Filling Up Halfway

A couple days ago I stopped at a gas station to refill my tank when I saw the yellow light on my dashboard turn on. I pulled up to the pump and waited for the screen to hit $15 before removing the nozzle. The tank usually fills up with about $30, but I’ve been planning on paying off the balance on my credit card so I can pay for gas with it and get those precious cash back rewards. This has actually already happened twice, in a row. So, with better planning I could have filled up the first time and gotten my rewards.

Oh, well. That’s really not that important.

This may be a silly illustration (it definitely is), but it captures quite well how my mood has been. How my spiritual life has stagnated. How my soul consistently runs on half a tank. And it’s been a while. Too long, really.

Last night, as soon as I got home and put my backpack on the floor, I sat down on the couch and turned on the Xbox to play some FIFA. I was tired, but more than that, I felt empty. When my roommate walked in and said, “You look dead,” I couldn’t help but half-smile and assent. That had been my mood for most of the week. Just going through the motions, trying to find something but not knowing exactly what. My tank running on fumes for a couple days, I needed to find something, but really, I didn’t even want to try at that point.

Every week the story repeats to some extent. I get to Friday night intellectually and emotionally exhausted. Part of me looking forward to reading spiritual/religious books, doing some personal writing, playing clarinet, somehow getting closer to God; the other part staying in bed stressing out about how to best recharge during the remaining Sabbath hours and being so paralyzed that usually not much recharging happens.

To be fair, I do fill up some of my tank. Setting aside and forgetting about any and all schoolwork for the Sabbath is tremendously liberating. It’s the time I can best disconnect from the need of doing—although I can easily end up substituting for other kinds of doing. When the sun sets on Saturday and Sabbath is over, I find myself ready for the week only to find out a couple days later my tank was only half full.

See, Sabbath is a huge blessing, but I just can’t seem to figure out how to recharge. Am I even supposed to figure it out? How much effort should I put in before it all becomes about how well I can perform and then it’s no different from how everything else around me works?

I feel lost in my spiritual practice—if I can even say I have such a thing right now. I often leave church feeling emptier, more upset and frustrated. And I’m just not sure what I need.

This helps. Writing about it. Sharing what’s going on, even if it all comes out as mumble jumble. I will keep looking, trying, searching, and staying still. It’s not about religionand it’s not about correct Sabbath-keeping, although rituals (spiritual practices) can certainly help. I want to better understand how to be present and aware of my place in and connection with a deeper reality.

Sabbath ended not long ago. I hope next time I stop at the gas station, I can fill up the tank all the way.

Like an old Sabbath

A few weeks back, I was invited to do special music for the church I’ve been attending since I arrived in Houston. Given that I really had not other performance opportunities in sight, I accepted.

I haven’t played much, and I have honestly felt the void. On Monday, I had an excellent practice session. It was productive and fun—one of those you don’t get all the time. Then on Wednesday, while preparing the piece for Sabbath, I hated my guts because my altissimo register just plain sucked (that’s what practicing is more like on a daily basis).

So even though I generally don’t play music outside of the classical genre, I looked forward to performing once more, to feeling those nerves and the adrenaline, to enjoy being shaken by the beauty of music.

My faith has been faltering; my spirit has struggled with finding purpose, my self-esteem with the ever-challenging demands and expectations of a PhD program. But today, playing for the worship service at the West Houston Seventh-day Adventist Church, I felt fulfilled. Making music, participating in worship, if only for a moment, I was home.

The Sabbath closes and I thank God for a much-needed reminder of who He is even as I am overwhelmed with, not doubt, but questions. And I am grateful for another chance to make and share music. I needed it.

#023 – Michael Paradise

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Before leaving Lincoln, Neb., for good, I sat down with Michael Paradise in his office at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church where he serves as the young adult pastor. I was curious to know what it is like to work with young adults and what made him want that job—it may have something to do with having a pretty wife.

After a fun chat, I left so he could continue eating pizza and playing worship songs on the guitar, which is basically his job description—according to him, not his employer.

#022 – Honest and Self-revealing

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Slade and I have been spending quite a bit of time attempting to read at our local coffee shop, but we just end up talking whenever we run into each other. We decided to talk for the podcast about some of the Christian books we’ve read—or more specifically, just me ranting about an “honest and self-revealing” book I read. Enjoy!

This episode contains some explicit language.

This was our new set up! How does it sound (and look)?

Making a decision

We make decisions all the time: spending five more minutes in bed (or 30, who knows), taking a shower, putting off shaving one more day, heating up a slice of pizza instead of making an omelette, listening to On The Media rather than The Axe Files. I think you get the point.

Some decisions matter more than others, of course. Whether you decide to have pancakes or cereal—or both—for breakfast will be probably less consequential than marrying the struggling freelance musician—just talking about me here—or the Ivy League-educated, med school-bound white boy coming back from a year of self-discovery in Italy.

It’s difficult to know exactly where a decision will take you. You can make all the plans you want and take care of your part just fine. I didn’t know my resolution to apply for OPT—basically a limited work permit for those with F1 status—would result in the worst six months of my life.

All situations, though, come with myriad opportunities to make choices. Not the kind that will necessarily turn out good or change anything at all, but sometimes it’s not so bad to delude yourself into thinking something can be done—because sometimes, something, in fact, can be done.

My daydreaming has inspired many stupid ideas, and the idealist in me has forced me to put them into action before their novelty wears off. That’s how this and my new podcast startedThat’s also the way one of my top 10 “Stupid ideas I should not pursue but will anyway” came to happen: I decided that without a single political science course in my college transcript—one with a 3.9 GPA, mind you—I’d apply to several top-notch Ph.D. programs in political science.

In a turn of events I cannot quite comprehend, I was offered admission with fellowship to the program at Rice University in Houston, Tex. Maybe someone decided to see where one of their top “Stupid ideas I should not pursue but will anyway” would lead: what happens if we let a music major into our Ph.D. program?

Thanks to one decision, the steps I took to follow through, and who knows what kind of other weird factors,* I will be answering that hypothetical professor’s question for—hopefully—the next five years (unless I fail before then).

Lastly, I made a choice to go to Target and get some milk. I guess that choice will lead me to have cereal for breakfast tomorrow.


*God, too, of course. Hold your horses!

Anxious and scared

I’m not sure it would be fair to say really good things don’t happen to me. That would perhaps seem to deny the great blessings—as cliché as they are—I’ve received; the greatest of all: family. That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

From something as trivial as never winning anything in a local raffle to a major accomplishment like getting into a prestigious school, that’s just not what happens to me.

I do my work—as much as stress allows—and don’t overly complain about it. I understand privilege and (or) luck and the amount of each that I possess. Fair or not, sometimes I care, other times I don’t see the point in even caring.

In a few days, all this may change. So I’m anxious and scared. There’s a possibility, but if luck has anything to do with this, then I can’t help but feel pessimistic. It just doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that happens to me.

I guess we’ll see.


It’s been quite a while since I last wrote here. I’m not one who journals, or at least I thought so—perhaps this blog has been a journal. Writing is therapeutic and part of my stress may be due to my lack of journaling time. I should come back to it—as long as it doesn’t become another source of stress itself.

Last thing: I hate being vague and general about the events that cause the feelings I usually write about. For the moment, however, I rather keep it this way, hoping that changes in the coming days.