10.30.2008

Hopefully pessimistic

So, CNN tells me that NASA is "cautiously optimistic" that Hubble repairs will work and that black voters are "cautiously optimistic" looking toward the election.  And, did you know that Capcom Inc., Australian retailers, the book industry, and the international coal market are all "cautiously optimistic" about future sales?  Cautiously Optimistic.....what the.... does that mean anything!?!?  You could just as easily say "We think things are going well, but maybe they aren't." Or how about, "Things are good....or bad.....we're not sure."  
 
It's like a non-statement statement, it's a cover-your-ass clause.  And it's not very hopeful.  In fact, I think I'd prefer to be hopefully pessimistic than cautiously optimistic.  For real.  Adding caution to your optimism is like putting a cap on your hopefulness.  Why would you want to do that?  Why is it so scary to say "Today is in the crapper, but there is hope that tomorrow is gonna blow your minds!"?  I love the thought of it - of unabashed hope.  Hope so great that we are unafraid to wish and dream, to imagine the unthinkable, even to pray for miracles.  

It reminds me of the oh-so-famous Jeremiah 29:11.  You know the one, "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to hurt you, plans to give you hope and a future".  If you have time (haha, that's funny because we both know you do) you should take a minute to read through ALL of Jeremiah.  It's such a cool picture of God saying, "(obviously paraphrasing here!) Look at your life.  It sucks!  You've been exiled and you're miserable.  BUT, put your hope in me and I will be faithful to restore you!"  He then goes on to describe how He's 'bout to break somethin' off for those who've spoken against him.  (It's super impressive, but "Courageously Fearful" will have to wait for a different blog.)  

Anyway, my point is that I see a lot of messed up stuff here - stuff that doesn't make me feel optimistic.  Stuff that, quite frankly, pisses me off.  Filthy babies with hungry tummies, aggressive, womanizing men with heartbroken wives at home, corrupt government that keeps getting richer off it's third world constituents.  I'm not "cautiously optimistic" about this stuff.   However, I can say that I am "hopefully pessimistic".  Hopefully -meaning I have great hope that it can change for the better, and pessimistic - meaning I hate the way it is now.  There you have it. 

Currently, I would also apply this term to environmental protections,  United States politics, the price of airfare, the Dow Jones, the Evangelical Church including, if not especially, missions/missionaries (yup, I said it), the California "McMansion" trend, rainy season, the American waist line, my ability to raise children and my competency to speak Spanish.  

I know, I'm a jerk.  I hope this doesn't seem overtly negative.  The whole point is that we have too much hope in Christ to limit ourselves to "cautious optimism" or to settle for things the way they are.  If we want to see radical change, we have to hate the way things are enough to hope against hope that it can change.  

Sorry, I get all fired up when I'm PMSing, but I'm hopefully pessimistic that my next blog will be more light hearted. :)  





 

10.28.2008

Everybody laughs in English

I think one of the hardest things we've had to endure in our time here is loneliness.  I know, I know...you were hoping I was going to say something more dramatic like Dengue Fever, or giant tarantulas, or maybe spear-chucking natives.  Sorry, loneliness wins.  Maybe if I lived a more death defying life my loneliness wouldn't be such a prevailing factor.  If I were an Indiana Jones type missionary - you know, traversing the jungles, guarding my limbs from terrifying creatures and my head from vicious cannibals while handing out Bible tracts and Christmas music - then I doubt I would have time to pine away for the friends I left behind. Surely I would be too busy (fashioning whips from snake skins and cooking up a little beetle porridge for supper) to notice that my companions were nowhere to be found.  But the fact is, my life is too suburban to be exciting and too simple to keep me from being preoccupied enough to not notice my recurring state of aloneness.  

I do have friends here.  There is a great community of people that we work alongside and hang out with on occasion.  I am not suffering from a lack of community.  I think it's more a lack of depth, of intimacy, of knowing what the limits are - what's safe or not safe to say, a lack of knowing and being known.   

The language barrier doesn't help.  It's hard to make friends when you are too afraid to open your mouth for fear of whatever butchered, half-baked, incoherent Spanish might come out. I am always left feeling like I can't express myself to my would-be Tico friends.  The last time we were in the states, my brother asked a wise question as we talked about my ongoing second language acquisition:  "Can you be funny in Spanish?"  The answer is absolutely not!  Sarcasm, quick whit, snappy come backs - it all gets lost in the strained and stuttered bumble of words that make their way painfully out of my mouth.  I can barely order a Happy Meal, let alone crack a joke.  I don't know why humor is so important to me, but it is.  I feel the most connected with other people when we are laughing together.  I hide my "I don't get it" face as I laugh along with the group, or nod and smile when the whole church erupts in laughter at something that the (apparently) hilarious pastor has said.  Even when I have NO IDEA what is going on, I laugh.  I can't help it.  Whoever said that laughter is contagious was right.  Although, I have also heard that laughter is the best medicine.  Wouldn't scientist wet their pants at the discovery of contagious medicine?  

Once, right after we arrived and were struggling through our Spanish studies, we were walking down the street when two guys emerged from a gated yard.  They were both laughing really hard.  As we passed them, Jamison grabbed my hand and said, "Hey Mom, everybody laughs in English." 

What a relief.  Okay, maybe it's not English, but he's right.  We all laugh in the same language. Thank God for that.  Best medicine...viral contagion...whatever....I'm just happy that there is a reprieve from loneliness.  In increments of chuckely, giggly, rosy cheeked minutes, I feel less and less lonely.  I have hope that the shallow beginnings of friendship I have now are soon to be deeply satisfying relationships.  My spanish is coming along, slowly but surely.  I think I'll even have a real conversation some day.  We'll see.  But for now, I will laugh, smile, nod....sorta play along...as I get to know people and they get to know me.  

10.23.2008

Old wives and their tails...er...tales.

The first time I went grocery shopping here I was surprised to find the eggs neatly stacked on shelves in an ordinary isle in the store. Completely unrefrigerated and almost naked without their tidy styrofoam cartons keeping them ordered by twelves.  I had never seen eggs in sets of fifteen before, but that was unimportant.  What mattered was that I was quite certain that eggs should be refrigerated!  Right?   

Well, as it turns out,  the answer is "No".  It's true that eggs stay fresh longer when refrigerated, but eggs can stay on the kitchen counter until they are used.  In fact, most countries do not cool eggs for transport or storage before the point of sale.  Okay, my point is that everybody lives with a bit of misinformation.  We all do things, often without question, that we learned as children.  Eat chicken soup for a cold, put butter on a burn, maybe avoid walking under a ladder. Superstitions can be powerful - even when they're totally stupid.  With that said, here are a couple of my favorites from Costa Rica:

> Going out in the cold when your body is warm will cause injury or illness. 
We have a friend here that believes whole heartedly that he hurt his shoulder by doing this (even though he had been using a chainsaw the day before, he insisted that it was because of the warm body/cold air thingy), and another who is convinced that her ongoing stomach problems are the result of working in a hot kitchen and then walking in the cool night air.

> Taking a hot shower makes you age faster.
For real?  I don't even get this one at all.

> If you are sick, you need sunshine. 
When I had pneumonia, I heard this often.  I did make it to the beach once during that time, much to the dismay of my doctor who noticed my freshly tanned skin and reminded me that he had prescribed rest, not surfing.     

> Coconut milk cures....well....everything. 
Stomach ache, head ache, urinary tract infection?  No problem!  We'll just hack the top off  this green coconut, jam a straw in it, and as soon as you're done sucking down the nauseatingly sweet liquid you'll be back on track!  

When I get home from the store, I still put the eggs in the fridge.  Mostly to save counter space, but partly because there is a sense of peace that comes with doing things the way I always have, the way my Mom did.  I think it helps me feel at home here.  I remember once, years ago, when one of my boys got stung by a bee, I made a paste of baking soda and water, assuring him that it would help, but knowing full well that it was a placebo.  The look on his face told a different story though, one of relief and reassurance.  Clearly he felt better, whether or not the funny paste actually did anything.  

I wonder what the Tico's think as they dart into my house to escape the cold air after a long hot day of curing the sniffles by drinking from a coconut in the sun.  When they notice that my eggs are in the fridge, do they think I'm stupid for buying into such sillyness?  



10.20.2008

Raising Nerd Kids

It was an issue we had to address before we left the states. We looked at it from every angle. But all we could see was high-water pants, bowl hair cuts, and a serious lack of social skills. Yeah, we're talking about missionary kids.

We had to admit that we were sincerely jeopardizing our kids cool factor by taking them out of the suburbs they had grown up in. Like all wild animals, we knew that it would be impossible to return them to their natural habitat once they grew accustomed to living elsewhere. What would happen to our free thinking, long haired, trash talking boys in a super conservative Christian school? And, would they ever be able to relate to their own kind again? Were our kids doomed to a lifetime of wearing too-short shorts and tucked in polos? Would they ever know pop culture and hip music? Or would they become hopelessly enthralled with mariachi and entangled in the tawdry stories of the telenovelas? Who could say. It was a risk we would have to take.

14 months into our Latin American life, I can tell you this much: My children are the coolest missionary kids I have ever met. True, they are different from other kids their age. They know that a visa is not a credit card, they complain in two languages, and they occasionally ask about the current exchange rate. But, at the same time they are remarkably "normal" - they're obsessed with video games, they wish they could eat McDonalds three times a day, and they use borderline bad words ("freakin", "hecka" , and "what the crap") when they think I can't hear them.

It seems they've struck a balance. They are neither spoiled material driven suburbanites, nor ultra unrelateable religious freaks. They have learned to walk the line between the pleated polyester school uniforms they wear in the morning and the plaid chinos they change into each afternoon. They are learning Romans 12:18 by living it. "If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

I may be raising nerd kids, kids that take an interest in foreign policy, kids that have opinions about creation vs intelligent design, kids that don't have access to the newest electronics or hottest playlists. But, if that means that they are growing into men who will be able to hold tightly to their convictions while also being peacemakers in the world around them, I am more than satisfied.


10.16.2008

Bummer.

I was going to go work with the chicitillos in Las Cuadras this morning. So I got my kiddos off to school - Stephen leaves at 6:15 and the bus picks up Dyl and J at 7:05 - and then I raced about trying to get ready and out the door on time. I know that doesn't sound hard, but, for any man that might read this, "I got ready" does not mean "I put on my pants". Other wives and moms will recognize that getting ready actually means starting a load of laundry, brushing teeth while making coffee, picking dried-up cereal off the table, throwing a forgotten lunch in the fridge, paying bills on line, collecting dirty socks from under the sofa, putting on a little makeup and some relatively clean clothes, pulling hair into a messy pony-tail (an act so remarkably complicated that I will need to address it in another blog) and sometimes - at least in my case - doing last nights dishes. I did all of this in approximately 34 minutes. And I finished just in time to run up the steep hill from my house to the bus stop in the pouring rain. Woohoo, go me!

Did I mention the pouring rain? It's POURING rain today. So, as I'm standing in the rain, panting from the run, and carrying a messenger bag full of art supplies and snacks for the munchkins, my phone rings. Our plans have been canceled. No kids program today. Bummer. Now I'm all wet and kinda sweaty. And while I probably shouldn't be happy, I sorta am, because, as you may have noticed, "getting ready" did not include "take a shower" or "drink coffee".

It looks like we'll be able to connect with DavĂ­d and the adorable little twerps in Las Cuadras tomorrow morning - YAY! We're gonna make a paper chain and talk about friendship and helping one another.

In the meantime, I'm gonna enjoy a shower and a cup of coffee which I have gladly reheated in the microwave. There is always plenty for me to do at home. So I'm sure I won't have any trouble filling my time this morning. But I think I'll take a few minutes to relish this unexpected down time.

10.14.2008

Note to self: Learn Spanish.

So I went to meet a Spanish tutor this morning. We reviewed irregular conjugations for preterito perfecto. It was painful. But, she did teach me some bad words in Spanish which I'm sure I'll find useful. And, her command of English swear words was....well.....wow. Let me just say, I've never known anyone that could fit "m-f-er" into conversation so naturally. But, we have to remember that swearing is viewed differently in different cultures, so what seemed a bit shocking to me was just "girl talk" to her. Next week we're moving on to the 6th rule of subjunctive and dirty jokes. Haha.

Yesterday, Jamison came home from school with a bite mark on the inside of his arm:
"Jamison, how'd that happen?"
-"Mom, Mom, Mom!!! You know how you only give someone a Nuggy in friendship?"
"Do you mean a Noogie? "
-"Yeah,...a Nuggy.....,but you only give Nuggys to friends cuz it's a friendly thing, for friends."
"OooooKaaaayy?"
- "Well, I was giving my FRIEND a Nuggy, like friends do" (Here he demonstrates by holding an imaginary head in a HEAD LOCK, while wildly grinding his knuckles into the top of aforementioned head) "when he BIT me for NOOOOO reason!!!"
"It seems to me that he had a reason."
-"No, Mom, Nuggys are, like, a sign of friendship!"
"Does your "friend" know this?"
-"He does now! But the teacher made me apologize."
"Good! You can't go around grabbing people in headlocks. Even if you think it's nice." (Something else to put on the list of things I'd never imagine saying out loud.)

Unfortunately, that little episode could be used to illustrate a scenario that repeats itself over and over again, worldwide, in Christian Missions. Missionaries swoop in, thinking they know how things ought to be done, and before you know it, they've got a whole community in a headlock, happily grinding away with sharp knuckles while the people wince and writhe to get away. And when they finally bite their way to freedom, the missionary steps back, surprised at the ungratefulness of the people they've come to help.
Now, the smart ones will apologize and explain that they were just trying to be friends and ask the people how it's done. Others will get offended, or angry. They will insist that they were right from the start and that it is the people who should be apologizing.

I've met both types here, the ones who see their errors, and the ones who don't. You would be amazed at the damage we can leave in our wake when we are insensitive to the culture of the people around us.

Today, I'm especially happy to have people in my life here like my new tutor, Grace. Friends who are taking the time to teach me important things like "when you greet someone, gently put your right cheek to their right cheek and make a chirpy kissing sound" and things that seem silly, like "if you knock something out of someone's hands and they mutter the word 'puta' (whore), don't worry about it, that's just what we say when something happens by accident". Who knew??? They are teaching me how to be more Tica and less Gringa, and in doing so, I'm learning to be more Jesus and less Jamie.

10.09.2008

We live like Kings.

If you had told me yesterday that my standard of living is ridiculously high, I would have laughed in your face. True, it's hard to stay grounded and humble when you've been without electricity for 30 hours, reading to your kids and tucking them in by flash light, taking cold showers, and standing by while all of the milk, meat, and produce rot in the fridge. Do you know what a headache you can get from playing solitaire (with actual cards) by candlelight? I do.

The truth is, I felt very inconvenienced by the whole episode. We're already living like Amish, I thought, with our utter lack of modern domestics. We've been TV, Ipod, and video game free for about a month now. But without electricity we had achieved near Caveman status. I have to admit, I was pissed-off for being put upon in such a way. When the lights finally blinked back into existence I was so relieved that I could FINALLY get back to life the way it should be - easy!

This morning, I met shame head on as I stepped out of the car in an area known as Las Cuadras. Basically, it's the ghetto. It's where thousands of people live crammed together in tin shack after tin shack. The muddy paths are lined on both sided by streams of sewage, food is scarce, and electricity is hard to come by. Every tiny, one room shanty could house a family of 6 or 7, plus dogs. The women sweep the dirt floors and cover the open doorways with sheets. There are often no windows, bathrooms, or even kitchens.

We, myself and 4 others, had come to help David, a young Costa Rican, to run a ministry for the children this morning. We played games, told a Bible story, and did a little craft with them. Of course the kids were adorable - so cute I wanted to sneak them out in my pockets. Take them away from their hard, dark, hungry little lives. I imagined for a minute what it would be like to bring these kids to my house. To walk them through the door, ushering them into the kitchen (which is bigger than many of their houses) to offer them a cold drink out of the full fridge, or a snack off the pantry shelf.

How stinkin' rich would they think I am?

Even without electricity, my house is like a castle compared to the scrap metal walls and fiberglass roofs of the houses in Las Cuadras. Here I am, worried about getting too fat because I eat TOO MUGH. I complain that I am sick of my clothes when much of my closet sits untouched. And God help you if you shut off my electricity - I'll curse the day you were born! Because "I shouldn't have to live like this!". But.....apparently....it's okay if thousands of my neighbors live like that.

Wow. I've never felt like a bigger turd. I can't tell you how grateful I am that God is gently (and occasionally not so gently) teaching me to look at life in a different way, challenging me to redevelop my system of values. The truth is, there is nothing wrong with living on a dirt floor. But there is something wrong with thinking that I am somehow above it.

I can't wait to return next week to play with and talk to the kids. I have so much to learn from them.

~j

ps. two blogs in one week! are you proud of me? ;)

10.06.2008

wow....i suck at this.

I have probably started about 9 new blogs since I last posted on this one. And by started new blogs, I mean that I created a new gmail account, and then a new blogspot account where I wrote a little introductory message, and then promptly lost or forgot my username and password leaving me unable to access said blog. Lame. I know. But here we are.

So I guess the appropriate thing to do is to play catch-up (considering that it has now been almost a year and a half since we picked up and left our home in Folsom and moved to Costa Rica). In a nutshell, my life has looked something like this:

arriveinCostaricacryfortwoweeksitstartstorainwestartlanguageschoolwalkamillionmilescookcleanstudypraywearlotsofwetclothesdohomeworkandtaketestscelebratesmalltriumphsmissfamilyandfriendscryquicktriptoPanamacomehomewithparasitesyuckhaveaquietChristmascryStevegoestoworkacrosstownthesunsomesoutsmilepraygobacktoschoolhavepneumoniafor6weeksbustriptoNicaraguameetmybabyneiceinCaliforniamoveacrosstownSteveworksandworksandworksfamilytriphomeriancomesbackfindschoolforboysworkworkworkhousegetsrobbedcellphonegetssnaggedpursegetstakenhouseaninternsmilelaughhireatutorworkcookcleancrypray......and it goes onandonandon......

If it seems hard to get through, that's because it was.

This was a year bursting with new experiences, good and bad, happy and sad, triumphant and devastating. It's funny for me to reread the first(last) post, now that I can do so looking back through all of those moments. I sounded so brave, so...ready. Now I can see that I didn't really know what I was getting "ready" for. I wonder if I would have been quite so excited had I known that we would be as lonely as we have been, or that I would feel as dumb as I often do, or that my children would suffer at times as they have. Don't get me wrong, I am not ungrateful for the opportunities that we have here. Retrospect can be a powerful thing, either fueling our regrets or renewing our passions. I choose to be renewed.

So as I write this, it is with a full (although occasionally heavy) heart. A heart that is renewed by the memories of God's clear call on our life as a family. It is for that reason alone that we are still able to say "Thank you, God, for bringing us here."

With all that said, moving forward I'm excited to be able to bring you bits of life here. Right now we are in the middle of HEAVY rainy season. The temp hovers around 73 degrees day and night. Mold grows on everything i.e. shoes, clothes, belts, wood furniture, walls. fruits and veggies are abundant as always, but we are missing mango which is currently out of season. Forgetting that it is fall in the states, I was SO surprised to find a PUMPKIN at the market yesterday (which I plan to carve with the boys on Oct 31 and then bake the next morning so we can have pie for thanksgiving). When I bought it, the people at the counter asked what in the world I was going to do with this strange thing. I wish you could have seen the look on their faces when I told them I would be making dessert with it! Our camera was stolen earlier this month, but I'll try to post pics of our "pumpkin pie process" if we get a new camera in time.

Hopefully, I'll be blogging again soon. So I better go write down my username and password......

Pura Vida,
~j