A dear friend of mine recently posted a picture of her daughter on Facebook that brought my usual high speed newsfeed scrolling to a halt. Carleigh, her daughter, was standing next to a young girl who looked nothing like her, and in quite an unfamiliar looking place. As I read more about the picture, it turned out that Carleigh, her brother, and her dad were on a trip to Guatemala with a group from their church. They went there to spend time and share stories with young school age children. They didn't go to preach, but to engage the young people in activities centered on a theme of generosity.
There were a couple of things that struck me as out of place at that moment. One, it was spring break. High school kids go cause trouble at a local beach with their friends or lounge on their couches at home playing video games all week, they don't go to Guatemala. Second, Carleigh's dad, Ross, is a successful businessman in our community. Men like that don't set aside a week to accompany their kids on trips to developing countries. So - curious about their journey, on Easter morning I sent my friend Corinne Luck a message and asked her if I could talk to her world travelers about their trip. They agreed to it.
One of the first things I asked them when we met was "why did you go on this trip?" Peyton, Carleigh's brother, said he wanted to do something that would take him out of his comfort zone. He had never traveled out of the country, and so the prospect of being in a strange place with people living out a different culture was a bit intimidating. But for Peyton, that became his reason to go, not stay.
Carleigh said she'd had the chance to travel before, and wanted a chance to experience the same with her dad and brother.
Ross, he talked at length about the Mayan culture and history, so I could tell there was as much curiosity and adventure in his heart as the desire to do something cool with his kids over spring break.
I asked them to tell me how the trip impacted them. Carleigh skipped any thinking and told me one thing she never heard the kids say while she was there was I wish. Kids her age, and she included herself in there, are always wishing. Whether it's for a new cell phone or car or even a new school, they always have their eyes on something better. But these kids, she said, probably weren't aware there was anything better out there, so they were happy with what they had.
Carleigh and Peyton both told me they were surprised at how accepting everyone was there. Here, they said, if we see people from a different country, or people who simply look different, our instincts are toward suspicion. They told me this story about a lady - a lady who didn't know them at all - who opened her house up to their group of 17 people for dinner. They asked me if I could imagine someone here opening their house up to 17 strangers. I didn't answer, but I'm not proud of the reluctance I felt considering such a dinner party at my house.
Ross added that the Mayans have every reason to be unhappy. They've been persecuted for centuries; many of their relatives were killed during a 36 year civil war that lasted into the 1990s. Yet, parents don't teach their children to hate. They are committed to their children being the generation that ends centuries of bitterness.
I thought I was listening to Mike and Mike in the morning on ESPN when Ross and Peyton started talking about the soccer skills some of these young kids demonstrated in the fields outside their school houses. Peyton plays junior varsity soccer at his high school, and said these kids could run circles around him. I think he was probably exaggerating, but I think it was his way of appreciating that effort and practice and passion can come together in the form of a good athlete whether he's running up and down the plush lawn of an American stadium, or kicking up dust on a dirt field in Guatemala.
Ross, Carleigh and Peyton all noted it was much more likely to find the young Guatemalan girls clinging to one of their visitors than out in the dirt playing ball. Girls being sweet, boys being boys. I'm thinking that's an area they discovered where our cultures are alike.
To get a picture of the resiliency of the folks in Guatemala, you have to hear the story the Lucks told me about an 80 year old woman committed to bringing her country's forests back to life. Over the years, many of them have been leveled for oil exploration and additional farmland. This determined lady plants one seedling at a time in small bags of dirt to be transported and planted as replacements for trees that once protected her home from landslides and erosion. So the Lucks sat next to a large dirt pile, and with their bare hands, scooped dirt into 500 bags that would eventually be home to the seedlings that bring life to this lady's grander vision of a forest.
I felt the determination as they shared this story. The determination of an 80 year old lady sure she can make forests out of little baggies of dirt, and in the Lucks as I imagined their dirty hands and fingernails digging with confidence that she could pull it off.
I spent an hour talking with my 3 friends about their trip. This small article barely touches the surface of the message they shared and the stories we laughed about. I really had no idea beforehand why I was so drawn to their story, but something Peyton said during our conversation made it all clear to me. He said, "I think our country would be a better place if everyone had to go visit a place like Guatemala."
Carleigh added a quote that explained it further, and I don't know if it was one she heard in Guatemala or one she'd heard before then, but she said "You can't say something is sweet until you've tasted the sour."
I think what these two teenagers were driving home is until you've been to someplace like Guatemala, until you've tasted the sour, it's very difficult to live a life of gratitude. I left them believing that gratitude might just be never feeling the need to say I wish again. I can tell you I've been monitoring my wish list closely in the week since we met.
I need to warn my young friends, though, as they were reciting their lists of all the things they would never long for or ask for again, their dad, Ross, was in the corner taking notes.
I do have one wish on my list, maybe more a hope. When our two boys are teenagers, it would make my day to discover they sat and spoke with the kind of maturity and humility that came from Carleigh and Peyton as they talked with me. Further, I hope our boys will find me sitting next to them, and realize I placed the kind of importance on their adventures as Ross placed on joining his kids on their trip to Guatemala.
I am very grateful for the entire Luck family.