To the statues

There’s an old monastery deep in the hills of Kentucky that has been the home of countless monks, weary travelers, and soul searching followers for a 166 years. It is the oldest operating monastery in the U.S.. The famous writer and monk Thomas Merton spent much of his life there. In 2012 Casey and I traveled to this monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemane. I had always wanted to go there for two nerdy reasons. The first, I love Thomas Merton, one his quotes hangs framed in my office. The second, there’s an Andrew Peterson song, “Silence of God,” that sings about Jesus facing the same sorrows that we face in life. In that song there’s a line about “a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll in the hills of Kentucky” and I was told that I could find that statue at the Abbey of Gethsemane. So Casey and I went on an adventure. We toured the Abbey. We read it’s history. We walked silently though a beautiful garden, visiting the stations of the cross. We hiked up a hill to see the view. I didn’t see the statue anywhere though. It was by chance that we noticed a trailhead across from the Abbey. We walked over to it and there was this little sign, no bigger than a bumper sticker, it had an arrow pointing into the woods and the phrase “to the statues.”

The hike was a lot longer than you’d expect. A narrow trail through a thick forrest, it went on forever. The Abbey sits on 2200 acres of land and I’m convinced they used every bit of it. It was hot and muggy and buggy. But we kept hiking. Just when we felt like we might be lost or mistaken there would be another sign with an arrow saying “to the statues”. I couldn’t help but recall Paulo Coelho’s book The Pilgrimage. Along the road to Santiago Paulo must find the markers to ensure he’s traveling the correct path. Sometimes that means looking back to an old sign, and others it means staring into the horizon to find the next marker.  Like Paulo, I find myself looking for those signs, walking blindly at times, just hoping to see the next arrow to the statues.

Two thirds of the way up the trail we encountered this little shack. It was too small to be a room, probably only six by six feet. The wood was old, the windows were missing their glass, and the door was open. Inside was a desk and a chair, and piles of prayers. Journals that people had left, paper tacked to the walls and laying on the desk. Prayers everywhere, but not just prayers, there were other weird things too. Little trinkets, nicknacks, and random things just laying on the desk and floor. It was iconic and moving and beautiful and broken. Casey was in front of me, looking in the little prayer hut when she jumped back, quite startled.

“Oh, sorry. I thought I saw a snake. But it’s just the skin. Someone must have left it there.” She said.

Looking over her shoulder I could see the snake skin stretching from one side to the other. She walked back to the hut, stopped, and immediately turned around running. All I could here was “it’s alive,” before the snake started moving and knocked over the chair. We had encountered the devil on our way to see Jesus!

We did not leave a prayer in the hut.

With our blood flowing and our adrenaline up, we kept hiking, forever. I don’t know the exact distance, I know we hiked over an hour before we finally got there; got to wherever it was we thought we were going.

Like most incredible moments, it came upon us with little to no warning. We simply turned the corner and saw them. A life size sculpture of three men, asleep on the ground. They were tired and weary and they slept. They should have been praying but their eyes were heavy and their bodies were weak. So they slept.



A moment that I would have never thought iconic, but it is. And I knew, as I watched those frozen men sleep, I knew what I was about to see. Just up the hill, a little ways, we saw Jesus kneeling all alone, the man of all sorrows, bearing my shame. I desperately wanted to see his face, but I could not, for his hands blanketed his weeping eyes. The savior of the world agonizing for me.


We sat in silence. Neither of us wanting to pollute the moment with noise. After we spent time individually in prayer, reflection, journaling we started back. Leaving Jesus in the garden,  all alone, as his friends slept. On the walk back, with one eye on the trail and the other looking for snakes we talked about the statue. We talked about spiritual things, our faith journeys, our sin. Eventually we wondered how they ever got that thing all the way out there? I suggested that the monks used a helicopter. I still think the image of monks flying a helicopter is pretty awesome. The hike back, like the hike there was arduous. Which is probably appropriate. The entire scene: the hot muggy air, the long hike, the scary snake, the prayers, the sleeping disciples, the weeping Christ, all of it was both, at the same time, broken and beautiful.

Sometimes life takes us into the dark woods. The sings, the guideposts point down a trailhead with very little explanation. But we all need to return to the statues from time to time. It is an adventure that feeds the soul. So we return to slay dragons, to remember the sacrifice, to weep for the cost of grace, to laugh at ourselves, and to rejoice in God’s mercy.


I am now a handful of months separated from my journey to Central America, a temporary escape from some everyday pressures. While there and working with pastors, educators, and leaders in rural Guatemala, it was an escape from the norm. With that trip behind me, a youth mission trip starting next week, and Casey and I planning a vacation for July in front of me, “escape” is on my mind! But while in Guatemala, I encountered other things too. I saw ruinous poverty and struggle, from which so many people are trying to escape. Their “escape” and my “escape” are quite different.

In Frederick Buechner’s book, Wishful Thinking, he talks about “freedom” and “escape” connecting them in an enlightening way. He says that freedom in Christ is “freedom not from responsibility but for it. Escape not from reality but into it.” (emphasis mine)  These moments, Buechner says, are “the best moments we, any of us, have as human beings.”

I always believed that escape consisted only of getting away from something. But sometimes escape can cause us to discover something as well. We can discover truth, life, hope, grace. We can also discover pain, hurt, darkness, and fear. Escape leads to discovery. I need to learn to escape into reality, not from it. Perhaps we could all use more of that in our lives. Whether on vacation, or resting on a park bench, or eating a sandwich in the break room at work – escaping into the moment can be a powerful thing!

So how about it, where do you want to escape to? And what do you want to escape into?

You want to race?

Do you remember racing as a kid? Ready, set, go! First one to the fence wins. Streaming down the road on bicycles, those epic races that led to victory or, often times, crashes. Most adults don’t race. Save professional athletes, I don’t expect to witness two grown men or women arguing about who’s faster. We loose those kid-like qualities, life seems to do that to us. That is something we should not take lightly. While maturing and growing in our faith is vastly important, I’m not convinced that loosing all of our kid-like traits is a good thing. Take, for example, the class passage from Luke 18:15-17, revealing this wonderful moment in the life and ministry of Christ. Continue reading


Day Six in Guatemala.

The first job I ever had was working for the Salvation Army. They paid minimum wage to anyone that would stand outside of a Walmart or shopping mall, ring a bell, and collect donations. I was fourteen years old and I worked everyday of Thanksgiving break, as well as each Saturday leading up to Christmas. I enjoyed it, loved it even. I chose it.

The first jobs of children in Guatemala are quite different from my experience. (I imagine that is the case for many children throughout the world.) Guatemalan educators struggle to keep kids in school. The demand for extra hands in the fields or selling trinkets in the tourist towns engulfs the schools throughout Guatemala. I knew all of this. I had heard the testimonies, I’ve read the stories, I’ve been to Cairo and Cozumel and seen plenty of kids working. Intellectually, up in my brain I knew this already. But not in my heart, not yet. I had shielded my heart from knowing it, perhaps on accident, or subconsciously, but shielded nonetheless. One could call me blind, if they so desired.

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School Supplies

Day Five in Guatemala.

I don’t miss school. The weight of homework and writing assignments and bells controlling my everyday schedule, I don’t miss it at all. But I remember the joy of getting school supplies before the new school year began. It was a joy that lasted through most of elementary school. Picking out pencils and pens, choosing notebooks, picking a trapper keeper – yep, loved those moments. I had to get the supplies because I needed it for school. And even though there were years in my family’s life that were sparse financially, we always, always had what we needed.

On Wednesday, in Guatemala, I had the chance to sit down with the Principal for the school in Chuluc. Together with a few other missionaries, Pastor Jorge, Principal Moses, and our mission guide Jake we met for nearly three hours. We talked about a ton of stuff. Mostly we were trying to listen and learn. Mission work is always tough, but in a foreign country, with foreign customs, a great idea could actually be a terrible mistake. So we met, we asked questions, lots of them, and listened to long, informative answers. The meeting was a blessing for all involved. We learned about the Guatemalan school system, water issues, and cultural struggles with keeping children in school. We also learned about school supplies.

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barefoot traveler

Day Four in Guatemala.

I saw a woman walking barefoot on the streets of Antigua. She wasn’t a native there. She wasn’t a tourist either. I discovered while being here how many people end up backpacking through central America. I’ve seen tons of them in Antigua, Guatemala. Most of them young adults, scrapping by, finding jobs as they need them, moving from city to city, from country to country. This young lady walked barefoot by choice. She strolled down the street with a dog on a leash and a hiking stick in the other hand. Beside her was another “traveler,” what I’ve been calling them being as “tourist” seems entirely inappropriate a term, talking about his decision to live in Guatemala for a season. The crowded streets make it easy to hear one another’s conversations, and seeing as how they spoke English, it was the only conversation of interest at the time.

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No Libraries

Day three in Guatemala.

The gift of reading was something I didn’t appreciate when I was young. I suppose I never truly appreciated it until today. We had the unique opportunity to meet with education administrators from all over Guatemala at a small pubic school, not far from the village of Chuluc. Thirty four principals sat waiting in a classroom for a group teachers from Huntsville, Alabama. I was with them as a pastoral representative from our church. The conversation was incredibly informative and overwhelming to say the least.

Out of thirty four school represented, only three of them had clean water. The three schools with clean water all had their filtration systems installed by Mission Firefly (check them out here). Every school struggled to have support, fight dropout rates, and provide adequate attention for students with special needs. They struggle to get kids past the 6th grade, most start working in the cities or fields by that age. They struggle with teaching to read. Ask a young child in a rural village or one of the slums of Guatemala what they want to be when they grow up and they will not answer you. A blank stare of confusion will be their only response. They have no concept of being anything other than what they know.

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Gloria de Dios

Day Two in Guatemala.

The hour drive from Antigua to the remote village of Chuluc winds through mountains and volcanoes. There could not be a more striking difference than the cobblestone roads of touristy Antigua and the dirt paths that weave throughout Chuluc. Under the narrow awning of La Escuela de Chuluc we gathered for worship. Songs sung in both spanish and english created a beautiful sound and then I preached.

The hours leading up to me standing in front of the villagers of Chuluc were filled with a mixture of emotions: fear, excitement, humility, reflection, unworthiness. How could I preach to them? What can I possibly say to a people living in such poverty? Honestly the overwhelming question floating around in my mind was, Who do you think you are?

It was a journey, a miniature journey in the middle of my larger journey here in Guatemala. The humility that I felt was holy and good. Humility comes from the Lord. The self doubt that I felt was evil and wrong. Self doubt comes from somewhere else!

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Hurry Up and Wait

Day One in Guatemala…

The smell of savory spices are flooding my nose right now. I’m sitting on the rooftop of our hotel in Antigua Guatemala. The sounds of people shuffling about the street, music, languages of all kinds fill the cool night air. The roof is peaceful and strangely dark for a city that’s still lit up. It has been a day of hurrying and waiting. That’s how most mission trips start.

We departed our church in Alabama at 3:15 in the morning for a four hour bus ride to Atlanta. Hurry up, get to the bus, and wait.

We arrived at the airport, got our tickets, checked our bags, made our way through the many checkpoints that make up modern airports, and hurried to find our gate. Hurry up, get to the gate, and wait.

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I’m heading to Guatemala right now. Well, to be more precise, I’m on a school bus right now, riding to Atlanta, and then I’m flying to Guatemala. Mission work is our goal. In one week our team of 20 plus missionaries hope to build two houses, install a water filtration system, host a large Vacation Bible School, train some teachers, and share the love of Christ. That’s the plan at least, mission trips require a lot of flexibility. I know that. I’m sure God will guide us.

The work will be hard, the calling is humbling. I am excited to travel and to see a part of the world that is new to my eyes. I’m eager to encounter whatever God has prepared for me. I hope to do some writing while there. Perhaps even a blog or two. Stay tuned.