Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at jon@jonstolpe.com.  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

Today marks the beginning of August.  For most of us, this means it’s time to start thinking about school and the start of fall.  While summer officially ends in late September, many consider Labor Day the official end of summer.  This means we have one month left of summer.  There are so many things I want to do with this rest of this season.  Today’s Ice Breaker should get you thinking about how you want to spend the rest of your summer.  At the beginning of the summer, our family created a summer bucket list.  I’m happy to say we’ve accomplished most of the things on the list.

Question:  What is one thing you would like to do or accomplish before the end of the summer?

My Answer:  This year, our garden did not get very good attention.  As a result, our vegetable production is very low and our weed production is very high.  Looking out into our garden last night, I said to Leanne “It’s time for a garden makeover.”  During the rest of the summer (and probably into fall), I’d like to redesign, reorganize, and redo our garden.  This is the perfect time to get things in order for next year’s growing season.  This will involve several truck loads of manure, many hours of weed pulling and excavation, and the installation of a higher (and more attractive) fence.  I’m excited to start dreaming about what our garden may look like next year.  After doing some research, I may even make it a little smaller which is probably a good thing.

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep STRETCHING!

On Track – Life Lessons from the Track & Field is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.  Click the link below to get your copy today.

As a reminder, I am offering a FREE pdf copy of the interior of the book to subscribers of The Stretched Newsletter.  Head over to the main page of the blog and sign up on the right hand menu bar to get your copy today for FREE!

A Healthy Balance

July 31, 2014 — 2 Comments

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In Guatemala, the mornings begin as the sky starts to lighten and the roosters calls echo throughout the village.  “Chicken” buses move into position near central park ready to transport students and workers to larger towns and cities.  Women slowly emerge from their homes where they sweep the streets clean of trash and animal waste from the day and night before.  Men start to move around the streets on their way to work in the fields.  Smoke wafts over the town as women light the fires which will warm up the meals for the day.

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The morning streets begin to fill with young children on their way to school.  And sweatshops start making jeans, pants, and shirts which will be sold in the United States at stores like Old Navy, Hollister, and Abercrombie & Finch.  Shop owners open their doors for business and the day is fully underway in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.

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Around one o’clock, there is a new buzz in the streets as people head home for lunch and a time of rest – a siesta.  Younger children are finished with school for the day, and older children head to school for their daily time of learning.  (The school year starts in January and goes until early October.)

At six o’clock, the bell at the top of the Catholic church in the center of town rings repeatedly marking the end of the school day (and work day for many).  And the streets buzz with action again as people return home or walk to the center of town.

“Buenos Dias” turns into “Buenos Tardes” which turns into “Buenos Noches.”  The morning coolness turns into afternoon heat which finally gives way to an evening chill.  The village quietly goes to sleep.

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And it begins again the next day.  There’s a healthy rhythm of life in Guatemala.  There is not a lot of racing around.  There is not a lot of urgency.  I don’t expect life in America to fully go to this, but I think we could learn a lot from the balance which seems to exist in Xenacoj.

Coming back home is an adjustment and a challenge.  I desire the sense of community we felt in Xenacoj last week.  I long after a healthy balance.  What will I take from this?  How will I change?  How will my life be different as a result of last week in Guatemala?  I’m not sure.  It’s stretching me as I ponder these questions – and it’s a good stretch.

What does your typical day look like?  What changes do you need to make to rediscover a healthy balance?

Right Place, Right Time

July 30, 2014 — 6 Comments

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We built two houses last week while we were in Guatemala.  The first house was for a widow named Betty, her five children (Marcos, Wendy, Fernando, Jose, and Rosita), and the widow’s father who we referred to as El Abuelo (which means Grandpa).

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Betty was selected to receive one of our houses based on a search criteria which included need.  She was chosen out of a list of 50 or 60 widows.  Why Betty?  I’m not completely sure, but I get the sense that God knew what he was doing.

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Betty’s oldest son, Marcos, is blind.  He lost his sight as a young child when a surgical procedure damaged his optic nerves.  In a town like Santo Domingo Xenacoj, there is little hope for a blind person.  They don’t have Seeing Eye dogs.  They have little opportunity for finishing school or for getting a job.  And there is not a government-funded welfare system to support blind people (or other disabled people).  It’s sad to think about what could or will happen to Marcos if something happens to his mom, his grandfather, or his aunt.

Marcos who is 14 does not go to school.  School’s in villages like Xenacoj are not set up to educate the visually impaired.  This means Marcos spends much of his time in the confines of his home – the small “yard” and the house.  Marcos listens to music and plays with a cheap plastic recorder most of the day.

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As we were building his new house, we were blessed by the beautiful melodies coming from Marcos and his recorder.  Marcos clearly has a talent – a gift – for music unlike most others.  Our team commented to each other several times during construction that Marcos should record his music.

Our missionary partner, Dave, had the same thoughts after hearing Marcos’ music for the first time.  He started talking with Marcos, and he soon began dreaming about using Marcos’ music to support Marcos.  He began vision-casting a way to record, produce, and sell the music.

Shortly after this, we learned that this is actually the dream that Marcos has for his music.  It’s unlikely that Marcos could make this happen on his own, but Dave could probably find a way.  It’s amazing when life converges or even conspires to reveal something beyond our intentions.

We wanted to build a house for a widow and her family.  We knew this would provide protection from the elements, a concrete floor, and beds to sleep.  We believed this would lead to other tangible benefits.  But we didn’t know how else this home might change things for this family.  A recording opportunity for Marcos may just be the tip of the iceberg – the beginning of change for Betty’s family.

Did this happen by accident?

I don’t think so.  Being in the right place at the right time starts by following God’s callings in your life.  Our family felt the call to serve in Guatemala, and we responded by going.  We want to be in the right place at the right time.  How about you?

How have you heard God’s calling in your life?  How have you responded?  When have you experienced being in the right place at the right time?

We’re back from Guatemala.

It was the adventure of a lifetime.

Thank you to everyone who guest posted while I was away.  I haven’t had an opportunity to jump into the discussions yet, but I hope these conversations stretched you.  Thank you also for your prayers for our family.

As you can imagine, I have a lot to process as I reenter life here in the States.  It could take me a little while to get through it.  I hope you’ll be patient, and I hope my pondering will stretch you.

Here are some thoughts from my journal.  I wrote them on Friday afternoon after visiting the small mountain-top village of San Antonio:

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the wearyand increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31

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Today, we drove up the mountain to the small village of San Antonio.  We came here last year, so our family knew to expect an extreme level of poverty.  Kids at the school were hungry, and some were quite dirty.  Many children were coughing – fighting some type of respiratory illness.

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It was sad to see children living in these conditions.  But I saw some glimmers of hope.  GO! Ministries has continued to serve food to the children five times a week.  This simple meal of rice, beans, and tortillas provides some nutrition which would otherwise be absent.  GO! Ministries built their first widow home here in March providing a much improved place of living for a widow and her children.  Another organization, Mission Firefly, has also been building better housing and a new cafeteria for the school in this small community.

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“Hope and Change” is a phrase that has become so cliché.  Politicians run on promises of bringing hope and change.  So often, our hope is shallow.  “We hope you like this.”  “We hope we get a raise or a new job.”  “We hope to win the lottery or to strike it rich someday.”  And so often, the change we desire is misdirected toward the wrong targets.

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I’m so thankful to see small changes in San Antonio.  It would be nice to see these changes taking place more quickly, but I’m learning (again) to operate on a different clock.  Guatemala Time is not the same as United States of America Time.  We live in a culture where we expect and demand promptness.  People are supposed to arrive on time or early.  But in Guatemala, it’s different.  If someone says 3 o’clock, it might mean 3 o’clock, but it probably means sometime after 3 – maybe closer to 4 or 5 o’clock.  Guatemala Time is slower, less hurried, and more relaxed.  It’s hard for Americans from the United States to understand time in Guatemala.

Similarly, I think we fail to understand God’s Time.  He operates differently than we want or expect.  If we pay attention and if we start taking notes, we’ll see that God always knows best.  He works upstream far in front of our short-sighted vision.  And he honors those who pursue and follow Him.

And so, it’s important to have hopes and dreams.  It’s important to work towards change and future vision realizations.   But it’s all for nothing if it doesn’t align with God.  So our number one pursuit should be to know God and to see His wisdom.  God’s wisdom will not fail – never!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33

If you want to win – if you want to succeed – if you want to see hopes for change realized, you must seek God with all you have.

What are you waiting for?  What is stopping you from seeking God with everything you have?

Twins Thank You Note

While I’m away in Guatemala, several people have stepped up to share their stretching stories with The Stretched Community.  Today, I have the honor and privilege of presenting Heidi Bender. Heidi blogs regularly at Tons of Thanks.  Please check out Heidi’s post and leave an answer to her question.  Afterwards, go check out her blog.  Her contact information along with a short bio can be found at the end of the post.  Thanks!

Encouraging children to write thank you notes

I discovered Jon’s blog mid-way through the 90 Day Thank You Note Challenge.  One of my favorite posts during the challenge was when Jon shared the thank you note that his son wrote when his braces were removed. I do not have any children of my own. However, I feel happy and appreciated whenever I receive a thank you note from my nieces and nephews.

Recently, two of my 13-year-old nieces went to summer camp for a week. They went on different weeks. I sent them each $5 when they were there to spend at the camp store. A couple of weeks later I received a nice hand written thank you note from them.

My nieces are twins, so they each wrote on a side of the same note card. Their notes were short and simple and conveyed their appreciation in two sentences. And the note made my day!

Would you like your kids to be known as the kids that write thank you notes? There are people who remember which kids send notes and which do not (my grandma, for example). I’ve come up with a several suggestions to help your kids stretch by writing thank you notes. Help them appreciate the value of expressing gratitude.

7 ways to encourage children to write thank you notes:

  1. Set a good example when writing thank you notes of your own. Your child will likely pick up on your attitude towards them. If you feel that they are a chore, then they will also feel that way when it is their turn to write a note. If you complain, they will complain.
  2. Let them know the reason why we write thank you notes. Hopefully, you are writing them because you are grateful for what you have received. Help them understand we are not entitled to the gifts that we receive from others.
  3. Let them see you writing them. Do not save this a task to be completed after they are in bed. If they see you writing maybe they will ask questions and take an interest. If they have never seen you write one or talk about thank you notes, they may be very surprised when they graduate high school and are expected to write a lot of them for graduation gifts.
  4. Show them how to write one. Explain that it is not a complicated process. If you are not sure how to write a thank you note, check out these 5 easy steps.
  5. Send your child a thank you note for something they have done. They will learn first-hand how good it feels to be thanked! Recognition goes a long way. You could hand deliver it or put it on their pillow. It may have a greater impact if they receive it the mail. This could be thanking them for cleaning their room or taking the garbage out when asked or for a gift they gave you.
  6. If they are not old enough to write yet, have them draw a picture. I have enjoyed all the hand drawn pictures I have received from my nieces and nephews when they were younger. I proudly displayed them on my refrigerator.
  7. Help them make it a habit. Whenever they receive a gift, get in the routine of having them writing a thank you note within a few days or a week. The longer it is put off the more likely it is for it to be forgotten or to feel like it is too late to send it.

Do your children write thank you notes? What tips would you add to the list? What impact do you think teaching your kids to write thank you notes now will have on their life as they grow up and into adulthood?

About the Author

Heidi Bender is on a mission to help others write thank you notes. She lives in southeast Michigan with her husband and their 3 cats. She also enjoys bike riding, reading, spending time with family, and playing the organ. She also blogs about her adventure of learning how to play the organ as an adult at http://www.organistheidi.com.

You can found her thank you note writing tips, stories, and how to guides at http://www.tonsofthanks.com and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tonsofthanks.

A Week Goes By Quickly

July 26, 2014 — 2 Comments

Today is our last full day in Xenacoj.

We will be making our way down to Guatemala City tomorrow morning to catch our plane home to the United States.

I’m excited to share our journey when we get home, but there is part of me that will be here on the streets of Xenacoj.

Today, we will serve at a feeding program for widows, orphans, and needy. Then we will dedicate the second house. This afternoon, we will have time to visit our friends throughout the village. And tonight, we will celebrate the week.

It has gone by quickly.

How was your week?

Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at jon@jonstolpe.com.  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

Question:  If you had to select one meal to eat over and over again for the rest of you life, what would it be?

My Answer:  This week we’ve eaten a lot of rice and beans.  It’s one of the major meals for those who live in the villages of Guatemala.  It’s not my favorite, but I am grateful for the opportunity to eat.  For many in this country, they are thrilled to get a spoonful of rice and a spoonful of beans once (maybe twice) a day.  And they eat this day after day after day.

If I had to select one meal to eat repeatedly, I would initially say pizza.  Pizza has always been one of my favorite meals.  My tastes have refined somewhat, so I might change this up a little now.  A perfect meal for me would include a fresh salad, a salmon steak, grilled rosemary red potatoes, asparagus, and creme brulee.  I could repeat this over and over and over again.

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep STRETCHING!

On Track – Life Lessons from the Track & Field is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.  Click the link below to get your copy today.

As a reminder, I am offering a FREE pdf copy of the interior of the book to subscribers of The Stretched Newsletter.  Head over to the main page of the blog and sign up on the right hand menu bar to get your copy today for FREE!

change

What’s normal anyway?  For those of you who know me, you probably know I’m not a big fan of change.  I like things the way they are.  This can be a problem though.  Life requires us to stretch and grow.  Change is inevitable.  Kari Scare provides some great insights today to help you adapt to life’s changes.  After you read the post and answer her questions in the comments, I hope you’ll head over to her blog and see more great writing.  For more information about Kari including her blog link, see her bio at the end of the post.

Finding A New Normal

A while back right after an uneventful 3-mile run, I experienced sudden and severe pain in my hip accompanied by a knotted muscle and a limp.

In response, I did what I normally do (and what usually works) when experiencing pain and discomfort after exercise… rested, iced, medicated and stretched. Unfortunately, my normal approach didn’t work. Several months later, I finally admitted I needed to try a new approach.

After consulting my doctor and doing some research, I added the use of a foam roller to my normal routine. While more uncomfortable than stretching (it was somewhat painful, actually), the foam roller got directly at and finally resolved the knot. Hip pain no longer plagues me.

Only when I got outside of my normal routine, when I decided to try something new, did I not only find resolution to the cause of my pain, but also discovered a new and improved normal.

When Normal Fails to Work

Ever find yourself in a place where what normally works fails to work? It’s that place where usual patterns of thinking and approaches to working through life’s struggles simply no longer produce expected results.

All of a sudden, effectiveness becomes illusive. You may still move through normal routines, but they feel flat, maybe even pointless and possibly painful.

I’ve been to this place physically, mentally and spiritually on more than one occasion and each time found the only way out existed only through finding a new normal.

How to Find a New Normal

The frustration of hip pain only resolved after pushing through the limits of my normal routine to discover a new normal. Using a foam roller now exists as a regular part of my exercise routine and also provides a constant reminder of the need to adapt to life’s changing seasons, even if doing so involves pain and discomfort.

If we always do what we’ve always done even though the circumstances around us change, we’ll eventually fail to experience effectiveness. Instead, we must continually look at what’s working and not working and be willing to find a new normal allowing us to operate at our best.

Finding a new normal requires adapting to life’s changing seasons, and this means…

  1. Admitting the need. Refuse to get stuck in a normal routine. Realize and then admit when normal no longer works in order to open the door for stretching that leads to growth.
  2. Getting outside help. Avoid getting so ingrained in habits and routines that seeing needed changes is impossible. Talk to others, objectively getting ideas for change, and receive the input required for future effectiveness.
  3. Being teachable. Realizing the need for change and knowing what needs changed remains useless when a person remains unwilling to change. Being teachable involves a willingness to find a new normal and to adapt to life’s inevitable changing seasons.
  4. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. All too often, we know we need to change and we even know what needs changed, but we still fail to make the changes. Why? We’re too comfortable in our habits. Be willing to let go of the old normal to find a more effective one.
  5. Staying aware of changing seasons. Find ways to continually stay aware of what’s not working and what is working. Look for ways to stay challenged and to confront any ineffective normals preventing effectiveness.

At first I resisted changing my normal routine, even when it wasn’t working, but chronic pain forced me to see my need for a new normal. Unfortunately, only after months of my body screaming desperately for change did I become teachable and willing to change.

Discomfort does sometimes indicate a need to pull back and rest. Sometimes, though, it indicates a need to seek a new normal, to adjust to the changing seasons of life. As we push through the discomfort (and sometimes pain) of finding this new normal, we will discover the benefits of increased effectiveness and productivity too.

How do you adjust to life’s changing seasons? How do you stay aware of those changing seasons?

Kari Scare blogs about ways to live in victory while still struggling on this side of Heaven.  Her blog, Struggle to Victory, will challenge you and inspire you to make small changes which will lead to a big difference, to be perfected through Biblical principles, to live life with determination, curiosity, intentionality, simplicity, and balance.  She has a story worth reading and sharing with others.  Go check it out!

What do you consider sacred?  Aidan Rogers shares a story which will have you stretching and thinking about what it means to be sacred.  Her story telling is beautiful.  I hope you’ll read her post, answer her questions in the comments, and head over to visit her blog.  For more information about Aidan, see the bio at the end of the post.

Sacred Spaces

“Would you provide a benediction on the 5th?”

It was a simple question my mother asked me, and I responded without hesitation.

“No.”

She shook her head and walked away, and I reached over to grab the television remote. I had been working on the 5th in my head for at least a month. It was our first big family reunion since the matriarch of our family, my great-grandmother, had us all down on the farm twenty years ago. Back then, I was just a little girl. Today, not so much.

I had planned to spend the 5th just staying out of trouble. Trying to be a better, more grown-up version of myself. Trying to establish myself as a strong, but fun, young woman, a good friend, an enjoyable presence. I had planned to spend the 5th trying to relax and just be myself. To let my family, who I don’t get to see as often as I like, see who I really am.

The irony is that who I really am is a newly-ordained Masters of Divinity student working her way toward board certification as a chaplain, all because God has called me to share life’s sacred moments with people.

I regretted my “no” as soon as I said it.

I think sometimes, the difficulty of having people close to you is that you start to relax around them. They get to see your good and your bad, who you are when you’re relaxing and not trying to really be anything. They get to know sort of your baseline and how you operate. They see you in your natural state.

The people you share your space with know so many of your secrets, it’s hard to remember to show them your sanctified side, too. It’s hard to remember they need to see you in more than your natural state; they need to see you in your created state, as you were really intended to be.

So often when we’re trying to make an impression on this world, at least for me, we’re tempted to stretch ourselves ever thinner. We push out into wider circles, step out into bigger spaces. We reach for the horizon and, if we’re lucky, we touch it, for however brief a moment. But I think sometimes we’d be better off digging deeper instead of reaching broader. Putting down roots instead of growing branches. Standing firm on our own two feet and declaring who we were meant to be.

There’s a trick to this, and it sounds a bit callous. We have to stop living for those around us. The people we share our sacred space with, those closest to us, they have a front row seat to our growing process. They see clearly our hypocrisy, our fallen moments, our weaknesses. They know all our secrets, and it’s too easy to live a shallow life hoping they won’t call us on it. If we don’t profess a bigger thing for ourselves, nobody really notices our little things. But we can’t let this keep us from the depth of all we are.

We have to live, particularly in our sacred spaces, for the God who calls us. We have to live listening to His whisper. We have to live knowing who He’s created us to be and claiming that, even if we don’t get it perfectly right. Our families, our friends, our loved ones need to see us not just reaching out to our world but reaching into our hearts.

The 5th came and went, and you know? It was pretty nice. I spent the day serving, laughing, and loving. I spent the day owning my weaknesses and stepping into my insecurities, taking every opportunity to immerse myself in the beauty of family, a treasure I am just coming to understand in my young life. And just as we all gathered round to start to eat, I prayed a benediction over my family like it was something I was called to do.

I barely remember what I was so worried that people might say if I dared to pray in front of them. But almost to a man, my family gathered ’round me said what I had hoped they would say:

What would it mean for you to touch your heart instead of just touching your world? What if you stretched down deep? Who needs to see that from you?

Aidan Rogers is an author, blogger, speaker, and artist from central Indiana where she is a member of Turning Point Church.  Aidan has served her congregation in many capacities and currently serves as a member of the Worship Arts ministry team, coordinator of the women’s ministry monthly newsletter, and Communion devotional speaker. She is a Masters of Divinity student at Lincoln Christian Seminary, with the goal of becoming a board-certified chaplain.
Aidan is a writer who doesn’t believe in answers; she believes in asking the truest questions.  She never set out to be an expert on anything or the kind of author who wants to help you fix your life in six steps.  Life does not work that way.  Instead, she works to be authentic while honoring the beautiful gifts God has blessed her with.  She wants to invite others on the journey of asking the hard questions and finding the Answer from the only One with the authority to say so – that is God.  And she warns, when you find Him, He’s probably eating an apple.
In her free time, Aidan enjoys worship, riding her retro bicycle, working with her hands, fixing things around the house, playing the piano (or a number of other instruments), and dancing.  She also enjoys spending time with her two dogs – Rocket Scientist and Mia – niece, and two nephews.  You can find more about Aidan at her blog:  aidanis.com

Twice As Nice

July 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

After some misinterpreted directions, our team started building the back wall of the first house incorrectly yesterday. I finished yesterday’s work a little unsatisfied with the results. When we arrived at the site this morning, we took a new approach to the other walls. The results were so much better. After some efforts to repair the back wall this morning, we decided to disassemble the back wall and start over. It put us back a little from a time perspective, but we will complete the first house with much more satisfaction.

We worked really hard today, and we continued to build relationships. Tomorrow, I think we will finish the first house. This is not a small accomplishment. This home will house Betty and her five children (Marcos, Fernando, Rosita, and two others). Then it will be on to house number two. Keep praying for energy, strength, and wisdom.