Team Lady

I have this shirt that I wear quite often that causes people to do a double take. If you were to only read the front (as many people do), it could read as questionable. It is a shirt that I am proud to wear, but at the same time, it’s terrifying to wear it because I never know how people will react.

I’ve been cursed out because of this shirt. I’ve been yelled at. Given dirty looks. Avoided. But I’ve also had some amazing conversations because of it. It has made people smile. Opened doors.

This shirt is part of a legacy. This shirt has a deeper story that I am proud to display and share.

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Above you can see Team Lady. I was adopted onto this team, so I cannot claim to be an original member. Anyways, there I am. With the shirt.

On the front, the shirt reads: “Women are good for three things.” Then the back has the following list:

1 Tree Felling
2 Fireline
3 EVERYTHING ELSE

This shirt was designed by several of the ladies I served with in the AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team, who affectionately called it the Lady Shirt. I’m pretty sure that I was the only guy who bought one of these shirts.

I can’t speak for the amazing women who created these shirts or choose to wear them. I can only speak for myself and why I choose to wear it.

I wear this shirt because it is a statement against sexism. Too many times I have seen men turn down the help of a skilled woman because the simple fact that she was born a female. I know some amazing women who can fell trees like bosses, swing polaskis and pick-axes like nobodies business, and pick up logs and throw them over their shoulders better than most people out in the field. And yet, these are the same ladies who are being told that their assistance is not needed because they are delicate. Or fragile. Or inferior.

I wear this shirt to support my team. As an honorary member of Team Lady, I support them and their decision because they are stronger than they appear to be. I support them because I know that in many ways, they are stronger and better than me. I support them because so many times they have supported me.

It might raise a few eyebrows, but it grabs attention and is the catalyst for conversations. And that is why I wear it.

This shirt is a statement. This shirt is a spark for something bigger. Something deeper.

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Learning to Give Thanks

Sometimes we get carried away with all the woes of the world. Our news feeds and media outlets are filled with stories of death and fear, anger and hatred. Every day we are reminded how weak and vulnerable we are. And every once in a while, we forget to be thankful for what we have.

A couple years ago, I ran across a quote from Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation that read as follows:

Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light. Give thanks for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.

These words have echoed between my ears every day since I have heard them for the first time. They are a mantra that reminds me to pause and remember to thank God for the small things in life. And this is how I want to live my life.

Earlier this month, I made it my resolution to live my life each day with these words echoing throughout my life. I want to live my life thankful for each and every breath.

I am still learning how to live so that the fear of death cannot echo throughout my life. I think, to some extent, I will always be afraid, but I don’t want it to affect how I live my life. I believe that if we learn to be thankful for everything we have, then we teach ourselves that we can live with fear and not have it control our lives.

Every morning, I pause. I stand and find my center. I give thanks for another day and the opportunities that each breath brings. I am thankful because I have the strength to see the light of another day.

So, I challenge you to see the words of Chief Tecumseh and be challenged to live in a way that you are no longer controlled by fear. Not just fear of death, but a fear of failure, fear of change, and fear of the unknown. Embrace the small moments that we often overlook, smile a little more, and stop every once in a while to say a simple “Thank You!”

Lost in a Dream

A number of years ago, I woke in the morning and had an urge to write out a dream. It was a vivid sequence of images and emotions that has stayed with me for the past several years. There are times when I can remember every moment, every color, and every heartbreak that that vision brought me.

On New Years Eve, between emergency calls at work, I found myself writing once again. It was an uncontrollable urge to free the beast from within. And I wrote. And the words just flowed forth. And I think it is time to share them once again…

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There was a time when dreams told the stories of our hearts and souls, revealing the will of God and the answers to prayers that were unspoken other than the cries of our hearts. It was a time when giants walked among us, heroes were born and revealed, and men could see and feel the power of demons and angels.

The darkness was more than the absence of light, but a physical manifestation, a force of power. The light held back the nightmares of the night and the dark forces of evil, fear, and pain. It was a time when faith could be seen, and moments that were frozen in time for all eternity.

I saw it once, in a dream; The mountain shrouded b shadows. Before the path was a tattered temple, its orange cloth flowing loosely in the wind. A grizzled old man, his cloak pulled tight around him, his face and hair untrimmed by the long years in the wilderness, stood before us. His warning echoed in our ears, “Death awaits those who travel the path up the mountain.”

We pressed in close, as he showed us the path that led down the gully and through the gates. He told us of the demon that lived on the mountain, shrouded by death and fierce in battle, who slept in a hole at the end of the path. Hundreds had ventured down the path in an attempt to kill the demon, few had returned. None had succeeded.  But we were certain that where others failed, we would be the ones to succeed.

We knew that to kill this demon, we would have to carry a log up the mountain to place on his head, so we grabbed the log and charged down the path. In our haste, we were unable to maneuver out way through the gate that guarded the path.

After pausing, I watched the group peel the bark from the log and strip extra limbs and material off to reduce the weight. As they worked together, they began to pray together and write words of inspiration over the surface of the wood. I watched from a distance, an outsider to a strange ritual and expression of faith.

I sat there on a rock outcropping, watching from above, until a girl with long hair extended her hand to invite me to join them. The acceptance into the mystery lifted me to join them. I knelt down to write a prayer in the wood, but all that would come out was one word: “Thanks.”

Before I knew it, I was swept to my feet as we dove through the gate and charged up the trail, the log lifted up onto our shoulders. The trail was lined with signs warning us to turn back, to flee before we lost our souls. Soon our path began to get darker, as trees reached up to block out the skies and thorns reached out to grab our ankles. The signs fell behind us and were replaced by ghostly eyes that stared out from behind the underbrush, their voices pleading for us to turn back.

Darkness covered our path as our numbers dwindled off; several people stopped to turn back and others just disappeared as we raced along. I found myself in the front of the log, leading the way down the trail when we came to a fork in the road.

On the right, the path led through a marsh, before twisting behind a bend in the road. To the left, a bridge that led over the water. I turned left to head across the bridge, a safer route, when the man behind me, a tall guy with shaggy black hair pulled the log from my grasp and motioned for me to follow him as he turned right and headed into the marsh. As he balanced the log on his shoulders, it didn’t seem as large as it had been when we set forth on our journey.

I jogged along behind him, alongside a couple others, as we slowly fell further behind. The water became deeper as the man rounded the bend and we lost sight of him. We waded through the murky water as it came up past our waists and up over our chests.

Fear reached out his hands, grasping my limbs as the waters around me started to ripple and several reptilian heads emerged. Even in the land of dreams, where ones thoughts are revealed as truth, one can sink into despair  as I did. I sank into a pit of darkness, of numbness that pulled me under into the blackness. What little light was left faded as I sank beneath the surface.

Everyone says that drowning is peaceful, but the panic that sets in as the darkness grips you, as you struggle to breathe, as you fight to live is exhausting. And after the rush, the silence sets in and you are stuck in the middle of nothingness. Everything goes still and nothing matters anymore. It all just disappears.

In that moment of stillness, I saw a light; a pinprick in the black. It was a pain so intense, a burning of an unquenchable fire that I couldn’t turn from. The searing light that consumed the darkness and unleashed the fear that held so tight onto my limbs, that immobilized me for that moment, for that eternity.

And there, behind the light was the hand reaching out for me, and I had no energy or will to outstretch my own; I was too weary from my battle with the darkness. I watched, as if removed from my own body, as I drifted through the mist of conscienceness, lost in all time, but nor a moment passed as she reached through the fog and pulled me from that pit of darkness.

I was blinded by the darkness and the light was too painful to see, and even with my eyes closed, the light pierced the darkness that had consumed and accepted me. She pulled me from that watery grave and I gasped for air as I lay there on the bank of the marsh. Minutes and hours passed in that moment as I was thankful for the cool breath of life. I lay there, holding her, my savior in my arms as day turned to night and sight returned to my eyes.

I looked on her, and all I could see was the love radiating from her eyes. I realized that the light that had fought off the darkness and freed me to continue living was shining from her chest, pulsing with the beat of her heart.

And when I awoke to the world I was a part of, I could still feel her presence guiding me, teaching me how to love. And I have carried her with me from that day forth, until we meet again…

The War on Christmas

Recently, social media has exploded. And I find it rather pathetic. The following is a post by B. Cone in response to the outcry of many vocal Christians in response to Starbucks holiday coffee cups not having Christmas decorations (the original post has been linked above):

In case you’ve had your head in the sand the last few days, there has been a huge controversy brewing, and blowing up all over social media. It’s all related to this year’s Christmas cups at Starbucks. If you’re not a Starbucks regular, let me explain: Every year during the holidays, Starbucks uses special cups, which have always been red and adorned with some type of theme, such as snowflakes, ornaments, or trees. This year, their cups are plain red without such ornamentation. Why is this causing such a stir? Christians are claiming that the plain red cups are part of the “War on Christmas” and that Starbucks is denying Christ by not putting snowflakes on their cups.

There is more to the post that I will get to in a couple moments. But my first issue: IT ISN’T EVEN THANKSGIVING YET! But that aside, why are people so concerned with this? Lets continue the post and listen to his responses:

Here are my thoughts:

1) It’s petty stuff like this which makes Christians look so foolish. Freaking out about plain red cups does nothing to bring people to Jesus.

2) Starbucks has made it known that they in no way celebrate Christ or anything Christian, so we can’t expect them to celebrate Christmas.

3) Symbols like trees, snowflakes and reindeer are not a representation of why us Christians celebrate Christmas.

4) We have way larger problems to worry about in the world. World hunger. Terrorism. Genocide. Human Trafficking. Millions of people who don’t know the name Jesus. Lets focus our time, energy, and anger on something that matters.

5) A video going viral is suggesting that we need to tell the barista’s at Starbucks that our name is “Merry Christmas”, so that they are forced to write it on the cup. Not only is this obviously lying, and so childish, but does nothing to lead the barista closer to Christ. If anything, it hardens them to the Gospel because they see how foolish Christians are.

So in summary, lets focus on what God has called us to do: make disciples. And that might mean spending a Sunday evening sitting in a Starbucks, chatting with the Barista about life and faith, being polite and courteous to them to show them the love of Christ (which should probably include a generous tip)……all while sipping on a delicious peppermint hot chocolate from a plain red cup.

This dude makes some very valid points. Why the [edit] should I care about a simple, red cup? Are we going to wage war on Santa next? Because that is not what Christmas was ever about either?  Just sayin’.

As a follower of Christ, this really irritates me. And it shouldn’t even be an issue.

Every year, I am reminded how much I dislike this season of the year. I detest what Christmas has become. The decorations. The ornaments. The songs being played earlier and earlier each year (I started hearing Christmas music at the beginning of October). The focus on worldly things. Possessions.

Don’t get me wrong: I love spending time with my family. I enjoy watching the happiness on the faces of my niece and nephew when they open their gifts. But, to be completely honest, that is not what all of this is about.

To hear that people are complaining about a red cup makes me shake my head and want to distance myself from the label of Christian. When I hear people upset because someone said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” all I think about is how petty it all is.

Instead of trying to force Christmas on people, wouldn’t our energy be better spent on showing our love through our actions? Wouldn’t our time be better spent helping those in need? Helping the poor? Protecting those who are being slaughtered by war? Those fleeing conflict with no place to go? Both at home and those overseas.

There are so many other things we could fight against, but yet we choose the injustice of a simple red cup? What the [edit] is wrong here? Is this really something I should be worried about? No.

If you want to boycott Starbucks, that is your own business, but do not try to make this a Christian thing. This is stupidity at its finest. Evidently, we have already lost the true meaning of Christmas. And this time, before the season is really upon us.

For the Love of…

I’ve been out of the loop for a while.  I guess that’s what happens when I run off into the mountains of Montana’s back country to work on rebuilding some long lost trails.  To say the least, I have been enjoying the limited internet access, even if I have to bathe in the ice cold creek next to our camp site.

Yesterday, I jumped on the ole social media outlets (mainly Facebook) and two events stood out immediately that I want to talk about.  They both involve unconditional love.

The first is a little more personal: Yesterday, I officially became a Forever Uncle to a little boy that my sister and brother-in-law adopted.  This is the story of two individuals who have accepted the challenge to love a child unconditionally.  It has been a struggle at times, but their love shines through till the end of days.

The second is a little more controversial: the SCOTUS decision to legalize gay marriage.  This is a huge win for the LBGT community of our nation.  It is a sign that love perseveres through the most difficult of times.

I saw many reactions to this decision.  On one side, I saw celebrations of victory and the outpouring of support.  And then I saw, on the other end, many of my Christian friends quoting scripture about the sins of homosexuality and the coming of the end of the world.  I was love.  And I saw hate and fear.

I have always tried to live my life in a fashion of love.  I call myself a follower of Jesus Christ (read: Christian).  But I have never stood in the stance that what I personally believe, everyone else should follow.  It is not the way that God has called me to live.  He has called me to live a life where I love unconditionally.

While I personally believe that marriage is a sacred union between a man, woman, and God, I do not feel as if I should take up the banner of hate that forces others to live in a way that they do not believe.  I celebrate the SCOTUS decision because it is a decision of acceptance, of love, and of healing.

So, how do these two stories line up?  Let me tell you.

Both have everything to do with acceptance and unconditional love.

Faith calls us to love.  To love unconditionally.  For, if we do not know love, we do not know God.

Three Words

We look back and question ourselves.  Did we do the right thing?  Why didn’t we say what we really feel?  There are words that we never said that we realize we may never get to say.

When I left the M/V Africa Mercy, I left an amazing group of individuals, friends and those that I cared about.  I left and never told them how much I cared about them.  Many of them I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to due to various reasons (the repairs in Durban, vacations, and the day off).  I never told certain people who I would miss them when I left. 

It took me almost a full year (9 months) to tell those that I left behind that I missed them.  Three simple words, “I miss you” that were so difficult to say. 

And you thought I was going to go on and on about the ‘other’ three words that our society focuses on (maybe at a later date). 

I look back and I ask myself why it took me so long to say these simple words.  I’m still trying to figure it out.  But I realize now that it is important to make sure you tell those that you care about how you truly feel.  You may never get the chance to say because you never know what life will bring you. 

So, think about.  Next time your heart is telling you to tell someone how you truly feel, don’t ignore your gut. 

God Bless and PEACE

Running with Reckless Abandonment

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to breathe.  Between working towards my Sr. Show in less than a month, trying to stay in touch with friends and worrying about this summer and next year, to often have i forgotten what my heart longs for. 

In our society, we are so often told to chase after money, a good job, a high GPA from a prestigious school, a stable family with your 2.5 children, good standing at our local church/school/whatever.  We run after everything but what matters most. 

What would happen if we actually started running after God and not what society tells us to chase after? 

For most of us, myself included, it is a dangerous concept.  It means that we would have to let go of all control of our lives and handing it over to something so much greater. 

It’s something that I’ve been struggling with for the past couple of months, handing it over to God.  I am freaking out over, and chasing after, my artwork, this summer’s adventure through Mercy Ships, and next year(s) plans. 

Sometimes i am so focused on all of this, i lose focus on God and His plans for me.  Too often i lose focus on what’s important in life.  I know for me, I need to refocus on God, and run after Him with nothing else in mind, with reckless abandonment.

That is my challenge for both myself and for everyone else.  Will you run after God with Reckless Abandonment?

God Bless and PEACE