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Monthly Archives: January 2007

Dusty and Katie
One of my best friends is in need of advice.

But he doesn’t want it.

He and I attended a local concert last night where he asked me not to be so vocal about his relationship. Fair enough. I can sometimes be a little too helpful. But, when he gave his reasoning, it kind of unnerved me.

He’s been single for a while. This was a part of his justification. He also said that several people seem to have a negative view of his current relationship. So, he is asking that he be left alone to “see what God wants him to do.”

The Scriptures say time and again that the counsel of a friend is to be sought. In fact, I told him that plans fail without counsel (cf. Proverbs 15:22). He said that he’s seeking counsel, that they both are praying about it. I can think of no better counsel. But, I remember a similar situation I was in (here we go again with similar situations) 7 years ago where, upon reflection, I did the exact same thing, seeking no advice but being in constant prayer about it. And, this relationship he’s in bears some of the warning signs I should have heeded. I’ve cautioned him to be careful against going on emotions alone, that common sense will go a long way. He says he knows. But…I don’t know.

I was reminded of Job in my conversation with him. As I recall, Job’s friends volunteered their wisdom of why he was going through so much strife. Yet, what they said was more reflective of their own problems than of his. As the story goes, there was no more righteous man anywhere (Job 1:8). Yet, here were his “friends” accusing him of being unrighteous. At the beginning of chapter 13, he had suffered enough and exclaimed “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (v. 5).

I get the feeling that my friend has this same attitude, except for different reasons. I feel he’s shutting out dissenting voices not because they give unsound advice, but because they are dissenting. He says that this is happening for a reason, even if that reason is that he learn something. It’s like he’s walking into a storm he doesn’t have to endure, heading for disaster that, if he would just stop and think, could be totally avoided. It’s very frustrating.

It reminds me of a story I once heard from the late great Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard:

“A few years ago when the Mississippi had overflowed its banks, there was an awful flood that came up in no time flat. Pretty soon, people were going through towns in rowboats trying to save as many people as they could. In one town, there was a preacher sitting on his porch when rescuers came by.

‘Preacher! Come with us! The water’s risin’ in a hurry and you need to get to safety!’

The preacher replied, ‘Thanks boys, but I don’t need no help. I got faith in the Lord. If I need any help, He’ll take care of me.’ So they went on.

A couple of hours later, more rescuers came by and found the preacher on his second floor. As before, they said, ‘Preacher!! Please, come with us! The waters risin’ in a hurry and there ain’t much time! Listen, now…you got to come with us!’

‘Boys, you don’t need to worry about me. If I need any help, the Lord’ll take care of me. Go on and help someone else.’ So they went on.

An hour later, the preacher was on top of the roof when some men came by in a helicopter. Throwing down a ladder they pleaded through a bullhorn, ‘Preacher, this is your last chance! Please, come with us! Take the ladder and you’ll be pulled to safety!’

‘I’ve told you, I don’t need no help. If I need any help, the Lord’ll take care of me. Go on, now…I’m fine.’

So about 30 minutes later, the preacher showed up at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter saw him walking up and said in disbelief, ‘What are you doin’ here?! It ain’t time for you! What happened?!’

The preacher said, ‘Well, I don’t know. There was a flood and some people came by offering help but I said that if I needed any help, the Lord would take care me of me…’

St. Peter said, ‘Well, we sent two rowboats and a helicopter! What’d you want?'”

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Letdown
Toward the end of the weekly meeting of Orthodox Christian Fellowship at UT this week, I was telling someone how I used to be engaged and how I’m glad it didn’t work out, because it would have been awful. That’s pretty much all that I said.

The token graduate student of the group very kindly said, “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

I answered back with, “I’m not, really. I mean, yeah, it was rough. More than you know. But I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through it.”

And, you know the crazy part? I actually believe this.

Not just about that past relationship, either. About many things. In fact, about everything. “Regret” is a word that is finding itself on my lips less and less as time marches on. It’s not that I don’t sometimes wish things would have been done better or that they would not have been as painful or that I would have made sounder decisions. Of course I do. I hate screwing up and getting things wrong. Especially when I have to own up to it. (Which I don’t always do when I should, or at all in some cases. But, I digress.) But, I have come to realize that to wish things in my past to be different is to wish things now to be different. I often make the joke that I wouldn’t change where I am now for anything in the world, even if where I am is West Virginia. All regional humor aside, this is absolutely true.

I’ve been through some rough times in my life, made a few mistakes, and slipped up more than I care to admit. I bear a lot of scars that few people–even among my family–ever get to see. It would have been great to be spared pain, feelings of wasted time, and utter confusion. However, I wasn’t. And, I can’t say that I always know why. Yet, I don’t have to know. I don’t even know that it would make a difference if I knew. All I know is that it got me here: where I am now in life, in my faith, in my relationships with others, in my family, etc.

These events do more than shape my future and give me stories to tell (or not to tell). They give me hope through my simply surviving them. They can also help to give others hope. I’ve recently been helping a friend of mine through a situation that, as it turns out, is eerily similar to something I went through a number of years ago not once, but twice. At the time, I had to confront precisely the same things she’s having to, because the situation(s) did a lot to crack my little happy world where I knew how everything was going to turn out. Well, of course I didn’t, and she doesn’t either. But, together, we’re working through her troubles and making progress in getting past them, progress that wasn’t possible until I began to realize that I didn’t just know what she was going through, but that I still remember what it felt like to go through it.

It just so happens that I love this person and would do anything to help her, even to the point of laying down my own life. So, naturally, I was glad that I could relate to her so well that I could tell her how she felt before she even told me. But, that I could help anyone at all with this very painful and mind-boggling period from my own life is incredible to me. It goes back to this notion that through Christ, anything and everything can be redeemed.

I’m broken. I’m a failure. I’m a loser. I am nothing that I wanted to be when I was in high school, except alive. (I would say “and happy,” but I don’t think happiness was on my mind then…I was too entrenched in school to think about happiness. 🙂 Though, I’m definitely quite happy now.  Especially as of late.) I have my share of sad stories to tell. And I’m actually glad that I have them to tell. For one thing, I don’t want to be pristine and perfect. I see people all around me who try to live like that, and they burn themselves out because they can never be that way. But, they keep trying anyway. For another, I never know when they might be a comfort to someone, including myself.

In my tragedies, I not only see the obvious pain and doubt and strife. Looking back, I also tend to see things like grace, strength, and purpose. I can’t always explain these things. But they’re there, nonetheless. They must be, because that’s what I gained from them. And you can never gain anything from something which that something does not have.

So, I look at these letdowns and I see a certain beauty. God has shown me, and is showing me, that they weren’t without reason. That, not only was I not put here on this planet haphazardly, but I haven’t endured hardship haphazardly. Everything has reason, everything has purpose…even if the only reason or purpose that we can see is so that we’ll learn not to do something again. Indeed, everything is for our salvation. Sometimes, it’s also for the salvation of another whom we might minister to simply by being willing to share our story.

And, so, you now have my philosophy on the first 25 years of my life.

Or, to put it succinctly: For people who have hope, regret is a useless word.

Hiking 0506

(My apologies if this doesn’t exactly make sense.)

I’m in West Virginia at my school for a few days. I figured since I’m paying for a dorm room, I might as well put it to use. Though I don’t have to be here, technically speaking. All my classes are online this semester, so I’m free to come and go as I please and as time and money permit. It’s all very nice, to be honest. Thanks to this, I’m able to take care of things both here and at home. It also allows travel to other places for things like retreats, visits, even getting to hand pick a mission trip for Spring Break.

And the things that have happened so far, from discussions to just things that have simply occurred as a matter of course, all bear on my future. I know it sounds trite. High school seniors hear it a lot when they’re nearing graduation: “Be careful with the choices you make, because they make or break your future.” Yet, it’s so true.

I used to think that I had made some pretty screwy choices, because I couldn’t see where exactly my future was heading. I mean, sure, I had vague ideas about what I would do. But never specifics. (I’ve already written about this at length, so I’ll spare you for the most part. If you want an idea, check out the post entitled “Be Still and Know.”)

But, looking back on the choices, and why I made them, that they got me here all makes sense somehow. I have begun to realize that even a broken road forms a path of sorts.

Back then, my mindset was to stick with what I was doing and figure out how it all fit together later. Basically, to plug along and then decide what the specifics of my future would be. So, needless to say, when I changed what I thought I would do, I changed my major. It was craziness. I would seemingly just change my mind on a whim. So, I naturally would have to change my entire course.

But, now, it seems that I’ve kind of inverted that logic. I know exactly what I would like to do. Almost down to the letter. And, instead of changing all the time, it constantly gets refined and more specific. And, so, I’m left with wondering what I should take in school to tailor my course of study to what I’m planning on doing. I’m rather fortunate this time, as I’m in a liberal studies program that gives me much freedom. But, all the same, it’s maddening.

It’s like standing at the center of the Yellow Brick Road in Munchkin Land and seeing the far-off city walls of the Emerald City. Yet, though I stand at the one center, I look ahead along the road and notice that it branches off several times. I know that all branches will lead to the destination, but I don’t know which one will leave me best equipped to handle what residence in the City will ask of me.

I’m often asked how much longer I have. Honestly, I have no clue. Probably two years. But that’s a give-or-take estimation. I won’t have a clear idea until I meet with Glenda the Good Witch (also known as Ann my adviser) and she helps me discern the best way.

But, even when that happens, what do I do if another piece of the puzzle becomes clearer? Do I make up the difference later? I can’t be in school forever. Professional Student isn’t a viable major. (Though…I’ve occasionally thought about declaring it nonetheless. 🙂 )

I know I’ll figure it out. I know I’ll get through it. And it’ll all make sense in the end, even if not in my eyes. As I recently told a dear friend in the midst of her own crisis of understanding, “God isn’t always logical, but He is always good.”

If only I wasn’t so bent on knowing how everything worked and fit together. If I was free of that, my life would be so much easier. I could actually live for once.

The Orthodox Church teaches that everyone and everything we encounter, to whatever degree, is for our salvation. That is to say that these things are placed in our lives in order that we might draw closer to God through our reaction to them. By drawing closer, we are molded more and more into the people He wants us to be. We don’t always do that, but that’s what they’re for anyhow.

It’s in situations like this one that this is very painfully and frustratingly obvious. But, I take comfort in this because it assures me that the things I do aren’t for naught. They make a difference at some point. So, with this in mind, I try to press on and hold on to what sense I can and let go of what I don’t understand, knowing that my need to do that is for my good.

*sigh* I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…

I lie awake with thoughts.
I know where things are,
but where have they been,
where are they going?
I know where I’m heading,
but what happens in the meantime?
Thoughts about purpose,
calling, direction…

you…
me…
everything.

I’m not constantly looking
for the missing piece.
Yet I know there remains
an empty space.
I have to wonder:
Who fits there?

I know the answer only comes
from trial and error.
I’ve had my share of trials,
and made plenty of errors.
I’m tired of mistakes.

I don’t want anymore broken hearts.
Not mine.
Not anyone’s.
It’s a simple thing to ask,
but very difficult to promise.

I await the day this
ceases to be only a desire
and, instead,
becomes
reality.

pilgrimage-047.jpg

A mere 10+ hours after posting my last blog on how defeated I felt because of the recent arguing between my mom and me, I loaded up her new silver 2GB iPod with some of her favorite music. When I gave it to her, much crazy dancing and singing ensued. It was gloriously ridiculous. lol 🙂

Just a reminder to people…life itself isn’t bleak. It’s the moments that weigh us down and cause us pain and distress that are bleak. Look for the joy in small things. Listen to the rain falling or cuddle up next to the family pet. Call a friend who really loves you and will listen.

Here’s an idea. Get to a quiet place and just pray over and over again, “Lord have mercy.” Make it your prayer with all that you have. Focus on the goodness and love of God. I once heard that we pray not to change God, but to change us. By praying “Lord have mercy” continuously, I, for one, begin to remember that He is merciful and loving and not willing that I live a life consumed with pain and darkness. Sure, these things will be there. But, they don’t have to consume me.

The Scriptures say that God’s mercy is new every day. That’s the moment I was living for when I went to sleep after my last post. I wanted a new day. I wanted new mercy. I wanted redemption.

And I got it, partially through an act of helpfulness on my part by doing for my mom what she couldn’t do for herself at that moment in filling her iPod. And this brought her such happiness that it moved her to dancing. How cool is that?

So, now the picture is complete. This post and the last were written not just to get things off my chest. I also wrote them because I know many people are going through the same problems with their parents. As I said, it’s part of growing up. Or maybe you’re going through something else that absolutely crushes you underneath the weight of whatever problems it brings about. Maybe you’re at a loss for words and are just sitting quietly waiting for the pain to pass you by for a moment before it comes back to haunt you again. Maybe you’re sobbing your eyes out. Maybe you’re screaming in anger. Maybe it’s worse….maybe you’re getting high, or cutting, or looking for toxic pills in your house. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is a love that is unbroken, flawless, beautiful and healing. It seeks nothing but your wholeness and completion and salvation—salvation from pain, regret, anger, bitterness, failure, salvation from yourself, and even salvation from death. Maybe you know this love I speak so much of. Maybe you don’t. Either way, if you’re hurting or scared or just at the end of your rope, cry out with all that you are and this love—the very God and Creator of the universe who came to this world in human flesh to die and rise again so that you might never taste of death—will save you.

It is only through Christ that we find redemption. But, through Him, all things are redeemed. All of us and this broken world, all of fallen creation. Anything can be made right by his grace, and anything can be restored to goodness. Even moments filled with argument and unkind words between people.

God bless all of you and and may He be your strength. May you only seek Him as your refuge in times of trouble. May you find shelter under the shadow of His wings. May He be glorified in everything you do, even in the midst of your struggles and failures. May He have mercy on us and save us all. Amen.

Louisville Riverfront Park B&W
“What’s the point in all this screaming/No one’s listening anyway” –Goo Goo Dolls, “Acoustic #3”

[Editor’s Note: I have decided to revise this post in the interest of brevity, clarity, and privacy.  Thanks for bearing with me as I continue to get the hang of bearing my soul to the world.  🙂 ]

One of the joys of being at home is the time I get to spend with my mom.

Likewise, one of the frustrations of being at home is the time I “get” to spend with my mom.

I love my mom. I really do. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. (Not even for a Nintendo Wii or this Gibson guitar.) Yet, she is very much like me, especially in her stubbornness. (Or, rather, it’s the other way around.) And, this is has been a problem lately.

Stories in the news have started us debating.  Quite savagely at times.  Also, she’s not crazy about me going out on the occasional late-night visit to a friend.  (Which, it’s only happened once, but it still brought a hefty bit of tension along with it.) I understand this to the point that I can, but I’m me.  What can I say?

So, tonight it all came to a head.  Words were thrown around, voices were raised, tempers flared and both of us were left feeling awful.  Absolutely nothing got truly accomplished in our fighting. Personally, I felt defeated and spent.  She probably didn’t feel much better.

I actually went to bed earlier at 8:30.  I felt really down since I haven’t fought with my mom like that in probably years.  I really cannot convey the sadness and anger and bitterness I felt.  The picture displayed above is a fair representaion of how dark my soul seemed at that moment.

But, alas, it’s just one the problems associated with growing up.  It doesn’t happen too much between us…okay, probably more often than I’m willing to admit. But when it happens, it happens.

They say it gets better.

*sigh* I’m still waiting for it.

College Conference Group

Last week, I went to the annual College Conference conducted by Orthodox Christian Fellowships. In the wee hours of the morning of the final day, I was hanging out in my room doing stuff on my computer with photos I had taken at the conference the night before. Then, I suddenly had the urge to write. And this is what came out:

December 31, 2006–3:37 am

I’m sitting in room 212 in the Conference Center at Antiochian Village in western Pennsylvania. “Run” by Snow Patrol is blaring from the speakers on my laptop. It’s cold outside, though I’m not sure how cold. When I went out to run an errand earlier, the “smell” of snow filled my nostrils. It probably won’t snow, though; it’s probably just the combination of crisply cold air and increased humidity.

Keith, my roommate, has stepped out into the hallway to hunt down a beverage of some sort to quench his late-night thirst. We will likely go to sleep somewhat early tonight, probably around 4:15-ish. Every other night we’ve been here, we’ve stayed up until roughly 5:00 and talked, either with each other or some of the other 250+ students here at the 2006 College Conference put on by Orthodox Christian Fellowships, a campus ministry of the Christian Orthodox Church. A little extra sleep would be nice, as I would like to be able to get out of bed early enough to attend Liturgy in the morning at 8 o’ clock. It will be the last service I will get to attend with most of these students until this time next year. I look forward to once again standing along side my brothers and sisters in the Faith and lifting our voices as we sing hymns to our One True God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today is the last day of the conference. In a few hours, we will pack up and go home. But, before leaving, we must face parting. I can’t imagine how difficult this will be. In only 4 days or so, I’ve developed a number of friendships that will likely last a good while, probably years. I already have standing invitations from two people to come crash at their place if I ever want to visit their church. One of these people, Keith, said that I don’t even have to be visiting his church, that I could just come whenever. I might take him up on that sometime.

Over the past days, I’ve been blessed to personally spend time with wonderful and incredible people who have great promise ahead of them. Michael is studying comparative theology between the historic traditions of the Orthodox and Protestant churches, a major he customized himself. Wajdi is a biomedical student with a great mind (even if he did say something about “James” Coltrane). Zeina is currently undecided all around, but she has a talent and passion for art. Keith is working on his second and third Bachelor’s degrees and wants to go on and pursue a career in graphic design of some type. Abbi wants to be a school teacher, or maybe a missionary. Leah wants to join the Peace Corps for a couple of years and be involved with environmental issues. Mary Evelyn is seeking a Master’s so that she can be a school librarian. And the list goes on.

There is so much more that I can say about this conference and what it has meant to me, and what it will mean to me. I’m very much not the same person who arrived. My heart has been changed, my thoughts have changed. I have been changed more deeply than I can even understand right now.

As one body of students and as members of the body of Christ, we came together this week, sharing the same confession of faith and the same desire to study the topic of the conference, which was “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Along the way, I made some friendships that will not easily fade away. As a matter of fact, I am wearing four colored bracelets on my right wrist to remind me of just a few of the connections I’ve made this week: a black one from Nick, a plaid one from Ben, a yellow one from Rachel, and a red one from my entire small group. All of these people wear respectively identical bracelets on their wrists as well. They will serve as reminders to us that we are connected by faith, our experiences here at the College Conference, and our friendship and love for one another.

And all of this–this friendship, this shared faith, this entire experience–is what makes it so hard to leave. I certainly look forward to spending New Year’s at home. But, I wish I could spend it here, in this holy place located in the Pennsylvania wilderness, learning about God and sharing life with the people around me. Maybe we would have the occasional (read: at least once a night) break out of Greek and Arabic dance. I would likely make even more friends. (I know that the food would be excellent, and how often can you say that about a conference center?)

One thing that would fill this place, as it does now, is Love. The love of God for us all. Our love for God, for His holy Church, for those in need, and for each other. I’ve never been on a retreat where I felt so much love, where I could meet someone and chat with them for 45 minutes and be warmly hugged as we go our separate ways for the evening. Keith says that there’s just something about this place. He’s right.

So, I’m off to bed now. It is, of course, 5:03 (I figured you were wondering). (In the middle of writing this, Keith returned and we chatted a little about tomorrow, about my visiting his church, about how he originally thought I was of Russian descent, etc.) From after Liturgy up to the time I leave, I will be saying goodbye quite a bit. I will hug people and possibly shed tears. It’s so difficult to explain….I will only say that it is a gift of God to have been here and to have worshipped and eaten and laughed and danced and lived with these other students.

Yes, I’ll be sad. But, I’m actually somewhat comforted by this, because the sadness only points to the fact that I did have such an amazing experience here this week and that I would rather it not end.

I dare say I’m not alone.