And I would drive 2,205 miles…

First off, you are welcome for getting that song stuck in your head. If a song didn’t get stuck in your had, what if I say, “and I would walk 500 more?”

On a completely different note, yesterday (Sunday the 14th) I left Toledo to start my big trip of my HMA. As this is posted I am in Nashville visiting a guy who I had the privilege of leading in a small group during his time at Black Forest Academy in Germany. It was originally going to be two guys and they were going to be spending their Fall break hanging out together. For some reason they want their “old man” leader to come hang out with them. I have never been to Nashville, so that will be fun to explore a new city and get to hang out with him.

After Nashville I will be heading to Charleston, SC, Charlotte and Raleigh, NC, Alexandria, VA and good old Waldorf, MD. At each of these locations I am going to be connecting with friends and ministry partners who live in the area.

If you live anywhere near those locations and want to connect please reach out to me.

I do have a couple times I know of in which I will be speaking at churches, so if you happen to be near California, MD on November 4th I’ll be at Bridgeway Church, or White Pains, MD on November 11th I’ll be at South Potomac Church. I hope you come because I’d love to see you!

Home, Such a Funny Word

“Welcome home!”

“It must feel so good to be home.”

“Has it been nice to be home?”

These are the questions I have been answering from well-meaning people since I arrived back in the US for my year HMA in May. None of the people asking the question said anything wrong, but it caused some interesting thoughts to run through my mind.

“Is this home?”

“What makes a place home?”

“If this is home, does that mean where I live in Germany is temporary?”

“If this is home, why do I keep forgetting how things work here?”

You see, the difficulty for me is that, while I grew up in Toledo, I’ve also made a home for myself for 7 years in Maryland and now for 5 years in Germany. Does that make Toledo any less of my home?

Right now it feels like I have two homes, but on occasion it makes me feel like I am not genuine when I call one place home and not the other. What’s kind of strange is wherever I am at the time, I tend to call the other place home just as much as the place I am currently living. Weird, right? Welcome to my brain.

So, why do I write this? Why am I spending time explaining how home is a weird word and a weird idea to me right now? Well, because its something that I’ve been trying to figure out for myself and I know there are many other people who feel the same way. They are torn between two places.

Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying being “home” in the US, but at the same time there are things I miss about my German “home.” When I’m in Germany I will miss things about my US “home” while loving things in my German “home.”

As an uncle, a brother, a son, and a friend, my heart is often where I am not, so maybe the saying “home is where the heart is” is pretty accurate. If that is true, then welcome me (and anyone else who returns) home wherever I see you, but please remember that my home and heart lies elsewhere as well and that can cause some feelings of displacement.

No More Faking Fine

In Feb of this year (2018), I was asked to present on a topic for the spiritual track of ICCM (International Conference on Computing and Mission). I was nearing the end of a book called “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece that was constantly on my mind, so I presented my take on the book as an option and the powers that be thought it sounded like a great topic for the conference.

Some of us are really good at “faking fine” while inside we are nowhere near fine. We’ve been trained by society to hide how we really are and instead answer the question, “How are you doing?” with “Fine and you?” no matter what.

The thing is, we don’t always have to be fine because sometimes life sucks. Everyone experiences times where life seems to knock us down and then continue to kick us while we are there. Nobody would expect you to get up and say you are fine after being beaten, so why do we do it when we are figuratively beaten?

When life sucks, we are allowed to be sad. Look at Peter in Luke 22:62. Right after betraying Jesus (which he was told he would do and promised it wouldn’t be the case) it says “And he went out and wept bitterly.” Peter wasn’t going to be able to brush off the tear and say something was in his eye. That dude wept, and there was no hiding it. His life sucked at that very moment. He let himself down. He let his Savior down. He let his friend down.

So why don’t we feel free to lament, as Ether Fleece calls it. Why don’t we allow ourselves to feel bad and share it with God and with others? There could be a multitude of reasons, but how we’ve been trained is probably a major one. We’ve been trained that “Men don’t cry” or “A strong woman is one who is able to smile this morning like she wasn’t crying last night.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one after experience a break-up or a loss in the family. “It’ll get better.” That’s all fine and good, but what about the right here and now? What about during the time of grief? God has a different message. He says, “Blessed are those that mourn…” (Matthew 5:4). Note that it doesn’t say Pitied are those that mourn, kicked in the pants are those that mourn, pathetic are those that mourn, weak are those that mourn.

When we lament, as Esther Fleece says, we surrender to God’s sovereignty. We trust that even though we are in the midst of the suck, that He is listening. It might take us a while to fully give our troubles and worries to Him, but lamenting is a step in the right direction.

Turning lamenting into joy is the most important part though so how do we turn our questioning and frustrations into joy? We need to turn to God, remember what He has done for us and look towards the promises He has made us. We also need community. God’s plan for us is to be in community. Notice that ever Jesus died, Peter was still with the disciples and they were all grieving together (John 20:1-4).

The key, as part of the community, is to allow someone time to lament without shaming them. Their emotions are valid, so be there with them.

Communities are the support we need to hold us up when we can’t hold ourselves up. A place we should feel free to share truth and to be loved.

God designed communities to be a part of our lives. There are people in your lives who you know are hurting. They may be in mourning, they may feel unloveable, they may hate their lives, hate what they’ve done, or who they think they are. Today and every day we need to reach out to them, because they may never reach out to us. Reach out to them, share their pain and remind them that you love them, and more importantly, that God loves them. Period, there is not but, and , or if. Nothing that happens to them or that they have done will change that.

I challenge you right now, that if someone popped into your mind right now, reach out to them this instant.

If you, yourself need to be reminded of that love and need someone to remind you that you are loved, know this, even if we never meet, there is love in my heart for you. You are loved by the creator of the universe. He knows you better than you know yourself and He loves you.

 

*If you are interested in reading Esther’s book, I highly recommend it.

**Thanks to Esther Fleece for allowing me to truly process what it means to lament and remind me the importance of community.

***Thanks to Unsplash for the pictures that beautifully illustrated my points.

It’s Been a While

Every couple of weeks or so I thought to myself, “You should write a blog sharing whats going on in your world right now.” I’d immediately file that in the good idea folder and then promptly forget about it for another couple of weeks when I’d think to myself…you get the picture. When I logged on today to start actually writing this blog I realized I hadn’t published one since November. Holy goodness a lot has changed since then, so this post is going to be a brief update and immediately after I write this I will be planning and working on the next few posts so I can schedule them to release on a somewhat regular basis. I hope to do at least two posts a month; one about my ministry and one on a random topic which could include whatever pops into my head that month.

Ok, so here is a brief run down of what’s been going on since November:

  • Helped host ICCM (International Conference on Computing and Missions) as my last major event with eDOT where I spoke multiple times and in several different capacities including leading sessions called: “No More Faking Fine,” “40 Days of Decrease,” and another one on different styles of prayer. Be on the lookout as those will probably be jumping off points for my next few blogs.
  • Switched to Euroteam TEFL from eDOT. After 5 years with eDOT in Germany I felt it was time to move on to a different group that was more suited to my skills including curricula development and working with kids in English camps.
  • Helped lead a short-term team at an English camp in Korropi, Greece as my first team officially with Euroteam.
  • Moved out of my apartment in Riedlingen Germany and moved to Perrysburg, OH for my mandatory year in the US.
  • Since I’ve been back in the US my time has been filled with ministry partners, friends and family. I have made many memories already and am looking forward to making more throughout the rest of my time here.

That is the briefest run through of what I’ve been up to as of late. My next post will follow this one closely as I dive a bit more into what is going on with Euroteam TEFL and my role on the team, especially while I am working from the US.

Who am I? Who are You?

A while back, I had a conversation with some good friends of mine and we got to talking about our identities. To be honest, I am not even sure how we got on the topic, but before I knew it, I launched into a bunch of thoughts about who we think we are and how that affects our general well-being.

It is very common, in the US at least, for people to meet someone knew and immediately ask them, “What do you do?” as if that is the all-encompassing aspect of their lives. As if to say, your occupation tells me more about you than the answer to any other question I could possibly ask. And partially, I agree with that. I mean, if you really think about it, you went into your occupation for a reason (most likely). That reason is probably because of something in your core being. For me, I became a teacher because my dad was one of the best teachers I ever saw. Now, you wouldn’t know I became a teacher because of my dad unless I told you, but you could probably assume that I became a teacher because I like to help people and I am passionate about a specific subject. So far, so good, but is that all there is to know about me? Is that the best way to get to know me? Is that my identity?

More recently there seems to be discussions on this topic that have made people ask a different question. Instead of “What do you do?” they now ask, “What are you passionate about?” Is that question really that different? I mean, I guess it is, but still, it only encapsulates a tiny part of who I am; who you are. I know, for me, that I am passionate about a small percentage of what I care about. Passion is not something that flows easily from within me. I have passions, but only a few things can be put into that category for me.

If my occupation isn’t my identity, then what is? My passions? My hobbies? My friends? My family?

The bigger question is what happens when I place my identity in one of those things and it fails? If I had put my whole identity in being a teacher, what would have happened when I didn’t enjoy it, when I wasn’t as good as I had hoped I would be? I would have been crushed, it would have torn me apart. You see this a lot when people lose their jobs, go through a break-up, lose a loved one, etc. When your identity is placed in something temporary, your identity is temporary.

The only way around having your identity as something temporary is to place it in something eternal.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12

 

Deeper into the Wardrobe

For months now I have been praying and seeking wisdom about what will happen next. When I originally came to Germany, the plan was to stay for four years, maybe more. I always said, “at least” four years, but I wasn’t sure what was beyond those four years. After three years in Germany I was asked to consider doing some leader development training, but it would mean I had to stay an extra year…so I did and I don’t regret that decision at all.

As my 4th year ended and my new agreed upon length of stay approached, I knew the decision loomed ahead. I needed to figure out what life was going to look like for me going forward. Where would I live? and what job would I have? were the most pertinent questions I needed to address. I’m an over-analyzer so you better believe I had plenty of “options” to choose from. I had seriously considered all of the following (though some were more plausible than others):

  • Return to Toledo and open a boardgame cafe
  • Move to Freiburg and open a boardgame cafe
  • Return to the US and get my doctorate in Instructional Design or User Experience
  • Return to the US and work as an instructional designer
  • Return to the US and work at GEM’s headquarters in one facet or another
  • Return to the US and work at MTI (where I had my pre-field training)
  • Stay in Kandern with eDOT
  • Stay in Kandern, but switch to EuroTeam and work with TEFL

I’m sure there were other options that came to mind at some point, but these were all of the ones I at least spent time researching. The problem I ran into was that all of these options were enticing for one reason or the other.

  • The boardgame cafes were interesting because I love boardgames and have a lot of ideas on how to run a community impacting cafe.
  • I’ve always wanted to get my doctorate, because I’m weird and I like school.
  • I enjoy writing curricula and thought working for a large organization designing their training could be a tough challenge for me.
  • I like the idea of recruiting people to join GEM, or helping them get to the field or designing and leading orientation.
  • MTI is an amazing experience and helped me adjust to life as a missionary. Having a chance to help others would be incredible.
  • I like my team and we do good work, so why change?
  • I love camps and curricula development and believe I am skilled to do both.

I could justify any of those. It was like staring at a counter of cookies and being allowed to only choose one. But they all look so good!

I did have a few major concerns, though, including, “Where does God want me?” and “Where do my passions lie?” After a long while, God finally got me to recognize something I had said many years ago while working at COSI (hands-on Science center) where I wrote curricula and taught camps. I said, “If I could do this full-time and make a living doing so, I would work here in a heartbeat.” COSI barely paid a living wage and I wasn’t ready to do that kind of work full-time yet anyway, but God has been preparing me for this ministry choice for years. I will soon get to say that I am developing curricula and leading short-term teams to teach at English camps full-time.

This is what I get to do…and I’m ecstatic about it. Don’t get me wrong, it was not an easy decision. I didn’t come to this lightly, nor consider all of the things that I would be giving up by living here. I thought about silly things like not being able to get a good hamburger or not having stores open pretty much all day everyday. Then I thought about more difficult things like being far away from my mom and brother and how hard that is at times. I thought about not being there to watch my nieces and nephews grow up. There are many things that made this a difficult decision, but in the end, I am confident this is the right decision; this is where God wants me and so I have said “Here am I, send me.”

So What Does This Mean For Me?

Well, in the short term this means I will be still with GEM eDOT until around March of next year when I make the official switch to GEM EuroTeam. I will continue to develop the Narnia (Adventures in the Wardrobe) curricula and complete my leader development studies. At the end of April I will return to the US for a mandatory year out of Germany (laws are weird!). While in the US I will be talking to churches and individuals about partnering with me and filling in my faithful ministry partners on what things will look like after the year in the US. I am also going to be recruiting short-term teams to come and teach at one of our camps the year I get back (if you are at all interested, please let me know). Potentially I will also be going to colleges to help recruit future TEFL missionaries. I’m not sure if this will happen, but I hope it does! When I return to Germany in 2019, I will work with GEM EuroTeam in the running of TEFL camps and the development of English as a foreign language curricula.

But What Does It Mean For You?

If you are currently a ministry partner of mine, all it means is if you want to continue that partnership you don’t have to do anything. You can certainly alter the partnership with zero hard feelings on my end (contact me if you need more info), but if things are staying the same, then you are already done! If you aren’t a ministry partner of mine, but are curious of learning more, then please let me know and I would be happy to talk with you!

My Brain is a Liar

This isn’t the first time I have been vulnerable on this site, nor is it the first time that I have written about my struggles with fear, in fact it is the 3rd blog on that topic. Fear seems to be a recurring topic and struggle for me and I’m assuming, for you too.

Fear is tricky. Fear can keep us stagnate and in a depression, but it can also result in some of the greatest moments of our lives. How can something manage to produce both highs and lows?

A few years back I went skydiving. My friend took me and a few others up with her to a place where she completed dozens of jumps. I was pumped! I had so much nervous energy it was ridiculous. I was going to do a tandem jump, so I strapped my instructor on my back like he was a backpack (weight restrictions required me to have the smallest instructor and it was pretty comical our size difference), climbed in the plane. As we climbed higher and higher I was getting more excited. Then the instructor yelled in my ear to climb out on the wing. We weren’t doing the stereotypical out of the cargo door jump. I had to climb out onto the wing before I would basically fall backwards. I climbed out no problem and then when I was told to remove one hand at a time and put them on my chest, I think my fear took over. And by I think, I mean…it definitely did. I “misheard” him a couple times and kept shuffling my hands one direction or the other on the strut. Finally I understood him and put one hand on my chest while the other hand gripped the strut with all of its strength. I literally was looking at my hand and telling it to let go, but my body wasn’t having any of that. It was petrified of what might happen, of what might end in pain. Finally the instructor grabbed my hand and pulled it to my chest. I had no choice at that point, but to fall backwards and trust my instructor would do whatever was necessary to keep me safe. Not only did he keep me safe, but those few minutes were exhilarating and I would love to go again.

This past week a good friend/mentor/counselor of mine was in town. During his time here we had a few hours to process through recent happenings in both of our lives. Granted I did most of the talking, but we both were able to talk about some things that were on our mind. One of the topics we discussed was fear. You see, I had sent him an email a couple weeks prior telling him I was struggling what I had described as “fear that was approaching debilitating.”

I was stuck. Stuck in a place and time where I wanted to plan for the future (in a wide variety of ways), but not doing anything. I needed to talk to my brother and mom about my future, but I was afraid of what their reactions would be. Don’t get me wrong. They gave me absolutely no reason to fear this, they have been nothing but supportive my whole life. That was the problem. My fear was filling my head with lies.

A big decision is approaching in which I must decide if I am to return to the US and get a so-called “normal” job with a “normal” paycheck or if after a year in the US (An agreement between the US and Germany requires a year back in the US every five years.) would I come back to Germany and continue working with GEM. Let me show you a glimpse into my head as to how the fear was wrecking me:

If I go back to the US for good, I will have to find, interview and get a job.
What if I don’t like that job?
I might have to move to another new place, where I know no one.
I would have to find new friends to satisfy my extroverted tendencies.
I would be leaving the families and friends that I have developed over five years here in Germany.
I may not even live much closer to my mom and brother.

So many things that I can’t control. So much in the distance, just out of my view. So many reasons to make the “easier” choice by staying in my apartment, in my little village and with my job. Not that being a missionary is “easy,” but having to move to a brand-new place and start a brand-new job with brand-new co-workers, etc. isn’t exactly easy either.

My brain wanted me to settle for “easy” because there was less chance of failing, less new that could be tough, less ways for me to affirm all of my fears.

The problem is, none of that matters.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41: 10 & 13

I love the imagery in these verses, but specifically verse 13. When I was a kid and afraid, nothing could allay those fears quite like my mom or dad grabbing my hand a giving a little squeeze to let me know that everything was fine, no matter what. How much better could it be than the God of the universe saying, “I’m holding your hand. I am here to help.” It may not be easy, it may not be perfect, but He is here to help.