How My Year In National Service Changed My Life

How My Year In National Service Changed My Life

My national service with FEMA Corps helped me realize the importance of being an active member in society.
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Five feet.

I can never seem to remember how many ounces are in a cup or kilometers in a mile, but one measurement that I will never forget: five feet.

Five feet reached just below the windowsill on the house Jill spent everything on. Looking at the house you could see a debris line wrapping around the outside, five feet was how high the waterline reached.

Her second chance was underwater and after the flooding subsided she was left with repairs she could not afford and the potential for mold, which could mean medical expenses down the road. A few intact canned goods and McDonalds’ coupons were sustaining her family of five until they could get more money from Food Stamps the following month.

Though her name is fake, her struggle was real and commonplace with survivors in Louisiana this year. Parts of the Bayou State were underwater a great deal in 2016, as a result of two devastating floods. Though she is based on a woman born and raised in Louisiana, her story could have taken place in West Virginia after the flooding or in Florida after Hurricane Matthew.

I will never forget the massive debris piles lining the streets of, what looked like, any neighborhood in the United States.

I will never forget the face of men and women of all ages starving and desperate--the face of someone who lost everything or had nothing.

I will never forget the uncontrollable sobs from an elderly woman forced to start over.

I will never forget the joy on a man’s face who was offered hope, knowing that he could get money to start putting the pieces of his life back together.

I will never forget the seemingly therapeutic exhale of a young woman who was offered a second or third chance at life.

I will never forget the sound of gratitude from the voice of a 90-year-old woman whose house was gutted and cleared of everything that could have caused mold by a team of capable young people.

I experienced these things not because I am a survivor, but because I worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and FEMA partner in the 10-month FEMA Corps program. Just under 300, 18 to 24-year-old people travel cross country, to wherever they are needed to help those in need after a disaster strikes.

Community service may sound like a punishment to some, but to me it was a weight with which to balance the scales. I have been incredibly fortunate in my 23 years on this planet, in more ways than I can form words for. I felt as though it was my duty to disperse the good will I have been surrounded with. Call it spreading positive Karma, self-sacrifice, service to my country or a waste of time if you must, it was something that I needed to do.

My mother always told me to pay it forward (or was that Kevin Spacey?) An idea brought forth originally by Aristotle, the philosopher called it the Golden Mean.

The concept is that the energy you put out into the world, positive or negative, is what you expect to receive in return. My good fortune in life has been in large part cosmically random, as arguably random as a natural disaster striking.

While there are scientific reasons that some areas are prone to flooding and why hurricanes travel in certain paths, to the people that are affected, it is random. It is because of these random circumstances that create and alter the paths we choose and the lives we lead, that I felt compelled to help those in situations that could just as easily have been my own.

National service may sound intimidating, military even, but however you define it, at its core it is giving back to your country. I believe that it should be as respected in this country as military service.

My life was never on the line, I was safe from harm my entire 10-month term, but my sacrifice was still great. Leaving friends and family, having to coexist with nine strangers, sharing beds, living off a small stipend, receiving $4.75 per diem for food and never truly knowing if, when or where a new deployment would be issued.

For ten months I was military issue, wearing clunky black steel-toed boots and pants that are actually referred to as Battle Dress Uniform. I left everything that was comfortable, predictable and familiar to serve those in need. I left my life for ten months so that I could know what it is like helping people like Jill get back on their feet.

I am grateful for the opportunities FEMA Corps presented me with, but I am most appreciative of, and would recommend the program for, my new understanding of my place in this world.

The understanding that I am a part of this big, beautiful, scenic, scary and diverse melting pot of a country and to truly be a part of it, I must participate in it. It is my role to help make this country as great as so many say it is or can be.

Whether it is through serving breakfast to homeless people, providing love and attention to abused animals, Standing with Standing Rock or casting your vote on Voting Day, participation in all forms is what will make this country great.

Cover Image Credit: Hannah Sundell

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This Is How Your Same-Sex Marriage Affects Me As A Catholic Woman

I hear you over there, Bible Bob.
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It won't.

Wait, what?

I promise you did read that right. Not what you were expecting me to say, right? Who another person decides to marry will never in any way affect my own marriage whatsoever. (Unless they try to marry the person that I want to, then we might have a few problems.)

As a kid, I was raised, baptized, and confirmed into an old school Irish Catholic church in the middle of a small, midwestern town. Not exactly a place that most people would consider to be very liberal or open-minded. Despite this I was taught to love and accept others as a child, to not cast judgment because the only person fit to judge was God. I learned this from my Grandpa, a man whose love of others was only rivaled by his love of sweets and spoiling his grandkids.

While I learned this at an early age, not everyone else in my hometown — or even within my own church — seemed to get the memo. When same-sex marriage was finally legalized country-wide, I cried tears of joy for some of my closest friends who happen to be members of the LGBTQ community. I was happy while others I knew were disgusted and even enraged.

"That's not what it says in the bible! Marriage is between a man and a woman!"

"God made Adam and Eve for a reason! Man shall not lie with another man as he would a woman!"

"Homosexuality is a sin! It's bad enough that they're all going to hell, now we're letting them marry?"

Alright, Bible Bob, we get it, you don't agree with same-sex relationships. Honestly, that's not the issue. One of our civil liberties as United States citizens is the freedom of religion. If you believe your religion doesn't support homosexuality that's OK. What isn't OK is thinking that your religious beliefs should dictate others lives. What isn't OK is using your religion or your beliefs to take away rights from those who chose to live their life differently than you.

Some members of my church are still convinced that their marriage now means less because people are free to marry whoever they want to. Honestly, I wish I was kidding. Tell me again, Brenda how exactly do Steve and Jason's marriage affect yours and Tom's?

It doesn't. Really, it doesn't affect you at all. Unless Tom suddenly starts having an affair with Steve their marriage has zero effect on you. You never know Brenda, you and Jason might become best friends by the end of the divorce. (And in that case, Brenda and Tom both need to go to church considering the bible also teaches against adultery and divorce.)

I'll say it one more time for the people in the back; same-sex marriage does not affect you even if you or your religion does not support it. If you don't agree with same sex marriage then do not marry someone of the same sex. Really, it's a simple concept.

It amazes me that I still actually have to discuss this with some people in 2017. And it amazes me that people use God as a reason to hinder the lives of others. As a proud young Catholic woman, I wholeheartedly support the LGBTQ community with my entire being. My God taught me to not hold hate so close to my heart. He told me not to judge and to accept others with open arms. My God taught me to love and I hope yours teaches you the same.

Disclaimer - This article in no way is meant to be an insult to the bible or religion or the LGBTQ community.

Cover Image Credit: Sushiesque / Flickr

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Everybody Has Room To Grow In Being Loving And Kind

Is anyone wholly kind? Is anyone wholly loving?
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Everybody loves kindness. Everybody loves love.

But is anyone wholly kind? Is anyone wholly loving?

A deficit I see (and experience myself, seeing that I am an imperfect human) very prominently in our world, as I know it, is of a gaping lack of authentic, non-transactional kindness and love.

I’d like to preface this by once again highlighting that I do not consider myself outside of this deficit. My love and kindness are impoverished, surely not what love and kindness could truly be. I feel that I can speak on this because I am part of it.

Do we fight for social justice? Do we advocate for human rights? Do we believe in universal human dignity and the protection of it?

Do we also treat each human being we encounter with the same ferocious, passionate care we claim for humanity?

Do we insult people behind their backs? Do we fail to be intentional and genuine with everyone? Do we fail to make certain people feel cared for by our disengaged, disenchanted demeanor?

The answer, by the way, is yes. If you’re human, yes. Our love and kindness are not what they proclaim to be. My love and kindness are not what they proclaim to be.

I can admit this without shame because I know my worth. I know that my flaws and weaknesses have no effect on my value as a human being. And yet, I also know it’s important to admit these truths, and to acknowledge what they mean.

There is no such thing as loving “enough.” There is no such thing as being kind “enough.” The world is shattered. We are a broken, imperfect people. There will never be a day where we will be able to claim that we were perfectly kind, or that we loved perfectly.

What shall we say then? Shall we go on hopelessly, or apathetically, since imperfection is inevitable? By no means!

Acknowledging that our love and kindness needs growth creates room for that growth. It’s not self-deprecating to accept imperfection. Imperfection is a fact— but it shouldn’t lead to shame. Shame is a lie. Shame would claim that we need to be perfect to be priceless. Shame is dehumanizing and devaluing. We were not created to feel shame.

But we were indeed created to grow.

Love needs us to be open to growing in it. Love needs space to expand into. Love requires true intentionality. Love requires genuine relationship.

Love requires our acknowledgment that we can work on it.

How are we going to go about doing that? I might try setting my pride aside, so that I never treat anyone in my heart as if they’re a means to an end, or consider someone unworthy of my care. I might try to look people in the eye a little more. I might try being less quick to jump to annoyance or frustration. I might attempt to put away a bit of my judgment.

I might hold my tongue if my thoughts are about to release something dark and negative into the Universe. I might say sorry when I hurt someone, even if I think I’m right, because their perspective matters. I might listen to others’ thoughts and feelings, even if they differ from my own experience. I might have more intentional conversations.

I might be honest, even when it hurts. I might take a deep breath and work through an argument thoughtfully, instead of remaining closed minded. I might take a little more time to make sure others feel cared for.

I might allow room for myself to grow in love, something humanity can never get enough of.

How are you going to grow in your love?

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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