Saturday, December 21, 2013

Good tears

After walking out of the restaurant I got into my car and started to cry. My immediate thought was, "Ugh. Not again!" Navigating what has been a very difficult transition has dumped me on the side of the road in tears on more occasions than I would like to admit. Yet, tonight was different. They were not tears of sadness, discouragement, or frustration. Rather, they were good tears. They were tears of joy.

Tonight I went out to eat with 5 other people, two of my closest friends, their wives, and one 8-month year old. The couple without the baby are expecting their first child within the next two weeks. Naturally a lot of conversation was centered around babies and what to expect and do over the next several weeks/months. Of course, I had very little to contribute to the conversation, yet was ecstatic to be part of the conversation and seeing it all play out. I had no problem sitting back and simply listening. 
I went to college with these guys, but because of being in Germany was very limited in my time with them over the past five years. While I wouldn't have traded these past five years for anything, it did not come without a cost. For example: the first time I met one of my friend's wife, was two days prior to their wedding. I missed out on their entire dating relationship and engagement. While I trust him with my life, out of my love and care for him, there was something inside me that still found it tough to meet his wife a mere 48 hours prior to the wedding. (Though I was instantly sold on her amazing character because when I did meet her, she gave me a huge hug and asked me specific questions about Germany)
Being away for so many events and aspects of my friends' lives, always hit me hard.

But for right now, I'm not in a foreign country. I am close enough to call them up and go out for dinner. I am close enough that I can see a difference in her bump each and every time I see her. I can go for runs and listen to the different emotions and thoughts about being a father, or becoming a father. 
After five years of not knowing all the ins and outs of my friends' lives, it brings me joy to be in that place where I once again can rub shoulders with them and walk through these different aspects with them. I have no idea how long this particular season will last, where I am here and able to hold their kid, and hang out with them more than once every two and a half years. But I will cherish it, and will welcome the good tears when they come. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Happy Birthday

It is really exciting to state that today marks one full year of the book being published and available. Throughout the past year it has been nothing short of thrilling to see people embrace the book. Thank you for walking this journey with me and for making it such an exciting and enjoyable year. 
Happy Birthday! 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Upcoming Announcement

I'm going to make today's post really short. 

Within the next couple of days I am going to launch a product that will pair with my book. I have been working on it for several months, and am really excited about it. I have been blessed to have a friend work countless hours in aiding me, and am thrilled to put the final touches on this and then go public. I will the announcement via three different methods; email, twitter and my book's website. The book's twitter is: @26_Reflections and the website is on the side of this blog. Keep your eyes out for the announcement, and I hope you will be as excited as I am. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Five months down the road

Last night as I was falling asleep I realized I had reached the point where I have been back in the States for five months. It honestly took me by surprise, and I think part of my shock lies in the fact that there are still things happening around me that catch me off guard. Moments where I get a text message about some newsworthy individual and I have to say, “Who is that?” Or those moments when my students start talking about “Catching Fire” and when I ask “is that a TV show?” I get stared at as if I have been living under a rock my whole life. So with that in mind, I figured I would try to make an entertaining list of things I notice that catch me off guard, and some of the aspects of life in Germany that still come out in my daily life
1.  Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag every morning at school still throws me for a loop.
2. Stop lights. Everywhere.
3. The absence of German farming tractors on the roads. 
4. In fact, I’m used to being late because of “getting stuck behind a tractor” and now I’m late because I got lost.
5.  I still find myself looking for a gelbe sas. 
6.  It’s so hard to find a soccer game on mainstream TV here.
7.  Speaking of sports, while in Pittsburgh don’t ask if Sidney Crosby still plays for the Penguins. From personal experience, it’s not a wise thing to do if you wish to be viewed as more intelligent than a dog. 
8. Having the day off from work for Thanksgiving…didn’t feel quite normal. We celebrated Thanksgiving while in Germany, but still had school.
9. Whenever I speak a language other than English, I’m no longer the person with the deer in the headlights look.
10. And, I can drop German and French in the same conversation and nobody realizes I’ve switched languages…or that they shouldn’t be impressed because I’m really not saying anything more intelligent than talking about how many cherries my friends have.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A good run

If you read last week's post, you know that this past weekend I competed in another marathon. I never get tired of running them, and with each new course I am presented with a slightly different perspective and a slightly different challenge.
The one aspect I am walking away with from this race, is a greater appreciation for friendship. Transition has not been the easiest thing for me. Moving from a place I loved, to a place that was unfamiliar has proven to be difficult. On top of that, I moved from a place where I was loved, and a place where I felt community, to a place where I am still a stranger, somewhat of an unknown to those around me. This past weekend was a great reminder of the friendships I have as people came from across the country to make the weekend a three day party. Two amazing things really stuck out to me in this; first of all there were a total of five former BFA staff that rubbed shoulders throughout the weekend. Among all of us, I was the only one who had served with everyone else. Some were only there for my first year, and others in years four and five. Yet, the fact that they did not actually meet at BFA, but still had Germany in common - allowed for there to be a unique bond. Certain restaurants were mentioned, or local festivals, and there was no glazed look saying "what does that mean?" rather a joyous smile proclaiming, "I remember that!"
I also walked away thankful for a training partner and someone who was willing to take every step of the race with me - even if I was a solid twenty minutes behind. One of my closest friends also ran the race, and in the past months we spent numerous afternoons together pushing each other up countless hills. We stayed together through part of the race until I could no longer keep up, but still passed by each other at certain turn-around points. The rush of energy, support, and motivation that he provided, was amazing.

The race itself... went really well. It was only 28 days prior to this that I ran in Columbus, so I was really unsure how my body was going to react to doing two marathons in such a short span. Some cautioned me to not go out and race it, rather just go slow. I'm too competitive to do that. So I went out at the same speed I did in Columbus. Shortly after the 13 mile mark I knew I could not maintain that for another 13 miles, so I slowly eased up and set a new goal: beat my time from Columbus. When I crossed the finish line, I beat Columbus by about 45 seconds. I was (and still am) very happy and proud of the way I ran. Not only was I able to run two marathons in a month, but my second was actually faster than my first. The thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction is the way I ran the final 6 miles. Sure they were slower than my ideal, but they were characterized by strength; physically, mentally and emotionally. With the time I put up, this now becomes my second best time ever. I'm still chasing the Boston Qualification, but that will come eventually.

In all honesty, I think one of the main reasons I was able to finish with such strength, is because I knew I had so many people cheering me on around the world. I'm pretty sure I hear from just as many people on my birthday as I do when I run a race, which is awesome. The day before, and day after, my phone is constantly buzzing. My email is piling up. So many people send in words of encouragement and inspiration. And it truly helps. In the later miles of the race on more than one occasion I had the thought, "You are going to have to tell _____ how you finished in the final six miles, you don't want to tell him you were tired and weak, do you?" The words, prayers, encouragement, were all very much appreciated, and very helpful. Thank you.

In the days since I have been extremely sore. Today was the first day where I was able to walk down a flight of stairs without grabbing onto a handrail. I sit down and think to myself, "Oh, I'm not that sore, it's not too bad!" Then I stand up and realize...everything hurts. Yet for some reason I absolutely love it. In's about time to go and sign up for the next one...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Out with the old, in with the new

I recently bought a new pair of running shoes and couldn’t help but laugh at how drastically different my old shoes looked when sitting next to the new ones. They are in fact the exact same model/type of shoe, but one pair has significantly more miles on them. Though it may sound odd, I always find it a bit emotionally difficult to part ways with a pair of running shoes. The shoes become a part of my runs, and become a part of the story that each marathon tells. These particular shoes were a part of my marathon in Freiburg, Germany this past April, as well as the half marathon that took me through France, Germany and Switzerland. Lastly, they journeyed with me through the Columbus marathon about a month ago, before finally being retired. The dates on the shoes remind me of the races we did together, and the things I was focusing on throughout those races. Joy. Community. Worship. Relax. 

Now it is time to bring in a new pair. It is time to tackle more races. With a brand new pair of shoes it took me quite a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to write for my next race. This Sunday I am running my seventh marathon and was edging dangerously close to race day without a clear-cut focus. This past Monday on one of my final runs before race day it finally came to me; strength and honor. 

Yes. These words are found in the movie, Gladiator. It is one of my all-time favorite movies, but I also think it brings two great words to focus on. Strength. A month ago in Columbus I did not finish the marathon in the fashion I was hoping. The "wall" was pretty brutal to me. I did not finish strong like I had hoped to. With that in mind, I am determined to run this race with greater strength. That term is not limited to physical strength (which would translate into a faster time). Strength is needed mentally and emotionally. Honor. You don't have to know me very long before you will pick up on the fact that I am competitive. I don't like losing and I don't like when I fail to reach my goals. I have set a high bar for myself. But that's the way goals are supposed to be - they are supposed to be within grasp, yet difficult to accomplish. Regardless of what the time says on Sunday, I want to cross that finish line proud of what I have accomplished. Feeling as though I went out and did the best I could. Strength and honor. 

I'll see you in 26.2 miles. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013


On my drive home tonight I must have come up with at least five different ways I wanted to start this blog. Yet each one left a little something out. Therefore, I decided to come home, turn on my "writing music" and type whatever comes to me.
I don't have too much pride to admit that the past few days have been pretty rough. In fact, last night I had one of those breakdowns where something just clicked, and the dam of tears broke. I think I have been stuffing emotions down, and forcing them to stay inside, and last night it was as if most everything finally spilled out. As odd as it sounds, it was refreshing. It was good for me to let the tears flow. It was helpful for me to get on my knees and with raw honesty, pour out my heart to God. Prayers of, "God I don't understand this..." or "Lord I can't see where you are..." and "Why..." leapt from my heart. There were no immediate answers and no guarantees answers will ever come, but in a generation that seems to glorify wearing masks, it was freeing to be so honest with God, and with myself. It was humbling and refreshing to come before my Savior and say, "I need your help."

I have been deeply missing the students and friends that are still in Germany, and all those that recently graduated. Thankfully this past weekend I was able to visit a BFA alum and had a phenomenal time with him. At one point in our visit he said to me, "Tommy, I hope you sing like this every day." It was a serious comment, but it was in reference to the goofy and childish way in which I was singing. That comment stuck out because it has actually been a lengthy time since I have sung in that way. I know singing seems like a surface level thing, but his comment brought out something deeper.
While singing, I understood I was known, I was with a friend, I was comfortable, I was free to be myself - as goofy and childish as that may be. I haven't reached that point yet. I am still in transition. And the phrase that brings more anger than comfort (so please don't say it to me), "it just takes time" has failed to be satisfying. With that on my mind (and a few other things that would prove to be another tangent) I simply stuffed the thoughts and emotions away. In fact, on Wednesday I had planned on going for a simple and easy four mile run but ended up doing closer to seven because I wanted to give my mind more time to process things. My mind thanked my legs hate me.

Then yesterday as I was texting with a friend from Germany, and the dam broke. He was a day away from going to Herbstmesse and wanted to know if there was anything he should focus on prior to the day. I started to text back with a few suggestions, but couldn't immediately finish because there were too many tears streaming down my face. Herbstmesse is easily, without a doubt, my favorite day in the BFA calendar.

The whole day is simply magical. After school, the entire school piles into buses and invades the city of Basel. For the next few hours the city is yours to explore. Herbstmesse is a carnival, so there are booths where you can win prizes, rides that will spin you around and around until you throw-up, fried food, random pictures of American celebrities (just for you Brandon) and of course...the bumper cars.
The bumper car time was literally my favorite hour in the entire school year. Usually from 7.30-8.30 the entire school congregates at the bumper cars, and goes crazy. In my opinion it is the perfect picture of community. While at the bumper cars there are no boundaries between people. Teachers are riding with students, trying to bump into other teachers. The principal is ramming into teachers, dorm staff, and students. Juniors are riding with freshmen. 7th graders are riding with their senior buddies. No barriers between people, just relationships. If you are not in a bumper car, you are on the outside of the "course" watching, cheering, laughing, dancing. All the "walls" that sometimes separate people come crashing down, and it is beautiful to see.
In addition to this, I think part of the reason why I enjoyed Herbstmesse so much is because my first year in Germany I was a bit homesick for America at the time. Yet, as I stood on the side of the bumper cars and watched all of the interactions, and saw the beautiful picture of community, it was as if I felt the Lord saying, "This is your family now. This is your community. This is your home." Each year, I looked forward to the night, and anticipated seeing everyone around the bumper cars. I still have a mental image of Amy D dancing on the side, that I pray I'll never forget. Each year, I would make sure I took a couple of minutes and stood by myself so I could sit back and watch everything, and soak it all in. It was one of my favorite moments of the year. A time where I could be reminded of the purpose, passion and joy that being in that place brought me.

Today is the day the school went to Herbstmesse. First time in five years I haven't been there. I have purposely been avoiding facebook all day because I really don't want to see people posting pictures, or talking about their time. It would be too difficult. I'll admit, at different points in the day I looked at my watch and said, "They're all getting on the buses now... They're an hour away from the bumper cars..." It was tough. It is tough. I'm homesick.

Friday, October 18, 2013


For roughly the past 100 days I have been training for my sixth marathon, and it is only a few days away. It is a funny thing - I have been training consistently and every time I have gone on a training run, I have had this race on my mind. For all of those runs it felt as if the race was just a few moments away. One more run, one more corner to turn, and I was there at the starting line. Yet, now the gun will go off in less than 48 hours and it feels further away than it ever has.

For me, the emotions prior to a race are such a bizarre and scattered smorgasbord. Last night I was talking with a friend and in answer to the question, "how are you feeling about the race?" My response was something like, "Excited. Nervous. Anxious. Scared. Ready. Determined. Worried." A wide variety of fairly opposite emotions.

Some may get tired of me writing about this, and I apologize about that, but it is still heavy on my heart... This race will add a new emotional challenge in that it will be a reminder that I am no longer in Germany, which as you have probably learned, is a very sad realization for me. I don't know how it started. I don't know when it started. I don't know who started it. At BFA, over time there became a small band of runners who would run together, talk running, encourage each other, and have pre-race pasta parties together. Since the race options were somewhat limited everyone ran the same race. Therefore the question was less of a "are we going to carpool and have a pasta party?" and more of a "who is hosting the pasta party this time, and what time are we meeting to drive down together?" The excitement wasn't just in the pre-race activities, it continued throughout the race. So much so, that during my last marathon in Germany I saw so many friends that were consistently cheering so loud, at one point I jokingly said to them, "Leave me alone!" The running group ran a race about a month ago and it was a difficult day for me. I didn't want to be here, knowing they were all over there. In the same way, I know Sunday will be difficult as I turn the corner and don't have anyone I know spurring me on. To the running can smile knowing I'll fix up some pasta tonight and watch Cool Runnings. 

Each race brings its own challenges and difficulties. Yet the beautiful thing about each race is the choice you make to take step after step. With each step, no matter how fast, you are inching closer to the finish line, and overcoming all the challenges.

I'll see you in 26.2 miles.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dear Jon

Dear Jon,
No. This is not your typical “Dear John” letter – I simply thought it would be a catchy title that would pique some interest. That said, I have had a few things on my mind and was trying to figure out how to organize all the random ramblings bouncing around in the ol’ noggin. Sitting down and writing a letter to one of my roommates while in Germany, proved to be a unique and fun way of accomplishing the task at hand, so here it goes…

Dear Jon,
Do you remember sitting in our living room exactly one year ago today? Life was pretty hectic for both of us – I had just returned from Rome and you were about to head out on another recruiting trip. The busyness of our schedules did not allow as many opportunities as we would have liked to just sit down and talk.  Despite this, 365 days ago we made the time. After finishing a round of Wii golf (and, I am extremely thankful neither of us ever got that elusive hole-in-one!) we enjoyed some German chocolate cake to celebrate, and engaged in conversation. After destroying much of the cake, you looked at me and said, “Where do you think we will be one year from now?” Over the past 365 days that question has come to the front of my mind a lot. At times it haunted me. Other days it challenged and excited me. And some times it devastated me.

I remember the conversation like it happened just one day ago. My honest answer was a simple, “I have no idea.” At that time I wasn’t just exploring different States to work in, I was searching different countries. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but no idea where I would do it. You were in a similar position, not knowing where God was going to lead you. So we sat and talked. Ate more chocolate cake. Laughed. Wondered.

A few days ago I was teaching one of my classes and within the context of the class, a student burst out of her seat and started quoting Jeremiah 29:11. Her enthusiasm shed some much needed light into the verse. Without meaning to, she heavily emphasized the second and sixth words of the verse – ironically it is the same word both times, I. God is reminding His people that He knows the plan He has. As I heard that familiar verse, it brought a renewed sense of peace over my heart. He knows, His plans.

Jon, you and I sat down 365 days ago, and had NO idea. Yet at that time, God did. He knew how many times we would send off our application until it landed in the hands of the ones He knew were going to become our new employers. He knows. He knew where we were going to end up and He knew how He needed to orchestrate things in order to get us there. It hasn’t been easy, and we would both acknowledge that. Different trials for each of us – yet each is part of His plan to bring us to this place. A place where He will grow us and use us.

Jon, thanks for the cake and the challenging question. You may not have anticipated the question would stick with me in such a way, but I am thankful that it did. As I sat down to write you a letter tonight, I once again thought about your question. As we joked about a few days ago, it would be great to be having these conversations in person again in “our” seats in the living room. Tonight, I repeated your question, “where will I be in one year from now?” The funny thing is that my answer is still the same as last year, I don’t quite know. But if it is anything like the past 365 years, I envision it will have its’ ups and downs. Moments of joys and laughter, followed by days of heartache and pain. Days where the path seems foggy and unclear. Yet…we can rest in knowing that HE has HIS plans…and we are witnesses to the fact that a year later, those plans have brought us right where He wants us.

Looking forward to talking to you soon. You need to get me caught up on all the technological advances I am too lazy or too ignorant to figure out on my own.

Lots of love,


Friday, September 27, 2013

Lost in translation

The other day brought some entertainment in the classroom. In one of my history classes we were studying the ways in which the civilization of Ancient Rome carried out their educational systems. At one point during class I noted how the students were taught in multiple languages. This fact prompted a student to ask me, "do you speak German?" So I put on a little grin and said, "Not much but I can hold my own." (Knowing full well my German is terrible) The class then expressed their eagerness to hear me say something in German. So, they gave me a phrase to say and asked me to repeat it in German. I cannot recall what their original phrase was, but my immediate response was, "du bist eine kleine Zitrone." They seemed quite impressed and asked me to translate a different phrase to which I responded, "Ich habe zwei kirschen"

They enjoyed hearing a bit of German and enjoyed that I was able to so quickly repeat what they were saying in a different language. I simply carried on with the class material with a bit of a grin, knowing full well something was "lost in translation." I'll save you the trouble... if you were to translate what I said it would be, "You are a small lemon" and "I have two cherries" The students had no idea, and that's absolutely fine with me. I knew exactly what I was saying, but they didn't. And I'm more than content to keep it that way.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Unfortunately my posting has been a bit more infrequent in recent weeks. But it is still something I desire to do and something I want to get better at. So hopefully I will once again get to the point where I am blogging every Thursday.

I wanted to take a few minutes tonight and brag about my students. (Even though I am no longer in Germany, I still consider and think of them as "my" students.) Over the summer I got this crazy idea of trying to connect my students in Germany, with the students I would teach this year, mainly the 7th grade Bible class. One night I got a random idea and sent out an email to eight seniors, pitching an idea to them. Within 12 hours I had a response from every single student with an excited "yes" accompanied by overwhelming excitement and support.

So this is what happens...
Every weekend my students create a 1-2 minute video and email it to me. I then compile the videos and make one large video. On Tuesday and Wednesday I show the video from Germany to the Bible classes. Then, on Wednesday the Bible class films their own video, that I send back to Germany. The seniors in Germany view the video, answer the questions posed to them, and send a video back to keep the pattern going. It's been absolutely phenomenal. We call it "Virtual Pen Pals Via Video" (VPPVV)

I am blown away by the excitement and commitment my students have for this. We have successfully completed four videos back and forth (8 videos in all), and the seniors are truly enjoying it. They are getting to see the students in my class, and are getting to know information about them. Additionally, they are able to share about the lives they have lived. Questions range from, "what is your favorite color?" to "what are you most excited about for your senior year?" or "how do you eat your food?"
My students have no obligations to do this, yet they do it willingly and with joy. They are doing it, because they care about others and genuinely desire to get to know the 7th graders. I am impressed and so immensely proud of them, and the work they are doing. It truly is a blessing to not only see them embrace this idea, but even better - they are doing it with passion, excitement, and love.

Since the day I showed the first video, I have not had a class where the 7th graders failed to bring up Germany, and the video. I am constantly being asked, "Did they see our video yet? Have they sent any responses back yet? Did they answer my question?" The 7th graders are absolutely loving the connection.

The first time my students answered some of the questions posed to them, I sat back and watched the 7th graders response. One girl in particular asked a bizarre question, but got a lot of responses and each time she heard her name, she had a look on her face that seemed to say, "They're talking to me! They are answering MY question!" I started getting teary eyed as I saw her genuine smile light up the room knowing others had responded to her question.
This past week we had two of the seniors put together a video about Spiderman because one of the 7th graders asked about Spidey. The clip was close to three minutes long, and unfortunately I timed the movie horribly, and about halfway through the movie the lunch bell rang. The 7th grader who asked about Spiderman, sat glued to his seat (if only I could get him to do that during the rest of class!) with a massive smile on his face. He watched the remainder of the video and eventually walked off to lunch after saying, "That was SO cool. That was awesome."

As he walked off to lunch, I just sat there and thought, " students are pretty awesome." 

Saturday, September 7, 2013


I am the type of person who enjoys being in a routine. It makes me feel settled. Routine provides some stability and a foundation for which I can work off of. Something inside of me finds peace when I know that A will certainly be followed by B, which will undoubtedly lead me to C.

Two weeks into the school year and I am still in search of some sort of a routine. A is followed by M which takes me down a windy road toward Y and before I know it I am nestled next to H. My teaching schedule is such that on one day I may only see half the classes I teach, and the following day I see the other half. Only having one soccer field means that if one team has a game, all other teams have to adjust their practice schedule. I have gotten home as early as 6.30, and sometimes not until 9.15. 6.30 and 9.15 significantly impact if and when I am able to get in a run. It hasn't been terrible, it has simply been different. It has been an adjustment.

Unfortunately I feel as though among all the changes certain things have been pushed to the side. I missed two Thursdays in a row where I failed to put up a post. Not only have I not been writing publicly, I haven't been keeping up with my personal journal and providing myself with an outlet in that fashion. Likewise, I have been pretty bad at staying in touch with friends. The amount of emails I have sent out recently and the amount of time I have made for phone calls/skype in the past two weeks is so far from where I would like to be.

I appreciate your grace and forgiveness as I continue to walk through this transition. At the same time, please continue to write. Continue to seek times to skype. Those things are important to me and I don't want to lose sight of that in the midst of all the transition. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fourth time is the charm!?!?

I give you full permission to laugh as you read the following story. Right now, that is all I can do as well - even though it was anything but funny as it was happening.

This past Tuesday was my first day of in-service at my new job. (You can read from previous posts, my emotions have been scattered all over the place.) Knowing it was my first day, I was determined to show up on time (even a little early) and make a great first impression. Our morning scheduled stated that from 7.45-8.30 was coffee and fellowship, with everything officially starting at 8.30. Even with the 8.30 start, we were encouraged to show up early and mingle.

It takes me about 20 or 25 minutes to get to work. I decided to leave at 7.15, which would clearly put me there by 7.45, if not a few minutes early. The alarm went off, I ate my breakfast, got everything in order and was out the door at 7.13. Traffic was a little heavy but I still managed to pull into the parking lot at 7.38. Ready for the next adventure to begin I uttered a little prayer and left my car, heading into the unknown. I walked through the parking lot I noticed something odd... there were no other cars there. "This is strange" I thought, but I was still a few minutes early and went to the front office and "Okay, I'm here 7 minutes early, but surely someone would be on campus setting up?!" I quickly texted a co-worker and asked what was going on - and via my phone pulled up an old email where I could read about our in-service. It wasn't at the campus I was at. It was at a place with "hills" in the title. Our school has three campuses and one of them has "hills" in the title. "Dang. It must be at the other campus."

Feeling like an idiot I quickly typed in the new address to my gps and got going. Thankfully I was only about 15 minutes away. "Ok. I can still roll in by 8.00 and be there in plenty of time. Everything is ok." My co-worker got my text and called me - I quickly explained the mistake I made and said I was about 15 minutes away. That sounded about right to him, so we dropped the call. I get to the next campus at about 8.05 and see a lot more cars in the parking lot. "Phew. This is it. I made it." I go to the front office and see a sign taped to it: "This office is closed today due to in-service off campus." The cars were not for the school, they were for the business in the adjacent building.

I couldn't believe it. I had a mini panic attack and concluded in-service MUST be at our 3rd campus. So I find the address quickly and plug it into my gps (which has quickly become my best friend). It tells me I have a 20 minute drive. "Ok. I'm there by 8.25. Not ideal, but I'm still there before everything starts. I can do this. Stay calm." About 10 minutes into my drive I get a call from my co-worker who is a little confused as to why I haven't shown up when I told him I was 15 minutes away. Again, I explain to him the mistake I made and state that I'm headed to the 3rd campus. He responds with a word that brought tears to my eyes, "Why?" my response... "what do you mean why? Isn't that where in-service is?" He calmly says, "No. It's at the Hills Church. You need to get on the highway to get here."

My heart sank. Tears were forming in my eyes. Sweat started pouring from every inch of my body. My co-worker quickly texted me the address and I plugged it into the gps...20 minutes away. I cranked the AC on full blast to keep me from sweating so much - as my right foot got heavy and tested the acceleration of my little car. An hour previous to this I was thinking I was a rock star for showing up early, now I'm trying to figure out what road I'm on, and to what building I'm supposed to be going to. My little prayer turned to yelling at all the stoplights "Stay green, stay green, please don't change to yellow." My compliments of "nice job on being early TB" turned to, "You're such an idiot for not knowing where you were supposed to be!"

At 8.45. I finally rolled into the parking lot. I saw a lot of cars, and walked in and saw our director giving a speech to the entire staff. As quietly as I could, I found a chair in the back and tried to sneak in.

The 4th building was finally the correct one. The morning was hectic, tiring, stressful. I sank into the chair and let out an audible sigh and said to myself, "I'm here."

Noticing I was late and a little hectic someone walked up to me and (probably assuming I was late because I got lost) asked, "Are you starting to find your way around the city?" I cracked a little smile and simply responded, "Yeah, I got a nice little tour of the whole city this morning."

Not exactly the way I anticipated starting my first day of work.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Worship through tears

Transition is rarely an easy thing. I was fully aware of this fact months ago as I began processing leaving Germany. I am even more aware of it now, as I trudge through the early stages of transition. It hasn't been easy. And in my opinion, one of the more aggravating aspects of the transition is how challenging it is to put into words. It's not that I don't want to talk about it, it is more that I don't really know how to talk about it. During one of my first trips to a grocery store, my body physically started shaking because of the size and options. Whenever I hear English in public, it still startles me and catches me off guard. At a restaurant, I got ice in my water. Things that on paper seem so small. Things that shouldn't be hard, bizarre, or challenging, become overwhelming.

It is difficult to predict when one of these things will creep up. I find it even more difficult to stop the whispers that follow each experience, "You're a grown man crying in a grocery store, what's wrong with you?" or "It's English. You know the language. You've heard it constantly for six weeks (not to mention the 20+ years before you moved to Germany!) why are you still taken back when you hear it?"

As the waves of transition crash around me, I have found three things to be invaluable in aiding me mentally, physically, and spiritually.

1. Running.
Act surprised.
I found a great trail in the area and have continued my marathon training. It gives me time to think. Time to run off stress. Time where I am doing something familiar and comfortable. In a sea of new things, my running trail has slowly started to become familiar.

2. Talking with friends from Germany.
This week has been tremendous. For the past four mornings I have woken up and within the first few hours of being awake, I skyped with a friend (oh the joys of time zones). These conversations have been priceless. Each one was over an hour of sharing, laughing, and catching up. I have found that there are those who truly do understand everything that you cannot put into words, and it is a refreshing thing.
Last night I was texting with a student who just graduated and is preparing to start college. He asked how my transition was going and I said, "It has been tough, but as odd as it sounds the fact that I am having a hard time makes me feel normal." His answer of, "I couldn't agree more. I know what you mean" brought refreshment to my heart.

3. Worship through tears.
Every church service I have been to over the past few weeks, has resulted in me starting to cry at one point or another. When it happened this past Sunday, I just prayed, "Lord, I don't have the words to say what my heart is feeling right now. Please accept my tears as worship, and please know what is going on in my heart right now." I wanted to raise my voice in worship, but all I could offer was tears. As I did, I was reminded of Romans 8:26, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans"
I was refreshed and encouraged in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit was interceding on my behalf with cries from my heart that I could not put into words. 

We can worship our Savior through our voices, our actions, our thoughts. And sometimes, we worship through tears.

I'll leave you with this little nugget I found recently... Romans 8:26 is a profound promise of the Holy Spirit's interceding, and just two verses later we find another amazing promise in Romans 8:28. I can't help but see the train of thought for both verses being connected - rather than viewing those two verses separately, view them as being connected. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Even though I walk...

Within the past few months, and especially weeks, I have done a lot of traveling. A lot. Within the past week I flew over 2,000 miles and then drove close to 1,800 miles. To cover the 2,000 miles in the air it took me about 3 1/2 hours of flight time. While driving, I took the opportunity to make a few pit-stops and visit people along the way, therefore the 1,800 miles took me three days to complete.

The drive gave me a lot of time to think. It also provided me a lot of time to talk to friends on the phone, which was great. Don't worry, I was very safe while talking. After all, there were stretches where I had 300 miles on one road before I needed to make another turn. It wasn't the German autobahn, so the next turn wasn't reachable within 2 1/2 or 3 hours. I had plenty of straight patches of road where I could talk and drive safely at the same time.

While driving one of the things I thought of was this, "It's ironic that I can fly 2,000 miles and it only takes me three hours, but to drive 1,800 miles it is going to take me three days." Which led me to think about all the different modes of transportation there are, and the speeds at which you can travel. Planes, trains, cars, boats, all offer passengers opportunities to quickly cover a large distance. As I complained about having to drive for three straight days, I thought about how nice it would be to just "be there already." Yet, in getting there so quickly, I would miss out on seeing a lot of different things along the way. I drove through Nashville and got to see parts of the city. I was able to drive through some farm country and see a beautiful sunset. And yes, there were some boring stretches where I kept seeing the same billboard advertisement mile after mile. But, whether a new city, a beautiful sunset, or something boring, they were all things I would have missed had I taken a plane (or some other form of faster transportation) and just "gotten there already."

After thinking through this, I began to think about the different modes of transportation that require human power/effort to get you from place to place; cycling, running, walking. I love to walk but often find myself saying, "If I were running, I would get there so much faster than this." But again, I am reminded of the journey it takes to get from one point to the next. Walking allows me to experience more, it allows for more time to see the things going on around me.

All this was running through my head (pun intended) when a song by Jeremy Camp came on the radio with lyrics that quote Psalm 23, "Even though I walk through the valley..." My mind instantly clamped down on the word, "walk."

I realized David did not have the transportation available to him, that we do right now - but I found it interesting that he would choose the word, walk, rather than some other form of transportation. He could have said "ride" (horseback/camel or even a boat) he could have said "run" or "jog." But he didn't. He said "walk." We have heard the Psalm so many times that the other words sound awkward, but insert the other words and see how your view of time spent in the valley changes... "Even though I run through the valley..." or "Even though I ride through the valley..." The ride, almost makes it sound pleasurable and relaxing.

In thinking about that, I feel like besides crawling, or not moving at all, walking is the slowest possible form of transportation. The walk through, "the valley of the shadow of death" may take time. It is not something where you can snap a finger and "be there already." You cannot hop on a plane and fly through the valley of the shadow of death. You cannot speed through it - you are going to walk through it. "Even though I walk through the valley..."
Walking takes time. Walking takes patience. Walking through the valley may mean that we spend more time in the valley than we want. We don't fly through the valley. We don't speed through the valley. We walk through the valley. In a society so fixated on instant gratification and wanting/needing things at the snap of a finger, we want to be there already and we don't want to have to take time to get it.

Yet, David is telling us that we are going to walk through the valley. It is an exercise that is going to take time.

Enjoy the walk. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Over the past few weeks I put together a video with pictures from the past year. All you have to do is click on the following link below and insert the password.

Click here for the link
Password: BFA2013

Hope you enjoy! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013


This past week I began training for my next marathon. Over the past months I have consistently been running but it was not until this past Monday that I began to follow a training regimen. The race will be on the 20th of October in Columbus. I chose this race in part because of the proximity, but also because the time of year seemed to be ideal. As I have grown accustomed to doing, I wrote the date of the race on my shoes, and also wrote one word on each shoe that I want to focus on throughout my period of training. The two words I chose for this race are relax and community.

Why the word relax?
As I prepare for teaching I have been bugging a lot of teachers I know for advice and insight. My paraphrase of one nugget given to me is, "There will always be more you can do. You need to set up boundaries and make sure you always have time to do something to relax. Mentally and physically you need to be able to shut off and take some time for you. If you're not healthy, you won't be a quality teacher." As soon as I heard that, I knew running would be the ideal thing for me. It offers me time to myself. Time where nobody can bug me. Time to think, to pray, to get away, to release stress, to be rejuvenated. I knew that if I signed up for a marathon I would have a daily run I have to do.
With this in mind I want to focus on allowing my runs to be chunks of time in which I can relax. Time that I can protect and come back refreshed.

Why the word community? 
I chose this word with two different trains of thought - one that looks backward and one that looks forward.
Through my years in Germany I found myself a fun running community. Our experience was as varied as our pace. Regardless we still had a unique bond that was shared on the running trails, and as we gathered for "pasta parties" prior to races. Each fall there is a race in Basel that many in this community will run. Even though the date of that race and my race are different, in a small way it makes me still feel a part of the running community. As we train (thousands of miles apart) we will maintain a point of connection. It brings me peace knowing I can train with them, even if we no longer are passing each other on the trails.
I am walking into a new situation that will offer no immediate community. That will be tough. My mind and my heart knows I need community. I also know that community does not always seek you out, you have to go out and create it. So each day as I put on my shoes to run, I will see the word "community" and remind myself that I need to be actively pursuing community. I will look back at what I had, and look forward to what I can create.

Let the fun begin.

I love how beat up my shoes are from all the miles I've put on them. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Extended Layover

By week's end the number of planes I have been on so far in 2013 will reach 18. Some of those have been direct flights but the majority of trips have included multiple planes, ushering in one of the most agonizing words of air travel: layover. I have firmly concluded that my least favorite airport to have a layover in is Paris (CDG) but after recent experiences I am finding that London (LHR) is a not so distant second. Thousands of people go through these airports daily and for the amount of people coming in and out of the airport they do a decent job, but it can still be a massive headache.

A week ago I had a multi-hour layover in London. As I spent my time in the airport I came up with a few observations...
1. You can be productive but cannot accomplish a whole lot during a layover.
Sure it feels good to walk around a bit, you can stretch your legs, get out of the plane and get some 'fresh air.' But with somewhere between one or two hours, you are limited on time and space. You can get some things taken care of but you are limited in what you can accomplish.

2. You cannot fully relax because you are not yet at your final destination.
A layover is a pit stop. A pause. The layover spot is not where you finish, it is a stepping stone in getting you to your final destination.

3. Not everything about a layover is negative.
One of the redeeming factors of stopping in London is that they have Cadbury candy bars in the little stores as well as a cheap newspaper in English. Both things that make a layover a little more bearable.

4. Nobody fits in, and that is completely normal.
Especially when flying through such an international airport such as London - passengers are coming from all corners of the globe and they all look different. Nobody fits in with the thousands of other passengers sharing the terminal, and that is completely normal.

During my first week back I have come to feel as though I am in an extended layover.

1. You can be productive but cannot accomplish a whole lot during a layover.
I am here for about three more weeks before I begin to move again. Weeks are obviously longer than hours. Yet, I still cannot accomplish everything I need to do. I want to move into my apartment. I want to make sure I have everything there I need. I want to feel settled. I cannot do any of those things at the moment so part of me feels unproductive. Yet, there are certain smaller things I have been taking care of (getting a phone, getting my bank situation taken care of, visiting friends, etc.) I am definitely taking care of some things, but there are other things I can't check off.

2. You cannot fully relax because you are not at your final destination.
This is actually the observation that helped connect the metaphor. In some senses I don't feel as though my transition has begun, because I'm not where I will end up. I cannot fully relax because there are still unknowns I cannot tackle until August. I am not in my new environment yet, and am just waiting for that time to get here.

3.Not everything about a layover is negative.
I have hung out with my sister and parents every day since being back. I get to go for runs by the ocean. I get to laugh with and be around,people I love. Being here is not a negative thing. Plus, I get to read an English newspaper daily! Not everything about this extended layover is negative.

4. Nobody fits in and that is completely normal.
In the airport nobody fits in and it seems normal. Outside of the airport not fitting in as a bit abnormal. Socially, culturally, technologically, I do not feel as though I quite fit in. It is increasingly difficult to explain how it affects me mentally and emotionally.
Here is an example: A man just sat in the chair next to me and started eating a sandwich and drinking a soda. I found myself taking three glances at his soda because I was strangely fascinated by the size of his soda. After three glances the light bulb went off, it was a 20oz bottle. Pretty standard and typical for the States, right? There really shouldn't be anything too strange or fascinating with a 20oz bottle. However, the sizes in Germany are different and this sudden appearance of a "new" bottle size caught me off guard. The size was new and seemed out of place. But it wasn't the bottle that was abnormal, it was me and what I am used to. It makes me feel out of place and abnormal...and it's only a bottle of soda!

Ironically, I am sitting in an airport as I finish this blog. The boarding process has just begun. Time to take one flight, then I'll have a 90 minute layover before a second flight that will eventually take me to my final destination.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A beautiful place. A beautiful time.

The city of Kandern's emblem. 

"29F. That's where this journey starts. I don't know every where it will take me. I don't even know who is picking me up from the airport on the other side. All I know is that it starts here in 29F..." 

- The beginning of a journal entry from August 1, 2008 as I sat on the plane to come to Germany for the first time.  

I had a long internal debate as to whether or not I wanted to put up a post the day I left Germany. After much thought, I decided it was what I wanted to do. But then I couldn't figure out how I wanted to go about it. Should I write it a few days before and simply post it in the morning? Should I write a long thank-you? Should I be short and simple, and try to hide all emotion? Just post pictures? None of those completely satisfied me. So I decided I would carve out 30 minutes the morning I leave to sit down and just type. No editing. No major thought beforehand. Just me, my keyboard, and the thoughts and emotions that are running through my mind and heart as I spend this final morning here in Germany. 

When I think through the past five years and the time I have spent here, the first and most accurate word I can think of is; beautiful. This truly has been a beautiful place, and a beautiful time of my life. Why the word beautiful? It obviously incorporates the presence of beauty. To say the least, this has been a beautiful time/place of my life. The green hills, the amazing trails through the woods, the babbling creek, the Black Forest is full of beauty. But it's not just physical, the people here are truly beautiful. People here have made this experience what it is - both staff and students. Stick this school in the middle of an ugly desert, and I am certain I would still find it filled with such beauty because of the people. 

I also like the word beautiful because in my opinion beauty allows for the presence of pain and difficulty. Beauty does not mean the absence of pain. In many ways, it is the pain, sorrow, hurt, difficulty, that helps create the beauty. This place has not been without its pains and difficulties. Give me ten seconds to talk about my experience here and my face will shine and light up - I cannot hide my excitement for these five years - but that did not come without its difficulties. My years as an RA were not always peaceful and easy. My being here, did not come without a cost of leaving loved ones on the other side of the ocean. In behing here, I have felt waves of loneliness like never before. But all of those things combine to make something beautiful. This is a beautiful place. These past five years have been such a beautiful time. 

In some senses the reality of leaving has not fully hit. I knew a year ago this would be my final year, so I have had it in the back of my mind all along. But even in the past month, and weeks, the reality has not sunk in. Mainly, because I am still here. Even now, I am typing from my living room, having just eaten my normal German breakfast, and after I finish typing I will walk to the local bakery and pick up a little pastry. I have gone to bed every night knowing the next morning I will awake and still be in Germany. Honestly... I am dreading and fearing the feeling I get tomorrow morning when I wake up knowing I am no longer in Germany, and do not have any firm plans as to if or when I will ever be back. This transition brings about some fears in me... 

There is the fear of failure. I want to do the best I can in whatever role I find myself in. Yet, I am scared of failing as a teacher. I am scared of whether or not I will be able to do what it is I have been called to do. There is an unknown, an unsettling feeling, and a fear of failure. 
One of my other fears as I look toward the future is reverse culture shock. It honestly feels as some people make light of the situation. Let me assure you, it is a real thing, and it is not the most enjoyable thing to go through. People have told me, "You are coming home to. This is a place you know. You know the language, you know the way things run." No. I don't. I realize I have lived in America for 20+ years, but I have been outside the American culture for the last five, and I have grown accustom to the way Germany does it. The pace of life, the size of stores, the presence of technology, the consumerism, the reliance on self, to name a few are all aspects of life that will catch me off guard. I no longer feel at home in the States. 
Off of this, I fear that people will not understand. This, is perhaps the greatest and most devastating fear I have. Not everyone understands what this place means to me. I can show pictures, I can tell stories, but some will fail to understand me, and this place. That is a terrible feeling. To some, all my pictures will simply be pictures of random places or random people. They won't know the stories behind each person, the meaning behind the significance of each place. That's hard. I don't fault anyone for not being able to understand. It's not any one person's fault, it is simply the reality. When people don't understand the culture shock I am going through, or why I am having a difficult time leaving, it makes it hard. It becomes really difficult to not be understood. 
There is also a fear of lacking community. This place is so beautiful because it forces us to rely on each other and to rely on community. People here have graciously waited for me to strip off the Superman "S" on my chest as I was humbled and needing to ask others for help. "Where is this store?" "How do I register for this?" "How do I fix this?" So much of life here is spent leaning on one another, and it is incredible. Within the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time with family and friends as we spend our last minutes together. There is an incredible bond. A phenomenal understanding of one another. All my friends here are so random and honestly, very different than what I would probably normally "choose" if I had the option. But here, I didn't have many options for friends - so we made the effort to truly get to know one another and appreciate who we are. And I am so thankful we were forced to do that. It has been an incredible lesson and a phenomenal blessing. 

I feel as though I need to publicly make an apology and ask for forgiveness. In talking to people about what lies ahead I have heard myself use the phrase, "some of my closest friends are going to be nearby." As I thought about that I began to realize it could be a slap in the face to my friends here. Because the truth is, some of the greatest friends I will ever have are here. I apologize about slapping you. People here truly are friends who... 
... let me invite myself over whenever I needed to talk or read and get away
... invited me over every Saturday night for a game of hearts and good conversation
... came over on Sundays to watch the NFL, even if you weren't cheering for the Packers
... turned Wii golf into a friendly competition and a time of fellowship
... rode a bike while I ran and offered encouragement, support, and a helpful word
... opened up and shared of grief, loss, and struggles 
... come over for some Grub N Fun every Thursday - (even if they can't remember that you went to Paris and Rome together!)
... imitate you in an iconic rap battle
... chase zebras with me in the Kenyan wild
... attack a wilde fox attempting to steal food from my backpack as we hike through the Swiss Alps
...  come to my office every fourth period to hang out, laugh, and share life 
... laugh at my attempted Irish accent, in a conversation that is deep and meaningful
... go on runs and provide a runner's vault that is trusted
... who will be on the sideline cheering me on during a marathon - even jumping the fence to offer a word of encouragement when necessary 
... will sit around and talk for three hours without any need for technology to be entertained
... pray for you. encourage you. cook for you. 
... celebrate the victories, cry with you in the valleys, walk with you through the struggles

The people here are truly amazing and make this place beautiful. It is going to be extremely difficult to be apart from you. You have made this adventure what it is. Thank you. Thank you for being some of the greatest friends I will have. Thank you for equipping me, sharpening me, being patient with me, and aiding in the transformation of my character. 

It is not easy to leave, but there is one thing that provides me with peace and excitement, it is a theme I have seen over and over again in the past six months; the knowledge that God is faithful. I find it impossible to see the way my job fell in my lap and not see God's hand throughout the process. I cannot look at my new living situation, without recognizing God played a role in that. I feel as though God has blasted through some massive hurdles and paved the way for me to go to Pittsburgh. I don't know exactly what my purpose there will be - I don't know why things came together in the way they did. But I trust God, and I trust that His hand has been moving in this situation. I trust that if He brings me there, he will not abandon me once I get there. There is an incredible excitement and curiosity as to what God will do within the coming months. I get the feeling God's hand is in this, and I am excited to be able to be a part of His story, and to have Him directing my story. It doesn't mean there will be a complete absence of pain - because even though I am a pretty optimistic person most of the time, I do not envision the next six months to be easy at all. But it does mean that God will be faithful, He will be present, He will be with me, and that is all I can ask for.

One final note: for my friends and family who will see me in the next chunk of time - please be patient and graceful with me. I have shed so many tears recently, and will continue to do so at the most random times. I may not be very talkative, so please show me grace if my answers only contain one or two words. There is a deep sadness in me as I leave here. It will take me some time to process through it. Germany has become the place where I feel most at home. This place. These people. It is home. And, I am leaving that home. Knowing that, I give you a heads up knowing I may be a bit abnormal for a bit, and I appreciate your grace and patience.

I want to close this post with the lyrics of a song our church has been singing recently called, "Sovereign" The lyrics bring such peace to my heart. We sang it yesterday but overcome by emotion, I ended up crying through most of the song. Here is a segment of the song:

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me in the dawn

In your everlasting arms
All the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end
I can trust you

In your never failing love
I can trust you
God whatever comes my way
I will trust you

This journey started five years ago in seat 29F. It truly has been a beautiful adventure.

It's been great. It's been beautiful. I'm going to miss it here.

Tschuus out Deutschland. 

I took this yesterday as I went through one final walk through Kandern. This is by the monument overlooking Kandern.