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.

Slipping Backwards

Earlier this week, I gathered with my community group, a collection of powerful men and women who have taught me so much about what it means to fight and live for God, and found ourselves discussing the path we take as we grow closer to God.

A lot of times Christians see their relationship as a plateau. So many times I hear people talk as though there is a point where we come to know God as our lord and savior, and then there is nothing more. We level out and become comfortable, telling ourselves that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God.

In a sense, this is true. Once we have accepted God as our lord and the redemption that was paid in full through the blood shed on the cross, we know that God has adopted each of us into His family.

But there is so much more to this relationship with our Father. Over the past couple years I have learned over and over again that this relationship is something that continues to be explored. It is something that continues to grow throughout our journey with Him.

Instead of a single step to knowing God, it is a constant journey. An ever-progressing movement upward in a relationship that is alive and growing.

There was a moment in the conversation last night where someone stated that sometimes it feels as though their life does not feel like a constant staircase upwards, but more like a growing mountain range with peaks and valleys, highs and lows. It was the concept of sliding backwards in our relationship with God.

I sat there looking at it, trying to put words to thoughts.

Part of me understands where this comes from; we are human. We constantly fall short of God. This is the concept of sin.

There are going to be days when we fell like we have drifted away from the relationship we have built with God. There are going to be days where it feels like we are in the darkest of valleys or standing in the desert where nothing can grow.

But it’s a lie to say that, in these moments of failing or feeling disconnected from God, we slip farther away from God.  Our relationship with Him remains the same. And a lot of times, those moments of darkness allow us to grow deeper in our relationship to our Father.

When the writer of Psalms cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Psalm 22, read the entire thing) do you think his relationship with God had become distant? If we look at human relationships, I would say yes. But God is so much more.

When we commit to a living relationship with our Father, we invite the Spirit of God into our hearts. We chase after Him with all our soul. And even in those moments of doubt, if we are truly embracing a relationship with our Father, we will never loose footing in that relationship. We will forever be drawn closer to one another, even in the silence.

I’ve discovered that it is the beautiful lie of the deceiver that convinces us that we have or are slipping backwards in our relationship with the God who knows us by name.

When Heroes Cry

Last night I drew a picture. It is a drawing that was based off of the raw emotions I felt while watching the complete and utter chaos unfold on the streets of Charlotte, NC. I watched as men and women put on the uniform and took to the streets to stand against protesters and rioters, the very people they have sworn to protect.

I watched as flashbangs and tear-gas grenades went off. I watched as individuals shattered windows and looted local shops. I watched as rocks and bottles were hurled through the air. And my heart broke.

I started sketching because I have worked beside the family that is the Thin Blue Line. Over the past year, we as a nation have seen too much bloodshed. We have seen too much hatred spill out onto the streets. We have seen too much violence.

Every time I see officers in the streets standing face to face with violent reactions from protesters, my heart breaks for them. And I believe their hearts break as well.

This is where this drawing comes from.

Sometimes, even heroes break down and cry.

fullsizerender

Forever Remember

Fifteen years ago our world changed. Fifteen years ago, I was a child caught in a moment where we, as a nation, were forced to wake up to the evils of the world. That moment when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center fell. That moment the walls of the Pentagon caved. That moment when a plane fell from the sky into a field in Pennsylvania.

I was sitting in Mrs Black’s Georgia History class at Midway Middle School when I first heard the news. One of the other teachers stuck their head in to tell us that Ft Stewart, the military base where most of us students lived, was on lock-down. Nobody was going in, nobody was coming out.

As we sat there, working on our Native American diorama projects, we got small nuggets of information. We didn’t have TVs in our classrooms, so we couldn’t see the images that were being broadcast across the world.

What I remember wasn’t the chaos of that I see when I watch the videos and tributes on YouTube. I don’t remember the explosions or the clouds of dust that blanketed Manhattan. What I remember was sitting on the bus for what seemed like hours waiting to be let back onto the military base. What I remember is walking in to find that my mother had dragged out the small TV that we never watched and had it set up on a stool in the living room. That’s when it hit me.

The following day, I sat out at the bus stop waiting for a bus that was stuck outside the gate, waiting to get in to take us to school. When it finally got there, I didn’t get on.

I don’t think any of us that weren’t there that day could ever comprehend what happened that day. We could watch every piece of footage, every documentary, each analysis, but we would never feel what they felt that day. We can only know that terror that we experienced.

Someone told me that this year was one of the first years that we will be teaching our youth in high school the history of Sept 11th, because they were not alive to be witnesses to these events first-hand. This is an event that is now being taught as part of our past.

These events have shaped us as a nation.

I believe that one day, I will be asked the question: Where were you on September 11th?

It is an event that we must learn from it, every single day.

It is something we can never forget.

We must always remember the lessons we learned, the lives we lost, and the bravery that won the day. The thousands of lives that we changed in an instant. Each of their stories is a sacred piece of our story together.

Lost in the Background

I haven’t written recently. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost focus. Or been stressed out. Or not been in the right frame of mind to put words to paper (or, in this case, to blog). Or maybe I’ve made the choice to keep silent because I know my words would only divide us. Put splinters into fresh wounds that we, as a community, have sustained.

I don’t have a good answer. The simple fact is that I haven’t written. And the words are even more difficult to find. Now more than ever before.

There are so many things that I want to say. But I don’t.

It’s not just here on social media. It’s at work. It’s when I’m surrounded by friends and family. It’s when I feel the safest, surrounded by those I love. Surrounded by my family.

 

Recently, I have been stressed. I have been unfocused. I have been lost. Off balance. Stumbling on unsteady footsteps.

I find it harder and harder to get up and prepare myself to go to work. I walk into the dispatch center and fear putting on the headset because I know what is on the other line. My back tightens up as I walk into the room.

I’ve been told I have too much compassion. That in a couple years, I will burn out and become bitter and heartless like the rest of the people I work with. I have been told countless times that I am too kind. That the dispatch center will change me. And I’ve replied: I refuse.

I’ve found myself distancing myself from some of the people I spend 12 hours with each night. Instead of joining in on negative conversations (or conversations about who and what people did on their days off) I find myself silent.

I don’t say what I want to say. So many times I find myself biting my tongue. Instead of calling them out over what they say about others, about politics, about the world around them, I fade away into the background.

I haven’t spoken out for the same reasons I haven’t written. And I don’t have a good answer.

Last weekend, I got the opportunity to hitch a ride down to Louisiana with my parents and spend some quality time with my Sister, Brother-In-Law, and all my nieces and nephews. Pretty much, I spent a lot of time holding my 7 week old niece.

I just sat there, with her laying on my chest. And it was beautiful. Peaceful.

It wasn’t about me. I didn’t worry about the stress of working. I didn’t have to be there, but I made a choice to get away and reconnect with the things that are important to me. I was able to recenter myself, rediscovering the balance that connects us to one another.

Recently, I’ve dived head-first into my art. It’s my way of escaping. Of silencing the world and conquering my own darkness.

It’s a way to express myself without being loud.

It’s a way to bring to light the silent struggles we all face.

It’s a way to answer the questions you didn’t know you had.

It’s a way to bring balance back into the chaos that surrounds me every day.

Sometimes, in the silence of working late into the morning hours, I wonder if fading into the background is worth it. I constantly question, wondering if I should speak out. Would anyone listen?

Do I speak out against the violence that has swept across our nation? Across our world? Will another voice pave the way towards peace? If I take a stand against the hatred and negativity, will peoples attitudes change? If I speak out during conversations in the workplace, will people realize that their words have created a hostile workplace?

I’ve discovered over the past couple weeks that you can either fade into the background or you can be the agent of change that fights for peace. And sometimes you have to stand up and fight. Sometimes you have to make some noise to be heard.

And for those of us that are more comfortable remaining quiet, not causing ripples over the waters, we must learn to pick and choose our battles. Is the energy worth the fight. Worth the change

Sometimes, the battle can be fought without words. As a silent witness.

Over the past couple days, something beautiful has happened. A simple hashtag that I am proud to be a part of: #IAM911.

The 9-1-1 Call Taker and Dispatch position is currently classified as a clerical position. These members of emergency services that work behind the scene of every single emergency are seen as secretaries. In an effort to reclassify public safety telecommunicators (the official title for all call-takers and dispatchers) to a protective classification, individuals around the nation have taken up the calling to share their stories, proving that they are so much more than a voice on the other end of the phone.

They are the heroes in the night. The unrecognized angels who are the calm voice or reason in an emergency. They are the anchor, the rock in the storm for all responders.

I encourage you to go listen to their stories. Go read their words. And give them the support that they deserve. It’s a battle that we don’t have to face alone.

Sometimes, you find the reason to break away from the background. You find purpose.

Unity, Peace, and a Hope for the Future

Tonight the world watched as the Opening Ceremony for the Rio Olympic Games called for world to come together in unity. The ceremony celebrated the diverse culture of Brazil through music and dance, culture and people. It was a call to come together in competition, but also to change the world.

I saw a country make a stand for individual athletes, for respect, appreciation, and a celebration for cultures other than their own, and for the natural world in which we all inhabit.

The message of unity was echoed though out the entire night as the athletes entered and mingled together as equals, all part of the family of competition. It was a celebration of peace, that no matter our differences, our past, or the nation of our birth, we are all equals. We are all of the same human family.

We heard stories of athletes and teams as they walked into the stadium for the parade of nations, celebrating each nations accomplishments. Over 200 nations marched in and mingled together. But the story that stirred thousands of hearts is the story of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Ten athletes who are competing under the Olympic Flag as refugees. Athletes who will be competing in the context of the worldwide refugee crisis. Five refugees from South Sudan, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo, one from Ethiopia, and two more from Syria, including the 17 year old swimmer Yusra Mardini.

This is the same girl who became a hero a year ago when the inflatable boat she was traveling in from Turkey to Greece lost power to its engine in the middle of the Algerian Sea.  She, her sister, and two others jumped into the waters and pulled and pushed the boat for three hours through the night to safety. Now she is swimming as an Olympic athlete.

We heard the words of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee

Respect yourselves, respect each other and the values which make the Games unique. We are living in a world where selfishness is gaining ground. Certain people claim to be superior to others. In the spirit of Olympic solidarity and with the greatest respect we welcome the refugee Olympic team.

Dear refugee athletes. You are sending a message of hope to the millions of refugees around the globe. You had to flee your homes because of violence, hunger or just because you were different. In this Olympic world we do not just tolerate diversity, we welcome you as enrichment to our unity and diversity.

There are millions around the world who contribute in different ways to make our world a better place through sport.

Each of the 10,000 athletes competing in the Rio Olympic games was gifted a seed that will be planted in the Olympic Forest, as a reminder that we are all responsible for the world we live in.

The challenge has been issued, and as these athletes come together to compete, we are reminded that if we do not come together to change the world, we will tear ourselves apart.

Our future is through peace. And the spirit of the Olympic values. And acceptance. And love.

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