Stepping Back

The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of craziness, adventure, challenge, and growth. I’ve done so many things in such a small window of time it’s hard to keep it all straight. Just two years ago I was finishing up school and looking forward to finding a teaching gig. I landed a few interviews but with the economy struggling there weren’t many teaching jobs to go around. That led me to consider other options, one of which was teaching abroad. Looking back it’s quite obvious to me that God put this all in motion a long time ago. And here we are, nearing the end of 2014, and I’ve since spent almost two full years in Chile. Like I said, those years have provided me with a smattering of life experiences and moments that have been both challenging and unforgettable. Without a doubt these years have left their mark on me, in the best way possible, and I’m coming out a better man for it. This year God has taught me so many things, and most of them fall into these four categories: perseverance, prayer, humility, and trust.

Most of my time here in Chile has flown by. And I’m not exaggerating. It feels like I’ve blinked maybe three times since February and it’s almost October. Both this year and last have been filled with amazing experiences, but they’ve had their share of struggles as well. There were days I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, days I didn’t want to go to work, days I felt overwhelmed, and days I felt misunderstood or alone. But boy was I wrong. God has been with me the entire time. Those moments where I felt a certain weight on my shoulders were due to any number of factors. Homesickness, eternal winter, isolation, exhaustion, and even illness at one point. In each of these situations, among others, there were instances where I took my eyes off the Lord, the result of which left me feeling alone in whatever I was facing. The weight grew infinitely heavier when I tried to go it alone. But when I focused myself on the help and the hope that were always within reach, the problems I was facing slowly grew smaller and I gradually gained more faith that I would overcome them. Moments like these are bound to come, regardless of whether or not we lose sight of the Lord. Frustration, loneliness, and exhaustion are things that happen in life. What matters is how we react under such circumstances. God has taught me again and again the value of persevering. This was the first year in my life that I worked full time and lived on my own. Complicating things even more were visa issues, language barriers, and the fact that I worked independently the whole year. For the first time I had to pay all the bills on my own: rent, food, internet, cell phone, transportation, and the like. There were numerous moments where I barely managed to scrape enough together to pay all the bills. Private English classes were my main source of income but they were hardly reliable as my students could cancel at their own will. It was no loss to them, yet to me it made all the difference. Moments like these were tough for me. But pressing on in these moments develops character, and it prepares us for future challenges. It also helps us to get through the hard times quicker. I now know never to give up because I have it within me to press on. I have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside me and I have God on my side. In no moment was I going it alone, and never will I have to. With the Lord’s help I know I will overcome.

I’ve also been taught a lesson or two about prayer. And let me be up front here; I’m not simply talking about asking God to do things in your life. That’s a vital piece of prayer, but a piece nonetheless. God genuinely cares about what’s going on in our lives. He wants us to succeed and he wants to help us. He also wants us to come running to him, whatever the situation calls for. Be it for help, a shoulder to cry on, to celebrate, or to ask for forgiveness. God is our Heavenly Father and he wants us to seek him out. I admit that there were stretches during these past two years where I fell away from devoting time to prayer. And those stretches were most likely when the lowest moments occurred. It wasn’t that God had stopped being faithful, or that I had hit a stroke of bad luck. It was my own lack of faithfulness to God. My own laziness, or whatever excuse you’d like to plug, prevented me from feeling close to God when I needed him. And that’s on me. Prayer is sometimes made out to be a chore. It’s like a checklist item that we feel obligated to complete at some point during the day. And while it should be done daily, it shouldn’t be a burden. From all of the examples of prayer in my life, too many of them have been in moments of hurt or need or desperation. It’s like we only resort to prayer if nothing else is working out. I am really bothered by this. God has been helping me and showing me how to restore joy to my prayer life. I look forward to speaking to him. Even if it’s at night before I fall asleep, I love telling him about my day. I love praising him and telling him how much I appreciate him. Sure, I ask him for help as well. I’m always going to need it and frankly he’s the one I most want to receive it from. But God is so gracious, and so good, that prayer should be joyous. It’s a privilege that we can speak to him freely and a massive blessing that he listens. And he truly cares! So pray faithfully and do so joyfully. You won’t regret it.

Humility. Man, are these fun lessons to learn. I’ll be flat out honest and say that I’ve always thought myself a pretty humble guy. I can’t stand showing off or bragging. I don’t revel in the spotlight. I try to never come across as arrogant or ungrateful. But sometimes I am way off base, and I know it. These lessons are the kind that sting at first, but for me it feels so good afterward. I’m thankful for the episodes over these past few years where I’ve been put in my place, so to speak. There were various moments in which I was shown what true humility looks like. I’m talking about the kind of humility where you submit yourself before others, even when they don’t deserve your time or respect or help. It reminds me of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. He’s the King of Kings and he had no reason to be washing the dirty feet of men that would later betray him. But he did wash their feet. This is the kind of humility that very few people are good at. I am trying to get better at it. I think our modern-day society possesses a very subconscious but firmly set idea of elitism. We are always comparing ourselves to the rest, aiming to stay above some meaningless standard we set for ourselves and others. As long as we stay above that line, we’re better than the rest. I have very gratefully come to realize that I am only the best at one thing, and there is no reason to compare myself with anyone else. Care to guess what it is? I’m not the best at soccer or hockey. I’m not the best at Spanish. I’m not the best writer. I’m not the best teacher. But I am the best at being me, and that’s precisely what God created me for. He didn’t make me to be any other way but the way I am, and that is perfectly good with me. I am made in God’s perfect image. I am made to glorify the Lord, to serve men, and to love them both with a humble heart. So in humility, I will ever attempt to do these things to the best of my humble ability.

Lastly comes trust. In today’s world trust is quite a rare commodity. There are very few people that we entirely trust. Be it with our belongings, our secrets, our past, or our lives. In order to give out trust we require others to earn it. Sadly, we hold God to this same standard. We don’t fully trust in him until he proves himself. We’re all about the proof. And even when he does, we sometimes rescind that trust because he didn’t come through in the way we wanted him to. Well, shame on us. God doesn’t need to earn our trust. He should always have it. God has provided for us in so many ways it’s absurd. He put us on this earth. He put breath in our lungs. He gives us free will. And he gave up his one and only Son to save us because we screw up all the time. So yeah, God deserves our trust. But what God has done this year is show me again and again, time after time, that he wants me to trust in him one hundred percent, all of the time. God has opened so many doors, just at the right time, that I can’t even count. He has also closed doors that needed to be closed, exactly at the right moment. And even when there were no doors to be opened, but he wanted me to get somewhere, he opened a timely window. I can’t even fathom or come close to explaining how incredible everything has been. God has guided me right to this very moment. What I’ve learned is to lean on God through everything, and to never doubt. If he wants something to happen, it’s going to happen. He always finds a way. And if not, no worries. It wasn’t meant to be and he’s got something even better in store. And that’s the fun part. If we trust in him, let him take charge, and team up with him, we’re in for one wild and fun ride. It may bring tough times and obstacles. In fact, it most certainly will. But when we trust in him there’s nothing to worry about. Trust in him, even when you have no idea what’s going on. Because he does.

As you can see, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on all the growing I’ve been doing. Maybe you got bored and skipped ahead or maybe you spent the whole time nodding in agreement. Maybe you’ve already learned all these lessons or maybe they’re on their way to you right now. Whatever boat you’re in, I challenge you to take a step back from life for a moment. Life is so crazy and we get so busy that we forget to consider this stuff. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten to consider God. But even if you have, it’s okay. He’s right there, waiting for you with open arms. And if you have been relying on him, take a moment to think about all he’s done for you lately. Reflect upon what you’ve learned. Sometimes we forget that the lessons that God sends our way are meant to help us grow into better people. And if we forget to work on these things, his lessons just go to waste. So again, I challenge you! What has God done for you lately? What have you learned from him, or from others? And finally, I encourage you, to never stop trusting in him. Never stop asking him for help or celebrating with him. And never ever stop learning from him. He’s a pretty awesome teacher to have.

Así Soñamos

Soy como las nubes que flotan arriba,
sin peso, e intocable.
Soy como las brisas que provienen del mar,
presente, pero invisible.
Vacías son las palabras que me dicen,
falsas las sonrisas.
Huecas son las almas que me enfrentan,
blancas las páginas.
Los ojos que me miran no me ven,
sino pasan a través de mi.
Las palabras se dirigen en mi dirección,
pero no me llegan a mi.

Siento que son sinceras,
que sus palabras son genuinas.
Quiero creer en sus promesas,
que su apoyo llegará en algún momento.
Les miro a los ojos y pienso,
me ven a mi también.
Les cuento mi historia y confío,
me escuchan y recordarán.
Pero miles de miradas he compartido,
y muy pocas perduran.
Miles de veces he compartido mi corazón,
y muy pocos se acuerdan.

Sé que el mundo les llama,
y que sus días deben estar llenos.
Sé que la vida es complicada,
y que hay un montón de cosas que hacer.
Sé que lo que pido puede ser difícil,
pero no pensaba que era tanto.
Sé que lo que quiero puede ser mucho,
pero no sabía que sería para tanto.
Pero después de todos mis intentos,
parece que es así.
Después de todos mis esfuerzos,
realmente es así.

Nunca me creí egoista,
de hecho me creo humilde.
Nunca me tomé por exigente,
de hecho pido súper poco.
Lo que pido en el fondo es simple,
es algo realmente básico.
Lo que busco no debe ser tan raro,
debe ser dado por hecho.
Lo que pido debe ser algo común,
pero no.
No lo es.

Cuando me miran con sus ojos,
sólo pido que me vean…
Cuando me oyen con sus oídos,
sólo pido que me escuchen…
Cuando prometen ayudarme,
sólo pido que cumplan…
Cuando me dicen palabras,
sólo pido que sean sinceras…
Y cuando les cuento mi historia,
sólo pido que la recuerden…
Así soñamos las brisas del mar,
y las nubes del cielo como yo.

Stormy Soul

Outside there’s a storm,

A rain so strong that it soaks everything..

Rooftops, clothes, skin, and even bones.

Not even our dreams escape the fury that falls from the sky.

That sky went dark, some time ago.

There remains no shining sun, no light, and no hope.

The darkness covers the earth like a heavy blanket

And it’s oppressive with its deep, dark obscurity.

Even in the depth of our souls we feel the weight of the night,

Dark and black.

The light of the day has fled,

And along with her the light we call hope.

The one who sent the storm wanted it this way,

Terrifying.

 

But beneath this rooftop there’s a living being.

And though the clothes are soaking wet

There’s a warmth that exists inside and it emanates outward.

The skin, also wet, holds inside its bones,

Likewise drenched by the heaviness of night.

But between these bones there’s a soul,

And this soul possesses all that’s required,

Not just to survive but to overcome,

To shine.

The storm, the obscurity, the rain, the night, the darkness;

They’re all overcome by the strength of our souls,

By the brilliant light that radiates in every direction,

By the faith that’s found within.

This faith, this light, and this strength are more than enough.

They pursue the night and they erase it,

Shadow by shadow each corner is rid of the darkness

And the pure light of truth is left in its place.

Not one drop of night remains where the light of day shines,

And not one drop of doubt remains in the soul that knows this light.

Though storms will come and darkness will press,

The strength, purity, hope, and truth that reside with the light will always triumph.

And this radiant, perfect light will evermore endure.

The World and I

The world and I are not alike.

The world spins at the same pace, day after day after day. It never speeds up. It neither slows down. It remains constant, ever steady. I, on the other hand, am not constant. I can sit still no longer than a moment. I may run quickly but surely I will tire. I am fast and I am slow, but I am not steady.

The world and I are not alike.

The world is neatly divided. It has its Northern and Southern Hemispheres. It has its North and South Poles. It has an equator and lines of latitude and longitude that clearly separate and define. I, on the other hand, am not neatly divided. I am part boy and part man. I am one part strong and the other part weak. I am both proud and humble. I am one moment serious and the other giddy. But while the world is black and white, I am grey.

The world and I are not alike.

The world is dominated by the fittest. The weak are brushed aside to the fringes and stepped on while the strong succeed and survive. The world has no mercy on the lesser man. The world is unrelenting. I, on the other hand, am unfit. I would prefer not to step on the weak but rather to give them a hand. I would rather not be first, but actually last. Greed is something I try to avoid, and not collect. I am in favor of mercy, of forgiveness.

The world and I are not alike.

The world is a created place, a landscape. It is also a canvas, so to speak. The world is lived on by many people, and those creatures paint the earth, sometimes beautifully and sometimes with ugliness. I, on the other hand, am a created being, a person. I am also an artist, so to speak. Both the world and I are creations, but I am made in the image of the Creator. Therefore, I can also create. I am not painted on but I do the painting. I leave my mark on this world, in whichever way I choose to do so. It may be beautiful, and uplifting, and meaningful. Or it may not be. That is up to me.

The world and I are not alike.

The world is a temporary residence. It is finite. It will have an end. I, on the other hand, am not temporary. I have a soul, and that soul does not have an end. It is everlasting in its being. When the earth has long been dissolved, I will still be, in some other place. I will be alive and well, not because I deserve to be, but because it has been offered to me and I´ve accepted. The world ultimately ends in destruction, as will all who choose the world over their souls. The world, at its core, is wicked. But in my core, should you pry open my soul, dwells one we call the Holy Spirit. And he is the stamp of everlasting life, the seal of the Almighty God, and by his word I will not perish but have eternal life.

The world and I are not alike.

Are you?

Glorify!

“Thump, thump,” goes the heart.

“Pat, pat, pat,” move the feet.

“Do, re, mi,” sings the voice.

But what should be of your soul?

“Swish, swoosh,” blows the wind.

“Crash,” and then “Shhhhh,” speak the waves.

“Chirp, chirp, chirp,” sing the birds.

But what should be of your spirit?

“Vroom, vroom,” roars the engine.

“Tick, tock,” clicks the clock.

“Beep, beep, beep,” sounds the alarm.

But what should be of your song?

The empty soul is hollow,

The distant spirit is silent,

The sound within is frightening,

For those who do not know…

The satisfied soul is joyful!

It sings at the top of its lungs,

It leaps and bounds, rejoicing,

The God-filled soul is alive!

The active spirit is a marvel!

It whispers in wisdom and peace,

It speaks in Psalms and hymns,

The lively spirit is a revelation!

The song from within is thunderous!

It sings and sings, never ceasing,

It’s joyous and sunny and wonderful,

The inner song is one of victory!

Each soul may choose its content.

Each spirit may invite its sound.

Each song is chosen by its singer.
Each life is lived by its given body.

So, the soul is yours to fill.

The spirit is there for inviting.

The song is yours to sing.

And your job is to sound them all.

The Soul of God is everlasting!

The Spirit of God is eternal!

The Song of God is never-ending!

All you have to do is let him in.

The purpose of the soul is to glorify.

The purpose of the spirit is to guide.

The purpose of the song is to rejoice.

And the purpose of sound is to share.

So let your soul be loud in love!

Let your spirit be heard in wisdom!

Let your song be one of praise!

And let your life be one worth sharing!

My Explosion of World Cup Thoughts

So, I’ve been absolutely dying for June 12 to get here ever since my Anaheim Ducks were ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the pesky LA Kings. With nothing to watch in the past month I’ve been pouring over World Cup articles, reading up on all the teams, looking up the official kits of each country, and watching every episode of “Road to Brazil” on Netflix, a 22 episode series covering most of the contenders and highlighting coaches, star players, captains, etc. I’m also a buff for fantasy sports when it comes to those that interest me most, and I love making predictions and filling out brackets (even for March Madness despite the fact that I never watch college basketball). For that reason, I’m stoked that ESPN has opened up their Bracket Prediction Game online. There are plenty of prediction websites for the World Cup, a few much better than ESPN’s, but the one thing ESPN has going for them is their group feature. For each bracket you make you can join up to three groups, public or private. So, I’ve joined myself to the groups for USA fans, Chile fans, and I’ve made a private group for my buddies and me to have a little friendly competition! Ergo (perhaps my favorite word in the English language), I’ve been obsessing a little too much over this whole prediction thing, and considering every possible outcome of each group, and what it could mean for the knockout stages of the tournament. And just now, I’ve decided to put my thoughts down on paper, so to speak. Sorry in advance for this rather off-topic post, in regards to my blog, but it’s been on my mind a lot so I figured, why not?

 

I’m going to post my thoughts on each group, listing my two choices to advance, and then predict the knockout stages below. The numbers in (parentheses) are FIFA’s world rankings.

 

Group A: Brazil (4), Croatia (20), Mexico (19), Cameroon (50)

Brazil is an awesome place to host the World Cup as it entirely embodies soccer and its passionate spirit. They play the game with grace and class, with strength and precision, the way it should be played. Brazil qualified automatically as host, and received a fairly soft group at the draw. They’re a world-class team and should easily win all three games here, especially with home advantage in every single game.

Croatia is a scrappy team with some true stars like Modric, Srna, and Mandzukic, but they recently changed coaches and haven’t been in great form of late. Playing Brazil in the opening match is almost a guaranteed loss so they’ll have to beat Cameroon and be ready when they take on…
Mexico, also in terrible form. They barely even qualified for Brazil, requiring a playoff with New Zealand. The question then, is which team will show up to Brazil. If they’re able to beat Cameroon in their opening match, they could gain momentum and confidence. Rafa Marquez, though aging, has been brought back into the side and he brings leadership, experience, and confidence to a team that’s been lacking all three.

Cameroon is no pushover, but the hill could be a little too steep to climb. I don’t like their chances to advance here, however an upset is possible. They do have a strong group of players with Eto’o at the helm. Maybe they won’t advance but could easily play the spoiler by stealing a point from Croatia or Mexico.

Prediction: Brazil gets through with 9 points, but I have a really tough time picking between FIFA’s #19 and 20 teams. I’ll give the slight edge to Mexico, based on schedule and climate.

 

Group B: Spain (1), Netherlands (15), Chile (13), Australia (59)

The way FIFA rankings work is beyond me, and the way they go about group seeding, so as to “separate” world soccer powers and “avoid” groups of death is pretty much a joke. The USA is somehow ranked higher than Netherlands, which simply just should not be. Anyhow, Spain should advance from this group without too much trouble. Their games with the Netherlands and Chile will be tough but not too tough. They should advance with either 9 or 7 points in tow.

The Netherlands were completely dominant throughout qualifying, but stars like Van Persie and Robben have had their ups and downs. If they arrive to Brazil on a low, they may struggle to leave the group. In one of the dubbed groups of death, Group B is one of the toughest.

Chile has a fast team and they often vary the pace depending on who they play and what their strategy is. In the first half of qualifying their defense was more than suspect, allowing 2 goals a game on average. However, since Sampaoli took over, that number was cut in half. I don’t doubt their ability to score, especially if Vidal recovers in time, but their defense worries me, especially going against the firepower of Spain and the Netherlands.

Australia was put in a pretty impossible situation and would honestly be lucky to steal a point. They may be stubborn but they’re in transition and have very poor depth. Don’t be too surprised if they leave with 0 points.

Prediction: Spain top the group and the Netherlands scrape by. As much as I want Chile to advance (I’m currently in Chile and will be for the World Cup), I have a hard time believing they’ll escape. Even if they draw Netherlands on points, goal differential will be their end.

 

Group C: Colombia (5), Greece (10), Ivory Coast (21), Japan (47)

Let me begin by saying this: Group C is not a group of death, but it is the group of my death. For the life of me I cannot predict this group. Groups B, D, and G may be groups of death for those countries, but Group C is the group of death for predictors. It’s very difficult to read and anything can happen.

Colombia has a stellar team, especially if Falcao is healthy. That remains to be seen, but I still like their chances even if he’s not 100%. They cruised through qualification and were on the heels of Argentina. They should finish first or second and advance.

Greece is an enigma to me. One year they’re a walkover and the next they’re incredibly tough. One thing is for sure: they can’t be underestimated. After all, they are number 10 in FIFA’s (albeit somewhat ludicrous) world rankings. I don’t know if they have the creativity to score an abundance of goals but they aren’t easy to score on. I could see them finishing anywhere from last to first in the group, but I’m leaning more towards 3rd or 4th.

Ivory Coast has had terrible luck in World Cup draws. Believe it or not, this is their nicest one, and their best chance of advancing. With some of their power players getting older, this may be the last shot for their golden generation with the likes of Drogba, Kalou, Gervinho, and both Toure brothers in the fold. If they can play consistently, I think they could advance.

Japan is a wild card here. They could go quietly or just as easily shock a few teams and squeak through. Like I said, this group is my nightmare.

Prediction: Now, don’t take this to the bank, but Colombia 1st and Ivory Coast 2nd.

 

Group D: Uruguay (6), Costa Rica (34), England (11), Italy (9)

I personally think that this may be the toughest group. And mathematically speaking, it is. This also makes it tough to choose which of the three former World Cup victors will advance and which one will go home with Costa Rica (sorry Costa Rica).

Uruguay is highest ranked but I’m not sure how much to rely on said number. They certainly have the strike force but I’m not sure they have the defense to back them up. Not to mention that England and Italy are notoriously defensive beasts, even if they have new looks this year.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country. I went there when I was 16 and would love to go back. But, I don’t think they’re getting out of this group. Coming from CONCACAF, they looked great in qualifying. I also think they’re a stronger team than outsiders realize. But they’re not good enough to upset all of these teams. Just maybe, they’ll ruin the hopes for one of them.

England has an interesting team this year, and people might not expect them to go very far. In fact, many pundits think they’re going home after three games. I think they’ll surprise those people.

Italy has a stunning team. They have a perfect balance of new and old, of composure and passion. I think they’ll top the group and go quite far in the tournament. They may have collapsed in the last World Cup but they’ve since turned things around and become a force to be reckoned with.

Prediction: Italy will take the group in my opinion, and I’m going with England to oust Uruguay, despite playing in South America’s climate.

 

Group E: Switzerland (8), Ecuador (28), France (16), Honduras (30)

This is one of the three softer groups in this year’s World Cup. Realistically speaking, I don’t think any one of these teams can win the Cup, or even make the semifinals for that matter. But who knows?

Switzerland are a fairly young team that’s known for its stingy defense. Last World Cup they were the only ones who beat eventual winners Spain. They probably have a 50% shot of getting through the group. And I think they’ll take it.

However, Ecuador have been generating a bit of hype. It would also be quite the Cinderella story if they were to make a run in the wake of the Christian Benitez tragedy. They are keen to play for his memory and won’t go down without a fight. They’re also natives of South American soil.

France has been on a rollercoaster the last few years. They may be in a good place though, for this World Cup. I like their combination of players and the coach is focusing on team harmony. Samir Nasri wasn’t left off the squad for lack of talent. We’ll see how cohesive they are, but their sheer talent should carry them at least through the group stages, if not a little farther, barring any disasters.

Honduras don’t instill much fear, if you ask me. They’re about as menacing as their polo shirt uniforms with the big H on them. They look like a team of boys in a league among men. They could pull off an upset but I bet it’s three and done for them.

Prediction: I like France taking the group, with Switzerland just behind. But I could just as easily see Ecuador getting through.

 

Group F: Argentina (7), Bosnia-Herzegovina (25), Iran (37), Nigeria (44)

Here’s another of the weaker groups, aside from Argentina, who should run rampant over these Group F opponents. If Argentina make a deep run, don’t be surprised to see the Golden Boot winner come from among their ranks. They don’t only have Messi, but also Higuain, Di Maria, and Kun Aguero, to name a few. The goals will come easily and often in the group stage as they should run the table.

Bosnia-Herzegovina are an interesting story, as it’s their first World Cup as a young nation. Edin Dzeko is their stud striker and he’s quite the force up top. They’ll be fun to watch but perhaps Cup inexperience will bite them in the end. We’ll see.

Iran are this year’s only competitor from the Middle East, and they’ll look to improve on past runs to the big show. They do have some talent in their squad and will certainly favor this year’s draw. I don’t think they have enough to advance, but it wouldn’t be unthinkable.

Nigeria have a long history at the World Cup, and they’re almost always among the top of the list when it comes to African football. They have some younger players this year, with the experienced John Obi Mikel as their anchor in the midfield. He’ll have to lead this rambunctious group if they hope to advance. And I honestly like their chances if they can pull it together.

Prediction: Argentina takes 9 points fairly easily, and Nigeria take second, just ahead of BIH.

 

Group G: Germany (2), Portugal (3), Ghana (38), USA (14)

Here we have ourselves another deemed group of death, given the plethora of talent here. In the last World Cup every one of these teams progressed beyond the group stages, and yet two of them will go home right off the bat.

Germany are absolutely solid from top to bottom. Despite the tough group, it’s hard to see them not advancing, and even not taking first spot. From Neuer to Schweinsteiger to Ozil, they have a star-studded lineup.

Portugal are also a strong team, despite the media spotlight fixated on their star, Ronaldo. However, he will have to be in top form for his country if they want to escape the group round this time. Given the draw, there is no room to mess around, and one poor game could cost them.

Ghana are surprisingly low ranked given their performance in World Cups past. They have twice been the undoing of the USA squad and they could be again. Ghana start off against the USA and will look to get a win off the bat for any hopes of advancing. It won’t be easy for them to survive but it’s not entirely impossible. Anything can happen, right?

Speaking of which, the USA also hope anything can happen. With their steep uphill climb, they’ll also focus all their energy on winning their opening matchup against Ghana. Only then can they hope to oust Portugal or Germany. Jurgen Klinsmann apparently has a plan but we’ll see how it plays out. I personally don’t like their chances this year.

Prediction: Germany should take control of the group, and I think Portugal hold off the other two hopefuls.

 

Group H: Belgium (12), Algeria (25), Russia (18), Korea Republic (55)

And to finish it all off we’ve got another of the softer groups in my opinion. If anyone is able to make a deep run from this group, my money’s on Belgium, who have been pegged so popularly as the “Dark Horse” that they no longer qualify as such.

Belgium, at further examination, have a young but stellar team. It’s actually quite ridiculous how many stars they have. All of their starting 11 play on top squads in Europe, and most of them star on EPL teams. Lukaku will be relied upon heavily, especially in the absence of Benteke, but he’ll still have plenty of help from the likes of Hazard and Co. They should control this group.

Algeria have improved since their last World Cup appearance, and they will certainly aim to improve their performance. While three-and-done is the most likely scenario, they’ll be licking their chops at the draw they got.

Russia have been an inconsistent team of late, but under Italian Coach Capella it seems that they’ve settled the ship, so to speak. In qualifying they came out just above Portugal to avoid a playoff matchup. They will also like the draw they got, but they shouldn’t sleep on it. Belgium will probably beat them, so their other two games are hugely critical.

Korea Republic have some good players, but I don’t think they’re strong enough all around to make it through here. You never know what could happen, but I’m not convinced by the squad they’ve got.

Prediction: I like Belgium to win the group and I assume Russia will get the job done for second.

 

Round of 16:

Brazil defeats Netherlands

Spain trumps Mexico

Colombia squeaks by England

Italy shuts down Ivory Coast

France beats Nigeria

Argentina douses Switzerland

Germany cruises by Russia

Belgium eliminates Portugal

Notes: Brazil will beat whoever comes their way, be it the Netherlands or Chile. Spain likewise will take out Mexico or Croatia. Colombia have high hopes and England is a beatable matchup for them to advance. Italy shouldn’t have a problem here. France shouldn’t either, but who knows with them. Argentina, no sweat. Germany, no problem. Belgium vs. Portugal is one of the two sexier ties this round and I really like Belgium’s chances. They have more creativity, more youth, and an experienced back line. If they can shut down Ronaldo, they’ll win.

 

Quarterfinals:

Brazil beats Colombia

Italy finally overcomes Spain

Argentina beats Belgium

Germany takes out France

Notes: Brazil will continue their run in front of their home crowd. And that leads me to my bold pick for this World Cup. I think that Italy will finally best Spain in a major tournament. Lately they’ve played each other twice, once in the EURO Finals and once in the Confederations Cup. Third time’s the charm for a stacked Italy squad against Spain’s aging midfield and beatable defense. I’m calling an Azuri upset of La Furia Roja! Argentina should beat Belgium here, but I’ll be rooting for Belgium to push through. And then Germany shouldn’t fall to the likes of France.

 

Semifinals:

Germany snuffs Brazil

Italy oust Argentina

Notes: I think of all the teams in the 2014 World Cup, Germany is the one who can snuff the Samba spirit of Brazil. They’re just too good, and Brazil has more question marks than the Germans do. In the other semifinal, Italy will continue their dream run by shutting down Argentina’s star attackers. Point for point, this matchup favors the Italians.

 

Third Place:

Brazil will go out with a win in front of their home crowd by besting Argentina in a battle of South American rivals. Brazil are just deeper, and too proud to lose again in front of their fans.

 

World Cup Final!

Germany outlasts Italy to become champions once again. To me, Germany has the right mix of speed and strength, youth and experience, passion and poise. While Italy look like strong foes, ultimately they’ll be cut off by Germany. It will be a sad exit for Andrea Pirlo, but the future looks bright for Italy.

 

The World Cup of Kits:
As I said earlier, I was even checking out all of the kits that each country will sport at some point during this World Cup tournament, and here are my conclusions…

1. First place goes to Nike for some absolutely sick designs, i.e. France, Netherlands, Korea, Brazil, Croatia, and even the USA. They do have a few lazy designs as well: England, Greece, Australia, etc, but they look clean at least.

2. Second place goes to Adidas simply because of what they did for Germany’s two kits and Argentina’s away kit. But, they also made some horrific choices, i.e. the barf on the back of Japan’s jerseys, and the 90’s trip on Russia’s jersey. What happened there?

–> Insert random companies here for countries that couldn’t afford Nike, Adidas, etc. (even Honduras’ polo T’s), plus an honorable mention for Belgium’s jerseys, made by Burrda. That black kit is legit.

F minus….  Very last place goes to Puma for the laziest, most terrible jerseys ever. I mean, come on. From Italy to Uruguay, from Chile to Ghana (the list goes on), they’re basically plain shirts with maybe one stripe on them. They didn’t even put the stars above the crests of Italy or Uruguay signifying World Cup victories. Sheer disappointment for everyone who has a Puma contract!

 

Final Thoughts:

This 2014 World Cup should be an incredible one, with lots of huge matchups early on, and many teams going home earlier than they should. Hopefully there will be an upset or two to make things interesting. I’d love to see my USA boys do the unthinkable and make it through. I’d also like to see an Asian or African team upset some European power. Hopefully one of the dark horses will make a deep run, like Belgium or Chile. And hopefully it will be a beautiful tournament, unmarred by scandals, referee shenanigans, or stupid red cards. Anything can happen this year, as always, and it will be a joy to watch such high-class football every day for a whole month. As you may have noticed, I can’t wait for it to start!

HIGH

Two months out from a big race and I decide to go for a training run. I get ready, mentally and physically, plug into my running playlist and take off. There’s a route I like that heads toward the highway and crosses over into a peaceful countryside. It’s sometimes louder, colder and windier, but to me it far outweighs being chased by dogs in the town center. So, I cross the bridge over the highway and get a glimpse of the trail ahead, beaten down on by warm rays of sunshine. It’s a welcome sight after a few days of rain kept me from heading out. I round the corner fronting the fields and run parallel to the highway, looking not towards the sporadic passing of trucks but towards the country, and towards the sky. In this moment I see the clouds part and the sun burst through in a way I haven’t seen in some time. People say not to look at the sun, but I can’t refuse. It’s as if the heavens are opening up. The warmth that’s beating on my chest and face is indescribable, and I’m filled with an overflowing peace and joy. An infectious wellspring explodes within me and I begin to rejoice as I run. I’m literally pointing to the skies and jumping, leaping and fist pumping. It’s as if I’m celebrating a goal at the World Cup; a goal that I’ve scored. That’s the kind of elation that I’m feeling. There exists this thing that people call a “running high,” a sort of euphoria experienced by distance runners when they reach this point of pure bliss and feel an extra jolt of energy. There also exists this thing that people call a “spiritual high.” This high refers to a place of spiritual satisfaction, peace, understanding and joy, often brought upon by retreat, meditation, or witnessing some miracle or conversion. And while this was likely somewhat a combination of the two, it was certainly more of the latter. I was high on running, on life, and on the Spirit. As the skies parted before me I witnessed a coming of light that I’d never seen before except in my soul. In my own heart, soul and spirit I’ve experienced bursts like this before, but this time it was different. It coincided with an explosion of light before my own eyes. The way the light refracted through the clouds amplified it in a way that made it otherworldly. I literally felt as if God was beaming down on me, lifting my spirit, warming my soul. He was cracking through the skies like a beacon, sweeping aside the darkness of this world as dust is taken by the wind. And there I was, leaping and rejoicing along the side of the highway, celebrating the grace that He pours down on us. I felt energized and relaxed at the same time. Despite the fact that I was salted with sweat, I felt cleansed. The joy that came over me was pure. The way my soul was renewed was breathtaking. And all that I felt was directly from God. As I continued running I dwelt on that moment, even as the clouds rolled back over the sun. That moment, that sunburst, that high, lingered in my soul, beneath my breast. And it still does some two days later. I’m consistently reminded and blown away by the mercy of our God, the way He renews us and cleanses us, the way He provides and cares for us. But above all, I’m flat out astounded at the way He loves us. Whether it’s apparent or not, I’ve spent days trying to formulate the words to describe this experience, and I’m still struggling to find them. Words aren’t sufficient; they fall short. And they will always fall short when we attempt to use them to describe our God, our Creator, our Savior, our Redeemer. I’m still blown away by this moment that I was gifted, but there is one thing that saddens me. The more I think about it the more I realize that God deserves that celebration, that jubilation, at all times. We should be on fire for Him, incapable of keeping His magnificence to ourselves. But it’s more often the opposite. We struggle to motivate ourselves. We lack the boldness, the gall, the strength, to step up and say something. Being loved and saved by the Creator of the universe deserves a celebration and euphoria far beyond that of a World Cup goal, or any other petty thing that we rave over. But we get things mixed up. Our priorities are wrong. We’ve got it all backwards. We give God ten percent and the world the rest. In reality, we should give God all that we’ve got. He deserves more than our lives are even worth. But instead He comes down to earth. He descends from on High, and dwells among us. Then, to top it all off, He dies in our place. We have life because He loves us to the grave. We have breath in our lungs and hope in our hearts because that grave cannot hold Him. Death cannot hold Him. He is greater. He is far greater. And now He’s exalted on High, at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and His Spirit dwells within us. In moments that are all too rare, we take notice of what this Spirit within us is saying. In moments like the one I experienced on my run, we realize that we have things backwards. So, I will continue to rejoice. I will continue to skip and jump and pound my chest and pump my fist and exalt the One who deserves all praise, the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. Rejoice. I will say it again: Rejoice!