Pebbles…

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Walking around Antigua I’ll sometimes get a pebble in my shoe. Now I’m an engineer and I still don’t quite understand how this happens. My foot is constantly moving forward and somehow a pebble is dislodged from the ground and is required to move up and in the same direction as my foot and at a greater velocity in order to catch up with my shoe to enter it at the precise moment and at the precise location! It defies logic…but I digress…

Somehow and for some reason…I often get a pebble in my shoe. Once it enters my shoe, I immediately know it. I know precisely where it is and what part of my foot is now being subjected to the mild discomfort of the unwelcomed intruder. But the funny thing is…I’ll rarely stop my walk and take my shoe off and remove it! I’ll just keep walking…and thinking about the growing discomfort in my shoe. I’ll even shake my foot in hopes of moving the pebble to a different location within my shoe. Sometimes, that actually works…at least for a period of time. Then for whatever reason, the pebble reemerges from its hiding place and begins once again to make my walk less enjoyable.

Why do I write about something so trivial?

Well, because I believe that unforgiveness is much like that pebble. We all go through life…minding our own business and then…bam! That unforgiveness pebble has now entered our life. We never saw it coming and we never wanted it…it is truly an unwelcomed guest in our lives. However, like me…very few of us stop and deal with it. We just continue on with our lives and every now and then we will shake ourselves in hopes of allowing the unforgiveness to go into hiding…but like the pebble…it’s only temporary. It will reemerge and it will ultimately wear a very painful blister on our soul.

So why don’t we just stop? Why don’t we just pause our life and deal with those situations, people, and circumstances in our lives that have hurt us and if ignored…will ultimately cause us so much pain? My guess is that like me…we just want to keep moving. We mistakenly think that if we just keep walking…the pebble will miraculously find its way out of our shoe and our life…much the same way it miraculously found its way into our shoe and our life! But that rarely (if ever) happens. The net result is always the same…our walk through life is hampered… and all we receive is nothing more than a painful blister.

So how about we all just take a moment out of our lives, let’s just sit down and take off our shoes and shake them out anyway. We never know what may fall out. Then we can put them back on and get on with enjoying our walk.

What I’ve learned from a year in Guatemala…

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I can’t believe I’ve been living in Guatemala for exactly one year already!

My initial plan (ha, ha, ha) was to come down for 6 months, learn the language and then go back.  Well…sometimes plans change…and I’m still learning the language.  But I’m also learning some things that I never anticipated…and that is what I would like to share in this post.

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We are all familiar with this children’s song, but I also believe it is a way the Guatemalans live their life…

  1. Row, row, row.  Guatemalans are extremely hard workers.  Like a woman I met at the Guatemala City dump said, “if I don’t work, I don’t eat.”
  2. They row “their” boat.  They are not worried about what other people are doing.
  3. They row it “gently.”  Guatemalans don’t make a big fuss about much.
  4. They row it “down the stream.”  They pretty much go with the flow…literally.
  5. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.  Guatemalans love their friends, they love their family and make it a priority over just about anything else.
  6. Life is but a dream.  They pretty much appreciate life for what it is…a one time shot..and they make the most out of each day…usually smiling.

Not a bad philosophy…don’t you think?

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I think in many interactions, there is a split second of tension when we see a new person.  Our brains begin making assessments and judgments  about them like, “Do I like this person?  Do I trust this person?  Am I safe?   What do they think of me?”

All these questions race through my mind as I meet or pass a new person each day.   However, what I have found is if I am the first one to engage them…and I do it in a nice and friendly way…I get a nice and friendly response in every case.

It’s like they are catching the ball that I pitch.

I may not be able to control every interaction, but by being the first to throw out the pitch that I want…it certainly increases the chances that I’ll get a favorable response in return.

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Here in Antigua, each day there is a sunny side of the street and a shady side of the street.   Also each day, I see many Americans walking on the sunny side of the street, shielding their faces from the intense sun and complaining how hot it is.  While at the exact same time, all the Guatemalans are contently walking in the cool of the shade.

We all get up each morning and we have a choice.   Are we going to make it a good day, or not.  That is our first decision and that simple decision then becomes the filter that we experience that day through.

Regardless of what is going on in our lives, we all have a choice in how we are going to view it…  Choose the shade!

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Sometimes I come home after a workout or a hard day and I’m all hot and sweaty.  I am anxiously looking forward to that refreshing shower and clean clothes.  Then, when I turn on the water…I get that horrible gurgling sound…and no water.

It’s in these moments I have a choice…get all upset over something I can’t control…or live with what is.   I have learned to live in what is and in those times, these Huggies wipes are the best solution to my immediate problem.

Such is life.  We can choose to get upset when things don’t work out…or we can accept what is and move on…

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I pass many Americans on the streets here every day.   I have to say, most of them seem to be miserable and disconnected from the rest of the world.  Whether they are looking at their phones or not making any eye contact as they pass…the vibe is always the same…I am invisible and not important.

While Guatemalans may be reserved, a brief “Bueno Dias” will always produce a smile and a “Bueno Dias” in return.  Even when I pass a group that is talking among themselves, they always return my greeting and smile.

I have realized that I love exchanging eye contact and greetings so much that I rarely wear sunglasses!   I want them to see me “connect” with them…unlike many Americans, they may have passed that day.

The end result is,  I am energized by them and although I may not know them personally…I feel connected to them.

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I learned this phrase from Oscar.   Many times I would wait to start something until I had all the information or answers.   Oscar would always remind me to just get going and then when new information became available, all I would need to do is adjust.

Brilliant advice and advice that works.   Many of us never start down the road of our dreams and desires, waiting for conditions to be different or perfect.  That rarely happens and by not starting…we may never arrive.

Adjust the load on the road…get going and figure the rest out as it comes!

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We bring many teams of volunteers down to Guatemala and the question that I hear the most is, “So, what are we going to do next?”

The reason this question drives me crazy is that they are missing the value of the present moment.   They are always wondering what’s next and ignoring the lessons and the experiences of the things they are currently doing or the people they are with.  It’s always…next.

Even after I tell them what we are doing next…it just opens the door to more questions.

Guatemalans don’t do that.  They just live in the moment they are in…relaxed, happy and content.

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This goes back to choices.   Do you intentionally control what you allow your mind to think about or focus on?   Have you ever had the experience of searching for something you really wanted and after finding it…you see it everywhere?

We only have so many waking hours in the day and in those hours, we can focus on things that bring us life and energy…or rob us of life and energy.   It’s our choice.  We choose what goes in our mind.

I like to look for things in my day to day life that look like a cross.   I have compiled a folder of crosses that I have seen over time and the mere fact that I’m looking for them in my world…makes me happy.

The Bible reminds us, “seek and you shall find.”   Whatever I’m consciously (or subconsciously) looking for in life…I’ll find it.  I have learned to look for the good…and I have learned to look for God…everywhere and in everyone.

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One day while Don Juan and I were building a stove, I looked up at this clothesline.  There were no clothespins holding up the clothes!   Just two cords wrapped around each other and the clothing pulled in between the two.   How cool!

Then, I started thinking about how in life, the same is also true.   Two people working together can do more than each can do individually.   I started thinking about how the Guatemalans value each other and they spend time with each other.

Family and friendships, relationships of all types are valued above just about everything else here.  Being independent or “on your own” is not something they celebrate…because life is better with others…it just is.

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I don’t think I could have learned much of what I learned about myself without traveling.  Placing myself in a new country and in new environments allows me to look back on my thoughts and beliefs and see them differently…with more clarity.

Basically, I never questioned why I believed what I believed or did what I did…until I couldn’t do it anymore.  I had to get away from it…to see it.

I think this is a valuable lesson.   Sometimes we all need a little space and time to see our situation with more clarity and honesty.   I can’t think of too much in my life that demands an immediate response from me and by creating some space for me to look at the situation from afar…I tend to see more…

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I think that regardless of what we all do…one thing is certain…we are all in the “people business.”   And there is one thing about being in the “people business”…it’s usually messy!

Most times, people have conflicting wants, needs, viewpoints and past experiences that make them do what they do.   But we also have an opportunity to make our own impression on them.

A lasting impression…and that is our opportunity…and our choice.

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I think the toughest question I’ve ever asked myself is, “Am I living the life God created me to live?”  I asked this question of myself several years ago.   At that time, I believe I was a different person.   I was pretty much unhappy with my career, I was running from a life that I felt God was calling me into,  I was pretty much self-centered and I didn’t like kids…I thought they were “little germ carriers.”   Yep, I was a “great guy.”

However, I finally quit running.   I finally turned my life over to God and got in the game.   Pastor Andy Stanley says, “When you give your life over to Christ…your future is now His problem.”   I could not agree more…

What I didn’t expect was what my future would look like and where it would take me.  What I also didn’t expect were the changes that He would make in my heart and in the way I live.

Living in Guatemala was something I would have never guessed would happen in my life.  But over the past year, I think I’ve laughed and smiled more than I had done for my entire life beforehand.   I’ve been changed from the inside and I know it.   I think God has made a better me than the one I spent my life trying to make…and all I did was to “get in the game.”

So as I look back on the past year…I think this final photo pretty much sums it up.  This little girl lives in Guatemala City dump…and I love her…

So much for being a “little germ carrier.”

 

Being lost vs. Feeling lost

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I spent last weekend with Oscar, Amy and Diego at their home in the mountains of Las Anonas, Guatemala. Their home is located within a beautiful compound and just behind their home are beautiful mountains, trees, and fields.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday, Diego and I decided to hike in the mountains behind their home. He had done it many times and called it a “small walk.” So we took off on a “small walk.” We climbed over and under several barbed wire fences and eventually found ourselves in the most beautiful pasture land and rolling hills that I have seen.

As we took a moment to take in the beautiful scenery, he pointed out to me where he had previously hiked. He pointed up to a mountain where there happened to be smoke about two-thirds of the way up the mountain and he said that once he had almost climbed that high. So we headed off in that direction.

Now the terrain was a mix of trees, open pasture and then a large section of brush. We hiked up navigating over dry stream beds, climbed over rocks, and danced around all types of thorned bushes. But through it all…it was straight up…like steep up!

Both of us realized just how bad we were out of shape as our hearts raced and we were gasping for our next breath. All the while continuing up and continuing to push our way through brush, thorns, and no visible path.

We finally reached a point to where Diego said, “Wow, I’ve never been up this far before!” So we took a moment to take in the view and then tried to decide our next move.

  1. Do we go down the same way we came up?  That answer was no.  We were not going to forge our way through all of that brush again.
  2. Do we make our way to the treeline and hope we can go down with less effort?  We tried that and were soon faced with a large deep washout that was surrounded by brush.
  3. Do we continue to go up and then try to find a road or another way down?  That sounded like a plan and so we continued up.

We finally reached and open field on the side of the mountain where people were working the soil planting corn. This is where the smoke was coming from that we had seen from the bottom of the mountain. We continued up to the top of the mountain. The view was spectacular, but it also proved to us that we were very far from where we had begun our hike.

We took a moment to consult Google Maps to get a look at where we were and the easiest way to get “home.” The sun was beginning to set behind the mountain, and soon it would be getting dark. I began to feel the tightening in my chest of the oncoming of some anxiety as I realized that our options to get home before dark were going to be limited to:

  1. Going back the way we came. Yuk.
  2. Hiking towards another mountain, thinking we would hit a road that would then take us back to Las Anonas.

I stood on top of this mountain and just looked at my options…none of them felt right. Then I did something random and completely by mistake…I walked about 10 feet to another area on the mountain…

What I saw in this new location was a clearing that led down the mountain to a treeline that would take us in the right direction…towards home. So that’s what we did. We took that path.

The clearing was an easy downhill walk to the treeline. I picked up a beautiful trail under the trees that led us down the mountain and dumped us back into the pasture where we had started our uphill climb.

10 feet…I just moved 10 feet…and everything changed.

I thought about the “life lesson” I experienced on this hike. Sometimes we find ourselves in a “proverbial pickle.” A situation that seems hopeless or filled with anxiety and risk. Our options at this point may seem limited. But what I learned to do was to change my perspective. Do something. Not big or drastic. Just do something I haven’t done yet…like walk 10 feet to get a new perspective.

How this might look in real life could be doing things like taking a drive, going a new way to work, getting up an hour earlier, journaling, working out, calling an old friend, taking a class…something…anything new and different.

We all get lost from time to time…but we don’t have to feel lost. We have a way home, and we may simply need to move a mere 10 feet to see it.

Trash to Treasure…

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Last week I was able to spend the day at the Guatemala City dump.  I had read about this area several years ago, and as bad as it seemed…I was anxious and excited to finally get to check it out.

This is one of the largest dumps in Central America and extends over an area equal to 22 football fields.  They receive over 200 tons of garbage each day.   It is surrounded by families that for generations have made their livelihood sorting through the trash to salvage and re-purpose anything they could find.   In one area we visited there were 200 small corrugated metal homes all packed together, and we were told that 800 families lived in that area!   Four families per home!

Our host for the day was an organization called Potters House.   They have done an incredible job over the years investing in and providing for the people in this area.   One of their precepts that I found interesting was what they called “The Eight forms of Poverty.”   Like many, when someone referred to poverty, I immediately thought of a lack of food.   However, they have identified eight other forms.

In order of importance they are:

  1. Spiritual Poverty – Lack of a relationship with God.
  2. Intellectual Poverty – Lack of access to knowledge or the presence of distorted knowledge.
  3. Poverty of Affection – Lack of love or having inappropriate feelings.
  4. Poverty of the Will – Lack of self-control.
  5. Physical Poverty – Lack of health.
  6. Poverty of a Support Network – Lack of a close family or community support.
  7. Poverty of Civic Involvement – Lack of interest or participation in community matters.
  8. Economic Poverty – Lack of financial resources.

We visited several homes of people that live in the dump and it was as you might imagine…difficult.  One man we visited made t-shirts.  They looked great!  Just like something I would buy in a store!  They even had a tag on them.

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However, the most impressive thing I saw was the jewelry.   The women take magazines or posters and cut them up and roll them in glue to make beautiful beads that they then turn into all types of jewelry.   Absolutely amazing and beautiful!   The women we met were actually on deadline to make jewelry for a large retail store!   As we walked around, we began to notice just how organized it was.   There were men that were sorting and stacking cardboard.  There were men that were banding together plastic bags.  There was a woman that was pulling a cart that was filled with scrap wood.   She looked at us with a smile and simply said,“ If I don’t work…I don’t eat!”   

We were also taken to a building that provides nutritious meals for the children of the dump each day.   They even made lunch for us!   Now, this was something I wasn’t initially looking forward to…me…“Mr. Sensitive Stomach”… eating at a dump.   However, the lunch they made for us and the children consisted of chicken, beans, tortillas and potato soup…and jello!   It was actually the best meal I had all week!  We ate and then the children from the dump began to file in.   They were organized by ages, and all sat at corresponding tables.   We then were allowed to go to the kitchen and grab the lunch trays and serve them.   How cool that was?   We served several hundred children from the ages of 5 to 12.   Then, after they ate, we got to sit with them and just talk.   AJ7D4043

The Potters House also provides schooling for the kids as well as a psychologist that meets with each one of them as needed.   It was amazing to see the smiles of these children.  I sat with the psychologist and asked her about what she has typically seen as problems within the community.   She said that most were family problems.  I also asked her about how the children’s self-esteem is affected by the reality of where they live.  She said that the younger children don’t see living in the dump as a problem, but as they grow older, they begin to realize their environment.  Her job (as well as Potters House) is to transform their thinking about themselves.   They work with them over time so that they stop viewing themselves as “trash” and begin to see themselves as God sees them…a “treasure.”   This is not just a “slogan” either.   Each time someone from Potters House refers to a person in that community, they refer to them as one of their “treasures.”

Finally, I asked the Potters House if they knew of any environments that were worse than the dump.  They all agreed that living in the dump provides the people with a strong community, friends and regardless of the conditions…it’s home to them.   The areas they felt were worse were the rural areas where there is a limited opportunity or community.   Ironically, these are the areas where Hope Ignited has been working!   Wow.   Worse than the dump…and after thinking about it…I agree!

All in all…it was a wonderful learning experience for me.  I take my hat off to organizations like Potters House.  We finished up the day by actually hosting a business training clinic for about 50 micro-entrepreneurs that live in and around the dump.   We taught basic business skills, ethics, money management and customer service skills.  It was well received and at the end of the day…so were we.

I actually hated to leave…

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Filling in the blanks…

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Well…I’ve been in Antigua now for one month living “on my own.” I’ve got to say that the month has been “different”…not bad…not great…but just different. So for this months blog…I’m just going to highlight some of the things that I’ve noticed in the month I’ve been here.

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I love my apartment…let me just get that out of the way. However…there are some nuances that make it different.

  1. The downstairs bathroom requires me to walk down under a staircase. The ceiling height is only about 5’5″…so I have to crouch a lot.
  2. The kitchen has only 2 burners on the stove, so I have to really think through what I’m going to cook. One pot meals rock!
  3. Mirrors. All the mirrors in the house are set at about 5’0″… hence, more crouching.
  4. Spare bedroom. The windows are sliding windows. Nothing is square, so there are gaps through the windows I can stick my fingers through to the outside.
  5. Bathroom. The shower is awesome, but water runs all around the tub and leaks on to the floor. The maintenance man tried to fix that by putting a lump of silicone caulk at one end…needless to say…it’s something that needs some attention.
  6. Laundry. There is no washer or dryer, so I run my clothes down to a hostel down the road. They do a great job  and it costs about $0.65 per pound.
  7. Noise. OMG! It’s noisy here! I’m on a road that leads into Antigua from the south. The weekends are non-stop traffic and with my window situation…I sleep with earplugs. There is also a B & B next door to my place. Every morning at 6:30am a van pulls up and honks the horn to pick up people to take to the airport or wherever. He doesn’t just honk once or twice either! Finally, my place seems like a meeting place for the locals. They love to congregate and talk at all hours of the day and especially night.
  8. Access. The good thing is, my place is secure with cameras and a locked fence that I must enter to park my car. The bad part is, I have to get out and unlock the gate, get back in my car, pull in, get out of my car, lock the gate, get in my car and park and then get out of my car and go into my apartment. I look at it as my cardio workout for the day!

Antigua.

  1. Beautiful. Antigua is a beautiful colonial city. It is absolutely beautiful and a must see destination for anyone coming to Guatemala. There is a downside to that statement as well…they do. The city is filled with tourists from all over the world and during the weekends, the city comes alive with people coming from Guatemala City as well. So for the past month, I’ve chosen to stay close to home on the weekends and leave the city to the tourists.
  2. Cool Shopping. One of the great things about being here is the throwback to days gone by in terms of shopping. For instance, there is a guy that stops his truck in front of my house every single night and screams. I never knew what he was screaming until I finally went out to investigate. He is selling fresh baked bread…every night! Every morning there is another guy that comes around with raw milk…straight from the cow! There is another guy that comes around in a pickup truck that is loaded with vegetables. Then down the street, there is a place that places a red flag outside of their store. That red flag indicates that fresh meat is for sale. It’s wild! It takes a lot of planning and forethought…but what is available here is amazing! Carrots are as big around as the end of a baseball bat. Freaky!
  3. People. I love the people here. I’ve said that before, but they are the most wonderful people ever. They look at you in the eye when you pass them on the street and are quick to respond with a greeting if you extend one first. Here in Antigua, many people ignore the locals and I find that horrible, so when I engage them…they light up and I’ve gained an instant friend!
  4. Surrounding villages. I’ve ventured outside of Antigua and am amazed at the need so close to this international city. My favorite village so far is called Santa Maria de Jesus. It’s located just south of Antigua and sits way above Antigua and at the base of the volcano Agua. The streets are narrow and cars in the village are few. The streets are filled with people, horses and donkeys carrying everything from sugar cane to firewood. It’s amazing and it reminds me of what the area must have looked like 100 years ago. I’ll be spending some time here!
  5. Social. I’ve met some great people over the past month. Some are retired expats that have come to Guatemala to spend their retirement. Some of the people I’ve met are international 20 or 30 somethings that are traveling the world without a plan or a care in the world. I’ve also met some people that are doing great things in and around Antigua. We share our love for people and our desire to help where needed. I’m hopeful that these are the seeds that will take root. Believe me…this is fertile ground!
  6. Day to Day. I rarely drive here unless I’m going out into other cities or villages. So if I’m going to stay in Antigua, I walk. That has been a great form of exercise. Cobblestone streets and sidewalks that are anything but ADA compliant abound! I usually walk about 3 to 5 miles each day. I plan my day of meetings and to do lists and load up my backpack with everything I might need for the day…then head out. I return home around dusk with a backpack full of either groceries or supplies or a computer full of notes, contacts and follow ups.

All in all…I have to say that I love it here. I’ve changed…and I know it. I’m much more tolerant and much more patient than I ever have been. Guatemala has been good for me.

The first month of being on my own has been a wonderful time for me to settle and to listen to what God might have in store for me. It’s not totally clear…and I don’t expect it to be…I just know that I’m where I’m supposed to be…doing what I’m supposed to be doing…and that is good enough for me.

Unrealized Dreams

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As I write this, I am sitting in Costa Rica on a mandatory “visa run” as they call it. I have to leave Guatemala every three months until I can apply for and get my work visa.

Anyway, learned a very important lesson yesterday that I only realized today as I wrote in my journal. The owner of the hotel told me about a hike that I should take where you walk up to an abandoned restaurant that was started and never completed and overlooks the entire coast and Jaco Beach. The hike would require me to walk about 5 miles from the hotel before I even reached the base of the trail. I had nothing but time…and decided to give it a try.

I left the hotel yesterday about 8:30am and headed down the hill to the main road that would lead me into the north side of Jaco Beach. I then turned south and continued through the center of town, walking by shops selling all types of souvenirs and restaurants selling every type of food imaginable. Continuing south I passed all types of tourists, locals and surfer types.

By 10:30am I was at the base of the trail where I inquired of two young women that appeared to be in their 20’s, with two (very loud) three-year old children, if I was on the right trail. One of the girls said, “Sí, arriba!” So, I began to “arriba” up the trail.

The climb was a winding dirt road through a relatively dense amount of trees and foliage. I had been told I might see white-faced monkeys on the trail, so I was on the lookout for movement and sound of any type. The road kept going up and I came to a vista that offered me my first view of the Costa Rican coastline and Jaco Beach. Beautiful. Several more people soon arrived and not long afterwards the two girls with the noisy kids passed and shouted to me, “keep going…there is more to see!” (Hold that thought…)

I responded I would and I let them get ahead of me on the trail before I continued up. I continued the ever-winding uphill climb, eyes peeled for monkeys, lizards, lions, tigers, bears or dinosaurs of any type…nothing.

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Finally the “up” gave way to a small path that led off the main path and deeper into the jungle. The remains of a concrete sidewalk with a beautiful Roman style balustrade railing made of concrete led me deeper into the jungle. About 100 yards into the jungle, the path open up to an expansive multi-level structure of tile floor and concrete columns and archways that all worked together to frame the view of the Costa Rican coastline and Jaco Beach. It was stunning…the view at least.

I didn’t think much about it then, but today as I reflected on it…I was greatly saddened by remembering my walk down that path and ultimately viewing the beginning of someone’s unrealized vision. I hope I never have to walk down such a path again…but I know I will. It’s heartbreaking.

Years ago someone had a vision to create a beautiful mountainside restaurant and for whatever reason…the obstacles they encountered proved overpowering and they abandoned their project and vision. What remained was overgrown, in disrepair and had been taken over by “self proclaimed graffiti artists”, in essence…it was ugly.

Today I thought about it and I think the same thing happens to all unrealized dreams…once abandoned…they no longer retain the brilliance of hope and the luster of possibility. Without constant monitoring and upkeep, they become ugly with regret and and the roots of personal failure begin to take over.

It was a powerful lesson and one that empowers me to continue to try to bring the light of hope to the people I meet. There is power and life in hope, vision and dreams and unfortunately there is also the opposite once that light goes out…and I don’t want that to happen to anyone.

The path to our dreams is ALWAYS an uphill hike. It is ALWAYS going to be tough…“but keep going…there is (ALWAY) more to see”and the ultimate view is spectacular.

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UPDATE:

I’ve since learned that the reason the project was abandoned was because the owner passed away.   This reinforces another very important aspect of not only creating a vision, but sustaining that vision.   Part of good leadership is planting your vision in the mind and hearts of others, so that they too can participate in helping to make your vision a reality.   Politicians do it, military leaders do it and so do all great leaders.   You must GROW your vision in others!

Clearly, this important step was omitted in this particular case…and the results speak for themselves…tragic.

Don’t let it happen to you!

Two are better than one…

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The other day as we were building a stove for Doña Teresa, the tortilla lady, I happened to notice her clothes line. Like many, the line was full of freshly washed clothing, but what I noticed was there were no clothes pins like what I’m used to seeing on a clothes line in the U.S. In this case, the clothesline was simply two cords that were wrapped around each other. The clothing was simply stuck between the two and supported by the tension of they exerted to suspend the load…ingenious!

Then I started thinking about other things that work better when two things are working together. Certainly marriage and other relationships work best when the two individuals are working together and sharing the load. Also companies and employees, parents and children, and all other groups of people work best when they are each pulling their own share of the weight.

As the clothesline demonstrated…there is not much need for anything else…just the two individuals, wrapped tightly in relationship, each pulling their own share of the weight.

Amazing what I learn from laundry…

I get it…finally…

Today we started another round of stove building for many of the families here in Las Anonas, Guatemala.  Today, we started Berta Victor’s stove.  She has two children, Oscar and Jacqueline.  They are about 8 and 6 years old respectively if I were to guess.  She lives in a home of corrugated metal scraps, a dirt floor, outdoor bathroom, limited electricity all of which are pretty normal here.

Here is the photo of her “before” kitchen photo.

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I love doing this for many reasons.  First of all, it allows me to stay for an extended period in their home.  This allows me to get to know them and vice versa.   I get to know their children, and they quickly become my friends, my helpers and my shadow!

Also, I love working with Don Juan.  We still have a large language gap between us, but we still manage just fine as we make jokes, laugh and learn from each other.   I also love watching how the women go about their day.   Not to sound “creepy” or anything, I learn so much by observing how difficult it is for them to live.   They leave each morning with their small children and a machete and they trek off into the woods to cut the days supply of firewood.  Then they return home and begin to prepare meals.   This usually involves starting a fire and boiling beans.   Then comes time to do dishes and or laundry.  It’s done outside using a concrete scrub board (pila), and they scrub!   The water runs out on the ground, where the chickens or the ducks enjoy the refreshment.

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Today, I loved showing Don Juan many of the new tools that we were able to get by many generous donations.  He was overjoyed!   No more tape measures we can’t read, squares that aren’t square or levels that aren’t level.   But I think the best thing was a headlamp that I bought him.   We often work in very dark places and Don Juan honestly, just can’t see!   I often had to use my phone and just hold it while he worked.   But today, was different.  After I had shown him how to use the headlamp, I demonstrated how he could adjust the light to shine of exactly where he was working, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him happier!

The other thing I loved about today were the kids.   Oscar and Jacqueline were my constant companions.   Jacqueline made fun of me most of the day because of my Spanish.   I know I use the wrong tenses, I don’t conjugate my verbs correctly, and I probably sound to her like an infant…but that’s ok because she laughs at me!

Oscar, on the other hand, was seriously into what we were doing.  He worked as hard as we did by cleaning tools, stacking, soaking bricks and just watching every move we made.  At one point I was cutting bricks with a grinder, and he was so close to me our heads were touching.   I had my safety glasses on, and I gave a pair to Oscar to wear as well.   He loved it.   After each brick I would cut, he would grab the scrap and take it inside his house.

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However, the best part of today was at the end of the workday.   We had mixed a little more concrete than we needed, so Don Juan told me to use it to fill a small dip in the dirt that led into their new cooking area.   So, I prepared the concrete, dumped it and before I could do anything else, little Oscar had grabbed a concrete hand float and was troweling the concrete to a beautiful finish!  I was amazed and incredibly proud of him at the same time.

But I was also humbled…

Oscar demonstrated to me what the essence of this stove building ministry SHOULD be about.   It shouldn’t be about Bob getting to know and experience the daily life of Guatemalans.  It should be about providing opportunities for Guatemalans to better their life!   That could come in many forms.  It could come from:

  1.  Providing a stove that eliminates smoke as they cook.
  2. Providing a way to burn the wood they collect 66% more efficiently.
  3. Providing jobs for masons, like Don Juan.
  4. Providing training, hope and igniting the flame of future possibilities in young men like little Oscar.

This ministry is not about Bob.   It’s about Bob teeing up an opportunity, getting the right people in place and then getting out of the way.  That’s the model that will work…

I get it…finally…

Back to School…

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I became aware of something over the past couple of days that warranted some attention.

School starts here in Guatemala in January (this Monday) and goes until October. So all of the “back to school” shopping is in full swing. Each student that is attending public school is given a “list” of school supplies that they are required to purchase in order to attend classes. Now this “list” is FAR more extensive than anything I have ever heard of. It is very specific, and includes among other things several notebooks of varying page count, graphs, blank pages, there is also glue, T-squares, compass, colored pencils, all types of construction paper, scissors, rulers, erasers, different colored pens, crayons and the list goes on and on! They even are required to provide TOILET TISSUE AND CLEANING SUPPLIES for the school!

All of these items are not a big deal by themselves. However, when a family has several children and all of the children have the same type of requirements in addition to the purchase of school uniforms, school clothing and money for registration and lunch each day (if there is any money left over…). The financial burden on the family is overwhelming. As a result…much to my surprise…parents elect not to send their children to school! They just can’t afford it!

Well, this is not acceptable. Especially, when the children LOVE SCHOOL and are excelling. I became aware of 8 children that were not going to be able to attend school because they couldn’t afford the school supplies. Each of the children love school and last year’s report cards reflected their love of learning as well. Each of the children had scores of 90 and above (on a 100 point scale).

So today…Amy and I went to WalMart. We had each child’s required list and we fulfilled each item. We had a basket full of school supplies and tomorrow, we will surprise each of the 8 children with a bag full of supplies just in time for the first day oIMG_2625f school.

I’ve spent money on many things…but today…the smile on my face as I checked out was just a little brighter than usual.

It was a good day…

Where is your focus?

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I love having conversations.

It doesn’t matter with whom I’m speaking as long as at the end of the conversation…I feel better than I did when I started. Also, regarding “having a conversation”, I’m not referring to the “mindless chatter” that we all engage in every day. I’m talking about face to face, no cell phones, no time limit, no disruption types of conversations. It’s also a bonus if it includes an ice-cold beer or a great glass of wine!

However, what I’ve discovered is that these types of conversations are happening less and less. I hate to say it…but they are about as rare as an Indian head nickel.

Why is that?

I believe one of the reasons has to do with the distractions of the cell phone. I hate competing with a cell phone…and I usually lose that battle. It seems that the person on the other end of that electronic device is more important than me and as a result, I simply “flip the switch” in my mind and acquiesce the attention.

But I think the other reason “good conversations” are so rare is because what we choose to discuss. I believe there are three areas where our conversations tend to focus…the past, the present or the future.

Conversations that are primarily about past events are called, “rear view mirror” conversations. They are focused on what someone did, or what happened. I dislike these for several reasons:

  1. One person does all the complaining (I mean talking).
  2. The person goes into all types of specifics that describe a series of events that can’t be changed or improved.
  3. They recount endless examples of shame, disappointment and loss.
  4. I feel exhausted afterward.

Inversely, conversations that are focused primarily on peering into the future are dominated by taking something that has not yet happened and talking about it as it already has. I dislike these as well for similar reasons:

  1. They are marked with fear, feelings of “what if”, powerlessness and uncertainty.
  2. Again, one person does most of the talking and only wants you to validate their fears, actions or choices.
  3. Future conversations are created and rehearsed; future dreams are challenged and rationalized as being not worth the pursuit and future fears are inflated to epic proportion.
  4. I feel frustrated afterward.

However, conversations that are focused primarily on the present are much more enjoyable for me. I like them for several reasons:

  1. They are focused on what people are “doing.” Doing is much more interesting that “did” and doing is more useful than “what if.”
  2. I love to hear what people are actually “doing.” Because they can relate what they are learning and what they are experiencing and I can usually learn something as well.
  3. Conversations that are centered on these subjects are engaging and energizing and are fun to share! I wish we had more of these!

So the next time you’re feeling exhausted…ask yourself how much time you have spent that day “looking in the rearview mirror.” Likewise, the next time your feel anxious or worried…ask yourself how much time you’ve spent living in the future.

Challenge yourself to stay in the present. Keep your focus here…and believe me…your friends will thank you for it!

Check this out if you don’t believe me!