In The Wild

When 11,200 feet above sea-level, sleeping in a tent, living like the early man, fishing, cooking over a fire, it is easy to feel uncomfortable and a little challenged.  Unless you’re this guy:

If you have been following my blog, you know that I spent the first week of August up in the Pecos Wilderness.  I’ve talked about wandering around lost and how hard the hike was, but what about what happened in the wild?

I went into the wild on a search, for fish, a fresh night sleeping on my new sleeping mat, and friendship.  What I found might have been a little different.  Heck, I shared a tent with the older version of the man pictured above, so how could my adventure turn out the way I expected?

Life in the wild is therapeutic for me.  I love backpacking because it gives me a chance to leave my normal life and leave it all behind.  Computers. Smartphones. Jobs. Stress.  I love being off the grid.

Guatemala was off the grid, or at least I was off most everyone else’s grid.  Living off the grid can be a challenge, especially not knowing the language, something unexpected could always be expected to happen.  But now that I am living in Colorado, I feel the need to get away, go backpacking, so that I can be challenged and refocus on life.

And so, up in the Pecos Wilderness, off the grid, we were attacked by a hungry heard of chipmunks.  Those little rodents were aggressive.  We had to lock away our food, even so they unzipped my backpack and chewed through three layers of plastic bagging just to eat three raisins.  They were telling me that the Stewart Lake campground was their home turf and I better show some respect.  Maybe they’d grown too used to backpackers and I could see why.  As I packed my backpack a troop of 15 teenagers hiked into our area to set up camp.

After a little fishing we packed our tent and trekked up to Lake Johnson.  If Stewart Lake my first step into the wild, albeit a little crowded, Lake Johnson was truly off the grid.

Other than the Rices, our backpacking partners, we didn’t see another human for a couple days.  It was just me, my dad, and the wild.

The fishing up at the high mountain lake was great, but then again, not great.  But maybe that was part of the challenge.  When I can’t just walk up to the closest Chipotle for a burrito to feed my hunger.  Providing food for myself isn’t meant to be easy.  Sometimes the fish just don’t bite.  And when they don’t, what’s going to calm the hunger pains?

Fortunately, I packed in enough food and really, caught plenty of fish.  I spent most of my time out by the lake, casting my line.  It was a beautiful time, but also invigorating.  Each night on the backpacking trip, we lit our stoves, boiled water so we wouldn’t get sick, and then hoped our food would turn out edible.

In the wild you can’t rely on your own strength, just ask Aaron Ralston.  He got stuck and lost an arm.

In the wild it can rain or not rain.  Too much one way or the other and you could be dead.

But in the wild you can also find life.

In the wild, up at Lake Johnson, I reconnected with my best friend.  Philip and I grew up going to church together, but because we live in two different states, hadn’t been able to talk in several years.

At night around the camp fire, with no computers or iPhones, we were able to engage in each other’s lives again.

Philip is currently stepping out into the wild in his own life.  God has called him into the full time ministry.  He has left his job, just months after becoming a father, and is placing his trust in God to provide for him.

There is nothing wilder than living on the edge for God.

On our last night around the fire, Sid, Philip’s dad, asked us to talk about what we’d experienced on the trip.

We’d talked about fishing, joked about all the deer that’d wander through our campsite (they would wander through and nibble on our leftovers knowing they were safe as it wasn’t hunting season).

But my favorite part was was talking about faith and community.  I don’t think these conversations would’ve happened if we hadn’t gone into the wild.  I felt focused on life, as each morning and night, around the the camp stove, we shared our hearts.

As I packed up my tent to hike out of the wild, I knew I didn’t want to stop sharing my life with the people around me.   It took going into the wild to see that my life needs true community.

This year, while I pursue my masters in teaching, I don’t want to forget what I learned in the wild.  I know that my studies will be challenging, but I’ll get comfortable. I know I’ll be connected to the grid.  But I hope that I stay connected to the community around me and not stop living in God’s wild creation.

All Who Wander

 

“Dad, you know the Tolkien quote,” I started hesitantly.  My dad and I were about 45 minutes into our hike up to Lake Johnson and the trail had just vanished in an open meadow.

“Yeah, the one where Frodo sings, ‘The Road Goes Ever on and on, Down from the door where it began.  Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with weary feet, Until it joins some larger way, Where man paths and errands meet.  And wither then?  I cannot say.'”

Fortunately my dad did not sing, but unfortunately he’d said the wrong quote.  “No, Tolkien says, ‘not all who wander are lost.'”

“Yeah,” answered my dad.

“We’re wandering and we’re lost.”  Roads might go ever on, but ours was dead in the grass, consumed in the wild.  And if we wandered much longer, my 40 pound pack was going to be the death of me.

Can You Find Your Way To Lake Johnson?

My dad pulled out his map and I plopped off my backpack.  It looked like the trail was supposed to be leading to the West, but the fire road we’d tried after the original trail petered out was going East.  But neither of us are expert map readers and each time I tried to decipher the counter lines and trail dots my head spun. After a brief discussion about what we should do, I walked ahead, sans my pack, to check and see what was ahead.  The path vanished again, only to reappear a little higher up the hill.  After five minutes I knew this was no good.

We turned around and tried a trail that cut a sharp edge up the mountain.  Sadly, as promising as this trail seemed, it was the wrong one.  An hour and a-half in to what was supposed to be a 12 mile hike, my dad turned us back around and walked us back to the trailhead.

It was annoying to be back at the start, but I didn’t want to wander around and not reach Lake Johnson, so I followed.

Tolkien’s words repeating in my head, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.”  There are things unseen in the seen world, which I believe is a key part of Living Spiritually.  If I take everything for face value, I’ll miss the grand adventure God has for me.  Unfortunately, I didn’t want to see the deeper meaning of wandering.  I just wanted to be on the correct trail and to see my friends.

Maybe what the quote is really saying is, the point of life is in the journey, not just the destination.  Maybe we can wander if our goal isn’t the destination, but loving the moments we are in while we are wandering and feeling lost.

I took a deep breath and placed one foot in front of the other.  Quickly the trailhead slid behind us.  The sun was hot and my mood was still low.  We turned left at the fork in the trail, which meant taking the trail up to Stewart Lake instead of Lake Johnson.  We knew the trails should meet up, but that hadn’t been our plan.

As I moved mindlessly over the ground, passing Aspen trees and beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers, a quote from Jack Kerouac sprang to mind.  “Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by . . . Trails are like that: you’re floating along in a Shakespearean Arden paradise and expect to see nymphs and fluteboys, then suddenly you’re struggling in a hot broiling sun of hell in dust and nettles and poison oak . . . just like life.”

Keep your head down and just keep going, I thought.

With my eyes glued to the trail I smacked head first into my dad’s pack.  He’d stopped for some reason.  “Hey!” said a familiar voice.  It was Philip, my friend we were hiking up to see.  He was on his way down the trail to pick up his brother from the airport.  He’s no nymph, but seeing him was very other worldly.  I’d felt lost and dejected as I hauled my pack up the trail, but he confirmed that we were going the correct way and that we’d see him the next day at camp.

Kerouac is dead wrong, I countered.  I can’t live life with my eyes closed to the magical world around me.  I don’t want to glide along until the trail ends or my life is over.  I want to keep my eyes open, even if what I see let’s me down.  Even if I get lost along the way.  After running in to Philip the trail opened up and the hike became easier.  And definitely prettier.

And so the road went ever on, to Stewart Lake and then to Lake Johnson.  My dad was right, though we were lost, we were still on the same road that led out of our front door, we were connected to the greater adventure along the way.  And while we hiked, I kept my eyes open and saw covey of grouse, Indian Paintbrushes, and a friend who I hadn’t seen in several years.

Tolkien is right, not all who wander are lost.

 

Finding Grace On I-25 Just North Of The Pecos Wilderness

Last week I hiked up into the heart of the Pecos Wilderness with my dad and some old friends.  It had been over a decade since I’d truly backpacked, not counting my winter hunting trips.  It was great to set up the tent, cast the rod and catch some fish, and to renew old friendships.

So I don’t wander off in this blog, like my dad and I did on our trek up to Stewart Lake, I’m going to graciously trek right to the point.  Though fishing was great, hiking was breathtaking, and reforming friendships over conversations about faith and serving in our own community was refreshing, what really hit me was the weather.

Yep, I’m going to talk about the weather.  Okay, I promise that my next blog will hike back into the realm of backpacking and what a joy it is to wander, especially when wandering into challenging conversations of faith and community.

I want to talk about weather, because I want to talk about grace.  Have you ever noticed how we can’t really control the weather?  It either rains or it doesn’t, especially when you’re out in the wild.  Grace often works the same way.  You either receive it or you don’t.  It’s never something you deserve.

As my dad and I hiked up the sun slowly baked us.  It was hot, and it stayed hot all week long.  The last time we’d been up in the Pecos Wilderness it had rained non stop.  I remember it being so wet we had a river in our tent.  Not this time.

It was weird that it didn’t rain.  I really didn’t mind the lack of rain, but it just felt weird.

As we hiked 9 miles down out of the wild it was so hot my feet started to burn.  I had to walk on my toes so my heals wouldn’t blister up.

What little water I had left at the end of the trail I dumped on my head just to cool off.  It felt amazing.  A little water can really be gracious on a hot day.

The water dripped off my bare head and shoulders onto the dry ground, evaporating immediately.

It wasn’t until we drove out of Las Vegas, NM that we felt the first drop of rain.  Or at least the Nisan Titan felt the rain.  The rain clouds looked like hands dragging their long fingers along the dry mesa tops as if they were scraping for last crumbs.

 

It was gorgeous.  But inside the cab I still felt parched.  We’d brought along two Dublin Dr Peppers for a celebratory drink at the end of the hike, but, as they’d been sitting in the hot truck all week, we were forced to wait until they could be cooled down with ice.   As we sep north on I-25 I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I popped open our two Dublin Dr Peppers.  They were ice cold.  As I swigged down the real sugar drink, I knew I’d just broken my sugar fast, but after the dry hike it was worth it.  Mine tasted phenomenal.  Probably as good as rain does after a long dry summer.

As we drove through Pueblo, Colorado the rain was coming down in sheets.  I was thankful we hadn’t faced this type of rain on our trip, ’cause now I was safe inside the cab of the truck with the AC blasting and no need for rain to cool me down.

Inside the cab we were listening to U2’s album All That You Can’t Leave Behind and as the rain died down the album came to a close.  Bono was singing about Grace.

Grace, she takes the blame.  She covers the shame. Removes the blame.  It could be her name.

It hit me, not like the soft rain we’d driven through in New Mexico, but like the drowning rain in Pueblo, we need grace just as we needed water on our hot hike.  I had to press repeat on my iPod so I could listen to it again.  It made me think, am I showing grace to the people around me or am I like the hot dusty trail I hiked on?

Am I a thirst quenching Dr Pepper or am I a hot pair of boots rubbing blisters?

Bono says, “Grace finds beauty in everything.  Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”

Life Is A Highway And I’m Lost!

Of all the songs to have stuck in my head, “Life is a Highway,” sung first by Tom Cochrane, was the last song I’d have asked to be echoing in my brain.

I mean, yes, “life’s like a road you travel on.” I’ll accept that tired metaphor, but I’ll curse the lyrics, “Life is a highway and I’m gonna drive it all night long.”

But last Friday as I was on my way to a wedding I didn’t want to drive the road all night long.  I’d set out a good hour before the start of the ceremony, which should’ve given me plenty of time, as mapquest told me the drive would only take a little over half-an-hour.

With my directions printed out and in the seat next to me (I haven’t buckled yet and bought a smart phone), I headed south on Santa Fe Blvd, taking the old trail the Indians and Cowboys used to travel from Denver to Santa Fe, New Mexico, towards the little train stop community of Larkspur, CO.  Fortunately the road was free of horses and wagons, but unfortunately it was raining hard, slowing the traffic down just enough to make me worry.  Time was slipping by.  The wedding was at 5pm and I was pushing 4:45.  All I wanted to do was make to the wedding on time.

Sadly, as I reached Castle Rock, a town noted for the rock on the east side of town that looks like a, you guessed it, castle, I missed my turn.  Maybe it was because of the rain, but I am man enough to admit it, I was just absolutely turned around on my way to Crooked Willow Farms.

I was frustrated and lost.  Why hadn’t I asked some of my friends who I knew were going to the wedding to carpool?  Too late now, I though as I zipped around Castle Rock.

Sometimes when you are lost, okay, sometimes when I am lost I lose all self-respect and ask for directions.

I flicked on my blinker and pulled off the failed road I’d been driving, and stopped at the closest gas station to ask for directions.  “Okay, take your first left, then take a right on Founders, and then a left on 85.  Oh and get off on exit 184,” said the gas station clerk in a fast Asian dialect.  Time was ticking and so I didn’t ask her to clarify.

I should have.  If life is truly a highway and you don’t want to drive it all night long, always ask for clarification.

Back in the Honda Civic, I took my first left into a Wal-Mart parking lot.  Wait, I was lost, again!  What she didn’t say, was I needed to get on Interstate I-25 and then take my first left.  So, I turned around and merged onto 1-25 going south.  Instantly I realized I was going the wrong way.  If she wanted me to exit the highway at 184, then mile marker 179 sure was the wrong way.

Stuck on the highway, all night long! I don’t want to drive it, all night long!  Worried I wouldn’t be able to exit until Colorado Springs, which would’ve taken me an extra twenty miles away from my final destination, I started beating on the wheel.  “Get me off this stinking highway,” screamed.  I wanted to exit immediately, but I was stuck on my course, the guard rails blocking any attempt to ditch the road.

In a moment of clarity I realized, Larkspur is south of Castle Rock.  I wasn’t going the wrong way, I was just on a different road. But then I realized I didn’t have directions to the wedding from I-25 and I wasn’t sure when the exit for Larkspur would show itself.

It was already 5:20 and I felt demoralized.  I was going to ride this rainy road all night long.

By now I was cursing the fact I don’t have an iPhone.  I was screaming at the highway for not letting me exit so I could check my bearings.  And then, at mile marker 174 I saw an exit and took it.

The man at the Yogi Bear Jellystone mountain biking tour shop looked at me sympathetically and said, “Get back on to I-25 and go south one more mile.  Exit at 173 and you’re in Larkspur.  Now for Crooked Willow Farms take a right at Fox Road under the railroad and then curve around to Perry Road.  You’ll find your destination on your right.”

Larkspur was so close!  As I turned off into the little town, very late and rain still pouring down, I felt at ease.  I turned right onto Perry.  Wait, wasn’t Fox Road supposed to come first?  I crossed over the rail road and kept driving.

And then I saw the sign.  Hannah And Dave’s Wedding This Way!

I was on the wrong road, but it led me to the wedding anyway.  As I parked my car and snuck up to the outdoor venue I realized it didn’t matter that I was late.  This night wasn’t about me.  It was about my friends, and heck they were busy saying their vows, they wouldn’t notice my tardiness.

Even though it rained through the rest of the ceremony, the wedding and reception were fantastic.  And It dried up in time for me to dance like a mad man.  As I drove home, safely and without any detours, I started thinking about how life is really like a highway.

Back in Castle Rock I’d missed my turn.  I could’ve tried to figure things out on my own, but I decided to stop and ask someone.  That’s being open to letting other’s into my life.  Even more than being open to people, I find I need to be open to God.  Often times in life I get a little lost and all I need to do is stop and ask God for directions.

Even after I messed up the directions again, got on the highway the wrong way and took the wrong road, I still made it to the wedding.  If we trust God he’ll help us reach the correct destination.  No matter if we mess up along the way, he’ll get us back on track if we let him, and then maybe we’ll figure out that life’s not always about us, but the people we’re traveling to see.

So if you ever get lost in life or on the road, you just have to trust the signs, ask for directions, and keep driving all night long.

In-N-Out: My Weekend In San Diego

On June 30th I experienced the best fast food burger I’d ever eaten.  I went to In-N-Out Burger for the first time.  It was as good as advertised and well worth the 28 year wait.  Plus, eating at the burger joint, which has a much deserved cult like following, capped off an extremely great weekend.

The day before, I stumbled out of bed in Colorado, a perfect state to live in, save for the lack of In-N-Out Burgers, and boarded a plane at an unhealthy hour of 6:00-am for San Diego.

The real reason for my early flight was a wedding.  My good friend RJ was to be married on the beach behind the Catamaran Resort.  RJ and I were in a men’s life group in college called Rootz (The spelling is still being argued over).  Over the years our friendship deepened over our love of sports (I have to constantly forgive him for being a Patriots fan) and adventures.  Our friendship grew stronger when I moved to Guatemala.

No, RJ didn’t ever visit, he was too busy trying to find his life’s calling here in the states, and I don’t blame him, because if he hadn’t, he never would have met his future wife.  No, RJ was one of the few from Rootz who stayed in contact with me while I was in Guatemala.  His commitment to the friendship meant a ton to me, and so when I received the invitation to his wedding in the mail, I knew I needed to be there.

His wedding was at 3-pm on Friday, June 29th, the same day as my early flight.  I would’ve loved to have spent more time in San Diego, but on my meager budget I could only afford one night.  I boarded my plane in hot Colorado, leaving the horrible forest fires behind, and half a morning later I walked out of the San Diego Airport.  The clear blue sky and 70 degree temperature instantly made me love the city.

Around 2-pm I started making my way to the Catamaran Hotel with my friend Rob.  We’d decided to walk over to the wedding, only a three mile walk, which is nothing when the sky is clear blue sky and cool breeze comforts you along the way.  Walking is also a plus because Rob found a 20 dollar bill along the way.  My discovery wasn’t as cool, but when I saw that one of the wedding guests was wearing sandals I was ecstatic!  Without hesitation I peeled off my hot dress shoes and slid on my sandals.

The wedding was beautiful.  RJ and his wife, Andrea, couldn’t have asked for a better day.  Andrea was gorgeous and RJ looked stellar.  But I think the wedding could’ve been in bland Wichita (my apologies go out to Marinés, my only friend who lives in the little Kansas town) and I still would have been thrilled to be there.  Yes, it was a blast to dance the night away, to take a ferry across Mission Bay at midnight, but nothing compared to being there for my friend.

I wanted to be at the wedding to let RJ know I supported him and Andrea and that I would be praying for them as they took the next step in their lives.

I haven’t been able to attend all of the weddings that I’ve been invited to, but as I danced, ate, and spent a little time talking to RJ, I knew this was the best way I could say thank you for being my friend.

I believe strongly in staying connected with people.  Sometimes it takes only a phone call and sometimes it takes a plane ride.  I guess that’s why I went to the wedding, but it’s also why I went to In-N-Out Burger.  The day after the wedding, after a great breakfast with RJ and Andrea, I met up with another friend who lives in San Diego.   Kasey and I had worked together in Guatemala.  We hadn’t talked in almost a year, since we’d both moved back, but as we ate, our friendship felt instantly renewed.

Maybe that’s what having a Dr Pepper, animal style french fries, and a burger with special sauce will do.  Or maybe that’s what happens when you reach out to your friends.  After we ate our burgers Kasey drove me back to the airport.  I was exhausted.  My trip to San Diego truly had been in and out, but even though it was so quick, it was very much worth it.

For me, even a quick trip is worth reconnecting with friends and showing them that you care about them.  I mean if we didn’t have friends and family, who would we love and be loved by?  Or more importantly who would take us to In-N-Out Burger?

Why I Love Guatemala

Where is the land of enchantment?  No, it’s not New Mexico.  You have to south of the boarder.  Okay, a little farther south.  That’s right, Guatemala is the real land of enchantment.  Okay, maybe not all of Guatemala is that enchanting.  But no other country, outside of the good’ol U.S.A., has my heart like Guatemala.

Do you heart Antigua?

So why do I love Guatemala?  What follows is my top five reasons I love Guatemala and think it is a great travel destination and even more so an amazing place to live.

1. All of the gigantic volcanoes, whether they are erupting or just challenging me to hike or photograph, I love them.

El Fuego sits behind the volcano of Acatenango. I enjoyed watching it spout smoke from my safe rooftop in Antigua.
Even on a clear day in Xela a cloud loves to hang around the massive Santa Maria.

2. The Colonial Cathedrals.  I love old buildings and well, these ones have stood the test of time.

This Cathedral was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake.
Some lucky couple was getting married the night I took this picture.
Nun's who couldn't live in the real world would use the archway to pass over the street. Or so I was told.

3. The Amazing Coffee.  Err, I mean how everyone loves Guatemalan Coffee. (Everyone but me)

Before it's picked, dried, and roasted, it's sweet.
I know coffee lovers love these.
Coffee being processed forCafé Tranquilidad

4. The craftsmanship, be it food or a hand-knit blanket, Guatemalans can make some beautiful goods.  Cuidado!  Be careful where you eat, ’cause you want to take the beautiful hand-made scarf home with you, not amoebas.

Found these at the store. I'd never had them before. Jury is still out.
I love those colors!
The Market in Antigua.

5.  Most of all Guatemalan’s have passion, which makes me love them right back.  If you travel to Guatemala you will find that the rich and the poor, both have huge hearts.  Their genuine way of life makes them extremely beautiful.

The Chivos Fans Love Their team!
They Love Each Other.
Can't you tell she's got a big heart?
Will it stand?
Love's in her eyes.
They love being noobs!
Me and my spanish teacher.

I hope someday that everyone will be able to travel down to Guatemala and come up with their own list for why they love Guatemala.  It is an adventure, but be careful you just might be enchanted!

My Adventurous Week In Xela

One week in Xela isn’t enough, but March 3-10th was all the time I had to spend in my home away from home.  I’d traveled down to Xela, Guatemala to help lead the Inter-American’s Spiritual Emphasis Week, and as most mission trips go, it was jam-packed with fun life impacting experiences.  It was an adventure.

To start off my team of 4 1/2 nearly had to leave our half behind in Houston.

Taca requires babies, even those under two years old, to have a ticket.  Sure wish Orbitz had told about that one when, we were buying our tickets.  Fortunately, Mike Davis was able to talk the Taca (Take A Chance Airlines) agent into letting us buy a ticket for Bailey, and we all made it onto the plane.  And I can’t imagine the week without that little girl.  Heck, and what would’ve she done for a week all by herself in the Houston Airport?  She’s no Tom Hanks.

And so on Saturday March 3rd all 4 1/2 of us made it to Xela.  Here are the top 10 events from my mission trip in Xela.

1. Spending time with the McMarlins.  Saturday March 3rd my team and I were welcomed in to the McMarlin’s house for breakfast and lunch.  I worked with Laurel McMarlin for three years and his wife Donna had taken me in as if I was her own son, so it was truly great to see them again.  Laurel is the Chaplin at IAS and leads the English-speaking Anglican service at St. Mark’s in Xela on Sundays.

After church, which was cool in its own right because a lot of people came just to hear my dad preach (just think people coming to hear my dad) most of the teachers from IAS went over to the McMarlin’s for lunch.  It was great being able to catch up with old friends.  Thank you Laurel and Donna for opening up your house to me one more time.

2. Irene Ovelle’s Quince.  Last June when I went to what I thought would be my last Quinceaños, but to my surprise Irene invited me to her party, which just happened to be the first day I was back in Xela.  So after lunch with the McMarlin’s I got myself all dressed up, and headed out to her grandparent’s to see all of my former students.  I had been waiting nearly nine months to see all of them, so I was about as excited as my little niece was on Christmas Eve.

Probably the best part of the night, other than all the awesome hugs I received and the crazy dance moves I laid down and being able to disrupt all of the  dancing couples and generally just being able to act like a kid, was when Angelo (A vegetarian) tried to challenge me to a hotdog eating contest.  See last year I accepted his challenge only to find out he was only eating the buns.  I declined, but it really made me laugh.

3. Sunday after church I took Luispe, Dani, and Hugo up La Muela.  First off, this hike in itself is one of my favorite things to do, ever, but getting to hike it with a couple of my former students was even better.  I think more of my former student’s would’ve come had it not been for the party the night before. Mr. Smith, IAS’s science teacher, came with us and almost died on the way down.  Dani was hiking above him and accidentally knocked a rock lose.  The rock smashed right above Mr. Smith’s head.  Mr. Smith seems to attract death, it’s almost like he’s Charlie from Lost and the island is trying to kill him off.  Sure am glad he didn’t die, it would have put a damper on the beautiful day.

4. Playing games with the elementary kids.  During my two years as the elementary PE teacher at IAS I came up with all kids of tag games for the little kids.  On monday we got to play my favorite game of tag.  Zombie Tag.  It was so much fun hearing the little kids run around screaming, “Must Eat Brain.”  The next day we played my other favorite tag game, Model tag, which requires the kid who gets tagged to strike a pose.  Once the pose is struck the kid can only be released when someone takes their picture.  We didn’t get to play Santa tag, but that’s out of season anyway.

5. Coffee Plantation Tour.  On Tuesday afternoon I took my team down to Santa Maria de Jesus for a tour of the Brodbeck’s coffee plantation.  Dianne and Marty Brodbeck used to work at the school, but now that they are retired they supply IAS with what I’ve heard is the worlds best coffee (I don’t like Coffee). Mike, Stacey, Bailey, and my dad love coffee, so I think they really enjoyed learning how it is grown, picked, and processed.

Did you know that the coffee bean is sweet when it is picked?  Did you know if you picked 500 pounds of coffee bean after it is shelled, processed, and dried you’d end up with 60 pounds?  After our tour we were sitting around the Brodbeck’s yard enjoying boquitas when I looked at my watch, and realized we needed to get going or we would miss the last bus back up the mountain.  Like the coffee crazed fanatics that they are, my dad, Mike and Stacey, and Bailey rushed back to the Brodbeck’s storehouse and promptly bought them out of coffee.  With copious amounts of coffee in hand we jumped on the last bus to Xela and bounced our way back up the mountain.

6. Camila.  Everyone should have a little kid who fallows you around and tells you how much they love you.  Camila, a cute little first grader, used to tell me she loved me every chance she got.  When she first saw me on Monday I could tell she wasn’t sure what to do.  Her eyes were darting from me back to Stacey, who was giving the message, and then back to me.  During afternoon recess on Monday she followed me around and told me all about how she loved the first grade and how she thought she’d never see me again.

On Friday, when I got to school, after hanging out with all of the middle schoolers and high schoolers for three days, I noticed that Camila wasn’t there.  Yasi, my good friend and the school’s secretary, told me Camila’s mom had called in saying Camila was sick, but that her little girl was heartbroken because she wouldn’t get to say goodbye to Mr. Scott.  I love that kid.

7. Retreat.  On Wednesday I hopped onto a bus full of middle schoolers and headed down to Reu for three high energy days and two sleepless nights.  My dad and I challenged the students to look at their lives and see how God has worked in the good times and the bad times.  Day one, I was working with the current 10th grade class.  Each boy shared a short version of their life story, at first it was rather shallow, but as the week progressed, I could tell the boys were opening their hearts to what God had for them. At the end of the week a couple of the boys said they really wanted a stronger walk with God.

Retreat also had plenty of crazy moments.  The eleventh grade boys decided to take on the cinnamon challenge.  That is, they tried to swallow packets of cinnamon without the help of water.  I’d heard the myth that it can’t be done, well let me tell you, it can.

But also, don’t ever try to snort it.  All of the boys wanted me to try to eat the packet.  Not needing to prove my manhood to these boys, I refused.  But then they opened a packet up onto my hand and I knew I had to do something.  So, I dumped the cinnamon onto the table and said, “let’s get Hugo, he’ll snort this.”  So we all wiped a little cinnamon onto our noses and called Hugo into the room.  “We’ve all done it,” I said.  Without hesitation Hugo bent down and inhaled the entire packet.  I’m pretty sure he was sneezing cinnamon for the rest of retreat.  My props go out to Hugo, he’s a stud.

8. Pool fights and Revenge.  On Thursday Katja and Isa, two of the tenth grade girls, decided to get into a water fight with me.  Silly girls.  One of the best things about retreat is being able to form relationships with the kids from IAS.  Many of the kids came up to me and told me how their lives were going and asked me for advice.  It was so awesome to hear how they were growing.  That didn’t happen with Katja or Isa.  They just wanted a water fight.  They are noobs.

I was on the basketball court trying to make half court shots with a couple of the kids, when out of no where a water balloon bounces off of my back.  Then another one burst at my sandaled feet.  Katja and Isa were cautiously trying to have a water fight.  It was cute, they would throw a balloon and then try to look all innocent.  To this point I’d done nothing to deserve their wrath.  After they’d exhausted their ammo, which only got my shirt a little wet, I chased after them, only to be grabbed by Kain and Mario, two of their classmates, and dragged off to the pool.  I didn’t put up too much of a fight, as I was in my swimsuit, but I also didn’t want the boys to think I was weak.  So I broke free, tossed Kain on the ground, pushed Mario out-of-the-way, hoisted Isa onto my shoulders, and jumped into the pool.  Katja has been warned.  Revenge will be mine.

9. Singing Coldplay with Sharom.  On the bus ride back to Xela I decided to ride up with the High School bus.  I’d ridden down with the middle schoolers, who were really crazy, and so I felt God tell me to get onto the High School bus.  I am so glad I rode with the High Schoolers because half way up we passed the Middle School bus, which was broken down on the side of the road.

Not only was I on the bus that worked, but Sharom, my Guatemalan sister, shared one of her headphones with me and we rocked out to Coldplay the entire way up.  I sang to the entire bus, well at least those in the seats closest to me, the bus was too loud for everyone to hear, which was probably a good thing.  I will remember that bus ride for a long time.  Thank you Sharom, for such a fun memory.

10. Having Dinner with Yasi, her husband, and their daughter Eli.  I think the entire week was about connecting.  We tried to connect with the kids and the teachers, and yet one person I didn’t get to spend much time with was Yasi.  Yasi was more than my secretary she was also my running partner.

Because I was on retreat I didn’t get to spend much time with her and her family, so she invited my dad, Mike and Stacey, Bailey, and me over for dinner that Friday night.  I made Yasi’s week by surprising her with a copy of Mockingjay that I brought down with her.  The time I spent in conversation with her helped make a fabulous week that much better.  I hope that everyone gets to know Yasi at some point in their life.

Thank you to everyone who helped make my week in Xela an Adventure!

My Last Guatemalan Adventure!

Until last week it had been nearly nine months since I’d set foot in Guatemala.  June 18th my was last true night in Xela.  That rainy night, dressed in my first suit, I went to my last Quinceaños and something happened that would shape the course of the next 9 months.  As I look back it still feels like it was yesterday.

But it wasn’t yesterday, and a lot has happened in the between time.  Since that night in June I flew to Hawaii for my little sister’s graduation vacation, flew to Tulsa for a wedding and to meet my amazing nephew Lincoln, flew to Washington DC for my cousin’s wedding, and then finally landed in Denver.  Denver has been its own adventure, one I am still trying to figure out.

The story that follows is about my last Guatemalan adventure and why it took me nine months to write.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Three weeks prior to the big Quinceaños, I bumped into Alexa, the quinceñera, at McDonald’s.  I was planning my own goodbye party with a couple of students when she came over and plopped a black and white card onto the table.  “My invitation?” I asked.  “Noob,” she replied.  I waited for her car to drive off before I ripped open my invitation.  The card was fancy, typical, but then I realized something different about the invitation.  On the little card signifying that I was invited it said I could bring one guest.  A date!

By handing me an invitation and telling me I could bring a date, Alexa had unwittingly filled my life with stress.  I felt like Cinderella on the night of the ball in search of a dress.  I needed a suit and a date.  So little time.  Okay! I’m exaggerating, I knew how to buy a suit.

The girl, well, that’s the adventure.

At first she had just been my gym crush.  We’d done plenty of mutual smiling and eye contact followed by the quick head turn.  But it wouldn’t ever work, I mean as far as I knew she only spoke Spanish and well, I was moving back to the states.  However, I didn’t want to move back to Colorado without trying to talk to a Guatemalan girl.

The Switchfoot song Gone became my motto.  The song says, live like there’s no tomorrow, because today will soon be gone.  The song even inspired me to write a blog about living purposefully, which was really just my own pep talk to try to say hi to this girl.  That was back in February of 2011.  Taking my own advice I started aprovecharseing (taking advantage of) my time left in Guatemala, which meant talking to her the next time I saw her.

Okay, so the time after that.

I wasn’t going to waste any time.  So, I enlisted Yasi, my running partner and go to girl for Spanish, to ask the girl what her name was.  My plan was to have Yasi befriend her and then introduce me to her.  Well, I finally met her and to my relief she spoke English.  I was so nervous the first time we spoke most people might have thought I wasn’t the native English speaker, and if we hadn’t been at the gym my excess sweat wouldn’t have seemed natural.

The next day, after I finished my 100 sit ups or was it 1,000, I strolled casually over to her, real smooth like.  I waved and made eye contact at the same time.  Big first step, but then she took off her headphones.  “What, she wants to talk,” I thought. I managed to say, hi.  But then she kept talking, something I hadn’t planned on.  Finally I manned up and asked her if she wanted to go out to coffee so I could practice spanish.

Two weeks later, when we finally went out, I didn’t speak any spanish.

My gym crush did not turn into a relationship.

I knew I was moving, and even though I created a great dance to the Taio Cruz song Heartbreaker, I didn’t want to play with her heart.  I try to live honestly, so that first time out to coffee I told her we could only be friends.  To my surprise she was so moved by my honesty she made sure we hung out every day for the next four months.  And the night before Alexa handed me my invitation my gym crush begged me to stay.  With tears rolling down my eyes I told her I couldn’t.  I had another adventure to live and no job in Xela to keep me.  Her heart was broken.  She decided it was too painful to see me and so we said our goodbyes.

Okay, one statement in that last paragraph is true.   You get to pick.

I was so busy trying to live each day to the fullest, that I kept on putting off the inevitable truth that I was moving, plus I didn’t know how to tell her.  In my defense every time I thought our friendship was going to grow into something more, like  when we’d go out for coffee, I’d vow to tell her the truth.  But then I wouldn’t see her for a couple of weeks and I just kind of figured it didn’t matter.  Why bother telling someone you’re moving when they just aren’t in your life consistently?

One of my friends nicknamed her Carmen Sandiego, because I was always wondering where in the world she was.  By the end of May  things were a little more consistent between me and Carmen Sandiego (not her real name).  I’d told her I was flying back to the states to surprise my little sister for her graduation, but that I would be back for the end of the school year at IAS.  To my delight Miss Sandiego wrote me daily while I was home in Colorado and told me how excited she was to see me when I returned.  Her new enthusiasm gave me the resolve to tell her the truth. Honesty had to win out.

She picked me up from the grocery store the night I made it back to Xela and we went out to coffee.  Like all good coffee shop conversations we started talking about failed relationships.  And so I told her the current predicament I was in.  How I liked this girl, but was moving.

She was upset, but said we would hang out all the time until I left.  I even met her mom that night.  Wow! Why hadn’t I told the truth earlier?

The thing about Carmen Sandiego is even when you think you’ve caught her, she slips right out from under your nose.  By the time Alexa gave me the invitation to her party, I hadn’t seen miss Sandiego in a little while (more on that later).  But the invitation gave me hope.  I left McDonald’s and decided to walk home in the rain, which would give me time to think things over.

Deep in my heart, I hoped she would be at the gym, which conveniently enough was on my way home.   As I splashed up the puddled street to the gym, I scanned the area for her car.  No luck.  Downtrodden, I climbed the stairs to the second floor of the gym.  I’d use the bathroom and then head back out to the rainy night. Alone.

To my surprise on one of the treadmills across from the men’s locker room was Carmen Sandiego.

My throat constricted, how was I going to ask her to a dance?  After I told her I was moving and she took me to see her mom, we’d gone out one more time and well, she’d spent the evening texting a friend.  She was probably still heartbroken and too hurt to talk, but maybe she’d want to spend one last evening with me.

As we talked about work, and anything but the dance or my upcoming move, she offered me a ride home.  “I’ll ask her then,” I thought.  But no, I chickend out.  Okay, but maybe we’d hang out again later that night.  But no, my phone stopped working and so I spent the evening alone, such is life in Guatemala.

My final week in Xela crept up on me like Harry Potter in an invisibility cloak.  Before I knew it, I had four days until the dance and hadn’t seen Miss Sandiego in a week.  Really, I had given up on seeing her again, and I was kind of okay with that.  I thought it would be fun to take her, but figured it wouldn’t happen.  Maybe I was ready to move on.  Fortunately a mutual friend showed up at my house and offered to drive me up to Miss Sandiego’s secret hideout.  I jumped into her beat up jeep and she drove me to the pool hall.  After we played a little pool, at which I won, she took me to Miss Sandiego, which was well out of my walking distance and in a more dangerous area of town.

She answered the door and explained that she only had a little time to talk.  Faking confidence I told her I’d been invited to one of my student’s Quinceaños and I wanted her to be my guest.

She told me she would think about it, but that she didn’t like fancy parties and didn’t have a dress to wear.  Girls sure are difficult.  I made it clear that I really wanted her to go, but she wouldn’t budge.  Finally, she promised to let me know by Friday.

That Friday night, the night before the party, she told me she would go, but only if she didn’t have to stay the entire night.  I told her she was free to leave whenever she wanted.  Heck, I’d say anything just to have her there.  I was excited to have a date.

Saturday, the day of the party, I was hanging out with Fernando, one of my Guatemalan friends.  His wife was out-of-town so we had been maximizing our time on the Wii.  He thinks he is really good at Wii ping-pong, but I am better.  I was in the middle of thumping him, again, when my phone notified me that I had a text.  It was my friend telling me she was sorry that Miss Sandiego wasn’t going to make it to the dance.  I picked my wiimote back up and let Fernando beat me a couple of times.

Three years of trying to date a Guatemalan and on my last night it just wasn’t going to happen.  I thought I’d be terribly disappointed, but I wasn’t, and I’m still not sure why it didn’t bother me.

Fortunately I had an idea, why not take Fernando.  The party was a strict black and white affair and Fernando is the type of guy who is always looking for a chance to suit up.  He said yes, not hesitating for a second.

I got stood up by a girl, but the night wasn’t ruined because I went with a better friend.  Heck, if Miss Sandiego had gone to the dance with me I wouldn’t have been able to pay attention to my students.  I would’ve had to leave early when Miss Sandiego had gotten tired of dancing, which is something that never happens for me.  Instead I had one of the most memorable nights in Xela.

The food was great, but that’s not what made the night.  The dancing was awesome, when is burning up the dance floor with stupidity not the best thing ever?  But again that’s not what made the night.  Having Fernando there to talk to after I was finally allowed to sit down at the adult’s table (I had to explain I was a teacher and not a student) was a huge blessing, but eventually he left so he could get a good night sleep, as he was driving me to the airport the next day.  My night was made by my friends.  Those that came to the party just to say goodbye and give me back my sunglasses they’d kidnapped.  It was made in the quiet moments when my friends told me how much I meant to them and that they would miss me.

None of that would’ve happened if Miss Sandiego had been there.  She has since apologized for standing me up and so I ask my readers not to hate her.  God had a plan for that night, it just took me a while to realize that fact.

Because Fernando came with me to the party it further cemented our friendship.  It also taught me a little about how to be a true friend, something I have been working on doing here in Colorado.  And now he and his wife are living in the states and I was able to host them when they came through Colorado last month.  I thanked him for his friendship by beating him 7 straight times at Wii ping-pong.

That night in June as my students told me how much they’d miss me they stole my heart.  Since then I haven’t been able to stop dreaming about Guatemala.

And then my dreams came true.  No my old school wasn’t turned into Hogwarts, I was asked to form a team to lead the Spiritual Emphasis Week for IAS, of which I have written blogs for in the past.

So, why did it take me nine months to write this blog?  Because I didn’t know what the story was about until I went down to Xela during the first week of March for the Spiritual Emphasis week.  For the retreat we asked the students to share their stories, their lives.  Time and time again my students came up to me and told me what was going on in their lives, how they missed me, and asked me if they could throw me into the pool.

As I listened in I realized my last Guatemalan adventure was a story about how I was never alone while I was in Guatemala, because I had about 170 or so friends I was blessed to work with each day.  My students need to know that they made my time in Guatemala an adventure and they made that Quinceaños party special because they stopped being my students and started being my friends.

Sometimes it just takes awhile to realize who your friends are.

In the next couple of weeks I plan on writing more adventures from Spiritual Emphasis Week 2012, so please keep an eye out for new posts.  The new posts will tell fun stories about my friends and how God worked in all our lives while I was back in Guatemala.  You will also find out if I was thrown in the pool or not and if I got my revenge/or if I even needed to.  Thank you all for reading and for being a friend.