Monday, March 23, 2015

I Can Move Forward

We need not be passively resigned to the problems of life.  
We need not give up and stop fighting for what we believe in; 
there is always hope, and as long as there is hope, 
we can move forward.
-Christine Caine Undaunted

I'm sitting in my bed in my usual tshirt and nike shorts and was on my way to pulling up Netflix for the night when my internet went out. It's gone out twice before, once for a whole day and once for a short time, but who knows how long it would be this time.  I looked across my bed at my desk full of homework assignments that I should start but justifiably can't because of the loss of internet connection.  I see two unfinished books but I really don't want to read right now: The Green Mile and Undaunted.   I try to scan my brain for more options, something that takes less effort.  Nothing.  It's only 8pm and it's too early to sleep.  Against my own will, my hands grab for a book, Undaunted,  as I take a sigh of grief because I really just don't want to read.
If you read my last post, I talked about wanting to pick up books I've put down recently and finishing prayers.  This isn't one of those nights that I felt in an optimistic cheerful mood.  But I relented. There was nothing else to keep me occupied and I felt a strange yearning that I needed to just do it.  I opened the page where I had left off and read the title.  "God is not unfair, silent, or hidden."
Well this should be good.  Because recently God has most certainly been unfair. He has been silent. And he has been hidden.
Just days ago, I wrote into my notebook, "God, where are you?" It's a question i've had in the back of my mind for the past month and half now.  Literally that's all I wrote. "March 18th, 2015 'God, where are you?'"  At home, I have community. I have quiet times, I have Jesus-loving friends, I have people that uphold me, I have amazing roommates, I love my church, I love the way that I get to live and know the presence of God.  Why, here in the most beautiful place i've ever been, am I questioning him?  Never before have I felt so intensely like screaming, crying, yelling, punching, and balling my fists up so tight at the same time that I explode.  I can't put into words the anger i've had and the frustration, reading Job and Lamentations. God where are you? Where did you go? Why did you leave me?
I've told my friends that this just isn't me any more.
"So I say, 'i'm finished. God is gone, my splendor is gone, and all that I had hoped from the Lord.'" Lamentations 3.
This is the most aggravating, irritating, frustrating, and exasperating, experience i've ever been through.  I've never felt so empty and alone and confused.  I've been angry at the Lord.  So angry that I thought "if I'm gonna pray, I sure am gonna give him a piece of my mind." And that's what I did.  And I felt pain and hurt and sorrow pierce me with every word that I wrote.
I had a friend ask me, how is your spiritual life?
I started thinking, and I said, "you know, God is too big to me here. Too omnicient. He was so present in everything at first that I just don't seem him anymore. I use to see him in the colors and the scenery on my way to school.  I saw him in the small things, the little details.  I see those everyday now and I don't see Him."  Going back to one of my first posts, I remember how awestruck I was at his splendor, the way he constructed this country and every detail of the people in it.  But once I saw it, I wanted more, and those first few amazements eventually became the normal everyday thing.  Is it possible that God is so obvious that it blinds you from seeing Him?  I've been furious, bitter with God.  "Come back" I would beg.  "Just explain to me what you're doing and I will follow but I don't understand and I need something to hold on to. I just want to understand."

Page 91 of my book:
"Jobs friends spoke up and offered him the worlds wisdom, 
which helped him not at all.  
Finally God spoke- but he didn't answer. Instead, 
he merely said that he was God, all-powerful and all-knowing,
 and that Job had no reason or right to question Him. 
And never, in the entire story, did God find it necessary to explain himself." 

That's just it.  As a finite being, I want answers.  I want realness and genuinity and a concrete something to hold onto.  But God is infinite.  He doesn't respond in the ways that we're accustomed to because he's bigger and greater than that.  I went from a personal God in my own creation to a God that was way out of my control and too big to comprehend. I can praise God that his ways are not my ways.  It wasn't God that abandoned me.  It was me that needed to return to his truth and not my own.  I am not truth. What I tell myself is not truth.  It was me that stopped listening.  It was me that set our relationship down. And it was Him who took me to the place of seeing again.  Having a relationship with the Lord for years now, I never thought it would be possible for me to go into a new place and doubt his goodness and everything i've been taught over the years.  I knew I could do it. I knew that I could withstand trial and testing. I knew that I could stand firm in the Lord no matter what came my way.  Wow did God reveal to me how much of His strength that I need to rely on. I am so weak. And I still know nothing.

"The weight of my grief and the burden of feeling alone spilled out; peace and confidence in the Lord's love and care poured in.  The words became my sacrifice, an offering to the Lord, who had already walked the road of suffering before me and now returned to meet me on it.  I was in communion with him, knowing he wanted to bless me with ‘beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair’ (Isaiah 61:3). A spiritual exchange took place: I magnified the Lord instead of my disappointment. I began to remember his mercies more than my hurt.” - Christine Caine Undaunted

It's been a long two month journey of questions and confusion, hurt and tears,  but so much growth and conversation and unspoken answers. I'm waking up now with a new view. I won't give up or stop fighting for the very thing my soul loves and needs. I have hope and therefore, I can move forward. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Social Exclusion/Nicaragua Assignment

Social Exclusion & Nicaragua Assignment 

Social exclusion- a social disadvantage in society which is usually seen from a view of education, politics, and/or economics, and is most commonly expressed in the form of denying access to various rights, opportunities, and resources, to certain groups which thence denies them access to social integration with the other group. Examples of this can be sampled in housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, etc.

For me, as a 20 year old white American girl, I see the most prevalent form of social exclusion in my peers in college as well as at a larger scope in poverty in general.  Growing up, through movies and television, i've learned how to act "cool", how to dress "cool", and how the food chain in school works.  The poor and ugly kids get picked on, and the wealthier pretty kids are self-dubbed popular.  That's just how it is.  You either sink or you swim.  And ever since that lesson, i've been kicking away building up my strength for treading skills.  You can let your head go under water when you're with your family or when you make those few and special friends that are close enough to see your weird, silly, ugly and poor side let loose, but when you're in that public swimming pool you better kick as long as your legs will take you. Maybe that's exaggerating, but it's the truth! I've always learned to keep my head held high and not to let others see you fall- it's what gets you past the bullies on the play ground.  As i'm growing into a much older version of that girl with those views, i'm experiencing the importance of genuinity and vulnerability with people.  Those two things have gotten me much farther than self-righteousness and confidence ever have.  Even as someone who has amazing parents with awesome friends and wonderful opportunities, I still have the confidence of a lima bean, so i've learned to use other strengths along the way.

Any-who, even into the beginning of adulthood, in a school no longer full of 7 and 8 year-olds, but of 20 something year olds, you see and experience social exclusion.  It's much less than before because luckily now people have grown up enough to know that they don't have to put others in their places so bluntly, (hopefully).  I see this in the lunch room at school, you have greek life that takes up the portion of the cafeteria that looks out to the lobby, and if you walk around you can notice the students who eat by themselves, with headphones in and eyes down on their work.  It's not that they are better or worse off than someone else, but they are socially excluded from the greek lunch spot.  Now don't get me wrong, i'm in a sorority and i know that no one would tell them to move, no one would pick up their tray like a stereotypical jock and make them feel less of a person, but there would be an unspoken confusion and a little uncomfortableness if they were to sit down at the end of a different social groups table.

Social exclusion comes in many ways, shapes, and forms.  I think as humans we are in constant competition to create this subconsciously, because a superficial form of ourselves assures us that it feels good to be better or to have more than someone else, and to exclude them from a capability that we've "earned".  And how do we measure who should be included and excluded? In the way that we measure poverty for ourselves.
At first glance, we see poverty as a lack of monetary means, which henceforth creates a minute amount of educational resources, smaller housing opportunities, cheaper clothing brands, etc. But as I learned in Nicaragua this past weekend, money isn't always the answer, which can sometimes be counterintuitive to our United States way of thinking.

As we were riding in our seats to a different city of Nicaragua, I turned to our bus guide and I asked him whether Nicaragua was "less-off" than Costa Rica as a country. I was careful to use my words in the least non-respectful way as possible. He turned to me and said, "Oh no, Nicaragua isn't poor at all! We have the richest soil compared with all of the other Latin American countries.  Our biodiversity..." And I don't remember much else of what he said because my mind stopped at that point to question whether he heard me right.  He heard me right.  Money had nothing to do with his opinion on poverty.  It was about the resources, and as a country they were thriving now more than ever!  I was astonished and blown away at the beauty in this mans words. What a new way to experience life altogether.  Imagine, if we stopped looking at monetary goals as a means to get ahead of others, but looked at others for the resources, for the life and genuinity that they bring, for who they really are as individuals.
I know social exclusion is a hard habit to break and isn't something to talk about ridding of lightly, but from what i've experienced here in Costa Rica and in Nicaragua, a persons life is far more worthy than anything they can accumulate for proof or show.



(February 27th - March 1st)
We're returning back from our trip to Monte Verde this weekend!  Also known as Costa Rica's Cloud Forest. This is a small get-away in the rainforest where half of our group took a zip-lining canopy tour, while the other half went hiking for the day.  I volunteered myself to the hiking group since I had already experienced the zipline tour for free on a previous weekend.  We spent the day exploring huge trees taller than my camera lends could scope, different creeks and mosses at the National Park, and stopped for a loaf of bread and peanut butter for lunch.  After the long day of sweat and exercise, we gathered in the common place on some bean bag chairs for some jenga, spoons, and Madagascar in Español!! We met some German students over breakfast and eventually made our way back to San Jose the next day.  

It's been a crazy past few weeks with preparing for midterms, Nicaragua, and then parents coming.  I'm loving all of my classes but dang do they love some in- and out-of-class participation. (and lots of it!)  I'm finding myself with a good amount of free time on the weekends but it quickly becomes full of taxi's to the bus station, hiking and/or beaching, late night conversations, and extremely tired Sunday nights.  So I guess you could say the lack of homework enthusiasm is explained by all of those contributing factors.

At the moment, i'm currently doing some soul searching.  I don't even know what that really means, but I hear every study abroad student goes through it at some point and if I had to put what i'm feeling into words, i'd say that pretty much sums it up.  The past 2 months have been extremely eye opening as i've met completely new people from different places with different ideas and different backgrounds. Each and every one of my new friends has taught me something or questioned something inside of myself that I am extremely grateful for.  I never realized how little I know, and how much I have left to experience and learn.  One of my craziest lessons that I always am continuing to learn, is that usually when I feel completely certain and confident in an area, I am completely and most certainly wrong--which, thank God people still love you when you're wrong, because that seems to be the only way I learn anything.  I will always continue to cherish those friends who lay their hand on your shoulder, look you in the eyes with a soft smile, and say "friend, I can teach you something."  Isn't that what friends are for?  To give and take from each other those experiences and backgrounds that contribute to a greater understanding. There are places that I will never be, things that I will never see, opportunities that I will never explore, but nothing feels better than someone who has been there, to sit you down and tell you that you absolutely have no idea what you're talking about- but friend, I will take you there.  I will share with you what i've learned.  I will trade my words for yours and together we can create something new. I'll admit that I might sound a little crazy, or as someone typing over their head right now, but i'll be the first to say that I'm glad my thoughts aren't written in stone on my chest because they have been shattered repeatedly as my ideas have been bent, expressed and inwardly depressed, reshaped, revamped, and retyped.  I guess that's mainly what learning and being in college in your early 20's is all about though.
As many papers I type, articles I read, and assignments that I write, it's the people that have the biggest influence on my learning here and to sum up the past couple weeks that I haven't blo gged, it's been full of conversation.  Conversation and new ideas.

“We are the only living things that have conversations, as far as we know. When you have conversation you never know what’s going to come out of your mouth or someone else’s mouth.” -Grace Lee Boggs (talking about how powerful conversation is in her movie "American Revolutionary" which I highly recommend!!) 

Conversation is one of the most beneficial tools we have in learning, and it has been extremely powerful for me, in my "soul searching" as I call it.  Meaningful as well as simple conversation, with my friends from home, my family, my friends in Costa Rica, my Tiko family, everyone I encounter. Conversation that gives and takes and creates.  Forewarning though- take what I say in conversation with a grain of salt, because like I said- I'm learning that I actually know very little. 
One person I've forgotten in this back and forth communication is myself.  I've forgotten to take the time to pause and look into myself and to process who I am and where I'm going with all of this. So, from here on out I hope to do that. To give, and take, and create with "me". With all of the adventures recently i've forgotten those things that I love to do, the books I put down, the prayers I quit writing, the conversations I paused.  
This is where I'm at, growth from all angles and learning how to balance it both inwardly and outwardly.  Wish me luck! 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Necessary Growth

El Crecimiento Necesario

Officially a month and a half down, about at the halfway point! I'm overwhelmed with how much I've been able to learn and experience in such a short amount of time.  I can now get through a dinner conversation without google translate, wahoo!! (even though my parents still talk slowly for me and describe around words that I don't understand). Sometimes spanglish is still needed but i'm working on it.
I haven't written in a while so I'll try to catch up on everything I missed.
Beginning where I last left off, we had an exciting week of after-school soccer games with locals and even a night city art tour where we got to visit the museums downtown for free! Also, our group of students went to a place called Puerto Viejo for our valentines day weekend and it was one of my favorite trips so far!  We stayed in a hostel called rocking J's, where you rent a hammock to sleep in at $7 per night.  It was definitely an experience.  On Saturday our local friend, Esteban, took us on a hike up to the top of a cliff that met the ocean.  On our way we got covered in the thick mud that had collected from the rain from the night before, saw a random tomb stone where someone had been buried for decades, and a sloth just hanging upside down from a tree.  It was an amazing view, and after that he took us to a local beach where horses happened to be running by in between the shaded palm trees, and it felt like we were in some movie scene. Puerto Viejo is located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and keeps a Rastafarian feel to it.  The night life is what it is known for among tourists, so we got to join in on the watching of trapeze artists for a special valentines show at a local restaurant.
As for this week, I experienced my first earth quake, helped in painting a mural for a local children's school, found a really cool chai tea cafe, got to visit a local farmers market, and got to feed my throbbing thirst for thrift shopping! There has actually been two earthquakes this week that were physically noticeable, apparently they happen every day and you just can't feel it.  That's pretty cool. And scary at the same time.
Overall I think i'm starting to get into the swing of things.  The public transportation system is no longer terrifying, I can tell my taxi driver where to turn left or right, I can order food somewhat normally, and recognize things on the menu.  The weather is great, about 70/80 degrees every day, and i'm currently developing my summer chaco tan again.  Last night some friends and I went to a small concert at a local cafe, called Jazz Cafe, and this is where I realized that i'm not a huge fan of Pink Floyd.  We were surrounded by local tikos who were loving this tribute band's concert of Pink Floyd and Billy Joel songs.  The atmosphere was still worth the venture though as I sat there and sipped on my Piña Colada.
This was my first Sunday to sleep in, and that was nice! --even though all of my other Sundays I've been awoken to go to the beach or hiking in the mountains so I can't really complain.  I got to wake up and have some cut up mango and coffee with my host parents for breakfast.  They invited me to church with them, and even though it was all in Spanish, I went and had a great time! It's the first time I've been able to go since arriving here and I can't believe I waited so long.  I don't know why but I had this idea that it would be totally different than what i'm use to, but everything was so much the same.  I brought my bible along and was able to piece together a lot of what the pastor said, and also with the help of my host dad translating a few major words, it all made sense.
Being in a foreign country without christian community has become increasingly harder than I thought it would be.  I've never been surrounded by a community such as this or taken classes that make me question so much of who I am. I've felt the Lord teaching me so many new things and lessons that I've never noticed I needed.  Unfortunately for me, I'm a do-it-yourself, learn-the-hard-way kind of person, so it's been a journey to go through, but i'm thankful for every step so far.  Our church service today was over 1 Corinthians chapter 3, and the words I really needed to hear were "but only God, who makes things grow." No matter the how the seeds are planted or who adds brick to the foundation of my journey, BUT only God. Only God makes things grow.  I'm so hopeful and looking forward to the fact that everything I'm doing here will be knit together into something greater by God. Strength can only come from weakness, and thank God I can rejoice in that.
We leave for Nicaragua in 2 weeks, and Monteverde in 1! Being halfway through my trip is bitter sweet, because I do miss my family and friends, but i' ll be soaking up every part of what's left!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Table Talk"

"Table Talk"


I'm still recuperating from an amazing weekend at Buena Vista Lodge in Rincon de la Vieja.  We spent two days at the top of a mountain horse back riding to a spa, inner-tubing down a waterslide, zip-lining, and hiking through a Volcano. This weekend we're getting ready to visit Tortugero, aka the "land of turtles", to see some Carribean sea turtles and to work on a service project for the local school there!  The only thing i'm not as excited about is the accumulation of mosquito bites i'm obtaining from all this outdoor activity on the weekends.  I have successfully polished off a whole can of bug-spray and a tube of anti-itch cream.  BUT I will prevail.  Eventually I'll find something that works..hopefully.
I just finished dinner with my Tiko family and I'm beginning to think that it's impossible for my host mom to make anything I don't like. Which is pretty hard considering I'm kind of a picky eater.  Tonight she let me help her make twice baked potatoes with mushrooms, cheese, and some other unidentifiable ingredients, while she baked some fish, rice, and pico de gallo.  Muy rico!! Over dinner I taught her how do say "Lance".  Ellen is simple and their daughters name is Laura, but they insist on "Lance" being "Laun-say". We have two months to get it down before they come.  My Tiko family is extremely excited about my parents coming; I think it's because they're so impressed that I put my napkin in my lap while I eat. (seriously!) They want to meet these wonderful people who ingrained this into my table manners they said.  They were also trying to teach me nick names for my boyfriend tonight, i.e. mi amor, James-ita, cooki, gordo, and a word for baby but I forgot it. I told them I'll just stick with his name for now.
Two nights ago they asked me to pray at dinner, that was pretty cool! I had a conversation with my host mom about faith over breakfast one day, and she was extremely surprised that I would have faith at such a young age.  I tried to explain it to her as best as I could.  Typically, (as she explained it to me, not my own words) children in Costa Rica wait until they're older to start going to church and it is very rare to see young people occupying them.  Church attendance is more of a cultural thing than an independent choice. I told her about my community back home and shared a bit with her which was really neat for us.  One topic that is hard to talk about though, and is a current issue in the news in C.R. right now is homosexuality. My host mother says that my host father is "homophobico" and my vocabulary isn't rounded well enough yet to speak much in reciprocation, but I'm enjoying the view I have in listening to their different opinions on popular topics and over time being able to gradually input into conversation. Sometimes it kills me not to be able to form the right words to say in Spanish, but I also see it as a gift from the Lord in learning how to listen to people and understanding patience. At home my opinion can be known in a matter of seconds and it's easy to express, but here I just have to listen-which is a really good practice for anyone. Most of the time I can understand what they're saying but when it comes to forming words to answer, my mind goes to mush again.
The table conversations have gotten longer and longer as my Spanish is starting to emerge.  They're also opening up more and because they like me I think i've earned the right to funny stories of past student experiences.  They're good stories to know so that I don't make the same mistakes again. As they talk and I reciprocate with soft laughter, i'm slowly thinking to myself "please remember not to do that..." So far nothing past a clogged toilet has happened that was embarrassing for any of my friends and their host parents.  One girl accidentally told someone in her family that she hated them.. that was pretty funny.  But those awkward and embarrassing moments are what makes learning a new language so fun(ny)!
I realized last night that almost every single day here I have laughed so hard with my new friends that I'm starting to cut 'abs' out of my workout routine. (jk I don't work out). But I have started to enjoy running to my Page CXVI album on my phone.  It's really peaceful to run outside in 75 degree weather with mountains in the background, hilly roads, trees and brightly colored houses, and some hymns.  Never would I have thought that running without my Niki Minaj playlist was possible until now.  Occasionally a dog will join in and run behind me for a block or two, and I almost feel like I have a running buddy. Mixed with panic that the stray dog is going to bite me and give me rabies.  Depends on the day/size of the dog.
This week has been a long one, especially for my family in Memphis.  Our sweet Nonnie passed away and I wish I could be there for my mom (who happens to be residing in Mexico right now on an over-due vacation for how hard she works).  Death is always bitter-sweet, especially for someone so gentle, kind, and fragile.  I've experienced recently an overwhelming sense of joy when hearing about believers passing into death.  Maybe it should be a time of grief, but they get to live with Jesus, life better than life, and that's so incredibly awesome.  Knowing that someone is now in the hands of God, in the presence of the Lord that designed and created their very being for relationship with Him, is such a joyous celebration that tears of happiness seem more appropriate for the occasion. When you die, you finally get to join the very person who your life was created for.  That wholeness has to be a feeling better than anything else in the whole universe and beyond it. It's the wholeness that we spend our whole lives trying to imitate.  I could talk for hours. But anyway, I should probably start the homework I've been prolonging the past few days. Major priority issues when you live in a Tropical country...
I've really appreciated all of the prayers and love from my friends! I'm wishing that you were all here to experience this with me!
Adios mis amigos!!

P.S. I saw monkeys on our hike... it was awesome.

Monday, January 26, 2015

From English to Spanglish

From English to Spanglish

First week of school- done!
I absolutely love all of my classes as well as my teachers.  I also get to start volunteering at the Museo de Nacional next week. Woohoo! I'm kinda picturing "A Night at the Museum" every time I think about it. Last night we got back from a weekend at Jaco Beach, and today my backpack straps are reminding me of the lack of care I took on lotioning my shoulders.  I'm trying to wear shirts big enough to cover my sunburn so that my host parents don't see it since they reminded me at least a few times to put lots of lotion on. "Mucho blanca!!" they would say and rub their arms with their eyes really wide. And I would say "Si." and nod my head in a really serious manner.  Since they're my (host) parents I feel like I need to hide it for a while and save myself a lecture because the only thing worse than a lecture in English- is a lecture in Spanish.
Anyway, it was my first time staying in a hostel! That was an experience.  After getting lost for a while trying to find it, we came into a warm and cozy room with two beds set on top of some extremely creaky wood framing, a shower that was --I kid you not-- a hose coming out of a whole in the wall, behind a puddle gathering on the floor, and no running sink water.  But hey, for $13 a night you can't ask for much.  I guess with the free ladies night at the downstairs bar they had to cut back somewhere. For me, I was recouping from a major caffeine headache all day since I hadn't had my morning dose of coffee, so I didn't get in any participation at the bar.  BUT I did have some vanilla ice cream from a local hot spot called "POPS" across the street that was even better.
While I slept off my headache, my classmates had a great time salsa dancing at a club nearby and then roaming the beach afterwards.  I was a little bummed to not be joining them but you get some pretty crazy-disco dreams when you're sleeping above a Skrillex club with bass pumping until 4am,  so really it was a win for us all.
The funniest thing that happened to me this week was a 'Spanglish' issue with my host parents over dinner.  Earlier in the day my host mother and I were talking about what kind of snacks I like and whether or not I like palomitas, which is the Spanish word for 'popcorn'. I said yes, and she continued in saying that she didn't really care for it but her husband loves it, yada yada.. So later on over dinner, my host mother tells my host father in Spanish (broken english and Spanish) about our conversation from earlier.  I was a bit confused as to what was being said so he looked at me to translate in english and he said, "Lourdes says you like porn? yes?" ..... I continued to stare back at him and say "um....." with my eyes darting back and fourth, and Señora Lourdes, says "p-p-porn?" with squinty eyes trying to pronounce it.  I felt my face getting red and hotter and my heart rate start to pick up and I continued with my "um.. no... no intiendo.. no se..." and so my host father continues with "hmm.. como con peliculas.. ('like with movies')". I continued to stare and get really uncomfortable and now I really wished someone had been recording this whole conversation.  My host mother began making notions in the air and saying "pop", "pop", "pop". And that's when I got it.  I shouted, "POPCORN!!! YES! I love POP-(extra emphasis on the second "p")CORN!!!"
And then my host fathers face went pale, shortly accompanied by loud laughter. He realized what the mistake he had made in translation was and explained it to my host mom. A few seconds later her eyes widened as she said "No! No! No pornografia!"  I think all three of us were almost in tears from laughing so hard. Hahaha gosh that's my favorite story so far and I think they tell it whenever a new guest comes over and meets me for the first time.
It was so stinkin funny in the moment, and now when I look back at it, the multiple cry/laughing experiences that i've had with them are so much more than worth all of the communication barriers.  The way that my host mom lays her hand on my wrist or puts her head on my shoulder when we're laughing or don't understand something, and the struggle in my host fathers face in coming up with the words to translate for me are two of the greatest acts of love I've experienced. We haven't been able to carry on more than two consistent conversations but man do I love them, and oh how they show me how much they love me.  They're so full of joy and after over 20 years of marriage they greet each other with a soft smile when I say something in total jibberish/spanglish. This soft, warm joy that they hold is so deeply woven into their individual lives, their lives together, and their culture.  My host mom has tried explaining this to me several times, that they live on and take from the community what they need, nothing more.  They don't have excess food that goes to waste, they don't have decorations adorning their walls, they don't have cars for each person of the family, they don't have a spacious back yard just to look at.  They have a home that is just enough for them.  Simplicity. My Tika mom told me tonight at dinner even, that most Tikos just care. They love and care for one another.  That's where Jesus is.  He is here in the littlest details.  He is here in the faces of people who work long days in the sun, in the people who take care of their homes, the people who sell fruit in the neighborhood super markets, in the tattoo shop guy who was mid-stencil when he helped us find a hotel when we were lost today. A smile is Jesus.  And that's a wonderful thing. He is a God that is present without words but in the very creases of time carved into the faces of men and women who take the city bus to work every morning. He is in my host mother who cooks and cleans all day.  He's in the hearts of study abroad students who can't wait to experience more of the heart beat of God that is the scenery of mountains and fresh flowers in the morning.  He's all around, waiting to be seen and heard, just like he is in Memphis and anywhere else I'm taken. Faith is belief in things unseen, but seeing, really seeing, has to also mean believing. At least in Costa Rica.

"We come alive as we love... Our beauty comes not from pursuing a brilliant career track, but in the nitty-gritty endurance with difficult people or circumstances... Love will not grow if you check out and give in to the seductive call of bitterness and cynicism--or seek comfort elsewhere.  We have to hang in there with the story that God has permitted in our lives.  As we endure, as we keep showing up for life when it make no sense, we learn to love, and God shows up."
-Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

En el Diseño de Dios

En el diseño de Dios

Thursday morning my fellow students and I boarded the bus to head up into the mountains of San Bosco for the night.  The retreat we were taken to was some kind of conference center that was previously built for Catholic Priests.  You could tell God had done some amazing work in this place from the overlook of all of San Bosco, the color of the flowers and fresh plants everywhere, through the wild horses that we saw running down below, and from the refreshing sound of birds and new life in an all-consuming breath-taking view.
To begin, we played a few get-to-know-your-classmates games.  One included a cultural activity where we broke up into lines and raced to put 100 colones (1 coin) down our shirts, filter it into our pants, and then out the bottom of our pant leg.  It was a race to see who could filter the money out of their clothes the fastest.  Unfortunately, the way that we split up into our groups put me into a group of four girls also in skinny jeans, so as you can imagine when putting a coin in your pants... it doesn't move.  After the first person released the coin and the second person began, the coin was lost into the abyss of the skinny jeans for the next two and a half minutes.  It took 3 girls to retrieve the lost colones out of our second teammates pants while the other groups cheered us on.  If you ask me, losing your money in your pants where no one can find it might be a much more useful skill in a city known for pick-pocketing.
Our next cultural skill to learn was the art of cheek-kissing, proper hand shaking, and chest-hugging.  In Costa Rican culture it is expected of women to kiss cheeks and shake hands when coming into contact with others and when introducing themselves. After meeting the second time a hug and a cheek-kiss is expected, and if you walk into a room full of family and friends, you must go around hug-kissing each tiko/tika in the room.  We were also shown the difference between how far away we usually stand from each other when having a conversation, and how far away tikos expect you to stand.  This might explain why Costa Rican hygiene is also much better than ours. I hopefully have it down now so after three months of this you might want to watch out when I see you again if you don't want a kiss and hug on the cheek accompanied by ¡Hola, Como Estas Amiga!!!!!
Following lunch and two coffee breaks later, we were let free to explore and wash up for dinner. (people literally wash their face, brush their hair, and typically change shirts for dinner. I wash my hands and then kinda pretend i'm doing something useful to soak up the time usually.)  I found a spot in the grass overlooking San Bosco with a couple other classmates and sat in silence as the sun went down.  We watched as businesses and streets slowly shut down for the night and as lights came alive with people returning to their homes.  Clouds slowly came in swarming the tops of the mountains and the sky filled with colors of red, orange, and blue. I've seen a few mountains in the U.S. but these surrounding us were much different.  Admiring the blue, purple, red, orange, and green flowers that outlined the view, I was amazed at the scenerey God has created here. There's just so much life and color; you can see it not only in nature but also in the way people live and how happy they are with simplicity. My host mom has explained this to me several times; they live on what they need, that's it. Costa Rica is ranked in the top 5 happiest countries in the world, something important to note, because of their quality of life. Sitting here in view of everything, we couldn't help but talk about it with each other after a while and to take pictures, but every time I take a picture of anything here I get frustrated because it just can't capture exactly what I'm looking at.
When 7 o'clock came around, it was time for another cultural immersion lesson. Dancing. If you've seen Along Came Polly where Jennifer Aniston salsa dances in the club, it's kind of like that.  Lots of foot work, hip shaking, fast salsa music, and arm gestures.  My phone died right before I started or else I would have taken pictures, but a video would have never surfaced.  Maybe after I get some more practice. The whole lesson was in Spanish so half of our group was really great at taking direction and looked ready for the clubs afterward.  As for me, I was doing something of the Macarena in the back row mixed with some square dancing-esc feet movements.
After a sweaty dinner with burning calf muscles, we retreated to our rooms for the night.  I volunteered to take the first shower in our room, which goes in the books as my least favorite activity almost every night.  Warm/hot showers just aren't a thing most of the time here.  Imagine jumping in the lake for the very first weekend of the summer and right when you surface for air it's like the wind got knocked out of you and your breathing is short fast gasps.  This is how I take most of my showers.  The sad thing is that I think there is warm water some way, some how, and my host mom has tried to teach me but every time I try it doesn't work.  I think someone looking down on me is having a hilarious time, I can't help but to laugh sometimes at how much I struggle with this.  But if a cold shower is the most of my worries, I can't complain.  
The next morning we gathered back on the bus to head to the National Rainforest with our elderly Costa Rican tour guide. Es tiko es muy loco. One thing in particular that I learned through this trip is that mosquito bitten feet inside tenishoes without socks in a rainforest es no bueño. But besides that, being surrounded by millions of types of plants and flowers and animals and rain was an amazing experience. Even the rocks were beautiful colors and sizes. Our guide told us a story of a boy who brought a camera in a plastic bag last time, and when he took it out to take pictures, a few monkeys happened to be walking by. When they saw the bag they recognized it as food, grabbed it, and ran up a tree to tear it open. Once they got the bag open, one started biting it to get the inside out, and when that didn't work they started banging it against the tree to break it open. After a while they got bored and threw it back onto the ground and continued on their way. Unfortunately we didn't get the chance to see any monkeys and no one wanted to sacrifice their camera, but I kept wondering to myself how many of them were looking at us walking around. We did happen to see a snake though! A close cousin of the cobra our guide said. Not exactly what I was hoping to see, maybe something a little more soft, furry, and cuddly-looking, but it was still pretty cool I must say. After the Rainforest we toured the very first church built in Costa Rica, where they had a statue of a Costa Rican Jesus. As I said in a previous post, it's getting cooler and cooler to see the similarities between the cultures and the one that holds us all together. I cater who Jesus is so much to what I look like or who I am and he is so much bigger than that and that is so stinkin' cool. I could get use to looking at a bronzed, dark Jesus for a while. Just kidding. Kinda.
 Costa Rica just keeps getting better and better. I just finished my breakfast of coffee, mango, and bananas, and i'm headed off to go the zoo in down town San Jose with my friends. And for some reason they all really want curry for lunch. Multiple cultural experiences at once, who would thought! I think we're going to try to plan a beach trip for next weekend to celebrate our first week of school. I'm actually crazy excited to begin my Spanish lessons because my brain is starting to hurt from trying to comprehend conversation when I have to think about every word in such detail. My parents taught me the word for nose! And sunscreen. They make fun of my sun burn; that I can understand haha but that's okay because I can joke with them about wearing sweaters in 75 degree weather. Anyway, i'm off to the zoo! And hopeful i'll be able to find the sloth sanctuary. (on my bucket list to find before Lauren comes to visit). Everything we see/do I want to share with my family and friends but it's impossible to fit into words or pictures. Costa Rica is just too much to express, as is Gods hand in this place and in my view of Him as I remain here. I'm praying for more opportunities to see Him and to share Him with those around me, and I am SO SO SO thankful for all of my opportunities thus far. Thank you for the prayers! And if you have time, call my mom and tell her you love her. She's pretty cool. Adios, y Pura Vida!