Friday, June 29, 2012

Breathe Deep

I recently saw this segment from 60 Minutes on Michael Phelps.

I love to swim, and I'm so glad my kids love to swim too. (It's been so great to coach Kenni in learning to swim the freestyle stroke recently. She's all excited to pass the swim test at camp next week so she can swim out to the deeper part of the lake with her friends.) I swam competitively in High School but was not good enough to go beyond that.  However, knowing something of the sport and the training required at the highest levels, I have a certain appreciation for the sport and it's competitors.

When I watched this piece, there were two significant elements that resonated with me greatly:

First, during the interview they talk about the specialized enclosure where Michael sleeps.  It's a transparent box-like enclosure that surrounds his bed in his room.  When inside, it simulates being in an environment with the same oxygen level at ~9000ft elevation.  So for the average person, being in that chamber would make it more difficult to breathe.  (ie get oxygen to your lungs, brain, muscles etc.) For Michael however, it conditions his body to acclimate to that oxygen level, so when he competes in an environment that is more oxygen rich - he has a greater advantage.

Second, in the teaser to the interview Anderson Cooper shares that the last few years has been the most difficult times of Phelps career.  *WHAT! Are you kidding?!*  He won more gold medals than any other swimmer in a single Olympics - IN HISTORY!  That's incredible!  However, as Michael talks about his life and experiences we begin to see that even as one of the greatest athletes in the world; arguably the best swimmers that has ever competed - cannot fulfill himself.

This makes me think about the Psalmist words...

For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. 6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. 10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. 11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.  (Ps. 33:4-11)

Verse 6 basically says that God put life into our universe with His breath.  In other parts of Scripture the Holy Spirit is described as Breath or Wind...(ie Jn. 20:22)

It also makes me think about spending time with God more intentionally as well.  When I spend time with God I need to be in a space and time that I am alert and completely undistracted. 

(Mt. 6:6 says, But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.)

I should have some kind of "enclosure" or "special place" or room where I am able to breathe in the enriched Breath of God, so when I find myself needing to be on my best game... that I will have a greater advantage to compete against temptation and sin that tries to bring me down.

How's your spiritual-breathing?    
Do you have a time and a place where you go to inhale the fresh life-giving breath of God and His Word?I really hope Michael comes to a point in his life where he realizes his significance in Christ as well. I'm stoked to watch him compete at the London Games, but.. then what?
If you don't currently have one, make a plan today to carve out regular time to "breathe in God" - deeply. He's the only one that can provide us significance, fulfillment and success beyond ourselves.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Updates on Go-Haiti

The following posts will provide you with some insight to our experiences together in our last several days in Haiti last summer.

I've intended to write earlier, but have had to put it on the back burner until now.  
However, since I've connected with Dr Franco over the last few weeks - I just had to share the exciting things that God has been doing with Go Haiti in Port Au Prince the last few months.  

I plan to write here more often from now on, so I look forward to our interaction together in the days to come.  That said, let me first share some quick updates and for additional details check:  

Recent Achievements at Go-Haiti: 

I will list more updates as I have them.  

The accounts of the ministry projects from last year are recorded in earlier posts, but the second week is when it all came together - at least most of the time.  So, the following posts are "snapshots" of those experiences and holy moments we were privileged to be a part of....

Hurricane Irene, Kaliko, and The Hike (Tuesday Aug 30, 2011)

There were just a handful of us left with the staff and the children on Tuesday morning.I believe the hiking team began their ridiculous 10-12mile hike up to an area in the mountains where Dr Franco was born.  I originally had planned to go with them and take Kendalyn with me, but Amy and I decided that it might be best for us as a family to spend some time together just being together.  

As you may know, Amy had just completed her BSN at Southern CT State University with 29 other students (four of whom were with us).  The program they graduated from was a full BSN crammed into one grueling year.  So, Amy had spent the previous two years in pre-requisite courses that she needed to be accepted to the nursing program in the first place.
When we arrived at Kaliko we were the ONLY ones in the entire resort.  As you may recall, there weren’t any sane travelers headed to Haiti during that week because Hurricane Irene was off the coast of Haiti and the weather was uncertain at best.  When the weather got better later that week (because Irene came to New England instead – how ironic!) more people came to Kaliko to swim and relax so our kids met several other children from Europe, different parts of the US and Haiti. 

Meanwhile, while we were relaxing at Kaliko, the Hiking Team lead by the fearless Jon Cooke.  They made it, but from what I heard later… there were several points that some on the trip wanted to quit because the rain was so terrible from the Hurricane’s peripheral storms, but each of them shared how meaningful the trip was and how blessed they were to meet so many people and to be able to teach God’s word to so many.  I’ve recently heard that Jon’s planning another hike and apparently this one might be twice as difficult.  If you’re interested, I’m sure you can get the details from him. 
We arrived back later that week in enough time to wash some more clothes and pack up to get ready for home.  However, what we learned was that because of all the cancelled flights due to the hurricane the earlier in the week, the entire air travel system in Haiti was now backed up so much that hundreds of people were waiting outside the airport for hours at a time just hoping to get on a flight back to the states.
To make a very long story short, the ten of us that had tickets to go home were able to finally get on our flight as originally scheduled, however, it took us 8 hours to travel about 100’ (no exaggeration) – navigating through all the lines and paperwork. 

All in all, it was probably the craziest thing we’ve done so far… but we’re already dreaming up more adventures to come in the next several months.  We don’t know when or where we're headed yet, but stay tuned.

The trip was incredibly valuable for our family for a few reasons –

First, Haiti is a wonderful place in many ways… and it is a hurting place in so many other ways.  We are so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to serve with the team we were with and to get a little bit better understanding of Haitian culture, expectations and how Haiti “works” in general.  That said, I am not going to go into any detail here, but as “in-need” as Haiti is… we are trying to discern how best to help.  We’re not sure what that looks like exactly yet.  We know that Dr Franco and GO Haiti have been woven into our lives through Divine orchestration, but we’re excited to see how God may help us refine what we do and how we serve while stewarding our time and resources in the best way possible.

Second, this was a great reconnaissance trip for us.  Amy and Sasha got the distinct privilege to go first in Jan. 2011, but I had never been.  So as we prepared to go all together in August there were so many things that a video presentation can’t tell you.  Haiti is unique and you can’t really grasp the experience, people, daily obstacles, daily victories, and needs until you spend time there.  So this was a great way to help us assess what our next steps to help, may be.

Third, I don’t know if we realized how powerful this trip would be for our whole family.  We have been “kicking around” the idea of serving together as a family for some time now… but until this opportunity surfaced we weren’t exactly sure what that might look like.  Honestly, we had several people –including close friends and even some family – discourage us from the thought of taking all of our kids and going to Haiti to serve together.  I know for sure that our friends and family want the best for us and want us to be safe and healthy – I know that what was shared came from the best of intentions.  However, Amy and I have come to a couple conclusions that are the biggest factors in leading our famly together. 
  1. What are the most important things to protect our kids from?  Why?
  2. What kind of people do we want our kids to be… Really?

I’ll write more on those two thoughts later… but our American culture (even The Church) spends a lot of time protecting our kids from a lot of things while managing their lives to go to just the right school with just the right academic record with just the right sports accolades… and look at the results.  In our minds, generally speaking they’re not all that great.  We’ve become an extremely “P.C.” and self-absorbed society, anxious for a bailout and stepping on others to get whatever we can for free. 

We want our kids to do great things… and while we will never “cattle chute” their every move… we will do everything in our power to give them opportunities that will stretch and challenge their bodies, minds and hearts to love, honor and serve God – and make a huge impact on their world – whatever that looks like and wherever that may take them. 

We don’t do it right all the time as parents…and there are dangers in life… but think about it… would you rather die after protecting yourself from the worlds’ greatest adventures… or die in the middle of one?  Until next time… 

Time To Process... (Mon. Aug 29, 2011)

Monday morning about 20 more people left in waves to head back to the airport to go home.  After everyone had packed up and gone, a few of us did some more cleaning up.  It was good to have some time alone by then… and I continued processing the experience.  

Another Great Worship Experience! (Sunday Aug 28, 2011)

The ride to and from church was pretty similar except we got another flat tire on a different bus – but then finally got to Church.  The worship was as powerful as we had experienced the week before and a huge lunch was waiting for us when we returned from Church.  The rest of the day was spent sharing stories and playing games together.

Kaliko, Bus and a walk to the Police Station (Sat. Aug. 27, 2011)

On Saturday morning over 30 of us piled in a bus and headed off to get some refreshment at the Kaliko Resort, about a two hour drive away.  Some of us were initially a bit reluctant to go to Kaliko because we wanted to focus all of our efforts on serving there at GO Haiti… We hadn’t come to Haiti to sit around the beach.  However, we recognized it would be good for us to relax and reflect on our experiences together. It was so good not only to rest our bodies, but to relax our minds and debrief our experiences together.  

We also got a chance to see more of the countryside and other gorgeous parts of Haiti that the western world has been so attracted to for the last several hundred years.
Later that day we piled back in the bus to make the trek back to the compound, and while I was half asleep sitting with Tariku on my lap, I felt what sounded like chunks of the road hitting the underside of the bus.  I didn’t think much of it at first but then realized that within minutes it was the back tire splitting apart.  Almost as soon as that thought came to me the driver pulled over to the side of the road.  We were still about a half an hour away and it was getting dark.

Since this was the end of the week and we had already experienced a myriad of obstacles like this throughout the week… we all laughed a lot… and started walking down the road toward the rural police station where we waited for another bus. 

Miraculously, the replacement bus came in record time and took us all back to our bunks.  I don’t think the screeching frogs bothered anyone that night.  

Finishing up and capturing memories (Fri Aug 26, 2011)

On Friday we began to finish up our projects and get in a few games of Ultimate Frisbee and soccer. 
Additionally, by Friday these three video segments were finalized and broadcast by our friend Sarah French and broadcast on CT FOX Channel 3.  She and our friend and Videographer, Dustin Schultz did a tremendous job telling the story of the GO Haiti ministry and communicating some of the areas’ greatest needs and how to help. 

Brute Wheelbarrow (Thur Aug. 25, 2011)

While the other projects had adequate support, I stumbled on another need.  They only had one wheelbarrow and it seemed to me that a second one would be helpful.  So I started looking around for some scrap wood to build one.  Since most of the wood was cut to build the remaining pieces of the bunk beds, I pieced together enough scraps to build a second wheel barrow.

The finished product however looks like something you might find in the middle ages.  It looks like a device Robin Hood might have used to cart around dead goats or fire wood.  It’s a little harder to push around than I had hoped, but it will definitely last. 

Earlier Thursday morning, several more helpers arrived to assist in the meal we would provide later that evening.  By dinner time, when we started bringing out the tables and pots of food, there were lots of people waiting outside the gate.  By the time we were ready to eat, there must have been 250 men women and children that came through the food line.  That meal together was one of the most memorable times for me – I think we all had a sense of reward and accomplishment that night… it was kind of a culmination of what we had been doing all week together, but in the middle of the meal it struck me that as great as we felt about providing food to those in need… there were many who may have only had that single meal all day… and maybe that single meal was going to last them for the next day or two.  

It was  a privilege to be a part of, but what hit me hardest was that in a matter of days we were going to be able to go home to clean water in our sinks and fresh food in our refrigerators.  It’s not fair.  That experience and  memory is branded on my mind and my heart forever, and I'll continue to consider ways to help and serve in a sustainable way … that doesn’t just enable people… or to propel me or other Americans toward “Superman-Complex”.  There has to be a better way for long term sustainable help… more on that later…

A Hospital with No Doctors or Nurses… and more farming. (Wed Aug. 24, 2011)

Several people including the Nurses and a few others went with Dr Franco to the Port Au Prince Hospital in the morning.  Sarah French and Dustin Schultz also went to capture video and as many pictures as possible. 

When they returned later that day they all were having a very difficult time putting words to what they’d seen- the conditions were unconscionable - but it was therapeutic to talk.  I don’t think they knew exactly how many patients were there, but they talked about maybe 10 or 12 individuals they’d met.  When they first arrived at the hospital, they learned that all the Doctors and Nurses were on strike and all the medical staff had left the hospital two months earlier after not being paid by the Haitian Government for months.

There were several patients who had been there since before the hospital staff went on strike – still lying in the hospital bed hoping for some attention.  At least some patients had family members bringing them food and water, but little help beyond that.  It was a very difficult experience for our entire team – so when they were able to provide some medical attention with some of the supplies they brought they did, but the needs were so great and a few patients required care beyond what they could provide at the time so they just made them as comfortable as possible.  I know that Dr. Franco has been back to that hospital since, but I don’t know if the conditions there have changed much or not. 

While Dr Franco and the others were visiting the hospital that day, the rest of us continued the farming projects and finishing the bunk beds. Amy’s sister, Michelle was a huge help on this trip.  Under her guidance, we were able to begin some fruit and vegetable plots next to the house.  Michelle shared her expertise she learned while farming similar soil types in Honduras. 

That garden had some tough soil, but Michelle’s help really paid off.  From my conversation with Dr Franco on 1/24/12, there are now many maturing fruits and vegetable plants that will help to independently sustain the children and staff at the orphanage! 

While the Clinic and VBS continued, Jerry, David, Jim and I finished 7 Bunk Bed sets and now almost all the kids have their own beds!

Preparations, Clinics, VBS, and Ultimate Frisbee! (Tues Aug 23, 2011)

The two or three days prior, some of the locals began hearing about the free clinics that would be offered … so by the time we finished breakfast, there were already 50-75 people gathered outside the gate – most of whom were mothers, children and the elderly.  The medical team was led by Dr Barnett (Nursing School Professor at Southern CT State Univ.) and Dr Franco supported by Graduate Nurses including Amy, Jon Kim, Ted and others. 

The Clinic and Vacation Bible School were able to begin simultaneously because many of the children who had come with their families to receive medical attention, also wanted to participate in VBS.  Kimberly Dominy and Terri Felgate did a phenomenal job with the VBS.  What a blessing to so many kids and their families! I have no idea how many kids participated, but it grew from 25 or so the first day to maybe close to 50 by the end of the week. 

What a beautiful thing to bring physical and spiritual healing to hundreds of lives that week!  While the VBS and Clinic work continued, the rest of us began to clear the farming plots with hand tools and cut down the weeds in another large area to create a playing field. 

We all worked hard the rest of the week but by the following day we had a full sized soccer field that later included soccer goals made of tree branches and volleyball netting.  We wrapped up the day playing the most competitive game of Ultimate Frisbee ever played in a thunderstorm!

In a Sauna attached to an Elephant with a Limp (Monday Aug 22, 2011)

Those of us that arrived the prior week spent a lot of it setting up the home to provide adequate space for beds and personal items for the team of 22 people that would arrive that day (8/22).  We had been stocking up on drinking water, cases of coke and fanta, and rigging up up mosquito nets.  We also rearranged 25 or 30 barrels of donated items that were stacked in the store room, and put them under a rigged up tent outside. 
The first few people arrived earlier in the day, but then an entire wave of people came in.  If you read my earlier post about coming in to the Port Au Prince Airport you’ll have a better mental picture of what kind of surprises we all encountered, but everyone arrived safely.  Once everyone was outside in the parking area, it was another entire expedition just getting the crew and the luggage to the bus parked ¼ mile away. 
The bus trip was like riding in an enclosed sauna loosely attached to the back of a slow moving elephant with a limp.  I can’t believe no one got sick… but really, it’s just another treasured memory of the whole experience.  I’m just glad we didn’t have to try to load 25 or so people with all 50 suitcases and additional 40+ personal bags into the tap taps.  We would have needed a convoy of those little trucks and we might still be waiting for people to arrive at the compound! 

Nonetheless..after everyone got unpacked and settled we went gathered together to discuss the desired plans for the week ahead.  As I vaguely recall, we titled the orientation classes something like:

Toilet Flushing 101
Drinking Water Rationing 101
Tips for Mealtimes 200, Finding Your Laundry 201 and
Hopeful Projects of the week 301

None of the rest of us were seasoned veterans by any means… however, I think we had several initially “shell-shocked noobs”… but they all adjusted quickly – they didn’t have any other choice. 

We also gave a class on how to near-miss the 4:50am crowing Rooster.  But no one passed that class – it wasn’t such a big deal though because it was already bright and sunny and in the Sticky mid-80’s by 5am anyhow, so everyone got up.  We started work as early as we could too, because by the time early afternoon rolled around, it was too hot to work much outside… we had to wait till the sun started to go down again.

Church:What a ride! (Sunday Aug 21, 2011)

Haitian roads have been in rough shape for a long time, but are in even worse condition after the Jan 2010 earthquake.  From my best guess, the church we attended is about 5-10 miles away, but the ride can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour (sometimes more depending on traffic jams or car trouble.)  Since everyone has to deal with the same spontaneous road hazards like overturned buses or trucks, broken down “Tap-Taps” (Haitian Taxis made of compact Isuzu pickup trucks) in the middle of the road, freight trucks parked to unload fruits and vegetables or just dodging the potholes… So, church just starts about the time everyone arrives.

Honestly, the worship environment there is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced here in the U.S.  It is an incredible experience to worship God especially with those in the developing world.  The passion and atmosphere is set by the powerful Brooklyn Tabernacle Church leadership team that planted the church, but is further attributed to the Haitian Pastoral team that has taken the church to the next level.
There is something that happens deep in your soul when you truly recognize that you are desperate for God.  Here in the States, we have so many things that cloud our vision and prevent us from such a submissive and humble posture – although Haiti has their own selfishness – many of the distractions we have here in the US are not as prevalent there and permit your heart to experience God’s greatness and express it back to Him!    

Ps. 103:1-5 says,
Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 
Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Regardless of my location or circumstance, I pray that I will always retain the sense of desperation and dependence on God that I experienced while worshipping with such a precious community of people there.  By the time we all made it back from Church in an assortment of TapTaps and a borrowed SUV, we ate lunch, and rested the rest of the day.  It was hot… but peaceful.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Colt, in the Mosaic

Over the last year, I have been reading chronologically through The Word and I have been enjoying the new lessons and applications I’ve been gleaning. I read Mark 11 today and I was really struck by this passage as it pertains to my place in life and studies right now. I hope you will be encouraged by this passage as much as I have been.

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'"4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it,5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?"6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.” (Mark 11:1-6) NIV

I don’t know about you, but while I have great expectations for how The Lord will use my Seminary Studies in the future, I’m not exactly sure what that will look like.  I am open to a few different types of opportunities due to where my strengths and passions lie, but I don’t exactly know what kind of role that will be.  So, as I have been thinking and praying and seeking the wisdom of seasoned veterans, I was encouraged by the following observations in this somewhat strange passage:
1. Jesus sees gifts in us that may not recognize yet (v.2-3)
2. Jesus does not give us all the reasons why he makes a specific request, but he always reveals that in his time. (v2-3
3. Jesus knows that we might not feel prepared to use those gifts when we’re called upon to do so. (v 3)
4. Jesus still wants to use what we have for his purpose anyway, so be obedient. (v4)
5. Outsiders may question and even contest the mission that Jesus has given us, but don’t quit. (v5-6)

I wonder if the disciples had to explain the reason for the seemingly strange request.  Or, I wonder how the owner of the colt felt when he learned that his colt was gone and  I wonder if he realized how important his “offering” was and what such a significant role it would play in the kingdom?  
God doesn’t reveal it all at once to us.  He gives us a few pieces at a time for us to steward, but in time we begin to see the beautiful mosaic he’s creating.

Coming soon...

I still have some remaining posts to publish about our final week of Haiti last summer.  I just have been unable to allocate time to writing here.  However, I plan to do more this summer and look forward to your feedback, thoughts, critique and reflections.  more soon...