Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Cancer Filter

I ended the phone call with as emphatic of an "I love you" as I could manage, with my voice broken by sobs.  The voice on the other side, I had never heard before, but I knew it belonged to what I could only venture to guess was my father, heavily influenced by high doses of morphine to manage his pain.  I had tried to say everything I could think of, everything I might have left unsaid over the years, yet the doubt in my mind lingered that he wasn't "there" enough to understand.  That was the last time I spoke to my dad.  He was in Dallas, lying on his death bead, and where was I?  I was stuck in a traffic jam in El Paso, TX trying to get back in time to see him again.  I was only half way home from Tijuana, with ten more hours of driving ahead of me. I could only hear now, the haunting echos of his distorted voice, and my mom's suggestion to prepare for the possibility that "he might not be here, when you arrive."

My heart broke, and my head began to spiral with self-critical thoughts.

"Why did you have to stop and sleep last night? Were you really so tired?  Those four hours of sleep could be the difference."

"Why did you wait so long to leave Tijuana?  Were all those friends you wanted to say goodbye to worth not being able to say goodbye to your dad?"

"Why didn't you go home when things started going south?  You could have been there a week ago."

"How will you live with this?"

The traffic jam broke.  The speed limit lifted to 80mph and my truck moved as fast as I thought I could get away with, yet the road stretched on and on, and the hours dripped on like molasses through an hour glass. Fortunately, I was not tired anymore.  I could not afford to be tired.

Body shaking, and head in a scatter-brained daze, I made it to the hospital in time, but it did not feel like I did.  I arrived to a scene I will never forget, though I'd soon like to.  My father, unconscious as he had been roughly since that phone call, lay in bed gasping for air merely four times a minute.  With each breath, a sound I did not recognize, but will always remember, reminded us that the time was drawing near.  In a time alone with him, I poured out my heart, not knowing if he could hear me.

I had arrived shortly before 11pm, after a 25 hour road trip. I was exhausted, having only achieved 9 hours of sleep in the last three days, but I had no intention of sleeping now.  I stayed at his bedside, holding his unresponsive hand which was growing colder as his bodily functions continued to slow, but eventually I fell asleep.

I awoke to a sound, or more accurately, an absence of sound.  His irregular breathing was no longer marked by the hideous gasping noise, but was a less forced, almost resigned short inhale and exhale.  It was almost time.

"Why did I sleep?"

Eventually his breaths, consistently getting more and more shallow, ceased.

After six years, that was how I saw my dad's battle with cancer come to an end.

That was the hole I found myself in, not even a day after returning home.  It was deep, dark, and in all honesty, I still haven't been able to climb all the way out.  Despite the myriad of family and friends around me, and the multitude of people that would pass through in the coming days, loneliness and confusion dominated my mind.  The following week, with the ensuing chaos of people dropping off meals, the funeral and all it entailed, reality lost it's tangibility.  Around the house, things seemed almost too normal, and my mind was taken back to my childhood when daddy would go on work trips across the world and bring back a cool model car.  His absence, heavy, but there remained an unshakable feeling of expectancy.  I noticed the patio cover needed to be re-stained in spots, I saw the leather working supplies I had bought for him--unopened, and the world came crashing down.  There would be no triumphant return.

Each day was/is marked by small moments.  Like waves, the forgetfulness allows normalcy to return just enough to think about texting him for advice, or a stupid joke.  In a moment just long enough for my stomach to drop, remembrance returns.


I wish I could say I've been able to focus on the good times, but what sticks with me are the moments that broke me years ago.  There are memories we all have that will forever remain clear as day.  These are mine, which I've previously refrained from speaking out for the sake of my dad as he continued to fight.  I share these simply out of a spirit of honesty, hoping to be understood.

I think, when cancer first reaches into your closest circle, there is a level of naivety that exists. Looking back I have realized that I spent the first year or so of my dad's cancer battle in limbo between ignorance and a blind assuredness that it would be resolved in short order.  I remember with painful clarity the day that idea came crashing down.  As my brother and I visited my dad at MD Anderson, his routine visit turned into the type of feverish weekend stay to which we would grow accustomed. As we sat with him, he-- hooked into an IV--tried to assemble the hamburger he didn't want into something he could force down.  (I'll never forget the passion with which he hated whole grain buns, always on the "diet plan" doctors assigned to him).  With his dominant hand tethered to a bag of fluids, he was struggling something fierce, and eventually we had to step in and help.  As we all three realized simultaneously what this meant, my dad broke down for the first time in front of us.  It was then and there that I realized that this fight was not going to be the easy fix I expected, and that the man I always saw as unbreakable, indeed had a Kryptonite, and I would have to be a helper to him from that point forward.

Later that same night, as we watched The Sandlot together-- a movie that could bring us a smile if ever there was one-- close friends dropped by to take Chad and me out for a bit.  With our mom resting at the hotel, our dad would be alone for a bit. I was second to say goodbye, and could see that he was just barely holding it together. With everything in me crying to stay at his side, I asked if he would be alright.  He nodded because words would clearly break the dam, and Chad and I left.  Now I can only summon regret for not staying.

I remember how gaunt he became as he went through his rounds of radiation.  My dad, always an imposing man at 6' 3" as I grew up, now weighed less than me.  He had radiation to his lungs, and even his brain-- a procedure that made me shudder, simply seeing the steel contraption bolted into his forehead.  It was sometime around then that the following two incidents occurred.

One evening, Chad and I worked hard in the kitchen to prepare a nice meal for our parents who were returning from another round of treatment in Houston. We started early and were on track to get the meal on the table about the time they would be coming through the door.  As we dined, I noticed a lethargy in my dad as he poked around at the food.  It was something I would eventually learn not to interpret as an insult to my cooking.  His treatments made him desperately nauseated at times,  Before long he rushed away from the table and to the nearest bathroom.  Eventually he returned, shaking his head and apologizing.  He really did want to eat the dinner, he said, but simply could not.  Of his struggles, this one plagued me most throughout his fight with cancer.  Each meal I made I would try to come up with a combination of healthy food to get nutrition in, and enough junk to please his tastes and increase the calorie count-- assured that THIS time, he would enjoy food again. In 6 years, I can only remember one time he went back for more. (Coincidentally, it was a sandwich that he coined the name of that night. I thought it was dumb, but they'll always be "It's a Bob" sandwiches from now on).  Of the joys that cancer robs, I feel like this is one of the most cruel.

Growing accustomed to the bustle of hospital visits, my dad finally decided to cave in and buy a pair of Crocs to shuffle around. Chad and I went out to shop with him and provide moral support for this ego-breaking task.  As we scanned one store, my dad found a pair he was interested in.  The boxes were down near the floor so he dropped into a catcher's squat to look for his size.  As he grabbed the box and went to stand up, he lost his balance and began to fall backwards before Chad and I braced him and restored his balance.  That moment he broke once more, I believe the second time I'd ever seen it happen, as he fought the realization that the simple act of bending down and standing up was no longer so simple.  He had grown so weak.  From that day forward it became my habit to position myself behind him, just in case.  Each time, a painful reminder.

In the time I spent at home in his last couple years, I realized that it was way easier to live a normal life from a distance. Despite the numerous times I had come face to face with the reality of the situation, I found it was easy to pretend all was normal when I was away from home.  Inside the house I had to confront the truth.  I became accustomed to waking up to use the restroom in the night, and seeing the dim glow from the lamps turned on in the living room downstairs.  He was not having a good night.  I hoped he was at least having a comforting time with God, reading the Bible or praying.  I never went down to see.  Even when I heard him having the most painful coughing fits imaginable for hours on end, I stayed up in my room, praying for it to stop.  It's perhaps the most troubling thing for me, looking back, to see the cowardice with which I isolated myself from the truth, and the opportunities I lost to comfort my dad when he needed it most.

What hurts me most, is that this is how I remember my dad.  It's these awful memories that stick with me.  The last few nights, I've tried to remember the better times, but I can't. The memories are all foggy and disjointed.  I remember breaking into tears as it registered in my mind that it was my dad standing next to me-- he and my mom surprised me by coming to a collegiate race. I remember snippets of the moment he taught me a lesson that I have taken to heart. I vaguely remember the time we spent practicing baseball together, but it all seems to blur together.

It's honestly been deeply frustrating to me, the timing with which I returned from Mexico. So many people tell me they're happy I made it in time to say goodbye, and that I was with him when he passed.  But all I have are the awful memories of that hospital room.  I'm told he had moments during the day, though much of it spent in pain, where he was joking around.  He was himself again, if only for a few seconds at a time.  But I missed all of that.  I had to say goodbye over the phone.  And I'm stuck with only clear memories of the bad stuff.

I guess that's what cancer really does. It doesn't just rob of health, it reaches into all aspects of life.  It changes what you remember and how you remember it.  It casts a shadow over the good, and magnifies the bad.

I confess, that's where I still am most days.  It's not where I want to be, but progress is slow.

I'll close this random collection of sadness with the best memory I have.  Years ago, my mom reached out to friends and family for us to write letters of appreciation to my dad for the impact he had in our lives.  I had this memory, clear as day, that I decided to write about.  It's the kind of memory I imagined myself recalling one day in the far distant future for his eulogy.  Incidentally, it was read as part of his eulogy just a few months ago.

Sidebar: In the letter I vaguely mention foot pain.  I didn't explain because it was a letter to my dad, and he would remember well the situation.  But for other readers in the dark: as I hit my last growth spurt going into high school I suffered from a condition where the bones in my feet grew faster than the muscles and tendons.  The strain had me in constant pain just walking around.  Couple that with the transition to metal spikes for baseball and I was in a bad spot.  Most cleats have a 6-8 spike pattern so the pressure is high in a small number of points.  I wasn't just complaining about aching feet, I was in serious pain...just to squash any doubt.


Pappy, baseball will forever hold a place in my heart.  There is little comparable to playing a game under the lights on a weeknight.  Even though school always seemed to come a little earlier the next morning, nothing could take away the game, the competition, the suspension of all responsibilities for even just a couple of hours.  There's nothing quite like a game of baseball.  
 
But despite the thrill of the game, when I look back on all the years of baseball I played, the games were just a bonus.  What I loved more than anything was practicing with my dad. 
 
Baseball brought us closer than anything else could.  More than anything, I've gained such a respect for you out of your dedication to me and my growth in the sport.  While I may not have realized it at the time, you gave me my first lessons in selflessness through baseball and have given me memories I will never forget. 
 
I remember in middle school, when I decided to take off-campus P.E. to satisfy the gym credit I needed.  I didn't realize that my decision had a greater impact on you than me.  It's hard to practice baseball by yourself.  You need someone to throw the ball with, to hit ground balls to you, or my favorite--throw balls at your feet in the dirt.  I still can't grasp how you had the energy to do anything after a long day of work, but you never failed.  Every day, shortly after you got home we'd play catch in the side yard-- always between the fence and the shed (That DARN side arm).  You always gave of yourself to make sure I was the best I could be.  It was that attitude that set in stone your position as the person I admired, appreciated, and respected the most out of anyone, even though I may not have shown it.  In all my baseball memories, one always stands head and shoulders above the rest, and I think it embodies that sentiment the best. 
 
It comes from just about the time we started wearing spikes.  I remember the aching pain in my heels, the discomfort with every step, and the shooting pain anytime I ran.  Especially when I ran.  I remember our combined efforts to relieve the pain and our very limited success.  I also remember the motivation to push through the pain and do my part for the team, a value I got from a pretty great man.  It was the last game of a weekend tournament.  After multiple games, my feet were killing me, and I felt on the verge of tears with every step.  I don't remember the score, the inning, or the number of outs.  I do remember walking up to bat and wanting nothing but to strike out so I could sit down and not hurt so badly anymore.  Just my luck, a nice meaty fastball came right down the pipe, and I couldn't resist.  I let 'er rip, and drove the ball right into the gap in left center, and it was headed for the fence.  Extra bases--my worst nightmare.  So I took off down the first baseline, feeling a wave of pain with every step.  I couldn't help but limp as I swung out of the baseline to round first.  I kept pushing though, and took a peak at the third base coach to find out that second base was the finish line.  I dug as deep as I could and made it to second standing, wincing from the pain and holding back tears.  But the moment I'll never forget happened as I stood on the bag, hands over head, gasping for air.  I looked toward first base, seeing the same coach as always, looking right back at me.  In slow motion his right hand went to his cap and grabbed the bill.  As time slowed even further, the hat lifted from his head and lowered to his waist, upside down before returning to his head.  The tipping of the hat may well have just been a gesture from a proud coach to a player, but it carried more weight than I could ever really convey.  In that moment, my dad, the man I looked up to most in the world, was proud of me.  And for once, there was crying in baseball.  Few people get the chance to receive the approval of their hero, but on that day, I did.   
 
Since then, my respect for you has only grown stronger.  When my time with baseball drew to an end, you were incredibly supportive despite the time and effort (and money) you had dedicated.  And then I got to witness you continue to pour yourself into my passions as you drove me to bike races each weekend and stood for hours on the side of the road just to see me come by for a few seconds and hand me a water bottle, only to turn around and drive the long hours back home.  Even on your days off from work, you refused to relax because you wanted to be my support.  If there is anything I've learned from all the time we spent together going to those high school races, it's that cycling is a sport that will test how much someone really cares about you.   
 
And wow, you must really love me. 
 
I'll never forget the day our lives all changed.  I still remember sitting upstairs on the couch when you broke the news that you had tumors in your lung.  And I'll never forget standing outside my truck in Austin, talking on the phone with you as you confirmed it was cancer.  No one could predict at that time where our lives would be headed in the next few years, but I think we've been through it all now.  I've seen you push through far greater pain than I could ever imagine.  I've seen the pain and suffering in your eyes as you struggled to force down the food you so desperately needed.  I've seen the frustration with plaguing illnesses, side effects, and I.V. bruises from incompetent attendants.  I've seen you grow in your faith, and I've seen you get stronger and tougher as a man.  But most of all, I've seen you change, in me.  Because of you, my faith has grown.  My relationship with God has grown.  I now understand hardship, perseverance, and love.  Because of you, I am better.  And as tough as it has been in these past few years, you have been used to accomplish so much good.  I respect you now more than ever, as my father, role model, a cancer survivor, and still my hero.  And I tip my hat to you. 
 
I Love you so much,


 Shane





Monday, September 12, 2016

The Art of Taking a Pitch

It was the only thing I insisted go on display at the memorial, knowing that its significance would largely go overlooked.  The leather is worn from years of use, even cracked in many places. The lacing stands out drastically in comparison to the rest of the leather; nearly all of the original lacing was replaced long ago.  The palm is dark with patina from countless catches, the webbing deep and relaxed from repeated battering by baseballs.  It was his glove.




As people passed by they were reminded of his love of baseball, his years playing, and as many years coaching.  But all they saw was a glove. Me? I saw my childhood and adolescence, the love and passions of a father passed down. I saw countless work nights spent practicing until we couldn't see the ball anymore.  But mostly I saw an allegory for his life.

I used to hate that glove.  Every time we went out to play catch, he would pick it up and slide it over his hand, and I would burn up a little bit inside.  A new glove will let you know when you're putting some heat on the ball.  The webbing is tight, and when it catches a hard thrown ball it will sound out with a loud "pop"-- a cry of pain that assures the thrower.  Not this glove.  Its years of experience were never impressed by my arm.  Try as I might, I could never get that satisfactory pop. From a mere sixty feet away, I would let it fly with all that I had, nearly throwing my arm out I'm sure, trying to get it to cry out in surrender.  All that I got on the other side was a soft reception, barely even acknowledging that I had thrown the ball at all. I wanted so badly to get the 'pop', I remember on occasion trying to catch my dad off guard with a throw at the belt, getting him to turn the glove over and catch it in the palm.  I don't think he cared for that too much.


This is the last time we got to play catch.


I remember shortly after starting select team baseball, when young kids finally replaced dads and machines as the pitchers, my dad taught me something most coaches ignore.  He took me to the batting cage at the church, where he always threw batting practice for me, but this time he did something different.  We didn't work on hitting the ball to the opposite field, or anything like that. The throw came tight and inside, really inside, and I jumped out of the way.  And that's when he stopped and taught me something I'll never forget. He walked over to me and showed me how to stand my ground, turn on my front foot, and get hit right in the back.  Then and there, he had me practice getting hit! He moved close and underhand lobbed the ball so I could get used to seeing the ball come in and react in time. He taught me that by recognizing the inevitable and turning, I could protect my vulnerable ribs and knees, and catch the ball in the back, or butt if if I was lucky, where the muscle would soften the blow.

As a left-handed hitter going up against a lot of young pitchers, I could expect a lot of wild throws. Being in the minority, most pitchers were unused to throwing to a batter on the left side of the plate.  The strike zone was the same, but visually I really threw them off.  Because of that, I got hit...a lot.  Enough to earn the nickname "Magnet," and have a running bet with the coach of $1 per hit-by-pitch walk, to be paid at the end of the season. Thanks to my dad, I got a lot of free bases with little more than a sore spot, maybe a bruise a few days later. I remember so many times seeing the pitch coming in tight and simply turning, taking it, and jogging right down the line to first base where my dad was waiting to give me a proud little pat on the rear. The umpires always wanted to give me some time to walk it off, but I never needed it.  Never even reacted.  It was my way of telling the pitcher he was nothing to be afraid of anyways.

Shortly before coming home from Mexico, as my dad's fight with cancer came to an end, these memories came back to me. I remember the painful, emotional vision I had of these being replayed in my mind, only this time my dad was in the batter's box, and his life was the glove. I remember this picture of him standing by the plate, getting hit by fastball after fastball, never flinching and never complaining.  Life hit him hard with cancer, over and over again, but like his glove catching one of my throws, he just let it happen never giving it the satisfaction of a cry of pain.  Radiation, extreme weight loss, side effects, loss of livelihood-- they all showed themselves by the obvious wear and tear on his body.  But he kept being himself, as best he could.

After watching my dad fight cancer for six years, I've now seen these baseball lessons come to life.  The glove that was his earthly body, showed the abuse he took from years of treatment. His chest, a new permanently flushed red from the radiation. His walk, marked by a lilt in the right shoulder, having sunken lower because of his collapsed lung. His cough, a constant reminder of the battle within.  Yet he lived on to keep playing.  Even when things got too tough, and the lacing broke, he let God come and fix his brokenness with new, stronger lacing to hold him together.  He endured enough hit-by-pitches to round the bases, and eventually make it home, where his Father was waiting with a congratulatory "well-done" pat.

Such is life.  Things happen that can catch us off guard.  They can leave us in pain, bruised and battered, but if we're willing to endure suffering for the moment, there is a reward waiting for us.

In May of 2012, my dad wrote this blog,and it wasn't until I held his hand as he laid on his deathbed that I realized I was one of the ones watching.  It pains me to think that I might have been one of the reasons he had to endure so much suffering, but because of his example I have come to learn so much about faith, suffering, and endurance.  I've learned about sacrificial love, and trust in God.  My dad was a true example of Jesus to me-- Jesus who endured suffering beyond my imagination, bearing my sins and shame on his shoulders, hanging on a tree until his life left him, never raising his voice until justice was established.

Sometimes in life, you have to take one square in the back.  Sometimes you will have so much thrown at you that you break. But when you surrender to God, He can put you back together, make you stronger than before, and useful for your purpose once more.  The hardships of life can leave us bruised and beaten, but as surely as getting hit by a pitch leads to a walk, enduring in this life leads to the realization of God's promises and eternal rewards.

To many, it was just a glove on a table, but to me it was the representation of a life well lived.  It was encouragement and hope.  Lately I have felt like I'm going through the re-lacing process, but I'm doing my best to trust God that eventually, I'll be ready to play again.




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: https://www.youcaring.com/shane-haga-530687
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.



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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.

https://www.facebook.com/paty.gutierrez.906/videos/860977097289468/

 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 (https://www.youcaring.com/manage-fundraiser.aspx?frid=530687) 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.


video