Archive for May, 2015

The Scars That Shape Us

This past Friday, we remembered one of the most devastating tornadoes that struck our nation, running its finger of destruction through homes, businesses, and lives of those who both lived and worked there, and all those who were moved to respond.  Four years ago, on the evening of 22 May 2011, an EF-5 Tornado, one of the most destructive according to classification, ripped through the city of Joplin, MO.

To say that this storm affected our lives is an understatement.  At the time, I was serving as a member of the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) with AmeriCorps, responding to the Good Friday Tornadoes in St Louis that struck just a month before.  That evening, the great wheels of response started, as members of the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) and Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) began their journey through the night to arrive in the midst of the devastation.  The following morning, my team and the 20 other members of NCCC joined the second wave of ERT members to deploy.

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As a child, one of the movies that I watched time and time again (and is still one of my favorites) was Twister.  In it, one of the characters who has never experienced the wrath of nature asked the innocent question of what an EF-5 tornado was like.  Over the silence that fell across the table, one of the storm chasers responds, “The finger of God.”

The six mile path that cut its way through Joplin, over a mile wide at it’s widest point (according to the map of damage that I received before heading out into the field), is a vivid reminder of the force, the power, and the destruction caused by this force of nature.  Many claimed it to be an act of God. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. With winds reaching over 250 mph (some have told me they reached over 300 mph), the storm tossed vehicles, flattened structures, stripped the bark off trees, and turned lives upside down.

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Something happened in those first few weeks we stood on the ground.  We assisted with the Search and Rescue operations. Cleared unnamed streets. Began moving debris. Managed and led volunteers. Fell asleep exhausted. Laid awake unable to sleep because we knew what visions would be revealed in the dark of night. Cried. Mourned. And got up to face it each and every day.

This storm, that tornado left a scar that could be felt. We could see it each and every day out in the field. You can still see it today if you know what you’re looking for. But it reached much deeper than that. Lives were torn apart. Lost. Left amongst the ruins. Ripped apart by what we saw. You could feel it in each and every life of those who responded, those whose feet stood amid the destruction.

I see it more and more each year, in how we continue to live our lives.

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The AmeriCorps pledge states that “[we] will carry this commitment with [us] this year and beyond.” Many of us have continued to serve. Many of us will always serve. We have scattered across the nation and the globe, knowing that we have been shaped by these experiences. Shaped by this storm.

I still see the images. I won’t let them fade. I can’t. For, they are a part of me. They are a part of each of us.

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Children of God

I’m what church people would consider a “bad Christian.”  I don’t do daily devotionals. I don’t read the Bible as much as I ‘should.’ I don’t have a home church. I am not currently active in a set community of believers that meets up once a week or so to discuss faith.

I church hop.  I travel around too much to consider a single church home. I’ve participated in Catholic Mass, a Baptist service, and a Non-Denominational sunrise service.  All in the past couple months. I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. Went to Catholic Heart Work Camp several summers in a row. Was active in my church Youth Group and Youth Choir, and was part of Young Life at the same time.  I lead middle school youth through Wyld Life.  I served at Summer Camps, did missions trips, and went to a Southern Baptist university. I consider myself non-affiliated to any single denomination.  And yet, sometimes I feel like I have deserved the title of “Bad Christian.”

Yesterday morning, while sitting on the steps outside the office waiting on the rest of my team to arrive to head out on project, I pulled out my Bible and turned to a random page, and began reading.  And this is what I read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
– John 1:1-13

I reread it. Several times.

I read it again this morning.

You see, I’m not a “good” Catholic. I’m not a “good” Christian. All I am is a child of God.

A child that was reborn through the waters of baptism in Lake Heartwell, in front of a beautiful group of friends. A community. A family of believers.

I noticed two things today. Two things that never really registered, but were always there.

First: I have nothing. I have no light of my own. No love. No waters of life.

You and I are like the moon. Everything we have is a reflection of God. We are each a light in the darkness because of the light of love that God pours out in our lives. All the love I share, all the hope that pours forth, is from God. I am just a vessel, a witness of his works in this world.

And I have been blessed to be part of the story.

Second: No matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ I am, I will always be a child of God.

I recently became an uncle once again. My sister and brother-in-law are adopting a beautiful, little baby boy. He is part of our family. I know this not because of blood, but because the love that pours forth from his parents, his mother and father who have brought in into their lives.

I see this. And I know this is only a fraction, a reflection of the love that God pours out onto each one of us. He is our Abba. Our Father in Heaven. I am His adopted son. We are His children. Sons and daughters.

It took watching the joy in my sisters smile, the love in her voice, for me to realize how powerful, how beautiful it is to be adopted into the family of God.

It doesn’t matter if I’m a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Christian. God loves me just the same.

And He loves you too.

The Flame and the Burn

Passion is a flame that guides us.  That lights our way, our path through life.  It is beautiful.  But it is also extremely dangerous if you are not careful.

So many people think they can control fire.  Can control their passion. But the beautiful reality is that it is a dangerous entity in its own right. It consumes everything in its path.  If we are not careful, it will consume us as well.

Have you ever looked at an area that has experienced a fire?  Structures are shells of what they used to be, if they are still standing at all.  Woodland areas are scorched.  Trees are burned.  Ash covers the ground.  Even after prescribed burns, low intensity fires, you can see the devastation that is left behind.  Now look at the wildfires out west.  Want to stand in front of one of them?

Thought not.

Our passions can be just as devastating.  You won’t notice it in the moment as you chase after the flames. But recently I started looking back and seeing the wake of subtle, yet powerful, destruction in my life once I let my passion get out of control.

It isn’t only bridges that have been burned, but people that were once close to me.  I pushed them away while chasing after a passion.  And recently, I’ve come to realize that I may have gotten too close.  Oh, it hurts sometimes.

And we live on with the scars. A reminder of the joy and the pain.

And as the years pass, the scars fade. Look at the landscapes where fires burned years ago.  If you look closely, you can still see it. The effects of the flames. Trees remain blackened. Logs litter the ground and snags reach up wishing for days long past.

But new growth has leapt forth from the scorched earth. Our lives are just the same.  Sometimes we need the flames to burn away the thorns and vines and weeds so that wildflowers bloom once again.