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Classes ended yesterday.  Next week, we here at UT will start the journey through the dreaded Finals Week, keeping our eyes set on the release that awaits us at the end of it all: Summer.

As I walked around my residence hall today, I noticed everyone walking around as thought it were just an ordinary day.  And, for many, it is.  I couldn’t help but think of the contrast, though.  For them, it’s an ordinary day.  But, for the Orthodox, it’s at the doorstep of the Feast of Feasts: our Lord’s Pascha.

Just a few years ago, I thought Easter was a really cool holiday.  I mean…duh!  Jesus came out of the tomb, right?  So, yeah…it was pretty big.  But, in reality, for me and most I knew, the Big Deal was Christmas.  The Nativity was at the forefront, giving a back seat (in a way) to Easter.

Since then, however, Pascha has become the new Christmas.  Christmas, of course, is a big deal still.  But, it doesn’t compare to the joy that awaits all who make the journey to Pascha.

And, now, I must go.  For the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and it’s 10:17. So…on to church.

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Last night, as I attended the service of Holy Unction, most of my attention was on the service itself and related things: the readings, the hymnography, how joyfully relieved many people looked after being anointed with the Holy Unction, how happy my non-Orthodox girlfriend was after being anointed with oil from the shrine of St. Panteleimon at the Holy Mountain, how it was nice to have _two_ priests instead of just one this year….you get my point.

But, then, as Fr. Stephen began to deliver his reflection on the night’s events, I glanced forward and looked at the icon that we’ve been seeing a lot of this week: the Bridegroom.

I saw Christ, with the reed in his hand, the crown of thorns on his head, the look of sorrow on his face (yet, still glowing with love, somehow), and everything else about it. And I began to choke back tears.

As Fr. Stephen slipped into making announcements about a youth retreat, egg hunt, confessions, post-Pasha BBQ, etc., all I could do was fix my moist eyes on that icon and think, over and over, “My Lord….my Savior….what are they going to do to you?”

They will betray Him. They’ll arrest Him. They’ll flog Him. They’ll hurt Him so much that He’ll lack the strength to carry His own cross. They’ll label Him “King of the Jews”, nail Him to a tree on top of a hill, and leave Him there suspended for all to see and to mock. They’ll cast lots for His garments. They’ll watch—some in sadness, some in joy—as He cries out to the Father and takes His last painful breath.

And we’ll be there, in the crowd, as we continue this “walk through eternity” called Holy Week.

God’s blessings as you continue on the journey toward our Lord’s Pascha.

Last night, Jamie announced via a bulletin on MySpace that a few shirts from To Write Love On Her Arms which have previously been available only online are now being sold in Hot Topic. Jamie hasn’t written the “official” announcement of it, however, so we haven’t heard the full story…like, what’s the plan, why exactly they decided to take this route, etc. So, it goes without saying, I think, that the reaction has been mixed so far, according many of the 500+ comments so far. They range from angry cries of “sell out” and worries that people will just wear them to be trendy without regard to the meaning, to excitement at the new opportunities and literally (from a few) shouts of joy that they can finally have these shirts since they can’t/don’t like to order things from online stores.

My response to the bulletin is below…it was too long to post on MySpace, so I’m putting it here:

So…yeah…this is gonna be loooong…..

I really appreciate everyone’s comments on this, even the upset comments that are little more than words expressing anger. I have to admit that I’m quite conflicted about this, as I see both the ups and downs. At first, it seems it’s at once needed and undesirable. But, reflecting on this brought a quote by C.S. Lewis to mind.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

I think this fits here, because the purpose of TWLOHA _is_ to spread the idea of love and hope to everyone, not just a select few. And, what better outlet than HT, since so many supportive bands sell merch through HT? (Paramore, Boys Like Girls, Jonzetta, Gym Class Heroes, Panic! at the Disco, Bayside, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Hawthorne Heights…) And, honestly…when was the last time any of you saw anything that so plainly spoke of love or promised hope at Hot Topic?

The hard thing about Love is that it must be shared; otherwise, it isn’t love. But, in sharing it, you open yourself up to that same love being misused, misunderstood, ignored, or even rejected. Surely, all of these things might happen to the message of TWLOHA with some people who buy the shirts. But, a) that’s not TWLOHA’s fault, and b) you can’t change that, because it’s bound to happen eventually if this movement is to penetrate further into the public eye. But, though this is certainly a risky thing to do, riskier still is to hold onto this love and keep it for ourselves. For, if we do that, as Lewis so eloquently points out, the love becomes dead and useless.

So, in the end, I have to trust that, as they’ve shown in the past, Jamie and the staff at TWLOHA have approached this very carefully and are planning every step of the way to the best of their ability. I doubt they would intentionally do anything to damage the image or effectiveness of their organization, so I think it’s pretty fair to trust them. And I do.

Remember that this movement started with one girl’s story, and it continues every day with our stories. If you see people with the shirts on, kindly start conversation with them about it, whether they know about it or not. If they don’t care, you can’t help that. And there will be those who don’t and won’t no matter what. But, let that encourage you (and me) to be even more bold and honest with the sharing of your story (or your friend’s, or Renées, or whoever’s) with those who will listen, and to even more humbly love and serve those who feel the most unloved.

I hope all is well. Take care.

Q: What’s the one thing you think could be done that would change the world the most?

A: People really grasping what is possible with this word “love.” It is not small. It is not cheap. When it’s lived out, it has the power to change.

–Jamie Tworkowski in an interview with Mammoth Press about To Write Love On Her Arms

OCF Podcast

Episode 1 of the OCF Podcast is finally ready for public consumption!  This weeks episode features part one of a talk by executive director Fr. Kevin Scherer entitled “How to Survive College as a Christian.”

Download/subscribe here.

Tiff and I came across this video of Presidential candidate Mike Gravel a couple of weeks ago. Since then, we’ve gone back to it a couple of times just for laughs.

She says, “I just want to poke him and watch him tip over…like a cow!”

Man! What a beautiful day!

It’s 70°, the sun is shining bright, and a walk of any length anywhere on campus reveals people enjoying the day outside. There is a feeling of newness, of great opportunities ahead, and of a fresh joy that hasn’t been felt around here in a while.

I even left my iPod in my dorm room this morning so I could just take in the life around me on my way to biology. I’m so excited about the weather, I haven’t even needed caffeine today.

Sure…this is East Tennessee, and cold weather will be back in a couple of days (shhh…don’t tell anyone). But it’s just so beautiful right now that I had to share. 🙂

There’s a song that I heard recently which speaks to this idea of newness and opportunity. Take a listen if you get the chance.

Lyrics

Tiff and I came across this video via the Post Secret blog. It’s an interview with the owner of I Found Your Camera, a website dedicated to reuniting lost cameras with their rightful owners. This is a really cool idea. Spread this one around and help the cause. 🙂

Sel Injury Awareness Ribbon

Today—March 1, 2008—is Self Injury Awareness Day.  As many of you know, the topic has struck a chord with me in the last year or so.  And, now, it hits a little closer to home, as my girlfriend Tiffany is a recovering self injurer.

When we met this past September, she allowed me to read a cover letter made for a research project she did a couple of years ago in high school.  I was very moved by it, and I continue to be. I thought it would be appropriate to share today, along with an update she wrote specifically for the blog.  So, I guess I have a guest writer today.  🙂

Anyway, feel free to read, comment, or even share with others.


November 30, 2005

Dear Reader,
What do you think of when you think of a twelve year old?  Naïve?  Pre-teen?  Now say to yourself, cutter.  That was the age I was when I picked up a piece of glass to “kill myself,” or so I said.  I’d felt so many emotions building up and I exploded.  I never thought for the next three-and-a-half years I’d fight an endless battle of “checking” the sharpness of a knife by running it along my arm; pricking with the tip; soon escalating to box cutters and razor blades doing more than pricking and “checking.”
In this paper I hope to show the truth of self-harm and to reveal the skin exposed and the scars that lie on them, the flaws.  I want the lines of “attention-whore” and “they just want attention” to cease from people’s mouths.
Self-injurers are not weird, or depressed freaks, they’re not “emo” or “gothic.” They are friends, spouses, students, children, “significant others,” bosses and co-workers.  They are people all around you; maybe the bubbly kid that sits in front, or the quiet one in the back, your sister or brother.
I am one of those teens. Though I am seven months free of cutting, it crosses my mind every single day.  Three and a half years of my life were wasted on my “friend,” something that I thought could help cure all my problems, but was physically and mentally destroying my life.  I hid my shame with long sleeves and late night tears. I cut, burned, pinched, hit my problems away.  i did anything to help me ease my emotional pain the only way I thought I could.
I went through on and off stages for about a year.  The summer I moved to Ohio changed all of that.  I started up more and more, everyday, or every other day. I had eighty-four scars on me at one point.  it helped me, even if I cried over it, and hit myself over it.  It eased my pain of not having friends, my pain of not fitting in, of not making the grades my mother wanted. It eased my pain of my family dying, my pain of my ex-boyfriend ignoring me. It eased my pain of not being perfect.
Honestly, i don’t even know if I always want to stop at times.  However, I did.  i have, at least I hope.  I stopped as a New year’s resolution for 2005, and failed on January 2nd.  i started up again, and made it to April 25th, and then the 27th.  I haven’t cut or burned since.  I still have a horrid habit of subconsciously hitting my head on things, picking at a raised scar on my shoulder, pinching my wrists when I’m nervous, upset or in deep thought.  i don’t know it until my boyfriend moves my hand away, or places his hand on my head.  As of today, seven months and two days is my longest record since freshman year.
This letter is supposed to be about my essay, but my essay is not the raw parts of it.  My paper is research; my interviews, my letter, and my poem are the raw parts.  That is what I need people to see.  I need them to see the emotion, the feelings, thoughts behind the labels, the pain and agony of stopping.
I need the truth to be let out. I need someone to understand.  Someone that hasn’t been there.

Sincerely,
Tiffany Rachael O’Brien

UPDATE:
Wow. I wrote that ages ago.
I have no idea what to say right now, but when Jonathan asked if he could put this up, I decided…I want an update. So an update you shall get. Rambles, are more like it. :]

In a little less than two months, it will have been three years when I officially put myself through my own recovery. The moment I said to myself, I’m done, we’re gonna get better. Did I? I would like to think so. The most common question I get is why? The next is do you still do it?

I cannot answer the first. It just felt like the right thing to do. After that it was something I needed.

To the second:
No, it is not my first release. But it is something I struggle with everyday of my life. I struggle to get people to understand, not to pity or look down on…just understand. I struggle through the battle of not putting one more scar on my body, one more mark one more look of pain in the heart and eyes of loved ones.

I have fallen twice since 2005. TWICE. God, I’m so happy it is such a small number. I really am. May 23rd, and August 1st. I can’t be mad at myself, not when I worked so hard to get to where I am now.

I’m stronger. I try to support others, help them the best that I can. But I’m human and I make mistakes, but they make me who I am. I love my scars, I love my weak moments. I love them because they are what made me who I am. They are stories of hard times and I’m here to tell the ending.

But I’m still writing that story, so an update will just have to be suffice. The ending won’t be anytime soon. :]
I’m sure if there are comments or questions, Jonathan will show them to me. My book is open…I’ll give a reply to the best of my knowledge.

For now, take care.

Tiffany


selfinjury.org | To Write Love On Her Arms

Strongman

As a part of being on the OCF Student Advisory Board, we were all given this book called StrengthsQuest. Within the book, there is a code to sign on to the SQ website and take a Strengths evaluator…or something of the sort. So, I took it, and this is what it says my top five strengths are, starting with number one.

I highly recommend buying this book and taking this test. Once you know your strengths, you can go through and find strategies for cultivating success with a focus on your individual strengths. It’s really, really cool. Order at the SQ website.

And, I’m really interested. So, I ask those who know me personally, whether very well or just fairly well: How accurate do you think this is?

Leave comments…


Restorative
You love to solve problems. Whereas some are dismayed when they encounter yet another breakdown, you can be energized by it. You enjoy the challenge of analyzing the symptoms, identifying what is wrong, and finding the solution. You may prefer practical problems or conceptual ones or personal ones. You may seek out specific kinds of problems that you have met many times before and that you are confident you can fix. Or you may feel the greatest push when faced with complex and unfamiliar problems. Your exact preferences are determined by your other themes and experiences. But what is certain is that you enjoy bringing things back to life. It is a wonderful feeling to identify the undermining factor(s), eradicate them, and restore something to its true glory. Intuitively, you know that without your intervention, this thing—this machine, this technique, this person, this company—might have ceased to function. You fixed it, resuscitated it, rekindled its vitality. Phrasing it the way you might, you saved it.

Connectedness
Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.

Belief
If you possess a strong Belief theme, you have certain core values that are enduring. These values vary from one person to another, but ordinarily your Belief theme causes you to be family-oriented, altruistic, even spiritual, and to value responsibility and high ethics—both in yourself and others. These core values affect your behavior in many ways. They give your life meaning and satisfaction; in your view, success is more than money and prestige. They provide you with direction, guiding you through the temptations and distractions of life toward a consistent set of priorities. This consistency is the foundation for all your relationships. Your friends call you dependable. “I know where you stand,” they say. Your Belief makes you easy to trust. It also demands that you find work that meshes with your values. Your work must be meaningful; it must matter to you. And guided by your Belief theme it will matter only if it gives you a chance to live out your values.

Developer
You see the potential in others. Very often, in fact, potential is all you see. In your view no individual is fully formed. On the contrary, each individual is a work in progress, alive with possibilities. And you are drawn toward people for this very reason. When you interact with others, your goal is to help them experience success. You look for ways to challenge them. You devise interesting experiences that can stretch them and help them grow. And all the while you are on the lookout for the signs of growth—a new behavior learned or modified, a slight improvement in a skill, a glimpse of excellence or of “flow” where previously there were only halting steps. For you these small increments—invisible to some—are clear signs of potential being realized. These signs of growth in others are your fuel. They bring you strength and satisfaction. Over time many will seek you out for help and encouragement because on some level they know that your helpfulness is both genuine and fulfilling to you.

Positivity
You are generous with praise, quick to smile, and always on the lookout for the positive in the situation. Some call you lighthearted. Others just wish that their glass were as full as yours seems to be. But either way, people want to be around you. Their world looks better around you because your enthusiasm is contagious. Lacking your energy and optimism, some find their world drab with repetition or, worse, heavy with pressure. You seem to find a way to lighten their spirit. You inject drama into every project. You celebrate every achievement. You find ways to make everything more exciting and more vital. Some cynics may reject your energy, but you are rarely dragged down. Your Positivity won’t allow it. Somehow you can’t quite escape your conviction that it is good to be alive, that work can be fun, and that no matter what the setbacks, one must never lose one’s sense of humor.