Finding God in the Chaos

A couple weeks ago, someone asked me a question; I was unable to put the answer into words. They asked me why God would allow so much chaos in the world. They asked me why God would let their child go into cardiac arrest. And as I walked them through CPR over the phone, I didn’t have an answer. And yet, in some ways I still don’t have an answer.

The community that I have been journeying with has started the process of reading through the entirety of the Bible (a journey together called Halak, but you can find out more about that here), and over the past week or so, we have been going through the book of Job. In it, Job asks God the same question.

Why? He asks why these things happened to him. Why did his belongings get taken from him? Why did his seven sons and three daughters perish when the wind swept in and collapsed the house on top of them? Why was he afflicted with terrible sores and blisters? He cried out and questioned why.

His wife tells him to “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). And then for the next 36 chapters, his friends are unable to console him, to answer his questions of “Why is this happening to me?!” He never looses his integrity, he never sins or turns his back against God, but his answers are unanswered until God speaks.

And yet, God speaks from the storm.

Imagine yourself in Job’s position. Your children had been crushed beneath their home when a mighty wind swept in and struck the four corners (Job 1:19), and now your God speaks to you from a storm. Many translate it as the whirlwind. This is your chance to curse God to his face. But then He begins to ask you questions.

God asks Job a series of questions.

  1. Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (Job 38:2)
  2. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? (v.4)
  3. Who marked off its dimensions? (v.5)
  4. Who stretched a measuring line across it? (v.5)
  5. On what were its footings set? (v.6)
  6. Who laid its cornerstone? (v.6)
  7. Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”? (v.8-11)
  8. Have you ever given orders to the morning? (v.12)
  9. Or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? (v.12-13)
  10. Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea? (v.16)
  11. Or walked in the recesses of the deep? (v.16)
  12. Have the gates of death been shown to you? (v. 17)
  13. Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? (v.17)
  14. Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? (v. 18)
  15. What is the way to abode of light? (v.19)
  16. And where does darkness reside? (v.19)
  17. Can you take them to their places? (v.20)
  18. D you know the paths to their dwellings? (v.20)
  19. Have you entered the storehouses of the snow? (v.22)
  20. Or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? (v.22-23)
  21. What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed? (v.24)
  22. Or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? (v.24)
  23. Who cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? (v.25-27)
  24. Does the rain have a father? (v.28)
  25. Who fathers the drops of dew? (v.28)
  26. From whose womb comes the ice? (v.29)
  27. Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? (v. 29-30)
  28. Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? (v.31)
  29. Can you loosen Orion’s belt? (v.31)
  30. Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? (v.32)
  31. Or lead out the Bear with its cubs? (v.32)
  32. Do you know the laws of the heavens? (v.33)
  33. Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? (v.33)
  34. Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? (v.34)
  35. Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (v.35)
  36. Do they report to you, “Here we are”? (v.35)
  37. Who gives the ibis wisdom about the flooding of the Nile? (v.36)
  38. Or gives the rooster understanding of when to crow? (v.36)
  39. Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? (v.37)
  40. Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? (v.37-38)
  41. Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? (v.39-40)
  42. Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? (v.41)
  43. Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? (39:1)
  44. Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? (v.1)
  45. Do you count the months till they bear? (v.2)
  46. Do you know the time they give birth? (v.2)
  47. Who let the wild donkey go free? (v.5)
  48. Who untied its ropes? (v.5)
  49. Will the wild ox consent to serve you? (v.9)
  50. Will it stay by your manger at night? (v.9)
  51. Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? (v.10)
  52. Will it till the valleys behind you? (v.10)
  53. Will you rely on it for its great strength? (v.11)
  54. Will you leave your heavy work to it? (v.11)
  55. Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor? (v.12)
  56. Do you give the horse its strength? (v.19)
  57. Or clothe its neck with flowing mane? (v.19)
  58. Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? (v.20)
  59. Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings towards the south? (v.26)
  60. Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? (v.27)
  61. Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? (40:1)

At this point, Job responds: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5) But God continues:

62. Would you discredit my justice? (v.8)
63. Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (v.8)
64. Do you have an arm like God’s? (v.9)
65. And can your voice thunder like his? (v.9)
66. Can anyone capture it (the behemoth) by the eyes? (v.24)
67. Or trap it and piece its nose? (v.24)
68. Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook? (41:1)
69. Or tie down its tongue with a rope? (v.1)
70. Can you put a cord through its nose? (v.2)
71. Or pierce its jaw with a hook? (v.2)
72. Will it keep begging you for mercy? (v.3)
73. Will it speak to you with gentle words? (v.3)
74. Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? (v.4)
75. Can you make a pet of it like a bird? (v.5)
76. Or put it on a leash for the young women in your house? (v.5)
77. Will traders barter for it? (v.6)
78. Will they divide it up among the merchants? (v.6)
79. Can you fill its hide with harpoons? (v.7)
80. Or its head with fishing spears? (v.7)
81: Who then is able to stand against me? (v.10)
82. Who has a claim against me that I must pay? (v.11)
83. Who can strip off its (the leviathan’s) outer coat? (v.13)
84. Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? (v.13)
85. Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? (v.14)

Job’s reply has struck me as something very beautiful: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You ask, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:2-3)

It hit me as I sat in the Gathering as these questions filled the screen before us; we are not in the position to ask God “Why?”

None of us can provide an answer to the questions that were asked of Job. We never have been, and we never will.

All we can do is to keep out integrity before God and stand firm in our faith.

Instead of asking God “Why?” when I’m walking a parent through CPR on their child or when I’m on the line with a child who is hiding while their parents fight in the other room, the question is “How do I show your love?”

Instead of cursing God and giving up, even if for the briefest of moments, we must refrain our lives so that our response is to accept that this chaos is part of a larger picture that is His plan.

I hope my ramblings made sense…

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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.

Just Another Comic

For years my grandfather had a painting in his office in the basement of his home. It was a series of tiles that he had painted many years ago that told the story of a cowboy and his relationship to God.

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Part of me always loved this piece because I felt that I could relate to this cowboy. For the past several years (ever since I served as Summer Staff with Young Life up at Saranac Village in New York, the summer of 2007), I feel closest to God out in the wilderness. During my time in AmeriCorps, I would seek him out in the mountains and forests while we served.

I think there is a natural longing to be closer to creation that draws us out into the wild. I know that when I’m away from the noise and stress of city life, I can hear God more clearly. I can still myself in His presence.

Every time I would visit my grandfather, even as a child, I would sneak down to his office to look at this short comic.

Several months ago, my grandfathers health started to fail and he has since moved into a full-time healthcare facility. His home now stands empty, except for memories that were experienced within those walls. The comic on those tiles has been removed and has found a new home with one of my uncles.

One night, while doodling in my sketchbook, this comic strip came back to me and I started drawing. I pulled up the only image I had of my grandfathers work and started the process of transferring it in an attempt to preserve the images for my family.

I started drawing it, and when I shared some of the work in progress with my dad, he laughed a little and told me that he believed grandpa copied it from a comic that used to run in the newspaper.

Well, this sparked my interest, and after a quick search through the power of the internet (using the two characters who had been named) I discovered that it had been copied from a comic.

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It’s from the comic Rick O’Shay by Stan Lynde that ran from 1958 to 1981.

While I couldn’t find the original date that this specific comic was published, finding the original story made this process of drawing so much more fulfilling. I recently finished the drawings and have gifted them to my father for Christmas.

(Note: They are on two separate pages, each approx 15 x 15″)

And while some people may look at it as just another comic, it is so much more than that. It is a memory. And a statement of faith. And a piece of family that we can hold onto.

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.

The Child Born

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
– Luke 1:30-33

While they were there (in Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
– Luke 2:6-7

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decisions or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:1-5, 9-14

Just over a week ago, we celebrated Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Jesus and the coming of God as a child into this world. Over the years I have tended not to like this season of the year, the commercialization of the society in which we find ourselves surrounded by things. I’ve often wondered if we fail to truly comprehend what the birth of this child really means to us. To our faith.

I consider myself a Christian. A follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple. A student. Someone who is still trying to find the words to say what this means.

The child that was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger was so much more than just a new-born infant. He was the Son of God. Fully human, yet fully God. He was the promise that was made to the people of God. He was born the Savior and the King. He was the Word.

At that time, the people of Israel were expecting something so different. They had expectations of a savior and king who would come down and free them from the reign of Rome. They expected a military leader like David. A messiah who would establish a physical kingdom.

But yet, God humbled himself to be born into the world as a small child who had to flee his home and live in Egypt as a refugee while the current king of Jerusalem, Herod, tried to have him killed.

This was a child who grew up with a father who made his living as a carpenter. A mother who knew who he was, because the angel Gabriel told her who he would be. Mary knew that the son she gave birth to was also the Son of God, but she could never comprehend what that would entail once he grew and began his ministry and teaching his followers.

One of the only Christmas songs that I like is “Mary, Did You Know?” and I feel that most of us can relate. Do we ever really know what God is going to do in our lives?

This child that was born had come to die for us. He came, free of sin, to be put to death in our place, so that we may once again be the children of God.

And while the official holiday season seems to be behind us, followers of Jesus celebrate every day because we have received another day to live a life of praise. We celebrate because we are in a relationship with Abba, our Father in Heaven, who is our Lord and King over every breath we breathe. We celebrate because the Son of God came to forgive our sins and shed his blood so that we may once again be in the presence of God. Because our savior not only died for all our sins, the ones we have committed and have yet to commit, but defeated death and rose again so that we may have eternal life.

This is the child who was born that day. This is the child that the shepherds found in the manger. This is the child whose birth we continue to celebrate by living the life he has called us to live.

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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