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For the last two decades, I have been responsible for developing healthy partnerships for the ministry I serve, Dare 2 Share. During that time I have experienced more than my share of missteps and misunderstandings. It’s probably one of the most difficult areas of my role to navigate – yet, I love it! I love the creativity it requires to build a win/win for both sides of the relationship and I take on the challenge of communicating expectations with a smile because of the opportunity it provides to cultivate deep, lasting friendships along the way.

These years of experience have also served as a ‘refining fire’ of what to do and what not to do in the area of partnerships and I’m hoping that these lessons help you and save you some time:

Lots of friends, but only a few partners – There is a difference between an endorsement and a partnership. An endorsement is a strong recommendation for a person, product, place, company, etc. Most often an endorsement is spontaneous and unsolicited. Exchanging reciprocal endorsements does not constitute a partnership. It implies that you are friends and that you have a mutual respect for each other. My neighbor is my friend. He has a great lawn, can give you tips on how to garden and will lend you a power tool in a pinch. My husband is my partner. He and I are in it for the long haul and we don’t just live in the same house, we are building a home together. I encourage you to have a lot of friends but to choose your partners carefully and prayerfully.

Do something together that you can’t do alone – Look at the marriage metaphor again. Without my husband, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the vision for building a home that both he and I share. Neither one of us could do it alone. When you choose a partner, create a vision to do something together that leverages what both of you are great at in order to forge a new thing that couldn’t be done without each other. And if you can’t build something new together, than make sure that you make each other better in a way that makes sense. In ministry, a strong partnership also advances the Kingdom in exponential ways. Ask questions like, “Will the partnership help both ministries advance the Kingdom faster and further?” “Does this relationship add value to my offer or accelerate its success? If the answer is yes, then you have the beginning of a great partnership.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver – Be clear about what you bring to the table. Don’t offer to promote the other everywhere if you aren’t willing to do that every time you open your mouth. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this. I’ve actually had to tell the prospective partner that I “wasn’t interested” because of how quickly they offered to “include us in everything they do”. Seriously? How can you promise that? Either you should be working for me instead of XYZ, or you are setting me up for some heavy-duty disappointment. Just refuse to go there. Believe me, it’s worth it. Force the potential partner to qualify and quantify and then put it all on paper. And do the same for them. Then, over deliver. No one ever complains if you do more than you planned and it goes a long way toward a long-term relationship.

Identify the KPI – Determine a set of mutually agreed upon key performance indicators. It’s best if these are measurable markers of whatever you are building together, but they don’t all have to be completely quantifiable. Just make sure that you have at least one absolutely objective indicator and then feel free to add one or two more that you both feel good about. Just keep in mind that the more subjective, the more you will need to define. Ask questions early in the negotiating like, “What does success really look like?”

Switch sides – Just like in volleyball, you gain a different perspective when you cross over to the other side. Switch sides and see if you both still agree it’s a win/win. If there’s any doubt at all, make suggestions to make it equitable. Remember a win/lose for you is even worse than a lose/lose so don’t try to get the upper hand. No sustainable partnership is built that way.
Check-in early and often – This builds relational equity and provides space for adaptation. Are you making amazing progress toward that vision that you defined together? Sometimes circumstances change and you realize there is a better way to get there. Often, you learn a few things early as you are working together and you need to fold some of those learnings into the plan. Either way, take the lead. Ask questions and listen earnestly. I’ve never had a time when this was not reciprocated.

Honest transparency– Partners don’t need to know your dirty laundry or be included on your confidential correspondence, but they do need to know enough ‘insider information’ in order to serve you. If you’ve done your homework beforehand and chosen the partner carefully, you know you can trust them. They should be on the top of the list of disclosure – right after your team members. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage discretion. But be honest and explain the good, the bad, and the ugly. Chances are they can help and if nothing else, will offer support and prayer.

Clarify, clarify, clarify – From the very first conversation and at every step along the way, clarify. Look for clues that acknowledge your intent in communicating both verbally and in writing. Do the same for them. Repeat their expectations back to them. If you don’t get a response that looks a lot like, “Wow, you really understand what I’m saying!” then try again. Even if it feels absurd. Clarity is worth fighting for.

Don’t be afraid to pull the plug – Even great beginnings must have an end. If you sense things are winding down, work together with the partner to develop an exit strategy. Ideally, you both are sensing the timing is right and it’s time to move on. But frankly, this rarely happens. I don’t want to be Debbie downer, but because we all as human beings naturally avoid perceived ‘pain’ this usually doesn’t get going until after it’s too late. So what do you do? My advice would be to keep your ‘radar’ on and if you’re really on top of the above principles you may, if you’re lucky, handle this seamlessly. But in any case, you HAVE to be able to say when. If you’re someone who can’t handle pulling the plug, then you aren’t the right person to manage partnerships.

Well, that’s just about everything I know. I truly hope it’s helpful. One last caution… I’ve found that the word ‘partner’ means a lot of things to a lot of people. I haven’t looked it up for a number if official definitions but I’m certain that there are more than a handful. Use the term sparingly and you will protect yourself (and whoever you represent) from a lot of misunderstandings. And remember, very often, two really are better than one.

 For over a decade, representatives from our close ministry partner, Compassion International, have been asking me to join them to visit one of their projects in the field. I consistently turned down their generous offer again and again because I felt like I couldn’t be more convinced that the work they were doing was necessary and productive for the Kingdom. I truly believed that there wasn’t any reason for me to personally experience their work – I was already “in.” But I was wrong. I’ll explain why in this and the next few blog posts.

 Every year I work closely with Compassion to develop a compelling presentation for our student training conferences. This year a young lady named Katie Payne is joining our tour to tell her story. Katie’s testimony, along with her infectious personality and passion for those less fortunate, provided a new and fresh perspective for presenting Compassion at the conferences. And it just so happened that one of Katies’s sponsored children lived in Guatemala. So that’s how I ended up deciding to travel with the team to Santa Avelina.

 Compassion took care of all the logistics for a short trip (Sunday-Friday) to this remote mountainous town to capture on film Katie and Norma’s first meeting. My unofficial role was to accompany Katie and provide support and encouragement throughout the 6 days. That seemed easy enough. I still didn’t think the trip was a necessity for me but I did have a sense that God was preparing me for a new friendship with Katie and I was really looking forward to sharing this experience with her.

 The preparations for the trip were more than I anticipated and as it turned out the timing wasn’t great either. Several projects were still in process at home and at work as the departure date approached so I found myself a bit stressed about leaving. But as soon as my flight out of Denver left the ground, a I had a strong sense of peace knowing that there was a team of folks praying. I was really excited to see what God had in store.

 When I arrived in Houston to meet the rest of the team I found out quickly that two of our small group of five were delayed due to airplane mechanical problems. Neither one of them would be able to get in to Guatemala City until the next day. We were on a tight travel schedule but it was looking like we would have to try to make up for the half day delay somewhere else in the itinerary. So Katie, me, and Tim our Compassion rep went on ahead and arrived in Guatemala about 9:30 Sunday evening.

 We were met by Myra, our in country liaison for the trip. I couldn’t help but like Myra right from the moment I met her. She was so welcoming and loving right from the start. And even though we were travel weary, she made sure that we had everything we needed and knew everything we needed to know. Even crazy little details like, “we don’t flush our toilet paper here so there will be a basket next to the toilet for you to put it in” and “you need to use the bottled water we provide for you to brush your teeth.”  Compassion knew what they were doing, and Myra represented them well. She instructed us that we should have a leisurely morning the next day since we needed to wait for the rest of the team. She agreed to meet us for breakfast and then we would stop and visit the country office before heading to the airport.

 Our hotel that evening was amazingly beautiful, a 5-star location with all the luxuries you’d expect plus a unique Central American charm with candlelit gardens and expansive decor. I was impressed and was looking forward to a good night’s rest in our more than comfortable surroundings.

 The next day we did exactly what we were told – we took our time, had a wonderful breakfast, and then headed out on the mini-bus. We knew that this was not going to be the pace of the rest of the trip because we were already behind schedule and also had to plan a new driving route because a major road had been severely damaged by a mud slide, adding hours to our already long bus ride.

 The country office was educational and it was great to meet the many people behind the scenes to ensure that the 187 Compassion projects in the country were well managed. We learn that Compassion only partners with local churches in their projects. I love the strategy behind the ministry. It truly is brilliant. I was humbled by the offices practical setup and blessed by the people we met. The security system was extreme, bullet-proof doors with a fingerprint requirement for entry, reminding me of the danger they faced day in and day out just coming to the office to do ministry. I take so much for granted in my cozy corner in suburbia!

 It’s easy to recognize that there is a crime problem in the city as men with machine guns are standing outside of every retail establishment – something business owners invest in themselves for protection Myra tells me. The traffic is chaotic and loud as hundreds of motorcycles buzz like bees around every other vehicle trying to push its way to its destination. I see Policia all over the place but wonder how effective they really are in light of the situation. I was excited to get out of the city.

 At the airport we encounter yet another challenge, one of the equipment bags is MIA. As we brainstorm solutions it finally shows up and we load up and head out, just a few more hours behind.

 The delays have created another challenge as well since the roads are too dangerous to travel at night. We will have to find another place to stay along the way. Myra works closely with Sandra at the country office and we end up in a small mountain town with some crazy long name I couldn’t even think about pronuncing. The guys plan for dinner but Katie and I decide to settle for a Cliff bar and some girl talk since we had a great breakfast (crepes with caramel and Nutella) and a late and filling lunch (local fare with tortilla making at a cavern-type restaurant along the way).

 Now our second night as roommates we’ve settled into our routine. Katie and I quickly bonded and were able to share stories as well a few laughs. What a wonderful friend for life! Yes, this was going to be a great trip!

 The next day was the first of many bright and early mornings (although I don’t think we realized that at the time). You really do learn a lot about people when you encounter them at “unGodly hours” (as Katie says). That, along with our many, many hours on the bus, gave each of us some remarkable insights about each other. I’d give examples but I’d be breaking our bond if I shared those with outsiders. I will give away a few of our made-up nicknames for each other though…

 Inspired by the seven dwarfs:

 Sleepy – Mark because he has tha uncanny ability to sleep anytime, anywhere.

 Doc – Tim, chosen for his “take charge” personality.

 Sneezy – Katie who has the most understated sneeze in the world.

 Happy – Nic because he goofing around even when he’s sleep-deprived.

 Dopey – that would be me… I always seemed to be “stepping in something”.

 The next portion of our journey through the mountains of Quiche (pronounced kee-chay) proved to be just as exciting. Twists, curves, switchbacks, bumpy roads due to mud…. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t car sick! The scenery is beautiful as the mountains are green and lush and it’s surprising how the people have planted maize anywhere there is soil, even on the steepest of inclines.

 The people of the region are poor and without modern transportation so I quickly become accustomed to seeing old men with piles of timber tied to their backs and women in Mayan costumes with baskets balancing on their heads walking on the side of the road. And it wasn’t unusual at all to see super young children roadside unsupervised. You would never see this in the States. Omar tells me that the different colors and patterns of the Mayan skirts and blouses identify the many different dialects, but I still don’t understand why it’s only the women and children who wear the traditional clothing.

 We pass through several small mountain towns that offer a glimpse of life there. They remind me of some of the depressed towns I have seen in Mexico. The people are curious about the bus, but busy with their everyday chores so not paying too much attention to us. Katie enjoys waving to them and they seem to enjoy waving back at her. There are homeless dogs all over the place that no one pays any attention to – they just run around and stay out of the way of traffic.

 The last 45 minutes we are on a one lane dirt road, heading deep into the woods. Finally, we reach the small village of Santa Avelina. The bus pulls up to the project and Nic (our videographer) jumps off the bus to be sure he captures Katie and Norma’s first encounter. I wasn’t quite prepared for what was to happen next…

  The bus was met by a crowd of locals, all dressed in their best and super excited to see us. The project had never been visited before, either because it was a relatively new project or because of how remote they were, but either way this was a very special time for them and we could tell.

 Katie takes no more than one step off the bus and Norma is right there to meet her. She looks so happy and beautiful and Katie is absolutely beaming with joy as she hugs the little girl that she’s been sponsoring since May. Although I was taking pictures, it’s hard not to be moved by the moment. This is something I am never going to forget and I am so excited for Katie! The entire team is ushered in quickly to the church since we arrived many hours later than they had expected. What I notice immediately is that Mark and Tim are completely surprised by the elaborate decorations in the church. They look at me and tell me that this is very unusual and as I look around I can understand why.

 The entire floor of the church is covered with fresh pine needles. There are dozens of palm branches literally stapled to the walls. Twine is strung from corner to corner and flowers and greenery are hanging about every 6 inches. There is a giant homemade banner of greeting in front of the modest stage and it seems as though the entire village is here. Myra motions for us to quickly take a seat and leans over and whispers that this is the first time she has ever seen anything like this. Pine needles on the ground is done for Christmas, but that’s about it.

 What follows next was such a blessing it’s hard to describe it in words. The children, including Norma, all dressed in white, have memorized a presentation of praise and dance with special homemade candles and props. Myra interprets some of the lyrics and I realize how much these children authentically love their Lord. As if that wasn’t enough, one of the staff there named Isaias, who lived in the US for a few years, joins the women and they sing “Lord, I lift Your Name On High” in both Spanish and English. Another very special moment since I know many of these women only speak the local dialect, Ixil. This is followed by an inspiring sermon by the local pastor based on the parable of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. There’s something very authentic and joyful about this pastor and my heart is moved by his words.

 The next activity is a celebration lunch for us with the staff and Norma and her family. We head upstairs to find six small classrooms, a common area, a small office that also doubles as a pantry and food prep area and a teeny, tiny room that serves as their “kitchen.” There is a large cement basin in the corner of the common area that has a faucet as well. I am asked if I want to help serve and I immediately jump in to help.

 In the office there is a woman sitting on the floor in front of a large alumni bucket filled with what looks like tamales wrapped in twine. She begins handing them to us and we unwrap the leaves and find pieces of chicken and spices inside. The leaves are spread out on to the plastic dishes and the leaves are trimmed with shears. It’s quite a messy ordeal, but everyone waits patiently in the common room. After the chicken is squash flower soup, rice and vegetables, all served on small Styrofoam plates. I can sense this is a feast for them. I choose to sit with the women teachers and a translator and they tell me more about what they do there. They were so loving and caring, I truly admire their dedication to teach the children.

 The children arrive soon and we get to spend some time watching them in their classrooms. I can tell that they love to learn and that the teachers there are committed to teaching solid Bible content. I am impressed with the way that they are able to do so much with so little. The rooms are so small that the children’s desks are literally squeezed in right next to each other but they don’t seem to mind, they are fully engaged in what’s happening. The walls are very thin and the roof is just a sparse tin roof so the teacher’s practically have to yell in order to be heard over the noise of the other classrooms. It just doesn’t matter though – the kids are so enthusiastic!

 As we question the staff we learn that their limited space has kept them from opening up more opportunities for more children. They have already received a lot of help and building materials from the community and are trying to get more. Compassion rarely helps with building space, dedicating the majority of the funds to assist the children directly, so the staff have their work cut out for them. As I leave the project I pray for God’s provision.

 It’s late afternoon and the team wants to take the 20-minute hike to the waterfall that provides the village its water supply in order to capture some more film footage. So we head out with a few of our new friends, along with Norma’s whole family, to visit the waterfall.

 The hike begins easy enough. There is a narrow, but well traveled trail on the side of the mountain that doesn’t seem to be terribly steep. But about 10-minutes into the trek, the trail becomes steeper and muddier. Okay, I think to myself, no big deal, just follow the rest of these folks. And Norma’s mother has a skirt on with cheap plastic sandals, so surely it can’t get too bad.

 It soon starts to rain and the already muddy trail starts getting muddier. My tennis shoes are soaked and coated with mud. Norma’s mother climbs the trail without effort and doesn’t have any problem with her footing, even in sandals. We get to the waterfall and it’s all worth it. It’s breathtaking! A few minutes are spent capturing the moment with Katie and Norma and then we turn to head back.

 One of the locals decides to try a different route and it’s so steep that I keep having to stop to get my breath. This holds up everyone behind me but they are all gracious. I begin to wonder if I am going to have a heart attack and die – right there on the side of a mountain in Guatemala.

 The trail leads us to the village cemetery and then it begins to not just rain, but POUR. We rush to find cover and end up standing in an open half-finished cinderblock structure. I’m glad to be out of the rain but have no idea where we are.

 I quickly find out that we are in the home of Isaias. His English is good so he explains to us that he went to Florida for seven years to make enough money to come back and build a home of his entire family. He is 23 years old. He points to a tight little stairwell and we follow him down to see his current living space. We meet his parents, his brother and sister-in-law and their three children, all of whom live there with him. Back upstairs we see an old table saw and stacks of wood that he will use to finish the space. I am so impressed with this young man. His heart is so genuine and he works so hard. Along with working on his house he is also a translator for Compassion and the bookkeeper at the project.

 We finally return to the project and say our goodbyes. We are wet and tired and it’s been an emotionally draining day but we are glad we get to return tomorrow.

 The sun set as we left Santa Avelina so we didn’t really get to see much of the town where we were to sleep for two nights. The hotel seemed nice compared to the surroundings but certainly NOTHING like the night before. I did get a little nervous as the locked gate opened to let the bus in and closed quickly after we parked. Hmmm…

 We shared dinner together and then got to bed by 9. Katie and I had the room next to the lobby. The furnishings were sparse, two double beds, a night stand, and desk with a mirror. One bed had a headboard and the other did not. The light fixture had no covering, just a light bulb sticking out of the wall. The bathroom had no light near the sink (it was torn out of the wall) but there was one by the shower. All I cared about was taking a hot shower and the water was scalding so I was happy.

 As soon as I laid my head on my pillow the doorbell rang. What? I swear it was right above my head. Then there were several conversations, it seemed like right next to my bed, all in Spanish. Then the doorbell again. And again. And again. Katie and I started to giggle. This must be how they find out someone is outside the locked gate. Now worries, I’m sure it would be over soon. Just closer your eyes and wait…

 Then we heard the yelling and screaming. Then dishes breaking. Then more yelling and screaming. All in Spanish. There was definitely a fight going on out there. “Should we be scared?” Katie asks. “Or are we just too tired to care?”

 “Too tired,” I reply, and we stay put. The commotion finally subsides and I can hear Katie’s “sleep breathing” in the bed next to me. But my body decides to begin trembling and no matter what I do I can’t get it to stop. For over an hour I try to control the crazy uncontrollable shakes without any success. My imagination kicks in and I wonder if I am going to have to wake Katie to go and get help. I decide to take something to see if it will help and within another hour or so I must have fell asleep. When the alarm goes off I assess how I feel and determine that I’m going to be fine. There’s no reason to alarm the rest of the team.

 On the agenda for breakfast was a visit from the pastor we heard the day before. As we sit down to share the meal with him and his wife of over 40 years, he begins to tell us about his journey. He talks about the Guerrillas who almost killed him in the 70’s. He shares about how God has delivered him time and time again from dangerous and life-threatening situations. I notice that his jacket is torn pretty badly but it’s obvious that he and his wife are in their best dress. I am so caught up in what he is saying and his obvious joy for the Lord, his people, and the children, that I seriously forget to eat. This moment, this simple breakfast with a pastor and his wife, moves me more than meeting the mounds of children at the project. The respect that I feel for this man of God is so deep that my standard for any man of clergy is now amped up by 10 notches. I don’t want to leave.

 The pastor and his wife join us on the bus and I am thrilled to spend a few more moments with them. On the way he stops to buy a 100-pound bag of salt and loads that on to the bus as well. When asked what the salt was for we find out that he portions it up and sells it.

 I am super excited to find out that Nic wants to jump off when we drop the pastor and his wife in order to take a photo. I am able to go as a “helper” and Tim allows Nic to take a photo of me with them as well. I will cherish that photo forever.

 The plan in Santa Avelina today is to split into two groups for home visits. Tim, Nic, and a local team will join Katie at Norma’s and Mark and I will visit another home of a Compassion-sponsored child with a few of the local staff. Our group heads up the hill to visit Miguel and his family.

 We come to a small shack on the side of the mountain and find that once again, it is decorated elaborately for our visit. Although a very small space, this family made a big deal about us coming to visit. We are greeted by all who live in the 3-room small space – Grandpa, mom and dad, and 6 children including 7-year-old Miguel. It takes about three minutes to see the whole space and as we stand by the wood fire stove Mark notices some medicine on a shelf. He asks if someone is sick and we learn that the medicine is to protect the children because one just died 15 days ago.

 My heart fell to my stomach as I looked into the eyes of this mother, graciously preparing tortillas for us, who had just lost her one-year-old little girl just over two weeks ago. How in the world was she even able to function? But she continues to make us feel as though she is the most privileged person in the world to have us visiting her home. I am humbled beyond words.

 We end up spending over two hours at Miguel’s home and sharing a meal together that was brought over from the project. We give them the gifts of food and toys that we brought and spend time talking about their life. I am thrilled to find out that Miguel wants to be a preacher someday so I ask if I can pray for him specifically. Praying that prayer has got to be one of the coolest things I have ever done. Sitting there holding his hands in mine while my prayer for him was translated into two languages was an experience that I will never, ever forget. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for little Miguel. I pray he uses him to reach the world.

 When we gather back at the project to say goodbye, the mood is a bit solemn. We spend a few minutes with the staff and Jeremy, the young leader of the center, breaks into tears as he tells us that our visit has given him the motivation to continue to press on. We ask to pray with them and it’s an emotional and Spirit-filled time. We call out to God to rescue these children in Jesus name. We pray for provision and grace and mercy. We thank Him for all he has done. Amazing.

 We exchange stories of our home visits on the way back to the hotel and it sounds like the other group had a great experience as well. I can’t wait to see the film footage of Katie at Norma’s house.

 That evening we are graced with the presence of two students from the region who have made it into Compassion’s leadership program, Antonio and Nicolas. Also joining us for dinner is Sister Juanita, a Director at a student center nearby. Over dinner the student’s share their testimonies and we learn that Nicolas was raised up through Sister Juanita’s program. She became a huge part of his life after his mother died when he was seven. Both boys are studying to get their degree in Business Administration. All of the confidence I had in Compassion’s Leadership Development Program before is now affirmed as I listen to their stories. Even though only a small percentage of children sponsored will make the program, it is still a very important program. These students are committed to returning to their homes to make a difference. God will certainly use them to do phenomenal things for His Kingdom, I have no doubt.

 Sister Juanita has never been married or had any children of her own. She has worked at a student center for over 30 years and has adopted a few children who haven’t had parents. She considers herself the Grandmother of their children and she tells us that it’s stories like Nicolas’s that keep her going, even in hard times.

 Our final night in Nebaj (ne-bach) ends well. Katie and I head back to the room lamenting about whether or not we will be able to sleep.

Tim had brought 4 packets of sponsored children from the project with him. He had shown them to me on the bus and asked me if I was interested at all in sponsoring one of them. And even though Katie pushed pretty hard, I really didn’t feel led to step up to the plate. Tim didn’t push, just placed the packets back in his backpack gently.

 After visiting Miguel’s home we were able to return to the center for some more time to observe the children in their classrooms. That is where I decided that I wanted to sponsor a child from this project before I left. However, what I really wanted was to sponsor the child that no one else wanted. I wanted the child from the project who had been waiting the longest for a sponsor with no response. So when Tim returned, I talked to him about it.

I think I stumped him because when he came back to me he had the same 4 packets he had shown me before. He explained that it would be difficult to find out the information that I wanted and he felt it was important that I meet the child while I was there. I didn’t think that was necessary, but I looked back over the packets and chose Gaspar. I had noticed him when I looked at them before. His photo was not very compelling and he was the oldest of the four children. Tim left to go talk to the staff to see if he was there and returned with him in tow.

 I knew right away that this was a match made in heaven. Gaspar was so shy that he could hardly look at me. He was so small for his age and didn’t speak any Spanish. When I was able to look into his eyes I could tell that his health wasn’t great by the yellow clouding his pupils. Isaias knew him well and quickly took on the chore to break the ice between the two of us. He translated to Ixil all of my words and stayed close while we were trying to bond.

 It took a bit, but Gaspar finally was able to raise his chin and speak with me face-to-face as well as give me several hugs. I found out that he wants to be a musician someday so he can praise God. An ambitious goal given how shy he is, so I admire him for that. We gather some gifts for him – a puzzle, a soccer ball, some other toys and when I give them to him his eyes light up like Christmas. Has this poor boy ever had anything like this happen to him before? Probably not.

 What a wonderful blessing this new addition to our family is going to be! I can’t wait to tell TJ and Rick and to send Gaspar some pictures and a letter.

We decided to hit the road early again and stop for breakfast after a couple of hours of travel. Unfortunately, the bus ride on the way back to Guatemala City was more tumultuous then on the way there. I have no idea why, but my stomach felt as if it were in my throat. By the time we reached the restaurant, I was green and the world around me was spinning. Tim helped me off the bus and I had to sit for about 30-minutes completely still before I could sip some hot tea. I ended up being able to get down about a half of a waffle and then I took some Dramamine for the rest of the bus ride.

 Prepared for the drugs to completely knock me out, I found a cozy corner on the bus and settled in. Everyone else made makeshift beds out of the rows of seats and quickly fell asleep. But I couldn’t rest. I was nervous about getting sick so I asked Myra if I could join her in the front seat. What a wonderful few hours I had talking with her! I found out more about her and her family as well as Guatemalan culture.

 We stopped for lunch at place specializing in Crepes (go figure!) and had a great lunch. Then we headed in to Antigua so that Tim could meet his sponsored child, Christa Lee.

 Antigua used to be the capitol of Guatemala so it’s a pretty big city. Cobbled streets and plenty of tourist shops abound. We got off the bus and headed to the Chocolate Factory where Tim was to meet Christa Lee. Compassion paid for a tour for all of us so we all got to learn about Cacao and how chocolate was made and even make some ourselves. It was SO much fun watching Tim share this experience with his sponsored child! She was a sweet little 5-year-old girl who was not shy at all. They immediately became friends.

Almost five years ago I was given an anniversary gift of two airline tickets anywhere in the world that frequent flyer miles would take me. I was surprised and grateful. As a thank you for 10 years of service in ministry, my boss wanted me to take a little time off and travel. Wow! What a great gift!

My colleagues kept asking me, “Where will you go?” My response? “I’m not sure. I need to pray and plan and save some money, but there a lot of places I would love to see.” Okay. So it took me five years to do that… but hey, I’ve been busy!

Rick and I loved the two Carribean cruises we have taken so we started looking into a cruise. Something extraordinary, something we wouldn’t do on our own. We settled on the Mediterranean. I’ve dreamed of Greece and Italy – sure that I would never be able to actually get there. I found an itinerary that was perfect:

  • Venice, Italy
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Ephesus, Turkey
  • Santorini, Greece
  • Corfu, Greece
  • Venice, Italy

Seven days cruising with 4 full-day ports and then 3 days before/after the cruise in Venice!

The entire trip was a dream come true. Not only was the weather PERFECT, but we really didn’t have any travel headaches until we hit a delay on the way home through Washington, DC. It was as though God was smiling down on us and paving the way for a wonderful time. From the unsolicited upgrade to a suite stateroom to locals pointing us in the right direction at just the right time, the entire trip seemed to be one blessing right after another.

We went completely unplugged. No cells, no laptops. I was twitchy on day one but recovered quickly as I realized… I’m in Europe! It would be an understatement to say that I enjoyed getting reacquainted with my hubby of 27 years. I can’t explain the connection we had during this trip, but I kept thinking… “I’m really glad I married you!”

We jumped outside our comfort zone and spontaneously came up with our own little “adventures” every day. This wasn’t something we talked about – it just happened naturally – and it was a blast! Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Getting lost – we intentionally got lost at least 3 times just to see where we would end up.
  • Do what the locals do – eat what they eat, go where they go. I was intrigued with the languages and tried my best to chime in. Rick gravitated toward the culinary side of things: unusual items on the menu and shopping at local markets.
  • Public transportation – I have no idea why we ended up exploring each of these countries best in mass transit, but we hit them all! We even eavesdropped on a British tour guide to figure out when to catch a bus… when in doubt, walk around until you hear someone speaking English.
  • You may never be back – We tried to remember this and go ahead and splurge a little. A midnight Gondola ride, a rental car in Corfu, a mid-afternoon snack with orchestra playing in St. Mark’s square…

The cruise itself did not disappoint either. Of course, we weren’t expecting a suite but sure were thrilled to have the extra room and all the amenities that go with it (I had no idea how well they treated the “suite” people til now). Our tablemates were interesting too – two mother/daughter couples, one from MI/MN and the other from NY. The girls were about 25, so we regretted not having TJ along! As usual, the ship was clean and the service was great, the food spectacular (and lots of it). We both got massages after a long, hot day in Turkey – what a treat!

But I have to tell you, the most memorable part of the trip was visiting Ephesus. I’ve not been to a lot of ruins, so I’m a bit of a rookie. But as we walked on the ancient marble roads and saw the city that was so powerful and had so much significance in our Christian heritage, I was overwhelmed. It took my breath away to realize what had happened there so long ago.

Pictures are on my Facebook page if you are interested.

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