Category Archives: Culture

Why do Christians go nuts for board games?

Photo Cred: tinysci.com

Photo Cred: tinysci.com

BY: DAVID VOGEL

If you’ve been part of a youth group, small group, or really any sort of Christian gathering for students you’ve probably heard of board games like The Settlers of Catan. Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the interest of strategic board games, and there seems to be a good portion of that interest coming from Christians, specifically Christian students. My question is, “why?” I, too, am a lover of board games, and I am probably responsible for introducing several friends to games like Settlers, Pandemic, Carcassonne, and Dominion. (If you haven’t heard of any of those, I would encourage you to look them up.) So, I definitely understand the appeal, and I would like to suggest an idea or two as to why games like these have gained so much traction in Christian circles.

 

I think the most obvious answer is that board games bring people together in a way that no other medium of entertainment does. Being a lover of the games myself, I have no problem with inviting friends over to my house over Christmas break or to my residence hall’s lounge during finals week to kill an hour or two enjoying each other’s’ company and stopping diseases from ravaging the planet. (Check out Pandemic) When we game, we make memories and inside jokes. Sometimes tension is created, but we keep it within the game, and I think that only bolsters our friendships. I feel safe saying that from a two year long losing streak in The Settlers of Catan, and I’m still friends with the guy who routinely beats me, so have no fear. It can be done! The friends I game with are probably the closest ones I have, and these games have provided greater opportunities to just talk and hang out together.

 
The recent increase in interest in board games has also produced games to appeal to almost any person. No longer are youth groups subjected to endlessly painful games of Monopoly, Sorry!, or The Game of Life” While these games can be fun, American and European game developers have learned a lot from each other, and now games come in almost every theme, style, and strategic type. Whether you and your friends want to be firefighters working together to extinguish a burning building and save the residents, (Check out Flash Point: Fire Rescue.) or you just want to build roads, cities, farms, and monasteries by placing tiles, ( Carcassonne in a nut shell) board games have you covered. Most games have abandoned the roll-and-move style and opted for more strategic and thought provoking styles. Board games have become more dynamic and interesting over the past 10 years, and this has piqued the interests of many people, including Christian students.

 
As a lover of games, myself, I hardly ever hesitate to invite others to play. It’s possible that others seem games as an opportunity for ministry or fellowship, and these are all viable uses for something of this nature, but that’s never been the main focus of the games for me. For me, I see board games as an opportunity to have fun with friends or strangers and bond over something everyone can enjoy.

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On that one Frozen song that everyone loves

Elsa%27s_lossBy: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

*Spoiler warning*

By now you’ve heard it.  “Let it Go.”  Easily the most viral song from Disney’s recent animated film Frozen.  At a first glance, this song seems to be about being yourself, refusing to be burdened by what others care about who you really are.  It seems empowering, strengthening, fierce.  The only legitimate complaint that I’ve ever heard placed against this song is one that I just recently read from a friend on Facebook: the song was placed inappropriately.  Elsa had not yet earned the right to sing “Let it Go,” that she had not yet become confident enough, strong enough, to belt out this anthem.  I can understand why some, perhaps many, feel this way.  At a first glance, the song is about freedom, about beginning to feel comfortable in one’s own skin.  To me, however, this particular song represents something else, and to me, she has more than earned the right to sing it.

Consider the song for a moment.  It begins with a terrified Elsa fleeing from a crowd of villagers amid shouts that she is a monster, a witch, a villain.  This girl Elsa has been told since her earliest childhood that there is something wrong with her, something that will cause people to fear and hate her if discovered.  As she grows further from the village, suddenly the urge overcomes her to not control it anymore – to let it go.  Elsa begins playing with her ice powers – tentatively at first, but then more and more as she realizes what she can really do.  She continues fleeing into the wilderness and up a mountain, where she builds a wondrous frozen castle, a monument to her power.  A monument to her vanity.  A monument to her isolation.  By the end of the song, we see what we understand to be a powerful Elsa, an Elsa who really doesn’t care about anyone else.  But that’s kind of the key, isn’t it?  She’s stopped caring about anyone but herself.  Her idea of letting it go involves living alone and never having to deal with other people.  To some, this seems a stark contrast to the very spirit of the song.  To me, it hit so hard I began shaking within the theatre as I continued to watch.  To me, it wasn’t about freedom.  It was about giving into one’s deepest fears, fleeing from anyone and everyone, living alone and trying to convince oneself that such a life is freedom.  I struggled not to weep.

If you’ve read some of the other things I have written, you may have picked up on the notion that I’m not good with people.  The notion that I have trouble forming friendships, keeping friendships.  If you’ve read my six-part story I posted on the Cardboard blog last fall, you know just how deeply this social underdevelopment has troubled my life.  Now, let me make something clear to you that I have only hinted at in the past.  I have autism.  Because I did so well in school, it never occurred to anyone that my delayed social development might be evidence of something more serious.  So as I grew up, I knew nothing more than that something was terribly wrong and different about me.  So when I watched this movie Frozen, I didn’t see a story about a  princess with incredible ice powers.  I saw a story about a young girl who had been told all her life that she wasn’t ok, that she was different and different was bad.  When I saw her hiding in her bedroom refusing to build a snowman, I saw myself hiding in my bedroom refusing to go out and spend time with friends.  When I saw her fleeing into the mountains, I saw myself shutting out anyone who began to see me for who I really am.  And when I saw her captured and dragged back to prison, informed that her sister was dead, I saw myself locked in my room at a hospital, knowing full well that I’d never be talking to one of my closest friends ever again.  So you see, this is why I love the movie Frozen.  I don’t think it is meant to be an empowerment movie.  To me, it is about facing one’s deepest, innermost fears, the fears that can cause a person to shut oneself off from the rest of society.  It is about struggling with those fears, conquering them, overcoming them, even if only by the force of another.  And this is why I love the song “Let it Go.”  I don’t think it is meant to be an empowerment song.  It simply reflects the desperate need of a psychologically abused young lady to believe that for once in her life she is not afraid of who she is.  And its placement is so perfect I still begin to shake at that moment.

 

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Dependency

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Photo cred: http://www.epitemnein-epitomic.blogspot.com

By: Michael Simmelink

I’ve received compliments before on being independent. It usually connotates that I am able to take care of myself – that I have the capability to be my own man. I stand on my own two feet without a crutch.

The more I’ve been in contact with fellow college students, I have realized that I just don’t buy it anymore. I’m not really my own man in many ways. My parents are paying for most of my college that scholarships and grants don’t cover. I didn’t have to pay for my van. If I ever need more clothing, medicine, toiletries, or microwavable snacks, all I have to do is shoot a text back home and it’s taken care of. Doesn’t that sound pretty dependent? It seems to me that independence is not really a tangible thing for most college students, but I hypothesize it can be true of all people. At best, independence seems to be a curtain pulled over our eyes so we don’t have to see just how dependent we really are.

There’s something about the Midwest work ethic that causes us to want to inflate ourselves to fulfill this ideal of independence. It’s a source of pride when you or your family has it; it’s an instigator of shame when you don’t. This shame can be seen directed towards people who receive government welfare or charity from churches. Families don’t want to take the church’s turkey for Thanksgiving. They grocery shop at slow times so no one sees them pay with food stamps. Being stuck at the poverty line is tough, but being labeled as dependent is worse.

I’m not overly supportive of the current system of government welfare. It rarely empowers its recipients and it seems to suggest if we throw enough money at a problem, it will be fixed. However, I’m also not fond of the critics who say something about welfare creating “a dependency culture.” People are looked down upon because “they can’t take care of themselves,” or “they don’t want to work hard enough to provide.” Sure, I agree that welfare is broken and nobody wants to have people dependent on a government check, but this isn’t about bureaucracy.

Christians have to be careful about how we view dependency. That word cannot automatically be associated with the political realm because it will invariably lead us to think that our independence from government handouts means we can take care of ourselves altogether. We can work hard. We reap what we sow. We earn it.

That word cannot automatically be associated with the political realm because it will invariably lead us to think that our independence from government handouts means we can take care of ourselves altogether.

Stop and think. Do we really understand what it means to need Jesus as the Savior of humankind? Dependency can be harmful in a lot of earthly ways, but it is entirely necessary as we ponder what Christ did on the cross and out of the tomb.

How to Celebrate the Superbowl Spiritually

Photo cred: quickmeme.com

Photo cred: quickmeme.com

By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

It’s that time of year again – FOOTBALL time!  No, not that liberal wussy “soccer” stuff with the fake injuries and the red cards.  I mean REAL football, AMERICAN football!  And if you’re a real American, you’re probably preparing yourself for the best super bowl party of the year.  But are you preparing to celebrate your super bowl in a godly fashion?  Don’t get me wrong, everything about the super bowl just screams “this is a Christian sport” – what with the running at each other and tackling each other and scoring points and all that sort of thing.  But why not go the extra mile for your super bowl party and make it a true celebration of your faith?  Here are some ideas.

1)      Practice your “Tebowing.”  No, Tim Tebow isn’t playing this year, and no he’s never actually made it to a super bowl.  But he was on the Broncos once and he did pretty reasonably well. So practice the Tebow stance and do it every time your team scores.

2)      Pray for your quarterback.  It really takes very little time, and you’ll be doing your part to ensure your team’s victory.

3)      Envision the entire game as a holy war.  Your team is naturally God’s army, and when they inevitably win after an epic battle that was always predetermined to go on your favor, you can celebrate by claiming that you knew all along who was going to win.  If your team loses, just remember that God loves the underdogs.

4)      Instead of watching the NFL half-time show, invite a local pastor to give a super bowl themed sermon – while wearing his/her favorite jersey, of course.

5)      Order a keg of sparkling grape juice.  Who needs alcohol anyway?  And what could possibly go better with buffalo hot wings than grape juice?

Hopefully these ideas will help you enjoy your super bowl while still keeping time for your faith.  Of course, alternately you could remember that Jesus himself happened to enjoy a good party now and then.  Just don’t turn your water into whine if your team starts to lose.

Five signs that you may be the type of person described in this article

Photo cred: Blimey Cow Productions

Photo cred: Blimey Cow Productions

By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

Are you the type of person that likes to do things in your spare time?  Do you enjoy spending time around some people but not others?  Do you like to eat three or more times a day?  Well, there’s a good chance you’re exactly the type of person this article is describing!

Sound familiar?  There are a lot – a lot – of articles like this floating around these days.  Seventeen signs that you’re an introvert.  The top ten signs that you might be a sociopath.  Thirty-six reasons why you might be slowly transforming into a reptilian humanoid – and why it’s becoming more socially acceptable in some regions.  I get it.  We as humans desperately want to find our identities and, perhaps more importantly, discover that there are others like us out there somewhere.  But identity is not a simple copy-and-paste, much as we may like it to be.  It is important to discover what we are and what we are not, but I’ve been noticing more and more that people are beginning to use their identities as an excuse to not expand and try new things.  I am an introvert, therefore I should not have to enjoy large groups or parties and it is your responsibility to accept that.

Consider my job.  Where I work, I have to set up massive events with lots of people.  I am in charge of making sure that all the people present are having a good time.  Were I to give in too much to the idea that “I am an introvert,” I could very easily convince myself that this is not something I can do, not something I should do.  And yet I must.  When a game night is going on and there are fifty different people in three different rooms, all with individual concerns and needs, I can’t hide in a corner with a few buddies, preparing myself to be indignant towards anyone who thinks I should be having more fun.  I have to go around and cater to the individual needs of every single person there, whether I like it or not.  And you know what?  I do like it.  I love it.  For those few hours, I thrive in the way that extroverts often do.  I go against the very grain of who I am, and it makes me feel more alive than I ever have.  If I had been told at the job interview that it would someday be my responsibility to do things like this, I might have turned it down on the spot.  I might have said no, sorry, this is not for me, I really could not do such a thing.  And I never would have grown as a person.

You see, your identity is not simply something that those around you need to accept.  Your identity is who you choose to become not because of your personality but in spite of it.  I am an introvert.  Except when I force myself not to be out of necessity.  I am extremely pessimistic.  Except when I force myself to be more positive for the sake of those around me.  I am a lazy, good-for-nothing pile of worthlessness.  But you shouldn’t have to accept that as an excuse because I can force myself to be so much more than what I am by nature.  That is my identity.  For now, anyway.

7 Rules for Proper Communal-Worship Behavior

Photo cred: Kevin Spear

Photo cred: Kevin Spear

By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

So-called “worship-music” sessions are fairly common. More than likely, you’ve gone to at least one in your lifetime. While some of us have gotten used to more modern, “new-age” forms of worship, those of us from more traditional backgrounds may act a bit more startled or uncomfortable around the amount of personal expression exhibited by members of a congregation.

In case you are one who is unsure about how to react, here are a few important rules that will help you blend in. Or perhaps stand out. Whichever you’d prefer.

  1. When you enter your church or chapel, do so with arms held out in front of you as a signal that you are ready for the Holy Spirit to wash over you and fill you with a desire to sing, pray, and listen.
  1. As the service begins, be prepared to stand up at a moment’s notice.  Standing up during a song implies that the music is speaking especially to you and that you are responding.
  1.  It’s ok to be the first to stand up during a song in a room full of sitting people.  There’s a good chance others will join you in a desire to be equally moved.  But if they don’t, you are absolutely forbidden from returning to your seat.  You will be judged as you rightly should.
  1.  Although it’s ok to be the first standing, it is forbidden above all else to be the last sitting.  This means that you are refusing to take part in actual worship with those around you.  Though you may be singing, your voice and words mean nothing if you do not stand.
  1.  You can sing loudly if you are capable, but not too loudly.  It’s one thing to be visibly moved by the Spirit.  It’s entirely another thing to be so moved that you drown out someone else’s sacred experience.
  1.  It is currently undecided whether it is acceptable to raise your hands while singing.  While it is rightly believed by some that one’s hands are closer to God while raised, many churches still view raised hands with great suspicion.  If you are in such an environment, hand-raising may well be viewed as an act of civil disobedience and judged accordingly.  Proceed with caution.
  1.  When the lead singer stops to pray, you absolutely must lower your head.  The folding of one’s hands, however, is entirely optional.  Hand-folding is, after all, rather traditional, and you do not want to be accused of going through the motions.  Do whatever feels comfortable for you, just so long as you don’t make a big deal about it.  No peeking to see if your neighbor is awed by your impressively non-conformist hand-folding (though they probably are).

 

Though this short article covers the major rules and faux-pas of group worship, there are many other minor rules that will most likely change slightly from church to church.  As long as you remember the big stuff, however, you probably will be forgiven for the little mistakes that will doubtless occurred.  Best of luck and may God aid you in your attempts at communal worship.

Tapobu’s Redemption Story

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

If you are interested in reading all of Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf’s story at once, here are the links to each section. 

–Justine Johnson, Editor

I: As The Pieces Fall Apart

II: Broken Puppet

III: The Scales in My Eyes

IV: Love Revisited

V: Home Again

Epilogue: One More Walk Down That Sacred Road

 

One More Walk Down That Sacred Road

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

Epilogue

One More Walk down that Sacred Road

 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes,what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12

The following was written May 31, 2013. 

My heart has been heavy lately, heavy with memories of events that once shook me to my very core.

Four years ago began the storm.  As I rushed home, not knowing where I stood among those I loved dearest, I ventured out onto that sacred road, not sure what I would find.  I was afraid.  Afraid of the darkness, afraid of the unknown, afraid of the future and of the past, afraid of myself and of those around me, afraid to die but more afraid to live.  And yet I continued down that sacred path, that one quiet road in town where cars rarely bothered me.  I fought with You, I pleaded with You, I shouted at You, I turned my face away from You.  And yet, every way I turned, still You remained.  I asked for but one thing and promised the world in return.  Still You remained silent.  Days turned to weeks, and soon I returned to that place where I had once felt I belonged.  Around every corner I saw enemies, phantoms awaiting to assault me.  I sought out that quiet again, but nowhere in town seemed safe to me.  There was no quiet, for every corner contained shouting memories of my failure.

And then, of course, I was gone.  Exiled.  Banished.  Perhaps never to return.  After a semester of my attempts to solve my own problems, I had reached the consummation of my humanity.  I no longer feared the future; I simply no longer believed it to exist.  You were silent, and I had been abandoned.

And yet, against all reason, the days continued, as did I.  Slowly I returned to that sacred road, this time with no demands, only remorse.  My promises no longer rang hollow; I promised to find a better way to live, and with your help I was able.  Still I walked that sacred road, fearing again for a future that now seemed to come all too quickly.

And then came that final semester, the fifth year.  I expected people to know who I was, what I’d done; I expected them to avoid me.  How relieved I was to discover that nobody had any idea who I even was.  The semester came with full force, and though at times I failed, one truly wondrous thing occurred: I met my sister.  Though we both faltered, we both stumbled our way through that semester, it is only with each other that we were able to make it to that finish line.  Looking back, I realized that had I never failed in the first place, we never would have met each other.  What, then, would have become of our lives?  I always thought to myself, how lucky I am that God had used my failure to achieve something so wonderful.

And then tonight, I walked that sacred road once more with the desire to feel as though I’d come far, as though I’d accomplished something.  Here I was, a changed man, for the first time in my life in charge of my own destiny.  I will find my way, I will make the world a better place, I will…

But all thoughts of my own righteousness fled my mind as I reached the end of that road.  As my shadow crossed the path of a railroad sign, for the first time I noticed something that had always been there: the shadow of a cross, and as I passed by it appeared as though a man was on that cross.  This shook my sense of righteousness out of me as I remembered all I’d suffered.  As I remembered all the suffering my desire to control my destiny had wrought upon me thus far.  As I remembered who truly bore the brunt of that pain.  As I reflected on that shadow, I reached the end of the sacred road, and for the first time I stopped to look at the sign.

And then I wept.

I wept for all that was, all that is, all that ever shall be.  Before I’d ever lived in that town, the road had existed with that sign marking its beginning.  Before I’d ever set foot on that road, the Almighty already knew that someday I would haunt its dark, peaceful stretches.  Before I’d ever heard the name Northwestern College, I had started on a path to fail, on a path to be exiled, on a path to a slow and cautious return to somehow redeem myself.  And yet, I had already been redeemed, long before I even knew that road existed.  I wept as I gazed again upon that sign, as I was brought again to that darkness that stands outside time.  I wept with the understanding that I am no longer afraid of what is to come, for it has already been decided.  For on that sign at the start of my sacred road was written, had always been written, the name of my sister.

 

 

 

Home Again

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

V

Home Again 

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!  For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 

Romans 9:14-16

I remember the move-in day quite distinctly.  It was everything a move-in day ought to be: hot and miserable.  I was a little afraid of what would happen when I arrived, but I quickly began reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones.  The first few days were definitely really shaky.  I was extremely paranoid about what people might have been saying about me.  In retrospect, I now know that many on campus who knew what was going on were fervently supportive of me, and I am exceedingly thankful for that.  But at the time, I really didn’t know what to expect.

This semester, I didn’t allow myself to make the same mistakes I had the previous year.  I did not allow myself to have those long nights sitting alone in my dorm room.  I immediately set about getting to know my neighbors in the dorm.  How?  Through video games, of course.  I installed Age of Empires on every computer in the dorm computer lab, and it became a great way for me to socialize with people without there being too much of a trust commitment.  It became our tradition to play Age just about every Saturday, and after a while some of the freshmen even started to beat me, albeit through use of rather questionable tactics.  But I digress.

As the semester began to take off, I met a young lady who was a new student at the college.  She was an international student who had made a few unfortunate choices in her first few days at school, and she was slowly tearing herself apart as result of these choices.  Upon meeting her, I knew the dangers of what I was doing.  I knew that there was the possibility that I could hurt her as I had hurt my old friends, but I also knew that I needed to do all that I could to be there for this girl.  She was very sweet, but I really didn’t trust myself to get involved in a healthy relationship at this point in my life and quite simply did not want to take the risk of hurting her even more, so I began to call her my sister.  She wholly embraced this role as did I.  Suddenly we both had someone we could pick on, someone we could talk to at any time, someone we could wholly trust and love with no danger of being misunderstood.  She needed that.  I needed that.  Throughout the semester, we were there for each other, for better or for worse.  We fought and argued just as brother and sister should, but when the arguing ceased we remained at each others’ side.

As November approached, I again became involved in a theatre show, and I again came to love the cast who acted alongside me.  Ironically, I played the part of an old man who had had quite terrible luck all his life but refused to allow that to get him down in his advanced age.  Was he a little bitter?  Yes.  But he smiled through his tears and endured.  Old man Sorin and I had a lot in common that semester.  I started to take my acting a lot more seriously, and I soon realized that if I acted a certain way for long enough, that would become a part of who I am.  And so I acted.

From what I’ve written so far, one might be led to believe that I had moved on, that I no longer dwelt upon the past.  This is untrue.  I thought of it often, and the wounds within my soul were still deep and lasting.  As I was browsing around on the internet one day in the fall, I discovered that my former friend was once again appearing in various postings.  Quite by accident [read: by stalking her profile page diligently], I discovered a blog that she’d been keeping.  Being the curious and foolish person that I am, I began to look through old posts.  What I found was a soul every bit as troubled as my own.  I found but a shadow of my friend – still herself in many ways, but consumed as I was by the melancholia that trails behind broken friendships.  Worse than that, she felt as though she had failed me.  I did something foolish.  I sent her best friend [who still spoke to me at the time] a message, telling her to forward it if she felt it wise.  In that message, I thanked my friend for doing what she did.  I thanked her for cutting me out of her life.  I expected nothing in return.  Naturally, I was rather surprised to come home from church one day to discover a rather lengthy message.  She and I went back and forth all day that day, joking and laughing, recalling old memories, and the like.  We both understood that this was only temporary and needed to end.  And so when we’d both said what we needed to say, we said goodbye forever.  At last my heart knew peace.

As the semester drew to a close, I truly felt at home again.  I began to see the glory of all God’s work in my life.  Had I not made the mistakes I did, I would have graduated on time.  I never would have met the people I did in that final semester.  The people in that play never would have gotten to know me as they had.  My sister would not have had the constant support of someone who had been through so many of the same things.  If I had been born a more complete person, it might have been better for me, yes.  But it wasn’t about me.  It was never about me.  When I graduated, it felt as though this chapter in my life had finally been completed.  Or so it would seem.  The true denouement of this story was yet to come.

It was January of 2011.  I was preparing to move out to Chicago to try my hand at the “real world.”  [Spoiler alert: I was pretty terrible at it and ended up having to move home.  But I wouldn’t have traded that time for the world.]  A day before I was set to make the ten hour drive with my life savings and all my belongings, I got on my computer to discover a friend request.  Guess who it was.

Long story short, hardly a day has gone by since that moment where we have not spoken.  She is once again one of my truest friends, and I love her with all my heart.  But heaven help me if I ever try and date her again.

Love Revisited

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

Photo cred: Natalie Johnson

By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf 

IV

Love Revisited 

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

I wasn’t going back.  Of course I wasn’t going back, but it was still a shock to have it spelled out.  For two weeks, I lay in my bed questioning the purpose of my own existence.  I had lost my friends.  I had been kicked out of school.  And I had gravely injured those I claimed to love most.  I begged God to show me that I still had some purpose in this world.  He responded by giving me a blizzard.  I love blizzards.

I woke up one morning to discover that the power was out.  I lay in bed for a while to stay warm, but I started to hear these strange cracking noises.  I ran upstairs to see what damage had been done and discovered a wintry paradise.  Icicles hung from trees so heavily that their branches became weighed down and began to crack.  As I stood there admiring the beautiful destruction of it all, we got a phone call.  Apparently my mother’s phone number was on the town’s website for some odd reason, and a reporter from a major regional newspaper called us to ask if we could go take pictures of the damage.  My mom has polio in her leg and couldn’t really go around and operate the camera with all the bad roads, so I volunteered.  Despite having a “dumb-phone,” my pictures were still good enough to make it onto the website.  Around noon, we got another call, this time from a tv station.  They wanted to use my pictures.  I remember thinking to myself, “Really, God?  Really?”  and then “Oh fine you win.” Thus began my attempt to learn how to reconnect with society.

I began by getting a job.  It was at a local telemarketing agency.  I remember walking in on my first day thinking to myself, “Am I really gonna have to work with these people?  They look like bums and druggies and I’m not going to get along with any of them.”  Naturally, within two weeks we were all the best of friends.  The hospital had taught me how to force myself to trust people.  This job taught me how to make small talk both on the phone and off.  I quickly came to be known as “Little Nick.”  Though this job was often terribly boring, I did have many an adventure there.  During one call I will never forget, a little girl answered the phone pretending to be her father.  She proceeded to go through an entire twenty-minute farm survey for me, try to sell me lipstick, invite me to her birthday party, and tell me she loved me.

Outside work, I took it upon myself to re-learn what love and friendship meant.  I read CS Lewis’s books The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and The Four Loves.  Not only did I learn what it meant to truly love someone, I also discovered that my problems were not unique.  I was not the first to suffer in such a way.  I was not the first to make the mistakes I’d made.  I was not evil beyond redemption.  I was merely human.  Foolish, broken, beautiful human.

As per requirements of my school’s administration, I continued seeing doctors and counselors.  I learned that I had been tentatively diagnosed with a number of things, but quite honestly the doctors didn’t exactly know what to do with me.  As I came to trust them more, I told them more and more about why I’d done the things I had.  I was overwhelmed, and I had refused to get the help I’d needed.  Now I was learning all I hadn’t known before.  The psychologist I’d been seeing at the time never did figure out what was wrong with me, but it seemed to be on its way out.

By May, my school’s administration had told me I would be welcomed back to school conditionally.  I accepted its conditions and began to prepare myself for what was to come.  I was so terribly afraid.  Afraid I would make the same mistakes again.  Afraid I would make new, worse mistakes.  Afraid that I would again love too selfishly.  Afraid that I would not be able to love at all.  And then, before I knew it, move-in day had arrived.