ROOFTOP REFLECTIONS Wednesday July 13 2016

I spent two weeks in Guatemala in July.  Each morning, I woke up before anyone else in our house, and I climbed up the steps to the roof of our house in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This is where I started my day with prayer, reading, and rooftop reflections.

Each morning, I recorded a video documenting my “Rooftop Reflections.”  I initially posted these on Facebook, but I realize many of my readers aren’t connected with me on Facebook.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll release these videos to you here on the blog.  These videos provide another glimpse into my experiences in Guatemala.

Here is the third installment:


Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted.

Garrison Keillor

IMG_5087One week from yesterday, we will be delivering Hannah, our oldest child, to Messiah College for the start of cross-country season and her freshman year.

Hannah will be spending this week working, finalizing her packing, and saying her goodbyes to her friends.  Hopefully, she’ll have a few minutes for her family.

Hannah is ready to go.  And as hard as it will be for Leanne and me, I think we will be ready as well.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to rush things.  We will miss Hannah dearly and we will look forward to seeing her whenever possible, but we would fail as parents if we didn’t launch her onto this next stage of her life.

As parents, we do our best to point our children at the right target.  Like an archer holds an arrow on the bowstring keeping his sights on the target, we’ve kept Hannah on the bowstring of our family.  We’ve done our best to point her to the right target – spiritually, financially, socially, and in other areas of life.

But an arrow is not meant to stay on the bowstring forever.  An arrow is meant to fly towards the target and ultimately to hit the target, and this only happens when the archer releases the arrow from his grip.  And our children aren’t meant to stay on our “bowstring.”  They are meant to fly toward the target and to find their way.  This week represents a major step in our parenting journey.  Next Sunday, we will release Hannah to fly.  We pray that she flies straight and free of obstacles, and we trust that our parenting efforts – our intentional efforts to point her to the right target – will pay off for Hannah and her future.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was a little sad to be at this point in our parenting journey.  But my sadness is overshadowed by my happiness, joy, and excitement for Hannah.  I’m excited for what this means for our family in the coming years.  Leanne and I will get to spend some more focused time with our son, Isaac, as he heads into a big year.  I’m also looking forward to what this means in our marriage as we draw closer to the “empty nest” stage of our life.

Parenting takes us on all kinds of fun, interesting, and crazy adventures.  It’s important to stop and enjoy the moments and milestones along the way.  And it’s important to be intentional along the way.  The time with our kids goes by far more quickly than anyone can describe.  Make the most of the moments with your kids.  Take time each day to show them your love.  And do your best to point them at the right target.

If you want to connect with other fathers who want to be intentional in their parenting, their marriage, and their manhood, consider joining my new mastermind group just for men.  The Stretch Man Mastermind is all about creating a community of men who want to hit the right target.  If this sounds interesting to you, I’d love to talk.  Fill out the simple form below, and I’ll get back to you.  Spots are filling up quickly in my September – November group.  Don’t miss out!

I’ve only flown first class one other time in my life.  A unit manufacturer in Missouri wanted me to come to their facility without a lot of notice.  To “sweeten” the request, they flew me and one of my co-workers first class.  I remember loving the pampering we received on the flight, and I loved the extra space.  Standing at nearly 6’6″, the extra leg room was especially appreciated.  That was 16 years ago.

Fast forward to today, and I’m flying first class again on our initial flight from Newark, NJ to Miami, FL.  We worked with a travel agent this year, and she arranged for one of our four flights to and from Guatemala to be first class at the same rate we would have paid otherwise.

It’s quite a contrast from our previous flights, and it’s an even bigger contrast from the conditions we’ll be experiencing while we’re in Xenacoj.  We enjoyed hot towels to wipe our hands before breakfast served on the plane.  We enjoyed a hot breakfast on real plates and with real silverware and glassware.  And we even enjoyed fresh fruit.

In Guatemala, we’ll be treated well, but we won’t enjoy these luxuries.  Our meals will most often have some type of rice, beans, and corn tortilla combination.  There will be some fresh fruits and vegetables, but we have to be very careful when it comes to consuming these things.  (Our bodies don’t like the bacteria found in these areas.)

So far, everything has gone smoothly.  Because of our first class seats on our initial flight, we went right by the long check-in line when we first entered the airport.  Our first class tickets also allowed us to take a shorter security check line, and we were even able to board the plane before anyone else.

This experience reminded me that we are privileged.  We are privileged to live in our country with all its wealth and opportunity.  We “privileged” to be white (this isn’t meant to be racist – I just don’t think we realize how our skin color often impacts our opportunity).  And I am “privileged” to be a man (in a society that often undervalues women).

As I think of heading back to Guatemala, I want to have a healthy mindset.  I want to have an open heart.  And I want to have hands and feet that go and serve.


Everything went smoothly with our travels until…

…Until we walked out of the airport in Guatemala City.  We expected to see our missionary partner, Dave Sgro.  Since we didn’t see him immediately, we assumed he would be in the cafe to the right of the airport exit.  We walked over to him, but couldn’t find him.  Okay, maybe he’s running a little behind.  In our previous visits to Guatemala, Dave has always been there waiting for us, so we were a little surprised when we didn’t see him.  We waited for a while, and then we started to get a little nervous.

It’s not smart or safe to stay in Guatemala too late in the day, and we weren’t sure how to connect with him.  I tried texting and calling him, but I didn’t get a response on his United States number and the Guatemala phone number I had was obviously not correct.  I have unlimited texting on my phone, so I decided to text a friend (James Cook) back in the States to see if he could help us track down Dave.  One thing led to another and we discovered that Dave ran into car problems on his way to the airport, but he was on his way.  We were told he would be there in 40 minutes, but 40 minutes in Guatemala does not equal 40 minutes in the United States.  40 Guatemalan minutes could mean two hours (as we soon found out).

When Dave eventually showed up, he was driven by a hired driver.  We loaded our luggage on the roof of the rented van and we began our trip up to Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  On our trip, Dave told us the story behind his delay.


We eventually arrived in Xenacoj, and I felt like I was home after two years away.  We unloaded our luggage and proceeded to check out our digs for the next two weeks.  After dropping our bags off in our bedroom, we climbed the stairs to the roof where we could look over most of Xenacoj.  The air was crisp.  The smells of cooking fires wafted through the air and mixed with the sounds of local churches conducting their Sunday afternoon/evening services.  I took in a deep breath.  As I exhaled I smiled to myself.  What a blessing to be in Xenacoj.


After dinner, we wandered into the streets to take in more of the sights and sounds.  As we walked by the houses and stores, we were greeted by stares and hellos from the local residents.  Now, we were the ones who were out of place.  I heard a few people say how tall we were.

We walked down one of the streets from the Central Park, and we found ourselves knocking on a familiar door.  A few seconds later, the door opened and we were eventually welcomed into the house of Betty.  Two years ago, we built a house for Betty, and it was so good to see her and her family again.

As we looked at her house, we discovered that there had been some modifications made to the structure we initially put together.  Three layers of cinder blocks had been added to the house, and a new room had been added to the back of the house.  Apparently, the abuelo (the grandpa) had removed a few layers of the siding we had put up when we built the house and replaced the wood with more cinder blocks.  We were told it helped firm up the house from wind and rain.  THe family seemed happy to see us, and we promised to return later in the week (perhaps tomorrow).


Heading back to our house for the next two weeks, I’m exhausted.  The two hour time difference and the early morning are good reasons to turn in early tonight.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.


Special thanks to Denise Wiggins for arranging such amazing travel for our family.  While it felt a little strange to be traveling first class on our way to a missions trip in a third world country, our family will always remember this experience.

Special thanks to James Cook for helping us hook up with German Espana and Dave Sgro.  God puts special people in your life everyday.  Two years ago, I met James when I was in Guatemala with my family, and I’m so thankful for this friendship.

Special thanks to German and Suzy Espana for graciously providing dinner for us

(Monday, July 11, 2016)

Today was a good day in Guatemala.

My body is still on East Coast time, so I was up fairly early.  Of course, it doesn’t help that there were dogs barking and roosters crowing on and off throughout the night.  After I woke up, I walked up to the roof of the place where we are staying this year in Xenacoj.  From the roof, you can see most of Xenacoj.  And you can see the three highest mountain/volcano peaks off in the distance.  This morning, the sky was clear and the few of the mountains was spectacular.

On the roof, I took time to read and process II Thesallonians 2.  This chapter reminded me that there may be a lot of things happening in the world (like the Dallas police shootings, the Orlando night club shootings, the Minnesota and Louisanna shootings, and other terrible events), but there is still reason for hope.  Towards the end of the chapter, Paul reminds the readers to be encouraged, to stand firm, and to hold on to the eternal hope that is in Christ Jesus.  You may see this as a dark time (and many of these events are sad and sometimes scary), but we must remember to hold onto the hope we profess.

On the roof, I also took some time to record my thoughts on video and to outline some of the book I finished on the airplane (The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun).


After breakfast, we eventually made it over to the construction site of the first home we are building this year in Xenacoj.  We met Dolores, the widow who will be receiving the home, along with her daughter and a few of her grandchildren.  She doesn’t speak Spanish – only Katchequel (the native Mayan language), so it was especially hard to communicate with her.  Thankfully, German can speak Spanish, English, and Katchequel, so we has some translating throughout the day.

Building these houses is always a learning experience.  We learn more about what not to do next time, and hopefully, we learn more about what to do as well.  If I’m going to build 100 houses in Guatemala before I die, I better start taking notes.


We took a break for lunch, and before returning to work at this job site, German drove me over the other widow’s construction site.  The widow, Maria, came out and helped us move lumber into her yard for construction later during our trip.  According to German and Dave, she was the persistent widow.  She kept asking German to build a house for her.  When funds became available to build a second house this year, it was an answer to her prayers.


Back at the Jobsite, we were able to complete the framing, and the house should be ready for a roof and walls when we return to the Jobsite on Wednesday.


This evening, we enjoyed a natural, God-provided fireworks display as we watched a huge lightning storm over the mountains surrounding Xenacoj.  It was absolutely beautiful and it lasted for hours.  The fireworks display was another reminder of how beautiful it really is here in Guatemala.  The landscape is incredible, and the people are amazing.


Tomorrow, we’re scheduled to go to the village of Santa Marie to help clean the ears of widows in the village.  It will provide a new adventure for sure.  But that’s for tomorrow.  If Xenacoj has taught me anything, it’s taught me that plans change and sometimes you just need to go with the flow.

For now, I’m shutting off the light and heading to bed.  I’m exhausted.

Good night.

(Thursday, July 14, 2016)

Today has been different from our other days in Guatemala so far.

After breakfast, we traveled outside of Xenacoj to a small village of Ayapan.  The village is one of the poorest areas I’ve seen in all of my visits to Guatemala.  The village can only be accessed by dirt road.  It’s about 1.25 miles from the nearest paved (or concrete) road.  And the road to the village is windy with scenic views of the surrounding mountainous country side.

When we arrived, we walked up to a school building located in front of an old church.  (The church was build based on a photo of a European church.  Up until recently, there had never been an American missionary presence in this village.)  There are actually two school buildings in the village – one for upper elementary students and one for lower elementary students.  I’m not sure, but the older students in the village may go in the afternoon to the same buildings.  (This is how it is in Xenacoj.)

We peaked into the classrooms just before students were released for one of their 15 minute recess periods.  When the came out for recess, they were “treated” to a meal of rice and beans along with a hot cup of otool (I’ll have to check the spelling of this).  This meal is a big deal as they often don’t have enough food at home to provide nourishment.

After the meal, we played with the kids for a while in the dirt play yard.  We played tag.  We played ball.  And we simply interacted with them.  There is so much to be done in these types of villages.  There is clearly not enough money to support the schools, the nutrition, and the sanitary systems of these communities.  Up until recently, the poorest members of this community got their water from a well that was located 30 feet down hill from the school bathrooms.  These bathrooms made the worst outhouses in the United States seem like deluxe spas.

This community is facing a lot of other issues as the Guatemalan governement is taking over some of the properties to build a highway system around the capital city of Guatemala City.  This construction project has led to protests and even a few deaths as the native Mayan population is trying to protect the land that has been in their families for many, many years.

At one point during our visit, I noticed several armed Guatemalan guards.  Apparently, they had been sent there to protect the highway construction workers.  Meanwhile, the local workers have been impacted by the concrete and construction dust that fills the air often filling their lungs and compromising their crops which provide their source of living.

While the highway system will most likely have an overall positive impact on the mobility in Guatemala, it is perhaps having an irreversible impact on those who were in Guatemala first – the Mayan people.


After our visit to Ayapan, we took our team to Hope Haven Guatemala, an organization on the outskirts of Xenacoj that builds wheelchairs for the disabled all over the world.  We played wheelchair basketball with several of their employees during their lunch break.  It was fun to laugh with them.  I quickly gained the nickname Amarillo after I made a few baskets and they noticed my yellow (Amarillo) shirt.

After a fun time of basketball, we ate lunch as a team under the shade of an avocado tree next to the basketball court.  Then we went inside to help in the factory for a couple of hours.  We sorted parts and pieces for future wheelchairs.  The impact of these chairs may never be known, but it was cool to know we were providing hope to disabled individuals around the world with our simple efforts.


Even though this is my fourth trip to Xenacoj, I feel like I have so much to learn.  I don’t understand all the local politics, and I certainly don’t understand all the culture and tradition that happens in this village I have come to love.

When I first dreamed of building 100 houses for widows in Guatemala, I thought the construction would be the challenging part.  In reality, there is so much more complexity to it than I ever imagined.  There is jealousy among other widows not getting the houses.  There is even some sense that certain people in Xenacoj don’t want us around.  I don’t think they understand us either.  (For the most part, we are welcomed, but there are definitely  a few people who are not thrilled with our presence.)

I may have an audience with the mayor while I’m here, and I think this could be helpful in discussing the state of affairs in Xenacoj and determining how we can best help in the future.  I believe we can build a better house for these widows even though it may cost a few more dollars.  I have to believe we can develop a better application process for determining who gets the houses in the future.  I want to see if we can setup some kind of system for following up with each of the house recipients.  They need some type of maintenance program for future repairs, but they also need some type of spiritual follow-up.

These are things I’ll continue to wrestle with as I move ahead with plans to build 100 houses.

(Wednesday, July 13, 2016)

Many of you know that I have a goal to build 100 houses in Guatemala before I die.

Some things this goal is crazy.  Sometimes I wonder if the goal just isn’t enough.

One thing I know for sure, building 100 houses happens one house at a time.  And building one house happens one action at a time.

This morning, I expected to get to the job site and see immediate progress, but it didn’t happen quite like this.  It was much more of a deliberate process.  We assessed the current state of the house.  We discussed our next steps.  We broke up into teams.  And we started to work.  Isaac, Rafael, and I worked on finishing the sills for the house that rest above the concrete block.  Leanne and Hannah moved the corrugated metal sheets for the roof closer to the building.  And Jose worked on getting the roof structure ready for completion.

In the morning, things seems to drag along.  I wanted to see progress.  But it just seemed so slow.

For lunch, we walked over to German and Suzy’s house in the pouring rain for lunch.  They’ve been working on their house since last time, and it was cool to see what they have done to their place.  The sun came out, and we walked back to our house for a few minutes of siesta before going back to work on the house.

When we arrived back at the job site, there seemed to be a greater sense of urgency and purpose as we proceeded.  Jose and Rafael worked on a gutter system for another structure in the house, and the rest of us started working on the walls.  Before long, we completed the back wall of the house and part of one of the side walls.  It was great to see such progress.

We are scheduled to go back to the site on Friday, and I’m fairly certain we should finish up the house in time for a Saturday dedication.

By the way, today was my 20th wedding anniversary.  Leanne and I celebrated a couple weeks ago in Vermont, and we celebrated again in Guatemala.  20 years has gone by in a flash.  When we were married, I never would have imagined spending our 20th anniversary in Guatemala on a missions trip, but I’m thankful for this experience.  I also wonder where the next 20 years will take us.

ROOFTOP REFLECTIONS Tuesday July 12 2016

I spent two weeks in Guatemala in July.  Each morning, I woke up before anyone else in our house, and I climbed up the steps to the roof of our house in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This is where I started my day with prayer, reading, and rooftop reflections.

Each morning, I recorded a video documenting my “Rooftop Reflections.”  I initially posted these on Facebook, but I realize many of my readers aren’t connected with me on Facebook.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll release these videos to you here on the blog.  These videos provide another glimpse into my experiences in Guatemala.

Here is the second installment:


I spent two weeks in Guatemala in July.  Each morning, I woke up before anyone else in our house, and I climbed up the steps to the roof of our house in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This is where I started my day with prayer, reading, and rooftop reflections.

Each morning, I recorded a video documenting my “Rooftop Reflections.”  I initially posted these on Facebook, but I realize many of my readers aren’t connected with me on Facebook.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll release these videos to you here on the blog.  These videos provide another glimpse into my experiences in Guatemala.

Here is the first installment:


You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional.

Mark Udall

Life is way too short to let it pass you by without a plan and without a support team.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life only to realize I had wasted my time here on earth.

I want to be intentional.  And I want to know I gave it my all.

Being a man – and specifically being a father and a husband – can be pretty challenging.  We have careers, family, friends, hobbies, and finances to balance.

I believe many men want to have deeper, more fulfilled lives, but they don’t know where to start.  Guys wander around through life afraid to ask for directions, and they miss out on living their best life ever.

Over the past several months, I’ve had multiple guys approach me in search of a mentor or a guide.  While I’m not a perfect parent or perfect spouse, they have seen something in my family and in me that makes them want to learn more.

These conversations are humbling, and I want to help.

Today, I’m excited to announce the launch of the Stretch Man Mastermind Group.  (To learn more about the mastermind group concept, click here.)

What is the Stretch Man Mastermind Group?

The Stretch Man Mastermind Group is a group of men committed to meeting together for three months.  The group will meet every other week in September, October, and November.  The meetings will be held over video conferencing software, so an internet connection, a webcam, and a decent microphone will be important.

Meetings will last 60-90 minutes.

Most meetings will start with a 20 minutes teaching time where I will share on a topic designed to help guys stretch themselves.  These topics will focus on helping us become better fathers, better husbands, and better men.  Then we will have a rotating “hot seat”.  Each meeting, we will focus on a challenge or question brought to the group by one of the mastermind members.  The “hot seat” will rotate from meeting to meeting, so everyone has the opportunity to be on the “hot seat” and to focus on their challenge/question.

The first meeting will provide an opportunity for the group to get to know each other.  And we’ll jump into our normal format for the second meeting.

In between the bi-weekly meetings, the group will correspond with each other in the group’s private Facebook group.

During this inaugural three months, I will also offer two one-on-one calls with each participant to tackle your additional questions and challenges.

This paid mastermind is designed to provide the support, community and accountability you need to intentionally STRETCH your parenting, marriage, and manhood to the next level.

Spots in the Stretch Man Mastermind Group are filling up fast, and I don’t want you to miss out.

If this excites you or you want to learn more, connect with me in the comments or by leaving your information below:

2000th Blog Post

August 2, 2016 — 6 Comments

2,000th BLOG POST-1

It’s when ordinary people rise above the expectations and seize the opportunity that milestones truly are reached.

Mike Huckabee

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they marked the occasion by setting up twelve stones as a reminder of the journey they had endured and as a reminder of their heritage.

Today, I write this post as a way of setting up a pile of stones to remind me of my journey and to mark a significant milestone on this journey.

I’m a numbers guy.  I count things and people and other crazy things all the time.  I even count blog posts.

Today, I’ve reached a milestone – my 2,000th blog post.

When I started blogging over nine years ago, I didn’t have plans or of intentions of reaching this target.  I simply planned to write one day at a time, and this remains my plan.

And yet, I think it’s important to stop to celebrate, reflect, and recognize this milestone in my own writing “career.”

When I graduated from high school, I specifically pursued a career in engineering to get me away from writing.  I did okay in high school English class, but it was a lot of work.  Math and science always came easier for me.  When I arrived at Grove City College, I soon learned that my high school English was necessary and important to help me survive and thrive in the collegiate environment.

When I graduated from college and pursued an engineering job, I figured my writing was finally behind me.  I was wrong.  I used my writing skills on a daily basis to write letters, memos, and emails to customers, clients, and coworkers.  I wrote technical documents on a regular basis to describe my engineering documents.

I couldn’t get away from writing.

And then, my friend introduced me to the blogging world.  And something changed.

I developed a new-found love for writing.  I enjoy the discipline of writing on a regular basis.  I appreciate the effort required to articulate the “stretchy” thoughts running around in my head.  And I like the process of putting something together for others to read.

Writing has provided an amazing opportunity for me to tap into the creative side of my brain.  And it has pushed me to new heights and helped to forge new friendships.

2,000 blog posts is a milestone, but it’s just a start.

I have more to say.  I have more to write.

Here’s to the next 2,000 blog posts.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for commenting.  And thanks for being part of the Stretched Community.

How do you suggest I celebrate my 2,000th blog post?  Share your ideas in the comments.