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Archive for January, 2013

Quick Thoughts

Hey everyone!

So for anyone reading this that doesn’t attend St. John Lutheran Church, or does but wasn’t at the annual meeting, I gave a quick speech thanking everyone for their support, and explaining this wonderfully and scary journey called Seminary. I can remember that Christmas Eve service, back in ’09 when I sat down with the family and had my life changed for the better. We had been a bit late, so rather than sit on the left side of the church in “our” pew, we were a bit further towards the front and on the right side. Today I decided to sit over on the right side again. Partly because I was thinking about that service, but mostly because I wanted to catch up with Carlyn and Marlene. A tiny fragment of the decision may or may not have been to mess with dad’s head, but I’ll let the reader decide on that one.

In any case, being on that right side again made me realize all that has happened to me in that church since I got that calling again and finally stopped saying “no.” I helped out with communion for the first time and had my zipper down through the whole thing. Thanks again, Jim L for catching that one. I filled in for services when the pastors needed someone to cover, and undoubtedly goofed up something or another each time. I told the pastors I was terrified of the thought of working with youth, so they told me to become a confirmation guide…

The list goes on and on of the amazing opportunities that I’ve had, and the little slip-ups that have occurred along the way. At any one of those times, the congregation could have said “you know, maybe we’ll take you off the list for communion assistant” or “I think next time we’ll just hire a pulpit supply person” or “you’re afraid of kids? Oh, well then never mind.” But instead of those responses I got positive reinforcements, helpful tips (like making sure your zipper’s up before communion distribution) and encouraging nudges to explore my growing edges. I have been nurtured by the church. I have been graced with a loving, forgiving, and understanding family that stands by me and encourages me every step of the way.

My excuse all along to God was that I couldn’t do it. What I didn’t realize was that I was really thinking I couldn’t do it alone. Luckily for me, God has made sure that I didn’t have to. I have been surrounded by love, raised up in a strong faith, and encouraged to fulfill my potential. Along the way I have met truly amazing people, realized the gems in my life with my friends, family, former co-workers, random acquaintances… I can’t do it alone, and that’s okay, because I don’t have to. I only hope I can help others realize that themselves by being a part of their support network. Because the truth of the matter is that God doesn’t abandon us in our hour of need.

Blessings to you all!

-Paul

 

Chicago

This year’s January Interim (J-term) class is on domestic violence. Since coming to the Seminary and hearing about this J-term, I’ve known that this would be a class I’d want to take. All the comments I’ve heard from other classmates and graduates have only reinforced this feeling. Now that I’m in the course, it’s even more apparent that not only do I want to take this course, but I need to take it. From day one, I have been intrigued by the material. It feels horrible to say that I’m excited to be learning about domestic violence, but I can’t help but think of how much it will help me in future ministry and interactions with others who have suffered from domestic violence in one form or another. What has surprised me is how MANY people have been impacted by such a horrible thing.

Our class just returned on Friday from a three day trip in Chicago, talking with people who work with shelters, those voicing concerns about this issue, victims of domestic violence, a social worker working with the Cook County Police on responding to DV calls, someone who works with human trafficking… the list goes on. Even more, we’ve heard one another’s stories as to how this has affected each of us in our own lives. Some of us have been more closely affected by domestic violence than others. We have shared tears, hugs, stories of violence, despair, loss, hopelessness, hope, community, encouragement, faith…

As one portion of this course comes to a close, I feel like this has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Whenever I thought I had finally overloaded on emotions and wouldn’t be able to feel, yet another voice managed to break through and make me feel again. My heart broke so many times, and just as many times was made new by the knowledge that there are people out there who are working to make this right, there are people who have survived the violence, people who have found the courage to leave, the strength to move on. There are so many reasons that people stay in these relationships, sometimes even willingly. I only hope that God will use me to get through to even one person and help them find freedom from the hurt.

May God’s presence be made known to all those suffering from domestic violence, victims of hate, that they may find a way to escape such situations and find the resources necessary to survive and be free. And may God use my being to help those in need and to share the Good News. This is not their “cross to bear,” nor should they “suffer gladly for God.” Our God is one of hope and love, not suffering and pain.

 

 

Happiness and Hmm…

Hey everyone!

Well this year has definitely started off on a good note! I finished the last year and began this one at home in De Pere, then returned back to Dubuque in the evening of the first to get back into my normal routine before classes begin.  I love my family dearly and truly enjoyed the ten or so days I was able to share with them. It was great having a chance to see everyone in person, to hear their voices, shake their hands, and hug them tight. That being said, it has been great being back in Dubuque as well. I’m always happy to come home, so with two homes, it makes for a lot of happiness. I’m hoping the happiness can and will continue.

Amid the joy and happiness welcoming in yet another year has brought, I’m still left with several questions. Nothing too serious or urgent, mind you, but questions nonetheless. I’d say the biggest remains how God will continue to shape my life. I recently wrote about how amazing these past three years have been since I stopped running from God’s calling, but it doesn’t mean I know what the future will hold for me. It’s both incredibly frightening and comforting all at once. While it would be great to just say “Okay, God. I trust you completely, so I’m not going to fret,” I wouldn’t want to lie so boldly to God. Because the fact of the matter is, I’m still left with doubts and concerns. I can and always try to rejoice in the moments where my worry proves unwarranted, but hindsight is 20/20.

Another major question, or pondering, that I’m still chewing over is whether or not to become vegetarian. While I know a lot of people make this choice for ethical reasons, such as in protest of the cruelty to animals or because they feel the slaughtering of innocence in all creatures to be horrendous, my pondering is for another reason. I don’t really crave meat, hate the thought of going anywhere near raw meat, and wouldn’t want to slaughter an animal or even just butcher one to get said raw and icky meat. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing meat-eaters, either. I’m just wondering if it’s fair for me to eat something I’d never actually want to prepare myself. In my meals here in Dubuque, I rarely use meat, and even then only if it’s pre-cooked, like in soups or lunchmeats. 90% of the meals I prepare for myself are already vegetarian, so why not simplify things and make it 100%?

In any case, I want to make sure this year continues to go well. I thought about what I could do to make my life better and came up with ten goals for myself. It started off with the idea of writing down a goal or two, but ten is what I ended up with. So without any further ado, here they are:

1. Weigh 266lbs or less

2. Pay down loans to less than $23,000 (currently at $24,364.34 and increasing about a dollar per day. Still, with a stipend while on Internship, I’m hoping this can be a reality.)

3. Be more assertive.

4. Eat/Live/Feel healthier.

5. Be closer to God.

6. Be less reactive with others.

7. Stick with spiritual practices.

8. De-clutter your life.

9. Do something wild and crazy. (For me, of course. Being the fairly conservative person that I am, it wouldn’t have to be anything too out there.)

10. Be happier with who you are.

I think #5 and #10 are the most important of them all. If I manage these two, the other eight will undoubtedly happen as well. I’m hoping that at the end of the year I’ll be able to come back to these goals and tell you that I’ve managed to fulfill all of them. If not, oh well. I just hope the journey is a good one.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with an idea that’s currently going around on the internet. It suggests making a jar for the 2013 year, and sticking positive thoughts and notes from each day into the jar. Then, on New Years Eve, you can open up the jar and read all the wonderful blessings you’ve had over the year. I’ve started mine, and I have to say it feels really good to think of the positives each day and focus on them. The other day, after shoveling out a friend’s driveway with other great friends, I was invited to share in a truly delicious meal. Between the bites of delicious breads and warm, tasty soup, we shared stories and enjoyed one another’s company. Afterwards, it felt so great knowing that the memory of that day would be kept safe in my jar.

So what about you? Do you have any New Years Resolutions or goals you’d like to share? Are you thinking maybe the jar idea is pretty cool? I’ve already seen another one with the beginning of what is sure to be a treasure trove of positives. The family is working on one together, and even decorated the jar. Definitely a good idea for families of any age, or for individuals as well. Let me know if it works out for you.

Until next time!

Paul Johnson