Lydia's Thoughts and Updates

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know Him! {Hosea 6:3}

Therefore I am going to Spain

And therefore I am going to Spain.

Meaning everything preceding this post leads up to this.

Spain, this beautiful country that I avoided studying because I never intended to go there for the purpose of outreach because in my mind it went “Spain=Europe=modern=knows about salvation=doesn’t need missionaries”. So I studied Central and South America. Because in my mind it went “Central/South America=jungles=not modern=doesn’t know about salvation=needs missionaries”. While preparing for graduation I sought out opportunities down south, landed one that sounded awesome in Costa Rica, and began preparing. But throughout that last semester in college something funny happened.

For my capstone class I was required to take “Spanish Medieval Literature”. My knowledge of Spain quadrupled. My brother and other close friends went to Spain last summer and were learning all about it so I, by association, learned a lot about it.

And my heart began to beat for Spain.

This land is torn by decades and centuries of religious war. From 711 when the Moors invaded, slaughtered and settled and Spain, then called “al-Andalus”, followed by a time of peace between Muslims, Jews and Christians to “El Cid”, the famous Christian conqueror in the 11th century, along with others determined to dominate and convert brought on times of slaughter. All by people standing up and saying, “I’m right, you’re wrong, I will not listen to you.” Hate. War. Misunderstanding. Closed off minds. Un-love. It would intensify until reaching it’s zenith in 1491. Ferdinand and Isabel. The murder and exile of thousands of innocent Jews and Muslims. Catholicism and Protestantism begin a bitter battle. Today Catholicism is the state religion.

This land is filled with people who look back on it all and say, “This is not real, it only causes hurt”. Who can blame them. 95% claim Catholicism, but few practice it. Few find it fulfilling. Few find life and love and joy and satisfaction in it. They don’t see God, Jesus, Spirit as relevant to their lives. This land is filled with entire regions of thousands of people without access to a church, any church; any gathering or real, living, breathing people who would be able to look them in the eye and say, “I once was dead, but now I am fully alive. I believe in the love of God and it’s ability to change us. It’s ability to right wrongs and heal hurts and make the dead come to life.”

At the time I maintained my focus on Costa Rica. I had to know if there was something there that I would want to invest my life in full time. It had been my childhood dream. But, with great joy, I found a land of thriving Christians, people who love the Lord, people who can share truth and life with those surrounding them. People who were being trained up as leaders in credible seminaries. I began a quest of seeking God’s heart for global missions. Ultimately, through that awesome experience where I learned unspeakably valuable lessons and served where there was need, I decided that no, this is not where I would return in the future for long term outreach.

Another aspect of this shift has been the development of a new understanding of “missions”. I’ve begun to read books such as “When Helping Hurts” by Brian Fikkert and “Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton, soaking up knowledge in hopes that I can be a part of positive, much-needed transformation in local and global outreach. I’ve been praying fervently that He would make us wise and discerning, to be people passionate about being helpful, not harmful, about not creating dependency or leaving anyone feel disempowered. I’ve been praying fervently that He would make us humble and give us an honest, real, genuine approach to build relationships with these people whose names and faces I don’t know but my heart longs to share life with.

Therefore I am going to Spain, the least “missionized” country in the 10/40 window, with eleven awesome people who love God and love people. We are all sincerely interested in learning their language and hope to be able to use that to build friendships with the people there and share our lives with them. In the process I’m considering the possibility of returning in the future to teach English and make a long-term commitment to be present there with the people of Spain.

I couldn’t be more thrilled! Your prayers sand support are so very appreciated!

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Processing.

I’ve taken a hiatus from this blog since coming home from Costa Rica. Actually, I’ve taken a hiatus from thinking since I got back from Costa Rica.  Not really on purpose. Really, it’s because I haven’t wanted to overthink. I’m convinced it’s been the best thing for me–letting everything settle and rest for a bit while my brain subconsciously processes my life. It’s been a little messy. Moving back to the U.S. from a third world country has been, of course, a strange process.

There are all sorts of things you’re warned of in regards to moving back to your home after being away for a while.

Reverse culture shock? Why yes, yes I did cry when I sat down in a booth at Village Inn and saw money just sitting on the table. Money. sitting. on a table. for anyone to grab. And outside there are people driving like the people on tracks in I.Robot, not going outside of lines, following traffice singles, USING BLINKERS instead of honking to signal. I can buy cheap things at WalGreens, WalMart, and Target whenever I want. Boys don’t stare and “compliment” me–am I ugly?! The sidewalks are whole and even!! People speak ENGLISH?!! WHAT IS GOING ON PEOPLE!?!

Friendship transitions? Why yes, yes I did sit alone on Friday nights and go “Who do I call? Where do I fit in? I forget how this works here!” Were there tears? You betcha.

Fears about what my future hold? HA. Did I sink into a semi-catatonic state where I questioned everything I hold dear and consider true and feel like I was in one of those dreams where I knew if I didn’t run the monster would eat me but my legs were suddenly made of lead and refusing to function? Yes. You should have seen my bedroom. I literally had to create a path.

Let’s throw in family crisis–sister’s cancer treatment plan gets doubled, brother gets rushed to ER for appendectomy, 13 year old family dog dies–and we have a completely non-functional version of me wandering around wondering where Davíd and Loania went and digging through my wallet for Costa Rican colones to pay for the expensive bus.

As I’ve been more honest with people around me about having a hard time lately, it’s been a relief to find I’m not the only one who goes through times when my emotions seem set on one undeterrable (I’m not 100% sure that’s a word) direction. One or two have been a little patronizing, one or two told me to read Hunger Games (I can’t decide if that help or hurt given my propensity to become emotionally involved in the novels I’m reading, but I am glad I took that bit of advice!!) but most have touched my shoulder and said “struggle well, my friend”. Thanks for that 🙂 Can anyone else relate there?!

I’ve snapped out of it {mostly} and I’m realizing that I’ve processed more than I thought. I’ve moved forward more than I thought. I’ve {cliché-ishly and yet wonderfully enough) submitted my concerns and fears and hopes before the Lord and remind myself repeatedly that it’s not mine to be anxious over.

And I’ve set my sights on Spain–on this area of Albuquerque that’s already become important to me and to my heart as I’ve prayed about it, for it, around it, etc. I’m excited to live there for a month this summer, in this area with zero gospel presence, full of wonderful people that I am dying to get to know. I’ll talk about that more in another post.

I have no real wisdom to impart, so I’ll leave you with a quote from my new best friend, Andrew Murray…

“Let every exercise of waiting, let our whole habit of waiting on God, be pervaded by abounding hope–a hope as bright and boundless as God’s mercy. The fatherly kindness of God is such that, in whatever state we come to Him, we may confidently hope in His mercy… “The eye of the Lord is on them that fear Him, on them that hope in His mercy; to deliver their soul from death,and to keep them alive in famine–this is often needed to stir up to wait on Him–but to deliver and keep alive. For the dangers are often very real and dark; the situation, whether in the temporal or spiritual life, may appear to be utterly hopeless. There is always one hope: God’s eye is on them.” –Andrew Murray, “Waiting on God”

I’m home! well, relatively speaking :)

As of today I have been home for one week. It’s the strangest thing, really. When I was in Costa Rica my life in America seemed like a far-off dream that I knew would come to be but seemed such a long ways off. Of course now that I’m back home in the midwest my life in Costa Rica feels miles behind me, yet another dream.

I’ve been thinking about how relative the term “home” becomes after a while. Is home where I spent most of my life? Is home where I live most of my life now? Is  home where my family is? Where my mom is? Where my best friends are? Where I’m most comfortable? I don’t even know. Because the thing is, Costa Rica did become home for me. I know I about died of “home”sickness, which is fine because I have a lot to miss here, but I really did become comfortable in Costa Rica and adjusted to a new normal, full of new patterns and habits and mindsets and friends and customs. When I went back to Davíd and Loania’s I said I was going home. When I was adventuring around the country and the bus would finally pull back into the familiar streets of Heredia, the comfort of familiarity filled my chest, the one you get when you get when you go home after a time away. If I was away for too long, I became uneasy and began to wonder when I’d be home to Davíd and Loania’s again.

Sunset on Playa Blanca at Punta Leona.

I adjusted to a new normal there. When I went to order food and the person spoke to me in English I felt a little uneasy and responded in Spanish. I took the bus almost everywhere and riding in a nice car (aka newer than 1995) was a treat. As crazy as the driving and traffic and road system was, I became accustomed to it and started to understand what the funny honks and double hanks and nods and hand or finger-waves meant and it no longer surprised me to see a car driving down the middle of the road, completely disregarding any lines on the road and treating stop signs and other driving rules like suggestions rather than rules to be followed. Rice and beans with every meal grew on me little by little. I learned to watch for holes and dips very carefully as I walked the sidewalks. I learned to make safe choices in regards to when and where I went alone and how much money I brought with me there. I got used to having the daily (or hourly) affirmation of Tico boys looking at me with that look and saying, “Muy linda.” Anticipating that errand-running and those sorts of things would take longer than they do in the U.S. was fine with me and I was less busy, more laid back, less stressed. I also got very used to being within 2 hours of the beach, hehe.

It’s not that I preferred Costa Rica. But I don’t know that I necessarily prefer the U.S. either. I adjusted to new comfort zones and a new standard of normal as life demanded and I found that I could do it. I had an ache in my heart for my friends and family in the U.S. almost all of the time and it was hard, but I made new friends and family in Costa Rica and God patiently loved me through it all and stretched me in my independence as a person and dependence on Him. Some things in Costa Rica bothered me. Some things there thrilled me. And all of it became normal. All of it became familiar. All of it became home.

And so now I’m in the midwest of the United States of America. I have easy access again to some of the people who could bring tears to my eyes at the very thought of being in their tangible presence when I was in Costa Rica. It’s wonderful. It’s glorious. My heart is seriously overjoyed and I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. I’ve pinched myself like five thousand times.

But I’m homesick.

Readjusting to the old normal is weird. It’s okay. I like it. I love it. And I will be just fine after a bit. But something in me is still just a little uncomfortable with it all. Something in my chest gets that tugging feeling that you get when you’re wondering when you’ll be home again. I’m subconsciously waiting for the moment when I’ll need to switch back to speaking Spanish (and sometimes accidentally do). My body feels out of whack because my daily routine has completely changed.

It all makes me want to curl into my little melancholic shell, but I’m a tough old bird and will be just fine. It’s just weird. And the term “home” feels so relative right now. And I was expecting all of the weird. I mean, I got warned about 174 times to enjoy my time in Costa Rica and not be too homesick for the U.S. because I’d miss it when I was gone (sidenote: please avoid this comment to people who are away in the future. It got a little patronizing after a while). But I know that God has and will walk me through this and continue to use this part of my experience along with the rest of it to stretch and grow and mature me. For now I’m letting the last six months simmer before I dig in with God and ask Him to help me to process and solidify all that I learned.

To keep myself from over-thinking it all, I’m focusing on and thanking God for the things I have coming up–my two closest friends friends getting married this summer (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), returning temporarily to the same call center job I had before going to Costa Rica, job searching for a full-time job that I”ll hopefully start in mid-July (I’M OPEN TO SUGGESTIONS!!), serving in the college group I was a part of all through college, and preparing to go to Spain with about ten other people from that group mid-June through mid-July. To keep myself from over-thinking it all, I’m thankful every moment of the day for my time in Costa Rica  and all that I even have there to miss and for being back in the United States, surrounded by some of the most amazing people on the planet that I missed so so much for five months. My heart overflows.

My Last Week in Costa Rica

Sooo what’s my last week or two here looking like, anyway?

Well, in a nutshell it’s full of adventuring around to some of the last few things I haven’t gotten to do in Costa Rica that I’ve wanted to do with some of my friends and finishing up some last couple of projects in the office. So if you’re short on time, there ya go 🙂

Last weekend my friend, Cinthia, and I went to Volcán Poás and ventured around that area with some of her friends. I was flipping out. I’ve never seen a Volcano crater before, so on the way up I was super giddy and nervous about whether or not it’d be cloudy and I’d be able to see it. I’d heard from everyone that if you don’t get there before 9:30 or so you’re not going to get to see it, so when the people we were meeting up with to head up the volcano were a half hour late and then I found out we were stopping for breakfast and wouldn’t get there ’til 10:30 or 11 I was majorly suppressing control freak mode. My thoughts were all, “OMGwhyarewestoppingtoeatbreakfastwhoeatsfoodcantthesepeoplewaitanextra10hourstheyjustatelike14hoursagowhatsthebigdealomgimnotgoingtogettoseethecraterbecausethesepeoplearesodangdeterminedtoeat!” which I hid from Cinthia and her mom, who I was in the car with, by staring out the window in silence with the occasional, “¿Cuánto mas tiempo?” and “¿Cuánto tiempo vamas a pasar desayunando?”, which was code for “Are we there yet?!” and “Is food really necessary? Why on earth are we stopping to eat breakfast?” I even guilt-tripped her once by saying, “This may be the only opportunity in my life to see a volcano crater.” I’m such a snot. [Insert Christian Sunday school lesson here about patience, self-control, selflessness, etc].

Nidia (Cinthia's mom), me, and Cinthia in front of Volcán Poás crater.

Well we stopped for breakfast at this delicious place called “Freddy Fresas” [“Fresas”=strawberries] and the sweet waiter let me get my favorite breakfast: scrambled eggs with onion and peppers and buttered toast and jam. I got a lot of weird stares when I turned down gallo pinto, but I can really only handle so much rice and beans. I was thrilled and suddenly in a great mood, so lesson learned: breakfast is a good thing and patience is, too. When we did get to the volcano it was perfectly clear–we could see the whole crater the smoke coming out of it and it was WAY BIGGER than I thought it would be and I flipped out. It was like I was on crack. I was talking a million miles an hour to everyone around me, in English and Spanish because it’s a tourist spot. And then I looked like a super idiot when I found out they spoke French or German or something.  We also hiked up to another crater lagoon thing which was also really beautiful. Oh, also, it was all a little bit better because Cinthia got me in for the tico price of ¢1000 (about $2) instead of the tourist price of ¢3500 (about $7) so YAY.

The next day Cinthia and I went to a fútbol game, which is a huge part of life here so that was a sweet experience. It was the LIGA (Alajuela) vs Saprissa (San José), which is the biggest rivalry in Costa Rica and Alajuela hadn’t lost at home in like fours years, but they lost that night and we joked that I was a “gato negro”  (black cat). There were soooo many differences to any American sport. The sounds are different. They make this one yelp/holler noise that actually kind of sounds like a dog that just got it’s tail stepped on. From time to time the whole stadium will start whistling and it sounds like a flock of birds is about to descend on the stadium. Also, they’re allowed to have blowhorns, and practically everyone has one. Another common thing is that there’s an area for the hardcore people who are in a sort of booster club to support their team. It is straight up dangerous to sit by them. Cinthia was super scared we were going to end up in their

Cinthia and I with the Alajuela stadium behind us.

section, but thankfully we did not, plus we had a guy friend along. Overall there were a lot less regulations to keep fans under control. At one point a firework got thrown on the field, like a fountain! And one of the players went and kicked it over and they game continued. I was perplexed. There were a lot of cheap shots and false fouls and one dude who kept doing everything he could to get fouled on, like falling over grabbing his knee if someone so much as bumped him and looking at the ref going “call that!” and the ref was all “cut it out, faker.” But the stadium was FULL of energy.  When there was a goal, people went nuts, they jumped around, they hugged, the danced in the aisles all light on their feet, they climbed the fences around the field and wooped and hollered, they took off their shirts and flung them in circles around their heads… it was hysterical. And there were pep bands playing and they’d play these jungle-beat type songs and there’s a “cheer” song for each team that everyone would burst out singing–“ooohwayyyy ohway ohway ohway, campeon, campeon!” It was such a rush and I loved it 🙂

Me, Evie, and John watching Madagascar 2. Love these kiddos 🙂

In the office this week I’ve been finishing up various tasks that I’ve been putting off to work on other things. One is finishing filling in information in a database of the current contact info of our twenty or so missionaries we have on the field in Latin America and another is finishing an information board about Bosnia-Herzegovina and the teams that we have there. We also had a small going away party for me after the staff meeting yesterday with pizza and brownies, so that was sweet, and in the afternoon I got to babysit for Caroline and Eric one last time.

Tomorrow I’m going on a last minute adventure with an American friend down here to Jacó to meet up with another missionary who lives there to encourage her and catch some sun. On Friday my friends and I are going to dress up fancy and go to dinner together and then go out salsa dancing. Saturday and Sunday I’m going to the beach with Cinthia. Monday and Tuesday I’m packing and then on Wednesday morning I have to be at the airport at 5 am and I fly out at 7 am and after a stop in Houston and another in Denver I’ll get to Omaha at about 9:30 pm!

Prayer Requests

Reverse culture shock is going to get me, I know it will. Prayer for my response–that I would handle it well and that God would place people in my life who understand and can talk to about it with me!

My faithful car, Terry the Toyota (a ’91 Toyota Camry with 265,000 miles on it–I’ve driven it since I was 14!) is coming close to going to the big parking lot in the sky because her clutch is going out. Due to various circumstances, it would not be wise to buy a new car in the next four months, so please be praying for modes of transportation (biking, here I come).

For wisdom and discernment as I choose how to respond to some of the frustrations that I had with the missions organization I was down here with.

For a thankful and encouraged heart as I enjoy some of my last bits of time with the close friends I’ve made here.

Praise God that I already have a temporary job lined up for when I get back–I’ll be returning to work in the call center I was at before coming here.

Praise God that I have GREAT friends who are going to move my boxes from the basement they are being stored in now to my apartment room that was being subleased while I was away (or as much as they’re able–anything helps!).

Praise God that I’ll get to see my youngest brother’s LAST play of all of high school when I go to Sioux Falls to visit a couple days after getting back! I can’t believe my little bro is graduating!! Congrats, Phil!

Praise God for how he’s encouraged and calmed my heart in the last couple of days.

AMEN. Thankful for y’all. 🙂

9 days… :-D

I’m within the 10 count… I come home in 9 days. 9 DAYS!!!!!!!!!

I know I’ve shared with y’all about how much I love a lot of the parts of my life here and how much I’m going to miss it here and so on. And that’s all true. I’m very thankful for my time here and there are a lot of things I will miss. But there is nothing that I will miss as much as I will LOVE being home. I prefer the midwest of the USA to the tropics. Sad, I know, but I JUST CAN’T HELP IT.

I’ve been a little afraid to be honest with people about how excited I am to come home because I don’t want to seem un-thankful or ungrateful that I’m here. I hope you know that that’s not true–I’m beyond thankful.

There have been times when I’ve been genuinely thrilled to be in Costa Rica. But there have been others that have been more difficult, and it’s taken more effort to keep a positive attitude. If I don’t keep my mind and heart centered on what I do have to be thankful for, I’ll be super grouchy and unhappy. That’s no good for anyone in contact with me, including myself. But there’s still importance in being honest, so I have to be honest with you… a lot of the aspects of my time here haven’t been all hummingbirds and rainbows.

A lot of the aspects of my time here have been frustrating and saddening. If I’m honest, the biggest challenge of my time here has been harnessing those frustrations and not freaking out about them. [Confession: I’ve totally freaked out. At least four times. Thankful for the friends who listened and let me be honest with them.] I’ll be coming home with a LOT of thoughts about missions–short-term and long-term–and missions organizations. I’ll be coming home with a LOT of thoughts about the importance of open community. I’ll be coming home with  a LOT of thoughts about the importance of having conversations about Christ when surrounded by Christians, and accountability and being real. I’ll be coming home with a lot of thoughts about gossip and slander. I’ll be coming home with a lot of thoughts about the importance of solid leadership and leadership development. I hope and pray that if and when I choose to share those thoughts that I do so with love and kindness, so if I’m honest… now is not the time.

So for now, I just ask for your prayers. This last month has been the hardest of my whole time here. I have a lot of thoughts running around my head–too many, in fact… I’m thinking too much. I’ve been super lonely. I’ve been either sick or not sleeping well for a lot of it. Can I be honest? I’ve cried a lot.

My daddy holding me when I was a baby.

I’ve thought a lot about the balance between having a thankful heart but still being honest when I’m sad. And I don’t know the answer. I’m still finding the balance, I guess. I know I’ve definitely swung back and forth too far between the two at different times.

But I’m reminding myself of Exodus 33:16, when God’s telling Moses to leave Sinai and Moses is asking to be sure God will go with them, because if He won’t, Moses doesn’t wanna go, because leaving Sinai is going to be a major hassle, majorly uncomfortable, and people are not going to like it. So he asks God, in an effort to say “hey, please don’t leave us”…

Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth? –Exodus 33:16

God’s with me. And that in and of itself is precious. It’s like when I’m at home and I go curl up by my earthly daddy when I’m sad and he comforts me. It’s not necessarily that I’m immediately happy go lucky and everything that made me sad (and rightly so) before doesn’t still do so. It’s just … I’m with my daddy. And there’s something to that. And there’s something–a BIG something–to the fact that here and now I’m with my Daddy, and He’s holding me and comforting me and loving me.

So anyway, back to the “please pray for me” part… please do. And know I’m praying for you guys too.

My Beautiful Tica Vida :)

As I’m writing this I’m sitting on the porch at “La Casa Grande”–our main office on the IT Costa Rica campus–taking a little break. It’s about 65 degrees here right now with a small breeze and some clouds but mostly sunshine. Our campus is about 5000 ft above sea level, on the side of a mountain and on the edge of a cloud forest, which means that it’s chillier and rainier than the rest of Costa Rica and I see the top of the mountain we’re on about once every other week because it’s always covered in mist. If it’s not raining, which it often isn’t this time of the year since it’s technically summer, there’s almost always “pelo de gato” (hair of the cat), a super fine, almost invisible mist that just sort of hangs in the air. I’m watching 10 or 15 sparrows take turns diving and dipping into the pool and a hummingbird drinking from a flower about 10 feet from me. I love moments like this. Gifts from the Creator, like kisses on the cheek. 

I'm told there's mountains past that last line of trees...

The climate and the terrain is lovely. I live in a valley surrounded by mountans and volcanoes. Sometimes I can even see the volcanoes smoking, such as a few weeks ago when Turrialba was active and constantly spewing smoke and at night, if I could see it, it was glowing red. Seriously, how cool is that? As long as they don’t blow for real 🙂 I’m also within two to three hours of  some beautiful tropical beaches, full of tourists, Ticos, and restaurants with live music.

I love the music here. It’s either super cheesy, some dude singing about how much he loves his woman in that fully recognizable Latin American falsetto or it has a fun salsa/meringue beat to it. There are other variations, but these are my two favorites. As soon as there’s music on, people start dancing. If there’s a party or get together and there’s music they wanna dance to, they start shakin’ it–no shame, no fear of what people will think. If this region, as a whole, had a personality type, they’d be sanguine all the way. It’s very fun (albeit a little overwhelming from time to time). Kinda like how we go country western swing dancing, they go salsa/meringue dancing. I’ve only done it a few times AND I’m not great at it (as expected, since I’m not the most coordinated person in the world), but I keep my hips moving and try not to step on anyone’s toes and it’s a lot of fun. Thankfully whoever I’m dancing with is always very patient with me.

The people here are all very friendly and sweet and helpful, and they’re all extremely patient with my imperfect Spanish speaking (and bad dancing). They’re very passionate and family-oriented. When you go to a store, they’re ready to help you with anything you need. If I mention that I like a certain dish to my family, it starts showing up once a week. If there’s somewhere I want to go and visit, there’s almost always someone willing to help me get there. They’re also very chatty, always willing to strike up a conversation.

One of my favorite parts about being here has been through these conversations, seeing points of views outside of the USA. So many stereotypes and opinions that we’re used to in the US are completely broken here, the whole “if you are associated with this stereotype, it’s 99% sure you believe this” thing doesn’t work here. Their politics work differently than in the US and I love hearing their outlook on issues. It’s so refreshing to see through their eyes and be reminded that the USA is not the world, it is just one country, one microcosm of thought. Their priorities are not the same as ours and they have expectations of their government that are different from in the US. I’m sure Costa Rica would like to have nicer sidewalks and roads, but there are other areas of their country that they’re more concerned about and they don’t have kabillions of colones to throw around and go in debt for. And if I’m honest, it’s kind of nice to step outside and not feel so spoiled.

This is one of the sidewalk corners by my house.

It’s kind of refreshing in other areas, too. For example, practically no one cares about the Super Bowl here. I got to share it with my friends, but they were so perplexed by North American football. It’s just not important to them. My friend’s sister got mad we changed the channel from a dime-a-dozen soccer match to watch the Super Bowl. At one point they just started flipping channels in the middle of the game because they didn’t know that you don’t do that during the Super Bowl. It’s so hard for us to fathom that (or me, at least, since I do enjoy football, along with 110 million other Americans), but it was a reminder that as much as I love football, and can get caught up in thinking it’s the most important thing in the world right at that moment, in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter, and hardly anyone outside of the USA really cares.

Another thing that I love about being here is getting to share my life and customs with them. I’ve experienced and learned to appreciate many of theirs and now they’ve allowed me to make them my food and sit down and watch football and chat about what life is like for me in the USA. If you are in contact with anyone from another country visiting the USA and they are a little bummed out, homesick, or culture-shocking, one of the best things you can do to help them is just ask them about their life and culture and let them talk about it and, if you have time, ask them to share it with you tangibly, through photos, food, etc. And know that if you feel like they’re constantly making comparisons like, “Well, in my country…” they’re not trying to sound arrogant or like they think their way is better, they’re just making an observation. I’m full of these types of observations from here, but constantly recite “It’s not wrong or right, it’s just different.” It was so sweet for me to just get asked a ton of questions by Cinthia (aka China) about what my life is like, what’s important to me, and to sit down and eat a slice of pizza with me when I was in the thick of culture shock.

It was also helpful being able to speak in English when I was tired or in the middle of culture shock. But, I so very much enjoy being immersed in Spanish. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but for the most part I love it. And I love speaking it and hearing myself get better at it all the time. It’s such a beautiful language, so sing songy and full of sounds and sound combinations we’re not used to.

Davíd and his sister, Ana, eating breakfast and laughing one day when Ana came over and made me breakfast--just because she's sweet like that 🙂

I’ve loved that as I’ve progressed in Spanish, I’ve gotten to build significant and deep relationships. I love my friends here. I’m going to miss their irreplaceable selves. I’m going to miss their hearts, their perspectives, their love for the Lord, their desire to share it and be missionaries in their own countries and, in some cases, in other countries, too. I’m going to miss their willingness to bend over backwards for me, not just because I’m a spoiled American that they enjoy sharing their culture with, but because I’m their friend and that’s just how they operate here.  And I see God in it all of the time, whether it’s their intention or not. Life is so rich and beautiful and full.

Please pray for me as I prepare to leave it. Pray that I would have a thankful and full heart. Pray about the reverse culture shock I’m sure to experience as I return to the US in 15 days. Pray that I would seek the Lord to fill the hollow in my heart as I go through the joys and sorrows of preparing to leave my home here for my home in the US.

Life, laughter, and kisses

I have three weeks left here in Costa Rica as of yesterday and it’s causing me to think through all of the things I’m going to miss. How TORN do I feel. I can’t help but be excited to go home soon and yet am constantly reminded of things that I’m going to miss horribly when I’m gone.

Our little family 🙂

One of the parts of my daily life here I can’t replace in the U.S. is my host family. I live with Davíd and Loania, a couple in their thirties who’ve been married for almost eight years, and they are one of my favorite parts of my life here. They don’t have any kids, except for that they jokingly refer to me as their adopted child. They are an incredibly positive pair. They never complain, except for normal couple things such as changing the channel when the other was watching it or not taking out the trash or running an errand at the other’s request. Oh, and Loania doesn’t like to feel cold. They have beautiful servant hearts, and even though I constantly offer help around the house, they don’t accept it often. They kiss all the time. Seriously. All the time. And they laugh… They love to laugh and they do it all the time.

Davíd is so smart. We’re always telling him he should go on “¿Quién quiere ser Millionario?” because he can answer all of the questions when we watch it on Tuesday evenings. Loania is so giggly and will laugh at any funny story and gasp dramatically at the climactic part every time. She is super sanguine. Both of them are so easy to have a conversation with. I’ve loved getting to just be so real with them. They’re full of wisdom and advice that I really value and have learned from. They love the Lord, and know that they are just as in need of grace as the next person.

Davíd gets annoyed with Loania sometimes and will look at me and roll his eyes and we’ll exchange a knowing glance and fairly shortly thereafter he’ll tell her to ‘tranquile, mi amor.’ They get into little spats once in a while, but they’re great at conflict resolution–an area I know they’ve really worked on in their marriage. When Loania went away for a while Davíd about died he missed her so much. He told me he misses her the most when he’s laying in bed at night, which is understandable. Every time I’m getting ready for bed at night, I hear them laying in there, having a deep conversation or giggling.

They’re so much like a normal couple I can easily forget that they do have a special circumstance. Davíd has Becker Muscular Dystrophy and Loania has Transverse Myelitis. Both have been in wheel chairs for about a decade, but before then were walking like you and me. Davíd knew the freedom of walking until his condition progressed to the point where it was no longer safe for him to walk, and Loania knew it until the infection hit her spine that caused her to go paralyzed from the waste down. And yet the two are so free in so many other ways. Davíd has six siblings and out of the seven of them 3 have Becker Muscular Dystrophy. One passed away when she was 29 and the other when he was 34. Davíd is 40.

Davíd and Loania

This last week Davíd’s been having some medical problems, and they’re not sure if it’s due to his MD or an infection. And it’s really shocked me into reality of their situation in this life, and caused me to start connecting dots like about Davíd’s age, which subsequently resulted in a phone call to my mom in which I held in tears as long as I could–which wasn’t long.

I pointlessly wonder, “Why them and not me?” The ugliness of the fall tugs at our courage and tries to blacken the joy of life. But my sweet host family of two seems ignorant of it. They seem to laugh and kiss too much to have time to be distracted by it all, because I never hear them complain or worry. I can’t help but wonder what goes through their minds in the quieter moments.

“Sometimes I think you placed me in the home of two angels.

Oh Father… How thankful I am to know I’ll see them in their new bodies some day. I’m so thankful to know that joy isn’t always based on circumstances. Davíd and Loania prove that. If anyone has reason to worry, to wonder what will come in the future, to mourn and complain about their lot in life, it’s them. But they know, I’m so thankful that they know, that joy and thanksgiving is not based on their situation, it’s on You inside of them, giving them Your life and love and joy and overflowing hearts.

Sometimes I think I can look at my circumstances and think they seem so hopeless, and I feel lost and unsure, wondering what the future holds and being anxious if I don’t know… until I count my blessings, starting with simple things, such as, ‘I can walk…’ and finishing with, ‘I have a heart that is fully alive through the freeing blood covenant of Jesus Christ.’ No one can take that away and upon that I lay all of my hope and joy.” –my journal 2/1/12

I am so thankful for my host family’s example, whether they know it or not, as a couple who live out of an inner joy and strength as they face the “momentary afflictions” of this life and look forward to the day when they will be free of their earthly bodies and see the Father face to face. None of us know how the whole life-after-death thing will go, step by step, but what a sweet promise we’ve been given in Philippians, no matter how it’s interpretted…

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” –Philippians 3:20-21

The last push when I have nothing left

I’m a horrible runner. It makes me sad. It’s not my fault, really. I used to run all the time, but I use the typical bad-runner cop out, that I have a bad left foot. Except after months of physical therapy and a spendy pair of orthotics, I have yet to return to my former ability of running, so I promise I’m not just making excuses. Sadly, I’ll have to resign myself to the elliptical or biking or swimming or something. But even when I was in my prime, one thing my kick-butt mama (who was a super awesomerunner most of her life) taught me was to push yourself the last chunk of your run. I remember in high school I’d run around my flat South Dakotan neighborhood, heaving my lungs out, but the moment I’d turn around that last bend down Cheyenne (which was about as downhill as it gets in my area, praise the Lord), I kicked it into gear and spent any oomph I had left sprinting that last block or two.

Costa Rican countryside

I often wonder just how much is too much to share on here. Honesty is good, but we’re all messes sometimes and can’t just smatter it on our blogs. But I suppose you all know I’m not perfect, seeing as I’m human and all, so I’ll be a little more transparent here…

I was pretty discouraged by time mid-December rolled around. No one needs to know the gory details, and even though some of it was a lie straight from Satan that God has been faithful to speak truth into, a lot of it was legitimate concern. And each of those could be their own pity party blog post, but that wouldn’t do anyone a lot of good, at least not ’til I organize my thoughts about it, so lets just leave it at ‘I was feeling discouraged’.

But I think we all know that feeling. It’s all over my journal…

“At the bottom of all of this, I feel like a useless failure. And on top of it, I feel insecure and unliked… At the bottom of all of this, I’m trying to be the solution to problems that are not mine to solve. The world has a Savior and it is not me. Savior… Precious Savior. Save me yet again, from myself. Save me from my pride. From my desire to control. From my selfish urges to make things all about me. I beg You to take the weight I’ve been trying to carry on my own shoulders…

At the bottom of all of this, this is all Yours. I am firmly founded in You. Father, I don’t know how to make that sink into my soul. I just pray it would. Stop my hurrying mind. Quiet my clamouring soul. Fill my heart with You and allow Your comfort and peace to inevitably follow.

It’s been a couple of those let’s not-relive-those-again sort of weeks. And this is the part where I’d normally write You five paragraphs full of what’s been stressing me out or bugging me. But at the bottom of it, it’s normal life-as-a-broken-person-in-a-broken-world sort of stuff. I’ve been irritated. I’ve had frustrations confirmed. I feel overwhelmed. I feel guilty. I feel too much and not enough. And it all leads me to point fingers in a thousand directions. And some of them are absolutely legitimate, and others are just things poking at my “fear button” (that’s Smalley-psychological-talk for insecurity, a word I feel I use way more often than I wish was necessary). And all of it leads me to turn into one giant hypersensitive nerve. And to a tense back and therefore headaches. And not sleeping.

Plus, it’s Christmas and I’m not home! I mean, come on!

And yet, what a beautiful moment to call to mind Who my God is. In the midst of a situation that is less than ideal, as a person who feels, quite honestly, like a failure, God steps in yet again.

And not that You literally step in. I mean, that’s the silliest part. You have been in since before time. Since before the creation of Adam and Eve You have been irrevocably committed to me and to all of humanity. You have never moved at all in the middle of it. You have never stopped loving and longing for relationship, and that means You will redeem all of this. So, no, You haven’t stepped in. However, I have yet another opportunity to step back, step out and away from whatever lie I’m believing about You or me this time, and faint into Your hands as I [re]call to mind the truth about this God that I serve. I get to remember Who You are–and have always been and always will be–in the middle of these weeks when I’m blatantly aware that I’m a broken person in a broken world. And being Who I am, I could turn even that into a stressful event because I’m still learning. The Holy Spirit is still teaching me, and sometimes I feel I’m the slowest learner.

But I trust the Holy Spirit with my spiritual education and fall back on the absolute basics:

God is my firm foundation. I shall not be moved. In Him the weary find rest and renewed strength. He is my redeemer, making wrong things into right. And he is Love and Truth.

Through Him, I get to let it go and live.” –12/23/11

Oh, praise the Lord for the quiet moment. For the intimate moment. For the humble moment. For the moment when I feel defeated because no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to get it together and be good enough. My determined efforts fail like the non-creative but totally accurate image of sand in clenched fists. I feel out of control of myself, of my actions, my attitude, or my wandering mind, or all four at the same time. And I long for rest–for someone to fight the fight for me because I don’t have the energy anymore. To come alongside of me and be my legs in the last 100 meters of my run.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. –Titus 3:3-7

This process of salvation is daily. He refines us constantly, in the rush and the whirl and in the mundane and the hours of sitting alone feeling worthless. Sometimes I forget who I am in Him, sometimes I am still foolish and a slave to various passions. But our sweet Father has come as His Son Jesus to make old things new, to make that which was dead come to life. He has come to give us rest, to carry the burden, to be our legs and run for us when no amount of our own efforts are enough.

Back to normal life here

Blake and I at the park in front of the Basilica in Cartago.

Well, my month of visitors (which was unintentional–they were meant to be more spread out, but it was the times that worked best for them) is over. It’s a little sad! One thing I’m learning about myself is that I’m definitely a person who gains energy from deep relationships so it was so good and refreshing to have Blake and my mom here. And yet now that they’re gone, it’s sad to think about going places alone and not having a companion again. BUT, on the flipside, I only have one month left (isn’t that crazy?!), so it’ll be a good opportunity to put my renewed energy to good use and make the most of my last chunk of time here.

With Blake, we got to go to Monte Verde to go visiting and walk through the rainforest reserve. We also got to spend a weekend in a cabin by the beach with a bunch of my friends from church. I felt a little bad because it rained the whole time we were at the rainforest (imagine that) and my friends had different expectations for our time at the beach than Blake and I did, but we still had fun 🙂

Mom and I on the beach 🙂

With my mom, we got to go to the Arenal Volcano and go ziplining and horseback riding, go to the hot springs, and hike to the Fortuna waterfall (the waterfall was last minute but fun!). We also got to go to Manuel Antonio, one of the most famous and beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and spend some days in the sun and see tons of fun wildlife, like monkeys, raccoons, iguanas, etc.

Both of them got to visit the ITeams campus and meet the people I spend my time around and also got to meet my host family, Davíd and Loania. It was all so relaxing and so good to get to show some of my loved ones my life here. God has been so good to fill my cup and be my best friend during my time here, but it was an extra blessing and joy to have both of them here.

My mom and I with Davíd and Loania.

Prayer requests?

  • For a strong finish.
  • For a heart overwhelmed with love and grace and patience for the people here.
  • For continued growth with Spanish learning.
  • For God’s will to be done and for my heart to be open to whatever He’s teaching me.
  • For continued deepening of relationships.
  • For flexibility in my own mind and spirit.
  • For a gentle and quiet heart because I relentlessly trust Father.
  • For sensitivity to His voice as I make life choices for returning back to the United States (on Feb 22).

Praise requests?

  • For the great time with Blake.
  • For the wonderful time with my wonderful mother.
  • For major progression with Spanish that was very noticeable while my mom was here.
  • For the relationships I have developed here.
  • For the end of the rainy season!
  • For God’s gentle voice leading me through choices.
  • For opening my eyes to see things here in a new and different way.

More updates to come soon 🙂

A long awaited update post

I’ve taken a lot of time in between writing an update post… mostly because I feel like they get a little lame-o, and also because, if I’m honest, I’ve been a little discouraged, and because I’ve been using the “it’s the holidays!” excuse…

My holiday season in a nutshell?

1) Christmas parties. Lots of white elephant gifts. Let us be honest: I don’t know why I continue to participate in these. I always put in what I consider to be sweet stuff and get back lame stuff. Case in point: Yummy chocolate that was expensive from the expensive USA grocery store in return for a dollar store child’s kite. However, I did get to laugh a lot. And meet some new people. I liked that part.

Some of my Christmas presents!

2) Christmas eve and Christmas with Davíd and Loania’s family was hilarious. If I may be a little sentimental for a moment, I’d like to add here that nothing tops Johnson Christmas (even though they totally switched up the tradition and went to Wisconsin to spend it with my mom’s family and go to the Packers game this year). Sitting down to open gifts with Tostitos out on the table instead of mom’s delicious cookies was a little saddening. BUT Davíd’s family has hilarious traditions in opening gifts–they “oo” and “aw” and cheer funny things and clap for EVERY gift. No joke. It was full of tons of love and precious moments and sweet relationship shared. And I got a few things– small things like shirts and socks and makeup and jewelry and what not, all of which I loved and it made it a little more fun for me, too. I thoroughly it all.

Loania, me, and David at Hooligans or my birthday.

3) I got to spend my birthday (which is December 26, fyi), with Davíd and Loania at Hooligans, an American sports bar and restaurant eating a bacon cheeseburger and watching Monday Night Football. My heart about exploded–from joy, not the deliciously unhealthy burger 🙂  [btw: it was my first burger since I left the US].

4) My boyfriend came to visit on the 29th and left this morning (another reason it’s been a while). What a sweet thing to share a little bit of my life here with Blake. He got to visit ITeams campus and meet the team, we went to Monte Verde–a famous wildlife reserve here–and went ziplining, we took a lot of buses and wandered around a lot of sweet Costa Rican places, and went to the beach with a bunch of my friends from church. Blake got to experience first hand and sympthathize with me on some culture shock type of stuff (although I was bummed he came in the dry season, which means the cockroaches stay outside and he didn’t get to experience that horror, haha) and also see the things about Costa Rica that I love. We had a good time and we learned a lot about each other, for better or for worse, and are continuing to seek wisdom and discernment from our Father for the best path for us–your prayers are appreciated! I miss him already but my mom comes in two days so I’m {excitedly!!} gearing up for round 2!

Blake and I watching the sunset on the beach.

5) Christmas looked so differently for me this year than it ever has in all of my life, but it was such a great opportunity to celebrate Jesus in the midst of unfamiliarity. Blake’s mom sent me a note with him, pointing out that this version of Christmas gives me a little bit of insight into the first family’s Christmas, and she is very right. While Costa Rica still has it’s fair share of commercialism, it was an entirely different experience, and it was so good. I had lots of thoughts and sweet time with the Lord, thinking on His precious Son coming to us and what it all means for us. I’m in love with the fact that I’m adopted, included in the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and that God planned for it from before time began.  When I think about Jesus being sent as a seed, about all of creation holding it’s breath for His arrival, all knowing, “This is it… this is what we’ve been waiting for since the world came to be!! Inclusion through Jesus, the Savior of the world!” I could just burst. My heart overflows.

With the usual office work and other sorts of excursions in between it all, I really enjoyed my holiday season, which I hear is just as warm as what it is back in home in the good ol’ midwest, hehe (which, by the way, I return to in just a month and 12 days. How crazy is that!?)

I hope you all had wonderful holiday season. I’d love to hear about it!

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