Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 23, 2015

Inspirational Adventurers

Cheryl Strayed was 26 years-old when she set off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. Still grieving her mother’s untimely death from lung cancer and her own failed marriage, Cheryl arrived at the Mojave Desert trailhead with a heavy backpack and a heavier heart. Although she had never been backpacking before, she set off on an adventure that would change her life.

Cheryl Strayed
More than a decade later, Strayed published Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. This deeply vulnerable memoir about her 1,100 mile odyssey became a New York Times bestseller. Be warned, Strayed holds nothing back in relating just how broken her life had become before she set off on her nearly yearlong journey toward healing. Her story gained in popularity when the film adaptation of the book was released in December 2014 with Reese Witherspoon playing the part of Strayed.

Wild Book CoverStrayed’s story has certainly resonated with a broad audience. Since the release of her book and the subsequent movie, Google searches for “hiking the PCT” have increased six-fold. More people, including many more women, are expected to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year than in previous years. Strayed’s story has inspired lots of people to believe they can do more than a day hike at a local park.

Sara R Whitley at Kilimanjaro
Kara Richardson Whitley is another woman with an inspirational story. At 30 years of age Whitley’s weight had ballooned to nearly 360 pounds. Frustrated, she decided to start hiking. Her hiking adventures initially led her up mountains in Vermont, then to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, and finally to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. She has climbed Kilimanjaro three times. Whitley shared her inspirational story in her book, Fat Woman on the Mountain: How I Lost Half of Myself and Found Happiness and in her latest book entitled Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 pounds.

Sasha Cox
Sasha Cox is another woman with an inspirational story. After the death of her mother, Cox read Strayed’s story and decided to embark on a journey around the world. While backpacking in the Bolivian Andes with her fiancé, she came up with the idea of providing opportunities for women to have outdoor adventures. As a result, she founded Trail Mavens, billed as a “skills-based outdoor adventure group for extraordinary women.” Cox leads women on adventures that help them to find a greater sense of fulfillment by confronting and overcoming challenges in the great outdoors.

Roz Savage’s inspirational story is one of my personal favorites. Years ago, Savage wrote two versions of her obituary — the one she wanted and the one she had. The obituary she wanted was one that reflected a life of adventure. The one she was actually heading for reflected a nice, normal, and comfortable life. Savage concluded she was totally on the wrong track, left her corporate job, and “through a bit of a leap of logic, decided to row across the Atlantic Ocean.” Savage accomplished her dream of rowing across the Atlantic in 2005 and has since rowed across The Pacific and Indian Oceans.

I applaud each of these women for having the courage to go beyond and, in the process, for inspiring others to believe that they can do far more than they ever imagined.

Happy Birthday, Jonathan. Thanks for inspiring me and inviting me to join you on some truly cool adventures in the great outdoors. Love you and proud to be your Dad.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 20, 2015

The Life in Your Years

There is little doubt that Americans are drowning in stuff. In spite of the fact that homes in America today are larger than ever before, people continue to run out of space for all of their stuff. As a result, Americans now spend 22 billion-dollars-per-year to store stuff they no longer need or want in self-storage units.

Once folks have crammed their unwanted junk into a storage unit, something interesting happens — people don’t want to mess with that stuff again. A group that serves the self-storage industry noted that human laziness has become a friend of self-storage operators. Once people get their stuff into a storage unit, they don’t want to spend all day moving their stuff out of that storage unit. So, they keep paying to store stuff they don’t want or need.

Thinking about all of the stuff that we think we need to have in order to live fulfilled lives started me thinking about some sage advice the Apostle Paul shared in the first century. “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am,” he wrote. Paul understood that true fulfillment is not found in the pursuit and accumulation of stuff. Material things might give us some instant gratification but, with the passing of time, we adapt to them and they become a part of our new normal and the excitement fades.

In reality, material things have an expiration date. Sooner or later whatever it is we purchased will become obsolete and we will be tempted to buy the upgrade — thus, more stuff. As a Christ-follower, I have found true fulfillment in my relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship has no expiration date. The challenge for me is to heed the words of the Apostle Paul and not allow myself to get drawn into the belief that accumulating more stuff will add meaning to my life.

3 Men and a Dog
In recent years I have come to a place of investing more in experiences than in the accumulation of stuff. Material things come with a bill but experiences come with something much more meaningful and fulfilling. For example, last year I hiked a hundred miles with a couple of my buddies. We battled blisters and cloud-bursts and muscle aches and heat. But, we became better friends in the process and will always have some cool stories to share about an experience that has no expiration date.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with having said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” I like that. Country singer George Strait captured this sentiment in his song entitled “The Breath You Take.” These are really good lyrics:

But life’s not the breath you take
The breathing in and out
That gets you through the day
Ain’t what it’s all about
You just might miss the point
Trying to win the race
Life’s not the breath you take
But the moments that take your breath away

In the long-run, experiences will bring more meaning and fulfillment to our years than anything we can possibly buy. Material things come with a bill but experiences come with life lessons and memories that we can treasure and enjoy for a lifetime. To borrow the sentiment of the old MasterCard television commercials, while you can buy a lot of stuff with your credit card, it’s what money can’t buy that is truly Priceless!

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 15, 2015

Paddling in the Rain

Preparing for the 2015 Texas Water Safari

Cramming for a final exam — that’s what this final month before the start of the Texas Water Safari feels like. With little time left to train before the start of this grueling 260-mile death march from San Marcos to Seadrift, Doyle and I can’t be picky about the weather or anything else on our training days. Bottom line is, we have to take advantage of every remaining opportunity to get on the river.

Although rain was in the forecast for today, we loaded our boat and gear early this morning and headed down Interstate 10 toward the San Marcos River. Our plan for today was to do a fast-paced paddle from Zedler Mill Dam in Luling to the low-water crossing at Palmetto State Park, a distance of about 15 miles. With every passing mile down the interstate, the skies turned a little darker and ominous with hints of rain along the way.

Doyle at Palmetto
When we arrived at Palmetto State Park, the rangers told us that the water was running fast and high over the low-water crossing, one of the checkpoints on the safari. Doyle and I walked down to look at the water, scoped out an exit point, and then headed to Zedler Mill Dam to begin our training run. When we arrived at Zedler Mill, the water was clearly running faster than normal. And, to make things even more interesting, it started to rain.

Doyle near Son of Ottine
We decided to go ahead and do our training run in spite of the rain. And because the water was running faster and higher than normal, we also decided to wear our life jackets, something we normally don’t do until we reach the open waters of San Antonio Bay. Last month a young 30 year-old engineer from Austin drowned while training for the safari. With that sobering thought in mind we gladly donned our life jackets.

Omar on San Marcos in Rain
According to our GPS, we paddled almost two-miles an hour faster than our usual pace — an indication that it was the current making the difference and not our paddling. The San Marcos River is beautiful at this time of the year. However, the overcast skies and gentle rain made it even more so. The colors just seemed deeper and richer today. The recent rains have also weakened the soil along the banks resulting in many more trees that have fallen into the river.

Ottine Dam
This section of the river presents two challenges to paddlers — Son of Ottine rapids and a portage around Ottine Dam. The high water made it a little easier to run the rapids but also made Ottine Dam that much more dangerous. A few years ago the San Marcos police chief drowned at Ottine Dam while on a training run. There has been talk of removing this 100-plus year-old dam that is decaying and broken. But, so far, it’s still there — and it’s definitely a hazard.

Omar at Ottine
Once we portaged around Ottine Dam, we paddled the final mile or so to the low-water crossing at Palmetto State Park. We arrived soaked to the bone but happy that we had a good training run. We had the river to ourselves today. No big surprise there! All of the sane people were in out of the rain. Even so, I’m glad we paddled in the rain. After all, there are no guarantees that it will be all sunshine on the day of the race.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 13, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

Rohingya Woman | Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh | 18 April 15

Rohingya Woman | Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh | 18 April 15

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 10, 2015

My Mother’s Voice

Six years ago this month, my beautiful mother spent her last birthday in the hospital. Little did I realize when she entered the hospital that she would succumb to cancer and never return home. I miss her still. Not a day goes by that I do not think about her and thank God for her influence in my life.

In Mom's Arms
One of the things I miss the most is the sound of my mother’s voice. From the time I left home until she passed away, Mom and I would talk on the phone at least a couple of times a week, even if only for a few minutes. There was something soothing and therapeutic about hearing the sound of her voice. I miss that.

Sadly, my mom lost her voice in the final days of her life. Doctors had put so many tubes down her throat that she was unable to talk. She could barely whisper and was too weak to write, making communication really tough. But I am thankful that she could communicate with her eyes.

In those final days, mom stopped eating and grew progressively weaker. In an effort to motivate her to eat, I told her that I would not take another bite of food until she did. After a couple of days she was able to drink some Ensure. When she finished, she looked at me and, with great effort, breathed out the word “Eat!” I was worried about her and she was worried about me.

After spending several days with mom in the hospital, I had to return to Katy for our youngest daughter’s high school graduation. Before I left I leaned in close, prayed for her, told her that I loved her and kissed her, and promised her that I would return to see her in a few days. That would be the last time I would see her alive. Today I’m thankful that the last time my mom heard the sound of my voice was in prayer for her.

I recently read a report about the therapeutic power of a mother’s voice. One researcher said that a mother’s voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if they’re not standing there. A mother’s voice is indeed good medicine. Perhaps that’s why Mother’s Day is still the day on which the largest volume of telephone calls are made both in the United States and around the world.

For months after my mother died I often found myself reaching for my phone in order to call her. I don’t do that any more, but instead find myself reflecting on conversations we had about family and my travels and just ordinary stuff. I miss those conversations. I miss my mother’s encouragement, her laughter, and even the sound of her tears.

Today, I live with the reality that I will never again hear the sweet sound of her voice on this side of heaven. But I also live with the hope that one day we will be reunited and I will once again hear the sound of her voice welcoming me home.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 5, 2015

Texas River Marathon 2015

The Texas River Marathon is a fast-paced 34 mile canoe race on the Guadalupe River. The river marathon is important because it is the preliminary race for the grueling 260-mile Texas Water Safari. The race begins in Cuero, a small town that once was a stopping point on the famous Chisholm Trail, and ends in Victoria. The finishing positions on this race are used to determine the starting positions on the Texas Water Safari.

O & D at TRM 2015
This past weekend Doyle and I headed to Cuero to compete in the river marathon for a second time. Our adventure started off a little rough this past Friday when I gashed my head open on the rack that holds the canoe onto my truck. Doyle drove me to the emergency room where the doctor sealed the wound with six staples and two stitches and instructed me to keep the wound dry for 48-hours.

J & B TRM 2015
Keep the wound dry for 48-hours? I told the doc that we were headed for the Guadalupe River to compete in the Texas River Marathon. “Whatever you do,” he emphatically said, “do not get that wound wet and definitely do not expose it to river water!” That was certainly an incentive to not fall into the river. On a positive note, the gash in my head distracted me from the pain in the toe I had broken in Bangladesh earlier in the month.

TRM 2015 - B
This year, almost 130 paddlers signed-up to do the river marathon, including my son Jonathan and his safari partner and other friends we have met in the paddling community. I personally enjoy these opportunities to be on the water with Jonathan and friends. Between my gashed head, broken toe, and some viral infection that had Doyle coughing up a storm, we knew that this race would be a little more challenging than usual.

TRM 2015 - C
Doyle and I determined to paddle at a steady pace and to not stop along the way. And that’s exactly what we did. We kept up a good safari pace and finished the course in 5 hours and 44 minutes with no stop time. That is more than an hour faster than our finishing time in 2013. We finished 86th out of 128 boats — certainly not the fastest but a personal best for us. We were also happy that our new friend Melissa James finished just ahead of us. We will definitely be rooting for her to have a good safari finish this year.

Omar at Salt Water Barrier
On Sunday, we joined my son Jonathan and our friends Ben and Jay to paddle the infamous log jam section of the race course. Most safari paddlers will tell you that this is their least favorite section of the river. The portage around the log jam is absolutely brutal. But, great news! After all these years the log jam is no more! Apparently the river authority folks have been clearing it out. Many of the logs are now near the Salt Water Barrier where they are being removed from the river. We paddled through this section with only a couple of minor portages.

2015 TRM Paddlers
Doyle and I still have a few more training runs to do before the big race in June. In many ways we feel stronger and better prepared but still know that anything unexpected can happen along the way to keep us from finishing. But, that’s one of the fears that makes the Texas Water Safari so exciting. Peter Hillary, the son of Sir Edmund Hillary, stood on the summit of Mount Everest 37 years after his father became the first man to summit the world’s tallest mountain in 1953. Peter said, “Challenge = uncertainty = excitement. Every great goal is a challenge, and the outcome is always uncertain — but that is what makes life exciting!” I totally agree.

Thank you Patty Geisinger for the photos of me and Doyle on the river. And thanks for taking photos of Texas paddlers during the Texas Water Safari.
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Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 28, 2015

Meet Our Missions Interns

I am excited to introduce you to Kelsey Engel and Scott Grant, our two new missions ministry interns. Kelsey and Scott will begin their service on our missions staff on June 1 and will each serve with us for one year. We are excited to welcome them and look forward to an exciting year as we continue to mobilize our Kingsland family to Go Beyond.

Kelsey Engel 1
Kelsey Engel, a graduate of Houston Baptist University, has served as the Campus Missionary Intern at HBU for the past year. God has used Kelsey’s outgoing never-meet-a-stranger personality to make many meaningful connections with university students. She has mobilized HBU students to serve in local and international missions initiatives.

Kelsey will tell you that God first instilled a passion in her heart for missions when she was just a little girl. Her love for the nations has continued to grow over the years. In addition to being sensitive to the nations among us, Kelsey has served on short-term mission teams to Kenya, Jamaica, Haiti, Guatemala, and Chile. She looks forward to serving in our missions ministry and engaging with a world in need. She hopes to one day serve as a career missionary.

Kelsey admits to being a coffee addict. She enjoys discovering new coffee shops and sampling coffee. She also loves the outdoors and looks for opportunities to hike and explore. But most importantly, Kelsey loves God and she loves people — two things that will continue to serve her well as she joins our missions ministry team. Welcome, Kelsey.

Scott Grant
Scott Grant comes to our missions team from the corporate world. He recently retired from the high-tech industry to begin planting churches and presenting God’s love in tangible ways to those farthest from Him. Scott is currently working with the North American Missions Board and Stadia as he prepares to launch a new church in 2016.

Scott is in his final year of studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary where he is completing a degree in Urban Missiology and Church Planting. He will spend a year serving on our missions ministry team as he works to complete the residency requirements of his degree plan.

Scott and his wife Brooke have six kids. They have seen God work in providential ways to grow their family and continue to see Him work daily to build harmony within their large family. Scott and Brooke expect that things may get quiet around their home 13 years from now when their youngest heads off to college.

Scott is a Florida Gators fan and enjoys reading, athletics and games with his kids. He has traveled the world and shared the gospel in more than 30 countries. He admits to singing karaoke in Seoul and Manila and confesses that his singing has made animals howl. He has had lots of fun and meaningful travel experiences and looks forward to serving on our missions team. Welcome, Scott.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 27, 2015

Tesoros de Dios

Managaua, Nicaragua

Among all of the things we teach our kids at Kingsland is that they do not have to wait until they are grown up to help make the world a better place — especially for other kids. Over the past ten years our kids have raised funds to help at-risk kids in several countries around the world. Most recently they funded the construction of a school for Zabbaleen kids in Cairo and made a significant contribution toward the building of a dormitory for unaccompanied Eritrean refugee minors who have fled to Ethiopia for safety.

This year, we will challenge our kids to invest their VBS offering in a place called Tesoros de Dios — a school for special needs kids in Managua, Nicaragua. My friend Eric Loftsgard introduced me to the work of Tesoros. When I first visited the school, unannounced, I was immediately impressed. Special needs kids in Nicaragua are hidden from view, marginalized, and often treated with less than the respect they deserve. But at Tesoros, these kids are regarded as Treasures of God, hence the name of the school.

Maggie and Omar Nicaragua
Yesterday, Maggie Bertram, Sean Cunningham, and I flew to Managua to spend a couple of days recording the story of Tesoros de Dios. Maggie is Kingsland’s Children’s Ministry Associate and Sean serves on our media staff. We are recording the video segments that will become the daily missions stories at this year’s VBS. These videos will help our kids see and learn about Tesoros and the families they serve. And, what an amazing story we will tell. This place is absolutely inspiring.

This morning, while we were recording a segment, Director Michelle Adams received word that one of the kids had died at home. Michelle, with tears in her eyes, excused herself to go visit the family. That is one of the realities of serving a special needs population in a difficult place. The school currently cares for 110 kids and has a waiting list of 30. Tesoros is a safe place for kids, a haven for parents, and the only ministry of its kind in the area. Parents receive instruction on how to care for their kids and receive much-needed encouragement from the staff at Tesoros. This is a place that dispenses help and hope in large quantities.

Visiting Lupita
We also had the opportunity to do a story about Lupita, a young girl with Down’s Syndrome. Lupita attended a public school until she was five years-old. However, because she was teased so much by other kids who would also steal her lunch, her parents took her out of the public school. Thankfully, she found a safe place at Tesoros. Twice a week, Lupita’s sister escorts her to Tesoros, a rugged journey along dirt roads from their tiny home in the mountains. Her father and sister both acknowledged that Lupita has made great strides since she started attending Tesoros.

Tesoros de Dios Therapy
I am thankful for people like Michelle Adams and her staff. They each feel called to care for children with special needs — children made in the image of God and who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Our Kingsland kids will once again have the opportunity to invest in helping other children. This year, our kids will discover how their treasure will be used to make the world better for children treasured by God.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Paul | 2 Corinthians 4:7

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 25, 2015

More Than Repairs

Henry David Thoreau once said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Thoreau was absolutely right. In our fast-paced suburban existence it’s easy for us to look at people and things without ever really seeing them clearly. Seeing others clearly is the first step toward discovering their needs, hurts, and anxieties — and then doing something to make a difference.

Shedd Project 1
Today was one of those days when one of our small groups at Kingsland ventured into the community to meet a specific need. A few folks from Bread of Life, one of our small groups, met early this morning to help a widow who cares for a grandson with special needs. When members of Bread of Life learned about this widow and the challenges she faces, they decided to do something to help.

Shedd Project 3This morning greeted us with overcast skies, rain, and some pretty impressive lightning. No problem! We decided to go ahead with our scheduled service initiative in spite of the rain. And I am really glad we did because by mid-morning the skies cleared, making today a beautiful day in the Lone Star State.

Shedd Garage
I’m really proud of the Bread of Life team. We repaired plumbing, weeded beds and planted shrubs and flowers, repaired a fence, cleaned out a garage that was overflowing with stuff, built storage shelves, and organized the contents of the garage onto the shelving units we built. Most of the folks worked all morning and into the afternoon.

Processed with MoldivAt the end of the day we had done for the widowed grandmother what she and her special needs grandson could not have done for themselves. But more than addressing several things in need of repair and organization, this woman needed fellowship. She needed a reminder that she is not forgotten and that there are people in our community who care. It was really good to see her smile and to watch members of Bread of Life love her and her grandson as Jesus would.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 20, 2015

A Place to Call Home

Among the Rohingya People near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

In the closing sequence of “The Wizard of Oz,” young Dorothy, who is longing to return to her home in Kansas, speaks one of the most memorable lines in the story — “There’s no place like home!” Dorothy’s words are true. There is no place like home. Just the mention of home can excite our hearts, especially when we have been far from our homes for any period of time.

Yesterday, our team had an opportunity to connect with our partners who work among the Rohingya people of South Asia. I first learned about the plight of this displaced Muslim people group a few years ago while traveling the long stretch of road between Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf in southeastern Bangladesh. The Rohingya people live in squalor along that thin stretch of Bangladesh squeezed between the Bay of Bengal and Myanmar.

Rohingya Lady at Tent
Who are the Rohingya? They are a displaced people who have had to flee persecution in their native Myanmar only to face more persecution wherever they go. Things turned bad for the Rohingya in 1982 when the government of Myanmar (once known as Burma) passed a law that denied them of their citizenship. When that law went into effect the Rohingya also lost their freedom of movement and any access to education and medical care. To make matters worse, the Burma Citizenship Law also allowed for the arbitrary confiscation of Rohingya property.

Rohingya Lady Hand Up
Since that time, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar in search of refuge in nearby nations. The problem is, nobody wants the Rohingya. And, because they have no way to prove that they are or were citizens of Myanmar, they are unable to gain citizenship status anywhere else. Without citizenship they have no access to jobs, housing, education, and basic services like water and sanitation in the countries to which they have fled. They are also denied legal protection from arrest and abuse. The Rohingya people are totally vulnerable wherever they happen to live.

Rohingya Kids at Tent
Most Rohingya live a hand-to-mouth existence, barely making it from day-to-day. The families we spoke with survive by fishing in the Bay of Bengal and selling whatever recyclable items they can manage to gather. We visited one family of eight that lives on less than two dollars a day. The faces of these family members bear the unmistakable signature of desperation. These vulnerable human beings live each day not knowing whether their flimsy hovels will be torn down by the government, forcing them to leave and find another place to eke out a living.

Rohingya Black Tent
Three years ago, our missions ministry entered into a strategic partnership to address the needs of the Rohingya. We support national workers who walk among these displaced people in order to share the love of God and offer some basic humanitarian assistance. Little by little we are seeing some progress. Our workers have led many Rohingya (this people group is considered zero percent evangelized) to faith in Christ. And those who have come to faith in Christ now have a hope that can sustain them.

The Rohingya people deserve a place to call home. That is a basic human right. And they deserve protection under the law from those who abuse and exploit them. But, regardless of whether they ever return to their homes in Myanmar, one thing is certain — through Christ they can have the hope of a home in heaven. In the meantime, we remain committed to loving the Rohingya as Jesus would and to treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Please pray for the Rohingya.

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