I promise.

Here’s what I have. I ask you, my sisters and brothers, to hold me accountable, to add to this list, or to expand it in your own life where it applies.

Or ignore it completely. That always remains an option.

I want to go on record.

I promise to do my dead-level best to:

  • Love mercy
  • Do justly
  • Walk humbly with my God
  • Expand the Garden of peace beyond the borders of my own spiritual community whenever possible
  • Pray more
  • Love better
  • Do whatever I need to do to build stronger connections, maintain the bridges between us, and to repair the places that have eroded due to neglect and error.

I promise I will step in when I see injustice. I promise I will try to always stand on the side of the oppressed, the minority, the wounded, the suffering, and the wandering.

I promise I will help you find your words, perform your duty, carry your burden, and find rest.

I promise there is no such thing as alternate facts.

I promise you Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the people who voted for them, are icons, made in the image of God.

I promise I will always try my best to tell the truth, to call out falsehood when I see it, and to encourage others to do the same.

I promise to continue to mean what I say every liturgy “we pray for this country, its ruler, its people, civil authorities and armed forces.”

I promise to speak out against greed and injustice.

I promise to listen to your stories.

I promise to have “Lord, have mercy” on my lips as much as possible.cropped-mg_6828.jpg

 

Remembering

Some Saturday mornings, you really should be packing for your SAR overnight training, but you find yourself at your husband’s volunteer fire department, wiping wax off the rescue truck.

And when a 9/11 Memorial truck pulls into the bay, you stop what you’re doing and you struggle to hold back tears, right alongside the husband-who wouldn’t cry if you dropped a Halligan bar on his toe.

So you stand there, surprised by all the emotions you feel as you read the names on the doors, the men who knew they could die that day, as they knew everyday, but probably didn’t think they would. The FDNY baseball hat the lieutenant tossed onto the seat as he geared up and left the cab is now encased in glass, a monument to a moment long ago.

You back up and watch the guys, and girls, of the Albion Fire Department, all volunteers, wash and wax that dented truck with greater care than you could imagine. You watch a young guy, who was probably about 5 when the towers came down, climb underneath it with a brush, and hand-scrub the road grime from the mudflaps, covering himself with it. You swallow the lump in your throat as you watch your husband, who spent last Sunday on a roof at a house fire, go over the chrome and the steel with a soft cloth. You can’t imagine what is inside his head.

But you know what’s inside yours, as your search dog lays obediently in an empty bay next to the truck. You know that this rescue truck, FDNY Rescue 4, was put back together with pieces and parts from other trucks, like Rescue 3 from Harlem, which also didn’t make it back that day.  You know that this is not just your legacy as an American, as a human, but as a search professional.

And you know that you are on holy ground, so you pray the Orthodox prayer for the departed, you make the sign of the cross and you venerate the shield on the door.

You pray too, that we could one day understand that we are all the same, we bleed when we die, we cry for our dead and our souls live forever.

When you go home to pack for your overnight, gathering your SAR ready pack and your kits, your ropes and your PFDs, you take a little more care than normal.

Because everything matters.

2016-06-11 09.14.09

Thankful thoughts

For my peeps, whom I love. The extended version.

 

I posted Wednesday night on Facebook about how grateful I am for the people in my life. I meant it, and I want to expand a bit on it here.

Believe it or not, I am an introvert. I behave like an extrovert for TJTP, but I do not find big groups of people enjoyable or energizing. However, I really do love people on a personal level. I love hearing their stories, seeing their scars, learning from them and watching them grow.

And I have been richly blessed by the people in my life, with genuine connections to so many people. It makes me tear up sometimes when I think about it. (shhh don’t tell)

The main difference between Orthodoxy and all other strains of Christianity I had explored is literally “Communion,” the sharing in the Sacraments. The Mysteries of God really do connect us in a way that is mystical and sturdy. I find an instant connection with those in the Church.

I often say that training Helo is working for my salvation. I believe that quite wholeheartedly. Training dogs is humbling work. Admitting you don’t know how to communicate in a way that’s understandable is embarrassing to a professional communicator. It’s humbling to fail so much at something into which you are putting so much. It is always very hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard to put yourself out there, with your dog, in testing, or competition or work. It’s even harder when you fail.

Helo and I have failed. Many many times. But we’re getting better. We’re growing.

I know that I have had the support of my Church people, through prayer and encouragement. Thank you all for that. Thank you for asking me at coffee hour how training is going, for listening to me talk about the joys of human remains detection over donuts, for praying for our safety in our work, and for praying for me and asking about the TJTP. That job gets a bit lonely at times and I know I have your love there. It means a lot.

My family and non-dog/SAR friends have been pretty awesome as well. I have been a total chatterbox for two years now on the miracles and wonders of lying in the woods and waiting for a dog to come and bark at me. I have badgered many about coming to hide in holes and boxes, regardless of weather or conditions. I have moaned about our latest struggle and babbled like a brook about any success we have had. Please know I am trying not to take you all for granted. We can’t do this without you and your patience. Thank you. Thank you.

At some level too, not the Mystical one of actual Communion, but at a very deep and meaningful human level– a way that I think it should be for everyone somewhere in their lives– my dog people have saved me this year too. There has been a true communion of connection and support.

When you are passionate about something, and you find others who share that passion and that drive; and who are committed to helping you cultivate it more in yourself, it’s just extraordinary.

New friends whose paths I crossed at seminars or elsewhere, for whom I felt an instant “THIS PERSON needs to be in my life”; Facebook friends who have trained and worked for years, who are quick to answer questions, to offer tips and patience; my teammates who deal with me with unfailing patience and humor, for you all I am so thankful.

Such connections are a gift. To those reading this for whom this is true, thank you. Thank you for investing in my life, in my skills, in my dog. Thank you for caring enough to check on us, spur us on, pull us up when we’ve been down.

I light candles in the back of the Church for those whom I love and who are on my mind. It’s been a veritable forest quite frequently in recent months for all of you.

Love,

Me.

A massive rescue operation

It’s Great and Holy Friday. Christ hangs on the cross in the center of the church. I will go later today to sign hymns of Lamentations, to mourn alongside His mother and disciples. Tonight we will bury Him. Tomorrow night we will await His Glorious Resurrection.

In light of all this, I want to make sure you know something. I knew it, but I forget it all the time, because I live here, in the West, where Christianity is all about a God who is so angry at us being us that He had to sacrifice His own Son to appease Himself. (Ridiculous, isn’t it.)

This was never about that.

Fr. Andrew reminded me of this no less than four times this week, in a couple of homilies and in confession. And he didn’t use these words, exactly, but it’s how my brain is wired these days, so I’m using them.

THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT RESCUE.

Always. From the absolute moment we decided to do what we did, and every moment of every day that we do what we do, this has been about that.

It has been about Love. And Sacrifice. About Healing. And Wholeness. It is about Death, but it is, oh boy is it, about Life.

It’s about a Divine Hand, two actually, outstretched and reaching. It’s about moving heaven, earth and the gates of hell to free us from the rubble of our own brokenness, our own hurts, our pain, our shame, our loneliness and vulnerability. It’s about pushing the broken pieces of our lives aside to get us out.

I have a lot of friends who do not believe what I believe. And that is OK with me. I love them and I love the way they challenge me and walk alongside of me and talk with me about these things, regardless of our differences.

But if you do not believe what I believe, because you have distinctly chosen to reject the god of “substitutionary atonement” (doesn’t that sound lovely), the god who “hates F#%$” and leaves tracts in restaurants in lieu of tips, the god who worries more about what people do than what people are (icons, made in His image), it’s OK. I rejected him too. I had to. That other “faith” was killing me.

And this God came for me. He showed up on a commuter train in Washington D.C. when I was on the edge, in the words of a new friend. He carefully and methodically moved aside those broken pieces in my own heart, freed me from the traps I made and is gradually putting me back together. We’re not done yet, but this isn’t a simple process. It’s always been about healing. It’s never, ever, ever been about hell.

God is Love. He kept saying that. I choose to believe Him.    The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος)

An icon in the ditch

Our team had a good week. We kept a search a “rescue” instead of “recovery.” Our dogs did what humans couldn’t. Thank God for that. Early Friday morning, two of our dogs and two of our handlers pushed law enforcement to extend the search for just one more run, one more time. And they brought an elderly man, suffering from dementia, to his family, to a warm and comfortable house in suburban Fort Wayne. The place he belongs was just a few thousand yards from where he would have probably died, had a handsome rescued German Shepherd named Tick not pushed through the brush, scampered down a ravine and found the man, in the dead, cold middle of the night, and told all the humans in the vicinity “he’s here!”

That’s what I wanted to write about yesterday and this morning. I thought about all the times I hide for Tick, how much fun I have with him, regardless of how tired I am, or how cold or hot it is, so that he believes that humans in random places in rubble piles or forests or buildings are the absolute bees knees.  I wanted to write about how Tick’s handler is one helping to turn my Helo into a fierce, feisty little search-beast.

That’s what I was going to tell you.

But as we had our de-brief this morning, and the handlers talked about how they walked and walked, through deep mud and brambles, and how they felt when they got to him, I realized this is a different story.

SAR is about humanity. It’s about icons. It’s about the image of God, what makes us of infinite value. It’s about our souls. It’s about helping, bringing home, about restoration, and hope.

It’s about taking great care, covering the wounds, warming cold limbs, bundling up, and touching softly. It’s about removing your own coat, taking your own time, expending your own effort. It’s about asking a name, looking in eyes, holding a hand and making one safe.

It’s about Mercy. Grace. Hope. Love. And it might not even matter why a person does this, but in that moment, it is about that connection. It is about human. It is about the Image. It is about Love.

It is about all of us.

 

(But K9 SAR is also about puppies. Here’s Tick.)

tick

 

Bless this mess

In my head, I know that someday I’m going to have one of those homes. The ones that look like a perfect picture on Pinterest (hey, look, alliteration). But I am here to tell you, this is not that someday. My stuff is still in boxes, going on two years now from the wedding day (yes, I know I should pitch it. I’ll likely never use it again). We have mismatched carpet, mismatched couches, mismatched recliners covered in throws. My husband and I are both “droppers.” We come in the door and dump it on the table. One of us (me) is way, way worse.

Once a year, the priest comes into the homes of the Orthodox with his holy water and his sprinkly-thingamabop. He puts on his stole and we kiss an icon and say some prayers and go around the house, singing “Lord, your baptism in the River Jordan taught us to worship the Trinity…” Monday was that day for me.

I spent Saturday night into Sunday morning running around a shopping mall training dogs. Last week was the week of murder and mayhem, the anniversary of a friend’s death and I just generally was pooped by Sunday evening. I tried to clean, I swear I did. Monday morning dawned with the dog puking at the foot of the bed (lovely wake-up call).

I really wanted to cancel, tell Fr. A something came up, whatever. But I didn’t and he showed up.

Funny thing about leading your priest around your house…you notice all the things you should have noticed like an hour before. Things that do not belong “out” for “company.” Things that would result in a lecture from your mother. These things. Sigh. Were. OUT.

And they got sprinkled with Holy Water. They did, along with the .45-caliber handgun on the book shelf, the pocket pistol by the television, the tac knives, and the search dog. My icon corner did as well, along with the, um, girl things, sitting on a dresser near by.

He blessed the sun porch–filled with diving gear, a flag from the fire department, EMT med bags, 24-hour search packs and the dog food. He blessed the barn, including my heavy bag and a gopher hole, a log splitter and the quads.

I was mostly appalled. I still blush.

Grace is never really convenient for me. I never get to clean up, wash my hands, straighten everything out and stop cussing loudly when it knocks on my door.

My life is EXACTLY like the house. Every single thing strewn about in our living space is exactly what we deal with every single day: the stresses of emergency response, life as a crime writer, two middle-aged adults trying to figure out married life.

And grace always shows up in the middle of it, knocking the snow off its boots and marching right into the intimate places, the vulnerable places and the mess.

Thank God. If it waited for me to straighten up first, well, nothing good would ever happen.

Another week…

Another exercise in what makes humans truly special: our ability to dig deep into ourselves and find new ways to be absolutely and completely hideous.

It’s also the one year anniversary of the death of my second mom.

I’m feeling a tad melancholy and avoiding the bourbon tonight, because well, one should moderate to avoid finding the deeply hideous in ones own self.

This time the missing-and-of-course-dead child bumped into my volunteer world ever so briefly. It was a very odd, but welcome sense that maybe I could be a part of changing an outcome. We were not. The die was cast.

As all missing-and-of-course-dead children do, this one ended up in my professional world. He will stay there for a good six to 12 months, where myself and my coworkers will translate the horrible into somewhat palatable language understood by those at an eighth-grade reading level. Owen will never leave my psychological world. He is now on the list, behind Aliahna and Alejandra, Jonathon and McKenzie. It’s unfortunately lengthening.

We now have, of course, the added joys of the social media outcry against those whose behavior descends into the depths. That’s been also rather un-edifying, these urges we have on Facebook to cry for those who harm others to be horribly harmed themselves. We tap into these dark places in ourselves, and feel so righteous in doing it. Perfectly reasonable and good Christian people post on the social media pages of those who are charged about how much they would like to see them suffer sadistically, to be humiliated and debased. In making such claims, such calls for “justice” we debase only ourselves. I understand the impulse. I do. But I know that for myself, seeing these posts make me feel almost as sick as reading the details in the charging documents, almost as horrified as understanding the “how” and the “what.”

Now, though, speaking of social media, a Facebook friend tonight opined that we, humans, were incredibly fragile and ferociously strong. I love this, so very much.

I know that right now, as I sit here in the dark of my living room, listening the dishwasher and the fireplace, I feel pretty normal, and mundane. But I realize, as I also think about the anniversary of the death of my friend, that control, the ability to stave off the darkness, is an illusion. We are all so incredibly fragile.

In those moments though, when the doctor comes into the room, when the pagers go off, when the world gets all pear-shaped, when our loved ones are particularly vulnerable, we can find that place in all of us where we are so very ferociously strong.

I hope to be that way for others, for myself, in whatever way that I can. And I hope that what I find when I am forced to dig into the depths of who I am, I find who I was created to be. I hope that it is good.