Archive for October, 2015

Getting Up After the Fall (An excerpt from Journeys: the adventures of a Nomad)

The following is an excerpt from the second draft of Journeys: The Adventures of a Nomad. I just finished this section after some major editing and thought I would share an update. This is a section talking about my cross country and track career during my freshman year at Anderson University.

… As the [Cross Country] season was coming to an end, the week before the South East Conference, one of our most important races of the season, I partially tore one of the tendons in my ankle.

After consulting with the Athletic Trainers and one of the local doctors, the decision was made to allow me to race with my ankle tightly wrapped. I was warned beforehand that as long as I didn’t twist my ankle while running, it would be fine.

The conference meet was an 8k course, five miles of twisting trails and hills through woodlands and open fields. As the gun sounded and I surged forward with the hundred other runners, I felt strong and focused on putting one foot in front of the other. My wrapped ankle was not an issue until I passed the first mile marker; I stepped on a root in the grass and felt a searing pain shoot up my leg as my ankle twisted under me. I stumbled knowing that I was injured and each step was going to be harder than the last.

Part of me knew that the best thing to do was to get off the trail and stop, but there was a voice in the back of my head reminding me that I had never not finished a race and that the team was relying on me to secure the seventh position. For the next four miles, each step caused the pain to pulse up from my ankle until it eventually went numb and I didn’t notice it anymore.

I finished the race with a new personal record and an ankle that had swollen about twice the size than normal. While I was glad to discover that my seventh position on the team helped to contribute to the team winning the conference title, the joy was lost on me as I limped through the cool-down knowing that my injury was going to prevent me from participating in the winter, indoor track season.

While I continued to train, I spent the next several months recovering from the injury. I spent most of my time with the Athletic Trainers, taking time to allow my ankle to heal properly as I supported the team throughout the indoor track season at meets and races. I entered into the spring season ready to return to the competition of racing.

After several weeks of track meets and various races, including long distance and shorter sprints, I started to train for the steeple chase, a 3000 meter race (seven and a half laps) that included five steeple jumps each lap after the first 300 meters, including the water jump. After several weeks of training on hurdles, sprints, and jumps, the coaches felt that I was ready to enter the race alongside several other teammates.

The track meet in which I was selected to race the steeple chase was damp and cold. While eager to start, I was nervous, as I had never jumped or hurdle an actual steeple before. I took off with the majority of the pack, falling into the middle of the racers. As I approached the first steeple, I found that I was out of step and attempted to hurdle the steeple with my non-dominant leg.

I cleared the steeple with my leading stride in good style and form, but as I began to focus on the next jump ahead, my trailing knee slammed into the wooden steeple. Having practiced on traditional track hurdles that fell over if you hit it, the immovable steeple caught me off guard and my momentum threw me to the ground.

I landed hard on the track, slamming my hip and shoulder into the rubber right in front of all the coaches and athletic trainers as the other runners scrambled around me. The impact knocked my glasses off my face and they bounced off the black top as I skidded several feet down the track. I heard my glasses hit the track and started to think that if I couldn’t find my glasses, I would have to roll off the track surface and out of the race. As I skidded to a stop, I felt my glasses land in my hand, so I slowly rolled to my feet and continued the race.

Several days later I was told that nobody had expected me to get up and finish the race. Both my athletic trainer and coach were on the verge of jumping the fence to help me off the track when I climbed back to my feet and continued on. Seven laps later, I stumbled across the finish line, numb and bleeding. I headed directly to the athletic trainers tent where they gave me ice to put on my bruised and swollen knee, hip, and elbow.

I never raced competitively again.

Stay tuned for more updates and progress.

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The Power of the Introvert

Over the past couple weeks (actually, months) I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Each evening, before heading off to bed, I’ve been reading sections of the book, investigating the culture that puts extroversion on a pedestal and draws around the power of talking, group think, and self-promotion. This book is a beautiful study in the power of introverts as leaders who can (and do) shape the world. As the cover states, the words Cain has written have “the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.”

I will not lie; I am an Introvert. Sometimes, I joke that I am the introvert’s introvert. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like small talk. I avoid large social activities. And have spent  hundreds of evenings watching from the shadows and corners, listening to the conversations around me. That, or reading. Or creating art. Or writing.

I’ve always been quiet. I still remember walking into new classrooms and being terrified because that meant that I had to meet new people. To make new friends. To say that I was shy would be an understatement. In a way, I still am.

I am an introvert.

There is a power in that statement. I used to hide from it, but I have learned to embrace it. Despite all the superstitions and impressions that people hold about introverts, I know and accept that I am one. And I’m fine with that.

But, at times, I can put all that aside and act like an extrovert. I can hold a conversations. I can get over my fears of public speaking and stand before people and talk. I can enjoy the crowds of people But I spend much more energy doing these activities for an hour than I would normally spend in an entire weekend.

I get no gratification from acting like an extrovert. You see, introverts are people who value quiet, intimate moments, one-on-one interactions, and creating in solitude because that is how we recharge. We work best after observation and thinking without distractions.

In college, the dinning hall was set up with several long tables that stretched across the room for family style dinning. Large groups of individuals would stretch down the tables and merge into the next, creating a family atmosphere. While I would sometimes join these groups, I found myself often sitting at the smaller tables that lined the edges of the facility. It was there that a few individuals could sit together and enjoy their meals.

My preferred table was one in the corner, where I could sit and see everyone. Not only am I an introvert, but I am a people watcher. I would sit in silence and just observe as people came and went. I enjoyed this location because I was out of the spotlight, out of the attention, and away from the den of conversation.

I chose to study and create art because painting and drawing allowed me time to think and to create. I enjoyed my other classes, but I liked the individual learning that came when my painting class had anywhere from two to ten students. That is how I learned best.

Yes, I took part in class discussions. But only once I was comfortable in the setting. I hated science labs because I was forced to work and learn through group activities, labs, and conversations. I loved creative writing, because during critiques, people were honest and respectful. And when it was your story that was being critiqued in class, all you were allowed to do was to listen. And despite my art history classes being some of the largest classes that I took (still had less than 30 students) I joined into the discussions because I had a passion for the content that we were discussing (so much that at one point, the teacher banned me and two others from talking to force the rest of the class to participate).

I think that being an introvert, being able to watch and observe, allowed me to make so many friends. I made friends with many different people, often drifting from one group to another. I had my art friends. Music friends. Friends from the Baptist Collegiate Ministries. From the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. From the coffee shop. The dorms. The student center. I believe that being an introvert allowed me to observe people for who they were and to break through the shells of judgement and dive deeper than casual conversations.

I believe that being an introvert has allowed me to be a leader, but more importantly, to know when to step back and follow. And support. When I entered into my second year with the AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team, I made it known that I didn’t want to be the one up in front of everyone, but I wanted to lead through supporting those I worked side by side with and provide them with the opportunities to step up and discover who they are. There were times that I led teams, but I feel that my greatest impact on my fellow teammates was my ability to observe and provide support.

I believe that being an introvert has given me the opportunity to dive deeper in my faith than I ever thought possible. We expect our leaders in the church (the body of Christ) to be extroverts, able to talk in front of the congregations and move us through their sermons, but I have discovered that the people who have shown me the most about faith have been those individuals that took the time to sit down in small groups or one-on-one and listened. It is the introvert that makes disciples, that lead through their quiet power of understanding. That know when to talk and when to allow others to find the answers that they seek through discussion.

I think that being an introvert is a powerful thing. And I think it has a place, side by side with the extrovert. One is not better than the other, no matter what our society and culture says or values.

Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center So we lost our center and have to find it again.
– Anais Nin

Beasts of No Nation

While browsing through Netflix this morning, I noticed a new title in the suggested films area. Several weeks ago I had watched the trailer for the new Netflix movie by the title of Beasts of No Nation and was immediately interested in the story of this young boy who becomes a child soldier after his world falls into chaos. I guess I’ve always been interested in war movies and documentaries based in Africa ever since I got involved with Invisible Children and spent a summer serving in Uganda.

For the sake of not spoiling the entire movie, I will not be discussing specifics but, be warned, I will be talking about it in broad strokes and themes throughout this post. I highly suggest that you log into Netflix tonight and watch the movie before you venture farther into these words. Be warned, the movie is graphic and disturbing at times (make sure the kids don’t watch, please). So, watch with caution.

This film is for mature audiences onlyBeasts of No Nation dives into death, drugs, war crimes (including, but not limited to rape, torture, and indoctrination), and has enough realistic bloodshed to make the viewer question whether we are watching a movie or a documentary filmed on scene. This is not a ‘feel good’ movie with a happy ending, but a gritty, down-to-earth look into the complex conflict of war

The film follows a young boy, Agu, who escapes death in the middle of a civil war in an unnamed country in Africa before starting a journey into becoming an exceptional child soldier fighting for the Commandant against government and other rebel forces. He is taught to kill and to be unafraid of death.

Unlike many other movies that center around conflicts in Africa (I’m specifically thinking about Blood Diamond, but you could also include Tears of the Sun and many others to this list), this movie dies not center around an individual that is made out to be a hero. There is nobody seeking after redemption or forgiveness. The characters have embraced their new reality and face it every day as a family. As brothers born together in bloodshed.

Yes, you can hear Agu’s prayers throughout the film, but he never seeks out forgiveness. All he wants is to find his lost mother and young sister, but is so caught up in the bloodletting and drugs that he cannot escape the life that he has been forced into.

In filming this story, director Cary Fukunaga and the entire cast and crew presented a powerful description of a life many of us could never imagine. The film not only catches our eye with vibrant images with dark undertones, but also captures our thoughts and mind as we try to comprehend the horror that fills the screen. In all, the film is a beautiful nightmare that draws us in from the opening scene and doesn’t allow us to breath until the end.

This view of the child soldier, an orphan who is indoctrinated into a family bound by bloodshed, is real. Part of me wishes that this story, this movie was just something that was formed and created in someones twisted mind, but I know that this is a story that echoes throughout hundreds of thousands of lives. The background and setting of this movie are based in reality.

The end of the movie captures our heart with the very real struggle of hope in the darkness. The beauty of the film that sticks with me is the possibility of hope and happiness that the movie leaves us with. Nothing is resolved, but we receive an echo of hope from Agu as he struggles to find happiness after all that he had not only witnessed, but taken part in.

The real power of this film is that very struggle.

Despite the graphic scenes and bloodshed, there is a struggle that echoes throughout the entire movie that draws us in and eventually provides us with hope for the future. And I know that this is the same struggle and hope that thousands are currently facing throughout the world, as children who have lost their innocence seek happiness once again.

What is the Church

Before I start, I want to take a second and let everyone know that this is not going to be a extremely deep, philosophical collection of words to perfectly describe the followers of the Christian faith. This is not a statement about denominations, faith, or the structured religions that are usually associated with the word “church.” This is an observation and an answer to a question that I was asked several years ago and was not able to convey the answer. This is a post about the body of believers and the outward expression of love.

As many of you may already know (I’d be surprised if you didn’t realize this already), South Carolina flooded last week.  11 trillion gallons of water. That is a lot of water that the ground wasn’t able to absorb. It rushed into the lakes and spilled over the roadways, broke though dams and invaded homes. There are areas where homes are completely submerged.

This disaster has claimed the lives of several individuals and has threatened thousands. It has also proved that no disaster is ever the same.

I’m used to disasters. I’ve been around them for a little bit. I’ve seen tornadoes and hurricanes, wildfires and floods, and I’ve witnessed many responses to these disasters. I’ve seen the outpouring that became The Miracle of the Human Spirit in Joplin and the struggle of long-term recovery in Detroit where local volunteers were almost non-existent. I’ve been a part of the volunteer response and participated in serving individuals through assistance provided through FEMA. So, I didn’t really know what I was expecting to find when I made the choice to volunteer here in South Carolina.

After failing to find a volunteer opportunity through all the ‘official’ channels (the places where individuals who have experience in disaster response usually look first), I found the movement #FloodSCWithLove.

When I was in college, this mega church in South Carolina popped up down the road. It was filled with people and surrounded by controversy, conspiracy theories, and conversations about it usually turned into arguments about things I didn’t understand. People criticized the teachings and jumped to conclusions based on the fact that it was huge. The building is huge, the gatherings are huge, everything about it is huge. Everyone knew about NewSpring.

[EDIT: I previously stated that “I never set foot in NewSpring.” I realized that this was wrong. I attended service once during my time at Anderson University after being invited by a friend. Sorry ’bout that!]

For me, it just seemed too big. I wasn’t comfortable around it because it scarred me. It didn’t feel like home.

But, after graduating and spending five years away from the area, I knew that several of my college friends work for and with NewSpring. And while I was looking for volunteer opportunities after the flooding, I kept on seeing this hashtag; #FloodSCWithLove. So, I investigated farther and decided, this was a movement that I wanted to be part of.

So there I was, for the first time, walking into NewSpring.

You know that feeling you get when you are all stressed out and then suddenly you are able to breathe? That is how it felt when I entered into the building. It felt like home.

One of the first things that I noticed was that people actually cared about one another, they shared genuine smiles, and loved no matter what. They were (are) a family. Hundreds of volunteers from across the state, but they were united in a single mission: to love.

Yes, they were there to serve and to help rebuild their community, but their goal was to love. To love one another. To love those around them. To share the love with everyone they meet.

This is what Church is: a community of believers who love constantly. And this is what I saw as I worked alongside individuals who came together to love, a Church.

It didn’t matter that things didn’t go exactly as planned. It didn’t matter that some of us messed up once or twice. We loved one another and were able to love others. That was what it (this journey) is all about; Love. And in doing so, we grow closer to God.

So, maybe this was a little deeper than I expected it to be, but in the end, it’s all rather simple. A single word describes what the Church is. And I got to see it in action through those who gave their time and effort to volunteer and assist those in need.

For more information on how to assist those affected by the floods, please visit the #FloodSCWithLove website!

Day One (of the rest of our lives)

We all have things in our past, be it personal demons, hardships, struggles, or pain; this is what makes us into who we are today. In this moment, you are everything that you once were and so much more. But this posting will not be about the past; this is about here and now. Today. And tomorrow.

There is a song by Matthew West titled “Day One” in which he talks about today is “day one of the rest of [our] life.”

It’s day one of the rest of my life
It’s day one of the best of my life
I’m marching on to the beat of a brand new drum
Yeah, here I come
The future has begun
Day one

I heard this song yesterday and I listened to it (actually listened, not just enjoyed the music) for the first time and realized something: Each day we have the opportunity to start over.

Let me explain: As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have been blessed beyond all measure. Every sin has been washed away through His blood, the blood of my savior. Every morning I have the gift of waking up with the knowledge that He has called me His own and forgiven me. I am reminded of this every single moment of the day. Every breath is a gift that allows me to smile.

Through this gift, God has granted me the opportunity to begin new and whole. God does not hold my past against me, no matter how much I [edited] up before. He loves me despite my failures. His forgiveness is proof of this.

So, that being said, each day is the beginning of a new life in Christ. A day one. And every day, we get the chance to dive deeper into the love of God.

I know this is short, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about.