Blank Pages

DSC05405Tomorrow…Brazil! It’s my fifth mission trip to that beautiful country. Our fifth chapel to build. Fifth 9-hour flight south.

Although these trips have similarities, each is unique. We travel with open hearts and open minds. Full of expectancy but empty of expectations. The overall vision is the same: build a chapel, build relationships, and share the good news. The details differ every year. This year there won’t be a Roberto or Renato. We won’t see the warm smiles of Ivan, Paula, and Vivi. No Douglas, Dani, Regicleide, or Pablo.

That’s okay, though. Those marvelous memories are past. The future is a blank page, aching to be filled with new stories.

I journal as I go. Each page slowly fills with miracles and reflections. Times of wonder and times of insight. It is a time of refining…painfully burning away pride and assumptions to reveal a deeper truth. It isn’t always pleasant, but it is necessary.

Clearing away clutter allows growth.

It’s a time of renewal…pushing away from the safety of the comfort zone opens up space to spiritually reconnect and refuel.IMG_1728

The journal mirrors the journey. Not just the journey to Brazil, but the journey of life. The future is full of blank pages yearning to be filled.

It’s easy to get comfortable. It’s easy to get complacent. We surround ourselves with people who look and think like us. We turn off our brain as we fill our eyes with the latest distraction, leaving those blank journal pages empty. We miss the significance of life. We miss out on life’s meaning.

These annual trips are reminders to stretch…to push away from life’s ordinary routines. Joy isn’t found in the middle of comfort.  It can be found by fearlessly venturing forward, into the blank pages of the future.

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Stumbling across serenity

After we ordered dinner and paid, the waitress said “You can’t eat here. Take away only, love.”  We had been on our feet all day. I was hungry. Like a hippo. Carrying our dinner around Greenwich looking for a park bench wasn’t my idea of a relaxing meal.

“Let’s head back up to the pier.” It was just a few blocks away. Once there, we spilled IMG_5363ketchup on our shirts and mustard on our jeans while balancing the burger and chips on our laps. But the breeze of the Thames was relaxing and refreshing. And then…there was the sky. Peeking through the clouds and reflecting off the river…it was more gorgeous than we expected or could have imagined. We accidentally found a hidden gem of beauty and serenity.IMG_5374

We were in the UK for 9 days. Of all the unbelievable things we saw, this was my favorite moment. Stumbling across serenity. That’s how life can be. We plan, prepare, dream, and build. Then life reveals its own unexpected surprises.

So when your plans don’t go quite how you intended, look around for unexpected beauty. There isn’t always a silver lining…sometimes it’s golden.

Stonehenge, sunrise, solstice!

IMG_4879The summer solstice is the biggest day of the year at this ancient “Wonder of the World.” Our colorful tour guide (a whimsical fellow who was a writer and poet when he wasn’t a guide) informed us that more than 40,000 people were expected that day. He had done the coveted “double shift,” leading a tour at sunset late in the evening followed by sunrise on the solstice.IMG_5618

“You can feel the vibes!” the Bard of Bath told us, with a voice equal part reverent whisper and jubilant squeal. He also told us he won the title of “The Bard of Bath” in a writing contest years ago. Personally, I believe him.

Most of our fellow sunrise watchers were definitely feeling the effects of something beyond everyday reality. The atmosphere was vibrant and chaotic.

It was impossible to remain inside the inner circle of stones. Although the sea of humanity was fluid IMG_4886and welcoming, the chaos was virtually impossible to navigate. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t establish a solid claim on any patch of ground in the inner ring. We allowed the tide to wash us just outside the inner ring and stood firm at the base of a gigantic monolith. It was the perfect vantage point to watch the creator paint a masterpiece in the heavens.

The crowd was a strange mix… there were tourists and families just like us. There were a few people dressed in full druid (or wiccan) garb, exuberantly cheering and chanting. Joey snapped a picture of Gandalf. Just after sunrise a middle aged man with a saxophone started playing jazz standards while leaning on a stone. Most people seemed to be there simply for the party. For them it had been a long night, full of thrills and mood altering substances (from beer to Monster to “other things”). They were trying to hang on for the grand finale. Most made it, too. Others slept through sunrise wrapped tightly in a blanket, oblivious to the thousands of pairs of feet trampling by mere inches from their slumbering heads.

The morning forecast called for overcast skies but no rain. The cotton ball clouds stretched all the way to the horizon, but then broke. Right where the sky touched the ground, there was a big enough opening to let the brilliant rays from the rising sun break through and dance off the clouds. For a full hour before sunrise the heavens were full of brilliant oranges, purples, pinks, reds, and yellows. And then…sunrise.

That’s when things got really weird. Someone at Stonehenge on the solstice probably saw a glimpse of the sun. We, however, did not. After the stunning pre-dawn show, as soon as the sun was above the horizon, it was behind the clouds. All the color drained from the sky and the world turned a colorless gray.

We wandered around the post-dawn monochrome field and stones for a few minutes. Maybe we were wondering if the sun would break back through in spectacular fashion. Maybe we realized this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we weren’t quite ready for it to end. Once the crowd began to disperse, the chill really set in. As we made our way back to the bus, the Bard was talking again about vibes and burial mounds. History and harmony. We certainly experienced both. It was unforgettable and unrepeatable.

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Bump

I’m supposed to be hanging in the sky over the Atlantic Ocean about now. We should be smoothly gliding the jet stream on our way to London.

Our incredible journey hit its first bump before we even left home. About an hour before we were going to leave our house, we received an ominous text. “Your fight has been delayed one hour.” If everything went perfectly, that would give us 20 minutes to make our connecting flight in Detroit. If they made up time in the air and if everything went perfectly, we might just make it. But probably not.

After a few hours of scheming, two phone calls to Delta, and one fruitless round-trip journey to the airport, we managed to get on a different flight. Instead of arriving in London at noon on Monday, we won’t get there until 7AM Tuesday. And we won’t be flying through Detroit.

Instead of sleeping in a cramped seat hurtling over the Atlantic at 600 miles per hour, we rented Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. It’s almost like being there. 

Yes, there is a life lesson in all this. When life hits a bump, keep going. Even though the adventure was delayed, all hope isn’t lost. The impeccable planning that went into the trip has a “buffer” day built into it. Even if we end up missing a few things that were on the list, we are still going to make it to Stonehenge. We’re still going to the London Eye, the Tower of London, and the highlands of Scotland. Don’t panic. Keep calm and carry on.

Tomorrow is a new day.

The trip. Part One

It’s time to go. I’ll be in London tomorrow.IMG_4121

A few years ago I hatched a plan. It was crazy. Extravagant. Audacious. Inspired by my friends Walker and Mark, with a little help from a couple of experiences with “Raising a Modern Day Knight,” I decided to take each of my sons on a father/son rite-of-passage “welcome to manhood” adventure.

The rules were simple. The year they turn 16, we would take a father/son trip anywhere in the world. They would be the “Team Leader,” taking on the responsibility of planning the trip, setting the itinerary, and making sure we got great deals. I would play the role of adviser and angel investor.IMG_3642

He was so little when the plan was hatched. Where did the time go? The day for the trip is here, the adventure has quickly turned from fantasy to reality.

I’ve heard “must be nice” comments about our trip from others. Ten days in the UK? Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice? Overnight train to the highlands of Scotland? They’re looking at the finished product. They are ignoring the humble beginning.

 

Here are a few behind the scenes key points:

  1. Get intentional. Unforgettable things rarely happen on accident, particularly good ones. Make the decision. Write it down. In my case, it was a decision to do something meaningful, memorable, and significant with my sons before they left the house. It’s not just about one trip either, it was a decision to be intentional about fatherhood.
  2. Make a reasonable plan. Because of what I do, how I’m compensated, and the lifestyle we live, I knew that “anywhere in the world’ was a reasonable plan for us. We can’t do it every year, but with enough warning, we can make “anywhere” happen. Not everyone can. That’s okay. There are mind-blowing sights within a couple of days drive of where you live, no matter where you live. A rental car (or van) is more affordable than an airline ticket. As long as you ditch the electronics, a lot of bonding can happen on the road. The adventure is in the journey, not the destination.
  3. Think long-term and take baby steps. Sunrise at Stonehenge on the solstice doesn’t sound reasonable. It isn’t–if it’s an impulse. With a couple years of warning, though, amazing things are possible. Cut back on the premium TV channels and funnel that money into a savings account. Tax refunds or bonuses? Don’t buy that 50-inch TV or the fishing boat…put it into the dream account. Twenty dollars a month adds up to nearly $500 in two years. Every little bit helps. You have to think long-term.
  4. Adjust as necessary. In my head, my son would’ve been a project manager. I wouldn’t have done anything. He would have had budgets and spreadsheets. There would have been multiple options, all color-coded with their respective strengths highlighted in yellow and weaknesses highlighted blue. He would’ve worked a job (preferably for a company he started himself) to help pay for the trip. But one thing I learned through this process…he already works hard. He earned straight As in school, held parts in multiple dramatic productions, learned three instruments, played in two bands, and taught himself how to program. I wouldn’t ask him to drop any of that to start a lawn mowing business. My expectations were too high. So I adjusted. I started off putting the responsibility for driving this project entirely on him. When I made it a “we” project instead, things came together quite quickly. I scheduled a weekly meeting with him. During our meeting, he’d share what he had found and what direction he was leaning on important decisions. I’d offer advice and give him goals for the next week. It worked beautifully. In hindsight, it was exactly how things should have been running all along!

And now, we’re about to embark. Two parts of the the family are headed across the pond while the other two remain domestic. The adventure begins.

“I don’t remember getting older…. when did they?”

May I show you a picture?

A few pictures from the month of May…

From the Canon:

From the iPhone 6+:

From the Nexus 6:

 

The downtown skyscraper shots were all taken with the phone’s forward facing camera. I’ve only had the Nexus 6 for a few days. New “cameras” are always a good excuse to go shoot stuff. Dandelions, dogs, and downtown…all good subject.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marching through April

Spring is a beautiful time of year in Green Country. Sure, there’s always a possibility of a tornado or two. Even the threat of tragedy doesn’t diminish the beauty that is found in the spring storms, sunsets colored by cold fronts, and the new life bursting forth in every blooming thing.

Here are a few shots from my March and early April.