A Story from Nicaragua

I want to share a story with you from my time here.  When the earthquake struck Haiti, I was in a remote part of Nicaragua, on the island of Ometepe accompanying a group of college students from Pennsylvania.  Ometepe is an island in the middle of lake Nicaragua (a lake probably the size of Lake Michigan in North America).  The students were staying at an orphanage.  I helped them work on a new building for the orphanage and at a medical clinic on the island.  At the medical clinics, even distribution of vitamins is needed among the people.  Below is a photo from Ometepe with one of the two volcanos on the island in the background, called Conception.

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This experience is from Sunday, January 10, 2010.

Instead of attending church with the rest of the students, I went with Heidi and Hannia (Heidi is a sister deaconess and Hannia a Costa Rican who was helping us) to a community in the other side of the island called El Corrozal.  I sat in on a meeting with a few of the community members.

Since I understand a little spanish and speak even less, I wasn’t able to participate much, except to listen as much as I could.  We were consulting with the community about potential projects for other students groups.  In other words, asking the community what they most need.  The drive to El Corrozal took over an hour, not because it was far away, but because the roads were so bad.  There is one main road around the island and other dirt roads that lead to small communities.

45% of Nicaraguans live on less than $1 a day.  It is a land where some only recently have electricity, horses are common for transport, food is cooked on wood stoves, machetes are used to cut grass, and the water gives people parasites and fungal infections.

This particular community received electricity from the government only a short while ago.  The meeting took place in a school, that is vacant for summer vacation (dry season = summer here).  Among the Nicaraguans present was a deacon at the local evangelical church and a man who grows coffee and exports it through an organization on Bainbridge Island, WA (near my home in Seattle!).

After the meeting we were invited to a home for lunch.  It was an experience of God’s grace for me, because this family served us out of what they had, which isn’t much at all.  The small house had dirt floor and fire for cooking outside.  We ate rice, beans, eggs and plantains—a staple meal in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Even though I did not speak the language, I was welcomed and fed.  It is a day I will not soon forget…I re-enforced my belief that relationships are vitally important to helping others and that hospitality is a blessed gift.  I know people in North America are prone to become excited with foreign mission to help some poor people, but please take note that going over the border to Tiajuana isn’t necessarily going to help people.  There should be a mutuality of sharing and learning, and through that bond Christ is present.  This experience calls me to compassion, prayer, and action.  I ask myself and others:  How can I know my neighbor and how can we grow together?
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A New Year, Another Adventure

There is another adventure on the horizon.  On January 1st, 2010 I will kick off the new year by boarding a plane and flying away for the whole month, bound this time for Costa Rica (and Nicaragua).  As I did with India, I intend to post some, perhaps this time while I’m in the country.

One reason for my Costa Rica trip is to experience something new and away from the familiar in Seattle.  Lately I have been in a stuck pattern, in need of change but unsure how to make it happen.  Well, here it is happening, almost all at once.  Coinciding with this 34-day trip is the end to my work at a bookstore I have een employed at through graduate school and beyond, for 5 years.  It is time to move on, and this is my chance.

Another reason is that I have an opportunity to engage in ministry work with another deaconess.  This is exciting, and has potential to open more doors.  When I ask myself what it is I most desire in work, I have often returned to direct service.  A ministry with people, listening to them, learning from them, and helping where needed.  When I am in Costa Rica I will mostly be listening, learning, and absorbing.

I also really need a sabbatical.  This is a perfect way to combine something that engages my heart and mind, as well as being refreshing for the body.  I will leave Seattle in the grayest period of the year for Central America where it is warm, dry, and exceedingly beautiful to step into a new culture, learn a new language, and hear stories of brothers and sisters in Central America.

Expect more updates on my adventure, stories of those I meet, and of course pictures.

Prodigal Wanderings, Returning Home

Return of the Prodigal Son

I left home quite some time ago. Here, I do not write of the leaving home I did at age 19. No, I mean that over a year ago I left the holy sanctuary of God’s surrounding love and squandered away some of my blessed life.

Leaving home…is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palm of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows…Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.
(Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 37)

Henri Nouwen so beautifully writes his journey home from depths and dark places in The Return of the Prodigal Son. Long ago acquainted with Nouwen’s work, this is one I missed—until now. His writing and life bring hope to me in an otherwise heartbreaking period in my life. Years of balance, strength, and peace have met their demise in the wake of rage and resentment. I am broken, shattered by a series of events in my own life, the choices I have made; and swallowed by similar downfalls in my family. Oh, what have I become that I obsess and rage instead of listen and pray?

In this moment of night I find myself emerging from melancholy to feel the embrace of God, rejoicing in another day, and thankful for shelter and food. I want it to linger, so I keep awake long into the night.

Nouwen says of home:

Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says, “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.”—the same voice that gave life to the first Adam and spoke to Jesus…the same voice that speaks to all the children of God and sets them free to live in the midst of a dark world while remaining in the light. (37)

I have so many places, physical and emotion that have been “home”. Nouwen introduces the home that only a loving God can bring, and this home, I believe is expansive enough to encompass all places and times of being at home. These are “home” because I am loved by God.

Fearful of failure, I forge on. This is not the first time I have been at these crossroads, nor will it be the last. I should hope, however, that I am through one horrible cycle of self-destruction. The fear in me waits to fall again, and it says to me in a hurried tone: this time you may be on your own, even if you break through the darkness. Enter the image of the prodigal son—broken and shamed, he is embraced by his father. It is at the same time comforting and heartbreaking, as I prepare to welcome God’s embrace, and yet still have broken family and relations that are unresolved.

Faith keeps me going. “Faith,” Nouwen writes, “is the radical trust that home has always been there and always will be there.” Come what may with family, community, job, finances, health this radical trust believes I am home.

Annie Dillard writes of running from this love, too. In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, she writes:

Even now I wonder: if I meet God, will he take and hold my bare hand in his, and focus his eye on my palm, and kindle that spot and let me burn? But no. It is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down. Miss White, God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. Sone once in Isarel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid. (p. 141)

So here I am. Unsure of what lies ahead. But, for the time being, safely held by God.

The List of Longings

Sometime after my high school graduation and in the first year of college, while in a reflective mood, I penned a list.  This list was inspiring, a gathering of hopeful goals for my life, born out of deep desires and longings of my heart.  At the time I was dreaming.  People make lists, 10-year plans, but I…I would make a list that makes me happy.  I was indeed in touch with those desires of the heart which guide me even today.  Even when the list was folded and tucked away in a storage space for years, its contets forgotten in my mind, my footsteps still followed its direction.  Here is some of it:

  • Return to New Zealand
  • Travel to all 50 states*
  • Read the Bible regularly
  • Complete a marathon
  • be fluent in German
  • Visit towns in Alsace and Ukraine where ancestral family came from
  • see a tornado
  • publish a photograph
  • stay in touch (with specific people)
  • give money/volunteer for Neurofibromatosis research
  • run regularly
  • acquire a large classical music collection
  • continue to play the clarinet
  • see Africa
  • travel the world

Those in bold are things I have done.  In a period of my life when I am grasping onto anything hopeful and happy, contemplating the list and the journey of my life since high school is inspiring.  For, it is more than merely crossing items from a list—these are pieces of me, and together they make me whole.  Not only have  I completed a marathon, I’ve finished five; not only have I given money for Neurofibromatosis research, I ran two marathons for charity; not only have I published a photograph, but have been paid to take pictures and published some writing; not only have I traveled the world, but I lived a year in Germany and became fluent in German there; the 50 states is a work in progress, as I have knocked off 30+ already; and in less than two weeks I will be in India—what an adventure that will be!

To think of these things brings me hope and joy.  I run, listen to or play music, travel, experiences cultures, donate my time because these things cause something inside of me to be whole.

Now I wonder, what else should I add to this list for the next decade of my life…

Mist and Shadow

If I were to put an image to my life in this moment, it would be a misty mountain scene.  This photo was taken in British Columbia this summer.  After the ferry ride from Skagway, AK we docked in Prince Rupert, BC and began the long drive down to Seattle.  What cannot be seen, are the beautiful peaks of mountains, hidden behind the mist.  They are there, and what a sight to behold when they are not shrouded by clouds!  This too, is a sight to behold in its mystery of dark and light.

Misty Mountain

Yesterday, Resurrection seemed an empty word.  I know this is not true, but a mind sunk beneath shadows senses not what good may be out there.  It is instead lost and fixated on gloomy predictions forecast under pessimistic conditions held tightly by a clouded and cluttered mind.  Unseen joy is shrouded by some part of me that would rather shiver in the rain without a coat, and slowly sulk through puddles than to stretch my arms out and breathe in the cool air.  Why is this so?  What part of me has the warped desire to remain in sad shadows and depressed depths?

Today I have experienced joy, though with night-time, anxiety and fear return as the knots tighten around my throat.  The times when I am joyful seem fleeting these days.  Again, I know what gives me joy and that there is much to rejoice about now.  On occasion, I am drawn out of the muck and dreariness into sun-splashed daylight.  I recognize the journey to be lived is marked with perils, uncertainty, loss, joy, love, hope…

I imagine myself walking through the mist and shadows.  And I can imagine this being a time of renewal.  The mist wets my face as I walk on wet earth.  This is a time for exploration, adventure (oh, there is adventure ahead of me.  Where have I been, that I have forgotten!).  The fog that surrounds is mysterious and mystical.  Now is the time to be filled with wonder and let go of anxious thoughts and the desire to forget all that is good.  Let it go. Let it go.

I am reminded of a song from J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  The words were written by Bilbo and sung early in the journey of Frodo with the ring.  Walking on a path after dusk, the hobbits sang to lift their spirits.  The song appears in the movie, though much abbreviated, and that is what I quote now:

Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night
until the stars are all alight.
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade
all shall fade, all shall fade.

Mist and shadow, indeed.  May my wandering in the mist be transforming, and may the shadows not overcome me.  There is still hope left to find, there is reason to sing.  God is bigger than my hurts and the hurts I cause to others.  God is bigger than darkness, for light shines in the darkness.

I am on a journey through mist and shadow.  And I shall see the goodness and glory of what lies beyond the shadows.  I am on a journey…

Insomnia and the Holy Vulnerability of Night

candle inspirationAgainst my better judgment I am sitting outside a coffee shop with a latte at my side.  I hadn’t planned on this, but the mood struck me right, and this is afterall Seattle, so I have many options for unplanned coffee stops.  There’s something on my mind, well many things actually.  Too many and too private to detail here, but what is striking is the hour at which they grip me.  And I wish to share this unfolding process of my spiritual life.

When the hour struck midnight, my housemates turned in for the night.  As I have written before, I have used this night space to think and reflect.  Once more I was compelled to sit in the empty space of the living room to be alone with God.  For the next hour I remained deep within myself, at times vigorously writing in my journal as chants danced in my ears.  With several deep breaths, I exhaled these concerns, attempting to let them go.

At 1am I lay my head down.  With a sudden rush I became aware of the house, its creaks, the hum of the fridge in the kitchen…and then every thought running at me with such intensity, I tossed and turned.  Even the careful attention I paid earlier to take care of myself and to let go some of the worries within me did not help me this night.

Heart pounding, I lay awake.  Maybe it was the coffee I had after dinner.  Or maybe it was the nap I took earlier in the day.  I sensed something deeper disturbing my soul that befuddled me to restlessness.  “Fine” I muttered, along with a few swear words, and stumbled out of bed to the living room once more.  Browsing my bookshelves offered no help, and I looked out the window.  “I’m so full of energy, I could run around the block.”  It was past 2am.  Our house is old and footsteps anywhere might wake those asleep downstairs.  Frankly, in that moment I didn’t care.

I put on my running shoes without socks, grabbed my keys and walked out the door without tying my shoes.  I bolted out the door and ran a half mile in the clear night air.  It was an unusually muggy night in Seattle, albeit a comfortable temperature.

This 2am jaunt around the neighborhood was not out of anguish or desperation.  Life is quite good.  But my spirit, although so alive, is restless.  My soul longs for things that are out of my reach, and that is frustrating.

Late at night I feel strangely holy, and I am often more vulnerable to myself and the inner sanctity of my soul than in the daylight.  This sacred space isn’t shared with many earthly souls, and yet I long for that human contact.  When will it be my time for that?  How long must I remain in this murky place?

All together I had 4 hours of sleep.  My body needs more, but when insomnia strikes, what can I do?  I am emotionally healthy for the work that gets done these late nights when everyone else is sleeping.

sigh.

a post-graduation journey

late night writingI sit for coffee this morning to enjoy the quiet before I depart on my journey in a few hours. In between my cleaning and packing, I take time to reflect…

Last night I walked into a dark living room after midnight. Through my front window I gazed at the full moon, shining brighter than the high clouds that attempted to cover it. It was a moment to slow down, and drink in all that has happened to me in the past week and past four years of my life. While so much in my life is in flux and transition, I am thankful to have lived in the same house for three years. I’m rooted in this city, in the surrounding neighborhoods, and with my church community. I’m thankful for that.

I gathered the cards received from my birthday and graduation from the mantle, sat on the couch, and wept. These weren’t tears of loneliness; I finally was able to receive the love and support of family and friends through these years deeper into my heart. After awhile of sitting still and breathing deeply, I fell asleep on the couch. It was a peaceful sleep, deeper than I have had the previous few nights in my bed.

So now, I’m ready. I’ve studied long hours, read many books, written many papers. I have a degree, and maybe even a new job. But first, I must wander. I leave in a few hours for the first part of my journey to meet with members of my extended community. I love those women I call sisters, who share my desire for ministry and serving.

Then I will travel through rugged country, next to glaciers, and through the plains…to live in each moment, to meet old friends and new people, to let go of those things I hold onto tightly…

to just be…
through the field