Visiting An Old Friend

Today was the first time I had darkened the doors of a church, as a visitor, in a long time.

I was raised in church and the “churchy” culture of, at first, a nondenominational variety and then the A/G persuasion.

I warily went with some friends who invited me. It felt like being invited to a former friend’s house who you probably should’ve kept in touch with, but didn’t. Walking into the sanctuary, I couldn’t escape the heavy feeling of shame that came over me. It wasn’t even sin shame. It was more of a “We didn’t keep in touch and it was definitely my fault” shame. I had been the one who kept the relationship strained and distant. I was angry, beaten down, and defeated by the Church and its members, and by association, God.

The songs begin and the Hillsong-esque lyrics flash upon the screens at the front. People jump into singing about how they love God “so so so so much!” It felt like watching a Kid’s Bop version of worship. The lyrics remained fairly vague and repetitive. It wasn’t until the 3rd song that I legitimately felt something.

“There Is Nothing Like” is one of my all-time favorite worship songs. I’ll know the words until I die. In the midst of being ashamed and feeling awkward, it felt like God began singing this song to me. It felt like he had switched around the person of the song and telling me that “he’ll love me forever.”

It was like he accepted my silent apology in song. “Sorry it’s been a while. I’ve been dealing with my own stuff. I didn’t want to talk to you.” “That’s ok. I’ll love you forever.”

The rest of the service rambled on through the end of worship and through moments of speaking by exuberant people as they read scripture, update the community, and preach a sermon.

I probably won’t return to this church, just because it’s too similar to the churches I’ve been raised in and that I’ve worked in; but there was definitely a reason for me to be here today, even if it was only for God to let me know that he still knows I exist and that he loves me.

Today, for the first time, I felt wonderstruck.

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Moving Time

I’m currently making the move from Dallas, TX to Springfield, Mo. As such, my blogs will become much more sparse until Mid-June. I’ve been here since April 22nd, which is why there hasn’t been a post since. My access to computers is very limited. The good news is, I do have a job up here, and a place to crash until I can afford an apartment. This is an exciting new chapter in my life and I look forward to the adventure these next few years may hold. ūüėÄ

Thanks for understanding!

-Sam

Escaping Cancer

For the last few months we’ve had to deal with some hard truths in my family.

My mom has cervical cancer. She has one 1-ft mass and another, smaller, one in her body.

This whole ordeal started on my 23rd birthday as my mom was rushed to the hospital by the girl who lives with us in the early hours of the a.m. She was in incredible pain. The doctors at that hospital didn’t really give her the time of day (we don’t have health insurance) and she scheduled an appointment with a specialist after getting some massive pain meds. Through the appointments, the scans, and the biopsies, we found out it was cancer.

My mom turns 50 in April. This is incredibly scary for me. Not the turning 50 thing, but the realization that on Monday morning (the 25th) she goes in for surgery and might not make it out. She’s super¬†optimistic¬†about the whole thing, brushing off whims of danger as if she were Jay-Z and they were simply dust on her shoulder. I’m optimistic, but wary…careful. This is a big deal.

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Throughout this experience I’ve dove into some video games with the sole purpose of not thinking about this thing. Tomb Raider, Fallout: New Vegas, and Mass Effect 3 have kept me plenty occupied in times where I need to escape. Hospitals freak me out and make me nervous. My mom was in one for 5 days when they found out she had diabetes a few weeks ago. They had to acclimate her body to the insulin and get her blood sugar to the right levels. It’s supposed to be between 70-110. It was 366 the day she checked in. They don’t know if this is a side effect of the masses or what, but we got everything worked out. I visited her once or twice and bought her some presents (A gurlfriends card and some beach wisdom from Cracker Barrel ūüėÄ ), but mostly I stayed home while others visited her because looking at her in a hospital bed freaked me out so much.

I don’t want to lose my mom.

So again, I dove into video games. Logging hundreds of hours over multiple titles. These games kept me sane. They kept me in a place where it was OK to be scared, but that eventually, good wins out. I wasn’t worrying about day to day things. I wasn’t worried about surgeries, or medicines, or hospitals. I was free.

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On March 26th, the day after my mom’s major surgery to get everything removed and fixed, I’ll be playing BioShock: Infinite. That’ll be my coping mechanism for the week. This time she’ll be in the hospital for longer, so I’ll visit her more often (she keeps telling me that she understands, but she loves it when I’m around because I make inappropriate jokes around the hospital staff and that makes her laugh). It’s just good to know that there’s a place for me when I need it. This moment’s place is a city in the early 1900’s called Columbia. Should I get too stressed out or worried, it will be my home.

This is why I play video games.

Saying Goodbye To Mass Effect

 

 

mass-effect-trilogy-charactersOn March 5th, 2013, the final chapter of Mass Effect DLC will hit. This is a rough moment for me, as I’ve spent years falling in love with this universe and these characters. I know there will be more Mass Effect games and that they’ll probably capture seasons of my life like this series did, but it’s still hard to move on.

Mass Effect 1 launched in November 2007. It was one of the first games I ever played for 360. I adored it. Everything about it reminded of why I loved games like KOTOR and the like. I bought all the DLC that was released and played through it multiple times; rethinking decisions and conversations that I’d had with characters to hone my Shepard into the perfect one I wanted. I was essentially writing and re-writing Shepard’s tale.

Mass Effect 2 came along during my second year of college. I pre-ordered the collector’s edition and stood in line for hours with some of my friends just to be able to pick it up at midnight. This installment allowed the decisions of the first game to be imported. That was the first time I’d ever heard of something like that. My Shepard was still my Shepard. I played this one multiple times and in multiple ways as well; knowing that the conclusion would come in the next game. I made sure to replay the ending and make sure ALL of my squad-mates survived. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet.

extended_cut-pMass Effect 3 launched over Spring Break for my senior year of college. I decided to stay at the school and play it instead of head home for the holiday. I spent the week pouring over the game and the decisions and alternating play times with food and episodes of “Archer” on Netflix. Hours were spent having conversations, revisiting old friends, and making the final journey with my Shepard.

Then I beat it. I finished the game, cried a bit, did a final save, and turned off my console. Shepard’s tale was over. Then the Extended Cut was announced, and more DLC (which I expected). Shepard had a few more adventures left in him. I’ve purchased all the DLC (story-wise) for the game so far and I’ve been playing through it these past few weeks. I’m coasting my play times so that I’ll be able to jump into the last bit of DLC on the 5th. After that, I’ll have to say goodbye for real.

I think that I’m ready this time. I’ve grown to love these characters, and had to say goodbye to some of them during the play-through of 3 anyways, but this time is for good. There is no replay after this completion. My Shepard’s tale will have written its final pages and will be closed. Rarely does a game like this come along. The Mass Effect series has held my attention, money, and time for almost 6 years, and what a great 6 they were.

I’m excited for what BioWare does in the future, and I’ll eagerly await whatever they decide to release. For now though, I’m saying my goodbyes to Mass Effect.

You changed my life, and I’ll never forget you for it.

-Sam

 

 

Praying for Pixie Dust. #LiveWonderstruck

I’ve been reading the first few chapters of Margaret Feinberg’s “Wonderstruck” over the past few weeks, and there is a passage in one of the chapters that has stuck out to me more than the rest of them have.

I felt the iron weight of the pause as I grasped for the perfect¬†way to express what I desired from God. I took a deep breath¬†and plunged.¬†‚ÄúThis sounds strange,‚ÄĚ I apologized, ‚Äúbut I‚Äôm praying for¬†pixie dust.‚Ä̬†I might as well have vacuumed all the air out of the room.¬†While a few stared uncomfortably at me, more than a dozen¬†eyes darted back and forth in an almost unanimous expression:¬†what have we gotten ourselves into?¬†I kept talking. ‚ÄúMore than anything, what I long for is our¬†God, the One who bedazzled the heavens and razzle-dazzled¬†the earth, to meet us in such a way during our time in Scotland¬†that we find ourselves awestruck by his goodness and generosity,¬†his provision and presence. I‚Äôm praying for pixie dust. I want¬†to leave here with a sense of wonderment as we encounter and¬†experience things only God can do.‚ÄĚ

I’ve been in a place where I’ve been angry with God about a multitude of things. Angry seems a bit strong of a word… I’ve been¬†frustrated. Things have gone wrong. Prayers have gone unanswered. So I’ve found myself in a place of ambivalence with God. I still believe in Him, I know He’s real, and I love Him, but I’m not subscribed to the rituals of Bible reading, church going, and generally spending time with him. I figured, if he wasn’t going to meet me halfway, I wasn’t going to visit him at all. I was in a place where I continued to believe that there was some secret formula/action I needed to complete for Him to love me and value me like other, better, Christians (I still struggle with this).

These chapters in Margaret’s new book have really given me a new way of looking at the whole relationship that God and I have. I want to be wonderstruck.¬†It’s because of this want that I’ve since taken to praying for pixie dust. I want to be amazed at God’s creation. I want to know that I matter, that he sees me, and that I’m loved. I don’t want the distanced relationship of the past; I’m in the pews and He’s in the sky. I want the awe and wonder of knowing the creator of the universe loves ME, and that there’s nothing I can do to change that.

I can’t wait for Margaret’s book to finally be released later this month. Here’s some more information about it and ways you can get involved/earn prizes for pre-ordering!

Follow Margaret’s snarky, funny, and inspirational posts on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog. You can learn more about this great book by visiting www.margaretfeinberg.com/wonderstruck where she’s offering some crazy promos right now with up to $300 of free stuff. I’ve seen the book for as low as $7.57 ($14.99 retail) on Barnes & Noble for all you savvy shoppers.

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1 Hour and 26 Minutes: How a Grey’s Anatomy Episode Slayed Me

Sanctuary” is the 23rd episode of the¬†sixth season¬†of the American medical drama¬†Grey’s Anatomy, and the 125th episode overall. Written by¬†Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the show, and directed by¬†Stephen Cragg, it premiered on¬†ABC¬†on May 20, 2010, as the first part of the two-hour season finale. “Death and All His Friends” is the twenty-fourth and final episode of the¬†sixth season¬†of the American television¬†medical drama¬†Grey’s Anatomy, and the show’s 126th episode overall. It premiered on May 20, 2010.¬†Written byShonda Rhimes¬†and directed by¬†Rob Corn.¬†(taken from WikiPedia)

I don’t know what finale I was watching that was on at the same time as this one. I think it’s a testament to the power of this two-part season finale that I don’t remember. I’ve never watched an episode of Grey’s before or since viewing this episode. I just watched it on a whim when flipping in between commercials.

I recently (right before writing this post) re-watched the episode on Netflix. When I refer to episode I mean both parts of the finale. I wanted to see if it was just as powerful now as when I had originally viewed it. Spoiler Alert: It was.

The basic synopsis of the episode is that a man has entered the hospital with a gun, looking for the Chief of Surgery (pictured above). He wants to kill him because his wife died here (they allude to it throughout the episode. From what I can gather she was on life support and they decided to take her off of it. This man is exacting revenge because of that). He is brushed off by a lot of doctors when he asks where to find the chief and eventually gets frustrated and kills one of the young doctors.

I don’t watch the show, so I didn’t really feel the impact of this character’s death until one of her friends discovers her later on and has a breakdown. The shooter also shoots one of the other doctors who walks in and keeps searching for Chief. Said doctor crawls to an elevator and is eventually found.

The shooter makes his way to one of the floors where two surgeons are conversing with Mandy Moore (she guest starred on this episode). The doctors hide and Mandy “plays dead.” The shooter finds one of the doctors and asks him if he is a surgeon. He says yes and gets shot. The other doctor is then discovered and the same question is asked. She lies and says that she’s just a nurse. He lets her live and she and Mandy Moore get to work trying to save the other doctor. He grabs the other doctor and says, “Don’t lie to me. If I’m going to die you tell me. Promise me you’ll tell me.” They continue to try and save him.

Meanwhile, the shooter begins walking upstairs and is stopped. He turns, kills a nurse, and keeps walking. This is when two other doctors discover the one that crawled into the elevator. They take him to a conference room and save him, though it’s a close one and one of the doctors is almost killed.

The Chief is eventually found by the shooter and is shot. His wife and another doctor see this happen as well as the shocked friend from earlier. His wife and the others get him to an operating room and eventually save him.

This brings me to the scene that absolutely makes the episode for me. The doctor from before and Mandy Moore drag the shot doctor to the elevator to get him to the O.R. only to discover…

That scene is one of the best written, acted, and directed scenes that I’ve ever watched in my life. I had waterfalls at that moment and I’ve never seen the show before. This is why I think the writers/directors/actors of this show are brilliant. In an hour and 26 minutes they made me care about these people to the point of tears. That’s incredibly rare for a show to be able to do that. I don’t know if I’ll watch more of the show, or just keep my fond memories of this one, but this episode is an achievement. This episode is a benchmark for others. I can name on one hand the amount of television finales that made me cry when I was invested in the show. This one achieved all that on one viewing.

Kudos to you Grey’s Anatomy.¬†For a least a little over¬†an hour, you reached perfection.

Characters Matter: Why Dragon Age II is Bioware’s Best Writing (potential spoilers throughout)

If you’re involved in the world of gaming you’ve probably heard of Bioware a lot. Creators of the Mass Effect series, Dragon Age series, KotoR series, etc. They’re one of the most well-known companies in the business because they put out some of the best made content. Their stories are only rivaled by companies like Bethesda. It’s hard to pit more business’ against them because their stories offer options. Games like Red Dead Redemption and Batman: Arkham City,¬†though brilliant, are fairly linear in story and choices.

Choices are what set Bioware apart from most brands. In most of their games, your choices matter. You shape the universe; whether you’re fighting dragons or alien beings bent on destroying the universe. Most, if not all, of their games offer the feature “choice.” I find this to be one of the most brilliant things about them.

I’ve played almost all of their games. I don’t have a computer rig that’s good enough to solidly play The Old Republic, but I’ve played all of their console games. I recently decided to revisit the Dragon Age Series (one of my favorites) after I finished the extended cut of Mass Effect 3. I bought Dragon Age II and the DLC that I didn’t already have (when it was released I bought the “signature” edition and thus¬†received¬†the Black Emporium and Sebastian DLC). Good God. I forgot how brilliant the writing of Dragon Age II was.

I usually play the game as a male mage. Sometimes I delve into being a rogue, but I find the magic aspect so much more appealing. In Dragon Age II this causes a plethora of problems.

In the game, you always have 3 party members with you. Here’s my team (for people w/o the Sebastian DLC, substitute his spot w/ Aveline). From Left: Meet Anders, Fenris, and Sebastian. (The banner from the top is also there because I inserted a gallery. C’est la vie.)


These are, in my opinion, the best mates to have in the game. Anders is a hot-headed, semi-possessed (w/ the spirit of Justice/Vengeance) mage. Fenris is a former slave who was abused by mages his whole life. Sebastian is a member of the Chantry, who is ok with mages as the maker’s creation, but is totally not ok with mages who mess with demons and use blood magic. With me being a mage, that makes the dynamic so much fun! I’m nice to mages, Anders is nice to mages, Fenris hates mages, and Sebastian hates bad mages.

One of the things that I miss in the Mass Effect series is banter whilst roaming the worlds. There may be a small comment here or there, but in Dragon Age II, your companions (and your own character) are CONSTANTLY talking. The best conversations come from when your characters disagree with each other. When you complete a mission or a side-quest in this game, your characters discuss it, and even bring up past side quests and whatnot as arguments. This brings me to my favorite plot arc.

Anders is possessed by the spirit of Vengeance. Vengeance used to be the spirit of Justice, but being brought into our realm, and seeing what Templars do to mages (hint: they aren’t having tea parties) has turned him into a force of power who hates Templars. This is understandably upsetting to everyone else in the party (I don’t like demons either). Anders is constantly trying to balance justifying him and keeping control of him, to the point where he almost kills a mage girl¬†because¬†Vengeance was going nuts.

Fenris and Sebastian are always ragging on Anders for this possession deal. They know it’s bad and don’t mind telling him so. He argues that mages are treated wrong in Kirkwall (where you all live) and they argue that it’s the mages fault for taking things too far by using blood magic (bad juju). This all culminates in a huge standoff between mages and Templars. As Hawke, you try to keep the peace (or you can rile up trouble! That’s the beauty of these games!), but Anders decides to blow the Chantry (church) sky high because, “There can be no compromise.” Dumbass.

Seriously. I was all ready to form an alliance, and he ruined everything because he wanted to throw a temper tantrum. UGH. When I first played the game, I killed him immediately afterwards. This is probably the best moment of writing in the whole game. After this happens, all of your party members are present and they can chime in about what to do.

Fenris wants to kill Anders right out. “Why are we talking about this when the criminal is right in front of us?” Merill (an elf, who is the worst character in the game. You complement this chick and she gets mad. I hate you Merill. She’s also evil) says, “Let him live. We could use him and he can make things right.” Varric (an awesome dwarf) says that he can’t justify this. Aveline (guard captain) says basically the same thing. Isabela is gone (cause I never romanced her and she ditches you in act two because she wanted to steal a book. What a bitch.).

Sebastian has my favorite moment though. He grew up in the Chantry. He loved the people there. He adored the grand cleric, who refused to leave even when he asked, and died in the blast. When you ask him what to do he says this. Paraphrase: “Would you be discussing this if I had been in the Chantry when this happened? He needs to die now.” ¬†If you offer to keep Anders alive (you can keep him, kill him, or banish him) Sebastian (who is also the rightful heir of a land called Starkhaven) becomes enraged. “NO! Hawke, if you do this, I’ll go to Starkhaven and I’ll bring back an army. We’ll burn this city to the ground to find Anders and make this right.” Here’s a video that shows the whole scene (not mine).¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avFaFKe3O0g

Oh by the way, Sebastian has the sexiest (Irish? Scottish?) accent ever. It’s like a lighter Gerard Butler voice. *swoon* But he’s DAMN intimidating in those last moments.

These characters are so deep, so fleshed out, that you can’t help but love them all, even the stupid ones (yes you Merill). The Dragon Age games don’t really have the scale of the Mass Effect games (you’re saving cities/lands instead of the universe), but they nail the character aspect better than any other game I’ve ever played. The one complaint I have about Dragon Age II (besides recycle maps and little nitpicks) is that the epilogue isn’t long and descriptive like the first game’s was. The first game basically let you read for 20 minutes as you read how your actions played out across the lands.

As someone with a film degree, who loves writing, this game makes me write better. This game inspires me to create characters that matter. This is why Dragon Age II has the best writing of any Bioware game ever. Now go buy it already.

Follow Bioware, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect on Twitter here:

https://twitter.com/bioware

https://twitter.com/dragonage

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