*Please Note*
As of July 2015 many photos have been intentionally removed.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Maine'd And Confused

In eighteen years of marriage and eight years of parenthood, our family had never taken a legit vacation. This year we remedied that. Our destination, Maine! Our plans included all manner of outdoor activities. Hiking, kayaking, fishing, wildlife watching and the like. Being the planners that we are, most of these activities were arranged for more then a year before we would ever put the car in drive and head north.

In hindsight now, the trip was a huge blessing and a smashing success. All of our activities paid significant dividends into our family collectively, and into our souls individually. To try to explain all of it here seems impossible, but I'm going to share a few moments (in no given order) that I hope will never leave my memory.

Evan, king of Cadillac mountain.
Our first outdoor adventure turned out to be reaching the summit of Cadillac mountain. For all our exhaustive planning, we found ourselves hiking this mountain trail completely by accident. In truth, had we known what waited for us, we might not have undertaken the journey. You see, for Kris, Aiden and myself, this hike was engaging but far from the most difficult hiking experience Maine has to offer. But, for Evan, this would surely be pushing the limits of his five year old legs. Kris and I simply agreed at the onset: Nobody would carry him, or his pack. We were going to share this experience as a family, or not at all. Well, I've heard of people "bounding" as a means to describe how they walk/run. There is truly no more appropriate word to use in telling of how Evan traveled up this mountain. It was an awesome and inspiring thing to witness. I hope he holds onto that experience, and references it often to gain strength and confidence in whatever life has in store for him.

Evan Owned that mountain

Aiden's Cove (Raccoon cove)
Our home for the week sat on a tidal cove. As the week progressed we gained an understanding of the tide schedule and when best to venture out in the canoe. By the week's end Aiden was ready to venture out into more open waters on his own. He had no fear, he was filled only with the excitement of being on his own experiencing creation. I handed him a paddle, sat down on the shore and watched him go. I felt no trepidation. I was supremely comfortable in Aiden's ability to think critically and respond in a calculated manner to any challenges that arise.
Aiden heading out under the shadow of Cadillac Mountain. The same Mountain he summited with his brother a few days earlier.
Two AM wake-up call
Who goes on vacation and wakes up at 2am? People who want to see moose, of course!
One day in particular, we awoke at what most regarded as an ungodly hour to head wayyyyy north to Kokadjo where the moose population is more than the people population. As if this was not crazy enough for those in my company, we arrived to our guide saying..."Ok, everyone in the van, we've got about another hour drive to go. Several unmapped logging roads and about one hour later we arrived at a place with literally no name. Truly wild and unblemished. Our reward was 30 minutes in the company of a mother and her four week old calf.

Perhaps I am just a city boy on holiday, but sharing space with truly wild animals is a holy experience.
Maine, 2106 debrief
Returning to a normal routine after vacation was difficult. I've been told by others who take many trips this is quite a normal phenomena. Some call it post vacation blues. Some call it depression. Whatever it is, it motivated me to immediately book next year's trip. Virginia, here we come! I am also struggling to look beneath the symptoms of "post vacation blues" and understand why I was so sad to go back to work and daily life.
Vacation for me was about immersing myself into the community of family. The return on investment of that time was huge. Where else on the planet is this so evident or important? You can be the most exemplary employee and find yourself out of a job in an instant. Your most secure investments can evaporate overnight. Living a life in pursuit of being "normal" or "secure" is a pure waste of time and produces no return on investment.

Here's what I'm confused about:
Why is the "normal" way of life one that separates families on a regular basis? Most of our time in this "normal" way of life is spent at work or sleeping. Time in community with our family is a distant third at best. I have a good job. I am treated well. My bills are paid and I have been blessed with a beautiful family and home to live in. Why should I be sad at all? I believe this sadness results from our everyday routines returning little value as compared to the effort and mental energy we spend on them.

Sunset, Cadillac Mountain
An embarrassing amount of selfies, moose pictures, and landscape photos can be found here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lancaster to Zambia.....AND BACK

Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks in Zambia.  I was traveling with CURE, and working in one of their hospitals. Upon returning home, to say the least, I felt my time there was pointless, had not met my expectations, and was largely a failure. In the back of my mind I had always known I had a set of personal reasons for taking this trip. Perhaps I set out with selfish intentions, and that was the reason for the let down? I'm still unclear on that.
I do know that I wanted to put my skills to a truly good use.  Was it wise for me to think that way? I'm still unclear on that as well.
I do know I witnessed some extraordinary needs while in Zambia. I got to know a few people who wade through waist deep emotional turmoil on a daily basis trying to meet every need possible.
One night in-particular, I carried a very sick young boy off of an ambulance in the middle of the night. The look of being utterly lost and confused in his eyes is something I will never forget.
I also remember thinking, all I can do is carry him into the ward and hope for the best.
Not a very good feeling.

Fast forward a few months to right now and we are making our usual preparations for Thanksgiving. The news and internet are peppered with stories of refugees, war, death, and mongering of every possible variety. All of it got to me a bit and I decided to reach out and find a way to step into the fray in my community. As it turns out, Lancaster, PA has long had a reputation of stepping out in faith to help people newly immigrated to this country. Assuming I would be connected with families from Syria,(given the news lately) I asked my church where I might be of value. After a phone call or two, I was put in touch with some people who are just getting settled into the Lancaster area. To my surprise, they are from Zambia! I was told their eyes lit up at the prospect of meeting me, and of hearing I had some familiarity with their home country. Imagine that.....I have Zambia street cred!
Over the next two days, my family will meet and play host to almost 20 new faces and share Thanksgiving time with them.

So perhaps my time back in March was not spent in vein. Maybe it was all in place to make these folks feel comfortable sitting in my house for a few hours, in a strange new place very far from their home, If that is the case, then mission accomplished! I went halfway around the world hoping to meet some personal goals while being of service. Now it seems the real purpose may play out in homes barely 10 minutes from where I live. This is UPPER story stuff. The stuff we can't plan out or predict.
Realizing all this in the past few days reminded me of a promise I made back in March. I simply would not say "No" to any opportunity that was presented to me to be of service. 
I wish to continue to live that out, especially in my local community.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Zero To 40 In 21,038,400 Minutes

Up until a short time ago I had no idea turning forty years old was some sort of benchmark or rite of passage event. I just figured it was another year passing by. Fifty, in my mind, was the bigger age, the more significant event. One by one, different conversations have revealed to me that many people view forty years of age as equally significant. I'm not sure I agree. I am pretty sure, however, that it doesn't  matter either way. If nothing else, its given me reason to consider where I am now, where I have been thus far, and where I would like to go. In no specific order, I'm going to list some of the significant moments/items in my life that have shaped me to this point.

As far back as I can remember I was taught to have faith in things unseen. At times this has been a bizarre way to live life. However, to this day, no single factor guides my every thought and decision.
It hasn't been until recently that I realized just how ordered life has actually been when taken through the lens of my faith. Without that, its just been a big mess with lots of coincidences that really make no sense and hurt more often than help.

*City mouse
Growing up in one of the largest cities on the planet provides you with a unique skill set. Of the New Yorker, this is ingrained on almost a cellular lever. It doesn't make you better, smarter, or stronger then someone from a small town, just different.

*Country mouse
Our move to Lancaster, PA has been a HUGE change for us. All for the better. This is the right place for us, we moved at the right time, and have been greatly blessed in so doing. For all the greatness NYC offered us, we have met some of the most amazing people who have enriched our lives greatly here.

*Not having kids
Our(surgical) decision just before we were married to not have children was the correct decision. In looking back over our relationship, we were not equipped to be parents  seventeen years ago. Our decision making and behavior at the time is/was proof.

*Having kids
Our(reverse surgical) decision to take a crack at parenting has been rewarded. I'm not sure fatherhood agrees with me, but I do immensely enjoy the company of Aiden and Evan.

I have a few relationships that I value above all else. You know who you are.
I continue to maintain a quality over quantity approach. It has paid dividends thus far and I see no reason to change it.

There it is. A brief list of the past forty years. I have left out many great scenes and great people.
Stories that take place from the capitol of the world, to a small place called Willow Street, PA fill in all the blanks. Do I have life figured out? Not even close. I do know I am anxious to see what the next forty years have in store for us. I have taken care to surround myself with great people and I look forward to experiencing it with them.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Me, Jack Nicholson, and Zambia

  My time with CURE in Zambia has come and gone. Trying to understand what I experienced there has been a frustrating process for me. I am glad I went and if I was given the opportunity to have similar experiences again, I would do so. But the questions have been coming from others and from myself.
What did you see? How do you feel? What did you learn? What did you do?
They seem simple enough questions, yet I can't seem to answer them with any ease. Nevertheless, I feel some obligation to tell the story as best I can. 

One morning, I spent time seeing patients in clinic. This is where new patients are seen, and patients who have already received treatment come for follow-up visits. Families bring their kids here from great distances, at great risk and expense. In many ways, it's a parade of equal parts hope and sadness.  One mom in particular needed to commit to several weeks in the hospital...right on the spot....in order to be available for the multiple procedures her son needed.
All I saw were problems. Her child needed several surgeries. She was far from home. She was alone. She likely had little to her name besides what I could see with her in that office. 
She nodded and affirmed that she was prepared for the commitment, and would drastically alter her life starting right now for the foreseeable future. 
I get paid to be in hospitals, and I run home at the end of the day. She was deciding to LIVE in one until further notice. I was stunned at her resolve. I was humiliated by her confidence. I asked her..."Are you happy?" She smiled and said yes, and I took this photo.
 When she left the office the doc saw I was having a hard time maintaining my composure. He put the next patient on hold and closed the door to talk with me. He asked me how I felt and why I was moved by this seemingly ordinary (at least in this environment) patient. I'm not sure how it came to be that he told me the story I am about to tell you. Perhaps it was to give me added perspective on the lives of his patients. 
On a previous occasion, another mom came to see him. Her child also needed care that would take place at the hospital over the course of many weeks. That mom also agreed to drastically alter her life at a moment's notice for the good of her child. Sometime during her stay at the hospital she took a trip back home to check on the well being of her other five young children. When she arrived back at the village, her children were gone. Gone. No explanation.  No chance of locating them. No way to tell when, why, or how they had disappeared. 
The doctor barely got through the story without crying himself. In some twisted way, I found relief in seeing him struggle. 
Something simple and stark occurred to me right then and there. These docs and staff members have either the best job in the world, or the worst. They are able to bring hope to people who would not otherwise have it. They do so with no strings attached. They do so with no ulterior motives. However, they do so while living through stories where children go missing in the process. A reality, I was told, that is far from uncommon.
I thought I would find a new way of living in Zambia. A new paradigm and understanding for life that my family could live by. All I found were more questions. More questions than answers. A reality...a truth...I'm having a hard time handling.
One thing is certain. The answers won't be found in any surgery, or any prescription pad.