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 could be the member of a TV sitcom family, which family would it be?  (And why?)

My Answer:  The Huxtables (from The Cosby Show).  This wasn’t the perfect family, but they always seemed to be heading in the right direction by the end of each episode.  I love the relationship between Cliff and Claire.  They didn’t always see eye to eye, but they absolutely adored one another.  Besides, I think Theo could have used a brother in the house with all those sisters.

(By the way, I am very thankful for the family I did grow up in.  It wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.)

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.

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!

Dave Sgro from GO! Ministries put together this highlight video of our trip to Guatemala.  I shared it on Facebook when we first arrived home, but I don’t think I shared it here on the blog.  Enjoy!

What questions do you have for me (or my family) about our trip to Guatemala?

What cause is close to your heart?

What extreme, outlandish measures would you take if it helped draw attention to your cause?

Better yet, to what extremes would you go to find a cure for your cause?

If you’ve been anywhere near social media the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen or heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  If you haven’t heard of it, stay with me.  Basically, people are challenging people to dump a bucket of cold ice water on their head or to donate $100 to the ALS Association to help raise awareness and work towards a cure for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

As I have watched this unfold, it seemed a little crazy and maybe a little outlandish.  How could dumping a bucket of cold ice water on your head really help.  Besides it seems like a waste.  Think of all that ice and water just being dumped on the ground.  After all, there are so many in other countries who don’t have clean water, and they certainly don’t have ice, and we Americans are dumping on our heads by the gallons.

And then I was nominated to take the challenge.  I’ll admit I wasn’t all that thrilled at first.  But I’m not one to be a spoil sport.  If I was going to participate in this “silly” ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I was determined to learn a little bit more about ALS.  Bo Stern wrote an excellent article on her blog about what her husband experiences every day as a result of his ALS.  I think it’s worth checking out – click here.

If you had a family member who suffered from ALS, I’m guessing you would go to any extreme to help raise awareness and to help find a cure.

I feel the same way about a few causes.  For example, I would dump an ocean on my head if it led to a cure and a more healthy awareness for mental health and mental health issues.  I would also do some crazy things to help the widows and orphans in Guatemala.

I’m guessing you would go to pretty crazy measures to get positive attention for the causes that are closest to your heart.

This is great!  Go for it!  Use social media.  Take extremely outlandish steps.  Put your God-given creative mind to use to raise the flag for your cause.

When it comes to extreme measures, we have no greater example than Christ.  He exited the comfort confines of heaven, and came to Earth for you and for me.  He willingly died on a cross, so we could have the opportunity for eternal life with Him in heaven.  This doesn’t make sense.  In fact, it may make less sense than dumping a bucket of cold ice water on your head for ALS.  But this is what Christ did for you.

I am thankful for a God would take this extreme, outlandish measure just for me.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

What cause is close to your heart?

What extreme, outlandish measures would you take if it helped draw attention to your cause?

Better yet, to what extremes would you go to find a cure for your cause?

By the way, here’s the video of me participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

Kickstart A Dream

August 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

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In Guatemala the past three years, I have had the privilege of working with an unbelievable servant and his family.

Three years ago, German Espana came to Dave Sgro of GO! Ministries and asked a simple question:  How can I help?

German was unemployed at the time, and he had a huge heart for the people of his village, Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  He did not want to sit around doing nothing while he waited for a job opportunity to open up, so he volunteered his time.

I didn’t interact with German a lot the first year, but I could see that he was a hard worker.  He coordinated stove installations for 75 widows in the village.  He personally interviewed each of the 175 widows in the village to make sure the stoves made it into the homes of those who most needed them.  He delivered the materials to each home, and he made sure each installation team had the tools and supplies necessary to install the stoves properly.

Then last year, I saw a whole new side of German as our family worked more closely with him and his family serving children and widows in the village with meals for the children and a special gathering for the widows.  Our family had a real opportunity to see German’s heart as he served and prayed with the needy people in his community.  At this point, GO! Ministries had hired German on as a member of their team.  I’m not sure how much they paid him, but I think it still left him struggling to meet the needs of his family which included his wife, Susie, and six children.  None the less, German worked hard and always seem to have a spirit of trust that God would provide for the needs of his family.

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This year, was a continuation of what we experienced last year.  German and Susie opened up their home for our meal times.  We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in their house every day.  We spent time laughing and playing with their family.  And I had more opportunity to talk with German on a one-on-one basis.  His heart continues to pour out for the broken and hurting people of his village.  He literally is taking the food from his table and the clothes from his back to feed and clothe the people of Xenacoj.

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During our time together, he shared with me the struggle his family has had financially.  He confessed his fear in continuing to provide for his family and for those in need in his village.  He also shared some of his dreams.  He hopes to start a church one day in his village.  He also shared that he and his wife Susie have been praying about ways they could provide more effectively for their family.  One of the ideas or dreams they have is to build a restaurant in the front of their house – a place where people can gather for a very good meal and time with friends and family.  A place where their family can earn money to provide for themselves and others.  I’ve tasted Susie’s cooking, and I know she could attract many.  And I think this dream has real potential to help German and Susie stay on their feet and serve Xenacoj more effectively.

Here’s the thing:  It will take some funding to build out the front of their house in order to make this a reality.  German shared that it would probably cost about 10,000 quetzals in order to make this a reality.  When we were in Guatemala a couple of weeks ago, one U.S. dollar was worth about 7.8 quetzals.  If you do the math, you can see German and Susie need about $1,300 to take the next step in making this dream a reality.  Since we left them a few weeks ago, they applied for a loan with a bank.  They were turned down based on German’s income.  (Honestly, I think this may have been a huge blessing as I’m sure they didn’t need to take on any debt.)  What if there is another way?  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could help them kickstart their dream?  I checked out the rules of Kickstarter, and I don’t think this scenario fits into their rules, but maybe there is something we could do to help out.  If you are interested in making this Guatemalan dream a reality, let me know.  (And if we somehow get more than $1,300, I’m sure Susie could use it to fit out her kitchen.)

Have you ever had a dream?  Have you ever needed a little help from someone else to make your dream a reality?  Tell us about it in the comments. 

If you follow my personal Facebook profile, you may have noticed that I have been posted a “Guatemala Photo of the Day” each day since we returned.  Some of the readers here are not connected to me on Facebook, so I thought it might be helpful to post this week’s pictures here.

Here you go….

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Which one of your favorite?  (And why?)

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.)

I work in the construction industry.  When I was a project manager several years ago, I had the responsibility of creating a two-week look ahead.  This was a snap shot of what my team planned to accomplish over the next two weeks.  This gave us the opportunity to coordinate our efforts with the construction manager, the building owner, and the other trades.  It is a helpful tool for planning ahead.  “If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail.”  Today’s question is designed to help you succeed in the week ahead.

Question:  What is one thing you plan or hope to accomplish in the next week?

My Answer:  I plan to run 35 miles next week.  Running is part of my daily routine.  I have learned that having running targets keeps me focused.  After I finished a ten-mile run up at the gym last week, a trainer asked me if I was training for a race.  I told her I was training for life.  I run 30 miles per week to keep me in shape and to counteract my love for food.  It’s been a while since I hit 35 miles in a week, so this will be a great accomplishment toward my year-end goal of running 1500 miles and toward my life-time goal of staying in shape.  As for my next race, we’ll see….

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!

El Abuelo

August 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

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What do you see when you look at this picture?

I see unbelievable wisdom.  I see extraordinary patience.  I see a man whose faith has been weathered by a challenging life.  I see the face of a man who has experiences we could never imagine.  I see struggle.  I see pain.  I see hard work and determination.  And I see a man who is dedicated to his family.

This is a man we came to know as El Abuelo.

Abuelo means Grandpa in Spanish, and he is the grandfather who lives in the first house we built this summer in Guatemala.

El Abuelo works hard in the fields surrounding the village of Xenacoj.  He works hard all day for a small amount of pay (probably $10 a day) in the hopes of providing for his family.  El Abuelo is 72 years old.  His wife is no longer living, but he takes care of his daughter (Betty) and his five grandchildren (Marcos, Wendy, Jose, Fernando, and Rosita).

While we were building the house, El Abuelo lent a helping hand scraping bark off the wooden planks used to panel the side of the house.  He helped hold pies of wood as wee hand-sawed pieces to length.  He also looked on providing supervision and ideas for improving the construction of the house.

Every once in a while, he could be found sitting in the shade smiling at our team and admiring the progress of the construction.  When we moved the family into the house, he tearfully hugged me in an expression of gratitude for providing a home for his family.

This is a face I will not forget.  When we return to Xenacoj, I look forward to sitting down with El Abuelo.

Tell us about an elderly person you respect.

Yesterday, the world said goodbye to Robin Williams.  I wasn’t going to add to the chaotic rumble that is sweeping through social media, the news media, and various blogs following the news of his suicide.  The mental health aspect of Mr. Williams’ departure hits far too close to home for me to comment further.  I know he will be missed.  He was a favorite in our house.  In fact, my wife posted on Facebook yesterday that Robin Williams was by far her favorite actor.  It’s so sad to see him gone.

Last night, we took some time to watch some clips from one of our favorite Robin Williams’ movies, Dead Poets Society.  In this movie, Williams plays the part of prep school English teacher John Keating.  He teaches his students to be true to themselves and to avoid the tendencies of conformity.  There is much to ponder in re-watching these clips.  And there is much to appreciate about the legacy left by Williams throughout his entire acting career.  Movies like Dead Poets Society, Patch Adams, Awakenings, Mrs. Doubtfire, and so many others represent a career well spent.  I’m sure Williams had a few duds, but we will remember the solid performances far more than the not-so-great performances.

There is one scene in Dead Poets Society that really hit me last night as we were watching the clips.  Here it is:

The scene is a great challenge for all of us.  Don’t waste your life.  Don’t sit back and let it happen.  Stand up and contribute.  You have something worth adding to the play of life – a verse that needs to be heard.  What is your verse?  How will you contribute to this world?

This is something worth thinking about today.

What is your favorite Robin Williams movie?

Outside The Safety Zone

August 12, 2014 — 8 Comments

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My visits to Santo Domingo Xenacoj in Guatemala the past three summers have all coincided with the annual festival which takes place in the village each year.  The festival which lasts for a week or so fills the town central park with food, games, and some crazy rides.  Villagers fill the town each night to enjoy the festivities.

The Ferris wheel pictured above has been part of the festival each of the past three years, and it’s the biggest attraction at the festival.  It is balanced by a series of wood blocks which keep the wheel level, and it is hooked up to a gas-powered tractor engine which spins the wheel at breakneck speeds.  Fluorescent lights are fastened to the spokes of the wheel with electrical tape and wire ties.  And the seats are hung at the far reaches of the wheel.  Riders climb up a ramp and into their seats where they are taken on the ride of their lives without seat belts.

Is it safe?

Probably not – at least not completely.  But it’s a good ride.  Just ask my kids and the hundreds of villagers who rode this ride during this year’s festival.

For some reason, as I thought about this Ferris wheel, I kept going back to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

If you remember the story, Lucy is talking to the Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan.  Aslan is a lion who has special powers and authority over the land of Narnia.  He has a tremendous compassion and love for the creatures of Narnia, but he is also dangerous.  Here’s how Mr. Beaver describes Aslan:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Aslan represents Christ in the story.  As part of the story, C.S. Lewis reminds readers that Jesus Christ isn’t safe, but he’s good – He’s the King!

When you choose to follow Christ, you never know what path you may travel.  It may be dangerous, but you can be sure it will be good.  As Americans, we tend to strive for comfort and security.  We want to be safe.  What if comfort, security, and safety are the wrong target?

Maybe we’re called to live life more dangerously.  You may not be called to go to Guatemala, to Liberia, or to another strange land, but you may be called to get out of your comfort zone.  Maybe it’s simply walking across the street to talk with your neighbor or visiting a local nursing home to spend time with a lonely resident. Whatever it is, don’t settle for safe.  Climb on board your Ferris wheel and hang on for the ride of your life!

When has your faith led you something that didn’t feel safe?  When was the last time you journeyed outside your comfort zone?

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It’s been two weeks since our family arrived home from our trip to Guatemala.  Returning home isn’t always easy.  On one hand, we were all excited to be back in the comforts of our own home and back with our friends.  On the other hand, we also craved a continuation of our experience in Guatemala.  We miss the friends, the scenery, and the pace of life in Guatemala.

When you come home from a short-term mission trip, there are several important steps to help you get the most out of your experience.  Jumping right back into the swing of things at home without taking these seven actions will minimize the overall effectiveness of your trip.

Seven Things To Do When You Arrive Home From Your Mission Trip

  1. Unpack.  You can’t leave your suitcase full of dirty clothes and souvenirs forever.  Empty your suitcase.  Do the laundry.  And take the souvenirs out of the bags.
  2. Take time to process your experience.  Coming back from a short-term mission trip is different for everyone.  There is little doubt you saw and experienced things that were very different, eye-opening, and challenging.  Don’t waste this experience.  Write down your thoughts and feelings.  In a way, this is simply a continuation of step one.  You need to take time to unpack your trip from a mental, emotional, and spiritual perspective.  This may take a few days, a few weeks, or even longer.  Part of the reason I blog about my trips to Guatemala is because it gives me time to process what I just experienced.
  3. Get re-acclimated to life at home.  When you arrive home, you have to remember the responsibilities waiting for you.  For example, I had to get back to work, and I had to pay bills.  The transition isn’t always easy, but it’s an important part of returning home.  Unless you are planning to become a full-time missionary, you have to get back into the swing of things.  Give yourself time for this as well.  It took me a solid week to feel like I had my energy and rhythm back after we returned from Guatemala.
  4. Determine how you will live differently as a result of your experience.  How did your short-term mission trip impact you?  Don’t let it go to waste.  Our family eats rice and beans once a week to remind us of our experience, our Guatemalan friends, and the people we served in Guatemala.  Our prayer life has changed as well.  We now include Dave Sgro, GO! Ministries, German & Susie Espana, and multiple families and individuals in our conversations with God.  More than likely, you will be challenged to reconsider your priorities when you come home from a mission trip.  Don’t wait to long to make these changes.  If you wait too long, you will slip back into life as you knew it before the trip.  One of the biggest things a short-term missions trip will do for you is to help you establish a mission mindset right where you are.  By going someplace else to serve God and others, your eyes will be opened to the spiritual and physical needs right where you live.
  5. Tell others about your trip.  I have had so many opportunities to share with others about our trip.  Show off your pictures.  Tell your stories.  I’ve been able to share a lot about my trip through Facebook, my blog, and just by talking to people.  You will be surprised by the number of people who really are interested to hear what you have to say.
  6. Start planning for the next trip.  A short-term missions trip doesn’t have to be a once and done experience.  Going on a short-term missions trip on a regular basis has many benefits.  First, you get to help other people.  This is the goal of most people when they go on mission trips.  Second, it changes you positively over time.  We live in a big, big world, and it’s important to see life outside our little boxes.  Finally, there is a recalibration that takes place when you decide to go on mission trips on a regular basis.  This is healthy.  It’s also a great way to leave a legacy.
  7. Invite others to join you on your next trip.  Sometimes your friends, family, and co-workers simply need a little encouragement from you to take a step of faith and to sign up for a mission trip.  Your story and your invitation will always be the most effective way to get others involved.  Simply ask.  So here’s my question:  Will you join me on my next trip to Guatemala? (More details to follow.)

Have you ever been on a short-term mission trip?  What was your experience like when you arrived home?