Rough Nights and the Fight That Matters

It’s been a struggle to write over the past couple weeks. It’s not that I haven’t had the time to write, it’s that it feels as though I don’t have the energy to put my thoughts into words. It feels like no matter how hard I try, I cant find it in myself to open up enough to write. To put thoughts and words out for everyone to read.

This week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. A week in which dispatchers around the nation shed light on those who work so diligently behind the radio. 911 call takers. Dispatchers. The first first-responders that the public comes in contact with when the chaos of darkness begins to consume their world. When disaster hits.

I work 12 hour shifts through the night, hidden from sight behind a bank of computer screens. I primarily work as the dispatcher for EMS and Municipal Fire, sending out emergency personnel to respond to medical calls. To structure fires. To cardiac arrests. To motor vehicle accidents. To the suicidal caller. To the new mother giving birth. To the frantic parents who are being walked through the process of CPR for their child who has stopped breathing.

I was told once that the night holds the darkest moments of our lives. I was told that the darkness of night holds all of our fears and struggles. Our demons hide within that blackness, just out of sight, waiting for us to stumble and fall when the darkness consumes us. I have seen that darkness. And I have faced it. We all have faced it.

It is said in dispatch that we get more of the interesting calls at night. More domestic disputes and violence. We get more of the prowlers and the suspicious people calls. The crazy people. And while a lot of this is true, when something happens, everything happens at once.

We go from having a screen clear of calls one second, and the next moment you are struggling to figure out what unit to send to each call. It’s not just that single call that comes in, it is that cardiac arrest where your partner is walking a family member through CPR, the structure fire that came in at the same time, and the truck that just flipped upside down and the caller doesn’t know where they are at. And on top of all this, any call that you answer or send someone to could be your friend or family member.

There have been some nights recently where I have struggled. There have been nights recently when I have asked myself “Is this really worth it?” Was I really doing something that was helping people? The darkness of night brought forth doubt.

There have been nights recently where I have gotten angry with people that I work with. When a coworker makes a mistake, I have lashed out in anger. I have held that mistake against them, and the trust that allows us to work as a team has begun to corrode. And I find myself asking if I will ever trust them again. The darkness of night has stolen that from me.

There is something that I have discovered about the darkness of night; it eventually fades to day. Another thing I have noticed, it is easier to see the flickers of light in the darkness.

Sometimes I find myself going from one small victory to the next. Like when your EMS unit comes over the radio to state that the patient is breathing again. When fire personnel announces that nobody is inside the structure as it burns through the night. That the patient has been removed from the vehicle and is being transported. That the lost child has been found. That officers are out with the person you talked to for the past half hour as they hid behind a locked door.

When the voice on the other end of the radio finally responds. That everything is 10-4 (okay).

We don’t really think about telecommunicators as emergency responders. We don’t go, but we are always there as the voice on the other end. Be it a phone line or a radio, we are the voices that cuts through the silence. The men and women behind the scene.

When the [edit] hits the fan, we are the first to go into action.


I think the struggle to put thoughts into words is that if I speak them, or put them down in writing, they become real. I struggle because as much as I try, I can not leave it all at the communications center. I can’t let go of the hundreds of thousands of calls I have answered when the line disconnects and the next begins to ring. They have become a part of me.

Every victory. Every failure. Every setback. They have become a part of who I am. And no matter how much I fear them at times, I am thankful for each of them.

There is a saying that between the thin blue line of law enforcement and the thin red line of the fire departments (and the thin white line of EMS) there is a thin gold line that holds everything together. I am proud to be part of the family that makes up that thin gold line of dispatch.

And in the dark of night, I will be the voice on the other end.


Just Another Comic

For years my grandfather had a painting in his office in the basement of his home. It was a series of tiles that he had painted many years ago that told the story of a cowboy and his relationship to God.


Part of me always loved this piece because I felt that I could relate to this cowboy. For the past several years (ever since I served as Summer Staff with Young Life up at Saranac Village in New York, the summer of 2007), I feel closest to God out in the wilderness. During my time in AmeriCorps, I would seek him out in the mountains and forests while we served.

I think there is a natural longing to be closer to creation that draws us out into the wild. I know that when I’m away from the noise and stress of city life, I can hear God more clearly. I can still myself in His presence.

Every time I would visit my grandfather, even as a child, I would sneak down to his office to look at this short comic.

Several months ago, my grandfathers health started to fail and he has since moved into a full-time healthcare facility. His home now stands empty, except for memories that were experienced within those walls. The comic on those tiles has been removed and has found a new home with one of my uncles.

One night, while doodling in my sketchbook, this comic strip came back to me and I started drawing. I pulled up the only image I had of my grandfathers work and started the process of transferring it in an attempt to preserve the images for my family.

I started drawing it, and when I shared some of the work in progress with my dad, he laughed a little and told me that he believed grandpa copied it from a comic that used to run in the newspaper.

Well, this sparked my interest, and after a quick search through the power of the internet (using the two characters who had been named) I discovered that it had been copied from a comic.


It’s from the comic Rick O’Shay by Stan Lynde that ran from 1958 to 1981.

While I couldn’t find the original date that this specific comic was published, finding the original story made this process of drawing so much more fulfilling. I recently finished the drawings and have gifted them to my father for Christmas.

(Note: They are on two separate pages, each approx 15 x 15″)

And while some people may look at it as just another comic, it is so much more than that. It is a memory. And a statement of faith. And a piece of family that we can hold onto.

When Heroes Cry

Last night I drew a picture. It is a drawing that was based off of the raw emotions I felt while watching the complete and utter chaos unfold on the streets of Charlotte, NC. I watched as men and women put on the uniform and took to the streets to stand against protesters and rioters, the very people they have sworn to protect.

I watched as flashbangs and tear-gas grenades went off. I watched as individuals shattered windows and looted local shops. I watched as rocks and bottles were hurled through the air. And my heart broke.

I started sketching because I have worked beside the family that is the Thin Blue Line. Over the past year, we as a nation have seen too much bloodshed. We have seen too much hatred spill out onto the streets. We have seen too much violence.

Every time I see officers in the streets standing face to face with violent reactions from protesters, my heart breaks for them. And I believe their hearts break as well.

This is where this drawing comes from.

Sometimes, even heroes break down and cry.


Art, Photography, and Fire

Life has been crazy. It always has, I just sometimes forget to ignore it at times. You see, today (well, yesterday) was Valentines Day. It was also the Mardi Gras Celebration here in Soulard (the second largest, right after Batton Rouge and NOLA if you believe the internet these days). As usual, it was a [edit] show with tons of drunk people, loud music, and yeah, that’s about it. Other than that, the adventure has been “uneventful.”

Uneventful. Yeah, right. If you can believe that, I have some ocean-front property in Kansas that I’m also trying to sell.

You see, life is not, nor will it ever be, a tamed animal within a cage where you can look at it from a safe distance and proclaim, “that’s nice.” No, life is an adventure and a jungle full of surprises, fears, hazards, and joys. It is comprised of the most extreme highs and devastating lows. It will build you up just as quickly as it will tear you down.

Barbarian Lover Barbarian Warrior

As before, I mentioned that yesterday was Valentines Day.  The Hallmark season of love and affection.  And lets not forget the roses and chocolates that come with that profession of love.  You may be wondering to yourself why the above paintings are just hanging out up there, staring at you.  Well, the simple reason: Love.

Several years ago, I stumbled across the idea of the Barbarian; the Lover and the Warrior.  You cannot have one without the other, just as you cannot separate the two.  The passion runs to deep.  So, we have the warrior and the lover, two distinct characteristics of the same individual (the Barbarian).  Ever since that day (way back when I was still attending Anderson University and attempting to discover what I truly believed) I have done my best to live the life of the Barbarian; a life that is full of living and loving.

This progressed into my life motto: We Live, We Love.  It is tattooed on my wrist, a daily reminder that no matter our struggles, nor the chaos that surrounds us, to fully live, we must learn to love.  And to fully love, we must learn to live.

You see, we must be constantly learning or we die.  It’s that simple.

On a side note, the above paintings will be showing at the 33February show hosted by, and although I will be unable to attend the gallery reception, I hope that if you find yourself in the St Louis area, you go support these amazing artists.


A couple weeks ago, I got the opportunity to attend a huge event.  An event like no other.  It was a night full of the Holy Spirit.  Surrounded by inspiring music, some amazing praise and worship, and thousands of individuals seeking out God in their individual journeys, I felt the love pour over me once again.

This was Winter Jam.

For a while, I felt lost.  I felt as if nobody could understand the chaos that was happening in my life.  Like a ship lost at sea, with no way to guide itself home.  And as I sat there, beside people that I had met minutes before, I knew that I was home, no matter where I found myself to be.  That’s the power of love.

I met some amazing individuals that night.  High School students.  Their parents.  College students.  Wanderers.  Thinkers.  All lovers and warriors willing to take a stand for what they believed.


Oh, I’ve also been keeping myself busy with AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team.  We’ve been having adventures all across the state of Missouri, all of us eagerly waiting to respond to the next disaster or wildfire.  We’ve been doing a lot of Glade Restoration projects; cutting out cedar and burning them in piles to open up the natural areas where native grasses and wildflowers thrive.  It’s been interesting to see the difference between how MDC does it in the SE part of the state and then wander on over West with DNR who does it differently.

Neither are wrong, they just do it differently.  It’s an interesting perspective on conservation.


We’ve gotten close to wanting to kill one another (you may think I’m joking about this, but who really knows).  We bicker and we go back and forth at times with complaints and opinions, but truly, we all love one another.  We are all about that love, y’all!

In all seriousness, every group is going to have it’s issues.  This is what happens when you put 37 individuals together for an extended amount of time.  Yes, it’s not perfect.  Yes, we screw up.  But in the end, we must ask ourselves if it is really worth it.  I already know the answer to that question.


So, if you take anything out of this post, let it be love.  And even though I am up at all ends of the night/morning assisting at the Emergency Warming Shelter (all you Second Years owe me!), I love what I do.  I love the life that God has put before me.  Even with the struggles, heartaches, and pain that often accompanies the adventure.  And what I love most are the lives that I have crossed paths with, those friendships that span across the nation and around the globe.  May God continue to bless you and pour out His love upon your life.

The Darkness that Consumes (aka: reflections from 33January)

A week ago, I was hanging out with, what seemed like, several hundred other amazing individuals at the Old Orchard Gallery in Webster Groves, MO for the monthly 33 show put on by, 33January.  I’ve been multiple times, but this event was different.  It was special because for the first time, I was one of the 33 artists showing work in the gallery.  In fact, this was the first time since my Senior Show when I graduated from Anderson University that I have shown any work publicly.

Photo by Jenn Sarti Photography
Photo by Jenn Sarti Photography

It was an amazing night filled with conversations, laughter, and many friendships.  I was even blessed by the presence of several individuals that I serve with in the ERT who dropped by throughout the night.

I enjoyed the night, watching people in the room respond to the art around them.  Many pieces were extremely beautiful!  Oh, there were some amazing pieces that surrounded us.  If I had the money, I would have bought several.

What made me smile was watching people come across my art.  It was around a corner, so you couldn’t see it unless you came around the wall.  Most people were moving semi-clockwise around the room, and the two artists before my work had some amazing photography.  There were quite a few people who noticed my paintings and quickly took a step back.

17 Beneath the Mask

You can tell by people’s initial reaction that my paintings were not what was expected.  I never meant them to be.

You see, my art is a reflection of myself.  An avenue of expression that reveals the truth beneath the surface.  Two of my paintings were self portraits that expressed the struggle with the darkness that we keep hidden from the world.  My darkness is expressed through my art, an avenue of healthy release for the stress, frustrations, and fears that I keep hidden away from the world.

19 The Darkness Within

I stood by my work for part of the night and had a beautiful conversation with an older gentleman about how once that darkness we keep within ourselves is set free, there is no way to hide it once again.  He told me how his darkness came out in the war and that almost cost him his marriage.  He smiled as he sighed, stating “But if felt so good.”  He walked off, hand in hand with his wife.

His words are true.  The darkness that we keep within ourselves has the potential to ruin us, to kill us, and leave us broken.  But when we release it, it feels so good.  It feels good to get it out into the open.  To set it free.  To no longer have it hidden within us.

Our Holy Mother

It was a great night in the gallery, but there is a single moment that made it so awesome:  As I walked in, I overheard a mother ask her young daughter (probably around 7 years of age), “What piece is your favorite?”  For the next several minutes the little girl circled around the gallery.  She stopped in front of my paintings, pointing up at Our Holy Mother, and stated matter of factly, “This one.”

The look of shock on the mothers face was priceless!

Out of all the art in the gallery (somewhere around 80-90 pieces), she chose one of my paintings.  That was the best compliment I received the entire night.

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…

Five Words…

My sketchbook is filled with quotes from books, inspirational people, and song lyrics.  It’s a way for me to look back and remind myself how blessed I am to be living this life of adventure.  There are many that speak to me each day, like the following:

You can’t give up if you want to keep what you love.
– Rise, by Skillet


One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow.  But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again.  Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them.  And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.
– Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts


If you want to go fast; go alone
If you want to go far; go together
– African Proverb

It reminds me of all those times when we see inspirational quotes plastered across the internet, but this way I keep them with me.  And they inspire me to live a life of love, adventure, and hope.

It may have been the loosing side.  Still not convinced it was the wrong one.
– Captain Mal Renalds, from Firefly

Many are repeated throughout sketchbooks and pages, a constant reminder to be strong, to remember the words, and to live to the fullest.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
– Bob Marley

But I’m writing this post in concern to one quote that was speaking to me this entire day.  It speaks to all of us, if we choose to listen.  I never truly caught the full meaning of the lyrics until I took the time several months ago to look them up and transcribe them onto the page of my sketchbook.  Since then, they have stood out again and again, catching peoples eye, and forcing them to pause for a second.

Five words, repeating over in your head
That’s all you ever have to do
Five words, is it really that hard to say
You’re worth more than this?
– Stitches, by Haste the Day

Take a second to read that again.

And read it again.

And again.

Memorize it.  Repeat it over in your head.  And take a couple moments to think about the implication of those words.


Each time I read those words I smile.  They are the words that God has been whispering in our ear ever since we allowed society to rule our lives.  It is a cry of revolution and hope.  It is a reminder that we are truly loved.  And that we have a purpose on this earth.

Life gets difficult.  It sucks at times.  Some days I wonder what the [edit] I am doing.

Just the other month, I felt lost.  As if I was wandering aimlessly through this period of the journey.  I was upset with the circumstances of life.  I wanted to be somewhere else.  To be beside those I thought needed me the most.  But God had a different plan.

He put me there in that field for a reason.  And after I prayed for guidance and cried in frustration, I opened my eyes to a rainbow stretching across the horizon.  And those very words, YOU’RE WORTH MORE THAN THIS, echoed in my ears.  That night, I had an amazing conversation with an individual who shared their struggles.  And I was able to be there for them.  Fully.  Mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Things happen for a reason.  I don’t know them all.  But we look back and smile.

So, remember those five words and know that there is always light if you open your eyes to see it.

And I’ll leave you with one last quote:

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 your food and for the joy of living.  And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.
– Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Indian Chief