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.”


One thought on “What I’ve learned from a year in Guatemala…

  1. It is hard to believe it has been a year! What amazing experiences and perspective it has brought to you, we should all consider this for our lives as it is all too easy to go through life never seeing and understanding what is truly THE most important thing, the love of Christ, and the love of all of our fellow man. That’s really what you are saying in all of this, that’s the outcome. Glad that I could be part of your journey…

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