The Bull

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As I mentioned in my previous blog, The Egg, I served a mission with the K’ekchi in Guatemala. As a missionary, I was blessed to live many beautiful experiences that taught me in one way or another to live a better life and to appreciate everything that I have. Sometimes, the learning moment was so immediate and so visceral, that the wisdom I gained has come back to me later in my life. As I’ve been confronted by a problem or challenge, and life wants to remind me of the hard-won wisdom I’ve gained, it comes…naturally, magically…exactly when I need it.

My experience with The Bull has come to my mind many times since it originally happened, especially when I face a challenge that seems too big or too scary. When I recall this experience with the bull, the way he unexpectedly stormed into my life, charging me with such fierce determination to kill me, he has morphed into a metaphor for all of the biggest problems and challenges that I’ve faced in my life.

The hardest part of facing a challenge is that nobody can do it for me. I have to be the one dealing with it. Even though I am the one who has to “grab the bull by the horns”, it is a blessing to have someone who, like my missionary companion at the time, can help me with encouragement and support.

The following happened around the same time of my previous story “The Egg”, on the outskirts of Senahu. My companion and I met a K’ekchi family that lived in a tiny hut in the middle of a property that was used for pasture. We received a request to visit this family and check on them because the mom was sick and needed help.

The morning that we decided to go look for this family was a beautiful morning. The property,  which was within a short walk from our home, wasn’t hard to find and it seemed like it was taken out of a fairy tale story. The verdant vegetation of the area, plus the climate, the light of the day, everything was working together to make it look like an enchanted place.

A hut, a simple structure approximately 15’x15’ made of wood-stick walls, with a low roof made of straw and old rusted tin, sat squarely in the middle of about an acre of pasture with large trees surrounding it. A strong fence made of wood and barbed wire surrounded the property. Everything seemed so tidy, so perfect. I thought that this would be one of the easiest assignments on my mission. I was excited to go meet the family and help them with anything they needed. Piece of cake! How exciting!

Then we made the next move. We approached the gate and were about to open it, when I came face-to-face with one of my biggest fears, a bull. But not just any bull. He was The Bull.

I have always been scared of bulls. When my siblings and I were little, we all walked to school, along with all of the neighborhood kids. There was a dairy farm one block before our school. It was located on one of the back roads in our city, but was the road that we needed to walk every morning to get to school. Most of the time, we had no problem walking through that area, but once in awhile, the cows and bulls from the dairy farm would escape and wait for us in the road. Once they saw us coming, they would sense our fear and would chase us down the road. Of course, as any little kid would, we would scream, cry and run as fast as we could, all scared and traumatized by these animals.

So, as I stood looking at this angry stomping beast guarding the entrance to my mission for the day, it brought back all of the fear of those bulls of my childhood. I wanted to turn around and run as fast as I could.

This bull wasn’t by any means an ordinary bull.  Like the setting of the hut, the bull too, seemed conjured directly from a fairy tale. But whereas the hut and its surroundings was tranquil and idyllic, the Bull was the beast…the monster…the dragon of this fairy tale.

He looked huge when calmly eating pasture and standing next to the other cows. However you could tell that he was not Ferdinand the Bull of the fairy tale, who was the largest and strongest of the bulls, who would prefer to smell the flowers than to fight a matador. This bull was the complete opposite of Ferdinand. This bull loved to snort and stomp and to be seen as the fiercest of all. He would destroy not just the matador, but his entourage as well. It was the biggest bull that I have ever encountered in my life.

The Bull towered over his herd of cows. It was plain by his attitude that the surrounding20160708_120334 area was his kingdom. He diligently surveyed that kingdom with the intent that any intruder who would dare enter would meet swift retribution by his magnificent horns. He would completely destroy and crush the offender like a rag doll. His gigantic hooves pawing the ground created clouds of dust. He would whip his tail for the sole satisfaction of hearing it make the familiar sound of a sharp sword slicing through air, instilling fear. He would flare his large, round nostrils and blow gobs of snot to show his displeasure at our smell. Fixing his bloodshot devil eyes upon us, he would charge toward us seeming to spit fire and smoke, like a steaming locomotive or a big tornado. He was revolving darkness filled with lightning, thunder, and evil intent. This was The Bull from my nightmares.

We were not prepared for The Bull, as no one had told us about him. The moment we opened that gate though, we saw him coming. That giant came charging towards us at full speed, with no intention of slowing down. Of course he didn’t know that we were there to help his family, nor did he have any understanding that we were there for a good cause. He only saw us as invaders of his territory, only as “those who must be destroyed.”

The moment that the bull came charging and we were running back out of the gate, the man from the hut and his children came out running from the house to rescue us. The bull knew them and allowed them to live in his kingdom. Once they came out to rescue us, he glared, snorted, and turned haughtily away, looking sharply around for anything else upon whom he could vent his frustration and blood-lust.

When we walked into the hut to meet the whole family that day, we found the mother lying on a little mat. Smoke rose lazily from a smoldering fire pit in the center of the one room hut. Without proper ventilation, the room was nearly unbearable. The mom was coughing a lot and hardly able to move, talk or raise up. They all were happy and grateful that we were there to help them.

Within a week, we were able to get a doctor to see her. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Over the next few weeks, and together, with other members of the church and other missionaries, we worked to set up the fire pit with better ventilation. We also educated the family about how to live a healthier lifestyle with better hygiene and eating habits.

The doctor recommended that the mom receive a morning and evening injection of antibiotics over the course of several weeks, to control the TB. Since she was bedridden and unable to go to clinic, the task of administering the shots was given to me and my companion.

I’ve always wanted to help people. Ever since I was a little girl, I used to see the missionaries from all over the world coming into the communities around my country and doing such great service, with care and compassion. I admired them and wanted to be like them. I waited excitedly through all of my tender years to reach the age when I could sign up for a mission.

During that time of waiting, I never imagined that I would have to deal with a bull or with any of my other fears. And now, because this little K’ekchi lady was sick, and we needed to give her the shots, I would have to endure the torture of facing one of my worst childhood fears…twice a day. I wanted to help the lady, but I didn’t want to face this ugly, giant, monstrous bull.

20160707_184451Every morning and every night, we would walk to their home and face the Bull. Sometimes the father or the kids would be there to help us go through the gate. Other times they were gone and we would have to deal with the Bull alone. It took a lot of courage and a lot of pushing from my companion for me to open that gate and take the chance to be crushed by this bull, so that we could reach the lady and give her the shots.

We would wait for the bull to be distracted and away from the gate. The moment the bull realized we were on his turf, we could hear his hooves pounding towards us. For me, it was the drum of my destruction pounding in my ears. My courageous companion, bless her loving heart, would shoot through the gate at a dead run, her long wavy red hair flying all over that pasture, further enraging the Bull as he tried mightily to run down the object of his fury. Each time I had to face the Bull, she ran out ahead of me, slightly veering off course to distract and pull the beast away from the path that I took directly to the front door. Each time, she would come barreling through the door, her bright blue eyes shining with glee and adrenaline, her laughter bubbling uncontrollably from the excitement of besting the Bull and evading destruction once again.

She was so brave!  I was a big wimp compared to her!  Many times I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to face the Bull twice a day. It was so frightening to me. My companion refused to let me give up. She knew I would deeply regret not overcoming my fear to perform such a vital service for the sick woman in the hut. She would do everything possible to help me overcome my fear.

Once inside, we would administer the shots, make sure the lady had food and basic necessities that she needed for the day.  Then we would wait for the bull to forget we were inside. The leaving was as nerve-wracking for me as entering, except for the fact that I felt better knowing that I would be outside of the fence, and as far as possible from the Bull, as long as I made it that is. It never became easier with time. I dreaded returning. It was pure torture for me to know that as soon as I left, in only a few hours I would once again have to face the Bull.

After a few weeks of giving the shots to this lady, she was able to get up and do a few chores in the home. She was also able to attend church once in awhile. It was nice to see that our service was helping her heal, and helping her family. My companion and I visited this family for six months. After that, I was sent to open up a new area, further into the mountains. I went with a new companion, while my red-haired companion stayed there with another missionary.  A few months later, I received the sad news that the lady had passed away. I am glad she had a better quality of life for those months before she died. She was able to do some things with her family that she wouldn’t have had the chance to do if we hadn’t been there. We made a difference in their lives.

When I think back about this experience, the thing I remember the most is my fear of The Bull. I remember the many times I didn’t want to open that gate and do my job, not because I was lazy or incapable. Nor was it from a lack of love of service to others. It was because I was letting that fear take control of me. Sometimes I was able to talk myself into conquering that fear. Other times, it was the encouragement of my companion. It was her words. It was also the fact that she was running next to me. I didn’t feel alone in my fear. My beautiful companion helped me fight it and go through it with me.

Many times in my life I have been confronted by “bulls.” Not just the bulls from my childhood, or The Bull. Now I have fought tougher and even scarier bulls of life. I’ve dealt with my fears of failing in life. I’ve overcome tribulations that have confronted me that have threatened my survival.

Many times I have felt like quitting and just giving up. But I remember how I felt after seeing that K’ekchi woman getting up from her bed and walking with her family to church for the first time in years. My memories of her… the smile on her children’s faces, the love of her husband when they all were walking to church together, showering her with their love and affection, proudly showing everyone that their mom was there to join in the worship… this will always be a treasure in my heart. The gratitude that they felt and showed towards us and the satisfaction I had of being part of that miracle, will be a part of my soul forever.

There is an overwhelming joy that courses through me every time I realize that I have conquered a new challenge. It’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction of knowing that I did it! I didn’t give up! When I “Face the Bull” I feel stronger, wiser, better and then I think, “There is no bull big enough to stop me feeling that joy.” Especially if I know that friends and family are there on the sidelines to encourage me and even to “run with me”. They’re letting me know that though I may need to face The Bull by myself, I’m not alone. I have my companions.

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Photos by Sandi Gamblin

Editing by Randall Gamblin      (randallgamblin@gmail.com)

The Egg

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In my early twenties, I had the great opportunity of serving a year and a half welfare mission among the K’ekchi. The K’ekchi are a Mayan tribe who live in north-central Guatemala. I was assigned a companion to go with me. She was a beautiful American woman,the same age as me. She was tall with fair skin, freckles, long wavy red hair and startling green eyes. Because of potential illnesses and political conflicts, there had not been female missionaries in the area in a long time. We were the first ones to return. So with this privilege, we felt a great responsibility, for which we were nervous and excited at the same time. During this journey, I was challenged, but I was also blessed. I was blessed to experience, what I felt, was the purest form of love.

Besides teaching families the essentials of reading and writing, my companion and I spent many hours instructing people on the basics of good hygiene and nutritional habits. We also delivered medicine, and taught scripture. To do that, we were constantly hiking and traveling through the 100 plus miles of mountains and villages along the Polochic River. 20140524_094543_LLS

The mountains in the area were impressively tall, with 50 degree slopes that were covered in rain forest and jungle vegetation like I’d only seen in movies…think 1984’s Romancing the Stone. The villages were spread through those mountains. Some of them were within walking distance from towns and main roads. Others were almost impossible to reach, even by horseback. It was in this gorgeous, but taxing setting, that I learned their beautiful Mayan language. I also learned to live without electricity and all other modern conveniences.

My companion and I were stationed for part of our mission in the beautiful community of Senahu, in Northern Polochic. Senahu is the name of the town, but also the name of a collection of 41 small villages surrounding it. The main plaza is located at the center of the town, with the municipal buildings, the main market and the Catholic church building surrounding the plaza. The town had no electricity except from 6pm to 8pm, when a small generator got turned on. The generator was able to provide energy to the center of the town and light that wasn’t much stronger than a candle, but good enough to help us get ready for the night. We rented a room in one of the best homes in town and we also paid for the cooking and laundry. A little K’ekchi boy, Puk, would fill a bucket of water for us in a tiny room where we “showered”. Taking a shower was not one of my favorite things to do, since I generally had to share this room with a few tarantulas.

One day, my companion and I decided to venture to a part of the mountains where we had never been before. This area seemed uninhabited to us and we had always ignored it, but this morning we decided to hike up hill and look for families anyway.

20140524_165920After hiking for many hours and not finding any homes or families, the temperature and humidity were sapping our strength, and it was getting late. The rules for all missionaries was to never be out of the main city or village after 5 PM. It was too dangerous to be out in the dark. There are too many wild animals and the K’ekchi are very protective of their territory. We didn’t want to break any rules or to get into any trouble, so we decided to head back to town. At that point, we realized that we had been wandering around, without paying attention to where we’d been. We had lost track of the way back. We could see the town from the top of the hill, but we were not able to find the trail that we needed to take to get back to it.

My companion and I were getting worried and frustrated. We were very hot, getting hungry and needed water. We didn’t know what to do. Then, we heard giggles coming from the trees and as we looked harder into the area where the giggles were coming from, we realized that there was a little hut inside a group of trees and the family that lived in that hut had been observing us. They thought it was so funny that we were lost.

The hut was a small, clean, 10’ x 10’ structure made out of sticks and tree branches, dirt floors and a fire-pit in the middle. It was hidden so well that it looked like it was just a big tree. The family included the mom and dad , two daughters and a son. The children who were about 11, 12 and 13 years old, seemed to be much smaller, more like 7-8 years-old. The parents were not that much taller. They all all had big black eyes, the biggest smiles and cute giggles. They all were happy and seemed to have no worries at all.

They welcomed us with so much love and attention. The two little girls, after inspecting us with their eyes, playing with our hair, holding our hands, and touching our clothes and all the ornaments we were wearing, ran out of the hut. They had been instructed by the mom to go pick the tips of some tender plants that were growing right outside of the hut. The mom placed the trimmings inside a pot of water and placed it on top of the fire. She also started to make corn tortillas. A few minutes later they handed us a bowl that contained broth and the tortillas for us to eat. Of course, we were grateful for the meal, but as welfare missionaries, we were analyzing the nutritional value of that meal and the impact of that type of diet on their health. After visiting with the family, they showed us the trail that would lead us back to the village and we said goodbye. The trail entrance at that point seemed so obvious. It was hard to believe that we couldn’t find it earlier. Like it had been hidden purposely, so that we could meet that family.

20140525_184058As a way to thank the family and to help them improve their nourishment, my companion and I decided to buy a couple of chicks and some chicken feed. We hiked a few days later to deliver our gift. It was very touching to see how happy, excited and grateful they were to have something that they’d never had before. I was humbled, realizing that there are people who had never eaten an egg. Up to this point in my life I had thought nothing of waking up every morning in my own comfy bed, with a soft mattress, warm blankets, with a bedroom to myself that even included my own bathroom. I thought that a warm, steamy and delicious breakfast of eggs, beans, bread, cheese, coffee, cream, sugar, fruit was the norm and my right. I had always taken those simple blessings for granted. Many times, I had complained because something was not cooked exactly the way I liked it. How different it was for this family. They had little, and yet they were absolutely happy.

We kept on visiting and checking on them through the following months. As time went by, we got other assignments, other villages to visit and we didn’t see the family for a while. With time, they went out of our mind and I’d forgotten all about the gift of the baby chicks…until one morning.

As we were leaving our home to go do our service projects for that day, we noticed that the family was waiting for us outside. The moment they saw us coming out of our house, their smiles became so big, their big black eyes sparkling with excitement, joy and happiness. One of the little girls had a piece of cloth in her hands. It seemed like she was guarding a treasure. The little girl came towards me and placed the little packet in my hands. I carefully unfolded the corners of the cloth…an egg!

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As they explained to us, one of the chickens had lain her first egg early that morning, and they wanted us to have it. They had walked since dawn, waited outside our home to show us their treasure and more special … to give it to us!!!

It was just an egg, but it was the first egg they’d ever “owned.” Instead of eating it themselves, they gave it to us. They had big smiles on their faces. They had a light and a glow that showed pride in their precious offering. They were giving away something so precious, and all I saw was gratitude radiating from this beautiful family towards us.

They eagerly watched for our reaction. I can’t tell you what my companion was feeling or thinking. I can only tell you what I felt.

I felt a love so powerful radiating towards me, that no words can describe it. There was a sense of humility, a deep love and so much gratitude. With the simple gift of an egg, I experienced a moment in my life that awakened me. That wonderful family gave me much more than an egg. They gave me a deep sense of what the truly valuable gifts are in this world..the feeling of being valued, cared for and loved.

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Photos by Sandi Gamblin

Edited by Randall Gamblin (randallgamblin@gmail.com)

 

The Moment

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“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift…that’s why they call it:  Present” ―  Master Oogway

At one point in my life it helped me to understand what living in the moment means and to enjoy my present instead of thinking of the past or the future.  It helped me to be in the “Now”.

I had heard that quote before, but on this particular day it actually spoke to me and made sense.

My boys were excited to go see the movie Kung Fu Panda which had premiered that week.   I was enjoying my boys company and their beautiful spirits as much as I could.  The moment the lights went down and the movie started, my boys had their attention on the screen.  Me, my body was there, but my mind was not. My second marriage was failing and all I was doing was thinking about possible solutions, causes, consequences and all the thoughts that come with marriage problems and potential divorce.

My boys were loving the movie.  Sometimes their giggles would bring me back to the theater, but mostly it would wander back to my problems.  Then the scene came when Master Oogway (Chinese for Tortoise) is talking to Po, the Panda, and he says:  “Yesterday is history,tomorrow’s a mystery, and today is a gift…that’s why they call it:  Present”.

2015-11-20 12.48.18My mind, which had been completely absent to the moment, was captured by what Master Oogway said,, and came back to listen and analyze that specific saying.  I call it my Aha Moment, because something clicked inside of me, something magical that changed me.   If I could describe the change that happened, I would say that there was an inner light that started as a flicker and became brighter and brighter as the quote played over and over inside my head.

The whole meaning of it became clear to me.  I was not taking full advantage of the present by worrying so much about things that had already happened, had not happened or may never happen.  Things that I had no control over were the owners of my “Now”.

I looked away from the screen and into my boys beautiful faces.  Their smiles were so big and their eyes were shining so bright, their minds completely submerged in the movie, the plot and the characters.  Not a worry in their world…and I wanted to be and feel like them.  Their secret? Like Master Oogway said, they were living in the present moment. They were taking advantage of their gift…the Now.

I did my best to free my mind of any other thoughts and to stop thinking, to be there, at the movie theater, body and soul, and love that moment with my boys, to appreciate my present, my gift.

The rest of that day was amazing. I felt free. I felt joy. 2015-11-20 12.35.39I felt peace and love that was so fulfilling because it came from inside me and from the realization of the gift I had.  Since that day, I do my best to stay in the moment.  It is not easy and sometimes it seems impossible.

Over the last few years, I have been challenged in many aspects of my life.  I have been laid off from work a few times. My health turned into a slow roller coaster when my thyroid decided to take on a life of its own and play tricks on me.  Losing my good health created a domino effect on my work, my finances, my home, my social and family life.  I can honestly say that I have so many reasons to worry, to despair, to go crazy.

My natural tendency when faced with challenges, is to go into my past and look for all the reasons why bad things are happening to me.  If I allow myself to do that, then I start thinking about what I could have done differently and I fill myself with regrets and self pity.  I also tend to think about all the consequences and possible outcomes to the future, bringing anxiety, worries and uncertainty to my life, feelings that are unnecessary and a complete waste of my present.  Instead I do my best to stay in the present moment and use that gift to be pro-active and work towards the solutions.

Since I started practicing living in the moment, I have noticed that my life has become rich with peace, calm and acceptance.  I appreciate the little things.  I see beauty in nature and in people in a way that I didn’t see before.  Simple things make me happy.  I feel a deeper love and an absolute gratitude.  I do my best to LIVE every moment fully and completely.  Especially when I am with my boys. Those moments become treasures to my soul.  Those are the little moments that really matter to me and the memories that those moments create are the true inheritance I leave behind.

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Photos by Sandi Gamblin

Edited by Randall Gamblin (randallgamblin@gmail.com)