What does life look like post graduation from graduate school? I am about to find out!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hard Candy Christmas

"Christmas: It's not the giving, it's not the getting, it's the loving."

"I'll be fine and dandy. Lord, it's like a hard candy Christmas. I'm barely getting to tomorrow but still I won't let sorrow bring me way down."
-Dolly Parton

I wanted to just take a minute in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to reflect on the real reason for the season. I think too often that so many of us forget to just take a minute to reflect on what Christmas is really all about. It's not about getting the newest toys or the latest fashions, it's about being with the ones you love and celebrating the magic of the holiday season. I also think it's important to take a minute to remember all those who don't have any family or even a place to stay. I work with a lot of homeless youth at my site and I just feel so bad for them that many of them won't have a place to stay on Christmas Eve and will be forced to sleep on the streets in the cold Chicago winter. It doesn't seem right that they have no place to stay and no family to take them in or buy them presents for the holiday. It breaks my heart that they are in this situation through no fault of their own. My sincerest holiday wish this year is that they all find a home and a family to love them this next year. I know that's unrealistic but Christmas is all about miracles.
We also should take a moment to remember those who have lost a loved one this year and will be spending Christmas without them for the first time. Just in the last 48 hours, I have found out about three people back home who have lost someone they cared about and it just kills me. I have always thought that people dying so close to Christmas is some kind of cruel joke that God likes to play on us. It just doesn't seem right to lose somebody you love so close to what should be a day of joy, not sadness. I don't know why these things have to happen. I just know that it is a terrible thing.
So, while you are out these next few days buying that last toy that your child or sibling or spouse just has to have, just take a minute to reflect on what the real meaning of this season is. Is it really about the gifts?? Does your wife really need that diamond necklace she's been eyeing all year?? Do your kids really need those video games that they have been begging you for since March?? Do you really need to pile on more debt so you can buy something that will score you extra points and make you the best father/son/husband/brother ever?? The answer to all these questions is no. I worry that Christmas has become too commercial and has become all about the stuff. Whatever happened to spending the holiday with family and singing Christmas carols and baking cookies and staying up late talking to a long -lost friend? Isn't that what Christmas is really all about?? Reflect on that for a minute and you just might realize that you have signed up for the material rather than the spiritual side of Christmas.
As for me, I'm not getting anyone any gifts this year mainly because my budget can't afford it anyway. I couldn't even think of anything I wanted or needed for Christmas either. Odd, as I used to be the kid who had his Christmas list ready by Halloween and made sure to pack it with lots of stuff that I just had to have. Now, reflecting on it, I realize that I had too much stuff. Most of that stuff I played with for a few months but then never touched it again. A lot of it is probably sitting in a box in the garage somewhere. Stuff that I just had to have is now collecting dust. How sad is that?? Plus, to be honest, I don't really have room for any more stuff. I have way too many movies (which I almost never watch since I rarely re-watch a movie), books (which I rarely re-read), CDs (which just get uploaded straight to my Ipod and then never opened again) and various other things. Of course, there are some things that I have gotten for Christmas that I still use frequently (Ipod, TiVo, my big-screen TV that I cannot wait to get back to) and such. However, the majority of the stuff that I get for Christmas ends up not getting much use. Perhaps I've finally realized that the stuff isn't important. It took moving here and living simply for me to realize that that is actually an efficient and good way to live.
I'm not going home for Christmas so will be spending it here in Chicago with the cold and the snow. It's supposed to snow almost every day this week which I am excited about. Should make for a white Christmas which is rare in my world!! Most of the roommates headed home for the holidays so the house is practically deserted now. Makes for some very quiet nights which allows me to get a lot done. I've been "adopted" for the holidays so won't have to spend it alone which is good. I'm realizing that family is not just your biological family but also whoever you choose to include in the definition. Work is slowly turning into a ghost town and next week there will be almost nobody there which means my work load will be significantly reduced. That should allow me time to finish up my seminary applications and get them submitted. It's a long process but I am diligently plowing through them. I still plan to have them completely finished and ready to submit by January 1st so that I can go party on New Year's Eve with a clear conscience!! The last couple of weeks at work have been super busy as Advent at a church is always a busy time of year, in case you didn't know so I am looking forward to next week when it slows down considerably. Have had so much going on the last couple of weeks between Christmas parties and Christmas dinners and special worship services and such so a week to just relax and not do anything will be great and is exactly what I need. It's also that time of year for me when my movie watching ramps up considerably as we are hitting awards season (aka my second favorite time of year). I've already made a list of all the movies I need to see and have started diligently plugging away at them. So, for the next few months, I may be busy watching a lot of movies. I can't help it, I will always be a movie buff!! Anyway, I shall close this off. I will probably not get a chance to write again until after Christmas so I do sincerely wish everyone all the best and may you have a Merry Christmas!! Remember to take some time to acknowledge those who have no roof over their head or food in their belly and also those who are grieving the loss of a loved one this Christmas. Maybe call them up and invite them over to your house for Christmas or some similar gesture. I know they will appreciate it even if they don't accept the offer. Finally, I want to leave you with my all-time favorite verse from the Christmas story. Enjoy and remember God loves you (and so do I)!!
"And it came to pass that in those days there were shepherds watching over their flocks by night and an angel of the Lord appeared before them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were afraid. But the angel said unto them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people for unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Silent Night

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -Phillipians 4:13

Today, we spent the day on a silent retreat. This means that we turned off our cell phones, left our iPods at home and were required to not speak for the entire day. I, for one, had been looking forward to this day for a while even though I did have some trepidation over whether or not I would be able to do it. If you know me, you know how much I like to talk. I can be a very talkative person when I want to be and when I feel comfortable with the people involved. However, I can also be really good at not talking when the moment requires or when I am feeling shy so I knew that I would be able to do this. Because of the weather (highs in the teens and snow on the ground), we opted to do our day of silence at Navy Pier which has lots of shops and restaurants and an IMAX theater and an indoor garden and plenty of other things to distract us from keeping silent.
This definitely made it harder as there were lots of people there and so I had to resist the temptation to talk to anybody. The temptation to talk was all around us as we couldn't even really go into a store or to McDonald's because it would be hard not to talk while in there. I spent the day doing a lot of talking with God and journaling. God and I had a good, long talk about everything that has happened to me and about my life's journey. I really needed that time with him and am glad I did it. I am also glad that this retreat happened right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. During this time of year, it can be very hard if not impossible for anybody to slow down and spend some time in silent reflection and talking with God. It helped put the whole season in perspective. I love Christmas but even I will admit that the holiday has become so commercialized and full of consumerism that we tend to forget the real reason why the holiday exists. I actually spent the first two hours of my silent time sitting right by Santa's Workshop observing all the kids standing in line waiting to sit on Santa's lap so they could tell him what they wanted for Christmas. It was an interesting experience contrasting the two in my head: the day of silence and reflection with God contrasted with the very epitome of consumerism and gifts. I will always love Santa Claus and I love getting gifts at Christmas but doing this retreat in the midst of the Christmas holiday season reminded me of the true meaning of the day.
It's about making time for God. Remembering to take some time out of our busy days and our busy lives to just sit and be and not be so worried about everything else going on in our lives. I'm a Type A personality so I like to stay busy but today I found myself being comforted by being able to just sit and journal and not have to feel pressured to go anywhere or buy anything or do anything other than just sit there and relax and let the Spirit lead me. I got the chance to walk all over Navy Pier which has so much to see and do and I definitely want to go back when I can talk again as it looks like fun. Most importantly, though, I got to do some thinking about myself and my YAV year. I realized that I am letting other people's expectations cloud my judgement. I have been so worried about what others are going to think of me or going to say to me that I have forgotten to focus on what I and most importantly God thinks of me. God loves me and that will always be true and that is honestly the only thing that really matters in life. It is the one constant in my life and God wants me to be here and God knows what he is doing in my life here. No, what I'm doing isn't what I signed up for and doesn't necessarily yield tangible results and doesn't let me use my gifts in the way that I wanted to and doesn't always go smoothly or easily or well but that's not the point. I am here doing God's work and that is the most important thing. He's allowing me to develop other gifts and realize important things about myself. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be. I am starting to become convinced that a YAV year is less about the work you do and more about the person you become. 6 months ago, I would have never imagined that I would be here doing what I am doing and learning what I am learning. I would have never seen myself cooking dinner for others (and being pretty good at it too) or working mostly behind the scenes or giving up my dream of moving to New York and being a professional actor or applying to seminary yet all those things are happening to me in my time here and it's great and wonderful and sometimes painful and terrible but that's all part of the journey.
I was talking the other night with a former YAV who now lives here in Chicago and she was saying that her YAV year was an absolute nightmare that she is still recovering from. She said that for most people at the end of their year, they find that the negatives and the positives almost even out. Yet, she also said that it was still the most important and formative year of her life. I think that is proving to be true. Yes, being a YAV is tough and there are plenty of times when I just want to throw in the towel and wonder if I am even making a difference in anybody's lives or saving the world or even having a good time. Life here is tough, I'm not gonna sugarcoat it. Yet, in my journey today, I realized that that is the whole point of it. Sometimes, we have to be completely broken before God can do any good in our lives. Yet, if we just believe in his power and listen to his voice, we can accomplish anything and need to learn how to do that.
I also spent some time today just reading the Bible which is something I almost never do. I've never been a big fan of the Bible and have often made it clear that it doesn't play a part in what I believe. What I believe is not based on what the Bible teaches but what I feel in my heart to be the truth. I think too many people expect the Bible to answer all the great mysteries of life and it just doesn't do that for me. However, I have realized that I really need to spend more time just studying the Bible and figuring out why I have so many issues with it. I started off the day by rereading my favorite Bible verse (reprinted above) and journaling about what this verse means to me in light of everything I have experienced since I have been here. It helped me realize that I need to stop letting my fear of failure or my fear of disappointing others stop me from doing things. I've let my fear paralyze me for so long and it is time to just trust in God and follow him. After all, I really CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If I want to go to seminary, I'm gonna do it and not worry about whether or not it is the right fit for me or that I will flunk out or that I won't be smart enough to make the cut and will have to drop out thereby disappointing everyone. It's time to put those fears to rest and just let God take over. He's never steered me wrong so far so why would he now?? Trust in Him more and good things will come from it.
I'm glad I had this chance for some introspection. I really needed it especially in the craziness known as Advent. I need to start making it a more common part of my routine, maybe taking a couple days a month or whatever to just spend with God and doing some reflection. It's not a bad idea in the grand scheme of things. I successfully managed to not talk for over seven hours which is a personal record and proved that I should just shut up more!!
We broke the fast with dinner at Bubba Gump's and having our pictures taken with Santa Claus because we are all five year olds!! All in all, it was a great day and I am so glad that we did it. It really helped me reconnect with myself and with God and made me realize that I need to refocus my self and my priorities. Perhaps being a Type A personality just isn't going to work anymore. Or perhaps I can still be a Type A but just make sure to take some down time for introspection. Thoughts to ponder as I move through the rest of my week. Last week was super busy but this one is not looking as bad which is really good. Next week is practically dead and the week after that will be almost a ghost town which will be nice as it will allow for plenty of down time. Whether or not I end up using it wisely remains to be seen!! Hope everyone is having a great Advent season and staying warm. The highs are in the low 20s right now and yet I haven't felt that cold yet. I've learned how to shovel snow which is a skill I thought I would never actually learn!! Remember, God loves you and so do I!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Winter Wonderland!!

Well, folks, winter has officially come to Chicago as this week saw our first snowfall of the season. It started Wednesday and hasn't really stopped since. It looks really beautiful to be honest. It's like a real life winter wonderland here and I personally love it. I didn't get enough snow as a kid so my inner child is very happy right now. I can't wait to build a snow fort and a snow man and go ice skating and do all those other winter time activities that I never got to experience growing up in Texas. I'm sure come January, I will be sick of it but for right now it is the perfect thing to get me in the holiday mood.
Speaking of the holidays, we have hit my favorite time of year which means I am super busy with all the Advent/Christmas activities going on around me. This next few weeks are filled with Christmas parties and special worship services and gift exchanges and free food and caroling. I've already started listening to Christmas music and have been occasionally watching Christmas movies to get myself psyched up for the holiday. I just love the Christmas season and am really excited about this one because I am actually spending it someplace cold. It's hard to get into the Christmas spirit when it is 60 degrees outside but when the highs are in the 20s and the lows are in the teens (as they have been all this week) it makes getting in the Christmas spirit so much easier. I usually go into a bit of a depression right around the holidays for some reason and I admit I was a bit depressed for a few weeks there (which I think is understandable given everything that happened) but I'm feeling much better now. I attended a Blue Christmas service at LakeView the other day and that was a good way to get some of the sadness and misery and depression out and dealt with. Anyway, now I'm back to being the same old happy-go-lucky me that I once was. Now that I've got the holiday blues out of the way, I can focus on all the good things that are happening in my world right now.
On Monday, the six of us in Faith House woke up ridiculously early in the morning to head to the State Capitol in Springfield for People of Faith Rally Day. We got the opportunity to rally the state legislators to abolish the death penalty in the State of Illinois. It was an exciting opportunity and one that the political junkie in me enjoyed thoroughly. Unfortunately, the issue didn't get voted on this session so the House and Senate will reconvene in January to discuss it. On the bright side, however, the House and Senate did pass the civil unions bill meaning that starting next summer it will officially be legal to get a civil union in the state of Illinois!! So, at least some good came out of the legislative session even if the actual issue that we were there to rally on didn't actually get voted on.
Just to clarify, the State of Illinois has the death penalty currently but has not used it in over ten years yet still maintains a death row where the prisoners just sit in limbo filing appeal after appeal and costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars every year on a broken system that doesn't serve any purpose and promotes the myth that killing an individual can bring any sort of peace or closure to someone's life. It doesn't and keeping the death penalty just ends up costing the taxpayers more in the long run and goes against every single Biblical teaching there is. As a Christian, I cannot support such a barbaric and inhumane practice and that is why I was looking forward to the trip to Springfield to rally behind a cause that I believe so strongly in. Plus, I got to see the Capitol Building which is always a plus.
Ok, off my soapbox. This next week consists of a staff Xmas party at work (which includes a white elephant gift exchange), the Young Adult Progressive Dinner, a Lessons and Carols Service and maybe more. All in all, it is going to be a busy but great week!! I've already got my Christmas sweater ready to wear for all the holiday occasions!! I'm staying warm so don't be worried about me freezing to death. I brought plenty of warm clothing with me plus a scarf, hat, gloves and snow pants so I seriously think I am going to be ok. If I can survive winter in Chicago, I'm pretty sure I can survive anything!! I've been in a baking mood lately so I think things are going to prove to be fun around here!! Look at me, I'm turning into a regular ole' chef!! First the cooking, now the baking!! Where could this possibly lead?? I'll keep you posted on that development. I've also made it my goal to have all of my grad school applications done by the first of the year which is a large task but I think I can do it. I am going to have a lot of free time over the holidays so will use it diligently (hopefully!). Anyway, will close this off now as I need to get to bed soon. I hope you all have a great week and remember Jesus loves you (and so do I)!!

Friday, November 26, 2010


I wanted to just take a minute to remember all the many things that I am thankful for this year. In the midst of tragedy, it can be hard to find things to be thankful for but I will try. This blog post may come off as really depressing but it's not meant to sound that way, I promise. I know that this past week has emotionally been one of the most difficult ones I have ever experienced and so to tell the truth, I wasn't really sure how ready I was for Thanksgiving as I have been feeling really homesick lately in the aftermath of my attack. One thing that has been made apparent to me is just how alone I feel here. I know that may sound crazy considering I live with 5 other people in one of the largest cities in the USA. Yet, it's true. I haven't been here long enough to build up the kind of support networks that I have back home so in the last few days, I have just felt a deep sense of loneliness which is a feeling that I have never really experienced before. Even when I lived by myself, I never felt alone or that I didn't have anybody to lean on for support. Now, in the midst of so many people, all I feel is a crushing sense of loneliness and occasionally despair.
Yet, I am so thankful to have the friends that I do in my life. I have received so many messages of support and love over the last week and those have been really helpful. Talking about the incident has actually proven to be really helpful and cathartic for me. I'm starting to feel better and have already started replacing my lost stuff. Thanks to the generosity of the people I work for, I already have a new Ipod touch which I like a lot!! My new phone is on the way and I am working on getting new cards and everything sent to me. So, I will eventually be able to replace the things that were lost. I'm also thankful that I didn't end up in a coma or worse. I know how lucky I am to have had no major, life threatening injuries and so for that I am glad.
I'm also thankful for families that are willing to adopt me for the holidays and make sure I get a traditional Thanksgiving feast with plenty of food, laughter and fellowship.
I'm so thankful that I have housemates who are just as ridiculous as I am and see nothing wrong with turning our downstairs living room into a blanket fort or spending all day today playing Wii games and eating pizza. It's good to know that some people out there get my brand of insanity.
I'm still so thankful that I did the YAV program and know that I made the right decision even if I sometimes question it. I struggle with a lot of self-doubt over whether or not I am cut out for this type of living. Living in community and living a simple lifestyle are the hardest things I have ever done as they take me out of my comfort zone and so I am sometimes left questioning if I am failing at this YAV thing. If they gave out grades for being a YAV, I sometimes wonder if I would pass. I'm not the greatest people person and not a huge extrovert and I am also a Type A personality and those qualities don't always mix well with the YAV program. Somedays are a real struggle for me and I sometimes wonder if I should just quit now and head home and give up trying to make a difference in the world or change my self or find myself or whatever else I signed up to do this for. Yet, I have to constantly remind myself that I am doing good in the world and making a difference and I need to stop being so hard on myself and expecting so much from everything and everybody. That way only leads to pain and misery and I am tired of living that life. I'm happier than I have ever been even if I don't always remember that!!
I'm thankful for the struggles because they remind me of how hard life can be. Life is a struggle and can be difficult and not easy and not fun and sometimes it just plain sucks. Yet, there's always something beautiful to be found in the midst of the tough times. Even when I am at my lowest point, I remember that God still loves me. That has never and will never change and perhaps it would do good for me to remember that more than I do. It's easy for me to be angry with God after what has happened and it's tempting but that won't do me any good. It won't help the healing process any and will actually make things more difficult for me. It's in times of distress that we can best remember who we belong to and who loves us. I need to be reminded of that sometimes.
I'm finally thankful for the gift of discernment. I finally feel like I have some sense of life direction and vocational discernment. I've been spending some time talking to God about it and have discovered a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I'm going to begin the application process over Christmas Break and have already started to narrow down schools. Will keep you posted on here as to how the process is going but I am really am so glad to no longer be feeling like I am just drifting through my life. I hope this aspect of it continues and that I can actually get accepted and go to the school of my choice. If I hadn't done YAV, I might still be drifting around lost and with no sense of direction so in that sense I know I made the right decision even if it is hard to believe it sometimes.
Like I said, I have a lot to be thankful for and I felt it only appropriate to share it on this particular holiday weekend. I hope everyone had a safe and happy Thanksgiving full of food, laughter, family and fellowship. May you continue to have safe travels and happy journeys over the course of this holiday season. I love this time of year and am looking forward to experiencing someplace cold finally!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"It Gets Better" . . . doesn't it??

This is a blog post that I was hoping to never have to write but unfortunately, here I sit writing it. It deals with something that happened to me yesterday that was very scary and traumatic. Writing this blog, for me, is a way of getting some catharsis and sorting through my issues with what happened. First, let me preface by saying that I am physically ok. A little banged up and sore but no permanent damage.
I was mugged yesterday. It was quite scary and traumatic. Three kids tackled me from behind, held me down, put their hands over my mouth so I couldn't scream and then proceeded to dig through my pockets and steal my wallet, cell phone and iPod. They also slapped me on the face a couple times and knocked my glasses and my shoes off. Did I mention this was in broad daylight with witnesses around?? Literally, my first thought was that I was going to be raped. That's how scary it was for me. I was so afraid for my life and am so thankful that they did not have any weapons or anything as the results could have been much worse. I know how lucky I am to be alive and for that I'm grateful.
I have now experienced one of the worst things that a person can experience and I don't know how to deal with it. How does one even begin to process such a violent episode like that?? I'm still really shaken up by the incident and had a hard time falling asleep last night because I kept replaying the attack all night in my head. Normally, on Friday afternoons, I'm the only one home but this particular Friday, my roommate Mara just happened to have the day off work and let me use her cellphone to make all the necessary phone calls and such. I don't know what I would have done if she hadn't been home. How would I have called the police or called to cancel my credit and debit cards?? I also keep wondering what would have happened to me if it had happened at night?? Would I have ended up dead or severely beaten or raped or whatever else??
I know some of you reading this are full of the idea that the big cities are dangerous, bad places and so this post will only confirm that for you and I am not gonna lie that there is a part of me that just wants to hop on the next plane home to Texas and never come back and go back to my old life which was safe but boring. However, I know that that is not the appropriate response to this. It won't do me any good to run away from these issues. This could have happened anywhere and does happen anywhere. There really is no such thing as safe anymore. I would have never thought that something like that would have happened in broad daylight on a busy street in the middle of the day two blocks from my house. I've always felt safe everywhere I've gone but this attack has taken me out of that mode. I've now come to realize that the world is a big, scary, dangerous place and sometimes bad things happen when you least expect it. Who would have ever thought that it would be safer to walk down the streets of NYC by yourself at night than it would be to walk home from the grocery store in your Chicago neighborhood in broad daylight??
One of the many issues that I was working on with my therapist before I moved was the issue of always wanting to blame myself for things. Whenever something bad has happened to me, I have always tended to tell myself that I deserved it or that I had earned it. Unfortunately, I have found myself doing that again with my attack. If I hadn't gone to that particular grocery store or if I hadn't gone by myself or if I had just stayed home and gone to the store the next day, this never would have happened. I know I shouldn't blame myself for it but how can I not?? It's hard not to blame myself and I suspect that many people have the same problem. I'm almost afraid to leave the house now for fear something else will happen to me, not that there is anything else for people to steal. However, I can't continue to blame myself and I can't let my fear paralyze me. I have to move on and accept the fact that it happened and that I will probably never get my stuff back and live with the aftermath of that.
Please don't be worried about me. Or do but know that I'm relatively ok. I've experienced a traumatic event and so it may be a while until I am fully recovered but I will eventually be whole again. I'm trying not to be angry with myself or with God but I could sure use any words of encouragement and support that people could provide. I will tell you one thing, I am definitely missing my support net back in Texas right now. The physical scars will fade but the emotional scars will be there for some time. However, I know that I will be ok. After all, as we've heard over and over again in the last month, it gets better!! At least, I sure hope it does!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Georgia on my Mind

"God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called."

So, I wanted to use this post to let you know all about my weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I flew down there to look at Columbia Theological Seminary. I was hoping that by actually setting foot on the campus, I would get a better idea of where I am going and what I am doing with my life. I hoped that the weekend would help me find some clarity and give me an idea if indeed seminary is where I should go.
I arrived Friday afternoon and was promptly picked up at the airport by one of their current students. We spent the entire ride there talking about the school and why she decided to go there and what made her feel called to seminary. It was a good conversation and I appreciated the fact that she was honest with me. We got to the campus and I promptly got checked in and had some time to walk around campus and enjoy the sights. The campus is absolutely gorgeous and fall was there in full bloom which was great for this Texas boy to see.
Since I had some free time that afternoon, I had made arrangements to spend some time with one of my good friends from college who lives in Atlanta now. She picked me up on campus and took me out for frozen yogurt (which I always love) and we walked around downtown Decatur. The town is breathtaking and feels very homey and has that small-town feel that I have always found appealing. It kinda reminded me of my hometown in a way or at least the parts of my hometown that I like. After yogurt and a walking tour, she then took me to this great bar for a beer and more conversation. It was just really great to get to catch up with her and talk for a while about our lives and what has been going on in them. I always like having those kind of conversations with people so it was nice to just have a chance to chat over a beer and get caught up. I had to be back at the campus by 6 so she dropped me off and I then went to the dinner that had been arranged for all the prospective students that weekend. I personally wasn't a huge fan of it. It just felt really formal and stiff and I felt very awkward and out of place and underdressed and just really wasn't too happy about it. Fortunately, that didn't last that long and we were then divided into small groups to go have dessert at faculty houses. This I liked more as it was much more informal and less people to talk to. We met with current students and professors and had a nice Q & A session about the school and why it could be a great fit for us. Very low-pressure and intimate which is how I like things. That was it for the day so I promptly went back to my room and went to bed.
Saturday was a very full and busy day as it was filled with sessions and a tour of campus housing and a panel discussion and an interview with admissions and lots of other stuff. My interview went really well and I was able to talk about why I was considering seminary and also get some of my questions answered in regards to the school. The interview was very informal and I really felt comfortable talking with her about my story and everything. There was a panel discussion after chapel about the different forms of ministry and what each had to offer us. The housing at Columbia is great and I was really impressed by what they had to offer to their students. Definitely a lot to offer in that respect even if cell phone reception is spotty in some of the halls. The session in financial aid was the one I was most nervous about attending but it actually went better than I thought it would. Turns out Columbia is way cheaper than my undergrad was!! That was a relief although I am definitely going to have to get some great financial aid offers if I am going to be going anywhere for school. Guess who has to fill out the FAFSA this next year??!! Anyway, after all our sessions were over the school hosted a big, Italian dinner for us and all the current seminary students. The food was great and there was a live jazz band that played all during dinner. Great music, great food, great company and ice cream for dessert!! What more could one ask for??!! Well, after that, I had agreed to go have some drinks with my friend that goes to Columbia. We ended up going to the same bar that everyone else was going to and it really was a great way to end the day. Everybody just hanging out and playing shuffleboard or darts or just simply talking over a glass of beer. What an experience and really made me feel a lot more comfortable about the whole weekend.
Sunday morning, I went with my friend to church and then had pizza afterwards and then it was time for me to head to the airport to fly back to Chicago.
I had a really positive experience this past weekend and more importantly, I think I found some purpose in my life. The whole weekend, I really felt the presence of God leading me to seminary. I could feel myself going there and I could articulate reasons why I think it is the right move for me. Now, I really feel like being a seminary student is the right next move for me. I'm not certain that I will be going for an MDiv and I am not entirely convinced that Columbia is the right fit for me but I now definitely feel that my next move should be applying for seminaries. The more I think about it, the more I realize how perfect a fit it is for me. I think I've known for years that it was the right move for me but have always been resistant until now. Not sure what type of ministry I want to work in yet but it's still early. I would love to do youth or campus ministry or Christian Education or even start a music/drama ministry somewhere. I think that I bring a lot of skills and a lot of experience to the table that will help me in this endeavor. I surely do hope that God is leading me down the right path and that he will help me achieve this goal. He knows my reservations and so I hope that he will help me get past those. I feel a sense of peace with my decision and no longer feel like I am just drifting through life anymore. I had a long talk with God about this decision and I sincerely believe that me going to seminary is truly the path that he wants me to walk down.
All I have to do now is begin filling out applications and just hope and pray that everything works out in my favor. I do sincerely hope that all of you reading this will support me in this endeavor. I know that not everybody who reads this is a religious person and some of you may be even anti-religion and that is all well and good but I do still hope that you will accept and support my decision. I think I am finally walking down the path that God wants me to walk and that is such a good feeling to finally have that sense of clarity. I think things are finally starting to come together for me and my life. Proof that becoming a YAV was truly the best decision I ever made. Thanks, everyone, for continuing to read this and comment on it. You guys are the reason that I am able to do this and without your support, I would be nowhere and would probably still be drifting aimlessly. I will make sure to keep you guys updated on this whole process. I still have some other schools I want to visit before I make my final decision so I have some time. Thanks for reading this really long and in some cases incoherent post!! Remember, God loves you (and so do I).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Life after YAV or Decisions, Decisions??!!

Hello, everybody and sorry I haven't posted in a while but I have been super busy. I'm not the best at keeping up with blogs. I always say I will and then I don't. Anyway, on to other things. I have mentioned before that I have been doing some vocational discernment during my time here. That's how I came to the conclusion that professional acting was no longer meant to be for me. Now that I have abandoned that life goal, I'm a little confused as to what comes next. So, I decided to do what any good blogger does and share with you where my thoughts and feelings are going today. I'm not necessarily looking for advice (although I know some of you will be offering it anyway). I'm just merely sharing the different avenues and career/life options that have been in my head over the last few years and most especially now that I am here. Please note that I am also not presenting these options in the order that they are the most appealing to me.
Option 1) Go to Seminary - Whether it be to get an MDiv or a Masters in Christian Education or some combination thereof, this is the option that has been weighing on my heart a lot over the past few years. It's also the one that I struggle with the most because I just don't know if it is the right fit for me. I'm actually leaving in the morning for Atlanta, Georgia to go look at Columbia Seminary and I am hoping that over the course of the weekend, I can get some clarity on if this is the path that God is leading me down. I've developed or acquired a lot of gifts that could be used perfectly in the ministry including my music and drama skills as both of those go hand-in-hand with the ministry. I also love talking about and debating about religion and theology. I just think it is the most fascinating subject and I think that is why seminary holds so much appeal to me. My reservations are that it won't be the right fit for me and my gifts and that I wouldn't have Sundays off. I'm definitely not 100% sold on this option but as of right now, it definitely sounds the most appealing.
Option 2) Masters in Social Work/Become a Social Worker -This could potentially be combined with Seminary as many offer a dual degree program. I just love helping people and feel that social work would be an excellent fit for me as I love the work they do and think it is an absolutely vital service that needs to be offered. I wouldn't get rich doing it but then, who needs money anyway??!!
Option 3) Go Work for a Non-Profit/Social Service Agency - Admittedly, this could also be combined with one of the first two options. I can't see myself ever again working for a big corporation (been there, done that) so these kinds of agencies really appeal to me. The work they do is so important and I think I could bring a lot to their various agencies. I was really hoping to work for a non-profit during my YAV year so I could test it out and figure out if that was the right option for me which is what makes this one less appealing as I have absolutely no idea if I would like it, having never done it.
Option 4) Writing/Editing/Publishing/Journalism - Again, this could potentially be combined with any of the other three. I get complimented all the time on how good my writing is and I must admit that I do love to write. It's been a secret dream of mine to someday be a paid film critic but that is a career that is dying out quickly so I am not sure that I will achieve that one. Still, it does seem like a good career choice for me. The pay is absolutely terrible and the hours can often be miserable but it would be doing something I love which is the most important thing.
Option 5) Do a second YAV year - I really like the YAV program and could easily see myself doing a second year. There are so many other sites that I would love to participate in (although right now my heart really is in Tucson). Plus, it means I could delay this whole decision-making process for another year. That's always an appealing reason to do something, right??!!
Option 6) Counseling/Therapy - Again, this could easily be combined with another option. I'm a great listener and I love helping people work out their problems. This field practically requires that as part of the job description. Plus, a lot of therapists get to set their own schedule and how many clients they see so I could easily make my own schedule which is really appealing and I could even do this part-time while doing one of the other options full or part-time. As many issues as I have dealt with in my past, I am someone who knows how to get through those hard times so I think that my credibility and experience would make this a really good fit for me.
Option 7) Master's in Public Affairs or Public Administration - There is so much that I could do with one of these two degrees to help better the world. I could become a government official and work to change the policies that directly affect the afflicted people. I could be a school official and help improve education for our children. I could work in a corporation or small business and work to improve things that way. There are literally dozens of options with one of these two degrees.

Ok, I think that about covers everything that I am considering right now. Like I said, a lot of these options could be combined with something else so I can potentially do more than one. I know that they say you should "do what you love" and all those other cliches but what do you do when you love so many different things?? I could easily see myself loving and completely thriving at any of these seven options so what do I do?? Like I said, I am not looking for any advice but I know some of you will want to throw your hat into the ring, so to speak, so please do feel free to comment on here, facebook me, email me, text me, call me, send up smoke signals or whatever else you would like and give me your thoughts on the matter. I know it may still be early in the YAV year to start thinking about what will I do afterwards but many graduate schools require applications to be in fairly soon and I need time to do some research on them so I need to seriously start figuring this out. The biggest hurdles to graduate school for me are the cost (so I'd better get some serious financial aid if I do choose this route) and the fact that I am scared about getting in. I didn't exactly have the most stellar GPA in undergrad so I am going to have to have some really good recommendation letters and personal statements or else it is not happening. Three years ago, I decided that my five year plan included going to grad school so that means that I should be prepared to start it next fall, right?? Although I can always revise my five year plan if needed. I do really want to go back to school as I just miss that whole experience of academia and being a student again and having summers and Christmas off!!
Whatever option I choose, my biggest fear is that I will be a failure at it. I would hate to choose grad school and then drop out after a year or two or choose one of the career paths and then not be good at it and quit. Fear of failure is what holds me back from doing so many things I have wanted to do over the years. It's also the reason I almost didn't do YAV. Yet, I can't let my fear paralyze me from getting my life together and moving forward. I have to choose something

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"There's No Business Like Show Business!!". . . or is there??

When you lose your dream, you die.
Dreams change; friends are forever.
So, during my time in Chicago, I have had a lot of time for reflection. Lately I've even started doing some vocation discernment and writing in my journal about where I think God is leading me and what I am learning about myself this year. I just have to say that the answers I have been coming up with have been surprising and not necessarily the answers I was looking for. However, having had a few days to digest and process everything, I really feel like the answers I've come up with really are the answers that God wanted me to come up with and I've made a sort of peace with the decisions.
Let me explain by giving you some background here. Ever since I was a little kid, there has been exactly one dream that I have had and wanted to accomplish: becoming famous. That has literally been the desire that has driven my entire life and has been responsible for a lot of the decisions that I have made over the last several years. I started doing theatre 12 years ago because I believed that would be the best route to accomplishing that goal. I convinced myself that theatre would be the only path that would bring me any happiness. I've been telling people for years that my two major life goals are to win an Oscar and star on Broadway.
I've realized, though, that therein lies the problem. I have been focusing too much on performing for the glory and the accolades. That's not really what it is supposed to be about. Performing is supposed to be about the thrill and the adventure of playing a part and getting invested in a character and making new friends and such. For me, though, it has never been about that. It has always been about getting the glory and the accolades and being the center of attention. I have been doing it for all the wrong reasons and I think that explains why I haven't had the greatest success with it. I've done over 20 shows and yet I've had mostly minor roles or backstage roles in most of them. I'm realizing now that that is perhaps God's way of saying that I am just not meant to make a career of it. I haven't been doing it for the right reasons and yet when I think about trying to do it for the right reasons, I find that my enthusiasm for doing it at all is muted at best.
I'm just tired of the "drama" in drama. The long nights, the multiple rehearsals, the immaturity of so many out there, the constantly having to do the same thing over and over. It just wears me down and yet I kept at it because I was determined to make something of myself and become a big star in the industry. I just wanted the Oscar and that has been why I have been willing to subject myself to all the tedium and drama that comes with doing theatre. I really hate doing the same thing over and over. I used to tell people that I hated rehearsing but loved performing!! I hate auditioning because I make terrible first impressions and lack the self-confidence in myself and my abilities that seems to be a need in order to make it in the business. I convinced myself that it would all be worth it someday when I was onstage giving my Oscar acceptance speech which I had had written since I was 5 years old.
A big part of the reason why I wanted to serve in Chicago was because it would be a great place for an aspiring actor to start out his career that was less cutthroat than New York City. However, I'm realizing that God sent me to Chicago to help me realize that there is something better out there waiting for me. Doing theatre helped me develop gifts that I can take with me into other careers: public speaking, self-confidence, projecting to a crowd and many others. These are skills that I have developed thanks to my many years of theatre and they are skills that I can take with me into any other vocation of mine and God's choosing. They're also skills that a lot of people out there don't possess and would love to have.
The above quotes represent two different dichotomies when it comes to dreams. The whole point of this post is simply to say that I have realized that maybe my dreams need to change (if they ever really were my dreams). I simply don't have the passion or the talent for the theatre biz anymore. I was doing it for purely selfish rather than selfless reasons and let my own selfish pursuit of glory and accolades take precedence over just having fun and enjoying myself. I wasn't using my talent for the right reasons but also can't see myself wanting to do it for the right reasons. I'm not saying I won't ever do another show again just that I don't think that it is meant to be my career ambition anymore. I'm glad I realized this now even if it does mean that I have to now figure out who God is wanting me to be (I've got some ideas in that regard but don't want to say anything on here until it feels more firmed up). Sometimes God has a funny way of getting his message to us. Before I left to come to Chicago, I was convinced that once I was done, I was going to settle down in Chicago and become a professional actor. Now, here I am two months into my YAV year thinking seriously about leaving that dream behind, perhaps permanently. I haven't let my dream die but simply realized that perhaps that never really was my dream at all.
It's scary to think that I could potentially be giving up the stage and that whole business permanently. It's really all I have been heavily involved in over the last twelve years. Yet, I have come to realize that I started doing it simply for the attention and not because it was something I wanted to do. Now, I am forced to re-evaluate everything I know and hope that those of you out there reading this will support me as I make this quite momentous decision. I'm almost afraid to publish this and even put the idea out there that I might be "retiring" from the stage, again. I know that means people will be holding me accountable and that I have to live up to what I promise. This doesn't mean that I can't still be involved in the business, just from an outsider's perspective. I will still be a movie buff and will still always want to go to a theatrical event of any kind but won't be participating. Last time I "retired" from the stage, it lasted three years so who knows how long this one will last. I think theatre will always be a part of me and I am very grateful to it and the friends I have made through it. It helped get me through some really rough patches in my life and I am glad that it helped me develop some useful life skills. However, it's time for me to move on and work at becoming a new person. What that means, yet, I don't know. For now, let's just say I am a work in progress!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Crop Walk 2010

Hello all, I know what you're thinking. Wow, three posts in one week. He must have a lot to say of import. Well, that's sorta true. This post is all about what I will be spending next Sunday afternoon doing. You see, this year I am participating in the 2010 CROP Hunger Walk which raises awareness and money around the issue of world hunger. It's an important cause, one that I believe very strongly in and one that I am proud to take part in. The walk will take me throughout downtown Chicago and along the lakefront so it will be a beautiful walk, at the very least. There is a team from LakeView doing it so it will give me a chance to visit with them as we walk and chat and look at the sights and such. It's a 10K which is a little daunting but as someone who successfully completed a 5K run this summer, I think I can handle it. Each walker is asked to raise money for their walk although there is no set amount that we have to fundraise. A good minimum they give us is $120 because that will feed a family of five for an entire month. I've set my minimum at $150 just to go above and beyond. I can't tell you how excited I am to be participating in this event and I hope you are excited about it too. I also hope that those of you reading this with the funds will donate at least something to my fundraising efforts. This is such an important cause and one that I feel strongly about. Global hunger is an epidemic that affects far too many people. Over the last seven years, I have been proud to participate in the 30-Hour Famine program and that one really speaks to the issue of global hunger as well. The CROP walk is just an extension of that program so every dollar raised helps one more family overcome their conditions and live without hunger. If my efforts can help just one family, then they will be worth it. I hope you will consider donating toward this important and worthwhile cause.
To make a secure, online, tax-deductible donation, please type the following URL into your web browser: http://www.churchworldservice.org/site/TR/2010FallCROPHungerWalk/TeamRaiser-Fall2010?px=1469972&pg=personal&fr_id=6564.

That will take you straight to
personal fundraising page where you can follow the link to donate. Thanks so much!! BTW, the walk takes place on October 17th so I only have 9 more days to meet my goal!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why DO Bad Things Happen to Good People??

"Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."
Marilyn Monroe

This week at Young Adult Bible Study, we discussed why bad things happen and how a God who is all-knowing and all-seeing could allow bad things to happen in the world. If God truly loves his creation then how could he allow bad things to happen to those who he loves. We watched a video about the topic and it did a good job of explaining the concept but didn't provide any easy answers mainly cause there aren't any answers. During discussion after the video, we read the story of Joseph and talked about how the story relates to the concepts of bad things happening to good people. In Joseph's case, he was sold into slavery by his own brothers and was assumed dead by his own father. However, in Joseph's case, he ended up in a much better situation than he started out in. The quote above by Marilyn Monroe is one that I have taken as a personal motto for myself and one that I have found to be true more often than not. In the case of Joseph, he had a good thing going living in a household with a large family with a father who adored him and a Technicolor Dreamcoat. All that was taken away by his brothers' jealousy and things looked pretty bleak for Joseph. However, he ended up in a better situation because of what his brothers did to him. If he had stayed in his old situation, he would have been subjected to the same famine that plagued his family and might not have lived to carry on the legacy of his people. Instead, he ended up being in a position of power and was able to help those who were affected by the famine. Plus, he got a great Broadway musical out of the deal!!
So, as you can see, a bad thing happened to Joseph but it turned into something good maybe even great. I think that's the nature of most bad things that happen in our lives. God takes them and makes something beautiful out of the midst of tragedy. Look at the cross for another example. Out of that absolutely horrific and terrible event sprang the hope and salvation of all mankind. Sometimes, it's simply about seeing the beauty in the midst of the tragedy.
Of course, this doesn't allow for the larger question of why do bad things have to happen at all?? Can't God simply not let bad things happen?? If he really is all powerful, he should be able at least to end human suffering, right?? Honestly, I don't really have an answer for that and we never really found an answer for it at Bible Study either. I don't think there is an answer. I sincerely believe that everything happens for a reason but then, as someone pointed out last night, what about the Holocaust? Did God allow the Holocaust to happen? Was he simply powerless to stop it? Why did the Holocaust happen? Where's the silver lining in the extermination of millions of people in such a horrific and horrid way? The easy answer is I don't know. I don't know why things like the Holocaust or Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 happen. I just know they do and they are tragic and scary at the same time. It's a question that I think many Christians struggle with and I think a lot of atheists cite it as a reason why they don't believe in God. I can see their point. If God could stop the Holocaust and chose not to, then is that really a God we want to worship and adore?? Or alternatively, if God was powerless to stop the Holocaust, then what kind of God is that?? Certainly not one that most of us would want to worship. It's easy to take that route and choose not to believe in God at all for to believe in God means that we must struggle with the fact that he could have potentially chosen not to stop the bad things from happening.
I know I have been hitting hard the fact that I used to be an atheist but it's because those years of unbelief have completely shaped and informed my years of belief. Another reason I was an atheist had to do with the fact that I saw so much tragedy and pain happening in my personal life and I had a hard time reconciling that with the idea that there was an all-powerful, all-loving God. If God was truly like that, then why couldn't he just fix everything and make it all better. Why did so many people that I loved and respected have to suffer such incredible pain and loss?? Why couldn't he have made me "normal" so I would fit in with my peers? All these questions weighed heavily on my mind and I chose not to believe in a God that would have that kind of attitude toward his creation. Now, I still wrestle with those questions but now I have chosen to believe that God gave us free will and lets us make our own choices, for better or for worse. God doesn't make any mistakes but humans sure do. God still loves us even when we commit unspeakable acts of violence and inhumanity because we are his beloved children. He made us the way we are and we should embrace it. Ultimately, while I don't have an answer for why bad things happen to good people or why God doesn't just stop those things from happening, I can honestly say that my God gave us the free will to make our own decisions and our own mistakes but irregardless of those decisions, he still loves us anyway even when we don't love ourselves or him. That's the most important part of my religious beliefs: the idea that God loves us no matter what we have done or who we are or how we treat others. He still cares deeply for us and doesn't want bad things to happen to us. Humans make the choice to commit acts of unspeakable evil and God gave us that choice so that we might know suffering and compassion.
Perhaps my thoughts sound really jumbled and perhaps I'm not making much sense. Maybe some of you are wondering when I'm going to stop writing about theology and start writing more about my life in Chicago. Those are all valid points but my life in Chicago includes my theology as it is something I have to deal with on a daily basis. My Christian faith is being stretched and challenged in so many ways while I am up here and I feel the need to share it with you all and get my thoughts on these matters out there. I hope that's okay with you all. Pretty soon, I will get back to posting about life in Chicago although to be honest, there's not really that much to add to the conversation there. Things are still great here so far. I sometimes fear that I am going to run out of things to blog about as my life up here is not one exciting adventure after another. Anyway, that's all I have for today. I've had theology on the brain a lot this week between this week's Bible Study and this week's episode of Glee (one of the finest they've ever done) so I just needed to share it with you all. Remember, God (and I) loves You!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Anne Rice and Quitting Christianity

In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.
Anne Rice

In Sunday School at LakeView this week, we talked about this quote and discussed the implications of it. I don't often get to attend the Sunday School class because I'm usually running around doing things during that time but I am glad I got to come this week as this is a quote that has really been on my mind for the past couple of months. As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent several years as an atheist and some of that had to do with the fact that I didn't approve of the hatred that I was seeing Christians participate in. I have always believed that God loves everyone and that hatred has no place in Christianity. Growing up in a fairly conservative area, I was subjected to a lot of hatred and vitriol being spewed in the name of Christ. It really put a bitter taste in my mouth toward the whole concept of Christianity. I personally didn't want to believe in a God that would preach hatred toward others and didn't want to be associated with that. So, I decided that I would just become an atheist and not be affiliated with Christianity at all.
So, as you can see, I should be sympathetic toward Anne Rice and her reasons for quitting a religion that admittedly has plenty of reasons not to be a part of it. However, where I take issue with Rice is how quick she is to label all Christians as bad and put them in a box. I've come to realize that not all Christians are anti-gay, anti-birth control, anti-science etc. and that is the kind of Christianity that I belong to. I have no issues with those Christians that believe differently, I just strongly disagree with them and am quick to make that known to them. That kind of Christianity is the kind that turned me off to the religion in the first place.
Being a follower of Christ is not easy and there are plenty of times when I don't always want to believe or want to yell at the conservative evangelicals that they are wrong but ultimately, I choose to follow an imperfect religion because I myself am imperfect. It's only recently (really since I signed on to be a YAV) that I have even felt comfortable calling myself a Christian. I used to be so ashamed to call myself a Christian because I was afraid that people would lump me in with the evangelicals and that was not me at all. I'm no longer ashamed to call myself a Christian because if people know I am a Christian, hopefully that will change their views on Christians. It's my job as a Christian to exhibit the love of God and the openness of the Holy Spirit and if through that, people get a new perspective on Christianity, then all the better. Being a Christian means taking the good with the bad. I believe that the media likes to portray Christianity in a negative light. All you ever hear about on TV is the Westboro Baptist Church and such but you almost never hear about the good things that Christianity is doing in the world. Yes, Christianity is responsible for a lot of absolutely terrible things but it has also been responsible for some wonderful things and I think that needs to be acknowledged as well. Rice and so many others like to paint Christianity in a bad light and as Christians we need to be more vocal about how wrong they are about us. The majority of non-Christians will never view Christianity in a positive light unless those of us who are the "liberal" Christians stand up and let our voices be heard. I'm not trying to knock conservative evangelicals as they are children of God and followers of Christ too. I'm simply saying that those of us who are pro-gay rights, pro-choice, pro-birth control and Christians need to let people know that we exist and that there is another way to think about God and the Bible. Otherwise, we risk alienating and losing even more people like Rice who have become disillusioned and disheartened with the church and what they perceive to be its message of intolerance.
Rice may be a fantastic writer (I wouldn't know, I haven't read her stuff) but she deeply offends me when she attempts to label all Christians as intolerant and homophobic etc. That's not the Christianity I proclaim and it is not one that is endorsed by the YAV program. I am proud to say I am a Christian and will remain one now and forevermore. The church isn't perfect but neither am I and that is why I remain with it. Hallelujah and AMEN!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why I Wanted to be a YAV

It occurred to me that I never really talked on here about why I wanted to serve as a Young Adult Volunteer. I think that may help some people better understand my reasons for choosing to do the program.
First, let me start by saying that talking about this topic is incredibly personal and difficult in some ways. Yet, I believe it is important to be completely honest with this blog and give people an idea of where I'm coming from so they can better understand where I'm going and how crucial this journey is for me. I can't let my past define me but I can use it to my advantage in other ways.
I have spent the last 25 years of my life in Texas. That alone was reason enough to desire a change. I'm not bad-mouthing Texas (believe me, I know better than to try and do that on so public a space) but simply saying that spending a quarter-century in the same place around the same people can be really draining. I've never really felt like I could be myself there as too many people knew me and knew my past. I think living in your hometown is probably not the best thing for one's self-identity, especially once you reach adulthood. I felt like I had an image that I had to present to people but that that image didn't necessarily reflect who I really was anymore. I knew I needed to make a change soon as I felt myself reverting back to being that same person I was as a teenager.
My adolescent years were difficult to say the least. I think that's pretty true for most adolescents and I dealt with the same pressures as everyone else: the pressure to fit in, to get good grades, to get into a good school etc. Needless to say, I pushed myself way too hard and spent most of high school battling depression and being extremely suicidal. During college, I started to finally find my way a little bit but then after college, I moved back home and things went down-hill again. Fortunately, this time I was able to recognize that I was starting to revert back to my old ways of thinking and that's when I knew that a change needed to happen before it was too late. I decided to finally take the plunge and do something good for myself and applied for YAV on a whim not really thinking about what I was signing up for. I just knew that I needed to get away from my old life and my old habits before I started that downward spiral again.
Another factor in my decision was the service aspect. I have always found it important to give back to one's community and/or country in some aspect. Over the years, I have applied or served in various ways with various service organizations and YAV just represents the latest. I felt drawn to it also because it is about more than just service to country, it represents service to God. I have learned over the years that I need to do a better job of serving God and so I was hopeful that serving as a YAV would help with that. I needed to start making God more of a priority in my life instead of an option and so I hoped that my year of service would help with that process. So far, it already has but there is still a long road to go.
I'm now going to talk about a time in my life that was very difficult to get through and that I am still struggling with. This period of my life was very dark and even now it is difficult to discuss. I will not be naming names on here but I think if you know me at all, you may be able to guess about whom I might be referring to. This is one area of my past that a lot of my friends don't know about because it is something that I have only recently been able to open up about and felt comfortable discussing. I'm referring to the years and years of emotional and verbal abuse I suffered at the hands of people in my life. For the longest time (until just about a year ago, in fact), I was constantly put down, told I was no good, was told that I would never be anything but a freak and a weirdo and constantly suffered scorn and disdain everywhere I turned. It's easy to say that that was just the normal teenage experience and that I should have sucked it up and dealt with it but it's not that easy to believe that when you are that age. Teenagers are very vulnerable people and so for years I believed what people were telling me: that I was worthless, stupid, ungrateful, awkward, anorexic and so many more. I had a lot of self-loathing and so believed that all these things were true about me. I constantly tried to win people's approval and when that didn't work, I would sink into a very deep depression. I was so desperate for someone to notice me and love me because I didn't love myself. I came very close to killing myself on more than one occasion and still don't know what stopped me from doing it. I also became an atheist during those years because I was convinced that even God didn't love me anymore. After all, how could God possibly love a loser like me?? Of course, the fact that I didn't believe in God made me even more of a target. Needless to say, those years were very dark and depressing. Going to college helped with a lot of those issues but like I said earlier, graduating college started the whole cycle over again. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I drifted aimlessly from one dead-end job to another not really sure what my purpose in life was. I got right back into the cycle of abuse as well and that certainly didn't help matters any. It wasn't until I started going to counseling earlier this year that I finally began to climb out of that hole that I had dug for myself. I finally had a chance to start the healing process.
That, for me, represents the biggest reason why I decided to become a YAV. It gives me a chance to heal from all the abuse. Getting away from my past and away from the places where all the abuse happened is an important step in the healing process for me. I'm finally able to let the scars heal and continue the process that I started with my therapist. I knew that the only way I would ever be truly able to change would be by moving and starting over fresh. I'm finally starting to become the person I have always wanted to be. I'm happier, healthier, more full of life and most importantly, I like myself. That's the biggest improvement right there. I started engaging in some really self-destructive habits in my late teens and early twenties because I didn't love myself so I didn't care about myself either. Now, I have started to make up for those bad habits by good self-care. I haven't eaten fast food in over a month because I have realized that it is so bad for my body. I'm not saying that I won't ever eat fast food again but it is good to know that after so many years of eating fast food almost every day that I can give it up and start taking better care of my body. That's just one of the many ways that the YAV program has already played a big part in my growth. I think I am just now growing into the person God wanted me to be all along. It sure is a good feeling to know that. I hope you will continue to follow me on this journey of self-healing. It's not gonna be easy but it will be an interesting ride.
Well, there ya go. Now, I hope you have a better idea of why I would voluntarily sign up to do this crazy thing!! I know many of you will be surprised to hear some of these things but I also hope you haven't judged me for it either. I'm not necessarily proud of my past but I am also glad that I made it to the other side of it. Living through those experiences made me the person I am today and so for that I am glad I had them even if they were hard at the time. I'm glad you are reading this and I hope that it helped you in some small way. Remember how the words you say can have such a huge impact on someone's life. Teach your children to not make fun of other children just because they are different. That's the most important thing I can impart to you. Always remind them that they are loved, it might be the most important thing they hear that day. By the way, I'm now proud of the fact that I'm different and celebrate it. Also, I have never been anorexic. I'm just built this way!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Counting My Blessings!!

Note: the idea for this blog entry was stolen from my good friend Stevie (current Tucson YAV and AC grad). However, I modified the format for my own purposes. I have already seen so many ways that I have been blessed since getting here to Chicago so I wanted to go ahead and share with you what some of them are:
At work, I get my own desk, lamp, laptop, phone, key and email address.
My roommates are all Buffy and Arrested Development fans.
I've already been given major responsibilities at work and I've only been there two weeks.
I have a 45 minute commute each way every day which gives me plenty of reading time.
I'm learning how to cook and I am starting to get really good at it.
I live in a house without a TV and I am finding myself actually enjoying the peace and quiet.
I am getting to develop new gifts for ministry that I didn't even know I wanted to develop.
I mentioned to the pastor at LakeView how much I missed playing in Bell Choir and she said they would look into the possibility of adding one at some point over the next year.
I get to use my movie knowledge at work for the benefit of others.
I work with a bunch of Glee fans.
I have time and the space to do Yoga every morning before I go to work
My second day here, I walked into a thrift store that was playing a Faith Hill song.
My friends and family back home miss me but are so proud of me.
So, as you can see, I have been blessed in so many ways just in the two weeks I have been here. I think I am slowly starting to get the hang of this whole being an adult thing. Tonight, I made tacos for dinner and they turned out really well. True, tacos aren't that hard to make but this is me we are talking about here. It represents a major victory in my life. Tomorrow night, I am in charge of Cafe Pride as the Associate Pastor is out of town this weekend. I'm nervous as I have only been once and already I am running it but I have some experienced volunteers helping me so hopefully everything will run smoothly. Must go now as I have a long night tomorrow and must run errands in the morning and afternoon. Remember, Jesus loves You (and so do I)!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bible Study

So, tonight was the first time that I had the pleasure of attending the Young Adult Bible Study at LakeView Presbyterian Church. I have to say I was quite impressed with it overall. The Bible Study starts with a meal at 6:30 PM in which both Bible Study classes eat together before going off to their separate rooms for Bible Study. The Pastor teaches an Intergenerational Bible Study every week and the Associate Pastor leads the Young Adult Bible Study. There were about sixteen of us at the Young Adult Bible Study which was a really large group as I am used to having about five or six people at Bible Study. Tonight's focus was on the question of who is God and really dealt with the concept of how God can be both three in one and one in three. We also discussed the Apostles' Creed and the origins behind the words we use in it. We were also asked at one point to list names for God such as Abba, Father, Sustainer etc. In this, we were able to see that not everyone uses the same name when referring to God but that those names are still the same person. I think there is still much to discuss on this topic and I'm pretty sure we will give it another couple weeks before we move on to the next topic but the idea of the Trinity is such a fundamental concept to my faith yet it is one that I guess I have never really thought that much about. For me, it just has always made sense that God could be the Father, Son and Holy Ghost at the same time. It never really occurred to me that others may have trouble understanding that concept. It really feels great to be able to discuss this concept in an atmosphere where I can hear other people's perceptions of the concept of the Trinity. So far, participating in this Bible Study has proven to be a positive experience and one that looks like it will deepen my spiritual walk with God. I'm glad that I get the opportunity to participate in it and that going to it counts as part of my "work". I think I would go anyway even if it didn't. It's what I have been seeking in a Bible Study. Some deep, theological concepts discussed with people my age who struggle with the same issues I do and have different faith backgrounds than me but can all come together one night a week to discuss these concepts in a safe, affirming environment. I used to always be so anti-Bible study and it is only within the last year or so that I began really craving a deep, intimate relationship with the Bible. I wanted to know more about it and really get into some deep theological concepts with it. Once again, LakeView Presbyterian Church has given me a way to further walk with God and improve my spiritual growth. I'm really starting to feel at home here and Bible Study today just re-affirmed that so much. I have more to report but will do that later this week as I really wanted this post to focus exclusively on Bible Study. Good night and remember, Jesus loves You (and I do too)!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Community Day

Today was our first community day so I thought I would share with y'all what exactly we did on this first one. First, a bit of explanation is in order. The YAV program is very committed to the idea of intentional community so for that reason each site arranges a day when all of that site's YAVs don't work at their placements and instead have a day with each other which can include any number of things based on the site coordinator's discretion. For Chicago, our community days will be spent learning about the city and the many problems and issues that face it. Today, we had a visit from the Life Directions group which is an organization that works with local youth in the schools here and provides mentoring and tutoring services for them to help them stay in school and figure out what is next for them on their journey through life. We talked a lot about what youth in our own neighborhoods worried about and such and where they got their sense of support from and their personal beliefs. I think all of us had the same basic items written down. I, being from a rich, white, conservative suburban area talked about how many of my friends and neighbors worried about getting into the right college and feeling pressured to get the right grades to get into the perfect college because that would lead to the right job which would lead to true happiness or fulfillment or riches or something to that effect. There was a lot of emphasis on the family and many of my friends and neighbors had close, extended families that heavily influenced their lives and such. In doing this exercise, I really saw the disconnect present at least from my perspective. Many of the youth in our neighborhood here in Chicago don't have those same issues. They have to worry about supporting their families and surviving the Chicago Public School System which is not the safest or best environment. College for many of them is a lofty goal and something they are encouraged to try for but more practical matters tend to supercede. I think that really illustrates a major difference between the classes. The rich tend to focus on careers while the poor tend to focus on survival.
We also talked a bit about our own values and belief systems and where we developed them and what helps us sustain them in spite of everything going against us maintaining those values. All in all, we had a rather interesting discussion on these topics and it proved to be a worthwhile exercise. We later spent some time visiting with our site coordinator about Mayor Richard Daley and the fallout from him announcing that he won't be running for re-election. For those of you who don't know, Mayor Daley has served as mayor of Chicago for over 20 years and his father served another 20+ years before him so the Daleys are considered a political dynasty in the city. However, there are many who have accused the mayor of corruption and having mob ties. The legacy of his mayoral term depends on who you ask. Many people will say that he has done a lot of great things for the city of Chicago while others will argue that he has been bad for the city and they are ready to see him go. One thing is for certain and that is that an era is about to end here in Chicago and we are going to be here to witness it personally. It's weird to think that we are going to witness the end of an era and the beginning of a new one over the next few months. It's hard to believe that Daley has been mayor since I was in kindergarten. That means that if I had been born and raised in Chicago that I would literally have no memory of anyone else ever serving as mayor. In fact, I would say that is the case for many Chicago residents as the Daleys combined served as mayor for 42 of the last 50 years. As you can imagine, the political scene here is about to get crazy as lots of mayoral candidates will now be coming out of the woodwork for their chance to be mayor of one of the largest cities in the world. It's an exciting time to be here and I am glad that we get the chance to witness history in the making.
We ended our day by having dinner with the Mennonite Voluntary Service group. These are like YAVs only through the Mennonite Church instead of the Presbyterian Church. They were all really nice and the dinner was great. It was good to have dinner with other people who are experiencing the same kinds of things we are. It's good to know we are not the only ones here who are crazy enough to do this kind of thing for the next year of our life. It's reassuring, to say the least!!
Well, I think that is about all I have to tell today. We also spent part of today cleaning house because when six people live together, things tend to get dirty really fast!! Have to go back to work at our sites tomorrow. Tuesdays are my long days as I will be attending the Young Adult Bible Study on Tuesday nights so I work 1 -9 to make that work. It will make for a long but hopefully fulfilling day!! I must get to bed in order to prep for that long work day tomorrow. Remember, Jesus loves you (and I do too)!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cafe Pride and My First Sunday at Lakeview

So, Friday night was my first night volunteering with Cafe Pride. We had a really small crowd that first night which was fine with me since I was feeling overwhelmed with everything already anyway. Lakeview provides a safe, comfortable space for the youth to just hang out, play cards, watch TV, play ping-pong or foosball or just sit around and visit with each other or the adult volunteers. All in all, I really enjoyed myself and was able to talk with several of the youth about their likes and dislikes and get to know them somewhat. Most of the ones that came Friday were regulars but there were several new people there as well and I do hope that the new people had a good experience and will come back again. I don't know how many of the youth that were there Friday are homeless. I hope they all have homes but I fear that is probably not the case. I hate that homelessness exists in the world especially for the young people. Nobody should ever have to be homeless. If that makes me a liberal, then so be it. One thing I have discovered in the brief time I have been living here is that I am becoming more and more liberal by the day. I was already very liberal but after seeing what I have seen here plus living with the people I live with, I can't stress enough how angry it makes me to see what I have seen. Why does poverty have to exist in our world?? Why do people have to hate and preach intolerance?? Why CAN'T we all just get along?? It irks me that sometimes people try and make the argument that "people are poor because they want to be" or that "a person can't be born gay because God hates homosexuals". I haven't found either of those to be true in my experience. We are all created by a God who loves us and wants nothing but the best for us. Nobody wants to be poor or homeless. Nobody chooses their sexual orientation; it is a gift given by God. Sorry to get political on here but I just really needed to get that off my chest. If I can simply impart those words of wisdom to the youth that come to Cafe Pride, then I feel like I will have accomplished something important and productive with my year.
This morning marked the first time that I had the opportunity to worship at Lakeview and I gotta tell ya, it was totally worth the wait. The church building is absolutely gorgeous. The sanctuary is beautiful (even if they do have pews which is an adjustment I am going to have to make) and the two worship services I attended were both powerful. The pastor is a very effective preacher and gets really emotional during her sermons which makes them all the more powerful. Yes, the pastor is a woman and so is the Associate Pastor and almost all of the staff there. It's refreshing to see a church that is run mostly by women and really signals a positive change in the Presbyterian Church. I've always preferred the company of women over men so that has made me feel much more comfortable walking into a brand-new, unknown space. I felt so welcomed and accepted there today. The pastor had me stand as she introduced me and made it clear that the staff were thrilled to have me there for the year. I'm an introvert so being introduced to so many new people in such a short span of time was really nerve-wracking but it worked out for me in the end. The pastor even mentioned me in her sermon!! How awesome is that!! Definitely satisfied my inner celebrity!! The services themselves were great and really touched on the themes of new beginnings (as today marked the beginning of the new Sunday School classes) and seeking out the lost. Earlier this week, a Chicago teenager in one of the public schools was shot to death. The pastor didn't know the child or anybody affiliated with him but she made it a point to mention him during the sermon to emphasize her point that violence and hatred are not God's way. I realize I am over-simplifying it here and that there was way more to her sermon than that but I think that was what stuck out the most for me. This week, we have seen a lot of hatred and bigotry on the news in relation to the 9/11 anniversary and it saddens me because that is not a Christian response. I know I'm getting political here again but I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't threaten to burn the Qu'ran or call all Muslims terrorists. At least, not the Jesus that I know and love. Anyway, at the beginning of the service, the pastor lit a candle in memory of the Chicago teenager that was killed this week and proceeded to say that she will light a candle every week for every Chicago youth that dies this school year. I hope that she doesn't have to light anymore but sadly I fear she will. It saddens and sickens me that she even has to do it at all. Needless to say, both services were incredibly powerful and I really felt like I fit in there. After the 11:00 service, the church hosted a rally on the lawn for new-comers to learn about all the different organizations and committees that they can get involved with at Lakeview. Yours truly committed to help with the newsletter (because I really miss using my journalism background) and attend the Young Adult Bible Study. They're trying to recruit me for the choir but I resisted. I just don't want to get over-involved and burn out. I think between my official duties there plus Bible Study and the newsletter that that is more than enough for me right now. I'm really making an effort to make this living in intentional community thing work and that requires me not to be super busy and gone all the time. It's hard but it's worth it. I admit to having some reservations about working at Lakeview when I found out that they didn't have a youth group or a bell choir (two of my favorite activities at my church back home). I had a very long conversation with God and definitely questioned if this was going to be the right fit for me. I really wanted to do youth ministry and work with a youth group. I knew that is where my gifts lie.I definitely wasn't sure what I would be doing or how I could use my gifts but I have realized now that Lakeview Presbyterian Church is actually the perfect place for me at this point in my spiritual journey. It's allowing me to develop and strengthen other gifts that I haven't been using and it is allowing me to explore the realm of urban ministry which is something I have zero experience with. I guess God really knew what he was doing, after all!! Funny how that works sometimes!! I now have no doubts or questions and really feel that God put me in this place and at this church for a reason. I still don't have all the answers as to why but I have a better idea now than I did two months ago.
That's all for today's edition. Tomorrow we have our very first community day and I will fill you in on what that is after it is over. Also, the postal service here is sketchy and apparently doesn't want to deliver mail to me so from now on, use the following address to send me anything:
425 S. Central Park Avenue
Chicago, IL 60624
I still can't guarantee that I will get it but you may increase your chances!! Also, thanks for the recipes you have sent me so far. Last night marked the first time I have ever cooked for more than one person and it went really well. I made cheese enchiladas with spanish rice and they tasted great!! I am so proud of myself and already looking forward to cooking again. I think I really can handle this whole growing up business!! Who'da thunk it??!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Placement!!

I wanted to go ahead and let you all know more about my placement now that I have started working there. We all started at our placements on Tuesday of this week. I am working at Lakeview Presbyterian Church, which is three blocks from Wrigley Field and also really close to Lake Michigan. The church was founded in 1884 and now boasts about 350 members. The church is very committed to social justice and has a thriving and active social calendar. It actually reminds me a lot of my home church in those respects. The church hosts a program for the senior citizens in the area everyday that includes a hot meal and some sort of programming be it an exercise class, a book discussion or a movie. The program that I am most excited about though is the one that I will be most active with. The program is called Cafe Pride and is held every Friday from 8 to midnight. This is a program that caters to the Gay, Lesbian, BiSexual & Transgendered youth and young adults of Chicago. Some of the youth are homeless because their parents have kicked them out because of their orientation. Many are inner-city or urban and many are African-American. Cafe Pride offers them a safe, warm place to gather for a few hours free from harassment, discrimination and prejudice. The church provides a space for them to gather with snacks and trained adult volunteers there to watch over them and make sure they stay safe. In talking with the Associate Pastor about it, I have found myself growing really excited about the fact that the church offers this type of programming. Many of these youth have been turned off by the church and view Christianity as bad. That's so sad as Jesus himself would never discriminate against someone. God loves everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. That much I know to be true and it bothers me that so many of my fellow Christians don't see it that way. I love that I get to be a part of this programming and can hopefully show a more loving, positive side of Christianity to these young people (who range in age from 16-24). It's a really great program and I am thrilled that I get to be a part of it every week for the next year. Giving up my Friday nights is gonna be the worst part but I am willing to do it because I believe so strongly in what Cafe Pride stands for.
The rest of my duties will consist of coordinating volunteers for Cafe Pride, spending time hanging out with the senior citizens when they are there, helping set up for Sunday School on Sunday mornings, attending the Young Adult Bible Study on Tuesday nights and other tasks as assigned. Needless to say, I really feel like this church is gonna work out really well for me. The pastor and Associate Pastor have been so welcoming already and I really feel like I am serving an important purpose every time I go in to work. I realize now why God called me to Chicago. I have always found myself drawn to "outcast" ministry or helping those who the Church tends to forget or reject. People who have a very bitter reaction toward religion because of how it has treated them in the past. I can understand and completely sympathize with that reaction so I hope that I can, even in some small way, help them see that the Church and God loves them and doesn't care who they are or who they love. Seriously, why does it matter who they love or want to marry or anything like that? We are all equal in God's eyes.
Well, that's all I got for now. Everything is going great here for me. I love Chicago so far and it is proving to sit well with me. I was made for the big city. I am going to try and post pictures at some point when I get a chance as several people have requested some. The only camera I brought is the one on my phone and I really hate taking pictures but I guess if it's what the people want, then the people shall have it!! Gotta go cause we are watching Lord of the Rings right now!! I love that all six of us are nerds!!