Stay on the Horse

These days, only intense prayers seem to truly satisfy my soul.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Psalm 23:4

A few days after arriving to Honduras for the summer, I tested positive for covid once again.  The culture here still requires masks in most places and quarantining, so I grudgingly, but obediently, did so.  At one point, I was publicly humiliated with the “red mark” of covid on my forehead (my very mild symptoms had only lasted a few days, I was already feeling better and no longer believed I was contagious, but I continued to wear a mask and keep my distance because I was asked to do so). I wanted to fling my mask off and run out the door. I wanted to run from trial and hardship. Instead, the Holy Spirit rushed to me with a powerful memory: the first time I rode a horse.

On a beautiful, exciting summer day in Florida, I went with a group of friends to go horseback riding. My friends mounted their horses first, using a platform to get onto the horse since it was better for the horses’ backs. Then it was my turn… my horse was a massive white stallion (well… gelding if you want to be technical) who supposedly didn’t like the platform and you had to mount it from the ground. My heart raced with excitement. Wow! I get to mount a horse the normal way, I thought. I placed my foot in the stirrup and in one motion, I swung my leg over…. and the horse bolted. My adrenaline kicked in all the more as I awkwardly hung on for dear life, somehow managing to not fall off as the horse darted for the exit. Then, in the distance, I heard someone shout, “Pull the reigns!” I did so and the horse slowed down.  Going back over to the others, they said the couldn’t believe I didn’t fall off.  Then, I was told that I had to stay on the horse. What?! Get me off this thing! I did as I was asked and we followed the other horses, walking in a line for the next hour.  To show the horse who was in charge and gain its trust you had to stay on.

After the humiliation flooded over me – a physical feeling not too different from a traumatic experience like a car accident or almost falling off a horse – the Holy Spirit rushed to me and sustained me with His presence, with the memory of the horse. Rather than sorrow and despair, I smiled as I was filled with joy, courage, and peace and closed my eyes focusing on riding the horse, remembering feeling its gentle bounce, as the physical feeling of humiliation dissipated. God didn’t want me to run out the door, He wanted me to stay in the fire… a fire that hurts at first but then purifies and makes you stronger.

This summer, I went to Honduras to serve the poorest of the poor – and certainly did so – but even more so I needed healing… I needed to confront my own poverty.  The way to true healing was being faced with my own brokenness and ugliness that I carry within and learning to wrestle with it and bring it to the Lord.  I had the blessing of meeting regularly with one of the Franciscan Friars.  He listened to me as a good brother… as Christ… as I dove into old wounds… into great suffering… and prayed for healing.  At one point he shared with me a reflection on the Hail Holy Queen and I listened to the prayer I’ve recited thousands of times, truly hearing it this time and praying with it as it brought healing tears.

“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy… to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this valley of tears…”

June and July are “winter” in Honduras, i.e., rainy season, so most days are gloomy and filled with darkness.   This summer, I learned the importance of accepting the reality of being surrounded by darkness in life. Once we accept that reality and it no longer “shocks” us, drawing our attention to it, we can stop dwelling on it and rather we can see the cracks of light that break through here and there and even see beauty in the darkness and suffering knowing that God allows it so that we can learn to trust Him.

I leave you with some pictures of my summer. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May His face shine upon you and give you Peace.

-Nick

1) Sharing my witness with the Hombres de Cristo, 2) Mountain of Hope retreat with the seminarians… view of El Salvador/Honduras border, 3) In Wilmer’s studio recording original songs with Moises. 4) Pictures with various mission teams from the States. 5) Casa San Jose, our men’s house where I stayed for the summer 6) Our Lady of Suyapa, patron of Honduras, visiting our local cathedral 7) Roberto, Dcn. Bob and I right before finishing off my summer in Baltimore with Roberto’s wedding.

Wounded by Poverty

As we waited in the terminal for our early flight, Jesus captured my sleepy heart with a little Honduran American girl waving to me and saying hello.  Then, on the plane, Our Lord awaited me in this Honduran man around my age who sat right next to me – he was filled with the joy of a child excited about flying (I believe, for the first time).  He kept looking out the window, fascinated by beauty. I had the window seat, so he was practically on top of me with that Honduran ‘closeness’ marked by a much smaller ‘bubble’ of personal space than we are used to in the US… a closeness that reminds you of the power of human touch to break through the cold isolated bubbles and barriers that we make for ourselves.  He was so close that he leaned over me holding his phone by the window to record it all… he continued doing this for over half an hour as our flight was delayed on the runway for some reason.  I didn’t mind… how could I interrupt such joy and excitement? I decided to show him a picture on my phone of the sunrise on my previous flight and that just added to his excitement. He waited patiently for the flight to take off, nearly bursting with the excitement. 

I selfishly wanted to sleep and keep the window closed… I should have been more generous and let him switch seats with me.

Thank you, Jesus, for always finding me, piercing through my icy heart encased with anxiety, sorrow, and the lies and darkness I cling to… penetrating and dispersing that darkness with the warmth of your childlike joy.

Once you visit Honduras, a piece of your heart always stays behind. It’s like my heart is painfully stretched across the Gulf of Mexico… an ache that I forget from time to time, kind of like the pain behind your ears from wearing a mask for too long…but it is an ache that never really leaves.  Two worlds collided together and are now forever inseparable.  Should I start to forget its beauty, it has a way of reminding me.  Should I return to Honduras on a short flight, the beautiful wound is torn open once again in a strange but beautiful way that hurts because of poverty, my own poverty, the poverty of those I meet and the poverty of Christ in their faces…a wound forever reminding me of the Crucified Christ in the broken body of the poor.  It is a wound that aches, yet refreshes my soul and reminds me what it is to for my soul to sing, to feel alive… not numbed by the distractions of the developed world, but broken and alive…

Lord, you always find me. You know every detail of my heart. You know how to speak to me personally and deeply. Come find me again, Lover of my soul, heal this wounded heart and make it alive with your Living Fire once again.

The highlight of this mission was our community retreat lead by two Sisters with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal from Pittsburg. The night before the retreat, a few Latin American members of our community (Honduran and Nicaraguan) openly shared their concerns with the Sisters about problems they peronsonally have had with the Charistmastic Renewal. The Sisters responded joyfully and were the perfect, gentle vessels of the Holy Spirit to answer the concerns that many had and share with everyone about Baptism in the Holy Spirit and other beautiful aspects of our Catholic Christian faith, leading us in prayer. Saturday night of the retreat I was blessed to lead worship – I felt a true freedom in leading and singing unlike I had had before while on mission in Honduras – our community felt truly united in prayer, singing and praising Our Lord in adoration as one community, one Body in Christ. The Sisters walked around, praying over each member of our community as the Holy Spirit came in power. On Christ the King Sunday, the community radiated with an evident joy and peace as we shared over a meal several of the great things Our Lord had done on during the weekend – sharing specific prayers that were answered, internal healing through forgiveness and Reconciliation, and a powerful unity in prayer. Please pray for our mission community, that the seeds that were planted that weekend would be protected and grow to bare abundant fruit!

Thank you everyone for your prayers and support. May our Lord bless you and your family abundantly this Christmas.

I leave you with some pictures from the trip – there are more and more children around our mission house in Honduras – so beautiful haha! I was blessed by my brothers with a great evening of fraternity – praise God for a full house of men! – and blessed by my sisters with a refreshing coffee outing. And, of course, some quality catch up time with my best buddy, Cesar. God is good!!!

-Nick

Year of Grace

Many will remember 2020 as a horrible year, but I will remember it as a year of grace, a wonderful gift from God. Even the Cross was a gift, right? The necessary suffering that led to our salvation. Even in the Agony of the Garden, the angel came to console our Lord… Here are reflections I wasn’t ready to share earlier this year, but now is an appropriate time to share them in gratitude for this year of Grace. (Scroll to bottom for story/pics from my recent trip to Honduras).

Lenten Journey

In March when Masses were canceled I wrote this after having a private Mass “in secret” with a priest friend able to visit my home: “The last time I received Him was a very intense Mass because I knew it would be the last time for a while.  The first half of Mass I was fighting back the emotion… the fear and sorrow that had built up in previous days… then, after receiving Him, all the fear and sorrow was suddenly gone and I was overwhelmed by His peace.  A deep, confident, knowing He is with me and will be with me through all that is to come.”

As the pandemic continued, I tried not to numb or distract myself from the sorrow with technology and I tried to be patient…for example, when trying to watch Mass on-line but the lagging made want to throw my phone out the window. When I got passed the little annoyances, I was able to see the true beauty of spiritual communion… something the poor of the developing world taught me years ago… when you are on mission in the mountains and can’t go to Mass because the priest only comes there a few times a year. The Lord taught me a radical solidarity with the poorest of the poor once again this year. I had only gone without Mass for a few weeks – just a few weeks! It’s one thing when you can choose not to go or perhaps are used to not having the option… but it’s something very different when you hunger, thirst to be restored by His Holy Body and Blood… it was a very real sorrow that hurt… but it’s important where we direct the hurt, the ache.  As a wise priest once explained to me, the difference between sadness and sorrow is that sadness is suffering by yourself, isolated and depressing, while sorrow is communal… sorrow still hurts, but it’s a good kind of sorrow knowing that “your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings”.

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. 

1 Peter 5: 8-10

I later wrote this during those weeks: “Let’s do this Church Militant. Though we are not able to receive, the very good news is Jesus has not actually been taken from us… He is ALIVE in us.  Mass is still being celebrated and we are able to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass through spiritual communion… Many rural villages in the developing world are only able to have Mass a few times a year… on Sundays the rest of the year they pray the spiritual communion prayer and are literally celebrating the Mass with us… geographically distant, in another language and culture… yet One Body… one united body.”

Battling the Elements

Another blessing this year was living in a quiet cottage in the middle of the woods in the mountains. It was a true time of solitude, a time of encountering God in creation and in myself in a new way, growing more into the man He is calling me to be, from having my own place for the first time, to learning how to chop wood and battle the elements, namely the cold or creatures

In late April, in the middle of leading my first virtual retreat from the cottage with about 50 people from countries across the globe, God came to me in the little things, offering me a smile here and there… At one point, I realized a little mouse was darting about the cottage while I was focusing on the retreat. Muting myself, I chased it around, not knowing how to let it out…then I saw a cardboard box and prayed ‘brother mouse please go in the box.’ I thought that prayer was silly yet, I brushed off the thought and prayed it in confidence. The mouse went into the box! I walked a good ways into the woods and let the cute little guy go. (Let’s just say later in the year I no longer thought the now several mice were cute and no longer showed them mercy). Then, I went to make my afternoon cup of coffee, picking up my Divine Mercy mug, thinking it was perfect for this Feast of Divine Mercy, and when I looked down into it, there was a huge centipede inside! No idea how it managed to get in there but I wasn’t as nice to the centipede as I had been to the mouse.

After a beautiful retreat, my heart was full as I sat watching in the quiet of the cottage, savoring the silence and all the great things Our Lord did that day in my life and the lives of all those I met, while being entertained by the massive battle underway between moths and other insects on the great glass window by the dining table, fighting for the best spot to soak in the light.

My Trip to the ER: Covid or Anxiety?

In July, after a recent trip to Florida, I developed two of the primary symptoms of COVID-19: shortness of breath and cough.  I awoke at 4:30am and couldn’t seem to catch my breath.  It lasted 24 hours, so after two nights of not sleeping I decided to go to the ER to be safe… during those 24 hours, I had spent the day reading through on-line health articles, building up the anxiety. And after self-assessing, just spreading the anxiety more by messaging several friends and family.

In the ER, the [very attractive] PA with her joyful eyes and her hair braided to one side over her shoulder told me good news right from the start.  She said that the COVID-19 cough is usually with more phlegm/mucus.  She also said my heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure, and temperature were all very normal and looked great – she even saw my heart rate drop as she was assuring me it might not be COVID. I waited for my COVID results…

Are you feeling anxious about whether I tested positive for COVID-19 as you read this? Stop. I challenge you to stop giving into the same horrible anxiety that I gave into… just wanting to “release” and “to know”…

I say that because I tested negative for COVID… What was my diagnosis? Anxiety. Everyone else’s fear and anxiety (“did you get tested!? did you get tested!?”) really got to me. Instead of adding to the heavy anxiety our country and our world is still dealing with, I encourage you to stop, breathe, think about your friend who is struggling with whether or not they have COVID and ask yourself: “What can I tell him to encourage him with his struggle? Is what I am going to say really going to help him or am I just trying to protect myself/reacting in fear?” I’m the first person that needs to hear it as a very impatient, hot-tempered man. If anything, 2020 taught me to be more patient with others and more kind.

Interestingly, the Gospel for that day I went to the ER was about the leper. It’s interesting how people with COVID are like the lepers were hear about in the Bible… afraid to touch them, to even come close to them. Don’t forget the saints that touch and even kissed lepers and were not infected. Don’t forget how Jesus healed the lepers and still heals today. Be prudent, but live in freedom.

Survival was not enough. One had to live.

Living was a dangerous past-time, and often quite painful – but there was also such joy in living, such beauty, things that one would otherwise never see, never experience, never know. The risk of pain and loss was a part of living. It made everything else mean more; beauty was more pure, more bright, pleasure more full and complete, laughter deeper, more satisfying – and contentment more perfect, more peaceful.

Jim Butcher, the Codex of Alera Series

Peace Be With You

After the craziness of 2020 took its toll on me, I took a month or so to do some traveling and discernment of what the next step in my life would be. God answered by reminding me what he had first taught me 10 years ago when I started this blog: “Go in Peace to love and serve the Lord.”

It was beautiful: After a year of zero weddings for the first time in a long time in 2019, I had several weddings to attend the last months of 2020 and simply traveled from one wedding to the next, finishing with a wedding in Honduras. While in Honduras, I was reminded of who I am as man, fully alive, not focusing on myself and my problems, but rather caring for others, for Christ in the poor.

When I arrived, there was no water because of the destruction from the two hurricanes so I had to bathe with a bucket (see below). Our dog, Ranger, still remembers his “papi” after all these years (I took care of him as a puppy). The work around the mission house had changed a little, for example, now packaging rice and beans for the families affected by the pandemic. And it was a HUGE blessing to have a table full of people to sing and celebrate my 33rd birthday.

Once again, just like 10 years ago, I don’t know what the Lord has in store next but I trust he has GREAT PLANS on this adventure toward heaven 🙂

Let’s do this 2021 🙂 All is grace. All is gift.

-Nick

Respect His Blood

RESPECT HIS BLOOD

In the Mass, when the priest holds the Host and says, “This is My Body” and then the chalice, saying “This is my Blood”, I like to bow my head… an outward sign of respect to God which fosters an interior sense of respect.  Early in my faith journey (after a powerful experience during the Mass on a youth retreat when, with an act of faith, I came to believe in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and was overwhelmed with a deep peace and joy), I began to pray a prayer each time at that specific moment when the priest holds up the chalice: “I respect Your Blood poured out for me.” Like any teenager, I dealt with raging hormones, addictions, and sins of the flesh (lust, gluttony, and sloth), but I developed a sense of healthy guilt… that feeling God has built into us to get us to stop doing things that feel good but destroy us… and learned to run to His mercy.

Now, 18 years later, I recently realized that at some point I had stopped praying that little prayer. I still bow (and our prayer life certainly changes and grows with time), but God wanted to remind me of that prayer.  He wanted to show me something going on inside and work on chiseling more junk out of my heart to make it more like His.  Our world is really good at bombarding us with temptations of the flesh, and although by His mercy I never lost that deep sense of respect for God, like most, part of me grows complacent at times and I fall into the same sins of the flesh.

A few weeks ago, in His Providence, I was able to go to daily Mass at my old parish, Most Precious Blood.  An old friend of mine who is now a priest was saying Mass, and, during the consecration when he lifted the chalice, I bowed and prayed that prayer for the first time in a long time: “I respect Your Blood poured out for me.” In the moment, there was a healthy ache of sorrow at my complacency, yet also a more powerful, overwhelming deep sense of gratitude and respect for the God-man who was ruthlessly murdered for me, who died for me and poured out His Most Precious Blood for me, and who in His humility now becomes wine and bread that I might consume Him and be one with Him.  In the face of viruses, great darkness in our world, and the evils that we ourselves commit, may we never forget that we are ‘dust and to dust we will return’, that we are so weak and small, desperately dependent on God and desperately in need of a Savior… Instead of relying on our own strength which ultimately fails us, may we bow in great awe and wonder, with deep gratitude and respect before Him whose Most Precious Blood runs in our veins, who is ALIVE in us and whose perfect Love casts out all fear.

“The vain delights that charm me most: I sacrifice them to His blood.…Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” – Lenten Hymn

-Nick

I am a full-time missionary! Please consider donating here to support me so I can keep writing, singing, serving the poor, and bringing Our Lord’s message to those who need it! God bless you!

Light Up the Darkness

This past month this Floridian city boy was given the opportunity to move to a private cottage deep in the woods of rural PA… to find his inner mountain man he didn’t know was there and re-encounter his God.

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To be honest, I’ve been distracted this past year… after two years on mission in Honduras, I’ve been enjoying the pleasures our developed country has to offer a little too much… good things in and of themselves in moderation… but often distractions.

In God’s perfect providence, just in time for Advent. I retreated to the silence of the woods where God, a jealous lover, could have me all to Himself… chopping my own firewood to stave off the 20s and 30s that have come to stay, cooking my food on an on oven powered by a small propane tank, and-my favorite part-no television and limited to no internet.

Jesus, our eyes are fixed on You. The world has become very dark, but You are Light itself and you pierce through the darkness, especially this JOYFUL day. Come, Lord Jesus… light up the darkness.  I can’t wait to see what AWESOME plans you have in store for this new year.

“I proclaim to you a GREAT JOY: Today, the Savior of the world is born for you. Alleluia.” – Liturgy of the Hours

Merry Christmas.

-Nick

I am a full-time missionary here in the US – please considering donating monthly to support me  (click here) so I can keep writing, singing, serving the poor, and bringing our Lord’s message to those who need it. God bless you!

 

 

Little by Little

Poco a poco, vamos a llegar”  (Little by little, we will make it)

This month for the San Jose Cafe project, I will be traveling to Honduras Sept 16th – Sept 26th and ask for your prayers for the success of the trip.   I specifically will be meeting with the Hondurans involved in making the handmade bracelets and rosaries from our Physical Therapy program (Beata Margarita) and small wood-carved items from our young men’s program (Hombres de Cristo).   Even though the shop is still not open, funds from this project are already helping support the young adults and families making these products through your generosity!
Having said that, the project hit a significant “slow down” last month in fundraising and progress (looking for volunteers/etc.).  To remind you of the “fine print”, we are still only around $5,000 and if we don’t hit the $10,000 goal, we will not be able to open the store, so please continue to help us spread the word and pour out prayer for this project!  Even if you are able to give an additional $10/month to this project, every little bit helps.  Also:
  • We need a $100 donation for the fee to have a table at the Shippensburg University Career Fair on October 3rd to look for interns for the Spring.  We haven’t registered yet because it is only 1pm to 4:30pm, but if someone would like to make a donation for the fee, I will register us
  • We need a $200 donation for the fee to have a table at the annual Diocesan Woman’s Conference, all day Oct 12th.  This is a great opportunity with potentially over 800 women attending. If you are able to table with me on either of those dates, please let me know
  • We have not anyone submit a full application yet for missionaries or part-time volunteers for the fall or spring. Please spread the word!  Apply here.
LITTLE BY LITTLE, WE WILL MAKE IT!
Although we “slowed down”, we are still moving forward, little by little! Another member of the Missioners helped finish our logos (below)…original design created by friends of mine in Florida… and a few volunteers have come by to help with electricity and drywall… THANK YOU!  As always, let me know if you know an opportunity for me to give a coffee tasting presentation in your area to fundraise or if you want to stop by the shop and help fix things up.
Final prayer request: I am applying for two major grants and for tax-exempt status, please pray everything goes smoothly and that the Lord will open doors.  Have a beautiful rest of your week! – Nick

Turn Nothingness into Living Fire

“In order for love to be fully satisfied, it must descend to nothingness and transform that nothingness to living fire.”

– St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul.

A highlight from this past month was when a group of volunteers came from Diller Mennonite Church here in Newville, PA. I’ve been amazed at the beauty of everyone coming together to bring this project to life…

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A few of the volunteers including Pastor Joe (far left)

One of the Mennonite families who volunteered actually have a daughter who is a full time missionary in Honduras and several from their church went on a mission trip this month to Honduras to visit her and the mission. What are the chances of moving to small, rural town in PA and finding all these connections?  I am convinced… it’s not chance… this is God’s work!

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This is a picture of Roger and I in the bed of a truck on mission in Honduras.  He was a friend of mine for 6 years before suddenly passing away from cancer in 2016.  His sister, Diana, is helping me lead this project (for instance, she designed the logo for the coffee we will be using supporting Roger and Diana’s family coffee farm).  The name of the coffee is “Roil” in honor of Roger (“Ro”) and Ilsa (“il”), another sister of theirs who also suddenly passed away.

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I know Roger is in heaven “cheering us on” with this project and grateful for everyone’s support!!

Discouragement always threatens… from one person saying “your coffee shop is not a good idea in Newville” to finding major issues with fixing the shop including an underground water leak and hole in the oil tank… BUT the fire of hope burns all the brighter with so many saying the opposite, “it would be great to have a coffee shop in Newville!” and sharing their prayers, time, talent, and treasure to make this project come to life.

Let’s make this coffee shop a reality.  Let’s turn nothingness into living fire by the power of Christ alive in us.

IN ORDER FOR US TO OPEN THE CAFÉ WE STILL NEED:

  • Monetary Donations
    • We’ve raised half ($5000) but we can’t open the coffee shop until we meet our $10,000 goal. Contact me to schedule a coffee tasting event at your house or church to help us fundraise. Donate at our FlipCause page:
  • Young Adult Volunteers
    • We’ve found one local young adult willing to volunteer and one missionary coming up from Florida but we can’t open the shop until we have at least one more full-time missionary (men only at this point; free room, board, and meals) and four more local students/young adults who can commit to 10 hours a week ($300 stipend).   The Missioners of Christ specifically focuses on working with youth and young adults.
  • Specialized Volunteers/Labor
    • We’ve come a long way but there are still several major issues with the building before we can open. We need individuals who can donate a few hours of their time, materials, or paying for a specialist to come: (replace oil tank; fix underground water leak; landscaping; insulate walls, drywall, pressure wash outer walls; and other tasks).

I leave you with the Scripture that has been on my heart for this project:

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

Come Holy Spirit, make all things new in Newville. Transform this quiet town into a place where your LIVING FIRE burns in our hearts, coming together as one family, united in service and prayer, setting captives free and leading all to true freedom in Christ. AMEN.

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My New Life Project: San José Café

I am excited to announce a new, major project I am beginning: opening a non-profit coffee shop in Newville, Pennsylvania supporting the mission in Honduras!   I ask for your prayers and support as my family and I embark upon this new endeavor.

After finishing my two-year commitment in Honduras as a missionary last November, I have been actively praying and seeking the next step in my life, specifically, what my personal long-term life project could be supporting this mission I’ve fallen madly in love with in Honduras.  In November, at a wedding in Florida, my plan was to return to Florida and use my masters degrees to find a full-time industrial engineering position.  Speaking with my engineering friends at the wedding, it looked like there were several opportunities to find a solid job and my friends were willing to put in a good word for me at their companies.  After the wedding, I went up to Pennsylvania – for what I thought would be a short visit – to be with my parents for the holidays.

So, why am I still in rural Pennsylvania over four months later instead of my beloved, warm, sunny Florida? Because of my own conversion after these past two years… after meeting Hondurans with “big dreams” for their life but they couldn’t pursue them because they needed to stay and support their family.  God has asked me to stay here in PA for a while to support my parents… my cousin, like a sister to me, is 7 months pregnant with her son, André, and I am excited to be here for her and the rest of my family as well.

Praying about why I wanted an engineering position in Florida, the deeper reason was to begin to build my savings to support my future wife and kids (not to mention I just really enjoy industrial engineering) and to financially support the mission in Honduras.  However, timing is everything – right now I’m still single, and God needed me to stay up north for now… plus it makes a lot more sense fully devoting my time to a project for Honduras rather than simply supporting it financially and working on it little by little.

I was recently hired at my new local parish part-time as Young Adult Minister and will be devoting the rest of my time toward starting this coffee shop, San Jose Café.  Please message me (nick.higgins@missioners.org) if you would like to share your talents toward this project (for instance, I am looking for a plumber, electrician, or general contractor) or if you would like to financially support this project (one-time or monthly donations).  I returned to Honduras for a short visit last month and met with my good Honduran friends, Cesar, Diana, and Katy to begin planning… it appears this project has been years in the making, and I am excited to see what our Lord has in store!

 

Today, on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, I ask for your prayers for my future spouse if I am called to holy matrimony, for my family, and for this coffee shop “San Jose Cafe”.  Know you are in my prayers.  The name of the café is in honor of St. Joseph, the Worker… trusting in his powerful intercession, that through this project dignity will be restored to all workers involved, providing a good, living wage and fighting injustice in the developing world. St. Joseph the Worker, Husband of Mary, Terror of Demons, and Protector of Virgins, pray for us!!!

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The Explorers, Chapter 1 “Great Gramps’ Journal”

I wrote my first novel!  It will be published and available on-line for purchase this month. Here is the first chapter. Young adult fiction.

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Chapter 1: “Great Gramps’ Journal”

I awoke with a start, my heart racing.

Breathe, Jeff, I thought, wiping the tears from my eyes. That would never happen.  I took a deep breath, letting my mind catch up with reality, and rose from my bed.

Dragging my weary body to the window, I rubbed my face and looked out at the new day.  The sky was laced with clouds of purple and pink, calming to the eye, the Appalachians aglow beneath the morning rays of the sun.  The grass was a vibrant green, wet with dew, and some birds were enjoying a morning bath in the fountain.

Continuing downstairs, I saw my mom sitting in the living room.

“Good morning, Mom,” I said, heading to the kitchen.

“Good morning,” she responded, taking a sip of her coffee as she proceeded perusing the Current Columns.  Both of us kept the conversation short, not desiring to break the precious silence of morning quite yet.

I grasped my favorite mug from the cupboard—a gift my grandparents had brought over from Ireland—and poured the freshly brewed coffee.  The coffee was a dark roast from Brazil, fairly-traded and rainforest-friendly, of course. Taking my coffee to the back porch, I climbed up onto the large oak rail, and watched the sun continue to rise over the mountains. Our house was situated near the edge of town, where the great forest began, leading up over the mountains out of sight.

After finishing my coffee, I returned to my room, stopping at the threshold. The memory of the dream came rushing back me. I decided to peek into my one-year-older brother’s room next door; to no surprise on my account, Zach was sleeping, and he would probably continue doing so until noon.

Look. He’s fine.  I shook my head, as if to shake the thoughts out, and hopped in the shower, the warm, gentle water draining away the lingering pieces of my dream.

I dressed, combed my short, dark blonde hair, put on my Casio watch, and placed my wooden Celtic cross tied to a string—also a gift from Ireland—around my neck, and returned downstairs. I heard something sizzling in the kitchen and smelled the sweet welcoming of breakfast.

“Hey, Jeff, can you please set the table for me?” My mom said, moving the pan to the counter top, “Breakfast is ready.”

“Woohoo!”  I loved breakfast.  I loved lunch and dinner, too.  Pulling out two square plates, two forks, and our new lemon and lime salt and pepper shakers—not from Ireland, but my mom enjoyed thrift shopping in style—and placing them in the breakfast nook, I took a seat.

“How is it?” My mom asked me over the plates of fluffy omelets with the perfect amount of spinach, green onion, and salty bits of ham.  Her words fell to deaf ears as I was lost in the savory depths of my breakfast plate.

“Huh?”

“Your breakfast, Jeff.”

“Oh! It’s… perfect, Mom.”

Finishing eating, I cleaned up the dishes. “It’s about ten o’clock.  I’m gonna head over to Michele’s,” I said, giving my mom a big hug and reaching down to give her a kiss on the head (I was now a few inches taller than her).

“Sure.  Be back for dinner.”

I quickly made a sandwich, grabbed an apple and a baggie of pretzels, and filled up my water bottle.  Packing everything away in my satchel, I slung it over my shoulder, and made the short trek to Michele’s house—two houses down the block, to be exact.

I rang the doorbell and Michele stuck her head out the front window, her long mahogany locks hanging down.

“Hi! One sec!” she said, disappearing back inside.  I heard more movement, a slight thump! …crash! …and then the door opened.

“Hey,” she said, tying her hair up in a ponytail.

“How are you?” I gave a slight smile, my eyebrows narrowing in curiosity.

“I’m fine… just need to handle… uhh… a quick situation.  And you?”

“I’m great.” I smiled.

“Let me grab my things.”

I sat down on her porch and waited, watching a lizard eat a bug while pondering what the crash could have been.  Michele shortly reappeared wearing her backpack.  She gave me a big smile, the usual excitement of adventure lighting up her eyes, saying, “Let’s go!”

After getting Michele, we always ventured into the woods across the street to go exploring.  This had been a routine of ours since we were two or three feet shorter and our parents had first allowed us to go off on our own.  We were recent high school graduates, and we were even more recently beginning to date each other.  We had decided to stay and help our families with the family businesses and save up for our future rather than go off to college.  To our excitement, our parents agreed to give us an “extended” summer off before beginning work.

 

The great pine trees towered above us, along with the occasional oak or sycamore tree. Michele and I walked along a trail that we had just finished after a week of clipping thorn-infested vines and low branches where the brushwood thickened.  We had the blood and scratches to show for it, but ultimately the vines lost the battle.

At the end of the trail, there was an opening where we had begun to build a shelter.  So far, we had completed the frame and the base; we estimated it would take a few more weeks until we finished.  I walked over to the pile of lumber and picked up several pieces, while Michele retrieved the hammer and nails.

Around midday, we decided to stop for lunch—my apple had disappeared within the first hour.  I sat on the edge of the shelter base while Michele found a small boulder nearby.

“Mmm… can I have a bite?” Michele asked, eyeing my colorful pastrami sandwich.

“Wait—yours looks good too…,” I said, eyeing her chicken salad sandwich.  Looking up at each other, then back at the sandwiches, we swapped them.

Michele took a generous bite, stopping in mid-chew, and slowly set the sandwich back down as if the pastrami had turned sour.

“What’s up? Is the sandwich bad?” I asked.

“No, the sandwich is fine.  It’s nothing.”  She swallowed and proceeded to finish the bite, when her eyes darted again.

“C’mon, Michele.  What are you looking at?” I turned around.

“I saw something over there.”  She pointed up to the edge of the shelter frame.

“I’ll go take a look.” As I started to get up, a large black snake slithered over the future windowsill.  Michele stood up and quickly backed away.  I sighed with a small chuckle, picking up the creature.

“It’s just Shadow,” I said, as the creature curled its tail, brushing the hairs on my arm with his rare, midnight-black scales following in line.  Shadow was a gift from a friend at school.  My mom would not let me keep him in the house, so I released him into the woods, but he seemed to like the shelter. His emerald eyes glimmered in the offered light.

“I wish he’d stop scaring me like that,” Michele squirmed, a worried look on her face.

I set Shadow back on the windowsill and he disappeared under the shelter.  “It’s ok.  Most people aren’t used to having a snake around.” I wrapped my arms around Michele to comfort her.

She sighed, patting my arm in thanks but her body was still tense.

“Here’s your sandwich.” I took her sandwich and handed it back to her playfully.

“Gross! You touched Shadow with that hand!”

“What are you talking about? Snakes are clean.”  With that, Michele smirked at me, taking another big bite of my sandwich.

~~~

The next few weeks passed rather quickly as we hurried to finish the shelter.  After the building stage was complete, all that remained were the final touches inside; Michele decorated with a few things from her house, while I built some furniture.

As I finished nailing together the table, Michele grabbed a tablecloth.  We brushed the dust of the table, grabbed each end of the cloth and flung it over. As the cloth drifted down into place, we both fell into the two new wooden chairs at each end, slouching with a sigh and a smile, looking around our creation.

Two long wooden benches ran along the sides of the main room—one had a built-in storage area underneath that was our kind-of-safe box, locked with a golden lock—with the table and chairs at the center.  There were also a few windows, some shelves with decorative items, and a trap door—covered by a rug, of course—that led under and out of the shelter.

At the entrance of the structure, some steps lead up to a large door with a handcrafted knob which my father had helped me with.  On the side, there was an attached ladder leading up to a small open cache on roof—to be used as a storage area—with a window the width and shape of a bowling ball on the far side.

“Now for the final touch,” Michele said, taking a vase with freshly cut pink roses clipped from her backyard—they were her favorite flower—and placing them in the center of the table.  She loved gardening, especially working with flowers of all varieties. Sitting back down, she said, “Nice chair.  Did your Da teach you to make this?”

“Yeah, he did. But the engravings are my original little touch.” I said.  My father was a carpenter, as was his father and his father’s father. When my great grandparents came over from Ireland in their late twenties with their children through Ellis Island, my Great Gramps had to leave carpentry to find a job that would be able support his family.  He was, however, able to pass the trade onto my grandfather, who then taught my father.  My grandfather was the last of the McKeller line to still have the Irish accent, but we liked to keep a little tradition by calling my father “Da”.  My grandparents recently retired and frequently visited Ireland and other places around the world, while my Great Gramps, on the other hand, never returned to Ireland, mentioning something about not wanting to travel farther than the gas station.

 

The next morning I was the first to awake in the house.  It was still fairly early, so I vacillated between getting off my lazy behind and staying in the comfort of the covers.  I decided and arose from my bed, happy with myself for successfully tackling the first challenge of the day.  I washed my face and went outside for a walk, jotting down a note in the dim light for my parents.

Brewnston Town was a small, quaint town situated in a valley in the Appalachians; the town was quiet in the early hours.   I reached the town square and sat down on a bench.  A few robins and blue jays were bouncing around in the brightening sky and a pair of squirrels were chasing each other through the trees. I was enjoying the morning calm, when a man’s voice broke the silence, “Hey, Jeff!”

I turned around.  It was the baker, a jovial man in his mid-thirties with a big heart, on his way to open the bakery.  He was a heavyset African American man, married, with four children.

“Hello, Mr. Stevens!” I called back.  As he was about to round the corner, an idea popped into my head, Hmm… I could really go for a donut.

“Mr. Stevens! Wait up!”

Following him to the bakery, I waited patiently as he opened the shop, prepared the massive frying vat, and mixed the dough.  Waiting in the café area, I watched a pair of squirrels bickering on the windowsill.  I wondered if it was the same pair I saw in the trees and what they were bickering about.

“Enjoying the last of the summer, Jeff?” Mr. Steven said, handing me a box of half-dozen donuts.

“Yes, sir, I think Michele and I might go to the lake today,” I replied, paying him.

“Sounds like a good plan.”

“How’s your family?”

“They’re doing well. My wife is home with the kids—my oldest starts at Brewnston High next year! Can you believe it? Here ya go, Jeff.” Mr. Stevens smiled, handing me the change.

“That’s good to hear, Mr. Stevens. Have a good day.” I said, returning home.

Both of my parents were awake, sitting with their paper and coffee like every other weekend morning.  I doled out the donuts.

“Thank you, my son.” Da said, sticking his head over the “World News” section.

“Anything good in the paper, Da?”

“Hmm… not today.  Unless this article on bullfrog racing in Cambodia might interest you…?”

“I’m good.”

“Your loss.” He grinned, biting into the donut.

After disappearing into the kitchen to find the second half of my breakfast—granola, yogurt, toast, an orange, and one more donut to top it off—I returned to excuse myself for the day.

“Well, I’m gonna go over to Michele’s.”

“No, you’re not,” my mom said.

“Huh?”

“…not like that. Come here.” She gave a slight grin, touching my face. “You have donut on your face.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I ended the conversation with a roll of the eyes and started up the stairs.

“I saw that—and please take out the trash before you go.” Her grin widened.

As I was coming back downstairs with my things for the day, the phone rang.  I went to get it, but my mom beat me to it.

“Hello?” she said, “…Yes. Why?”

“Oh no….” Her voice shook.  “We’ll be right there!”

“What is it?” I said.

She looked at me, calling out to Da in the other room, “Adam, it’s your grandfather—he’s had a heart attack.  The ambulance is taking him to Ellington.”

We were in the car in less than a minute and raced to the hospital in Ellington, a neighboring town slightly larger than Brewnston Town.  I noticed on the way that the clear sky had developed some rather gray clouds.

 

The waiting room was full of very different people with very different lives.  A young Hispanic woman sat in a chair in the corner of the room, rocking her baby boy, while her daughter sat next to her playing with her mother’s long hair.  A white-haired Asian man sat in another corner with his reading glasses at the tip of his nose, reading a news magazine, and two teenagers—one with several tattoos and another with several earrings—were watching the television.  Then, an old woman came in through the entrance and went up to the front desk window where she was given her forms.  Trying to sign them with great difficulty, she kept saying, “Where are my glasses?  I can’t see without my glasses.”

Another old woman, rather short and plump and wearing a very red sundress, had entered behind her, joining her at the window.  She thumbed through her purse and pulled out a pair of glasses.

“Here, Deloris.  They’re right here.”

Ecstatic, Deloris took the glasses with her frail hands, slipped them on, and started filling out the forms.  The other woman went over to a bench by the television.  She seemed very fidgety, tightly holding her purse (which was also red) between her legs.  Unable to get comfortable, I presume, she got up and moved to a wooden rocking chair, only to get up again and move to a large cushioned chair saying loud enough for all of us to hear, “These chairs are terribly uncomfortable.”  Finally, she stayed put, but could not sit still, and then, with a deep sigh, succumbed to the chair.

I was staring at a picture of an apple when the nurse finally came out.

“He has asked to see you, Jeff.”

Following the nurse to my great grandfather’s room, I stepped inside.  There he was, the patriarch of our family, a man who had accomplished much in his life, a man who had sacrificed much… lying down in his hospital bed, helpless and weak.  My parents were sitting next to him, tears in Da’s eyes.

Getting up, Da offered me his seat, patting me on the back. My parents exited, leaving me with Great Gramps.

“Hey, Great Gramps.  You hangin’ in there?”

“I’m tryin’, but I’m v’ary weak,” he softly retorted in his humble, fading voice. After a slight pause, he continued, “I ‘ave sometin’ far you.”  He reached into the drawer next to the hospital bed and pulled out a leather-bound journal, worn with time.  It looked as if the journal had the weight of several bricks; he mustered all the strength he had left to lift it up.  “ ‘ere. Take it.”

“Thank you.” I smiled with gratitude, taking it quickly to relieve him.

He looked up at me, his eyes suddenly lighting up with a youthfulness and sense of adventure, and he gave me a great, big smile.

Looking down at the journal, I was about to open it when I heard that sound which no one ever wants to hear coming from the heart monitor.

“No… Great Gramps! …Doctor! I need a doctor! Come quickly!”

Honduras, Year 3: Life Outside the Mission House

“Mr. Bilbo, where are you off to?” – “Can’t stop! I’m already late!” – “Late for what?” – “I’m going on an adventure!” – Bilbo yelled back to the other hobbit as he ran off after the others (See clip: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).  This was the morning after Bilbo had just firmly said “no” to being offered an adventure of a lifetime by Gandalf (the wizard) and the dwarves, preferring the comfort of his hobbit hole – he simply woke up with a new perspective.

A few weeks ago, after receiving a nudge from leadership in my mission community in a very… unexpected… but very good direction, I decided to move out of the mission house.  I am now an “external” missionary – I work at the mission house during the day, but live outside with a little more flexibility in my schedule for personal projects and endeavors.

Moving day, the Franciscans (CFRs) generously took me to my new apartment complex in downtown Comayagua.  Setting down my things in the apartment, I stood (simply put) in the face of a change I was not quite ready for – it felt like getting pushed into a cold pool right before you are about to jump in – so I just left.  I left my things and retreated to the one place that is always nearby, the one place that I can always collect my thoughts and feel safe wherever I am in the world… my Father’s house.

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Walking to the adoration chapel in the Cathedral, I brought everything to the Lord.  It’s too quick, Lord… I am not ready.  It’s dark now… I don’t know the way back to the apartment.  I am just not ready.  The same Franciscan priest was finishing 5pm Mass – afterwards I asked him to take me back to the mission house.  Knowing my weaknesses, the Lord let me rest in His Mercy.

Finding one of my Honduran mission brothers back at the house, we decided to watch The Hobbit in the comfort of the sofa-chairs in the upstairs library.  The Lord, knowing me intimately, likes to uniquely speak to me through movies. (In the mentioned scene above) I was convicted: I was Bilbo running to the comfort of my mission house hobbit hole.  The next morning, it was time for a new adventure.

Thus begins Year 3 of my commitment to the beautiful people of Honduras as I transition out of the mission house.  It’s my first time living on my own in a foreign country (let’s just say I’m getting a lot closer to my guardian angel), among other new challenges, yet, as I learned many years ago, I know I am never truly “on my own” and in fact, rather than fear, I feel an overwhelming excitement and joy stepping out as the Father carries me.  I ask for your prayers at this crossroads in my life, as leadership has challenged me to take my commitment to the Honduran people to the next level… a need for permanent, long-term change that will radically impact the lives of the poor.  Please pray for me to be docile to the Lord’s Will, that I may make the most of these last two months before returning to the States.

Please also pray for Don Chema and Doña Ada, an older married couple I have known for some time now but finally had the chance to visit their boys’ home last week.  Their love (and the grace from the sacrament) radiated like a wild fire as they welcomed me into their humble home, sharing what the Lord had done in their lives and their hopes for the future when the money comes…  They had lived at a much larger orphanage for over 10 years, raising many young boys into the men they are now.  Recently, they left to start their own boys’ home inviting 6 youth (age 12 to 18) from impoverished families to live with them and their own 2 boys… providing a place of refuge and opportunity, living together in a life of prayer and discipline, working on their studies and preparing for their future… These boys as well as boys from the larger orphanage are the ones who I have been getting to know now for 2 years attending our weekly Hombres de Cristo program.  Come Holy Spirit, help these young men COME ALIVE and step into the manhood you are calling them to… that they may become the radiant light that is You to light up the darkness in this country. AMEN.

P.S. Here are pics from my little apartment including a view of a soccer court… don’t worry, there’s an elevator.

 


P.S.S. One of the perks of living on my own: cooking fun things for myself in the evenings.  The lychee fruit is in season now 🙂 It’s from Asia, but turns out really popular in Honduras. Who knew?

 

God bless you.