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

 

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.

3 Year Deutschiversary

I've arrived!

3 Years ago, today, I arrived in Basel, Switzerland, just a short drive to what would be my new home: Kandern (Riedlingen, really, but close enough!).  There was a lot I didn’t know, wasn’t ready for and a lot that even if I was told, I would have forgotten. It was a long time in coming, but it finally happened. I had arrived.

When I was younger I never thought I would leave Toledo. It’s not that I couldn’t have found a job elsewhere, but I was comfortable in Toledo. Toledo was my home and I had no intention of leaving. I think I can still hear God laughing when I say that, because He had way different plans for me than I had ever imagined. God knew what He was doing (duh!) by sending me to Maryland first, allowing me to feel comfortable in another place, to make another home. Now Maryland was never the home that Toledo was, but it was a home. After making Maryland my home for 7 years, God had a new home for me; Germany. Instead of an 8-12 hour drive from my original home, now I was going to be an 8-12 hour flight away.

Establishing a new home, in a new country, with new people, a new job and people who…gasp…didn’t speak English as their first language (though their English is way better than my German) was tough. I definitely have had some ups and downs, some highs that may never be reached again and some lows that I hope I never again have to experience.  God has provided during all of those times though and helped me see Kandern as my third home. I have friends and family here just like I do in Maryland and Toledo. I have favorite restaurants, locations to visit, and places to relax. I love and am loved here.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here 3 years already, but so much has happened so at the same time, it is easy to believe. God has done so much for me over the past 3 years and I can’t wait to see what He has planned for however much longer He has me in this home.

Before I go, I have to say thank you to all of those who are back in the US and here in Germany, who have made this possible. Seriously, you are my favorite people!

Looking Back at January and February

A good friend of mine did something that often, too often probably, we don’t do. He looked me straight in the face and said, “How are your resolutions going?” Sadly, my answer was…I honestly don’t know. I couldn’t even remember what I said I wanted to do this year, so I thought, today I would take the time (and plan on doing this again every two months) to check back in and see how I’m doing. So here we go!

Physical

  • Lose weight – I don’t want to specify a number because I don’t know what number to specify. I have a good amount to lose and I want to continue losing until I reach a weight where I am comfortable. Since the beginning of the year I have lost 15 lbs which is just under 2 lbs a week, so that’s pretty good!
  • Run at least one triathlon and beat my previous time – I ran my first triathlon last year with my mom and brother and I really enjoyed it. There is one coming up in May not too far from me and I hope to be ready enough to beat my previous time. I haven’t registered for the May triathlon, but I have been training. 10 weeks to go!

Spiritual

  • Pray – I pray, but not nearly as much as I desire to pray. I want my prayer life to be as vital to me as anything else and making a conscious effort to pray more is the first step. Prayer has been happening more than it used to, but I long for more and deeper prayers.
  • Disciple and be discipled – Until recently I have never really had a mentor, but the last few months have been nice meeting with someone weekly to discuss life. I want to be that for someone as well, but I’m not sure where that person will come from. To be honest I forgot about this one, but God didn’t because he put one of my small group boys on my heart. We have just started to meet for breakfast weekly.

Mental

  • Counseling – I am a big proponent of counseling. I think just about everyone should get counseling at some point. I started counseling again last October and I am really enjoying it. The next step is to truly take what I am learning and make an effort to institute it into my daily life. I’m still struggling with this one. I hear what my counselor is saying and I believe it, but putting it into action is difficult.
  • Read more for fun – I used to read a lot and really enjoyed it. Now it seems I read for 10-15 minutes and then I get bored, fall asleep or move onto something else. I want to get back into reading for pleasure because when I do that I am in a better place. I started reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time. While I don’t read every day, I have found myself reading much more and seeking time to sit down and enjoy reading again.

Missional

  • Increase my skills – Seeing as I am doing a lot of work in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) I want to get certified to teach TEFL. Doing that will allow me to be better at creating curriculum in general, but especially for TEFL projects. I still haven’t figured out how this is going to happen.
  • Communicate consistently, clearly and more often- That says it all, I wouldn’t be here without my ministry partners, so I need to do a better job at sharing about my work here and letting them know how much they mean to me. I am communicating more and trying to be clear and consistent. Is it working?

Family

  • Love on them – I’ve got an amazing family and they deserve so much love. I could do more to remind them of how awesome they are! Working on this…I’ve got some ideas though.
  • My adopted families – Over here I’ve got several families who have essentially adopted me in as a brother and an uncle. Again, I want to show them how awesome they are too! I have been able to cook a couple meals for friends and one adopted family. I also get to help with homework when I go over. I love being able to take on that role when I am there.

Overall, I am pretty happy with my progress on my resolutions, but this isn’t about me. The point of my resolutions in the first place was to become a better person. To work on the things I felt God laying on my heart. God is definitely working through others to help me become a better person/brother/son/friend and for that I am thankful!

A Snowball Fight with Strangers

Earlier this month a friend of mine visited for a few days before her mission’s training a couple of hours north of here. While here I was able to show her a chocolate factory in Switzerland, a castle in France and we hiked a hill in Germany. All in all it was full of good food and fun times! The best part, though, was a random snowball fight we were in with some strangers in Gruyère, Switzerland (ok, the best part was the all you can eat chocolate, but this was a close second).

Here we were in a cute, little, Switzerland town and I decided to throw a snowball in the general direction of some people standing below us. I thought I would get a negative reaction from them, but instead, they laughed and fired back. Now, to set the scene, we were about 50 feet above them and another 30 feet away and yet, they tried to fight back. The snowballs flew, from above, from below and then surprising us even more…from the left. Another random couple joined in. It was an all out battle, those with the advantage against those below. The snowballs kept flying with no one really connecting until my friend launched one, not knowing where his victim was (he was hiding behind a building) and it found its target. The girlfriend of the victim laughed hard and motioned that the snowball hit him in the head. As the fight wound down and the couple started to leave the guy took one last shot…at his girlfriend and for a second she believed we hit her and then she saw the truth, she had been betrayed by her former ally…and she laughed!

This moment was not something we could have captured in picture and if we had tried to we would have missed out on the fun. This moment was seized by all of us for what it was, silly fun. Sometimes it is nice to just have fun. Thanks to the strangers who made that possible and to my friends who didn’t think I was completely out of my mind. It was a good day.

New Year’s resolutions?

The fireworks are over, the new year has come and that means my brain starts the same conversation it has every year. Every year I think about doing some resolutions and inside my head the conversation goes something like:

There are lots of things I would like to change about myself, so I should do some resolutions.

But only 8-40% of resolutions are kept, so why bother?

Mine could be a part of the 8-40%.

Sure they could…but will they?

Yes…I mean, sure…I mean…

Don’t get sucked into the hype that just because the year is new, that you have to make formal decisions.

But, I want to, so why not start?

You can start…but will you continue?

Every year I start this way and every year I come to no conclusion. I don’t think there is a right conclusion to be made, for me, for you, for anyone. Each day is a new day, so each day allows us to make changes that we want to make. Does it matter that a new year has begun? Not really, but since God has seen fit to give me another day, I will start today anew with several new goals in mind. None of these have target end dates. Some may take days, some months and some may never finish. Either way, one thing I do know, accountability will help any new goal come to reality and that is why I am placing mine here for all to see. Will you walk beside me and keep me accountable, always striving towards achieving these goals?

Physical

  • Lose weight – I don’t want to specify a number because I don’t know what number to specify. I have a good amount to lose and I want to continue losing until I reach a weight where I am comfortable.
  • Run at least one triathlon and beat my previous time – I ran my first triathlon last year with my mom and brother and I really enjoyed it. There is one coming up in May not too far from me and I hope to be ready enough to beat my previous time.

Spiritual

  • Pray – I pray, but not nearly as much as I desire to pray. I want my prayer life to be as vital to me as anything else and making a conscious effort to pray more is the first step.
  • Disciple and be discipled – Until recently I have never really had a mentor, but the last few months have been nice meeting with someone weekly to discuss life. I want to be that for someone as well, but I’m not sure where that person will come from.

Mental

  • Counseling – I am a big proponent of counseling. I think just about everyone should get counseling at some point. I started counseling again last October and I am really enjoying it. The next step is to truly take what I am learning and make an effort to institute it into my daily life.
  • Read more for fun – I used to read a lot and really enjoyed it. Now it seems I read for 10-15 minutes and then I get bored, fall asleep or move onto something else. I want to get back into reading for pleasure because when I do that I am in a better place.

Missional

  • Increase my skills – Seeing as I am doing a lot of work in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) I want to get certified to teach TEFL. Doing that will allow me to be better at creating curriculum in general, but especially for TEFL projects.
  • Communicate consistently, clearly and more often- That says it all, I wouldn’t be here without my ministry partners, so I need to do a better job at sharing about my work here and letting them know how much they mean to me.

Family

  • Love on them – I’ve got an amazing family and they deserve so much love. I could do more to remind them of how awesome they are!
  • My adopted families – Over here I’ve got several families who have essentially adopted me in as a brother and an uncle. Again, I want to show them how awesome they are too!

That may look like a lot, but I’m ok with that. They are all things that will make me a better person and also show others how much they are loved by me and God.

What are your plans for this year? Do you do resolutions? If so, I would love to hear them.

The Wall and the Stairs

We have all been there before.

A wall lies in front of us and all we can see is this:

brick-wall

I think we know it can’t be all there is.

I think we understand that there has to be more, but that is all we know.

It is what makes up our life.

Sometimes when were are having a good day, we manage to look up.

Even those days we might still only manage to see:

photo-1446716336919-df838e44ce7b

Our view has changed, but our mindset has not.

We are still only looking at the wall directly in front of our faces.

I’m helping a young boy learn math at a local school.

All he has ever known is the wall of failure.

All he can draw upon is the sight of the wall…the thought that he can’t.

It pains me to see him say he can’t do it, before he even tries.

He may not learn a drastic amount of math under mu tutelage.

He may still be behind his classmates.

But what I am hoping is that he turns to the side and sees:

stairs

My hope and prayers for him is that he will see stairs.

A way around or over his wall.

There is hope.

God will help.

My young friend can do it.

So can you.

So can I.