Guess who’s back…back again…Aaron’s back…tell a friend…guess who’s back, guess who’s back, guess who’s back….
Whoa, excuse me for my Eminem flashback.
Greetings Once Again!
*Disclaimer: Yes, this is long, but it’s been so long.
I pray this letter finds you well and blessed. It has only been 17 months since my last official “Monthly,” but it seems as if it has been forever. During the interim much has happened and I shall do my best to share the highlights…so let’s get going!
One of the reasons it was difficult to write this past year was the fact I spent 10+ hours a week learning the Hebrew language (a mammoth mental undertaking which is mandatory for my degree program). At the beginning of the process I was deeply grieved because I thought I was going to lose all of the Portuguese I had learned for the world cup due to attrition. My reasoning was, “I only have so many brain cells devoted to language and since I wont have the time to practice…well, that’s going to be it.” My sorrow however, was thankfully short lived due to a wonderful conversation I had with my friend Stephen Johnson at Porto’s Bakery (our most favorite spot in the whole wide world). In this particular conversation, Stephen encouraged me to find the time to do at least a few lessons of Portuguese each week. After his pep-talk I was motivated to do so and much to my surprise and delight, I discovered doing both simultaneously actually helped me learn at a greater pace. Our brains are amazing. As of now, I am able to translate a vast majority of the Old Testament and I’m 45% fluent in Portuguese according to Duolingo.
I do not know why I have a huge affinity for the Brazilian culture, but this attraction is the heartbeat behind my desire to become fluent in her language. A few weeks ago I realized I longed to have more conversations in Portuguese, so I made that a priority in my life. The only problem was I didn’t have people to speak with…at least no one who could understand and speak back. : ) I resolved this issue by discovering a nifty little app called MeetUp. No, it is not a trashy hookup app, but an app used to find people who enjoy common interests. Now I meet every Monday evening a few miles from my house to speak Portuguese with a bunch of expat Brazilians. These meet ups are wonderful time and food for my soul.
Speaking of soul food, one of the best things I have done in life was learning to ride a motorcycle. I love riding my bike through the back roads of the county. Sadly though, by bike has been out of commission since August 2015. It has an electrical ground somewhere, which I intend to fix one of these days, I just haven’t had the time or the motivation. Hopefully I’ll find both as May Grey fades and and the warmth of summer kicks up. Another source of soul food for me is found in writing. I love writing these letters, but I also enjoy writing poetry and songs. Attached you will find a poem I recently finished, which has been a long time in the making. I thought about divulging some of its juicy innards, but then thought better of it, for part of the power of poetry lies in its versatility of interpretation. That being said, if you want to know more, give me a call. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy and are moved by the words.
Speaking of enjoyment, last fall I had the privilege of seeing a production of Beauty and the Beast. It was superb and performed so well it moved me to tears. A few weeks after I had a conversation with my friend Manny Vargas, who also saw the musical. Once I overcame the shock of discovering he had never seen Beauty and the Beast before, I found it interesting that he was moved to tears as well. I guess that speaks to how good of a performance it was!
In addition to seeing Beauty and the Beast, last fall provided an opportunity for me to make amends and find closure for one of the biggest regrets of my life. For a few years my heart has ached from the way I ended one of my old relationships. What was especially difficult about the situation was I had no way to contact this special woman. However, as providence would have it, out of the blue she reached out to me! Now, I have heard story after story of how God has miraculously restored families and friendships with the guys in the prison, but this had never happened to me…until last October. Ahhh…God is good.
In November I celebrated Thanksgiving morning with the men behind the wall. It was a very special time where I gave the men space to share all the things they were thankful for. Few things in life are as powerful and moving as hearing stories of gratitude emerge from the darkest of circumstance. It was a blessed morning indeed.
Going back to August, I traveled to Haiti to do mission work for the third year in a row. This time however I went with my mom and my friend Matt Mendes. That was a very special trip for me because it was the first time my mom was able to see me act in a pastoral role. (Two photos attached). Throughout this past year several people of importance in my life (e.g. My mom, Michael, and Neil Kalra) have gone inside the prison to check it out and see what I do. Those times are always very special for me because that is when my family on the outside gets to meet my family on the inside. I am excited for July when my friends Jonathan Buckley, Manny Vargas, and Adam Jones get to experience the depth of my duties at the prison.
The prison ministry I am apart of is doing extremely well. This past year 5 of the men were released, and I’m pleased to stay they are still out and are doing very well! (Pictures attached) In my opinion, there is no true rehabilitation without a spiritual transformation and the five “graduates” have definitely experienced that. Now this next statement is not a blast against certain religions, but a comment on personal observation. In my role at the prison I interact with many men from various faith groups and I find it interesting that it is only within the Christian religion where I see lives radically transformed for the better. No other group produces fruit, they merely sustain at best. As mentioned, this purely from observation. Also within this past year I had the privilege of hosting two celebrations of life at the prison; one for an inmate and one for a volunteer. Those events were also quite special and powerful. It is interesting how funerals tend to recalibrate our priorities…well, at least they do for me.
For the first three weeks of January I was in Israel/Palestine. In short, it was a trip of a lifetime (select photos attached). I went with the purpose of taking an intensive course on historical geography through my school, however what I found where lifelong friendships and cherished moments of intense spiritual reality. I’ve been telling everyone, “If you have the means, you need to go there.” However, I am a little hesitant their experience will not be as wonderful as mine. I say this because our instructor/guide/friend was world class and was the true heartbeat behind the greatness of my experience. She truly blessed me more than she’ll ever know. During the trip I kept a personal journal to capture the captivating moments. Of the many, I will briefly share three (floating in the Dead Sea gets honorable mention). The first occurred when I was sitting on top of the Mount of Olives, looking over Jerusalem. As I gazed upon the holy city I envisioned the procession of Jesus on Palm Sunday and the great multitude shouting “Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord,” the Pharisees’ rebuke, then Jesus’ response of, “If they keep quiet the stones will cry out” (Lk. 19:40). As I surveyed the land I noticed how eh-vry-thing was made of stone, giving the notion of the whole of creation crying out. It was a special moment for me. The second event happened after traveling through the wilderness of the Negev for two days. On the third day we reached a magical desert oasis on the west bank of the Dead Sea called En Gedi. Here, towards the back of a ravine flowed a modest waterfall (photo attached). While resting within its midst, I lost myself in its presence. At that moment, nothing seemed to matter as long as I was near the living water. The third event happened as I was hiking a hillside in the region of Galilee. I always say a big part about how successful and enjoyable a trip is is who you go with. This trip was no exception. Of the 36 students, 30 were undergrads, mostly comprised of freshmen and sophomores, from Taylor University in Indiana. The Taylor students were a blast because they brought a jovial youthfulness to the trip which was refreshing. Of the 30, I gravitated toward a particular student named Seth Johnson. While Seth was congenial in many ways, his greatest attribute was he reminded me of myself when I was 18. On this particular hike with Seth, we had one of the best conversations about life I have ever been a part of. It was a divine appointment which made me think of all the time Jesus spent walking to and fro with his disciples and of all the conversations which took place on those sacred walks. Needless to say, the experience fleshed out the words of John 21:25, “Jesus did many other things as well. If everyone one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
Less than a week after my return from the Middle East I flew out to New Jersey to help my sister Doreen look for a new house. This was needed because her husband Chris was recently hired as the new head football coach of Rutgers University! The visit was highly enjoyable for three reasons (in no order): 1. I was able to spend quality alone time with Doreen. 2. I was able to spend quality alone time with Chris. 3. The three of us were able to enjoy one of the best, most outrageous dinners in Manhattan. I am looking forward to visiting their new place sometime this fall (heads up Doreen). A month or so after I visited Doreen, she and Brady (Baby Bu) flew out to San Diego to visit me, Michael, and our dad (photo attached). That was a great visit. For those of you who were wondering what my dad was doing down in San Diego…at last, we reach what I have been calling the “game changer” of the current season of my life.
Somewhere between returning from Israel, flying to New Jersey, and my spring semester starting, I flew up to San Jose to med-evac my dad down to San Diego because I had received reports he was not doing well. Little did I know how inadequate the reports would be in preparing me for the abysmal scene I entered as I walked into the house. Needless to say it was a miracle I was able to get him on an airplane the next day given the frail state he was in (A big shout out goes to my friend John John who helped me in this process). From the onset of my flight to San Jose, Michael and I were in agreement that this was going to be a permanent move for our dad, however he thought I was just getting him for a ten-day visit. After the first week of him staying with us we were able to put ten pounds on him simply by giving him three meals a day. While our dad was hell-bent on going back to San Jose, Michael worked his gift of persuasion with his golden tongue to convince our dad to stay an extra two weeks. During this time our household went through the growing pains of learning our new rhythm, for our dad moving in had added a bunch of extra work i.e. the little free time I had instantly evaporated. After a month of schmoozing, he pushed his flight back a few more weeks so he could entertain the thought of staying in San Diego. During this time I have to give a big thanks to my neighbors Doug Wagner and Eric and Sue Schaldach, who frequently stopped by to check in with my dad to chat, developing a sense of community. The next month a dialogue commenced on the possibility of the move and what it would all entail. Then finally, a period of accepting took place. While our dad’s move in with us has added a bunch of extra work, Michael and I would have it no other way; for not only do we have peace that this is the right things to do, but admits all the work and pains in the butt are tucked nuggets of gold which makes it all worth while. For instance, tucking my dad into bed each night is a ceremony I cherish. Before this whole move happened, the favorite part of my week was the time I spent on Saturday nights at the prison with my Celebrate Recovery group. Now however, nigh nigh time with The Babe is encroaching on that prized position. While there is much more I can say about this whole process, I feel this is good for now. Know however that if you have not yet reached this stage with your parents, I am here to talk about it if need be when the time arrives.
Whew, well thanks for reading until the bitter end. I pray you were blessed in some way by it. I apologize for the lengthy “update” feel of this letter and promise the future ones will be more brief and “conceptual.” On that note, I leave you with a final thought by an anonymous author, “Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. Develop from the negatives, and if things don’t work out, take another shot.”
p.s. I am very excited to be writing again.