Category Archives: Facing a Fear

Rock Climbing – Learn to Reach Higher

Last night, my friend Steve from HOPE International convinced me to go rock climbing. As I’ve written before, I’m quite afraid of heights, but persist in making that a non-issue when it comes to adventurous things: San Pedro Lake Atitlan

I had only attempted rock climbing, on a real rock wall once before in Richmond, and I’ll say that a rock climbing wall is much easier. And still pretty frightening. Our Peruvian teacher insisted we do some stretching and practice on the smaller wall with the huge crash pad. After about 5 minutes I felt like I had already exhausted my arms. How was I going to do the wall?

I feel like my own advice applies here, Just Press Call, and when Andre passed the rope thru my harness he said, “Alright, don’t think. Just do it.” For some reason, I just did it. I just climbed up. Rock-ClimbingLike a kid on a tree in the backyard. Up, up, up.

Then, of course, it gets harder. It gets really hard. Especially, when you look down. I yelled to Andre, “Ahhh! I’m so high up.” He yells back, “Well, don’t look down!”

It’s funny how simple all of it can be. And maybe that’s my favorite part about rock climbing. It’s when you don’t think you can, you just try. It’s when you think you’re going to fall, and you press in toward the wall. It’s when your hand is slipping and you don’t think you can hold on, and people encourage you to reach higher.

You reach higher.

And you find a handhold.

Just when you thought you couldn’t go any further, you find something to grab onto.

At least five times last night I found myself in this situation: my fear of heights starts to wash over me. My hands sweat, to help me grip, but seem like they were going to let me go. My forearms burn with exhaustion. For a moment, I freak out. I wonder what if I fall the 25 feet to the floor. How painful that would be. How long it would take to recover, if I ever recovered. But the crazy thing is, when I feel a point a way from falling, I know I won’t fall. So, all arguments to the contrary are invalid. The only rational thing to do is reach higher.

I made it each of the five times. It’s a terrible feeling thinking you’ll fall, but it’s so wonderful when you get just a bit higher.

I’m going to do it again.

Passport, A Renewal – Part 1

A small part of the American dream sits patiently in an enormous waiting room of  high ceilings, six foot fans, and factory-style fluorescent tube lights. Lines swirl around the inside, and the outside, seats for the lucky or elderly, but no matter who you are, or when you arrive, all must pass through security. No cell phones, please. A noticed presence of aspiration and perspiration hangs in the air.

For non-citizens in the waiting room of the US Embassy, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, or at least, a once a year application maximum. Many people are dressed in their Sunday best, hoping for a positive first impression with the officer administering the visa interview. Forms stacked on forms, collated, stapled, and 2×2 photos done while you wait. It feels clinical. Like someone’s going to probe further into your inner ear, to listen in on your nervous chatter.

I wasn’t so nervous, no, this to me was not my last hope, nor my first step in making it to the New World; I was already a citizen. Along with Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, one thing we extend to all foreign nationals interested in becoming citizens is the right to wait in line. In some ways, I missed the familiar bureaucracy, the silly red tape, and yes, the policies and procedures of controlling the masses.

As I stood in line for over 2 hours for an application drop-off of 5 min, I heard many conversations surrounding questions of history, questions of interview strategies, and plenty of answers to proposed destinations. It seemed to me, truly, that everyone had an American Dream. My dream amounted to hoping that the simple renewal of my passport would happen without a hitch as it’s set to expire one month from this week. Yikes. That simple crucial piece of  travel documents that you can’t leave home without. (As my uncle Lyle joked, “If you’ve got a credit card and a passport, you won’t have any problem getting anywhere.”)

I know, I should have gotten this passport thing done when I was home in the States this past year. Really, it’s just a simple “mail it and wait” process, but I wanted my new passport to come from the part of tremendous journey beginning more than two years ago where I set sail to learn Spanish, explore Latin America, and volunteer for a cause I believed in.

President Obama congratulating the new President Medina

In October, I’ll be saying goodbye to almost two years in the Dominican Republic. It’s been more than two years away from normal American life. In some ways I’m tired of living withing a paid job, tired of consistent cultural challenges, and tired of being “another gringo” walking around the commercial areas of Santo Domingo. It’s not that I want to unplug from expatriate life, it’s that I want to plug in to American life.

But as I look at the stamps  in my old passport, I’m filled with a sense of duty to carryout the mission I started. By no means do I want to call travel or serving overseas a closed chapter of my life, or a “I got it all out of my system” kind of thing. I don’t want it to be all said and done, because I don’t believe it is.

I left the embassy without a passport feeling confident that at least for my part of the process, I was finished. But I don’t want the feeling of adventure and exploration to end, and I know it won’t be.

I believe it’s just time for renewal.

Maybe then, that is what I hope for, and maybe it’s safe to stay, I still have an American dream.


The (bitter)Sweetness of Hindsight

The last time I needed to make about 1,200 copies for a project, it took me close to 4 hours. In a country that continues to develop its infrastructure, what can be considered a basic task can turn into the most complicated ordeal. In the last episode of printing, four hours were spent trudging from copy shop to copy shop when there was no electricity, or copy machines running out of toner, paper jams that resembled DC’s 495 at 8:00am, “out to lunch” signs or just closed doors, prices of 9 cents a copy for black and white (do the math for 1,200), and traditional copying woes like snail-like printing. Don’t even get me started on stapling . . .

Well, this time, 1,200 copies took about 15 min at six times less the cost.

Take a look at my man Martin. With his left hand he’s holding two sets of two sheets of paper together and with his right hand he’s delivering what can only be described as a stapling beat down. The rhythm of his attack is calculated, precise, and deadly; it’s a battle march that carries over the fields and mountains of stationery. The hills and valleys echo his triumphant firing and reloading, and stacks of fresh, 24lb, A4 paper sit in silence contemplating their imminent fate.

He’s a veteran and an active duty juggernaut, so when we proposed the idea of 300 double-sided stapled surveys, he smirked — along with mangu and eggs, he eats projects like this for breakfast. It’s a mere afterthought as he plows through the mess and makes order with four neatly stacked piles to carry out of his shop. He is a machine. In fact, he’s faster than the machine spitting out the copies. He’s outsmarted it and outfoxed it, and chuckles when I consider his work magic.

Like many things in life, and certainly relating to my experience here, I look to the heavens and ponder “Why all this pain, all this run-around, all this difficulty, when 3 minutes from my apartment, stands the solution, the “Martin,” the chief and ruler of the place called ‘Copy Master’ annihilating beasts of  tasks that plagued me.”

The question we may come to when we come out of a struggle could be a bittered, heavy-hearted lament:

“If only I had known, oh what pain I could have saved myself.”

I’m still trying to get rid of that, and indeed, I try  to consider most of my episodes like the copying fiasco as simply elements that help me arrive to the destination. I remember when I used to take two public cars back from Parque Enriquillo, now I take just one guagua. I remember when I paid transaction fees to withdraw money, then I got a Bank of America card and pay nothing to withdraw money from a ScotiaBank (bank friends). I remember being confused in Spanish in relation to what I asked, and then I paraphrased what I heard and asked for affirmation, a simple yes or a no. That changed my world.

We live and we learn, don’t we?

My goal is to make hindsight less bittersweet. And for that, I need to just take the bitter out of the ingredients, so that when I arrive at “Copy Master,” meet the valiant Martin, I can simply snap a picture, get my copies, and rejoice that I’ve finally found the solution.

Oh, how sweet it is.

Grip Tightly with an Open Hand

I hate goodbyes. I really do. Maybe I’ve gotten better at them because in over a year of traveling I’ve had to make a lot of them. But it still hurts, each time. Maybe not at the moment, but certainly after I board the bus or plane comes the silence between the seat-belt and the start of the engine, I feel the emptiness of loss.

“That’s just life” they say. The hellos and the goodbyes. To have fully, and then to have nothing. Fullness and emptiness, the waves of course. I believe we instinctively try to avoid the things that bring us pain. We assemble our toolkits to protect ourselves from the pangs of goodbyes. I know, in my life, I’ve assembled and used three such tools, with the final, being a more recent discovery.

Hold Nothing and Keep an Open Hand

The first was called, “hold nothing” or “keep an open hand.” It was a strategy aimed at never letting anything in so it hurt less when I encountered pain or eventually had to say goodbye. I lived like that for awhile. It didn’t work. I spent the first part of my 10 months in England living with all of the experiences at an arm’s length. I thought that if I could just keep everything at a distance, then it’d be easier to take in and let go. But the problem is, you never really take it in, do you? It hurts, being disconnected. You never really let relationships become a part of you, you never really let the music move you, and you never really let the exotic flavors of culture seep into your soul.

That’s not really living at all.

Hold Tightly and Maintain a Closed Grip

After that first life experiment, I went back to the drawing board. Determined to grab life by the horns, and to seize the day, the second tool was called, “hold tightly” or “maintain a closed grip.” I started accumulating a lot of great things in my life in Richmond, VA. Great job, great friends, great church in a great city. It’s great when it’s great, but when it changes, it’s terribly hard.

When things start slipping through your hands, you try to hold on tighter. You try to hold onto what inevitably will be taken from you without your permission. The truth is, it does not matter how hard you hold onto things, they will change. I could sense that as friends started to move, or got married, and even as I was contemplating my own move overseas, it was incredibly hard to emotionally stay connected to something that was leaving or already left.

Sometimes life takes most everything whether you don’t hold on at all or try to hold onto everything. In other words, it doesn’t matter how you hold it, it stays or it leaves. Such uncertainly can drive you mad or it can bring you to a place of greater understanding. Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t reached a state of enlightenment and self-reliance, on the contrary, I think I’m beginning to see the importance of confusion and dependence. In other words:

“A surrender to the reality and a full admission to the enjoyment and sadness that comes and stays awhile and goes.”

After all, I’m not a god with power to speak things into or out of being. I’m just human.

For this, I’ve learned to rely on the Lord more and more. Through my dependence I feel an assurance that when the goodness comes and goes, there will be more goodness to come. From the same side, when the sadness comes, it will go, and there will be renewal and restoration from the provider of everything that I’ve ever had. God is in charge of the supply, and by shared and personal history, He has been good.

Grip Tightly with an Open Hand

So now, I call this most recent tool, “grip tightly with an open hand.” I’m trying to invest as much as I can and enjoy it for what it is. And when it’s gone, I will mourn and I will be sad, but certainly, the Lord will provide. It’s an example of living the famous quote by the American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne,

“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

We must open our hands and enjoy these experiences, but not try to crush them with remorse if they seek to fly away.

What Are You Running From?

When I was little, I loved to run, just for the sake of running. I think there’s something beautiful about running with reckless abandonment, without worry, and simply for the joy of how the wind rushes past your face as your own energy carries you forward. I used to run with a simple passion: to be in motion. I ran fast because there was nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The faster I ran, the more I felt alive, the more I wanted to keep going, and the energy inside me kept growing, and I was always amazed when I looked back, because I was able to see the great distance I had traveled.

“What Are You Running From?”

Quite a few people have asked me this question over the past year: “What are you running from?”

I think it’s a fair question. Sometimes, when people choose to quit a job, leave the country to travel and start a new chapter of their life, they are trying to escape something.

I never saw this life decision to leave Richmond to travel, learn Spanish, and volunteer in an international organization as an escape. My life in Richmond was good, and God blessed me with an amazing life. I had an apartment with awesome roommates, I played on a successful soccer team, I attended a solid church and had a good community there, and I liked my job and the people I worked with.

The Real Question: “What Are You Running Toward?”

So when people asked me the question, “What are you running from?” I usually responded with “You mean, what am I running toward?”

I think this is an important distinction, and maybe a suggestion on how to handle a major life event, so I’ll say it now: “When you have a good idea of where you’re going, run toward it.”

See, I think that most times when we choose to make a big decision, we kind of creep toward it, unsure of how it’s going to pan out. We’re afraid of how it will change our lives, our friendships, and our comfortable living situation. I think this anxiety comes from a good basis, and it is important to seek advice and wisdom from the good Lord, your friends, your peers, and your family – the kind of people who know you, and can tell you if they think this fits in with what “you” are all about. But once you know where it is you’re going, do you wait for someone to take you, slowly walk toward it, or do you run?

It was a little more than a year ago that I chose to leave Richmond to pursue volunteering opportunities overseas, and almost immediately I felt that I was on the right track. It was as if I was swimming against the current for awhile, and as soon as I started heading in a different direction, everything became easier. I could feel the wind at my back.

I set up the plans to finish my job in July, and to head to Nicaragua to work with my church at an orphanage in Managua, and then onto Spanish school in Guatemala. It all just seemed to fit in place. And here I am in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ready to volunteer with HOPE International.

Run Like There is a Tomorrow

Now that I know where I’m going, I want to run like I used to run, without worry, without pain, just fully and passionately alive and full of joy because I am in motion.

Maybe that’s the final point I want to make,

“When you have a good idea of where you’re going, run toward it and sprint with all that you’ve got inside you. Run without worry, or fear, and run like you’ve got everything to gain.”

It is only with energy, passion, and momentum that helps us get through the transitions in our life, but more importantly, they make the fuel that helps us get to where we’re going. And if we never let ourselves run, how far will we let ourselves go?

More importantly, if we let ourselves run, how far can we go?

Tomorrow is my first day in the office – me voy a correr . . .


This post is dedicated to everyone who’s spurred me to run as far and as fast as I can. (And to you mom & dad, but I don’t have pictures of y’all on Facebook.)

Thank you, I love you all!


I’m Afraid of Heights, but I Jumped from a 35 Foot Platform into Lake Atitlan

Every time I step close to the edge of an elevated area, my hands start to sweat. It’s a natural reaction because I’m afraid of heights, and have been ever since I can remember. I don’t like ladders, hotel balconies, or views from the summit. I think I’m getting better though, and rarely do I back down from a challenge to see someone’s roof, spit off a balcony, or pose for a picture with my back to cliff’s edge. So when some of the students from San Pedro School wanted to go to San Marcos to jump off the rocks, I agreed without any deliberation.

If you go to Lake Atitlan, I encourage you to visit San Pedro, the sleepy tourist town where I’m learning to speak Spanish, and take the boat for $1 to San Marcos. Upon your arrival to San Marcos you’ll see a newly built wooden platform that stands about 12 meters, or 36 feet, above the water. You may even see a reluctant voyager nervously waiting at the platform’s edge. He or she will be trying to build up enough courage to take the leap, politely ignoring all the voices from their friends, and listening only to the voice inside that says “I’m pretty sure it’s about 500 feet, and there’s no way you’re going to make it . . .”

Once you arrive at the dock, It’s a 5 minute walk to the rocks, and there’s a nice little cafe next to the rocks where you can debate with your friends on who’s going to take the plunge.

We make it to the platform and I accidentally look over the side. “Whoah. This is way bigger than I thought . . .” I’m concerned about rocks and my general safety, but the locals say that you’ve got over 25 feet of water before you touch the bottom of the lake, and some local workers have removed all the nearby rocks and built a nice platform for a safe depature.

My group is ready, which means that the guys are going first. I’ve got my trunks on so there’s no need to have second thoughts. I toss my shirt and flip flops to the side. I step back to the end of the platform. For me, the thought process is simple. If I think about it I’m not going to do it. So I don’t think, and start running off the edge . . .

It’s at this point where I realize that I’ve got a long way to go.

and . . .


Immediately, relief and joy wash over me from another challenge met. I swim to the side to watch the rest of the guys jump off. The view from the water isn’t as scary as it is from the top. Sometimes it’s the “not knowing” that’s the scariest.

(Here’s my friend Dave jumping into the water, he’s got a better view of the volcano in the background.)

I swim over to the small rocks to relax. With my big accomplishment completed it’s time to have fun. My friend Amy has a nice Canon DSLR and I tell her that I’m going to dive. She’s perfectly situated for a perfect shot.

This is me mid-air as I’m diving off the 3 meter rocks.

I got a 9.5 score for this dive. If I had pointed my toes, I would have received a perfect 10. You might be thinking it’s strange that I dove off the one that was almost 10 feet.

I suppose after you make the big leap, everything seems more manageable.