16 September, 2007

From now on...

...you can find me here.

Saying Goodbye

Sunny's mom, Sunny's aunt, Sunny, and John on the bus.

Sofi and Mirko after church on Sunday.

Last coffee with Vladimira.

Kami strikes a pose!

Playing in the fountain.

Kami and Iva performed an unforgettable rendition of the Beatles' 'Yesterday' complete with heavy accents and extreme Balkan styling. I captured most of it on video but promised that I wouldn't make it public, so you'll just have to use your imagination...

Final goodbyes in the stairwell only a few hours before I left.

Camping on Cres

My last weekend in Rijeka, John, Zoran and I decided to go camping on the island of Cres. We took a ferry over to the island and as I was getting settled in my seat I noticed this set of emergency instructions in front of me - especially point #1...

When we got to the island we found out where the trail was and started walking. By the time we got out of the populated town area, it was dark. We wound our way through endless rock-walled sheep pens - we almost ran into a few sheep! - and eventually settled down in an empty rectangle a few hundred meters from the main path. It was beautiful! John set up his hammock, I stayed in a small tent, and Zoran took the ground. We could see so many stars, and it was easy to get a small fire going. In the morning we woke up to a strong breeze and a beautiful view of olive and fig trees, the ocean, and other islands.

Later in the afternoon we went swimming in beautiful crystal clear water before heading home. Other than an awkward walk through Naked Town (a nudist campground), it was one of the best places I've ever camped.

City Life

There are many pictures and stories from my time in Croatia that I never got around to posting on here, but I'm putting up some things from my last few weeks there as a kind of final wrap up session.

Here are a few random shots from around Rijeka:

Kosi Toranj, or, The Leaning Tower

The Korzo

A local sandwich shop.

A magenta scooter parked up the street from our apartment.

A random bird lady. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag...

06 September, 2007

A New Era

A few weeks ago when I was still in Croatia, John said something to the effect of, "It's the end of an era..." referring to our transition away from Rijeka and the changes that are taking place and will continue to.

This may or may not be the official farewell post on this particular record of events (the Croatia blog), but I'm starting fresh over here. There's still some work to be done, but I figured I'd start directing things over that way now, since, you know, I'm not adventuring in Croatia anymore.

15 August, 2007

Important Action Item, MUST READ!

Okay, many of you might already be aware of the phenomenon that is known as "John and Andy".
What you may not know is that there is an exciting new series up. Please, go check it out and definitely leave comments! Even single-worders like 'yes', 'no', 'huh?', 'tasty!', etc. would be appreciated.

Let the goodness begin!

10 August, 2007

Excess Baggage: $127.00

It’s pretty cool how 12,700 pennies can be carried around and exchanged quite conveniently using a thin slab of plastic and a piece of paper labeled "credit card receipt."
That’s efficiency right there. I have to say right up front that the rest of this post is just about emotional, touchy-feely stuff and the only part efficiency plays is within an abstract spiritual metaphor. And maybe the fact that I didn’t have to write this all out on paper by hand.

Taylor and I were talking last summer about the first year and speculating about the year ahead of us, and the differences between them, and the good things that we’d miss, and the unhealthy things that we wouldn’t. Looking concerned, she said something to the effect of, “Am I going to have this much baggage from every year of ministry? I’ve only gotten through one so far…”

It’s a frightening thought, but one that probably describes the truth more than I’d care to admit. Maybe that’s why I kept finding myself thinking of this year as some sort of final test. And why I didn’t feel comfortable making any long-term commitments or life plans but just wanted to focus on making it through the year. And why the first month or so I felt somewhat depressed and unable to convince myself to dive full-force into things that had already started, but would have rather gone someplace remote and uninhabited to hibernate for 2 or 4 or 7 weeks.

Looking back, I think the answer to Taylor’s worried question is, Yes, there’s always baggage. And my categorization of this year as a "final" test was wishful thinking. Probably more like a first mid-term, freshman year. Of high school. But I digress.

What is emotional baggage, anyway? Isn’t it just pain and suffering that is converted into scars and fears and habits of self-defense over time? This conversion process is like converting some set amount of value into, say, gold bars. Or bronze or lead, even. Gold bars are great, and you can’t deny that they add up to a lot of money. But they’re not the most convenient or logical way to carry currency. Even less so would be large chunks of non-precious metal. Similarly, our emotional baggage often comes from real and legitimate trauma or distress, and represents something significant (if unwieldy). In all of this, many wise people seem to think that there can be value in pain and suffering. We can learn things through pain, we can hardly avoid being changed by suffering, and hardship makes us stronger as we learn to face resistance. Pain, suffering, and hardship are often the most effective teachers of humility, integrity, endurance, perseverance, mercy, and compassion. I’m sure there are other benefits, too.

How can I take the bits of pain, suffering, and hardship that I have experienced (and will experience) in my lifetime and not allow the wounds and memories to scar and warp me into a hardened, fearful, small, closed, selfish person? How can the raw events and feelings be somehow transformed into value, growth, wisdom, and character? It probably has something to do with refinement, and sanctification, and redemption. I know it has everything to do with Christ and love, but how it all works is something of a mystery.

Pain and suffering hardly ever come from the mere act of “doing ministry,” whatever that means. They are facts of life, more specifically they are products of living life with other people. This has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about relationships and people and what it means to love as Christ has called us to, but I still haven’t figured it out yet. Let me know if you have.

09 August, 2007

Only strong swimmers are allowed in the deep end.

Last summer was kind of an intense time for me. I was at home, trying to spend time with friends and family, raising financial support and preparing to return to Croatia, and working through some Life Issues. There was also some Boy Trouble, and at one point something in particular happened that made me very sad. At the exact time, I didn’t really even realize how I felt about it, but later in the day as I reflected, it sank in and did not feel good. At all. It sounds pretty childish to me, the whole “Waaah. I feel sad!” business. But that’s the only way to describe it, and I think sometimes the most honest human emotions can only be described in simple terms, even though they surely feel complex and run around in the deep end where simple words can’t touch.

Often I try to avoid these complicated, deep running emotions because they are inconvenient. Inconvenient and managed only with great effort. So on this particular day I prayed a lot and asked God to help me.

I didn’t say this to Him, but I thought,
“I don’t have time for this. I don’t have the energy to feel this way and try to do the things I need to do- it’s just too much.”

Simultaneously I prayed,
“Jesus, please grant me wisdom and patience and help me to find joy in You. Thank You for using this to turn me to You, please help me to glorify You in it.”

And though I wanted those things to be true, I also thought/whined,
“It just isn’t fair! I’m trying to obey You, I thought things would turn out differently, I hoped this would be a good, restful summer but instead I feel confused and tired and there’s not enough time. Couldn’t You just change my feelings and at least make me stop crying? I feel so retarded.”

And He waited patiently for me to finish, and stood kindly by while my logical streak took over and briskly scrolled through options, categories, possibilities, and plans of action that I could take to paint a nice layer of calm, collected control over the whole affair. Heh. Over-analyzing seems to be a common pastime of mine (I tend towards the ridiculous), but sometimes a simple question mark is just so much better than Excel spreadsheets and bullet-points.

Somehow, probably because He is God, He communicated to me that all of the rehashing and grasping for control was hogwash and what I really needed and wanted most was a hug (preferably from God Himself, though one from anyone would really do) and to be told with certainty that everything would be okay. And He said that it was good to cry, not just about this thing that made me sad and disappointed on this one day, but also because I felt tired and stressed and overwhelmed by life. And because it reminded me that I’m not as grown up or as strong as I pretend to be. And that is fine, because I’m not ultimately the one in charge.

Thankfully, I currently feel fairly content, and much less dramatic. But there are a lot of transitions coming up so there's really no way way to predict the circumstances I may face or my own unreliable emotional reactions in the near future. And unfortunately, this side of heaven there is no guarantee that everything will be okay. Things could get a whole lot worse tomorrow and continue on roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble down the hill of hard things to go through until I get to the green grass and it all stops short. But that’s alright because I know that the time will come soon when all of this is over and done and life, as it was intended before we broke the world, will begin.

Fire Will Test the Realness of Each Man’s Work

The 2-year mark is coming up quick, and has already hit in some respects. Two years on STINT. Two years living in Croatia. Two years since graduation. Two years spent trying to pioneer a ministry in Rijeka. Two years away from home. Two years figuring out that this is actually home now. Some of the most difficult, challenging years of my life. And some of the most rewarding.

In many ways, two years isn’t very long. When I think about most 2-year-olds I’ve known, terms like ‘mature’, ‘complete’, and ‘finished product’ never come to mind. The sophomore year in college, the second year of marriage, the second season of basketball… None of those are real milestones.

But that is all the time I was given here. And it was the time that I gave. Was the price too high? Was the return too little? Did it matter? And if it did, why? And to whom? Those answers will probably never be fully given and the relative costs and benefits simply can’t be measured. But I speculate anyway. I know I failed in many ways, and grew in many as well.

Sooner, more so than later, I will return home. To what and for what I don’t know so well anymore. I only pray that what I leave behind will have been built on Christ, and that it will have been done in such a way as to last.

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wand’ring from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above