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

08 August, 2007

Party of Five

Over the last few days it’s been Sunny, her mom, her aunt, John and myself hanging out in Rijeka. They explored the city a bit, we watched Little Miss Sunshine, and generally had a pretty good time. They all left today though, John for Sarajevo [he just can’t stay away from that place!] and the rest for home. On Sunday we went to a free jazz concert at the Trsat castle, which was pretty awesome.

06 August, 2007

In Which Taylor Gives Us All A Lesson In Leaving Town With Style

Like I mentioned before, Taylor flew home last Friday. There is a shuttle bus that leaves Rijeka every morning at 5:00am that goes straight to the airport in Zagreb. This was perfect because it got her there 2 hours before her flight, and it meant that we didn’t have to risk driving our ever-deteriorating car all the way there and back.

The shuttle pick-up spot is about a 15-minute walk from our apartment, but with three large bags we figured it would be better to drive. So, around 4:30 I left to go get the car. As I pulled up in front of our apartment, Taylor leaned in the passenger side window and said, “We’re locked out.”

I was slightly annoyed as my plan to quickly go back to bed slipped away. But it was an honest mistake, our building’s front door locks automatically and we were running on less than 2 hours of sleep. So I replied, “Don’t worry about it, let’s just get your bags in the car and get you to the shuttle and John and I can figure it out later.”

“Well, our apartment door is wide open, and one of my bags is still up there.”

Things were getting more complicated. Taylor and John started ringing the buzzers for every apartment in the building as Taylor pleaded into the intercom, “Please….so soooo sorry….locked out….need to get to the airport…” Either nobody heard or nobody cared because we were getting no love from the neighbors. John tried going around the back to our balcony but both of those doors were locked, too.

It was time to kick it up a notch and call our landlady, Branka. After waking her up and explaining the situation a few times, Taylor convinced her to call some neighbors. No answer. We decided to leave and make sure Taylor at least got on her flight and we would just deal with the luggage later, but we left John to keep trying the door.

Zoran met us at the station to say goodbye to Taylor, and after loading the bags she did have we had about 5 minutes to spare. Right about then, John called, “I broke in – come get me!”
I immediately jumped back in the Tiger Tank and headed back while Taylor and Zoran tried to stall the driver. Thankfully there was almost no traffic, because I was careening around corners and running red lights action-spy-thriller style. I saw John running up the street with a suitcase in tow and paused just long enough for him to jump in. We got there just in time and Tay was on her way, miraculously without any missing components.

John, Zoran and I needed to unwind a little so we went to the all-night café by the bus station for some tea and cocoa before getting some more sleep. John thought he had damaged the lock, but after further inspection we messed with it a little and got it working again.

The funniest thing about all of this was just how typical it felt. That’s just the way we roll, I guess. ☺

04 August, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

From the fine people who brought you Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson's 'The Darjeeling Limited' is scheduled to arrive in select theaters on September 29th.

And I can guarantee that my brother and I will do everything in our power to get ourselves to one of those theaters to see it.

Current Status

John is back here in Rijeka, Allison is at home preparing to return in September, Sunny is traveling with her aunt and mother and will fly home next week, Taylor went home today, and Andy is at home in Oregon. Just so you know.

Logging Back In...

Some of you might have noticed that over the past 2 to 8 months, my posting frequency has dropped severely. The thing is, we’ve been such busy little bees over here in Tiger-Pirate Land that there just hasn’t been much time for blogging. Also, we’ve been gone a lot lately. In fact, out of the past 41 days, I’ve only been home for 10!

As it now stands, I have just a little over 2 weeks before my adventures in Croatia come to an end. So. Here’s the plan: in between packing and saying my goodbyes and getting tangled in red tape at MUP (the police/department of internal affairs) and cleaning the apartment and slacking off and watching movies and lounging by the sea, I will do my best to do some catching up and sharing of photos, anecdotes, deep thoughts, etc. for you to enjoy/endure at your leisure. Cheers!