Reflections on Marriage

Roughly six years ago I walked into a bar in Boston to have a drink with my assistant coach at the time. Her sister was also there as well as another friend. When I first walked in I did not get a good look at him because he was on the other side of my colleague’s sister. However I quickly was introduced and we realized we knew each other. This was Andrew; he had gone to the same church as my family did when I was growing up in Delaware in the 90s. Our parents had been friends. My family had moved to the Boston area when I was in middle school and we had not seen each other since. It had been roughly 13 years.

I bring that story up for two reasons. 1) I had the singular joy and honor of attending Andrew’s  wedding this past weekend and 2) he was the man probably most responsible for me meeting my own wife, Jocelyn. Don’t worry the story gets even better. Buckle in this one runs a bit long.

Having reconnected and caught up on life (he had gone to college in MA and was now a youth pastor at my church; I had attended another college in MA and been overseas the better part of the past three years) I promptly did nothing to cultivate our relationship. To be honest I don’t remember talking to him for the next six months. However, I was now on Andrew’s radar and he did not let that slip by.

Youth pastors are always looking for good volunteers and he thought I would make a good one. In the spring of 2011 he brought me in to see a Wednesday night middle school event. I came, I observed and I promptly left a few weeks later to work the entire summer at a summer camp. Still he did not let my unintentional blowing off of his invitation deter him.

When I returned he still needed a volunteer leader for one of his small groups. He brought me in for another visit on our Church’s kickoff Sunday for the school and  ministry year. I met my future small group that Sunday. I also heard Jocelyn speak up front for the first time.

At the time Jocelyn was Andrew’s ministry assistant with the middle school. It took a while (another story for another time) but by the end of my first year volunteering she was my girlfriend. By the end of my second year of volunteering we had finished grad school a week apart and the idea of proposing to her had entered my mind and heart. By the end of my third year of volunteering we were married. By the end of my fourth year volunteering I moved up to the high school group where my friend’s future wife, Leah, was now leading. And by the end of my fifth year volunteering, this past year, we traveled up to New Hampshire to celebrate their wedding. A wedding between two amazing people my wife and I are lucky to have as friends.

My friend’s path to his incredible celebration with his new wife was no less complex or miraculous. I’d love to tell you all the zigs and zags of their relationship but that too is a story of another blog entry. The real reason I was inspired to write today was because of the remarks by the pastor during the ceremony. Anytime you go to a wedding is an excellent time to reflect on marriage and what a successful one might look like and this pastor’s words resonated with me.

Too many people today see marriage as a personal path to happiness or contentment. Many wedding venues and planners sell this idea as well. A perfect ceremony to start your “happily ever after!” Of course my wedding and now marriage has brought me incalculable joy and love between my wife and I. It’s beautiful. But this is not because we “complete each other” a la Jerry Maguire (this reference was from the pastor, not me.) It is because we have chosen to love and submit to one another over the course of our lives come what may. We sacrifice to ourselves because we have decided our life together, no matter how messy or complex or hard it might get sometimes, is worth it.

I am deeply grateful to Andrew for providing me an opportunity to serve that resulted in me meeting Jocelyn. I am ecstatic that this weekend we got to celebrate Andrew and Leah start their life together. The ceremony was beautiful, the food was delicious, the dancing was on point. But now the marriage begins. I am thankful we will get to walk this road together with two incredible women who are truly deserving of everything marriage requires.

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The (Soccer) Moments of our Lives…

This past weekend was the final trip I had with my fellow ESI teachers for the year. We headed to the southern part of the Czech Republic, to the small town of Cesky Krumlov. It is a little touristy place on a beautiful curved river. The main activity of the weekend was a rafting trip on Saturday. The sun was out in force and while the river was far from white water the current took us along at a nice pace. It was really awesome to have this last week of fun and fellowship with my fellow teachers. A small story illustrates this.

After the rafting we had a dinner reservation at a nice local brewery restaurant. The dinner was nice but the main event in my mind was America’s opening game in the World Cup against soccer power England. I have always been a huge soccer fan and World Cups are the pinnacle of the game. I scream at every pass, shot and especially goal when I watch. I had brought the jersey of my favorite player to wear for the game but that was about it. However, a fellow ESI teacher had managed randomly to procure a number of USA flag cowboy hats, multiple red, white, and blue bandanas and even brought his grandfather’s American flag, which he wore as a cape.

Even as a soccer fan I can be pretty self-conscious but I figured this wasn’t the time to worry about such things. Soon I found myself walking through a small Czech town bedecked in hat and bandana. It was great, but better things were to come.

Right before the game starts the teams come out and the national anthems are played. To my shock and amazement, when the Star – Spangled Banner began all my ESI American friends shot up and started singing lustily. For a moment I was frozen. This was a Czech pub, other people were around and they were rooting for England. But then my amazement gave way to excitement and I shot up and joined in. It was probably one of the best moments of this year.

I love soccer and I love my friends and too often they are separate. But watching the game last night with everyone was as perfect an ending as I could make up for this year. This has been a great year and last night typified that for me.

Travelin’ Thoughts

I don’t like traveling.

I know, I know. I am a vicious liar. Since I graduated in 2007 here is my places I’ve been list. South Africa, Botswana, California, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, London. How can I possibly hate travel?

It takes time and money. It involves big crowds of people I don’t know and so I’m more likely to make a sarcastic comment out of their earshot than talk to them. Delays happen (volcano anyone?). You leave things places (good bye favorite jacket, cell phone adapter, favorite sweatshirt). Traveling home from wherever you went is always awful because you regret leaving wherever you were.  I have been places but I like to stay somewhere an extended time if I do go. Hence this whole being on foreign continents a year at a time business.

So this weekend I traveled across the country that I have been living in all year. My organization has teachers in the center (Prague), east (Ostrava), and West (Me!). I hadn’t gotten a chance to get out to Ostrava, see the city and the teacher friends I know. A shortened Friday allowed me to embark on a 7 hour bus and train journey to the other side of the Czech Republic.

I have to be honest. Ostrava isn’t that awesome. I felt like they showed me the whole city in about thirty minutes. It was certainly a city but not much seemed to be going on. Despite this, I had a great time. Why? I was with friends. The biggest reason to travel this year hasn’t been to see cool things or do fun things (though both have happened in great supply). It has been to see and connect with the people I know. See their flats, talk about their experiences and see how they are doing. And have lots of fun together.

I have said pretty much my whole life that as long as I have a roof over my head and I’m well-fed I’ll be happy. I need to change this a bit. I’m still committed to the food part. Feed me well I’ll love you forever. But where I live doesn’t matter. Give me a tent in a swamp, a lean-to in a forest, a communist-era flat in Europe with the most ridiculous nonsensical bathroom set-up I have ever seen. Just give me people who are awesome, who I care for and who care for me. I’ll be perfectly content. And I will travel whatever distance necessary to get to where they are.

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.

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.