Archive for Life

Taboo

I’m about to write something that is difficult for me to put into words. It is difficult for us as a society to talk about. It is something that we too often want to push beneath the rug because we feel that it is to painful to talk about. I am about to talk about depression, suicide, and that new show that came on Netflix that everyone is talking about (13 Reasons Why).

DISCLAIMER: Trigger Warnings going off here.
Let me preface this before anyone continues reading. If you struggle with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. This is not something we can take lightly.

If you need help, do not be afraid to seek it out. There are many resources out there for you, including people who are willing to sit and listen to you (including, but not limited to, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)).

It seems like every day we get rocked by the news of another promising life cut short by violence and bloodshed, but the sting is so much more potent when we discover that the person lost the battle against themselves. Suicide brings a pain of regret because those who are left behind will forever ask themselves if there was something that they missed. Something they could have done to prevent this tragedy.

We cry because looking back, we can see the signs that led up to this point. And the more we ask and seek the answers to why, more is revealed. More evidence that, if we had only known … and we find ourselves taking on the burden of death. If feels as though we were the ones that, through our words and actions (or the lack of them), killed them.

Here’s the thing: We, as human beings, are good at hiding things. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I know how easily it is to hide behind the mask of a smile, a laugh and have people not see. It hasn’t been until recently that I began to be open with myself enough to start talking about the struggle I faced all those years ago. I talk about it in terms that I understand, my darkness within, because it makes it easier for me.

For years I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to discuss how I felt or how close to the edge I had gotten. I didn’t want to share it because it scarred me. But here’s the hope that I share now: while that darkness never fully left me, by talking about it, it has become easier to carry within me.

This is something that is important for everyone, no matter if you have been in the shadow of depression or not. If someone comes to you, it isn’t your job to fix the problem. It isn’t your job to burn away the darkness. What your job is, in that moment, is to listen. To be still and be present with them. If someone shares, through words or actions, then it is your place to journey with them. To let them know that you will help shoulder the burden of the darkness that they face. That you will be there for them as a refuge of light.

I started talking about my personal struggles because I knew I could not shoulder it alone. Even after all these years, there are moments when I feel overwhelmed by doubts and fears and it feels as though the night is physically reaching out to drag me down.

Reaching out to talk does not make me weak. Asking for help does not make me stupid. Having thoughts of self harm does not make me a coward.

A couple weeks ago Netflix released a new series based off a book by the same name, 13 Reasons Why. It is a powerful and painful story that follows the main character who receives recordings from a friend and classmate who had committed suicide. As he listens to the tapes, he begins to hear the reasons why she took her own life.

I watched the entire season in the course of one weekend. It was painful to watch at times. But not because of the darkness that I hold within, but because years ago, I found myself in the position of asking if it was something I did or didn’t do that led a classmate to attempt to take his own life.

Recently, the show has caught a lot of criticism because of the graphic details that it portrays. It covers topics about shaming, jumping to conclusions about people, bullying, turning a blind eye, depression, teenager drug use and drinking, rape, and, yes, suicide. I’ve heard it say that it glorifies death. That it doesn’t give people hope. That it doesn’t provide the resources necessary for people who are standing on that edge. That it pushes people.

But it’s a story for the survivors, not for those who are in darkness.

LISTEN: If you have thoughts of self harm or suicide, DO NOT watch this show. If you have been traumatized by your past and still struggle finding the light of each day, you may want to skip this show. Or watch it with someone who is willing to have an open conversation with you. Even if you have never struggled with depression, with bullying, with rape you may find this show difficult to watch.

Let me say it again: the show is not for those who are struggling with depression, with darkness. The show is for the rest of us. Those who may not realize how our lives intersect with another’s. How a little comment can break someones spirit. How an action can seem innocent, but destroys the confidence of friendship. How much damage our words can cause, even when we speak it as a joke.

The show is about how everything we experience can pile onto our souls and drag us down into darkness.

I’ve always believed that if I was strong enough, I could survive on my own. But I know now how dangerous that way of thinking is. It wasn’t myself that rescued me from my darkness, it was the love of those who were willing to listen. It was the strength of others who encouraged me to talk. To talk about anything. To write when speaking was too difficult. It was the people who stood up when I was unable to on my own. It is all the individuals who have poured out their love.

Depression is something that our society tells us to keep hidden. If you can smile, they tell you, then you can get through it all. Laugh. Get out more. Be active. Put the darkness into a box and lock it away. The world tells us to lie and say that everything is okay. But sometimes pretending is not enough.

Sometimes talking about it is not enough. Sometimes, no matter how many people pour out their love into our lives, it is not enough. Sometimes, despite the smiles, laughing, and activities, it isn’t enough.

There is a stigma about mental illness, about depression, that causes us to do more harm to ourselves by trying to hide it. Depression is more complicated than an emotion. It is a chemical imbalance. It is an illness that can be treated.

If you struggle, there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Just know that you aren’t alone.

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.

Rough Nights and the Fight That Matters

It’s been a struggle to write over the past couple weeks. It’s not that I haven’t had the time to write, it’s that it feels as though I don’t have the energy to put my thoughts into words. It feels like no matter how hard I try, I cant find it in myself to open up enough to write. To put thoughts and words out for everyone to read.

This week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. A week in which dispatchers around the nation shed light on those who work so diligently behind the radio. 911 call takers. Dispatchers. The first first-responders that the public comes in contact with when the chaos of darkness begins to consume their world. When disaster hits.

I work 12 hour shifts through the night, hidden from sight behind a bank of computer screens. I primarily work as the dispatcher for EMS and Municipal Fire, sending out emergency personnel to respond to medical calls. To structure fires. To cardiac arrests. To motor vehicle accidents. To the suicidal caller. To the new mother giving birth. To the frantic parents who are being walked through the process of CPR for their child who has stopped breathing.

I was told once that the night holds the darkest moments of our lives. I was told that the darkness of night holds all of our fears and struggles. Our demons hide within that blackness, just out of sight, waiting for us to stumble and fall when the darkness consumes us. I have seen that darkness. And I have faced it. We all have faced it.

It is said in dispatch that we get more of the interesting calls at night. More domestic disputes and violence. We get more of the prowlers and the suspicious people calls. The crazy people. And while a lot of this is true, when something happens, everything happens at once.

We go from having a screen clear of calls one second, and the next moment you are struggling to figure out what unit to send to each call. It’s not just that single call that comes in, it is that cardiac arrest where your partner is walking a family member through CPR, the structure fire that came in at the same time, and the truck that just flipped upside down and the caller doesn’t know where they are at. And on top of all this, any call that you answer or send someone to could be your friend or family member.

There have been some nights recently where I have struggled. There have been nights recently when I have asked myself “Is this really worth it?” Was I really doing something that was helping people? The darkness of night brought forth doubt.

There have been nights recently where I have gotten angry with people that I work with. When a coworker makes a mistake, I have lashed out in anger. I have held that mistake against them, and the trust that allows us to work as a team has begun to corrode. And I find myself asking if I will ever trust them again. The darkness of night has stolen that from me.

There is something that I have discovered about the darkness of night; it eventually fades to day. Another thing I have noticed, it is easier to see the flickers of light in the darkness.

Sometimes I find myself going from one small victory to the next. Like when your EMS unit comes over the radio to state that the patient is breathing again. When fire personnel announces that nobody is inside the structure as it burns through the night. That the patient has been removed from the vehicle and is being transported. That the lost child has been found. That officers are out with the person you talked to for the past half hour as they hid behind a locked door.

When the voice on the other end of the radio finally responds. That everything is 10-4 (okay).

We don’t really think about telecommunicators as emergency responders. We don’t go, but we are always there as the voice on the other end. Be it a phone line or a radio, we are the voices that cuts through the silence. The men and women behind the scene.

When the [edit] hits the fan, we are the first to go into action.

Dispatch

I think the struggle to put thoughts into words is that if I speak them, or put them down in writing, they become real. I struggle because as much as I try, I can not leave it all at the communications center. I can’t let go of the hundreds of thousands of calls I have answered when the line disconnects and the next begins to ring. They have become a part of me.

Every victory. Every failure. Every setback. They have become a part of who I am. And no matter how much I fear them at times, I am thankful for each of them.

There is a saying that between the thin blue line of law enforcement and the thin red line of the fire departments (and the thin white line of EMS) there is a thin gold line that holds everything together. I am proud to be part of the family that makes up that thin gold line of dispatch.

And in the dark of night, I will be the voice on the other end.

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.

Snowflakes

During my first year of AmeriCorps, when I was serving with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), I was deployed in response to the Good Friday Tornadoes that swept across St Louis, MO. It was one of the first cities that was hit by tornadoes the Easter weekend of 2011, as a storm system rolled across the southern States, dropping over 300 tornadoes across Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

A month later, we raced across the state of Missouri to respond alongside members of several other AmeriCorps programs to the devastation of Joplin, where an EF-5 tornado ripped a mile wide path through the heart of the city.

It was there, as I served in the Volunteer Reception Center, putting volunteer data and emergency contacts into a database, that I first heard the term “snowflakes” to describe certain members of my own team and other AmeriCorps teams. It was a term that was often used as a negative attribute by members of more “elite” AmeriCorps programs.

It wasn’t until two years later, when I joined the St Louis AmeriCorps Emergency Response Team that I fully understood what they were talking about.

The theory was explained to me like this: Every team (the person who shared this theory was speaking specifically abut NCCC and FEMA Corps teams, but also referenced our larger team of the Emergency Response Team) there are a handful of natural leaders who thrive in any situation they are in, about twice as many followers who have the potential to rise to be leaders in times of need, and then a couple of “snowflakes,” individuals who melt away when close to the fire.

The thought process was that natural leaders and followers with potential can be relied upon in times of need, but the “snowflakes” of the group or team need to be in non-stressful positions in times of crisis (say, for example, during a response to a EF-5 tornado ripping through a community or to a hurricane slamming into a major metropolitan community).

During my time in AmeriCorps, we spoke at length about this concept and idea.

I never liked the term. We threw it around like it was just another adjective. We used it liberally when we looked out and felt that other programs were beneath us.

I avoided it because it was had been used to describe my own teammates. I heard it used to describe the AmeriCorps program that built me into the leader. That allowed me to grow as an individual. That gave me strength to face and conquer my fears.

I’m hearing it again, all these years later, to describe, once again, my friends and teammates. It is being used to describe men and women who are willing to stand and fight for what they believe in. It is being used the same way we used it in AmeriCorps, to make people feel better than those who are different from them.

Let me tell you a story about one of my teammates that was once called a “snowflake.” This was a kid that joined AmeriCorps right out of High School. They were shy. Didn’t have the best social skills. They didn’t pour out confidence in the way they held themselves, but their work ethic was stronger than steel.

When we got deployed in response to the Good Friday tornadoes in St Louis, they held back because they were not comfortable being out front. They preferred a supporting role. After we arrived in Joplin, they froze. For just a second, they were overwhelmed. And because of this, members of more “elite” programs, AmeriCorps members that we all looked up to, considered them a “snowflake.”

I, too, froze. I think every single one of us were overwhelmed by the chaos and utter destruction that surrounded us. A “snowflake” is supposed to melt when faced with the trials of fire. Not a single one of us did.

Some of us led teams out in the field. Some of us answered phones. Some of us organized operations behind the scenes. Some of us were there to support survivors physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Some of us didn’t step out into the debris field until almost a week after the tornado ripped its way across the town. But nobody that responded, neither AmeriCorps members or volunteer, melted away.

In FEMA Corps, I had teammates who found their limits. Who discovered their breaking point. I had members of my team that left for various reasons. Fellow Team Leaders who walked away from the experience. But none of them ever melted.

The thing I learned while serving my final two years with AmeriCorps, while serving with one of those “elite” programs, was that everyone wants to make themselves feel better about their faults. We like to boost ourselves up, by looking down on others.

Whether it be on matters of experience or political opinion, we look down on those ‘beneath’ ourselves with disgust. We call them names and insult them because it makes us feel, in some sick way, superior to them. We think that makes us more powerful than them.

But my teammate that first year heard some of the members calling them a “snowflake.” And it made them fight harder. It made them harder than ice. It allowed them to take that flame that threatened to consume them and consume it. To let it be the fuel to prove to the world, but more importantly to their self, that whatever chains that were holding them back could be broken.

I see it happening again. People rising for what they believe in. A resistance to the flood of insults and acts that threaten to consume them.

Here’s the thing: One of those people who was called a “snowflake” in the days following Joplin was me. I was looked down upon because I made the decision to work in a support role in the Volunteer Reception Center, rather than lead a team out in the field. I never called out the person, though sometimes I wish I had, because I knew that I could help more from where I was at than be another set of boots in the debris field.

Ever see what a bunch of snowflakes can do? Just look at the snowstorms that have stopped communities and cities in their tracks.

The Question is, What Choice

In the newest movie of the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One (it’s okay, there will be no spoilers, I’m just gonna share one quote) the character Jyn Erso makes a powerful statement that rings throughout the movie and into the world we live in today. We heard parts of it in trailers and I wanted to share that quote with you:

What chance do we have? The question is, what choice? Run, hide, flee, scatter your forces! You give way to an enemy this evil with this much power, and you condemn the galaxy to an eternity of submission. The time to fight is now!

We live in a world that forces us to make choices. Do we stand to the side and let the world burn around us? Or do we do something about it?

For months, water protectors have taken a stand against the black snake. And while their struggle has brought hardships and pain, they have also gained victories as they protect the waters of our nation and put a face to the battle fought by indigenous people around the world. But their victory is far from over.

We, as a society and as a nation of individuals, have a choice: Do we stand with them and make our voices heard against our reliance on oil and for the protection of our environment or do we remain silent and allow our nation to fall prey to companies that care not for the survival of this earth, but for gain of power and money?

Our world is full of pain and hardships. Look at the suffering in Aleppo. Thousands of civilians are caught in the crossfire of rebel forces and a regime that cares not for their safety. Artillery shells and bombs fall on the city daily. They’ve been falling on it daily for years. And yet, we have done nothing about it.

We have a choice to make: Do we turn a blind eye and allow the bombs to continue to fall on the civilians trapped in Aleppo? Do we talk about how bad it is for them, but continue to do nothing? Or do we take a stand for peace?

South Sudan is on the brink of all-out civil war. The UN has stated that they are on the brink of Rwanda-like genocide. But there is still time of us to act. If we make a choice.

Here in our own country, we have a President Elect that uses social media platforms to bully and assault those who do not agree with him. We face a changing world, and come January, we will have another series of choices to make. Will we allow ourselves to be bullied into submission? Will we allow ourselves to give way to fear? Or will we turn our eyes from the facts before us and ignore what is happening? Or are we going to make a stand for what we believe in as a country and as individual citizens?

For those of us who know the story of Star Wars, we know the outcome of this story: A New Hope. Jyn Erso challenges us to take a stand, to refuse to hide or flee from the struggles we face each day. She never states that is will be easy, nor does she sugar-coat the consequences of both success or failure. We know what is to loose: our humanity.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
– Edmund Burke

Being Thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Sun Will Rise

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

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

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

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

And the world continues to turn.

And another year has passed by.

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

It was just another day, unlike any other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Calling Yourself Pro-Life

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

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

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

I still believe this to be true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Heroes Don’t Wear Capes

Last week, our world was rocked by yet another shooting at a school. It hit closer to home for me because Townville Elementary School sits within the protected borders of Anderson County. For the past year, I have listened to the cries of this community. And I have sent out men and women to respond to these every-day disasters.

I wasn’t wearing a headset when the call came in. I wasn’t the voice over the radio guiding responding units towards danger. I didn’t even know it was happening until several hours later, when I received the alert, asking for any available dispatcher to come in early or work extra to provide the support that was needed to handle the situation.

I was already planning on coming in early to relieve a coworker so that they could make it to a funeral. When I arrived to the communications center, I didn’t find panic. I didn’t walk into tears or crying. I didn’t find a group of people who had been broken by the day’s events. What I discovered was a purifying fire of unspoken anger and anguish that drove people to be the best that they could be.

It was a rage that simmered. A nervous energy of concerned voices and precise movements.

The tears had already been shed, and burned away.

It was nerve wracking. It was painful. And it was beautiful in a very dark way.

Over this past weekend, one of the little boys that was shot, Jacob Hall, passed away. Later today, he will be laid to rest. He is to be buried in his Batman costume. Forever remembered as the superhero he dreamed he could be. The hero he has become.

His family has requested that everyone attending the funeral dress as a superhero. They have asked the community to wear a costume (or a superhero t-shirt) as a sign of support. Not just for him, but for the community.

Today, there will be superheroes surrounding us.

We will embrace the strength of these legends and learn how to follow the examples that they have set through their actions.

Batman once stated that the mask was to protect the ones he love. But I know so many heroes that will never wear a mask.

These are the heroes that wear a badge and a gun. These are the heroes that rush into burning buildings and face down the flames. These are the heroes whose hands reach out to heal and fight for life. These are the heroes that ride into battle lights flashing and sirens screaming into the night.

These are the everyday heroes who are part of the community. These are our neighbors. Our brothers and sisters. Family and friends.

Some of them are never seen, only their voices are heard in the darkness.

Are they perfect? No. They are human. Just like you and me.

We all strive to be superheroes. But most of us will never get the chance to wear a cape.

So, today, before your go out into the world, put on your superhero shirt and embrace the fact that no matter what happens, we all have the capability to stand together as heroes. Wear it to support a child. A community in need.

Wear it to remind yourself who you are capable of being.

And be the hero you were meant to be.

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