Why Random Moments Are Freaking Awesome!!!

I’m a pretty structured, safe guy most of the time.  There’s comfort in repetition, I admit.  It’s a boring way to live without some balance though.

I do have a random, adventurous side to me also and I’ve been trying to tap into this part of me lately.  In fact, I had a great opportunity to exercise this part of me a little while ago.

My family took a quick trip to the coast a couple of months ago.  We just love breathing the crisp air and being present with the waves crashing so close.  The weather was perfect…low 60’s and basically no wind…pretty darn rare for the Oregon coast!  It was fantastic!

On our first evening in Seaside, we headed off on our usual walk downtown.  It’s a simple tradition that we love….strolling by all of the cool houses, peaking inside as the lights illuminate different families bustling about.  There’s also a little wall that follows alongside the main concrete path leading downtown (also called the prom) and it runs parallel to the ocean, which also doubles as a balance beam for all of us to navigate and wobble on…pretty fun.

It was a picture-perfect night.  The sky was oddly clear and the number of stars was staggering!  Neither my wife nor my boys had ever been down on the sand when it was dark, so I randomly decided to change that…I quickly veered off onto a side path that led to the beach, hoping that they would follow….fortunately they did!  My poor family tends to humor my craziness, which I appreciate!

As we cautiously headed down the dark, grassy, lightless path to the beach, only the moon and stars (and the flashlight on our phones ) guided our way.   All that could be heard was the comforting rumble of crashing waves.  The only thing that we could see was the white, rolling tide, patiently ebbing and flowing onto the sand with confidence and consistency.

So, instead of walking further, we planted our butts on the soft sand, laid down and observed the bright, God-confetti in the sky.  It was a humbling, intoxicating feeling to stare at the wonder of God’s universe.  The unlimited swath of stars almost made me dizzy and the twinkles…oh man, the twinkles….like the sky was going to swallow us up in all it’s majesty!  It was one of those rare moments where time slowed down and I felt amazingly alive…..and small.  Grateful.

Here’s the thing, if we would have continued on our normal walk, we would have missed that amazing experience.  Sure, we would have still enjoyed ourselves like always, but I believe God’s invitation into something beautiful would have been missed.  I’m glad we accepted it.

I’m learning that it’s ok to veer off life’s path here and there (in a random, responsible kind of way).  In fact, sometimes the best stories are made off of that safe, consistent path.

It’s so easy to become a robot, mindlessly doing the same things day after day.  Tunnel vision can be routine’s best friend sometimes, causing us to look straight ahead, all the while, beautiful things are happening all around us.

Don’t get me wrong, routine is great for some people BUT allowing God room to work amidst the anticipation and uncertainty of new things often reaps great rewards.

You see that straight, clean path in front of you?  I challenge you to choose a different route, veering off in a direction that gives your stomach butterflies.  Even if it’s something small…text that friend, take the scenic drive home, buy someone a coffee, stop and actually smell the roses, go downtown and hug a homeless person, go explore that new trail, order an IPA instead of a Porter, share Jesus with somebody….whatever it is for you, GO DO IT!

I’m slowly learning something important: adventure = a flavorful story.  Every.  Single.  Time.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

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How Us Parents are Hypocrites and Why it’s Ok!

The other night, I walked by my oldest son’s school and the playground that has provided so many memories for our family.  Nostalgia always creeps in about the experiences we’ve shared and how rapidly the future is approaching.  I’m a sap like that.

I started thinking about my boys and comparing their childhood to mine….what things I want to steer them TOWARDS and what things I want to steer them FROM.  As parents, I think it’s safe to say that we always want to protect our kiddos and provide them with a great childhood, far better than our own.  It’s a great goal to have.

Often, in pursuit of a great life for our kids, we provide boundaries, rules and discipline, hoping that these things point them in the right direction.  The “do this” and “don’t do that” list is long and boy, do we get frustrated at those little boogers when they goof up sometimes.  There is some comedy to the progression of life….us kids (you and me) becoming parents….shaking our heads as we enforce and guide our own children.  Here’s a simple truth:  AS PARENTS, WE’RE A BUNCH OF HYPOCRITES!  It’s true and you know what, it’s ok.  Let me explain.

A partial definition of hypocrisy is:  “The behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do.”  (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  While this definition is in the present tense, you could also tweak the sentence to say; “The behavior of people who HAVE DONE things (us parents) that they tell other people not to do (our kids).” 

We definitely all fall into this finger-pointing, “I can do it, but you can’t” category at some point, don’t we?!  It’s just one of those pesky flaws that we possess as humans.  Being a parent really highlights this whole double standard thing.  I mean really, when was the last time we sternly told our kids to stop whining, or to share, or to have a better attitude about school or to clean their room or to talk nice about others….the list goes on and on.  We’ve all been there, sternly enforcing the same things over and over and over and over and over again it seems!  It’s easy to forget that we were young once, disobeying our parents, hitting our siblings, pulling some random kid’s hair out of their head (ok, maybe that was just me), crying on airplanes or in grocery stores, receiving glaring stares from old people and other judging parents.  Now we’re the old folks, glaring at those punk kids…how dare they do those things!  🙂

The positive note to this whole parental hypocrisy thing is this: ALTHOUGH WE’VE DONE SOME STUPID THINGS AS KIDS, OUR LIFE EXPERIENCES HAVE EQUIPPED US WITH THE KNOWLEDGE TO PROTECT AND TEACH OUR OWN CHILDREN.

This has gone on for generations and although hypocrisy is not a great character trait in most cases, it’s played a big role in successful parenting for centuries.

So, before we get pissed at the crying kid on the airplane (super annoying, right?), let’s remember that we were once that crying kid, causing a scene.  Those rug rats will someday grow up to be parents, full of hypocrisy, just like us, getting mad at their kids for the same things that they used to do as children!  God must be so proud, ha!

Happy parenting! 😉

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

The Dinner Table

My wife and I love being parents.  It’s such an honor, a challenge, a frustration and a blessing, all at the same time!  The whole “I wish there was an instruction manual for these kids” comment has been thrown around a few times for sure!

I think I can safely say that Pam and I feel like students, constantly learning new things about parenting.  Oftentimes, it seems as though us parents are the students and our children are the teachers, doesn’t it?!

One of the most recent lessons that we’ve learned as parents is fairly simple, yet so important.  Here it is…drum roll please…: SITTING AROUND THE TABLE AT MEALS IS SO AWESOME AND SO NECESSARY!!! 

You may be thinking, “duh, of course it’s important to eat meals around the table!” and we thought the same thing for years…until our lives got a little busier.  I confess that we got comfortable throwing a towel on the ground in the living room, flipping on the TV and contently eating there collectively gazing at the Food Channel or whatever….like for every meal.  I know there’s worse things in life, but my wife and I realized that we needed to make some changes.

Don’t get me wrong, eating in the living room isn’t a cardinal sin and I certainly don’t condemn others for doing that!  Life gets busy, I totally get it!  For my family, it just didn’t work out, at least not as a regular thing.

When planted in front of the TV, we noticed a huge lack of conversation and the only comments made were things like, “hey, pass the Sriracha” or “I can’t believe Henry Danger did that!”  Recapping the day didn’t really happen and we started to feel a little out of touch with each other.  Things just felt “off.”

So, we decided that most nights (not ALL nights), dinner would be shared around the table together.  The boys complained a bit at first, but I can understand their disappointment….parents vs. TV…hmmmm.  They’re used to it now, but it’s not like they had much of a choice in the first place 😄.

You know what, it’s been great!  It’s funny how a meal together around a piece of wood can sync things so nicely.  We’re all present, we talk about the day, we laugh, we’re together mentally, not just physically, sitting in the same room staring at the screen.  It’s beautiful.

I do understand that this may seem old fashioned to some folks and that’s ok!  If eating around the table isn’t your thing, I encourage you to find that face-to-face time with your family.  Whether it be taking a walk, reading books, playing games or whatever, it’s time well spent!

Let me know how it goes, friends!

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

Well, It Happened….

My oldest son, Ben is 9, going on 14.  He’s growing up really fast, too fast actually.  The little things that we’ve always done are changing a bit as he grows older.  Good, normal changes, but changes nonetheless.

A few weeks ago, we were walking into church together and I went to grab his hand out of habit.  He politely held my hand briefly and then let go suddenly.  I asked him if he was embarrassed to hold my hand and he answered with a sheepish “kind of.”  I told him I understood, but inside, I knew that this was just the beginning of Ben’s different stages of independence.

For me, it’s a mixed bag of gratefulness and sadness.  I’m grateful that he’s confident enough to be his own person, not needing as much comfort or affection as when he was younger.  I’m sad because this is the end of a chapter.  My little-big boy requires a new kind of affection…..big kid affection consisting of fist bumps and “atta boys” vs. hand holding and other lovey dovey stuff.  Again, I’m glad that he’s growing up, but I was quickly reminded of how fast his childhood is flying by!

As parents, there is always the temptation to look ahead all the time, anticipating our kiddo’s future  or “next steps” while losing grip of the present.  We’ve all been there and while it’s normal, it can be distracting from all the good stuff going on right now.  Let’s not miss the good stuff friends.

In September, Ben will be 10 years old with 2 years left of elementary school.  Wow.  It’s hard to stomach that reality, it really is.  As a dad, the macho thing to do would be to beat my chest and say “that’s just life…only 8+ years until he’s 18 and out of the house!”  That’s not me though.  Instead, I find myself being sappy, sentimental and proud of the young man he’s becoming….feeling torn between wanting to freeze time and the desire to see him grow up to succeed in this world.

Being a parent hurts so good, it really does.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Provision and a Pendleton Blanket

pendleton-blanketIt was a cool, fall-like day and I had the nagging itch to go for a run.  It was a weekend, so I decided to jog the trail on the opposite side of the river….a typical weekend thing that I like to do.  It’s pretty scenic and quiet…a good time to reflect on life and hang out with God.  So I laced up and hit the road.

As I was jogging down the path, breathing in the crisp air, my eyes and heart were drawn to a gal walking towards me.  She was pushing a grocery cart full of cans, clothes, food….basically her whole life stuffed in a basket being pushed with feeble, weather-worn hands.  As I passed her, I smiled and said hello, but I don’t think she noticed me….she was probably used to folks turning the other way or becoming conveniently preoccupied with their phones or whatever.

I continued down the path towards the end, where I usually turn around and head back the way I came.  My steps had a nice rhythm going and my body was warm, my blood pumping pretty good.  Through the rush of exercise came a gentle whisper in my soul….this whisper basically told me that if I happen to see the gal on my route back, that I need to stop and talk to her.  It was like one of those butterflies in the stomach feelings.  Almost like my whole being was on alert with the anticipation of seeing her, wondering what God had planned.

Guess what?!  As I followed the bend of the path, there she was, patiently pushing her cart, heading to who knows where.  So I listened to the whisper, or the Holy Spirit as I like to call Him and I stopped to talk.  I said something like “for some reason, I feel like I need to talk to you.  You mind if I tag along for a bit?”  She didn’t seem to mind at all, so I just walked with her for a bit.  I found out that her name was Karen and we talked about her life, faith and what it was like to be homeless, surviving off of the land and trash cans and shelters and hand outs and whatever she could get her hands on.  She gave me some tips on what trees were best to sleep under and other interesting stuff.  She was pretty street smart and really nice.

I didn’t have much to give her since I was out running and all.  The only thing that I had was the sweatshirt that I was wearing, so I gave it to her.  She seemed happy with it, but I wasn’t….I wanted to give her more.  So, after we parted ways, I sprinted back to my house (about 1 mile away) hoping that I could grab some food and clothes really fast and meet her at the end of the path in time.  So when I got home, I made an announcement to my wife and 2 boys that we were to quickly grab a bunch of food, some clothes, blankets, toiletries and whatever else was available so we could complete the mission of finding Karen.  After everything was gathered, we hopped in the truck and drove back to the river, where the path ended….guess what?!  We found her!

We basically just pulled up next to her and I reminded her of who I was and that my family wanted to give her a few more things.  We all participated in loading up her grocery cart with items that seemed pretty basic to us, but probably were necessities for her.  Along with the stuff that we brought from our house, I also noticed a couple of blankets in the back of our truck, so I gave those to her as well.  She seemed pleased, we said our goodbyes and that was it.  It was great.

Well, later I found out that one of the blankets that I gave her on impulse was a nice Pendleton blanket given to us as a wedding gift.  OOPS!!!  My wife wasn’t mad or anything, just bummed that I chose that blanket to give away and I can understand that.  My bad.

Here’s the cool part of this whole story….a couple of weeks ago, a family friend dropped by the house to deliver some Christmas gifts.  Really nice of her.  Guess what one of the gifts was?!  A BRAND NEW PENDLETON BLANKET!  My wife had told her this story in passing a while ago and our friend felt led to replace the blanket that we gave away.  Isn’t that awesome?!

I was so blessed not only by our friend’s generosity, but that God used her to remind me of His provision.  That blanket meant a lot to my wife and He replaced it.  What a practical, yet powerful thing.

God’s pretty creative and He never ceases to amaze me.  I had no idea that this story would blossom from a simple run on a fall day.  I hope Karen got some good use out of the stuff we gave her.  One thing’s for sure; we both scored some new blankets out of the deal!  Wink wink.

 

God Bless,

Paul

 

Ecuador – Day 8 (Final Day)

ecuador-344Well, the amazing week was coming to a close.  This was the final day of an incredible journey.  My emotions were so mixed….I was super excited to see my family back at home, yet I felt like my heart had planted roots in Ecuador.  I had new family there and saying goodbye to them bummed me out.  Another full day was ahead of us though and I couldn’t wait to get moving.

We had the opportunity of checking out project 542, ALC’s 2nd funded project.  Construction had not begun yet, but the plot of land was acquired (after some drama – see day 5 for details).  We had a small church service and hugged a lot of great folks….notice the hugging theme?  🙂  It was cool to envision what the new project would look like and what memories would be shared there.

ecuador-514These projects are placed in great locations, right in the middle of impoverished communities, which is ideal.  They serve as great hubs and resources for those in need.  I love the way God works and I love the way He uses His people!

Speaking of God using His people, I have a cool story for you.  After we said our goodbyes at 542, we broke up into groups and visited a few more homes.  My group had a special mission.  There was a little boy named Freddie who just had a birthday about 1 week before.  A little before Freddie’s birthday, his dad started a new job working in the mines.  The job wasn’t close to home, so he had to travel.  Although it’s great that his dad found a job, the family hadn’t heard from him in about 2 weeks.  They didn’t know if he was just unable to make a phone call, in trouble or dead.  Freddie’s birthday came around and he was really hoping to see his dad…..well, the day came and went and the family still had not heard from him.  Understandably, Freddie was very bummed about this and he missed his dad very much.  This story laid heavy on the hearts of the staff of 542, so they decided to do something so special…..they threw him a surprise belated birthday party and we got to be a part of it!!!!  They went to a bakery and purchased a cake made just for him.  They also brought some drinks and decorated the walls of the house with cool kid stuff.  To top it off, they had this awesome sparkler candle to place on the cake and those pull-string little firework confetti things.  Although the folks from 542 had limited resources and funds, they still gave what they could in order to pour out God’s love on this little boy.  Inspiring.

ecuador-549I’ll never forget walking down the dirt streets to his house, cake and supplies in-hand.  Then entering his house and seeing his smiling face light up.  He was surrounded by people who loved him, family and strangers alike.  I couldn’t believe that we were standing in a house in Ecuador, eating cake with beautiful people, witnessing God’s love in action….I was standing on holy ground…truly.

After our little party came to a close, we took the last bites of cake and it was time to head out.  We visited a couple more staff houses to meet their families and pray with them.  I was reminded once again of how dedicated these folks were to serving and pouring out every resource that they had.  They hold on loosely to their lives, knowing that God will provide.  I want to be like that.

After some great visits, the trip was officially coming to a close.  We were saying goodbye to our friends and driving to the city.  The plan was to head to the market to buy some souvenirs for our friends and family.  It was a great time and fun to negotiate prices with the vendors!  I wish we could wheel and deal like that more in the states!

The next stop was back to the hotel…the same one that we stayed in at the very beginning of the trip.  We organized our luggage there and ate some dinner.  For me, this was a sad time.  We were heading directly to the airport from the hotel and I couldn’t believe that the journey was over.  After months of preparation and prayer, God’s agenda had been accomplished and we had the divine opportunity of being a part of it.

ecuador-564Well, it was about time for our team to pack up and head to the airport.  The anticipation of going through customs and security became our new focus.  Eventually, we all made our way through the ticket line and it was time to say goodbye to our leader, Liz and the translators.  They became family to us and saying goodbye was harder than expected.  They were amazing people and we couldn’t have made it through each day without them.  They wished us well and we made our way through customs, through security, to Miami, to Dallas and finally, to Portland.  The trip was smooth coming home (thank goodness!!!) and we were ready to see our families.  When the plane landed in Portland, we all knew that it was time to apply all that we had learned in Ecuador to our daily lives.  There was so much to share with our loved ones!

After tons of hugs from our families, we gathered one last time with our group to pray.  We thanked God for an unbelievable experience and our strong team.  We thanked God for His protection and for the opportunity to be loved and to love in a whole new, powerful way.  I’m grateful for my amazing team and the memories that we shared together.

ecuador-572Looking back to about a year ago, I never would have pictured myself traveling to Ecuador.  I’m just a normal guy who goes through the daily grind like everyone else.  Being interested and responding to God’s call to go abroad never seemed like an option or a possibility.  Boy did that change!  It just goes to prove that God can use any of us to make an impact around the world.  There are folks struggling out there, doing their best to make it through another day.  They need hope and joy and comfort and food and care and love just like we do.  Getting to that point of thinking outside of our little boxes is hard, but it’s necessary if we want God to make an impact through us.  It takes intention and it often takes God slapping us across the head to get there.

So how do I conclude such an awesome trip?  How do I sufficiently portray what’s on my heart?  I guess I’ll just leave you with some great words behind why I went: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20

As a Christian, the Great Commission lays heavy on my heart and truthfully, it scares the crap out of me sometimes.  God calls all of us to “go.”  It’s not always pretty or organized or perfectly planned, but neither is life.  God uses normal people to accomplish miraculous things, He just needs folks who are willing to take steps in faith and trust Him.  So I ask you this: Are you brave enough to go?  Are you willing to stretch yourself and risk being uncomfortable?  I encourage you to let these questions sink in.  God’s inviting you to join Him in transforming lives…in transforming your life.  Take the invitation.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks so much for following me along this incredible journey!  It’s been fun!

ecuador-585God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador – Day 6

ecuador-570In my mind, this day was the most powerful in regards to sensing God’s love and power.

As a team, we had the opportunity of doing something incredibly humbling: washing the feet of the staff.  Our leaders were all on the same page regarding the vision for this idea.  The staff at the projects are always pouring into others….very rarely do they have the opportunity to be served.  In order for them to be effective leaders and in order for us to be humbled, washing their feet seemed like a powerful idea and boy was it powerful!  It’s amazing to think that Jesus, the Savior of the world did the same thing for others….it was an honor to follow in His footsteps in this way.

It was pretty simple.  The church staff sat in chairs with the basins of water at their feet.  We kneeled in front of them, removed their shoes and quietly washed each of their feet.  Once we were done, we dried each foot off, placed their shoe back on and gathered more water for the next person to serve.  What an experience!

On a personal note, as the washing concluded, I felt God leading me to go around and just hug people.  Not like half-hearted pats on the back, but big, real, tight hugs.  I then felt led to place their cheeks in my hands, connect our tear-soaked eyes and kiss them on the forehead.  During every hug given and forehead kissed, tears just flowed like a faucet…..good, hard crying took place and it felt like God was breaking chains, tearing down walls and opening up heaven.  Authentic, real interaction was taking place…..most of the time, not a word was spoken, there were only God-fueled actions.  Powerful.

Now, as somebody reading this bog, I can completely understand how all of this would sound strange, uncomfortably intimate and even weird, I get it.  It’s pretty much hard to explain the presence of God in that room….one of those “you had to be there” kind of things.  You’ll just have to take my word for it I guess.  Picture a nice warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold day…that’s all I got.

As a team, we left this time changed forever.  Our tanks were full and we were ready for whatever God was preparing us for.

ecuador-328Next, to keep with the theme of supporting and getting to know the staff, we had the opportunity of visiting each of their homes.  It was a blessing to see where they live, to meet their families and to pray with them.  It was just amazing to see such beautiful people opening up their homes, pouring out their resources and dedicating their lives to serving others.  We were so fortunate to have had this experience.

After the staff home visits were done for the day, it was time to head back to project 534 for another day of VBS….only this time, there was a twist.

ecuador-171Instead of playing the games, bible stories and crafts with the kids, we had a VBS for the parents!  The kiddos went into classrooms and did their own stories and crafts while the parents had the chance to have their own fun and just be kids.  They participated in the stories and made their own crafts.  It was really something!  They had a blast!

They also played some of the same games that the kids played and truthfully, I was worried that they might get bored.  As I discussed this with some of our team members, I was told that many of these parents didn’t have much of a childhood…..the opportunity to play and to just be innocent kids wasn’t there, which is a sad reality.

To my surprise, these parents who were lovingly observing their kids playing from the sidelines the day before were laughing, smiling and really getting into the games!  They had a child-like innocence about the way that they played and participated.  It was as if they were enjoying the childhood that they never had.  It was awesome to see.  I’m grateful to have been a part of that.

During this time, one game was a particular hit.  We called it “sponge pass.”  There were 2 lines of about 6 people each side by side. At the front of each line was a large sponge and a bucket of water.  At the end of each line was a person with an empty water bottle, which was held on top of the head.  The point of the game was to soak the sponge with water and pass it overhead to the person behind until it reached the back of the line.  The last person in line squeezed the soaking wet sponge into the empty bottle.  This was repeated until the water bottle at the end of the line was full.  It was a race, so whoever filled up their water bottle first won.  Understandably, the person holding the water bottle overhead got the short end of the stick and was soaked by the end of the game!  What a hoot!

015The parents loved this game.  They especially loved watching us folks from the US get soaked.  Almost our entire team participated and what started as a simple game ended in a huge water fight!  We were a wet, dirty mess by the end of the festivities…absolutely perfect!

017After another great day, it was time to head back to the hotel.  We had the opportunity of Pastor Alejandro (the pastor responsible for all of the church plants and the guy who facilitated the ground breaking ceremony on day 5) and his wife joining us for dinner.  We had a great conversation regarding his vision for his church and also his vision for Ecuador as a country.  He currently pastors a very large church (a mega church by Ecuador’s standards) and he’s using his many resources and contacts to make a huge impact on the surrounding community.  It was an inspiring conversation full of passion and conviction.  I was grateful to have been a part of it.

This was one of those days where, when my head finally hit the pillow for the night, I just marveled at God’s power.  I couldn’t believe that He allowed me to experience such an amazing day.  Wow.

I am left with one major thought when reflecting about this day in Ecuador:  Many times, when we serve others, it’s not just about the person or people whom we are serving….it’s about our hearts as well.  God speaks to us through interaction and genuine service….that’s just how he designed things.  I know that my cup was filled to overflowing and there’s a part of me that was stamped forever by the love and kindness shared by just actions alone….no words were needed.  Amidst every hug, every smile, every laugh and every tear was a common knowledge that we were loved by a God who is way bigger than we are.  As we served one another, it was as though we were truly living out God’s will for our lives.

Here’s a few words from my favorite book:  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”  The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:35-40

SERVING OTHERS = SERVING JESUS.  Boom.

Stay tuned for day 7!

God Bless,

Paul