In the Land of Ice and Snow

Someone once told me that when you land in Antarctica, all you see is white snow for as far as the eye can see. I was told that it was a blinding, shapeless landscape where the horizon fades into nothingness. That no colors escaped the snow. And that the ice was cold.

Well, the truth is that Antarctica actually is cold. But not as cold as one would expect.  It’s a dry cold, so it could be single digit temperatures and still nice enough to wear a jacket. Or a sweater and a hat. Add some gloves and you’ll be good to go on a hike. If it’s windy, you may want an additional couple layers. Or you could just wear your Big Red and all your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and you’ll keep nice and toasty.

When we first arrived, the long days were continuing to grow longer. But when the sun dipped below the horizon, even for an hour or two, the temperatures plummeted and everything froze in the darkness. And then something beautiful happened a couple weeks ago.  The sun stopped setting.

The next time the sun sets on McMurdo Research Station on Ross Island, Antarctica will be near the end of February, as we all prepare to depart and go our separate ways. We will return to the States, different than when we left. Changed by the icy wind that continues to blow and the sun that never ceases to shine.

When I stepped off the C-17 and touched foot to snow, for a couple seconds, the bright glare of the light off the snow was blinding. On the plane, the light faded and the shadows gave relief to our eyes. After two weeks exploring the beauty that is Christchurch, we left the sights and sounds of the city and entered the unknown (some of us returned to what they have come to call home).

And through the bright white of the snow that surrounded Phoenix Airfield as we descended the steps of the aircraft and began our journey on the ice, our eyes were opened to the beauty that is this frozen landscape.

It’s not a stark white that spreads out as far as the eye can see, but a glimmer of colors that expose themselves in moments and glimpses. It is the blues and the grays of the snow drifts that creep their way across your path. It is the oranges and yellows that explode off the ice as sunlight reflects across its surface, exposing the dark lines of cracks and imperfections that stretch out in silence. It is the browns and dark outlines of volcanic rock that jut out from ground, exploding forth in mounds that tower over this place and contain a beautiful network or trails that lead you to vistas and memorials and hidden sights that you must seek out to find.

It is the vastness of the ice fields as far as the eye can see that draws forth a primal awe and wonder. It is the majesty of the distant mountain ranges that are half hidden in the mist and the clouds of the morning that draw you in to worship. It is the sound of the wind howling past your ears as its icy fingers caress exposed skin that is the song of worship that is this wilderness.

There are times when the blowing clouds of snow set in and the far off horizon vanishes beneath the white expanse of the unknown. When the banks of snow disappear into the distance and the forms that make up the landscape are hidden and lost to sight.

It is then, when the wilderness of this place is upon you, that it reminds you of how small you truly are. And it is then that worship becomes second nature, when your heart dances before creation, and each new sight reminds you of the love of a Lord that is in this place too.

I find myself smiling with joy in my time here, when everywhere I look reminds me of my God. Abba, my Father. I step outside my dorm each morning to see the memorial cross on top of Observation Hill and I am reminded of His sacrifice to be my Savior. I enter into the galley to witness the compassion and the companionship that is shared among friends and this community that is family and I am thankful that my Lord has allowed my path to cross each one here. I walk out onto the ice as I lead groups out to explore the pressure ridges and to witness the power of this place and I am reminded that even here, at the edge of the world, my King still reigns, just like the never ceasing light of the sun.

We often find ourselves surrounded by beauty. Be it here in the land of ice and snow. Or the mountains beneath the skies above. Or beside streams and trails that wind their way through the forests. In villages that emerge from the dust or cities that are filled with the swarm of humanity. If only we stop to notice what surrounds us.

When we stop to take it all in, we witness the glory of our God.

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Of Faith and Flowers

Have you ever woken up to the crisp morning air of spring and felt the world change from death into life? Have you ever looked out across a field and seen a single flower in bloom? Have you ever crept close to a blossom in the attempt to escape into the explosion of fragrance and the overwhelming burst of color? Have you ever closed your eyes and laid back in the open fields to feel the breath of wind across your skin?

STK_1325 (edited)I know back home, the colors of fall bursting forth as winter closes in around us, but here in the southern hemisphere, the first touches of spring are breaking through the frosts of winter.

Flowers are in bloom. The petals are emerging from their buds. And life is returning from the grasp of death.

The other day I was wandering through the New Zealand Botanical Gardens here in Christchurch and I found myself fascinated by the flowers. I’ll be honest, I’m not really a flower guy. But I started to see the beauty in them because I saw the work of my God in each petal and leaf.

STK_1304 (edited)My Lord in Heaven, who created every flower, who placed each vein with gentle detail is the same Lord who has guided me through the darkness thus far, who has guided each step along the way.

And like the blossoms of spring bursting forth in their glorious beauty, I am reminded that my Savior rose from the grave, conquering death. His blood was spilled as a sacrifice of love, a reminder that, though we have fallen short, we have been washed clean, lifted back up to bask in the full glory of God.

STK_1332 (edited)As I walked among the paths of the garden, I couldn’t help think of the gifts that these flowers were giving back to their King and the lessons that we could take from them. They didn’t seem to care if anyone walking by had noticed them, but they continued to reveal their beauty. They have been given a gift of life from their King and each flower revealed it with reckless abandon.

Think what joy would fill your heart if you allowed the gifts your King has given you to consume you with reckless abandon. Think of the love that would pour out from your bones and the hope that would radiate from your soul into the darkness of this world.

What life that would bring to the world around you. What light into the darkness of death.

I have returned several times to those gardens in the past several days, while we wait to hear when our flight is able to take us down to the land of ice and snow, and each time I wander those paths, I am filled with joy. For I know I have seen a glimpse of the beauty of my Father’s love for us.

And as much as I enjoyed the flowers, I found myself drawn to the trees that towered over us. But that will be for another post.

Until next time, may God bless your path and reveal the beauty hidden thought the world around you.

Who I Have Always Been

Who are you?  This is a question that seems to haunt people. Depending on who’s asking shapes my answer. There are times when I share that I am an Army Brat. Or an AmeriCorps Member. Or a Wildland Fire Fighter. Dispatcher. Artist. Nomad.

And it’s true.  All of it.

Each of these are part of who I am. Every experience that I have witnessed has been etched into who I am. But there is something deeper, a core being of who I am, no matter what other experience etches it’s way into my story.

This past week was filled with packing and saying farewell as I prepared to depart the Upstate and begin the first leg of my journey down to the land of ice and snow to dispatch for the Antarctic Fire Department for the next several months. On Wednesday night, while spending time with Eliakim (my community group through the Radius network of believers), one of the guys said something that made me pause, smile, and thank God for all the blessings he has poured out into my life.

As my community group, my extended family, was praying for me and this upcoming journey, this brother asked God to constantly remind me of Who I Am; Not as a Dispatcher, an AmeriCorps Member, an Artist, or any other title or label that society and my experiences have given to me, but as the only “who” that matters.

This is the Who that I have always been, that dwells within the core of my being. This is the Who that I first discovered years ago, sitting beneath a lantern on the edge of the treeline at Young Life’s Saranac Village. This is the Who that has defined my experiences no matter where I happened to find myself.

This is the Who that I have always been, even long before I came to understand it.

This is the Who that every believer and follower of Jesus Christ holds dear, embracing it with all their heart, soul, and strength.

Who am I?  We ask ourselves this every single day and the answer we give defines who we are.

I am the adopted son of my Father in Heaven.

This simple truth can be lost so often within how we choose to identify ourselves. And a simple reminder can bring it all back into focus.

I am the adopted son (or daughter) of my Father in Heaven.

He chose me. He loves me. He poured out his blood and died for me. He called me out of the darkness of death to experience life. And I am His, and His alone.

This truth of who I am is the core of my being, my identity. Nothing can change that.

And if you believe and put your faith in God, it is your identity as well.

I’ll be honest: there have been some dark days when I have had to struggle to remind myself of this truth. There have been some days where I was so distracted by the stress put on my by other people and society that I lost sight of this. There have been some days when I didn’t think I deserved to be loved unconditionally by God or anybody else. But through it all, the truth of it remained: I am the adopted son of my Father in Heaven.

It’s one of the reasons why I am consistently thankful each and every day. It is the reason that no matter what external influences bring trials and storms, I still have joy in my heart. It is the reason that I still have hope, despite everything that I have witnessed and experienced. And it is the reason that I have the capability to pour out unconditional love.

I am the adopted son of my Father in Heaven.

It’s a simple reminder to recenter on what is the most important aspect of who I am. It is my mantra, my rock in the storm. The truth in which I place my faith.

And with that, I know that I can face the day. Because my God is with me, always.

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.

 

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.