Going Blue

Today is National Awareness Day for 2014! I know there are many days on the calendar that are designated for a special purpose or cause. In fact, you can find a 2014 calendar here that shares many of these special days. There are many people who suffer with many issues. Honestly, cancer sucks, diabetes sucks, cerebral palsy sucks, and the list goes on! For this day, we turn our attention to the effects of lives of individuals and families who are affected by autism.

We are one of THOSE families!

In November of 2012, we found out that one of our beautiful sons was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, which is a high functioning form of the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Later in the next year, we received the notice that a second son was diagnosed with autism as well. It is fair to say that it was a fairly complicated year.

Do you know that 1 in every 68 children are dealing with autism, which includes 1 in every 42 boys (www.autismspeaks.org)? Children with autism are more likely to be bullied or harassed. If you are dealing with this possibility I highly recommend checking into the Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit and the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Tool Kit. You can find information about that kit here.

One of the struggles that we face as parents is that we face the comments and concerns of other parents and “concerned” adults. Our children have emotional outbursts that they cannot always control. Some of the simplest things can send them spiraling out of control. Recently, in school, a teacher was disciplining a whole class but our son thought they meant only him. He lost it at school. Autism is hard to explain to others because our children do not experience the world the way “normal” children experience it.

I am starting to hate the word, “normal!”

What is normal anyways? What does it mean to be “normal”? Are any of us truly normal? By definition, if we truly believe that we are all unique creations of a loving Heavenly Father, we are all different. There is no normal. Actually, normal is found at the foot of the cross. There is where we are all at the same place. But, I digress…

I do not hate autism. I cannot hate autism because autism is part of my kids. It is part of my family. It is part of what makes my kids who they are. Do I wish that things were easier for them? Would I take their place in a heartbeat? Will I fight every day to make sure they get the help and consideration they need to get where they want to?

YES

So, will you join me in remembering the individuals and families who deal with autism every day?

 

Thoughts from Oklahoma: Day 12-Saying Goodbye but Not Forgetting

This last post from Oklahoma is dedicated to the all of the officers, soldiers, employees and volunteers. I would also like to include all of the people I had the honor of working with from all of our partner agencies.

The weird thing about leaving now is that there has been so much good done, but there is more to be done! God has called up other faithful soldiers to carry the burden a little further! And, for that I pray for Holy strength for the local personnel who will carry it even further into the future! So, I am saying goodbye, but not forgetting!

There were long days and confusing ways! There was good teams and greater dreams! There was care and prayer! There was walking and talking! There was no “us and them.” It was always “we and Him!” So, I am saying goodbye, but not forgetting!

This experience has changed me. It has changed my perspective. It has changed how I view people. It has changed how I view myself. It has renewed old friendships and made new ones! It has brought out new partnerships and strengthened others! It has shown me a different kind of world, without borders and rules! So, I am saying goodbye, but not forgetting!

I pray God’s peace and protection over this land. For the love and care of the Father, I place these people in Your capable hands. Knowing that in all things, my God is bigger than the skies!

“For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 108:4 NIV).

So, I am saying goodbye, but not forgetting!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Thoughts from Oklahoma: Day 10-Spiritual Care Ground Forces

The Salvation Army is constantly evolving and changing the way it responds to disasters! Due to the impact that this tornado had on the people in this area, The Salvation Army wanted to make the Emotional and Spiritual Care support to be a priority in our initial service delivery. While Emotional and Spiritual Care has always been an understood in our disaster delivery service, the Army is now deploying officers (ministers) and carefully chosen, trained volunteers as Emotional and Spiritual Care Specialists. These ESC personnel are tasked with the care of not only affected people, but also other disaster responders. The Salvation Army sent one of the largest continents of ESC personnel to this disaster response in my memory.

Because of the increased response in this trained personnel, we were able to deploy ESC teams with trucks and other vehicles to affected areas as “spiritual care ground forces.” These ground force teams were able to get into some areas that our mobile feeding units could not get into and offer assistance. Some of the areas were so damaged and difficult to traverse that the ESC teams were forced to walk along roads dragging coolers of cold drinks and snacks. Far from just offering physical comfort, these teams were bringing the love of God to places that had seen such sorrow!

I had a chance to work with these teams for my first two days here in Oklahoma. These dedicated officers and volunteers took to their work like trained soldiers. Every morning, they would go to the distribution warehouse and load up with supplies. From drinks to snacks to candy to small toys, they were loading up “ammunition of love” to be shared with everyone they came in contact with! They prayed as they walked! They prayed as they talked! They spoke hope to people who did not have any hope! The days were long! Some of the teams had to seek shelter during inclement weather. There were sunburns and tired feet, exhaustion and emotional wear. But, these faithful soldiers trudged on and brought hope, peace, and love to the people of this land.

Pray for the people of Oklahoma! Pray for those who are helping! Pray for those who will be staying and helping in the future!

God Bless the people of Oklahoma!
God Bless the work of the responders!
And, God Bless The Salvation Army!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 6 of Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) Response – Wilkes-Barre, PA Area Flooding

In recent days, we have discussed the various phases of the disaster response process.  One of the important phases in this process is the transition of one incident command to another team.

One of the strengths of The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Response process is its’ ability to transfer the responsibility of command and distribution to other officers, workers, and volunteers. A typical disaster response deployment is 14 days.  Of those 14 days, two days are for travel.  There is one day set aside to travel to the disaster and one day to return to your original location.  The 12 remaining days consist of two components: active days and shadowing days.  The first and last day of this 12 day period are for shadowing the officer, employee, or volunteer that you are replacing.

Captain Mason accepts command from Major Binnix

Contacts in the community, location of resources, and names of people who can assist in the disaster are important.  It is not effective for the previous incident command team to start a competent response and them not have that work continue at the same level of effectiveness.

Although comically portrayed to the right, Major Ed Binnix is handing over the responsibilities to our new incident commander, Captain Todd Mason. Captain Mason, a veteran EDS responder, has been moved from the Planning Chief position to the Incident Commander.  His former position of Planning Chief has become a low priority since all of the future plans and strategies have now been put into place.

Captain Mason and the new incident command team will be responsible for the demobilization of the disaster response and its’ hand-off to the local command and divisional headquarters.

Pam (Vidalia) receives her first EDS "badge" from Lt. Jason Burns

One of the more overlooked resources that are necessary for action within a disaster response is the volunteer.  Pam from Vidalia, GA is pictured here receiving her new “badge” from the previous Operations Chief, Lt. Jason Burns. Pam has bee heavily-involved in the work of The Salvation Army in disaster back at home.

Recognizing her service and request for the badge, the incident command team wanted to improve morale and joy within the overall team. One of the critical tasks of the Incident Command Team is the need to support all of the personnel with their command.

Volunteers are always needed for minor and major responses.  You can register at disaster.salvationarmyusa.org to sign-up to volunteer and attend classes.  You can also find out more information about The Salvation Army by following @SalArmyEDS on Twitter.

Following is a great interview with Michael Bush from Virginia. Michael is recently returned from disaster response in Virginia. He is always willing to help more people.

Last "decompression dinner" with combined teams

Included below our pictures of some of our incident command team having a good time together. At times, laughter and fun helps the response process and gives the team the ability to face the next day.

Captain Patrick Richmond (right) has heard all of Lt. Jason Burns' (left) stories
I am the walrus! Coo-coo-catchoo! - Captain Patrick Richmond
New Incident Commander, Captain Mason's first order - a massage. Also pictured is Lt. Jonathan Howell
Micah becomes the new Operations Chief

Day 5 of Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) Response – Wilkes-Barre, PA Area Flooding

The area around the Wilkes-Barre, PA general area is beginning to see some return to normalcy. A lot of neighborhoods have power and basic services. We have seen more decreases in feeding on mobile units.  Two canteens were sent out today. Unit 2 was sent to Plainsville & West Nanticoke, and unit 5 went to Shickshinny, Maconaqua, and Wapwallopen.  These more rural areas still represent significant needs.  We will maintain our current feeding schedule through tomorrow.

We had our first day of S.A.F.A.C. (Salvation Army Flood Assistance Center).  The SAFAC provided food boxes, clothing vouchers, and merchandise cards to 88 people.  Our casework staff and pastoral care teams were on-hand to assist clients.

After clients for the flood relief have registered with the welcome desk, they are escorted over to the waiting area.  At the waiting area, our pastoral care officers were on-hand to offer comfort and guidance to the individuals and families.  Lt. Valentina Cantu (pictured right) is spending time playing with a child of a disaster victim and is herself a disaster victim.  Lt. Cantu spent several minutes playing with the girl and reading to her.  After a few moments at the provided kid’s activity station, the little girl proudly walked around the corps gym showing everyone her sticker tatoos.  It was one way to bring a small amount of joy into a person’s life.

Connie Jones (Service Extension Director from Georgia) is pictured here assisting a client to navigate through the paperwork process.  Connie is an experienced disaster relief worker for The Salvation Army and cooks the only peach cobbler that I will actually eat!

Her and another director, Sandy Roberts, were originally assigned to Incident Command as cooks to support the mobile feeding operations.  In the course of discovering the path of our relief, the casework experience of Mrs. Jones and Ms. Roberts allowed them to be vital in the intake process.

Incident Commander – Major Ed Binnix

Emotional & Spiritual Care Lead – Major Lloyd Kerns

Assistant PIO (Public Information Officer) – Andrea Halsey

Mile Marker: The Tip of the Iceberg

Deuteronomy 29:5 NLT – “For forty years I led you through the wilderness, yet your clothes and sandals did not wear out.”

If you are anything like me, reading through Deuteronomy can take the wind out of your sails!  If you have not read Deuteronomy 28:57 yet, I would not start my morning devotions with it.  There are a lot of rules and a lot of laws covered in those chapters.  But, when you essentially read between the lines of some of the passages, great truths leap out at you.  Such a truth is Deuteronomy 29:5!

Moses is reminding the people about the time that they wandered forty years in the wilderness.  He had led them through the hardest time in any of their recent memories.  All of those people of Israel who has escaped captivity from Egypt were dead, except for the two faithful spies and Moses.  The Wilderness was the latest and most memorable test the current people had experienced.  It was their Waterloo, their Pearl Harbor, or to take a page from recent history, their 9/11 or Katrina.  They did not look back fondly at that time.  Nobody was running around screaming to go back to wandering in the wilderness.  They had done that, and had the t-shirt!  While Moses has now run down all of the requirements that God has set for the people and reminded them of the punishment that they would endure if they did not listen, he prepares them to cross over into the reward that was promised to their ancestors.  Frustrated beyond belief, he looks at the people and in verse 4 screams at them that they still did not understand everything God had done for them, will do for them, and is currently doing for them.  He goes on in verse 5 to say even when you were being punished by wandering the wilderness for forty years your clothes did not wear out, your shoes did not wear out.  Even then, God was taking care of them.

God is teaching the Israelites then and teaching us now that caring for others is a big job.  When we just meet someone’s current needs, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.  Truly caring for others and wanting to help them requires helping realize how they got to this place.  It means showing them that even when times were hardest, God was still looking out for them.  It means showing them that it might take just as long to get out of a situation as it did to get into the situation.  That is how much God cares for us!  That is how much God loves us!  Not just the tip, but all the way to the bottom!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Understanding God’s Environment

Psalm 36:6 – Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,  your justice like the ocean depths.  You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.

I have never been a great lover of nature.  While I appreciate the beauty and majesty of creation around me, I cannot help but only see dirt.  I do not like the beach because of sand.  It just gets everywhere.

I am thankful in these moments that God did not just stop with dirt and sand.  He made beautiful mountains, deep oceans, breath-taking landscapes, and gorgeous flowers.  And, He made it all for us.

While I am wondering about the beauty of nature, I always come around to thinking about how it is a reflection of God’s very own nature.  The psalmist shares that God’s righteousness, His idea of right living, is like a might mountain.  His idea of what we should be and how we we should act is a tall, strong, immovable symbol.  His justice is likened to the unfathomable depths of the ocean.  How he cares and the lengths that He is willing to go for you and me are of the deepest ever known.

To the early perspective, a mountain would be the tallest thing, the largest thing around their world.  An ocean, well an ocean would be the deepest place that would have ever seen.  They would not have had the equipment to scale the tallest mountains or explore the deepest oceans.  It was beyond their reach.  It was other to them.

I believe we need a little of that otherness in our understanding of God.  Who God is and what God can do is beyond what we know and understand.

Soli Deo Gloria!