2013: Crazy & Chaotic…

Although it is now 2014, I don’t think a review of 2013 would be too late. And considering how chaotic and stressful last year was, I think it’d be best to reflect over everything before gearing up for the rest of this year.

At the end of 2012, I decided I was going to apply for seminary. So during January of last year, I filled out my FAFSA and requested an application from Western Seminary. I figured Western was my best route since I had several friends who had attended there and they are pretty smart people. But toward the end of January and beginning of February, I started thinking I should at least put in an application to George Fox – on the off chance a miracle occurs and I get accepted there. Once the application for Western was finished and sent, I started rounding up recommendation letters and working on the essay for Fox.

I had submitted the George Fox application with less than a week to spare. If you’ve never filled out an application for seminary, it’s not an easy task. You’re forced to reflect a lot on your reason for applying and what you would want to do with the skillsets you’d acquire at seminary. You’re forced to articulate what you believe and why – and, more specifically, how your own personal theology would fit inside their particular seminary. And with everything these seminary applications ask, you realize you can’t even begin to answer them without spending some time alone with God. The start of my 2013 caused me to revise and refine my own mission statement.

Toward the middle of the year, after many baseball games and track meets working with the Duck Store, I received an email informing me that I had been accepted into George Fox and that I would begin classes in the following Fall semester. I cannot recall the last time I had felt such an excitement in being accepted into something I had only dreamed of before. Yet it was right around that time when things started to get really chaotic.

I now drive a 2008 Chevy Cobalt. But I started last year driving a 1996 Chevy Lumina – the car both I and my brother drove in high school. Throughout the near-eight years I had been driving it, it had had a few mechanical problems. First was the alternator belt back in 2008, which kept me from going home for Thanksgiving that year. Next problem were the brakes in 2011, a couple months before graduating from the University of Oregon. After that, which brought about the final straw to my time with the Lumina, was the blown head gasket. And of course, it had to happen while I was parked at a car dealership in Eugene.

My car troubles didn’t end there, either. I traded in my Lumina, conveniently dead in the parking lot at Kiefer Mazda, for a 2005 Nissan Sentra, which only had 70,000 miles on it. I signed the papers, got the keys, and drove it around Eugene frequently. It was the first car I ever purchased on my own, so of course I wanted to drive it a ton. And after a trip to Lincoln City, Portland, Lincoln City, Portland, and back to Eugene, the Sentra started having problems. The engine kept flooding and I had to keep going back to the dealership to figure out what was wrong – since I only had the car for three weeks. Whatever the problem was remains to me a mystery because I gave up and traded it in for what I’m driving now. Yet during all this I was working two jobs and trying to find a place to live in Portland (hence the trips up there and back). “Stressed” is putting it mildly.

As the summer came to an end, though, we had found a place to live with only one catch: The apartment wouldn’t be available until after I had started school at George Fox. In fact, my move-in date was set for the 10th – the day after my second day of classes. I commuted to and from Tigard for the first two days of class and packed up all my stuff in between (as well as finishing homework).

Moving day was by far the most stressful day I’ve ever had. For one thing, I have way too much stuff. For another, moving it all mostly by myself (special thanks to Brian Schaudt and Sierra Stopper – I would be homeless without them… probably) was not the best decision I’ve made. What was really the backbone to the stress that day was time. I left Eugene right around 3:45pm. Our apartment office closes at 6pm. The drive from Eugene to Tigard is close to two hours, especially in a U-Haul, which was also towing my Cobalt. Safe to say I did not have time for any rest stop. Yet I made it with five minutes to spare and, despite exhaustion, got all my stuff moved in (again, not entirely by myself). After a couple of weeks, I had my room as settled as it possibly could have been, which then enabled me to focus on studying more.

Once that happened, things calmed down quite a bit. I was still busy, but I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t stressed because I was finally doing what I love to do: study Scripture. Of course, that is an over-simplification of my seminary experience thus far, but it is at the core of what brought about my less-stressful life. Reading the Bible, studying various schools of criticism, and then listening to my classmates discuss various points is what draws me to pursue God. And I am most certainly in the right environment for that pursuit.

Not everything that happened in 2013 could possibly be discussed in one post, but I believe I got most of the main points. What I started to thoroughly enjoy toward the end of the year, though, was the new friendships I had made since moving up to Portland. Classmates, coworkers, and friends of friends suddenly started to function like a family and reminded me that the purpose to any degree I might acquire from a seminary should always include an aspect of developing and enhancing these types of friendships. I can only see these friendships growing stronger in 2014.

I hope to write about my first semester at George Fox in the coming days, as well as what I hope to do in 2014 (resolutions of sorts). For now, though, I conclude that 2013 was a chaotic year and grew more chaotic when I chose to follow my passions. Such chaos, though, simply forced me to focus on accomplishing each task as needed and yet enabled me to enjoy those passions all the more.

What was your 2013 like?

Happy New Year to all!

God bless.

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Dads, Car Troubles, and Peace…

Cars are fun.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past month or so. Especially those moments when they stall at a car dealership and you have to push them back into a parking spot while a family of four awkwardly watch only fifteen feet away while they wait for their brand new minivan. Those moments are a blast.

Or when you’re convinced to buy a car that is nearly double your price range and it only goes three weeks without a breakdown? And then, after you’ve taken it in and gotten it “repaired,” it breaks down exactly one week later? Crazy awesome.

Seriously, you should try it some time.

Bitter sarcasm aside, I’m really not as upset about my car situation (or lack thereof – you have to actually have a car to have a car situation) as I might seem – definitely not as much as I should be. And it’s really puzzling. I should be near livid that I spent more money than I’ve ever had for something that has broken down almost as many times as my old car. I should be screaming my lungs out at the dealership and throwing things. And yet – be it the jazzy music I’m listening to or the three dollar wine I’m drinking – I’m not.

I’m not happy about how things have gone, but my mind has not been lost (yet) and I haven’t kicked any kittens (…yet).

I wish I could say it’s all because I’ve become a secret Zen master meditating in the wee hours of the morning on how to become one with the butterfly, but I can’t. Well, I can say I do the meditating part; my eyes are definitely closed in the wee hours of the morning. But I can’t say that my relative calmness in the chaos of car breakdowns is due to some extra inner-peace-keeping regiment. I’ve done nothing out of the ordinary to prepare for the mess I’ve been tossed into.

What I am genuinely more surprised about is what I didn’t do (unlike the cars I drive): breakdown. A few years ago I wrote a post about how I was afraid of my car breaking down mostly because I wouldn’t know what to do. I was paranoid of failing cars not because I’d be without a car for a while and would have to figure out a way to get to and from work, but because of the scars that would be ripped open.

Like I said in that post, I kind of wish I had had a dad to show me the ropes on cars – even just the basics would have been fine. Instead, I’ve had to learn the way I’ve learned in the last 30 days; when my car stalls, sputters, and makes strange noises. In those cases I have to ask a friend or a coworker to check it out and offer what knowledge they have because any knowledge about cars would be helpful. What I didn’t notice until today, when my car wouldn’t start before work this morning, was that throughout this process of asking those closest to me in physical proximity, I’m no longer paranoid of when my car breaks down.

Again, I’m not happy, but that’s a far cry from being paranoid.

What I think is even cooler than not being paranoid, though, is discovering that I’m not alone in my lack of knowledge of cars. You see when you start to ask around to see who is and who isn’t knowledgeable about cars, you implicitly admit to those whom you’re asking that you don’t know much, which then enables them to admit it, too.

Fatherless kids – even the ones who were privileged enough to have their grandpas raise them instead – oftentimes feel alone. Donald Miller describes it best in Blue Like Jazz; it’s like there’s a secret knowledge about how to be a man that only kids with dads get to learn. If you don’t have a dad, tough luck in being a man.

And yet what Christianity says is that everyone has a Dad – the Dad. He may not teach you face to face or show you with His own hands how to do something. But if you’re patient and get quiet enough to listen, He will teach you. It might hurt the pride a bit and you might have to ask someone you’ve never really talked to before, but He will teach you.

No, God’s Fatherhood is not reserved only for men; women are as much His daughters as men are His sons. I only know what it’s like from the guys’ side and more specifically, the fatherless guys who had an odd assortment of father figures throughout their lives as replacements. But no matter how the demographics break down or where the lines of perspective are drawn, there is never anyone who is truly alone. We’ve all experienced the discomfort of not knowing something.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,”  – Philippians 4:6-7

As my previous month has shown, this passage applies to the simple things like learning about cars. When I was terrified of my car breaking down, God sent person after person after person to teach me one little thing after another about my car. And thinking back over these last couple of weeks, I could have reacted much worse than I did and not because my car broke down. Instead, I treated God as He is: my Dad. As a result, I was able to experience His peace in moments that are typically anything but peaceful.

Drive safe and God bless.

(And check your spark plugs and wires)

Taking the Plunge…

I thought I would enjoy it this time around. Last time it took forever and my car broke down on a couple occasions, but this time seemed to be filled with so much positive that I wouldn’t ever see the negative. New city, people, places, and coffee shops – what could possibly be bad? Alas, my opinion has not changed.

Moving sucks.

Beyond small cuts and bruises from moving stuff around, frequent sneeze attacks because you haven’t dusted since the last time you moved, and never-ending moments of nostalgia as you rummage through all your old stuff, there is this looming question of whether it’s worth it or not – as in, is it worth the increase of student loan debt? Is it worth the hassle and frustration of finding an apartment? And is it worth leaving such a valuable community – such a close family – in Eugene?

These are the things going through my mind as I continue to sift out the stuff I no longer need and condense the things I want to keep. I’m still a couple weeks away from making the actual move to Portland (well, hopefully a couple weeks, but that’s another issue) and what I’m finding thus far is that despite being busy with two jobs, I have a lot of time to think and rethink my decision. It’s rather freezing.

What I mean is, all my second-guessing and wrestling with doubt has left me stalled – kind of like my old Lumina at the Kiefer-Mazda dealership a couple weeks ago. It’s like my heart’s telling me to go, but my mind is holding things up – leaving me idle in the driveway. No, I’m not taking my decision back; I’m simply starting to feel the pressure of all the responsibilities I’ve just lumped onto my shoulders. I’ll be in a new apartment in a new city at a new school with a new car, a new job, and new roommates. The “new” is almost overwhelming.

Some questions that come to mind when reflecting over all that is about to change are: If it’s so stressful, why not drop it? If it’s causing me anxiety and doubt and fear and if I’m beginning to lose sleep over it, why not let it go? Why not continue on with what I’m doing now and live a happy life? It’s certainly an attractive idea with all that I need to take care of in the coming weeks.

And yet…

I feel as though I’d be doing worse by not going. It’d be like buying tickets to a baseball game you’ve wanted to go to and then not going because you don’t want to deal with all the people, parking lots, and other frustrations along the way. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to pursue a higher education – even higher than the education I’ve already received – and not to take it might mean never receiving it again. Sure, I could always buy baseball tickets at another time. But what if I were to marry, have kids, take up a new job, and get so caught up with life that I never even get a chance to think about it again?

Even if that weren’t the case – the notion of being caught up in the “busy-ness” of life – there’s a greater issue at stake. It’s one that involves purpose and this word “calling.” I don’t use that word often because I think it gets overused and even misused. And yet when I consider what’s driving me to study Scripture at a much more in-depth level – and actually thrust myself into such a spiritually-transforming experience that is seminary – I find no other word that fits more perfectly. But what does the word mean?

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines “call” or “calling” as a “Term often used of one being called by God to salvation and service,” (253). What does that really mean? It’s God’s fault.

In a way, I’m kidding, but in another way, I’m not.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out,” – Proverbs 25:2

When I read Scripture, there are so many things that come to mind – so many questions that not too many average congregants could answer. Like, when did Christianity become Christianity and why? Or when did people start treating the extra-biblical letters of Paul, Peter, and others as “Scripture” (and yes, they were extra-biblical at the time they were written)? And if there are so many translations of the Bible, then why aren’t more people learning Greek and Hebrew?

Seeking out the answers to questions like these is the “things” that are concealed by God. Now, I’m not a king, but I know that it would be glorifying to God to search those “things” out. He wants us to ask, He wants us to pursue, and He wants us to be engaged in the life He created. To do anything less than that is not to do anything glorifying to Him.

Taking the plunge to seminary, then, is worth all the packing, moving, and shouldering of responsibilities. It’s worth undergoing all the pressure of higher academic standards and being more studious than I ever was before. And yes, it’s even worth the deeper student loan debt (though I will be seeking more ways to cut those down as much as possible). It is worth all of those things because I, for the glory of God, am seeking out the things that He has concealed in His glory – so that I might be able to glorify Him in every way.

Yes, I’m nervous. I’ve never been so greatly challenged on so many levels. And yet, I’ve never had this opportunity before, which means I must take it head on and become fully immersed. If I try to remain standing where I am, I’ll never find out if I’m capable of the task.

You cannot learn to swim while standing on the shore.

God bless.

Breaking God’s Grasp…

As I have talked about in the past, I am slightly terribly afraid of my car breaking down. Not only do I have a stubborn, self-sufficient mindset and therefore hate having to ask for rides to work, but I hardly know anything about cars. So if a mechanic were to ask me to describe what my car is doing and start naming various parts, I would be lost. Also, no matter what, there’s always a cost.

Such an adventure happened Monday afternoon when a mechanic arrived to check out what’s been going on with my Lumina. On Sunday night, it had broken down (wouldn’t start, actually) just after I had finished running a couple miles. This was the second time it had broken down in less than a week, so I was a little frustrated and called a mechanic for Monday. His name is Dan.

Dan the mechanic is a cool guy. He doesn’t replace any parts until he figures out what the real problem to the car is. And even then, he doesn’t usually charge full price for it all. Anyhow, he revved my Lumina a couple times and used some scanning device to see what was wrong with it. After cleaning out a clogged valve and checking the charge on my spark plugs, he told me these two things were a good starting point to fix my car – and relatively inexpensive at that. Hearing that beautiful word, inexpensive, I was relieved.

Ever since the night before. my mind had been racing through what I have in the bank, what kind of room I might have on my credit card (although I’d hate to use it, I didn’t have much of a choice), and what kind of job prospects I might have lined up. When Dan told me that I wouldn’t have to pay very much to get my car fixed and that I didn’t owe him anything for checking it out (although I promised him $20 the next time I saw him), I was so very relieved. When I left my apartment minutes later to Villages (a small group with Emmaus Life), I started thanking God. Of course, that’s when He taught me something.

My ordeal with my car and fearing expenses got me thinking about what we’re doing in this world. Our political atmosphere has caused us (at least me, anyway) to place so much hope into our jobs or jobs that might be created. It’s believed that this would put some money in peoples’ pockets so they could afford things they need. What I think it actually is, though, is an attempt to recover the American Dream. We want prosperity, comfort, ease, and an absolute pain-free life. But, we often forget, we aren’t going to bring any of that stuff with us. It stays behind.

When we proclaim the Gospel of Christ – even if only to ourselves – we proclaim a hope that extends beyond whatever trials or triumphs were experiencing in this life. We’re saying that all of what we see, feel, taste, smell, and hear on this earth is good, but God’s building something better. And we have to die in this world in order to get to where His latest works are being completed. We’re declaring that we aren’t destined to stay in this life. We’re destined for something better.

If our focus is supposed to shift from ourselves in this dying and decaying world to Him who has defeated death, then why should things like a car breaking down or a job being lost send our minds and hearts into a hurricane of worry and anxiety? Why do we think we would fail if our lives were taken from us in the very next minute? I think it’s because we want to create our own heaven here on earth. We want what we want, not what God wants.

And yet we hardly ever stop to realize that God wants to bless us with the desires of our heart – not what we think the desires of our heart are, but what actually are the desires of our hearts. What’s in the way? What’s blocking us from what God is trying to give us? Worry. Fear. Anxiety. We don’t to fail (or maybe we don’t want to succeed?). What are Jesus’ thoughts about worry, though?

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” – Matthew 6:26-27

“That’s great,” our selfishness might reply, “But birds don’t have ridiculously high student loans or car troubles. Birds don’t have the worries that I have!” Our selfishness is exactly right in one aspect: birds don’t have worries. Where our selfish mindsets err, though, is in thinking that by the act of worrying, things will be mended. I don’t know about you, but I have found myself reasoning against Jesus’ words by saying, “Well, if I let myself worry about it, then maybe my prayers will be more meaningful and genuine. And then maybe they’ll be answered.” But Jesus said it; “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Life cannot be gained from worrying, only taken.

If we are worth more than birds, then doesn’t that mean we’re going to be taken care of? So if we lose our job, our spouse, our children, our house, or even our very own life, aren’t we still going to be with Him? Aren’t we still going to be cared for?

If you love and trust Jesus, then you are in God’s grasp. We often imagine other people or beliefs or anything other than ourselves trying to break us from God’s hand. We imagine demonic forces working to pry His fingers or maybe those moronic church members who have different beliefs than me about baptism – maybe they’re subtly pulling me from God’s fingertips. What I find we hardly ever question, though, is if we’re trying to pry ourselves from His grip?

It is not as ridiculous as it may sound; anytime we act upon our selfish desires and will, we’re acting in opposition to His. We’re trying to have our own control instead of being under His. And yet it is only under His control that we’re able to have any life worth living.

God taught me that it doesn’t matter if my car breaks down or if I lose my job or if I somehow develop a severe cancer and die overnight; I’m in His grasp and I’ll be damned if I’m able to break free.

God bless.