Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Five Stack

I know it sounds like a new option on McDonald's "heart-attack-guaranteed" menu, but the Five Stack has nothing to do with feeding the stomach. It does, however, have everything to do with feeding the mind. (Cheesy, I know, but stay with me. Haha, get it? "Cheesy"...it's like a five-stack with cheese!).

Wow...

Anyway, so the other day I was lamenting to my brother, Dave, that there are so many different topics that I want to study, but I don't have a good system for studying them. I love reading books, but I'm not very purposeful in the way that I read. I sort of just read whatever good book seems to be laying around at the time, without any systematic approach to what I'm reading or learning, if that makes sense. So, I wondered out loud to my brother if I should just choose a field of study, spend a few months reading all the books I could get my hands on surrounding that topic, and then move on to the next thing. For example, I really enjoy philosophy of religion. Should I just spend the next several months only reading that genre of books?

The immediate problem I saw with this idea was that it seemed like by adopting that method I would be forced to neglect other necessary areas of study, such as personal growth. Well, in the midst of my confusion, my bro dropped a knowledge bomb on me.

(A paraphrase)

Dave: What if you chose five different books from five different fields of study and read them concurrently?

MaxAC: Wait, you mean read them all at the same time? (I'm a little slow...)

Dave: Yeah, just stack them up. Read a few chapters from the first book, and then put it on the bottom of the stack. Next time you want to read, take the next book off the top of the stack and read a few chapters from that one. Then repeat the cycle until you've read all the books, at which point you can choose five more.

MaxAC: So, I'm just clarifying...read FIVE BOOKS AT ONCE?!?!

Dave: Uh, yeah.

Brilliant.

Thus, the Five Stack was born! To be honest, I've never done anything like this before. I'm the kind of guy who really has a hard time focusing on more than one thing at a time (I guess that just makes me a guy, huh?), but I'm trying this out as an experiment, testing my own ability to multi-task read. Just a few days in, I'm realizing that it's not so hard to keep these readings separate because they are all vastly different topics.

There's actually a lot more that I'd like to say, but this post is already reaching "too-long status." More to come soon...

Monday, January 25, 2010

On the prowl...

This is probably one of my favorite videos that I took while in South Africa. Unlike the other lion video, which was taken at a lion park (more or less a glorified zoo), this lion was actually spotted out in the wild, in its natural habitat, at Kruger National Park. We actually spotted two lions at the time this video was shot. This lioness was keeping watch and blocking the escape route as another lioness was circling around to make a kill for dinner. Pretty sweet stuff.

Anyway, I think you'll enjoy this video. Notice that the lion is only a few feet from our car, and WE ROLLED THE WINDOW DOWN! Not only that, but at some point in the video I start whistling to provoke the lion. What can I say...I'm a big dumb animal, folks!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

One of those weeks...

You ever have a week like this? You know, one of those weeks where you just want to bury your head in a tree? This was one of those weeks for me. I think the best word to describe this past week is stressful. It was one of those weeks where several stressful situations collided at once to form an atomic stress-bomb. It all started with three days in a row in which three different close friends of mine came to me so that I might bear their heavy burdens with them. Combo that with some stress-filled situations in my own life, not the least of which is that I'm still deeply wrestling through my immediate and not-so-immediate future plans. All that to say, it was just one of those weeks.

I'm not the type of guy to lose sleep over anything. Seriously, I could be placed in a war zone with live ammunition flying everywhere, but when it was bedtime, I'd lay my head on a pile of hand grenades and fall asleep. That's partly just the way I'm wired, and partly I just really love sleep. Anyway, this week I had multiple nights of little to no sleep, which is EXTREMELY uncommon for me. My prayer this morning was just for the Spirit of peace to come over me, even in the midst of the chaos that is life right now. For those of you who have been praying for me this past year, I ask that you continue to pray that the Lord would guide and direct my steps. And, if anyone out there is experiencing a week like I just described, simply take a look at this picture...it makes me feel better every time!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And then there were lions...

My buddy, Ted, and I got to spend an afternoon chillin' with some lions on a little mini-safari just outside of Johannesburg. Enjoy the video!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pictures of the Friendly Giraffe

These pictures will make a lot more sense if you watch the video in the previous post. Enjoy!









Monday, January 18, 2010

More From the Dorito-Loving Giraffe

Recently, I've been having fun going back through my pictures and videos from my time in Africa. You might remember this video of a Dorito-loving giraffe that I posted several months back while I was in South Africa. For your viewing pleasure, here's one more video of Ted and me with the friendly beast.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Family Pics

With my little nephew, Wesley James.

The Edison Clan: Michael & Emily, Lauren, Brooke, and Lance.

Dave & Ann, with the little philosopher, Wesley.

Nick and Sarah, making homemade pizzas with Lauren.

Uncle Adam and Wesley becoming buddies.

The "Cramer" kids with Grandpa and Grandma Cramer.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Little Princesses

I offer the following as proof that my little nieces, Lauren and Brooke, truly are princesses!!!




It's crazy how much these little kiddos grew over the time I was gone, but it's awesome to be back and a part of their lives again! And, I'd say they've taken to their fur-faced uncle pretty well...once they figured out who I was!!! Of course, in order to remind them of how cool of an uncle I am, I bought them these super-cool African dolls! Man, I'm an awesome uncle, if I do say so myself! :-)

While totally stoked about the doll (I'm sure), Brookie unfortunately had an ear-ache that day...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Re-Entry Into American Food: 3 Weeks in Review

It's hard to believe that I've been home for more than three weeks now! Shortly before coming home, I made a list of foods that I was looking forward to eating upon my re-entry into American culture. It's time to take another look at that list in order to evaluate how I've done so far!

*Foods in gold lettering have already been eaten, while I still need to eat the foods in red lettering...SOON!
  1. Giordano's Pizza in Chicago. This seriously needs to happen soon!
  2. A burrito from Chipotle. Again, what am I waiting for?!
  3. Fajitas from Mazatlan.
  4. Chips and salsa.
  5. Anything from Taco Bell. With all the other great options, this one has fallen back on my list significantly. I'll get there soon enough, though.
  6. A big juicy steak from Outback Steakhouse. Unfortunately, this one costs $$.
  7. My dad's spaghetti.
  8. Chinese food from Empire Express. Soon!
  9. Our family's "chicken in a pot" Sunday dinner.
  10. Bruno's Pizza.
  11. Miriam Wertz' homemade chili.
  12. The Grand Empire Chinese Buffet.
  13. My dad's grilled chicken.
  14. Wendy's dollar menu.
  15. A foot-long sub from Subway.
  16. My homemade Chinese food. I've started cooking again, but this one hasn't hit the menu yet!
  17. Dairy Queen ice cream. I totally underestimated what freezing temperatures would do to my desire for ice cream. I'll wait a few months...
  18. Fruity Pebbles.
  19. Jack's frozen pizza.
  20. Thai food.
  21. A big juicy hamburger.
  22. Frosted Mini-Wheats.
  23. Wings from BW3.
  24. Papa John's Pizza. I've been getting my pizza fix...just different kinds.
  25. My mom's hot deli sandwiches.
Ok, it's time to give myself a grade. In 3 weeks, I've eaten 13 of the 25 foods that I was craving. That's 52% of the food on this list, and an average of more than 4 of these new foods a week. Taking into account the fact that I have not gained any unwanted weight upon my re-entry, I'd give myself a B+ on my totally subjective and arbitrary rating scale. I simply have no excuse for not having eaten American-Chinese food or Chipotle yet, but I'm confident that I'll be checking more and more off this list in the weeks to come! Woo hoo!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"For You Are Good, My God"

As promised, here's a video of me jammin' down in South Africa with two good friends, Christian and Chevonne. This is actually a song that I wrote while down there. It's called "For You Are Good, My God," and as far as I know this was the first time that I ever performed a song that I wrote before a live audience. Hope you like it!



Disclaimer #1: The camera work on this video is pretty shaky. Sorry!
Disclaimer #2: Don't worry, I'm aware that my hair is ridiculous in this video!

We Be Jammin'

This past year I was blessed with some really great friends from all over Africa. One common interest that I shared with many of my African friends was a love for music. During the "training phase," my first four months in South Africa, I connected with several friends who were brilliant musicians. Nearly every night for four months we got together for "Jam Sessions" where we would sing worship songs together, write some of our own music, and laugh a lot. I've got several clips and recordings of these Jam Sessions, which unfortunately I couldn't share with you while I was in Africa, but thanks to AT&T and the high-speed internet in my home here in the States I should have some videos posted soon. But, for now, here are a few pics of my jammin' crew.







Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blast From the Past

Yesterday, I was back on the campus of my alma mater, Bethel College, to hear my old friend and professor, Chad Meister, give an address in chapel. Being back on campus and sitting in chapel brought back many memories of the four years I spent learning and growing at Bethel. It also reminded me of lots of fun memories, like the airband competition that my roommates and I won our senior year. Check it out!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Fam

Tonight, my sister, Sarah, and her hubby, Nick, are heading back down to Mexico where they serve as missionaries. Before they left, our family had a meaningful time of praying for one another and committing this next year to the Lord. Sadly, this may have been our last time to be together as an entire family for almost another full year.

Being away from my family this past year, I've certainly learned to value time with them a lot more, and God has really opened my eyes to how blessed I am to be a part of such an incredible family. Each member of my immediate family loves and serves the Lord, something that doesn't seem too common nowadays. I'm blessed with parents who have shown me what it means to love the Lord with all their hearts and fully trust Him, even in the midst of some very hard times, and I'm blessed with siblings who encourage and challenge me in my faith. It's tough to know that we won't all be together again soon, but I'm excited to see what God does in and through my family as we all collectively and individually strive to know Him better and to serve Him wholeheartedly literally all over the world this next year.

Our family picture this year. This was our annual family "game day," which was held on the day after Christmas this year. My brother-in-law, Michael, supplied the "Lancer Basketball" T-shirts, so we can now all support his LaVille Lancer high school basketball team, which he coaches. Notice the stark contrast between Michael (bald, clean-shaven guy on the far left) and me (hairy guy next to him)!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fear

One year ago today, I stepped onto a plane headed for South Africa. It was that day that several years of talking about being a missionary turned into an exciting and scary reality. I'll never forget the wave of emotions that rushed over me as I took my last deep breath of American air and stepped onto that plane, knowing full well that for a whole year the life that I had known up until that moment would seemingly not exist. I was walking into the unknown.

The emotion I felt in that moment can only be described as the most acute and real sense of fear that I have ever experienced. My legs felt like jelly, and I remember being surprised at how hard it was to leave. "I'm actually doing this...this is crazy," I remember thinking. But, it was too late to turn back, and deep in my Spirit I knew that going was part of God's sovereign plan for my life. That was assurance enough for me to take that last step.

It didn't take me too long in South Africa to realize how unfounded my fears had been. Not that it was silly for me to experience fear--I think fear naturally wells up in the face of the unknown (although we shouldn't embrace it)--but I quickly saw that God knew what He was doing. Within weeks, I was already to the point where I could no longer have imagined my life without the relationships I had built in Africa. I was so filled with joy that God had called me out of the comfortable life that I had known, to a new place, filled with new experiences, new relationships, and a new vision for ministry. It was in that place that I found myself growing more than I ever could have imagined. However, over the course of the year, as I embraced more and more of Africa, I found myself again in a comfortable place. I had carved out a niche for myself in South Africa, with a ministry, a church family, and many close friends. Life was getting comfortable again.

Fast forward to December 22, 2009, and there I was again at an airport, this time ready to step onto a plane headed back to my old world, my old life. It was that day that, unexpectedly, those exact same fears that I had felt a year earlier once again welled up inside me. It didn't make sense to me. I was going home. Why was I afraid of that? Home was a place that I knew. It was a place that I loved, filled with family and friends that I loved. What was so scary about that? I think the answer lies in one word: change.

Humans are creatures of habit. Most of us carve out a specific way that we live our lives--a framework, if you will--and then we exist within that framework. It's our safety net, our comfort zone, to use the old cliché. Even those of us who might describe ourselves as "spontaneous" or "adventurous" still have a propensity to form patterns within which we live our lives. What I have found, though, is that real adventure, real passion, real life is often found when we allow Christ to take us to a new place. I mean, that's what he offers us, right? A new life, new creatures in a new kingdom, serving a King who loves to take old things and make them new.

I honestly cannot imagine not having spent the past year in Africa. I experienced change and significant growth that I believe has shaped me in ways that will affect the rest of my life. God undoubtedly knew what He was doing when He called me out of my comfortable life.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that everyone is called to overseas missions. At the same time, my challenge for each one of you is to open yourself up for something fresh and new from God this year. I'm convinced that wherever the Spirit dwells, growth and change are sure to follow. If you are a believer, the Spirit dwells inside of you, so ask yourself, "In what ways does God want to mold me and change me this year?" This is a scary question because more often than not God takes us through the fire in the process of refining us. Simply put, change hurts. But I'm here to tell you that it's more than worth it. Most people will never step out and embrace change in their lives because of fear. Fear cripples us. Fear tried to keep my feet planted on the tarmac, but faith allowed me to embrace God's calling in my life and step onto that plane. My prayer for you is that this is a year in which you face your fears and step out on faith, embracing God's calling in your own life.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2010 World Cup

Some of you might know that later this year South Africa will be hosting the FIFA World Cup. Granted, most of you Americans out there probably don't care much about it because they will be playing futbol and not football, but it's a huge deal for South Africa. It's the first time ever that the world cup will be hosted by a country in Africa, and I'm excited that South Africa will have a chance to showcase their beautiful country for the rest of the world to see.

Like I said, I know most Americans couldn't care less about soccer, but believe me, we are the tiny tiny minority in the world when it comes to that. Soccer is the world's sport, and they love it. While in SA this past year, I had the opportunity to go watch South Africa's national team, Bafana Bafana, play against Poland. Just to give you an idea of how much African's love soccer, enjoy this short video clip from the game.

video

Monday, January 4, 2010

Boris & Finnigan

Probably very few of you faithful readers have heard my sob story about wanting a dog growing up (and being ruthlessly denied by my parents!!!). I'll get over it...someday. Basically, the Cliffnotes version goes something like this.

When I was a little toddler, we had a dog named Duke. My mom didn't like him digging up her flowers or making a mess in our yard, so we got rid of him. From that point forward, for years I begged and pleaded for a dog. It didn't matter what holiday it was, I was asking for a dog.

Christmas - Don't you think Jesus would be happy if we celebrated his birth by caring for a little puppy, Mom and Dad?

Birthday - It's MY birthday; can't I get what I really want for once!?

Halloween - Forget the candy; give me a puppy!

Valentine's Day - Don't you love me? If you loved me, you'd get me a puppy!

Easter - Forget the Easter Bunny! How 'bout an Easter Puppy!?

Hannukah - Jesus was a Jew...I think he wants us to have EIGHT puppies!!!

Okay, so maybe it wasn't exactly like that, but you get the point. I spent years of my life wasting my breath, and my parents never caved. If you wonder why I am the way I am today, I blame it all on the emotional trauma I endured from years of puppy deprivation. (It's okay, Mom and Dad, I'll forgive you sooner or later!!!).

Fast forward now to my year in South Africa. I mentioned in the previous post about staying with Uncle Johan and Auntie Brenda. One of the HUGE perks of staying with them was that they had not one, but TWO dogs! They were quite the dynamic duo. Boris was this monstrous Rhodesian Ridgeback who was ready to rip off the head of anyone trying to break into the house, but really was just a sweet dog. Standing on his hind legs, he probably came up close to my chest, though. Just a monster.

His antithesis, then, was little Finnigan. "Finny," as I often called him, was a tiny little Jack Russell, the runt of his litter. He was this crazy little puppy that would get so excited when I came home that he often peed himself--literally! A quick story about Finnigan...

So this little puppy loved to jump up on me, and he was always trying to lick my face. I thought it was cute and everything, and most of the time I let him. Well, what he really liked to do was lick my beard (I know, I know...it's gross), and I could never figure out why. Finally, it was pointed out to me that given my Osama-esque (yes, that's a new adjective) beard, whenever I ate, food was often getting stuck in my beard. So Finnigan wasn't really so interested in my beard as he was the leftovers stuck in my beard! Ha!

Anyway, now that you're all grossed out and wondering if I've got a few screws loose, here are a few pictures of my South African pets:

Posing with Boris and Finnigan on my last day in South Africa. This picture really doesn't do justice to how huge Boris is...

With my little buddy, Finnigan!

Seriously, cutest dog E-VER. Now you know why I let him lick my face...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My South African Parents

Throughout this past year in Africa, I was blessed by so many generous people who just gave, gave, and then gave some more. I was seriously overwhelmed at times by the love I received from people, as well as their spirits of cheerful giving.

Two such people, whom I could never thank enough, are Johan and Brenda Swanepoel--whom I referred to as Uncle Johan and Auntie Brenda, and even sometimes jokingly as "Mom" and "Dad." They literally had an "open door policy" with me, letting me know that any time I needed a place to stay, their door was always open. So after the four months of training ended on the farm, I started taking them up on their offer.

At first, I would usually just come stay with them on weekends. They lived in a town just south of Johannesburg called Vereeniging, about 45 minutes from the farm. My church was in Vereeniging, and the internet access there was about a million times better than on the farm, so it worked out pretty well. But, as the year went on and I began traveling more, I ended up staying with them as often as I could, in between trips. Finally, for the last month or two of my time in South Africa, I moved in with their family. They seriously treated me like a son, which really meant a lot to me being so far away from my friends and family back home. Looking back, I really do feel blessed by the time I was able to spend with them and their family, and I'm thankful to God for bringing them into my life!

My South African parents: Auntie Brenda and Uncle Johan.