Archive for March, 2017

The One Regret

I got to do some amazing and beautiful things in my four years of AmeriCorps. I had the opportunity to serve my community, to respond to disasters when they happened. I got to remove debris from peoples yards, helping to begin the process of rebuilding communities ripped apart by the fury of nature. I got to serve alongside survivors and listen to their stories. I got to lead a team of young adults as they discovered how to change lives through service. I was able to travel across the country serving, digging fireline, building trails, removing hazard trees, and felling invasive species.

I got the opportunity to do all of this, and so much more. And in those four years of service, I only have a single regret.

It wasn’t something that I did, but rather something I didn’t do.

Each year, the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) would make two trips up to Montana to serve alongside the USFS in and around the Beaverhead-Deerhead National Forest. It was a long three day drive as we made the journey out packed into several trucks loaded down with gear. It was on one of these long days driving across the stretch of interstate that I recently looked back upon and felt ashamed of something I didn’t do.

At the beginning of my second year with the St Louis ERT, which happened to be my fourth and last year serving with AmeriCorps, I found myself in one of the pick up trucks with four other teammates. One of them I knew after we served together the previous year and the other three were teammates that I had just met.

We were riding in Blue Hulk (yes, our trucks were named, along with our chainsaws and various other equipment) near the back of the procession of vehicles as we made our way through one of the Dakotas (I believe we were in South Dakota at the time) when we happened to pass a serious wreck. By the looks of it, a driver had crossed the median and oncoming lanes, went up the embankment underneath an overpass and wedged themselves underneath the bridge. Several other vehicles that were not traveling with our group had already pulled off to assist, but first responders had not arrived on the scene.

And there I was driving past it.

Even after two of my teammates asked if we should pull over, I didn’t stop.

And to this day, I regret that decision.

One of those teammates was an EMT. Two others were certified first responders. We had all taken first aid classes. We could have helped. But I didn’t. I kept on driving.

Several minutes later, we saw the ambulance speeding past in the opposite direction towards the wreckage. And that was the moment that I began to regret my decision.

After my time responding to the Joplin tornado three years earlier, I struggled with the thought that there was so much more I could have done. Due to policy, my team was pulled off that disaster response 13 days after we arrived. I struggled with knowing that people still needed our help. There was still something more that we could have done there. I was angry because instead of serving where the immediate need was, we found ourselves heading down to Houston, TX to help out at a youth camp.

At the time, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know how to express the frustration that consumed me. Yet, after several meetings with campus staff and teammates, I found myself at peace with it. While I was there, we had done everything we could to help. I had done my best, and there was nothing to be personally ashamed of.

And as I watched the ambulance fade into the mirror, and I saw the disappointment on the faces of my teammates, I knew that I could have done more. We could have done more. Made a difference.

It’s been over two years since those events on the interstate took place. And that moment stands out. Out of the four years that I served in AmeriCorps, that decision is the only one that I look back on and regret. Out of all my travels and adventures that make up my journey, that decision is still the only one I regret, because I didn’t do what my heart knew was the right thing to do.

Looking back on that moment seems like forever ago. How much has changed since then?

Why are you sharing these words? I hear you asking.

I’m sharing them because I have never put them into words. In the years of serving and writing, I never shared them, and I knew I had to. I have to live with that decision and it is a constant reminder that I never want to feel that way ever again.

I now work in realm of the first responder. I answer 911 phone calls every night that I work. I dispatch law enforcement, emergency medical, and fire personnel to calls day in and day out. And I never want to feel that shame of regret ever again. So I do the best that I can. I continue to serve to the best of my abilities.

And when I think about giving up, taking that easy path, I see that ambulance in the rear view window again. I take a breath. And I give it my all.

Dear Mr President

To the President of the United States, Donald Trump,

I understand that these words may never reach your eyes, but I feel that I need to share them with you and the world. Like many people, I did not vote for you. I did not want you to represent me, but the fact is that you are my president.

There are many things I wish I could say to you, but for now I will focus on a single issue.

After graduating from college in the spring of 2010, I joined the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and served my nation through a program of national service. I entered into communities and helped to meet needs that were addressed. I was part of Class 17, based out of the Denver campus. For seventeen years before me, members of NCCC had ventured forth to serve communities in projects that focused on infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, energy conservation, urban and rural development, and disaster response.

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During that year, I served with teams that assisted the Huston Parks and Recreation with invasive species removal and linear forestry, helped to create a fire-wise community in Crown King, Arizona, and served alongside members of the Missouri Department of Conservation to remove invasive species, assist in prescribed fire operations, and maintain and improve hiking trails in various locations across the state. After the 2011 tornado outbreak that dropped hundreds of tornadoes across the South, I responded to the Good Friday Tornadoes that hit the communities surrounding St Louis. A month later, we responded to the EF-5 tornado that tore its way through Joplin, Missouri.

During my short time responding to the Joplin tornado, I was part of the team that helped to recruit and supervise more than 75,000 volunteers who contributed more than 579,000 hours of service. This operation, led by members of AmeriCorps who had pledged a year or more of service to their communities, helped to defray over $17.7 million in emergency match dollars owed by the City of Joplin to the federal government.

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A year after completing my term of service with NCCC, I returned to AmeriCorps after a year away to lead a team for the inaugural class of FEMA Corps. I became a Team Leader for an amazing group of young adults who stepped up to face the unknown that was a new program within AmeriCorps to serve alongside members of FEMA. We were tested by fire as I led my team to respond to Super-Storm Sandy after it hit the coasts of New Jersey and New York. My team served the residents of Rockaway and Far Rockaway in the New York City borough of Queens after the storm surge submerged most of the homes and businesses on the peninsula.

Over the following two years, I served alongside the AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT). It was there that I dived into the world of conservation as I assisted the USFS and the Missouri Department of Conservation in prescribed fire preparation and operations. I traveled up to Montana on several occasions to assist the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest with trail construction and maintenance, hazard tree removal, and firewood collection, as well as various other projects, including invasive species mitigation and site maintenance for several campgrounds.

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I responded alongside my teammates to numerous wildfires and prescribed burns, as well as the flooding in Detroit (11-13 August 2014). In my time with the ERT, my teammates responded to multiple tornadoes and floods that hit the Midwest.

A year and a half ago, I completed my fourth and final year of service through AmeriCorps. I joined the growing community of 800,000+ people who have served as members of AmeriCorps since its induction in 1994. I have seen lives changed because of this program; from the teammate who I have served beside and seen grow to become a leader and those who we have served in the field of disaster response, who needed assistance in their darkest hour.

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Recently, you released your proposed budget that would cut funding to the Corporation of National Service, effectively ending the AmeriCorps programs that serve the communities in which Americans breathe and live. Your budget would create a devastating hole in the lives of American citizens who currently have the opportunity to serve their nation and those who have been touched by the hands of service. It would devastate our nations ability to efficiently respond to disasters, both natural and that which is created by the hands of man. It would cripple my generations ability, and the generations that follow, to serve our nation, outside of wielding a weapon of war.

I have already contacted my representatives and made my voice heard, but I am now addressing my President, the man who was elected to serve this nation; If you cut funding to the Corporation of National Service and to AmeriCorps, you are putting our country at risk. Look at the research and see how effective these programs are before you cripple everything we stand for.

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As an American citizen, I am proud to have been a Corps Member and Team Leader with AmeriCorps. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to serve my nation, making it a stronger place to call home. I am honored to be a part of something bigger than myself.

I will leave you with the pledge that over a million members have sworn:

I will get things done for America –
to make our people safer, smarter and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member and I will get things done.

I hope that you read these words and listen to the voices of National Service as we make our voices heard; “Let Us Serve.”

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Sean Kerr
Corps Member Class 17, NCCC – Denver, CO
Team Leader Class 19, FEMA Corps – Vicksburg, MS
Corps Member and Second Year Member Class 20 and 21,
St Louis Emergency Response Team

Finding God in the Chaos

A couple weeks ago, someone asked me a question; I was unable to put the answer into words. They asked me why God would allow so much chaos in the world. They asked me why God would let their child go into cardiac arrest. And as I walked them through CPR over the phone, I didn’t have an answer. And yet, in some ways I still don’t have an answer.

The community that I have been journeying with has started the process of reading through the entirety of the Bible (a journey together called Halak, but you can find out more about that here), and over the past week or so, we have been going through the book of Job. In it, Job asks God the same question.

Why? He asks why these things happened to him. Why did his belongings get taken from him? Why did his seven sons and three daughters perish when the wind swept in and collapsed the house on top of them? Why was he afflicted with terrible sores and blisters? He cried out and questioned why.

His wife tells him to “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). And then for the next 36 chapters, his friends are unable to console him, to answer his questions of “Why is this happening to me?!” He never looses his integrity, he never sins or turns his back against God, but his answers are unanswered until God speaks.

And yet, God speaks from the storm.

Imagine yourself in Job’s position. Your children had been crushed beneath their home when a mighty wind swept in and struck the four corners (Job 1:19), and now your God speaks to you from a storm. Many translate it as the whirlwind. This is your chance to curse God to his face. But then He begins to ask you questions.

God asks Job a series of questions.

  1. Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (Job 38:2)
  2. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? (v.4)
  3. Who marked off its dimensions? (v.5)
  4. Who stretched a measuring line across it? (v.5)
  5. On what were its footings set? (v.6)
  6. Who laid its cornerstone? (v.6)
  7. Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”? (v.8-11)
  8. Have you ever given orders to the morning? (v.12)
  9. Or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? (v.12-13)
  10. Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea? (v.16)
  11. Or walked in the recesses of the deep? (v.16)
  12. Have the gates of death been shown to you? (v. 17)
  13. Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? (v.17)
  14. Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? (v. 18)
  15. What is the way to abode of light? (v.19)
  16. And where does darkness reside? (v.19)
  17. Can you take them to their places? (v.20)
  18. D you know the paths to their dwellings? (v.20)
  19. Have you entered the storehouses of the snow? (v.22)
  20. Or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? (v.22-23)
  21. What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed? (v.24)
  22. Or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? (v.24)
  23. Who cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? (v.25-27)
  24. Does the rain have a father? (v.28)
  25. Who fathers the drops of dew? (v.28)
  26. From whose womb comes the ice? (v.29)
  27. Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? (v. 29-30)
  28. Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? (v.31)
  29. Can you loosen Orion’s belt? (v.31)
  30. Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? (v.32)
  31. Or lead out the Bear with its cubs? (v.32)
  32. Do you know the laws of the heavens? (v.33)
  33. Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? (v.33)
  34. Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? (v.34)
  35. Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (v.35)
  36. Do they report to you, “Here we are”? (v.35)
  37. Who gives the ibis wisdom about the flooding of the Nile? (v.36)
  38. Or gives the rooster understanding of when to crow? (v.36)
  39. Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? (v.37)
  40. Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? (v.37-38)
  41. Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? (v.39-40)
  42. Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? (v.41)
  43. Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? (39:1)
  44. Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? (v.1)
  45. Do you count the months till they bear? (v.2)
  46. Do you know the time they give birth? (v.2)
  47. Who let the wild donkey go free? (v.5)
  48. Who untied its ropes? (v.5)
  49. Will the wild ox consent to serve you? (v.9)
  50. Will it stay by your manger at night? (v.9)
  51. Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? (v.10)
  52. Will it till the valleys behind you? (v.10)
  53. Will you rely on it for its great strength? (v.11)
  54. Will you leave your heavy work to it? (v.11)
  55. Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor? (v.12)
  56. Do you give the horse its strength? (v.19)
  57. Or clothe its neck with flowing mane? (v.19)
  58. Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? (v.20)
  59. Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings towards the south? (v.26)
  60. Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? (v.27)
  61. Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? (40:1)

At this point, Job responds: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5) But God continues:

62. Would you discredit my justice? (v.8)
63. Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (v.8)
64. Do you have an arm like God’s? (v.9)
65. And can your voice thunder like his? (v.9)
66. Can anyone capture it (the behemoth) by the eyes? (v.24)
67. Or trap it and piece its nose? (v.24)
68. Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook? (41:1)
69. Or tie down its tongue with a rope? (v.1)
70. Can you put a cord through its nose? (v.2)
71. Or pierce its jaw with a hook? (v.2)
72. Will it keep begging you for mercy? (v.3)
73. Will it speak to you with gentle words? (v.3)
74. Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? (v.4)
75. Can you make a pet of it like a bird? (v.5)
76. Or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? (v.5)
77. Will traders barter for it? (v.6)
78. Will they divide it up among the merchants? (v.6)
79. Can you fill its hide with harpoons? (v.7)
80. Or its head with fishing spears? (v.7)
81: Who then is able to stand against me? (v.10)
82. Who has a claim against me that I must pay? (v.11)
83. Who can strip off its (the leviathan’s) outer coat? (v.13)
84. Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? (v.13)
85. Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? (v.14)

Job’s reply has struck me as something very beautiful: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You ask, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:2-3)

It hit me as I sat in the Gathering as these questions filled the screen before us; we are not in the position to ask God “Why?”

None of us can provide an answer to the questions that were asked of Job. We never have been, and we never will.

All we can do is to keep out integrity before God and stand firm in our faith.

Instead of asking God “Why?” when I’m walking a parent through CPR on their child or when I’m on the line with a child who is hiding while their parents fight in the other room, the question is “How do I show your love?”

Instead of cursing God and giving up, even if for the briefest of moments, we must refrain our lives so that our response is to accept that this chaos is part of a larger picture that is His plan.

I hope my ramblings made sense…