23 years in the making

I won't be there for it but my pastor - a former paramedic and civilian flight medic - will be presenting a sermon tomorrow on 'Pain and Suffering'. There is a lot to the sermon, but one part of it really stuck with me:

Suffering creates compassion so God can work through us. (2Cor 1:3-7 and 2Cor 4:8-10). 

I've often wondered why it took so long to get myself back into the EMS world. I took the class 23 years ago and loved it. Always have. It definitely falls into the 'passion' category for me. But every time I tried to retake the class and get back into that world, God not only closed the door, He slammed the thing in my face. And yet that passion remained. It made no sense to me. I remember praying, "If you don't want me in that world, please rid me for the passion for it".

And yet He didn't, but I couldn't understand why.

Last week, as I was prepping the sermon notes for this Sunday's sermon, I read that sermon note and the accompanying passages (See, B! I *do* read it all!) and it hit me: maybe God was using the past 23 years of suffering in order to create compassion within me so that He can work THROUGH me.

I have not always been a compassionate person. I've paid lip service to it but the reality is that I've not had much compassion for my fellow man. My motto often is, "Sympathy is in the dictionary". Definitely not a compassionate attitude. 

But I've lived a lot in those past 23 years. I've seen a lot. Done a lot. Endured a lot. Helped others endure even more. My life is not horrible - not by any stretch of the imagination and there are billions of people out there who have endured things 1000x worse than anything I've been through. However, I've been through at least enough to help me develop at least a basic compassion for people. I'm not Mother Teresa by any stretch, but I'm light years beyond where I was even 10 years ago. 

My prayer is that it is sufficient.

And what a blessing to think that God waited for me. He waited for ME.

waited for me. That blows my mind. 

- hfs


Going Back For Seconds

I had the opportunity to rejoin my Greyshirt friends down south for some more tornado recovery work this weekend and I am so grateful for it. Given that this was my first real 'op', it was great to see how it evolved. There were a lot of moving parts in all of it as well as a few monkey wrenches thrown in for good measure.

The day after I was there the first time, the Incident Commander's mom had a stroke and the she had to return home. That left someone else in charge and there were a lot of adjustments that had to be made on the fly. One thing I'm finding with TR is that, while there are SOPs in place and we do, for the most part, adhere to FEMA standards and protocols, that really only governs the BIG picture. How each IC handles the day-to-day and minute-to-minute tasks is pretty much up to them (taking into consideration the team with which they are working and the individual styles that may be in play). Some people are visual and like graphs and charts and whatnot. Others prefer the data and information to be presented in digital format. Others are verbal. What works for one may not work for all. So it was interesting to have left when there was one form of organization in place and to come back to find a totally different form of organization in place. And I saw the strengths of both.

Saturday was a busy morning spent doing some debris removal, waiting for the sawyer teams to work their magic and clear some limbs that were threatening our workspace - no point in laying a tarp on a roof only to have that tarp damaged by a limb that falls the next time a strong gust of wind blows through. I mean, it IS Kansas. Once they were done, we were able to lay a tarp on the roof where something had punched a very large hole completely through the roof into and through the ceiling inside. The homeowner was this sweet lady...we'll call her M...and she was just the nicest person. She explained that she and her pup rode out the storm in her closet. Thankfully she has a daughter that lives in a nearby state that was able to come and get her following the storm so she had been able to avoid most of the chaos as the town started to clean up.

Once we were done there, we took care of a few loose ends and were heading back to the FOB when we passed some of our teammates that told us they were on their way out to do a quick damage assessment on a property outside the city limits that had sustained significant damage and had not yet received much in the way of help. He (the homeowner) had just found out about us and was asking for our help. Did we want to come along? Of course we did. We drove for a good 15-20 minutes and then crested the hill where the damage lay.

It was breathtaking. The swath the tornado carved was probably 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide and stretched for at least 2 before it lifted and then bounced southeast into town, skipping over the rolling Flint Hills. This gentleman's house had been standing there since the early 1900s and the only thing left after the tornado came through was a commode. Everything else was gone. Pieces of the siding and roof were wrapped around trees that had been twisted and spun and broken like blades of grass under my lawnmower. The devastation is indescribable. Even on video, it's difficult to grasp the magnitude of loss. And this was just ONE property. I've listened to the TR people that were involved with the Joplin, MO recovery and that one involved hundreds, if not thousands, of structures. This was just one house, but to S (the homeowner) it was everything. He was holding up really well but you could tell that the shock he must have felt in those first few days was giving way to a weariness that he was feeling in his bones.

It was overwhelming to look around and see so much devastation. Where do you begin? Thankfully, the homeowner, his brother, and his niece had already been making impressive headway, given that there were only 3 of them. But it was time to call in the reinforcements. We had a high school group and a Boy Scout group on the ground that would be able to lend a hand in terms of manpower. And S, the homeowner, had solid plans for where debris should go and what he was going to do about it. That helped immensely.

What was left of S's house.

What it did to the trees was mind-boggling.

Saw teams gearing up to work.

Debris removal.

Praying with the STEM team from Wichita, the homeowner, and his family, as the day wraps up. 
We beat feet back to the FOB, passing a local swimming hole on our way (I'll write another post purely about that later) and grabbed supplies and lunch. And water - lots of water. 90°F and 75% humidity...it was HOT. By the time we got back, we had lost the Scouts but came to find the high school student group hard at work. They were like ants - work, work, work, form lines, carry, etc. They made quick work of the majority of the debris. Once our sawyer teams arrived, we were able to make good headway on getting a lot of the vegetative debris taken care of. And then it was time to go. It broke my heart to walk away without being done. But the consensus was that we may not have been able to get it all done but what we did was good.

In the end, the Op wound up being extended one more day in order to give the teams time to wrap up some loose ends on work orders and spend some more time helping S at his property. I'm looking forward to hearing how the extra day went as I had to head home after dinner. Dinner was great and we were able to present the county emergency manager with his first official TR greyshirt. He took time away from one of his jobs (not only is he the county EM but he also runs a tree-trimming business in town and had his own saws and bucket truck which was a HUGE blessing for us!) to help us out and I can't tell you how grateful we are to him. He is also my newest state TR recruit!

The one thing that really struck me in all of this is that people would thank me. And, while I get that and appreciate it and do my best to accept it gracefully, what they don't realize is that being involved with TR and helping people out gives me SO MUCH more than I give to them.

My heart is full.

Full beyond measure.

- hfs


Better than starving

I popped my op(eration) cherry yesterday with Team Rubicon and drove south to help out with the beginning stages of Operation We Found It! down in Eureka, Kansas. Eureka was hit with an F3 and and F2 tornado on the same night as the Dallas police shootings. Over 50 homes were damaged or destroyed in this little town and they are just beginning to get the work done.

Here are my thoughts...

So many things to ponder and chew on from yesterday. What a difference between Trigger and this op. Aside from the obvious - Trigger was a training event, hundreds of people, partnership with HFHO, etc., and this was an actual disaster response operation. My approach to it was different. My perspective was different. My involvement was different. But the results are the same - it fed my soul. It fed my heart. I was where I needed to be at that moment. 

I learned so much. Made me feel ALIVE. Useful. Purposeful. 

Recently, the topic of feeling ’safe’ versus feeling ‘comfortable’ has come up in a few discussions I’ve had with people. I don’t feel comfortable in too many places. If I had to put a number to it, I’d say 10, maybe 15  tops if we’re naming specific friends’ houses. Ask me to number the places I feel SAFE and that number comes down to 3: my home, the pool deck (I am in my element and bulletproof), and with TR. Feeling safe, for me, comes from a combination of things: feeling competent and in my element, and knowing that the people I am with have my back. If I don’t have those two things, I might feel comfortable but I will not feel safe. Every time I’ve been involved in anything TR-related, I’ve had both of those things. 

Being able to add something to that incredibly short list of safe places just feels…sweet. When I was in labor with my daughter, the hospital wouldn’t admit me just yet because I wasn’t dilated far enough. They told us to go walk so we went to the Commissary (it was Fairbanks, Alaska…there weren’t too many places to go if you’re a woman in labor). We wandered the aisle and wound up at the deli in the back. It dawned on me that I was hungry - SO hungry - so I ordered a sandwich. Black forest ham with provolone and this pineapple mustard relish spread. And it was THE BEST SANDWICH I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. No sandwich before or since has come close to measuring up. I remember every bite, every taste, every flavor. It was perfect and I was SO hungry. That is how ‘finding’ TR has felt - like it was the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life!

When my husband was deployed back in 2006, I had some health stuff going on and was wickedly anemic but didn’t know it. I was exhausted all the time - bone-achingly tired, no matter how much I slept. I looked awful. I felt worse. I couldn’t get my brain straight. I felt like I was walking around with a bowl full of water over my head. I’d forget things that shouldn’t be forgotten - appointments, closing the garage door or the car doors and leaving them open all night long, etc. But I had no clue. I just thought I was tired from being a single parent of two little kids. When I finally went to the doctor, they determined that I was so anemic that I needed a blood transfusion and to be hospitalized. I refused the hospitalization (no one I trusted to watch the kids) but they got things under control and it was only then - once I got healthy again - that I was able to look back and see what a disaster I was. It scared me. Deeply. I was responsible for a 3 and a 5 year old and I was only functioning at 30% of my normal, if that. I operated a motor vehicle with my children in the car. I’m still surprised I didn’t forget a child somewhere or worse. It rocked me to my core and still worries me. I didn’t see it until I was on the other side of it.

Looking back at the past few years of my life - prior to whatever switch it was that got thrown in my head a few months back where I started actually LIVING my life again rather than just kind of slogging my way through it - I realize I was pretty much back to where I was in 2006. Anemic. Exhausted. Listless. I couldn’t get my brain straight. Do you remember in "Back to the Future" where Marty is on stage, playing guitar and, because George hasn’t kissed Lorraine, Marty is literally disappearing from the picture? That is (in hindsight) how I felt. And I don’t know what happened. I didn’t make any kind of conscious decision that ‘TODAY is the day and I’m going to start living again’. I don’t think *I* had anything really to do with it. Personally, I think God had enough of my listless crap and kicked me in the ass. I’m not complaining. But again, it scares me because I didn’t *see* it. I was in survival mode so deeply that I didn’t realize I was drowning. I was just putting one foot in front of the other but I was doing so while walking on the bottom of a pool.

It is insidious. It crept up on me. I never *saw* it coming. I never truly saw it at all; only in hindsight. What worries me is how do I defend against it and prevent it from happening again? I know part of the answer is to avoid isolating myself. I did a bang-up job of that when we left Hawaii. Leaving my ‘framily’ in Hawaii was brutal and my response to pain - physical, mental, emotional - is to turn inward - like the roly poly bugs I played with as a kid. Easy to do when you move to a new place. No need to make friends. MacGyver’s Army career ended so that eliminated that friend pool. 

Then we moved to Korea so I was able to walk away from the few friends we had here. We were planning on being in Korea for a while so I actually started making friends there. I let myself open up, connect with people, really start to lean in. It’s easy to do in Korea because the American population is so small and you’re away from your family, your country, everything you know and love. You HAVE to lean in and rely on the people around you. Then it fell apart and we were coming back to the states and that wound was ripped open again. So I vowed NEVER to uncover that wound again. And the easiest way to do that was to just isolate myself. So I did. And I did it well. 

But I realize now what a bad move that was. It set me up to starve, basically. And I was starving. I could literally feel myself wasting away like the people in the picture from Back to the Future. And then it was like someone placed a platter of delicious food - all the foods I love - right in front of me and now I’m feasting. I can’t get enough. Some days I feel like about to come out of my skin with energy and potential. Often, I don’t know what to do with it. It’s nice to have an outlet - be it TR, writing, hiking, swimming, jiu-jitsu, being on deck, and soon my EMT class/paramedic training. I think I’d explode otherwise. 

My biggest fear in all of this is that the carpet is going to be yanked out from under me yet again. There are a variety of different ways that could happen and I don’t want to list them or really even think about them. I don’t want to go back to square one. I don’t want to feel like I’m starving again. Ever. 

And I think the best way I can defend against this is to do the opposite of what is my nature (isolation in the face of difficult things) and surround myself with the people I care about most, outside of my family (I can’t seem to escape them no matter how tightly I ball up!). My inner circle, if you will. My friends were the ones that were there for me when things got ugly years ago - my family (outside of my immediate family) weren’t in positions to be of help. But my friends were there through the ugly. And I’m blessed to have the same caliber of friends now, so it’s time to lean in. Even if I’m terrified.

Which I am.

Pretty much all the time.

It’s a low-grade terror, not the kind I feel when driving over bridges. Just kind of emotional background noise. But it’s there. That confidence that people see in me (or arrogance, depending on who’s talking)? Much of it is true confidence, but some of it is to cover up that terror; to fool myself into believing that I’m ok. AA calls it ‘fake it till you make it’. Works for me. 

All the feelz. I have them. Lots of them. Usually they overwhelm me - I always feel too much of things - love, hate, happiness, anger, frustration, sadness, joy - especially in the beginning. You name it, it overwhelms me. But it’s better than starving.


Looking forward to fall

I have some big changes coming up in the next few weeks and I'm still trying to get a grasp on how it's all going to play out. When we moved back here, I was blessed to be offered a job running the front desk at our church. The money was good - it saved us in many ways - and the hours were good. The people I work with are incredible and the situation is flexible, which makes being a homeschooling parent and spouse of a full-time working student SO MUCH easier. Unfortunately, not easy enough. Juggling 25-30 hours of work per week (in that one job. I'm also coaching, doing closed-caption transcription, and holding down two three volunteer positions) with homeschooling one child, running the other to public school, taking kids to and from sports and activities, and trying to maintain the house just wasn't working. I'd been praying for something to give and it seems it finally is.

I go back to school in the fall and the GI Bill provides a housing stipend, which will thankfully make up for my loss of one of my incomes. Additionally, MacGyver has a few options for work that should pay better than he's making at the moment while he hopefully finishes up his flight training and hours this coming semester. So things on the financial front are looking to ease up just a wee bit - enough that I could tender my resignation at my church. 

It breaks my heart to leave. I truly love the people I work with. However, I am looking forward to reconnecting with my family, tackling the 'TO DO' list that has grown exponentially, and being able to give my schooling the proper attention it warrants. I am also looking forward to being able to devote more time to Team Rubicon, starting with our Regional Training that will be coming up soon. I can't wait to get to know my partners in crime just a little bit better! 

The rest of our summer will be filled with some fun stuff - we're going to go do SwimJitsu here shortly and I can't wait! I had seen the video for it about a year ago, and when I found out that one of the local swim clubs was putting it on, we signed up immediately! I think I'm the only adult/parent from our team that is crazy enough to try it. But if an 8 year old can do it, I think I'll be able to as well. 

Once I am done at work, we're going to knock a few things off the Kansas Bucket List - Cosmosphere, The Science Center's 'Body Worlds', Kansas History Museum. There are also a number of trails and state parks I want to go explore but I think I'm going to save those for cooler weather. Several of them are in the western 1/2 of the state, so I'm thinking we may plan a long weekend and go camp/hike/bike and check out several spots all at once. And there are swim meets and Scout activities and a few canoeing/kayaking adventures just waiting for us as well. Mixed in there will hopefully be good times spent with great friends.

With all of the challenges we've been dealing with lately, it's nice to look forward and be able to enjoy the summer!

I leave you with my current musical obsession, Hamilton. If I had a fairy godmother grant me one wish, I might just spend it on asking for tickets to go see this show. Tonight, as it is Lin-Manuel Miranda's last night with the show. 

- hfs


Something beautiful

Last week when I was up in Omaha and the bombing happened at the airport in Turkey, a good friend told me to stay blissfully ignorant just a little while longer and away from the news, and that about made me cry. I knew whatever it was that had happened was pretty bad, and the idea that someone would care to protect me from something like that touched me deeply.

I do so wish I could go back to that blissful ignorance today. Last night after wrapping up a conference call, I ditched the computer and the phone and walked the dogs, letting them run in the backyard while I sat in the hammock. It was wonderful and peaceful - the perfect end to an otherwise mellow and pretty relaxing day. Then I came in to fold laundry and flipped open my computer again to watch a movie while I did so, and I caught the news of both the Kansas tornadoes and the Dallas shootings all at once. Hit me like a brick - I have 2 friends that are DPD on top of the whole situation being just utterly heartbreaking - and all I wanted to do was go back to Omaha, sitting in that concourse, watching people, and being blissfully ignorant. It was an incredibly visceral reaction and it was all I could do to maintain my composure at that point (hard to explain to the kids why I’m crying while folding laundry…other than the fact that it’s one of my least favorite chores). 

Most days, I can keep my defenses up and very little of the world gets in. I’m a realist but I tend toward optimism because I already know the ending of the story. But every once in a while, those defenses slip. Like today. Today I am heartbroken. I need someone to show me something beautiful.

UPDATE: And there it is. Life will out. Humanity will always prevail.

- hfs


Wrote this six years ago. Nothing's changed.  One of my favorite movies is 'Bull Durham'. And one of my favorite scenes in ...