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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It Is What It Is

I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand almost two weeks ago. The original plan was to leave two days later and fly down to Antarctica to begin working as a fire dispatcher down on the ice. But, if there is one thing that I learned throughout my time of traveling around the States and the world, it’s that plans are only made to be broken.

Many years ago I learned that lesson in Africa. And now I am reminded of it. And I smile.

I’m scheduled to be on the first flight down to the ice. Which was supposed to be last Monday, 1 October. But then weather down on the ice made a turn for the worse. First it was 24 hour delays, then a 48 hour delay, and eventually we were told that our flight was delayed until further notice.

And this is how it is for the foreseeable future.

There is nothing I can do to change it. Nothing I could do to cause the weather to clear and the runway and road out to the airfield to be prepared for our arrival. It is all out of my control.

It is what it is.

This is the motto that I have taken up on this journey: It is what it is.

Yes, I could get upset. Or mad. Or yell at the world because of the weather. Because of the delays. But what would that accomplish? Nothing much. Would it make me feel better? Probably not.

I could get worked up when things don’t go as planned, or I could accept the change for what it is. It is what it is.

I’ve found myself repeating those words, almost like a mantra, these past couple days as I’ve held conversations with others waiting to get on the ice. And I’ve been enjoying every moment here in New Zealand.

I just don’t understand how people can complain when you are surrounded by so much beauty, between the snow capped mountains and the blue waters of the ocean. When you are able to have adventures each way you look. When you can enjoy the amazing food that each restaurant and patio can offer.

It is what it is.

Life is full of things that we have no control over. Distractions and inconveniences. We have a choice in how we respond to it. We can embrace them and use these things to discover the beauty around us. Or we can choose to lash out.

Perhaps one day, we can even find joy within that which we have no control over. And we will smile and laugh and accept that it is what it is.

And our journey will continue on.

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.

Why I Don’t Do Goodbyes

Several years ago I served aboard the Africa Mercy as part of the Stewards Department, working in the Dinning Hall. I got to meet everyone on the ship and worked with an amazing group of individuals. When my path led me back to the States (and to begin my adventures with AmeriCorps), several people commented on how I never actually said the words goodbye.

As a child, I grew up as an Army Brat. We moved around every two to three years, following where the Army sent us. I changed schools so often, I lost track of names of teachers, locations of classrooms, and friends who had moved away or got left behind. There was a point in time that over the course of six years, I went to six different schools (it could be seven, but I’m not confident about that).

Note: Some of those are due to family moving, schools moving, and/or going from elementary to middle to high school.

Every summer it seemed like we were saying goodbye to friends as the Army shuffled families from one place to another. And as the time went on, I learned to hate saying goodbye to people.

When we moved from Ft Stewart, GA back up to Northern Virginia (where I would start my time in High School) I didn’t say goodbye to my classmates or to most of my teachers. Part of it was that I got picked on quite a bit and was unhappy there, but the last day I was a student at Midway Middle School, I quietly turned in my books, got on the bus, and didn’t say a word.

I still hate the idea of saying goodbye to people you have come to call your family.

When I ended my time with Mercy Ships, I didn’t say goodbye. I gave people hugs and told them I would see them later or wished them luck on their journey, but I didn’t say goodbye.

When I finished my first year of AmeriCorps, I didn’t say goodbye to my teammates and the family that we became over the year. I congratulated them after graduation, embraced them in a hug, and then watched as we parted ways.

The same goes for FEMA Corps. And the St Louis ERT. I don’t like the words of goodbye.

They are so final, like you will never see them again. Instead, I wish people well and pray that our paths cross once again. Either in this life or the next.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands of people who I have parted paths with. And each of those people carries with them a little part of me with them. And sometimes that parting of paths is easy, but at times it can be painful.

But I no longer fear not saying goodbye to those whose paths have parted ways with my own. I know that in some way or another, our paths will cross once again and we will celebrate this journey together once again.

 

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.

STK_0876 (edited)

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.

 

I AM 911

Across social media we have witnessed a movement of dispatchers sharing some of their worst moments on the job. Those calls that have stuck with them for months and years that followed, even after the phone has disconnected and starts to ring once again. Every once in a while I will read what others have written and those words speak of the pain and hardships that come with this job.

Look up the #iam911 movement. Read what keeps us up at night. Share the experiences that haunt us each time we put on the headset.

But I have one request: Don’t ask me to share mine.

People have told me that I need to share more. To talk about these experiences and the darkness that follows in its wake. To provide a glimpse into what all this is about so others understand the difficulties. But I know that as soon as I start talking about those gut wrenching calls, sharing the darkest moments we’ve witnessed as a community, those memories will come back to life.

When people ask me to share the worst call I have ever experienced, part of me wants to walk out of the room. Part of me wants to say no, as vehemently as possible. Part of me wants to lash out in anger and ask them why?

Why would you ask someone to relive the worst moments of our jobs? What is our sick fascination with reliving those memories that haunt us every waking moment for the rest of our lives?

Yes, I could walk you through my worst call, but no amount of words would describe a mothers cry of pain when she looses a child, or the sound of a grown man screaming from within a burning vehicle, or the fear and desperation in an officers voice as they race to a brother or sister in need.

No. I don’t wish to talk about those moments. I don’t ever want to be asked to relive them.

If you care for me, or for any dispatcher, don’t even ask.

Those calls are the ones that need no reminder. They stay with us each and every day. Because those bad calls are the ones that stick in our minds as we question if there was something more we could have done, even if we know that it wasn’t our fault.

Instead, ask us about our favorite calls. The best calls we’ve experienced. Those moments that made us smile in the darkness.

I would much rather tell you about the child who called in on Christmas morning to complain that her parents didn’t get her a pony. Or the new mother and father who I walked through the process of giving birth (even if the child didn’t arrive until after EMS personnel got on scene). Or that time when instructed a girl through CPR and heard her brother gasp for breath on his own as paramedics arrived on scene. Or the little ole lady who was convinced that Queen Elizabeth and the Pope were fighting to the death on her front yard and that she was the returned sun of God (not the son), come back to fix the mistakes that we f’d up the first time around.

We have enough reminders of the dark times in our journeys to be asked to relive them again and again for someone else’s amusement. As dispatchers, we see some of the worst moments of humanity, of peoples lives and we don’t get the opportunity to smile as much as we should. So give us that chance to rediscover the good in what we do.

There will still be times when I need to process what I have experienced and I will speak about those moments that haunt me, but know I do not share these stories lightly. Either here in written words or in person.

If I choose to share them voluntarily, allow me to speak in broken sentences and misshapen words. But please be respectful and do not ask me to share what I am not ready to reveal.

The Journey Continues

I’m still here.

I know I’ve been M.I.A. for a little bit, but I had to step back from writing and focus on my mental health and sanity. Basically, I’ve been working at Anderson County Dispatch for almost three years now and each time I have sat down to write in the last year or more it has been too difficult to form the words on the page. Part of it was the stress that writing brought through my job. Part of it has been the fear of not saying the right thing that I am feeling. The truth.

I’m going to be completely honest: Dispatching is hard. While it may not be physically difficult, it has been spiritually and emotionally draining. Dispatching is like being on an active disaster response every single day you walk into work.

Years ago, I walked into the Volunteer Reception Center in Joplin, MO about 24 hours after a EF-5 tornado ripped through the city and found myself sitting alongside survivors, listening to their stories of that night. As we worked alongside one another to input volunteer information into a database, I listened to the heart-wrenching stories of destruction, loss, and survival.

It took me months to come to terms with what I heard that evening and over the next two weeks in Joplin. It was weeks before I was able to talk about it with my teammates who witnessed the same experiences, the same sights, sounds, and smells.

Now take that experience and apply it to every night that I put on the headset.

People talk about Dispatchers (my official title is Telecommunicator) as secretaries. We have been told that we are not first responders, that monkeys could do our jobs. But we are so much more than that.

I’ve been cursed out more times than I can count. I’ve stopped keeping count of how many times I’ve walked someone through CPR. When I have that headset on, I know that one mistake could mean someone’s life or death.

All that stress builds up. All that stress weighs you down. And no matter how much you try to leave work at work, it follows you home and you wake up in the middle of the day (because you work night shift) in cold sweats because you can’t stop thinking about that voice on the other end of the line.

You wake up questioning if there was more you could have done or said to bring a better end to the call that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

Each night we sit down and answer call after call, not knowing what will come next. We send out our officers and paramedics and firefighters with what little information we have and we are expected to know exactly what is going on without being there. We disconnect with one caller, just to have the phone ring again. And without ever knowing how things turn out, we do it all again. And again. And again. Until our 12 hour shift is over and we return home, thinking about everything we could have done different.

Over the past three years I have struggled, asking myself if there was anything more that I could have done. I find myself lying in bed for hours wondering if things would have turned out differently if I did something different.

But I go back to something that someone on staff asked me after I returned from the wreckage of Joplin, when I struggled with that same question: In the moment, did you do your best? As long as you are confident that you did the best work that you were capable of in that moment, the doubt you feel is fear of things that could have been different, that may be different next time.

I do not doubt that I’ve made a difference in someones life over the past three years as a dispatcher. I know that my actions have changed, even saved lives. I do not doubt that.

But this season as a dispatcher in Anderson has come to an end.

Soon, I will be setting off on a new adventure. I will continue dispatching, but I will be heading down south (further south than South Carolina?!) to dispatch for the Antarctic Fire Department at McMurdo Research Station for the Summer Season.

And while I will miss the family of dispatchers that is Bravo Shift, I will not miss the stress that comes with dispatching here in Anderson!