A Grecian adventure: part 1

Hey, y’all!

I kind of miss saying “y’all;” no one really says it here in Greece.

If you didn’t know by now, I’m spending the next two weeks in Greece and Israel through a program for incoming freshmen via Harding University called Scholar’s Abroad. I’m so thankful to my parents who’ve helped make this possible for me, and I realize I am incredibly blessed by such a spectacular opportunity.

This is my first time out of the country, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But so far, this trip has been nothing short of extraordinary.

We’re staying in Porto Rafti, Greece, at The Artemis, a hotel thought was bought by Harding in 2001 and renovated into their campus. It houses classrooms, a library, bedrooms, a dining hall, a kitchen, a lounge area, a pool, and many more exciting little quirks.

My trip began on Tuesday (June 9th) with a flight from Little Rock to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to New York. Those flights were bearable and actually quite brief compared to the flight that was coming.

After a four hour layover in New York, we headed to Athens. Our flight from New York to Athens was 10 hours! To add to that, we had to deal with a time change (Athens is 8 hours ahead of Arkansas). To be honest, I still haven’t figured out the whole time change/flight duration thing and how they work together.

It’s 10:03 pm here right now, so it would be 2:03 pm at home. That’s crazy! It makes communication a little difficult, too.

It’s only been two days, but I’m blown away at how close myself and the other 39 students are becoming. I think it’s proof that there is this type of communication or bond that transcends anything that we know – a type of bond that only happens in a program like this, and I am so thankful for that.

We arrived in Athens at 10:00 am on Wednesday (June 11th); our challenge was to stay up all day to help fight jet lag. After dosing off once or twice during class and trying my hardest to stay hydrated, I finally made it to bed and fell asleep at 9:00 pm.

Oh, also, we are learning the Greek alphabet. So that is very exciting! It helps make reading the signs easier. Hopefully be the end of the trip I’ll be very fluent in the Greek alphabet.

Today (June 11th), was our first full day in Greece. We started the day with a class discussing Acts 17, which is Paul’s speech to the Athenians on Mars Hill. I always enjoy learning about parts of the Bible that I am not well-versed in, so this was a treat. Also, everyone here is so intelligent, so the class discussions are so fulfilling.

We had a quiz over the Greek alphabet, and I’m happy to report that I made my first 100% of the trip! The classes and quizzes have been pretty easy so far, so I am thankful for that.

After class was lunch, which was extraordinary! Our campus has our own cook, Natasa, and she is 100% Greek and 100% awesome cook! Every meal we have had has been so good, and I can’t wait to discover more foods of Greece.

We had a great deal of free time today, which I was excited about. A couple of friends and I walked down the street to the beach and swam for a while. After our rather cool swim in the crystal clear waters, we headed to a local ice cream shop. I’d have to say that Greek ice cream is a lot better than American ice cream. Interesting note: the actor Zach Galifianakis’ family owns the ice cream shop we visited.

Spending euro for the first time was pretty cool, too. The language barrier made it a little difficult, but that’s just part of the experience.

Free time was followed by a group work time. My group was assigned with teaching the rest of the class the history of Athens. Other groups taught us different aspects of Athens because we will be traveling to Athens tomorrow for a city tour.

Dinner tonight was Greek pizza. It was so good! Natasa is seriously a wonderful chef. Also, I got to meet her son, Dmitri, who will be attending Harding in the fall. He helped us with our history of Athens lesson, too, which I was so thankful for!

We heard our group presentations later tonight, and now I feel better prepared for our full day in Athens tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be awesome, and I plan on taking lots of pictures.

Right now, I’m sitting on the back patio of The Artemis next to the pool, looking in on a group of students and professors playing cards, and I am overwhelmed with joy. I still don’t think it has hit me that I am in Greece. All of the wonderful people I am meeting are making this trip extra special.

I don’t really know what my expectations were heading into this trip, I’m not even sure if I had any, but if I did, I’d have to say that all of my expectations have been surpassed thus far.

I thank God for this opportunity, and I look forward to the chance to gain a closer relationship with Him throughout this trip.

I’d appreciate your prayers for a safe trip and for open hearts and minds to what we are learning and experiencing. I know it’s certainly something I’ll never forget.

Below are some pictures so far. You can see more on my Facebook and Twitter pages.

I’ll post again soon.

Until next time, keep smiling!

αντίο (goodbye in Greek!)

This is the lounge area in The Artemis. It’s a great place to hang out!

This is the patio area where the pool is located. It’s beautiful!

Here’s a panorama of part of the coast in Porto Rafti. It amazes me how crystal clear the water is! 

The view from my balcony. How much better can it get? Beautiful mountains here.

This is my room. The rooms are really nice! I’m so thankful for that.

Here’s another picture of the Aegean Sea. They have tons of little boats like this floating around. 

Reflections of a high school senior

As my senior year of high school begins to come to a close, it’s time to start making the important decisions for my future. Where will I go to college? What will I study? How much is it going to cost me to attend this college versus this one?

Our entire life, we’ve never really had to make these life-changing decisions. Perhaps, for some of us, the most difficult decision we make is what to have for lunch each day. For however long we’ve been in school, we’ve been ordered around and told we have to ask to go to the bathroom. And now we’re having to make a decision that will change our lives forever.

It’s not easy. Your senior year is not easy. Between the applications and scholarships and trying to keep good grades and a social life and a solid mental state, there’s been days where I thought I was going to have an emotional breakdown right in the middle of class – it might have actually happened once or twice, I can’t really remember.

It may not be easy, but it’s an extraordinary time in our lives. We’re at this stage in our lives that’s so full of growth and opportunity. It’s this stage that no matter if we fail or succeed, we’re going to come out a better person. It’s this stage with such incredible uncertainty. It’s this stage where we have no idea what we’re doing.

But it is a beautiful stage in our lives. It’s this crazy, beautiful stage of our lives. It’s this stage of our lives where we have so much potential to do great things with our lives and in the lives of others.

When I look forward to the future, I have no idea what I’m looking at. I have no idea what my new friends will look like. I have no idea what my future home will look like. I have no idea what my future job will look like. I have no idea what my future relationship will look like. I have absolutely no idea. I’m scared of this uncertainty, but I’m so so so so excited. It’s such an exciting time in our lives.

Ask any senior and they’ll tell you the same thing. We don’t know what the future looks like, and yeah, we’re a little scared. But who isn’t when they’re starting a new chapter of their lives?

With all this uncertainty and unseen future, there is one thing that I can see in all of it. This image that I see when I look to the future is clear and guiding. It is powerful and mighty. It is calming and understanding.

When I look to the future, I see the hand of God guiding me. 

And amongst all of my worry and all of my fear, I’m calm. I look to the future and I see the hand of God guiding me along and I know everything will be okay. I may not know what’s going to happen, but as long as I trust in God, I know it’s going to be okay. And that’s something certain in this time of such uncertainty.

Let God’s hand guide you, my friends. Because in this time of uncertainty, you need guidance. You need His guidance.

I pray for my future, but the future of my fellow classmates, too. I pray for guidance for each of us and that we trust in the Father as we make our way into this great world of unknown.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” – Psalm 46:1-3

Bless and be blessed, y’all.

The Story of Kyle Baker

I write this piece with tear-filled eyes and a heavy heart. You never expect to lose someone at the young age of 18 and you certainly do not expect it to be a friend and a classmate – someone you’ve known since kindergarten. You never expect to understand the true significance of the cliché, “You’re never promised tomorrow,” until you experience it’s truthfulness first hand. And you certainly never expect to find yourself writing an article about the death of a friend and classmate, but somehow that’s where I find myself now.
Kyle Baker was an 18-year-old senior at Pangburn High School where he was proud to be a Tiger. Kyle enjoyed hunting, the outdoors, and spending time with his family. He was a devout Christian who believed in the full salvation of our worldly struggles and sins through Jesus Christ; he was an active member of the Lighthouse Full Gospel Church and C.O.R.E. Drama Team. In the summer of 2013, just before the beginning of a new school year in a new building, Kyle got a new beginning he and his family did not expect. Kyle was diagnosed with pleomorphic sarcoma. Upon news of his diagnosis, Kyle fought a challenging and honorable 15-month battle with the cancer that few knew about, including his doctors. On Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014, Kyle lost his battle and went home to be with the Lord.
Friends and family of Kyle learned the news of his passing during the day on Wednesday. I was in my 7th period class. I remember thinking that I had prepared myself for this moment, but I truly had not. I don’t think there is an adequate way to prepare. I spent for what seemed to be several days, but what was only the rest of the day Wednesday, in tears and shambles about Kyle’s passing. I knew the tears that flowed from my eyes were but puddles to the rivers that bled from the eyes of Kyle’s family. Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 is a day I’ll not soon forget.
Those that knew Kyle understand the difficulty of such a loss. Kyle had a rare, indefinable characteristic about himself. He had the ability to make you smile when you were frowning and laugh when you wanted to cry. Kyle had a smile brighter than the sun, a laugh so distinct you would recognize it in a crowd of millions, and a heart bigger than him. I can visualize looking across the classroom to see Kyle’s beaming smile and hear his contagious laughter; it was truly heart-warming. Another trait I think Kyle himself was very proud of was his always perfectly combed hair – there was never a strand out of place.
In the days that followed Kyle’s passing, I found it hard to cope with such a profound loss; I spoke with classmates that felt the same way. I searched for a peace and understanding that seemed eternally lost. I read many touching tributes to Kyle and poems about losing someone close to you. Those never seemed to mend the wound that was left – the wound that still is and will forever be. I finally found a bit of that peace and understanding when I clicked to the “Prayers for Kyle Baker” Facebook page where much of his family was posting. The Baker family found their comfort in faith, and that’s where I found mine. Knowing that Kyle was such a devout Christian and knowing that he was celebrating a new, pain free life with the Father brought such a comfort to me during this time of sadness.
I know I, and thousands of others, will not forget Kyle. How could you? Kyle was an extraordinary kid with an extraordinary story. Years from now when I’ve graduated and we’ve gone our separate ways, married and had kids, I’ll tell them a story. I’ll tell them a story of a friend and classmate. I’ll tell them a story of a supporter and encourager. I’ll tell them a story of one kid who changed the lives of thousands. I’ll tell them the story of Kyle Baker.

Here’s to you, freshman class.

For starters, I’d like to give a shoutout to Sandra Stanley, a Christian blogger, for giving me inspiration for this post. You can check out her blog post by clicking here.

It’s crazy to think that I’m entering my senior year. Cliche, but it seems like I just started my freshman year a couple of months ago. Actually, I can remember what I wore the first day of my freshman year. Now days and crushes and friends and several of failed tests have passed, and I start my senior year in two weeks.  It’s wild to think about, but the end of one chapter of my life, nevertheless. And I’m not scared, I’m ready. At least I think I’m ready. Can you ever be ready for a new chapter of your life?

Entering my freshman year, I had very little idea of what to expect. Was I going to get bullied? Stuffed in a trashcan? Were my teachers going to love me? Or hate me? Was I going to struggle in class? Or pass with flying colors? Honestly, I can’t give the Class of 2018 the answers to those now, it really just depends on what you make of your high school career. But what I can tell the Class of 2018 is some sage advice I wish I would’ve known.

Don’t give up yourself for others. 
A motif of freshman year is trying to fit in. You’re entering a new building with new people and funny smells and funny faces. You want to fit in. And a lot of times, you’ll do whatever you think necessary to fit in. Don’t lose your creation in Christ. He has a purpose for you, and it doesn’t always involve fitting in with the crowd because in high school you’ll soon find out that “the crowd” often isn’t a very Godly one.

Have that person. 
All those who have passed through the labyrinth of high school will tell you that you struggle and lose friends in the process. They’ll tell you that you lose contact with the majority of your friends when you graduate. I hope that’s not true, I love my friends. But if that does happen, I know I’ll always have that one person. The person who is there for you through thick and thin. You may fight with them, too, but they’re always there for you. They’ll help you get through your day and next couple of years. Find that person, love them and let them love you.

Listen to your parents. 
Wow, did I actually just type that? I would have considered myself insane had I thought that my freshman year. But it’s true. They know best. They raised you and have watched you grow. They know how you’ll react and respond. They know which situations are good for you to be in and which situations are bad for you to be in.

Don’t be afraid to not be okay. 
I found myself too often trying to be the one to handle everything my freshman year. Trying to handle upset friends. Trying to handle new opportunities. I thought I had to be the one who solved everyone’s problems and I thought I had to be the strong one in times of hardships. You will have your own times of hardships in high school, no doubt. And you don’t always have to be the one to be strong. You don’t have to be okay. Cry and let it out. Talk to someone who cares and understands.

Let go and Let God. 
There will be days you don’t think you can make it anymore – either from being super tired or super upset and depressed. You’ll question why you try so hard. You’ll question why things happen the way they do. You’ll run into unfair situations and wonder why you were put there. But the one stronghold that will anchor you in times of choppy waters is your ability to give it all to Jesus. Let Him take your sins and struggles to the grave. When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sins with Him. And when He rose, He left our sins in the grave. Let Him do that.

I’ve never really understood why everyone says high school is the best days of your life. If the best days of my life are nasty lunchroom food and obnoxious drama, then I must be doing something wrong. I won’t promise that high school will be perfect, because it won’t be. But it will be fun and it will be a learning experience. Trust in God and you’ll graduate stronger than when you entered.

Until next time, keep smiling.

The Tests of Summer 2014

Hi, all. Or none. Depending on whether or not people actually read this.

It’s been a busy several of months since I last posted. My summer has been full of ups and downs, rights and wrongs, happiness and sadness, excitement and whatever the opposite of excitement is. I hope you all have had a summer full of excitement just as I have had. And not to forget, the summer is still ongoing.

On thing that has stuck out to me during the summer of 2014 thus far is the test of my own personal strength. Not physical strength. Because by all means I would be very much lacking in that category. What has been tested is my ability to stand strong with myself mentally and spiritually – two tests that I believe are much more influential and important than any physical test.

Mental testing. 
During the first part of my summer, I attended a week long mental disciplinary course that tested how mentally capable I am. Haha. Just kidding. That would not be fun at all.
All joking aside, something I have really struggled with this summer, and something I think we will always struggle with in some form or fashion, is fitting in. I’ve come into contact with many teenagers of my age this summer, perhaps more than I would like to. Among all of the peers I have met, the majority of them have dramatically different personalities than I do. Of course I want to fit in. I want to feel accepted into groups of people that I think are cool and hip. I want to feel like a part of the cool crowd. With that mindset, I found it hard to maintain my own identity.

I think struggling to fit in is a universal struggle. We want to fit in, but lose ourselves in the process. God made us a unique being, Psalm 139 beautifully explains that. He doesn’t wish for us to be something else other than what He created us to be. Because too much of the time, we lose our relationship with Him in the process.

Always stay true to yourself, it’s really not that fun to do the opposite.

Spiritual testing. 
Lord knows He has tested me spiritually this summer. I won’t go into the details, just because it would take much more time than I have, and frankly, I’d like to go to sleep soon. Beside the fact, I really have been tested spiritually this summer. I’ve had to take stances on issues I never thought I would have to. This spiritual struggle has made me laugh and cry and everything gross and unattractive action in between.

But isn’t that the beauty of the spiritual tests God puts us through? God doesn’t put us through things knowing that we would not grow closer to Him by the end of the process; that would be cruel and mean of God, but isn’t that what we deserve as selfish, filthy sinners? God’s grace is truly amazing.

The highs and lows of my spiritual tests this summer have really put me in awe. But you know what has made me more awestruck than anything: God’s beautiful grace and His willingness to test us so that we may come closer to Him. Because without struggles, how would we become closer with Him?

I’m preaching to myself as much as I am to you. Hey, I’m not even preaching, it seems I’m just venting. But I hope you gain as much from this as I do. Don’t ever lose yourself – your beauty of creation in God – in trying to impress others. And don’t ever let your spiritual struggles discourage you. If the summer of 2014 has proven anything, it’s that God will always prevail. And your relationship with Him will grow stronger and stronger with each second, minute, hour, and day.

Until next time, keep smiling.

Your Influence

Do you remember when you were in the second grade, and you would walk by all of the high school students on the way to lunch and think, “Wow, these kids look really old and cool, I want to be like them.” Okay, so maybe you didn’t think that exact thought, or maybe you didn’t even think a thought similar to that, but you get my idea here.

We all know that as Christians, we are called to be servants of Christ and to share His gospel and good news. We are supposed to be holy as Christ was and perfect like Christ was, but as sinners, we are unable to do so. But have you ever considered your influence on others, even when you are not deliberately trying to be the “perfect and holy” Christian?

Tonight I was on the phone with a great friend, and we began discussing our influences as young adults on the younger kids in our church and in the school. I have always pondered this topic, but never really spent much time studying and worrying about it because I really never comprehended the importance of it.

In this phone call, I was talking about how I’ve been trying to be a better influence to the younger kids in our church. My friend and I were discussing the effects we have on the younger kids, and I thought, “If I could just sell one kid on the idea that church is a great place to come, and having a Savior who you can give all your worries over to, that would be the most amazing thing.” Because if you could just get one kid to start living that lifestyle, then he’ll start influencing his friends in that way, and it could start a chain reaction.

A huge problem among Christians today is that we don’t act like Christians, and our influence to others is un-Christlike, therefore giving the non-believers the idea that, “Hey, what some hypocrites, why would I want to be part of their church?”

If we all could truly comprehend the idea that how we influence people could change a person’s life, I believe the Christian religion would be a stronger and constantly growing community.

This blog post does not just pertain to young adults, either. It pertains to all Christians, and even non-believers. Positively influence your co-worker in the cubical next to you, or positively influence the person standing in front of you at the grocery store. Not only will be a positive influence to others make them feel better, but it also makes you feel better knowing that you are positively effecting someone’s day.

If you know me well enough, you’ll know that my favorite Bible verse is 1 Timothy 4:12. It says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” If we can be a positive influence and not become discouraged like Paul was describing in 1 Timothy 4:12, we could change the world.

When you are walking down the hallway tomorrow, don’t forget to give a nice compliment to Johnny who doesn’t have many friends. When you’re sitting in your office tomorrow, don’t forget to tell Angie how much you enjoyed seeing her family pictures on Facebook last night. When you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store tomorrow, don’t forget to thank the cashier for their hard work.

Until next time, keep smiling.

It’s a we thing

Hello everyone, hope you’re all doing well.

As some of you may know, the FCA Character Camp was this past weekend. We studied different character traits, including purity, tolerance, and cheerful… Just to name a few.

That character trait that stood out the most to me (and also is the thing I lack the most in) is accountability.

So what exactly is accountability?
Being answerable to God and at least one other person for my behavior.

The way I fell short in accountability was not having someone there to say, “Kaleb, that wasn’t very Godly of you.” or “Do you think that’s how God would’ve handled that situation?”

Being accountable for your actions is key to a Christian lifestyle. If you aren’t held accountable for your sin, then what’s to stop you from repeating that sin over again?

Many Christians believe that they can live a life of integrity without accountability. That attitude, like I said before, makes us more vulnerable to sin.

In the book of Galatians, chapter 6 and verse 2, it calls us to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This verse precisely describes accountability, saying to carry each other’s burden and hold each other accountable for each other’s actions.

So how do you correct the lack of accountability in your life? An accountability partner. (if you’re too cool for that term, feel free to use accountability bro) We need to reach a point where we can confess our sins and shortcomings to one another. Not only will this be someone who can hold you accountable for your actions, but it can also be someone who is there when you need to talk.

In order for the accountability partner deal to work, two are two keys things that need to be followed:

  1. Your accountability partner must not judge. They must be someone who you can open up to without them thinking you’re a freak or judging you until you can’t trust them anymore. Former NFL players and accountability bros Eric Boles and Jon Kitna keep this mindset when it comes to accountability: “Totally understandable, but totally unacceptable.”
  2. You must be completely transparent with your accountability bro. This is SO crucial. If you can’t completely open up and tell that person EVERYTHING that you have done wrong and are going through, then they can’t truly hold you accountable for your sins and shortcomings. 
In Proverbs 27:17 it says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” It is using the analogy that if iron can sharpen iron, man can hold man accountable, and ultimately make them sharper. 
I can tell you from a personal point of view that having an accountability partner makes all of the difference in the world. Not only can they hold you accountable, but do you realize how great it feels to talk about your struggles and get them off of your chest?
Just remember, living the Christian lifestyle is a “we” thing, not a “me” thing.