Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turning 50 – October 23

On October 23rd I entered into a new era of life. I turned 50! Not a big deal. I imagine millions of people experience this each day.

My mom had planned a family dinner at the Fircrest Golf Club the night of my birthday which I looked forward to. Then, at the coaxing of my friend Liesl, I decided to have an additional party for family and friends on the 24th at Joeseppi’s. Prior to this weekend, I suffered from some bug that I must have caught while in Guatemala. Needless to say, I was feeling my age that week. Fortunately, I recovered well enough to enjoy the festivities.

My brother, his wife, son and his girlfriend drove up from California, which was a blessing in itself, allowing my entire family to be there for Saturday night. My niece, Andrea had everyone share something they appreciated about me, which added a nice touch to the evening.

I was overwhelmed the next night and a bit out of my element being the center of attention. The plan was to have an open house approach to the evening. However, as it turned out—and I liked how it turned out—folk lingered and mingled. The room wasn’t made for the amount of people I invited. Fortunately, not everyone was able to attend. But there was a great turnout and I feel blessed to have the friends and family that God planned for me.

Thanks to Liesl, people were asked to bring 50 of something. This opened it up for just about anything from 50 rolls of toilet paper, nails, batteries, candy, cookies, marbles, 50 sharpened pencils (for those “You’ve Got Mail movie fans), tennis balls (actually, I was told there were only 49), and an assortment of tasty treats.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Villa Hortencia I, Guatemala – October 8-18

I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala with a team from my church. We support Agros Ministries, a Seattle-based organization that builds partnerships between rural poor villages in Central America and churches, businesses and individuals. Together we are a sponsor for the village of Villa Hortencia 1 for the next five years.

I was excited to visit a new country with goals that stretched beyond my own selfish desire to travel. I have to admit that I was itching to use my camera for the first time out of the U.S. What I found was a country of vivid color and colorful people willing to share their lives with a smile.

Our team arrived in the village to the sad news of a family that lost a seven-month old baby just that morning. We joined that family in their home and prayed for them. It was hard not to go through the village that day without the reminder of their loss. That afternoon we joined the community in the mile-long funeral procession that took us from their home to the cemetery outside of town. This day set the tone for the week as we were engulfed with a sense of community I have never experienced.

We drove the one and a half hour 9-mile drive to the village from our hotel in Nebaj. Having just recently been to Disneyland, this drive resembled the Reality TV version of the Indiana Jones ride. The recent rainy season transformed the road to an obstacle course where we needed to navigate deep ruts and parts of the road that no longer existed. Fortunately we had 4WD vehicles. I was able to experience the road in several ways: from the back seat, from the back bed and from behind the wheel. Each had its own challenge and fun.

Three aspects of our visit in Villa Hortencia were particularly meaningful to me: the community, the children, and the village leaders.

The idea of community rang strong in my head throughout the week (I’m pretty sure I’m not confusing that ringing from the altitude and dehydration). It was hard not to see it during the funeral. But it was an undercurrent that was more felt than seen. Granted, the town population in just around 600, but everyone seemed affected by the ups and downs of the other. The women were the bankers of the town and knew where the money was and should be spent. One man had a pharmacy, another grew potatoes, one had a small grocery store, another cut hair. Neither one prospered by our country’s standards, but each one relied on the other for the success of the village.

You cannot visit this village (or any other village I presume) without being affected by the children. Upon our first arrival into town, we were greeted by the laughter of kids running up to us and jumping on the beds of our trucks with their inquisitively penetrating eyes. There was one boy that specifically caught my attention and I enjoyed getting to know this young man. My Spanish is pretty limited and the main language of the village is Quiche. So I would use a lot of hand and body language to get my point across. He seemed to understand me really well. On my last day, I learned that he was mute and could not hear. I was glad that I didn’t learn this until the end of my visit and was able to address him like I did everyone else. He certainly enjoyed having his picture taken.

Another lasting impression I had was the honor to meet with the leaders of the village, each proudly inviting us to their home and property. Commitment and honor radiated from them as they explained their roles and commitment to their particular position in government. As a group, they took the time to demonstrate the way new council members are sworn into office as a good number of the villagers crowded into the community building to witness the ceremony.

Understatedly, the trip was awesome. However, what was crucial for me was our morning devotion time. We started each day with a time of devotion. Each of our ten-member team read from the Bible and facilitated discussion that pertained to our time in the village. In the evening I kept a journal and as I reflected on the day each night, I was blown away with how our morning time directly correlated with what happened that day. God’s great!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

California Running – September 9-18

I volunteer with Curtis Cross-Country. What a treat to be able to spend a couple hours each day running with people who enjoy the sport and each other’s company. I enjoy the conversations and laughs we generate each day. I also enjoy the leadership and friendship of the two head coaches, Coach Mangrum and Coach Bird.

Each year Coach Mangrum chooses to kick off the season at a distant invitational. This year we attended the Don Bosco Invitational held at Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale, California—which happened to be only a couple of miles from El Monte, where my brother lives. So I joined family with fun. I drove down with mom so she could spend quality time with my brother while I ran with the team. After the meet, I would join the family as well.

The team stayed at Anaheim Quality Inn & Suites, within walking distance from Disneyland. This location was about halfway between the Dam and the beaches. Prior to the event, we ran a couple training runs along the beach and, afterwards, swam and bodysurfed. It was awesome!

The meet was a great spot visually for running. I’m not sure how fun it was for the team. Parts of the course were sandy, parts were grass and riddled with tree roots, while parts were concrete. However, the weather was perfect and the back drop of the Los Angeles Mountains made for great pics.