Tag Archives: tips

Mission trip packing manifesto

The two most common questions I get about mission trips are how to pack and how to raise support. I’ll address the first one in this post.

I’ve been on a lot of trips and I learn something new every single time. I come across a new gadget, packing hack, strategy or just something I wish I had brought all the time. Packing for mission trips, or any international travel, is about packing smart for comfort and convenience.

Some background. For nearly a decade, I traveled domestically for overnight to week-long business trips. Now, I travel internationally multiple times each year to a variety of countries, climates and cultures for mission trips.

On my first trip, not only did I max out my suitcase with the weight (something I seem to do every single time), but I also brought the largest backpack possible crammed with all my photo equipment, laptop accessories and about anything else I could possibly want. As a result, I was uncomfortable and inconvenienced. The bag itself weighed over 35 pounds which was certainly not fun lugging around airports. It didn’t fit it the overhead on smaller planes and barely fit under the seat in front of me. Those days are over.

I’ll break down the items I rely on into several categories. I’ll also provide some links to certain products for you to check out for more details.

Four things to consider before reading further:

1) These are my preferences. There is no perfect way to pack. Everyone has their own strategy. What you will see are some favorite items and best practices I’ve learned over years of domestic and international travel. Adapt to your own style.

2) The only wrong way to pack is to not plan. Over-packing, under-packing and last-minute packing are great ways to be a frustrated traveler.

3) You don’t have to go buy all these things. It’s taken a lot of trial and error and building up over the years gradually to get to where I’m comfortable packing with these items.

4) This list is not exhaustive, nor is it a checklist. These are important items. Some you may care more about than others.

The Suitcase

The suitcase can be an item of great anxiety or great convenience. Your bag preference will largely be determined by where you are going. If you will be in a metro city with paved roads and easy transportation from airport to hotel, traditional suitcases may work just fine. To save strain on your body and bag, you might look in to a spinner bag like this one from Samsonite. It has multi-directional wheels and rolls upright so you don’t have to pull it behind you. Instead, you can comfortably roll it beside you.

If you are going to be in a place with dirt roads, it may be best to pack in a duffle or a hiking pack. I currently use the rolling duffle below and you can find it online here. I bought it at Costco for $99. It’s waterproof, has rugged zippers and comes with a smaller waterproof carry-on bag. I can use the straps if I need to carry it much easier than a suitcase and it squishes in cabs, vans or buses. I trust Samsonite. They have a great warranty and the product is worth the extra money. I go through at least one suitcase every 18-24 months because they get abused in transit. These bags tend to last a lot longer than the cheaper ones. Tip: Take a photo or scan in your receipt and warranty of Samsonite products in case you misplace your originals.Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 10.38.26 AM

How to pack

  • Spread out everything you want to bring.
  • Put 1/3 of it back. You won’t need it all.
  • Roll your clothes. Here’s a pretty good instructional video if you’ve never done it before.  Rolling saves space and cuts down on wrinkles. I’ve never cared to use rubber bands as the guy in the video. A tight roll is good enough.
  • Bundle your clothes. I’ve only moderately attempted this. It’s helpful to prevent wrinkles for business travel, but can be inconvenient if you want something in the middle. Check out this how-to video for details. 
  • Pack your shoes toe-to-opening (the way you buy them in a shoebox) in plastic bags. You won’t want the germs from the public bathroom on your clothes. Some places sell fancy shoe bags, but I prefer a grocery store bag. I’ve also heard people even use the free shower caps you get from some hotels.
  • Cram as much into your shoes as possible. This includes your rolled socks, underwear, bandanas, or anything else small. Use every inch of space you can.
  • Limit your shoes. These take up the most space and weigh the most.
  • Wear your heaviest shoes if you think you are concerned about the weight of your bag.
  • Space Bags are great for consolidating your space. It makes your suitcase or pack so much easier to carry without it busting at the seams. space-bag-three-large-bef-after-vacuum-seal-from-9_99
  • Packing cubes are a hot, new item. They look convenient for keeping your clothes organized and easy to find in your bag. I bought a set from Bago and will try them out for the first time in a couple weeks. My order came with four sizes, a document protector and a VIP membership to get coupons and other travel tips.Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 3.40.06 PM
  • Tip: Pack a dryer sheet or two in your bag. It will keep your clothes (and your bag) smelling fresh. I keep one in my compression bag, especially one the way home!
  • Bring a laundry bag. I put my dirty clothes in one bag to keep them separate from my clean clothes if I’m living out of the suitcase and can’t unpack somewhere. If I’ve packed right, I won’t have much to co-mingle with clean/dirty by the time I head home.

Clothing

  • Check the weather. It sounds so basic, but I’ve been stuck several times wearing short sleeves in the cold and wearing absorbent sweatshirts in the rain. Take 2 minutes and look at the 10-day forecast for wherever you’re going.
  • Know your itinerary. Again, another no-brainer, but it has to be said. If you’re digging a water well, plan on bringing old shoes and clothes that you can throw away, leave behind or bring home dirty and not complain that they are ruined.
  • Plan for the highs and lows. Just because it might be 80 during the day doesn’t mean you should leave the jacket behind.
  • Plan on layers. You’ll be miserable if you have one massive coat in moderate weather instead of layers you can easily shed.
  • For warm weather, don’t pack a lot of cotton shirts. Cotton will absorb your sweat and start to stink. Your favorite tee might not be appropriate. Be willing to leave it behind.
  • For warm weather, do pack dry-wicking shirts. These pull the moisture off of your body, dry quickly and don’t smell near as bad as cotton. You can spend $$$ on name brands, or $ on a suitable off-brand.
  • Ditch the jeans. Yes, you can wear jeans for several days. That is a glorious thing. But, limit yourself to one pair. Instead, bring light weight material that is versatile and comfortable. I splurged a bit on my favorite new pants, REI Igneo cargo pants. These have a four-way stretch and feel like you’re not wearing any pants at all.

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  • Quick dry underwear. Again, nothing cotton. As a guy, I love the Boxerjock boxer briefs by Under Armour. These roll up quite small, are polyester, wick sweat and dry quickly. This is all I wear regardless of whether I’m at home or on the road. Unfortunately, that’s not me modeling them in the link provided.
  • Hats. For hot weather, bring a baseball hat or bucket hat to keep the sun off you. I’d rather have a big, floppy, goofy-looking hat than a sunburn. For cold weather, a beanie is a must.
  • Shoes. Last year I destroyed my feet. After walking 5-10 miles each day and playing sports for several hours, my toes were all blistered and I was miserable. I had old running shoes that just didn’t get the job done. This year, I followed a recommendation and bought a pair of Nike Wild Trail shoes.
    Nike Wild TrailIf these are good enough for uneven ground and trail running, they had better be good for me in an urban context or rural village! I also added some performance running socks that have padded arch support. I’ve worn these a couple times already and absolutely love them.IMG_2546
  • For comfort while flying I’ll wear some slip on shoes. They are easy to get through airport security and I can wear socks with them to keep my feet warm at 30,000 feet.
  • For warm climates, flip flops area a must. I also love Keen footwear for hiking, water activities, rainy weather and walking. They dry fast, have closed-toes and great grip.
  • Also for flying, I typically wear long pants so I don’t get cold, or I keep a pair of athletic pants in my backpack to slip on over some light shorts. Wearing pants also allows me to wear some compression socks for extra leg comfort.

Hygiene

  • If you’re a rookie traveler, make sure you follow the 3-ounce regulation for anything you bring in your carry-on.
  • You don’t need an entire can of shave cream or bottle of hair spray even if it’s packed in your checked bag. Find the travel aisle at Target. Select Bed, Bath & Beyond stores have expanded travel aisles that are loaded with small size containers of your favorite products.
  • For your favorite lotions, shampoos or conditioners, you may want to invest in a Go Tube. These guarantee you bring the right amount and avoid leakage. If you want to bring your own bottles, another way to avoid leaks is to put plastic wrap between the cap and bottle.go_tube
  • Hand sanitizer. Other countries don’t value soap and water the same way you might! Tuck away a small bottle in multiple places.
  • Wash cloth. Many international hotels don’t keep wash cloths in your bathroom. Tip: Wrap your bar soap with your wash cloth for easy packing.
  • Use a binder clip to cover your razor to avoid cuts.

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  • Deodorant. I usually keep one in my toiletries bag and one in my backpack. Long flights and long days usually call for some backup. Axe or Old Spice body sprays are great as well.
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste. Keep a travel toothbrush and small toothpaste with you. Again, after a long flight, some clean teeth and fresh breath make you feel like a person again.
  • Chapstick. Bring a backup. Someone always seems to lose theirs.
  • Travel towel. This is new for me, but I found times that I wish I had one in the past. I went with the Shandali Travel Towel. It dries fast and doesn’t take up much space.shandali-travel-towel-720x600

Your backpack

I would argue that this is one of the most crucial items you might bring. Your backpack/daypack is what you will probably have with you the most on your trip. Whether it’s to keep your comfort items for planes or store your camera and valuables in the city, your backpack is important.

Choosing the right bag is hard. You want something spacious, convenient, light and unassuming. If you’re in the market for having your bag stolen, have a brightly colored camera bag or expensive leather sack around.

I’m a backpack freak. I love getting a new bag. After 7 years of my reliable Victorinox bag, I’ve invested in a new one. After much scrutiny, my new bag is a Power Pack 3.0 by Outdoor Products.  I can’t wait to fill it up and start using it. Did you see that is has a secret retractable slider for documents? How cool is that?

For small outings in the mission field where I might be sight-seeing or just taking a couple things with me, I like to pack a small draw string bag that folds up.

In my main pack, I keep the following while traveling. I strip this down considerably once I get to my destination.

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Carabiner clipped to the outside. I use this all the time for attaching a variety of items to my bag.
  • Extra change of clothes (in case your suitcase gets lost). I’ve had the same extra (unused) pair of boxers in my bag for 7 years. It’s my own superstition, I suppose. I just know the minute I take them out is the minute I’ll need them!
  • Gum/mints
  • iPad/Kindle/tablet/e-reader
  • Neck pillow (inflatables are good for space, but not always the most comfortable). I substitute the inflatable for one that I can clip on the outside of my bag so it doesn’t take up valuable inside space.
  • Light jacket or pullover
  • Chargers for tablets and phones
  • Travel wallet. This year I’m going with the Victorinox Travel Organizer. I have a smaller wallet that I will use around town, but this is substantial enough for my passport, American and foreign currency, cards and more. Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 4.48.41 PM
  • Medications
  • Headphones. I bring a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones for long plane rides and also a small pair of earbuds for daily use while I’m prayer walking, traveling through town or having a devotional time. I’ve been on one or two flights recently that require a two-pronged adapter for you to use your own headphones, otherwise, you’re stuck using the standard airline ones (and you might have to pay for them.) You could also bring a splitter so you can share with a friend.
  • Bible. I struggle with my Bible format on every mission trip. Book or app? App or book? I still like to have a hardcopy of God’s word with me, but if you leave that home in lieu of an app, there’s nothing wrong with that. I bring a smaller, paperback copy. Make sure you download the translation you want so you can read it offline when you’re not around wifi.
  • Journal. On a mission trip, even if you aren’t someone who journals by nature, you’ll want to have something to record the events that happen, people you meet and ways God worked.
  • Pilot G-2. It’s my favorite pen. I usually have a Sharpie with me as well.
  • Laptop. I’m going without it for the first time on a long trip soon, but if you have work to do or need files, bring it along. Make sure you have quick access to it going through airport security.
  • Sunglasses, case & cleaning cloth. I wear my shades from sun up to sundown. I make sure I’ve got my accessories so they are well taken care of.
  • Tile & Tile App. Another new product for me this year. I will be clipping this on the inside of my backpack in case it gets lost or stolen. Track the bag with your own search party by using the app and put out an all-call to the Tile community to help find it.tile-large
  • Passport & passport copy. I’ll use the secret compartment on my backpack for my passport some of the time and I’ll be locking it up in my room once I’m at my destination. I keep a copy with me at all times and have it stored on my Evernote phone app also.
  • Cash. Spread the wealth. Keep some cash on you, in your bag, in your room, on your buddy. Don’t put it all in one place.

Electronics

  • I’ve already covered laptops and tablets, but as a reminder, make sure you bring the necessary cables and chargers. Those can get expensive on the road if you lose or forget one.
  • Camera. I’m a photographer so I bring my DSLR. But, I have stripped down to only bring one extra lens. If you have a small point-and-shoot, those work great. If you are just wanting some memories for your social media pages, your iPhone will due just fine.
  • GoPro video camera. These are pricey, but awesome for the mission field. They are durable, small and high quality.

Miscellaneous

  • Bring extra bags. I always keep extra Ziplocs or grocery store bags. They are great for dirty laundry, garbage, wet clothes or countless other things. I play sports on a lot of trips and there are times where I might be working outside in the heat on a construction site. I like to bring a roll of scented diaper bags like these below to put my sweaty clothes in if I change into dry clothes on the go. It protects my bag from stains and smells. scented_bags
  • Camping toilet paper rolls are a lifesaver. You can get them at outdoor stores like REI or Academy Sports or order here. I don’t want to be caught without it. I keep a roll in my backpack at all times. You can also take a regular roll of your favorite household toilet paper (much more comfortable), take the cardboard roll out of the middle and fit it in a Ziploc to stay dry.
  • Duct tape. There should always be a roll handy on your trip.
  • Hand sanitizer. I’ve already mentioned this once, but it’s worth stating again. Keep one in your day pack and one in your room as a backup.
  • Wet Ones. I keep these handy to freshen up my hands, face, neck, etc. They should fit in a side pocket of your backpack easily.
  • Insect repellant and sunscreen.
  • International plug adapter. This one has a couple USB ports for charging your phone or tablet. adapter
  • Crisp cash. Some places are really picky about accepting marked, wrinkled or ripped currency. Ask your bank for the newest bills they have.
  • A spork. I love eating with chopsticks, but I also love watching my friends who don’t! Keep a plastic camping spork around for your meals.
  • Card games. These are great for layovers, downtime and socializing with new friends. They don’t take up a lot of space and many people can play at once. Bring a regular deck of cards, UNO, Phase 10 or Five Crowns.
  • Tide packs. I bring a couple packs of single use Tide packs to do laundry in the sink. Knowing that I can do this cuts down on the clothes I need to pack.Tide travel
  • Clothesline. Get an inexpensive travel clothesline (I recently picked one up for a few bucks on Amazon. This is new for me this year. I always wish I had one because I can never find enough places in my room to hang all the things I wash midweek. Now, those dry fit shirts and shorts will dry in no time.
  • Water bottle. You might want to bring your own water bottle to refill. Make sure it’s empty when you go through airport security and refill it on the other side. Personally, I don’t mind picking up a bottle of water from the grocery store and reusing that for a week in another country. I’ll grab a gallon or two or fresh water and keep it in my room for refilling, brushing my teeth and drinking.
  • Translated cards of places you’ll visit complete with address. I go to one particular city every year. I don’t speak the local language and I visit the same places each year. I have a carabiner with laminated cards on it with those places translated into the local language. All I have to do is show the right card to the cab driver and off we go.

Snacks

These are important for both nourishment and comfort. If you’re going to be on a long, international trip with lots of food you aren’t used to, you’ll want to have a little something you love along with you.

  • Sour Patch Kids. My favorite, so it makes the list. I stuff a bag or two in my suitcase :).
  • Peanut butter. I like to bring a few single-serving packs of Jif To Go. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve just had bread for breakfast. Having this around adds some great flavor and protein.
  • For nourishment while traveling on airplanes, buses or subways, or just a break on the job site, I like to snack on granola bars. This also saves a lot of money. Pack ones without chocolate so they don’t melt and make a mess. I prefer something like Nature Valley or the white chocolate macadamia nut flavor of Clif bar. If I don’t think I’ll melt the chocolate, I love to snack on this from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe's Trek chocolate almonds cashews
  • Flavor packets for water will give you a nice break from plain bottled water. Pick out your favorite flavors and keep the packets in a dry spot or Ziploc until you’re ready to use them. Dump them in your water bottle and shake.

Apps (I’m an iPhone user, so these links are largely from the iTunes App Store).

  • Units Plus – Free converter for every unit you would need. I use the currency converter the most frequently.
  • Google Translate or My Language Pro for translating. You will want to be connected to wifi to use free versions like these.
  • Transportation apps like Fly Delta will help you keep your itinerary and account on hand. Uber will help you find a ride. Hipmunk can help you plan your travel.
  • Evernote – My favorite app of all time. Evernote is your ultimate notepad. It syncs from your cell, tablet, laptop, etc. Tip: Scan in a copy of your passports, driver’s license, insurance docs, itinerary and hotel confirmations so they are at your fingertips and don’t require copious amounts of paper.
  • WhatsApp for text messaging and Skype for voice/video calls. Skype-to-Skype is free and Skype-to-mobile/landlines are very inexpensive.

Meds

  • First and foremost, check out the CDC website for updates on vaccines you might need based on the country you are traveling to. Some countries require documentation for vaccinations, like yellow fever. Plan ahead so you get the shots in plenty of time and so your pharmacy does not run out. I’ve seen this happen before with malaria medicines that certain places might have to order.
  • You’ll want to have the basic over the counter meds for your trip such as ibuprofen or aspirin for pain or headaches, Pepto or Immodium for an upset stomach, Dramamine, Sea Bands or ginger for motion sickness and maybe something to help you sleep like Tylenol PM or melatonin.
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription medicine for traveler’s diarrhea and nausea or Ambien for sleep. I can’t sleep on planes, so in order for me to get rest, I need a little something extra.
  • Tip: Everyone on your trip does not need to bring these things. Pool resources and money. If you are allergic to certain medications, make sure your team leader knows about them.

Before you go

  • Call your bank. Let them know if you will be using your credit/debit cards in another country. You will need to provide the dates and countries you will be going to.
  • Check out your phone policy. I bring my phone for the simple purpose of using wifi. I don’t ever call from my cell phone. Calling is expensive and texting adds up quickly. You may want to have your plan in tact in case you don’t have wifi access. If you’re a trip leader, you may want to consult your missionary or agency partner about having a local phone or buying one in town with a local SIM card. See the apps section about WhatsApp and Skype.
  • Stop your mail. If everyone who lives at your home will be on this trip, you’ll want to stop your mail while you’re gone so it doesn’t pile up or make your home a target for theft.
  • Pay your bills. Yeah, I’ve been out of the country and missed a mortgage payment. Consult your online banking to schedule a bill pay service in advance.
  • Say goodbye to your mama. Don’t forget to tell your family goodbye before you leave!

Prayer

Most importantly, before you go on any mission trip, local or international, you need to cover the trip in prayer. As much preparation as you spend packing, studying, reading, researching and planning, you need to spend on your knees in prayer. Pray for:

  • Opportunities to share the Gospel
  • Open hearts
  • Salvation
  • Boldness
  • Safety & health
  • Closeness with God
  • The missionaries you will work with
  • Discipleship for new believers
  • Encouragement for local believers
  • Rejuvenation of your soul

You may want to plan a daily devotion leading up to your trip and also a daily Scripture reading plan while you’re on the ground at your destination. The best quiet times I’ve had were on the mission field. May God bless you on your trip! Do good work!

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How to Wake Up Early (and Like It)

“I don’t know how you do it,” one person said.

“I’m soooo not a morning person,” said another.

“4:45…like, a.m.?” yet another groaned.

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yeah, I wake up at 4:45 a.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturday, I usually let the kids wake me up. On Sundays I’m usually up at 5:40, getting a whopping 55 more minutes of sleep before heading to church for a busy day on campus. I would probably agree that I am a morning person, but I would emphatically agree that I am not a night person.

Growing up, I had a curfew of 10 p.m., but I was rarely out that late. Even in college where staying up until the wee hours is the norm, I was in bed at 9:30 or 10 each night. There were many times when parties at my own house would rage on to 3 or 4 in the morning, but I was long asleep. When the sun goes down, I stop functioning.

So, yes, I get up at 4:45 a.m. to get to the gym every weekday except Wednesday. On Wednesday, I head to Waffle House for a time of discipleship with two good friends. We share our prayer requests, read Scripture and enjoy peanut butter waffles, all in the name of Jesus. Pretty sure that’s what he’d want.

Getting up at 4:45 a.m. does take practice. For years, I woke up at that time to go play basketball. When we moved away, I fell out of that pattern and it was hard to get back in to it. Now, I’m at Gold’s Gym by 5:25 to get on an elliptical for 30 minutes followed by 35 minutes of weight lifting. I have a ton of energy and my workouts have gotten more intense as the weeks roll by.

How do I do it? How did I condition myself to wake up and actually get up? How do I overcome drowsiness, the comfort of my bed and sacrifice sleeping in just to go and wear myself out? It’s easier than you think.

You ready for this?

I move my foot.

Seriously.

After I turn off the alarm on my phone, I have a conversation with myself. I know I’m tired. I know I’m comfy. I know that if I continue to sleep, I might regret it later. So, I convince myself to simply move my foot.

Picture this: I usually sleep on my left side and on the right side of the bed (if you’re looking at it from the foot of the bed). All I do is talk myself in to moving my right foot forward. What happens next is pretty amazing. By the simple act of moving my foot, my body weight shifts. I start to roll over toward the side of the bed. My other foot follows. My hips turn. My feet fall out of bed. I touch the floor. I stand up. My clothes are laid out on a chair in the bathroom. I’m at the gym. I work hard. I leave the gym feeling fulfilled. I’m exhausted, but satisfied.

The best part is what happens in the two hours following the gym.

I get home and eat before the kids wake up. I get showered and dressed and by this time the kids are awake for me to talk to. I kiss them and my wife goodbye. I grab my Yeti mug and Keurig coffee and head to work. I’m usually among the first ones there. I close my door and hide out in a chair in the corner of my office where no one can see me. I don’t touch my computer at all. On my chair is my Bible. On my phone in my Evernote app is my reading plan and my strategic prayer list for the day. I have a 15-30 minute quiet time. Just me and God and it’s every bit as refreshing as my time at the gym.

Once I’m done, I go to my computer and avoid my email. I plug in a headset and start working on Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish. I do this until about 8:50. I glance at my email for a few minutes before getting ready for our daily staff meeting.

So, by 9 a.m., I’ve done something physical, spiritual and mental. I’ve grown in three different ways. I’ve improved myself, prayed for my family, friends, missionaries, ministry. I’ve confessed my sin and given thanks. I’ve learned new vocabulary words in another language and invested in my ability to communicate in other countries.

All because I moved my stupid foot.

Proverbs 6:9 says, “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?” This verse is warning about the danger of resting in our laurels and not living the life God has made us to live. He does not want us to be lazy, non-committal or blind to Him. God wants us to be passionate in our lives. Passionate for Him, passionate about life, passionate about loving others. Otherwise known as anti-lazy, anti-sluggish and anti-lethargic.

Here are a few other tips I will recommend for getting out of bed earlier.

  1. Set an alarm. This sounds like a complete no-brainer, but I double check my alarm setting every night before I go to bed. In some cases, I even set a backup alarm. I never use the snooze button. Ever.
  2. Go to bed earlier. Some people thrive on a few hours of sleep. I cannot. I know that if I want to have a productive day, I have to get at least seven hours of sleep. Plan accordingly.
  3. Have a plan. The worst thing to do, especially when you first start your commitment to waking up earlier, is to get up without a plan. I know what parts of my body I’m going to work out. I know what I’m going to listen to on my phone while I’m doing it. (I listen to podcasts while I’m on the elliptical to pass the time and heavy metal or hard rock while I’m lifting weights). I know what Scripture verses I’m going to read and what my focus will be on when I pray. I always have room for the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is leading me to pray about something else or read something else, I’m not at all bound by what I determined. I’m structured, but flexible.
  4. Put it on your calendar. This is perhaps the single most important recommendation I can make. Getting up early and going to the gym is no longer on my calendar because it has become a routine, like eating. But, when I started, I would put it on my calendar. Everything is on my calendar; dates with my wife, meetings, reminders to call people. Everything. If it’s not on my calendar, it’s probably not going to happen. When I talk to young guys or new believers or anyone wanting to grow closer to Christ, scheduling a quiet time is the first thing I stress.
  5. Look in the mirror. Now, I’m not talking about staring in the mirror flexing (I will not confirm nor deny that I’ve done this). What I am talking about is giving yourself a regular assessment. With regards to working out, I can look in the mirror and see that I’ve changed. I can see muscle tone and less fat. I can look at the amount of weight I lift and see that I’ve increased or that my stamina has improved. But, in regards to my quiet time with the Lord, that is less tangible. I have to work a little harder to assess myself. So, I might questions like: What have I learned through my Scripture reading this week? Has God answered my prayers? What is God teaching me about Himself? Have I been diligent in praying for my family? Have I been journaling my thoughts on Scripture and prayer? Hopefully, I can answer yes to these and see exactly what God has been teaching me and how he has pulled me closer to Him.

When I see results, it makes me want more. I hope you will, too. Remember, just move your foot.

Let me know how it works for you!

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I hate my car payment (part I)

In 2012, with a new daughter on the way and a big job promotion in the midst, we decided that we were going to get a bigger car. My wife had a Mazda Tribute that was completely paid for, but the room in the back seat was going to be tight with two car seats.

After nearly three months of us shopping around online and my father shopping auctions in Florida, we purchased a 2010 Ford Expedition. We traded in her Tribute, put down some money and worked out a 1.85% rate through TD Auto for a portion of the car. This worked out to a payment of $344/month. This was all within our budget and very manageable.

Here’s the challenge, that was two years ago. In late 2013, I left that big promotion, cut my salary in more than half and became a missions pastor. I wouldn’t trade that for my old salary or any bonus. I am in love with what I do every day. But, with the new salary come some adjustments. Over the last nine months, we’ve been doing just fine. Health insurance is more expensive, we don’t have dental insurance yet and we’ve picked up some life insurance. Still, we’re getting by just fine. But, I’ve grown to really hate having that car payment. It’s time to do something about it.

I’ve been all over the world this year on mission trips and visited some of my closest friends who sold nearly all their belongings and crammed the rest in a few suitcases. I’ve been in their homes and apartments and they live very simply, but comfortably. I look around my house and I see junk drawers, full shelves and excess.

My attitude is changing. I try to do all my work as paperless as possible. I despise clutter. I’m fascinated by people who can pack a suitcase efficiently and live in 180-square-foot homes (this won’t be me, but still…). I’m ready to eliminate waste, unnecessary keepsakes and stuff I haven’t used in years and put those things to good use.

A few weeks ago, we decided that we were going to finally (after 9 months back in our house) have a big yard sale. The money was initially going to go into savings, but we’ve determined that it will all go to aggressively payoff our car payment. As of this writing, we have $6765.69 left to go.

stuff4salehere

But, I have an envelope. (Dave Ramsey, eat your heart out!) That envelope, which simply says “car” in blue Sharpie, is slowly growing as we purge things from our house. I truly believe we have $6700 worth of things we do not use in our house. I believe that for the financial security and savings for my family, we can find it and sell it. That will be the topic of some upcoming blog posts on how we find, decide, struggle and sell those items in order to pay off our car.

So far, I’ve taken to eBay and Craigslist to get the ball rolling. One of the first things we listed was my grandmother’s dining room table and six chairs on Craigslist. I sat at that table for countless Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It was one of the few things physical things I held on to after my grandparents passed away. I think I liked the idea of the table more than I liked the table itself. We converted our dining room into a playroom for the kids and had no more use for it. I checked with my family to see if anyone wanted it and they declined. So, we sold it yesterday and pocketed $220.

I’ve used eBay to sell some DVD series and Blu-Rays that we were more likely to get a couple dollars from online rather than a dollar at a yard sale. Additionally, I found that I had a ton of cologne (that I rarely wear) sitting in my bathroom closet. I started selling some barely used bottles and discovered there is quite the hot market for the smelly stuff online. I sold two bottles for over $60 combined and there’s another one that is 2/3 full going for $28 right now with a couple days still left to bid. Crazy stuff.

Years ago, I ordered a DVD from WWE.com. Yes, I’m aware of what I just wrote. I bought the history of the Intercontinental Championship because I’m a geek. I got a set of WWE action figures for free just for ordering. Evidently, those were pretty rare and I ended up turning a free gift into $36. Not too shabby. If you’re interested in buying any of the junk high quality items from my house, you can click here. I have over $216 sitting in my PayPal account right now with more pending.

Now, this is not going to be easy. We have a lot of things in our garage that we easily recognize as items we no longer want. However, I am a sentimental person by nature. I see some things in my house and I remember where I was when I bought it, or who gave it to me, or why I bought it. I’m going to struggle to get rid of things. I’m not sure how deep we are going to have to cut in order to reach $6700, but I believe we can get there. It’s going to take some time. Sooner than later, some of the research we are doing about pricing is going to get really hard. I know I’m going to struggle with wanting to hold on to items in case they increase in value in the future (like the old-school Nintendo, Gameboy, Sega, tons of G.I. Joe and wrestling figures that are worth a ton today, but I sold long ago.)

The outcome is worth it. Decluttering is nice, but the emotional distance between me and “things” is going to be liberating as well. Knowing that we have one less payment to make will be fantastic. It means that we will be able to save again. We’ll be able to start putting some money away for retirement again. We will be able to plan for something exciting for our 10th anniversary next year. Then, we can figure out how we get rid of a house payment!

<Insert shameless plug to come to our yard sale on August 16th>

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Tips From a Toddler, Part II

In my last post, we looked at the first five lessons I learned from my awesome ‘little buddy’, Rylan.  Being a parent is everything I hoped it would be and nothing I expected it to be.  I’m a communicator.  I’m a trainer.  I’m a coach.  I’ve led conferences, presented to large crowds, coached top-notch sales people and mentored teenagers.  I’ve learned and grown as a leader from each situation, but I never would have expected how much I would have learned from my kids while parenting.

Here are some more of those lessons.

6. Try new things.  Constantly.

Last Thanksgiving we had dinner at my parent’s house in Vero Beach.  My dad was sooo excited to give Rylan a present — his first “fishing pole”.  Now, let me explain why this is a “fishing pole” (in quotes) instead of a fishing pole (no quotes).  This pole was outfitted with Spiderman logos and images all over it.  This pole was pretty sweet.  But, his pole was not supposed to catch fish.  In fact, it had a plastic fish already hanging off the bottom of the fishing line.  Rylan had never fished before and was anxious to give it a shot.  Papa (my dad) was using a real pole next to Rylan and actually caught a fish.  That moment might have been the pinnacle of his life (until he met Mickey Mouse).  Rylan could have been apprehensive to hold the pole and try to “fish”.  He could have also been scared to go up and touch the real fish that Papa caught.  Our little buddy is a brave little boy and he loves trying new things.

Are you willing to try new things in your life?  I’m not necessarily talking about experiences or adventure, you might be pretty daring.  What I’m referring to is much simpler.  As an example, I used to try to have my quiet time in Scripture at night.  I am absolutely not a night person. In college, there would be parties at my house until the early morning hours and I was in bed with my door locked at 10:00.  I am much more of a morning person.  I’m sharpest in the morning.  I have my best ideas in the morning.  So, I made myself available to God when I knew I was most willing to engage, even if it meant waking up before my alarm would normally go off.

7. It’s the little things

Rylan loves playing with our iPads, but we don’t always let him.  We use it to reward good behavior, like cleaning up without us asking or making it through a whole nap without wetting his pull-up.  (*parental confession, we also use it to preoccupy him when we want to do other things or just want quiet.)  Rylan typically freaks out a little when his iPad time is up, no matter how many times we tell him that it’s expiring.  We are trying to teach him to thank us for letting him play games rather than complain that the iPad has to go away.

How grateful are we with the small things?  How often do we fail to tell our friends we love them, only for one of us to move away?  How often do we fail to tell our clients we appreciate them, until it’s too late and they take their money somewhere else?  How often do we fail to thank God for the crazy amount of blessings we have instead of asking for more?  I have to make a decision each morning and pick out the shoes I want to wear.  I have a selection of shoes, but there are kids who go barefoot in our country and others every day.  I have hope in Christ, but people in other countries struggle to find any meaning in their lives.

8. Teach others

Rylan loves his sister, Bailey.  He loves to hit her.  He loves to pull her hair.  He loves to drag her across the carpet.  He also loves to teach her things.  Rylan shows her how to play with toys, cook in his play-kitchen and even talk.  Get a drop cloth when it happens, because it will melt your heart.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t truly understand something until you teach it to someone else.  Whether it’s Scripture, budgeting, software, processes or recipes, teaching someone else helps us understand the subject and ourselves better.

9. Talk to strangers. (Some of them)

We recently took a trip to Disney and we needed to take a pit stop at the bathroom in the park.  There was another man in the bathroom and upon walking inside, Rylan says, “Hi, are you peeing?”  OK, this is probably not the best example to illustrate my point.  Rylan is not shy.  He talks to anyone.  A repairman came to fix the electronic door lock on our apartment door.  Rylan talked his ear off the whole time and wanted a play-by-play of what the guy was doing.  Rylan also gives out high-fives in public regularly.

I travel a lot for work right now, which means I encounter a lot of different people on planes, at hotels and at restaurants.  I have a chance to connect, engage and maybe even influence someone else’s life.  But, I often choose to put on my headphones and zone out in my own thoughts.  Our experiences and testimonies are gifts.  We need to feel comfortable investing in other people and being vulnerable enough to let others invest in us.

10. Enjoy what you do

Rylan_bike

This is Rylan on Christmas morning riding his new bike.  If you can’t tell, he flippin’ loved it.  When he has this much fun, he talks about it for days.  The first time he rode a pony was at the fall festival at church.  The ride lasted approximately 52 seconds, but the story about it lasted weeks.  Don’t even get me started about the time he met Mickey Mouse. I thought his head was going to explode all over our famous rodent friend.

We have to love what we do.  I’ve met a lot of people in my industry that just “have a job.” They are more content complaining about things than applying themselves and making a difference.  I’ve met a lot of Christians who claim to have a relationship with Christ, but there is no fruit.  If Christ is the center of our world, we need to talk about Him always!

We need to think back and relive that moment (we all have one) when we received the best Christmas present ever.  For me it was a Castle Grayskull set from He-Man.  I remember how excited I was to open it.  I was shaking.  Nothing could keep me from talking about it to my friends at school.

Now, that toy is long gone.  I really don’t remember playing with it as much as I remember actually getting it.  As a believer, my salvation and joy in Christ is ever-present and always with me.  I have to share that same jubilation when I talk about the eternal gift in God’s grace as I found in getting that temporary He-Man gift.

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Tips From a Toddler, Part I

“Daddy, I want to put my foot in the toilet.”

“No, don’t do that!”

“Yeah, daddy.  That’s weird.”

This is a typical conversation in my house.

Rylan and his "monkey sock"

Rylan and his “monkey sock”

And this is my nearly-three-year-old, Rylan.  He’s basically the coolest kid I know.  In his short life, he’s taught me so much.  I’ve learned so many things about myself and how to live my life better because of him.  About a year ago, I started taking notes as I picked up on these critical observations.   These are tips from a toddler.

1. Set the tone for your day

Every day we have a unique choice to make.  We can choose to be in a mood, in a good mood or in a great mood.  It starts when we wake up.  Rylan is usually in a great mood when he wakes up.  I supposed I would be, too, if I woke up with a pile of toys around me.  Rylan is so excited to jump out of bed, come see me and ask how I slept (even if he is waking me up while doing so).

Do the first thoughts I have during the day include how I am going to serve God today?  Am I ready to be in a great mood despite the challenges the day might bring me?

2. Imitation is awesome

I have learned that Rylan will do whatever I do.  As soon as I put two Legos together, he wants to play with those two Legos, because they are clearly the best ones ever.  If I make a…err…bodily noise…at the dinner table, Rylan wants to do the same thing.  If I want to give Mommy a big hug, he wants to join in, too.

I need to remember to surround myself with people and things I want to imitate.  I need to fill my life with friends who will build me up, coworkers who will inspire me and media that doesn’t cause my sinful mind to be led astray.

3. Cars or Legos?

This kid has a ridiculous amount of toys.  More accurately, the apartment living room that we’re crammed in is constantly covered in all our toys.  Rylan has so many options, but he quite often knows exactly which toys he wants to play with.  Though things are changing now that his sister is walking around and stealing his toys, Rylan is usually happy playing with absolutely anything or even nothing at all.

How often am I completely satisfied with the things I have been blessed with rather than coveting the things I can do without?

4. Boogers in nose

Rylan knows how to speak in better sentences than many of my friends (I’m looking at you South Carolina).  His grammar is pretty rockin’ for a kid.  When Rylan was first learning how to talk in sentences and needed his nose wiped, he simply told us “boogers in nose.”  There was no sugar coating what he wanted.  He didn’t beat around the bush.  He just stated the problem.  Very directly.

I often find in my prayer time that I beat around the bush and don’t tell God exactly what I’m struggling with.  This is absurd.  He already knows!  But, I do it time and time again.  Prayer takes practice, just like learning a language.

5. Chewbacca

Arrrrrrrrg.  Ugghhggghhh.  Oooohhaaaarrhhhhggg.  I’m kidding.

When Rylan was learning to talk, I taught him how to saw ‘Chewbacca’.  By the way, isn’t it awesome to tell kids to say absolutely anything?  Anyway, he nailed saying ‘Chewbacca’ and I exploited it every chance I got.  I was a proud daddy.  The point is that he loved the way it sounded and he thought it was fun so he wanted to repeat it.

This could come as a surprise, but I’m a bit hard-headed.  I need to take the time to repeat things that I find important.  I need to ask God if I’m understanding Him correctly.  I need to repeat things to my wife, my coworkers and clients in order for them to know that I’m on the same page as them.

More life lessons from someone who can’t wipe their own booty coming soon.

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