Sunday, June 12, 2016

Haiti 2016

I’d been to Haiti once before but when asked if I wanted to go again, I jumped at the chance.  But this trip was different, much different.  Last time I was there, I was with a group from Southern who helped out at a little school somewhere east of Port-au-Prince while doing medical treatment and a bit of construction.  This trip we had a smaller group (two families, one Haitien/American, and myself) and stayed at a little mission compound where a lot of the locals would hang out.  I definitely got to interact with the people more and learn a lot about Haitian culture.  What they love, what they hate, what gives them national pride, their hopes, dreams, and fears.  There are so many stories I could tell, so many experiences I could share, but time does not allow me to share them all here.  Here are some of my favorite pictures with their accompanying stories.

One of the first things we learned about Haiti was that everyone wanted money!  This guy had a whole stunt routine down (kids, don't try this at home) after which he asked us for money.  Everyone's gotta earn money somehow I guess...

Our ride from Cap-Hatien to Ranquitte consisted of us sitting on top of an open truck while we drove through the Hatien countryside.  It was such an epic ride with the wind blowing in our faces!

Our ride on top of the truck soon ended when the clouds began to pour rain.  We pulled a tarp over the top of us and then rode the rest of the way huddled together with our luggage.  Definitely made for some fun memories!

The locals had a lot of hand-crafted goods that they would try and sell to us right outside the mission compound where we were staying.  It was fun to haggle the prices with them.

Every day, we would take motos from our mission compound in Ranquitte to the orphanage in Bas Pinal.  It was a blast to ride along the dirt roads amongst frolicking children and plodding donkeys.  My favorite part was when we dipped down into a creek bed and followed the stream a ways before climbing the bank near the orphanage.

This is the new orphanage compound which is being built!  They still need money to complete it but once done, it will provide much needed room for the children to live and play.

Almost everything in Haiti is made by hand.  This is one of the rebar supports that hold up the walls of the new orphanage they're building.  The whole thing is handmade and twisted together with wires.

One of the necessities on the trip was water filters!!  All of us had different systems; Miss Sheri had this Life Straw.  It was weird to get home and drink right out of the faucet again.

The kids were so cute!  I'm not sure who enjoyed the time and attention more, them or us.

This is Chauchou (I THINK that's how you spell his name anyways).  He was my moto driver every day, at least for the first couple days.  After that, he found out I love driving motorcycles so he let me do all the driving which was amazing!  I only stalled it out a couple times and one was only when a chicken ran in front of us while we were driving up a 45 degree (almost...) rock slide coming out of the riverbed.  The driving wouldn't have been half so bad if they were actually dirtbikes, but these are street bikes which makes them slide all over the place in the mud and stonebed.

Everyone got to help with projects, even little Caleb!  He only had one major incident with the paint and that was when a good friend of his swiped a paintbrush full of paint across his face.  Made him feel pretty blue...

We were doing a Bible study and this kid was goofing off with his friends on a nearby table.  I couldn't help but take some pictures of this future model.

If there was one thing Caleb loved more than anything else, it was mangoes.  Tons of mangoes!  The locals would bring them to him by the bucket fulls because he could always be seen eating mangoes.  The wonderful thing was that there were several mango trees on the mission compound so we could always eat mangoes whenever we wanted to.  And they were probably the most delicious ones I've ever tasted.

There were tons of goats and donkeys and chickens running around everywhere.  It was almost like living in a petting zoo for a few days.

One of the days we were there, we got to go and explore the local market.  Everyone from the surrounding hillsides would bring their fresh produce to sell.  It was crowded, hot, and super busy.  Definitely a far-cry from the grocery stores we're used to in the states.

Voodoo is very strong in Haiti still.  We heard several stories of demon possession and how the devil has a tight hold on the people of Haiti still through those practices.  This is a voodoo tree planted in the middle of the cemetery in Ranquitte.  You can see it's been burned on the bottom during their ceremonial rituals for the dead.

One of the days the women did a "spa day" for the girls at the orphanage.  They got to wash their feet and paint their nails, things that seem normal to us here but are a rare opportunity for them.

We did a lot of acting while over there!  During this particular evening program, Jessica portrayed Mary Magdalene as she pleaded with the kids to give their hearts to Christ.

The water that came pouring off the roofs were caught in large barrels to be used later.  Well, most of it anyway.  This boy had found a leak in the eaves and loved to drink the water straight off the roof!

On Sunday we took a lot of the older orphans out to a "professional" soccer game!  They were so excited and took showers before dressing in their best clothes for the event.

Haitiens definitely know how to play some intense soccer!  It was fun to watch them, albeit the sun got hot after standing for a couple hours in a throng of hot, sweaty bodies.

The day before we flew out, we visited the Citadelle Laferrière which sits high over the town of Milot.  Built in the beginning of the 19th century by one of the leaders of the slave revolution, it is often referred to by the locals as the 8th wonder of the world.  It was an intense hike up to the top, but the view was absolutely worth it!

Looking down from the Citadelle, it was easy to see just how high we really were.  Haiti is such a beautiful country.

It was such a blessing being able to visit the orphanage there and helping out with various projects.  I'll be producing a short promo video for Haiti Helpers soon but in the meantime, check out their website to learn more about the projects and current needs!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Letter to Myself

On Thursday I took my last test while in nursing school; a Kaplan predictor with 150 rather difficult questions.  It was an early morning, an eight o’clock test.  While driving to SAU, the misty fog rose heavily from the asphalt as the morning sun met the remnants from last night’s storm.  Not an unusual sight but breathtaking every time I see it.  I pulled into the parking lot and walked into the LRC.  The testing center.  The room where my fate has been decided for the past 4 years.  A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I looked around at the Adult Health 2 class taking their final in the same room.  I remembered the first time I took that test; it was the first and only time I’ve had a legitimate panic attack.  Mid test I realized I didn’t know the content well enough and my heart began to race, my head felt light and nauseous, and I needed out.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.  I got a drink from the fountain and sat down again.  I prayed.  The questions began to swirl on the computer screen and my mind raced, bringing back loads of useless information to my recollection.  I didn’t pass that test.  Consequently I didn’t pass that class.  But it wasn’t my first disappointment with having to repeat classes, nor would it be my last.  I’ve somehow managed to squeeze two years of nursing school into four.  The number 78 will forever be etched into my brain as the magical number which decides whether I pass or fail.  76-77.3% final test grades don’t make the cut.  Trust me, I’ve tried.

So here I am, a 23 year old super senior who’s a junior by credits, who just graduated with my associates degree in nursing.  Do I feel behind, like I’ve been held back from starting life?  Ha, far from it!!  I view these extra two years in school as a gift from God that has changed my life forever.  In fact, looking back over the past 4-1/2 years I can’t help but see how God has divinely led my experience.  I decided to pen a letter with advice to my younger freshman self, a timid 19 year-old with so much to learn.  If you don’t mind, I thought I’d share it with you.

"Hey Three-stroke!
Yeah, I know that’s your current nickname given to you after you were made to believe a three-stroke engine actually exists.  I also know you don’t spread that name around much because it’s kind of embarrassing.  But it’s ok, we all make mistakes at times.  You just have to laugh at your blunders and move on and become a stronger man for them.  Trust me, that’s a skill you’ll need to develop rather quickly.  You’re so insecure with yourself but that will change.  You don’t know what you believe, whether you think jewelry is alright or not, whether theaters are evil or tolerable, to name a couple.  But it’s ok, you have the next few years to figure out what you believe and to begin living your life based on personal convictions rather than family traditions.

You’re literally going to know no one when you first arrive.  But here’s a little secret, Southern Adventist University is full of amazing, incredible, top-notch, godly people who are just waiting to be your friends.  When you (ahem, your grandparents) pay that depressingly large amount of money each semester, you’re not paying for a degree.  You can get that at a community college for 1/1000000th of the cost (roughly).  No, you’re paying for an education.  An education on life.  Friends.  Your walk with Christ.  Service.  How to be a missionary today.  You’re paying for the opportunity to interact with people who will lead you to the foot of the cross on a daily basis!  You’re paying for the opportunity to join those people on trips to Guyana, Brazil, and Haiti.  Never, ever, underestimate the worth of godly friends.  Their value is beyond compare.  Join SA, get involved in the events, be random, wear that alien costume so when you meet your friends later you can look back at your first picture together and laugh.  Breathe some helium and sing One Direction on the promenade with your best guy friend.  Film an SA promo with horses galloping across the campus.  Dress up as a scarecrow and let people take pictures of you on the promenade.  Get out there and make new friends!  Never let a person pass you without attempting to make eye contact and brighten their day with a word of encouragement or a smile.  You’ll find a lot of bee-liners on the promenade; you can recognize them by the earbuds they wear.  Accept that challenge!

Then there are girls.  Let me just stop here and say hey, they’re people too!  Stop being so nervous and go talk to them.  Ask that one girl to banquet!  You’ll end up going as friends in a group but hey, the goal was to be there with her and that happened.  You’ll borrow a friend’s van and be the gentleman while driving her and her friends all the way from Thatcher South to the gym, complete with an umbrella due to the rain.  Oh and never miss an opportunity for a vespers date!  They’re probably the cheesiest things you’ll ever do, but they’re memory makers and keep Southern’s nostalgic tradition alive.  Even that super awkward one will earn you another priceless friend in the end.  You’ll have a lot of girls who become close friends and people will tease you about having a “harem”, but don’t let it go to your head.  Your duty as a man is to protect and guard those girls’ hearts.  Don’t play with their emotions!  I know you will make mistakes but in the end, just try and make things right.  Don’t get physical with them; the sooner physical intimacy starts, the sooner emotional intimacy stops.  Don’t regret anything.  This only holds you back from truly living and loving.  If you did something wrong, make it right and learn from the experience.  Making things right might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it’s worth it.  Oh, you’ll also meet a really sweet and beautiful girl that you’ll really really like.  So ask her to be your girlfriend!  Just do it, in a romantic way of course.  Life may take you both down different paths in the end, but that’s not what matters.  What matters is that you opened yourself up to another person, became vulnerable, loved deeply and shared moments which will stay with you through the rest of your life.  You will learn what it truly means to love.  Any boy can say “I love you” when the lights are low, the flowers smell sweet, and the music is softly playing on the radio.  It takes a man to show “I love you” when you separate and you’re both reeling from the pain.  In the end you’ll be alright, you both will stay friends, and life will move on.

Because life really isn’t about you, kid.  At the end of the day your heart will only be at peace if you have made a difference in someone else’s life.  Sure it’ll take you a few extra minutes to give your friend a ride to class, but do it.  Yes you may have ten assignments waiting back in your room, but go talk to that student about to cry in the library.  You’ll find out they hate themselves for things they did the night before and before the end of your talk, you’ll be crying and praying together.  Each time you have to repeat a class, don’t ever complain that you’re falling behind.  No, God has now placed you into a new group of people and there is at least one or two that He has called you to reach.  Don’t be disappointed by failure, be humbled by the calling.  Don’t waste your time trying to make a perfect grade.  Ten years from now nobody will even care what score you got on that quiz.  They will only care whether you know how to heal them and if you care enough to make them feel loved.

Because everyone needs love.  Of all the lessons you’ll learn during college, the most important is the fact that everyone is searching for love.  Some in all the wrong places.  God has given you an immense capacity to love and it is your privilege to channel His love to all those around you.  Show them that you care because they’re worth it.

And hey, while you’re there, you might as well learn a thing or two so you can pass your classes.  The nursing program is great and all but they’re so friendly that they’ll keep you in there unless you keep your grades up.  So keep that in mind.

There’s really so much about college you’ll experience that I have no room to write it down.  It will change your life.  You think you’re cool because you’ve taught public school and saved people’s lives in the ambulance and lived all sorts of cool places and experienced more than the average kid your age.  But don’t let that fool you.  A life of past glory is a life of current decline.  Live in the moment, take that new trail, leap into that waterfall, take her to that concert, jump onto passing freight trains with him, teach them how to insert an IV, film the work down in the Amazon, laugh until you cry, cry until the tears heal the heartache, embrace the pain and savor the pleasure.  Live.  Really truly live.  College will be some of the best years of your life.

But hey, even as I complete my college life I know that I have incredible years ahead of me!  God is faithful and His calling is sure.  Until I die, my best years are yet to be lived.  And as always kid, live your motto: Follow the anecdotal path.

Good luck!  Graduation will be here sooner than you realize but don’t focus on that, enjoy the moment.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Bucket List

Morning reminds us that darkness never lasts forever.
I don’t really have a bucket list; I’ve never seen the point in one.  I refer to things as if they were on my bucket list but in all actuality, I don’t have a hard copy.  Why?  Well, it’s simple really.  I’ve known people who kicked the bucket with a lot of stuff left on their list; places they wanted to visit, things they wanted to do, life they never had a chance to live.  Instead of wondering at the beauty which lay around them, they spent their time dreaming of the day they could leave and experience life.  And that day never came.  I also know people who have a conservative bucket list: “These are the five things I HAVE to do and see before I die.”  But we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, we’re only given today.  It’s ok to have dreams and work towards making them a reality, but we must learn to truly live in the present and embrace each day as if it were an item on our bucket lists.  I’ve learned to check things off my list daily and this past weekend was definitely no exception.  I ended up flying out to California to help my brother propose to his girlfriend.  He had set up a treasure hunt for her across the Napa Valley and I was given the exciting task of staying ahead of her while buying everything at the different places she would stop.  After that crazy whirlwind of a day (a whole different story in itself), I went to sleep just past midnight with my alarm set for 4:30 in the morning.  I wanted to get up early enough to watch the sunrise over the Golden Gate bridge.  I hadn’t even thought about it until I was in California but then I realized I couldn’t miss the opportunity.  After all, I knew this was an experience most people had on their bucket lists.  When my alarm went off at 4:30 am, I definitely began to evaluate the importance of watching the sunrise in relation to sleep.  That was short lived however and soon I was in my rental car, driving down into the Napa Valley.

One of the many vineyards in the Napa Valley.  This picture
was captured the evening prior.
It was a full moon that night and the entire valley was bathed in a soft radiance.  The vineyards lay still with almost no movement save the occasional flutter of palm trees placed sporadically throughout.  The valley which was so full of life the day before, with bicyclists traversing the streets and romantic couples holding hands along the sidewalks of Calistoga and Napa, now lay still and quiet.  It felt almost reverent.  The radio played quietly in the background while I continued driving into the silence, talking with God and enjoying the beauty.  Suddenly a shooting star streaked past the moon.  It was stunning!  As the light faded into the black sky, I made a wish.  A wish that I would never lose my love for the beauty in simplicity.  A thick fog had crept into the lower portions of the next valley, completely enshrouding me.  As the road began to climb again, the milky fog disappeared and the first rays of light began piercing the Eastern sky.  The vibrant dark blue of the bay mixed with the pale iridescence silhouetting San Francisco was breathtaking.  I rounded the next corner and there it was!  The Golden Gate bridge loomed large ahead of me.  I pulled off the highway and parked in one of the many turnouts hugging the hillside which flanks the bridge on the north shore.  It was still fairly dark since the moon had hidden behind a cloud and the distant light rays were for aesthetic purposes only.  I didn’t like the picture angle from the turnout so looked over the edge.  Although it was steep, I saw a little path so figured I’d take it even though I couldn’t see but 5 feet down the “trail”.  I could hear the waves crashing below and somewhere in the distance a fog horn kept blaring its warning to ships passing through the bay far below.  My first two steps went alright but I soon realized the path was full of shale and slick rocks.  I began to slide and desperately hoped this path didn’t lead directly to the ocean below.  Thankfully I bumped into one of the old gun mounts from when Fort Point was still active.  I quickly set up my camera and waited.  There was absolutely no wind.  The peace was surreal.  It provided a lot of time for contemplation and reflection; reflection on the busyness of life.  The busyness which keeps us so preoccupied with life that we forget to live.  Even good things can distract us, things that seem good from every angle yet silently keep us from what is best.  Maybe that’s why God asks us to give them up sometimes…  I took a few shots and then moved up to a different vantage point.

Life is mainly determined by how you view it.

A couple more photographers joined me up on the lookout.  We shared experiences and discussed angles and apertures.  And then we waited.  The soft pinks and yellows began to deepen.  The dark bridge slowly brightened as more light hit its iron beams.  Suddenly, the gleaming sun appeared over the bay.  Only a sliver at first, but its power scattered light everywhere.  More people had joined us now.  A guy near me was capturing a photo of his girlfriend in front of the bridge.  A couple bikers had pulled up to watch as well.  Another lady was sitting on a rock, gazing almost as if in a trance.  The sun continued to rise steadily until the golden orb was fully airborne and shedding it’s brilliant radiance over all of San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge.  The bridge was named after the Golden Gate strait, the part of water it was built to cross.  That morning I discovered why.

Why do we strive to be perfect and beautiful?  Simply
reflect the Son and you will be beautiful.
The bay reaches the ocean through a narrow stretch of water which points straight towards the morning sun.  As the sun gently rises over the bay, it bathes the entire strait in a golden hue making it literally the golden gate to the ocean.  The bridge spans this beautiful phenomenon and stands as a watch guard over the bay.  I glanced at my watch; only 40 minutes till my rental car was due to be returned.  I sighed as I bid farewell to the timelessness of the experience and gave heed to the demands of a society run by hours and minutes.  “Time is money” can be heard everywhere.  The aim is to be more efficient, to get things done, to make it to the next appointment, get everything on our to-do list checked off.  And the days pass.  And life passes.  And suddenly we realize we have used up all the time we were given and enjoyed hardly any of it.  Do you have a bucket list?  Don’t throw it away, simply re-label the items as goals with a practical plan to make those goals reality.  And then start living.  Here.  Now.  Go watch a sunrise from your rooftop.  Talk with a complete stranger – for more than an hour.  Make new friends and new memories.  And travel!  If not around the world, around your city.  I heard it said once that travel is the only thing in life you can spend money on which will actually make you richer.  I value life not by dollars or minutes but by memories and experiences.  So today.  Right now.  Go fill your bucket list!

Pictures are incapable of truly capturing the beauty of a moment...

Part of Fort Point from the Civil War era, a piece of history which often
gets overlooked in the popularity of the bridge.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

You Are Loved

God has a way of wrapping His arms tightly around me just when I need it most.  Sometimes through a friend, a phone call, a letter, a post I see online, a song, or just that deep peace of knowing I’m loved and a child of His forever, no matter what.  The past few days have been difficult for me with a lot going on.  Needless to say, it’s been stressful and hectic.  Time with God has slipped to a minimum and my spiritual journey has hit a low point.  Mondays are my clinical days in which I have to be at the hospital by 6:15 in the morning to do ICU rounds with a preceptor nurse.  Driving along the dark roads at 5:30 in the morning by myself and headed to a stressful day in the hospital can be mentally depressing some days.  Sometimes I have to roll down the windows, embrace the freezing wind, and blast Thomas Bergersen from my car speakers just to boost my mood.  But this past Monday was different.  I didn’t mind the solemnity of the morning ride.  In fact, I welcomed it!  I spent most of the time talking to God and telling Him all the things that were going wrong in my life and recounting all the mistakes I’ve made.  I felt unworthy of His love.  I’ve let down so many people and I questioned whether I’m actually being a blessing to those around me or not.  I drove quietly for a few minutes, letting the reality of the words I’d just been speaking sink in.  I was in autopilot; no cars around me, no road signs, no billboards.  Slowly everything was fading into the background as my mind processed the prayer of my heart.  A prayer which I felt but didn’t quite have the words to describe.  Unworthiness.  Emptiness.  Brokenness.  Multiple Bible stories flashed through my mind.  There was a vague picture of that oppressive Garden, black as midnight, with a broken man sobbing tears of betrayal.  Denial.  “How many times have I adamantly proclaimed I would stand up for You and yet then deny Your saving power?” I asked.  Suddenly I realized that the radio had been playing quietly in the background the entire time.  “I want you as you are, not as you ought to be.  Won't you lay down your guard and come to me?”  I reached down and turned the music up.  “The shame that grips you now is crippling; it breaks My heart to see you suffering.”  In that moment I wasn’t listening to Hawk Nelson at all, I could hear God speaking directly to my heart.  “If you want to know how far my love can go, just how deep, just how wide; if you want to see how much you mean to me, look at my hands, look at my side.  If you could count the times I say you are forgiven, it's more than the drops in the ocean.”  My mind raced back several years.  A little boy headed for Japan, nose pressed against the window, staring out at the ocean below which stretched into infinity.  So blue.  Dazzling.  Nothing broke the vastness.  It was breathtaking, huge, dynamic.  In that instant my childlike wonder came back.  God’s forgiveness, more than the drops in the ocean.  “Don't think you need to settle for a substitute when I'm the only love that changes you.  Open your heart, it's time that we start again.”  I’m not even slightly ashamed to say that I began to cry.  The tears ran freely down my face as I felt God’s love wrapping me gently in His warm embrace.  That’s what love is, forgiveness.  He doesn’t care whether I’ve wandered, gotten too busy, done or said things I shouldn’t have.  Nothing matters.  He loves me unconditionally.  Once I reached the parking lot, I was still wiping the tears from my eyes and since I was early, I just sat quietly in my car.  The next song that played was by Jeremy Camp.  “Seated above, enthroned in the Father's love, destined to die, poured out for all mankind.  God's only Son, perfect and spotless One, He never sinned but suffered as if He did.”  “Wow!” I thought.  The thought of leaving perfection, knowing you were coming to die.  Intense!  He was wrapped in his Father’s love yet chose to become wrapped in human sinfulness.  The song continued, “Savior, worthy of honor and glory, worthy of all our praise, You overcame!  Jesus, awesome in power forever, awesome and great is Your name, You overcame!”  Because that’s how love works.  It changes you.  It changes me.  Christ overcame and He has called us to do no less.  He gives us the strength through His never ending love.  I don’t know where you’re at with God right now.  You may be warmly enfolded in His arms or out in the cold night, searching for Him in all the wrong places.  But it really doesn’t matter.  Either way, He is right beside you, lavishing His never-ending love into your life.  Maybe you’re depressed, annoyed, scared, sad, angry.  It’s ok.  Christ came and experienced it all with you.  That feeling of emptiness and sorrow?  Let it go.  Open your heart; you’re already loved more than you know.
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