Category: Christian school


There’s a line in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I always liked.  It’s from the episode “Ensign Ro,” which introduces the character Ro Laren, a young Bajoran Starfleet officer who is a bit of a rebel.  She was serving time in a detention center because of an incident in which she didn’t follow orders and several Starfleet officers died.  Ro is released from detention to help the Enterprise crew with a mission involving the Bajorans.  She’s made to feel less than welcome on the ship, and she’s not thrilled about being there.

Inexplicably, Captain Picard’s old friend, the wise bartender Guinan, decides to become Ro Laren’s friend whether she wants it or not.

Guinan: Am I disturbing you?

Ro:  Yes.

Guinan:  Good. You look like someone who wants to be disturbed.

Ro:  I’d rather be alone.

Guinan:  Oh, no you wouldn’t.

Ro: I beg your pardon?

Guinan: If you wanted to be alone, you would’ve stayed in your quarters. The only reason to come here is to be among people.

Later on, after Ro does hide in her quarters and Guinan still tries to start up another conversation with her, the two women have this exchange:

Ro:  Why is it that every time I tell you something, you tell me I mean the exact opposite?

Guinan: Because you’re one of those people who’s got their poles reversed.

Now, I’m definitely not much like Ensign Ro (I’m pretty far from being a rebel), but I often find Guinan’s assessment of her amusingly fitting for my own life.

As a kid who grew up going to church, Christian school, and a Christian college (all of which I’m thankful for), I’ve had the chance to listen to more than my share of sermons, messages, and advice.  Generally, people want to help warn children away from the things that they think are most likely to mess them up.  So you’re much more likely to hear someone talk about the importance of working hard on your schoolwork than you are to hear them talk about how to make friendships and have fun with people your own age.  Because there are plenty of cases of people regretting not taking their studies seriously, but kids automatically know how to have fun with each other, right?

But what if you “have your poles reversed,” and doing schoolwork comes naturally to you, while making friends is hard?  For a while, you’ll probably think you’re doing even better than most of the people around you!  But eventually, you might feel that you missed out on gaining the social skills and experiences that other people take for granted.

Similarly, it’s common to hear a lot of messages warning against thinking too highly of oneself, of becoming prideful.  But what if your wiring is “backwards,” and the way you fall victim to pride is by tearing yourself down, expecting you will mess something up, and keeping track of your mistakes?  Like an undead enemy in an RPG, what’s meant to be healing can actually poison you (and even weirder, what others think is harmful may actually be what you need most!)  Weird analogy, I know.  🙂

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining, because I actually think it’s pretty neat to be this way, now that I understand myself a little better.  Sometimes I feel like laughing, because from where I stand now, the process of maturing mentally, socially, and spiritually is almost like a battle against conventional wisdom.  It’s kind of like my “homework” is to spend time making friends with people, and my “chores” are to look for reasons to be positive about who God made me to be and to enjoy the good things he gives.

I have a hard time complaining about homework and chores like those!

The class had completed our trip around Europe, and I knew I’d remember the places I’d seen for a long time.  I had enjoyed being able to help out my professors in a behind-the-scenes way by keeping track of the digital photos.  (A big bonus for me was the fact that I didn’t have to write a report about the trip!)

I had a few souvenirs– some tea from England, postcards from France, a little plaque with an anchor on it from the catacombs.  (Nothing against Germany; I just didn’t have time to pick anything up there!  Instead, I left my umbrella there by accident.)  And I had a handful of coins, maps, and brochures from each country.

I had been worried that people would be annoyed with us because we were Americans, but almost everyone I interacted with was patient and friendly.  I thought it was touching to hear the expressions of sympathy from all of these countries for the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks.  I saw on the news that the guards at Buckingham Palace in London even performed the Star-Spangled Banner!

Of course, the U.S. had grounded all flights the day of the attacks.  By our departure date on Saturday, the planes were in the air again, but the airports were having to work through a backlog of postponed flights and treat every flight with increased caution under a lot of stress.

We got our things packed and went to the airport early, ready for a long day of waiting.  We prayed that God would help us to get home safely.  Dr. B. warned us that no one should mention anything about bombs, terrorism, the Middle East, or New York, or even think of joking about anything related to them.  (Probably good advice, but being obsessive-compulsive, I’m always afraid I’m going to be the one to blurt out something inappropriate in a situation like that even though I don’t think I ever have.)

We listened to music, played cards, talked quietly.  Some of my classmates worked on writing their reports.  The flight before ours took off for the U.S. but was directed to turn around and come back to Italy after a couple of hours.  We boarded our flight, not knowing if we were going to get to take off.

I am so thankful– our plane did take off, and we were allowed to make the entire flight.  The flight before ours had been sent back, and we later learned that the flight after ours was as well.  But ours wasn’t– we arrived at the Newark airport on time.  I looked out the window and could see the site of the World Trade Center, smoke still rising from it.  Once we had landed safely, the passengers applauded.

Getting off the plane and through customs was a slow process, but everyone seemed willing to be patient.  The airport workers looked tired– I’m sure the last week had been awful for them.  I wondered if any of them had lost someone they knew in the attack.

We waited at the airport from afternoon until late evening.  Our flight from Newark to Ohio ended up being postponed, then canceled.  Finally, Cedarville arranged for a bus to drive us home from New Jersey.  Exhausted, we piled onto the bus for the last leg of our journey.

We were driving through the countryside of Ohio as the sun came up, and I could see American flags on most of the houses and mailboxes as we passed.  We got home in time to go to church on Sunday and sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

I was so relieved to be back home and able to tell my family about everything we’d done.  The trip had been full of memories that I would always keep with me.  And the next time I had to cross the street in Cedarville, it didn’t seem as scary.

Well, it’s about time I got on with my story!

I slept very soundly that night on the train as it took us over the mountains to Italy.  When we arrived in Rome the next morning, I saw newspapers with pictures of the World Trade Center and headlines with the words GUERRA and AMERICA.

I think the news had the effect of making strangers more likely to talk to each other.  Seeing that we were from America, native Italians and fellow travelers alike expressed their sorrow over the lives lost and asked if the situation was likely to delay our return home.  We had to tell them that we didn’t know.

In the meantime, there was a lot to see in Rome.  The other cities we had visited were old, but Rome was ancient!  We didn’t have to go to a museum to see artifacts from Biblical times.

I don’t remember the exact order we took in touring Rome; the days are a bit blurred together.  But here’s a list of some of the highlights:

— We visited the Colosseum, site of the Roman Empire’s bloody games.  Even though the ancient Romans didn’t have access to the building materials and technology we have today, it’s my understanding that we still make use of many of the same construction principles they used in building our stadiums and arenas.

One thing I found particularly interesting about the Colosseum was the versatility of its design.  The floor of the arena itself is gone, and you can see the maze of passageways and rooms underneath, but originally, they could have used platforms to lift people and animals from the tunnels up into the arena for a grand entrance.  And apparently, the arena could be flooded in order to stage miniature naval battles.  That’s something even a multipurpose stadium like Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh never did.  (Thankfully, they never had fights to the death there either, though.)

— We stopped at a rather nondescript grassy field with a large, dusty oval track.  I wouldn’t have noticed much about it if Dr. B. hadn’t stopped to explain that this was once the site of the Circus Maximus, where the Romans held chariot races and other public events.  He also said that while you usually hear about Christians fed to the lions in the Colosseum, it was likely that far more Christians had been martyred here.

— We visited some ruins thought to be the remains of a prison where the apostle Paul was held.  He wrote some of the epistles while he was imprisoned in Rome.  I tried to imagine what the place might have looked like as a dark, cramped cell.  Some arches, columns, and walls were still standing, and I could see the outlines of the rooms, but now the place was open and full of sunlight, more like a courtyard than a prison.

— A guide took us through some catacombs, the system of tunnels and tombs that the early Christians used to meet in secret and hide from Roman persecution.  (If I remember correctly, the tunnels and burial chambers were around long before the Christians began to use them, but they came in handy.)  The walls were marked with symbols like the cross, the fish (which became a Christian symbol because the letters in the Greek word for fish, ichthus, are an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”), and the anchor (which may refer to a verse in the book of Hebrews).  I remember specifically keeping an eye out for the anchor, because the Christian musician Michael Card had recently released an album about the book of Hebrews, “Soul Anchor,” and in the album notes he mentioned that the anchor was at least as prevalent as the cross among early Christian symbols.

— So far, I had visited England, France, Germany, and Italy.  But I also got to visit a fifth country– a country so small that’s it’s inside a city, and most maps of it include all of its buildings!  Vatican City, the capital of the Roman Catholic Church, is the smallest country in the world.

The most memorable thing I saw there was the Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo’s amazing painting covering the ceiling.  In the middle is the famous depiction of God’s creation of Adam, their hands just a few inches from touching.

Almost everyone has seen photos of this painting, but what isn’t easy to see without being there is that the chapel ceiling is arched, not flat.  That had to make painting it a lot harder, but Michelangelo actually used the three-dimensional shape of the ceiling to his advantage.  Some of the architecture from the walls continues seamlessly into the painting, making it look like the room is taller than it really is.  At the top, it looks like you are looking up into heaven.  Pretty clever!  Michelangelo made a painting with perspective effects for people on the floor even though his view of it was from a couple of feet away, with paint dripping in his face.

— The climate in Rome was a huge change from cold and rainy Berlin.  It actually got very hot, and it was tiring to be out in the sun.  The remedy for that was to buy gelato from a street vendor.  Gelato is a bit like ice cream, but more flavorful, like fruit sherbet.  It is really, really good!

— The hotel we stayed at was just across from a little pizza place.  Pizza originated in Italy, but American pizza is actually quite a bit different, from what I understand.  This was an American-themed pizzeria, so it was like a taste of home!  There was even a picture of the New York skyline on the wall.

The pizza there was flatbread, cooked on a griddle in a big rectangle.  You could ask for a piece of any size, and you paid for it by weight.  The proprietor was happy to see us come back each night– we told him that we might be eating there for a while, since no one knew when we were going to be able to get a flight back into the United States.

I’m almost done with this story– one more post should do it!

We attended two church services while we were in Germany, but I’m having trouble remembering the exact details of when and where they were.  One service was in German, in a large, old church building.  Since I didn’t understand a word of the sermon, I didn’t feel guilty about not getting much out of it.  The hymns were pretty, but I didn’t sing along since I had no idea what I’d be singing if I did.

The other service was a worship meeting at a church that had a lot of visitors from other countries.  It was much less formal, but it was in English.  We sang worship songs and heard a couple of personal testimonies; there wasn’t really a message– it was actually more of an announcement of how they weren’t going to meet at the same time anymore.

Some other random memories of exploring Berlin:

— There were big, colorful painted statues of bears all over the place.  Based on a Web search I just did, the bear statue custom has since spread to many cities around the world, but it apparently all started that very summer, 2001 in Berlin.

— I really like drinking soda (or pop; whichever word you prefer), so I thought it would be a bit tough to get used to drink refills not being free at restaurants in Europe like they are in the United States.  (Really!  In the U.S., you can just go back and refill your cup of soda by yourself in a lot of place!)

But I survived somehow.  ; )  Actually, I discovered a new favorite soda thanks to my trip to Europe:  Fanta.  There was a grapefruit or other citrus-flavored variety that I tried in France, and then in Germany, I discovered orange Fanta, and it ended up supplanting orange Crush on my list of favorites.  I was surprised when I came home and found that they had sold Fanta in the U.S. too all along.

— We visited a department store, with multiple floors and everything!  These seem to be pretty much gone in the U.S., replaced by miniature versions in malls.  I found a computer with Internet access and used it to check on how the Pittsburgh Steelers were doing in their season opener.  They were losing 21-3 in the second half to Jacksonville.

— German is cool because it has an extra letter that English doesn’t have, the eszett: ß.  It’s basically a double S.  The place I saw it the most was on road signs, because the German word for “street” is straße (strasse).

Previously, I had only ever seen the eszett in a shape that looked like a rounded letter “B,” like this:  
But most of the street signs in Berlin used a different shape: 

The eszett on these signs looked a lot like the letters “fs” combined into one symbol, and I realized where the letter had come from.  English used to have two ways to write the lowercase letter “s.”  The most common way made it look a lot like a lowercase “f.”  The short “s” was only used if it came at the end of a word, or if it immediately followed another “s.”  So, for instance, on the Bill of Rights, the end of the word “Congress” looks like this:

Does that look familiar?  If you merge the two letters together, you get the eszett from the Berlin street signs.  If you smooth the letter out so it can be written quickly, you get the more common ß.

I know this is probably stuff that everyone in Germany learns in preschool, but it was fun to figure out, at least for me.

— Sadly, the only German words I really retained from my trip were the basic numbers.  I learned them when I was playing a fun card game with my classmates.  It was like Uno, in that the object was to get rid of all of your cards.  But we kept adding rules to it until it was almost impossible to keep track of them all, and every time someone was caught breaking a rule, they had to draw more cards as a penalty.  One of our rules was to say the value of the card in German.

We visited two Berlin museums, the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and the Pergamon Museum.  There were a lot of incredible and beautiful artifacts; I ended up taking a lot of pictures (not the one shown here; this is one I just found with a Google image search).

The Ishtar Gate

The most amazing thing was the Ishtar Gate, which was built in about 575 BC in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.  It is almost 50 feet high, made of bricks that are glazed blue and gold.  In the wall are raised images of lions and dragons.  “Daniel walked through this gate,” said Dr. B. with a little tremor in his voice.  The prophet Daniel was led captive from Jerusalem when he was a teenager to serve in the king’s court and spent the rest of his life in a foreign land.

Seeing the impressiveness of the gate made me think about the bravery of Daniel and his friends to trust in the power of the God they could not see rather than the power of the king, which was on display all around them every day in Babylon.  They remained faithful, even when threatened with death, and even when faced with the passage of many years far from home.

September 5: Paris

Our bus driver and tour guide in Paris was Antoine.  My mental picture of him is that he was bald and wore sunglasses, but I’m not too confident in my memory of faces.  He was experienced with the sometimes chaotic traffic of Paris, weaving the giant bus through gaps as easily as if it were one of the tiny cars zipping around.  Traffic jams could develop quickly, producing a cacaphony of horns and raised voices, but Antoine was usually able to anticipate and avoid them.

He shared a few facts about the city of Paris as we neared the hotel, including the fact that it was divided into districts, and the one where our hotel was located was known as a “red-light district.”  This produced nervous laughter from the students.  Our professors issued a friendly reminder not to be tempted by establishments selling sex.  “Once they have you inside, they will get you to give them as much of your money as they can.”  I don’t think we were tempted– in fact, we were a little nervous about possibly being in a rough part of town.  We made sure to only go out in groups.

The hotel was an old building with plenty of charm.  There continued to be lots of honking and shouting from the intersection outside, and as the hour got later, voices from the buildings joined in, presumably yelling for them to keep the noise down.  Believe it or not, I still got a good night’s sleep.  In the morning, we went downstairs for a breakfast of tea and croissants served by a delightful old lady.

I feel bad that this post so far has dwelt on the negatives of the part of town we were in.  I was impressed by the friendliness and warmth of the Parisians we interacted with.  Overall, our time in Paris was the most relaxing part of the trip– there was a laid-back attitude to the city that permeated everything.  Yes, people yelled in traffic jams, but that almost seemed more like a sport that people embraced with gusto rather than an outpouring of stress.

And, of course, the city is beautiful.  On Wednesday, Antoine took us on a bus tour to see many of its most famous sights.  We stopped at the Arc de Triomphe, which is in the middle of a huge roundabout– making your way to the center is an interesting challenge!  We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which gave us a great view of the city.  I noticed several football (soccer) fields.

Notre Dame Cathedral was awe-inspiring.  I thought about how it almost two centuries to build and wondered what it must have been like to spend a lifetime working on a project that wouldn’t be complete for generations.  It still stood as a monument to God, who is not constrained by time.

For some reason, the thing that sticks in my memory the most was seeing the “zero point” of Paris, which is about fifty yards away from the cathedral.  Apparently, whenever the distance from Paris is given, if one is to be precise, it is actually the distance from that point.  So until you have been there, you have always been at least some distance from Paris.

Paris holds a lofty place in the development of our system of measurements.  A meter used to be defined as one ten-millionth the distance of a line from the North Pole to the Equator that passed through Paris.  And the standard weight still used to define a kilogram is kept in the Paris suburb of Sévres.

In the late afternoon, we took a sightseeing tour of Paris by boat on the river Seine.  One of the interesting things we saw was the other Statue of Liberty, the miniature copy that the United States gave to France as a thank-you for building the big statue designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi that looks out on New York Harbor.  Hopefully, they did not think it was tacky to give them a smaller version of the same thing.

As afternoon turned to evening, buildings and street lamps lit up, and we saw why Paris is called the City of Light.

One last thought for the day:  I’m fairly sure I remember seeing a memorial for American soldiers who died in France during World Wars I and II.  I thought about my grandfather, who had spent time in France as a soldier during the second World War.  He had been so excited to hear that I was taking a trip to Europe– he sent me a note wishing me a good trip along with some coins from each country I would be visiting.

He shared with me that he had made instant friends in Europe by giving people a pack of gum and suggested that I could do the same.  Of course, today anybody in Europe can get chewing gum any time they want to just by going to the store.  Practically anything that’s available here in the U.S. is also available in Europe.  But my grandfather’s story drove home how much the world can change in a lifetime– and how people in places like France and America are free to enjoy good things only because of the sacrifices of people like my grandfather, and the soldiers remembered at that memorial, and countless others from other countries.

I was surrounded by history on this trip– not just Biblical history, but also recent history that had shaped the world.

Look at me; I’m a day behind already!  : )  Oh, well.

Thanks to the five-hour difference in time zones, our flight departed Newark at 7:00 PM on Friday and arrived in London about 7:00 AM on Saturday.  I tried to get some sleep, but that was a bit tough, because they served us dinner, followed by breakfast only a few hours later!  Also, the pilot kept waking everyone up to make announcements about turbulence.  “Turbulence is fine,” I thought.  “Just let me sleep!”

It was neat to watch the overhead screen that showed the plane’s position and altitude.  We took a path that curved northward near Greenland in order to follow the curvature of the Earth.

Impossibly soon, the sun came up, and I watched out the window as the ocean was suddenly replaced by green farmland.  The roads and fences divided the land in haphazard angles and curves rather than neat rectangles.  I wondered if that was the result of having so much more history than my home country.

I realized that despite my mental picture of it, England was a big country.  I was going to see London, but that didn’t mean that I was seeing what the whole country was like, any more than all of the U.S. is like New York.  Soon, I could see the roads and buildings becoming more and more dense as we neared our destination.

With the plane on the ground, we groggily collected our luggage.  The speakers on the plane played songs by British musicians.  I still remember them playing the song “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police, even though I had no idea what it was at the time.  (I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would not have even recognized a Beatles song unless it was “Yesterday”!  Sad, huh?)

We stopped by our hotel to drop off our suitcases, and at that moment, all we wanted to do was go to sleep.  After all, we had been travelling for most of the day until then, and it felt like we were getting in a little past midnight.  One problem:  It was actualy 8 in the morning, and we had a full day of touring lined up!  We piled onto a bus and met our tour guide, a cheery young woman, who began to show us around the city.

I knew that American tourists had a reputation in Europe for being rude, so I wanted to do my best to be polite.  The situation prompted me to wonder if the reason for the rude reputation was that Americans were always arriving in Europe cranky because they hadn’t had enough sleep!

Thankfully, the things we were seeing were interesting enough to wake us up.  It helped even more to get a good lunch of fish and chips!

One of the first places we visited was Westminster Cathedral.  The amount of history in a place like that is staggering.  So many famous writers, poets, and kings are buried there– there is scarcely enough room to mark them all.  It was very crowded there as people filed through.  When I saw The King’s Speech several months ago, I was struck by how different the building looked with no one in it during the rehearsal scenes for the coronation.  (Then I found out that they didn’t film those scenes at Westminster.  No wonder it looked different!)

We also visited Buckingham Palace.  The Queen was not at home, as indicated by the lack of a flag flying on the roof.  I’m not sure if that meant that more or less of it was open for guided tours, but we did get to see a little bit of it.  I bought some postcards at the gift shop, hoping I’d have a chance to send notes to my parents and grandparents.

After that, we saw the Tower of London.  There’s an interesting combination of things on display there– the crown jewels, suits of armor with swords, shields, and maces, and a wide array of torture devices that thankfully aren’t in use anymore.  The tradition surrounding the custodians of the tower was really interesting.  They wore distinctive black and red uniforms and were also responsible for taking care of the ravens that lived around the tower.  A legend says that the tower will always stand as long as the ravens do not desert it.  The ravens had colored leg bands to make it easier to identify them; I got a brochure with a list of their names and the colors they wore.

We saw lots of other London landmarks– Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, the famous London Bridge, and the new Millennium Wheel.  I have to be honest; I thought a Ferris wheel was a really strange idea for a landmark, but people probably felt that way about the Eiffel Tower when it was first built.  Maybe I would have felt differently if I had gotten to take a ride on it.  : )

At the end of the day, I went to dinner with a small group of my classmates, and we were caught in a sudden downpour on the way back.  We were delighted– rain is certainly part of the London experience!  It had been a very full day, and I had no trouble falling asleep once I was back at the hotel.

“Before you came along, we Bagginses were very well thought of.”
“Indeed?”
“Never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.”
“If you’re referring to the incident with the Dragon, I was barely involved. All I did was give your uncle a little nudge out of the door.”

— Frodo Baggins and Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings

Ten years ago today, I was a college junior on a plane heading across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe with a class of Cedarville students and our two Biblical Archaeology professors.  I was excited, nervous, and tired all at once.  I wasn’t the sort of person who went on trips like this, I thought.  I found it intimidating just trying to cross the street in tiny Cedarville, Ohio.  Whenever I could, I drove home to my parents’ house for the weekend.  So how did I end up setting off on a two-week tour of another continent?

It started with a course I took my sophomore year about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  We studied the organization and major themes of these books as we also learned about their historical and cultural background– the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.  What made the class special was our professor, Dr. B., who taught with great enthusiasm for the subject matter.  He summarized the prevailing opinions of scholars, along with his own theories on questions like which Pharaoh was the ruler of Egypt during Moses’ time.

It was a demanding course– struggling with the final essay had me in tears at one point– but there were two things about it that I really liked.  One was our weekend field trip to visit the museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Both museums had 4000-year-old artifacts from the civilizations we had been learning about.  One of the students would ask Dr. B. a question about one of the artifacts, and as he answered it, a small crowd would form.  Before long, we had a large group of people following us, but Dr. B. wasn’t fazed at all.

Being from the New Jersey area himself, Dr. B. seemed at home in a city environment where a little boldness is necessary in order to be noticed.  He made sure we saw all of the major New York landmarks, taking us on a ferry ride and eating at a little restaurant that specialized in New York-style cheesecake.  I decided to be “bold” myself and order a slice, even though I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it, since I didn’t like cheese.  It turned out to be one of the best desserts I’d ever had.

I also found that even though I didn’t know what to do with free time, most of my classmates did, and it was a lot of fun following them, listening to what they talked about, and laughing with them.

The second thing I really enjoyed about the Pentateuch class was working on a Powerpoint presentation for a group project.  I hated written assignments, but this was different.  I found myself pouring a lot of work into making a set of timelines showing the reigns of various rulers and the rise and fall of civilizations.  I could plan out every aspect of the graphic:  One pixel horizontally represented one year.  I used different color combinations for the different civilizations– sandy yellow for Egypt, clay red for Mesopotamia, blue for Israel that matched the color of their present-day flag.  It was more work than I needed to do for the assignment, but it didn’t feel like work.

So, anyway, I finished the Pentateuch course and went on with school as normal.  Then one day I saw an e-mail announcement about a spring course in Biblical Archaeology taught by Dr. B. along with a New Testament professor, Dr. H.  This course would focus on the historical and archaeological record for the entire Bible, and it would include a repeat of the New York trip from the Pentateuch class.  But the big deal was that it led into a trip to Europe at the end of the summer to visit museums in London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome!

My initial reaction was “That sounds neat, but I don’t think it’s for me.”  Two weeks was a long time to spend so far away from home.  What if I hated it?  The trip wasn’t cheap, and it would be a waste if I didn’t enjoy it.  I never did things like this, but for some reason, I printed out the e-mail and showed it to my mother.  She told me that it sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, and if I had any interest at all in going, I should consider it.

The deadline for signing up for the trip came and went, and I was fine with that.  Other people went on this sort of trip, not me.  And that seemed like the end of the story until Dr. B. called me to his office.

“Nathan,” he said, “why didn’t you sign up for the Biblical Archaeology trip?”  I told him I just wasn’t sure I wanted to go.  He told me that he didn’t want affordability to be the reason I couldn’t go, because he had a job for me that would allow me to come along as a teacher’s assistant.  He told me that he was really impressed with the PowerPoint presentation I had done for the Pentateuch class, and he wanted me to help him put together the PowerPoint files for the new Biblical Archaeology course.  He also wanted someone to come along on the trip to take digital photos of the artifacts in the museums so that they could be incorporated into the course material.  I could do that instead of the paper the students would have to write on the trip, he said.

With an invitation like that, how could I say no?  Some people talk about God “opening a door” for them to make a decision– well, this seemed to qualify if anything did.  I decided to be bold again and give it a try.

So that’s how I ended up meeting the rest of my classmates (about forty in all) in a Cedarville parking lot in the very early morning on August 31, 2001.  We sleepily rode the bus to the Columbus airport, caught a connecting flight to Newark, New Jersey, and finally took off for Heathrow Airport in London.

At the time, all I could think about was how good it would feel to get home after it was all done.  And it was!  But I’m also glad I had the experience.

If this sounds interesting, be sure to check back here tomorrow; I’m planning to add a new post every day about my memories from each day of the trip!

I drive from Danville to Bloomsburg, along the same path the school bus took me for twelve years. The trees crowd in beside the road, and it feels so quiet– I’m amazed at how little traffic there seems to be. I guess I’ve gotten used to Cincinnati. But this definitely still feels like home.

I’m going to the park for my 13-year class reunion. Why 13 years? Because we’d never had a reunion before, and we wanted to have one. I worry a little that I won’t recognize some of my classmates. That could be embarrassing.

But as they arrive one by one, I know them instantly without a doubt! This so rarely happens to me anymore even with people I know well. It really feels nice.

Eight of us were able to make it out of a class of 26. I’d say that’s pretty good, considering how many of us have spread out all over the country and how many are busy with family and job obligations.

I get to meet their spouses and children, and I do my best to remember their names, but it will take me a while. I’m thankful that I’ve had the chance to learn some of them from Facebook.

We talk while the children play on the playground– there are so many stories to tell. I stand in between two conversations, listening to both and smiling. My friends are so very much the same people I knew from school. They’ve been to some amazing places and lived through some tough times, but God has preserved what is good in each of them.

I don’t think I have a lot to add myself. My experience is still mostly as a student. I’m still trying to find a career, still hoping to start a relationship with someone.

I probably seem a lot like I did when we were all in high school. I lagged behind socially then– at a middle school or elementary level– and as a result, I didn’t interact much with my peers. Now, I’m probably up to a college or high school level socially, but I don’t always feel fully a part of the adult world.

When someone asks me what I’m doing currently, I stammer and pause for a bit as I try to answer. A nasty part of me is telling me “You don’t belong here. You don’t have anything to talk about,” but I know that’s not true. We go out for drinks, but I haven’t developed a taste for beer or wine, so I order soda. I hope they don’t think I’m looking down on them by not sharing a drink– it’s such a symbol of friendship.

Before I came to the reunion, I was worried a little about negative thoughts like these, but they are no match for the joy I feel. I sit and listen to all the stories as my friends share– about meeting their husbands and wives, about funny or sad things at work, about pregnancy and childbirth and picking names for children and the unpredictability of two-year-olds. I imagine that my parents had conversations like this about me when I was little. I hear how God has blessed each family and prepared them for the things He brings into their lives. Everyone’s story is different, but also the same.

I realize that I have grown in thirteen years. When I was a senior in high school, I was afraid to drive a car. Today I made two trips by myself, and I enjoyed them. Even though social interaction is tiring, I am seeking it rather than avoiding it– planning my weekend around it and learning how to get enough rest in between so that I can be fully present and part of the conversation.

I wonder if my classmates know what a blessing they have been to my life– both those who are there and those who could not come.

At times, others find it hard to believe that I have Asperger’s just from observing me. I think some of this may be due to personality– my strong desire to avoid confrontation has likely kept me from clashing with others.

But there was another big difference in my life, the people around me. In so many of the stories I read online about people with Asperger’s, their years in school are not remembered fondly. Stories of bullying seem almost universal, and in a lot of cases, the best advice people can offer is “Wait until you graduate; it will get better.” I read about people who still deal with the effects of bullying decades later.

I wonder if my classmates know that they are proof that it doesn’t have to be that way– that kindness can have just as much of a positive impact on a life. None of us knew about Asperger’s, but anyone could see that I was different in some ways, lagging behind in others. But I wasn’t given grief for it. I was just given friendliness, time, and a safe place to grow.

I hope they know.

While I was on vacation, I read Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  It’s a short book that presents some teaching from Keller’s sermons about Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (or, perhaps more accurately, the story of the two brothers).

I had a lot of thoughts as I was reading, and I want to try to get some of them written down, though it’s hard for me to do as my thoughts are always changing.

A lot of the teaching in the book was familiar to me; I think that Keller does a good job of stressing the significance of both brothers in the parable and of explaining how their relationships with the father in the story mirror the relationships between humans and God:

“Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery.”

“Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live.  If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups.”

Keller does point out that people can move from one side to the other at different points of their lives.

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One trait that often comes along with Asperger’s is a very literal mind. In my mind, words tend to correspond to specific concepts, and the construction of a sentence is a lot like the building of a mathematical formula– it’s meant to communicate (usually) one particular thing.

Of course, language is much more complicated than that. Sometimes two completely distinct concepts are represented by the same word. Often, the same word can have different meanings depending on the context of the words around it or the context of the entire conversation. And there are endless ways to play with this capacity for words to mean different things– poetry, metaphor, puns are all possible because of all this. And if the words are spoken out loud, things like vocal inflection and facial expressions can influence the meaning as well.

I think it’s likely that all children get confused about an expression they haven’t heard before, but Asperger’s can make it easier to miss some of the contextual signals that clue people in about what a person means. A manager at CNN who has Asperger’s shared an example of this from her elementary school days:

“In first grade, whenever someone made a mess in the classroom, the teacher would ask a student to get the janitor. The student would come back with Mr. Jones (not really his name), who carried a broom and large folding dustpan. When I was asked to get the janitor, I looked all over the school and reported back to the teacher that I could not find it. After all, the person was Mr. Jones, so the janitor must be the object, right?”

That’s very logical thinking! I have a couple of funny examples of my own literal thought processes from when I was the same age.

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