Our Relational DNA: It Spans the Globe

This sweet lady sold me a pancho at The Middle of the World equator monument in Quito. She reminded me of my grandmother. The pancho is a rather GQ look if you ask me!

Dana and I had a number of reasons for undertaking a 10-day adventure in Ecuador, but chief among them was to immerse ourselves in the culture.

We knew there would be a number of challenges. We have an elementary grasp of the language, knew we would be traveling in unknown territory and had established only a few on-line relationships with a few American expatriates prior to our journey into Guayaquil and our ultimate destination to Puerto Cayo.

This Ecuadorian group of family and friends was on holiday at Los Suenos del Mar, and as they were posing for a group photo I ran to them to get a photo of my own. They were thrilled that I would want a photo for myself, and we spent the rest of the day, posing for more group photos together and sharing stories about our families.

For certain, there were many challenges, and we embraced them. Some have asked about our takeaway from the trip, and for one, I can say to no small degree that my faith in humanity has been restored.

This group of local tourists had been partying all night. As I walked to breakfast, bleary eyed at 7:45 on a Sunday morning, I was yet to have my first cup of coffee when they insisted that I share in a drink of the local spirits. I couldn’t say no! Viva la Ecuador!

People are good. I believe that again. And our last day in Puerto Cayo confirmed that belief.

This is my new friend, Manuel, and his two young sons. We are tough hombres!

Whoever we are, and wherever we live across the expanse of this globe, we have an innate desire to be relational … and it only takes a single kind gesture to make a lifetime of memories.

The woman at center is an Ecuadorian school teacher. She insisted that her daughter practice her English with my wife, Dana.

Vacation Not – Adventure, Yes

Dana and me in one of our more relaxed moments in Montanita, an hour north of our base in Puerto Cayo.

While we’re not particularly die-hard fans of anything on television today, Dana and I have always been drawn to the CBS reality show, The Amazing Race, where paired couples are challenged daily to travel the world in unknown territories and uncharted waters while the clock ticks away.

Unlike most of the other reality series’, Amazing Race carries a certain sophistication, and the huge benefit of taking people out of their comfort zone to experience a world created by the most creative of artists.

A few months ago when I began thinking about the possibilities for Dana’s 39th birthday, I wanted to create something memorable for her. A new blender and a pair of earrings, just didn’t seem pass the test for her upcoming milestone. She would have well appreciated anything she received, but an experience with a lasting memory was the gift which I sought.

Nearly three hours into our drive from the airport, we came across this scene on the extreme southern coast of Ecuador. At this point, we pretty much knew we were lost, though it’s not an uncommon scene anywhere you go.

A few years before we were married, Dana, at various times, served as a missionary in Mexico, Greece and Morocco. Among the things she’s experienced in her life, those times created some of her fondest memories. Her time in Greece and Morocco was solo, without the benefit of a guide or tour group, and so there’s a proven adventuresome spirit God put in her from the beginning.

So as the birthday possibilities streamed through my mind, I determined to create yet another memory – but this time, one that would be shared. I wanted an experience that would challenge us both, push us outside our comfort zone as a couple, so that every day would be a source of memories for years to come.

About a week prior to her birthday I purchased gifts that would have been adequate enough. They would be nicely wrapped with a loving card, presented at a nice surprise birthday party with a gathering of friends and family … but on one particular day the feeling came across that it just wasn’t enough.

Going back through some research I had done in the previous year, my heart led me to Ecuador. And to make a long story short, within the next 24 hours, the flight was booked, and rental car accommodations were made.

What would we be doing while we were there? I really had no clue. We’ll figure it out when we hit the ground, I decided … and so the adventure took form.

Though I’m not the most cosmopolitan of world travelers, I’ve been around some. Gulf Shores, Cocoa Beach, Bahamas, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, I’ve been there, done that and sipped all the poolside pina coladas a man could ever want.

The 10 days we would experience on the Ecuadorian coast, inland highlands and rainforests would not replicate our “vacations” of the past. We would push ourselves in territory that is literally uncharted. We would not be afraid to get lost, and we would immerse ourselves in the culture of this diverse land and its people.

After 9 hours of driving on what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour drive, we finally arrived at this scene, our base for the week, Puerto Cayo. Beautiful as it may be, the tranquility can be deceiving. This is a fishing village where the average monthly income is $300.

And it lived up to every expectation.

Five minutes after packing the rental car (A Chevy Spark with 9-gallon gas tank, stick shift and approximately 3-square feet of space within its four doors) we were as lost as two people could be. Our first miracle was simply finding a road that would lead us out of Guayaquil, a city of 3.1 million where the roads have no lines, no rules and it’s every man for himself. It was a driving fiasco. It took two hours to find our way out of the city and another 7 hours to get to our destination at Puerto Cayo.  Properly driven, it should have been a two-and-a-half hour leisurely road trip…

I left home with full intention to blog daily about our experiences in Ecuador, but it was not to be. In the beginning, 10 days sounded like a lot of time to read, write and record our adventure, but we realized quickly that every moment was precious. Too many experiences were to be had. Every moment was an investment in learning, and so I took feverish notes as time would allow to come home and share those experiences later.

This is 3-year old Carlos, the nino of Manuel and Ivonne, two friends we made at Los Suenos del Mar.

In the short time we’ve been home (less than 24 hours now) a few people have asked about our takeaway from the Ecuadorian adventure. It’s a hard thing to pinpoint, but to some degree, I can say, in a general sense, my faith in humanity has been restored.

We met and enjoyed time with some bold American expatriates who, over the next few years, will make a huge difference in the Ecuadorian economy. They are entrepreneurs of the highest caliber, and our time with them was well spent.

But we also found ways to spend invaluable quality time with local Ecuadorians who welcomed us with open arms, and even though the language barrier could be a challenge at times, the sharing of a drink, firm handshakes and hugs and kisses, warm embraces and smiles of realized friendships touched our hearts in an unforgettable way.

Yes, God’s people are good, and we find it in His finest creation (that which He created in His own image) around the world.

Over the next few days, I’ll be documenting the specific experiences we shared, and some tips should you ever decide to explore what many expatriates there now call the world’s last undiscovered frontier.

I’ll write about the best ways to travel, food, transportation, Ecuadorian culture, the economy and its potential, people and many other topics. We learned a lot. Some of it the hard way – just as we planned!

At one point in our travels I made a joking Facebook post about one night at dinner when Dana asked me this: “What’s the most amazing thing about being married to me?” All our friends wanted to know my response and so I’ll close by paraphrasing my response to those requests for an answer.

“You all tell me the right response is that Dana has a great heart, that she is beautiful, trustworthy, genuinely good and a bright spot in the lives of everyone she meets. Well guess what? I already know all that. But here’s the real deal.

“We’re not on your typical vacation here, and never planned for it to be such. We’re working with roads and roadmaps that have no similarity or relationship whatsoever, so you can pretty much throw the maps out the window. There are 3-foot potholes about every hundred yards. Donkeys, pigs and dogs dart out onto the road from nowhere. We have only an elementary grasp of the local language. There are no mohitos or cabana boys serving our heart’s every desire. Hot water for a shower happens about 33 percent of the time, and toilet paper is to be treasured. Yes, you’d better carry it with you at all times.

“This is not a vacation, it’s an adventure … and so any girl who would come along on an excursion like this and love every minute of it, is my kind of girl.”

That’s what I said.

Next post: “Day One: What in the World Have We Done?”

Just a Few Quick Shots from Ecuador

Dana and Me

Time has been too valuable to blog since our arrival in Ecuador six days ago now. Every minute is exploration. Wanted to post a few quick pics, though, and will recap all when we return home.

We have some great stories.

Tomorrow, driving from Puerto Cayo to Manta and taking the early flight into Quito to stand on the equator for a bucket-list check.

Good night, from the middle of the World.

Playing tourista in Montanita!!!

Sunset on the Pacific: Latitude Zero.

Taking a Break from Breaking News

 

From 8 to 5 or so each day, I have the privilege to work with a tremendous group of people.

With about 30 or so employees, we are small in number, but significant in influence. The work we undertake has a positive impact on nearly 2,000 companies internationally.

As it exists, our work environment is male-dominated. Ninety percent of our staff is men, and it creates a certain culture, particularly since every individual is entrepreneurial, driven, vision focused and committed. It also just so happens that we all get along really well. It’s a great place to work.

Our shared personality traits make for a dynamic work environment where we focus corporately on the task and hand, and we also have a lot of fun.

And, on a fairly frequent basis, we have some pretty intellectual conversations.

At mid-morning yesterday, one of my bosses, an intellectual, worldly and thoughtful man, handed me a daft letter he’d composed as a letter to the editor for our local newspaper. Seems my boss had become (I’ll use the word disillusioned) with the media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, and the inflammatory nature of its portrayal, particularly in the television broadcast arena. It pushed him to his tipping point, enough so, that he took time out of his day to communicate his utter frustration.

And for what it’s worth, I agree with him.

The news stresses us out.

Just last week I read three local newspaper accounts of a local police chief charged with sexual assault of a minor, a pastor from my hometown who had kidnapped and assaulted a minor, and another law enforcement official 10 miles down the road involved in an internal department scam. A bloodpressure spike is a great way to start the day.

How does a news junkie like me control the natural tendency to stress over the news and its impact on my local community.

Later in the morning, I had lunch with another work colleague. We often talk about our life’s journey, the challenges we face, and give encouragement to one another to keep moving forward.

As we talked about the news, he shared an interesting experience.

Years ago, he said, a study in which he was engaged suggested a weeklong “news fast.”

His study indicated that a morning dose of the daily news, with all its negativity, hype and hoopla could subconsciously get our day off to the wrong start.

It can mean the difference between being outwardly impacted, or inwardly focused.

Isn’t that interesting.

I’ve always felt a need for the news. For many years, it’s been my livelihood. The need to be informed, is crucial, I’ve thought.

Or is it?

I’m thinking about taking a break from the breaking news.

This will be interesting.

Going on a Binge

BINGE – an act of excessive or compulsive consumption…

Twenty-four hours from now, I’m going on a 60-hour binge – a writing binge that is.

If you’re like me, you necessarily live your life in compartments – work, play, family time, hobbies, service, etc.

Our hope is that the lessons from the good compartments somehow permeate over into the not-so-good ones and that, in the process, we somehow find a pleasing life balance.

Unfortunately, I live life in binges.

Never have I been able to do a little bit of anything. I can’t just run 3 miles, it has to be 10; can’t just plant a small garden, it has to be an acre-plot; can’t just grill a few burgers and steaks, it has to be enough to feed the entire neighborhood.

And to be effective, I can’t just write effectively in spurts, it has to be extended, focused, dedicated time with a closed door, silence and no distractions. It has to be hours, not just an hour. And sometimes, days.

The book is now written and complete in my head, but it does me nor anyone else any good in that foggy place. It’s time for the vision to move through the heart, pass though the fingertips and onto the keyboard.

The interviews are complete; I see the pages; the sidebars are tucked away in the right corner of my brain; the graphics are in sight; I see the bolds, the itals and the garamond fonts; and the cover, it’s a thing of beauty to me.

But alas, they are but a vision. It’s time to let the Light produce the vision so all can see it.

The 60-hour binge is almost here.

I’ll see you when the binge is over.

I hope the hangover’s not too bad.

—30—

Paying Someone to Yell at Me…

The Monette Buffalos 1981 championship team. I still love these guys. At center is Coach Jim Ellis, who will travel with me this summer on a mission trip to Cordoba, Argentina. That's me, #34 in the short shorts.

I love sports.

And for me, there is no greater time in sports than March. The NCAA basketball championship, known more commonly as “March Madness,” has provided me with some of my greatest memories. Coach Jim Valvano of the NC State Wolfpack, God rest his soul: Phi Slamma Jamma; Darrell Griffith of Louisville, who at less than 6 feet had a 41/2 foot vertical jump; the legacies of schools like Duke, Kentucky, Indiana and others. Thrilling stuff.

I was a fair high school athlete, not because of any particular God-given talent, but because at my small school, if you wanted to be “somebody” you pretty much had to excel at sports. I worked hard, had great guidance and “encouragement” from some great coaches and had a fair jumper from 25 feet on the left wing. For a kid, I was a decent power forward.

Thirty years later, I still relive almost daily the memories of 1981 as part of a championship team that may have been among the best junior high teams ever to play in Arkansas. There was beauty in the way my teammates and I played together, and when we were “on,” it was magic.

At the same time, we were a rowdy bunch, and I’m fully convinced had we not had a truly brilliant coach at the helm, we would have never experienced the success that we did.

Coach Jim Ellis harnessed our rowdiness, and our talent, and made us greater tha we really were. It wasn’t always a fairy tale with Coach Ellis. Aside from my dad, that man yelled at me more than anyone on the planet. He once compared my defensive ability to that of his dog.

I miss those days. I miss having a coach in my life. I miss having someone who will call me out and put me in my place. I miss having someone who will take an interest in me to make me better than I really am.

I’d pay good money to have that again, and so I think I will.

Before I became a regular blogger about a month ago, I subscribed to several blogs from authors whose topics interested me. One of those was Michael Hyatt, chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, arguably the leading publishing house in the world for Christian authors. In a recent post he featured the services of a Christian Coaching firm called Ministry Coaching International, www.ministrycoaching.org and it peaked my interest.

I’m not a “minister.” While I’m involved in some personal humanitarian interests, I have a day job that requires focus. I work with 30 men who are all some of the finest entrepreneurial thinkers in the country and it’s a daily task just to keep up with them. But my personal ministries provide added fulfillment, and they are important to me, and for several months now I’ve followed God’s calling to serve Him better through writing. There’s a manuscript now that awaits publishing but the work is not yet done. It needs focus.

About a month ago, I realized I was losing focus. My personality is easily distracted. I love to learn and when I find something that really interests me, I want to get involved. Lately, dozens of those interests have popped up, and while they are all good things, they have become a distraction to the task at hand. Oh, how that Harley Davidson awaits…

Realizing this, I sat down one morning and created a list of 7 priorities on which to stay focused. I printed that list and taped it to several key locations in my home where I could see it frequently.  The list included: studying the Word; using my gifts; serving my family; focusing on my health; building streams of additional revenue; taking personal time; and developing a diversified investment portfolio.

For three weeks the exercise worked.

The “list” helped me focus. Then the demons of distraction made their way back into my life. Other things about which I read, seemed interesting. I checked them out. I pursued some of them; played around with some of them, and before I knew it, the seven priorities were becoming an afterthought.

At this point in my life, I can’t afford the distractions. I need someone to yell at me.

As it all played out, Hyatt’s blog and the topic of Christian coaching came to top of mind. So I picked up the phone and called the Ministry Coaching International team.

The conversations culminated yesterday with a 45-minute phone call with the president of the organization. We discussed my goals and my “issues.”

Things started clicking and I liked what I heard.  Among his qualifications are that he’s a: professional fundraiser, ordained Presbyterian minister, specialist in organizational resource development; and last, but not least, a clinical psychologist. I like that.

As we discussed my problematic issues with “focus,” he was able to get to the heart of the issue about 40 minutes into the conversation. It may be very well likely that I have a self-destructive personality, a self-sabotaging bent.

I took a deep breath and sat back in my seat on that one. I think he may be right.

For a man, there is nothing like “clicking” with another man. One with whom you can be transparent and who will not find fault in who you are. I miss having a coach and I’m doing something about it.

Ten minutes after our conversation I sent an email with a subject line: “Let’s do this.”

I’m ready. Time to get back in the game.

Let’s do this. Let the Madness and the yelling begin.

What Would it Look Like if …

… we shattered our categories?

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

How do we get to the “secret heart” of Christianity? Many are finding it difficult in today’s church.

It’s the battle of two extremes – we are wayward sinners or moral insiders – or we seek one of two journies – the road of moral comformity or the path to self-discovery. Is there room for any of us who may find ourselves somewhere between the two extremes without people thinking we’re rebellious troublemakers?

The fact is, it’s easy to alienate ourselves from God by going either way for too long. Proof can be found in the well-known story of the prodigal son, in which most readers of the Word focus on the wayward son. That side of the story is easy enough. But what about the older son, the one who obeyed the rules, the one who conformed, and yet refused to attend the grand celebration hosted by their father upon the younger son’s glorious return?

The two extremes … where is the middle ground, and if there is one, is it the right place from where the Holy  Spirit wishes us to operate?

Isn’t it interesting in so many Bible stories that the people who were most intrigued by Jesus were the ones who were estranged from religion, as opposed to those who were immersed in doctrine and dogma? The rule followers tried to trick Jesus into a corner. Who is this man, they wondered?

I am one of those who finds myself in the middle – probably further to the right side of self -discovery than rule follower, but yet fascinated by what God’s Word speaks to me each day. In this position, it’s easy to become an outcast. Church friends wonder what happened to you. Why are you rebelling? What’s wrong with you? Do you still know Jesus?

Maybe it rings true with you.

Actually, I feel pretty good. I feel freedom. The sun and stars look different to me now. The North Star visible each night from my back yard reminds me that I do have a fixed point of light and a direction. I’m learning, discovering, hearing.

If it does ring true with you, then I believe we are not alone. I believe we are in the midst of the winds of change. God appears to be changing the conversation He is having with His church. Yes, God can actually “change” the conversation if He so chooses.

Less than a year ago, leaders from a dozen megachurches across the country came together for: “Exponential 2011: On the Verge Conference.” The church leadership in the conference represented some 80,000 members.

The church leaders, you see, were at a high level of satisfaction with their “attractional” strategies. And why not? They had grown exponentially. They were in “high cotton.”

But somewhere along the way, the “missional” aspect of service was lost. Too many people, too many programs and services, too much budget, too many decisions and too much baggage.

They had become “missionless.”

An interesting observation/prediction by two church strategists who helped facilitate the meeting is this: The prevailing church growth approach (or market strategy, if you will) will have appeal to about 40% of the U.S. population over the next 10 years.

So if the strategy continues to dominate, where does that leave the other 175,000,000 or so of us who aren’t drawn to that approach?

What if church looked not so much like a building, but a movement?

What if church looked apostolic rather than institutional?

What would it look like if we created demand, rather than competed for it?

What if we were On the Verge of something?

What if…

(Blogger’s note: Many of the ideas, language and concepts posted in this blog come from two well-written and thoughtful books: On the  Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson; and The Prodigal  God by Timothy Keller.)