My #1 Goal For Next Year

img_5988Lately, I’ve been reflecting on this last year.  It’s been full of awesomeness, it really has!  I’ve met some great people, I’ve grown closer to others, I’ve been stretched, I’ve traveled, I’ve overcome obstacles, I’ve failed, I’ve succeeded, I’ve grown, I’ve battled dark clouds and rejoiced when those clouds have retreated.  Overall, it’s been a pretty darn good year.

In a couple of days, the slate will be wiped clean and another year will be upon us.  More opportunities lie ahead around every corner….ordained opportunities that are waiting to welcome us like an anxious puppy patiently anticipating their owner’s arrival home.  Exciting!

As I’ve grown older and wiser (hehe!), I’ll typically set a goal to pursue for the upcoming year.  Not a new years resolution or anything, just a vision to follow.  So here’s mine….drum roll please….MY #1 GOAL FOR THIS NEXT YEAR IS TO LOVE BETTER.  There you go.

So what in the world does this “love better” stuff mean?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  For me, it means being open to God’s invitations.  To love people, even though I may not receive anything in return.  So often, I hesitate when I feel God’s nudging to love on somebody or offer kind words.  Ok, I admit it…most of it stems from fear and lack of trust.  For some reason, I forget that God is bigger than me.  I forget that I’m just a limited human, influenced by culture and sin.  I forget that it’s not about me, it’s about Him.  God wants HIS love in MY heart to spew or spray (ok, weird words) or add flavor to those around me.  Not that I’m exceptional or worthy or anything, it’s that He’s exceptional!

So, when I feel led to give the shirt off my back to someone in need, I want to do it.  When I feel led to talk to that lonely looking guy on the bench, I want to do it.  When I feel led to feed that homeless person, I want to do it.  When I feel led to pray for somebody, I want to do it.  When I feel led to send that text, email or make that phone call, I want to do it.  When I see God working in ways that don’t necessarily make sense to me, I want to follow Him…NO MATTER WHAT!  There’s something powerful and beautiful that happens when we are walking in-step with our Creator.  Life is full and complete and purposeful…almost normal feeling…like we were meant to love with boldness, following God’s lead, serving others, not ourselves…hmmmm.

So that’s it.  Pretty simple goal, but so hard to follow through with sometimes!  I’m gonna try though, so watch out world!

WARNING:  You may be hugged next time I see you.  Don’t be afraid, God probably told me to do it.  😉

Happy New Year friends and family.  I believe that God has some amazing powerful things in store for all of us, I really do!

What goals do you have for next year?  What is God challenging you to pursue or change?

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

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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 3

Ecuador 020Things were about to get real.  Days 1 & 2 consisted of travelling, overcoming, vision-casting, introducing, laughing, crying and resting in preparation for what was waiting for us on the next leg of our journey.  The clouds were beginning to lift in Guayaquil and we would soon hop on the bus and take a 2 hour drive to Santa Elena!  This would be our new home for the rest of the trip.  My stomach was churning with excitement…only God knew the powerful time that was ahead of us.

As the bus rumbled through the streets of Ecuador, past banana tree farms, past street vendors, past iguanas on walls, past homes, mostly small and broken, I knew that our team was ready for a new adventure.  We would soon be arriving to project 534 where we would be greeted with smiles, hugs and the presence of Jesus.  It was time to hang with some kids!  Not yet though….the bus began to slow down a bit and suddenly, the roads were solid dirt, the homes became smaller, wild dogs wandered the streets and it was obvious that we were taking a quick detour before the project….

Ecuador 038The bus rumbled to a stop and the lingering dust cloud behind us began to settle.  Little eyes, both big and small peered at us with curiosity through bamboo fence slats and door openings.  They must have been thinking things like; “Who are these people?”  “Why are they here?”  Well, to my surprise, we were there to visit a few homes of the kids that we sponsored, woo hoo!!!!  I knew that we would be visiting, but not this soon!  Although I was beyond excited, I have to be honest about something…..arriving to these poverty-stricken areas via a large bus embarrassed me a little.  I felt unworthy, spoiled and humbled.  The folks living in the community didn’t seem phased though…..just excited that we were there.  Unlike North America, every “hola!” was exchanged with another.  Every wave was returned enthusiastically.  Folks were human to each other, even amidst rough conditions.  How refreshing and inspiring!

Ecuador 145We broke up into 3 groups and ventured off to visit a few homes.  I had the amazing opportunity of visiting my sponsored child, Nicole.  As my group and I strolled down the streets of Santa Elena, I couldn’t fight off the nervous feelings.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Would they welcome me with open arms?  Would we have enough to talk about?  Would Nicole be afraid of me?  My anticipation turned to joy as soon as I was embraced by Nicole’s mom upon our arrival to their home.  I met Nicole’s dad next as I approached the door to their home.  Hiding sheepishly behind him was Nicole.  She wore a pretty white dress and was just plain adorable!  Understandably, Nicole was very shy at first.  We exchanged hugs and had a seat in their home.  I couldn’t believe that after a few years of mailing letters and praying for this little girl, I was sitting next to her, my shoes touching her floor, my arms hugging her, my team being a part of it.  God is so good!

Ecuador 046Our conversation was pretty simple.  It consisted of basic questions regarding school, food, pets, etc.  My man Fernando was translating for us (thank the good Lord!) and did a great job of bridging the language gap.  There may have even been a little ballet dancing going on between Nicole and I…maybe 😉

One last thing about the visit blew me away…in the middle of their main living space, there was a table with a photo of our family on it…yeah, our family!  Also, Nicole had multiple pictures of our family in her bedroom, strategically placed in a certain area right next to a little box which contained all of the letters we had written her.  Man, we were a part of her family!  They love us!  It was an amazing reminder that the simple things like sending pictures and writing letters to these kiddos means the world to them.  What a humbling and encouraging feeling!


imageAfter an amazing visit and big hugs goodbye, it was time to head to project 534.

I had heard about the experience of pulling up to the project for the 1st time and couldn’t wait!  Kids and families were just waiting for us to arrive.  Welcome signs were held and smiling faces lit up the space.  As we exited the bus, it was as though we were famous or something.  I wanted to shout, “we’re not that special, really!” but I just enjoyed the moment and grabbed all of the hugs, kisses and high-fives that I could get.  I let their love penetrate my heart.  There’s no words to explain it, only gratefulness.

imageAfter we all got settled, these beautiful people held a “welcome to Ecuador” church service for us.  They waited a day to hold the service due to our travelling delays, so thoughtful.  There was preaching (by Bryce), singing, dancing and American / Ecuadorian flags being presented together, united as one.  Powerful.

We had the opportunity to meet a lot of kids (including my other sponsored child, Alan) and reunite with the project staff that we had met the day prior.  It was a great day.  One full of anticipation, love and joy.

After this awesome evening, we headed back to the hotel and ate dinner, debriefed and prepared for the next day.  Day 4 presented the opportunity of teaching the staff how to structure a fun bible lesson for the kids.  We were all a little intimidated…it felt beyond us.  You know what, it was.  God stretched us and taught us something very valuable….to just trust….not only in God Himself, but the skills and abilities that He has given us.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on our own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6

Stay tuned for day 4!

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks During Pain

imageAround 2 weeks ago, I jacked up my knee.  Not sure how I did it….maybe while running or basketball, who knows.  I think it’s a MCL sprain or something.

It’s kept me from fully exercising and being mobile.  That’s tough for me.

The other night, I was elevating my knee and icing it.  After I was done, I went to move and my leg was completely frozen.  I literally couldn’t move my leg without excruciating pain.

I was so frustrated and worried about driving to work the next day, asking my wife to help me, never healing and a variety of other things.

As I laid on the couch, teeth clenched in pain, a thought came to me……”I need to stop thinking about my pain and give God thanks and praise amongst the pain.”  Wow.

So I did.  I thanked God for His many blessings.  I thanked God for teaching me to lean on Him.  I even thanked Him for the pain!  It felt kinda odd, but freeing.

Guess what?  I started to feel better.  I figured out how to hobble back to the room.  I felt peace.  God is good.

Now, please understand that this is not a normal thing for me.  My first reaction is usually spitting out a few cuss words and soaking in my own discomfort.

I learned that even amongst pain, no matter what that pain may be, God is there, always.  He’s always calling us to look up even during the darkest days…we just don’t always hear Him.

Somehow, I heard Him.  No magic potions, no perfect heart, no special words on my part, nothing….I just heard Him.  God’s funny that way….always showing up when we least expect Him to…teaching us to take the focus off ourselves.

Pretty awesome.

God Bless,

Paul

 

I Have a Confession and an Invitation

imageMy whole life, I’ve struggled so much with a certain weakness.  It’s something that not all folks struggle with, but we’re all affected by at some point in our lives.  It’s called fear.  It can take many forms and can stop us from being who we are designed to be.  It can be crippling.

My particular fear has been regarding other people, what they think of me.  It stems from when I was bullied as a kid.  I took every insult to heart.  It stained my insides pretty bad.  As an adult, I have learned to work against this fear, with God’s help of course, but it’s still there…every single day.

For the last year or so, I have let this fear affect my spiritual life, my “witness” so to speak.  I’ve avoided conversations with others about Jesus, I’ve slowed down on writing, I’ve been afraid of being too bold about my faith for fear of rejection.  It’s sad, but it’s the truth.

It’s not that I stopped believing or anything, it’s that I lost focus on WHY I believed in Jesus.  I don’t think this is an abnormal thing, but it’s a place that I never want to get too comfortable in.  In all reality, it’s been pretty selfish on my part.

The good news is that I’m coming out of this fog.  I’ve just kept praying, reading, surrendering and remaining open to God’s leading.  I guess perseverance would be the word to describe it…….such imperfect perseverance.  God is faithful though.  I believe that He sometimes allows these times of disconnect, because He wants us to seek Him.  He wants us to reach out to Him.  He wants to remind us of what life feels like apart from Him.  Sometimes folks push away during these times and I can understand that.  I’ve had my own moments of pushing away.  I encourage you to dig in though.  Be stubborn and refuse to let those dark clouds hold residence over your life.

To those of you who are scared or nervous to share their faith, I urge you to be bold, be courageous, be confident and most of all, be full of love.  We’re not expected to have all the answers to life’s mysteries.  Our role is to have open arms and loving hearts to ALL people, despite their differences, creeds, interests, beliefs, etc.

Today, more than ever, we need lights to shine and salt to flavor.  That light and salt is you, it’s me, it’s all of us who believe in Christ.

Please join me in seeking more.  In giving more.  In serving more.  In sharing more.  In loving more.  Jesus will take care of the rest, I promise.

God Bless,

Paul

 

I WANT IT NOW!!!

Throwing tantrumWe’re such an “instant gratification society” aren’t we?!  With technology booming and advancements in just about every area, it’s almost hard not to be in this mindset.

From DVR’s to fast food to internet shopping to phones to instant coffee to whatever….there’s a sense of entitlement in regards to the accessibility and quickness of things.  We all fall subject to this.  You know when you’re in the middle of something and your computer freezes up?  You wait patiently for the status bar to slowly creep across the screen because progress takes time, right?  Right?  Ummm, no, not so much.  You and I both act as though our precious time is being wasted in such a dramatic fashion, it’s almost comical.  Actually, it is pretty comical.

Just as we expect life to conveniently and quickly come together, we often expect God to work in the same way.  I know I do at times.  “God, I really wanted that job, but it didn’t work out.  Why did you let that happen to me?”  “God, I’ve been praying for peace and comfort, but I don’t feel any different.  Where are you?”  “God, I prayed that you would heal this person and they passed away.  Where were you?”  These questions sound familiar?

I think we’ve all asked questions somewhat similar to these.  We do so in expectation of an answered prayer quickly and exactly.  When that doesn’t happen, we tend to get discouraged, to give up.  It’s a natural inclination to sway in this direction, but WE MUST NEVER GIVE UP, EVER!

God doesn’t work on the same timeline as us for one simple reason; He’s not human, He’s God.  We only see what’s in front of us, merely guessing about the direction of our future.  God sees the whole picture.  Instead of going at our pace, He’s way ahead of us, waiting around the final turn, on one knee, arms stretched, awaiting our embrace.  He’s like a proud Dad, wanting our love and trust in return.

God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows what makes us tick.  He knows our insecurities.  He knows the exact things in our life that would cause us to turn to Him.  Sometimes, He allows the times of despair, because He wants us to seek hope and peace.  Sometimes, He’s quiet, because He wants us to pursue him more diligently, consistently and passionately.  Sometimes, He closes a door, because He has another door open…one we may not see yet.  He does all this because He’s more interested in our journey, in our character, in our ability to show love, than He is in our comfort.

The bible talks about perseverance.  You know, fighting the good fight and pressing forward at all costs.  It all sounds pretty glamorous and righteous, but it’s so freaking hard to do sometimes.  It’s a daily decision.

Practically speaking, if we desire to know God better, we just need to keep going.  We need to keep doing what we know how to do.  We need to keep praying, Keep seeking, keep hiking, keep working, keep singing, keep writing, keep reading, keep socializing, keep doing whatever it is that brings us closer to Him.  If you and I are open and our hearts are truly seeking Him, we will be changed, in due time.  That’s a promise.

Sure, sometimes God does answer our prayers quickly and exactly.  It’s really cool when that happens.

Most of the time, God seems to work a little outside the box.  Ok, a lot outside the box.  That’s good, because our “instant gratification selves” typically desire things within that perfectly symmetrical box.

God ALWAYS has our best interests in mind.  Slowing down and trusting that our relationship with God takes time is the key.  It’s worth the wait.

God Bless,

Paul