Thursday, August 27, 2009

Like a Pup

Friday afternoon
August 28

We're on foot, crossing through the rotunda-- a considerable sea of traffic whose rip tide we're waiting to ride across the highway to safety on the other side. There, a long line at the police station will greet us. It's just Miguel and me, and we're getting fingerprinted again. This time, we're applying for student visas.

In line, I see people I look just like, whose language I do not speak. There are Germans, French and other North American missionaries. We take turns observing one another when we think the other doesn't notice. Our differences provide intrigue, yet so do our similarities, so the waiting is full of amusement.

Miguel has already done the math, so I'm the scribe while he presents our height in meters and our weight in kilos. Next is the address line-- only there are no street names, so it's appropriate to describe our address by:
-noting a landmark (ours is the hardware store)
-whether we're to the north or south and how many meters
-including the side of the street, color of house and whether or not it's single story
...So that takes a bit of time, as I'm translating my weak English directions into weaker Spanish ones.

At this point, I've resigned myself to reality. I am like a helpless, fond puppy following my benevolent Master here and there. In my previous California life, I felt reasonably confident. Run to the store to pick up a few things for dinner? Simple. I would jump in a dependable car, which I may or may not lock as it waited patiently for me in a smoothly paved parking lot. Groceries in tow, I would push a button, whereby the car would automatically unlock, graciously awaiting my groceries.

Now: Hmmm... there are a few things I need for dinner. Where are comfortable shoes? Will I be back before dark, when the safety factor is sketchy. Who will I take to help carry the items? Which route will be smartest for street crossing? Do I really need these things or can I make something creative with what's on hand... while my mind is weighing the factors, I hear myself calling out, "Don Miguel, are you up for a trip...?" whereby he is out the door, personal bags in tow, now considering all these things on my behalf, my benevolent master. He knows my thoughts.

A grateful heart renders her benevolent master to be her most precious gift. An ungrateful one finds something to be dissatisfied with. I confess to days of choosing the latter.

After the Police Station

We're street-crossing again, fingerprints bagged, I question:
"Why are you the one who is so competent, and I am like a helpless puppy? I can't think fast enough, or listen carefully enough and when I cross the street, my heart is beating so loud, I can hear it in my head, and it makes my head hurt. And why do you know exactly what to buy and all the best prices at the most reasonable places, taking the most prudent route...before I've even finished a list? Why are all these things unclear to me and so clear to you? I think slowly. I talk slowly. I move slowly. You do these things with such ease."

"Crystal, Tengo que vivir la vida," He squeezes my hand, guiding me through a narrow place in the street. I am anxious because of my purse. I never carry a purse anymore, but one is necessary today. He puts his hand on my shoulder, "Your neck is tense. Stop worrying about the purse." How does he know I'm thinking about the purse?

"I don't get tense. Remember, I'm the carefree one. I'm the one between the two of us who likes adventure," I insist.

"Tengo que vivir la vida," He repeats, " You have to live your life." I know what he's trying to say. "Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be."

He knows I am the nervous chihuahua: shaking, tediously looking about me back and forth back and forth... scanning, scannning, scanning... he is alert, as well, but somehow, when we get home, he's jovially playing with the children, and I'm nearly passed out on the bed, exhausted, head aching, falling asleep before he realizes I'm gone.


So now, I'm thinking about the possibility of something really great. It will take deliberate effort until I'm well-trained, and this could take some time. I've decided that I want to be a good listener. I want to be a good listener and a happy follower.

If I'm going to acknowledge the reality: cross-cultural living is taking some time for me to adjust to; therefore, I'm somewhat like a timid pup, then it follows that what I am defines how I act. This being the case, I've decided to be the pup that listens carefully. Instead of anxiously looking about, I'd like to listen, then believe. What command does my benevolent master speak?

"Do you think I'm not protecting you every step of the way? Do I not have what is best for you in mind?" He says, as we're safe on the sidewalk again. Anxiousness is failing to trust my master. When he assures me of his nurturing protection, I will listen. I will seek to understand. Then understanding, I will believe, thus changing my responses without ever really trying. He speaks. I'm listening, for I am cared for by one who seeks my very best in all things.

I don't have to try to be happy. Cheer flows spontaneously from the heart that listens to, understands, then believes her master. Happy following takes little effort for the devoted pup who delights in her master's every command. She knows these commands flow from the heart that bursts with love for her.

I remember learning in college that the word worship is derived from a word that means to adore, like a little pup at the feet of her master, bounding gleefully back and forth, as pleasing and delightful as a little companion could possibly be. It's helpful to me to understand that
happily following Miguel is like chasing after my Daddy in Heaven-- my ultimate, benevolent Master, whose every command flows from a heart bursting with love for me. Instead of complaining and asking why, I have the opportunity to shamelessly trust the One whose nurturing protection includes legions of angels surrounding me, when I call for help. I jump at his heels, begging for another opportunity to obey a command and receive a reward. I am eager to please: listening, understanding, believing... then happily following.

This is worship.

Being a helpless, fond pup isn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Goodbye Summer

Late Night
August 22

Laundry hangs on the clothesline. Some is in the dryer-- we have a dryer! The house is still. The dogs do not howl. Even the motorcycles do not take our beaten path tonight. It's quiet. This is unusual.

Generally, on La Ferreteria, shortly after my head hits the pillow, I'm asleep. I sleep through huge parties at the corner house and the horn section playing Salsa. The dogs do not often wake me. More often than not, however, it is 5 year old Nathanael's hot breath that begins to burn my eyes, as he mutters different woes requiring comfort. He never fails to lure one of us out of precious sleep. Boyish strength bottled in a being so full of so many things. I anticipate seeing him in a few short hours.

August 25

At Parque Okayama, Chloe is swinging brazenly, trying to make her toes touch the trees overhead. Nathanael effortlessly glides across monkey bars, sleek and agile. We watch with admiration-- "He didn't get that from me," Miguel notes. "Nor from me..." I agree. Abigail is toiling with the possibility of a flip on some swinging rings, but finally acknowledges aloud to herself,"I'm not made to do this flip deal. Forget about it." She storms off looking for a friend to make. Julia settles next to me on a swing, thinking aloud, "I'm not sure what I was made to do. I'm still looking for my place in this world," She watches us watch Nathanael. She laughs at Chloe's self-impressed glee, she marvels at Abigail's uncanny ability to engage strangers. All the while, she is wondering what it is that makes her shine. Miguel starts listing things. I throw in a few shiny somethings, too. We sit together, and I hold her.

The clouds grow dark and heavy. Our stomachs are empty. Rain jackets on, we follow Miguel across the street to Ortero's pizza, complete with the big movie screens and order the usual: one extra grande half Americana (honoring our homeland), half suprema,(celebrating all that is to come)
...and a two liter Coca Cola. It doesn't quite taste like we remember Coke tasting, yet the logo alone makes us happy.

Ortero's is dimly lit with sturdy wooden tables and stools. Movie posters cover every inch of wall space, ceiling included. Some of the advertisements are in Spanish. Some are in English, but the whole place is like stepping into another world for a tiny window of time. Julia Noel is smiling.

Dinner is over. We follow a pathway between two long buildings, whose walls are covered in fabulous graffiti. The colors are brilliant and Nathanael is impressed, stating: "These people are really good in art." We all agree. POPS is the next stop. The closest thing here to Ben and Jerry's Brownie Batter ice cream is sitting on my cone-in-hand, and we're weaving through traffic, dodging a long line of commuters, just offloading the bus back over a narrow bridge, and through the neighborhood. We are silent, anticipating what tomorrow will be like...

Tonight is goodbye to summer. Goodbye with Ortero's and POPS (popes)-- with the cool night air and a lingering walk through San Francisco de Dos Rios. Good-bye summer. Tomorrow each of us becomes a full-time student, and orientation commences a whole year in Language School. Not all goodbyes are sad.

Goodbye summer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Living Water

We live between two rivers in San Francisco de Dos Rios. These muddied water trails host plastic grocery bags carried along by a faithful current of milk boxes, soda cans, and yogurt bottles all tempted to clump along the river bed. Somehow it is still beautiful. Giant bamboo shoots jut out from hillsides like a vigilant guardian.

I am walking along a mossy bridge which carries me over the river. It is hot. My thirst is great. I long for water, but there is only the river. I can not drink. I must find a trusted source. Other options ultimately lead to harm. So it is with my thirsting heart.

Jesus is living water, poured out freely, scandalously, without end...I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (Revelation 21:6b).

And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (Rev 22:17).

He shows no restraint in giving, and demands the same of the thirsty one: Delight in abundance! It can not run short. It is not temporary. It's pleasure can not wane. Drink. Let your soul delight itself! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters... Let your soul delight itself in abundance (Isaiah 55:1,2b). It is trusted.

Living water never stops being sweet. It is always pure. For it mercifully flows:...a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev 22:1).

His lavish giving does not stop at the river. I am not required to make a pilgrimage to a drinking spot every time I thirst. He causes this living water to burst from inside of me, for rivers of living water gush out of me, as I believe. If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:37).

Oh! To drink deeply of that which God Almighty made to flow out of me: The river of His Spirit. It dwells in me when I believe the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was accomplished on my behalf. This finished work, this river, quenches my thirst one choice at a time.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Sunday Night
August 2

Sitting on a starchy, bright orange-sheeted bed following uninterrupted silence with homemade salsa and chips. Tomorrow is Monday, commencing week 2 of Barefooting, a style of total immersion into a host culture, whereby we sit with the flawlessly forbearing Dona Olga in morning hours listening, then practicing. She assigns us a task-- a communication hurdle to overcome and we are off into the city-- hurdling: What is this in Spanish? What does it cost? I am a student in Costa Rica... con mucho gusto... . We take buses and taxis, and ambitiously make our way through a maze of nameless streets 350 meters from this Parque De Bosque-- or beside that red Pan Por Kilo corner stop... This is Barefooting. We drink coffee and tea, feel the sunshine on our backs, or listen to pelting rain against the lemon and tangerine trees while Dona Olga opens Pura Vida, the Tico world to us, armed with slow, articulate Spanish, amusing charades and a host of adventures mapped out in her notebook. Barefooting.

Four family units from Virginia's Learning Center now circle up, straining to decode words spoken faster than they are deciphered. Our heads are aching. Miguel is our translator. His 5 previous years of Spanish trudge a mucky path through knee deep mud of unfamiliarity. We step where his feet once did, following at an inconvenient distance.

Oh, give thanks to the God of Heaven... who remembered us in our lowly state, for His mercy endures forever. Psalm 136:23

Speaking messily mangled, mismatched words can be painful. I fail to insert verbs in their rightful location. Mis-conjugating them in one sentence, then fumbling for a preposition in the next. Often, I'm flipping furiously through my pocket notebook, straining to pair unknown words with ones I recognize.

Monday Morning with Dona Olga
August 3

"What is she asking me?" We take turns whispering, pleadingly looking Miguel's way. During week one, I find this to be a great asset. Being married to the star student has its advantages; However, this is day one of week 2, and I become irritated. Miguel appears antsy-- overly eager to assist. Dona Olga patiently waits. Miguel corrects me in his gentle, low voice. I am deeply agitated. I return his correction with a hushed one of my own.

Class is over. I march home stoically, and collapse onto the orange sheets.

Tuesday Night
August 4
Dominoes. Abigail is exposed for illegal plays. Miguel hoists Nathanael up the stairs for bedtime routines, and I'm peeking through the oven window, watching banana cake slowly lift from the sides of the pan. After UNO and tiny block forts, children are dragging into bed, delirious from contented chaos. Soon, they are piled one on top of the other, insistent that they must all sleep together tonight... the soft, steady rhythm of tummies rising and falling means Miguel and I have one plate, two forks, and gooey deliciousness drenched in brown sugar frosting. It's a date.

I am no longer agitated. Accepting correction as a gift, rather than a battle wound seems the more prudent path.

August 5

"It's time. Go talk to her now," Miguel urges. We are at La Parque de Infantil under a grey sky, enjoying teeter-totters. Chloe is squealing over a "white, puffy doggie" nipping at a young mother's heels. A little girl beside her is bike-riding in circles. "Talk to her," He repeats, steadily watching my hesitancy...

Now Chloe is holding the white, puffy doggie. Abigail is practicing Spanish with 5 year old Carolena, Nathanael is riding Carolena's bike in circles, and I'm talking in Spanish with Tanya! I'm actually having a conversation; not practicing vocabulary or irregular conjugations, but talking! I say what I can, and she graciously coaxes me along, just as my Miguel.

Talking with people. I make little sense, but I do not quit.
Delighting in another person and their world.

This is how I will learn Spanish, I resolve. It will not necessarily be my study habits or my devotion to notecards that seal the deal. It will be Barefooting.

I never liked wearing shoes anyway.