January Reading Review

Hello fellow readers! If you’ve been paying attention, I decided to read a lot more books in 2020 and first up was a month of CS Lewis. So I’d like to leave a short review/reflection on each book, and hopefully key you in to some of what I’ve enjoyed over the past month.

 

Book 1: Till We Have Faces

This retelling of classic Greek mythology had me very interested in the story and relating with “The Fox” quite a bit, as he represents the stoic Greek philosophers Lewis is so key to emulate. This story, through the eyes of Orual, the eldest daughter of a king, reflects on her dealings with political and supernatural powers, often refusing to accept status quo and forging her own path, leaving those closest to her in their unfortunate or, in the case of Istra (Psyche), fortunate circumstances. I will admit that the middle third of the book was a bit murky, though I enjoyed Orual’s assertion as the new ruler of her land and the independence she strove for. Revealing the journey of a headstrong and cunning character, Orual’s tale is a great epic in the style of Lewis.

 

Book 2: A Grief Observed

Although I knew this book was a memoir of Lewis reflecting on his love lost, in the form of his late wife Joy Davidman, seeing his grief poured into his journaling was a truly authentic journey. From page to page, the way he processed through his grief was a major inspiration. But honestly, it also strummed that heart chord inside me that truly desires a companion in life, one of the heart, of the mind, of the soul, and of the body. As he rightfully says, it is always better to have loved and lost, than to never love at all. And having seen one great thinker express his emotional journey in a truly raw style, steels this belief all the more.

 

Book 3: Miracles

This one was heavy, and took me nearly two weeks to read and process. Prior knowledge of the Naturalist and Humanist movement in contemporary philosopher are extremely helpful if one dares to dive into this defense of the supernatural. By examining the possibility of miracles, to the evidence of their occurrence, to breaking down the greatest miracle of all (The Incarnation, aka Lewis’ “True Myth”), Lewis appeals to both the logic of the Rationalist and the emotion of the Spiritualist. Granted, he intentionally acknowledges specific tangents he leaves untouched, but the argument he makes lays the groundwork for later authors like Lee Patrick Strobel. Ultimately, this book left me much to digest and will need a revisit before too long.

 

Book 4: The Abolition of Man

This critique of the model and method of “current” (that is, in Lewis’ time) education and the emergent veins of ideologies and philosophies debases the trend of training young men to think based on emotion or realism instead of taking all knowledge to the ultimate source of value, which Lewis refers to as the “Tao”. I appreciated that Lewis points out his religious affiliations but does not rely on them to make his arguments about the absurdities of Man’s conquest of Nature or the systems by which they believe value can be derived. Objective value is not something to be determined, but rather something that is self-existent and, if rationally considered, self-evident. As a firm believer in Jehovah, the One True God, the Creator and Author of the True Myth, it is no stretch to believe that His Nature and, by extension, His Law are the objective values by which human instinct, morality, and rationale arise. To ignore this objective value source, modern society creates “Men without Chests”, a man as hollow as his beliefs.

 

Hopefully you find these reflections enough of a morsel to consider these books yourself and, if not, to at least appreciate the potential wisdom they contained. As an avid fan of CS Lewis, I must say I did enjoy this month. However, as one month ends so another begins, and I shall now turn to my next set of books for February, themed around the nature of love within friendships, relationships & marriage, and community. Stay tuned for those reviews by the end of next month!

 

 

S.D.G.

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The Reading Resolution, or I Want 2020 to End Up in (the) Books

I’m not a resolution person, not really. But I was challenged at the end of 2019 by an acquaintance who had read over 100 books that year. 100!?! I think I read maybe a dozen, and I love reading. So I decided that I would resolve to read more in 2020, and set a plan for each month. My goal is to read at least 4 books a month, and hopefully no less than one book a week on average. Each month will have a central theme or featured series/author. Here’s a preview:

 

January: Just Lovin’ Lewis

I will reconnect with one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, and finally read a few of his books I have neglected, as well as revisit a couple I haven’t read in years. They are: “Till We Have Faces”, “A Grief Observed”, “Miracles”, “The Abolition of Man”, and “The Screwtape Letters” (if there’s time). I actually just finished “Till We Have Faces”, and admittedly suffered in the middle of the book because I wanted a resolution and explanation that didn’t appear until the very last couple pages. Still an interesting look at how myth can be very rooted in history, and how the latter influences the former.

 

February’s theme will be Friendship, Relationship, and Community. I announce my reading selection when I get there 🙂 Thanks for tuning in and I encourage all of you to read something today, and tomorrow, and every day!

 

 

 

S.D.G.

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Ding, Dong, the Decade is Dead. Long Live the Decade!

Hello again… If you follow this ghost blog of mine, you already know it has been some time since I last posted. This is largely due to a significantly busier social schedule, other creative outlets taking up my time, and the acute case of writer’s block. Oh, and the inevitable lack of motivation to talk about myself.  However, I’ve wanted to catch everyone (which means basically no one except those who randomly stumble across this post) up on what has been happening in my life. And since one of the largest obstacles I’ve had to writing lately is the framework, I decided to borrow a recent social media trend to do a year-by-year review of the last decade, and wrap up with a look ahead to this new year and the new decade.

 

Year 2010: The Emergence

2010 was the year I put off adulthood in favor of the easy choice. This was the year I graduated from IWU with a double major in History and Social Studies (mild emphasize on education, if you’ve followed my story you know some of the context there). This was the year I avoided taking responsibility for my life and decided going to graduate school was my best course of action. And it wasn’t, but that didn’t become truly apparent until the next year. Upon moving up from undergrad to graduate studies, I moved away from all social and spiritual connections had previously had, becoming isolated in my dingy, cigarette smoke ridden, apartment and losing touch with my faith. The second half of the year is when I truly capitulated to addictions and began to lose sight of any hope for the future. This year ended on a very bleak and miserable trip home for the holidays, only to return to my self-indulgent independent spiral of self-destruction.

 

Year 2011: The Collapse

2011, as stated in the end of the previous year, found me in a very dark and isolated place. I lived alone, barely managed to make it to class most weeks, and couldn’t motivate myself to get out of bed most days to make it to my part-time job on campus. I was depressed, trapped in addictions, and separated for any form of security I had known in my past. The stress and depression of this lifestyle pushed me towards suicidal thoughts and extreme anxiety, eventually leading me to drop out of graduate school with about a month left in my second semester and making plans to move back home. In some ways, this move back to a place of security saved my life, but in other ways it lead a rending exposure of my darkest secrets and hidden vices. After moving home with my parents, I got a part-time job and began to consider returning to school for my teacher’s license. However, that door was closed at the last minute (in hindsight this was an act of God preventing me from chasing something I was not ready, or mature enough, to obtain) and I was forced to look elsewhere for the direction of my life. During the tail end of this year I also kindled a friendship, and almost romance, with an acquaintance I had met back in college and happened to reconnect with through social media, but in my bumbling, socially awkward way managed to step on her toes (not really physically, but mentally and emotionally) leading to some heartbreak and further depression.

 

Year 2012: Insuring Intent and the Anderson Adventure

2012 was an interesting year. On one hand, it was my first true foray into taking responsibility for myself as an adult, but on the other hand I still maintained many of my bad habits and continued to hide my problems behind thinly veiled excuses and personal space. This year opened with me receiving an offer from an insurance company to be their representative in the Anderson, IN area and resulted in me haphazardly spending a few weeks studying for, and failing multiple times, my insurance licensure tests. However, when a hard deadline was before me, I put on my big boy pants and passed the necessary tests to begin said job in March of this year. However, before I reached that milestone, I had to confront some deep spiritual issues and demonic strongholds in my life due to my neglect of my faith and harmful addictions. Thankfully I was able to meet a few times with a solid spiritual counselor and broke much of that oppression and bondage before I ventured out on my own. Then I moved down to Anderson, rooming with my older brother and an acquaintance of his from college, and beginning to learn my responsibilities as a full-fledged member of the workforce. All in all,  I was not well-trained for this job and after several months felt like I had been conned into a job that looked nothing like the one I thought I had been hired for. Plus the company I was working for at the time was rife with scandal at many levels and gave little stability to an already lacking in confidence individual. Another side effect of this year was a fusion of independence and salary with a continuation of bad habits and addictions with the addition of a couple more. By the end of this year, I had left the insurance company and was scraping by on part-time jobs just to pay rent on a small “backroom” apartment for myself. Thankfully I received another job offer to train as an agent for another insurance company that would bring me back to familiar stomping ground and I leap at the opportunity before the year’s end, and moved back “home” to the Warsaw area.

 

Year 2013: Deliverance, Discovery, and Depth

2013 found me back in Warsaw, training for a new job and reconnecting to a level of community I hadn’t truly had since high school. I got truly connected to a church (the same one I still attend today, thank the Lord!) and reconnected with some of friends from high school. I also moved in with a cousin in his newly purchased house, which enabled our friendship to grow in leaps and bounds. However, these growths did not happen immediately, no the first few months consisted mostly of travelling for training sessions in Chicago or spending all my free time in my bedroom, effectively having no social presence and living the life of a hermit. However, by that summer I had left the training position with the insurance company, deciding that career path truly wasn’t for me and went back to work part-time at a gas station. It was also during this time I made my first tentative steps into the world of online dating, and managed to fudge that up pretty badly the first couple times around. However, the fall of 2013 was the first year I stepped into a role as a soccer coach for my former middle school, and I loved it immensely. I was also working 2 part-time jobs at this point and trying to become more involved at my church, thus removing myself from the shell of my hermitage and pushing the boundaries of my social abilities. This was also the first year I pursued my love of soccer in yet another way, by getting my referee license for the next year. All things considered, 2013 was the first year I could look back at myself and see something vaguely resembling a contributing, functioning member of society.

 

Year 2014: The Nightwalker and the Knowledge Thief

2014 began with a bit of a rocky start, as I was scraping by on a part-time job while searching for something a little more permanent. Thankful, I found a job at the local Christian college (the same one my father teaches at) as a overnight custodian tending to the academic buildings. This flip in schedule, now working thirds, was a bit of an adjustment, but also provided many new opportunities. First, I was finally in a job that granted me almost full autonomy, as long as I kept my buildings in good shape. Second, I discovered podcasts. This is a rabbit hole I did not take long to completely fall through, and have yet to re-emerge. If you are not already aware, I am a knowledge sponge, a dragon hoarding details, a facts fanatic. On top of this newfound avenue to discover worlds of new information and entertaining possibilities, I also began to dig into the world of personality theory, largely because I had yet to reach a full understanding of myself and how I interact with the world around me. From my own perspective, I was a nerdy athlete who was incredibly awkward in social situations and couldn’t verbalize my emotions or feeling to others, and I hated myself for it. I couldn’t understand why God didn’t make me more socially competent or emotionally expressive, and so I turned to personality theory to begin to paint in those numbers. During this year I also coached for a second year, began to officiate travel and recreational soccer leagues, and made some connections through a young adults group at my church. I was still attempting the whole online dating thing, but faced many of the same shortcomings and disappointments as before.

 

(Deep breath, as we are halfway there!)

 

Year 2015: The Opening of a Door, and Devastation of the Heart

2015 actually didn’t start that well for me, considering. I had been dating this pretty swell young lady for a couple months, but through a lack of leadership and mixed signals, she decided to pull the plug on any future romance. This (albeit minor) heartbreak lead me to reconsider my priorities and look back into returning to school for my teaching certification. This time everything went so smooth it was most certainly a God thing, opening a door now that He had previously shut rather hard. I was continuing my involvement at church, now joining a couple of small groups/studies, and volunteering in the facilities team and children’s ministry. I began playing soccer in a summer adult league, on top of coaching and reffing. However this summer as proved to be the source of a major pitfall in my emotional and spiritual development. It was this year I met someone (again through online dating) who I connected with immediately on an emotional level in a way I have almost never been able to, and yet this relationship proved to be the most toxic one I have ever been in. Simply put, I came out of this relationship with trauma that still haunts me today. This was also a time when, despite all my involvement in my church and social events, old addictions began to beat at my door, threatening a collapse of my internal order. Yet that summer I began my online studies to become a teacher, injecting some much needed structure into my life and staving off the advance of mental exhaustion and spiritual degradation.

 

Year 2016: Social Expansion, Spiritual Searching

2016 was a year of new beginnings. Between rekindling friendships, joining a new post-grad group started through my church, finishing my teaching certification, and leaving my full-time job at the college, I stayed busy. I temporarily set aside any romantic pursuits to better establish my friendships with those around me, as I made many new friends through my church and soccer community. I spent much of my free time working on assignments for my online classes, binge watching Netflix, watching soccer with my roommate, or hanging out with friends. If I had to pick a year when I stepped into my social potential, it was 2016. Having spent a couple years exploring the many sides of personality theory, I now felt more confident in how I presented myself to others and better at understanding why they might react to my idiosyncrasies the way they did. It was also during this time I discovered a new area of research: theology and apologetics. With what started in an interested in Reformed theology and the teachings of the original Reformers (like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc) developed into the studying of Augustine (to name an ancient apologist), Sproul, Keller, Craig, and Lewis. Throughout this year, I began to frame my own personal faith and really leaning into Biblical teaching, putting all things to the test alongside Scripture. I finished out this year by completing my student teaching and clearing the final hurdle to getting my teaching certification in Secondary Historical Perspectives.

 

Year 2017: Temping, Tempering, and Tempting

2017, if I’m really honest, was a rather chaotic year. I had finished my online program and received my teaching certification at the beginning of this year, and wallowed through the difficult waters of being a substitute teacher for the spring semester. The post-grad group I was participating in was going through changes in leadership and membership, and I lost my roommate of the past few years as he moved down to Texas to pursue a Master’s to become a worship pastor. So I found new lodgings, with a roommate who was a rather decent fellow, except he often had lady visitors overnight and, well, his bedroom was directly below mine and sound traveled through the floorboards pretty well. That summer I applied for numerous full-time teaching positions, armed with a confidence of a few temporary long-term substitute teaching jobs and a passion for education. However, I did not receive any offers and ended up sticking with my summer job working third shift as an inspector at a local orthopedic manufacturer. However, this job provided a firm financial foundation and I was able to begin putting money away. I also had decided to take the year off from coaching, though I continued to play and referee soccer. And finally, this year also marked my 30th birthday and, despite a grand plan to celebrate with many of my family and friends, I settled for a simple pat on the back and home-cooked meal at my parents.

 

Year 2018: Fast Times of the Heart and the Head

2018 brought pleasant surprises, bitter sacrifices, and bountiful sadness. In the early months of the year I was swept up in a whirlwind romance with a young lady I met through my church group, someone I legitimately had begun to plan to marry one day. Yet the darkness of my past and the overwhelming speed of our romance seemed to be too much for her fragile and immature heart, and she unceremoniously broke up with me merely months after we began dating. I was crushed, and everyone around me knew it. Taking this pain, I channeled it into self-advancement and began to make earnest steps towards purchasing a place of my own. Through yet another set of “God moments”, I ended up buying a house from a relative and moved in over that summer. Less than 6 weeks later, I was offered a long-term substitute position filling a teacher vacancy at a local middle school teaching social studies, and I leapt at the opportunity. That year of teaching, though it had its rocky moments, disappointments, and difficult conversations, was the most enjoyment I have found in a job as I ever have had as an adult. During this year, I returned to coaching for the middle school, and did not enjoy it much at all. After that season, I pulled the curtain on coaching and decided to focus my soccer related efforts into being a referee and more involved in the leadership for the local rec league.

 

Year 2019: A Tale of Two Years

2019 almost felt like two separate years, divided quite neatly by the summer quarter. The year began with me still teaching social studies, and feeling rather confident. I even managed to get 1st and 3rd in the school’s March Madness competition (and anyone who knows me knows I love my March Madness almost as much as my soccer). I had a couple of solid guys staying with me and my small group was holding steady. However, this all changed drastically over the summer. At the end of the school year, I was not hired on full-time and the school gave the position to a new candidate. I was distraught by this turn of events, as I felt I was a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher. I took much of the summer off, focusing my attention into job interviews and planning a D&D 5e campaign I was going to run with some friends from my small group. Looking back, this creative outlet as a major saving grace in distracting me from the depression of not being able to continue teaching in the role I had enjoyed so much. By the end of the summer, however, I found my finances stretched thin and work opportunities less than ideal. I lost both of my roommates and didn’t have much luck finding quality renters to replace them. I finally managed to get a temp job at the same orthopedic company as in the past, but in a different area. On top of all this turmoil, I also stepped into a leadership role for the post-grad group. This group was going through some distinct growing pains, as the group began to feature 30+ attendees each week and as social groups reach larger sizes, the amount of drama and tension builds as well. Much of my time over the past few months as a leader has been attempting to maintain a calm and discerning mind in order to offer advice and push for Biblical solutions to many of these problems. Sadly, the end of this year has also brought some goodbyes, a shifting of priorities, and a consistent lack of sleep. To say that I wish I could combine the energy and stability of the first half of the year with the creativity and social possibilities of the second half to create the ideal year throughout is shooting for the moon. Needless to say, I survived another year, and have achieved at least 33-40% of my peak leveling capability.

 

 

Although I know I could have been a lot more thorough with each year’s summary, I feel if one reads back through my posts, some of the years speak better for themselves through those words. And since I am, as I almost always have been lately, very tired, I must retire to my bed and hope sleep wraps me in a lingering embrace. Good night, dear readers, and Happy New Year!

 

 

S.D.G.

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Surviving the Cycles of Singleness

I wasn’t really sure what I should write about, but I knew I wanted to write about something, since a lot has happened in my life already this year. Between heartbreak and house-buying, I’ve been through a lot. And with the World Cup coming to a close and the end of summer looming, I’m faced with the realization that my life is settling back into its rhythm. And by rhythm I mean I’ve started to notice a pattern in my adult life, particularly over the last few years. Before I begin to dissect this cycle, let me use a disclaimer and say that these cycles are two sides of the same coin.

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

The first half of the cycle involves my desire for a relationship. One that could lead to lasting companionship within marriage. One that might bring children, a family, and a home. During this time, I intentionally seek out dates, whether through dating services or within my own community, and look to establish a friendship (or build on a friendship) in order to lay the groundwork for a potential relationship. Frankly, when it comes to meeting new people and exploring possible relationships, I have been fairly “successful”. During this part of the cycle I’ve met and gone on dates with handfuls of wonderful young women. But in most cases, these were encounters as ships passing in the night, and not the formation of a convoy. Yet each meeting helped me grow and learn and experience life, and for that I have no regrets. However, one of the predominate lessons I have learned is that I am not skilled at typical social interaction, as I tend to turn conversations into interrogations because I want to know what makes people tick. And well, most people don’t like having their mind probed. And eventually, I tire of this expenditure of resources, both mental and physical. And when I do, I return to the other side of the proverbial coin.

 

The Place of Contentedness

One thing I have learned to embrace when it comes to my particular brand of introversion is that I am truly content when I am alone. Yet to claim I am not lonely would be a bold-faced lie. It is instinctual for humans to seek companionship and have that single person they walk life alongside, as dictated in Genesis. Yet in this place of solitude, I find I am content. And when I reside in this space, I can engage with my interests freely and pursue opportunities without great concern for the social implications. This season allowed me to get my teacher’s license, become a coach, buy a house, and take trips to meet new people and experience new places. In many ways, it is this space that I grow the most, because I am not entirely focused on one singular purpose and can explore numerous possibilities. And as cognitive functions might dictate, this is the pattern I would typically follow according to my personality type. It is also within this space that I find solace in community, without the weight of romance. Friendships can blossom and grow within the shade of fellowship, and emotions can be set aside for the betterment of my disposition. Imagine if you will a game of Clue, where one is not trying to find a murderer but rather unravel a mystery of one’s place in society. And so it is here I find myself heading, back into a space of freedom and opportunity. And while I still see the lasting appeal of being in a relationship, I am back to the place where it falls far down the list of priorities in my life. Am I open to the possibility? Of course, but I am not putting forth the usual emphasis on that pursuit.

 

Simply, happiness and contentedness are sisters, cut from the same cloth. To be happy without being content in life is fleeting emotion, and to be content without seeking happiness is a glum existence. But to find both at once is where joy flourishes. That is the noblest pursuit, the goal of my heart’s journey. And if the Lord grants me happiness through a relationship, I am content in his provision. And if I am destined to forge ahead as I am, single yet not alone, then I welcome the challenges I shall face. Ultimately my calling doesn’t change, whether single or attached, for one should always seek to love God, love others, and love self, no matter their relationship status.

 

 

 

S.D.G.

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Anticipating the World Cup, and Group Stage Predictions

I AM HYPED!!!!

Like, really 🙂 The Men’s World Cup, taking place in Russia this year, is nearly a month away. And as the spring season of local soccer is wrapping up (and European soccer is drawing to a close), my passionate focus on the beautiful game can turn to the international competition at its highest level. And while the USMNT crashed and burned in CONCACAF qualifiers, I still have high hopes for some amazing team play and golazos. And so in anticipation for this tournament, I’m going to do a little breakdown of each group and make a prediction on who is gonna advance to the knockout stages. For those who are not familiar with traditional soccer tournament scoring for group stages, a win is worth 3 points, a tie is 1 pt for each team, and loss is 0 pts. A tie in points at the end of group stages is decided by goal differential.

 

GROUP A:  Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay

Arguably Russia, as the tournament hosts, got an “easy” group. However, I don’t actually think Russia is that good, and so having less skilled teams in their group doesn’t actually mean they have a guaranteed ticket to the knockout rounds. Uruguay has definite talent up top (ie- the vampire Luis Suarez and the speedy Edinson Cavani) and finished second behind a red hot Brazil in CONMEBOL qualifying. Egypt, riding the prolific finishing of Mo Salah (of Liverpool FC and the likely EPL Golden Boot winner for this season), is going to test many a defense. Saudi Arabia, unfortunately, is probably going to leak goals and be this group’s punch bag.

Prediction: Uruguay (7 pts), Egypt (7 pts), Russia (3 pts), Saudi Arabia (0 pts)

 

GROUP B: Iran, Morocco, Portugal, Spain

Clearly a group dominated by European powerhouses, the only real question is who comes out on top. Ronaldo might be looking at his last real chance at international greatness, having already won 2016 Euros with Portugal, but when I look at the Spanish squad, I see one of the most dangerous midfield and forward lineups in the tournament. I really don’t have much to say about Iran and Morocco, though I could see either European side getting complacent and letting a goal in, which could decide whether Spain sweeps the group or Portugal actually makes it out.

Prediction: Spain (9 pts), Portugal (6 pts), Iran (1 pt), Morocco (1 pt)

 

GROUP C: Australia, Denmark, France, Peru

This is one of a couple groups that have a clear favorite (in my mind) to come out in first, but the battle for second place could be bloodbath. France, I feel, has the talent to easily notch a few goals per game and clear the group with three wins. Australia barely qualified and has struggled internationally since the last world cup. Peru is a similar story, but they showed grit and has the endurance to win points in close matches. Denmark is a young European squad, with talent like Christian Eriksen in midfield and Kasper Schmeichel in goal, might even give France a good fight if they stay on top of their game.

Prediction: France (7 pts), Denmark (5 pts), Peru (2 pts), Australia (1 pt)

 

GROUP D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria

This group is one I definitely will be watching, as it could be one of the most competitive. Not only does it feature arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen (Lionel Messi, if anyone had doubts who I was talking about), but it features two European teams who had strong showings in the 2016 European Championship. And who doesn’t love Iceland? Like, how can you not root for a team who comes from a country of ~300,000 yet goes toe to toe with European giants like England, France, and Portugal. Croatia has a star-studded midfield and can threaten any goalie into making some spectacular saves, or otherwise drop points. And let’s not forget about Nigeria. Consistently a strong team coming out of Africa, I expect a physical and fast style that could potentially steamroll the more technical styles of Argentina and the European squads.

Predictions: Argentina (7 pts), Croatia (5 pts), Iceland (3 pts), Nigeria (1 pts)

 

GROUP E: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia, Switzerland

This is definitely Brazil’s group to lose, considering the talent they are bringing. As some might remember, Brazil completely embarrassed themselves the last time around as the hosts losing to Germany in the semi-finals by several goals. That squad was arguably an old guard of Brazilian football, this squad is much younger and way flashier. With Neymar leading the charge on offense, I expect them to make a deep run into the tournament. But the teams they face aren’t going down quietly. Costa Rica featured solid play in CONCACAF qualifying and has enough talent to pick up pts against any of their opponents. Serbia fills a rather weird place in this group and in my mind could play spoiler for who advances in 2nd place. Switzerland has some big name players, but many of said players are coming off poor seasons with their domestic clubs, which could affect their ability to play in the World Cup.

Predictions: Brazil (9 pts), Costa Rica (4 pts), Switzerland (4 pts), Serbia (0 pts)

 

GROUP F: Germany, Korean Republic, Mexico, Sweden

Many would call this the “group of death” for this tournament, which I would agree with if you consider it a two man fight. And if one considers Germany to be a favorite going in to win it all (coming off the last World Cup as victors and fielding many of the same players) as well as a Mexico team that is possibly at its strongest in years (2017 Confederations Cup participants and looking to avenge their loss to Germany there), there will be fireworks. Sweden qualified out of Europe without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and dares to brave the competition without the man, the myth, the legend. Korea generally competes, but I don’t see them having much success against this group.

Prediction: Mexico (7 pts), Germany (7 pts), Sweden (3 pts), Korea (0 pts)

 

GROUP G: Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia

Another interesting group (arguably the true “group of death”), which features a CONCACAF surprise contender in Panama, a serial under-performer in England, and a rising dark horse in Belgium. Tunisia, despite being 14 in the FIFA World ranking, is probably way out of its league in the group and will be lucky to pick up any pts here. I feel Panama will carry their momentum from CONCACAF and give the European teams a run for their money. Belgium, with talent all across the board, should make a strong showing, and could push out some solid teams in the knockout stages. England “should” be playing with a massive chip on their shoulder and features many rising stars, with some veterans to provide backbone, and may actually not choke and bow out in unseemly fashion this time around.

Predictions: Belgium (5 pts), England (5 pts), Panama (5 pts), Tunisia (0 pts)

 

GROUP H: Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal

The final group and one featuring another set of potentially interesting match-ups. Colombia features last World Cup’s Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez while Poland boasts Bundesliga’s prolific giant Robert Lewandowski. Japan has always been a team to watch but is often hit or miss in international competition. Senegal happens to be the second highest ranked African nation and could bring a brutal, physical style that’ll wear down their opponents. This group could be very close, or completely lopsided. I feel it’ll probably the later, being the finishing quality of Rodriguez and Lewandowski.

Predictions: Colombia (9 pts), Poland (6 pts), Japan (1 pt), Senegal (1 pt)

 

Biggest Losers: Chile, Italy, Netherlands, United States

*Sob* There are no words to mourn the lack of these teams in this world cup, but honestly they all under-performed in their respective qualifying and got beat out by much less talented squads. It might be irreverent for these teams to play a mini-tournament between themselves this summer, but it’s one that would still feature a lot of great talent and one I would definitely want to check out.

 

So there you have it, my predictions for the 2018 Men’s World Cup. Drop a comment if you disagree with any of my group rankings, or even just to argue if Lionel Messi isn’t actually the GOAT (which he is, his all-around game is just otherworldly). Once the group stages are over, I plan on making another set of predictions (with scores this time!) for the knockout stages, and predict the overall winner of the tournament. And boy, I can’t wait for some great soccer!

 

 

S.D.G.

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Simply Shorts

Sometimes, when I have a few spare minutes, I grab some paper and write. Sometimes, that writing turns into something. And sometimes, I decide to share that with y’all.

 

Tower on the Precipice

Alone it stands

Perched on the edge

Facing oblivion like a solemn guardian

From a distance, like a needle against the horizon

Once approached, it stands in silent immensity

Few seek entrance to the hallowed halls

Stores of knowledge, wealth of character

Held in reserve for those who prove worthy

Yet time only knows how long

The precipice holds this stalwart

From the abyss below

 

 

The Ocean

Calm and clear the surface stretched

Shimmering a reflection of shining warmth

Serene, it beckons one to gaze in wonder

At the mysteries that lie beneath

Does life move about below?

Can there be turmoil and energy

Waiting to be released?

Deep down there is bubbling emotion

Rage, passion, and anxiety dance

Twisting, twirling

They tempt that which swim beneath

A surface, to break, above rests

Twinkles in the dark, catch an eye curious

Daring to glance underneath the calm

To risk uncovering the vast activity

Deep down, an ocean true

 

 

The Garden

A tree rises from the dirt

From a seed planted by faith

Roots spread nourishment to the plots surrounding

Its foliage bears evidence of fruit, yet to reach maturity

The ground below green with growth

Revealing the understanding of purpose

Yet patches of decay creep in

Ground tainted with doubt and failure

Begging for the keeper to intervene

Uprooting unfaithfulness and weeds of sin

Leaving fresh dirt for the seeds of belief

Strengthening the connection to the source

To the tree that overshadows all

 

 

The Pit

Cold, I awake

Covered in filth and muck

Am I lost? Am I stuck?

I survey my surroundings

And see nothing but walls of earth

Above, the sun beats down in hot fury

There is a ledge to my pit

My misery, an open grave

“Hello?” I cry

“Is anyone there?”

Nothing is my response

Nothing but the rustling of wings

A bird, black as night

Lands at the edge of my pit

Soon to be joined by another

The sky grows clouded as each finds a brother

Squinting, I see something squirming in their beaks

In horror, I realize what creatures they carry

As they begin to drop from jaw into my hole

These pests, of scale, and stinger, and silk

Land around me like black snow

“No more!” I plead “Have I no pleasure in this life?”

Bites and stings begin to coat my flesh

Defeated, I am resigned to my lonely fate

But then a voice rings clear

“My son, will you have me save you?”

Wincing in pain, I plead for release

Not seeing who or what offers me freedom

“Very well, it shall be done”

Struggling to stand, I wish to see my savior

But all I witness is a cloud of black lifting a man into the air

Hovering over my pit, like menacing death

My mouth agape, how can salvation be found through this

Drip, drip, drip

Something warm and slick begins to hit my face, my shoulders

Blood, flowing from this gentle, kind man

Tears begin streak my cheeks

This man, in his offer of freedom, has lost his own

A wretch am I, expecting to be freed by such a simple gesture

Instead I doom he that would offer me aid

Through blurry eyes, I see my knees no more

As a fount of blood rises within my pit

Panicked, I seek escape

Must I die in this man’s death?

How is that freedom?

Straining, the warm flow now reaches my neck

Closing my eyes, I accept my fate

If I must die, then I die with a friend

One who gave his life for mine

Suddenly, the pain of the creatures, my tormentors, has gone

I am enveloped, freed from all sensation but life

Prepared to drown, I await the end

My body is light, my mind is at peace

“It is finished!”

A voice streaks into the void

Flying, yes I feel myself being lifted up

Yet not into the heavens, as in death

But by a strong, gentle hand

Up onto the soft, green earth

Kneeling, I bow my head

Unable to comprehend this turn of faith

As the soft hand presses onto my head

That voice, the man, my Savior speaks

“Arise, my son, and see your death”

I turn to my pit, my open grave

And I see it no more

Only life, only color remains

Overwhelmed, I melt into my Savior’s embrace

As he welcomes me into his love, into his grace

 

 

S.D.G.

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Life Through the Lens of a Decade

As it has been my habit for the past few years, the time has come for my year end/birthday reflection post. And since this year happens to be the beginning of a new decade of my life (I’m turning 30, if you weren’t aware), I thought I should look back at each of the previous decades of my life and highlight the primary lesson or focus from each. Let me preface that I have no idea how rambling or full of rabbit trails this might get, so continue at your own risk 😉

 

First Decade: Learning

One of my first lasting memories was of desiring to know. Tasting this, grabbing that, smelling this; I had to find out more. It’s not uncommon for parents to claim their child was inquisitive but I didn’t just want to know “why” but I needed to know “how”. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that I could learn much faster on my own than asking someone else. So I read and read and read. And learned. But it wasn’t just reading. I built and played and created. Legos were also a key part of my growth. My brothers and I would create elaborate castles and towns and ships, each with its own narrative. Creating stories was just as important to me as reading them. I think that’s part of why I write today, it’s how I learned to create. But back to reading. I gobbled up everything I could get my hands on, and then some. I started reading harder and harder books, with bigger words and higher difficulty. By the time I passed into the second decade of my life, I was reading at least four grade levels above my age. I’m not trying to brag too much, but I was reading at a college level by junior high. Needless to say, reading was how I learned to feed my appetite for information. And I had to use this knowledge to create an identity that allowed me to make sense of a world that didn’t really understand me.

 

Second Decade: Soccer

If anyone close to me was asked what my favorite sport was, I’d imagine they’d answer soccer with little hesitation. And my love for this sport was found almost comically, because I grew up in a traditional Hoosier farm town where football and basketball were king. But football, being a fall sport like soccer, was an expensive venture, so my parents decided I should try the cheaper alternative instead. Turns out, I was really good at it. A natural almost. In fact, one of my earliest memories of playing soccer was having a coach tell me to only use my right foot like everyone else in swarm league because dribbling the ball with my left let me separate from the crowd of players and score many times. And some of my fondest memories from my middle school years revolve around playing soccer. It was something I could be recognized for and made me more than just “that smart kid”. Because honestly, I sometimes hated the fact that I was so much smarter than kids my age. They gave me weird looks because I knew all the answers and probably showed them up in class on numerous occasions. But soccer, soccer allowed me to be “one of the guys”. Let me belong. Let me put my knowledge of the game to use for the benefit of my teammates. And as my skill developed on the field, so did my involvement off it. In high school I started watching professional soccer in earnest and even began refereeing on occasion. My biggest regret when it comes to pursuing my love of soccer is that I never made an effort to play competitively in college, a decision that still haunts me today. In some ways, I wonder how different I would have been as a person had I made that leap of faith and invested in that opportunity. But my passion has persisted and grown as the years went on, giving me a place within a world I didn’t always understand.

 

Third Decade: Community

When it comes to the scale of introversion, you’d find me somewhere on the anti-social hermit end. Well, at least that’s where I’d be if I choose my spot, but mostly out of personal jest. Because if my readers might remember, being social is something that is not a natural skill for me. People both fascinate and frustrate me to no end. In an average social situation, I’m prone to observe rather than interact, even more so if it’s unfamiliar territory or with a large number of strangers. That said, it takes me awhile to “warm up” to people. So while finding a place in society through soccer as the foundation of my social interaction (outside of church and school) during my second decade of life, I struggled greatly to find a foundation during the earlier years of my third decade. College was turbulent, but I managed to find a small group of people who accepted me. But after college, I lost a lot of social motivation and entered my “hermit stage”. It took me a couple years to overcome these tendencies, largely through personal discovery and healing of old wounds. So I tried to put myself into situations that would force me to get to know people and expose myself to social environments. I also struggled to find an identity as a member of society, as a steady job wasn’t forthcoming. After school, I wasn’t sure what I would do and what I thought I wanted to do wasn’t working out at the time. My breakthrough, oddly enough, didn’t come through a social opportunity, but through a personal understanding. Before I could find my place in society, I had to find myself. It might sound cheesy, but I studied mental patterns, cognitive functions, personality theories, and sociology to better understand why I operated the way I did within society. Why I chose to stand in the corner rather than join the circle. Why I would rather be the guy in the background making sure things ran smoothly than the one leading from the front. Perhaps the biggest piece of realization that helped me move forward was to understand that my mind how processes information prioritizes facts and rational data over emotions and personal connections. There was a brief period that I honestly thought I was broken. But once I started to understand myself and my natural patterns of thought and social cognition, I was able to approach people in a way that wasn’t nearly as awkward and blunt as I was before. And I learned to be a friend to people. To put my knowledge and talents to work for others. I became a coach for my old junior high and started reffing again for local recreational and travel leagues. I started serving in my church, putting my natural desire to work in the background towards a noble purpose. And I took steps to realize my dream of becoming a teacher and got back into the classroom as a sub. And last and perhaps the most important, I joined a couple different groups of young adults who desired community just as much as I did. It’s amazing how friendships can start when perfect strangers all wish to have others to do life together with. And while I’m not someone who compulsively feels the need to have many close personal connections with others, I found that deep within these relationships were greatly important to my development and purpose in life. So despite myself and certain sociopath tendencies, I not only wanted to create these relationships but I wanted to make sure others didn’t have to struggle as hard as I did to find them or arrive at a place where they realized how lonely life would be without them. And going forward, I hope that the communities I’ve found will continue to grow and mature and become something truly impactful on the lives of everyone involved.

 

Three decades, three core components. And looking back, I can see how one decade has helped support those that followed. I can only hope that this trend continues rather than a collapse after an imbalance arises from mismatching interests or pursuits. For now, I’m content to look ahead with anticipation of what the future holds and acceptance of the lessons my past has taught me. And since this new decade might be the best one yet, I invite you, dear readers, to join me as I continue to discover what this journey known as life might entail.

 

 

S.D.G.

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