10 Things I Will Not Do In 2012

1. I will not leave major life situations up to chance.  Playing the dice game on my phone to decide if I am going to have a second burger is fine, but not acceptable for major life changing situations.  No, I did not use my phone to help me make my decision to move back to Colorado after living in Guatemala.  That would have been stupid, plus I made that decision in 2010.

2. I will not spend half the year without a job.  2011 was a rough year for work.  I spent half the year teaching and the other half babysitting  Way to put my college degree to work. Eff em up, Eff em up GO CU!!

3. I will not read the rest of the Millennium Series.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a true bore fest.  I know Stieg Larsson was trying to create a tense mystery, but he failed to make me care about any of the characters.  And if I don’t care about the characters I don’t care about the story, he also never really put any of them in real danger (at least in the first book and at least for the first 300 pages, which is too long for me).  I guess a better way to put it, I am not going to waste my time on poorly written books.

4. I am not going to fly American Airlines.  I was surprised when in late 2011 they filed for chapter 11 Bankruptcy, because they had over charged me for several of their mistakes.  With all of the extra money I gave them I would think they would be financially sound.  Since when is it my fault that they canceled a ticket I purchased and notified me by sending me an email in, wait for it,  . . . Spanish.  A language I am not completely fluent in.  This miscommunication cost me over 200 dollars when I had to re-buy my ticket.  They also conveniently lost the recording of a phone conversation I had with one of their representatives, which would have proved the error was theirs and saved me money.  I will eventually write a blog about how much I hate American Airlines, but for now I am still too mad.

5. I am not going to be a host for a party of amoebas.  If you have traveled outside of the U.S. you understand the temptation to taste the rich local food.  It can be so colorful and exotic, but more often than not, it is also very dangerous.  So, no street food for me.  I am saying no to hotdogs for under a dollar, which is a shame because gringas, garnachas, cheveres, and tacos are great.  Living in Colorado has been a bit safer for my bowels as I have yet to walk past any of my favorite street vendors, but after Thanksgiving 2011 I wasn’t sure some of my old uninvited friends (amoebas) weren’t throwing a party in my stomach.  I am not going to host that party in 2012.

6. I am not going give up on my dream of dating Jessica Scheel (Miss Guatemala 2010).  Because if I am afraid to dream grand dreams, then I will live an empty life.  There is only one snag in this whole thing, I am just a normal guy living in the states and she is super famous (or kind of famous).  Maybe it would be better to say, I am not going to give up on my love life even though it’s seemed more like an impossible dream at times.

7. I am not going to succumb to a Zombie attack.  As many people believe that 2012 is the final year on earth and a Zombie Apocalypse is bound to happen, I vow to be prepared.  Those brain suckers will not feast on my brain.  More realistically I will not spend all of my time sitting in front of the TV.  2012 will be a year for doing and living.  It will not be a year for the undead.

8. I will not stop dreaming about Guatemala.  I am not completely sure if I am in control of this one, but I have had dreams about Guatemala, my friends and my students, almost every night for the last six months.  Typically in the dreams I am teaching at Hogwarts, but the school for wizards and witches is always located in Guatemala and the student body is not British, but Guatemalan; more specifically all of my old students.  I am not sure what these dreams mean, but I am pretty sure they will continue well in to 2012.

9. I am not going to give up on my dream of becoming a writer.  My current plan is to go back to school for my masters in  teaching, but my end goal is to be published.  I love writing and I want to be able to share my ideas with the world.  I am not going to stop dreaming this dream.

10. I am not going to live timidly, except for when it comes to street food.  The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st.  Some people think this means the end of the world, but in reality we never know how much longer we have to live.  Life is precious, so don’t hold back.  For God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. (2nd Timothy 1:7)

What are you not going to do in 2012?  I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year!

How To Celebrate Christmas In Guatemala and the Meaning of Christmas

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Last year I learned the meaning of Christmas.  I spent Christmas 2010 in Guatemala, away from the snow of Colorado and more importantly away from my family.  Guatemala, or at least my home city of Xela, doesn’t celebrate Christmas the way most of the world celebrates the birth of Christ.  Sure at the Inter-American School, where I worked, we had a Christmas Play.  Last year the elementary performed the well known play Izzy Saves Christmas, where Izzy the mouse saves Christmas.  Haven’t heard of it?  Well, it’s a Guatemalan staple, or it is now.

I also taught my students what the best kind of Christmas party is; a White Elephant Party.  Who doesn’t want to go home with an alarm clock in a country where it is better to use your cellphone as an alarm at night, because anything plugged into the wall just might lose power.

But where Guatemala, and especially Xela, differs from Christmas in the United States is Christmas Eve.  Growing up as a Presbyterian Pastor’s kid in the United States, my family’s Christmas tradition centered around our church’s Christmas Eve service.  Every year, especially when I was younger, my mom would force me into my Christmas best, drive me and my sisters to church, and we would light the Christ Candle.  As I documented last year, in my blog I’ll Be Home For Christmas, my family always had the misfortune of lighting the Christ Candle, which never went smoothly.  I fought with my sister in front of 1,000 plus people who’d come to church expecting to hear how Christ came to bring peace on earth and goodwill to men.  The next year they expected something else, and I did not fail them.   I dropped a lit match on the carpet floor.  Fortunately the church didn’t burn down.

I did not have to light the Christ Candle for Christmas Eve in Xela.  I was a spectator, surrounded by friends and Guatemalan families who had come to celebrate Christ’s birth.  As much as I missed being with my family last year I enjoyed witnessing how the Latin culture celebrates Christmas.  My favorite part of the service at Saint Mark’s was the Posada.  A handful of kids marched into the church dressed as Guatemalan Marias and Joses with sumbreros and mustaches followed by a very Guatemalan baby Jesus Cristo.

Shortly after the service, after I had sung my share of Spanish Christmas Carols I headed back to my house with Skyy a fireworks crazed freshman , his mom Susan, whose house I lived at, Jen (co-worker), Blake and Amy (co-workers), Blake’s family, and Holland (another co-worker) and his boys to set off fireworks.  Ask anyone in Guatemala and they will tell you setting off fireworks is the real reason for the season.  I may have spent upwards of twenty dollars on fireworks, which didn’t even match all of the explosives Skyy brought to the table.  Us guys took the next couple of hours detonating our ammunition.  At midnight Xela sounded as if it were under attack, the entire city lit up like the large Christ Candle.

Christmas Eve has aways been family time for me, quiet and relaxing (after the Christmas Eve service at least).  This year I plan on watching “How Earnest Saved Christmas” with my two sisters.  I look forward to waking up on Christmas morning and being with my family.  But I will always remember how much fun I had lighting off fireworks and celebrating my savior’s birth with people my Guatemalan family.

Christmas is not about what you do, what you give or what you get, but in the end it is about enjoying the birth of Christ with those who are around you.  No matter where you are.  Last year on Christmas day Donna and Laurel McMarlin (Laurel was one of my co-workers) welcomed me into their family and shared their Christmas with me.  They helped make what could have been a lonely day, a day full of love and celebration, which made for a perfect Christmas.

An American Adventure

After living in Guatemala for three years the idea of moving back to the United States sounded boring.  I thought, “Where’s the challenge in living in a country where I speak the language fluently?”

But readjusting to the states has been different than I expected.  While I can talk to almost everyone I meet, life here is still a challenge.  Just because I can communicate with everyone doesn’t mean making friends has happened effortlessly.

A couple of weeks ago, before the weather turned, I was transplanting trees for my uncle and it made me think about how hard it is to move.  To transplant a tree correctly the timing and soil must be right.  Pick the wrong season and the tree will whither and if the dirt is too hard the tree’s roots will never extend far enough to keep the tree alive.  And not to mention a lot of water must be added to keep the tree healthy in its new home.  It is also a lot of hard work for the person digging up the tree.  The trees roots must be left intact so that it can take hold in its new hole.

After I dug up and transplanted the fourth tree I was ready to admit change comes just about as difficultly for humans.  We root ourselves in our own holes and resist being transplanted even if there might be a better location for us.  Two of the trees I dug up and transplanted were hidden behind large pines.  They’d been there for years and years and their roots had taken hold in the dirt, but no one could see these trees.  They were wasted back behind the pines, but once I dug them up and planted them in their new holes my aunt said to me, “It looks as if they’ve always been there.  Like they’ve belonged there all along.”  She was right.  These two trees looked beautiful in their new locations and even if the change was difficult, it was good for them.

I know my life might not seem as adventurous as it was when I was living in Guatemala, but a challenge can be taken as an adventure if one keeps his or her eyes open and is willing to look for the bigger story.  And the challenge of taking jobs when I can get them  is a change that I hope has been good for me too.

I believe that my American adventure is just starting and I am excited to see where God plants me.  When God plants me into the soil he has prepared for me I know my roots will take hold and God will continue to grow me into the beautiful creation he created me to be, that’s his bigger story.  But if that is to happen I must be willing to let him do the work in me he desires to do.

No matter where I live I must live in his will, because that is right where I need to be and that’s when the true adventure begins.

Harry Potter and Tebowing at the Climax

I love going to the movies.  I was that kid who stood in line to see all of the “Star Wars” movies when they were re-released back in the 90’s and when “The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring” came out ten years ago, I was the first person in line, not just for tickets, but to enter the theater.  And when theaters started releasing movies at midnight, I’m there at 10 pm.  Don’t even get me started on how early I had to get to the theater for “The Return of The King;” it was crazy.

I think the reason I love going to the movies is because I love good stories.  The atmosphere in a crowded theater on opening night is exhilarating.  When “The Sixth Sense” came the theater was packed.  With every twist and turn each of my friends began tucked their legs up on their seats.  We shared in the fear.  We pulled for Bruce Willis’s character to reconnect with his wife and for Haley Joel Osment’s character to receive the help he needed.  As the movie built toward its climax the hairs on my legs stood up and all I wanted to do was hug my knees like everyone else, but fear froze me.  The crowd made the climax of the movie completely captivating, but the well told story made the change the characters experienced even more meaningful and worth the level of fear I had to experience.

Good stories are filled with meaning.  Movie writer and teacher Robert McKee says, “If I could send a telegram to the film producers of the world, it would be these three words: ‘Meaning Produces Emotion’ Not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not lush photography.”  Meaning is what a good story is all about and the climax of a good movie will be filled with meaning.  McKee states that “The Climax of the last act is your great imaginative leap.  Without it, you have no story.  Until you have it, your characters wait like suffering patients praying for a cure.”

When I’m in a packed theater, I’m suffering along with the main character for that positive or negative turn to occur in the movie.  I want Frodo to make it to Mount Doom and drop the ring into the fires of Mordor.  I want Harry Potter to live or die, maybe both, and so I wait for that turning moment, that meaningful climax.  As an audience, we share the ups and downs of the characters story.  Without the ups and downs that lead to the climax, the climax would be meaningless.

There are people out there that flip to the end of a book before they start just so they can see if it is a good ending or not.  They pick up “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows” and flip to Harry’s battle with Voldamort.  They want to get the stories payoff without reading the entire book or, even worse, the other six books in the series.  By skipping to the end of the book they miss the reason why Harry had to do what he does.   But just like sharing a story with someone adds to the story’s meaning, the work it takes for character, as well as the reader, to make it to the climax is what makes it meaningful.

The people who want to skip to the climax of a book are the same people who sat down and watched the last episode of Lost with out watching the previous five seasons.  They didn’t want to see the story develop, to see the characters grow and change.  They wanted all of the payoff without watching for six seasons.  These are the same people who on December 5th want to fast forward to Christmas Day.  They want the meaning without any of the work.

More on Christmas in a moment.  Let’s not rush to the climax because right now we’re at the rising action of our story.  Sunday December 4th The Neighborhood Church celebrated the second Sunday of the Advent season by sharing a sit down meal during the worship service.  People met together, ate, and shared stories about Christmas’ past.  It was very meaningful.  The only problem was the service didn’t finish until 12 pm.  An hour into the Denver Broncos game against the Vikings.  Co-blogger and Co-pastor of the Neighborhood Church, Mike Klassen comforted the congregation by reminding us all that “Tebow Time” (A term here meaning going beast mode and winning against all odds) isn’t until the fourth quarter anyway.  So if we missed the first half it would be just fine.

I tevoed Tebow anyway.  As I pressed play on the DVR, I knew I wanted to share a meaningful story with my fellow Bronco fans who’d gathered around the TV with me.  We knew we could just fast forward to the end.  But we wanted to experience the entire story.  If we had just skipped to the end, the win wouldn’t have been as meaningful.  The time we shared together watching the Broncos game was splattered with theological discussions.  Why is Tebow so loud about his faith?  Incomplete pass!  What if Tebow messes up (On the field and in his faith)?  Fumble, no way the ground can’t cause a fumble! What is perseverance of the Saints (No, I’m not talking about football here)? I can’t believe it, the Broncos Win!

And as Tebow rallied the Broncos from an 8 point deficit late in the fourth quarter we were discussing how God’s Grace works in our lives.  Life is like a good movie with many turns.  In “The Return of the King,” Frodo loses hope.  He turns away from his mission and decides he will keep the ring, but Grace steps in (In the form of Sam) and saves him.  Grace does what Frodo cannot do, destroy the ring and bring him back to the Shire.  Grace creates the meaningful change in Frodo’s life.  If Tebow fails on the field or in life, Grace will be there for him too.  Grace is there for all of us, offering a chance to make a meaningful change in our lives.  A chance to Tebow (Go beast mode/let God takeover), which brings us back to Christmas.

Christmas is not about what you get or even about what you give.  It is about experiencing the season with the people you love.  It is about sharing special moments with those around you.  Most of all it’s about God sending the Incarnation of Grace down to the world as the baby Christ.  If we fast forwarded to Christmas Day it would be like reading the last page of a book, only watching the Broncos during the fourth quarter, and fast forwarding all our favorite movies to the climax: empty and meaningless.  So slow down and know that no matter how long it seems until Christmas, that God is working in your life.  Christmas is more than just the climax of Christmas day.  It is about the Grace we have been given and the work it does in our life.  Let Grace make a meaningful change in your life this season.

I am an avid Bronco fan and movie enthusiast who believes in Tebowing every night because the best way to live a meaningful story is to stay connected to the author.