Saturday, July 28, 2012

Living In Brokenness and Vulnerability

             One of the books that we had to read to complete our training with International Teams was The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero. He’s a Pastor of an incredibly diverse church in Queens, New York. The book was primarily written for those in ministry, but the concepts apply to anyone, really-- especially those of us who are part of a church. And we are all ‘the church,’ right? Therefore, we should all desire to be living life with one another in a healthy manner.

            I digress. One of the principles Scazzero addresses is ‘Living in brokenness and vulnerability.’ I took some time thinking this through. The fact is, I’m willing to be vulnerable. I can share about struggles I’ve been through, sins I’ve committed, my past shortcomings… but these are all things that are behind me. As I dug deeper, I realized I’m fine with sharing issues of my past (even as recent as last week or yesterday) because now I’ve overcome it. God is victorious! I’m spotless and perfect again! Yesterday? Sure, there were problems… but today!? Well, today the Jim who’s got everything together is back!

            My point is that I’ve realized I have a hard time sharing my brokenness of today. I can be vulnerable about my shortcomings of yesterday because they’re already over. But what I’m struggling with today… Well, I’m not sure if I’m willing to be vulnerable enough for you to see my current brokenness. And yet, that’s what we’re called to. We’re called to carry one another’s burdens. But how can we do that if we don’t take off our armor, lower our defenses, and be willing to share our soft, vulnerable side?

            So, this is me being vulnerable. Things have been really good here in Costa Rica. Our apartment is more than adequate, there are great people at the school that we truly call friends, Kaia is letting us get a good nights’ sleep, and Suzy still cooks wonderful food in spite of the scarcity of certain items and new foods we’re trying.

            And then there’s Spanish.

            Learning to speak a language comfortably and ‘learning Spanish’ are two entirely different things. I could list off all of the grammatical rules, vocabulary, conjugations, and phonetics I’ve learned since being here; but that doesn’t equate to me comfortably speaking Spanish with any passerby on the street. Sitting in a classroom and learning every nitty gritty detail about how to fly an airplane doesn’t mean you can walk into a plane for the first time 8 months later and confidently fly a plane full of passengers.
            This is what I’m currently struggling with. I’m ‘learning’ Spanish, but that doesn’t mean I can speak Spanish incredibly well yet. It’s not that I can’t speak any Spanish, but if you were to give me a written test and an oral test, you’d see where I'm not as strong. A couple weeks back I heard a word mentioned at least 10 times in a day: miedo. I got out my dictionary to look up what it meant. The meaning of miedo is fear.

            That pretty much sums it up: fear. Fear of sounding silly. Fear of saying the wrong word. Fear of not representing myself well. Fear of not representing Christ well. I've realized the wall that I'm staring down is simply fear. Have I made strides forward? Yes, I have. I am taking more chances... but getting back to the whole 'vulnerable' thing, the truth is that it's challenging. And I have a hard time just opening my mouth and making those mistakes that I need to make. And I don't always want to. I'm struggling with it.

            So I have to respond. I could simply settle for the status quo. But I'm deciding to respond by forcing myself into an uncomfortable, stretching situation. Next trimester I'll be doing a program through the school called 'FARO.' FARO requires students to interview a minimum of 8 people throughout the community each week. The intention is to meet with the same 8 - 10 people every week and have intentional conversations where you apply the grammar you're learning. 

            We were not called to a life of fear. Isaiah 41 says, " I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God." In Him, we are more than conquerors. So, with all of my might, I will not give in to fear. At the same time, I must humble myself to admit to you that I have weaknesses. I have flaws. And I do give in to fear. There are days where I would rather sit inside with a cup of coffee, read some books, watch a movie... 

             And I will afford myself grace. I know it's okay and good to step back and recover, be still, and be filled. I also know it's not by my own strength or will that I can succeed and be so bold. It's only through Christ that I can confidently choose the path of more resistance. 

            So pray for me. Pray for us. Pray that God would give us boldness. Pray that we would make choices that aren't necessarily our preference: but are good. Pray that spanish would click. That we would have 'aha' moments and realize how much we've learned and that we're doing well. And pray that we would have the humility to admit to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when we're struggling. And that we would come before our Lord and Savior and lay those burdens down at His feet. 

Pray that we would come to know what it means to live in brokenness and vulnerability.


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Monday, July 16, 2012

3 Crosses Hike

There is a hike on the outskirts of San Jose that is very popular with students here at the Spanish Language Institute called the "Three Crosses" hike. It's a three hour hike from the start to the summit and there's a 2,000 foot elevation gain. The highest point on the trail is about 6,900 feet. Along the way there are three large cross sculptures that you pass. The story goes that 'way back when' the mountain was showing signs of "turning" into a volcano. Therefore, the locals decided to put up the three crosses to appease the gods. Apparently, it "worked" because the mountain has yet to turn into a volcano (in reality, there's never been any volcanic activity in this set of mountains). But the crosses make for a good destination and story.

Anyway, several students have gone on the hike and Jim and I kept wishing that we could go, but it's generally about a 4.5 hour hike. When you factor in the time it takes to get to and from the trailhead on public bus we're talking at least 6 hours of being away from the house. Since Kaia isn't eating solid foods yet and we've unsuccessfully attempted to introduce a bottle to her, we were either going to have to do the hike separately or make it a whole family affair. Not being too excited about the former, we decided we wanted to do the hike together and chose the latter:-) 

One of Jim's classmates, Paul, was planning to do the hike for the third time this last Saturday and another buddy of his, Fred, was going, too. Eager to do the hike before the onslaught of the upcoming rainy season, we jumped at the opportunity. After talking with several students we figured I'd only need to feed Kaia once while one the trail, which is totally do-able, so we mentally prepared ourselves for a refreshing day outside of the city.

While it was refreshing, the 4.5 hour hike we planned for definitely turned into an 8 hour adventure! 

We left the house at 6:30am to meet Paul and Fred at the bus station and we were hiking by 7:15am. After taking some time to stop at the first two crosses and take pictures, the hike up to the summit was gorgeous and went according to plan. We arrived at the third cross in a timely fashion. We sat and had a snack while I took the time to change Kaia's diaper and feed her. The plan was to continue the hike down the backside of the mountain and follow a river valley out to another village where we would take a different bus back to San Jose. This is a somewhat common route to take, but there are points along the trail where it becomes rather unclear on how to descend into the river valley.  Our friend Paul, the guy who had hiked the trail twice before and was serving as our guide for the day, admitted in the beginning that it was a little fuzzy to him exactly where to descend in to the valley (the last time he did the hike there were some Costa Rican teenage boys that befriended him and offered him the "shortcut", which was a descent of running straight down the steepest part of the mountain from the summit...not something I'm sure I would've been willing to do on my own let alone with our little sweet one). Plus, we wanted to take our time, make a day of it and enjoy being outside of the city. So, we continued down the backside of the mountain in pursuit of the "trail" that went down and out by the river (I put trail in quotations because we never found it).

We made our way along and could see the river valley to which we wanted to get, and it seemed that we were on a well-established trail, but suddenly it came to a dead end and we found ourselves at a stream that fed in to the larger river. However, there was no safe way to follow the stream down to the river. We were in good spirits, but were admittedly getting a little tired. It was about 11am at that point and we decided to back-track a little bit to see where we had missed our turn-off. About 15 minutes later we stopped to assess our location and saw a trail about 75 yards below us that appeared to lead down to the river bed. We bush-whacked our way down a steep grassy meadow (didn't take a picture of this one as many of you would probably not have approved) to the trail and followed it for another good 25 minutes only to find ourselves at another dead end!! We could hear the river, but after looking around for awhile there was no reasonable (safe) way to get through the thick vegetation. We stopped and ate lunch and as we sat we slowly came to the realization that a) Fred hadn't brought ANY food with him and ran out of water back at the summit! and b) the only option we had was to hike directly back UP the mountain the way we had come in order to get back on the main trail. We were about 5 hours into the hike at this point; legs were tired and the thought of hiking back up hill was, well, shall we say it didn't sound too fun...especially with the extra weight of a sweet little baby!!

Slowly but surely we made our way back up to the last known point, took a break to feed Kaia, and considered our options. At that point we were about 6 hours into the hike and as a group decided we should continue to ascend back up to the summit and hike back out the way we came in. None of us had anything to get back to and even though we were physically tired, we were genuinely enjoying being outside of the city and in God's creation. Plus, the views from the top were incredible, so we all agreed that we wouldn't mind soaking them in one more time. 

I have to say, it felt good to have a plan. I mean, I never felt  truly hopeless at any point in this adventure...I knew we'd get back to "civilization", we still had a lot of daylight left, and there was no sign of rain or storm clouds forming (it realistically can rain every afternoon here at this time of year) put it plainly, we were lost for a few minutes in there and by choosing to go up and over we at least knew what we were getting in to rather than continuing to explore the unknown.

There were points in the final ascent back up to the third cross that we all started to feel considerably fatigued. I repeated to myself the same words that I remember saying while training and running in a half marathon a few years ago, "Just put one foot in front of the other...just think about taking one step." When I do that, accomplishing the overall task seems a lot more doable. I can will my body to take one step pretty easily, but to will it to ascend another 1,000 feet with my baby strapped to my front is another story.

Well, I don't want to get too dramatic about this because we arrived back home safely in the end and God continually answered our prayers by preventing any injuries from happening, Kaia didn't poop or spit up all over me while we were on the trail, and she stayed in a reasonably good mood considering she had never spent anywhere close to 8 hours straight in the Ergo carrier before!

So it was an adventure and we were tired at the end of the day, but I can honestly say we were able to enjoy it, too. It was so invigorating to be out in the mountains again. And it served as such a good reminder of the passion we have for the outdoors and how effective of a tool it can be to illuminate His Truths. We start this week being filled with a renewed energy and excitement for the ministry to which God is calling us in Ecuador and the reminder that He truly does give us the sufficient grace we need to get through each's not by my own strength that we ascended 2,000 feet, descended 1,000, and then went up another 1,000 only to go down 2,000 feet again! God supplied the sufficient physical strength I needed in my wobbly legs to safely get my daughter and I back to the bus stop...and He does the same thing daily in my spiritual journey as well. He gives me the strength I need in my feeble heart to take one step at a time as I attempt to continually walk closer and closer with Him. Praise God for His gift of supplying the EXACT amount of grace we need for each day!!

We ended the day by inviting Paul and Fred over for some pizza and we watched 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'. Oh yeah, did I mention our neighborhood had no running water this weekend? There's no better way to finish off the day than with a cold bucket shower, eh? :-) 

It was a great way to spend a Saturday! Check out the photos below to see the incredible views we had and thanks for reading about this crazy adventure!

Waiting for the bus @ 6:30am. 

Paul: friend; classmate; guide for the day.

The first cross.

View from the first cross.

Family pic just above the first cross. 

View of the countryside on the way up to the second cross.

The red rock reminded us of the movie "127 hours".

We made it to cross #2.

I wonder if she's the youngest mountaineer to summit this mountain...

View from the second cross.

Another view from Cross #2.

We made it to the top!

Cross #3.

Family pic taken as we start to descend on the backside of the mountain.

View from the backside of the mountain.

Hiking down.

A view of the valley we planned to take out.

Stopping for lunch.

View of the river valley again after hiking back up to the last known point on the trail.

Kaia playing with a stick for the first time while we take a pit stop to feed and change her.

Excellent view of the first cross after we summited back to the top of the mountain and descended down on the trail we started on.

-Suzy <><