It’s About the People

It’s been almost 6 months since I said goodbye to my mom at DFW International Airport to catch a flight to London Heathrow to hop on a connecting to Berlin. 6 months ago, I never would have told anyone that I could be the person I am today, and I owe that to CR. CR10 changed me in ways that I never could have imagined. To Dr. P and Lindsey, I am eternally grateful for all the hard work and sacrifices you both made to make CR10 as amazing as it was. Every single person on this experience made an impact on me, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from all of this: CR, and life in general, is about the people.

The Jacob that boarded that plane 6 months ago is no longer here, and thank goodness. I still show some flashes of the selfishness that consumed me, and I still fight the battle of having a large ego every day of my life. God showed me the ugliest parts of myself on this experience, but even more importantly, He showed me that there was hope, and that nobody is beyond broken and every person can change. I could tell you about how every place we visited had an impact on me and changed me for the better, but that simply would not be the whole story. The places themselves do not make the places, the people make the places. Without people, the places would be an empty shell of the brilliance – or the misguidedness – of the people. I could have visited Berlin, Munich, Interlaken, Riomaggiore, Florence, and Rome by myself, but I guarantee you I would still be the same jerk that boarded that flight in May if I had. Without the people of CR, I would not have known the love that I know now.

The people of CR showed me a new kind of love. A love that I know I hadn’t experienced before. I used to think that love was something that had a limit; love was something that I had to constrain to specific people instead of something that is freely given to everyone at all times. The people of CR changed that. I saw God move through people in the most special ways, highlighting their strengths and allowing them to do some amazing things in love. I also saw God break people – myself included – and highlight their biggest weaknesses, which only in retrospect I realize how special it is to see people at their weakest. It is only at our weakest that we see how strong God is, because our greatest weaknesses are His greatest strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). Seeing God work in people at their weakest, and seeing them rise above it and grow because of it, is truly a joy and a blessing. I love every single one of the CRecade because we grew in the same way, allowing ourselves to be broken and built up, but helping each other in every step of the process by loving each other recklessly. I saw a new kind of resilience in this group that I carry with me every day as I strive to be the best I can be and grow into the man I am called to be. The unconditional, unwavering, all-pursuing love that each one of these people showed me broke so many barriers inside my heart and remade me into a better version of myself.

When I think back on this summer of growth, I look at these 3.5 weeks spent in Europe. My heart sinks knowing I can never go back, and that my time on CR10 is over. But there is always hope. Today most of met up to work on our Pecha Kucha presentations. While I sat there for 3 hours and struggled as to how this short 20-slide presentation could contain how amazing CR was, I realized something. My time on CR10 is over. The time was finite and will be forever etched into history as the most amazing 3.5 weeks of my life. My time with CR10 began on May 15, 2018 and continues today. The experience I have with these people – the most brilliant group of 18 people – will forever endure. My time with CR10 will never end, because no matter where we are – Germany, Texas, Canada, Australia, or the freaking moon – we are CR10, and the love I feel for these people will not be constrained by time or geography. No matter where we are or what we are doing, when we’re together, it’s a life-changing experience.

Abby, Audrey, Brittany, Brooke, Emma, Indigo, Jake, Kyle, Lauren, Marat, Nishu, Olivia, Olivia, Ryal, Taylor, Lindsey, and Dr. P: Thank you for being you. You changed me. You made me a better person than I ever could have hoped to be, and I hope you all know how special you are to me. I love each of you so much. CR10 Forever.

 

– Triple J

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Something Beautiful

Standing at a magnificent 17 feet high, Michelangelo’s David is truly a masterpiece and is one of the most beautiful sculptures ever created. At a mere 26 years old, Michelangelo began his work on this piece and completed it at age 30. The level of detail involved in this statue is breathtaking. From David’s hair to the veins running in his hands, the meticulous work involved to create something beautiful like this is absolutely amazing. The world has marveled at its beauty for over 500 years now, but the story of how the statue came to be isn’t as straightforward as one would assume.

David was carved out of a single block of marble that had been neglected for 26 years. The block was originally deemed as useless due to the fact that it had been considered for previous projects but all had fallen through. It was seen as outdated and not worthy of being sculpted. It was huge and hard to handle, weighing in at over 6 tons. It was left outside and was exposed to the harsh elements for an extended period of time. Everyone saw it as unworthy of being made beautiful. Everyone saw it as a waste, except for one man. Michelangelo took a look at that block of marble, worn and broken, and thought, “I can make something beautiful with that.”

Michelangelo won the job of carving the marble by simply convincing the commissioners of the statue that he could do it. Great minds like da Vinci were consulted, but all passed on the opportunity to work with the stone. It took Michelangelo four years to finish the statue, which was originally built to sit atop the dome of the cathedral in Florence, but upon the statue’s completion, people agreed that it was too beautiful to be gazed at from afar (plus the sheer size of the statue made it very difficult to lift up to the top of the dome). 9 different locations were considered instead of the dome, with many worrying that because of the statue’s initial imperfections it should be moved somewhere not totally visible. However, to others, this statue was something beautiful, and it ended up being placed in the Piazza della Signoria, the city’s town hall. A replica stands in its place there today, while the original is housed at the Accademia museum.

One of the most famous sculptures in the world began as nothing more than a block of stone. Even more, that block of stone was rejected for 26 years before it was finally accepted and turned into something beautiful. That’s a story.

We are all blocks of stone, rejected and left to weather the elements. We sometimes see ourselves as useless and unworthy of being made beautiful. But there is always that one artist that looks at us and says, “I can make something beautiful out of that.” I believe that person to be God. God sees us as the rejected block of marble, but instead of saying “the burden of that stone is too heavy” or “it can’t be used”, He takes up the challenge and molds us into the works of art He sees inside of us.

I know that sometimes I look around at my life and all I see are broken pieces. I see hopes crumbled at my feet. But after seeing David today, I realize that those broken pieces are God’s handiwork. God is chiseling away the stone that surrounds the masterpiece He sees. He has His vision for all of our lives, and all it takes is a little work, a little brokenness, and a lot of faith to turn us into something beautiful. It just takes the artist’s powerful hands to mold us into works of art.

The next time you feel beat down, broken, or useless, just remember David. The stone that was rejected for so long eventually was accepted. God always accepts us just the way we are. Beat down, broken, useless, worn, tired of being weathered by the elements. He looks at us and has a vision for who we are meant to be through Him. He looks at the stone that surrounds us and starts to chisel away. The result? Something beautiful.

Psalm 118:22

 

Darkness

Pain. Misery. Death. That’s what life was like for the prisoners of Dachau concentration camp. Today our hearts were shattered into millions of pieces when we visited the site of merciless Nazi humiliation, torture, and murder. Words cannot describe the feeling inside of you when you stand at the place where the horrors of the holocaust took place. Today was a day of introspection for me. I truly believe that what we saw today was the remnants of the darkest part of humanity, a part of humanity that is still evident and exists today. What we saw today on the gravel roads of Dachau will be prominent in my memory forever.

I was broken today. Innocent people, tortured and murdered, for what? What motivation? What’s the reason behind it all? I still don’t have the answers to these questions, and I probably won’t for a good while. It’s hard to write about the experience of Dachau because it leaves you speechless. The terror and pain that one plot of land contained is enough to sit down and really think about the meaning of life and what your duty as a human is.

So that’s exactly what I did today. I sat down in the Catholic Chapel on Dachau’s grounds. I just sat and thought, and I realized that what I had witnessed, what I believed to be the darkest part of humanity, was actually the darkest part of myself. So many times I have hurt another human being, I have done wrong to my fellow man, and that doesn’t make me any better than the Nazis. We all have this darkness inside of us, and what scared me about Dachau is that it showed me what hatred can accomplish. If we subscribe to this darkness inside of us, we can go about causing death and destruction to anything and anyone that comes across our path.

There is hope though. On April 29, 1945, US forces liberated the prisoners at Dachau. The darkness was not allowed to continue and the killing of innocent lives was brought to a screeching halt. We too have been liberated from our darkness, and that was done by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us all. As I thought some more, I came to the conclusion that the darkness inside of us isn’t a part of who we are. It’s not something that controls us. We control the darkness. If we let things get out of hand, we can end up being so consumed with hatred that the darkness seems to run our lives because we can become one with the darkness, and the results of that are…unspeakable.

Let’s shift the topic into present day. These issues have not gone away. As I said before, the darkness is inside all of us. We are all capable of the injustices that occurred between 1933-1945. It is our job as humans regardless of demographics that we think may separate us to ensure that this never happens again. It is our job to quell the darkness inside of us and rise above what differences we may think keep us from loving one another and stop the pain and the suffering that we bring upon each other. Everyone should visit Dachau, or some other concentration camp. It is impossible to come out viewing the world the same way you viewed it before you walked through its gates. Hell’s home base rested in the concentration camps. That’s something that can’t be erased from memory.

Memory is the biggest key. Remembering how this happened is at the center of ensuring it doesn’t occur again, because it can. It is our job to educate the young and bring up good citizens that respect one another. The dehumanizing factor in Dachau was immensely important to the carrying out of inhumane torture and murder. The moment we forget that everyone is on an equal playing field and everyone is a human being is the moment that the human race ceases to exist. My heart will forever hurt for the victims of Dachau, but I will do everything possible to make sure that this world I live in, the world I hope to raise my children in, does not fall back into the horrors that I saw today.

My favorite place in Dachau was a memorial that read “Never Again” in multiple languages. Never again can we let an entire race of people be discriminated against, and especially not to the point of brutal murder of innocent lives. I learned a lot about history, myself, and the present state of the world today at Dachau. Injustices will try to rise again. The darkness inside of us all will once again try to rear its ugly head. Never again.

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John 16:33

Romans 8:18

Calling an Audible

You know it’s going to be an interesting day when you have 2 minutes to get out of bed in the morning. That’s how the day started for your favorite Horned Frogs on CR10 when our train pulled into Munich’s Hauptbahnhof station this morning at 7:20. I would personally like to thank whoever opened the blinds in our little 6 bed room on the night train and shone the sun directly into my eyes. I’m being serious, because honestly without you I would probably still be on that train asleep. It was a great night on the train. We had some really good talks and I feel closer to everyone I talked with now because of it and for that I am thankful. The lack of sleep was far worth it, and I can honestly say I would do the night train again, it’s truly the European experience I know we all were hoping for. After our arousal from slumber and our sprinting out of the train, we settled down in a nice diner overlooking Marienplatz for some breakfast (side note: I tried a cappuccino for the first time this morning, and after dumping enough sugar in it to make me diabetic after one sip, I determined that coffee probably isn’t for me). After our breakfast, our lethargic selves went out into Marienplatz for the day’s activities.

So this is where it gets exciting. We were broken up into 2 groups of 8, a step up from our smaller groups in Berlin.

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With them, we were given a list of sites we needed to visit for the day. Now this is where my metaphor of the audible comes in. So if you’ve ever watched football, you would know that the offense runs plays to attempt to move the ball down the field and eventually score. So a play is called in the huddle, but along with that play are back up plays called audibles that can be used if something goes awry before the play starts, like if the defense sets up to cover differently that would thwart the original play. So our list this morning was our original play, but it turns out that this particular Monday is a holiday in Munich, or something like that. So more than half of the places we were supposed to visit today were closed! So what do we have to do? Call an audible. We switched up some places with the other group and we ended up seeing Olympic Stadium and a really cool museum that went over how the Nazis rose to power using Munich as their headquarters.

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We really only made it to 2 sites out of our original 6 that we were supposed to see. Some might call this a failure of a day, but actually I would call it a success.

Today was bigger than CR. Today was about doing life. In life, nothing goes by the playbook. Audibles are a daily thing that we have to utilize in order to make things work. I was proud of my group today. There was some struggling. We were all tired, frustrated at our situation, and my goodness were we hangry! But we chose to push through that and overcome some very tough obstacles like the train we needed to be on breaking, and we did everything that we could with the time and resources that we were given. In the end, the only thing you can do is your best. We will get some sufficient rest tonight (this hotel we’re in is SWEET) and bounce back tomorrow refreshed and ready to go to work! I’m excited to see where our spirit carries us around this beautiful city tomorrow. I’m thankful for the trials of today, because it is only through pressure and heat that you can turn coal into diamonds, and the pressure and heat we went through today is making us into the gems we’re meant to be. We will attack tomorrow with a smile on our face ready to face whatever challenges it will throw at us, and if we need to, we always have the audibles ready for use.

 

Discovery in the Dome

Today was day 2 in Berlin for your favorite neighborhood John V. Roach Honors College students. Team Charlie’s list consisted of some pretty cool places like the Berlin Wall Memorial, Otto Weidt’s museum where he hid Jews, and the German History Museum. All of these were great places, but one other place we visited will be the highlight of my writing on today’s events, and it was the Berlin Dome, a cathedral right off of the river Spree in the heart of Berlin. Immediately this place looked amazing. So amazing that we had to take a signature Team Charlie heel click picture right in front of it!

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Now, don’t get distracted by our gleaming faces or superior athletic ability that we used to take this picture, but press forward as we did to get to the true beauty: the inside. This place lit up like a spaceship from all the gold we saw plated on the altar. Hand carved stories from the Bible like the stoning of Stephen or Paul on the road to Damascus filled the walls. The immense detail of this cathedral absolutely blew me away. Like yesterday, pictures do not do this place justice. I cannot even describe the overwhelming beauty and captivating views that this place brought to the table (or, in this case, the altar).

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Something that I thought about when looking up at the magnificent dome and walls of this holy place was that this is what heaven would be like. But after some reflection I realized that I am wrong. If humans could create something this gorgeous, this amazing, then what can God do? You can’t put God in a box. God would, and He will, blow the beauty of this place out of the water. I can only hope to see the gleaming lights of heaven one day, made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The fact that God made it possible for humans to create such beauty in a building only makes me want to know Him deeper and just see what exactly He can do, because as we know, God has no limits, so I know that what He has in store for us is magnificent.

I was also very intrigued at the historical figure of Martin Luther. As a Catholic, we don’t really learn about Martin Luther in much detail other than his ideas are what sparked the Protestant Reformation and subsequent Counter-Reformation. He had a statue inside of this cathedral today, and I got to see a short video on him there, and at the German History Museum I was able to see two Bibles that he had translated (the beauty of the illustrations and writings in those books-wow). But I really was able to think about Martin Luther and his story. Here he was in a time where there were blatant fallacies being committed by the mainstream religion, Catholicism. He stood up to these fallacies and did what he knew was right and payed the consequences of his protests, like being excommunicated from the Church and being stripped of all his rights in Germany, being forced to flee the country. He knew all that would happen and still did it. His initial movement, with the nailing of the 95 Theses, started in 1517, 501 years ago. I look on the Christian faith now and see how much of an influence his ideology had on shaping the faith today. Any Christian Church will have traces of Martin Luther’s teachings and his interpretation of the faith, which I believe to have been led by the Holy Spirit in sparking this movement to shape how Christians interact with God. I will definitely be diving more into Martin Luther and his story.

Dr. P always tells us that when we visit these places and engage in deep thought about some tough issues or when trying to interpret the past that coming up with answers to some of our thoughts and wonderings is great. But coming up with questions to those thoughts? Even better. I definitely left with more questions than answers after my visit to the Berliner Dom, and I’m happy about that, because those questions will ultimately lead me to more discovery and more character development for me, and that’s all I could ever ask for.

The City of Conflict

Wow. To describe my first day in Berlin, that’s the word I would use. This place is crazy cool. The history, good and bad, is fully confronted here, and today, we got to see some of this conflicting culture in the places we saw.

To start off, we saw the famous Brandenburg Gate, a gate which has different meanings to different people. It was a symbol of openness and safety for people entering Berlin, as a sign of refuge for weary travelers looking for a place to call home. After Nazi control, the gate stood as a reminder of the freedom once had, and what was lost. It was partially destroyed during the battle of Berlin, when the Russians came to Berlin and defeated the Nazis in 1945. The bullet holes are still visible even though they have been patched up. Finally, once the Nazis fell in Germany and Berlin was divided up, the Berlin wall stretched through the courtyard by the gate and citizens were not allowed to pass through, making the gate a symbol of division and struggle during the Cold War era. Today, it is open and easy to pass through, but the history and symbolism behind this historic gate is amazing, from the Quadriga at the top of it to the bottom of its massive pillars. It serves as a reminder always that freedom, in itself, is a struggle.

By far the highlight of today during our tour of Berlin (also, shout out to my group, team Charlie! These people were amazing and I could not have asked for better people to surround myself with) was when Dr. P led us to an archway just off of some road in the Southwest corner of the city. This place was known as Treptower Park. When I first saw the gate, with the symbol for the Soviet Union on it, I thought it was just another way that the Soviets influenced Germans during their rule of East Berlin, and was just another way of flaunting their power over Germany. I was way off. As we pass through this gate, we saw a statue of kneeling woman. All the trees were in a uniform “U” around her, and they lined the sides of this long walkway that led straight behind us. We turned around, and there was a massive statue of a soldier carrying a baby and a large sword in the distance. Up ahead, on the sides of this path, were two soldiers kneeling, facing each other, out of respect for the soldier carrying the baby. Behind both of them were massive stones in the shape of trapezoids in what looked like red marble, which Jake Lynn pointed out look like spaceships. After tilting your head a little bit and thinking about it, you would realize that these are actually Soviet flags, bent at an angle as to salute this unknown soldier.

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So this guy must be a big deal, and my mind immediately went to Josef Stalin. The soldier had to be him. However, as we continued to walk closer, I saw that the statue was not him for the lack of the distinguishing mustache that Stalin wore. Before the soldier were 5 rectangular plots of land with big wreaths on them. We would come to learn that those plots of land were massive graves of soldiers who died in the battle of Berlin. Around the edges of the concrete area leading up to the massive statue of the soldier were big white stones with carvings and quotes from Stalin. They told the story of how the common people rose up to form the army and fought and won the battle of Berlin, and the very last tablet was of people carrying a dead soldier, pointed straight towards the massive statue. That statue was above the grave of one unknown soldier, the product of the struggle of the Russians and the willingness to stand up for his country and fight, and who will never return home. The statue itself had deeper meaning though, and we came to learn that the woman at the beginning actually represented Germany, and the child that the soldier was holding? That was hers, which symbolized the future of Germany. The Soviets held the future of Germany, and underneath his feet he was crushing a swastika, symbolizing the end of Nazi rule and the installment of a new era for Germany, held in the hands of the Soviets.

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Pictures do not do this place justice. I gained a new level of respect for the Russians today after seeing the fine detail and work they put in to make this gravesite and memorial. I saw a lot of similarities between America and Russia today, as I share pride for my nation and pride for my people as they do. I saw a nation that embraced their heritage and made something to commemorate a great triumph and have pride in who they are. I also saw a reason why America and Russia butt heads. Both nations have so much pride in who they are and how they do things that sometimes they lose sight of their true goals and struggle for power in the world, with one wanting to be bigger than the other. Yes, the way both nations do things are different, and they are both seen as wrong or right, but pride amplifies these differences. Pride for one’s nation is good, but when it causes one to lose sight of their own values, it becomes a negative. Both America and Russia want what’s best for their people. Putting pride aside and focusing back on the people could be part of the solution to peace among all the nations, not just America and Russia. It could be a way to rewrite a conflicted past.

Berlin today showed me a history of conflict and struggle, but not one that was offended by difference and struggle and not one who ran away from conflict, but one that embraced it. And because of this embracing of conflict, Berlin has also become a great site of resolution and brings me to the conclusion that conflict, if embraced and done in a respectful way, can bring about positive change through discussion and community.

The Before

It’s really weird to think that in 2 days I’ll be hopping onto an airplane to fly to Berlin. Right now I’m in that awkward phase between unpacking from moving out of my dorm room to packing up a bag to last me for about 4 weeks in Europe. My room is in disarray, and it feels like everything I put up will just be taken out again to put into my suitcase for me to use across the Atlantic. My room isn’t the only thing in disarray either, my mind is as well. We tend to have the environments we live in reflect some aspect of our mind, conscious or unconscious, and that holds true for my room that is cluttered and confused. I am cluttered and confused. I have all these hopes, all these “what ifs” going around in my head, about the journey that I will embark on beginning Tuesday. Dr. Pitcock always told us to go into the experience with no expectations, but that is easier said than done. I feel like every single one of us has constructed some sort of model in our minds that we expect CR10 to be like. It’s only natural for us to do that, but the moment that it becomes real is the moment we let go of that prototype and allow CR to be CR the way it should be naturally. Currently, I am trying to let go of my thoughts of how CR should go and just let CR be CR. That being said, there’s no reason why I can’t have goals for myself on this experience. I feel like setting these goals for myself will allow me to open myself up more to the people around me and allow them to influence me to be a better version of myself, and hopefully I can do the same to them. I have 3 main goals for this experience:

1- I want to be able to connect to God on a different level

My faith is the single most important aspect of my life to me. I know that I could be the richest man in the world, but if I don’t have Jesus, I have nothing. I could be the poorest man in the world, but I have Jesus, then I have everything. I truly hope that God uses CR to help me learn more about Him and more about His plan for my life.

2- I want to learn more about European culture

This one may seem a little superficial, but it’s true. I have little to no global awareness of how other cultures operate, so I really want to be influenced by the culture overseas and allow it to broaden my horizons.

3- I want to let go of my hesitations and go all in for people

NOW we’re getting deep. So sometimes, especially with people I don’t know very well, I build walls up around myself and kind of hold back when getting to know people. Usually people have to open up to me before I open up to them. There is some value to this, and I’m not trying to be sharing my feelings with every stranger on the street, but I really want to work on being more intentional with my relationships with others and being a genuine positive influence on people’s lives, whether that’s a smile like when passing a stranger on a street, or being truly open and honest with someone that I see on a pretty regular basis (like the other 15 students on this experience) and allowing them to get to know me and me genuinely wanting to know them and be there for them. I hope I have the opportunity to be there for others to lean on, and also allow myself to lean on others on this experience.

So there they are. My 3 big goals for CR10. I haven no doubt that as CR progresses I will develop more goals based on our activities and relationships we build, but those are my big 3 goals before my plane leaves the runway on Tuesday.

The sun is rising on CR10. I can see it now, and for all of you Disney fans out there, you can just hear the opening song of the Lion King playing (but pretend the sun is rising over the streets of Berlin, not the African Savanna). I can’t wait to see where we go and how we mesh as a group on this amazing experience. See you in Europe.