My 29th Birthday Adventure!

A Birthday Sunset

Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives, or at least so said William Wallace.  Three different times, in the days leading up to my birthday, or on my birthday itself, I’ve almost died.  On the day I was born the doctors weren’t sure if I would make it.  I was premature and my lungs weren’t completely developed and so I spent the next 13 days in an incubator.

26 years later, on my 26th birthday I was walking home from the gym and got hit by a car.  I walked away without a scratch.

And then this year.  Three days before my birthday, on Valentine’s Day I hit a patch of ice and totaled my car.  Again, I walked away without a scratch.

Have I really lived?  My 29th birthday felt like a blessing and the best thing to do with a blessing is to give it away.  I invited all the people that have made my life special over for a Hobbit inspired party.  Hobbits celebrate their birthdays differently, instead of receiving gifts they give gifts on their birthdays.

Tacos Al Pastor

I decided to give the gift of fellowship and thanks on my birthday.  For my party I grilled up a delicious pork taco and a Cuban rice dish.  Tacos Al Pastor (the pork tacos) has become one of my favorite dishes, but the Cuban rice dish was a new addition.  Both were hits.  I really enjoyed spending the day in the kitchen so that I could prepare a meal for my friends and family.

The Dish

If really living means telling my friends that you’re thankful for the part they play in my life, then I want to do that more often.

Telling friends how much they mean to you is a true adventure.  It is so much easier to stay quiet.  What if you open your hear to them, and then they hurt you?  Risks always a part of an adventure.

It doesn’t matter if my friends liked the food I cooked (I think they did, because hardly any was left at the end of the night), what matters is that I got to share a part of me with them.

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I’m thankful that I have friends to spend my life with.  The dinner was a blast, but my celebration didn’t stop there.  I spent the rest of my birthday with friends in the mountains.  I spent some time with an amazing couple and then played board games with some friends from high school.

Larry and Linda!

Then my parents took me up to Vail to go snowshoeing.  I hadn’t hiked East Lake Creek in five years and I think the three of us really had an amazing time traipsing through the fresh powder.

East Lake Creek

East Lake Snow Shoe

Turning 29 was an adventure, but it’s not over yet.  I’m excited to see what God has in store for me as I close out my 20’s this year.  I hope I truly live this year.

Thank you to everyone who  made this Birthday a great one!!

Snow On The Mountain

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.

How Did I End Up Here?

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Here I am stuck in the third world.  Three years pinned down with no guarantee of electricity, dry streets, or connection to the outside world.  Maybe stuck and pinned aren’t the correct words, but sometimes they’re the only way to describe how I feel.  I felt stuck at times during my first year in Xela, when I didn’t feel like I had any friends.  I felt stuck when my friends’ weddings passed me by and I couldn’t go.  I’ve missed at least two weddings and one birth; not fun.  And I felt stuck last June when tropical storm Agatha wouldn’t let me leave; all I wanted to do was be home with my family.  It was as if I had my hand pinned between a rock and I couldn’t move, just like Aaron Ralston, who’s harrowing struggle with a rock was the subject of the Oscar nominated movie “127 Hours” staring James Franco.  Fortunately over the course of two and a half years I’ve realized what a blessing it has been to be stuck in Xela.  And after watching “127 Hours,” I’m glad I didn’t have to give up an arm to realize the importance of having a community.  I’ve celebrated three birthdays away from my family and the friends I grew up with, and it’s been hard not having them around.  But it has also shown me how blessed I am here in Guatemala.  I am not alone.

I came to Guatemala as an individual, all alone.  Unlike Aaron Ralston, I didn’t come as a man who wanted solitude, dreaming of living life on my own, but as an individual who wanted to see what life outside of the states had to offer.  From the very start, when I was only 24, I knew I needed people around me to make my life worth living.  Now I am 27 and I feel like I have more of what it takes to be a man than I did when I first found myself stuck in the guat.  I know being a man doesn’t mean doing everything on my own, but having a community to share with.

Most people would say Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers are men, despite both having played for the Greenbay Packers.   According to stats I’ve read about Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, both won their only Super Bowls at 27.  At 27 I have yet to win a Super Bowl.  But who knows I might move back to the states and join the Broncos and win multiple Super Bowls.  If men are judged on what they have done, then am I a man?  Sadly, I haven’t won a Super Bowl yet.  I could win multiple Super Bowls (Be better than Brett and Aaron) but that’s not what would define me.  You know what I have done though, what defines me?  I have begun to write again.  I have decided to go after my dreams, not Aaron’s or Brett’s.  Last month I applied to a creative writing program.  If I am accepted or not, at 27 I know that I am doing what it takes to be a man.  Each day I set out to love those around me in the best way that I can.  Because maybe they need to know that they need someone.  I am adding my life to the community around me and hopefully with a little love mixed in I’ll end up at age 28 stuck right where God wants me.

Here are some of the fun memories from my 27th birthday.

-On my Birthday I was showered with hugs and choruses of Happy Birthday (both in English and Spanish).  I think my favorite gift was when I walked into the elementary lunch room and the Kindergartners jumped up with excitement and started singing to me.

-That night most of my friends, most everyone on the Inter-American staff, came out to have dinner at Don Rodrigos, a little restaurant that serves beer and burgers.  I had a sandwich and an Orange Crush, ha!

-On Saturday night my students, most of the high schoolers, took me out to pizza.  Sometimes the freshmen boys, especially Skyy and Jose Pab, are a little crazy, but they know how to make someone feel appreciated.  And I am grateful for them.

-On Sunday I went ziplining with Jon, Laura, Kacey, Blake, Amy, Fernando, Stephanie, Mike, and Karen at Velo Xtremo, just a few of the people my life has been mixed with.  We all risked our lives and had a zipping good time doing it!

Life would not be worth living if I didn’t have all of you, my readers and my friends in Guatemala, around me.  Thank you for the part you have played in my past 27 years.  Here’s to many more!!

Twenty-Sixth Birthday!

On the day I turned twenty-six, just hours before my small celebration, I nearly died. This marks the second time I nearly died on my birthday. The other being the day I was born. I was premature and almost didn’t make it past the delivery room. I am very fortunate that the doctors knew what they were doing and were able to save my life. But on my twenty-sixth birthday, if not for one of the millions of speed bumps here in Guatemala my fortune might have changed. Speed bumps, or as they are called here tumilos, are actually illegal in Guatemala. But that doesn’t stop people from erecting them in front of their houses. Most small towns along the Pan American Highway have at least one tumilo for ever person living in the town (not kidding). Typically I curse these stupid speed bumps. But now I owe one my life.

It so happens that the tiny one way street I walk down every day on my way home from the gym only has two speed bumps, well one full one and one that’s been chiseled away by annoyed motorists. I’ve walked this street manny times, it’s almost second nature. So, on my birthday I was thinking more about being twenty-six and what that meant for my life than my walk home. It’s funny what a birthday can make you think about. Thoughts of future relationships and the desire to start a family drifted through my brain. A glimpse of my life as a writer floated in front of my eyes. Right now I am teaching in Guatemala, but at twenty-six is that where I want to be for another year? Can I find what I am looking for down here? Do I want to go back to school and could I do that while I’m living here? Just teaching was okay for twenty-five, but the passing of another year sure makes me wonder. So, I was deep in thought and rocking out to Snow Patrol when I decided to cross the street.
The traffic for the one-way street is supposed to come up the street towards the gym, the opposite direction I was walking, so I could watch the on coming traffic. As I was about to cross the street, a car turned up the street so I adjusted my pace accordingly and stepped off the sidewalk to cross before the car sped past me. Unfortunately here in Guatemala one way streets are really just a suggestion. Like flossing or changing your oil, no one really does it. I should have known that a car would be coming the wrong way on the one-way street. But I was to busy enjoying my birthday. So, I stepped out on the street and, Wham! Whack! However you describe being rammed into by a car and flung into the air. I landed on my feet a couple of yards away from the car. Instantly I started pointing with my index finger at the car, trying to help him realize that he was going the wrong way. Then like a spike being hammered into the train tracks I realized I’d just been blindsided by a car, on my birthday. Is this what I want out of my life? As I stood shaken next to the curb the car zoomed off and I was left to walk home with a sore knee, hip, and elbow.
Why didn’t the accident do more damage to me? Was my health my birthday present from God? The car had just crossed over the speed bump and started to speed back up when it nailed me. These speed bumps might not be legal, but I am sure thankful for the one that helped save my life. The rest of my birthday was great. And I am very thankful for all of the Birthday wishes I received. Here’s to turning twenty-six and having a shot at turning twenty-seven!