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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The Fight

A little over a week ago, I walked a woman through CPR. She was a nurse. I stayed on the phone with her, counting compressions until first responders got on scene and took over. She knew that her husband was dead. He was stiff. Cold. But yet, I knew that she needed to fight and do something.

Anything.

A year ago, a little boy passed away. He died a hero several days after he was shot at school. When the events of that day unfolded, many people felt helpless. Many of my coworkers answering the phones and monitoring the radios felt helpless because they were not there on scene fighting back. And yet they fought.

With everything they had, they fought, because that is what we are trained to do.

Nobody ever warned me how difficult dispatching would be. Nobody told me the struggles of answering the phone and assisting caller after call.

You fight with all your effort to save that one life and  it gets passed off to the responders on scene. You hang up the phone and it starts ringing once again. It never stops.

And in those moments, you have to fight.

I struggle some days. I’ve gotten frustrated with the little ole ladies who call in every time that the wind blows or the shadows move. I’ve gotten an attitude over the radio when a medic asks for the house number after we’ve already given it three times before. I’ve yelled at callers who refuse to listen or answer questions, refusing to tell me where they are.

There are mornings when I get back to my apartment and I question every decision that I made throughout the night. I lay awake in bed and listen back to their voices, trying to find what I may have missed.

When I first started working in dispatch, I was told that everyone that worked there was medicated. If it wasn’t a prescription, it was self-medication. I was told that if I wanted to survive in this field of work, I needed to find my medications.

They laughed when they heard that I didn’t drink alcohol or take any medication. I was told that it wouldn’t last that long.

And yet, still I fight.

I have an amazing group of guys from my community group that I meet up with every week, where we dive into each others lives. We seek out God together and are learning to fight for one another. To stand shoulder to shoulder through difficulties and struggles.

But many times it is hard to tell them about the battles that I face each night. How do you tell someone that you are struggling when you can’t find the words the describe it to yourself? What words could be used to express the feelings of helplessness and despair that creep in as questions and second thoughts?

While it would be easy to hide behind the silence or glance over the struggle with vague deflections, I have discovered over the years that it is better to face what is stirring in your heart and fight to bring it to light.

Years ago, after I found myself returning from the devastation in Joplin, I didn’t know how to process what I saw when I responded with my team from AmeriCorps NCCC. I didn’t know how to talk about all the things I saw and the stories I experienced.

It took me years to comprehend everything, but I learned that no matter what, I had to fight.

The fight may not be something you notice. It may just be the feeling that you can no longer sit still and do nothing. It may be an urgency that fills your thoughts or a struggle that consumes you.

For me, it is the darkness that threatens to overtake me when I believe that I am not good enough. It is the fear that I missed something or didn’t do everything that I could. My fight is the questions that creep in, guiding me away from who I know that I am.

When I returned to the Denver campus after seeing the debris field of Joplin stretch across the horizon, one of the staff members gave me the chance to learn to fight. As I started questioning if there was more that I could have done, she rephrased the question and asked me what I had done and if I had done that to the best of my abilities.

I learned that there are some things out of my control. I can do everything that I am supposed to do and ensure that I do everything correctly, but things may still happen. And as long as I know I did everything I could to the best of my ability, there are some things I needed to let go.

I still second guess myself. There are times when I wonder if I could have done more. But I know that I fight every day to be my best, to trust in my training and my experiences.

And I fight because sometimes, that is the only thing that keeps me from being consumed by the darkness.

The Struggle of Writing

I haven’t written for a while because writing has become difficult. I sit here staring at the blank screen and so many words pass by, but so few have been captured by the key strokes or the pen.

It has become a challenge because every night that I go into work, I sit and I type away trying to capture the worst moments of peoples lives. I listen to their fears and as they cry and plead for hope, it is my job to document. To type. To write. To gather information and make sure it gets passed on.

What is the location of your emergency? What is your phone number? What is your name? Can you tell me exactly what has happened? Are there any weapons involved? Do you need medical attention? Are there any drugs or alcohol involved? Which direction did they go? Can I get a description of that individual? The vehicle?

These are the questions that echo onto the page every time I try to write.

I am haunted by the stories that I hear every night. It’s the voices that I cannot escape, even after a week away from the headset.

And yet, here I am writing. It is a struggle to form the words that I type. It is difficult, but we persevere.

Today, I made a conscience choice to write. To choose to use words. To express a struggle. Instead of keeping it hidden in my thoughts.

And honestly, that’s all that I can do at this point. Sometimes that’s all that we can do, put one step in front of the other and make the conscience choice to move forward.

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.

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.

Struggle To Make Words Go

I used to love writing. I looked forwards to it because it allowed me to discover the language of words. It was another form of expression when painting and drawing didn’t work out as planned.

I used to enjoy putting words down on the page and share my story.

In a way, I still love and enjoy writing, but so much has changed.

Over a year ago I started working as a Telecommunicator. I am a 911 operator and a dispatcher. For 12 hours at a time, I sit in front of six computer screens and follow the stories of peoples worst days. I put on the headset and listen to their voices and the cries for help. And I document what information I can gather.

I write down their stories in every call. And in my head, I continue to write long after I leave the communications center.

Writing has changed for me. Stories have changed me. But the words must be put down.

So, when I return home, it is a struggle to continue writing. But sometimes we must press on. There are stories that must be told. Stories that must be shared with the world. And while it has become a struggle to find words at times, I continue to push through to put words onto the page.

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.