I say things with words and sometimes photographs. As you do.

The Hike

I went to Ecuador on a medical missions trip in November, and The Lord taught me a lot of things through the people we met and and the things we did. Today I want to talk about what the Lord taught me in the jungle, on the trails.

The Backstory

We visited four different villages during the trip. At each village we set up a mobile clinic complete with pharmacy, nurses, doctors and one very dedicated dentist. We drove into the first village and then hiked to the next three, through the jungle, with 20-30lbs of gear and medicine each. It was wild. This was no tourist hike, we were deep.

The first hike was about four hours long and kicked my ass. I joined this team knowing it would be physically demanding, but the first hike was a trial by fire. A good portion of that hike was straight up a hill. A steep hill. A steep, muddy hill that wanted us dead.

But we lived!

Don, the missionary leading our trip, said our second hike would be equally tough, but we were now well prepared for it. Don also said the next trail had never been hiked by a North American team before us, including himself. That’s right, he’d never done this hike before.

So, Wednesday morning, as we set out on our second hike, we were feeling wary but ready. It was supposed to take five hours to hike from the village of Kakataro to the village of Tapibara. Five long hours, but that’s part of the adventure, right?

The Second Hike

The first few hours weren’t too hard. We broke for lunch, laughed, ate MRE’s and then set out again to tackle the last two hours to Tapibara. We were told the rest of the hike was relatively flat, however the first 1000 yards after our lunch spot were straight up a hill. This should have been a sign to us that things weren’t as they seemed.

As we progressed into the jungle, our total hiking reached four hours and then five and then six. The trail was getting tougher, with hills, mud, rivers and logs. We were all starting to wonder, “Where is this village?”

Sidebar - Wao Time

Something you need to know about our guides is that they don’t understand time like we do. The Waodani don’t carry watches or follow a calendar. The villagers estimate how long the hike would take, but we didn’t know for sure until we hiked them. This didn’t always turn out well. By the end of the trip, it became a running (and not always funny) joke whether a predicted timeframe was in Wao time or Gringo time. Anyway…

The Second Hike Continues

At hour six, one hour past our ETA, we asked our guide, Gaba, how much further until the village. He said five hours. “Gaba, you’re going to have to go ahead and repeat that. Did you say there are five hours left?” To our relief, Don quickly dismissed that as an example of how the Waodani can’t estimate time, it was probably closer to 30 minutes. We started hiking again.

Hour six became hour seven.

Hour seven became hour eight.

And nine.

And ten.

We were in big trouble.

Sidebar - The Jungle

It’s a bit hard to describe hiking in the jungle. I told a teammate that my sliding scale of what is considered “the middle of nowhere” has drastically changed since that hike. Imagine hiking down a trail that is only a trail in the most vague sense. There are solid walls of green stretching over your head on either side. You could hike for days in any direction and see nothing but more jungle. It somehow manages to be alive and feral, yet eerily still at the same time.

Everything in the jungle is trying to kill you. Imagine descending a hill so steep you have to lean back to keep from falling forward. It’s covered in mud so you have to walk sideways to keep from slipping. Of course, you slip anyway and grab a tree to keep from going down the hill. Only after you grab the tree do you remember it could be covered with barbs that will break off in your hand and cause infection (we’re days from a hospital). Luckily the tree is safe… but the biting ants all over it are not and they’re now crawling down your arm. You let go to frantically brush the ants off which causes you to slide down the hill into the person in front of you. Do this for 10 hours in 100% humidity.

We waded through streams, crossed slimy log bridges, climbed hills, dodged poisonous snakes and got eaten by bugs. We were drenched, muddy and sore. This is what it was like in the jungle. A far cry from hiking through Patapsco Park, the Wednesday hike was the most physically demanding and dangerous thing I’ve ever done.

The Second Hike Concludes

By the end of the hike, it was getting dark and we were exhausted. I could barely think straight. During the last few hours, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.

As we trudged on, our group started to spread out along the trail. Don stopped us and said that we needed to stay tight or the stragglers were in danger of getting picked off by jaguars. That’s right, he told us we might get eaten and he wasn’t kidding. We’d seen the paw prints. Big paw prints.

A few hours before hand, some of the villagers went ahead of our group because they move a lot faster without gringos trailing after them. I have a very distinct memory of stumbling along the trail, so delirious that I probably looked drunk, when the villagers that went ahead came back down the trail the other way. They had made it to the Tapibara, dropped their own gear and then come back to carry our packs for us. It was like seeing The Lord himself come down the trail surrounded by a flock of Cherubim.

Ten hours after leaving Kakataro, we stumbled into Tapibara delirious and exhausted. I collapsed into the grass and stripped my boots off my wrecked feet. Ben, our dentist, was collapsed by a hut calling for water like a wounded soldier. A few of us plunged ourselves into the Dayuno river and just soaked, piranhas be damned.

That hike had pushed me well beyond anything I was physically fit to do. I should have passed out or broken a leg. I should have gotten eaten or maimed or hopelessly lost. The weird part was, aside from being exhausted and sore, by the next day I felt pretty good. It made no sense. At least, it made no sense until I turned to scripture.

What The Lord Taught Me In The Jungle

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul recounts the Lord saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That was exactly how the hike went. The weaker I got, the more desperate I was, the more His power was the only thing keeping me going. I never had a burst of Superman-like strength, I only ever had enough strength to go one more step. God had work for us to do in that jungle, and the hike was a reminder that it is by his power alone that we were doing it.

That’s how it is every day. Paul says in Ephesians that God has prepared good works for us to do. We don’t do these works on our own volition, but because God made us to do them. It’s by God’s power and permission alone that we do anything for His Kingdom, big or small. Some amazing things happened in Ecuador because God gave us the money, time, desire and strength to get down there and be ready when it was time.

So would I do it again? Oh yes. It was an incredible experience being so lost in God’s creation, well past the threshold of what I could handle on my own. It reminds me of what James says in 1:2-3 — “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” No matter what trials I go through, I will always be able to look back and remember when the Lord got me out of the jungle.

Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are around the corner and guess what? I’m going to fail at them. I may stick with the resolutions for a few weeks, even a few months, but eventually I’ll taper off. It may be a cliche, the failed New Year’s resolution, but I’m hopelessly guilty. Every year I think, “If I just resolve a little harder, the habit will stick.” Nope.

I’m always going to fail because if I was actually resolved to do these things, I wouldn’t need a calendar to tell me when to start. If I was resolved to work out every day, I would already be working out. I’m not working out, so there must be a reason why.

Instead of just coming up with resolutions to fail at, I’m going to ask myself, “Why are you not already doing this?” Well, I don’t already work out because I don’t like working out. Trying to force myself to do it always ends in failure because I don’t like working out.

But I do like to kayak. And rock climb. And hike.

Instead of forcing myself to run on a treadmill and do sit-ups and hate my life, I should carve out more time to be outside. I will be more motivated to stick with it, in a way I’m not motivated to do more gym-style activities.

Some of you have the self-discipline to just do things. Most of us normal people don’t, we know it. We need to hack the system. So when you’re making resolutions this year, ask yourself, “Why am I not already doing this and what can I change to make myself more likely to do it?”

We each carry our own tune, and if we listen to ourselves, the song that emerges is composed of the questions ask while working, the methods we choose to employ in our practice, and the bias we show by favoriting certain responses over others. Each song is the origin of the individual’s creativity; it is a personal tune that compels us to make things, and feel obligated to do so anyway specific to ourselves

— Frank Chimero in Shape of Design

Art As Craft

If you only make your art when you feel “inspired” to make your art, you’ll never get truly good at your art. Yup!

The game changer is when you realize that art is just the output of a more basic craft. The novel, the painting, the photograph; these are the art.

But this art is made by writing, painting and photography. These are crafts that required skills. You have to hone a craft, practice it, improve it.

If I force myself to take my camera and go shooting, I may get crap photos, but I’ll also get better at photography.

The better I get at my craft, the more likely it is that the artistic output will get better too.

To Ecuador

On Friday I’m leaving for a medical trip to Ecuador. We’ll be hiking 10 hours, with about 30lbs of gear and medicine each, into the Amazon jungle to set up clinics for the local Waodani tribe. We’ll sleep in hammocks, eat the local fare and sweat substantially. There is no electricity, no cell service, no running water. I will bring two pairs of clothes for the entire week and whether I get a chance to wash them will depend on how bad the piranhas are in the area. It will be a honest-to-god, Heart-of-Darkness-style adventure.

The amazing thing is the change to live the gospel. As a middle-class North American, I have no concept of what it means to be dependent on others for almost anything. But when we’re in the jungle, I will be dependent on the tribe for everything. By myself, I would survive about 14 minutes in the Amazon basin before being eaten by a panther. Next week will be a taste of how the early church lived. How many churches around the globe still live. And how I need to live every day, dependent on God. I’m not a huge fan of dependency and God knows it, so he’s graciously serving me some humble pie.

The other amazing thing is I will get to become part of the Waodani’s world for a week. We’re not galavanting down there on our White-Man Horse to save the heathen tribe. We’ve been invited, graciously, by the tribe, to live with them. It’s going to be a great reminder that there are people in the world (a lot of them) who get along fine (better, even?) without an iPhone and a data connection.

I would like very much if you could pray next week for me, the team and the people we’re visiting. We’re stoked to get out there and serve and be served, but we’re going to mess it up without your prayer. Seriously, we’re going to royally screw the pooch without your prayer. This has to be all God and none of us, or things will get ugly. Pride cometh before the fall, and all that.

Alright! I’m excited and anxious and ready to get out there. I’m ready to see the jungle, the animals, the people. I’m ready to feel totally lost and feral. I’m dragging an impractically heavy camera lens to take pictures of everything.

In the mean time though, I should probably feed the giraffe.

This is what I’m looking at right now. It’s nothing super special, just the parking lot of my office. Yet the trees are colorful and the clouds are lazing by and the breeze is blowing and it’s finally feeling like fall.

I’ve had a stressful few month preparing for Ecuador and taking on more responsibility at my job. Sometimes I’ve handled it ok but most of the time I haven’t. I’m dumb because the creator of the universe is waiting for me to ask for his help and I have, as usual, been trying to handle it myself. I’m just… so dumb.

I’m standing here over the parking lot reading Zechariah 2 where God says the he will bless Israel with such prosperity that they won’t be able to fit inside the city walls. That’s ok because he says in verse 5, “I will be a wall of fire around [Jerusalem], and I will be the glory within it.” God will always take care of his people. We just have to get over ourselves and let him.

I can’t type anymore because my fingers are getting cold, so I’m going to eat lunch. Take a moment today, go outside and tell God you’re OK with him being your wall of fire and your glory. He’s waiting.

This is what I’m looking at right now. It’s nothing super special, just the parking lot of my office. Yet the trees are colorful and the clouds are lazing by and the breeze is blowing and it’s finally feeling like fall.

I’ve had a stressful few month preparing for Ecuador and taking on more responsibility at my job. Sometimes I’ve handled it ok but most of the time I haven’t. I’m dumb because the creator of the universe is waiting for me to ask for his help and I have, as usual, been trying to handle it myself. I’m just… so dumb.

I’m standing here over the parking lot reading Zechariah 2 where God says the he will bless Israel with such prosperity that they won’t be able to fit inside the city walls. That’s ok because he says in verse 5, “I will be a wall of fire around [Jerusalem], and I will be the glory within it.” God will always take care of his people. We just have to get over ourselves and let him.

I can’t type anymore because my fingers are getting cold, so I’m going to eat lunch. Take a moment today, go outside and tell God you’re OK with him being your wall of fire and your glory. He’s waiting.

No Longer Need His Help

Shaun Smithson:

We learn to live for God so adequately that we no longer need to ask for his help. The problem is that this always leads to frustration and eventually boredom. First, we are frustrated that the ministry/service/life we are involved in doesn’t seem to have the same results as it use to and then we get so used to ministry done in our own power that we get bored because God is no longer truly showing up.

Having served in youth ministry for the last five years, I’ve experienced how badly it goes when I think I’ve got it under control. This is a great reminder to never let it get to that point.

Essentially, you’re taking different events in your life and putting it towards something creative, which is a pretty joyous thing, even if there is sadness in it. Creating something is life affirming in and of itself.

— Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo

The Joys of Working With Corporate Clients

The Legal Team

Client: These blog posts are good, but can you make them more conversational? Loosen them up?

Me: Yeah, I can do that.

Proceeds to add fun bits make blog posts more conversational.

Client’s Legal Team: We’re going to have to ask you to take all these fluffy bits out and make the blog posts more professional.

Word for Mac 2008

Me: Ugh, why do they have to send these blog corrections in Word docs, Word takes forever open… I guess I’ll launch it now and do something else for 10 minutes.

Ten minutes later.

Me: Ok, let’s do this!

Word: I’ve encountered a problem and need to close.

Long ago, someone started a con that made readers believe writing comes from a place of knowledge, as if a writer were a scribe to some preexisting clarity. No. Hell no. Most writers are frauds. We are ignorant and learning out-loud. The written piece is the useful by-product of figuring things out, like how churning butter makes buttermilk. More writing comes from doubt than expertise.