Connecting the Dots

 

We were passing the Peach Stand headed towards work on a Sunday morning a few weeks back when Krista turned to me and asked: “What made you go to Honduras in the first place?” Last year I’d somehow talked her into returning to rural Honduras with me for our “honeymoon,” so it seemed like a fair question.

I hesitated for a moment, my mind racing to find the most simple answer to such a hard question. “Because I don’t like to play by the rules,” I responded. She nodded in agreeance, and I went on to explain how this all came to be.

She and I were both raised here in Fort Mill, in the same neighborhood in fact (although we never knew each other growing up), so she was keenly aware of what it meant to graduate from Fort Mill High School. Seemingly the only thing to do after graduating from such an impressive school district was to go to college, as a huge percentage of my graduating class did. It was certainly an expectation of me, both by my parents and my teachers.

But I don’t like to play by the rules; I’m not willing to do something just because “it’s what you’re supposed to do.” This character trait, while initially attractive, is now simply understood and tolerated by Krista. I was rebelling against the notion that I HAD to go to college after high school, opting instead for taking a year off to work and travel.

My original idea was to spend the year in Chile as it seemed to be one of the most beautiful, exotic, and remote places I could think of. Given that I had no money, knew no one in the country, and couldn’t speak any Spanish, Chile seemed a bit out of reach.

But, I explained to Krista, I did grow up in the Unity Presbyterian Church Youth Group, and each summer we took a 10 day Mission Trip- New York, Kentucky, New Mexico, and, finally, Honduras. And so, the summer after my senior year at Fort Mill High, I found myself in Honduras with the Unity Youth Group, and was introduced to Tim and Gloria Wheeler, who were running Heifer Honduras at the time. I had found my connection, my path to spending time abroad.

I would return the following January for a several month stay, again the next year in June with a group of fraternity brothers, and once more the following summer. I loved being in Honduras- the simplicity of the lifestyle, the gratefulness of the culture, and the satisfaction of a long, hard day of work all spoke to me. The two months that I spent by myself in a rural community were held some of the happiest days of my life. There was no stress and no responsibility, just sun, sweat, and smiles.

Life would take some unanticipated twists from after my last trip to Honduras in 2006. In a whirlwind tour in the 82nd Airborne Division, I would be deployed to Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And in the years that followed, I would find myself with neither the financial means nor the time to step away for a trip back as I was constantly stoking the flames of two small businesses.

When Krista and I decided to get married last year, there was simply nothing conventional about it. A conversation, not a proposal. No engagement ring, but a pair of silicone bands. No showers, no wedding parties, no rehearsal. A partner workout instead of a ceremony.

No wedding registry, but a Go Fund Me account set up to accept donations for our unconventional honeymoon: a trip back to Honduras to build houses.

I’m still not entirely sure about how I convinced Krista to go for this last one, but I think she intuitively understood that as compatible as we are, that she would also enjoy what has brought me so much happiness. I’d bet the curiosity also played a part- a desire to understand what was so magical about this place that it would draw me back again and again. For me, besides desperately wanting to get back to a slower, simpler life (if only for a week), I was hungry to share the experience that had molded so much of who I would become. Understanding what makes a person happy allows us to understand what motivates that person to action. Trips to Honduras capture what drives me perfectly: work hard, help people, make a difference.

Our original goal was to raise money, plan a trip, and take a group from ABV down with us. As much as Krista and I wanted to get away from work, the thought of sharing the experience with our community just seemed like too great of an experience to pass up. Plus, just imagine how much work a pack of fit athletes who like to work their asses off could get done in a week.

Sadly, there are only so many hours in the day. We have been overwhelmed trying to keep our heads above water with both businesses, much less try to plan an international aid trip to a third world country.

As luck would have it a like minded friend of mine, Jeff Taylor, happened to post on Facebook that he would be taking a group down in July and was looking for help. Krista and I both agreed that it was time- that we both needed some time off, especially if that time off involved hard, manual labor and a disconnect from our busy lives.

Jeff and I are kindred spirits to be certain, and we’ve enjoyed many a philosophical discussion understanding what we are doing here this week. As much as I talk and write about “changing the culture” when it comes to fitness and ABV, Honduras is completely different. Here it isn’t about changing the culture, it’s about understanding it. It’s about getting into these rural, impoverished communities and understanding their needs, not forcing our wants on them. One of the things that Jeff is very skilled at is truly partnering with a community- developing relationships and friendships and then asking the question “How can we help you?” Jeff believes in playing the long game, and understands that there are no quick fixes in Honduras. Over the course of 20 years, he has slowly built a reputation of trust, goodwill, and respect. Jeff’s incredible resume of projects in Honduras is a direct reflection of his patience, persistence, and ability to understand the Honduran culture and way of life.

We’ve both discussed at length our own awareness that what we do here is a selfish act. We come because we like to work hard and because helping others gives us joy. We love the people of Honduras, we love the pace of life, and we simply love being here. We do this because we enjoy it, and deep down we both feel ourselves chasing that guilty pleasure.

On the flip side of that coin, we’ve also both come to understand that we are capable of doing more to help than simply building houses. Although we would both be perfectly happy left to ourselves out in a community somewhere simply sweating the day away, we’ve both realized that we individually have skill sets that will allow us to be more helpful than just simple manual labor. For Jeff, it is the act of planning and hosting trips such as this one. While I’ve been quite content to simply turn my phone off and punch out for the week, Jeff has been constantly coordinating with people all over place- both in Honduras and the US. In a lot of ways, this is business for him, and he does not have the luxury of sitting back to enjoy the week in the same manner that I can.

I’ve referenced before that  while by myself in a small community outside of La Paz, I was faced with this same dilemma: I had truly found happiness- I was perfectly happy working all day in the sun, free of responsibility or stress. And yet, I knew I could contribute in a more meaningful way, although I was unsure of what that might be at the time.

The “how” is starting to become clear- it is my access to the amazing community of ABV. It’s my stable of passionate, sweat-loving athletes and the tremendous amount of work they would be able to accomplish in one trip. It’s having the ability to share my experiences with them in hopes of getting them to partake in the endeavour for years to come. What we do here is something that must be experienced first hand to understand it’s true impact. The more we can share this beautiful place, the easier it becomes for all of us to make a difference.

I feel confident that this trip is bringing my life full circle. Being able to share this with Krista, understanding the mutual philosophy and mission with Jeff, and knowing that we have an army at ABV waiting to be unleashed and contribute to these projects connects some major dots on the map of my soul.