Note: I’m on an airplane, hours away from landing in Quito as this goes to press. Preparing for the trip, I stumbled upon my old journal from the days I lived in Ecuador. Below are a few excerpts.

November 10, 2007:  Who am I? The failure from my time in Chile or the darling child from my time at LMU? What I am learning is this: I’m neither and I’m both. But ultimately, aren’t we all so much more than the labels we apply to try to simplify the complexities of life?

My 2nd grade boys from El Centro del Muchacho Trabajador in Quito, Ecuador.

January 20, 2008: I guess it’s just my week to deal with a ton of blood. Blood on Tuesday. Blood on Friday. Blood on Saturday. WTF? I’m too tired to write about this now.  What a crazy friggin week.

Right before Emerson took an ice skate blade to the forehead.

Right before Emerson took an ice skate blade to the forehead.

March 8, 2008: This experience has changed me. Poverty now hurts my heart more than my eyes. It’s so personal. Hard to articulate, impossible not to feel.

Hanging out with one of my favorite students, Evelyn. She’d later drop out of school, before finishing 4th grade, to continue working full-time to help support her family.

May 5, 2008: I go back to the USA soon. This gives me pause to think about life since graduation. I’ve lived in three foreign countries. I picked up a brand new language, almost from scratch in my 20’s. Take that Spanish 102 teacher who told me I’d never learn to speak Spanish. Soon I return “home” (whatever the hell that means nowadays) with more life experience than I know what to do with. It hasn’t always been easy, but this much I know: I’d do it all the same again. Even the painful parts.

Standing at the edge of a waterfall in Bolivia.

July 18, 2008: It’s done. I’m on a plane, turning the page on one of the most significant chapters of my young life. And so if you’re reading this years from now, I’m less interested in what you recall from your time abroad and rather what you see. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Because on these pages, let there be little doubt: Ecuador became home. It became the place you stopped talking about being a man for others and actually just did it. It’s where you let that incredibly polished guard of yours down, learned to love, and to be loved. When you cried, you really cried, to the bottom of your soul. But when you laughed, it was a laugh more genuine than there are words to authenticate it. And so what do you see when you look up from reading this journal of yours and look into that mirror? Do you still see that man who learned to put love before else? Do you see the man who so quickly called Quito home, not because it was where he lived, but rather where he allowed others to live more fully in his heart? I hope you haven’t lost signt of this incredibly caring man you are today, because it took over two years and a lot of work from a lot of people to develop him into someone he at last felt proud to be.

With a few of more sassy students.

March 27, 2015: Nearly seven years since that last journal entry, I’m typing words I’ve been wanting to type for sometime now: I’m coming home. I’m coming home.

In mere hours now I return home, full of love. I haven’t always been able to look in that mirror and answer with confidence the question I posed to myself on that final day in Ecuador in  2008. But everyday I wake up, and I try. I’m the lucky husband to an incredible woman, a relationship I couldn’t have even begin to have imagined back in 2008. I’m a dad to be, thankful for the years of training kids in special places like The Working Boys Center in Quito and Build a Miracle in Tijuana have bestowed upon me. And I’m in the final week of a job that has been as life-giving as it has been challenging. A director of immersion trips, I found my own home immersed in the very beautiful but sometimes painful realities of the people I was fortunate to break bread with. So much of this is because of a tiny place in Quito, a place I have the great privilege of returning to.

The next week will be very special. It will be emotional. It will be fun. But more than anything, it will be this: Home.

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