Sunday, August 28, 2011

GUATEMALA 2011: (22) Nunca Cansado...forever.

you ready
to make a


Have you ever wondered if what you do really matters?

What if
I told you
that you can?

We have a chance to make 
a forever difference.

Look what has been done so far... completely by the donations, time, and personal labor by individuals.  A labor of love to the least of these... from desolation, provision is built by block, mortar, and willing hearts.

This is the Team House on the grounds of Catalyst Resources International in San Cristobal, Guatemala. The main house you saw in the video is Mimi's House, a home that houses the Greene Family, missionaries from the U.S., and 6 Guatemalan girls whose families have agreed to allow them to live with the Greenes. While there the girls receive an education, and later a launching pad to change not only their own lives, but lift up their communities and break a cycle of poverty.

The Team House serves as a base for groups who come to serve in Guatemala, whether that is with Catalyst, or through an independent agent. The Team House provides them with a safe and comfortable place to stay, and also provides an income for Catalyst that can help support the mission of the girls at Mimi's House.

Mimi's House, view from Team House
Catalyst works with the volunteer labor of men and women who travel to make a difference. In addition to the volunteers, Catalyst also employes Guatemalans. This provides the men with steady income as they work to improve their own communities. 

At Catalyst, there is talk of "circles of influence." As you can see, this organization isn't only about the girls. It is a beautiful thing to see the ever growing number of lives that are changed as they continue to expand. The life course of hundreds have already been changed... and the organization is barely off the ground.

Here is what I want you to see...

... the Team  House is unfinished.

I was just here the second week of August. The climate is breath-taking. Each day is cooled by rain that falls in the afternoon. Most days this rain is torrential, falling in sheets and waves. The team house is planned to house a second level that will allow them to expand, adding additional girls and expanding the circle of influence. 

Catalyst is forwarding this mission. Even since our departure, they have been able to add additional block to begin raising walls. This was made possible by donations from my friends and other people who have seen and experienced the incredible life-change happening from this place. 

But the pace is not fast enough. Each time it rains, the water beats down on this unfinished structure, and searches for ways to seep into the walls and down through the rebar. Precious resources are being used to shore up the breaches and repair the damage.

Meet Edgar & Ramero. These two men are my heroes. I have great respect for their compassion, their commitment, and their incredible ability to get the near impossible done in the face of insurmountable odds. 

We once asked Edgar if he ever gets tired. His response, "nunca cansado" is now the rallying cry of our work team when the day seems too much.

"Never tired."

These two men are the heart of the construction that happens. They are the hands, feet, and mind of the homes that are build, the reconstruction needed when the Mimi's House structure was purchased, and the raising up of The Team House. They are forever adaptable, and endlessly patient.

They are fully supported by Catalyst. If you ever get to meet them, you will be humbled and forever changed by their story. You will weep when you see how much their families mean to them, and the amount of deep affection that they bleed to their wives and children.

Meet the family. The Greenes. Fontaine told me of coming to Guatemala on a one week mission trip and having his heart broken. 

After several years of preparation and soul-searching, he and his family arrived on a dark, rainy night at the airport in Guatemala City... 

...with 12 suitcases, a passion, and a dream. Their willingness to lay it all on the line for true belief astounds me.

Meet the girls of Mimi's house. They came from the most severe poverty and desolation. It is impossible for me to describe the conditions. Understanding comes only with experience. 

Now they are sisters, and they know love. Their futures are nearly boundless. This is what love can do.

This is the difference that you can make. If you are searching for meaning... if you ever wonder WHY you are here, or if ANYTHING REALLY MATTERS...

I can tell you with tears in my eyes that they answer for me is a simple yes.

After seeing what I have seen, there is no other possible answer than to take action. I can tell you honestly that after coming home, we began to change how we lived our own life. Our priorities have shifted. This is a worthy, life-long goal.

And here is where you can come in. If you have made it this far into this long document... it is because your heart is being tugged. Allow this to consume your thoughts, and ask yourself, "how much meaning do you want in life?"

Completed Homes!
The Team House is $8,000 away from being completed. The money will purchase the supplies, employ men and feed families. The work will expand the number of girls whose lives can be changed. This investment will pay dividends for generations. Can you see the power of this work?

$40.00 will purchase 100 blocks. Can you imagine what $100 can do? 

Our team is returning on October 29th this year. It is our heart's cry to return with as much money as possible to contribute towards the completion of the Team House. We already have a commitment of $1,000. We can do much more!

A widow and her children
coming home!
  You can give directly to me with a check or cash. I     can get you a receipt for your records and personally   provide you with pictures and stories of the results of your donations. I can even accompany you to Guatemala and you can see the lives you change.

Here is another way to give:

Click on this link and you will be able to donate any amount you chose online. It is secure and it is as easy as ordering a pizza. In the description please type, "Team House Project" and 100% of your donation will go directly to purchasing materials. NO overhead or operational costs will be deducted.

Make a FOREVER DIFFERENCE in your own life. 

Please give today.

Shake What The Good Lord Gave Ya!

Behold... my muse

The most beautiful girl in the world lives under my roof. She makes me laugh like a fool, cry like a saint, and at times convinces me that I am a bit insane. Any way you look at it... she often reduces me to tears. And that is a wonderful sort of thing.

My daughter breaks a great many things... we were discussing this at lunch today and Caleb was laughing with a particular gusto about how many things she has broken in our household. He was deeply immeshed into what was proving to be a long list when she cut him short with a simple statement. "Well, I haven't broken any bones." The laughter shifted to Caleb, who was now feeling quite defensive... he broke his arm this past spring.

So yeah, point taken... she breaks a lot of stuff, and walks into a lot of stuff, and falls down a lot. She loses her shoes and misplaces her belongings all over the house. She has a smile that stops me dead in my tracks.

This girl embraces life with a naturally happy hug. Her personality is as engaging as the dimples when she smiles. You can see the joy in her heart in the video above. The bus was over 30 minutes late at that point. If it would have been most of us, we would have been impatient, frustrated, worried, and upset. We would be fussing and fuming and calling and complaining. 

And we would have missed the beauty of the day. She teaches me how I need to view my life. It is not a series of goals and a list of failures and accomplishments. It is not about disappointments and what-ifs. It isn't even about whether or not I have missed my proverbial bus. No, life is meant to be lived.

Hands over head, body spinning, life embracing... life is meant to be danced. Now, only a few of you folks have had the experience of seeing me try to dance. I regret that it is not a pleasant sight. And yet... it is this spirit of abandon that I need to capture in my own life. This is the bit of heaven that I glean from my daughter.

Our day to day living is an incredible gift, the highest commodity we are given. Each day provides us with choices and we will live by our approach. 

I am so thankful to share this life with my wonderful children, and my daughter who is willing to dance while she waits on the bus. I love her with all I am. 

I dance with my daughter, and I remember the beauty that is life.

P.S. To any of you who have video of me dancing... forward it to me and I will add it to this post!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Genesis 47:3
And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.

Caleb Thomas & Aleksandra Elise Shepherd. My two children who pray every day for "their little sister in China." They know that we are not a family of 4... we are a family of 5. We are a family that has come together by adoption. 

Adoption stories are big in our household. I still get the question, "when are you going to tell her that she is adopted?" My answer is a smile as I respond, "she has always known the incredible story of her adoption." She has a story book that Kellie put together. It has pictures of her orphanage, her caregivers, and her doctor. It also has pictures of us coming to the orphanage, and of us all coming together as a family.

Adoption is one of the most beautiful concepts in life. It is simply where longing meets need. Our two children (soon to be three) are the best part of our lives. They are the best of us both, and the most important endeavor we will ever take. It is at the core of who we are... we are also called children, made sons and daughters by the God of all that is.

In our children we have illustrated for us the two miracles of God. Birth & Adoption.

God makes all things new... and then he takes us and calls us His own. When I look into the faces of my childen, I see God's mercy extended to me. I see the promise of God's love and hope reflected in their smiles. I see my true belief here.


...well, I tell them that they are Shepherd's. And I tell them that this is a big responsibility. You see, Shepherd's slew giants, and Shepherd's witnessed angels splitting the sky and announcing the birth of a savior. Shepherd's hold the metaphor of God's love for us. It is a big deal to be a Shepherd. It is, after all... the actual oldest profession in the world.

So I tell them that God expects great things out of them. He sent angels to sing to our ancestors and birthed his own son through our bloodline. I show them (with a big grin) how our name is spelled exactly like the Shepherds in the scripture. It is important to know who you are. We are all adopted children of The God... and that should have an impact on our decision and our actions. Everyday and every moment.

We must know who we are. I have some fun with our name... but there is truth in the message. Much like the story of the 3 Little Pigs & the Big Bad Wolf.

My children and my wife have saved my life. They have shown me what is truly important in this life, and they remind me of what God has done for me. 

Of course... there will always be wolves seeking to tear us apart... but I can tell you also that there will always be Shepherds.

Matthew 10:16
"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.

The first little pig built his house out of straw because it was the easiest thing to do.
The second little pig built his house out of sticks. This was a little bit stronger than a straw house.
The third little pig built his house out of bricks.
One night the big bad wolf, who dearly loved to eat fat little piggies, came along and saw the first little pig in his house of straw. He said "Let me in, Let me in, little pig or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!"
"Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin", said the little pig.

The fate of wolves.

John 10:11
"I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He's only in it for the money. The sheep don't matter to him.

Be a Shepherd. ;-) LOL!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Insane, Unbelievable, or Authentic... you decide.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. 

It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate,

 to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hebrews 11

   Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I stepped into the hallway of the retirement home in Middletown Ohio. I remember the instant anxiety that gripped my chest. Ancient and bent people were staggering, hobbling, and rolling around as far as I could see. Their hair was crazed, they didn't look especially clean, they were mostly in pajamas although it was mid afternoon, and some of them were visibly shaking or drooling. 

It was mostly the sounds and smell that bothered me though. There was this deep covering of noise that was made up of murmurings, mutterings, coughs, cries and laughter. But one sound was shockingly clear above the chaos.

I turned and looked through the doorway. I think I just stood there... not knowing how to react, and unable to avert my gaze. There was a man who filled my heart with both empathy and terror. His bed was adjusted up so that he was in a reclined sitting position. Straps ran over his knees, over his arms that were pressed against his sides, and a final binding ran over his chest. His body had been restrained.

His spirit and his mouth had most certainly not. 

I learned quite a few words that day. I had not yet been introduced to the comedy of Chris Rock, and this man most likely was his mentor. He lunged up and down and back and forth, the spittle flying from his mouth. He was crying and snorting and cursing. Cursing the nurses, cursing his family, cursing the kid who was standing and staring at his doorway. I couldn't move.

I thought the day could not get stranger... and then it did. And now is when many of you will stop believing my tale, but I assure you... it happened precisely as I am about to tell you. That moment is burned into my mind.

My arm was grabbed, firmly. I was seized from my shock and quickly turned to see a tiny hackneyed lady with intense blue eyes with wild gray hair that stood out like she was touching one of those static balls that you see at novelty shops.

"Your name is Chad, isn't it." With a startled bark I said, "what?" Surely I had heard her wrong. I did not know this woman. I could not know this woman. I had never been here before. And she repeated it, "your name is Chad." This time it was a statement. She said it and she nodded with a serious expression.

I was speechless. My mind had been stunned. And then she continued...

God has placed a silver plate before you. 
He showed me in a dream. 
Some day you will learn what it is.

And with that, she released her grip from my arm, stared at me for a few more beats, and then folded her hands in her lap, lowered her head, and closed her eyes. I stood there looking at her in shock as the wild man continued to curse me and beat against his bed. I heard my name being called and looked up to see that the group I was with was exiting the wing. I quickly followed them out.

I was raised an only child. My grandfather was a pastor. There were many great expectations of me. I was taught to sing, to play the piano, I memorized scripture by chapter and verse. I was to grow up to be a preacher. I new that. I had been told that by my pop. 

I had on two occasions been grabbed and prayed over by pastors who I considered great men... giants in the faith. No less than three of them: Brother Mitchell, Clifford Hutchinson, and Charles Tarr. I was shocked and scared each time. Although this happened over the course of years... each was a very similar experience. Men towering over me in a public place, gripping me tightly with tears in their eyes as they prayed out loud that "God has his hand on this boy, and he will use him for great things."

There was always just one problem...

I didn't believe it. It sounded crazy. I had no desire to be a pastor. I didn't want to preach, and I didn't want to work in a church. So, surely... either all these people were mistaken, or God was simply wrong.

And still... I have lived with these memories in the back of mind: the wild-tufted antediluvian dinosaur in the rest home, the 3 pastors, and my grandfather... all convinced that God had a plan for me.  I was just an average kid though. And this was all too much.

That was all over 20 years ago.

I have driven a delivery truck, sold tools, sold shoes, telemarketed, brokered loans, manufactured window coverings, cleaned carpet, worked with the mentally ill, and sold groceries. I even briefly volunteered at a church while in college, helping with music and youth. But I was in over my head, and felt out of place. 

I have searched to find my place... always remembering these words in my head that were not true. And I have been so conflicted... because these were 4 men of integrity, and one little lady that gave me an impossible encounter.

I have no special skills, and while I have been successful at many things, I have never been a super-star at any of them. I always just find a way to get by, and to make it work. I have become very adaptable. But... never a great instrument of God. I find myself quietly saddened by this unfulfilled expectation.

I did not become the man they all believed me to be.

Nothing changed... until the day I stopped caring, and simply started doing. It ceased to be about expection. It no longer is about what others think. I simply have started following the pull of my eyes, ears, and heart.

I don't know what God has in store... and I still don't think he is right about me. But, I will no longer allow that to hold me back. If God does have a plan for me, then so be it. Until that day... I will pursue this life.

I want to be a better husband, a better father. I want to do the best I can do at my job as long as I have it. And I have begun pursuing my passion. This is why you have seen my writings on Guatemala. This is why Kellie and I will soon take a flight to China. 

We are done trying to meet expectations. We are desperate to chase the heart of God. And... we are beginning to find that he has been chasing us all along. So for now... I will walk by faith, even when my eyes can not see.

I know we want a life of meaning. I want to be useful, honorable, and compassionate. I want to live a life of lasting meaning. If I can do that... and die with nothing, then my life will have reached its potential.

Would I believe you when you would say
Your hand will guide my every way
Will I receive the words You say
Every moment of every day 

Help me to win my endless fears
You've been so faithful for all my years
With one breath You make me new
Your grace covers all I do 

Well I'm broken- but I still see Your face
Well You've spoken- pouring Your words of grace 

Well I will walk by faith
Even when I cannot see
well because this broken road
Prepares Your will for me 

We run toward a life of compassion, honor, use, and meaning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Listen to the Truth in the Darkness

How do you explain, how do you describe
A love that goes from east to west
And runs ad deep as it is wide
You know all our hopes, You know all our fears
Words cannot express the love we feel
But we long for you to hear

So listen to our hearts, and hear our spirits sing
A song of praise that flows
From those you have redeemed
We will use the words we know
To tell you what an awesome God You are
Words are not enough to tell You of our love
So listen to our hearts

If words could fall like rain
From these lips of mine
And if I had a thousand years
I would still run out of time
So if you listen to my heart
Every beat would say
Thank you for the life, thank you for the truth
Thank you for the way

[ Lyrics from: ]

More lyrics:

I am thankful tonight. Do you ever walk the house when it is quiet and everyone is asleep? You could believe the world to be perfect. My son and daughter are in their rooms, guarded safe against the world and all that is to come their way. 

I know they will face all that gravity and humanity can press down upon them, and I know that beauty will also always surround them. I don't want them to be perfect. I pray that their mistakes allow them to grow. I do not worry about my own failings because they need to see my struggle.

They need to know that it is worth the fight.

And yet, tonight they sleep softly in their beds. The night is held away, and it covers us with its silence.

I am thankful tonight that I am able to be their father. I am so thankful that I am a husband. My wife also sleeps tonight, just a few feet away from where I silently type in the terminal glow. The grace that carries her is the greatest strength I know. Her willingness to face life head on with me is astounding. 

We see the dangers and threats in life, and yet... we work to calm our fears with the knowledge of our beliefs. Beliefs that have held us tightly through the worst of storms. 

I do not want an easy life. I pursue this life of meaning. A reliance on God is only possible when we see how weak we are, and how strong his promises bind us to his purpose.

The moonlight whispers past the glass, and the silence permeates my mind. I hear the dog as he looks over at me and then lies his head back down. He is my sanity. His behavior always reflects my emotions. He is my barometer.

I am thankful tonight. I am in awe. God is proving to be my provision.

I have always worried about what I could do for God... and recently understood that the answer is simply NOTHING. And I am relieved. But what he can do for me... when I surrender to Him is as limitless as the sky outside my window.  

I look forward to my return to Guatemala this November. I had no money for my ticket, but felt so compelled to go that I decided to toss aside pride and ask my friends and family to give me money to go. I am in awe of the provision of God. Within a day I had $600. After 9 days our needs are met. Now we can work on collecting additional donations and sponsorships.

Oh yes I am thankful tonight.

I am a bit of a ragamuffin. But I promise you what you see is what you get. My life has been captured by the authenticity of a God who meets us in our brokenness, as well as in quiet, perfect nights. My goodness did not bring about my relationship with Him, but my relationship with Him brings about all that is good in my life.

The impact of adoption on my life has flooded my mind with truths and parallels of the relationship of God to me. Recently Kroger published a story about our adopting our daughter... and I keep trying to explain to people that I did nothing more than allow an incredible blessing to be in our home.

How can we see the world and not be changed? When we open our eyes to see, and then take action based on the conviction of the images our soul beholds... then how can we not be filled with the realness of the God of the universe?

My soul is thankful tonight. 

This song says what I am so inadequate to say...

When the world seems too big, and my everything is overwhelmed... it is the truth in this song that carries me through. 

I am not afraid to weep... I am not afraid to sing... I am not afraid to open my eyes and see that I am so unworthy. Yes, my children have much to face in this life that will cause them pain... and yet I know that every tear is worth this experience of God among us.

His truths are here. They exist in those that we can reach out to. I have found God through the beauty of those who are willing to take my hand. Had I  never adopted, I would have never understood the love and action of God. Had I never gone to feel the embrace of a hungry child, and helped raise walls that will cover that child... I would not understand the embrace that holds me.

I am thankful tonight. I am thankful that God has saved me.

Wherever you are... whatever you do. Do not give up quite yet...

There are those who look to us... and our choices will shape their lives. May they see in us the truths that will always get them home.

I am so thankful that I am here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

GUATEMALA 2011: (21) A Stinky Angel From Heaven

 Aleksandra & Ana Lucia seem to agree:

I received this portrait from Ana Lucia at her home in Guatemala and while I was thrilled to see that she had my hair correct and I was complete with my sunglasses and hat in my hand... I was also puzzled as to why I was wearing what appeared to be a dress.

This mystery has gnawed at the edge of my mind for over a week now.

And then... today, hidden deeply within the abyss that is my daughter's closet we found what may provide some additional insights. Her writing says:

About my dad hes so so 
awsome cool somtimes nasty but I
can live with that hes nice and sweet
and a kinda a stinky angel from heavan
his favorit color is Pink thats why I rote
this is Pink and has fun with my guitars
and I snik up on him alot.

                                     And so, a little girl from Russia asserts 
and a little girl from Guatemala corroborates 
that I am indeed 
"a kinda a stinky angel from heaven." 

Ana Lucia

Well gosh

I had heard said that missions work 
sometimes was helpful 
in discovering who you are.

I suppose it must be true.

GUATEMALA 2011: (20) Two Roads Diverged... And I Travel Both

Life is always a matter of choice: which way do we go?
I always had issues with Mr. Frost because I would have said that one road diverged, not two. If two roads diverged, would the traveler not have had two choices, but four? This frustration with his description unfortunately was my undoing to further discover the clever nature of his ditty.

Did you know that neither road was less travelled by? Take a look:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

I didn't notice until reading this tonight the lines, "Had worn them about the same," and "equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black." Both paths were covered with fresh leaves.

I love this detail! My wife (the Literature Teacher) will think it is funny that I just now caught on to this, but I am delighted  by the fact that the traveler was faced with two equal choices with no discernable guide as to which was the better.

And his to say that years down the road when asked how he knew that the path he took was the correct choice, he would sigh and tell them that he went the path that few had taken, and that his wise choice had been the key factor in his success.

Don't we all believe that? We are told from our earliest memories that we'd better make the right choices, or our lives will be garbage. How many people do you know that have anxiety when choosing? How much energy do we waste on doubting our own decisions?

The choice simply will never matter.

Rather, what matters is this: are the steps you take down whatever path you find yourself on consistent with who you are? Know who you are, and walk according to your belief. We must take steps, even when the way is not clear. The path may change, but our belief and our walk should not.

But, Mr. Frost... I am afraid I take issue with the premise. Sometimes we walk both paths.

My Two Paths

Part of returning home from an experience of poverty immersion is the transition period back into our lives of comfort and materialism. The reality of human need and survival that has gripped your heart and mind for the past several days seems to stand in stark contrast to what, only days before... seemed so important and urgent to our lives. We wrestle with the emotion that remoras onto our experience (yes, I simply pirated this word and forced it to be something other than a noun).

I must tell you that it seems utterly impossible to my mind that it was only a week ago at this moment that I was arriving home, watching the door slowly rise on our garage, as we silently slipped back into our lives. We pulled our car onto the slab of concrete that was larger than the combination of both homes we build. This enclosure that held our two cars was greater than the structures that protected nearly a dozen human beings against the elements.

And so... I am walking two paths. I am physically here, bound by the laws of physics, in these United States. I am a father, a husband, a son, a neighbor, an employee, and a frequent internet consumer. And yet... I am also in a very tangible way still on that mountain in Cerro Alto looking into the eyes of those children. My heart and my soul is forever captivated by them and I have no desire to ever leave.

And I realize... I must be that same person as I walk down each path. I must know who I am, I must know what I believe, and I must make my choices in accordance. 

I see a divergence in a road... and at this moment, I chose to take them both. 

And that makes all the difference.

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