Wrap me up,
In your warm embrace.
Pierce my heart: with Your love;
Pause, and see-
The glory above.
Morning sun: wash my face;
Wrap me up,
In your warm embrace.
Pierce my heart: with Your love;
Pause, and see-
The glory above.
I bought a pen and a notebook and a single ticket to a movie that I wanted to see; I didn’t mope around or lament like I sometimes do. Now I sit in the second row from the top- right smack dead in the middle where I like to be, by myself. Thats right- I made the dreaded walk of shame up to the ticket window and asked the pretty attendant for just one ticket to the new Brad Pitt film, and smiled in return. She doesn’t know it, but this is more than just a movie; this is the top of Mt. Everest and the apex of my bachelor experience: a prophetic statement about how I wish to live for the rest of my life. I will not wait for happiness to knock on my door in the form of breasts and a pretty smile. No, I will grasp life in a death-grip and throttle enjoyment from out it’s choking throat. I will buy tickets to movies, by myself; I will travel the world, alone; I will drive down summer roads with wind in my hair, singing at the top of my lungs. I will capture every moment like it is my last, regardless of who I share it with. I will not pity myself and long for Cinderella. I will not live in the future. I will enjoy every blessed experience on this terrible planet, regardless of my circumstances. And when the movie is over, I’ll drive home cracking open bottles of Muscle Milk and chugging protein like vodka, because that’s what I like to do. You see, my happiness is a choice; not a destination.
Excepting a few brief relationships, my post-puberty life has been lived in solitude: sometimes content, most of the time not. High school was not typical. I was homeschooled, and lacked social contact from peers outside of my immediate family. Besides a few acquaintances, I was essentially, alone. During my teen years, I can remember lying face down on my bed and sobbing into the pillow, because I had no where to go on a friday night. I was miserable and sorely depressed. I escaped to college, but had to return home a year later for lack of funds. And then I joined the military. Do not think that i'm complaining; rather, I say all of this to explain that for most of my life, I have struggled with loneliness and singleness. My journey is now in adulthood, and many of my friends are getting engaged or married. While I am certainly happy for them, it is frustrating to see my own heart still lying in a puddle on the floor. Because my past and present, I have turned me into an introvert. Although at first, I thought that this reclusive mentality was detrimental, I now understand that all of the introspecting and depression has forced me to contemplate and confront some pretty big issues about life and the pursuit of happiness. With strong conviction, I can now say with the Apostle, that I am content.
At age 23, I can see farther than the view from atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. I can see the streams snaking down and the hawks soaring up; I understand that life is ultimately futile. Nothing but dust, about to be kicked off of the sidewalk. No, I will not loiter, waiting for a traveling companion. I won’t convince myself that there is a ‘perfect someone’ out there, just waiting for me to sweep her off of her feet- life is too short to anticipate a dream. Tomorrow can worry about tomorrow; I will live in today. And I hope that you will too- so here is a bit of wisdom from me; 23 years of age. I hope that it helps.
Wait- don’t say it. I’ve heard it before. Agh! there you go again- you just said it: “I am going to trust God and his perfect plan- I just know that he has someone awesome planned for me in the future.” I’m not saying that this statement isn’t true- it might be. I am saying that you are living for a the fulfillment of a future dream. You’re neglecting the real problem: discontentment with the present situation.
Especially within the Christian church, the idea of waiting for ‘the one’ is engrafted into every youthful heart by wise teachers at the smallest age possible. Prince charming is set upon his perfect white horse, and pretty maidens are encouraged to imagine how the light reflects of off his shining armor and swinging sword that will slay all of their demons. The valiant young men are taught to build their castles out of brick and mortar and on solid ground, so that one day they can carry a wife across the threshold. While at first all of this may sound well and good, this mentality only focuses on the future; absolutely no emphasis is placed on the present. The single guy or gal is left holding binoculars with which to search the endless waves for sight of land. On come the wedding bells and other fortunate souls are met with holy matrimony; the eyes of the single guys and gals become blurry with tears, and they can’t search for land as well. Enter the advice and sympathy: “You just need to put yourself out there,” and the cliche: “there is a perfect someone out there created just for you”. But what happens if they never meet ‘the one’? Or what about the happy people, who met ‘the one’ but then later met divorce?
My conclusion through all of this nonsense, is that the Cinderella notion has got to go- no more waiting; no more crying. It’s time to start living. A wise man once said that “life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what your going to get.” He was damn right, that’s for sure. The reality of life is that it will knock you down and then kick your teeth in. None of your plans will come into fruition like you think they will. You’ll be steamrolled by Brian Urlacher wearing a shirt called life, so you’d better run away pretty fast. You’d better run so fast that he gets tired and needs to stop to catch his breath. And when he does, you’d better keep on running and never stop; because if you do, you'll get tired too.
Don’t wait for someone else to come alongside and run with you; no, start running today. Right now. If you don’t start moving in the present, you’ll get old and grey and be buried six feet below where you stand. And you’ll still be holding a yellowed portrait of prince charming. You’ll have nothing to show for all of those lost years but a puddle of tears and dreams that never came true. Quit living for those dreams, and start living for today.
I now consider myself to be a professional single-person. Honestly, I’m better at being single than attempting relationships. There is no second or third or even fourth gear in my car. Especially when it comes to dating, it’s either first gear or fifth. Everything else grinds and goes up in smoke and a stall. I’m a glass cannon aimed at a pretty dress with an idiot at the helm; a train wreck of passion and twisted steel and broken hearts. But that’s okay, because I’m totally happy in my non-wrecked train. Without my consent, I have learned to be content; forced, to become content. I have learned to proudly walk up to the counter with my head-held-high and demand a single ticket. I will be happy, and I will do what I love, today; regardless of my relationship status on facebook. And I encourage you to do the same: contentment is a learned behavior; it isn’t a gift bestowed on screaming babies by the stork, before he drops them down the chimney.
I'm not going to lie- the single life can be difficult. It's like taking a trip in the packed-out-family-station-wagon; that 1980's dodge with wood on the side and sleeping bags packed up to your ears so that you can't move, and you're yelling at dad to hurry up because you're carsick and need to use the bathroom. But instead of focusing on yourself, why not look around and enjoy the experience of that once-in-a-lifetime trip; why not tease your brother and stick signs out that make people honk at you; why not enjoy the wind whipping through the window-that-can't-go-up and the passing scenery? You'll be pleasantly surprised at how memorable those should'a-been miserable trips really are.
Through it all, remember that God does have a plan- and he does want what is best for you. But don't sit on your hands waiting for your dreams to come true before you start living.
Don’t blink and I won't blink either. Wait until the tender green shoots nudge their way through rubble and breathe in life; until the spring thaw has reaped justice on the bitter cold; until the long winter has been banished. When the rocks begin to cry and send their tears fleeing over sharp edges in little streams, remember me. But me, I won’t remember you: you’re just a face in the crowd that is moving past too fast for me to process; a fleeting memory that disappears like a bird on a wire when I’m driving too fast. When the spring comes- I will be looking up to the heavens with worship; remembering the sunlight and also the coming night. The night that is cold and bitter like winter, except that I won’t be here any longer. I will be running through fields of dancing yellow flowers with a heart like a butterfly, that takes flight and soars away; far away over the distant treetops. Because I am free. Like a prisoner that was never in prison; like a soldier who never enlisted; me, I was never held captive. But alas, I did inhale that putrid smoke; and let it expel through my nostrils with sadness; sadness that only lasted for a day and a half. And then the sun set and I fell asleep; to rise again with the worms and crickets. Now I awake; I emerge from the grave to the sound of cheerful song outside of my window that is still blinded by frost. I awake to blessed sunlight that diffuses through the condensation and leaves tiny droplets on the blanket, which I don’t need anymore. I stumble down the stairs to the beat of newness and chickadee. In stupor, the old screen door protests my presence, but I don’t care. There I stand: wrapped in warmth of light; drunk on life and high on sunshine.
A chorus of snapping fingers erupted in response to the powerful oral exposition delivered by Priya Ghosh, on living in a modern-day rape culture. Her pioneering and gutsy speech unabashedly pointed a strong finger at the brash insensitivity that the college environment has towards victims of sexual assault, and those who are brave enough to speak up in the midst of incredible personal pain. Priya, a victim of multiple sexual assaults, stood tall at the front of a packed-out lecture hall and delivered a heart-wrenching speech that was more than relevant to the common-student. She called for action, and proaction in the face of a nation-wide problem that is being swept-under-the-rug because it brings bad publicity. Further, she described in detail the difficulties of getting back to a normal life after an assault; of walking into a public venue, seeing the aggressor of the attack, and reliving the traumatizing experiences all over again.
arjun chawla said that happiness isn’t found in possessions; rather, it is discovered within. happiness is an intentional choice that only the individual can make, and is not entirely based on exterior conditions. he explained the difficulties of constantly moving to new cities, and the circumstances surrounding his ultimate decision to be happy, regardless. kevin hollerbach capped-off the event with a discourse on sustainability, and the danger of indifference towards environmental issues. he related the negative consequences that result from human negligence and encouraged students to immediately begin to make a positive difference on the planet.
the talks nurtured a palpable atmosphere of student camaraderie, and gave public forum to worthy voices who otherwise would not be heard. more than that, tedx umass revealed a grassroots ambition and desire for personal-development outside of the confines of traditional classroom learning within the student body. with the increase of easily-obtainable sources and mostly-reliable information at the click-of-a-mouse, modern education is rapidly shifting towards social events and peer-driven lectures: umass is now officially on-board. according to the website of the umass amherst tedx organization, another conference is scheduled on april 26th, 2015, in the lincoln campus center ballroom.
The beauty of this moment overcomes me: watching the dust, float through the morning light. Sitting with a small head in each arm and fingers grabbing at my stretched shirt; in the room with the Jesus painting and walls that are yellow. Little Beto, who is the sweetest thing I’ve ever met- and Axel, the quiet one with a heart of gold. It’s time to say goodbye to these little angels who live in mud, but I don’t want to.
God has broken my heart in the desert; and left it shattered on a tile floor somewhere in Mexico. I will remember them: how they obsessively kick around a deflated ball, through posts with no net; how beautiful their eyes are when they look up at me; and also their hearts, which are so full of excitement. The determination that I saw in those eyes so bright and free, are oppressed by circumstances out of their control.
Their angelic laughter floats to me across the continent; and I am ashamed that I have not done more. Because they need people like me, and people like you.
Tonight, more than ever, when my heart spins in turmoil like a cyclone; when I am at the whim of nature, I need you. When my depression brings me to my knees: I need you.
Because I am nothing but grass, trampled under foot and waiting to be cut down. Waiting to be cast into the flames, where I will burn away. I look inward for strength, but there is nothing but black. Nothing but painful indifference and bitterness; confusion that has enticed me bid welcome, and thrust it’s left-handed knife into my gut.
Not even a scream can be drawn from my lips. I don’t think that my lungs even work anymore. They have been deflated like a balloon.
While the world plots it’s course with plodding steps, I don’t know where I’m going. I am running, running, running. Endlessly slamming off of walls, through a maze that doesn’t have an exit: I need someone to tell me that there isn’t one. I need someone to tell me to stop running; to stop searching; to stop striving; to stop grabbing all of that blackness in my soul: to stop burning it like coal.
But even if someone told me to stop, I couldn’t do it. No, I need a giant. An eleven-foot-tall Goliath to overpower me and kill me; to stand on top of me and grind my face into the dirt. To sever my head and scream into the deaf ears; “vict’ry!, vict’ry!”. To grab my bloody hair and force me to look up. Because I am incapable of doing so on my own.
Right now, I don’t need strength; I need to be broken like a clay cistern, and poured out like wrath.
So God, give me weakness: give me the weakness not to be able to continue on my own. Let evil wash over me like a tidal wave, and force me onto my face. I want to drown in reality; to fall into the mud and the blood. Break all of my bones, and let it be painful- so painful that I cannot stand back up. Violently destroy me so that I cannot make the journey on my own. Allow me to see my weakness and frailty.
I want to die to myself.
But I can’t get to that point on my own.
When I am completely broken, carry me like a child. Hold me close and never let me go. Let me cry into your shoulder and spill my sorrows like an open wound. When I am purged, wash away the blood and splint my broken bones. Pull the clots from my hair and gently speak to me. When I scream as you pull away the soaked cloth, tell me that it is for my own good. Wrap me in clean linen that is fit for your presence.
God- give me new clothes, because all I have are blood-stained rags.
It’s cold in your heart: like bitter wind whipping through the trees at my coat.
Making me pull up my collar to keep from freezing.
Making the snow to jump up and bite my nose.
Cold and barren, except for the black trunks and snowdrifts that look like waves.
And me, I’m a lone traveller, venturing into the untouched whiteness.
Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged for killing a man in self defense after he tried to rape her. According to Biblical philosophy- there is now no hope for her eternal soul. Where is justice; what has happened to fairness? My heart breaks- I am literally crying as I write this. Crying for the poor and the destitute and the downtrodden who cannot rise. Where is the merciful God who judges evil and sifts between the wheat and the chaff? Am I to believe that because Reyhaneh did not believe in the same religion as myself, that when her slender neck broke, she boarded the black train destined for hell and suffering?
What about the innocent and enslaved Africans who were wretchedly ripped apart from their families, packed like livestock into slaver ships and carried away to a foreign land; where they lived out the rest of their pitiful lives in torture and sorrow. Sorrow that was inflicted by professing Christians, and torture that was justified by that sacred book. Can you look me in the eye and tell me that the young mother- who with warm blood running down her torn back, did not believe in Jesus and was sent to eternal damnation? That her screams were not heard by a merciful and loving God? Damnation for what? for the total injustice that was brought upon her.
Tell me with strong conviction: that the child soldier who has killed more people than his age, deserves judgement. I stand in the service on Sunday morning, with arms raised to the heavens in worship; basking in glory and sunlight, because I am a chosen person. But what makes me any different than a labelled non-believer? My only conclusion is that I am privileged, wretchedly privileged. I should suffer in hell with those miscreants and sinners, not because I am any worse, but because I am the same. I would rather suffer then mindlessly sing David Crowder songs, and live in my perfect world.
What a broken creation. Save us, dear God.
The clock struck 12:00, and so did my fist: into the wall; as I waited for the pendulum to fall; to swing on it’s hinge and bring change, but it never did. So I threw the old clock that my grandfather built out of the second story window with a crash; a car squealed it’s protest down below- but me, I didn’t protest. I just accepted things the way that they were; after I threw the old clock. It stopped ticking on 12:01 when it smashed, and so did my heart; it stopped like that old clock that now lay in a pile of gears and broken down years, forgotten. But not my feet, they didn't stop; they kept on moving and running and stepping towards the roof and the starry sky. A door stood between me and freedom: but it didn’t stand for long, because I bashed it open and stepped out onto the ledge that overlooked the car and the broken old clock and the beautiful city. The city that brought me to my knees with twinkling lights and seemed to be crying my sorrow; but me, I didn’t cry. I didn’t speak either, because the wind was speaking for me. And the owl who solemnly stood watch in the sleet and the hail, he just sadly looked at me like he always did. I pressed my feet into the bricks and stood on the ledge at the edge, but I didn’t leap; instead I joined the wind with a rugged scream from the bottom of my lungs. But no one could hear because the wind stole my voice away; far away over the beautiful city. Down below the clock looked pitifully up at me and so did the people; who sympathetically swooned “poor guy,” and then anxiously looked around to see if anyone else had said the same thing.
Grass gently dances under softly pelting raindrops. Treetops roll at the whim of nature like billowing sails tossed to and fro on an angry sea. The whistling sound of wind comes and goes in perfect unison with the bending branches and the soothing droplets; only a few of which survive the perilous decent through the leafy canopy that shields my head. The clouds that were previously bright and interspaced with blue, now surge forward like dark waves crashing on a forsaken coast. It’s cool but not cold, warm but not hot; a once perfect fall afternoon, roughly upheaved by the unpredicted storm. A blanket of fallen leaves shrivel in defeat on the hardening ground, but a warmer blanket made of fleece separates me from the cold earth. There I sit: awestruck. Her dark hair loosely blows across my vision and demands a pause from this fixation on beautiful nature. Outside the temperature falls, but under the blanket and sweatshirts I am warm; driven onwards by ever-swelling emotion. I hug her close as the thunder crashes it’s victory, yet I do not feel the sting of defeat; only the occasional raindrop that manages to survive the drop to earth.
And then I'm standing on a chimney: the wind at my back and the city of Vienna stretched out below me. Behind me lie the splendors of ancient Europe; ahead of me is an exciting and unknown journey. My breath is deep with freedom; eyes clear with life. Life that is worth living. Gone are my days of self-pity and worthless existence; of making choices that have no purpose or eternal meaning. I resolved that day, to banish mediocre existence and to usher in a new era of intellectual, emotional and physical freedom; in short, to push forward without regret or indecision. I determined to form my own opinions and to stand by them; not to compromise or sway off of my course by the influence of others. I decided to become a force of nature; a behemoth of solidarity in the face of difficult situations: in contrast to my previous choices of people-pleasing and indecision. Ten rules for a successful life emerged from this epiphany, that I have since tried to model my life around. Although I sometimes lose my way and get trapped in temporary entanglements, I am constantly reminded of my higher calling: to serve an all-loving God and to live life with passion, vigor and excitement.
1. Be selfless.
Realize that life isn't just about you. The sooner you understand that the earth does not revolve on it's axis for your pleasure, the better off you'll be. You have been given the priceless gift of life, and how you choose to use that gift is all that matters. Someone wise once told me that after the last breath has been drawn and the spirit has passed from mortal existence, every earthly-action will be tossed into the furnace of judgement. Love, is the only thing that will survive the purging flame. What you choose to love, how much you love, and what you do with that love, is what will last. Not your new car or your possessions that will sift like ashes through mottled hands; not your job or career; not your self-image or attractiveness that will fade with the setting sun; in the end, everything that does not have eternal significance will disintegrate and fly away like snow into the wind.
2. Learn an instrument.
Do something that you've always wanted to do and quit making excuses for not doing it. Life is too short to live in tomorrow. Seize today, and make it count; forget about the past, and discover the present. Furthermore, although our past mistakes and misfortunes mold us into the person of the present, they do not define our future choices. Guatama Buddha once said that “life is a river always flowing. do not hold onto things". Life is fleeting, and given but once. Nothing beneficial is gained from beating yourself up over yesterdays that cannot be changed; similarly, living for a future dream makes you miss the beauty that is quickly passing in the present. You're like a speck of dust, floating down the river- completely at the mercy of nature's pre-defined course. Instead of wishing that you could speed up the current, or make it flow in reverse, enjoy the ride for what it is. So learn that instrument; pick up that guitar; play the dusty piano that you've always wanted to but keep putting off. You only have one chance.
3. Be able to hold a dinner conversation.
Form coherent opinions, and stand by them; value your thoughts and hold them with prestige: at the same level as intellectual legends and personal heroes. Your opinions matter, and you should be able to argue in favor of your unique perspective. You are of just as much value as the greatest man or woman to ever walk this earth; and your opinion holds exactly the same weight. More than that, live in such a way as to generate quality experiences that you can later relate to others. Invest in yourself, because in the end, that's all you'll have. It's not the actual conversation that matters, rather, the effort that it took to gain the ability to hold the conversation. Learn to speak your mind; exercise your intellectual prowess by standing up for what you believe in.
Get out of dodge; hit the road; jump on a plane; do whatever it takes- see the world. Understand that the planet is a whole lot bigger than your small-town Wal-Mart, and that there are cultures and people groups out there, totally different from your own. Stand in front of cathedrals and realize how insignificant you really are. See the sights that you have always wanted to see, and meet people who do not share your narrow view of life. Ethnocentrism is an evil to be avoided at all costs; avoidance starts with the purposeful expansion of your cultural horizons through travel. From experience, I can say that there is nothing quite like being on a train in a foreign country; there is nothing like falling asleep to the sound of rails beneath your feet, and waking up to the morning sun and a fresh experience. The past loses it's significance, and the future doesn't matter. The only thing that matters, is where you are at that specific moment; the only thing that matters is the blazing countryside and the blaring whistle. Train travel is a microcosm of how I strive to live my life on a broader scale: to be able to thoroughly enjoy the present, and yet to know where I will ultimately get off.
5. Appreciate solitude.
Find your solace through meditation. Learn balance by yourself. You can be alone in a roomful of people; but a room full of people cannot be alone. Delve into yourself and try to make sense of your emotions and personality. Be critical and self-constructive. Walk through the woods; listen to the bird trill his joy to the world, and study how the sunlight kisses the bark of dying trees; in the exact same way that it brings life to the youthful flower. Inhale the freedom of nature, by yourself. Or if you would rather stay inside, grab a book or head to a coffee shop. You matter; and you need time to yourself. Do not discount the benefits of escaping from this fast-paced and discouraging civilization that we exist within; escape to Walden, wherever that is for you.
6. enjoy an outdoor activity.
Nature is a beautiful gift, given to humanity to cherish and enjoy. Get out of your cubicle; go for a run; take a walk; breath in fresh air. Regardless of the activity, take the time to feel the breeze and smell the roses; even if it is only for a brief moment. Or if you do not have an outdoor activity that you genuinely love, find one. Some of my best and most tangible experiences have come within the beauty of nature; I have stood on mountains, run through the down-pouring summer rain and watched lightening strike into a field of flickering fireflies in the dead of night. I have watched the setting sun, with pastel colors that stretched so far upwards, that I had to turn around to see it all; I have felt the cool autumn breeze toss my hair, and also toss the grass under my bare toes; I have purposely, and actively appreciated the gift of nature. You should too.
7. Be completely passionate about something.
And I don't mean a significant other: find a cause or an activity that you are totally invested in. Discover something that you value so much, you would die to uphold it. Have faith in a Higher Power, and live with hope. Personally, I often find that I have too-many passions to follow; and so I take turns, switching from one to the next. In this way, I am able to keep myself completely passionate about whatever I find myself pursing. But everyone is different, and perhaps you haven't found a passion yet; or perhaps you are avoiding it. Either way, it's time to take a chance, for the sake of your sanity.
8. Take risks.
Life is too short to live with regrets or second-guesses. I have always had an intense fear of heights, and so when I was younger, I took every opportunity to bridge or cliff-jump (into water, obviously). Standing at the top, the journey down seemed so far; the fear that I felt reached down to my core and shook me. But I did it anyways, and at the bottom the top didn't look so high anymore. Similarly, when I returned home from a military deployment to the Middle East, I stood at the top of the cliff of security. I had a good paying job as an EMT, and was on a fast-track into the fire service. But that wasn't my passion. And so I tore up my resume, quit my job, and took a leap of faith into the abyss of the unknown. I have never looked back.
9. Develop a thirst for knowledge.
If you don't already, invest in yourself! Never stop learning. In reference to education, the great abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass said: "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man". He saw education as the key to his freedom; and it wasn't just him. There are mothers and fathers around the world, who would die to let their children have the opportunity to be educated. What does that say about you, if you do not take every opportunity you have to increase your learning?
10. Accept that your way isn't always best.
I think that this is the most important rule, and relates to the previous nine. Above all, be flexible and accept your life circumstances. For me, my plans and desires rarely every turn out the way that I wanted them too. When I try to hold onto the past, I end up depressed and frustrated that life didn't go my way; but in doing so I always miss out on the present. Remember that everything material is dust; dust that can and will disintegrate in the blink of an eye. This mentality also relates to relationships with fellow-humans. Every opinion has incredible value, because the people who hold those opinions are valuable. Don't just dismiss others and always be ready to admit that you're incorrect: this takes humility and meekness.
Above all, pursue happiness; whatever that means.