Monthly Archives: September 2009

…for nutella!

Today, I am thankful for Nutella.

I was sitting at dinner, and I was talking with my friends about this blog, and how I’m running out of things to be thankul for.  At that point, my friend Jessie suggested that I be thankful for Nutella. Taking her opinion to be 99% humor and 1% possibility, I chuckled and nodded my head along. Isn’t Nutella a silly thing to be thankful for, after all? It’s a spread made of chocolate and hazelnut. You put it on toast, or dip fruit in it. Shouldn’t thankfulness be reserved for more serious topics, such as volunteering and charity?

While those things are commendable, notable, and unquestionably worth pursuing, something as trivial as Nutella also deserves to be recognized. I thought about everyone involved in the process of making Nutella. I thought about the nameless workers harvesting hazelnuts and cultivating cacao trees. I thought about their families and their stories. I thought about the people driving the vehicles that transported the raw nuts and cocoa to the factories, where nameless workers operate the machinery that mix the two into endless rows of jars. I thought about their families and their stories. I thought about the people driving the vehicles that transported the prepared Nutella to stores, where it was purchased and eventually ended up in front of me, at the table where I sat.

As I thought about these things, I prayed for the people involved in my dessert. I looked past the seemingly silly idea of thankfulness for a food item to peer into the lives of the real, living human beings involved in creating it. It was a humbling experience. Suddenly, it was no longer the Nutella who was silly, but rather, my own self for even entertaining the idea of a food item merely coming from a shelf in the dining commons. I sat in a brief moment of silence, and lay thankfully for those people that I’ll never meet. People who are a brief part of my life, even if for a moment.

It is for these reasons that I am thankful for the sort of things that seem altogether silly to be thankful for. For the little, delightful treats that we take for granted. For things like Nutella. And for the countless people behind everything that defines and shapes our everyday lives, from the pens we use, to the paper we write on, to the food we eat, to the cars we drive, and so on. Today I am thankful for those people that make these things possible. I am thankful for Nutella, but today, I am especially thankful for where Nutella comes from. What, or whom, are you thankful for today?

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…for bluntness!

Today, I am thankful for bluntness.

Either I’m suffering from amnesia, or this Monday is the worst case of the Mondays yet. I couldn’t find the strength to focus on anything today. I sleptwalk through my classes, drowsily floating.

I missed chapel. I missed a meeting. I was late to class. Instead of participating in any of these things, I blankly stared at my computer screen for hours, occasionally committing sentences that were rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. Three and a half hours, one missed meeting, and two tardy classes later, I finally gave up.

I went to bed, letting Monday win.

Then, I woke up and went to dinner. Someone in the line asked me how my day was, as people at Taylor always do. So, I was honest.

I took a deep breath, and explained, “You know, I’m having a terrible day. I haven’t been able, for whatever reason, been able to get anything done. I know it’s just because I’m lazy, but I have been staring at a computer screen for the last three and a half hours, unable to lift a finger. Unable to do a thing. I feel powerless and useless.”

Heavy conversation for a cafeteria food line, I know.

I talked to another friend of mine, Ellen, about my lousy day and my apathy. She empathized as though I were talking about this relative I had lost in some sort of tragic boating accident. It was heartwarming and a bit hilarious.

There was something empowering and energizing about blunt honesty. I’m so…trained to sugarcoat my day. I have a stash of nine or ten key phrases that I toss out at people I pass on our campus walkways. Blunt honesty allows me to drop the sugarcoating and be more exposed. Be more naked. I think there are few things I hate in the world more than being naked, but it is something that I could definitely work on. Openness!

Being open allows others to see me as I am, which allows me to see them as they are. It’s embarrassing, encouraging, and beautiful. None of this is to say that whining is a good thing. I am merely suggesting that perhaps we sugarcoat our days a bit too often, and that we lose honesty in the pressure to appear content.

It is for these reasons that I am thankful today for bluntness. For openness. For honesty. What are you thankful for today?

…for saying “no”!

Today, I am thankful for the ability to say “no”.

For me, this is something revolutionary. See, I rarely ever find the strength to deny opportunities to spend time with others. Being on a college campus doesn’t help too much, especially when you are bombarded with countless opportunities to waste all sorts of time. I mean, why study or sleep when you could go somewhere and “have fun”?

Saturday night had me all up talking into the wee hours of the morning with a friend of mine. Which, is something I do not regret in the least. However, because of the time that I had spent talking, had I gone on about my day pretending that I wasn’t awake at six in the morning, I would have fallen apart in front of my peers. Knowing this, I went straight to bed, and slept off most of the day.

I do hope that I’m not condoning a lifestyle of sleeping and staying up too late. Those aren’t ideal things, or good things even. What I am trying to say is that in my discernment of opportunities that come my way, I am able to enjoy the people I do spend time with and the events I participate in to the fullest.

When faced with nearly endless choices throughout our days, we can allow ourselves to become stretched out. If we are stretched out, how can we fully commit ourselves to any one thing? No one wants a diluted offering. We yearn for concentration, from the quality of our focus, to the quality of our orange juice.

I’ve often heard it said that for everything one accepts, something is denied. Which is mostly true. But what of the things accepted through denial?

This is all a bit fitting, today being Sunday and all. Even God had a day of denial. A day of rest. A day of “no” to prepare for six more days of “yes”. If God had a day of denial, who am I to say I am above such things?

It is for these reasons that I am thankful for denial. For rest. For time to recharge. What are you thankful for today?

…for derek!

Today, I am thankful for Derek O’Brien.

For those of you who don’t know him, Derek O’Brien is a Green Beret. Derek O’Brien is nineteen years old. By the time you read this, Derek O’Brien will be in Afghanistan, shooting people while having bullets whiz past him. By the time you read this, Derek O’Brien may be in a coffin.

I can still see his jittery hands. I first made his acquaintance at the local school coffeeshop with a few friends of mine. He wandered around in circles for a bit, scouting the students occupying different tables, coffee in hand. Before too long, he saw something in my four friends and I. Perhaps we were laughing; perhaps we are just the coolest people ever. But he slowly shuffled towards our table and said, “You guys mind if I sit down? Anyone sitting here?”

With a brief pause and glance towards one another, we offered our collective “sure” and pulled up a chair. Sneaking nervous glimpses at the floor, then at us, he explained, “I’ve got six hours before I ship out to Afghanistan, and I thought it’d be nice to talk to some civilians.”

For the next two hours, the five of us exchanged thoughts with Derek. We inquired about his motivations for joining the army. He wasn’t entirely sure himself, other than that he was “good at yelling at people” and being “paid out the ass”.

Derek told us stories about his two years in training. We heard about boot camp, hiding in the mud, taking orders and being yelled at. We cringed as he used choice four-letter words to detail his experiences. We directed our full attention as he recalled a breakup. “My girlfriend broke up with me two days ago,” he explained. “That night I grabbed the nearest waitress and…see, all the girls in Pendleton are crazy for army guys. Except for my girlfriend of two years.” We felt for him as we saw the faintest hint of a tear lost somewhere in his stony, nigh emotionless face.

I held the ring that he earned for two years of training as a Green Beret. According to Derek, they are “past the front line. The first to go in.” As he leaned back in the booth, he proclaimed, “My goal is to make it through life without getting shot or stabbed. If I do that, I win.” I looked at the scars on his hands, the bruises on his arms. He showed off his heavy metal tattoo and the snakebite on his knee. I stared at his shaking left hand; the shaking left hand that would be holding a rifle in the next twenty-four hours.

Derek is not the kind of person that I would be friends with had I met him in any other context. I don’t do heavy metal. I’m not very athletic, or very aggressive, for that matter. I can hardly handle killing a spider. But as I listened to this person, who either had met my four friends and I by dumb chance or some sort of divine intervention, I saw not the Derek in front of me in army garb. I saw a different Derek.

As he told us about his passion for music, and how he wanted to eventually become a musician, I saw Derek in high school. I saw a kid with long hair with parents who were constantly fighting. I saw a kid who loved that was loved. I saw a kid who was hurting. As I looked at the Derek that is, I saw a little bit of the Derek that was. In-between the rapid darting of his eyes and his jerky movements, I found that Derek, searching for a smile. It was faint, and as a flash, disappearing as quickly as it came. But it was unmistakable. It was there.

Eventually, the time came for all of us to depart from Derek, and for Derek to wait in his hotel room until the morning. We solemnly walked out of the coffeeshop and into the lonely Indiana night. For a few moments, we exchanged polite lies about how we would all meet again, each of us knowing the probable; the inevitable. As we split from Derek, I watched him march in a straight line past a dim streetlamp; his shadow reflecting onto the concrete. There was a discipline even in the way he rigidly paced back to his Best Western hotel room. That was the last I ever saw of Derek O’Brien.

It’s easy to watch the news. It’s easy to talk about the left and the right, and to form opinions about the war. It’s hard to put a face on those things. It’s even harder to look those faces in the eye and have conversations with them. Because then, you are not talking to a statistic. You are talking to a living, breathing human being, with thoughts and fears and aspirations. It is humbling, saddening, and altogether incomprehensible.

The five of us drove home in near silence, wishing that we prayed with him, offered him our faith. But life is never that simple. We instead decided to keep him in our prayers, and to be thankful for him and his sacrifice to the country. I am thankful for Derek O’Brien and what he is doing for myself, for others, and even for his own self; perhaps for reasons he doesn’t fully understand. Today I am thankful for Derek O’Brien, on the front lines. What are you thankful for today?

…for rain!

Today, I am thankful for the rain.

I know all sorts of people that love the rain. I also know all sorts of people who despise it. I think that I’ve always fallen somewhere among the latter crowd. I’m fairly uncomfortable with my body image as it is, and I think there are few things more embarrassing than having the rain dampening my clothes and highlighting my figure. I wear clothes in the vain hopes of hiding my figure, rather than embracing it. But that’s another conversation.

What I am trying to say is that it was raining today. Droplets fell from the clouds in cycles. There were moments of heavy rainfall, light sprinkling, and brief respites. The overall mood of the day was a bit dour, or at least, perhaps not as cheery and bubbly as usual. Which, for the uninitiated who don’t attend Christian college, means that the Apocalypse is looming over the horizon.

As I shuffled through buildings and darted across walkways, I noticed two kinds of people passing me by in the rain: people with raincoats and people without raincoats.

The people without raincoats gave me the impression that they were rehearsing for some sort of Charlie Chaplin routine, which is highly unlikely, as I’m sure there are countless students who haven’t the faintest clue about who Charlie is. These people were determined to repel the rain by any means possible. Their coat-lessness was no matter; they hunched over, and marched from point to point with a steely scowl on their faces. Despite their best efforts, the rain decided to ignore their precaution and soak them anyhow. Rain dripped down their faces, past their noses, landing on their squishy tennis shoes.

Chuckling aloud, I took the time to notice the people with raincoats. They walked more slowly, taking a pause in-between each step. As the rain beaded off of their expensive nylon jackets, I couldn’t help but feel that those with raincoats had it a little bit too easy, even if any of us were only walking a few hundred yards to each of our respective destinations. Then I noticed that those with raincoats who had been out for a while were also wet. Their hair twirled and lay flat against their faces, and the shoes on their feet were also squishy.

Before too long, I was thinking about my hippie new-agey friend from high school, who keeps telling me that “God is in the rain”. I had no idea what she was talking about then, and I’m not even sure that I understand what she is talking about now. But, something in that phrase struck me as the rain fell on everyone in passing.

I thought about how, either with or without raincoats, no one escapes the rain. No matter our “preparedness”, none escape it. It reminded me a little bit about God, and how none of us ever really escape God in this life. Perhaps each of us have different understandings of “God”, and what that means, and who He is. I think that God reveals a little bit of himself to each and every one of us at some point in our lives. Sometimes we mistake God for something else, and we label Him as things that He definitely isn’t.

I love how when we do encounter God, we often attribute that experience is something that is wholly other, or foreign. And it frightens us. It makes us uncomfortable. So we put on our raincoats. Or we wear a steely scowl and run away as quickly as our legs will take us. But, in the end, none of it really repels the rain, or God, completely.

Then, as I was leaving my last class, going home for the day, I saw this student off in the distance. I don’t really know her name, but I’m guessing that this person is a girl from the long hair. But she was embracing the rain. She was dancing in it, staring up at the sky, and gracefully walking to wherever she was going. If this sounds a little silly and laughable, it’s because it is.

Yet all too often we overlook the wisdom in simple things because we are laughing at what we don’t understand. We shouldn’t be laughing at, but rather be laughing with those things.

Part of me was wondering how on Earth someone could love being drenched in the rain. And then, part of me was wondering how someone could love being drenched by God. It is inspiring, uncomfortable, and encouraging.

It is for these reasons that as someone who hates the rain, I am, at least for this day, thankful for it. Thankful for God who is in the rain, who created the rain, and who drenches us despite our best efforts. What are you thankful for today?

…for cluelessness!

Today, I am thankful for how I am running out of things to be thankful for.

Just kidding. Or at least, mostly so.

While I am somewhat thankful for that, as it makes me think that much more about each day’s events, I am more specifically thankful for group projects.

I think that, as a rule, I just don’t do group projects. As someone who often lives inside his own head, goes by the beat of a different drummer, and whatever idiom you might be able to think of to describe persons such as myself, I hate group projects. It’s my nature. Groups terrify me. Whenever I see a mass of people, I also see Waco, Texas. Or a crowd of lemmings running off a cliff. I like to hide inside my safe illusion of “independence”, whatever that actually means.

But today, I think I finally learned how to love groups and group projects, or at least, learned to not completely hate them.

That said, please understand that this love, or tolerance, was almost entirely born out of desperation.

See, the group project in question was for my PSY 330 class, or “Applied Psychological Statistics”, which is every bit as frightening as it sounds. My group partner Lydia and I went over simple concepts such as “case summaries”, “replacing missing values”, “recoding”, and so forth. My eyes darted across pages in my textbook, running across words that had no meaning or significance whatsoever. I might as well had been reading Hieroglyphics. And I can’t remember at what point this occurred, but Lydia and I both came to the conclusion that neither of us knew anything about the project.

Once the two of us reached this conclusion, we hurriedly consulted our group supervisor, who came to our rescue. To make a long, two hour story short, we finally finished the assignment and turned it in, even though I’m still not entirely sure what we did exactly.

The point that I am trying to make is that, in group projects, or at least the good ones, we realize that we aren’t alone. For the longest time, and even a bit to this day, I have always felt mentally challenged. I got tested for ADD towards the end of high school and was diagnosed as having Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, and being a candidate for Asperger’s Syndrome. Those are big words, and whether or not they actually have any significance to my life is, in my humble opinion, yet to be seen.

But! In group projects, I find that I’m not the only person on this planet who feels like an idiot. It’s comforting to know that you’re not the only one who’s clueless. I wonder how many of us who confidently stroll through our days with a swing in our step really know what in the world we are doing. Call me crazy, but I find a little bit of beauty in how we’re all tuned a little closer to the same frequency than perhaps we’d like to think.

I find beauty in our cluelessness because it opens the doors to honesty, which leads to community. I’ve heard a great deal about “community”, both as a precursor to the word “college” and as a descriptor for the life that should be. What if, in our “ignorance”, whatever that actually is or looks like, we were all a little more honest with one another about where we stand, so that we might each get to our respective destinations a bit faster?

It certainly worked for me on an “Applied Psychological Statistics” group project. Which, in my mind, means that it probably could work for just about anything. Perhaps it won’t work on all things, but what’s to stop us from at least trying? I think we all could be a little more open with one another.

It is for these reasons that I am thankful for group projects. For cluelessness. For the honesty that comes from that. What are you thankful for today?

…for you!

Today, I am not thankful for anything directly related to me.

I know that this may, at least on the surface, sound unthankful. And maybe it is. I certainly hope that it isn’t. But one thing that has caught my attention this past month is my narrow view of thankfulness. Being thankful is a wonderful thing! It helps me focus not only on the not-so-wonderful happenings populating my days, but also on the blessings, both little and grandiose.

On the flip side of this mentality is what Psychology majors call “egocentrism”. It’s what I like to call “JT-centrism”. It’s where I live in a world that either caters or does not cater to my each and every need, where every event taking place is at least in some regard related to my person. It’s nice to think this way. It’s a bit of a ego-booster, if you ask me.

But thinking this way often leads me to boot others out the window. I think of my interactions with others as benefiting me either by their pleasantness, or the life lessons yielded from each conversation.

Which, this is all terribly silly. I do hope that it makes a bit of sense. It is for these reasons that today, I am not thankful for what impacts me, but rather, what has impacted you. For example, Kylie, my friend back home, just got recently engaged. If you’re reading this, Kylie, then congratulations! I’m happy for you.

From events such as opportunities to grow closer to God through struggle and confusion, to finally building up the kind of portfolio they hoped to have for life past college, I am thankful for my friends and their victories. I am thankful for their grief and for their joy, for the daily happenings that God is using to help them all “grow up”, if you will.

Today, these are the things I am thankful for. I am thankful for YOU! For the chance to know you, and for what is taking place in your lives. Think about what you’re thankful for today. And then, think about others, so that you don’t get all bound up in yourself as I myself do all too often.