Sunday, June 27, 2010

Learning Love

Papa is so good.

Tomorrow I'm taking a step that will forever change my life. I'm entering Beast Barracks, West Point's Basic Training. Tomorrow I get my head shaved, and my first taste of the next four years. I'll be out of internet contact until August, depending only on letters as my form of communication. It will be difficult, but so good.

Yesterday I was at a Family Reunion with my dad's side of the family. It was so great being with people that I love and that love me. At a certain point my aunts, uncles, and cousins congregated in the main living room of the bed & breakfast we're staying at. My Aunt Janet stood and said that with all of the celebration of family, my acceptance and moving off to West Point needed to be recognized. She then proceeded to reveal a beautiful cake with the West Point crest on it. After the cake we watched a slideshow that my cousin Shannon put together which covered my entire life. It was so amazing, and she did such an incredible job; it really blessed me so, so much. After the slideshow my aunts, uncles, and cousins shared memories that they have with me. They gave me words of encouragement that I took to heart. It was healing medicine. Finally, my parents spoke. My mom expressed her heart and began to weep. My dad followed, equally teary as he shared about my lifeless birth and miraculous recovery. My parents encouraged me and breathed life into me. In many ways, tonight was CPR for my spirit. This whole experience has shown me that so many people love me. And it's relatively easy to understand that in my head. The trouble I've had has been with my heart. Tonight that transition happened. Rather then just knowing that people love me, I actually felt loved.

Last week I was in California. I drove down there with my parents, and spent a night with my Grandpa and Grandma and the next day at my aunt and uncle's house. Later my family connected up with Kona's family (who had driven down that day). I spent the next two days with Kona's family at Knott's Berry Farm in Anaheim. It was an incredible time. So many fun memories, like Stephen and I running around that night and Kona and I holding hands and enjoying the park. The next day we met back up with my family in Long Beach, got on a boat, and headed to Catalina Island. Catalina Island holds many, many special memories for me; my family has attended a Christian family camp there called CBS almost every summer since I was born. I've made some of my very best friends through CBS, and I've had the honor of working there in the past. This particular trip was especially amazing for me: not only was it a great vacation to precede Beast, but I got to share this trip with my Best Friends: Kona (my incredible girlfriend), Collin (my long time buddy), Kale (my hilarious cousin),  and Stephen (Kona's brother and my close friend). Not to mention my family and the rest of Kona's family. I'm not going to lie, the week was very hard. Staying in the moment proved very difficult, as I constantly knew that saying goodbye to my girlfriend was looming on the horizon. Kona and I made the best of the hard situation by spending time together, and with Kale, Collin, and Stephen. It really was a lot of fun, and I'm so glad I chose to go there before Beast.

These last few weeks have been utterly and completely fantastic. There have been so many laughs and memories, to be sure. Part of what this whole process has taught me, however, is this: love is something to be learned as much as it is something to experience. It is not something that ever stops revealing itself, rather it is something that reveals more and more with each year, experience, and relationship. Learning Love is not about figuring it out. It's not about suddenly defining a word that has baffled so many people for so long. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that love is more than just some fleeting emotion. Love is tangible and it is real. I've felt it in the air so thick you could cut it with butter.

Learning Love is a part of my journey. This last week has been extremely difficult, depressing, and confusing. Tonight, however, I feel free. I am loved. I haven't done anything to earn it, and yet it is true.

I am loved by my family.

I am loved by my parents.

I am loved by my girlfirend.

I am loved by my friends.

But most importantly:

I am loved by Papa.

And Papa is so good.

I'll talk to you in August! Your prayers would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Beginnings and Complacent Christianity

On Thursday, I leave Boise. On the 28th of this month, I start Cadet Basic Training. In early August, I start my first year of school at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

A lot is going through my head. Just graduated, just received my Eagle Scout, newly minted adult. I'm having trouble processing most of what's going on, and I've resorted to simply 'taking it all in.' I'm going to West Point with no expectations, and in preparation for that I'm taking each day leading up to Beast (Basic Training) one day at a time.

In the book Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough? author Chris Plekenpol invites a gay, HIV positive, homeless man to live with him. Chris decides that merely inviting this man to Bible study, only to drop him back off at the street corner afterwards, isn't good enough. Chris is stretched with the question we've all faced when helping someone in need: how can I help them without enabling them? What can I give them that will help them, not hurt them? Chris decides to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the literal sense: he invites the homeless man, James, into his inner circle, and into his house. What Chris finds is that James is really the one helping Chris. Sharing Christ's love in a tangible way comes with incredible risk. Chris finds that the payoff is more than worth it.

I can relate to Chris on many levels. Chris held many of the same feelings towards homeless people before his interaction with James as I do now. In many ways, even the most compassionate mega church draws a line in the sand when it comes to helping people. We'll go into the park and feed them, but only if we can retreat back to our suburban houses afterwards to unwind and watch some cable. I hate to admit it, but I'm as guilty as anyone. How many times have I seen a homeless man or woman and thought "man, what brings them here, to this place in their life?" and then continued on my way to the movie theater to use the "anything helps" change on popcorn and candy?

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35
I think too often we assign value to Jesus' words, we recite the verses, and we preach sermons on the topics without ever living them out. We let the words of Jesus lead us when it's convenient, then "pray about it" when He says something we don't necessarily agree with.

Don't read Stumbling Souls: Is Love Enough? unless you want to be challenged. It will make you take a look at what you believe about tangible love. It forced me to ask myself the question "where is the line between listening to somebody and emotionally being there for them, and physically helping them, whether with money or other means?" I'm not sure I've arrived at an answer to that question, and I know that this book provided the catalyst for me to ask that question in the first place, and that's a good place to start.

The words of Chris Plekenpol hold a weight to me that is hard for others to understand. Chris is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and is an experienced executive officer in the 82nd Airborne, as well as a combat company commander in the 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq. Chris took many of the same steps that I'm taking now. He went through many of the same emotions I'm going through now. And he made it.

Chris gives me hope. He give me hope that I can make it these next four years, then nine years, then 12 years, then maybe more. He gives me hope in his belief in Jesus, and that God is sovereign. He gives me hope in his acknowledging that "comfortable Christianity" is really "complacent Christianity" and that there has to be more.