Thursday, June 28, 2012

Euro 2012

After a week off from blogging, I'm back. I've been making a conscious effort to spend as little time as possible around my computer within the past week. I've been helped because I haven't been able to get my computer hooked up to wireless as easily as I would like - and my computer is a piece of junk. I have to slap it in just the right spot in order to get it to turn on, and occasionally while using it, I have to hit it again, or tilt it to a certain angle to make it come back to life.

Unless you have been trapped under a rock for the past few weeks (or you live in America where nobody really cares about soccer) you may have realized that the Euro 2012 tournament is going on. With that in mind I wanted to throw out some of my thoughts on the tournament. So, if you have no interest in soccer feel free to stop reading right now.

The tournament to this point has been brilliant. A lot of close games, interesting games, and definitely some surprises. In my opinion, Spain has been the best team in the tournament. Many would probably disagree and say Germany have been playing the best - but I still think Spain are more impressive. Their passing is simply amazing. The work rate off the ball to keep possession, and their passing triangles on the field are incredible. They make it look easy, but in reality the work it takes to do what they do, is unbelievably difficult to accomplish. While many may see their style as boring, I think it is artistic and special. A team that can keep possession like they can, is rare and should be cherished. They see passing angles and windows that don't exist. They create space, and make the ball dance exactly how they want it to.
I have loved watching Xabi Alonso who I see as the "quarterback" of the team. He is consistently involved in the play but is not always flashy and in the spotlight. On a team with Ramos, Silva, Fabregas, his name sometimes gets lost in the crowd - yet I feel he is one of the most important players, if not the most important, on their team. He doesn't turn heads with superb flashy plays, but he is consistent and gets the job done each and every day. Not only can he keep possession, but his commitment to defense, and getting stuck in is impressive. One minute you see him in the offensive third creating chances, then the next minute he is in the defensive third getting stuck in. Not to mention... his header against France the other night was textbook. I love how he keeps the other team on their toes as well. Spain will knock the ball around for a few minutes at a time making short quick passes - then out of no where Alonso knocks a 50 yard ball over the top trying to catch the defense napping. Naturally, since he is a former Liverpool player, I might be a little bias.
Here is a commonly overlooked stat that should be mentioned - Spain's defense is good. It's not just their possession and offensive flare that is impressive, their defense is solid. In their five games so far, they have only given up one goal in the flow of play. Not too shabby. Especially when you realize they have been without the heart and soul of their defense, Puyol, the entire tournament.

While I would like to say I was cheering for Germany, my adopted motherland, I never thought they were going to win. In their final warm-up game to the tournament they lost 5-3 to Switzerland. That one game stood out in my mind and gave reason for concern. There is no doubting their talent, their youth, and their potential. But 5-3 to Switzerland? Come on! They were the only team to go 3-0 in group play, but their run of good fortune ran out against Italy today. I'm thankful for that, because I have been putting some fun wagers on the games and with Italy's win today, I was once again victorious. I was told there would be "no chance" Italy would win. Forza Azzuri.

Unfortunately, I haven't been correct on all my predictions. At the start of the tournament I was trying to figure out who I thought would win the whole thing. My pick? The Netherlands. Ouch. They went 0-3 in group play and were outscored 5-2 in those games. Clearly they were the disappointment of the tournament.
Speaking of disappointments... England. England will always be the team I cheer for. My head said Netherlands, my heart said England. Of course, right now they are captained by none other than the legendary Steven Gerrard, who is my favorite player to watch. I enjoyed watching the midfield pairing of Gerrard and Scott Parker - honestly, who can be upset with Parker when he is so committed to always keeping his shirt tucked in?! However, with a very uninspired front line, England were never really able to put their foot on the gas pedal, and always played on their heals. They were clearly outplayed by Italy, but had a chance to sneak away with a win when the game went to penalties - but it wasn't in the cards. England and penalties never go well together. Even with the loss, Stevie G is still a legend.

I think we are going to be treated to a very interesting final match when Spain and Italy kick off. Both teams have the power to score (Balotelli is a beast...Iniesta has been relatively quiet so far, so be ready for him to unleash on Italy) But both teams have very good defenses. Naturally you'd expect Spain to come out and try to dominate possession. Yet, I think we have seen a very impressive Italian midfield led by Pirlo. Pirlo and company did a great job of shutting down Schweinsteiger and making him have no major impact on the game. I think the battle is going to come down between Pirlo and Alonso. Whoever can win that battle, will put their team in the best position to win. Both have experience with club and country. Both are studs. My prediction? Spain 2 Italy 1. We'll see a scoreless first half, but then they'll both come out swinging in the second half, and as the flow of the game opens up, goals will follow.
If Spain win, they will have won the Euro 2008 tournament, 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Impressive. Plus, the Spanish need something to cheer about after Nadal was embarrassingly bounced from Wimbledon in the 2nd round today.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good friends

Celebrating Lizzy's birthday while together on a weekend off. 
As is the case every year, at the end of the school year you say a lot of good-byes. To the seniors, as they move out and get ready for their next step. To the other students and staff members, as they scatter the globe for the summer. And inevitably there are always some staff members who have finished their time here in Germany, and you must also say good-bye to them. None of the good-byes are easy. But it is a reality of life here.
Sadly this year I have to say good-bye to two of my close friends, Brandon and Lizzy. They have been serving in Germany for the past four years and will be heading back to the States full time. In thinking about their leaving I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to express to them how much I have appreciated their friendship, and the roles they have played in my life over the past four years. I thought about writing them a note, but then got the idea to write a blog instead. The majority of my blogs commonly focus on the students, or the activities happening. Rarely, if ever, have I taken the time to write about the friendships I have made here in Germany. Therefore, I thought this would be a way to express to Brandon and Lizzy my appreciation for who they are, and what they have done...


Brandon and Lizzy,
Thank you for all you have done and all you have given to this place, and to me. It is hard to believe that four years ago we were complete strangers hanging out in Winnipeg, not knowing what we were really getting ourselves into. I consider myself blessed to have been able to walk side-by-side you in this journey. You have taught me more than I ever thought possible, and I can only hope I have been able to teach you a few things along the way as well. Sometimes it was through conversations and picking your brain about certain topics going on in my life, in the dorm, or in the world. Other times you influenced me by the way you acted and the decisions you made. I am fortunate to have been able to watch the way you treat each other, the way you treat your marriage, the way you treat those around you. You two have been positive role models not only in what you say, but what you do.
I will not soon forget all the weekend trips we took during our time in the dorm. London, Paris, Adelboden, Barcelona (and we all know what happened there! I still take partial credit for your marriage), Munich, Moldova, Istanbul, Amsterdam ("I drank the whole bottle-neck!"). Impressive. We did a good job of taking over Europe! Those trips were not incredible simply because of where we went, but more because of the friendships and memories that were created from those trips. I know Brandon debates the hilarity of Amsterdam, but that still makes me laugh every time I envision his limbs flailing in the air. Walking the streets of London at 2.30am trying to find our house is a great story, especially when it started by Brandon stating, "What are your intentions for this flight?" Those trips were much needed breaks from the dorm, but also times of being poured into and refilled. I know I always returned having had a phenomenal time creating lasting memories. Each trip was unique in itself and offered different highlights - yet the constant fact was that each trip was memorable, and important in helping me become a better RA.
Working alongside you as leaders on the trip to Moldova was priceless. Given the circumstances, it was a blessing as you welcomed me to the leadership team with open arms and let me jump right in without a hitch. My eyes were once again opened and refreshed as I witnessed your style of leadership and the way you connect with students. Sitting in the 'bleachers' with Brandon getting ready to preach, and then watching Brandon up there later in the day was definitely a cultural moment that is a great memory. Hey, it's not every week that you get to build a mini-golf course!
Over the past two years I have absolutely loved being able to witness your marriage. I know that may sound a little weird. But I truly believe you two have given me, and a lot of others a great example of what a Godly marriage could and should look like. The way you treat each other, the way you communicate, and the obvious joy you have when in one another's presence are all special. On top of that I am blessed by the way you have been so open even after being married. I feel as though there have been countless times where I have invited myself over. I don't feel comfortable doing that with a lot of people, but with you I feel as though it is always no big deal and you are always willing and wanting me to come over. There has always been the knowledge that you have a spare bed for me to crash on, or a place at your table if I am hungry. You graciously fill my plate with whatever you're having for dinner, and welcome me in. Other times I have come over simply needing to chill out, laugh, and play some Wii. Or, if something is heavy on my heart you are willing to listen and offer advice as needed. Simply put, I feel welcomed and comfortable in your house. While living in a foreign country, in a transient community, having a home you can go to and be comfortable is a treasure. I was reminded of this just the other day, as we sat down for dinner and ended up sitting and talking for over two hours. I had some questions, as something was on my heart, and you both sat and listened and helped me to the best of your ability. When I hang out with you guys, I don't ever feel like the third wheel, which is a really cool thing. In fact, sometimes Brandon becomes the third wheel as we all team up and try to beat him in Bomberman!
I was out for a run yesterday and while running was thinking through some of the things I wanted to say. In so doing, I came to a very cool realization - to this point you have made the trip to two of my three marathons. One of which was on Brandon's birthday, which is always a special memory for me. Of course it was there in Freiburg where he jumped on the course with me and listened to me as I was talking about how I was running. When he went back to some others with you and was asked what I said, you responded, "I don't know. A whole bunch of stuff about running that I didn't understand." Thank you for supporting me before, during and after those races.
It is going to be different without you around next year. Every year I have been here, you have been here. I automatically equate Kandern as being the place where I will run into you guys. It is weird to think that will no longer be the case. I will miss walking past Lizzy's office multiple times during the day and being able to poke my head in real quick. I am going to miss our weekly game of Hearts, and the entertainment of dropping the queen on Brandon over and over. When the NFL season rolls around, I'm going to miss watching the games at your place, and bickering about fantasy football. As much as I dislike having the NFL games start at 7.00 and 10.15 - heading to your place late at night became something I truly enjoy and something special. I won't miss hearing Brandon talk about the Bears - but I will miss watching the Bears/Packers games with you. I'm just sorry you've had to be on the losing end of that game so many times recently.
I appreciate everything you have done. I am thankful for the opportunity to share these years, experiences, and memories with you. Please know that your ministry extended far beyond just the students here, but reached everyone you came in contact with. You have been great friends and I am thankful for the impact you have had on my life. I wish you all the best as you move on from here.

With love,
Tommy



Lizzy Brandon and I on a weekend off  together.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Graduation

Each year a class of seniors graduates from BFA. Each year the ceremony is bittersweet. Exciting, sweet, and joyful to join in celebrating in what they have accomplished. Yet at the same time difficult to see close friends graduate, and move on, realizing that the time spent together in this place has now come to an end. Each year I have found myself saying, "this is the senior class I was closest to, and the most difficult to say good-bye to." This year was no different, as there were a number of students receiving their diploma, who have left a huge impact on my life. Each year it is difficult to say good-bye to the seniors. Each graduation is bittersweet.

This year's class was truly phenomenal. I continually told a few of the guys in the class they held such a great balance of fun and maturity. This class knew how to have fun. They were always laughing, having a good time, and unafraid to be a bit mischievous. They recognized the balance between having fun and being immature and stupid. They toed the line, and perhaps, on occasion stepped over into the realm of stupidity, however for the majority of the time they had fun in a respectful and mature manner.
Additionally, this class was loaded with student leaders. Whether on the sports field, in the classroom, on M-trips, or leading chapel. These students were in front of the school as leaders, pushing each other to set a good example, and encouraging the entire school to follow their lead. Most importantly, they were living lives that were worthy of following.
In my opinion, this class was never afraid to be engaging. Sometimes striking up conversation with some students is a difficult thing to do - leaving plenty of moments of awkward silence and twiddling thumbs. Yet a lot of students in this class had no trouble engaging and talking. In fact, there are quite a few who once you got them going, it was virtually impossible to shut them up! They were a great class.

This class was particularly special to me, because there was a handful of students who were here as freshmen starting their high school career, at the same time I was starting my time at BFA. It has been an honor and privilege to see these students walk through all four years of high school. It has been entertaining to look back at pictures, and talk about memories from their freshmen year, knowing we have walked through these four years together.
Within this class there was a group of four guys who I spent a lot of time with. Some of these guys were here for four years, others three years, and one was here for the past two years. It has been a great mentoring relationship that turned into solid friendships. On a recent run I was thinking about these guys, and replaying some of the memories we share. Definitely a lot of laughter. Living with them. Traveling with them. Educating them about the NFL, provided a lot of laughter. Yet there was also a lot of depth. Conversations deep into the night. Burdens shared and prayed for. I feel blessed, because as I was looking at a picture of these guys, I realized within the past 3 months each one had individually come into my office by their own choosing, shut the door, and broke down crying. To know there is the depth, trust, and friendship to cry together, is a special thing...especially for guys! In thinking about that, I also realized each one of them, on more than one occasion has seen me cry. I am thankful for those friends that I can turn to in my times of pain, hurt, and loss.
It is bittersweet to see these guys graduate. It is sad to know our time in this place has come to an end. At times it is difficult to not worry about them, where they are going, and who they will be influenced by. Will they make the right decisions? Will they get along with their roommate? Will they find the right crowd of people to hang out with? Among the uncertainty, there is peace in knowing who they ultimately belong to, and joy in knowing the way iron has sharpened iron over the past few years.

The two pictures below show the guys. Unfortunately at both events I could never get all four of them together at the same time. So each picture only has three of the four. 
Junior-Senior Banquet May 2012

Graduation. June 2012

Also within this graduating class are the two captains of this year’s girls soccer team. It has been a complete honor and joy to work with them throughout the season. You can check last week’s blog to get more information on the season, but even though it didn’t end as we would have liked, it was a special season. These two were not only my players, but my friends. They were true leaders on and off the field. They pushed each other, the team, and they pushed me. One of the trademarks of our team was that we were constantly pushing each other to be better. Better soccer players, and better people.
Junior Senior Banquet. May 2012

Final home game, May 2012. Attempting the same pose as above picture.

It is hard to believe that another year here is over. The seniors have graduated, and they are now scattered all over the world. They are a great group of students and seeing them graduate is definitely bittersweet.