Monday, January 16, 2017

Burning Hearts Journal: Finding Victor

Selected content from Burning Hearts, Emmaus Crew Journal, A Central American Excursion - 10 Students, 5 Weeks, 4 Countries: Encountering Jesus along the road.

Dateline: Tuesday, July 5, 2016, Belmopan, Belize, Central America

Original Title: Nothing For Free - Finding Victor

I’ve never been able to keep a wristwatch in working order for longer than six months. My first was a Timex watch with a glass bevel and a black leather strap from my parents when I was in grade school. It lasted a few months before the strap tore and the glass was scratched.

Since that time I have destroyed every single watch I’ve ever owned. Unlike the history of that first watch, I’m not the type of person that typically breaks things. In fact, of all the watches that have hit the garbage, only two were due to impact or water damage. Most of them simply quit working. 

And so, I often find myself in want of a time-piece.

This past December I ordered a throw-back design watch that was popular in the 90s. It was a Shark Clip, digital surfers watch. I found it on Amazon for a little over twenty bucks. It was a kind of ugly blend of black, orange, and green. I’m not sure why, but of all the watches I looked at online, it was the one that I purchased. 

It just seemed to speak to me? "Buy me, you'll like me."

The little watch has surprised me by passing the six month mark without malfunction! Ugly or not, it gained my loyalty and I’ve enjoyed wearing it. Perhaps it came to me with a purpose?

Our team arrived Friday night in Belmopan Belize. The very next morning was the first time I met Victor. The first thing he said was, “Hello.” The second thing Victor said was, 

“Can I have your watch?” 

I laughed at him and told him that he needs to work on his approach before he goes for the hard sell. I thought to myself, “There is absolutely no chance I’m giving him this watch, I’ve finally found one that works.” I figured that he'd soon forget about it and hit up someone else.

But, Victor and I seemed to keep running into each other throughout the day, perhaps he was working on his approach? Soon I saw him leading in the games, helping his friends with activities, and he continued to hang out near me. To my surprise, he didn't ask anyone else for anything.

But, at the end of the first day, he came back and asked me again, “Can I have your watch?” I looked into his eyes full of sincerity, and to my surprise, I could not bring myself to again tell him, “No.” So I decided to deflect him. I’d just give him a non-answer, 
“I’ll think about it.”

Surely by the next morning, he’d forget about it and ask someone else for a trinket. He didn’t need my watch, I did! It was the only watch I had, and I hadn't destroyed it. It was a durable little keeper.

And then I remembered the words of Mother Theresa, about how we are called to give out of our poverty. Of course she was only paraphrasing Jesus (Mk 12:43-44)

Ugh. I felt the sting. I wanted to call out, 

"Not fair! Jesus and Mother Theresa are ganging up on me!" 

I am on a five week trip with 10 students, I need to keep us on schedule, and I have only a single watch. 

Again the next day I stalled Victor with the same phrase, “I’ll think about it.” 

His persistence continued. Finally I asked, “What do you have to trade me?” He responded as his face fell, saying, “Nothing.” 

Geesh, now I was just a jerk!

While the response saddened me, I didn’t want to let it show, and so I poked him playfully and said with a wink and a grin,

“Well, if you’ve got nothing to trade, I’m going to have to just keep thinking about it.” 

He slowly turned and walked away, his face fell with his eyes on the ground and his hands in his pockets. I don’t think I realized it then, but he had me in that moment.

Monday night our crew gathered in the sanctuary of the church building for prayer meeting. While the singing began, I saw Victor walk in the side of the building. Men and women were already at the alters, praying up front as one of the ladies led us in an old hymn, swaying from side to side as she sang a rich alto, the music flowing as she sang with conviction. 

I thought of my own childhood, of how when I was Victor’s age, I had big dreams and I looked up to the men of the church. I remembered how cool it was when people from far away came to visit us. 

I remembered when I was about Victor's age, my parents took me to hear the Southern Gospel group, the Kingsmen who came to sing at a little country church. Afterwards, at their merchandise table I had my eye on a penlight. I desperately wanted it, but I had no money. When the singer at the table handed it to me and told me that I could have it for free… I was ecstatic. I’ll never forget that.

That memory wrecked me emotionally. I realized the power of it. After nearly 40 years, I'd not forgotten. That little boy was no different than me. 

I left my seat and walked around the back of the sanctuary where Victor was then sitting. I removed my watch as I neared him. I knelt beside him and held out the watch.

Me & Victor (with a photo-bomb by Otto)
The smile hit his face like a camera flash! 

He reached out to take it and then immediately gave me a full blown bear hug. He was smiling, I was smiling, and we both were thrilled. I started to walk away when I felt him tug my arm. I turned to see him holding out a stuffed animal. He handed me Dory from Finding Nemo!  

He had brought me a trade! 

The fish was well worn, a bit dirty, and somehow perfect. I slipped the loop on the Leatherman multi-clip of my backpack and told Victor that the fish would be traveling with me tomorrow to Guatemala and Honduras. In fact, next week it would ride on my pack into El Salvador. He seemed thrilled to know that I’d be traveling with his trade.

While I write this now, I have no doubt that the reason that little watch kept on ticking beyond the odds… was because it had a purpose to find its way to him. I believe that through that watch, Victor knows that he matters. He knows that I saw him. We connected. 

We exchanged things of value: a watch, a fish, and the emotional memory of a powerful moment. I’ll be carrying that memory of him over the next few weeks, and maybe he'll remember me when he's a grown man. Maybe someday, he can make a little boy smile. 

Maybe Jesus, Mother Theresa, and Gringo-Chad can gang up on him!

Isn’t that just like our God? He has given each of us something of great value, something that we could never procure on our own. He does this because He wants us to know that He sees us, He loves us, He wants a relationship with us, and He wants us to be a part of His story. 

Even so, we don’t get it for free. He asks that we give Him what we have. 

And so today, I was both the giver and the receiver. I gave away my only watch… I gave from my poverty. Over the next few weeks, I will endlessly look to my wrist for the time… and I will remember the smiling face of Victor each time I reach for my backpack and I see the fish that he gave to me. 

I'll smile then with the knowledge that in a little village outside of Belmopan, there is a little boy that is wearing an ugly watch, who knows that a Gringo somewhere in Central America saw him and loved him.

God's story is meant to live in us all. To recognize His love for us, to love Him back, and then to love others.

Originally posted by Chad Shepherd at 7:27 AM, July 5, 2016. Adapted from Burning Hearts, Emmaus Crew Journal.

An Office Shared

A single chair inadequately tells the story. This room is shared by those who have gone ahead of me. It is filled by reminders of their stories that inspire me. I never spend a day in this space alone, but am constantly reminded of who I am, and what has brought me here.

A large Bible lays sideways on my tallest bookshelf. Its spine is broken and the white pages have turned a brittle brown. Printed over one-hundred years ago, it has thousands of hand-drawn illustrations of the flora and fauna that is presented in the Bible. Carmel Wilson Mathis received it the day he was installed at Poasttown Church of God in Middletown, Ohio, some sixty years ago. He was my Grandfather on my Mother's side.

On the top of the same bookcase rests a pocket-watch. It's been in our family for four generations. My Great-Grandpa Shepherd carried it and it was passed down to my Papaw Harry and then to my father who gave it to me. The crystal is cracked and it carries the dents and scratches of the men who have carried it. I hold it and I remember their stories, their struggles, their tenacity, and their legacy.

A small plush yellow and blue fish sits on top of the short shelf. It reminds me of Vincent, a young boy in Belize who asked me daily for my wrist-watch. I had refused him for days, but he broke me down. I went to him during a worship service, knelt down and handed him my watch and he reached into his pocket and give me the fish for trade. I'll never forget you, Vincent.

Artifacts from Africa that came from my Great-Grandfather Eldon, my cutting knives from Kroger, the license plates from the big white van in Guatemala, and prints from Shackleton's Endeavor are a few of the things that form bits of where I've come from, where I want to go, and who I am today.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Our Home in Sidney (Some Assembly Required)

I stood in the street looking at our new house. It was only four days since Christmas and reflections of that long awaited night in Bethlehem illuminated my heart as I gave thanks for my family inside. The day had been long, friends and family had shown us love, and finally we were home again.

I had to smile and chuckle a bit as I reflected that this night would be the first night I'd spend in a bed that I could call my own since the night of July 31. For the past five months I've slept in borrowed beds. Over the past one-hundred and thirty nights I'd slept in eleven different beds. There were nights when I wondered if I'd ever own my own bed again!

The joke was still a little on me though because I still didn't quite make it fully in bed... we just tossed the mattresses on the floor. Kellie and I lay in the quiet, listening to the absence of the sounds of Guatemala. There were no barking dogs, no crowing roosters, sirens, and no anxious discernment of fireworks verses gunshots. Odder still, our family of five was alone under the roof.

The last time we lived in a house entirely by ourselves was in 2014 when we lived in San Lucas, Sacatepequez, before Gloria and Chelsey joined us. Suddenly we missed Antony, who had later come to be part of our family there, and we wished that he could be included in our number now. 

Moving forward always involves leaving things behind. The cost of loss informs us of the value of the memories we share and the worth of the path we pursue. We've said goodbye only one time less than we've said hello, but while the parting is always bittersweet, there's no better path than walking in obedience to the One who calls our name.

And so now, one week into our new world, I have time to reflect back a little with that long day, December 28 that brought us to this place that already has become our home.

It all began with a rental truck 
and trip to IKEA.

Kellie had our shopping list and we began to pick our items from their warehouse, one thing at a time.

Caleb drove the carts while I loaded and Aleksandra collected them near the checkouts.
We soon had five carts loaded, attracting the attention of most of the crowd, after Christmas shoppers who were simply picking up an item or two. Since we were furnishing an entire house, we felt like we should have Trading Spaces or Extreme Makeover camera crew following us!

Caleb and I had a blast loading the truck (the boxed sleeper sofa weighed 260 lbs) and then celebrated when we were ready to roll towards Trenton to load stuff that had been stashed in myriad basements, attics, and spare spaces during our three year stay out of the country.

Kellie's family jumped in and helped load countless suitcases filled with clothes, books, and wares.

The old, the new, and the borrowed were loaded up tight, we closed the door and made the 70 mile trek up I-75.

Just put that stuff anywhere.
We were met at our new house by Pastors Alan & Kim, along with their full family who had gathered for the holidays. In an incredibly selfless gift of their time, they had us unloaded in under an hour.
After staying with the kids while Kellie and I drove to pick up donated furniture from families of the church, it was time to say goodbye for the night. After living under their roof for the past five months, it was a difficult parting,
especially for Sterling.

Let the assembly begin!

IKEA furniture is GREAT
when you have built in child labor.

I took the largest projects for myself.

Behold, a 6-drawer dresser
(some assembly required).

It was like Legos for adults. I had a blast!

We assembled every piece with traditional tools: flat and phillips screwdrivers, a hammer (for dowels), and manufacturer provided allen wrenches. We had power drivers, but we drove every screw by hand, taking time to appreciate our work, recognize the value of a job well done.

Caleb assembled his entire room: bunk bed,
night stand, and three drawer dresser. 

Aleksandra did most of hers and Sterling's, with me providing some assistance. She really didn't need my help, I just enjoyed spending the day with her while we worked.

Aleksandra loves her mirror from my Mom,
and her big Teddy Bear from Caleb.

Our new master bedroom,
with art by Carlos Lopez from Love Guatemala
in Magdalena, Guatemala.

Our sweat-shop workers relax under the
watch of treasures from Guatemala (Yes, that's a 7 foot wooden giraffe. No, Giraffe's aren't native to Guatemala).

Ready to receive visitors!

And ready to finally sleep in our own
(now fully assembled) bed!

And so we end as we began, back outside of the house in the darkness. With these northern wind-chills well below zero, all boxes and packing materials are on the curb. After three days of unpacking, sorting, and assembly, we were in!

We are one week into finding our new rhythm. I've been at the church a full week and assembled my office, we've joined the YMCA, the girls are settled in their new schools, and the dogs have been groomed! 

In a fast-paced week, this house has already become a home, and the people of Connection Point Church have become our family. We give thanks to God that He has led us here! 

Five months, 10k miles driven on the road, and a shopping spree at IKEA later... Honey, we're home!