Thursday, April 28, 2011

I want to start by stating that in a few days there will be a video/slide show completed of the trip to Moldova. I thought about waiting until that is finished to post, so that I could include it, but I realize I have not put up a post in two weeks, so I thought it best to write again today. Please check back over the weekend, or early next week for another post that has more about our trip to Moldova.



This is a picture of our team on the final day. We look tired, cold, wet, muddy, thrilled. Those are the adjectives I would use to describe the trip.
There were 15 students and four leaders that traveled to Moldova for a week long mission trip. While there our purpose was two fold; build a mini-golf course, and run a VBS for the local kids.


Mini-golf course

Some may scratch their head and say, why a mini-golf course? To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how that idea came about, but that is absolutely fine with me. We partnered with a local Baptist Church in a small village of about 3,000 people. The church has about 100 members (random side note: on Sunday I delivered the message at Church), and seeks to be a light within the village. They have created a building called the "communitas" which roughly translates to 'community center.' Within the center the locals have access to high-speed internet. In much of the world internet access is common, and accessible from anywhere, including your phone. In Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, owning a computer, let alone having internet access is a luxury and not the norm, but the rare exception. So the communitas was built and operates with the hope to draw the outside in. Within the building individuals seek to establish relationships, witness, and exhibit a life centered around Christ.
The mini golf course is situated right next to the communitas building. When the course is completely finished (the cement has to dry for 30 days before they can lay the turf) it will also be used to draw the community in. It will be a drug and alcohol free compound, with the hope that families will come and spend time together. I get excited envisioning Moldovan families, high schoolers, and kids, laughing and enjoying a relaxing game of mini-golf.
Here you can see what the course looked like on day one:

Then this is a picture of one of the nine holes we created.

Through our time there we built 9 holes for the mini-golf course. It is amazing to see the 'course' on day one, and then see all 9 holes dug, stoned, cemented. We had roughly 20 people, some shovels, buckets, one functional wheelbarrow (and one wheelbarrow that had a wheel that wouldn't rotate), and a few rakes. Every morning, for five days, we spent at least four hours in the rain, sleet, hail, mud, wind; digging, gathering rocks, carrying buckets of dirt, buckets of cement. I won't lie, it was a messy job. It was cold. Yet our team had a phenomenal attitude. I was thoroughly impressed with the work ethic, but even more so, the attitude while working. The students jumped right in and got the job done. We had our groups of people who would sing random songs to provide entertainment. A different group played the "ABC" game, coming up with multitudes of categories.
One of my favorite days/scenes occurred on Thursday. Bodies were tired, the weather was cold and horrible. All the holes were dug, we simply needed to pour in the cement. So we set up a "fire brigade" and for four hours passed buckets of cement up and down the line filling each hole one by one. It was an incredible picture of unity and teamwork. Not only that, but it was quite entertaining coming up with different ways to yell out "full bucket" or "empty bucket" when passing to the person next to you. I really enjoyed this time as I got to talk with specific students for an extended period of time. They answered my questions and entertained me with stories while working.

Following our morning work at the golf course we were blessed with a traditional Moldovan lunch. Each day the food was different, and I can't remember what I ate...probably because at the time I didn't really know what it was. But it was good, and that's all that mattered!
VBS
After stuffing our faces we were overrun by little kids! They would come through the gates ready to play games, run around, and listen to a message. There was a definite language barrier, but we thankfully had translators - and of course used actions often. Here is perhaps the coolest stat of the week: on day one we had 30 kids show up. We challenged them to bring a friend the next day, and sure enough, the next day we had 60 kids! So we once again encouraged them to bring another friend, and after day three we had 70. That night the leaders challenged the students to pray that we would have 75 kids the following day. It would be the last day, and we wanted as many kids to come as possible. The total for our final day: 90. From the first, to last day, we had tripled in size!
Here you can see some two of our students acting as 'sharks' for the game, 'sharks and minnows' one of the greatest kids ever listening to instructions, BFA students playing "Blob tag" with the kids.




Overall it was a very positive and rewarding trip. I walked away impressed with our students and the way they worked and interacted with the kids. I was challenged as I walked through a country of poverty. Each night we gathered as a team to process through the day, and to participate in what we as leaders called, 'forced family fun (FFF).' Surprisingly the students were always asking if we could have "FFF" They were times of sharing, growth, and laughter. Every night without fail, we had hurting stomachs from laughing so much. I feel as though I got to know a different group of students in a deeper way, which is awesome.

Thank you for your prayers for our team as we traveled and served on the trip. Please pray for the church as they will soon launch the grand opening of the mini-golf course. Please pray for the little kids we interacted with, that they would remember what we said, and why we came.
Check back in a few days for a video!
Thanks again for keeping up to date with me via my blog.



Friday, April 8, 2011

Marathon

It’s over. It’s done. I finished.
This past Sunday I completed my third marathon. Upon hearing this, people have approached me with one of two responses, either they ask, “How far was this marathon?” or they ask, “Why would you do that to yourself?” To set the record straight, a marathon is a standard distance of 26.2 miles. Regardless of what country/city you run in, you are going to run 26.2 miles (which is equivalent to 42km). Why do I want to run that far? Simple answer: I love running. I love the feeling, I love the challenge, I love the thrill. I also love the way in which a run parallels life. The ups, the downs, the joys, the struggles. The emotions you experience throughout life, you will come across while running.
Even though this past Sunday I ran my slowest marathon time in three attempts, I know that this race will stand out as one of the best ever. It sounds odd that my worst time would stand out as the best race, and trust me, I was not saying this a few days ago - but I have come to realize that my race this past weekend was a physical representation of my life during the last month. The community. The joys. The challenges. The perseverance. The encouragement. The friends. The triumph.

The community.

The marathon was in the city of Freiburg which is about a 45 minute drive from campus. On the morning of the race there were four separate cars that made the drive, packed with my friends and family. Riding along with me was my close friend, Jim, who has himself, completed a handful of marathons. He referred to himself as my “pit crew” and made sure I was physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for the race. While driving we were reminiscing about past races, future dreams, and the like. We talked about the different emotions that were swirling around. A different passenger asked me, “how are you feeling?” To which I responded, “Anxious, nervous, scared, excited, ready, overwhelmed, happy” and Jim just laughed and said to me, ‘Boy you are ready to run!”
I was blessed in such a great way by those who came. It was humbling and encouraging to know that they had come to watch me race. They also provided me with a lot of entertainment, as many had never witnessed a race before. Amy (aka Scrappy Doo) is one of my soccer players who came along, and she was fascinated and thrilled to learn so much about the sport of running. She was asking questions left and right wanting to figure anything and everything out. Sometimes I think she got a little startled when she found out about some of the precautionary methods runners take.
Within all this, there was one moment that perfectly depicted the word community. We were walking towards the starting line and there were ten people walking with me. Unintentionally I found myself walking in the center with everyone in a little circle around me. I felt as though I was a world champion boxer headed to the ring with an entourage around me. Jim was there with his arm around me making sure I was loose. Lynn was ahead of me scouting out the course trying to find the best spots to be. Scrappy had her eyes peeled commenting on any and every runner, lightening the mood with her incredible humor. There I was surrounded. Surrounded by people who love me. Surrounded by people who were supporting me, surrounded by people who were there to cheer me on.
This is a part of my 'pit-crew' taken before the race started. All the girls came in one van, and the guys came in a separate van. Lynn is on my right with map in hand, Amy is on my immediate left, and Jim on my far right.


The Joys.

There is something incredible about being in the pre-race atmosphere. Everywhere you look people are putting on bibs, warming up, guzzling water, talking strategy (well… talking German, so we didn’t know exactly what they were saying.) There is an overwhelming sense of anxiousness as people are continually looking at the clock wanting to perfectly time their last bathroom run, or their last mouthful of banana. There is a buzz of excitement in the air knowing that soon all the training, all the preparation will be tested. There is a bit of celebration for making it this far, but not too much celebrating, for the ultimate challenge still looms. There is nothing like the atmosphere before a race.
My pit crew spotted me within the first quarter mile of the race and snagged a great picture!


The challenges.
It has been my experience that when you run a marathon you pick a race and hope that all the stars magically align around your date and everything goes as smooth as possible. That may happen for some, but this time around it definitely did not happen for me.
The month leading up to the marathon proved to be extremely challenging. It was a time in which life was difficult. A time of emotional, spiritual, and mental stress and difficulty. A time where tears far outweighed laughter. A month where my heart was downcast to the point my whole body felt tired, heavy, and weak. My body was physically present in one place yet my mind and heart were a thousand miles away. This caused restlessness while sleeping, difficulty concentrating. It was a challenge.
The day of the race proved to be no different. In fact, it started twenty-four hours before the race began. We had soccer games on Saturday and the weather was gorgeous - not a cloud in the sky. It was beautiful for so many people, yet I could feel the sun beating down on me, slowly draining my energy. The morning of the race was no different. It was sunny and hot. In fact I have heard that this past Saturday and Sunday were the hottest days ever recorded in Germany for this time of the year. In the fifteen minutes it took me to walk from my entourage to the starting line, my mouth had gone completely dry. The race hadn’t even started and I already felt thirsty, tired, and sluggish. I hoped it was merely adrenaline leaving my body, but sadly I knew it was the sun depleting me of my strength and energy.

The perseverance.

By mile 7 I was feeling more tired than I wanted. By mile 12 I felt as though I was starting to fall off pace. By mile 14 my body was starting to shut down. By miles 16 and 17, the cramps arrived, and my body was revolting against what my mind was telling it to do. First went my left calf, in trying to stretch that my left hamstring would tighten up - quickly shifting my weight to stretch that would cause my right calf to tighten, and so on. Despite the pain, despite the embarrassment, despite my frustration I was determined to persevere and keep going. There were honestly times where I thought I wanted to stop, call it a day, and start walking home. Yet deep down I knew I couldn’t do that. I knew that in the same way I needed to physically persevere through the race, I needed to persevere through life. Regardless of the difficulty I had faced in the previous weeks, I needed to keep fighting, and refuse to quit.
At one point I turned a corner as tears started to mount up in my eyes. Then out of nowhere I saw Jim running towards me, and my entourage 200 meters down the road.

The Encouragement.
Jim is an eternal optimist. I have never heard a discouraging word come out of his mouth. Despite my obvious pain, and struggle he pumped my mind and heart with positive thoughts. He put his arm around me, told me how great I was doing, how proud of me he was, how much fun he was having watching me, and told me to keep going. I looked at him and said, “Jim I just want to quit.” He looked back at me, with a little grin and said, “I know you do. But you’re not going to.” He walked with me for 100 meters pumped some water in me, and on my head, and got me going again. He told me to, “start running for your fans, and they will carry you through.” So I started jogging again, past all those who had come to support me, and kept running.
There were two guys from my dorm who came to watch. They have been my close friends for three years now, and wanted to be there for me. They gave me some high-fives, and a little grin that seemed to say, “Keep going. I’ll see you at the finish.”
There were some of my soccer players who had made signs one reading, “you can do it!” and the other, “go Tommy Boy!” Some knew of my recent challenges and was there to cheer me on. Not only in the marathon, but the race of life.
One friend was there, who had run the Basel marathon with me last September. At that point in the race I received no words, but a look that essentially said, “I know what you’re going through. You can do it. You‘re doing great.”
One of my friends was celebrating his birthday that day, but chose to celebrate by watching me run. At one point in the race he jumped on the course and ran alongside me. I talked with him for a minute and then he dropped off. After the race I found out he went back to the rest of the group and was asked, “what did he say?” His response was, “I don’t know. A whole bunch of stuff about running. I didn’t understand any of it.”




The Friends.
These people were physically there to support me during the race, but they have been alongside me for the past month encouraging me, helping me, listening to me, processing with me. It was more than just a race, it was a celebration. It was a physical representation of the way in which they have been there for me in my moments of pain and struggle. I truly believe that each one was there because they care for me, and that is a really cool feeling. My friends have been monumental for me and on a day where I once again needed them, they were there full of love and encouragement.

The Triumph.
I finished. It’s over. I crossed the finish line. I did not cross in the time I wanted to, I did not run as well as I would have liked. Honestly, there was a lot of initial disappointment and frustration. But that has slowly faded away and been replaced by feelings of accomplishment, joy, and triumph. As I came near the finish line I once again saw my entourage there cheering me on, cheering for me by name. The pain in my face, the slowness of my jog did not bother them at all. They were there to see me finish regardless of how long it took me. After receiving my medal and a brief refreshment in the tent, I found all of them outside ready to congratulate me. Every one gave me a hug, despite how sweaty, smelly, and purely disgusting I was. Their words of encouragement and affirmation meant more than I will ever be able to express.
Though it sounds weird, I feel as though I can say, “thank you” and show my appreciation to my friends be reprinting the words they spoke to me.
- “Be very proud of what you did achieve today, we were really glad to be there with you and have the girls there to experience it as well. Thanks for letting us crew for you. Well done.” -J.P.
- “I know how hard you worked, I know how hard you trained, I know how hard you fought, I know how much this meant to you. I know that in all of our minds you didn't fail, but I know how you feel right now so all I can say is that I am proud of you. I'm glad I was there to see you run, to see you finish, to continue to be part of your struggle in this journey.” - S.W.
- “I wrote you an email telling you how proud I am of you, and I’m writing still, because I am proud of you… I’m glad I got to be there and witness your race no matter what you think or what you tell yourself - you did awesome Tommy.” - S.F.
- “As we said there is no reason to be discouraged. You should be rejoicing in that despite the obstacles you were still able to finish.” M.B.
- "run because you've made it and are persevering. run because you've been training so hard, run because God gave you the diligence, perseverance, a functional body, and persistence to be able to do this. don't give up, push yourself to your limits." J.K.