Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolution: More Love

Pittsburgh gets my gears turning, so it's time for a post.

I don't traditionally make new year's resolutions, but it's time for a change for the better. There are a lot of negative influences in the world these days. Every time I log in to my Twitter I come across some of the most negative posts speaking poorly, satirically, or sarcastically about basically anything. I've absolutely joined in the party, trying to be amusing or entertaining for all of the wrong reasons. The election, musicians, the towns I'm in, the people I'm around; there are plenty of flaws to point out.

Rather than pointing out that even we who are writing have flaws, let's focus on the good instead. Social media is full of examples of people's mistakes, shortcomings, and flaws, but don't we like to hear the pros more than the cons? Isn't it much more uplifting to hear a kind word? Don't we feel warm and happy when people are warm and happy?

So that's it; it's simple. Less complaining. Less poking fun at others. Less negativity. More love. My time in Tacoma hasn't been the most pleasant of my life, but it has more to do with the person experiencing it than I give credit. I can't force myself to like a place, but I sure can love it like Jesus loves us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why Chastity is Easy

Although not entirely easy, chastity has been something I've taken simple and practical steps toward attaining. I recently wrote a guest post for my friend Arleen's love and relationships series, which can be found here:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankfulness Part I: My Parents

Anyone that reads this blog recognizes pretty quickly that I'm a very nostalgic person. I like to look back at the past, remember the good times, and consider what got me to where I am today. I'm thankful for a few things in particular this year, so let me share them with you in a few different parts.

First, let me talk about the way my parents raised me and how that's effected who I've become. I'm so thankful for a family that's loved me and the way my parents raised us, which taught me a few things that I've come to appreciate quite a bit lately:

Being Stewards of Money: My parents raised 4 kids almost entirely on one income, including sending all of us to college. To do this, naturally, they were frugal. They knew the value of a dollar and made sure we did, too. We never had a new TV or car. My parents never bought me name brand clothing. We never had an allowance, but, instead, did chores because we were part of the family that needed these chores completed.

We shopped at thrift stores, used coupons, bought only what we needed, and learned that things we didn't need were unnecessary to own. As a result, I live a pretty simple life. I spend money on things like music and time spent with friends instead of technology or cars. When I moved across the country, everything I needed fit in a 2-door Honda Civic. I thought about buying a newer, more spacious car recently, but why? I am only driving myself around 95% of the time and do I really want to give myself the option of owning more than can fit in that coupe?

In the end, I have more to give to those who don't. Saving a dollar or two by having friends over for dinner and drinks instead of going out or making coffee in the office instead of going to a coffeeshop are concepts that my parents taught me that have saved me thousands of dollars over the years. For this, I'm thankful.

Being Stewards of Resources: In the same vein, my folks taught me to be a steward of our resources. Things like reducing the amount of water, paper, and other things have been commonplace in the Nelko house. We were recycling since the early days of America's interest. I recall my mother using cloth grocery bags LONG before I'd heard of anyone else consistently doing so. My parents helped me to fit in to the Pacific Northwest culture of using reusable water bottles and reusable grocery bags. Things never went to waste, like food. There are people without, so we need to be thankful for what we have.

Being an Outlier: I've always been an outlier. My siblings are 12, 15, and 16 years older than me, so I grew up often feeling like an only child, in between my siblings bringing me to mini golf or wrestling matches with their friends. This upbringing made it easier for me to feel comfortable as an individual because my parents raised me that way. They knew I had potential, though, so in Outlier form, my parents always encouraged me to study hard, practice sports and music hard, and get outside to enjoy what we had. While my friends were playing video games or watching TV far more than I was, I was building with Erector sets, playing basketball in the driveway, or practicing piano. These practices helped me to be an all-around individual with skills in all of these things that I'm thankful for.

This isn't a bad thing by any stretch. I've always liked being different and standing out from a crowd. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I loved that I was in the minority of folks with a beard, flannel, glasses, and an affinity for indie music. When I came out here to Seattle, I realized everyone had that same style! How boring. It's a neverending battle of pretension as people argue about quality of coffee, beer, food, movies, music, and whatever else is of little actual consequence. It gets old, but makes it easier for me to drink my McCafe in confidence (saving that money at only a dollar).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What does being a Christian mean to you?

A friend posed the question "What does being a Christian mean to you?" to our Missional Community group recently. I took a bit to gather thoughts and respond. I really felt strongly about what I wrote last night, so I thought I'd write this post and share it with y'all:

When I think about how God has changed my life, man, it's unreal. To think that someone like me who has been so dang selfish and self-centered and self-righteous for his entire life could possibly experience the glory that God has provided; it's unreal. When I think about the decisions I make in my life and realize that basically every choice is made for my own benefit, it makes me wonder if I deserve ANYTHING that God has provided. A family that loves me, friends to rely on, the ability to play music and write and read and think; these are gifts far beyond anything I deserve in the world. And I haven't even mentioned the new Jerusalem and the everlasting life provided by Jesus! dang.

Being a Christian, to me, means the gospel of love. How can we not be on board with that? A gospel that preaches to love God and love others. That's it. Pretty dang simple, but, of course, endlessly complicated. How do we love everyone all the time? The jerk co-workers, rude people at the grocery store, or self-serving politicians and businesspeople we spend all day complaining about. How do we love these people? Think about it, really, though. It is possible. It is SO possible to love the unlovable. All we have to do is put them before us. That stuff is not out of reach. We do it all the time when we say hi to people we pass on the sidewalk, show grace to friends who we can't rely on, or occasionally give money blindly to someone asking for it.

The fact is that it's possible through the Holy Spirit. ANYTHING good that we do is led by the Holy Spirit. That feeling we get when we feel completely satisfied by following a gut feeling to do something out of our comfort zone or even something within our comfort zone. When we talk to someone sitting in the corner of a gathering by him/herself or offer prayer to someone who really needs, even if they don't believe in prayer, those are the times that the Spirit works through us. Now, think about how that feels, how possible it is to act through the Spirit, and realize that Christ ALWAYS acted through the Spirit. Always! Dang, how great would that feel? It would feel so magical and surreal to completely live within the guidance of the Spirit. That was Jesus.

You know, I feel a certain amount of connectedness through Christianity, as well. Living in the Northwest, we encounter people all the time who find connectedness through some agnostic spiritual experience aside from Christianity. I don't know about you, but those people make me feel like they're missing something badly. It's hard to explain (aside from the Holy Spirit), but I really feel a genuine gap in their life experience. That gap is a lack of Jesus. Their depravity has not been exorcised like ours has. Rather, it has been exorcised, they just don't accept that exorcism. I don't have a concrete explanation here, but that's what I feel.

In closing, I want to leave you with some scripture that Abe used a couple of Sundays ago when he was preaching about God's love for us. In 1 John 4:9-11 and Romans 5:8-9, John and Paul write about how God sent His son, Jesus, to die for us. That's some cool stuff. Or John 15:12-13, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." That's so rad.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, check out 1 John 3:1 from the Message: "What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to." Whoa! That's some serious stuff! This is all about FOLLOWING BY BLIND FAITH. Faith is faith because we can't see it or touch it (not for the last 2000 years, anyway). If we understood God and everything He had planned, what sort of God would He be?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Respectful Dating

I recently contributed a guest post to my friend's blog regarding the topic of dating. She had been posed a Q&A prompt from a young lady who asked why she would flirt with a man and receive the flirtation back but not receive pursuit from the man in any other way. My response can be found in the link below!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Autumn Away from Home

In my 13.5 months in the Pacific Northwest, I have learned a handful of things. Rain makes me sad, people here don't care about sports as much as in Pittsburgh, and fall is my most nostalgic season. Today was filled with struggle as I donned a Pitt sweatshirt while doing some park clean-up in Tacoma for the second Homecoming Saturday in a row. Just like Jack allowed the fear to overtake his emotions for 5 seconds before completing difficult surgery, I'm going to take a moment to get some nostalgia out of my system before I go back to enjoying this season of my life that God has presented tactfully.

Fall is my favorite season. I love everything about it except the rain. The weather is cool, but not cold. The leaves are changing colors, which is beautiful in WA and PA, although PA tends to win in the lack-of-rain department. The music can be depressing. My playlist consists of Brand New, Kevin Devine, and Bright Eyes because it feels alright to shell up in your house and watch the leaves fall outside.

Saturdays in the fall at home were the best. I played football by myself every Saturday afternoon (and several other afternoons) all through my childhood. In high school I remember driving past an open field and thinking it would be a great place to play our (what seemed like) weekly pick-up football games.

I recall an October cross-state road trip a few years back that I have thought as the best weekend of my life. Several of my closest friends and I drove to Philly to see the Avett Brothers and visit the families of two of our friends, Mike and Lindsay, to celebrate their recent engagement. The joy that so many of us felt as those  Pitt grads in Pittsburgh, Philly, and DC united in one place for the first time in so long has been unparalleled. Celebrating with two AMAZING families as a family of friends was a memory that I'll never forget. Also sharing our love of the Avett Brothers unifying music styling has been a celebration only possible with one band.

Another autumn afterward saw a beautiful road trip to eastern PA again for two bachelor parties and a wedding. On this trip I had the chance to reunite with several friends, including a few who hadn't seen one another in quite a while, to celebrate Rob's bachelorhood, spend a night with an old high school friend, Brandon, over quality music, visit with some old Suncrest folks at Eastern University who had grown from campers into adults and real friends of mine, celebrate Rob and Chelsea's wedding with good friends, and close out with another bachelor party for a good friend, Ben, who had moved to CA.

As I listen to this music I speak of, I am reminded of certain glorious instances over the last 10 years that have shaped who I am. Listening to Deja Entendu reminds me of being a Pitt freshman trying to find my way. The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me reminds me of the bonding I made with one of my closest friends, Andy Armstrong, when this album was being leaked for the first time after intense anticipation. These tunes remind me of times sitting in someone's living room playing guitar; whether it was Ben et al in Centre Plaza, the Cornerstone worship band in Bellefield Church, or Armstrong or Andy Redfield in any number of places. These are memories that I miss dearly when I'm sitting in my living room playing Kevin Devine over a can of PBR by myself.

Other memories creep in that are not as pleasant, though. Last autumn was a dark time (emotionally and physically) of searching for who the hell I am while acclimating myself to a new place 3000 miles away from home. I spent a few weekends in bed for all of daylight just waiting for Monday to come and work to give me something useful to do. Tunes like Owen and Bon Iver gave me plenty of introspection and, at times, seclusion from the world. My extroversion created an exhausted person at the end of these interactionless days.

Finding my identity in this place has been an ongoing struggle that seems neverending. There have been times, including today, when I've wanted nothing but to return to the city of Pittsburgh where I know who I am thanks to those around me. Days like today where I go to serve with my church community and am greeted by barely anyone because they don't know me can be exhausting for a social butterfly who draws energy from constant interaction. The thought ran through my mind several times that no one would notice or care if I left (even though that's not true) and that I missed being able to do autumnal things with close friends who would call me before I called them. Moving across the country has humbled that narcissistic person who thrived on the affirmation of others.

In the end, this day of nostalgia has led me to one conclusion; my identity lies completely in Jesus Christ. I am not who I am because it's who people say I am. I am who I am because Jesus died for my sins and the sins of the world. I am a servant of the Lord. I serve because it is God's will in my life. I play music, write blogs, spend time with friends, spend time by myself, because it is how I am called to serve God. On the surface, I have the opportunity to create the identity that people see, but why should I create a new identity when my identity is already created? If I can alter who people see so often, then I am not living in the identity that Christ has provided. My identity in Christ is consistently loving. If I am not loving, then it's Jake and not Christ. That's no good because Christ is perfect and Jake is not.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Following the Spirit

Sometimes life comes at a million miles an hour. Where you are today is not where you were a year ago, a month ago, or even yesterday. Your plate was empty last week but it is certainly full today and you don't think you can handle it. Desperation sets in and you want to shut down, pack your bag, and head to the wilderness for a while until people forget that you exist and have to maintain responsibilities. What your selfish flesh once wanted has now been dumped in your lap all at once and you should be happy, but you are confused and don't know how to make decisions anymore.

Weren't these good things that you wanted? Attention, opportunities, responsibilities? Your selfish desires have resulted in an overwhelming scenario that you can't handle. What's worse, you haven't been provided the OTHER good things that you also wanted. "Why now?" you wonder. And, "how do I get those other things like money or time, because they will surely make this journey simpler?"

It's times like these when God has given us what we need, not what we want, and we must seek the Holy Spirit to guide us through. When we feel overwhelmed, it's because we are trying to accomplish things on our own and not relying on the Spirit to carry us through. We cannot complete anything on our own. God is the only one who can. When we seek the Spirit, things get completed, our selfish desires seem less important, and the Lord is served in ways that we couldn't think of serving on our own. So today, take a moment to seek God in the confusion and chaos. He's provided these things because He wants us to seek his guidance in using them for His glory.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Sometimes life gets really complicated and you just have to stop, breathe, and let it pass you by a bit. Over the past few weeks I've been bombarded with stressors and priorities that have done nothing but made me unsettled. I struggle with wanting to use my time at work effectively and get overwhelmed with things I want to accomplish. I get home and want to use my free time productively to read, learn, practice music, write music, write blogs, or something else of benefit. While the purpose of this motivation is beautiful, it is incredibly difficult to use energy if you don't have it.

In the end, I'm learning that I need to take time to kick back and relax in order to make other time fruitful. The most important things will be completed somehow. Those things that aren't as important will fade to the bottom of the priority list. Creatively, the best results come when you follow inspiration instead of a schedule. Last week I wrote verses for songs for the first time in months after expecting to make a lot more time to do so in this season of my life. I didn't plan to write a blog today, yet here I am.

Following your heart is the only way to make things happen. Sometimes your heart leads to the pen. Sometimes it leads to the couch. Either way, we all need to follow it a bit to make sure we're balancing life in a way that's beneficial in the long-run. As long as we're not spending every day on the couch, things will be alright.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Today I woke up late for worship practice before church. I felt pretty bad when I realized that I hadn't set an alarm at all in my haste the previous night. I returned home late and knew I'd be running on six hours of sleep and a few cups of coffee to get me through the morning. I quickly gathered my things, threw on the clothes from the previous night, and rolled in to practice about 45 minutes late. We ran through the songs we'd done on Thursday, got our bearings under us, and played pretty well at the services, considering.

When I awoke to see that I'd risen an hour later than planned, I realized I had lost control. When that realization was made, I had no option but to move forward given the circumstances. I made a mistake and had no way to make up for it. What was done was done. I couldn't go back in time. No use crying over spilled milk. I was upset that I had let down my bandmates by showing up late, but the icing on the cake was really that I had lost control. I wanted to be in charge of the timing of my day, but instead was thrown a curveball by my own unattentiveness.

As humans, we crave control. We want to know exactly what is happening to us all the time. We want the perfect job, a cool and reliable car, the latest technology, the ideal spouse, and we want them when we want them. Plenty of time is spent considering how to acquire these things. We research purchases online. We envision what that spouse will be like. We search our network for just the right connection to get us ahead. I've spent plenty of time in my life doing research for these things that I desire.

These things are what keep us separate from Jesus. Society tells us that we're responsible for our own successes and failures. We have no one to congratulate or blame but ourselves. Christianity is a difficult concept for us to accept because it goes against this principle. Jesus already has washed us clean with His blood. God sees us through the lens of Jesus and not through the mistakes we've made.

When I attempt to be successful outside of Jesus, I fail. If I somehow do not fail, then I certainly feel an emptiness. That's because God has created us to seek Him. He wants us to live in his strength. He wants us to ask him for the ability to succeed and accept His forgiveness. We live in a society that tells us we must accomplish on our own, when, in fact, we can only accomplish through Christ.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Great Expectations

A friend asked how I'm doing and I began explaining that I'm in the mood to read and play music a lot, realizing that this has been an ongoing struggle. I deactivated Facebook, refused to get cable in my new apartment, and am considering ditching the internet at home or on my phone. These things are all such distractions.

This is your turn to keep me accountable. I picked up Great Expectations and am intending to read more so I can get my creative juices flowing. The opportunity is here to write songs and play at open mics, see shows and review bands for Ear to the Ground Music, or even start writing prose again and publish a little something in the UW Tacoma literary publication, Tahoma West.

The time is now. Facebook is gone for a bit; hopefully a long while. Genuine human interactions and real, valuable alone time is in the horizon. Hopefully creation follows. Check back soon.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Thanks to inspiration from my good friend, Joe, and my favorite authors, Donald Miller and Bob Goff, I've learned something in my short time in western Washington; I value people's stories. To really know someone, you have to know where they've come from, where they're going, and what their motivation is in between. These questions about what I "do" (for work) don't really do it for me.

A good friend and pastor at Soma once described the difference between the east and west coast in this way; people on the east coast aren't polite but they're friendly while people on the west coast are polite but they're not friendly.

Read that again for clarification. What Abe meant was that people on the west coast (specifically the northwest) want to make people feel comfortable and respected. People you meet rarely make polarizing statements that could be disrespectful or offensive to our opinions. Baristas and cashiers greet you and ask how your day is going. The first time this happened I was very confused but ultimately enjoyed the politeness. The barista takes me order, runs my credit card, and asks how my day is. I was caught off guard. Why do you want to know how my day is? Are you taking some kind of survey? Did my boss put you up to this?

People on the east coast don't do that. When you order a sandwich at Primanti's in Pittsbugh, for example, you tell them what sandwich and that's it. No questions. Hopefully no adjustments (No cole slaw? No tomatoes? Go make your own.) Rude, maybe, but efficient. They don't care how your day is; they care what sandwich to make for you.

This happened quite a bit of times and I realized the other half of Abe's statement. Yes, PNWers are polite and make me feel like I'm cared for in those small talk situations, but they're not as friendly as east coast folks. The same service people would ask small talk questions over and over without making any allusions that they remembered who I was. Friends that I was meeting would keep it to surface-level small talk like "How's work?" or "How are you enjoying Washington?". Work is work. I go, I do things, I go home. Every two weeks I get paid for those things I'm doing. Washington? The music is great and the weather sucks. Usually the former outweighs the latter, which has worked out pretty well.

You see, people on the east coast want to know those stories. We ask tough questions. We engage in controversial discussions. When we disagree, we disagree hard. When we agree, we give high-fives and buy people drinks. When we like people, we like them a lot and spend time with them. When we don't like people, we generally disengage with them and let sleeping dogs lie. It's cool because those people we don't like will find friends more like them. Unless they're jerks.

The thing is, Joe (native of Ohio) pointed out that people don't ask others about their stories out here. They seem disengaged. They don't want to know the details of our lives. They have surface-level friendships. I don't mean to say this happens with everyone, but it certainly happens with a lot of folks. I want to feel cared for by friends and acquaintances who may become friends.

A true friend knows what makes their friends tick. They can tell when they're in a good or bad mood. They identify with who they've been, who they are, and who they'd like to be. They ask tough questions. When my ex-girlfriend and I broke up, people were afraid to ask questions. The ones that did ask questions, though, were the ones who helped me to process my thoughts and feelings and, ultimately, move on fairly smoothly. Friends are there to talk about difficult things.

So what does this mean? Well, in the grand scheme, it means that I'll probably engage people in who they are more than what they do. Practically, this means that I'll be asking people more about their stories and determine what part I play in it.

"I used to think I needed to record stories, but now I know I need to engage them." - Bob Goff, Love Does

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Where the Heart Is

This journey in the Northwest has been a fruitful one. I honestly cannot stress how important, exciting, challenging, and wonderful it's been to leave home and live in a new place. There are certainly days that I miss the old ways and comfort of who I was in Pittsburgh, but over the last month or so I have had the opportunity to really embrace life in Washington. While I certainly questioned God's plan several times over the last 8 months, I knew for a fact that I was brought here for a reason and am thankful for seeing that more clearly every day.

I'll warn that this post will be scattered. There have just been signs of Seattle/Tacoma becoming home over the last few weeks. Spending intentional time with good friends, playing music, seeing live music, enjoying work, having real impact on students' lives, finding a new apartment, and simply enjoying a new chapter of life has been a real blessing. The weather has been amazing recently, which has helped to enjoy getting out and riding my bike around town.

In talking to my friend, Dana, who is visiting from Pittsburgh, I made the realization that even though I'm living 3000 miles away from home I've essentially found a way to continue life the way that it was except with new people and places. I still go to shows, drink PBR at dive bars, and journal in coffee shops. The difference is that everyone does that here, too! Shows are abundant. 

There is always good music to be seen and heard. Last night we saw a show in Tacoma (Ages and Ages, The Local Strangers, and James Apollo) and today we saw a free in-store performance in Seattle (Barcelona). Local bands playing local venues, except that these bands are fantastic. Don't get me wrong, there are some great bands in Pittsburgh (New Shouts and The Whiskey Holler, to name a couple), but there are just SO many great bands between Portland and Seattle. And the play these towns a LOT. 

For this reason, Seattle is exactly what I was hoping for. For this reason, I cannot imagine leaving any time soon. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that I'm thankful to feel so thankful to be here that leaving soon is no longer on the horizon. There were certainly times when I thought about leaving after this year or next year, but I am starting to reach a place where Tacoma is becoming home too much for me to really want to leave soon. For this, I thank God.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Oh, What the Sun Can Do...

Today is a beautiful day in Seattle! It's days like these that help me to remember why I moved to Washington in the first place. When I visited Seattle in the summer of 2009, I knew that the sun and clear skies were not the norm of the Pacific Northwest, but it still roped me in. Walking through Pike Place Market then was just as beautiful as it is today.

I realize now that I never really wrote in this blog about that trip. I came to Seattle with one of my best friends, Scott "Tiger" Kelly, to visit our recently-married friends, Jenn and Ron. The trip was right before I started graduate school at Pitt, so it was the transition into a new chapter in my life. I began writing in my favorite journal during that trip, which I filled up over the course of a year, so my thoughts that week remained mostly private. The NW provided a new perspective, a new place, possibilities. When I returned home from that trip, I knew I wanted to head west someday.

It's been pretty surprising that heading west happened so soon. When I left Seattle in 2009, I felt like I would finish my graduate program and relocate here. I really thought I'd wimp out and stay in Pittsburgh, yet here I am sitting in a coffee shop in Ballard, listening to the Pirates game online, thinking about how this is close to home now. Not close enough, though, because I certainly prefer Seattle to my actually home of Tacoma.

Tacoma is blue collar and reminds me of where I've come from in Beaver County. For that reason, though, it's unsettling. Walking down 6th Avenue on a weekend night or having to shop in the Tacoma Mall reminds me so much of Beaver County that it feels like I've never left, in a lot of ways. My experience in Tacoma is a lot like how I would feel if I lived in Beaver County again now. Satisfied with some good people around and a lower price tag than the nearby metropolis, but still not exactly in the center of the action like I'd want to be. Living in Seattle is not a feasible option, so I don't dwell on it much. But I do think this adventure would have a different feel if I were living here.

In the end, though, it's all about perspective. The sun is shining today and I would love being anywhere with weather like this. I love spending days like this walking around with Sam (and, this weekend, her BFF Emily), but I'd probably enjoy this relaxing Saturday with her anywhere that it's sunny. My perspective is different today because the sun is shining on everything we see.

That's the way things should be with Jesus in our hearts. When we remember God's love in our life, everything feels sunny. My life so far from home often gives me significant homesickness, but I do acknowledge that God brought me here. Through a serendipitous series of events, I landed in Tacoma without having experienced much anxiety during my job search this past summer. This was God-driven, which gives me peace.

Tomorrow we celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter. Christ's love reminds us that even though death appeared to have won at one point, life and love do eventually prevail. Christ will overcome death on Easter. Sunny days are ahead.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 Pittsburgh Pirates, At-a-Glance

For the superstitious one still existing in my brain, I'm hoping a different home for me means a different result for my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates.

Opening Day is certainly still a holiday for Pittsburghers without any particular reason why. The team has been bad for years and doesn't seem to be turning the corner hard enough to think this year will be significantly different. The difference this year? They know what it feels like. A division lead in July was a real thing last year. One friend of mine suggested he'd buy my plane ticket home for the NLCS if the Bucs got there. Those sort of conversations were really happening last summer. Pittsburgh reminded the league that they're a baseball town. I'm no expert, but let me get into my thoughts on this season.

You could easily consult Joe Starkey or Dejan Kovacevic to reference the stats, the scores, the streak, the reasons why the Pirates will or won't succeed this year. That's not really my gig. However, I will consult some facts. The Pirates have a superstar in Andrew McCutchen. He's a strong defensive CF with some power and a lot of speed. He's young and becoming more disciplined. That could be said of several other important players, like Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker. Those four together give Pirates fans hope of an entertaining day at the ballpark every day.

Pitching? It was a lot better last year. Karstens, McDonald, Correia and Morton showed some promise that showed their potential. Add the injury-prone Erik Bedard and the currently-injured AJ Burnett and the Pirates rotation has some more depth and promise than it has had in recent memory. I've been one to suggest the Pirates have needed a veteran, like Burnett, to join the team with some experience in winning (World Series with the Yankees), so his leadership in that rotation should show as the year goes on. The bullpen is also pretty talented, led by Joel Hanrahan.

So there are some things that are promising. I won't pull out the numbers because I just don't have time, but I'll say the Pirates will flirt with .500 this year. I don't see them breaking it yet, but if some things fall into place, like Pedro Alvarez erasing his abysmal Spring Training or AJ Burnett regaining his top-of-the-rotation form in a low-pressure environment, then they could easily compete with a weaker NL Central. The 1997 Freak Show Pirates didn't have as much promise as this team and they came close to breaking the streak (79-83, 5 GB in the divison). With that in mind, anything can happen. Let's go Bucs.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

6 Months In

I've had a lot of thoughts of how to write this half-year update since my 6-month mark in Tacoma hit at the beginning of March. As far as a quick overall update for those of you I don't keep in touch with much, I'll hit on several things while giving a commentary. So here we go!

Things in Tacoma, WA, have been overall good. Life has been more difficult than ever at times, fulfilling at many other times, and completely confusing almost all of the time. I've been extremely homesick at times, but overall this experience has been completely necessary. I lived in Pittsburgh for the first 26 years of my life and loved it. I still love Pittsburgh, but possibly more than ever now that I've been away. I needed a refresher and some time away from what had become an infinite norm of life in my hometown, so my experience in WA has been fruitful to remind me of where I've come from, if nothing else.

My job has simply been amazing and I'm certainly not just saying that because I think my co-workers or students will be reading. In short, I have amazing colleagues who are a joy to work with, an incredible supervisor who is gracious and supportive, an amount of autonomy that I didn't think would be possible in my first job, and a fun group of students who are around a lot and keep the job interesting. My job is Career Development Specialist at UW Tacoma and I'm basically the only person doing career services at UWT. I am in charge of everything including meeting with students, giving presentations, communicating with employers, operating the career fair, etc. I am fully in charge of determining the direction of career development at UWT. The possibilities are endless. I'm essentially in an Assistant Director position for my entry-level job. I wouldn't trade this career move for anything I interviewed for last summer. This level of independence and variety is the exact reason that I know my move to Tacoma has been the right one.

Church life has been developing. I reached out and met a bunch of people at Soma Communities right when I arrived. At times Soma has felt like a great fit, at other times not as great, but it's been important for me to avoid comparing with the Open Door, which really showed me what it meant to be a church. For that, I commend John and BJ's work.

Life in general in Tacoma is difficult at times. While I've met a few groups of people with whom I spend good time, I definitely miss my friends most of all. I don't have a go-to person with whom to watch Pitt games, go to shows, or just sit and talk about our Christian lives. While I appreciate the people I've found to do these things with, I certainly miss my close friends in Pittsburgh. I miss living with very close friends, playing music at church, and doing simple things like sharing meals or playing ultimate frisbee while having in-depth discussions.

The people of the Northwest come off as friendly and inviting, but there is certainly a barrier that is up between you and a new person. It's hard to get into deep conversations with people because they like to keep their guard up and not let you into their lives as quickly as people from the East Coast. As someone who opens up quickly and frequently, it's been difficult to become friends with people who don't open up as easily. Walls break down, though, and I expect that things will change with time.

Tacoma doesn't have a lot going on, in my opinion. For a similar cost of living as Pittsburgh, it certainly lacks many of the amenities. Pittsburgh's unique neighborhoods are not rivaled here. The best touring bands go to Seattle instead of Tacoma, which can be a bother on nights when driving 45 minutes to and from an event doesn't seem logical. Seattle's cost of living is too high to justify, so living in the midst of the action isn't as easy an option here as it is in Pittsburgh. That won't change, but I know I need to do my best to make this place interesting on my own.

I've also been dating a really amazing girl, Sam, who I met through mutual friends. She went to Geneva, is from Lancaster, and is doing an internship at World Vision, so it's been great to go through this difficult time of transition with someone who shares a lot of my growth away from home. She's likely to be heading home after the internship is over in July, so I'm excited to see what God does with our relationship moving forward.

I'm trying to keep it brief, so I'll wrap it up. I'm definitely planning on being in Tacoma for 2-3 years at least while I develop my career options. The longer I'm here, the more valuable experience I'll build before looking for my next job. The next move feels like Pittsburgh, but a lot can change in the course of another year or two. In the end, though, God has a plan that I'll learn when I'm supposed to. So, there's no telling when or where the next chapter might start. Although, on an adventure like this, it feels like a new chapter starts every day.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

When Sh*t Gets Real, or, the Need for a Lower-Cost Higher Education

There comes a moment in everyone's life where you realize how real things are. Growing up in your parents house, living in the safe physical and financial confines of home and college, and being able to live within your hopes and dreams are luxuries that eventually run out. Life hits, shit gets real, and we end up stumbling through a life that we used to have time to sit around the coffeeshop and figure out.

I am a career counselor at a state school in Washington (UW Tacoma) where the students are coming from modest economic means and trying to make a better life for themselves or their families. Students come in to my office wondering what to do with their interdisciplinary arts and science degree and no real experience. I want to tell them "nothing, good luck" because someone should have encouraged them to take some practical steps towards their career a long time ago.

That's not me, though. That's not my job. and I don't mean my job as a career counselor. I mean my job as God has sent me to help these students and give them hope. So, no matter how frustrating it is to sit with these clueless students and wonder who did them the disservice of not telling them anything along the way, I start to come up with a practical plan. "It's going to be hard" is something I might say. "The more you are willing to sacrifice your time and income now, the better off you'll be in the long-run." They walk away with hope, thankful that someone at a college is ready to advocate for their best interests.

I looked at my budget today and realized that I've paid far too much for my college education. (Word to the wise, don't get a liberal arts degree) The Saxifrage School is running a breakout session at the Jubilee Conference today, which has made me so excited about the need for low-cost, practical higher education. Excited that a cure may start to bloom. Excited that there are people starting a school with the intention of giving students a real, practical education and real, practical life experience along the way for a price tag that's worth paying.

I could say a lot more, but maybe y'all should just watch the video below and think for yourselves instead of letting me tell you what to think. After all, that was the original purpose of higher education, was it not?

The Saxifrage Idea from Saxifrage School on Vimeo.