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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Thing That I Struggle With Daily

trustingThis morning, I was taking some time to pray, read and just take some deep breaths before the day started.  I need these times to put my head on straight and focus my heart on what’s important.

As I sat on my couch, I prayed for God’s direction and that He would simply guide me in the way that He wants me to go.  This is a pretty common prayer for me, but this time my stomach started to twinge a little….I got nervous.

That nervousness led to uneasiness, then to worry, then to fear, then to doubt, then to distrust.  But why was I so anxious?

I’ll tell you why.  To state it bluntly, I struggle with trusting God sometimes.  I pray for direction, but then I’m afraid of the actual direction that He might take me!  You ever do that?  Questions roll around in my mind like:  “What if He moves my family?  What if we don’t have enough money?  What if I’m not good enough?  What if I don’t hear God correctly?  What if?  What if?  What if?

From a natural standpoint, my concerns over trusting a God that we can’t see would seem legit and understandable.  I get it.  But, I have a relationship with a good, big, powerful, loving, generous, righteous God who’s completely overtaken my life.  He’s my heartbeat.  He’s never let me down and He’s always provided.  Sure, many times His answers are different from mine, but He always comes through, always.

I’m learning that fear often doesn’t make much sense.  In this case, I’m anticipating God to move me in a direction that isn’t cool.  Maybe to a place where I’m uncomfortable and stretched (sometimes this can be a good thing)…..or to a place where my family suffers and struggles….seriously?!  It’s almost as though I forget that He created me and knows me better than I know myself.  I forget that I was created for a reason.  I throw every Bible verse aside that encourages me to trust and not worry about the future…..it’s messed up.  So I confess it, ask for help and move on.  Tomorrow is a new day to trust.

Friends, if you struggle with trusting God sometimes, no matter what it is, know that you’re not alone.  Join me today and everyday in throwing our arms wide open, in faith, knowing that our God and Father is calling the shots.  Confess it, turn the other direction and keep moving.

I’m confident that even a broken guy like me can learn to trust better.  You can too.  One step at a time.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

Why Our Stories Matter

magic open book of fantasy stories

I’m 35 years old and I’ve often wondered, “how in the world have I survived this long?”  Really, it’s a small miracle.

From my clumsy years as a child, to multiple crashes in cars and on bikes, to numerous jumps off bridges and cliffs, to many nights of partying and being stupid, to many crappy decisions…..God has held me in His hands for some reason.  Don’t ask me why….but He has.

Maybe God’s up to something in my life….maybe He has a plan for me…..maybe my story matters!

Over the years, I have made a horrible habit of minimizing myself…..I have placed the label of “normal” and “insignificant” and “ordinary” smack dab on my forehead.  I have assumed that my journey is as insignificant as a small feather, drifting in the ocean.

THIS MINDSET IS SELF-DEFEATING, TOXIC AND SOOOOOO WRONG!

The truth is, our stories hold power.  Every single experience has crafted you and me into the beautiful creations that we are!  These experiences, whether good or bad, can add encouragement and wisdom and flavor to the lives around us…..they might even alter somebody’s path completely!

In a big, big world, it can be tempting to forget that we were created by a big, big God who has big, big plans for each of us.

Slowly and deliberately, I’m discovering that I AM significant.  That even MY story matters.  The process has been pretty messy though and that’s ok!  I wouldn’t be Paul without gathering a few cool scars along the way.

Truly, I’ve had to adjust my perspective a lot.  I’m learning to look at the past, present and future through eternal eyes, trusting that God knows what He’s doing…..it’s really the only thing that makes sense to me…but man, it’s really hard to do sometimes.

Here’s the thing…Jesus loves you and He loves me.  He wants to fill each and every one of us with His joy and peace and perspective.  He wants to mold us, bend us and break us so that he can USE us for His awesome purposes.  That’s why we’re here!

You and I grow so differently which is why we each hold such beautiful, unique stories.

Maybe, just maybe, your story has a purpose.  The rough experiences and decisions from your past have no hold on your future……they only add to the depth of who you are…..if you are open.

Please, please, please, don’t hide who you are or mask where you’ve been.  Let your light shine!  Right now, this very second, you are breathing because of the grace of God.  He’s not finished with you yet.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

Why It’s Ok That My Son Doesn’t Play Sports

016My oldest son, Ben is such a cool kid.  He’s smart, caring, loving and pretty darn handsome.

A little while back, we had a conversation that I never thought we would have…..he told me that he wanted to take a break from sports.

To be honest, my first reaction was to convince him to stick it out.  I tried to sway him with my best arguments, but to no avail.

He had played soccer for a few seasons and he was getting really good at it.  I thought he should keep playing.  I thought he should keep practicing and getting better.  I thought it was fun to see him practice.  I enjoyed being outdoors with the family, I enjoyed…..I, I, I, I, I.  There’s a lot of I’s there, I know.  It’s about Ben, not me, right?

As Ben and I continued talking about his reasons for not playing, I learned something:  Ben’s likes and dislikes are different from my likes and dislikes.  It’s a pretty simple concept really, but it’s been a little challenging for me.

So, to try something new, he wanted to learn how to cook.  My wife, Pam is so amazing in the kitchen and luckily, she’s open to sharing her skills with Ben.  It’s been really cool to see.

We also got him plugged into Cub Scouts.  What a neat, old-fashioned deal they have going there.

Oh yeah, he’s having fun learning how to swim as well.

Excitement, passion and contentment are shining through his big blue eyes as he pursues these new interests.  That excites me and it blesses me.

The truth is, I need to be supportive no matter what he pursues.  More than that, I need to walk beside him in love as his interests change and mature.

As a dad, I want the best for my son.  I’m learning a very important lesson as I see Ben grow:  Happiness and character don’t just exist once we reach the final destination….it’s the steps along the way that mold us most.    The journey is where we discover God’s purpose for our lives….our passion or calling, so to speak.

That’s where Ben is right now.  He’s finding his footing in life.  What a cool journey to witness and be a part of.

My job is to be there, always, with supportive words, fist bumps, forehead kisses and a whole bunch of “I’m proud of you’s.”

Truthfully, this isn’t only Ben’s journey, this is my adventure too.

God Bless,

Paul

You Ever Do This?

Past and FutureI’ve been doing a lot of internal reflection lately.  I have these seasons where I evaluate who I am, what direction I’m heading and where God may be leading me.

I typically like to look to the past to see where I’ve been and who I’m becoming.

My writing has been inconsistent lately.  To be honest, I’ve questioned if this whole writing thing was just a phase, a season if you will.

So, I started digging into my life archives and remembered a time in elementary school, I think it was 6th grade or something.  We used to have free-writing times, where we could create stories and share them with the class.  I was kind of the class clown and my stories were pretty goofy.  I remember that they always made people laugh.  You know, characters falling off cliffs, swinging from vines and crazy, rough-boy stuff like that.  I remember my classmates being engaged in my stories and how easy it was for me to put my stories together.

I then remembered my college days.  How I threw a 2o+ page paper together in a few hours, in the middle of the night.  The words just flowed on to the paper and they actually kind of made sense!

Strangely, these memories encouraged me.  I’m grateful for that.

I’m a little different from other folks in that, while other’s live in the past and struggle with moving forward, I often live in the present and forget to use my past as a tool.  There’s so much to learn from our past….I’m discovering this more and more as I get older.

So, in regards to my writing, I guess I’ll just keep hitting these keys and try to remain open to the direction that my words take me.  Maybe I would actually be disobeying my calling if I didn’t keep my fingers moving.

The answer isn’t clear just yet, but I figured I would continue this weird path towards self-discovery, my writing and my calling.

God is good, He’s got this and I trust Him.

God Bless,

Paul

 

She Was a Good Car

Selling CarToday, we sold our car.  It was our first new car and it still feels like we just brought it home.  We purchased it when life was much different.  I had just started a new job and we didn’t have any kids.

Fast forward 8 years and here we are…..we now have 2 beautiful boys, 2 & 6 years old.  My wife is now an AMAZING stay-at-home-mom and I am still working at the same great place.  Our new, inherited vehicle was my mother-in-law’s…..she passed away from cancer a few months ago.

Things sure have changed.  Ups, downs, career changes, health changes, life changes….pretty wild.

I’m gonna miss our car.  From the milk and coffee stains, to the cracker crumbs, to the apple juice splatters on the roof, to the beach trips taken, to the trips from the hospital with our freshly new baby boys…..good times.

I know it’s just a hunk of metal, but it was our hunk of metal.  It represents a large chunk of our lives.

So now it’s time to make new memories.  To spill more milk and spread more crumbs.  That’s how it works.  You close one chapter and begin another one.  It’s sad and fun at the same time.

I’m reminded today of how quickly life flies by….of how things never stay the same.  Most of all, I’m reminded of how temporary it all is.

I can’t imagine this world and our temporary conditions being all there is.

The only thing that lasts forever is my faith in Jesus.  My faith itself never changes, but the journey certainly does.  Each day is a new adventure and an opportunity to learn and make new memories.  God is good.

God Bless,

Paul