, how would I feel?  To be released from the chains of the past, the oppression of thoughts, and the weight of others opinions.  Oh, how glorious that would feel!

We tell ourselves that we are not lying when we put on a show in front of others, but that is exactly what it feels like: a lie.

So, the challenge that I am making, for both you, the reader, and myself: Let it go.  Embrace who you truly are.  And don’t let anything change that.  If people cannot accept you for who you are, then maybe they don’t have a place in your life.  I know that sounds harsh, but if you continue to hold onto them, they will drag you down, smother you, and you will never be able to be free.

Our Holy Mother

Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee
Blessed are thou among women
And Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now, and at the hour of our death

As a child, I learned this prayer, along with many others, through the Roman Catholic Church.  I still recite the words, and ask for prayers in some of the darkest hours.  It’s a comfort, knowing that when all words are lost, I still know that I can ask for prayers.

Several weeks ago, I finished a painting that caused many people to take a second look.  Titled, Our Holy Mother, it is a symbolic take on the iconic image of Mary and her child, Jesus.

Our Holy Mother

As you can see, it’s not your ordinary painting.  It’s disturbing.  It causes one to question.

The idea for the piece comes from that split second when the Angel asked Mary if she would accept her role in the love story of redemption.  When she said yes, she, in essence, killed everything else that she could have been.  The life that she was living died and she was born into the life that God called her to live.  She knew that this could mean her death, but she accepted anyways.

She trusted.  And she bore the child that would die for her.  That would die for all of our sins.

She stood there as He died on that cross.  She watched as He breathed his last breath.  And the blood that was spilt washed over us, cleansing us of our sins.

She, the Mother of God, is a beacon of hope for each of us.

This painting is full of symbolism.  From the traditional blues that Mary is clothed in to the reds dripping down the canvas, it all has meaning.

I stated after sharing this image with my friends on Facebook, “The purpose of every painting is to bring forth discussion and thought. I chose this image (and title) for precisely that. Not one person is right, and nobody is wrong in their interpretation of the painting. That, my dear friends, is the beauty of art!”  I stand by that statement even now.

So, enjoy these thought I’ve shared.  Try not to lose too much sleep over the painting.  Hopefully it wont give you nightmares…

Let’s Start A Riot (Part 2)

We move through this present darkness, hoods up, heads down.  We hide our faces in fear of being recognized, cover them so that we cannot be seen.  We arm ourselves with justice and righteousness.  We call ourselves warriors.  Peacemakers.  But underneath we are scared to death.

Oh, our heads are filled with rage.  Our thoughts turn to the violence that surrounds us.  Yet our hearts remind us to forgive, to embrace love.    And an eruption of creative energy pours forth, like blood gushing from a wound.  Like a overflowing cup poured out on each of us.

Lovers unite under the banner of peace.  And warriors stand shoulder to shoulder, lining up for war.  Underneath, they have no body armor other than faith, hope for the sun to rise once more above the darkness.  And still we are moving.

The fight is coming.  And it is time to take a stand.

A lone voice starts the call, and soon hundreds of thousands will take up the cry.  And the moment comes down to here and now.  What call will that be?

The moment is now.  The choice is ours.

Will we rush forth with eager hearts to love unconditionally?  To forgive.  To grow.  To accept another into our family.  To embrace one another in a brotherhood that knows no bounds.  To begin healing.  And to rebuild.

Are we willing to make that stand?  To start the battle cry of joy?

We move through this present darkness as warriors of love, spreading hope in a world that is in pain.  We cover our actions to give glory to the one that we serve.  Our names our nothing as our voices raise up in praise.  Our riot is one of joy, an outpouring of love.  A violent juxtaposition against the darkness, as we let God shine through us.  Take control.

Oh, we are so afraid.  Because we know how powerful He is.  We have seen Him forgive us, sinners and wrecks of lives that hold nothing.  And yet He built us up as palaces, as temples.  And we know that the Kingdom is near.  That scares me more than any words or actions of man.  An uncompromising love that stands as a beacon, a symbol of hope in our dark world.

This is our riot.  This is our movement.

The Deafening Silence

Recently, I returned from Disaster Response in Detroit.  It was there, alongside several other AmeriCorps programs (including, but not limited to: Texas Conservation Corps, Montana Conservation Corps, St Bernard Project, Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Tribal Civilian Community Corps – Hoopa Tribe, California Conservation Corps, and Washington Conservation Corps).  It was there, staying in a local monastery with over 50 others (including All Hands Volunteers), that I got used to the constant chaos of people.  I got used to working long hours, constantly talking (I worked mostly in both the call center and the AmeriCorps office scheduling field teams), and staying up late to find some ‘me-time’, catch up with the field teams, or finish cleaning from dinner.

The shock of returning to the world of conservation can’t be more defined as black and white.  This past week, I ventured forth to Washington State Park with three others.  And it felt as if I was going crazy.  There was no way to drown out the constant quiet.  It was as if my thoughts were screaming out in my head, unheard for so long, that the whispers were deafening.

There have been too many times when I have fled from the silence that surrounds me.  I fill my space with images of family, friends, and inspiration.  I fill my room with music that echoes words off the walls.  I find ways to distract myself so the silence doesn’t consume me.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my space and the comfort of having it all to myself, but sometimes the silence is like a disturbing presence that feels like someone, something standing over my shoulder.

It scares me.

It scares me because of what I might hear in that silence.  The whisper of God.

Oh, I see God in so many moments of this life.  I see Him in each sunrise and sunset.  In each breath I take, I am reminded how much He loves me.  Yet I fear what I may hear.

We want to be comfortable.  It is human nature.  But God has not called us to be comfortable.

That, my friends, is why we are so scared of the silence.

So we surround ourselves with noise, to drown out the uncomfortable moments with noise.

And yet, it still seems to find us, no matter how hard we try to escape it.

I laid in bed last night, unable to sleep because my thoughts were racing through my head to quickly.  And the silence crept in.  It was more deafening than any noise I could surround myself with.  And I was afraid.  But at the same time, I found comfort in it.

Silence isn’t something we should run from.  I know that.  I’ve known that for some time now.  And I appreciate the time alone with God.  Each time, I am reminded of how much He loves.  Unconditionally.  And the silence is proof of that.

So next time you find yourself confronting the deafening noise of silence, take a deep breath and find yourself embraced in the loving arms of God.