Bows, Swords, and the Company of Friends

I believe that everyone is capable of embracing the warrior that resides within the soul. As children, we understood the desire to be heroes and maidens, princesses and knights in shining armor, but as we grew older, we learned that society told us to fit into the mold, to go with the flow, to let go of the passion that drives us to be something more.

STK_0859 (edited)About a year and a half ago, through chance and the flame of the warriors spirit, I made my way into the company of companions that has become an extended family of sorts. A group of men and women, artists and crafters that make up what is known as the Fell Company.

I found them through a mutual friend and film maker who informed me of an upcoming project where they were looking for extras for a internet series (that happens to still be in the works). While I had never been involved in filming and was a little more than awkward in front of the camera, there was something more that drew me in.

As a child, my brother and I would swing sticks at one another. Makeshift swords and spears that sparked the imagination of youth. As I grew older, the writings of Tolkien and Lewis drew me into a world of beautiful hardships. Of the grim reality of war and violence. Of flawed heroes and bravery beyond understanding.

 

In time, I dove into the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, the sword in the stone and the lady of the lake. I found series like The Kings Peace (by Jo Walton) and The Hollow Hills (by Mary Stewart), but also autobiographies of modern day warriors and adventurers, like Eric Greitens’ The Heart and the Fist, Rye Barcott’s It Happened on the Way to War, John S. Burnett’s Where Soldiers Fear to Tread, and Hiroo Onoda’s No Surrender (just to name a few).

But no matter how many words I consumed or books that I read, there was something tangible that was missing.

It wasn’t until I picked up a sword and began to learn how to wield it did I begin to feel like a warrior.

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There was something beautiful about joining the crew of Fell and Fair on set that first day. Decked out in historically accurate costumes and immersed into a world that blends history and fantasy, there was a magic in the experience of storytelling and friendships that were born.

Over the next couple weeks, I returned to those woods as an unnamed member of the militia, an extra in the story that was unfolding before each of us.

Out of that experience came a bond of friendship that has continued to grow throughout the year as I (re)discovered the warriors spirit that was hidden within. The journey has been a powerful reminder to embrace the joy that God places in your path, to embrace friendships that spawn and develop passions of the heart, and to live life to the fullest, no matter the words and opinions of others.

Since joining the fellowship of warriors and artists of the Fell Company, I’ve had people remind me again and again that I should “grow up” and stop playing out in the woods. I’ve had coworkers tell me that I’m crazy for doing what I love. And I’m sure that several people have questioned my sanity.

But here’s the thing: I’ve learned to ignore them.

 

When you find something you love, embrace it. When you discover the warrior within your soul, take up the sword that brings you hope and fills your heart with joy, whatever that may be. Find your passion and do not let anyone quench that fire in your soul.

And when you discover the sword or the bow or your weapon of choice, whatever it may be, take the time to learn how to wield it. To make it part of who you are.

And when God puts good people in your path, embrace the company and discover the fellowship of heroes.

STK_8937And on a separate note: If you’ve ever wanted to experience adventure, to journey alongside friends and comrades, there is an opportunity to embrace the warriors spirit alongside some of the amazing people of the Fell Company.

In October, Weekend Warrior Experience is returning! Designed and run by the folks over at Fell and Fair, in partnership with The Forge Studios, it is an immersive experience designed to throw participants into a detailed and beautifully crafted adventure.

Sign ups are closing soon, so get your tickets now and jump in with both feet! Embrace your warriors spirit and find the passion you may have never known you were missing.

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Until next time, may God bless you and lead you to discover the warrior He made you to be.

 

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Freedom

Fear can be a powerful force. It can still a heart full of passion and steal the joy from that which we have learned to love. Fear can change our dreams and alter the plans that have been laid out in front of us. It doesn’t always have to freeze us in place to be effective, it just has to make us slow down. Or step aside. Or run in another direction.

In my community group, Eliakim, we talk a lot about freedom and what it means to live in the presence of God as Lord, Savior, and King. We celebrate our victories together and are learning to fight for one another, through accountability, truth, and love.

For us, as followers of Christ, freedom is a gift that was purchased for us through the sacrifice on the cross all those years ago. And because of this freedom, fear has no place in our lives.

Something I’ve learned from spending time alongside the guys and girls in my community group is that freedom is part of what it means to live as a follower of Christ. A Christian. God wants to reign in our lives. In every detail of it. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we must be willing to submit our every thought and action before our Father as Lord. We must be willing to honor him with every word and action, because our lives are a reflection of who He is.

But, we are still given a choice. Do we choose to listen to what our Lord wants for us, or do we choose our own path? A lot of people get hung up on this choice. Simply put, no matter what choice we make, be it one way, the other, or some sort of compromise, God is already there to embrace us in love. Before we can even begin to think about repentance, our Savior has embraced us as His children because when He sacrificed Himself on the cross all those years ago, He paid the debt for all of our sins and shortcomings. The sins that we have committed and those we have yet to commit.

And because He has embraced us in His love and forgiveness, He has given us the strength, through His Spirit, to be in a relationship with Him. He has given us the ability to come to Him as our King and lay everything before Him. And he has given us the strength to face the challenges before us, so that the next time we hear Him wanting to be Lord in our lives, we are able to listen and act on His guidance.

This cycle of deepening relationship with our Father has been life changing for me over the past several months. And yet, there is a part of me that is still held back by fear.

I haven’t written anything in months. Every time I do, I freeze.

Every night that I’m at work, I sit (or stand) at my computer, typing in information to calls as I listen to the panicked voices of callers who are seeking assistance. I read calls about the worst moments of peoples lives. People who are my neighbors, my community.

And every time I sit down to write, I hear those calls. I see those words on the screen. It is that fear that has held back my hands and my heart from writing.

I started writing this post almost two months ago, and I feel like these words have not gotten easier to write. My hands still shake with nervousness as I tap away at the keys, trying not to distract myself from my own thoughts.

In the past, I found myself growing closer to God through writing. The act of processing my thoughts through words gave me the courage to share a part of who I am with the world.

Fear has been holding me back from part of my relationship with God, my Lord, Savior, and King. And it is time for that to change.

Defeat is No Longer an Option

We’ve all lost battles. I’ve suffered defeats. Sometimes, it feels like no matter what we do, we never win. I’ve walked (and ran) away from so many things in life. I’ve given up on countless people and turned my back on opportunities without giving them a chance to flourish.

We learn to live with the shame of defeat. Society tells us to submit, so we don’t put up a fight, even when we know in our hearts that we should fight. We compromise our values and our beliefs. We step back and let others rise because we feel that we could never be that artistic, articulate, or knowledgeable.

I learned that it was easier to accept defeat than to face my fears and persevere. It was easier to walk away. To let go. To step aside. To fail. To sin and ask for forgiveness.

There is something humbling about admitting defeat. But there is power in standing up to the fight.

Late at night, I end to blast my music while working on sketches and drawings. And I heard a line in a song that made me pause. In the song Destroy by Worth Dying For, there is a line that states “Defeat is no longer an option.” I heard those words and I thought to myself, if I truly believed that God has already achieved victory through the death of his Son on the cross, why doesn’t my life reflect what I believe?

Victory. It is more than a simple word. It is the belief that God has achieved something we could never accomplish ourselves.

There is a freedom in victory. Freedom from fear. Freedom from mistakes. Freedom from second guessing ourselves. From failure. From defeat.

I feel that so many times we see how many times we have been defeated and broken by the world that we turn to our faith and feel the same way. We question if we could really love our coworkers and neighbors that surround us. We compare ourselves to others and see how ‘blessed’ they are and struggle with accepting who we are in Jesus. We are reminded of how many times we have come up short and question if we could ever overcome the sin in our lives.

And that is where we discover that victory has already been achieved.

Our faith reveals to us the love of our Father, poured out through the sacrifice of His Son of the cross, has already given us victory. God has given us His Spirit who lives in each of us, pouring out His love into our lives so that we may also love unconditionally. This is the love that reminds each of us that we have been accepted by God, not by something that we have done, but because of who He is. This is the love of forgiveness, that has washed us clean of our sins. Not just the sins of our past, but the sins that have yet to come.

This is the victory that brings us freedom. The freedom to love unconditionally. To love those around us, as well as ourselves. The freedom to accept grace that is offered to us. The freedom to forgive. The freedom over temptation. Freedom from sin. From death. From not knowing our identity.

The victory that allowed us to be in a right relationship with our Father.

The beautiful thing about this victory is that there is nothing we are able to do. It is already won. The battle has already been fought. And victory has already been achieved.

The choice we have is not whether or not we will fight. But will we stand in victory or turn our backs to the grace that has been offered to us.

And once we learn to stand in our Faith, the battles we seem to face in our every day lives fade away into the background. And the defeats our world and society throw in our direction wont affect us, because we know who we are in Christ.

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.

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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.

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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.

Being Thankful

On Monday, my community gathered together for Friendsgiving, where we shared food and our lives with one another. We laughed together. We celebrated together. And we shared our struggles with one another and gave thanks for the opportunity to come together. We smiled through tears of thanksgiving and held one another in loving arms. We prayed together as brothers and sisters and gave thanks to God through worship through songs and friendship.

A couple days earlier, I got to listen in as one of my coworkers and partner on city radio walked a young woman through the steps of becoming a mother. She helped walk this young couple (and the girls mother or mother-in-law) through delivering a child, as first responders raced to the residence.

And while the fire department got on scene before the newborn child (by about 5 minutes), it was a beautiful and frightening moment to listen in on.

This past year hasn’t been easy. Learning a new job has brought a completely new form of stress into my life. Every time I answer the phone, it’s something new, something different. You have to be prepared for anything and everything.

One of the things that I have been learning over the past year is to be present in each moment. To take each breath as an opportunity to ground myself in the moment and to give thanks for each moment that comes.

It’s harder than it sounds. In a world that screams at you for attention at every opportunity, it is difficult to find those moments to be still, to take a breath, to pause, to give thanks.

We live our lives going 120 miles per hour. We don’t want to slow down because we might miss something. But the reality is that we are missing everything except what we are expecting. We don’t know how to live in the moment, or at least I never knew how.

When we pause and learn to give thanks, we learn how to live in the now.

Yesterday, we celebrated Thanksgiving. I had gotten off the night before after a 12 hour shift and slept a majority of the day to prepare for another 12 hour shift. When I awoke, one of the first things I did was to thank God for another day (or night) in which I have the opportunity to be thankful, to experience His grace.

I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to continue to serve my community. While I miss my time in AmeriCorps, I am thankful that I discovered another way to serve. I’m thankful for the adventures that I’ve had, the opportunities to explore the world around me. To meet new people and to pick up friendships that span across the world.

I am thankful for all those who have supported me; friends, coworkers, supervisors, and family. I am thankful for everyone who has challenged me to grow, to seek out new opportunities, and to force me to be the best that I can be.

Earlier this morning, I answered the phone to hear the plea of a mother whose child had stopped breathing. In that instant, all the panic that swelled up within me became a steady calm as my training kicked in and (with the help of my coworkers) I walked the parents through CPR.

Just before first responders arrived on scene, the child started breathing on their own. And in that moment, I was thankful. I was thankful in knowing that I was exactly where I needed to be.

I shared with my community during friendsgiving that I am thankful for being present. For knowing that I am exactly where I need to be. For being present.

I am thankful for each breath because I know that the next is not guaranteed.

 

The Sun Will Rise

A year ago I was heading to a restaurant to eat dinner with my grandparents. Just before walking in, I happened to glance down at my phone to see the initial reports of an attack coming out of Paris. Later that evening, back at my grandparents house, we sat and watched the world try to make sense of the chaos.

And the next morning, the sun rose on a changed world.

Sunday evening, a year after the terror attacks in France, I joined members of my community after our church gathering as we headed downtown to grab a bite or two to eat at Mellow Mushroom Pizza. We ate a meal together. We shared stories. We laughed. We smiled. And when we departed that evening, we embraced one another as brothers and sisters.

And the next morning, like the hundreds of thousands of mornings before that, the sun rose once again on a changed and changing world.

And the world continues to turn.

And another year has passed by.

In some ways, it was just another day like any other. The world is still in the grips of chaos. There is still unrest. There is still hatred and fear. And anger. And love.

It was just another day, unlike any other.

It was a blessing. A reminder. And a promise. It was a beautiful day because, despite the smoke that blanketed the air and the fallout of the election, it marked the passing of another year of life.

It is beautiful because I am reminded that each day, every passing breath, is a gift. Every moment that I am able to spend soaking in the beauty of creation is a reminder that I am loved. Each day that passes allows me to smile and grow closer to God.

Part of me doesn’t like celebrating my birthday. I don’t like the attention. I don’t want the focus to be on me. I’d rather spend some quality time with people who are close to me than to throw a party. I’d rather spend time spreading love.

And when the next morning comes, the sun will rise again. And we will be blessed with another opportunity to accept love and pour it out unconditionally to those around us.

With each sunrise and sunset, as the skies above us are painted in light, know that it is a gift from our Father above. Take a moment each day to bask in His beauty. To still yourself before Him. Listen. Take it all in.

And know that you have been given another opportunity to change the world around you.

Stop Calling Yourself Pro-Life

In high school, I joined my church’s youth group as we skipped school and headed up to Washington D.C. for the March for Life. I was the kid that wore shirts that made the statements “pray to end abortion” and “some choices are wrong.” I proudly wore the badge of Pro-Life as I made it known my stance against abortion.

At the time, I was deeply apposed to all forms of abortion. I was under the banner of overturning Roe v. Wade. Cut funding to Planned Parenthood.

I have always believed that life is precious. All life is precious. Including the life of an unborn child. I believe the miracle of life begins at the moment of contraception. And from that moment forward, we have a duty to protect it until life’s final breath.

I still believe this to be true.

My faith calls me to treasure life. All life. Each one of us has been made in the image of God. Each one of us is a temple to the Spirit that dwells within us. When the Son of God became man and died on the cross, He washed away every sin that we have committed against Him. And every sin that has yet to come. Through the shedding of His blood, He poured out His love into every single life. And when Jesus rose from the dead, He gave every single one of us victory.

My faith reminds me every day that the miracle of life is something beautiful and sacred. Every life. Young and old.

In my travels around the world and throughout my time with AmeriCorps, I have learned to open my eyes and see the world. In that time, I have seen suffering. I have seen death. I have seen the struggle to survive. And I have seen life lived to the fullest.

Recently, during a conversation with a small group of individuals, I had to stop and sit back when someone claimed that they were pro-life. They opposed abortion. But in the same string of sentences, they shared that they support the death penalty. They support the notion of taking away health care and “allowing” people to choose to take their own life.

In my head, I started questioning if they were truly pro-life or if they were just anti-abortion.

You see, being pro-life is more than just having an opinion on a single issue. It is valuing all life. The child in the womb. The child living in poverty in one of the wealthiest nations. The pregnant teenager who was raped and has nobody to turn to. The woman who must make the gut-wrenching choice, knowing there are consequences for either choice. The parents whose child’s life is sustained only through technology and the science of medicine. The kid you barely knows who is struggling with thoughts of suicide. The criminal sitting on death row. The patient who begs the doctor to let them pass away so they don’t have to live with the pain.

Every one of these lives is part of the bigger picture.

I personally believe that abortion is wrong. I believe that the life of a child is something to fight for. But the fight does not stop when they take their first breath of air.

I learned a long time ago that being pro-life is not as black and white as we wish it would be. It is bloody. It is messy. And sometimes, there are no “right” answers.

Though my wanderings, I met a beautiful woman who had a heartbreaking story. When she was young, she was taken advantage of and came to bear a child against her will. Because of her family’s beliefs, she had to make the choice of carrying the child to term with their ‘support’ or terminate the pregnancy and loose her family. She choose to carry the child within her for 9 months, learning to love him despite the painful reminder of how he came to be. She was warned by doctors that, due to a complicated medical history, his changes of survival (as well as her own) were slim. Medically, she died while bringing him into the world, only to be brought back herself. Seven days later, she buried her son. She still struggles with the loss, all these years later.

Five years ago, I held my God-daughter for the first time. Born premature, she and her twin brother spent the first months of their lives under the watchful eye of the nurses and staff of the NICU. It was in that instant that it hit me how precious life is, as she rested in the nook of my arm.

Sometimes, the life we have to fight for is the ones that are right in front of us. When we take away the choice and the medical options available that could save a life, can we truly fight under the banner of ‘Pro-Life?’

If we don’t fight for every life that we encounter just as fiercely as we fight against abortion, can we truly call ourselves Pro-Life?

If we don’t shed tears for every life lost to self-harm, violence, or some messed up form of justice, do we really have the right to call ourselves Pro-Life?

If we force women to give birth, but then refuse to support them, to care for them, to love them, how can we even begin to speak about this concept of Pro-Life?

If we are willing to allow people to be put to death for the crimes that they committed, we have absolutely no right standing on the pedestal of Pro-Life.

I have learned, though the laughter of my nieces and nephews and each individual story that I have had the privileged of crossing paths with, that the only way one can embrace the thought of being pro-life is to pour out love, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.