I am proud of my friend, Aaron!

 Eight years ago, Aaron saved my life.  Kind of.  But pretty much he did.

It was the summer of my 21st year.  Aaron and I had been friends since his freshman year and my sophomore year.  We lived on the same floor of Hodson Hall, played intramurals together, shared the same major, ate and hung out with the guys on our floor.  As it turned out, Aaron and I were both influenced by our professor’s passion for backpacking.  “Coach” was one of our favorite professors at IWU and was an avid ultra-lite backpacker.  Coach’s stories of adventure led to Aaron and me borrowing some of his gear and driving out to Mt. Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. 

This was our first-ever backpacking experience and we thought we might as well go big with it.  After my mom graciously paid for the $100 worth of junk food we thought we’d need for a four day, three night backpacking trip, we headed out to climb New York’s tallest mountain.  Just before we parked to begin our journey, we stopped at a local store to pick up a few last minute items.  Aaron thought it would be wise to buy a map.  I thought that a map was an unneeded luxury.  I eventually gave in, we bought the map, and, as evening approached, I’m so thankful Aaron decided we needed a map.  According to the map we had a few more miles until we could camp at the designated shelter.  In black bear-infested country, shelter is a very important part of backpacking!  That night I awoke in terror as I heard rustling and heavy breathing next to me.  I froze because only large animals like bears make those kinds of noises.  Turned out that it was just Aaron.  And this is the story of how Aaron more or less saved my life.  I am so thankful for Aaron!  🙂  

Beyond the adventures we shared together, what made the trip so meaningful were the conversations Aaron and I shared.  We both were Christian Ministry majors and had heard God calling us to vocational ministry.  Aaron and I talked about our calls, our experiences interning at Spring Lake Wesleyan Church together, and the humbling responsibility of being called “pastor.”  We were so young at the time, but Aaron’s integrity and pastor’s heart shone even then.  Aaron is a man of high integrity, deep love for Jesus Christ, and a passion to share God’s love with others.  I am so thankful for the seasons of life Aaron and I shared together.  I learned a lot from him and continue to give thanks for our lasting friendship. 

After graduation, Aaron served a small Wesleyan church all by himself.  He wasn’t married at the time, was fresh out of college, and had a passion to serve Christ.  That was a difficult season for Aaron.  Ministry is tough.  Moving to a new town isn’t easy.  And doing it “alone” compounds the struggles all the more.  But Aaron persevered, served faithfully, and loved the people of that church.  When that season was over, Aaron married his wonderful wife Lauren and the two moved to the greater Chicago area to become House Parents for at-risk youth.  Wow! I am so proud of my friend, Aaron.  His life makes the Scriptures come alive to me.  When Jesus calls the little children unto him and tells his followers to not hinder the kids, I think of Aaron and Lauren.  When Paul writes that his life is “poured out as an offering to God,” I think of Aaron.  When I think of John the Baptist who “himself was not the Light, but came only as witness to the Light,” I think of Aaron.  When I remember that “Christian” means being a “little Christ,” I think of Aaron.  His life, love, and generosity remind me of Jesus.  I am so proud of my friend, Aaron.

 

Aaron now serves as the College Ministries Pastor at a Wesleyan church in Brookings, South Dakota.  Though I do not talk to Aaron as frequently now, I see and read updates on how he and his growing family are doing.  Aaron and Lauren, like my wife and me, welcomed their first child into the world.  I hope our kids get to meet one day, but I think Aaron and Lauren will have to come back to Indiana for that.  South Dakota??  Seriously, Aaron? 😛  

 I am proud of you, my friend.  Keep up the great work.  Keep shining Christ’s light and sharing God’s love.  Your life encourages me and I look forward to the day we get to see one another again.

 

In Christ,

– Jared 

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I’m proud of my friends, Chris and Rachael!

Rachael is another friend I met while working at IWU.  I knew Chris in college, but not well, and I had no idea “her Chris” was “that Chris” until after Rachael and I had been working together for several months.  I am so grateful for my time working in Admissions.  I met some of my very best friends while working there, and Chris and Rachael are very much a part of that.

Chris and Rachael are bi-vocational pastors.  They both work full-time jobs while also serving on staff at a church in Marion, IN.  I really respect them, because that’s tough to do.  But it’s one of the qualities I value so much in Chris and Rachael: they have a “BIG” view of this world and their roles in it.  They see their life stories wrapped up in a bigger one that is unfolding throughout the world.  Jesus likened this unfolding story to yeast that works its way through bread and to a mustard seed that grows and spreads throughout the world.  God’s Kingdom is healing the world, oftentimes quietly and in ways not easily seen, but Chris and Rachael see it.  And, more than that, they are joining God in healing a broken world filled with broken lives.  I haven’t asked them, but I imagine that is, at least in part, one of the reasons why they have chosen to serve God bi-vocationally.

Chris and Rachael’s “BIG” view of the world has had a profound affect on their ‘other’ jobs when, in 2012, Chris helped establish Abbey Coffee.  Chris, one of the top Barista Competitors in the nation, has had a passion for food, drink, and coffee for as long as I’ve known him.  Thanks to him, I now also have a passion (addiction) for ‘highbrow’ coffee.  But it isn’t just that the coffee is fresh, crisp, and loaded with phenomenal flavors, it’s how it is cultivated that has a lasting impact on the world.  According to their website, Abbey Coffee searches “for the highest quality coffee available and then [Abbey Coffee seeks] to develop relationships with the producers of that coffee.  We hope that, in this process, we can better understand the needs of each producer and seek to develop a mutually beneficial relationship that flourishes.”  Isn’t that great?!  In a time when the ethics of our food are rightly being called into question (for example, many Guatemalan coffee pickers work in near sweatshop equivalents to produce coffee beans for some of the major coffee suppliers in the United States http://www.globalexchange.org/fairtrade/coffee/faq), coffee shops like Chris’s are combating how farming practices are done and are providing fair wages to those growing the coffee beans.  I am very proud of Chris and Rachael.  Companies like Abbey Coffee teach me to question how faithful I am to God’s call for humanity to be stewards of the creation entrusted to our care.  If you are a coffee connoisseur, or at least pretend to be one like I do, check out www.abbeycoffee.com and place an order!

Chris and Rachael’s “global” view of the world infiltrated its way not only through their professions, but into their home as well.  A couple years ago, they adopted their son from Ethiopia.  My dad was also adopted, and so I have always had a special place in my heart for families who adopt – internationally or from the States.  I’ve seen the ways adoptions into loving homes affect not only the life of the adopted child, but future decedents as well.  I am excited to see how their loving family will continue to grow!

I am so proud of my friends, Chris and Rachael.  They are making a tremendous difference in this world.  They are the Church, at work, at home, and in Sunday morning worship.  They remind me that the Christian life isn’t compartmentalized to Sundays, but is a journey that unfolds into every arena of our lives.

Way to go, Chris and Rachael!  Keep up the great work.  I am proud of you!

Your friend,

Jared

Better late than never: This week, I am proud of my friends Al and Cherilyn Kurtz!

I really enjoy sports – playing them and watching them.  However, I am not an uber-athlete by any stretch of the imagination.  My dad did teach me how to throw a football though, but at 5’9” my only avenue to play quarterback was intramural sports.  I somehow convinced my team to let me play, and I think I partly have Al to thank for that.

Al had long hair back then.  I’m pretty sure he used to wear a headband during games.  And I’m pretty sure it was a girl’s headband.  I immediately knew he would be a person not to throw the football to.  But then Al surprised me.  He was actually quite athletic – long hair, headband, and all.  What really surprised me, solidified my place as quarterback, and ignited our friendship, however, was the greatest compliment I have ever received: “Woah!  Looks like we have Tom Brady out here!”

How could he have known about my irrational love-affair with all things Michigan?!  He just compared me to the greatest Michigan quarterback of all time!  Immediately I knew I just found my new best friend.  That was at least until we returned to the dorms, where our newfound friendship almost imploded.  Al was an Ohio [state] fan.  He was a Buckeye.

Well, nearly ten years later our friendship has survived every football season since (which probably speaks more to my gracious and forgiving heart since Michigan has lost almost every one of those match ups!).  Al was a groomsman in my wedding and I was one in his.  We were roommates, worked together, and have gone on “Mancations” together.  Al has been with me through thick and thin, knows me at my best, and befriends me at my worst.  Everyone should have a friend like Al.

I am so proud of Al.  I have watched him grow as a person, professionally, as a husband, and as a follower of Christ over these ten years.  I have watched him discover and grow his gifts.  I have seen how his leadership impacts and encourages others in ways I can only dream about doing myself.  I have seen him struggle with his faith.  I have seen his compassionate heart.

A number of years ago, Al and I drove to Cleveland for a Cavaliers playoff game.  It was one of those spur of the moment kind of decisions that are never regretted.  On the way out of the game, however, a homeless man approached us.  Our tickets, if the Cavs won, could be exchanged for a free taco from Taco Bell.  The homeless man knew this and wondered if he could have our tickets.  I, for all intents and purposes, ignored him.  Al didn’t.  Al stopped, looked the man in the eye, talked with him, and gave him his ticket.  I wonder if Al remembers that moment, because I’ve never forgotten it.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t remember, because it was so “normal” for him.  That’s just the kind of person Al is.  He sees people.  As people.  And I think that’s not only what makes Al such a great friend, but also why so many people like him.  Al connects with all types of people, especially those who might be called “the unseen.”  This quality, this heart, of Al’s challenges me to be more like him.  I really look up to Al and I am so proud of him.  I think he should be a pastor, but don’t tell him I said that.  😉

I am also proud of his wife, Cherilyn.  Just as Al had a headband, Cherilyn had a nose ring.  This is what we used to call her, “nose ring girl.”  I think it was a term of endearment at the time, although now it doesn’t sound so much that way.  And when I say “we” called her that, I mean the rest of our friends.  Al knew her name before any of us did.  And now I know why.  🙂

I am so glad Al and Cherilyn got married.  I never would have known Cherilyn otherwise.  I really like Cherilyn.  She, probably unbeknownst to her, inspires me.

Cherilyn is an avid runner.  She’s run in ½ marathons and full marathons.  She eats healthy too.  I do not like to run, and I think I am addicted to soda.  But Cherilyn’s tweets, instagram photos, and facebook updates inspired me to start running.  Last year I ran my first ½ marathon and that, in large part, is because of Cherilyn’s example.

Cherilyn is also very courageous.  She is an artist and, after college, moved to New York City for a season of her life.  Cherilyn is very courageous.  She took a risk then and continues to take risks today.  Al and Cherilyn moved closer to downtown Marion, IN.  Perhaps from previous posts, you’ve come to learn how deeply I admire people who move to “problem areas” rather than away from them.  Al and Cherilyn bought a big, century-old home and are renovating it.  In the upstairs level, Cherilyn is beginning a new venture: Oldmaster of Marion.  This new business creates space for local artists to work.  She is doing this to make a positive impact in Marion, with the hopes of reaching out to local young people as well.  Art programs are all too quickly the victims of budget cuts, so opportunities like the ones Cherilyn is providing are vital to the young people of Marion.  I am so proud of Cherilyn.

There are many other reasons for why I am proud of Cherilyn, but I’ll just highlight one more.  I am proud of Cherilyn’s creative spirit.  She inspires me to be creative and to embrace my creativity for the service of God.  She sees the world differently than I do and, because of her work, I am able to see beauty and darkness in ways I’d never be able to see otherwise.  She challenges me to see the world in fuller, richer ways.  And I am so thankful for that.

I am so thankful for my friends, Al and Cherilyn Kurtz.  I hope they know how much they mean to Kate and me.  Everyone should have friends like them!