Saturday, May 17, 2008

One Saturday Evening in Aggieville, or The Problem with People


I sit in the corner by a window. In my peripheral vision I count a hundred legs passing by on the sidewalk outside, their owner's identities and features concealed by the half-closed blinds that also shelter me from the setting sun's last burning rays of this warm Saturday evening in late May. Sitting there I ponder the valleys and summits of my life, presently feeling abandoned, perhaps having lost my grip and anchor on the climb, but knowing I can only continue to ascend this mountain, even without my belay. Jazz music disturbs the still, quiet air in Radina's Roastery. The normally packed and lively coffee house is quite empty, most likely because of the Kansas State University commencement ceremony that has just finished about a block away. A group of Chinese students exchange stories and giggle in a high-pitched mandarin. I want to sit at the table next to them and ask them "Nee How Mah?", How are you doing?, and then ask them if their families in China are safe after the terrible earthquakes that rocked their country last week. But then I would probably find out that they are from Taiwan, and would have to apologize profusely. An attractive 20-something blonde types ferociously on her laptop next to me. The Barrista at the counter blends an iced mocha for another customer and tells me she hopes business remains this slow tonight, adding that it would be better if all the students bypass Radina's and head straight to the bars that cover Aggieville, the night life district in this university town. I like this place. It has been my escape from the weeks of combat training and cultural immersion that have been preparing me for impending introduction to the hell of war. I like the fresh roasted and ground coffee. I like the diverse atmosphere, although I'm not entirely thrilled about the bulletin board poster that boasts of an upcoming meeting of the local Gay, Bi, and Lesbians club. But even in escape, I find myself in a state of loneliness. The blonde woman sitting next to me is joined by an old friend, another 20-something of possible Indian descent, named Ashley. Apparently they have not seen each other for a while, because she comments on the length of Ashley's hair. They sit down and begin to discuss work and relationships. Let me catch you up on the latest. Ashley loves her job because everyone considers her the fashion expert. My blonde neighbor enjoys the projects she is working on, but is frustrated about her boss and her relationship with guys who did not know how to be real. Ashley is in love with her boyfriend, but frustrated that he hasn't asked her to marry him yet. He is going to grad school in Ohio, and she doesn't want to move to Ohio and wait for him. She is a city girl, and couldn't possibly sit around in the emptiness of Ohio. She understands he, being a Grad student, doesn't have the money for a ring, but she knows his heart is to marry her. They have looked at rings. She only wants a ring from Tiffany's, because Tiffany's knows how to do diamonds, apparently. She is interested in a round diamond, that in the light, reveals some sort of cross shape in the center or something like that. She would like to contribute and work so he can focus on school, but also realizes they should probably wait to marry until school is out of the way. I want to join in their conversation. I want to share with them some of the few lessons I have learned about relationships. I am an expert on destroying relationships. I want to share with them some passages from "Searching for God Knows What", the book by Donald Miller that I am pretending to read at my table by the window right now. Especially the passage about the problem with people. Miller tells us the problem with people is that they don't always do what you want them to do. I've personally realized in recent weeks that, as much as we spend our energy and entire lives trying to change those around us, because either we hate what they are doing or not doing (to or for us), ultimately, the only thing we can really change might be ourselves. And even that is quite impossible on our own. We can't make people like us. We can't make people forgive us. We can't make people respect themselves. I think, though, that if we allow ourselves to be transformed, we might be able to look at other people in, perhaps, a less offensive, selfish sort of way. Another good Book I have read, often reminds me of that need for transformation.

Though I haven't had an intimately emotional relationship with a woman in over two years, this band of gold that is engraved on my left hand keeps my heart focused on what is most important, and not distracted by the bombardment of opportunities that seek to fruitlessly occupy that missing void in my life. I don't feel bombarded right now. But I do desire friendship. That is part of my humanity that sometimes bubbles up to the surface of who I am, I guess. I feel like I'm living in a foreign land these days, a prairieland of faces and voices I do not recognize or understand. The day to day life I am becoming accustomed to in my new environment is full of the lost and profane. As much as I want to connect with my co-workers and the people I live with, as much as I want to share the truth and peace and hope and joy with them, I am constricted. I thank God for some of the opportunities I have had, and I am thankful for a new brother I have recently met, but its certainly not the same as the brotherhood and sisterhood of friends I recently left in Europe, and the wonderful families who took me in during my pilgrimage across this continent in recent months.

Since I won't connect with anyone at Radina's tonight, I take my last sip of now cold Cappuccino, wish the Barrista good night, and exit onto the now dark sidewalk. The vampires have emerged, and I'm not one of them. Scores of students, and the occasional Soldier or Sailor, move up and down the streets of Aggieville in clusters, some already intoxicated, through alcohol, or perhaps the spirit of friendship or desire, but most heading for the countless themed bars and hangouts that pump gyrating or rocking music into the night.

Later as I drive back to base I pass by fraternity and sorority houses, overflowing onto the lawns with young people, drinks in hand, laughing, and enjoying the warm Spring night. Their final exams have ended, many have graduated, and all have turned a new chapter in their lives. What will they be doing in a year? Some will be back in school. Some will be employed. Some will take pride in wearing the uniform I now wear. I can't help but wonder, though, are they wasting their lives, like I did for so much of mine?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Journey Home 2008

Edited Rebroadcast, with addendum...

April 2008

So. I departed Clarksville, Tennessee this morning, and now, Sunday afternoon, 400 miles and 15 gallons of really expensive 89 octane (with 10% corn byproduct) later I'm sitting in a St. Louis Borders Bookstore & Cafe drinking a cappuccino that is authentically good, even for my refined European tastes (ha, ha). I'm waiting for my friends Glenn and Val to return to their apartment where I will spend the night, and wishing my daughter, Brianna, a happy 18th Birthday in my heart.

For those of you who don't know, I'm on my way to Kansas, where I will spend the t 60-90 days training for a year-long deployment. This is a huge and challenging undertaking for me, but I'm excited and thankful the opportunity the Lord has given me after the trials and trauma of the past two years.

I have shared with some of you how, in recent weeks, I discovered a few notes I had written in 2006. First, in my desperation, I had been praying at that time, that the Lord would truly teach me his ways so that I would walk in His truth, and that he would grant me purity of heart (or an undivided heart) so that I would honor Him. This was a note I had made based on Psalm 86. I had also been vigorously chewing on Jeremiah 29:11, where the Lord says, "For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future". I had no idea what that could possibly mean during those dark and terrifying days. But, I trusted the Lord that something would be on the other side of that huge looming mountain before me. And His promises, as always, prevailed and continue to prevail.

May I take a break to publicly say, that I am honored and broken, by the generosity and living example of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that all of you have bestowed on me? Most of you have gone beyond that uncommon expression, and re-extended your hands of fellowship and friendship in so many meaningful and countless ways. There is not a day that goes by, that I don't thank God for you.

Well, after a year of supporting the recruiting mission in Europe, and feeling overpaid, and underused, I finally received orders sending me on this current journey. But the past year was by no means a waste, because the Lord used that year to produce some fruit and major growth in me, and developed in my circle of friends, my Oikos as the Greeks say, some of the richest and deepest friendships I have ever had in my life. These relationships today are more genuine and real because of the Lord's raw exposure of my heart and peeling of the knotty armored scales that had entrapped me all these years. My previous guarded and often unemotional personality, was something that probably contributed to my downfall. I have since learned that being real is what it is all about. I will always cherish the friends I have made in Germany, especially the Band of Brothers. I wish that I could take back the mistakes of the past, but I wouldn't trade you guys for anything!

On April 2nd I said Aufwiedersehen to Germany, and flew to Charlotte, NC where I paid $77 for a hotel I didn't stay in. I did consume some Sushi as my first meal on American soil after 4 years in Europe, before my friend Rich picked me up and drove me to his family's famous River Drive House in Columbia, SC. I then spent about 10 of the most blessed and joyful days with his family, while taking a short trip to Fayetteville to visit more long-time family friends. Highlights teaching people how to play CRUD and destroy their new pool table, building a fence, losing to an 8-year old on the Wii every single time we played it, and "schooling" some very gullible folks on how to make two human hairs fight. Classic! Of course, I had to be gullible at one point in my life, in order to have become an expert Human Hair Fighter (thanks,Ryan!). You will have to look at my Myspace videos page to see some of the evidence. I also went to Charleston with Angela and her cool kids to haggle with US Customs and Border Patrol about picking up my car at the port. Those weeks in the Carolinas also included some much needed emotional counseling and deep discussions about my life and my family, and good coffee. I praise God for them.

In mid-April, I visited the Citadel Military College in Charleston, and picked up my friend, Dan Meyers (www.danmeyers.com – a plug for his updated website!), and, after an overnight stop with the Williams in Columbia again, we drove to Greenville, for a short stay and dinner party at PECTEN. PECTEN is latin for something like the Pilgrim's Way, and in fact, Dan had lived there with Louis and Melissa about four years ago, while he was engaged in his musical and spiritual pilgrimage. I have been on a pilgrimage, so this experience was another amazing blessing in my life. That night we watched "Dan, in Real Life". It was hard for me not to shed a few tears, because the film reminded me so much of my daughters. The next day we drove to Dan's place in Franklin, TN where we dined on hotwings at Puckett's Grocery. I perspired profusely because I'm weak that way. As we walked home through historic downtown Franklin, I noticed three black pants/white shirted youths approaching us, and gave the prepare to preach signal to Dan. After hearing the standard questions about our knowledge of the LDS, I prayed and Dan dialoged and confessed that we couldn't ever believe Jesus was supposedly the brother of Satan. These guys did furiously write down the scriptures we shared with them like Colossians 2 and Psalm 86, but they did this while simultaneously trying to play us. I snapped a photo so that we could continue to pray for these young men. The next day, after Dan prepared me a gourmet omelet and cappuccino (I think he should quite the music business and become a chef!), I proceeded to Clarksville, Tennessee where I stayed with another quite awesome family for about five days.

Visiting Clarksville was terribly unexciting, but reuniting with the Lee's and spending time with them was tremendously enjoyable. We caught up on the almost 10 years that has distanced us from when we all held small group together at Manna Church in Fayetteville. Some highlights from my days with the Lees: Hookah and Keir's crazy friends. Playing Apples to Apples, a crazy game, visiting Nashville with Keir, making French Press. Ummm, Good. American Eagle and $160 worth of clothes that were $160 too much for me (it would have been nice to receive the 40% discount that Keir and Dane get for their "ministry" at that retailer). Rocking out to Hawk Nelson in the rain. New tires to replace Keir's bald tires, and transforming his "car" into a real truck.

May 4th Addendum: Kansas is not my idea of home, and if I had some ruby slippers, I might click them together, and seek to be transported elsewhere. But that's not happening for a few months, so I might as well enjoy it. I'm sitting in a pretty cool coffee shop hangout outside Kansas State, Home of the Cougars. Its evening, it looks like the vampires are starting to come out and tear Aggieville up with a night of partying, so I should depart and return to my humble barracks home soon. I thank God, that I'm here, even though I still lack some direction. I'm thankful to be done with a week-long endurance of an annoying head cold. Last week I became the proud parent of both the smallpox and anthrax viruses, one shot in each arm. They are now circulating in my bloodstream, and hopefully building up an immunity that, perhaps one day will protect me from some Terror Turd's failed biological warfare attack. Today I visited the Armed Forces Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and spent some time with a dear brother in Christ who still has a year left of his sentence. What a joy it was to see him and share the grace and love of our redeemer! He motivates me, in his contentment with his current situation, despite his desire to be home with his wife and 2 year-old son whom he has never met. Bless you, friends, and thanks for sticking with me!!