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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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!

The Struggle of Joy

I thought it was fear that was holding me back from writing, but recently I discovered something that was lost many months ago. I had convinced myself that I was afraid to put pen to paper or to sit down with my laptop and put words down on the page. That I was too anxious to focus on writing.

So I put them aside to pursue other passions and even though I continued to tell myself that I would come back to them, I left the words unspoken. I allowed the empty page to remain unfilled. Instead, I focused on drawings. On tablet weaving. On costuming. On biking. And photography. And community. And storytelling.

But I let the page remain empty.

There was a time when I could sit down and pour out my soul through these words, like a spring emerging from the ground. I was able to let the words flow, allowing myself to process everything that I have felt and experienced. But over the past two years, that river has seemed to dry up. And for the longest time, I thought it was fear that was holding me back from forming these words.

And while I have enjoyed these other pursuits and adventures, I keep on coming back to writing. Or at least staring at a blank page.

I have come to discover that it was never fear that kept me from writing, but a deeper emptiness that has been yearning to be filled once again. It was joy. More specifically, the lack of joy that I felt as I sat down to put words onto the page.

I think part of it is my job as a dispatcher, but I also know that this is an excuse. Perhaps I’ve been avoiding sharing because I don’t know what to say, but I know this is an excuse as well.

What I’ve come to realize is that there was a time when writing made me happy. It brought me joy. It made me smile. And I find myself struggling for words now because the joy that the words once brought has become a battle for survival.

Don’t get me wrong, the joy is still there (or here?), it’s just more difficult to discover.

I still enjoy writing. I still like putting words onto the page. It just takes me longer to process the lines and marks that fill the blank space.

I recently had someone ask me how I can remain so happy and joyful after I hear and witness everything that happens over the phone and radio at work. There are times when the darkness of the world seems like it is pressing in on me, but still I smile. There are times when it feels like the walls are crumbling down around me, but yet, I still see light in the darkness.

I’ve come to understand that the moments in which we live can cause us to be happy or sad, they can bring us to our knees or lift us up to our feet, or cause pleasure or pain. But despite all that, no matter what, I have the choice to live a life of joy or sorrow.

And I have chosen joy. And hope. And love.

I can smile through the pain and focus on the light because my faith has given me strength to live life to the fullest. I can stand after the weight of a soul crushing call knocks me down because my God has already given me victory.

And when it becomes difficult to write and to process everything, I know that nothing that I do can ever overcome the struggle, but I don’t have to, because my relationship with my God has already given me joy in the process.

I’ve come to realize in the past couple days that, while I struggle to find the words to put on the page, nothing can change the joy that the process has allowed me to discover once again.

We tend to think that life should be easy. We expect to be given the prize without the fight. We don’t want to get our hands dirty or be bloodied in the fight. But it is the struggle that teaches us so much about the mercy and majesty of our Father in heaven.

This is where I find myself with writing.

Perhaps one day it’ll be easier as it once was, but until then, I will continue to smile through the struggle.

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.

What I Learned at my First LARP

Over this past weekend, I made my way up to Culpeper, Virginia to don a tunic, pick up a sword and charge into battle at Weekend Warrior, a Cinematic Experiential Entertainment Event put together by the crew of Fell and Fair, The Forge Studios, and the likes of Ron Newcomb, Zan Campbell, Samantha Swords and Skip Lipman.

Now, before you throw in the cards and call me a geek, nerd, or whatever, I already know. I admit it. I’m weird. Whatever.

Yes, this event was a LARP. What is a LARP, you ask? It is a Live Action Role Playing event. When each of us arrived on site, we put on the persona of characters we create. It is an opportunity to step out of the real world and into a fantasy realm.

For this event, we dove into the world of Adrasil and the Kingdom of Olaran, where we journeyed to discover who poisoned the King and Queen. It was a weekend full of questing, battles, and friendship.

While running around the winery as Aethel of the Lords of the Sea, I (re)discovered some things about myself and learned that sometimes it is better to turn and walk away.

Weekend Warrior Battle

One of the things that happens when you play a character that is not yourself, you do things that you may never expect. You discover the strength you had within you because you are no longer held back by fear or the belief that the person you want to be is not who you are.

I found myself standing between the rush of oncoming forces and my fellow warriors. I was positioned as a warder on the flanks of our line, shielding the archers. In my head I always pictured myself a fighter, but it wasn’t until I was fighting for someone else that I found the strength of the warrior.

I came to realize that I can be fierce. Yes, I can raise my voice to be heard. I can shout with confidence. But I can also be a force to be reckoned with.

Throughout the weekend, situations came up where we, as both individuals and as part of a greater unit, had to make choices. Many times I found myself moving with a purpose; the same purpose I felt years ago when I responded to disasters across the country. I became a physical force at times, shoving through the crowd and swinging a sword at those across the field of battle.

There was time for shouting and yelling throughout the entire weekend. There were even moments of frustration and flashes of anger that were reigned in and controlled.

I also realized, after getting into a shouting match with an NPC (Non Player Character, basically, an extra who is helping run the event), that sometimes it is best to step back, take a breath, and let go of all the frustration. No good will come out of being frustrated and taking it out on someone else, even the person or thing that may be the source of that frustration.

Sea Lord Mtg

I also got the opportunity to meet and share this adventure with some of the most amazing people. In real life, we are IT specialists, dispatchers, retired military, law enforcement, actors, students, and friends. Our paths crossed this weekend and our lives changed for the better because of it.

I got to spend three days hanging out with my brothers and sisters who proudly call themselves Lords of the Sea.

Over the weekend, I learned what it meant to be a warrior. To be a part of a crew who stands together as a family to support one another.

There are plenty of amazing memories that have come out of the adventure. From watching Boar laugh and smile through his Trial of Desperation to living out the adventures alongside the crew of the Leviathan, meeting the Sirens to talking with participants from around the world, I had tons of fun.

Having never done something like this before, I would say that it went as smoothly as it could. Yes, I know that the organizers had to scramble to adjust the story line after we, the players, didn’t quite follow the directed path set before us. But besides a few incidents, like an arrow to the eye or a blow to the inside of the knee while practicing, everything seemed to go really well.

Shout out to the valiant men and women who worked countless hours to put this event into motion!

Until next time…

The Warrior Within

On Friday, after I got off from my twelve hour shift at work, I drove down to Lander University to attend an Active Shooter training designed specifically for Dispatchers and Telecommunicators. Put on by one of the SLED officers, it was an amazing class full of facts and statistics, but more importantly, personal accounts, stories, and emotions.

The officer made it clear from the beginning that Dispatchers and Call Takers in a Communications Center were just as valuable, if not more critical, than the officers on the ground. He made it know that it is time to accept that we are a part of the first responder family. Those of us who work in the Communications Center are no longer civilians. Without our voices behind the radio, officers would never receive the call. Would not be able to respond.

Dispatch

As he shared his experiences of talking with and interviewing the dispatchers and first responders that responded to Sandy Hook and Aurora, as well as countless other incidents, he put the faces and names of the victims up on the screen. He had us look at them and listen as he told us who they were, what made them special. He made them real for us.

He made sure that while we classify these incidents as “Active Shooter” incidents, these acts were not about guns, it is a issue about violence. It doesn’t matter if a subject uses a gun or a knife, a car or a hammer, the goal is the same: to inflict as many casualties as possible by any means necessary. These acts are pure evil, and the only way you can combat evil is to become a warrior and face it head on. To crush its head beneath your feet.

His passion was evident in every word and syllable that he spoke. “Law enforcement runs towards the sound of gunfire,” he told us. “We bleed so that the kids don’t.” The goal of first responders in a mass casualty incident is to save as many lives as possible, but to do that, they have to stop the killing first, then stop the dying.

The sooner an officer engages with a subject, the quicker the killing stops. And before an officer can respond, a call taker must gather a location and a dispatcher must give out the call over the radio. This is the critical step between Telecommunicators and first responders on the ground.

The remainder of the class, we talked about what Dispatchers can do from behind the radio, saving lives through proactively supporting those who arrive first on the scene. From organizing staging and containment to getting more resources before the requests are made, to gathering and providing information collected through callers.

When a disaster hits, be it a active shooter incident or a tornado or the death of someone in front of you, you have to make a choice. You have to move. You have to act. Do you flee or fight? Do you falter or freeze?

Like the stages of grief, there are three stages of responding to a disaster. The quicker you move through them, the faster you act. Denial. Deliberation. Decisive moment.

We all want to believe that something would never happen to us. We want to believe that “it”(whatever it happens to be) cant or wont happen here. But the fact isn’t if it will happen, but when. And when it does, you have to face the reality of it. Denial has no survival value.

You must deliberate at what you will do. And until you are in that moment, you will not know the choice that you will make. But that choice is made through experience and training and preparation (or the lack of it). And once that choice is made, you must act.

The quicker you act, the more lives you will save. The quicker you respond, the faster your units get in route. The faster law enforcement personnel is notified, the quicker the killing stops.

The more you train and prepare yourself for what will happen, the quicker you make that decision. The sooner we can stop the dying.

When we, dispatchers and telecommunicators, get behind the mike, we are no longer civilians. We become lifelines and support for our officers and first responders. We take up that mantle of the warrior and fight the darkness and evil of the world that threatens to destroy what we have come to love.

One of the things the SLED officer said was that the only way into the Warrior Class, as he called it, was to learn how to love something. To love with all your heart. And until we learn to love, we will never rise to be warriors to fight to protect our communities.

It’s not enough to hope that we know how to react, but we have to train to be warriors. We have to get angry and let the rage give us the strength to fight. We have to learn to go on the offensive instead of constantly thinking defensively. But most importantly, we have to learn to love.

In the end, dispatchers and first responders get paid for what we are prepared to do.

As I headed home after the four hour training, I was filled with courage and the knowledge knowing that when the next big thing happen, I know a more than I did before and that training could mean the difference between saving someones life and having their name on another board full of victims.