|[el patio (with Hannah Rose fervently doing her homework)]|
|[homemade raspberry torta y chocolate de taza for Hannah Rose’s birthday]|
|[famous “chocolate con churros”]|
|[Rosa’s croquetas – lightly fried goodness – very common on tapas menus]|
The colors of Spain
|[the sun rises about 8:30am, so we get to enjoy it every morning as we cross the bridge to school]|
A few afternoon runs
through Parque María Luisa – the Central Park of Sevilla.
I’ve been counting down my last few days at home, trying to think how to best spend them, how to savor Texas. What sights, foods, activities and people will I miss? So I’ve watched a few sunsets, had a lot of meals with peanut butter, mowed the leaves off the lawn and spent most of my time at home. But how should I spend my last day in Plano?
What? I’m home?
I can’t believe it.
Two weeks ago today I left Lakeside. I can’t believe Ireland has come and gone. These past two weeks have been a whirlwind of hugs, hellos, and catching up with friends I’ve missed dearly. I live about 30 minuets away from JBU so I have been able to spend a decent amount of time with both friends and family.
I have been asked countless times “Oh Micah, how was your trip?!” Can I just tell you- that is the hardest question to answer. How am I supposed to sum up the past three months of my life in a few short sentences? I want so badly to be able to communicate with those close to me, and even strangers, just how incredibly wonderful this past semester has been, but words just don’t cut it. I just find myself saying over and over “oh my, it was incredible, it was so incredible. It was wonderful. Trip of a lifetime.”
Amongst the array of variations of that question, one sweet friend asked me to describe Ireland in two words. It has been my favorite question and really the one that I feel best sums up my semester. So I wanted to share my answer with you. I hope it begins to paint a decent picture for you of just how much of an impact these past three months have had on my life.
Rest: Ireland was such a season of rest for me. The Lord knew that I was tired. Tired in every sense of the word (mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, you name it, I was tired). Life at JBU has always been so wonderful but I was ready for a change of pace. Ireland was a beautiful change of pace. It was such a season of renewal
Perspective: Ireland, being so far away from all that I have ever known, gave me a different perspective on a lot of things in life: relationships, school, family, future, and most importantly my walk with the Lord. When you move away from what has been “normal” for so long, it’s like coming up for a fresh breath of air.
Being home has been such a joy. The first day I was home I felt like I was living in a dream and I would wake up in Ireland at any moment. These days Ireland seems like a dream and I already catch myself wishing to open my eyes to the green grass, blue skies, and the sound of wind and rain. The littlest of things will remind me of my time there. I hope that never changes. I hope to always be reminded of the gift of rest I received, the fresh perspective I gained, the people I met, and the place I called home.
Thanks so much for following my journey across the water. I hope, if anything, I have given you a glimpse of the Lord’s faithfulness in my life. This trip was truly a blessing, a gift from the Lord. If you have any questions about my trip or the JBU Irish Studies program, just leave a comment. I would love to answer any question I can and tell you more about Ireland, my semester, and JBU. Thanks again.
Have a Merry Christmas
Well, it is the week before finals here at Lakeside.
The house is full of the sound of keys clicking to the rhythm of words constructing papers. We can’t make tea fast enough to keep everyone’s mugs full and the tea time snacks are disappearing faster than they come out of the pantry.
Academic life here in Ireland has been incredible, just like everything else. Our professors are brilliant. Literally brilliant. (and Irish, which makes listening in class quite fun.) Haden Wilson, who teaches both Intro to Philosophy and Irish Perspectives on Christian Life, was a professor at Queens University (which, p.s., is just right down the street from Lakeside, it is breathtaking) for Thermodynamics and Engineering. He is now a pastor around the Belfast area and is extremely well known among the Christian community here in Northern Ireland. Our Irish Art and Culture professor is Amada Croft. Her parents AN D her siblings are famous Irish Artists (no big deal!!) and Amanda herself, is a well-known art history writer for the art scene and a professor at Belfast School of Art. She is currently working on coordinating an exhibition featuring her family. Philip Orr is our Irish Literature Professor. He is well known around the theater of Belfast for being a wonderful playwright and has written several books (yes, plural) about Ireland’s history. Our Politics and Economics professor is also…well, politically famous: Patrick Roche, you should Google him; he is on Wikipedia. He was a member of the Irish Assembly and has been a professor at both the University of Ulster and the Irish Baptist College. And our Evangelical Theology professor is also a professor at Belfast Bible College, he is an Old Testament genius, and has written books on books on books- his current project…a commentary on Ruth.
I have been blessed beyond words to sit under unbelievable teaching this semester. Each professor is extremely involved in his or her area of study within the greater Belfast community and we are lucky enough to steal three hours a week of their time. We have also had the chance to see them “in their element.” For some of the class we have taken a field trip of sorts; so not only are we learning inside the classroom but there is also a lot of hands-on learning. I have already talked to you about the Sunday trips to local congregations- that is for Irish Perspectives on Christian Life. For art, we attended a lecture in which two well known local artists discussed their work, we visited the RUA Exhibition which is an exhibit that is composed mostly of works done by the public, and we participated in a print making class where I walked away with refrigerator-worthy pieces of etching. For Politics and Economics we visited and toured the Leinster House (the Parliament building in Dublin) and had morning tea with the Lord Mayor of Belfast in his parlor in City Hall. It was rather fancy. For Evangelical Theology we toured churches, all within walking distance of the city center in Belfast, and got a better understanding of the religious divisions within the city. As for Irish Lit, we went to see a production of a play we were studying in class. The moment we walked into the theater it seemed every single person there was waiting his or her turn to talk to Philip Orr. Again, let me tell you, we have been learning from the best of the best.
So, amidst the noise of paper writing, or sounds of Royals, Roar, and Wrecking Ball dictating “study breaks,” or the clink of spoons stirring the tea, there is a hum of conversation that carries with it a tune of gratitude and amazement at the things we have been learning and the professors we have been learning them from. There has been a incredible balance between schoolwork and sightseeing, between lectures and discussions; and as finals week is just around the corner, I can’t help but think how sad I am going to be leaving these classes, these remarkable teachers, this city, this country. Oh what a blessing, what a joy, it has been.
But I can’t think about leaving right now. That’s for the next post. Prepare yourself for sentimentality.
I have been speaking with one of my favorite people in the world recently. Her name is Rachel. We live hundreds of miles away from one another so our conversations pause for some time and are resumed every now and again. She just won a fairly prestigious singing competition. I texted her a congratulations and we talked a while. She knew I was in the musical here at John Brown and asked me how everything was going. I told her I was really nervous. We, the cast, still had so much to do and work on. In all honesty, I was afraid. I wasn’t perfect at my role, some things were not where I wanted them to be. She replies, “Seth, sometimes I think you undermine your own excitement. It’s ok to be super excited for things without processing it first. Or being one hundred percent happy with the product first. That’s the beauty of it.”
The musical opens tonight. When 7:29pm turns to 7:30pm, the music will start and the stagehand will draw open the red folds of curtain. Lights up. Showtime. The cast has spent six hours a week practicing starting in August. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week were our dress rehearsals where we spent about eight, seven, and then five hours in the auditorium fine tuning our show. After our first run through on Monday, I was still a little afraid. I told Rachel as much. She answered, again encouraging, “It’s okay to be scared! But isn’t feeling scared the best and the worst? When has anything of worth come out of something you weren’t nervous/scared/unsure of?”
I can remember a few other times when I have been afraid. Auditions, mainly. In middle school, I missed the tryouts for high school choir in eighth grade. The teacher let me audition, but I had to audition in front of all the high schoolers – even seniors. My entire body was shaking as I sang. I remember my audition for the school of music at the university back home. They have you sing in front of the entire voice faculty, most of whom were former performers or have a doctorate. Or both. As a high schooler, I was horrifying. I shook there too. I am fairly positive my voice cracked. In each case, my fear was unfounded. Even when I haven’t been necessarily successful, fear has never kept its promise of harm.
As I am writing, it is 1:25pm. We open in six hours and five minutes. I am still a little afraid. My fear has changed though. It is more of a thrill. Singing for people isn’t a safe thing. The voice is something incredibly personal to each of us. Singing is offering up that deeply personal aspect of being. Authentic singing offers a voice without holding anything back. The authentic voice is offered without any control over how it will be received or criticized. I am vulnerable. I am unsafe. I have decided though, to keep singing. I am going to walk out on stage and sing for whoever it is in the auditorium seats. The rest of the cast has decided the same. Am I afraid? Of course. But there is something thrilling in moving onward with fear. It feels like I am exposing a lie or winning a great triumph. I feel I am on some great adventure towards equally great treasure. And I am. And we are.
In addition to classes, homework, sight seeing, drinking tea and trying my best to look like a local in town, my friends and I, for the last few weeks, have been planning our Fall Break trip. This past weekend we got up at 3 am on Friday took a Taxi to get on a bus to get to Dublin to get on an airplane to get to Spain where we got on another bus and then another bus, which dropped us off in the heart of Barcelona. Let me tell you, I have a new-found appreciation for travel agents.
Oh my, there is so much I could say about our trip. It was an absolute blast. We decided to embrace the fact that we were going to stick out like sore thumbs/accept the tourist persona we were bound to carry and buy tickets to the bright blue and red hop on-hop off double decker tour bus. It was honestly one of the best ideas we had. We got to see the entire city at whatever pace we wanted with the wind blowing in our hair. I realize it sounds dramatic…. it was. We spent an excessive amount of time at a massive fountain, we took a cable car up over the edge of the city, we saw all the famous monuments, and we sat on the beach. All within less than three full days. I also ate two of the best crepes I have ever had in my life.
But, it would be a lie to say that the trip didn’t come with its challenges. There was so much to be planned, so many tickets to be purchased, we had to find the right buses, find the place we were staying, get back to the airport, and, side note, none of us speak any Spanish outside what we can recall from high school courses. There were definitely points of struggle. But looking back, I am so thankful for the struggles for they only served to highlight God’s faithfulness and the hand He had in our entire trip.
After our first full day in the city, my friends and I spent an hour discussing all the ways we had seen the Lord’s faithfulness up until that point. And we only stopped because we were exhausted, not because we had pointed out all His provisions. I have never experienced answer to prayer in the way that I did on this trip. We had an absolute blast, we were challenged to take care of every singe detail, and not for one second were we doing it alone.
Since being back at Lakeside and back to “normal” life, I have again and again been reminded of God’s faithfulness. In the midst of a season of my life where there are so many unknowns, when I am far away from friends and family, when life at JBU is happening as usual, God has given me eyes to see his faithfulness. And what a joy it is, a blessing, and a gift covered by grace to be able to see even just a glimpse of God’s faithful hand at work in my life. Ireland, and now Spain, has really helped me take my blinders off and see that I am not the one who orchestrates and makes provisions for my life. We serve a big God who has big plans for each of our lives and who is faithful beyond measure to walk with us as we discover those plans.
While my weekend was spent on tour buses and eating crepes it was, no doubt, one of the sweetest times I have had with the Lord. He has it all under control. Oh, how often I forget that. But how sweet is my Father to remind me that I need not worry, for He is faithful.
Sundays have always been my favorite day of the week. At home mine are usually spent with family and friends, worshiping, learning about and pursuing our Father together, delicious food, and special times of fellowship. And Sundays in Ireland aren’t any different. In fact, I think Ireland has made me love Sundays even more.
Each week we do one of two things. We either visit a local church of a different denomination or we attend our home church and spend the afternoon with our host families.
As part of our Christian Life course, every other Sunday we attend different churches with different denominational backgrounds. The purpose of these trips is to expose us to church life in Northern Ireland. We are challenged to observe such things as the nature of the welcome, the ambiance, the dress code, the praise and music, the nature and the impact of the preaching and the varying doctrinal positions and emphases. So far we have had the privilege of engaging in worship with members of a Presbyterian church, a Baptist church, and a more charismatic church. On the Sundays we visit other churches, Haden Wilson, our Christian Life professor and our program director here at Lakeside, attends the church with us and does a wonderful job encouraging us to think through and think carefully about what we observe/experience in each of these churches. Although we are observing and doing some critical thinking about these different experiences, Haden also does a wonderful job reminding us that we are, first and foremost, there to worship.
These church visits on Sundays have been some of the most transformative aspects of my time here. It has been such a blessing to be exposed to different denominations and to have Haden to answer my questions or point me to scripture when I come across a practice or a doctrinal emphasis that I am uncertain of. Most importantly, the Lord has continued to show me just how much worship has to do with the posture of my heart and so little to do with the building, the music, or the words to the songs or hymns. It has been a gift to engage, fellowship, and worship with my fellow bothers and sisters in Christ here in Northern Ireland.
On the Sundays that we aren’t visiting a church, we worship with our home church, Christ Church, here in Belfast. The members of Christ Church have been some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. Each Sunday after the service there is a time to get coffee and tea (I HAVE HAD SO MUCH TEA) and fellowship with the rest of the body. I am continually surprised by the number of faces that smile, the number of hands that I shake, and the number of people who genuinely want to know about me and my time here in Ireland.
Within the body of Christ Church there are families who have volunteered to be designated host families for a group of students from the team. These families so graciously welcome us into their homes after church on Sundays, feed us an incredibly delicious and truly Irish meal, take us to fun parts of the town we haven’t seen, serve us tea, hang out and talk/play games/watch a movie, and then drop us off at the manor later Sunday evening. These days we get to spend with out host families are a total blast. It has been so fun to be in a home, to see a glimpse of what family life is like here in Ireland, and to eat a home cooked Irish meal (and the desserts…oh my, don’t get me started on the desserts).
My host families have taken a few of my team members and me on a beautiful walking trail, to a castle and the Family Fall Festival, to see the Giants Ring (a historical site here in Belfast), to the grocery store mid week and out for shopping and coffee. Oh my. It has been so incredibly special and so incredibly fun.
I think the way we spend Sundays, whether experiencing Northern Ireland church life or worshiping with our home church and host families, is a unique experience to the John Brown Irish Studies program. It has been on of the most impactful components of my experience abroad. To have a home church, to be plugged into and have fellowship with a consistent body of believers, and to sit under phenomenal teaching while aboard is truly a blessing from the Lord.
My Sundays here in Ireland are just like Sundays at home; they are filled with special times of worship, fellowship, food, and friends, both old and new. Sundays are my favorite…
and I’m still can’t believe I’m spending them in Ireland.
A guest speaker recently featured The Calling of St. Matthew in chapel. The Calling is a painting by Caravaggio, an Italian painter of the late 1500’s. This particular painting by Carravaggio holds for me a deep personal significance. The chapel service felt as if God spoke personally. Have you ever experienced a moment when God spoke personally? I am not sure if God always speaks personally. I do know that I relegate much of what he says to the general. In general, my life needs to change. In general, I should go apologize to someone. I think that God speaks all the time to us, but He does so in a way more akin to a letter than a sermon. A sermon is delivered to a general audience with general themes. Nothing wrong there. But, God, I really think, speaks personally to everyone. The reason I say this is because when I really slow down, when I really discipline myself daily to slow down enough to the point I am able to listen, I hear God speaking personally. My problem is that I rarely slow down in my everyday routine of life. My best times of hearing God have been outside of my usual routine: a summer camp, a trip out of the country, etc. Right now, in my usual routine, I am not taking the time to slow down. God has noticed and offered me a letter of sorts during this recent chapel service in the form of a masterpiece by Caravaggio.
My first introduction to Carravagio was also the first time I had ever truly appreciated a work of art. Until this point, I didn’t “get” art. It was some time around the first private lesson of my short lived vocal performance major. My vocal mentor was Bill. He was always Bill. Never Doctor or Professor. If you had Bill for anything you called him Bill. That day, I walked into Bill’s office afraid. Not of Bill, but of daring to pursue what I loved. I felt I didn’t belong. I felt I was breaking some rule of society which said, “You must not major in the arts. Ever. However, should you choose to do so, you will never be good enough to make any money. So, remember two things. First, don’t expect to do well. Second, keep your day job.” Recently, I have realized I was and am breaking those rules, but they weren’t rules set up by anyone to whom I should be paying any attention. You shouldn’t listen to those people either. This post is about who deserves attention.
I entered Bill’s office with a heartbeat far above normal. Bill greeted me with a smile. In my memories, Bill’s smile is always in motion, habitually chewing gum. The practice gave him enormous masseters. “Seth. Hello. How are you?”, he accented each phrase with staccato. “Seth” to acknowledge my personal presence. “Hello” to welcome. “How are you?” because he genuinely cared for his students’ well being. I don’t remember what sort of account I gave for my personal well being. Probably a lie about how fine I was. “Sit” was his next word. I sunk into a couch made comfortable by at least years of use. It was the kind of couch people get rid of for something which better complements drapes or matches some color scheme, both of which are terrible reasons for offing a couch like this. We talked again, probably about how he runs his lessons. Next, and what I can actually recall from our meeting, he introduced me to the two paintings he had in his office. The first was the aforementioned Caravaggio. The other was a painting by Tintoretto depicting St. Mark rescuing a young man from shipwreck. Perhaps another time we’ll meet Tintoretto.
Bill stood me in front of The Calling and he said, “Seth. Look at this painting. It is one of my favorites. If you should ever go to Rome, you must see it in person, I really can’t even begin to describe to you what it’s like to see it in person. It’s really, just… Look. In life, we are given a call, whether it is to sing opera or dance or whatever. At first, that call seems a burden and indeed it is, because we know that above all things we have to answer it. Look at Matthew”, here he pointed to the young man with his head held halfway between avoiding a glance and meeting a gaze and continued, “Jesus, to the far right is pointing at him. See how Matthew responds? The whole room is looking at him, trying to direct attention away from themselves. ‘Matthew? Not me, Matthew is that guy. He is the one you are looking for.’ The critical moment is here, it is right now for Matthew. His weights and measures are figuring how on earth to respond to Jesus. On one side, the call is infinitely heavy. He cannot lift it himself. He knows this. It has been his greatest fear to be called in such a way and yet also his deepest longing. Now, his dream is staring at him with the eyes of God, and Matthew is afraid. But, there is another side, the side to answer to this calling, to accept all the pain and hardship and joy inevitable in such callings. With this calling, though, Matthew would truly become himself.” Bill then addressed me, “Seth. It’s the same for you. You are here at this school. You have decided that, maybe, you have been called to sing. Whatever that call becomes for you, Seth, you must answer it.”
Bill’s advice went to my core. My dream was singing. I was afraid. Here was someone affirming the ache in my heart for something more. And yet, after that semester, I gave my dream up for a lost cause. Life got hard for a time and I gave up. I thought God was stealing away my dreams. Over time, I changed majors and eventually changed schools. God, though, had not stolen anything. Instead, through a long story and a variety of circumstances, God showed me JBU.
For the past two years God has revived my dreams and soul. He took a handful of embers from the depths of my being and cupped those ashes which had all but gone out in His warm potter’s hands. He brought them close to His face so that the faintest of orange hues lit up small glints in His eyes and He breathed. He breathed to bring those ashes of dreams and hopes back to flame. His breath was neither too hard, lest He put out whatever heat was left, nor too soft, lest His breath do nothing. Just a steady breathing of life back into my soul. If I stop and slow down, I can hear the call again, though it has changed some. I am not sure what exactly the call is, but I know I am in the right place.
God speaks personally when I slow down enough to listen. When I busy myself needlessly, sometimes gracious God speaks anyways with an exceedingly personal touch. Has anyone ever given you a perfect gift? Something given to you that doesn’t just increase your material wealth but says something about who you are? So it was for me with the painting in chapel. The Calling of St. Matthew reminded me that I am free. Free to dare to dream and follow that which God has for me. Since answering the call, trying somehow to follow God, life has not grown any easier. Actually, the opposite. Life has never been harder for me than it is now. But, there is a difference. The blessings and the light have grown all the brighter. Matthew could have stayed comfortable and wealthy at his money table. He could have turned away from Jesus. But, he didn’t. He chose otherwise. I am not inclined to believe he missed the tax collector’s life.
I have had moments when I turn away and moments when I answer. Though answering almost always seems a greater burden, I have found answering God’s call to be more of a relief and a joy. I am a senior in college and honestly, I am frightened when I think about post-graduation life. I don’t know what I am going to do or to what exactly God is calling. I haven’t had to make a big decision in some time. But, despite all of my anxieties, I have an anchor. I am listening.
Senior year is about ambition. Our now mature minds are becoming more focused on job interviews, “business casual” dress, and adult life. We’ve left our freshman immature selves in the dorms and moved onto bigger and better things. We now have keys to houses, crock-pots that we put to good use and even pay bills (mostly on time). We are all on the highway to adulthood, attempting to grow our capacity to be highly functioning and capable humans.
A common trait connecting most adults is they have goals. They are always moving in some sort of direction, moving towards improvement. I figure if I myself want to fit into the adult world, I must make some goals. So, for me, senior year has turned into an opportunity for self improvement with the goal of adulthood.
I surveyed my life wondering where improvement could take place to move me towards adulthood. There was on particular area where I saw a desperate need for improvement. This area has lacked maturity for sometime now.
In high school I was characterized by independence and responsibility. These traits transcended most of my life, expect one particular area. My whole family had me distinguished as a slob from a young age. At one point by Dad compared cleaning my room to “parting the Red Sea” and would refer to me as Moses when he assigned me such task.
During high school, in the midst of the morning rush, my room would be left in a unapproachable state. When I would return home, like magic, the floors would be cleared and the bed would be made. The fairy godmother that tidied up my little mess was my precious grandmother. Faithfully, without complaint, she would compensate for the areas I lacked.
There was one day where I rose to the challenge. I woke up early leaving enough time to make my bed before I rushed out the door. When I returned home I had a letter with a newly purchased sweater laying on bed. The letter congratulated me on cleaning my room and expressed pride in my new accomplishment. If this does not sadly display the state of affairs, I don’t know what else would.
So in honor of my grandmother and for the sake of my soon to be grown up self, I have decided that now is the time. My one goal for senior year is to become the type of person that makes their bed. To my type A roommates, sure this might sound like a small task that should have been learned in the second grade. Many would agree with them. But for me, this small goal is one that will take great effort and encouragement. To some it may seem like a small step overdue, but for me it is a my first leap into the world of adulthood.