Overall…Pretty Blessed

This past longish holiday weekend provoked a lot of feelings for me both positive and negative. Let’s see if I can explain it.

A few weeks go via Facebook I discovered my good intern friend from South Africa (who is currently at home) was traveling to visit two of my fellow interns in Maryland for a week starting July 2nd. My first thought was it would be awesome to hang out with them. My second impulse was July 2nd was way too close to me leaving on July 8th and I’m way too cheap to travel to Maryland for only a day or two. After a few days I decided just on a whim to see what a flight to Maryland might cost on Expedia. I was rather surprised to see they were at a range I could handle. I soon hatched a plan to show up at airport right before her and surprise all 3. I would stay one night and most of two days. Very, very unlike me.

While I ended up caving and telling my one intern that I was coming, the others were quite confused by my texts the morning of July 2nd. What was I doing in Baltimore they wondered? It was lots of fun to see them and as an awesome bonus we all got to hang out for an afternoon with one of the co-founders of Thrive as well. I count the four of them as amazing, awesome women of God and close friends. It was truly a blessing to see them.

But now I sit here at the end of the 4th of July weekend just a bit depressed. I think it can be explained by one major thing. I have never been very popular or had a wide social circle but I have been blessed to gain many close, dear friends over time. The only issue is they are generally far away from me and I only see them in small chunks of time now. Part of it is my fault, I went to South Africa last year and now I’m going to the Czech Republic for another. But the main consequence of this is I don’t really feel at home anywhere. Granted I have loved being with my family the past few months but after seeing an old group of friends (whether it be my thrive, camp or college friends) it has always been hard the day after leaving them recently. I realize I don’t want to see these people two days, or one night. I want to see them everyday, hang out, talk, live life together with them.

And now here I sit about to start the whole process over again. And, as paradoxical as it sounds, I  can’t wait. Another year (maybe more) to meet new people, make new friends, start new relationships and soak in all God has for me. I could be down about a lot of things but I think it is better to say that overall…I’m pretty blessed.

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A Preacher?

My Dad had a simple but I think telling experience last week and I thought it was worth sharing.

My Dad was getting his haircut which isn’t terribly exciting but he also had a conversation with the barber. Apparently this guy was a lasped Catholic who was now getting his life back in order. He had returned to church and enrolled in AA. My Dad was happy to celebrate this guy’s change of heart and lifestyle. I think the barber also talked about how he had been an atheist for a while but was now happy that he had rejected that. In the course of the conversation my Dad related he said something like this “You know, it just amazes me that the God of the Universe wants to have a personal relationship with us and atheists just reject that. They are really missing out.” Not the most theologically deep sentence ever uttered but all the barber could ask was “You a preacher or something?”

I had to laugh. My Dad is a fairly brillant guy who works in finances in Boston. He has never formerly been in ministry. My sisters, my mom and I have been on multiple missions trips, he has never been on one. But my Dad does have one incredibly important thing going for him when it comes to his faith. He Believes. He knows the Bible, he knows why it makes sense and he knows that Jesus did all the things that the Bible says he did. I remember coming home from church when I was in grade school with memory verses for the week. I would announce the reference to my dad and he would be able to paraphrase or recite it almost immediately. Now looking back, some of those might of been pretty easy references but still I remember it so it resonated with me in some way. He doesn’t just blurt things out to random people on the street about his faith but when the opportunity arises he can simply and powerful explain what he believes and why about Christianity.

My overall point though is this. Being a christian is not just about  an image. Going to church, volunteering, doing mission trips and the like are all great but if you cannot sit down with another person and explain why Jesus means something to you, whats the point?

My Dad isn’t perfect and I am not trying to say you have to know about God merely intellectually but being able to explain God was not the job left only to preachers. All Christians are called to do it. Your story may not be eloquent or long or even all that exciting to you. But it’s important and people want and need to hear it. You don’t need to be a preacher, just a Christian, a forgiven, blessed son or daughter of God.

What are cell phones preventing you from achieving in life?

So this is my second fluff entry and it’s about cell phones.

Full Disclosure: I own a cellphone and use it relatively frequently from time to time. However the impolite, odd and unsafe way people use this technology amazes me sometimes. The other day (during the same shift as the “check” lady) the following occured.

A young woman walks in. I would guess she is similar to my age. She young, fit and I think, reasonably attractive. The bonus however is she is wearing a Boston Marathon jacket. Can you say perfect conversation starter? However, there is a red flag: she has a cell phone glued to the side of her face.

She walks around looking for stuff and I take a few customers. Dear society as a whole: listening to you talk when you aren’t talking to a real person is annoying and confusing. Finally after 5-10 minutes and still on the phone she comes up with one bag of almonds. Now in a perfect world I would say “So did you run Boston this year?” She would say “Why yes I did, did you?” and a lively conversation would strike up about running.

Instead she informs her friend she is in a mini-mart getting a snack.

Again Dear, Dear society: Don’t do this! It’s admittedly a small thing but it really is dehumanizing. When you are running a quick errand, hang up the phone and treat whoever you come into contact as a human being, not as a mere conversation add-on.

But lets take this a bit further just for fun. Suppose (in the perfect world) our lively conversation turns into the very unlikely event that we connect on an unseen level. I ask if she wants to hang out sometime and she leaves me her number. Our date parlays into an incredibly successful relationship and in a few years time, marriage. We start a habit of running the Boston Marathon annually.

Instead, she pays for her almonds and leaves, no words exchanged between the two of us.

So I ask what fantastically improbable joys in life are you missing out on because of overuse of cell phones?

On a Side note I have less than a month till I leave for training and hopefully will have some exciting (and slightly more serious) updates soon. Stay tuned.

Etiquette at the mini-mart

When you write on a blog enough you can afford to have a few entries that I like to caterogize as fluff. They aren’t really important but they are just fun to write. This is a fluff entry, I hope you enjoy it.

So since I have been home I managed to get a job at that finest of institutions, the mini-mart. I provide people with their cigarettes, lottery tickets, cheap milk and eggs, and over-priced anything else. Now you may be thinking at a place that you are generally in for no more than a few minutes you wouldn’t have to worry about ettiquette, but you underestimate the many impolite and generally lame things that customers do when they reach the doorway of my store. I offer two examples from just yesterday’s shifts.

Yesterday our server was down so we could not process credit or debit card transactions. We were cash only and that is bad in today’s society. We put up large yellow paper signs on the door and at the register informing customers of the fact and I waited for the backlash. And soon it arrived in the form of that scariest of creations, the stressed out suburban soccer mom.

She plants her milk, some M&Ms and some gum on the counter. I ring them up, tell her the price and she casually holds out her American Express Card, oblivious to the world. I inform her that it is cash only and why, and suddenly a bit flustered, she asks if we take checks. I inform her sorry, no we don’t. At this point a normal customer would 1) get out cash or 2) offer to put the milk back and leave. This woman informs me she has a three year old in her back seat. I have no idea how having a kid in your car will fix my server but apparently the woman thought it was worth mentioning. She than tries the check route again, complaining that she lives right down the street and lamenting the fact that if she uses our ATM it will take 2 bucks from her account. I stand there apologetically and awkwardly waiting for her to realize I am helpless to help her. Finally she walks out.

I then go to put the milk back in the rear of the store. Barely a second after I return from my milk errand she returns with just enough cash to cover her purchase. I am forced to annoyingly and sheepishly retrieve her products and ring her up. She complains about checks some more while I do it. Than after the transaction is completed and I’m excited inside because I think I have escaped from her terror she asks for one last thing: a bag. Dear society as a whole: when you have two things that fit in your pocket and a large thing with a handle, you do not need a bag. I bag her goods and than as she takes them she looks straight at me and with a smile says “Thank you!”

So there you have it. A classic example of what not to do at a mini-mart. Stay tuned for the sequel tomorrow.

Ready to Go.

I have to admit, the title of this post is a bit misleading. I am not packed, I don’t have my visa confirmed, and I’m not flying out of here until July 8th.  But it’s true, I’m really ready to go.

My time at home has been pretty great. I’ve seen family and friends, I ran my first two marathons (successfully), I visited my old camp for an entire long weekend, hung out at my college multiple times and enjoyed my fill (I think) of Dunkin Donuts coffee.

But now I’m getting that itch to get moving, to start meeting the people I’m going to be teaching with, to get training for nothing less than the job that has been put before me. And the funny thing is I realize I’m so completly wrong.

I am wrong to think it would be better to leave a day earlier than I am supposed to. I am wrong to think that just because I might be happy someplace else, that I am not supposed to be here. I am wrong to think that what God has planned for me in the future is anymore important than what he has planned for me right now.

If one is always looking towards the future they will never enjoy the present. My relationship with God is (or should be) a moment-by- moment journey (some might liken it to a marathon…) into glorifying him by loving him and my neighbors.

Shame on me for thinking that the best is yet to come.

Seeing Friends

One of the best things about being home as long as I have been is I have seen lots of friends from the past who I haven’t seen in a year or more.

About a week ago I was online rather late (a product of many of my shifts at work ending at midnight) when a good friend from college messaged me on gchat. I thought he was in England but in fact he was in New York and was coming up to Boston for the summer the very next day!  He needed a place to stay for the week before his apartment opened up; it was not hard to invite him to stay at my house for the week.

It is a small miracle that we have found ourselves in the same city at the same time. He has traveled even more than me in the past two years. A short list of places he has been includes Trinidad, Guatemala, Rwanda, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom. While we often spent long stretches in college not meeting up, over the course of 4 years took a number of classes together and usually maintained contact of some kind. While we come from very different backgrounds : he is a Jamaican pentecostal from New York City and I am a Evangelical New England-bred suburbanite, our faith was our unifying factor at a school that in a word is unspiritual.

It is great to shoot the breeze with old friends from school. Reminiscing about old classmates, professors and little things that only attenders of the school would know is lots of fun and we did that all week, often going to bed sometime after 1 AM each evening . But the really great thing was to discuss how through our experiences and travels our faith has grown, matured and changed. We are not the same people from years past and it was fantastic to  flesh out what we believe and why we believe it now. At the same time we were able to be honest with each other about struggles, doubts and annoyances we had with our respective faith traditions and how we have wrestled with those things.

Let there be no doubt, I am ready to head to Europe and embrace all that God has for me there but I wouldn’t trade moments I’ve had at home with friends like I’ve had this past week for anything in the world.

Why not do something different?

I was in church yesterday morning. While I was chilling in my pew I overheard two ladies talking to themselves about one of their sons graduating from college this week. The excitement of that event was tempered with their exclamations that “there are no jobs out there! Nothing!”

As I sat there listening (eavesdropping?) all I could think was why not do something different? I thought about my experience in the two years since I graduated college and thought, wow things have turned out pretty awesome for me. Thanks God.

Here is how I see it. The Mormon’s, proud purveyors of an angel named “moron”i, actually got something right. All their young adults go on a 1-2 year trips overseas to serve. Now I’m not about making things that aren’t doctrine mandatory, but I would recommend doing a one year stint abroad to any budding high school or college graduate.  This terrible economy just makes you have less of an excuse not to do it.

I think too often we are pigeonholed into doing what we think we should do and not what we want to do. For example a lot of my friends are slaving away in grad school, thinking that’s what they need to get the good job to bring in the big bucks. Now that’s great and works for some, but for me, totally unappealing. I like to learn and I know I’m going to enjoy teaching but academia as a whole, I’m not a huge fan.

Now a lot of people (I think) act like myself going to South Africa was this big huge thing. Christians think I’m really dedicated to God or something and my secular friends wish they had an excuse to travel like that, but mostly think I’m crazy. This is how twisted society has made our perceptions of what is acceptable for young adults to do.

Let me put it this way which I think will make sense to both Christians and non-Christians alike. I did an unpaid internship for a year in another country. I served God and people. I took academic style classes, learning about my religion and how it relates to the world. I learned about multiple cultures and how to interact within them. I found out more about myself as a person. I ran with zebras. I parlayed my year abroad into another more job-like experience in the Czech Republic (which starts in August).

Now seriously. Why is the option I describe above seem to be so strange/extraordinary to so many? It should be Plan A for just about everyone. So that’s my piece. If your worried about getting a job find an opportunity for a year or two overseas. Work with a ministry, join the Peace Corps. Just don’t let society prevent you from doing what you know you want to try.