Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Academics of Life

Just one short week after arriving in Tijuana, Mexico, I found myself standing in front of a group of talented young athletes wondering what exactly it was I had gotten myself into.  How is it, that less than two years ago I, myself, was a guest on such a trip, sitting in the exact same conference room, waiting to hear about the home building experience to come, and now I find myself standing at the front as the leading representative of the organization for the weekend?

This group of athletes, with the average age of about 16 years old, came from the well known IMG Academy in Florida, which is dedicated to developing some of the most talented high school prospects many countries have to offer.  If ever there was a target group of athletes for Hope Sports, this was it.  To bring in athletes who already know the ins and outs of the professional life, and enlighten them to a healthier approach to demands of the lifestyle is one thing, but to be able to sit with kids on the cusp of greatness, still striving for their dreams, is a completely different opportunity  all together.  In the first case, we are fighting and uphill battle, challenging a well-established history of a results-based identity.  In the second case, we have the chance to offer our message of a purpose-driven identity that these young athletes can carry with them as they climb the ladder of success.  It is an opportunity to equip them early with the tools necessary to handle well the pressures of professional sports.

Ready to head out on the first day of building.

As I stood in front of the group, recounting my story of struggling mentally with the demands of professional cycling, I challenged every athlete to approach the weekend with open hearts and minds and to pay attention to the message we were trying to relay. Their response blew me away.

On a personal note, I admit that I am incredibly task motivated, and on occasion I can lose sight of the purpose behind the task.  Unfortunately, building a house offers me many such opportunities.  So many small tasks add up to one whole house, and sometimes I get lost in the process.

 Fortunately, my eyes were open just enough to see that the athletes were embracing every aspect of the experience, and perhaps most importantly, they were bonding with the wonderful family we were building with.  As the walls went up, paint rolled on, and shingles were fit in their places on the roof, relationships were being built as well.  The five children of the family gained brothers and sisters from around the world. The result was a house filled with memories before it was even finished-- an unforgettable experience for athletes and family alike.

What finally snapped me out of my task-driven stupor, was the moment the family finally entered their home for the first time.  As the door closed behind them, they began to cry in a way that can only be described as wailing.  In an instant I became painfully aware of the fact that lives had been changing all around me, and I was too busy building a house to notice.

During the dedication, tears flowed freely from all. 

Who says friendships have to take years to form?

As I listened to the reflective thoughts of the athletes at the end of the weekend, I inwardly beamed with pride at their maturity.  Thinking back to my exhortation at the start of the weekend, I could only think "they totally got it."  I could see that each student had their eyes openened to their ability to serve others, allowing them to find a little more of their identity away from their win/loss record.

For me, the weekend was God-sent affirmation. This move to Mexico may have looked like confidently stepping out in faith, but it more honestly felt like reluctantly following in obedience. What began as wondering what I had gotten myself into turned into a much -needed reminder and confirmation of the purpose I have felt on my own heart.  To be able to interact with so many talented individuals is truly exciting, but to be able to be part of their life changing experience and the memories they will carry forward is a blessing from God. I believe I'm where I should be, and can't wait to continue passing along the message of hope.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Hope for Sport

You are a great person, but I don't care about that.  Your intelligence is off the charts, but I don't care about that.  You think deeply, when you have the time, and have the potential to offer meaningful advice, but I don't care about that.  Now, your strength, speed, and instinct...those I can exploit...I mean... I value you.

Words so cruel are hardly ever spoken.  To say something so direct would not only raise eyebrows, but it would appall anyone with half a heart.  Yet this is the world of sports, and the world which high caliber athletes must live in as they pursue the highest attainable level of sport.  This is the attitude that takes a first love, and distorts it into an endless pursuit of value and an identity more fragile than your grandmother's fancy China.  These days, sports are nothing less than a business where the bottom line is the dollar.  Whether you're pending trial for a heinous act, or recovering from a debilitating injury that you sustained on the field, no less, you are simply an investment and the only question that matters is, "Can you produce results?"  The quality of your character is irrelevant.  We, as fans, and your coaches, and the team owners care more about the impossible catches you can make and your impressive résumé of wins, than the kind of person you are off the field.  Sure, you have a "great sponsor relationship" but when it comes down to it, when you're not worth what they're paying you anymore, they'll drop you like a hot coal.

You, as athletes know this and have adapted.  Your daily life, from sun-up to sun-down, and often past both ends, now consists of a series of completely self-centered decisions.  You can no longer afford to consider the well-being of others because you have to be the absolute best you can be if you want to keep your contract.  After all, it is a contract, and when you stop meeting your end... well you know that there is a wealth of talented people vying for your spot.  The sport you once loved because of the joy it brought you, has now enslaved you.  Your primary motivator to win is now the fear of losing.  Losing means you're worthless.

This is where Hope Sports steps in.

The world of athletics is the perfect breeding ground for a results-based identity.  This is where you come to believe that your value as a person is completely dissociated from your mind, thoughts, and personality, and based completely on what you are able to do, especially in your respective sport.  Ask any athlete if they are competitive, and you'll likely not only hear a resounding "yes" but also a list of examples proving it, or even a spontaneous challenge.

I have always considered myself a competitive person, but it wasn't until Hope Sports began to challenge the notion of a results-based identity that I realized how deeply ingrained into my personality was this idea of earning my value.  I've come to see it in myself when friends compliment another friend on something I consider myself more able.  I've seen it when people make well-meaning constructive criticisms, and I feel attacked and in jeopardy for some reason. I even saw it on my outreach in Mexico and Chile, when I realized I hadn't led anything for a while, and thought myself to be of no value to my team.  Competition is great, but it is not life.

All of this goes to speak to why I am so excited to be a part of the Hope Sports organization.  On my first trip to Tijuana, Mexico as an athlete, my mind was opened up to the possibility of tapping into a suppressed sense of value within myself.  I was given the opportunity to step outside of myself, away from the routine of decisions based on how they would affect my training, and use my God-given abilities to touch the lives of a family in need of a helping hand.  That weekend, my eyes were opened to the greater purpose of life.

It is this same revelation that I get to see in other athletes time and time again as they experience a service opportunity unlike any other.  I enjoy seeing the comradery that forms between athletes that have never met, as they work side by side to build a home.  I also enjoy seeing them recognize their level of privilege for being able to play a sport for a living, and live in extreme comfort in comparison to the hard-knock lives of the family they're building for.  But, what I love most is sitting and listening to the heartfelt, raw emotion during debrief at the end of the weekend, as I get to see in the eyes of the athletes the same thing I first felt in November of 2014--that they are worth so much more than the things they can do on a field.

What I love most about Hope Sports is that it is an unexpected two-way ministry.  Each weekend, athletes arrive excited to build a home and permanently change the lives of a family in desperate need. At the end of the weekend, however, while a family now has a home they could never have built for themselves, free of charge, it is the group of athletes that walks away feeling blessed. Through the weekend of service and the numerous talks from world class speakers with a heart to see athletes recognize the truth of their identity, the athletes are able to return to their sport and see it for what it is.  Sport is an expression of what you can do, but it never defines who you are.  The athletes have never previously met the family and will likely never meet again after parting ways.  But by showing this family unconditional love, for no real merit of their own, I believe the athletes can finally see for the first time their own value and merit for unconditional love as a basic human right, instead of having to win it.

I have been fortunate to meet and work with Olympians and professional athletes over the past year, from football to diving, and cycling to bobsledders and more.  I have been able to build alongside first-timers and athletes making an annual habit of the experience.  My role has largely been in meeting needs as they arise, from tasks like folding t-shirts, to orientation meetings, to transportation and hospitality.  Hope Sports is growing rapidly as athletes take hold of the movement. In its first couple years, groups of mostly cyclists came once a year.  Last year alone, ten homes were built by athletes from an even wider array of sports.  As the organization evolves, so will my role, and I am excited to see what the coming years will bring.  If you'd be interested in helping support me in this cause, please visit my fundraising page:
Through donating, you will be partnering with me to help more athletes enjoy this experience and expand the impact throughout Mexico.

I'll leave you all with one of the most touching and emotionally raw home builds from the past year. Professional cycling team Novo Nordisk made a home build part of their training camp.  For those who do not know, this cycling team is composed completely of athletes with diabetes.  They were able to come and build two homes for families impacted by diabetes, as well as provide numerous supplies and medical education on treatment.  You'll see from the video the massive financial and emotional impact from a single weekend.

To see more Hope Sports content visit:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Blessed By Accident

I dream a lot.  Some of my dreams are very vivid and stick with me, some are reoccurring, and others fade away from memory before I can even open my eyes.  And then there are the nightmares.  There are the strange nightmares where for some reason lights won't turn on, the reoccurring nightmares where everything gets stolen from our garage, or I can't run properly (head nod to my impressively slow base-running skills), and then there are the nightmares that terrify me to the core, and wake me up in tears.  Nearly a month ago, one such nightmare verged on becoming reality.

A week before January drew to it's calendar end, I returned home from the gym to see my mom apprehensively rise from her computer chair, and slowly walk to face me in the living room.

"Chad's director called..."

In that moment I knew I didn't want to hear what came to follow.  Nothing good comes from the team director calling from training camp in Spain, out of the blue.

"The team was hit by a car going the wrong direction."

With my heart in my throat, preparing for that worst nightmare to come true, I waited with baited breath as my mom explained that Chad had sustained some sort of neck injury and was life-flighted from the accident to the nearest hospital.  He was stable, but that was all we knew.

I breathed a short sigh of relief before following the expected train of thought.  Neck injury? Head on collision? Would he ever ride again?  Would he even be able to walk?  How is it possible the guy I was just helping train in the weight room as I watched him make improvements in strength week after week, may have just lost his livelihood?  What about his fiance? How would she be handling all this?  What an unfair way to start an engagement. Suddenly, many of the conversations I had had with Chad crossed my mind, and I was confident he was about to walk away from the sport he loves so dearly.

In my experience with cycling, I developed a deep hatred for the sport.  Not because I didn't like riding, racing or anything that goes along with that.  No, I hated it because unlike any other sport, you have no choice but to put your life in the hands of other people, daily.  People you don't know.  People who may hate you simply because they have to slow down.  People who expressly believe that you forfeit your right to life because you get in the way on their drive to work.  Stay in cycling long enough, and you will have a number of close-call stories to relate to friends on any given day, and hear some in return.  You just hope they remain that--a close call.

Those first two days after the accident were the toughest.  We knew Chad was hurt, but not how badly.  We had a picture from the crash site of bikes broken into nearly unrecognizable pieces. Having seen my share of crashes that left people carrying bikes in two pieces, I had a good clue to the devastating impact that had to have taken place.  I tried not to think about it.

Initial crash scene photo

The new information trickled in throughout the day like molasses dripping from a faulty faucet.  Chad did not have his cell phone, if he was even conscious enough to use it.  The team was occupied with all six of its injured riders, and therefore understandably unable to supply regular updates.  All the while, my mom, dad, and I were relentlessly updating friends and family with the little information we knew, asking for all the prayers we could get.  It wasn't until the end of the night that I realized I hadn't had the chance to sit down and soak it all in.  I found myself lying on the couch, trying to go to sleep, avoiding the bed where the nightmares invade.

In the midst of it all, however, God was at work.  Miraculously, despite being cut from the base of his neck to his lip, by a car traveling the opposite direction, Chad sustained no head trauma, spinal damage, or damage to the major arteries or tendons in the incredibly critical area of his neck.  Chad's friends had already begun to pool money together to pay his fiance's way to Spain, and as a result she was there at his side when he needed a familiar face the most.

Thankful for Kate's willingness to travel at a moment's notice

Big improvements after a single week.

The night of the accident, my parents began to talk to me about the possibility of me flying to Spain to be with Chad.  My face lit up, as I have desperately wanted to visit him, but never had the finances or opportunity to make it a reality.  Now, despite the unfavorable circumstances, maybe it would be possible.  Then God pulled through again, as we got contacted by Chad's previous team, offering to fly me over to be with him on their miles.  Done!

Thanks to their generosity, I had the opportunity to spend nearly a month with my best friend and brother as he recovered, without having to worry about the cost, or trouble my parents with the flight arrangements.

To help you fully understand what this means for me, I suppose I should back-track just a little bit. As anyone who has spent any measure of time around Chad and me could testify, we are basically the same person.  Watching back old home videos, you can see we were sharp-looking pals from the beginning.  We have always been best friends by blood, but it wasn't until this past year that we became best friends by choice.  In the last year, my relationship with my brother has gone from sharing fun experiences, to sharing the deepest secrets of our hearts.  He has been a huge support for me as I work through some very difficult personal issues, and we have opened up to one another in a way that has taken us to a level of friendship never touched before.

I am beyond grateful for the changes in our relationship that have come through the last year, but filled with regret that it took us so long-- through so many years of living together including college years where we slept mere feet from each other-- to open up.  Now, knowing that Chad would soon be off to get married, I saw that new relationship beginning to slip away.  As Chad left for Spain in early January, I had a pretty major breakdown, I'm not ashamed to admit.  His fiance had stayed with our family right up until their flights.  Kate is a joy to be around, do not get me wrong, we all love her as family already.  But the nightly bro-talks I had grown so fond of, were just not possible.  So, as Chad flew off to Spain, I sat and thought about the next time I would see him-- the wedding.  Our relationship as best friends would officially be over the next time I saw him, as I rightfully slipped into second place.  I hurt to know that we would never have a time together again, with the same dynamic we have had from day one.

(Didn't want this to happen! Just watch 10:30 to 14:04)

Now cut to February.  Despite the horror of the accident, I was given an opportunity to spend time with Chad again, as best friend brothers one last time.  I was given the gift of showing him a fraction of the support and love he has shown me emotionally and financially in the past year as he helped me to pursue my personal dreams.  I got to watch him recover, and make improvements daily.  I got to be his personal chef, making sure he had the food he needed at any moment of the day.  I got to watch the smile on his face, literally, grow by the day.  We got to laugh like the old days, and then laugh harder as Chad held half of his face to keep stitches from popping.

Kate and I intentionally made him laugh to document the famous face hold.

My explorations were basically non-existent, and I admit I failed to really discover Spain, but my trip was not at all lacking.  My days generally consisted of making breakfast, going to the gym, grocery shopping, then making lunch, cleaning the apartment, and then making dinner.  Chad quickly returned to riding the bike, yet all of his energy went into whatever ride he was doing, and then in exhaustion, recovering the rest of the day.  Had I not taken the time to focus myself on the purpose of my trip before-hand, I would be home now, deeply disappointed.  But, because I knew from the start that my purpose was to help Chad first, and be a tourist second, I got infinitely more from my time there.  Sure, most of my day was confined to a tiny two bedroom apartment, slaving in the kitchen, but I was fulfilling my job, and showing as much love to my brother as I possibly could.

 My reward was seeing Chad progress from a crooked shuffle for a walk the day I arrived, to a fully mobile (and already training again!) cyclist once again.  I also got to watch in awe as his faith, and sense of humor gave him the most positive attitude in the face of adversity that I have ever seen.  If ever I have seen an example of living out James 1:2-4, I saw it there in Spain.

I cannot thank enough the people who made this possible for me.  A huge thank you to Rally Cycling for making it happen.

Through it all, I have come to recognize how immeasurably blessed I was by an accident.  But it was no accident.

My last day in Spain.  Chad's recovery is remarkable. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Long-overdue Update

When I decided to name my blog "Shane Meets World" I was mostly thinking about my undying love for the show, "Boy Meets World" (greatest show ever, don't even challenge me on it).  Little did I expect the nearly prophetic meaning as I have ended up globetrotting over the last year.  When I last left you all, I had just experienced an incredible birthday celebration in Tijuana, Mexico where I was a little over a week into my Discipleship Training School program through Youth With a Mission.  But, I suppose I never properly updated you in the first place, as up until a month before leaving for the school, I was supposed to be headed to Ensenada, not Tijuana.

Originally, the plan was to do the Surf and Skate Discipleship Training School in Ensenada, and come back with a killer tan and a new skill set.  But God had other plans.  Shortly before the school was due to begin, I got a call from one of the leaders who said that because only three other guys had signed up for the school, they would have to cancel it. However, we were all given the option of joining the "Classic DTS" that would also be starting in April, in Tijuana.  All four of us opted for Tijuana, and by the end of the school, having become so tightly knit with our classmates, it was hard to believe it wasn't the plan all along.  In just 5 months, that flew by, our class of 25 students from Canada, US, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Germany, Netherlands, and Australia, bonded and loved each other as family.

Our whole class and staff. 

During the course of the school, we attended daily classes of varying topics to increase our understanding of who God is, how we relate to and interact with Him, and how to better make Him known to the rest of the world.  This school, as I hoped it would be, was exactly what I needed in order to dive into the deep in with my own personal relationship with the Lord.  With a scheduled daily quiet time before breakfast, it served to introduce consistency into my personal Bible study and prayer.  No matter how I felt, I knew that when 6:45 rolled around, I would be sitting in solitude, committing my full attention to God.  It was then that I learned the truth in the saying that when you seek God, you find yourself wanting to seek more and more.  As is the common story, at the beginning of the school I had no idea what to do with the scheduled 45 minute block, but by the end I found myself setting my alarm to an hour earlier so I could get more.

Early in the program, we were presented with various ministry options we could attend weekly.  I ended up deciding on the ministry that offered an after school program for children in a nearby community-- little did I know I was committing myself, as the resident bearded guy with long hair, to play Jesus in some skit just about every week.  Initially it was uncomfortable, to do so many activities that felt silly, but I quickly remembered my own Sunday school experiences, and embraced the much needed opportunity to stop taking myself so seriously.
Our first week I had to play the Shepherd who leaves all his sheep to find the lost one. 

As the school went on, I began to make more of a concerted effort to learn Spanish.  While I had a good base in theory from my three years of Spanish in school, my practical experience was lacking.  I began to put myself in as many situations as possible, in which I had no option but to learn if I wanted to communicate.  What I found was that my Spanish speaking abilities came around very quickly, but I gained so much more than a  new language.  A whole new world was opened to me.  Classmates that only spoke Spanish were now available to connect on a deeper level, (without Spanish, I would not have many of my closest friends) I was able to speak with and connect to the children in my ministry, (when my two teaching partners were simultaneously sick, I found myself having to teach a complete lesson in Spanish, alone) and eventually I was able to preach without a translator, which enabled me to include more content and follow a continuous train of thought.  What I found the most amazing was that the simple act of stepping out of your comfort zone and trying to speak another language--just trying-- sends the powerful message to whoever you're speaking to, that they matter. They are important enough that you will try whatever is necessary to talk with them.

After three months of the lecture phase, our class was devastatingly split in two for the outreach phase, with one group going to India and Nepal, the other going to Mexico City and Chile.  The groups were decided through prayer, and despite how badly I'd like to see Nepal, I felt confident I was called to Mexico and Chile.  This phase of the school is all practical.  Our group would travel to two different parts of Mexico City, for two weeks each, and work with churches there.  One of the most meaningful parts of our time in Mexico was the first weekend we were there, in which we helped run a youth event.  It was that day that I realized how blessed I had been by God, that my Spanish had been fast-tracked, as I was able to speak from my heart for an hour straight, running on two hours of sleep, to a group of teenagers about the importance of serving God in your youth.  This was a topic close to my heart, because I know it is something I did terribly in my own life.  I was able to relate to them from my own experience, how the things the world has promised them will give joy, the things Christianity will make them "miss out on", never truly satisfy.  I was able to speak with them honestly, about how much regret I have for waiting until now to do the only thing that has actually brought me joy.

(One of the many fun competitions from a youth weekend, where I came back from an early loss to win the best of three)

Throughout outreach, we worked with many youth and kids groups.  For the first two weeks, our team drilled and drilled ourselves trying to perfect a flash mob dance, but we never had the chance to perform it until our last day in Mexico.  After the first performance, the floodgates opened and we seemed to be asked to do the dance everywhere we went.

 Somewhere in Chile, there is a video of me enthusiastically performing the dance all by myself in a crowded living room, as the host mother insisted on having a recording to show her friends. I crushed it.  Our other big theatrical venture was a recreation of this drama.  I bet you can't guess who played Jesus...

We also visited two cities in Chile, first Temuco in the South, (where it was winter, cold, and rainy) and the second, Copiapo in the north (where the desert climate made me a much happier camper). I could say that I enjoyed it all, but the truth is our time in Southern Chile was a mental test that I would say I failed.  Between the daily cold rain,the cough and sickness I developed that wouldn't go away, the showers that would switch in an instant from boiling hot to raining ice, and my general dislike for our daily activities and food, I know my attitude was not as it should have been.  Looking back, I know I lost sight of our purpose for being there.  I know that was time I failed to take advantage of, and potentially negatively influenced the rest of the team.

I did get to cook one real meal for the team though!

Once we turned to the North for our last week and a half of outreach, my pleasant disposition returned as we were given the chance to do physical labor.  I've come to realize that I am cut from a dirty, grease stained cloth.  I like to do the hard work.  Talking to people day in and day out exhausts me, but getting my hands dirty gives me energy.  We had the opportunity to help clean out mud from some houses that had been ruined by a devastating flood that killed nearly 50 people in the city.

This house was filled nearly a foot high with mud from the flood. 

With the whole house a loss, our job was just to clear a way from the front door to the bathroom so the resident had somewhere to go.

We were also given the chance to build a new house for another family.  Despite the numerous times I had prepared a message and preached to a group or church, it wasn't until we built this house that I felt I was using my talents for God-- that same feeling I had in November when I helped build a home in Tijuana-- and I loved every moment of it. I felt totally at home as I got to take charge and use my landscaping experience to level the dirt as best we could before putting the floors down. I was very fortunate to enjoy it, because it was a total fiasco. The house had prefabricated walls and floors, but the walls that were sent were for a bigger floor plan than the floor they sent.  Between us all, we were able to work out a way to add on the square footage in a structurally sound way, but then we had to figure out where the walls went, without any directions.  It was a disaster, but a beautiful one, and I wore a smile late into the evenings as we labored away.   Perhaps the best moment was when we got the floor set in place, took a step back, and realized that in all the fuss in repairing the floor, we failed to notice that our repairs put a giant cross dead center in the floor, making the literal foundation of the house, the cross!

In an exciting end to our trip, on the way to the airport to leave Copiapo, our entire team was hit, at the same time, with food poisoning.  Looking back, it's pretty hilarious, but not one of us was in the mood to laugh at the time.  But when you have to trade off holding spots in the ticketing line as you each race to the nearest bathroom, before making it on the plane just in time and then passing around stomach medicine in front of all the other passengers, you have no choice but to laugh when it's all over.

With outreach over, we had just a short week to reunite with the other half of the class, before graduating and heading our separate ways.  I'm deeply grateful for every one of my classmates, and I get legitimately sad to think that we'll never get to have that same experience again. I'm so thankful for each person who donated to my cause, to help fund this experience, so unlike anything I've ever done.

It was in Copiapo, as I sat suspended in the air, with feet dangled from a rafter I had just nailed in place, that I decided the next step in my life.  Twice now I have felt exactly in the right place, and both times I was building a house.  For me, there is nothing like that experience.  Fortunately, there is a way I can experience it over and over.  As a result, I have decided to make Mexico my home!  In early April, I will be moving to Tijuana, where I will be full time staff with Youth With a Mission, and have the opportunity to build homes for families in deep poverty time and time again.  What is so great, is that my journey in missions has come full circle.  The organization that made me fall in love with serving, is the organization I will be serving with for at least the next two years.  I cannot wait to work with Hope Sports, and help athletes to have the same life-changing experience I had two years ago.  But more to come on that soon.

As a full time missionary, I will have to raise financial support to cover my living expenses as I make Tijuana my home.  Please visit my fundraising page ( if you are interested in partnering with me in this next adventure, and stay tuned for another blog coming soon to find out more about my heart for this organization.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A New Perspective

I made a simple decision before making my journey to Tijuana, Mexico.  I was going to do this school the right way.  Unlike college, where I generally coasted my way to good grades and a degree, I was going to give this school my full attention.  Both in classes, and relationships, I decided I would completely embrace the experience with an open mind.  Because of that simple decision, I have already seen incredible rewards.

The biggest part of that decision was just making up my mind to say "yes" as often as possible.  If a classmate invites me to join in some activity, and I have no prior commitments, I have made it my own obligation to go along with them.  Because of that decision, I have developed a fierce ping-pong rivalry, enjoyed spontaneous worship around a campfire, and even joined a Zumba class.  Because of that simple decision, I've already formed lasting bonds with my classmates despite the language barriers (native languages include English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish), and in a mere week we've become as close as family.

Saturday night of last week, I got to reap the rewards of those friendships in the most surprising way possible.  After an enjoyable afternoon on the beach, body surfing, playing soccer, and reading the assigned book, I was settling into the evening with some Spanish practice when I was asked to play ping-pong. With that offer, I consented to an evening of intense competition prior to the "pajama party" the guys had planned that night.  As I grew weary of losing game after game (my Brazilian roommate is virtually unbeatable) a few other classmates joined us.  Some of the girls wanted to join our party, so it had to be moved to a common area, they said.  So we started walking off towards the party.  As we rounded the corner to the conference room, I saw way more people than I expected, and a surprising array of refreshments.  Just as I was about to let out my thought "Wow you all go big for a pajama party", everyone broke out into the Happy Birthday chorus.  I got duped hard!

 For a long time now, I have not been a fan of celebrating my birthday.  In 8th grade, I spent my birthday looking into the casket of my Grandmother, and in college, my Grandfather passed away a week or so before my birthday.  In the years surrounding those events, birthdays lost a lot of their importance to me.  Each year, I wanted to celebrate it less and less, until recently when I decided my perfect birthday would be one where I went to sleep on the 18th, and woke up on the 20th.  I wish I could articulate more clearly why, but my birthday was just a day of the year I wished would go away.

Since the dawn of Facebook, birthdays have become a popularity contest.  How loved you are is now measured by how many old high school friends, that you never talk to, wish you a "Happy B-day" on your wall.  There is so little sincerity, that I stopped caring.  But in the midst of these throw-away well-wishes, I began to develop a deeper desire to be shown true affection.  I secretly hoped to one day be the recipient of an unprompted grand gesture.  Never in my life would I have expected that to happen after moving to Mexico, and by people I'd only known for a week, no less. But that's exactly what happened.  

All of my classmates organized to celebrate my birthday on Sunday with a surprise late night Saturday party.  Honestly, I've never been so moved. In just a short time, they managed to set up a cake, drinks, and gifts from the local convenient store without me having a clue what was going on.  My roommate made a card for me and had everyone sign it with a short message.  On top of the package of stickers from the movie Frozen I was given, I got the cleverest gift to date.  My classmates, having found out my infantile nickname, gave me a jar of baby food. The night included a dance party, a cake smashed in my face, and a movie, all in the company of my new family.  I have never felt so loved, and I made sure to tell everyone how much I appreciated it.  You never really want to cry in front of people you recently met, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't fooling anybody trying to hold it back.

All the guys from class- the masterminds of the party.

To date, I would say this was the best birthday I can remember; not for the gifts, or the food, but for the company and a genuine act of kindness.  It is crazy to think that if I had held back from those opportunities to grow new relationships with my classmates, I could have missed out on that experience.  What I received that night was not just a party, for me it was affirmation that I am appreciated and loved; the effort I had put into these new friendships was well worth the time.  It was proof that being vulnerable with others about your thoughts can really open doors to friendship.  All this I chalk up to a simple decision to expand my comfort zone, and embrace the process of this completely foreign adventure.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Next Step

I'm going back to school!

Well...sort of. 

Discipleship Training School in Ensenada, Mexico. 

"Schwat are you talking about, Shane?"  You may ask.  Alright, I'll tell you. 

In 2014, I did two things that were legitimately transformational and life-changing.  I think "life-changing" is used way too often to describe a fun experience that you'll remember forever, so when I use it, I'm serious.  These two things, I believe, completely changed the trajectory I expected for my life.

One of these two things I already wrote about here.  In short, my trip to Mexico made me realize that serving others in need is an important part of life that I have been neglecting for far too long.  After the home build, I made the decision to continue to look for opportunities to serve, which was a big factor in my decision to attend this school. 

The second of these two things actually occurred much earlier, chronologically.  Back in July, while I was working another early morning, my thoughts turned to church and small group Bible studies.  Before starting my job at the golf course, I had found a church in town that I enjoyed going to, that also had a good young adults group.  My job had made attending difficult, though, as I worked on Sundays and seldom had the time or energy to get to church after I clocked out. I realized that I was missing out on a close Christian community group, and that was something I needed in my life.  I guess you could call it an "Aha!" moment.  Immediately, I knew I should start my own small group with some close friends from college.  I approached a few friends with the idea of working on a study and video chatting once a week, since we all lived in different areas.  The idea went over great, and before I knew it, the first discussion time was upon me.  And that's when it hit me.

I know how dumb this is going to sound, but literally, until this point I had not even considered the fact that there needed to be a designated group leader.  And until that point, it did not occur to me that by starting the group, I was the de facto guy in charge.  Suddenly the idea didn't sound so great to me.  Despite my inner reluctance to lead a group because of a frank lack of qualification, I decided that I would step up.  It's times like that when you realize that God puts things on your heart for a reason, and there's no point in trying to back out. 

When I made the decision to start the Bible study, I figured it would be a great way to stay in touch with some good friends from college, while getting to study God's Word.  What I got out of it was so much greater.  By leading a group, I learned to take my own study much more seriously, thinking critically about the material, coming up with questions, and dedicating more time to my faith than ever before.  On top of that, I've gotten to see some good friends grow in their relationship with God, and recognize that I've played a part in their growth, as they have in mine.  It was a far greater blessing than I could have ever guessed.

So what did I take away from these two things? 

1. Growing in my faith and leading others is awesome.
2. There is nothing like helping the underprivileged. 

And that's how I found my way to the Discipleship Training School.

While we were still in Mexico for the home building trip, Guy East took the time to speak with me about his experiences with the program.  After hearing the similarities in our stories, I was really interested in finding out about how he found his way into doing something he is so passionate about.  After the trip, he stayed in touch and pointed me toward some of the upcoming opportunities.  After a week or so of consideration, I made the decision to apply for the program starting in April in Ensenada.

Recently, I received my official acceptance, and I'm incredibly excited for this opportunity.  So without any further ado, here's what I'll be doing.

For 5 months, I will be living at the Youth With A Mission base in Ensenada, Mexico, where I will be attending the Surf and Skate Discipleship Training School.  Each of the programs have a separate focus on interests; i.e art, music, sports, etc.  In this case, it's surfing and skating.  Each day, there will be lectures (hence "school") and service opportunities in the community with the goal, "To know God and make Him known."  In my free time I'll finally get to learn how to surf, which I'm quite excited about.  After a few months, there will be an outreach phase dedicated to mission work.  I'll have more opportunities to build homes for families in need and other sure-to-be incredible experiences. 

This decision was both difficult, and incredibly easy to make. Difficult, in that I'll be stepping way out of my comfort zone.  Cultural immersion, for one thing.  I can't wait to use all that Spanish I forgot from high school.  But also, stepping out in faith is a huge deal for me.  I've always kept mostly quiet about my faith, which betrays the strength of my beliefs.  It has never been an easy thing for me to talk about, which has made it difficult to act out in my faith.  But it was so easy to make the decision, because I've never felt more called to do anything.  I guess it goes back to my decision with the Bible study.  If God puts something on your heart that makes you squirm, you know it's what He has planned for you. 

After the 5 months of DTS, then what?  Well, I don't know yet.  But I trust that God will use that time to lead me where He wants me.  

The last thing that made the decision difficult was finances.  Having left my job in Colorado and moved back to Texas, I have no current source of income.  The Discipleship Training School will cost up to $5,500.  The first lecture phase will cost $2,990, with payment due by March 10, roughly.  The outreach phase will cost $1,800-2,500, with payment due in June/July.  I believe that I am meant to go to this school, and, as such, trust that I will get the funds one way or another.  I have a very difficult time asking for help, because I was raised to believe in earning my keep.  However, it will be incredibly difficult for me to raise the funds on my own in time.  So I ask for your help in any way you can offer it.  Whether it be through a donation made through the fundraising site I have set up HERE, or through help finding work in the DFW area, I'd greatly appreciate anything you can do. 

If you'd like to learn a little more about the school, you can check out YWAM's webpage.  I'm incredibly excited for this next journey of my crazy life, and I hope that you can be a part in helping me get there.

Much love,
Shane/Baby Haga

Sunday, November 16, 2014

More Than Sport in Mexico

Over the past year, I've noticed a frustration that seems to be a common theme regardless of what I do.  When training and racing was my profession, I'd wake up, eat, train, eat some more and then go to bed thinking, "Is this all there is?".  When I worked on the golf course this year, I'd wake up, eat, mow grass all day so rich people could play golf, eat some more, then go to bed thinking, "Is there any real point to this?" Futility.  No matter what I was doing I felt like I was meant for something more-- Something more important, more challenging, and influential.  This past weekend, I finally did something truly worthwhile.

Just over a year ago, I picked Chad up from the airport on his return-leg from Tijuana, Mexico where he, along with a group of other professional athletes, built a home for a family that could not afford one of their own.  I expected to hear more about the people he was with, but instead he kept gushing about how incredible the home-building experience was. This year, he offered to bring me along, and there was no way I could turn it down. 

A week or two before the start of our trip, we learned who else would be joining us.  This year there were enough athletes to build two homes in a single weekend, including numerous professional cyclists, Olympic medal-winning speed skaters and gymnasts, a professional racecar driver, rugby player, and past Miss America contestant.  In all honesty, I felt way out of my league as someone who could barely be called a professional athlete in the first place, and gave it up after just a few months.  As excited as I was for the trip, I was equally nervous about meeting people I had watched on tv.  

Chad and I flew out of Denver Friday morning alongside Todd, a sports chaplain with the Athletes in Action Organization, who was also coming on the trip.  We landed in San Diego after Chad earned a dollar bill by (mostly) making the dollar bill origami ram in the complimentary airline magazine.  After meeting a few of our compatriots for the weekend and being picked up by Guy East, and his wife, Andrea, we enjoyed a nice brunch right next to the ocean.  Eventually, our cheerful troop was fully united and we headed towards the border where we all crossed completely legally and without concern because everyone had their passports... 

It's incredible how quickly scenery can change.  Just past the border lies Tijuana, where all Mexican deportees are being sent, and where thousands live in a canal, homeless, jobless, and eventually dependent on drugs; too embarrassed to return to their homes defeated, if they even have the ability to leave in the first place.  The stark contrast between the beautiful seaside village where we had just eaten, and this destitute area was a great reminder of the purpose of the trip that lay ahead.  Guy and his wife live in Rosarito, Mexico where they work for the Homes of Hope Organization, building houses every weekend for families in need.  As we drove, Guy told us heart-breaking statistics about the area.  It's easy to become desensitized when you constantly hear about the fight over the border and immigration, but seeing things first hand makes it all so much more real. 

We eventually made it to the YWAM (Youth With A Mission) compound where we would be staying for the weekend, and were given a chance to mingle and get to know our roommates before eating dinner.  After eating, we got to hear from Guy, as he told his personal story about struggling with the decision to quit cycling, and his struggle to figure out what he was supposed to do in life.  As I sat there listening, I felt like he had taken my story, changed the names for the sake of my protection, and then regurgitated it word for word.  Everyone else then gave a brief introduction and background, at which point I learned that I was one of four or so formerly professional cyclists.  Suddenly, I didn't feel so out of place anymore. 

The first night after dinner, we all went out to the soccer field for a little competition. I suppose the quickest way to get intense athletes to bond is to make them all play a sport they're terrible at.  Blisters and injuries brought us all much closer together that night.  I also confess that Miss Kentucky had me just about scared into the fetal position with her war cry anytime the ball came near me. 

Saturday was the first day of building.  At breakfast there was a lot of excitement and anticipation.  The room was pretty equally divided between first and second-time builders, but everyone was ready to go.  Our drive out to the build site passed a lot of reality checks.  Homes built with random pieces of lumber and plywood- obviously just a matter of whatever the residents could get a hold of- served as a reminder of how privileged we all are.  When the bus finally reached the site, the two families were standing there waiting to greet us.  They had not learned until two days prior, that they would be getting a home.  You could see the excitement in their faces as they rushed to welcome us off the bus.

The family we would be building for had lost their home in a fire.  In addition to the house, the fire had also consumed all of their papers, like birth certificates, etc. which are necessary for employment.  So unable to afford new papers, and unable to gain employment, they were staying in a borrowed room in a friends home.  Nearly a dozen people in a single room. 
The family introducing themselves with the help of our interpreter.

 The teams were quickly divided into Red (the better team) and Blue, and sent to their respective build sites, just a few feet apart.  As we stood in a circle on the foundation, introducing ourselves to the family, I couldn't keep my eyes off the concrete pad under our feet.  At best, it was a couple hundred square feet.  We would be building a single story house, for this husband and wife and their five kids. This "house" would be the size of a small room, but it would change their lives. 

We got to work quickly thereafter, which was good because I was itching to put the "construction foreman look" I'd been cultivating for the past few months to good use.  As part of the framing crew, I measured out the studs to be cut for the walls and then started swinging the hammer. 

Chad and I audition for Home Improvement

I nail studs next to Tanner Foust. 
One of the young boys from the family was quick to join in, and man did he like hitting nails.  As we worked, it was cool to see the family joining in wherever they could.  How often we take for granted the buildings we live in because all it took was a little money to get there.  This family had the privilege to be an integral part of building their own home.  That's something these kids will remember their whole lives.  

It appears the painting crew had a bit more fun...and bad aim.

Before long we had the walls ready to go up.  It was at this point that I realized that while athletes may know their bodies incredibly well, we all could use some lessons in anatomy and counting.  Our build leader, Brodie, instructed everyone to lift the wall to their waist and hold it there while we moved the bottom of the wall into place.  So on his mark everyone lifted just to the bottom of their necks.  Once the bottom of the wall was where he needed it, he said "Now we'll lift it all the way up on the count of three. Ready?" Then everyone  lifted it up immediately.  This happened with all four walls.  Great bunch of athletes. 

Here we show that athletes have exceptionally high waists. 

Before we knew it, the first build day had come to a close with the walls in place and the beginnings of a roof.  That night we enjoyed a very festive dinner with great food, drinks, and entertainment.  Where possible, entertainment from our own group was interjected-- mainly during the belly dancing demonstration.  I was secretly hoping to be picked, but my hips were kept quiet for the night.  

The next day, the finish line was in sight with the home build.  Dry-walling, roofing, and electrics were the main tasks for the day, and everyone was just as excited to get it done as the day before. At lunch, everyone pooled money together to help furnish the house and buy groceries for the families.  Each house was split into three rooms, with a bunk bed, kitchenette, and additional room.  When all was said and done, we stood in a circle just as we had before the build started.  Everyone got to hold the keys to the house while speaking to the family about the home, and their experience, before finally giving the family the keys to their brand new home.  It was during this time that the full impact of the weekend really began to hit me.  I realized that at the start of the weekend, we all thought we were coming to give something great to a family in need, but by the end all we could do was thank them for the blessing the building experience was to us.  Everyone seemed to have been humbled by the experience, their interactions with a family that had so much joy and energy despite their circumstances, and the chance to work along side great people who recognized that there is more to life than being good at sports. 

After giving the keys  to the family, we all got to watch as they unlocked the door and walked into their new home for the first time as a family.  We then got to knock on the door and be their first visitors.  As we all stood inside, nearly thirty people in the space of a college dorm room, we got to watch their excitement.  To me, it would have been a cramped space difficult to be grateful for.  To them, it was hope, security, and the chance of a new life.  I must have looked really interested in the ceiling with as often as I was looking up to avoid crying.  We prayed over the house and family before saying goodbye.  No one left the site the way they arrived.  

As cliche as it may sound, this experience was truly life-changing.  Everyone on this trip had to pay to be there.  Were it not for the help of others, I would not have been able to afford to go.  I met some of the greatest people in my life on this trip, and formed friendships in just a few short days that will hopefully continue for years to come.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I was truly a part of something bigger than myself.  In a single weekend, I got to be a part of not only witnessing, but helping a family's circumstances change completely.  When we showed up, there were two concrete pads.  When we left, there were two homes filled with hope. 

The Red Team and finished house. 

If you'd like to know more about the organizations involved in this weekend, you can check out their sites.
Homes of Hope:
More than Sport:
Athletes in Action:

I'd also recommend watching this documentary about the Tijuana Canal.