Help Make a Dream Come True

Joel in the hospital

Growing up, my cousins Danay and Yinet were like my sisters. We grew up and lived in the same house until we were all 18. So, when they had kids, I called them my nieces and nephews and they call me uncle. One of my nephews is Joel. Joel is one of the nicest and kindest people I know. He’s not only mature for his age, but he’s also genius-level smart. He’s been taking high school classes for a while and he’s only 13. He got perfect scores in the FCAT, was accepted in the National Junior Honor Society and the list goes on. On top of that, Joel was also involved in football and track.

I say he was involved because that all changed last year. Last October, Joel started feeling sick while at school. He vomited and then blacked out. Hours later, when his grandfather picked him up from school, Joel could barely walk and was slurring his words. After he was rushed to the hospital, a scan revealed that Joel had had a stroke.

His right arm and right leg were completely paralyzed and he couldn’t speak. Can you imagine being an active 12-year-old and all of a sudden be paralyzed and not be able to speak? Since he couldn’t talk, the doctors told him to write what he wanted to say if he needed something, but Joel is right handed. It was frustrating at first, maddening even, to not be able to talk to others.

When I heard about it, I broke down crying. I believed in my heart that Joel would make a full recovery, but I pictured myself in his place; confused and afraid and I couldn’t handle it. He was perfectly healthy and then all of a sudden he had a stroke.

We had been talking a lot about God before this happened, so I reminded him about our conversations and told him that although he was going through something horrible, God was still there and He would see him through.

The Dream

Before the stroke, Joel had planned to visit me here in Topeka. He was really excited and my wife and I, with help from his mom, had bought his plane tickets that summer. He was going to visit us in December and spend Christmas break over here. But of course, October came and his dreams were shattered.

It’s hard to explain how much Joel wanted to visit. We had made so many plans. Late-nights watching the Harry Potter movies, watching Heat games together, playing basketball and exploring Topeka and Kansas City, were just some of the ideas we had. Also, he was very excited for the possibility of snow, since that’s one thing Florida never gets.

But after the stroke, he wasn’t able to fly. It was hard enough learning to talk and write again. The airline postponed the tickets until February, but he still couldn’t travel then so we lost the money. It was devastating for Joel and for me.

A year later, Joel is still recovering from the stroke. He’s not 100 percent yet, but he is a LOT better. And his dream of visiting and spending time with me and my wife and kids is still alive. However, due to some unforeseen medical emergencies, we can’t afford to pay the ticket and neither can his mom. His dad is out of the picture.

So, here’s where you come in.

I started a Go Fund Me campaign to crowdfund Joel’s trip to Topeka. I hope to get the campaign funded no later than November 2nd. I know of some people who think, especially guys, “I would never ask anyone for money.”

But here’s the thing, I care more about Joel’s happiness than about my pride. Men grow up with these weird social constructs where asking for help is seen as weakness, where being a pacifist is seen as “soft.” And even more bewildering is that some of these guys I know are Christian. And was there ever a better example of a more humble, more peaceful, and most generous man than Jesus?

You see, it’s a fact that most men don’t go to the doctor because they subconsciously see that as a sign of weakness. So, guys just “tough it out,” until in many cases it’s too late to do anything about it.

I know of a man who shot another one over a parking space. The guy could have simply walked away or called a tow truck, but his ego was injured so he got a gun and killed the other guy. For what? A bruised ego?

And it’s this kind of mentality that says, “don’t ask for money.”

Well, I don’t care. I waited this late until October to make this campaign because I thought my wife and I could cover the cost, but we can’t. But like I said, I’d rather make Joel’s dream come true than worry about my ego or what others may think.

Grace

Even if all you can give is a dollar, I would really appreciate it. Wouldn’t you love to be part of something like this? Wouldn’t you love to be part of a young man’s understanding of the concept of grace? Because that’s what this is. When you give to help Joel, you are showing him what grace looks like in action.

He’s still young, but he’s learning about Jesus and about love.

He’s been through a lot in a year. From learning to speak, write and walk again, to bullies making fun of him for dropping his lunch in the cafeteria. Joel needs a break. He deserves one and I’m going to do all I can to help him get here. Will you help me, too?

Please, share, like, but most of all, give. Five, ten dollars, whatever the amount, it all adds up.

Here’s the link again. Joel’s Dream Trip to Topeka.

Show me what you can do, Internet!

Me and Joel

Me and Joel

Nonsense and Insensibility

Family stick figures

Being a parent is hard. Of course, there are the late nights, the paranoia of your kids catching D68, the constant preoccupation with not messing them up too much, and then there are other parents. Not just any parents, but this new breed of hipster-eco-trendy-hippie kind of parent.

Although (thankfully) a small sector of the parent population, they are very vocal in their activism and in their judgment of others. And while I generally don’t mind their opinions, it bothers me when their reasoning for doing something is: “Other cultures do it this way, so it’s better.”

This blog post is not directed to those who have researched and made a thoughtful decision on these matters. Instead, this blog post is directed at people who follow trends and those whose reasoning is “this is how they do it in other countries.”

For example, there’s the issue of cloth diapers. The new hippies will say, “but other cultures use cloth diapers, so it’s better than the American way.”

No, it’s not. I’m from another culture. When I was growing up in Cuba, cloth diapers is all we had, but it wasn’t a choice. Most of the other cultures that you claim to know about use cloth diapers because that’s all they have. Once my family migrated to Florida, my cousins didn’t use cloth diapers for their kids. Why? Because we’re in America and can buy actual disposable diapers.

Another example is the matter of co-sleeping. Again, if this is something you choose to do, then fine, but don’t give me that, “It’s the preferred method of various cultures around the world.” It’s not. People in most other cultures co-sleep with their kids because they don’t have any more room in their house. In Cuba, I lived with my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my mom, my aunt, uncle and my two cousins. People in most third-world and developing have the same living arrangements, but again, NOT by choice. They can’t afford housing, or there just isn’t anywhere else to live.

So, please, if you want to co-sleep with your son until he’s 20, that’s your choice, but defend that as your choice, and not as some lame excuse that has nothing to do with actual facts.

Contradictions

I have a professor who loves conspiracy theories. While this person does not say it outright, one can pick up the hints by the things said in class. Things like, “This article was published by NASA revealing this information, but not it’s no longer there. I wonder why.” Or, things like, “Why does Google Earth says ‘access not allowed’ to certain parts of Mars and the Moon?”

I think it’s great that a professor can be this candid and speculate. This is a rare trait in academia, where most professors put on the “know it all” hat, even though there are many mysteries in the world around us.

While I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I am a skeptic by nature and I love to do research. So I don’t always trust what the powers that be say as fact. Instead, I like to investigate on my own and reach my own conclusions.

But, back to the contradictions part. I think this is a big part of what makes us human. In my professor’s case, this person is supposed to teach us hard scientific facts, and yet, this professor reveals a level of personal uncertainty in some scientific claims.

Examine yourself. Are you filled with little contradictions, too? Don’t you say something in public, but think or do something else in private? For instance, are you a vocal “pro-green” activist, but sometimes forget to recycle your own plastics?

Thoughts?

Paris

View of Paris, Eiffel Tower

If I had the choice to live anywhere in the world, it would be in Paris. I have neve been there, but I’ve been in love with the City of Lights for as long as I can remember. My hope is to go visit in the next five years and I can’t wait! I would go sooner, but I have no money to do so.

There are so many things that I want to say about Paris that I feel overwhelmed and don’t even know where to begin.

Is it possible to love a place that I’ve never been to? Yes, it’s possible. It’s hard to describe the joy I feel in my heart when I think of Paris. And I know that not everyone understands, but those of us who have fallen madly in love with this beautiful city, can only dream of at least visiting once in our lifetimes.

Like I said, there are so many wonderful things I love about Paris that one post will not do it justice. So here are some of the things I love:

 

The Louvre

The Louvre

Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Co.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Besides beautiful locations, Paris is just a magical city. One really amazing thing is that by paying  20€ a month, you can watch as many films as you want at any movie theater in ALL of France. That just makes me want to move there even more.

But what I really want to do (if I can’t live there just yet) is spend a full week in Paris. Besides visiting the places pictured above, I would love to sit down in some little café and just write and people watch. Of course, there will be pastries and some coffee. And that would be my perfect afternoon in Paris. Nothing fancy. I just want to sit there and absorb Paris.

And as much as I love my two kids, this will definitely be a trip for me and the wife. Can’t wait!

Paris at night. Eiffel tower from distance

Let’s Burst that Bubble

We can all learn from each other. On a theoretical level must people nod their head in agreement with the previous statement, but few put it to practice. If you think about it, most of us live in bubbles where our friends and the people we hang out with and even the people we listen to look, well, just like us.

And I’m not just talking about race, although that’s definitely part of the equation. Most of the people you admire, like bloggers, thinkers or TV personalities probably think the same way that you do. Of course, there’s great value in belonging to a tribe and in sharing common things with others, but it’s also as important to have a different perspective on things.

But I get it. You put up your protective bubble because it feels safe and familiar. You don’t want to be challenged. You don’t want to have to defend your opinion, or worse, you don’t want to change your opinion.

But alas, you’re missing out on something really important: we can learn a lot from others.

For example, there’s a TV personality, writer, thinker and now even politician that I admire for his wit and interview skills. The man is probably the best person alive conducting interviews. He gets his subjects to open up because despite of his obvious intelligence, he’s a master at self-deprecating humor. He asks the hard questions and is not afraid to voice his opinion.

With all that said, his personal views are completely opposite of mine. He’s leftist, anti-religion and pro all things that basically conservatives are against.

And yet, I still consider him to be one of the best journalists ever.

So here’s the thing, while I may rarely agree with him, I can admire the quality of his interviews, his prose and his wit. You don’t have to agree with someone on everything to find qualities that you admire. And while I don’t agree with pretty much anything he says, I admit that he gives me plenty of things to think about.

Don’t be afraid to follow and even become friends with a person that views the world in a completely different way.

There’s a lot to learn.

Being Real

How many “real” people do you know? I don’t mean real in an ontological way, but I mean “real” as in people who are honest with their struggles. Must people present to the world an unrealistically flawless persona.

I dare say that this ridiculous behavior is a lot more common in church, which is ironic since being a Christian is essentially about coming to terms with our own inadequacies. And yet, we go on about our lives putting up a front that says, “Hey, my life is perfect and I never screw up.”

That’s why I love this Bonhoeffer quote:

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”

Like Bonhoeffer said, the final breakthrough, the real fellowship happens when we are honest with each other. The real fellowship happens when we admit that we’re vulnerable and imperfect.

The thing is that no one expects us to be perfect because we’re not. And as believers, we should know this better than anyone. However, there’s this tendency, this gravitational pull toward being fake that doesn’t allow us to be real with others.

That’s why I believe one of the reasons the apostle Paul kept saying how he was “the least of the apostles” is because he knew we have this tendency to build up a fake representation of ourselves. He repeatedly mentioned his failings so that other believers could see that he was just a man. He was transparent about his failings. He wasn’t fishing for a humility compliment. He was just being honest.

And that’s another byproduct of our ridiculous edification of a perfect persona, we look at people at the Bible and think “we can never do what they did” because despite our “perfect” front, we know all of our sins and issues. But if only we were real with ourselves and with others, we can see that God uses screw ups to advance his kingdom. We can then truly believe that despite all the miracles, “Elijah was a man just like us.”

Finally, going back to the Bonhoeffer quote:

“We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”

In the end, our desire to keep up with appearances ends up isolating us from others. Real fellowship is never established and truly deep friendships rarely flourish. And when a “real sinner” is discovered amongst us, like Bonhoeffer said, we act horrified and shocked. Instead, we should be compassionate, loving and most of all, honest. Just tell that person, “Hey, I too struggle with this,” or, “I used to struggle with something similar.”

Stop the fakeness. Jut be real.