I arrived in Paris 8 months and 2 days ago to set out on a trip that was, more or less, around the world. A lot has happened since then and I think this blog does a pretty good job of documenting that. I didn't set out on this journey to "find" anything... as many well-wishers assumed ("I hope you find what it is you are looking for"). I set out to take a break from the grind and figure out what my next steps would be in my career. I set out to experience new cultures, see some of the world's most beautiful sights and meet new people. But I didn't set out to change who I was. At the same time, I wasn't naïve to think that I would set out on an adventure of this scale without some changes taking place in my life. And I believe I'll continue to ponder what I've learned about the kind of life I want to live as I move forward.
In the meantime, what I am struck by most is the people I've met along the way. I realize now that I didn't travel the globe to smell the fresh gardens of Versailles, to hear the cowbells on the bucolic trails of the Camino de Santiago, to see the highest mountains in the snow-capped Himalayas, to taste the flavorful cuisine of the Middle East, or to feel the weightless sensation of the underwater world. I traveled the world to share a slice of life with incredible people who have blessed me in ways they can never know. Some of these encounters lasted a few minutes, others a few months.
I traveled to be enamored by...
Chuck and Kimber
I traveled to share life along a long trail with...
Bernard Junior and Senior ("B1 and B2")
Lauren, Ande and Deborah
Valentine and Benedict
Ofir, Katz and Tomer
Gorka and Inigo
Mapi and Juan
I traveled to learn what life is like for...
Muktuk and Lopsang
I traveled to share an adventure with...
Matt and Bex
I traveled to experience a new culture with...
Katie and Simon
Steve and Steve's mom
Leah and Lutz
Aurora and Ben
Carl and Susan
Pastor Narj and Sharmi
Arjun and Asha
Brian and Kristen
Ayar and Ayar's mom
Jean and Marie
Brendan and Gabrielle
I traveled the know the kindness of...
I traveled to celebrate Christmas and family with...
Sarah and Tom
Sam, Viv and Teddy
Chris and Astrid
Todd and Jackie
Brian and Daphne
I traveled to be blessed by the encouragement of...
I traveled to understand more about the complexity of life for...
I traveled to experience a holy place with...
I traveled to live life with...
Lacy and Matt
Holly and Brent
Fernanda and Caio
Jaqueline and Christian
Angela and Soen
Angela and Joanne
Alyssa and Resilience
Jen and Ted
Ysa and Chris
Diana and Wayne
I traveled to share nature and wonder with...
Sydney and Stewart
Will and Hannah
Luz and Javier
Marten and Jost
Esteban and Claudio
Lars and Jonas
Duda and Pamela
Benoit and Genevieve
Lys and Lauren
I traveled to enjoy the good life with...
Claire and Tim
JJ and Tina
Amanda and John
Uhrs and Monica
Commander John and Cindy
I traveled to soak up incredible culture with...
Rolando and Marisol
Anita and Caesaro
Yary and Francy
Dianella and Juan
And I traveled to be cared for by...
Jessica and Jose Manuel
Dr. Carlos del Valle
And I would not have traveled to all of these poeple had it not been for...
As I reflect on each of these faces, I can't help but be grateful for the Lord's provision for each of these people in my life. I'm especially amazed at His provision this past week. So many times when unexpected events happen, we try to understand why. Often it is only with the passage of time that the "why" becomes clear, if it ever does. But in the midst of this crazy Achilles tendon mishap, I can't help but wonder how I happened to be in a place with a friend I could rely on for help when I was the most helpless. Jessica was gracious in making sure I got where I needed to go, helpful in getting the best care possible in Guatemala, giving up her bed for me and making sure I was well fed.
Jessica and I go way back. She was my first cross country athlete that I coached, and the main reason I became a coach in the first place. Back in the day, when Eagle Valley didn't have its own cross country team, Jessica and a handful of other Eagle Valley kids ran for the Battle Mountain (cross-county rival) team. In an effort to minimize the 60 mile round trip drive to practice, we had a small practice in Gypsum a few days a week. This is where I came in, to help facilitate practice. I got to know Jess during those practices and race days and then on into track season as a dedicated athlete who had a teachable spirit and a compassionate heart. Years later she made her way to Guatemala to serve as an intern with International Justice Mission. Being able to share our experiences in a country near and dear to my heart was something we bonded over during coffee in one of her visits home. She has continued to make a life in Guatemala City, now teaching English at the Colegio Interamericano. Last night as I had my leg propped up on pillows and she was cooking up some fajitas we talked about cultural understandings, where our faith fits into those experiences and the joys and challenges of teaching. And I realized how blessed I've been by so many students who have come through the doors of Eagle Valley High School.... Jess and her brother and sister being three of them.
Which reminds me of a story. An embarrassing story.
Jess's younger sister, Casey, was gracious enough to invite me to her graduation party. In the meantime, the Medsker family was also celebrating Jess's graduation from Harding University as well. When I arrived to their home, there were a few cars parked in the driveway. I rang the bell and Casey welcomed me into her house. She led me to the kitchen where the family was gathered around a cake for Jess. Trina, mother of Jess, Mike and Casey, offered a piece to me. We all moved out to the patio to enjoy the cake. But in my head, some things weren't exactly adding up. I was confused that there weren't other people joining in Casey's celebration and we were celebrating Jess instead. I'm not sure if I started to put 2 and 2 together or if someone in the Medsker clan gently broke the news that Casey's party was the week before. Regardless, I turned ever shade of red and was adamant about leaving the Medsker's to celebrate without an uninvited guest. They would have none of it. Their hospitality was wonderful and made me feel as unawkward as possible in this awkward moment. And so I find myself at Jess's house again, in a rather awkward turn of events and yet she has welcomed me into her home with graciousness.
This is just one of the many instances during the past 8 months where the Lord has provided for me just when I needed it. Whether it was crashing at Gorka's home in Pamplona, hitching a ride through the Negev Desert with Elan or finding a great traveling companion in Dan, I've continually been amazed at how His presence has constantly been with me.
And so this is one thing this journey has taught me. The Lord did an amazing work when he created humanity. None are perfect. But there is so much good. And my prayer is that each of these people, including myself, would come to know the fullness of life that exists in faith in their Creator. No man is an island. We need one another. The Lord knew this when I set out on this journey. And we need a Savior. He knew this from the beginning.
"I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly" - Jesus
I find a seat at Gate 10, waiting for my flight to Dallas. I gingerly prop my foot up on the seat next to me. Carlos looks down at my bare toes peaking out from my foot casted in an ACE bandage. He asked what happened. "Did you fall?" I answer, "bailando". Dancing. He laughs and says in heavily accented English: "Ganam Style?" I knew what he meant and couldn't help but laugh.
Carlos left Guatemala at age 18 with a few amigos to see NOLA. They're short visit to see the French Quarter turned into a career in the US military starting with service in Vietnam. He was flying back to Dallas to see his daughter graduate from UT Arlington. "My daughter says she is studying something called criminology. Whatever that is."
I'm the first to board the plane, taking advantage of the offer of boarding early for anyone needing extra time. I have the aisle seat. Alice takes the window with a seat in between us. Perfect for elevating my foot, albeit with my foot almost in her lap. She starts to speak to me in Spanish, asking what happened. I respond in English as her white hair and accented Spanish gave her away. I gave her the short story.
Alice tells me she is a Bible translator. I ask if she was with Wycliffe, the only Bible translator I know of. She responds with surprise, "cinquenta y cinco años." 55 years. Alice has been coming to Guatemala since 1963. As we were taxi-ing down the runway, she looks away from the window to tell me "I may never come back." Her voice catches. "I love this country." Tears well up in my eyes. Oh sweet Alice, I can't imagine how you and your late-husband have blessed so many.
Alice blessed me in the short time we chatted before take off. She said "You love The Lord, don't you?"
"We will pray for complete healing of your foot. So you can dance again."
Then she tells me she is reminded of an old hymn. "These clouds use so much dread, shall break with blessings on your head."
As we take off, she reaches over and grabs my hand. I've seen couples do this on flights before. I imagined this was a habit between she and her husband. I was glad to stand in for him. As we reach the clouds, she gently lets go of my hand as she continues to soak in her last views of Guatemala.
After we reach cruising altitude, Alice reaches down to get her journal from her bag. She leans over and tells me, "As I was looking at your toes I was praying for you."
I tell her "I'm sorry you have to look at them for the next two hours."
She says "Oh no, they are precious toes."
"My mom would say the same thing."
Alice told me I was crazy for taking this picture as we were waiting to be wheeled into passport control.
Merica! Dallas. Lunch at Chilli's. Hobble to the gate. Who do I see? Laurel Ivaska. We both look at each other with looks of "Is that who I think it is?" It is! Laurel graduated a few years ahead of me from Richwoods. We knew each other from cross country and Bradley basketball camp days. She's also been a faithful blog follower and a source of encouragement throughout this year. It was fun to catch up for a few minutes at the gate. Cool chick.
The world has become much smaller.
And my favorite small person in the world was at the airport to greet me. Huddy!