Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thank You

From the standpoint of Amor's mission work, the summer has come to a close. This has been the reason I have had so much time to ride bikes and talk about riding bikes in recent weeks. Due to the fact that we work with a lot of youth groups and the general tendency for people to take time off in the summer, we run most of our trips to Mexico between May and August. We will still have a couple of rushes at certain times in the fall and spring, but the busiest part of my year as far as being in Mexico is over. This summer has been absolutely packed with new experiences, new people and growth for me.

When I made the decision to come work with Amor, I was confident that there were traits with which I had been endowed that would make me pretty good at what I would be doing. My sense of adventure, desire to serve, appreciation of people and desire to follow God's will are all assets in helping people to build homes in Mexico. What I did not expect was just how well I would fit into Amor's ministry and the development I would undergo in my already brief time here. Already, I have seen traits that I did not previously consider strengths of mine manifest themselves in my work. In the past, I have shaded toward being A-type and expected much of the people around me in working on projects. In my work with Amor, I have become more patient and accomodating, traits that are very valuable in helping laypeople quickly build a home. In addition, I have started to find great joy in teaching, witnessing and imparting what knowledge I have to those around me. In my position, this helps me not only build homes with people, but build relationships and provide encouragement as well.

While I knew that there was more to what I would be doing here than just building houses, I really believed that at the heart of things that is what I would be doing. In recent weeks, though, I have taken to saying that I am not here to build homes but rather relationships. I have grown to accept that this is at the heart of what I am here to do with Amor. In truth, the homes we build are just a physical manifestation of the love that we want to show to both those receiving homes and the participants on our trips. As a corollary, I have made it my goal to first love people and build relationships, then be concerned with the actual construction of the homes I help build. There are so many relationships that are built on the trips I take down to Mexico. Participants that come down together get to know each other better. A cultural gap is at least partially closed as participants and recipients of homes grow to love each other. Most importantly, there is an opportunity for everyone involved to see God at work, learn more about him and grow or start a relationship with him. I am in the unique position to witness and facilitate these relationships. This is a much bigger responsibility than making sure cuts are straight and walls are square. My job is to love people the best I can and allow my personality and abilities to be no more than a lens through which the people around me can see Christ. The greatest gift I have received is slowly learning what it takes to do this.

Certainly one of the reasons that I aspired to work with Amor was that I felt the experiences I would have would make me a better man. As time goes on, I am finding that my goal should not be to improve as a man, but to become less of a man. I believe that the more I let go of my ambitions, where I believe I am gifted, and my concerns, the more God is able to use me as an empty vessel to show his love. Dichotomously, this is a wholly terrifying and comforting realization. I am bouncing back and forth between feeling comfort in the swell and the fear of completely losing control of the plans I had ahead of me. In both places, though, I am in a completely foreign place, as it does not come easily for humans to let go of control and trust a higher power to guide them where they should be.

A short time ago, I was sharing the skepticism I have felt about letting go and the decisions I am making with my roommate, Drew. At 27, hitting a life reset button and starting from scratch seems very unsettling. My roommate shared a story with me that he had heard from a friend. His friend had a dream in which he was sitting at a kitchen table with God. God laid a timeline of this man's life in front of him and pointed to a particular place on it. God told him that despite the man's doubts, concerns and ambitions, he was currently exactly where he was supposed to be on his timeline. God assured him that he was neither behind or ahead on his timeline, but exactly where he needed to be. If you believe in a higher power and following his desires for you, I think this is a very strong image and encouraging message.

Drew is not the only person that has offered support and encouragement to me in the time since I decided to come work with Amor. I am so thankful for so many people that have been an encouraging presence in my life. Some have already been in my life for years, and some I have only met in recent months, but a lot of my friends and family have found ways to support the journey I am on. Whether it be helpful notes, letters, facebook messages, telephone calls, comments on my blog or monetary support, not a thing each one of you have done has gone unnoticed. In recent weeks, it has become a particularly poignant gift as I find out that more and more people are reading this blog and following along with what I am doing. I love writing and sharing, so to know that there are people out there who read this and take something out of it is overwhelming. I also love the fact that although my writings often take a decidely Christ-centered tone, there are people who don't share my beliefs but are still reading. To those people, I offer a huge thank you. Whether you all realize it or not, you have shown me Christ's love and helped me through some very challenging times with your emotional and financial support. The exciting development and joy that I feel through my work and life are very much thanks to all you have given me. When I have been down, you all have picked me up and brushed me off, and if you are feeling down now, know that you have been incredibly valuable to me and I owe much of my sanity to your support. Thanks for all you do and know that you are a part of every story I share with you here. I am certainly not doing this on my own. You guys rock!

(Thanks everyone! And yes, I currently look like a pirate)



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Perk

So my job pretty much totally rocks my face off. On a weekly basis, I get to meet people with hearts big enough that they find themselves in Mexico building homes for those less fortunate. I see homes (not just houses) built and lives changed. I work outside and sleep under the stars when I choose. Both in the field, and back home at my desk, I work and live with amazing people who are an encouragement and help me see and understand what being a servant and a follower of Jesus look like. I am learning, seeing and experiencing more than I could have anticipated. While I have gone through and sacrificed so much to be here, I have been thankful for the fact that it has seemed that my job couldn’t get any better. Until now.

As I mentioned last week, I was able to repair The Superfly (or Interrobang), thereby making it Superfly 2.0 (or Interrobang 2.0) and giving me the opportunity to explore some mountain bike trails. I heard rumor that their were some trails near the Amor camp in Mexico, which were partially confirmed by recently witnessing cars driving by camp with mountain bikes attached to them on the weekends. This weekend, I had a one day trip scheduled. This meant that we would be arriving Friday evening, working Saturday and leaving Sunday morning around ten in the morning. I have become an early riser, so I saw Sunday morning as a potential opportunity to get out and explore a little bit on Superfly 2.0 (or Interrobang 2.0). As I put Superfly 2.0 (or Interrobang 2.0) into the back of my work truck, I really thought I was just having a pipe dream. I figured that the odds were firmly against there actually being nice trails near camp. It would just be too good to be true. Although I was taking my bike down to Mexico, I fully expected to lean it up against my trailer, walk past it repeatedly throughout the weekend and ultimately leave Mexico without having ridden it. As it turned out, the following was my timeline Sunday morning:

6:00 – Wake up, ponder over why I can rarely sleep past six anymore.
6:05 – Consider going for a bike ride, decide that it would be far more rewarding to stay in bed rather than ride aimlessly around Mexico trying to find trails that are probably just a fairy tale.
6:20 – Lay in bed, stare at the ceiling, realize that I will not be falling back asleep.
6:25 – Resign myself the fact that I will be spending my morning looking for trails that I do not believe exist.
6:40 – Finish taking care of morning stuff around the trailer.
6:41 – Begin locating and assembling riding gear so that I can get going.
7:00 – Skeptically getting rolling in the direction of the fabled trails.
7:15 – As I am riding down a dirt road, I spot a red arrow with the letters MTB painted on it pointing right. Shocked and excited, I turn right.
7:20 – See some trails on a hill to the left, decide to check them out.
7:25 – Realize these particular trails go nowhere, but discover a Mexican cemetery.
7:30 – Return to the road that the red arrow had directed me down, continue riding.
7:40 – Find another red arrow labeled MTB pointing straight down the road accompanied by a barbed wired gate that is wired up over the road.
7:41 – Remove gate, pass through and replace gate, all while questioning the wisdom behind this decision.
7:48 – Approach a card table placed in the middle of the road. The lady standing behind the card table informs me the bike trails are further down the road behind her and it will cost $2. Done and done.
7:50 – Arrive at an open field with a race staging area where it appears a race is being set up for later in the day. Proceed to pinch self to make sure I am not dreaming.
7:51 – Talk to race organizer. Unfortunately the race does not begin until 10:30, after my schedule departure time, but the trails are marked and I am more than welcome to get in a ride.
7:55 – Take off on some gorgeous Mexican singletrack. Pinch self again, is this really, really real?
(Towards the beginning of the ride . . . you can see the climb snaking up in the distance.)

8:05 – Stop for a breather – perhaps I got a little too excited.
8:05-8:40 – Enjoy a five mile loop of beautiful Mexican singletrack, including tough climbs, fun descents, beautiful scenery, and technical rocky sections including what seems to be a prehistoric creek bed.
(Eight foot deep, seemingly prehistoric creek bed.)

8:45 – Meet some Americans who have come down to Mexico from San Diego to race, and make some connections (one of them was even from Baltimore, small world). Talk to race organizers, find out about more races and trails in the area.
8:50 – Take off for camp, reluctantly, but knowing that I would be cutting it close to take another lap and make it back to camp by ten.
8:51-9:05 – Ride back to camp while literally getting passed by dozens of vehicles going in the opposite direction. This was clearly a big race.
9:05 – Arrive back at camp to find my group is nearly packed and ready to go, they want to leave a half hour early. Sweet!
9:35 – Leave camp, grab an ice cold Mexican Coke on my way over the border. For those of you that don’t know, Mexican Coke is sweetened with natural cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup, making it roughly 10,000 times more delicious than American Coke. Great Success!

Overall, I consider this to be a very, very, very successful morning. I am blown away by how many gifts I have received through my decision to come work with Amor. Honestly, having nice trails near camp is minute in comparison to so many of the other things that are taking place in my life. That said, I have made the biggest sacrifice of my life as a part of being here. As a result, every time I am affirmed or find something that just seems like a gift tailored specifically for me, I can’t help but feel encouraged by the very intentional design of so much that is happening. Enjoying my favorite hobby in Mexico just seemed surreal. Feeling the fun and envigoration of riding some nice trails can really take so much off my mind, if only momentarily. It allows me to get lost in the marvel of creation all around me and the amazing construction inside our bodies in my own way. It stuns me the types of things we have been designed to do and the doors our abilities open for exploration of creation. There were even some parts of this trail that were green and tree covered, giving me the brief, wonderful feeling of being back home in the rolling hills of Virginia. Although I consider so much of what I do a gift, it is still to great to get some outlets in the form of hobbies and fellowship. Additionally, I am so happy that yet another integral part of what makes me the person I am has found a niche in my new home. Even with all the sacrifice and trials that have come along over the recent months, encouragement seems unceasing.

(More beautiful views of the area surrounding the trail.)



Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Superfly 2.0

I have to admit, I have a little something to be excited about today. My mountain bike, The Superfly (or Interrobang, as it is known in some circles), was damaged during my drive to California, as was documented in this blog some time ago. I had more pressing financial matters in recent times than fixing a bike. So, there it sat in my room, unrideable, until now. Several parts have arrived in the mail in recent weeks, and the last one I needed came late last week just as I was about to leave for some time in Mexico.

Is that a pink crankset? Why yes it is, isn't it pretty?
Yes, it was hard to leave knowing that everything I needed was just waiting to be assembled, but I had a job to do. Once I got down to Mexico, I got completely enveloped in the group I worked with, and I had an amazing time with them. Until I was on my way back, I had nearly forgotten what was waiting for me. As soon as I hit the border, though, I knew what my plans for the rest of the day were. Not withstanding any sort of disaster, I was going to get this bike built up to be rideable again. Done with work (once I had filed some paperwork), I headed straight home to figure out what tools I would need to rebuild my bike. Some were tools that I already had, including my seldom used but awesome work stand, but some needed to be purchased. Thanks to some wonderful people from Warrenton who sent me here with a parting gift, I had some credit at a local bike shop.
Thanks to everyone that chipped in for my gift card, the tools it paid for helped me to put my bike back together!
I used the remaining credit I had to buy the tools I still needed to fix my bike. Luckily, the guys at Cal Coast Bicycles are super friendly and were more than willing to help this novice bike mechanic understand what tools and skills were required for the job. Leaving the shop, I was still a little nervous about what I might mess up (Back on the east coast, Haymarket Bicycles took care of my every need, so I never had to maintain my bikes myself), but I felt fairly confident I had everything I needed. Looking at the half disassembled Superfly and the parts I had in front of me, I pulled out my newfound tools and confidence and went to work. Often during the process, I wondered if I was going in the right direction, but everything seemed to be coming together well. Very quickly, I decided that this awesome bike with it’s beautiful new parts deserved a little cleaning up as well. Even though I was anxious to get everything together, I took the time to do a little extra cleaning to make things just right. Yeah, it took a little extra time, but it was worth it to see an extra shiny finished product.
Here's a shot of the new, improved, pinkified Superfly 2.0. The new black wheels make it more stealthy which just makes the awesome pink crankset pop even more.
Of course, it would have taken me awhile even if I had not done the extra cleaning. Ultimately, the process was simple, but I took my time to make sure that I did everything right. Sure enough, when I was done, everything worked well. Although I am a novice bike mechanic, I don’t think I managed to make any huge mistakes. Red doesn’t go very well with pink, but I knew that full well when I ordered my awesome new crankset, so that doesn’t count as a mistake. Although I am clearly clashing with my colors, I don’t care, because I frankly love pink and all of the appropriate parts seem to be spinning smoothly. Hardly moments after the bike was put together, I was on it in an alley behind my apartment, giving it a test ride. Happy with the way it rode (apart from some shifting adjustments I will master as time goes on), I parked it in my living room. As it sat there, I got to appreciate the fact that I actually did a little bit of work on my bike myself. Plus, I knew I would get to ride it soon. Part of my excitement certainly came from the fact that I haven’t hit the trails in over three months. Yearly, it seems that I switch between being a roadie and a mountain biker. Bursting with pride over my newly rehauled rig, I came to the conclusion that this year I am a mountain biker. I have had a tough time finding the kind of roads I like in the San Diego area, so this works out just great. Really, I am hoping that I can find some great trails to explore so that I can take advantage of my new setup and stay fit. The fact that I have my mountain bike back seems to open up a lot of opportunities. Hopefully, I will find the sweet trails that I’m looking for and I can spend some good time on them. Darn near two months ago, I even heard there are some trails near our camp in Mexico. Already, I am dreaming that I am going to find some nice singletrack on both sides of the border. You know, I’m going to take the newly improved Superfly 2.0 (or Interrobang 2.0, if you prefer it) for a ride right now!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mazel Mazel!

It has been a long time without a legitimate post concerning what and how I am doing at my new home and in my new role with Amor. I still continue to love what I do and learn something new everyday. Despite all that I have to share, the stories will have to wait a little bit longer (If I can still remember them).

Instead, I have something incredibly exciting to share with my twelve readers (half of which already have the news). I'm getting a little sister!

Today, my brother Jason and his girlfriend Caitlin were engaged to be married. Jason and Caitlin are an awesome couple that I have had the pleasure of observing over the past couple of years. When they initially started dating, Jason had a different excitement about her than I had seen in him before. This was a great indicator for how their relationship would go, but an even better one was actually getting to spend time with Caitlin. She is an amazing, accomodating person who is both a blast and easy to be around. In our loud, sometimes abrasive family, she has carved out a very important place where she is able to both deal with and support not just Jason, but everyone else. She is a caring individual who is truly a joy to be around.

From early on, it was easy to tell that Jason and Caitlin cared a lot about each other and had the potential for a lasting relationship. This past year, the strength of their bond became even more apparent as they went through an galvanizing time of growth together. Last summer, Jason and Caitlin decided to intern together at an organization called CHAT (Church Hill Activities and Tutoring) for the length of one year. CHAT is an organization that serves inner city Richmond children with the opportunity to get involved in a quality education, participate in productive activities, earn a degree and learn about God. Everytime I had the pleasure of talking to Jason and Caitlin throughout their year, they had new, exciting and sometimes difficult stories to share.

What became exceedingly clear was that their experience together, although challenging, was only making them happier and more unified. This has reinforced to me the importance of God and service in our lives. I am feeling many positive changes in my life as I go through my internship with Amor, and I know that that this can certainly be applied to a couple as well. Jason and Caitlin are an amazing example of what Christ can do for us if we keep him at the center of our lives and relationships. As I look at how happy and excited they are going forward, I can only feel more encouraged about the decisions I am currently making in my life.

I want to thank Jason and Caitlin for being amazing people and having a positive influence in my life. I am so excited to see what God holds in the future for the two of you as your love, zeal for life and compassion are joined together for a long and fruitful time together. I hope you guys have an amazing day it continues for the rest of your lives!

Mazel Tov!