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.


Getting Up After the Fall (An excerpt from Journeys: the adventures of a Nomad)

The following is an excerpt from the second draft of Journeys: The Adventures of a Nomad. I just finished this section after some major editing and thought I would share an update. This is a section talking about my cross country and track career during my freshman year at Anderson University.

… As the [Cross Country] season was coming to an end, the week before the South East Conference, one of our most important races of the season, I partially tore one of the tendons in my ankle.

After consulting with the Athletic Trainers and one of the local doctors, the decision was made to allow me to race with my ankle tightly wrapped. I was warned beforehand that as long as I didn’t twist my ankle while running, it would be fine.

The conference meet was an 8k course, five miles of twisting trails and hills through woodlands and open fields. As the gun sounded and I surged forward with the hundred other runners, I felt strong and focused on putting one foot in front of the other. My wrapped ankle was not an issue until I passed the first mile marker; I stepped on a root in the grass and felt a searing pain shoot up my leg as my ankle twisted under me. I stumbled knowing that I was injured and each step was going to be harder than the last.

Part of me knew that the best thing to do was to get off the trail and stop, but there was a voice in the back of my head reminding me that I had never not finished a race and that the team was relying on me to secure the seventh position. For the next four miles, each step caused the pain to pulse up from my ankle until it eventually went numb and I didn’t notice it anymore.

I finished the race with a new personal record and an ankle that had swollen about twice the size than normal. While I was glad to discover that my seventh position on the team helped to contribute to the team winning the conference title, the joy was lost on me as I limped through the cool-down knowing that my injury was going to prevent me from participating in the winter, indoor track season.

While I continued to train, I spent the next several months recovering from the injury. I spent most of my time with the Athletic Trainers, taking time to allow my ankle to heal properly as I supported the team throughout the indoor track season at meets and races. I entered into the spring season ready to return to the competition of racing.

After several weeks of track meets and various races, including long distance and shorter sprints, I started to train for the steeple chase, a 3000 meter race (seven and a half laps) that included five steeple jumps each lap after the first 300 meters, including the water jump. After several weeks of training on hurdles, sprints, and jumps, the coaches felt that I was ready to enter the race alongside several other teammates.

The track meet in which I was selected to race the steeple chase was damp and cold. While eager to start, I was nervous, as I had never jumped or hurdle an actual steeple before. I took off with the majority of the pack, falling into the middle of the racers. As I approached the first steeple, I found that I was out of step and attempted to hurdle the steeple with my non-dominant leg.

I cleared the steeple with my leading stride in good style and form, but as I began to focus on the next jump ahead, my trailing knee slammed into the wooden steeple. Having practiced on traditional track hurdles that fell over if you hit it, the immovable steeple caught me off guard and my momentum threw me to the ground.

I landed hard on the track, slamming my hip and shoulder into the rubber right in front of all the coaches and athletic trainers as the other runners scrambled around me. The impact knocked my glasses off my face and they bounced off the black top as I skidded several feet down the track. I heard my glasses hit the track and started to think that if I couldn’t find my glasses, I would have to roll off the track surface and out of the race. As I skidded to a stop, I felt my glasses land in my hand, so I slowly rolled to my feet and continued the race.

Several days later I was told that nobody had expected me to get up and finish the race. Both my athletic trainer and coach were on the verge of jumping the fence to help me off the track when I climbed back to my feet and continued on. Seven laps later, I stumbled across the finish line, numb and bleeding. I headed directly to the athletic trainers tent where they gave me ice to put on my bruised and swollen knee, hip, and elbow.

I never raced competitively again.

Stay tuned for more updates and progress.

Thin Places (an excerpt from Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad)

The following is a short excerpt from the second draft of Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad.  Hope y’all enjoy!

The summer following my sophomore year of high school, I received the opportunity to journey alongside forty of my classmates and friends to a weeklong summer camp at Young Life’s Saranac Village in upper state New York.  …

In the early morning hours, we boarded the bus and I began to open my eyes to those that surrounded me; we were an eccentric group of high school kids.  We had the jocks and the preps, members of the marching band and drum line, shy kids who kept to themselves, drug dealers and users, skaters, punks, and everything in between.  And as we began our journey towards the hills of the Adirondack Mountains of New York, we began to form a bond that crossed all the lines of our high school society.

We slept throughout the night as the miles flew beneath us. After a quick stop midmorning, we continued on our way, somehow ending up heading in the wrong direction for several hours. By lunchtime, when we were supposed to be arriving at camp, we were completely lost and still several hours from our destination.  After receiving directions from one of the locals in the area, we headed back onto the road hoping to catch the first night’s activities.

I don’t know if our bus driver missed the turn or forgot where we were going, but we were forced to make a quick turn around when we spotted a sign that simply stated “Canadian Border 5 Miles, Have Passport Ready.”  As night fell around us, we entered the wilderness and back roads that surrounded the Upper, Middle, and Lower Saranac Lakes.  For several hours we continued to wind our way up and down roads that we were sure contained our destination, even as someone shared that this was exactly like a scene out of Jeepers Creepers.

Unbeknownst to us, the light that stood at the entrance of the camp had burned out, leaving the driveway shrouded in darkness.  Although we had found the correct road, we continued to pass by the entrance, unaware that our destination was within reach. After stopping to ask for directions from a cop standing in the rain under a lamp post, we arrived at Young Life’s Saranac Village.

We piled out of the bus, unloaded our things into our cabins, and fell asleep after an exhausting twenty three and a half hours of traveling, to wake several hours later to see the beauty that surrounded us.

As I stood outside the cabins the next morning, looking out over the path that led down to the shores of Upper Saranac Lake and the Adirondack Mountains beyond, I felt a physical presence that I had never felt before. Within the golden rays of the sunrise reflecting off the waters, throwing a golden hue over the camp, I felt something looking over the islands and mountains that rose out of the waters before me; it was a physical presence up on the hill beside me. Everything seemed small as the air moved in peaceful breaths around me. It felt as if a friend was standing at my side, welcoming me back with open arms.

It wasn’t until I returned to this place, three years later, that I discovered the words to describe what I felt as I stood there.  There are places where the beauty of nature and the untamed wilderness allow us to feel a spiritual connection to something bigger than ourselves. These places where it feels as if the physical and spiritual worlds intertwine together were described to me as “thin places.”

And in that first morning at Young Life’s Saranac Village, I stumbled into one of these thin places and knew that there was something more.

I write this because it was just over 11 years ago that this adventure with Young Life changed my life. There is so much more to this story that is yet to be written out in words, but it has remained in my heart and has shaped my life.

I share it today because this morning, I was frustrated.  I was upset and angry. And yet, I have been surrounded by the beauty of nature each and every day for the past six weeks up here in Montana. When times our rough, we each need a reminder that God is and will always be present. Especially in the Thin Places.

This also goes out to an amazing man who showed me what it meant to give your life for something bigger. He has continued to be a positive influence in the lives of the youth and a pillar of faith in my life, even though our paths parted years ago. He was and is more than a Young Life Leader, but a mentor, friend, and brother in Christ.