One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

*****

So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower

A Beautiful Week

I have to laugh.

I declared my intention to put myself in the way of beauty this year. And the first full week of January began with an ant infestation and was dominated by two kids with poison oak and multiple doctors visits.

Neither ants nor poison oak could ever possibly fall into the “beauty” category. Sheesh!

Poor Tween, worse for the wear with one eye practically swollen shut by the rash on his cheek, blisters on his leg, incessantly itchy, complained loudly and often, “But there’s NO GOOD PURPOSE for God to allow poison oak! Nothing good can come from this.”

We talked about trust. About maintaining a good attitude. About being open to God even when the situation makes. no. sense. at all.

Despite January’s less-than-stellar beginning (and still, not all that bad either), I have chosen to look for beauty, indeed, to put myself in beauty’s way, and I have seen her.

* After several failed human-ant counter-attacks, I felt ready to surrender and let the kids invade my bathroom instead. However, they teamed up toward a different solution: they sprayed Teen’s Old Spice Spray Cologne on every last ant, then cleaned them all up, and plugged the ants’ entry with a thick smear of toothpaste. Imaginative and, surprisingly, effective (But, good Lord, the smell threatened to knock out the humans as well).

* Having spent time in Ephesians 1 on Sunday, the words “united with Christ” have stuck with me all week. Guy spent the week leading international college students in a house building trip in Cancun with Amor Ministries so I’ve been solo parenting, usually an opportunity to spend individual time with the kids while I schlep them to all their activities. Even with the additional complications of this week, it’s been okay as I’ve sensed the presence of Christ.

* Along those lines, I’ve had some interesting God-coordinated Bible moments. Tween and I read Jesus Calling for Kids most mornings before school. Wednesday morning we read 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” In staff meeting, we also read 1 Thessalonians 5:18 plus verses 16-17, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying.” On Thursday Tween and I read Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” And later that morning someone referenced Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God!”

Coincidence? I think not. God has been present, asking me to pray, to give thanks, to help Tween give thanks even in the midst of trying not to scratch; when we stop long enough to be still, God will reveal Himself as our God, our refuge and strength, our help in trouble.

* Almost nothing on my to-do list got done, but I had lovely encounters with others. Which is what life is really all about, right? Time with my kids (one night they even thanked me for making dinner, a simple Asian-inspired soup; if that’s not a miracle…). Time with friends, unexpected phone calls and visits. Time with co-workers. One co-worker shared with me God’s nudging toward her dream, and as she talked I realized that two books new to my shelf had come to me for her just as much as for me. We were both there when another co-worker received the final sale papers on her parents’ home; she held back tears as she told us about her last visit to the house and about the new owners; we hugged and prayed together, for our friend and the legacy she inherited from her parents that we enjoy in her company, and for the new owners and all the memories they have yet to make in that same home.

* I went to an uncomfortable social event, mostly because I couldn’t find an appropriate excuse to get out of it, and it wasn’t that bad (“united with Christ,” breathe). My presence might have encouraged certain people, and hopefully my words encouraged others. And one friend just made me giggle with her inappropriate snark, just what I needed.

* And this: last night Teen picked up a book on my shelf because he liked the cover. It was just what I needed for this quiet morning. On the page facing the Introduction, I found this prayer, so perfect to my desire to pursue beauty, to look for miracles in the mundane:

Prayer for Awakening the Senses

That in the elements of earth, sea, and sky
I may see your beauty.
That in wild wings, birdsong and silence
I may hear your beauty.
That in the body of another and the intermingling of relationship
I may touch your beauty.
That in the moisture of the earth and its flowering and fruiting
I may smell your beauty.
That in the flowing waters of springs and streams
I may taste your beauty.
These things I look for this day, O God,
These things I look for.