Tragedy in Chardon – Focusing our Energy

Chardon – A tragic, horrific day for a community, for the families, friends, faculty and staff who knew the victims and the suspect, and for our nation.  We live in an ever-changing and often violent society. Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason for these horrific acts.  Sometimes, however; there are answers.  They may not be the answers we want to hear, but they are there.  At the time of this writing, one of the student victims has died.  Four remain in serious or critical condition.  The suspect is in custody.  Parents grieve.  A community is in shock and disbelief.

This situation remains very fluid and new.  I think it is important at this time to take a step back, take a breath, and take some time with ourselves and our families to reflect, meditate, or pray.

In times such as this, we are all quick to jump to conclusions, to pass judgment, and focus our energy in the wrong directions.  Rather than focusing our energy on hateful and angry comments or, even worse, threats against the suspect – we should all focus our energy where it needs to be – with the victims and their families.  Our energy should also be focused on a community who is afraid and grieving.  Our energy should also be focused on ourselves and our own families.

Are we doing everything we can to not only protect our children and our families, but to also work tirelessly to help those that may need help that they are not receiving?  Are we working tirelessly, giving of ourselves, to serve and make our communities, our schools, our workplaces, and places of worship safe havens, full of love and acceptance?  Do we take the time to recognize when something is wrong?

Let’s all work together to keep our focus where it needs to be.  Send love to these familes.  Do something positive to help them get through this horrific time in their lives.  Focus your energy to help.  May God’s healing hand be upon all who have been touched in one way or another by this tragedy.

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Marching On

Tragedy or illness strike when we least expect it.  Changes to our life happen.  Our children, parents, friends and loved ones make decisions that we are fearful to support.  The world continues to rotate while wars rage on, children live in hunger, and stories of genocide are heard.  Communities are dealing with astronomical destruction here and abroad.   We go through our lives day in and day out watching praying, and hoping for the two constants to each day – sunrise and sunset.  We march on.

I have two friends who, nearly at the same time, had their worlds changed.  One was the victim of a traumatic injury, and the other has received a diagnosis that he was hoping would be wrong.  It wasn’t.  While the world continues to turn, and chaos ensues, they march on.  They march on because they can.  They march on because there is no alternative but to march on and make the absolute best of their situations.  They march on because they have families, friends, and loved ones whom they want to live long, happy lives with.  They march on.

I know of a young man who is considering enlisting with the Marines.  This is a notion that is truly worrisome to his mother and to his entire family.  The fear of the unknown is often the worst type of fear.  It makes us jump to conclusions.  It makes the young man think that the Marines are his only option, and it makes his family feel as though the Marines are a one way ticket to tragedy.  The fear of the unknown presents itself, but they march on.

I know of others who are experiencing life changing events.  Families moving away, children going off to college, friends suffering from the end stages of a long term illness, people experiencing unemployment or underemployment, but they march on.

We march on because we have faith.  Faith that God’s loving hand will guide us.  As Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “For truly I tell you, if you have faith  the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you”.

We must tell the mountain to move out of our way and remember that nothing is impossible for us.  We must march on.

I was inspired by this video…enjoy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHvgAJe8bvM  

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Are we doing enough?

Are we doing enough?

On March 31, 2011, we lost 28 year old Marine Purple Heart recipient and humanitarian, Clay Hunt.  Though Clay served in Afghanistan and Iraq, we did not lose him in a war zone.  Hunt took his own life due to the war zone that continued to wage within his own mind as he suffered from depression, anxiety and PTSD – here at home.

 The following is an excerpt from Clay’s obituary:

 “Following his heart, Clay joined the United States Marine Corps in May of 2005, completed the School of Infantry in 2006, and shipped out to Iraq in January of 2007 as part of the Second Battalion, Seventh Regiment of the U.S.M.C.  While on patrol in Anbar Province, near Fallujah, he was wounded in a sniper attack, earning a Purple Heart.   Clay recuperated in 2007, and applied for and graduated from the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in February of 2008.  His scout sniper teams shipped out to an area near Sangin, Afghanistan in March of 2008 as part of NATO’s multi-national force deployed against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Clay’s unit returned to the states in October of 2008, and he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in April of 2009.

Clay cherished his time in the Marine Corps and the unconditional and absolute bonds of camaraderie that he built with his band of brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He often wondered why he survived when so many close friends and others paid the ultimate price for our nation’s freedom.

Clay continued to give back to ease the suffering of others in January of 2010, when he and Marine brother Jake Wood and others founded Team Rubicon, an early response team for natural disaster relief. Clay and Team Rubicon entered Port-Au Prince, Haiti one week after that country’s devastating earthquake, and immediately established field medical facilities, and secured transportation to those facilities for thousands of injured Haitians during a month-long stay in that ravaged country. Team Rubicon was on the ground saving lives long before the Red Cross and other institutional organizations were up and running. Clay found his true calling for service in the chaos of Haiti, and his warrior mentality along with his compassion for others were the perfect combination to deliver “hands-on” medical and other humanitarian aid to those so desperately in need.

Clay also went to Chile in 2010 with Team Rubicon to aid earthquake victims in that nation, and returned to Haiti in June of 2010 on a follow-up mission. He also “felt the pain and did something about it” of his fellow veterans by participating in four Ride2Recovery challenges to raise money for struggling wounded veterans across the U.S. Additionally, he helped lobby Congress on behalf of Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans of America for better and more timely delivery of benefits for our veterans of these two conflicts.”

Like many young Americans, Clay felt called to serve our country in our Armed Forces.  He served with pride, honor, and respect.  He suffered physical wounds, but the psychological wounds he suffered would prove to ultimately take his life. 

In our society, we fix the body, we make repairs to the bones, the organs and the tissue, but we so often overlook the trauma that rages inside the mind and the soul.  PTSD and other anxiety disorders associated with trauma are very serious, and plague countless people, including myself.

Members of the military often do not seek help because of the stigmas that these disorders carry.  They are fearful that it will affect their military records or their prospects for future employment.  Some are just fearful that once they begin to acknowledge this war in their head – they will have to deal with it. 

When our men and women who are serving in the military war zones throughout the world return home, whether due to the end of their deployment, or because of an injury, we celebrate.  We have parades and big “welcome home” ceremonies.  We forget that they have been in a world that we would not dare go, doing unimaginable things.  We think that they can just return to life as they left it and be the person that they were before they deployed.  They can’t.  They will never be the same.  They are forever changed.  They can get better, but they cannot do it alone, and not without critical support.

Clay Hunt was trying his hardest to defeat the war raging in his head.  He was serving in humanitarian missions, and even lobbied Congress for assistance for returning Veterans.  He knew that he was fighting an extremely difficult battle within himself.  Clay’s tragic death will not be in vain.  We must all begin to raise awareness of these issues and do whatever we can to give these men and women the support that they need – and absolutely deserve – so that they can transition back into civilian society and begin healing their mental wounds alongside their physical wounds.

So, I ask again: Are we doing enough?

Here are a couple links:

A Memorial Tribute to Clay: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFDJHf9wKus

Team Rubicon – http://teamrubiconusa.org/

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Peace

As we watch the events unfold rapidly and dramatically in Libya, we see events shift from peaceful demonstrations and protests to violent reactions from the government of Libya.

Rather than the peaceful reaction of the military that we saw in Egypt, we see army helicopters in Libya opening fire on the people in the streets.  We hear of two military fighter pilots who were ordered to bomb the civilians of their own country, but instead defected from their own country and flew to Malta where they report that some of their counterparts indeed followed the order and attacked their fellow Libyans.

The people of Libya do not desire violence.  They desire peace.  They desire a voice.  They want basic human rights.  They have tried to demonstrate peacefully, modeling themselves after the Egyptians who peacefully brought unfathomable change to their country, but were met with unimaginable violence by the security forces and military of Libya. 

This situation makes me reflect upon Psalm 94 ‘God the Avenger of the Righteous’ in which the Psalmist calls for vengeance on those who practice injustice and cruelty against the defenseless.  The Psalmist speaks of those who “kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan.”  The Psalmist is calling for divine justice, however; not human vengeance. 

As we watch this situation continue to unfold, and await new information, I reflect on many things.  I find myself feeling blessed.  I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and family, a job and a home, food on the table.  I’m blessed that I live in a country where I can speak my thoughts, opinions, and feelings freely, and challenge our leaders without fear of our military opening fire on me, or dropping a bomb on our citizens.

While we may find ourselves engaged in, and focusing on various political battles, or even personal battles, I know this – I know that the people of Libya are fighting for their lives to have the right to have one of our “political battles” and to have the basic human rights that we take for granted every day. 

This kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?  May God be with the people of Libya, and with all of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and may we all join together and pray for peace and for a restoration of civility for all.

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Show Light. Show Love.

In the wake of the tragedy that has occurred in Tucson, it is easy, and unfortunately very natural, to begin pointing fingers or placing blame.  By now, we have all heard many political pundits from each side placing blame upon the other for the acts of a highly disturbed extremist.  As Jesus taught his disciples in John 9, it is not our job to search for blame. 

It is our job to show love, grace, and compassion.  It is our job to ensure that we can continue to live in a civilized society, where we can disagree with one another without resorting to violence.  It is our inherent responsibility as human beings, and as Americans, to peacefully coexist with one another and work together to improve our country, regardless of political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or religious beliefs.  We are all Americans, and we are all part of the greater human race.  We are all children of God. 

We must reach beyond the walls of our homes, our places of work, our places of worship, and our communities and extend our arms to embrace those who need it the most.  We must embrace those who need to feel God’s warmth, love and strength, those who desperately need to see light inside their dark world.  Let us allow ourselves to become beacons of light, hope, strength, and comfort and lift up those who feel as though they have fallen. 

We must not allow ourselves to become tangled within the aggressive web of political rhetoric, but instead return to the basic principles of civilized discourse.  Luke 10:27 reminds us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  We are all neighbors.  We are all neighbors who need to feel love during these difficult times. 

It is up to us to move our country forward in a civilized manner, with grace and compassion.  It is up to all of us.  How will you help the healing to begin?  

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There is no such thing as Christian Hate…

Christian Love.  This is something that we hear so often, and a topic of many sermons.  Love, not hate.  I have never heard of Christian Hate, but so many people who claim to be Christians show so much hatred, such anger. 

Even people at my own church.  They are there, every Sunday, sitting in the same Worship Service as me, listening to the same messages that I hear.  Messages of Love, not Hate.  God’s Love.  Yet, in that same church, and sometimes in that very sanctuary, they show hate.  Sometimes this hatred is in the form of not accepting those who are different from them.  They make those people, those people that God made to be different, those that are acutely aware of the fact that they are different, feel hated.  Hated, by Christians?   

Other times, this hatred is shown in the form of jealousy and anger.  Often, the hatred is simply anger without merit.  Anger because things do not go the way they think they should go, or things are done differently than they would do it.  Such unbelievable reasons for hatred, yet, hatred is shown.

Regardless of the reasons, there is no such thing as Christian Hatred.  It does not exist.  Christ does not hate.  Christ Loves, Christ forgives.  Therefore, Christians do not hate – they Love.

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We must build them up!

Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  Build each other up.  Encourage one another.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it? 

Let’s take this a step further and focus on our youth.  If we were evaluated today on how well we build up and encourage our youth, how would we do?  Today’s youth are faced with such intense amounts of pressures – many of which are placed upon them not only by their peers, but by adults in positions of authority.  

The average youth is carrying the burden of far more stress than they are capable – or should be capable – of carrying.  Far more stress than that of most adults.  During adolescence, our youth are trying to figure out who they are and “whose” they are.  This is a monumental task.  But instead of guiding them through this process, we increase the pressure within them. While they’re trying to find a place where they fit in, we’re forcing them to make decisions about what vocation they will choose to spend the “rest of their life” working in.  We encourage or demand that they participate in this sport, or this extracurricular activity, throw in some volunteer work here and there, but not so that our teens can learn how special it is to be able to serve others through Christ, but so that they can enhance their “resume”.  Oh yeah, education is in there somewhere too, and teens are often awake late at night trying to squeeze in the vast amount of homework that they are tasked with, while decreasing the amount of sleep that their growing bodies desperately need to maintain proper health.

Bullying is a hot topic in the news right now.  Thankfully, more awareness is being placed upon this debilitating part of our society.  But too often, the bullying stories miss the mark.  While bullying may be caused by issues surrounding sexual orientation, or teenage social class issues, more often than not, the bullying is caused by excessive pressure within the bully and his or her victim. 

Our youth are hurting, they are fearful; they are searching for their place in this world.  It is our job to guide them through this time in their life.  Teach them to love others as Christ loved, and to serve others as Christ served, to encourage one another and build each other up. 

Matthew 18: 10-13 says, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones…If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”  This is our job.  This is our job as adults, as youth leaders, as parents, as ministers, as fellow human beings, to watch over and care for our youth, to guide them, shepherd them – and when one goes astray, seek them out and guide them back to the flock, building them up and encouraging them along the way.

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