Monday, July 31, 2017

Journey into the unknown

With so much of the world being mapped, explored and paved, the truly unknown regions of our lives are largely non-existent...externally speaking. The true mystery in life now lies within. Our minds represent vast unexplored regions of life, unavailable and inaccessible to anyone but us. It is as though we are lost inside of our very own amazon jungle, left alone to explore - or not - the vast expanses of wilderness.

When life stresses us out, worries us, causes us to fear or to get excited, we only see the surface of one piece of that jungle. We experience the rises and falls but are blind to the underlying cause of happiness. Why do we react that way? Why does the thing that makes me cry cause no reaction from the person next to me? Why do I get excited about cars driving through the desert when my kids only get excited about Pokemon?

Life on the inside - no, not prison - is a mystery. Do we explore it? Do we simply live life in reactive mode with no true understanding of the why that triggers our surface emotions, reactions and actions? For the most part, the answer to these questions is the same - humans have historically not explored the inside because life on the outside - "in the real world" - demanded too much of our physical and mental energy to truly penetrate our motivations.

Yes, there have been some exceptions to that but by and large, we have only had capacity to react. To experience. To be boggled by our own actions and reactions that are rooted far deeper and broader than we could possibly imagine.

So when I say I was stressed, lay that thin layer of reaction out on top of the vast unknown of my mind if you please and understand that I am all too aware that the reaction is not completely logical or rational but that it stems from something deeper. Those reactions are important. Listen to your gut, they say. I just knew, he said. It felt right, I was afraid...the list goes on. For me, it was stress.

Stress manifested itself in many forms. When I went back to work, I rather immediately felt the weight of stress on me. It was as if a constrictor went to work on my chest, making it difficult to breathe. At first it would be when I logged into my email then it backed its way out to the entrance to my office area then to the gate. Eventually, it would find me on the freeway heading to work then to home then into my sleep which it would ultimately consume. The constrictor became an ever present component of life.

It knew no weekdays or weekends, it simply was. Then it started pulling tighter and tighter. It made my head throb. The lack of sleep it caused encouraged a closer friendship with the coffee machine at work. The coffee machine introduced me to the restroom on a more regular basis where each glance into the mirror reminded me just how tired I was, sending me back to the coffee machine.

Stress is a vampire. It leeches the life out of even the most persistent forces. It pilfers our passions, tosses them to the curb and into the gutter, to be trampled on by passers by. It consumes our energy, our wit, our passion, our drive, our logic. It is also extremely persistent.

Stacking stress on top of a physical constitution that was not fully restored made for a very challenging day and week at work. Studies show that when stressed, we make worse decisions. Worse decisions with regards to food, financial, work and social aspects of life only compound on each other, creating a vicious cycle that feeds on itself. I eat more to help me feel better about the stress then I gain weight. The extra weight takes away more energy throughout the day and on and on the cycle goes. Stress, to steal a phrase from one of my favorite movies, is the mind killer (except it was fear in that scenario).

Compounding all of those factors is the high bar I had set for myself. Perhaps more accurately, a high bar that my supervisor had set for me. I was aligned to it. It was stretching and I wanted to stretch. Not stretching encourages complacency, a lifestyle I abhorred...but at the time, I simply did not have the capacity to do the work, let alone do it well. Obviously, not doing well does not improve the situation, nor does it reduce stress. It stacks. As do many (most?) other areas of life. The bastions of love, peace, support in life begin to dwindle as the castle walls crumble.

The natural response is to curl up. To tuck up and to protect oneself. I suppose I went through that phase though I honestly don't recall it. I soothed myself with humor and made light of the situation. I was in disbelief that people could actually live in conditions so clearly unhealthy and toxic. Perhaps not so much that they could live in those conditions but that they would continue to live in them. I am not a rebel but I found that when pressed with certain forces, I do not lie down. I rebel. I bite. I snap my head back and frolick about. Frolick sounds playful but in this case, it was a violent, intentional action. Wreckless on the outside, its intent was to break the hold of that which constrained. Bruises were incurred. Some mine, some for others. Life is messy.

Fuck.

Thinking back on this time is not pleasant. Wine, please. Jack into the headphones. Music is a solace in times of distress, times of blank emotion, times of rage. It comforts, it soothes. Music is one of the most therapeutic, shaping, tuning, intense forces on the planet. Find what soothes you. Find what evokes an emotional response and feel it out. No, I'm not talking about her. It's the things. It's the whats and the whys not the whos.

Within music, there are different flavors, different textures, different emotions and concoctions. Each plays differently at different times in our lives. Some music is morning music, gently ushering in the day or lighting the fuse that will carry us out into the world with a bang. Some brings us down and smooths over our rough edges. Oh, we do have rough edges. Make no mistake about that.

Two long pulls of wine, 5 minutes and 4 and a half minutes of resonant piano and I'm back off the edge. No, not the edge of life but the edge of emotion. We react to that which rises to the surface. Again, life is an intense balance of evoking and rolling in the sheets with the violent emotions we are tuned to react to...the resonant frequency of our lives, if you will...and the peace of the day to day. Being happy with who we are but also able to dance in the rain when the weather is just right.

I love dancing. I love music. I love that I am every so often able to throw off the oppressive bullshit that we are overcome with if we let ourselves. Do not be constrained (DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT!)

aside for a passionate monologue

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
/aside

we are built to dance in the rain. we are built to react to the music and to find the chords that resonate to our core. we were tuned from the outset for specific reactions to trigger specific actions. not predestination but to be present on the way towards your ultimate destination. do not let your life pass by as if it were something to get through but instead, grab that bitch by the sensitive parts and jump on for the ride of your life. chase that which seems worth chasing whether it at first appears unattainable or not. truth be told, if it feels attainable, you are likely shooting at something you already know you can hit. aim higher, aim at that which scares you. aim at the target you would love to hit but don't believe you can. stretch yourself. allow others to stretch you and similarly stretch and encourage others to do the same. find likeminded people that encourage you, and pour your everything into encouraging them as if they were your life's mission and hope for the same in return. live with passion. eat fresh fruit, smell the fresh bread then deep into it with vigor, though it may be hot at first, a life that is always fresh out of the oven is the one best lived.

RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF YOUR PASSION
THIS IS YOUR LIFE, LIVE IT TO THE FULLEST
GET A TATTOO, QUIT THAT JOB, TAKE THAT NEXT STEP




Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Too much stuck in my head

Lately, way too many things have been swirling around in my head. It's like my conscious brain has been reduced to limited functionality while my subconscious throws a rip roaring party, eating and drinking everything in sight. On top of that, it seems that my subconscious has decided that it's not too interested in sleep while my physical body and conscious mind are both exhausted.
why?
Well, quite honestly, it's really straight forward. Working through major work changes again and truly considering putting this book away in favor of another. Often times, we get so comfortable with one aspect of life - work, in this case - that we put everything else in submission to that thing.
when that thing is work, things can easily go awry as work doesn't care about me. It doesn't understand what my hopes and dreams are, what I'm passionate about or, and maybe most importantly, my work life balance. Work can consume thoughtlessly. incompetent leaders can overload under the guise of "ensuring we're contributing at our potential", unwilling or unable to see that capacity is finite.
I'm personally very proud of my career at that place I spend so much time. I've learned a ton, done some great work, matured, realized a lot about myself and become much more organizationally competent. In my sleepy brain, that all makes sense. But truly, I'm freaking exhausted. I've been burning every candle I can find with a flamethrower, just walking around wrecklessly spewing out my energy as fast as I possibly can in order to speed the process, to move the change along but I'm coming to realize that change often happens slow.
If I were watching survivor or any other reality TV show for that matter, it would be at this point that I would expect - even start looking for - the twist. Oh, he thinks he has it figured out. But he has no clue what's going to happen tomorrow at 8am. That's fact, actually. I'm a bit worried about 8am. I was worried about 1230pm today and that's done and gone...on to a new fucked up milestone. pardon the language. Civility requires effort and this is my dumping ground, my vulnerability, my...ugh, I'm freaking tired.

Umm...now that I've purged this very basic, very mindless set of words, I have to agree that I'm just exhausted. Feels like I can't stop (won't stop) working. I'm not a workaholic but I've convinced myself that if I can scale up to two jobs, I can drop the one I like the least. What if I just said that I was going to drop the one I don't like and make things work on the other front, regardless. I'm worth more than this bullshit stress.
If there's one thing I learned from cancer, it's that life can be short. It can change in an instant. One visit to the doctors office...and maybe more importantly, we shouldn't let that scare us, but rather, motivate us to live more fully, more engaged, more relaxed each and every day. Why stress over cash? that shit doesn't last. Live for the moment. Live for your family. Live for those precious moments that you know you're skipping because you're working too much or too stressed or *insert the current excuse here*. That's lame, man. Life is too short.
Hmm.
I don't know that I've resolved much but consciously attempting to extract that which lies just below the surface is often the best exercise. The best way to get it out...to move forward, to realize what we already know instinctively. Maybe I should just quit and let things solve for themselves. Life has a way of doing that.
Set some milestones? Do taxes this weekend. Sell the car. Buy a cheaper one that's paid off. What else...there's like one or two more. Pay kids medical bills. Hmm...That all should ease the mind and the monthlies. Should be pretty dialed in, actually.
Tired, yo.

I don't understand people who live to work. Basically worshiping work as if it's the meaning of life. Like succeeding in work is succeeding in life. I don't buy that crap. Life is way too badass to give that shit to work. Some stuff at work is awesome, is fun, is something I can get excited about. I love working with awesome people on innovative stuff. Maybe I'll just do more of that.
Quit. Write. Contract down to what matters both financially and life-wise...then start playing again. God, I love playing. Work should be play...otherwise you're doing it wrong. So glad I pulled myself out of my role today. Best.decision.ever.
I don't know how many times I have to say that I'm not here for the money. I'm not here to make a million bucks per year. I'm not here to move up or any of that. I'm at work because I enjoy it and when I don't, it's time to move on.

This last paragraph or two was great. Processing this helps me calibrate and relax. It's not a big deal. It's just a paycheck at times. I'll still be able to pick up my kids after school. I'll still make plenty of cash (it's never enough anyways) and we'll adjust our lifestyles to our new incomes....and enjoy life a bit more. Nice premise. I figure I'll give it 3 months...and maybe just walk out sometime in the middle there when things look like they're ready to take a turn for the worse. Dunno. It will be interesting.

Bring the popcorn, please. I might forget.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

On a Mission

We have recently decided to leave our home church where we had been for almost 10 years. In the season of life that we are in, we want a church that prioritizes kids...and leading them (and others) to Christ. Ultimately, Sokny and I have already made our decision to be Christians...they have not so that's the priority. 

That whole journey really started me thinking about church. Many churches have been framed up to feed into Christians. Doesn't sound too terrible, does it? What triggered was when we attended a "seeker sensitive" church. Almost every week, the message calls out to people who aren't Christians and basically asks if they want to become a Christian. Coming from a very theological, deep teaching church, the teaching felt very basic at first. 

Then I started thinking about it. Boiling Christianity down to the nuts and bolts, if we have already decided to follow Jesus (we have), the great commission compels us to get out and share: 

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

On top of that, it's love. We are called to love on others. Actually...spreading God's love is more important. That's the foundation for what we do, why we do it and who we strive to become as we follow Jesus. 

If those are our key tasks...and let's be frank - we suck at actually living those out for the most part...why not focus the church on advocating for, supporting and actively pursuing these two core actions? Reach out to those who are 'seeking' God...and get busy loving on folks through actions, finances and the like. 

It doesn't say in the Bible that we should continually seek to improve...continue fine tuning the engine that is the human life but never actually take it out onto the streets. It's the opposite. It says we should get out on the streets...do the good work that we are called to do...and while you're at it, follow Jesus with everything you are which compels us to be better. 

I'm not saying that one church is better than another but the stark contrast between the handful we have been looking into forced the discussion. To each their own, onward and upward :)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Life Suck

I'm at a really strange period in life right now. I started a new role in P&G in the environmental space where we consolidated two roles being filled with lots of overtime and two experience people...into me. I knew moving into a completely new field of work would be challenging and that I would have to do some serious automation, cleanup and triaging of the work to make it fit but I wasn't prepared for what has come my way over the last year.

Further complicating things, I also started writing for an awesome cleantech website...and really a whole media network focused on advocating sustainable living across a ton of different topics. That ramped up very quickly and turned into a solid paying part time gig on top of my already loaded boat of day to day work. More recently, I've added on travel for this work which consumes valuable vacation and family time from my day job.

That all hit a wall in May for me when I had a trip to Switzerland for the writing gig which was amazing but preworking everything for my day job to allow me to take the time off, preparing for the trip on a personal level and preparing for the onslaught of content that came at from the tour itself was just a lot to take in.

That has all taken a huge toll on my family with my ability to contribute meaningfully at home on a relational and functional levels dropped into the negative. I was really pushing to make the writing work and while I still hope to do that eventually after paying down a few debts and monthly payments (by installing solar), I'm hoping to be able to move into a new chapter of life. I thought I could do this all in a sprint...a one time effort to ramp one up and ramp the other down...and just suck it up in the meantime but instead, I've hit a wall for the first time in my life...at least this kind of a wall.

Coming out of the Switzerland trip, I've only written a few articles...I just don't have mental energy left to do much of anything productive outside of my day job and frankly, that's just killing me. Not just the writing but I don't have energy or willpower to engage meaningfully in my marriage...I struggle to connect with my kids and feed into them. I'm numb to life and just try to vent my stress or borrow energy and emotion from video games, movies and "tv" (lol that the meaning of that has changed so much in my lifetime).

Working at P&G historically has been great for the most part. Everything in life has highs and lows so I'm used to riding that rollercoaster but sucking it up for a year and more than that...not seeing an end in sight but really only seeing the potential for a downward slide is not encouraging. The best analogy I've found for it is that it feels like I'm stuck in an abusive relationship. I feel like I need the income but the workload is just not practical with the energy and capacity for work that I have which are substantial.

The capstone for the struggle is that my work is in compliance so I'm constantly providing official, legal data to government agencies, filing for new permits, responding to requests for information, giving tours and walking the line of compliance with innumerable inspectors for various agencies we are required to entertain in order to do business. The weight of reporting to official agencies at the federal, state and local levels is on my shoulders all the time. I regularly wake up in the middle of the night thinking of some report, audit or agency and that drives me nuts. On top of having too much work, I often end up not getting enough rest and working while exhausted because my mind never stops working.

I'm not complaining about the compliance piece...the awkward bit about all of it is that I have immense passion to push past this compliance piece of the role into driving meaningful reductions in our footprint through cost reduction opportunities and strategic partnerships with our regulatory agencies...and that's really the only thing that keeps me going at work.

This is really just venting and processing out loud but I'm at a loss. Words are my therapy and a critical outlet for me to stream my thoughts out, put them on paper and see what my brain is up to.

Oh, we're working through a tense transition in leadership of the youth group at church...again. I really don't have energy to push that anymore. I've been through just about every stage imaginable to try to initiate meaningful change there with a few successes but mostly just stress and frustration.

I'm thinking that's not an effective place for me to continue working, pushing and investing myself but that's counterbalanced with the sheer vacuum of meaningful investment of resources in the youth of the church. Stay in the group...leave the group. Stay at the church...leave the church before my kids enter the vacuum...no energy to process these things right now but they're definitely floating around as many young families lock in their votes.

So...life today has work eating up the majority of me. I'd say 90% of my capacity goes there and I'm really not ok with that. Top priority becomes getting that down to a sustainable level or getting out by working the numbers and just sucking it up. I'm going to target an absurdly low 3 days/week @ 9 hours/day for that with minimal external work, super long days, etc. I'm just not willing to give much more than that for too much longer, sorry. Let's target getting to this in the next year at the latest...and sustain that for 2 years.

Ideally, I could spend 2 full days per week writing with energy left over during the week to write. That's an overexaggeration of what I want because I'm tired of not investing myself in what I think I should be investing myself in. I want energy left at the end of the day to play, to dream, to imagine, to love and to live...

In the meantime, probably scale back investments in retirement to pay down our car loan and get this solar installed...fuck my brain has nothing left.

I may just have to cap the day at 8 hours of working time per day to reign things in. Maybe it will take a few violations to get the site to realize that we need more people to do this work. That sucks.

I don't know...I hope this processing on paper helps me figure out what to do.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"You have cancer" Those words hit me like a sledgehammer to my chest...

"You have cancer." Those words hit me like a sledgehammer to my chest. December was a difficult month for our family...and specifically for me. In the first few days of the month, I found a lump in my testicle that was later identified as being cancerous. After a surgery to remove it and an array of tests, I'm officially cancer free but it was a crazy couple of weeks and it really shook me. 

I didn't share this broadly back then because the word 'cancer' sounds like a death sentence. While I wasn't freaking out, everyone else would have and frankly, that would have just been more for me to deal with and I knew it wouldn't help. Cancer is especially scary when the words "You have..." come before it...but through the process, I learned that it doesn't have to be that way.

You see, I had testicular cancer which is very survivable with roughly a 98% survival rate but I didn't know that at the time. I just knew that I had cancer and that frankly, scared the crap out of me. A bit of research calmed me down a little but I still felt like I had this black cloud hanging over me. As I worked through the various doctors visits, I only gained certainty that I had cancer at first...then realized that all cancers are different and even within cancers of a certain region (like the testes or breasts), there are tons of factors and the reality is that most people - around 2/3s - survive cancer.

I'm not sharing this for sympathy - I'm doing great now and was back to 100% relatively quickly after we worked through the surgery in mid-December to remove the cancer, but rather, I'm sharing my story to let you know that finding out that you have cancer is not a death sentence. We should talk about it as a society to kill the stigma surrounding it and encourage more people to do proactive checks. Pretending cancer doesn't exist or that you won't get it only makes it worse.

When people don't know about the risk or how easy the checks for cancers like testicular cancer are...they don't check for it and that only gives the cancer more time to do damage to your body. I didn't know about self-checks and only found it by chance. Testicular cancer specifically occurs in men (obviously) between the ages 15-40 (not so obvious) which I had no idea about but wish I had. I had naively assumed that cancer was something that happened more commonly as we age...but that's not the case for all cancers.

That's what I wanted to say...and I know that more than anything, you're probably just feeling relieved right now. Somebody else had cancer but they made it, right? I'm glad it wasn't me. That works...almost. 40% of people will get cancer in their lifetime...that's a fact.

And 40% is no small number. Think about it - that's one in every 2.5 humans that will get cancer. Because of that, I encourage you to do a self check and to build that in to your regular routine. For men, it's easy to check for lumps - here's a quick (and humorous) video that shows you how...and for women, here is an intro video that explains self examination practices for breast cancer. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that provide additional details and perspective so please - take this quick step to get informed...then take action :)

These basic checks avoid what otherwise might be a more serious matter and give you what you need most to fight against cancer should it come to that - time. Let's drop the awkward or uncomfortable stigma around cancer and join together to take action today. Get informed and if you want to talk...I'm here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

2015 Guatemala: The Road to Mach

Where to start.  So yeah, the bus.  After a fun filled day in Lanquin (and boy was it packed to the gills with fun, adventure and team time!), we boarded the bus for a very long ride.  I think it wound up being around 10 hours and I would love to say that it flew by...but it just didn't.  What it was though...was quality time. Being displaced in Guatemala...being in a new country, a new culture...without any cell phone reception or a data plan or friends, family, our favorite blanket, our beds, our shower...those comforts...we were off kilter, off balance but in a beautiful way.

You see...that very same discomfort is what started to bring us together.  We were all from a place that we were used to...a place we called home with the comforts that go with it...the routines we had built and become used to and truthfully that we knowingly abandoned to head out on this journey to something...somewhere in the wonderful country that is Guatemala.  We had seen it in pictures and maybe heard stories but now we were in it...together.

We came to learn, to grow, to be stretched, to smell things that were not pleasant, to smell unpleasant (as happens on a bus after 10 hours), to be hungry, to share food, to be each other's comfort...together.  it's tough if not impossible to put the formula that is a team trip to guatemala into words...but it's real and it's not always easy but it's so worth it.  We were being stretched...being shaped...being melded into something beautiful.  On one level, two important things that happened on the trip were - 1) we became, were shaped into, grew into an authentic community and that's nothing to scoff at.  It's VERY tough to replicate here in the US where we have all the comforts we're used to.  If we get thirsty, turn on the faucet, pickup a bottle from the back seat...no biggie.

In Guat, you don't have those options.  you have to share to make it work.  you have to accept things from others to get by. of course you can have some of my bug spray.  Yeah, the sunscreen is over there.  No biggie - you can have the last tortilla.  I'll take the uncomfortable seat for the next 4 hour stretch - you relax and get some rest.  Let me bang on the concrete floor for a few hours...please. I want to help.  Let me do it.  I'll drive.  You relax.  and LOVE...just love.  It becomes something different when you're reliant on one another.  It's a team thing. It's a body thing...a community thing. and it's beautiful.

Taking a break from the gushing there's also the flip-side.  I'm an introvert so talking with people, being with people, connecting and being real with people takes energy.  That's not saying that I don't like it because most people are great and it's a good time but from an energy standpoint, it drains my batteries.  In my normal world, that's no problem. But in Guat where there's 29 people in tight quarters, working hard, emoting, smelling, eating, playing, stepping on toes, crawling over each other, grabbing each other (scott!) for 14 DAYS...my batteries run low. I know that I'm that way and I'm super ok with it but it needed to be managed. so by day 10 or so, I was done with people and I was very thankful and greedy about any downtime we had.  I spent many mornings walking around by myself because I need that time.  I need ME time and that was a scarce commodity on the trip.

So yeah, we're on the road to Machaquila.  There was an angst in the air.  We all knew that we were on the road to the place where we were going to do the most work.  To get our hands dirty and open up our hearts to some Guatemalan kids and that it was going to be rough.
We arrived in Mach and it felt like home from the get go.  Spirits were high but we were exhausted and as we took our room assignments, we lazily looked around at the "eco resort" we were staying at, unsure.  It may sound fancy, but this place was rough - even for me and I consider myself a pretty easy going guy when it comes to living conditions.
 Mach ~ the big Red Dot

Our rooms were in the rainforest - literally and had vines going up the sides, giant trees right outside which is fantastic.  BUT...that comes with getting all up and personal with nature.  Regular sightings of giant bugs in our rooms...6" locusts (grasshoppers), a myraid of moths, mystery roaches or all sorts on the floor, noises from here and there that came from something living and my favorite on our second to last day - a snake.  I saw just the tail of it as it slithered from our bathroom into the space under the floor of our room and it was unmistakable.  That wasn't a confidence builder but we made it.

The next morning we loaded up and headed off to the orphanage on what was to be quite honest, too short of a trip to get there.  I didn't have time to do my final mentally prep work and arrived a bit awkwardly. I didn't really want to get out of the car, unsure of what was inside the orphanage but like cattle, we shuffled in, assaulted by what we saw.  This was the first time anyone from our group had been there and you could feel it.  Kids everywhere - some 56 kids in total - wandered around the gated property.  You could tell it was their place and they felt at home but also that they were used to outsiders coming by...whether to drop off another child, to talk with the couple that ran the place, to serve for a bit then leave...it was clearly their place and they were trying to figure out who/what/why we were - it was tangible, in the air.

the awkwardness was shattered when a little boy named Noah (if I recall correctly) ran up and just started giving huge (for him) hugs with his little 2 yr old arms.  A bundle of joy and a huge smile, he cracked the ice and flipped the dial from awkward to OMG I'm going to cry.  From that little dude radiated a love and an equal measure of "PLEASE LOVE ME!" that it was painful and the utmost joy at the same time. He ran around from person to person, smashing us open in a matter of minutes.
The other kids gradually did the same but in a more rote fashion, out of obligation more than affection but we had already crossed the line.  We were ready to love on these kids in any way we knew how...and we did.

We intuitively split into two groups - most of the women went to work with the kids - teaching them to brush and floss their teeth, singing and doing crafts with them...just loving on them and getting to know them.  Most of the men gravitated toward one of the 3 physical labor projects - starting to chip away at the areas of the concrete floor that were damaged and eventually repairing them, replacing a few toilets that had stopped working and building a new structure up the hill from the orphanage which they would use for church gatherings, devotions and storage. None of the work was easy and only a few of the group had done much work in those fields but we all charged in with as much energy as we could muster.
As we worked, the kids in the orphanage continued to feel us out.  There were 56 kids in the orphanage ranging from babies (3 mos old) to 17 with two older girls of 22 and 27 that needed special care and were not ready to be on their own.  Bear in mind that this place was run by an older married couple - just two of them - and they were making do.  Two people can only go so far.  thinking back to my posh setup at home where Sokny and I occasionally struggle with just our two boys, I couldnt imagine doing life full time, 24/7, 365 with 50+ kids.  It's just insane. On top of that, they don't get any support from the government.  From what I could discern while we were down there, they raised funds from the community via a sign posted at the entrance to their property that solicited donations as well as likely significant funding from another western church based organization.  Needless to say, they struggle.  Their meals were much the same as what an average guatemalan eats - black beans, tortillas and on good days, meat.  While we were there, we saw a few cow heads that they were butchering and cooking as well as a few other odds and ends that have likely never made it to my table in the US.
Anyhow...the kids were everywhere.  some played, some did crafts, some sang and ran around but others wanted to work. It felt like they were yearning for that father figure.  To learn a trade, to do something well and to be commended for it.  To learn, to love and to be loved.  It was tough and I struggled with this.  I'm very task focused and for a long time, I was getting frustrated by them as they constantly grabbed any spare tools and started banging, scraping, and just being in the mix of the work.  I'm admittedly slow in this area and it took one of our younger team members - Tim - to sit down and be patient with a few of the boys as they painted on some of the primer for the concrete for me to realize that we were not just here to work (as I said, I'm not the brightest...even when on a trip built for us to serve).  After getting over my frustration at the fact that the job would take 3 times as long with the kids helping, I saw how he was mentoring them, loving them and teaching them. They just wanted to be near us, to help, to be validated and Tim did that.

With that example, we all started pulling the kids into the work.  Fathering, mentoring, teaching and just spending time with the boys that wanted to get their hands dirty.  We ripped out toilets, they helped carry the left overs out of the building.  We chiseled concrete, they held the chisel.  We cleaned up bathroom floors that were in dire need of cleaning...they were in there with us.  On it went, side by side.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

2015 Guatemala: building a new community

Waking up in the morning in Lanquin revealed an amazing valley. because our group is so large, they put some of us in the overflow housing which was a 5 minute ride up the hill.  it looked like what would be the retirement house on the hill for whoever owns the little hotel place we're staying at.  Right on top of the hill overlooking fruit tree orchards and the entire valley.  270 degree views of lush green hills, accented by darker pockets of rainforest.


After taking time over the last few days to acclimate to the Guatemalan culture and get to know the team a little,  this was to be a time for us to crack the ice and play together but first - breakfast.  we walked down the dirt road a kilometer or so to the main hotel area then down to the community area on the river.  The morning light revealed that the river was wide and flowing with a power that we just don't see out on the south west coast of the US.  So much water, moving in a living, churning mass with a tiny waterfall trickling down on the opposite bank.

As the team trickled down to the breakfast area, the buzz about the day began to circulate.  This was to be a day of play with the team with the first item on the agenda being a float session down the river in inner tubes. In my head, I began to question the water quality of said river but quickly learned that this river came straight out of the earth - literally.  The river swelled up from an underground cave which we would be exploring later in the day.


I rushed to finish my breakfast and eagerly boarded the truck that would take us up to the start of the river and our tubing adventure.  After getting used to the area a bit, jumping into the chilly river washed any hesitations about the trip away.  Emotions ebbing and flowing between being on vacation and a nervous anticipation of the work to come moving through me as we began to drift down the river in tubes.  Laughter and levity...taking in the beauty and splendor of God's creation...being God's children filled with Joy, ready.

In the moment, I loved it but thinking about it after reaching the shore, these moments of pure joy weighed heavy on me.  "did we come here for a vacation? this is too much fun...when are we going to do some real work? This is not what I signed up for!" but looking back at the end of the trip, I realized that these first days were crucial to first helping us unwind from our lives back in the states, to connect with our new team and fall in love with the country of Guatemala.  These days helped us to live, talk, speak, breathe, eat in the NOW.  to BE on the trip...to remember that we are God's creation, living for Him...but that those moments are held in tension with being God's child.  to experience the people, places and things that He built for us and revel in them.  to be joyful, happy, to love, to emote... and yeah, the journey we travelled individually and as our new team was crazy! 10 hours in a bus or SUV with no cellphones, laptops or bubble zap games to distract made for some great talking time...great time to dig into what each of us is about...to remember that we are all down here for a reason and to share our passions.  why are you here?  why am I here?  what has God done in my life / what is God doing in my life / what do we hope God is doing in us down here?  we collectively travelled not just the windy, dusty, bumpy rainforest roads but also the windy, scary, fun, hidden paths in eachothers lives. we shared and listened...dreamed and bubbled over...laughed and cried a bit together. community...shaping...connecting...wow.

The river really was great.  I couldnt get enough of it...even after getting off the tubes for the next group to run down the river I spent the downtime running up the river then floating down...swimming across exploring, jumping, splashing...oh the joy!  it was as if I were a boy again just taking it in.

When everyone had made it down the river, we jumped in the cars and headed off for part two of our adventure for the day - Semuc Champey.  I didnt really understand what this place was having unintentionally left my itinerary in my hotel room in Antigua...I embraced the not-knowing and just rolled with it...and this place blew my socks off!  ok, I wasnt wearing socks but I really did enjoy this place.  We started with a 1km hike to the base of some beautiful falls along a raging river...



then split off for the overlook.  Basically climbing up the side of the valley, we quickly gained elevation until finally emerging at a beautiful overlook with the pools of Semuc Champey glistening below.


Semuc is a unique place in the river where the raging mass of the river actually goes underground (a FREAKY sight!!)


The pools that Semuc is known for are actually above this section...where yet more water streams down from the valley and forests above into natural limestone pools with a very mellow flow of water and gentle falls.  Pictures just don't do it justice but here are a few of mine and stock online pics to share some of the beauty:


 We enjoyed lunch at Semuc and had time for an awesome baptism of a few team members - Ariana and Paul.  It was a beautiful afternoon in a heavenly setting.  As the afternoon began winding down, we started our hike back to the vehicles.

Semuc is a local gem and as such, has it's share of tourism though the remote locale helps keep this number down.  Because there is a lot of cacao grown in the area, local kids can be seen selling pucks of chocolate - fresh roasted and ground up with sugar and flavors. I bought way too many of these and ended up eating a similarly indulgent number but it was just too good.  We hopped back on the SUVs with a few on the roof for good measure and headed back to Lanquin.

The final adventure for the evening was exploring the aforementioned "start of the river".  In reality, this was a few things...the cave where the river comes blasting out of the earth, an underground grotto with fast flowing water (ie, dangerous/don't get pulled under or you die/freezing straight-from-the-earth water) and oh yeah, home to 23 million (plus or minus a few thousand) fruit bats and they were just waking up.  We hike up into the cave along a well defined path (assuming you had a headlamp and we did) about a kilometer before stopping and turning out the lights. Our pal Hugo explained that the Mayans believed this was a holy place where they could pray to the spirits of the underworld. It was essentially an altar and one that was still in use as evidenced by the plethora of candles and soot that lined the walls and ceiling.  It was intense and after some history, we turned out all the lights and sung a few worship songs.  It was an intense pitch black...one that we almost never see.  No stars, no lights, nothing...just black.  our song echoed through the caverns, augmented by the flight of the waking bats.  They fluttered about as we let everything go...nerves on edge by the history of this place...the intense dark...the days events preceding this...and the anticipation of what was to come...and just belted out a few worship songs.  Intense...check out the pic:

Just kidding...but seriously...it was can't-see-the-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark. After some soothing silence, we hiked back down and split off on an offshoot climbing down a guano covered offshoot down to the grotto.  It was neat seeing the water flowing out of one wall then under a ledge on the other side of the small chamber but I had no desire to get in the water.  A few of the team did and spread lit candles around the chamber.


After the intensity of the grotto and the caverns, I was excited to be near the exit of the caverns again. As dusk turned into night, we sat at the exit of the caverns as the bats rushed out to feed on whatever fruit they could find.  I was blown away by the sheer volume of animals leaving and exhausted from a packed full day of adventure.

The next morning, we packed up and headed out to what would be the majority of the trip, work and emotion in Machaquila...