This year, I have been extra aware of the mother figures in my life. Reason being, my mother is over 8,000 miles away by sea and by land. In addition to my mother, my two beautiful sisters, who really have this whole motherhood thing down, are also in Chicago. (Seriously, I know no cooler moms). Other than Debbie Elliott, who has been my surrogate mother while being in New Zealand, the three coolest women in my life have been the best, most accurate examples of what God’s love for others truly means. Continue reading “A Letter to Three Mothers”
In case you were under the impression that I am living the good life over here, sipping cocktails, kicking my feet back in the warm, dwindling rays of the New Zealand sunset every week, allow me to pop your bubble. No I’m not donning a hobbit costume, herding sheep through the exquisite mountainside, going on wine tours, vacationing on the weekends, hitting the beach whenever I can, eating at highly rated establishments, or adopting a general “take it easy” mentality.
Let me take you on an eye opening journey through what my life looks like up here and what the reality of the situation looks like.
I wake up. I figure out how I am going to eat, pay for gas, and where I’m gong to live next week. I worry. Yeah, I worry a lot. I pray for continued reliance on God. I pray for peace amidst the chaos. I hope that tomorrow is the day I can stop worrying about finances. I swallow my pride (admission: this is my newest addition to the “things Eric loathes to do”) and asking for help when I can’t do it. I keep myself busy filling out job applications and watching tv shows, reading books, or writing because if I stop for one second, I will think about my family and how much I miss them. I constantly remind myself why I’m here, my calling, and what I sacrificed to get here.
Sound familiar? NZ is no different than any other part of the world when it comes to daily struggles. Pretty mountainsides and golden sunsets don’t buy you food, close a mortgage, resolve a fight with your spouse, keep kids off the street, end injustice, create equality, or stop a kid from putting a gun in his mouth.
You want to know the sad thing? I haven’t seen anything yet. I’m still VERY green to this country, and I will be shocked. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon. New Zealand is filled with sadness, pain, suffering, damage, grief, and wrongdoing…And if you thought I came here to escape the problems of America to go and live in a paradise…then you are so far outside of reality, that I can’t help you. It doesn’t matter if you live in Fiji, Hawaii, or Jamaica…brokenness will follow you, because there isn’t a place on this Earth that doesn’t have any.
I realize that I have perpetuated this in the past with only showing photos of the good things I’ve been exposed to in this country. I have since stopped doing that on facebook, but the truth is I can’t even properly display in photo, video, or even text…as I am doing now…the true horrors I am exposed to in New Zealand. Nor would you want to hear about them. The truth exposes things and forces you to step out of what is comfortable. We like comfortability. We like it so much that we have fallen in love with “talking” about things that matter, yet rarely do anything of personal sacrifice. Rarely acting towards “otherness”, rarely REALLY believing in what we talk about.
Still, even someone like myself, who left everything behind to live-out my calling, I found myself asking the important questions, “What am I doing for these people I came here for? How am I living in “otherness?” How am I actually living how Christ called us? Christ became a human being, talked to whores, touched lepers, broke the sabbath and had Sunday lunches with sinners. To live like Christ? This means: Otherness. Pay attention to “others” and love them. Actually DO those things.
Living in New Zealand is not easy, let me make that very clear, and I hope I have. This was not an easy decision to move here, and life here is not glamorous. Let me also make clear that I do not hate living here. The reason I don’t hate living here is that I truly believe in this country and I believe in making a change here. I have committed to New Zealand, and I’m not giving up on her. And though it’s not comfortable, I will continue to force myself to consider the “other” and to love them in my work. This is seeking the kingdom of God. (Matt 6:33), and if anyone does this, God will take care of the rest.
This I needed you to know.
Father’s day. It’s a ridiculous day every time I celebrate it…because it reminds me of how I should be living each of my days. It’s the age old critique of any holiday, “Why don’t we act this way all year round?” This especially comes up during Christmas. And yet, whenever Father’s day, or Mother’s Day rolls around, I feel the same way. I ask reflect on myself and say, “Why haven’t I been appreciating him/her every day? Why hasn’t that been a priority?”
Sometimes in life, you stumble on something that makes you stop, think, and change. Those “things” in life can be HUGE, or they can be surprisingly small. This morning, after my exceptionally loud alarm reminded me to go for a run, I, for some reason, was drawn to the bottom of my desk drawer. There, underneath my pens, books, and other miscellaneous things, rested a very old notebook. This notebook was originally a notebook I used the first year at Aurora University, the year after I transferred out of Calvin College. Most of my Michigan friends know how hard that was for me. In this notebook, I wrote notes for a class I was taking; the subject of which has escaped my mind. Anyway, the notebook was faded, torn, and wrinkled. The back cardboard had been torn off, leaving the back page exposed to the elements. As I picked it up, I noticed something written on the back page. This is what was written:
All of a sudden, I remember where I was when I wrote this. I was on my bed, and I remember the feeling in my chest now, even as I write this sentence. The feeling was filled with new-found passion and joy. I wrote this 4 years ago, because of something I started to do inside this notebook. I started a project. I began to sift through the Bible that I had owned since coming to know Christ when I was 13 (some of you know this as the Duck-tape Bible), and I searched for all the verses I highlighted over the years that spoke specifically to our relationship with God. This was a challenge of sorts because it meant combing through everything I have read, and reading new pieces that I had yet to discover.
The process awoke something in me that I didn’t know existed. Page after page, I transcribed the verses into my notebook. There was a rush in my heart, I felt SO alive, that I had to document it. And this is when I wrote the little note in the back of the notebook. This is when I immortalized the deep, living, transformative experience that was going on inside of me at that very moment. The most helpful by-product of this project has been returning to the notebook whenever I need to be lifted up. Many times I have felt less than amazing and have opened up this notebook to pour over the truth, and beauty within Christ’s promises for us, and afterward…I feel his peace, and joy, and provision for me. It feels awesome.
I have never shared this with anyone in full, but I hope that it can reassure and maybe even give hope to others, and I know there are others, who feel as if there is something missing, or lost. Our fire is never lost, I just think we need reminding once and a while.
So thank you 21 year old, past self. You saw the value and wisdom in trying to reach out to an older, future self, that would one day need a proper reminder of how truly amazing it is when we chase Him with all we are.
[I uploaded a few pictures from the notebook. They are small in the post, but if you click on them, they will open up in a larger size.]
I am finding it hard to remove myself cold turkey from the act of reviewing media that I come in contact with. So, in good nature, I have decided to give my fairly unbiased opinions about a television show that was first featured in 2005 and I first watched in 2012 called Prison Break.
Prison Break follows a man, Michael Scofield, on his mission to break his brother out of prison. Michael is convinced that his brother, Lincoln Burrows, is innocent of the crime for which he was committed, which was the murder of the vice president’s brother. Burrows is on death row, and scheduled for execution within the month. Scofield must make connections on the prison block that will aid him in his escape, but enemies are sure to make slow work of Michael’s plans.
[FOR A COMPLETE SUMMARY OF THE PRISON BREAK SEASONS 1-4, SCROLL TO THE RED BRACKETED SECTION]
I thought that Prison Break was a complex and intense show. From a story buff’s perspective, I thought that this show did an excellent job. I was captivated the entire time I was watching and I thought the show had its fair share of plot twists, which I love. The characters were difficult to love, which is very real to life. No character should ever be perceived to be perfect and always good. I loved Michael Scofield the most, as he always tried to do the right thing, and was nearly always loyal and honorable. He refused to murder anyone, and always found a way around hurting others. The show constantly illustrated the moral war being waged inside Michael’s head, and this was fascinating to me as a viewer. Though he never pulled the trigger, people’s lives were ruined by some of the things Michael needed to do in order to get his brother out of prison. Throughout the show, you could see the weight that Michael took on himself for the bad that had been done.
The elements of Good vs. Evil were very evident in this show and were not only portrayed by the “good guys” or just the “bad guys.” You generally were exposed to good and bad in every character. Even the most despised character, Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell, who killed recklessly and was convicted sex offender was not all bad. Viewers were able to see his more vulnerable moments and even pitied him occasionally. The show was excellent at demonstrating the grey areas of life. Very few things are ever black and white, but rather a thick shade of grey.
The “bad” sides of “good” men generally reared their ugly heads in the show when they were trying to protect family or loved ones. They were willing to do ANYTHING to protect the ones they loved and cared about. A line said by Michael says it all, “You have obviously seriously underestimated the lengths I am willing to go to to get my brother out of prison.” I found this show an excellent study in morality, good & evil, and the nature of man.
[FAITH BASED SECTION]
I think that from a faith perspective (a word I haven’t used since Calvin College, ha) I am conflicted with Prison Break, as with other shows (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Dexter, etc) With these shows and Prison Break, there lies a very complex and fascinating story/plot. There is a well written script and incredible character development. This can be used as a crutch to justify watching the show…if you know that this is something that you shouldn’t be watching. This is not a broad sweeping generalization, but rather more individualized. As a Christ follower, I live a life that runs media and other stimuli through a filter of discernment and wisdom. Some people just let ANYTHING enter their brains, and sorry if I’m too frank, but that is pretty dumb…not even from a religious context, just from a wise context. There is some real crap out there, and limiting the amount of seriously messed up content that we expose ourselves to is generally a good idea. It’s a free country, but again, this is just my two cents.
In light of that perspective, I find it difficult to watch certain shows regardless of plot, story, character development, entertainment, or complexity. Each person has their weaknesses. For some who have had a family member murdered, it would be seriously insensitive to recommend Dexter to them as a show they should watch. To someone getting clean, I wouldn’t ever recommend Breaking Bad. You get the idea. After watching Prison Break, I find myself asking questions like: “Was that show necessarily good to watch? Was it worth it? Did the good outweigh the bad? What was the good? What was the bad?” I have to admit, when I watch TV, I blaze a trail. I was done with 4 seasons of Prison Break inside of 2 1/2 weeks. Sometimes I can forget to discern what I am watching until I am already done with it. I think that many of us are caught in the same dilemma and should incorporate some more wisdom in what we watch. Think about it. What we put into us is going to come out somehow. In speech? In manner? In lifestyle? This is for you to think about, not for me to preach about.
PRISON BREAK SUMMARY
[THE FOLLOWING MATERIAL CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES]
In the first season we find Michael making connections, scheming his plans and remaining completely focused. RARELY does Michael become unhinged and nervous. Michael seems to have every angle thought out and every contingency considered. Only when Lincoln was about to executed did his plans fall apart. If it wasn’t for that rouge call from the judge, Lincoln would have been fried. It was only when the plane took off the runway, leaving the convicts waving down the plane, that it finally sank in. Some things can’t be accounted for. Humans. It seemed that everything that went wrong in Michaels plan was not due to some equipment malfunctioning, but rather a human acting, well…unpredictable. And I just have to say, for about 45 minutes of that final episode in season 1 (which was all of it, haha) I was holding my breath. I couldn’t believe the amount of suspense that led up to the final escape. I found my heart racing like a dubstep beat. Man that first season was solid.
Season 2 was very interesting in my opinion too. I loved the new addition with FBI Agent Alex Mahone heading up a task force to retrieve the escaped convicts. I thought William Fichtner did an incredible job as the FBI agent. In this season, we follow the gang as they attempt to escape the clutches of the law and remain low as to not get noticed by any civilians. I have to mention this right now though, because it bugs me as a serious plot hole. You would think that with all of Michael’s knowledge and foreplanning, he would have decided it was a smart idea to purchase some decent disguises for himself and his brother. It seemed like THE MAIN problem the brothers and the Foxriver 8 were running into was being “made” by the local populous. Some of them were arrested and even killed because of it. “But Nooooooooo! We’ll just put on some civilian clothes, maybe a hat, and we’ll be fine! Yeah, our faces are plastered all over the country, but I think NOT disguising our faces in ANY way is good enough.” Hardly. Anyway, aside from that, I enjoyed the suspense of the Foxriver 8 trying not to get caught. Season 2 was not worse than season 1, just different in design. I still loved it.
Additionally, I thought that the continuing plot-line revolving around “The Company” was starting to get interesting. You really begin to feel how strong of a hold The Company has on those in law enforcement, politics, government, even on the executive level. You start to think, “Is there anything that The Company can’t do, or get to?” We find that The Company has a TIGHT hold on FBI Agnet Mahone, as well as any person who has someone they love and doesn’t want to see any harm come to them. The Company loves to exploit this angle.
Season 3 starts with an interesting twist. At the end of season 2, it seemed like it was all over. Lincoln was exonerated for his crimes, they had a boat in Panama, Sara (Michaels love), and the money. Life looked good. Then Agent Kim enters the scene to screw everything up. He has Lincoln and Michael at gunpoint at the boat and is out for blood. Just as he is about to shoot, Sara comes from the back of the boat and shoots Kim in the chest. Kim falls into the water dead. The money falls into the river and is lost. Sirens from the Panama police are heard in the distance (from when Mahone made the call about two Americans shooting an Asian-American male.) Things don’t look good. Michael and Sara run and Lincoln escapes in the other direction. Michael takes the fall for the murder and is thrown into Sona Prison, the worst of the worst, and no one has ever escaped.
Season 3 wasn’t exactly my favorite, but it was still interesting enough. The entire season is about Michael trying to free a man named James Whistler. The Company wants Whistler out of Sona and are holding Lincoln’s son and Sara as collateral until Michael complies. Michael doesn’t exactly have a lot of time, and Sona is the kind of place where inmates regularly die from feuds. Lincoln is working on the outside to help Michael, but things aren’t easy…heck, when are they in this show? Lincoln decides to try and find his son and Sara before they are killed, and after Sara gave the brothers a clue as to where she was, Lincoln investigates. He finds where they are held, but fails to free them by seconds. Gretchen Morgan, the woman holding the two captives, decides to send Michael and Lincoln a message for their insolence, so she cuts off Sara’s head and put’s it in a box for Lincoln to find. This was easily the most darkly intense moment of the season. Still, the long and short of it is this: Michael escapes with Whistler and Whister leaves with Gretchen.
In Season 4, we find Michael devoting his entire focus to finding Gretchen and Whistler. His rage after finding out Gretchen beheaded Sara is palpable. You can tell in his eyes that he wants to do the same to Gretchen that she did to his beloved. Immediately in the episode Michael has done just that. He has caught up with the two of them and cornered them at gunpoint. Gretchen then explains something phenomenal. We find out that Sara was never killed. Sara escaped, and Gretchen didn’t want to loose credibility on the brothers. As a follower of the show, I was very pleased that they didn’t actually kill Sara off.
Season 4 is all about taking The Company down. A team is put together, The Brothers, Sucre (Michaels cell mate in Foxriver Prison), Mahone, Brad Bellick, Sara, and Roland Glenn, the techy. The team was put together by Homeland Security Agent Don Self. This season in my opinion was the most complex. The Company, the reason for SO many deaths surrounding each member of the team, was finally being taken down. Each member had a reason to take down the company. Each member knew someone killed by The Company in order to carry out The Company’s selfish plans.
The season ends with The Company being taken down and justice coming to those responsible. Still, you feel like you have to take a deep breath after it all comes to a slow. The scene where Michael is at the table about to hand over Scylla (The Company’s black book and patented ecological technologies worth billions) in exchange for exoneration, you can see it in his face…he is tired. Just as you think it’s all about to go bad once more, Michael says, “I’m tired of running…” And he hands over Scylla. His team is fully exonerated and their families safe. Everything that they had been fighting for the past 4 years was finally coming into fruition. As a viewer, it felt good. Like taking a deep breath after tense lungs are relaxed. If you were a watcher of the show, you know how it ends. I feel like the ending is very appropriate and beautiful.