Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (Is that the Saying?)

Let me reintroduce myself. My name is Ron Cepek. I blog biannually. That can mean twice per year or once every two years. In this case, I think I'm averaging about twice a year. I am speaking at a retreat this weekend, and as I sit here at my computer, I am flooded with a lot of memories of a lot of people. I have been in Seattle now since the end of July, so only a few months. It's a cool city. I just looked at my calendar for the first time in weeks. It is crazy. I flipped back a few pages to the spring months when I was a full time youth minister. My calendar played a much larger role in my life then. Yesterday, I sat at a computer for seven hours doing school work. Today, and the next couple of days I will do the same, except I will be putting the finishing touches on four messages for this weekend's retreat. I don't talk to a whole lot of people these days. It's weird. When I get around people, I'm like a kid at Christmas. I talk a mile a minute, I laugh, my heart starts racing, and it is confirmed to me that I get energy from such interaction. I am a people person. And for 31 years I slowly and surely built a lot of relationships back in the burgh. Now, I ask myself the question, did I take that for granted. It is so weird not being known. I live in an apartment on a college campus. I eat in a college dining hall at least two to three meals per week. I do own a home back in Western, PA, so it just feels kind of strange the life I'm living here. I am in the process of applying to grad. school for counseling. In the meantime I am working on beefing up that GPA from many moons ago at Geneva College when I had a lot of fun, but didn't exactly tear it up academically. I also work part time driving around taking pictures of houses for mortgage companies (see picture). So on days like that, the only interactions I have are with people who wonder what I'm doing on their lawn with a camera. I did, however get to use Spanish one day last month as I told a gentleman "Nessisito tomar una fotografia para su casa par mi trabajo" which is a really butchered way of saying, "I need to take a picture of your house for my work." Oh and I said, "Lo siento" which is "I'm sorry". So I learned something in college. All this to say, life is much different now. My wife is the most wonderful woman I know. I love my pooky bear more and more each and every day, no doubt! Marriage has been bliss. Jenn encourages me as I search for purpose that was so much more attainable while working in full time ministry than it is now with so much alone time. I am certainly discovering who I am. And I am realizing that my significance is not wrapped up in what I do. Crazy different though! Nobody out here even knows who sydney Crosby or Mario Lemieux are! Praise the good Lord, I've been able to see just about every game though! Steelers and Nittany Lions too! Boom! I do miss you, if you're reading this. I miss having people constantly in my face. I longed to get away from it, but now I miss the noise. I am probably blogging more for me, but, I just want all the yinzers to know that I love em! Miss you guys. Yoi and double Yoi.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cutlass or Cavalier?

So maybe my Fantasy Football team is officially eliminated for the season, due in large part to quarterback injuries that cost Houshmandzadeh and Moss monster seasons, and Clinton Portis' nagging injuries. Maybe after starting a game of bowling with five straight strikes the other night, I barely rolled a 200. Maybe I had my first bowl of Cracklin' Oat Bran this morning and I wondered, "Why all the hype?" (there isn't much hype about this cereal, but my girl loves them - I think they kind of suck). What I am trying to say is that it is increasingly difficult for me to find things to complain about today. I am grateful for what the Lord has given me.

Last night as I went to bed, I simply prayed that I could wake up and feel energized. Well, the Lord heard my prayer. I was up at like six. I began doing laundry, followed by my typical regiment of abdominal exercises (what you see does not happen by accident folks) and then I went for a really nice jog through Rochester and Monaca. Every once in a while I am blessed with the perfect set of songs on my ipod for the occasion. And anyone who knows me knows that certain songs spawn certain thoughts and levels of excitement and enthusiasm in my spirit.

I heard the song "Bubble Toe(s)" by Jack Johnson. I can't remember if it's plural or not. At any rate my girl Jenn has toes that probably qualify as "bubble toes" so I thought of her and was thankful. Then I heard a song entitled "Ramshackle Day Parade" by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. Joe Strummer is the late, great front man of The Clash. The song always makes me think of a mission trip I took to Indianapolis which concluded nine years in ministry at my previous church. I heard the song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. He was not full of crap ( slightly edited Dumb and Dumber reference). I was crossing the Monaca/Rochester Bridge as I heard the opening lyrics speak of a man being born in his 27th year. Those who know me, know that to be true in some ways. There are some other themes in the lyrics that struck my heart. He sings of a clear, blue, mountain lake bringing serenity. Now, the Ohio River aint no clear, mountain lake, but as I heard the word "Serenity", I thanked Jesus for the Serenity he has bestowed upon my life for today. Dave Matthew's Band's "The Maker" followed and made me grateful for what it means to be cherished and loved in the eyes of my Maker. If you struggle to believe that you are loved and cherished and celebrated by the Maker, I think you should call into question whatever belief system to which you are currently adhering.

"Why Georgia" or "Georgia Why" by John Mayer seems to be a song about a man questioning whether or not he was living right. I remember the first time I heard that song. I was younger, and I know that "right" could hardly describe the way I was going through the motions of my life. It was cool to hear the song with a heart filled with the peace of a man who has learned how to live one day at a time. Finally, to appropriately end the soundtrack of my morning jog, I heard Neil Young's "Heart of Gold". I still remember the first time I really "heard" that song. I was in eleventh grade. It was a gorgeous Fall day. I was cruising with three of my friends. Me and my friend Tim got out of the car that day, and were emphatic about our desire to own some of Neil Young's catalogue. I would bet we didn't word it quite like I just did. Eleventh grade dudes don't say, "I would love to explore, if even just a small portion, the catalogue of Neil Young's work!" Anyway, what I'm saying is that I loved the song then, and I love it now. Great songs transcend time and space and take on different meanings as years pass. A heart of gold was just a fleeting notion then. I was just a kid who looked for parties who would fall deeper and deeper for many more years than I would have guessed at that point. Jesus, I am in awe at times to be on the other side of many of my greatest difficulties.
It is an overwhelming joy to be able to look back over years of my life and see how the good Lord was able to use various people, places and things. Music often helps me in this pursuit. Today I am grateful for the people in my life. I am grateful for the opportunities the Lord has placed before me. I am ever grateful for the forgiveness and new life. I am grateful for my girlfriend (for now, and I mean that in a good way) Jenn. I am grateful when I step outside in the morning and I have a choice. Do I want to drive the '87 Cutlass or the '01 Cavalier? It may not seem like much, but how am I so blessed?
In conclusion I say to you folks who still check this blog: Happy Christmas! Try to look back on the Lord's hand in your life, and list just a few of the things for which to give thanks. The serenity and gratitude that may come as a result are irreplaceable. At least I have found this to be true for me for today.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Aint She Perty?

I haven't blogged in some time. I apologize. I am too much of a perfectionist in my writing. I have found blogging to be a struggle for this reason. I take way too long just preparing a single post. I will keep this short and sweet. Jenny girl looks so darn perty in this picture. I just had to steal it from her Facebook page and make it known to the masses (or at least the few die hard bloggers who still check what I write once every six months). Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I am thankful for God's love, His grace, His gift of turkey and stuffing, and my girl Jenn Reill. I wonder how long she's gonna keep that last name?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Work With Students

Much of the success (a tricky word for ministry being as success is hard to gauge) I've been able to have in working with youth has been the result of a willingness to invest in what they're doing. So I have always tried to make it a point to get involved by attending local school and sporting events. I once won fifty bucks at a Christmas concert! When I was young in ministry, however, this was hard for me. I usually felt like some kind of goof showing up by myself and sitting alone at high school basketball games etc. But as I have gotten to know more and more people in the community over the years, it has become a real joy.
A couple years ago, I volunteered at the concession stands with a bunch of moms, and when they would ask me if I had a kid who played, I would reply, "Yes, my oldest is a senior and I have two playing junior high ball." They would appear confused because I look a bit young. Eventually I would admit I was joking.
For years I had been working with students primarily from Freedom High School. If I were to attend a game, I could barely make it five feet, before somebody wanted to stop to talk. It's really cool. Although sometimes when a bunch of band kids yell to me, and their teachers "correct" them, I feel stupid.
My current position has me working with several area schools. The picture above was taken by a student of mine while I was attending my first ever Monaca High School Football game. A senior student of mine scored a touchdown from his defensive end position which isn't an everyday occurrence. It was a great night! In this particular photo, I was asking students if they thought my "pants looked neat" and if "they dug my style" My volunteers present, along with many people I had never seen before thought I was missing bolts.
All this to say, I have a lot of fun when I get around crowds. We recently had our kickoff for High School and Middle School. I am so thankful to God that I enjoyed the two nights as much as I did. I have been working really hard lately to truly connect with the people God has placed in my care, students and volunteers alike. I even did "the worm" for the first time since the early nineties with a middle school kid named B.J. I think at some basic level, the heart of a youth minister is just different from the hearts possessed by most. And I am more than o.k. with that!
I love to take a genuine interest in students, and see them light up when I make that effort. There is something truly gospel about taking the time to let someone know that they are worth your time and attention. Sometimes when I see a "light" come on in the heart and the life of a young person, I wonder why so many others don't love these crazy kids in a similar fashion.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Borders Girl

Yesterday, I was making a purchase at Border's Books. While waiting in the check-out line, the cashier asked me if I wanted a Border's Card (I guess for frequent customers). I replied, "No thank you, I'm illiterate." She gave no response. Apparently she wasn't amused by my dumb joke. Sometimes when I say something that I find oddly humorous in my own mind, and those present don't share my sentiment, it makes me struggle all the more not to laugh. I began to wonder if the cashier thought I was some kind of weirdo or something. So I began to laugh even harder, yet nobody else was around, so I began to look even crazier. And then it just snowballed. Do these things only happen to me?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Denver to Ogden

I swear I saw a field just outside of Denver that contained two to three camels. Then me and Jenn ecountered a town (population: 1) or something of a town called Buford. The beginning of that day was a bit lengthy. I entertained Jenn by getting really into the first six or seven songs on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Then a most surreal "event" occured. I will choose to describe our time at a rest stop in Rock Springs as an event. First, we encountered road construction, so the exit to the rest area was not clearly marked to begin with. As we went through some cones and saw little or no signs of civilization, Jenn asked, "Are we supposed to be driving on this, or are we offroading?" And at that point I thought we were offroading (honestly). Then as we went under some bridges and came to a dirt road intersection, I said some bad words and wondered what kind of "micky mouse operation this was". A guy in another vehicle was laughing at my confusion. When we finally traveled through about a two mile labrynth and found a gas station, we were mesmorized by not only the people, and the clothing and dialect, but also the choice of subject content contained within various conversations. Nobody had sleeves, and one notable discussion included a guy who had come across a small fortune and was fighting off the ladies who had a newfound interest in his recently fattened wallet. Jenn was funny because she made little attempt to hide her laughter at this man and his $80,000 reward, and his heigtened status within the dating community.

When you travel across the country, it's great to stop and observe the diversity. Later that day, we stopped in Ogden and left for Boise, but I still think I need to give a little more time, to try to describe that leg of the tour. Right now, I'm in a Panera Bread in Seattle and I need to move on, but you will hear from me soon. I will keep you posted. Yinz are the best. Blessings from the road.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Clowns, No Playgrounds, Just Good Food!

So I am on the road. This blog I am posting from my girlfriend, Jenn's computer. I wish I could put into words all that I've seen and experienced thus far. Last Wednesday, we left from Zelienople and made it to St. Louis. I felt so free, that I couldn't stop smiling all day. G.P.S.'s are amazing. I borrowed my dad's. He named it Tanya. Now from St. Louis we left on Thursday morning heading to Denver. The last time I traveled to Denver through Kansas I remember being bored. But this time, I just loved it. Maybe it was the company. Then we saw this Arby's sign that read: No Clowns, No Playgrounds, Just Good Food! The sign seemed angry. We laughed at the no nonsense attitude with which Arby's presented its case.

Anyway, in Denver, we were on this road (Rte. 86) that was a scenic route. I looked at Jenn and said "I will never forget this as long as I live!" I felt like I was on the edge of the universe. We were listening to slow Led Zeppelin tunes like: "That's the Way", "Tangerine", and "Thank You". There is something to be said for the feeling one has when you are half way across the country and light years from the stresses and concerns of every day life/ministry.

The trip from Denver to Boise, and then from Boise to Bend require posts of their own, but what I'd like to say thus far is that this is exactly what I've needed for maybe the better part of a year! Going from one position/church to another with no time to breathe has had me so focused on the task at hand that I feel like I haven't had time to slow down and focus on the giver of life. In my first six days on the road, I have felt the Lord tell me some things. Things that I haven't been breaking my back to hear. Sometimes, when we just slow down for a minute, the answers just seem to appear. At least that's the way it's been for me thus far. Next time we talk I'll tell you about a sunset that I wish I could've shared with the world, and a rest stop in Wyoming that I could not only preach a sermon on, but maybe a series. God speed!