Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Making Me Pay

[what’s brewing today: a bitter brew-ha-ha]

As much as I try to assume the best of the people around me, there are times when I just feel the need to call a spade a spade. Veronica is notorious for her bad attitude. Unbeknownst to me, when I arrived on the scene several years ago as the girlfriend of the well-known missionary kid, I had no idea the problems I was stirring up with her. She was very friendly with my-then-boyfriend, Jason, but her attitude toward me wasn’t pretty.

How was I to know that she had set her heart on him years ago?

Perhaps I was na├»ve to believe that she would have moved on by the time Jason and I returned to work here as a married couple several years later, but it soon became evident that she was still harboring a bitter attitude towards me. I did my best to demonstrate kindness to her, hoping on some level that it did feel like burning coals being heaped upon her head. Because her attitude had persisted for weeks after our arrival, I was a bit suspicious when she approached me after Bible study with a sweet smile on her face. Feeling that I’d made noticeable progress in my language learning, I was a bit offended when she said, “I know you don’t usually understand everything correctly, so I’m going to talk to Jason and he can tell you what I’m saying.”

Smile, I told myself. Heap those coals, those burning coals.

Through my husband’s translation, she explained in an oh-so-sweet tone that she would like me to be the madrina of her tournament volleyball team. What would this entail? Purchasing their volleyball uniforms, paying their tournament entrance fees and providing refreshments during their games. She smiled at both Jason and I and restated what an honor it would be for her if I would accept this role. Once it was explained, thanks to Jason's translation of course, she looked me in the eye and wanted my answer. I uttered a few um’s, feeling rather uncomfortable as a group of church members looked on, all waiting for my response. I glanced at Jason, my eyes begging for help, but he encouraged me to make my own decision and answer her on my own.

In that moment, I was amazed at the number of thoughts that can fly through one’s mind in a matter of seconds. Who does this girl think she is? She’s treated me like trash since the day I met her, and now in her moment of need she pays me this great “honor” of being the madrina? Please, you aren’t asking because of any relationship you have me, you’re asking because I’m an American and you want my money. Or is this your opportunity to strike back out of your jealousy over Jason? And the nerve you have to ask me in front of a group of people, in the church, after insulting my ability to understand you!

I’m not giving you a penny!

I shot another glance at Jason, imagined a scoopful of hot coals, smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” And that’s when it started-- the process of correcting my own attitude and changing my motivation from hot coals to demonstrating love as I'm called to do. I could have said no, and I don’t think that would’ve been the wrong thing to do, but since I said yes it was time for Miss Madrina to work it out with the Lord.

This was the first, but not the last time that the madrina / padrino issue surfaced for us, and it remains a cultural element that is difficult for me to understand. The literal translation is “godmother” or “godfather” but practically it puts you in the seat of financial responsibility for the given event – birthday parties, weddings, and apparently sports teams. It originated as honorable title, and I believe it is still practiced that way among many people here. However, I usually want to ask people, “Is this really about me, or is it that fact that I’m an American and you think I have endless financial resources?” I feel selfish when I get so flustered by the requests, but my issue is not with the money aspect of it because, comparatively, we do have far more financial resources than those in the community we work in.

My issue is with the feeling of being objectified as a money source. I don’t want to be seen that way, but ultimately that is something I can’t control. Jason and I want to use the financial resources we have to support the people around us in their times of need – but I just don’t see a volleyball team as being a need that I want to use my money for. I caved under the pressure around me and said yes to something I felt uncomfortable with.

Veronica later presented me with a plastic trophy that the team won at the tournament, a consolation gift which confirmed that my first madrina experience was indeed about my money, not me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Let's Go Home

[what's brewing today: fresh ground]

When we first started settling into our house, I would lay in bed and wonder how long it would take to feel comfortable and safe here. The walls were all bare, we had couches but no table or chairs, and the empty space felt so huge and impersonal. While the electric fence and metal spikes that surrounded the house were there to make me feel safe, their very presence was having the reverse effect because it highlighted the need for them. I was paranoid over every sound in our hollow house. I wondered if this could ever feel like home.

About a week later, we spent a long day running around town searching for furniture and other missing necessities like trash cans, a broom, and cleaning supplies. Everything in this country is sold in certain sections of town – I use terms like “Desk Row”, “Bed Street”, “Plastic Goods Avenue” to describe it best. You must spend all day driving from one section to the next in order to complete just a portion of the shopping list. It is exhausting and after a few hours, I usually have a headache from the excessive pollution intake that has occurred.

We stopped at a market and were contemplating whether we should look for a few last household items like nails, toilet seats, etc. before giving up. Having no more energy left, I announced that I just wanted to go home. That word caught my attention the moment it left my mouth – home. I had just referred to the house with an electric security fence, ice cold floors, and no hint of decoration as “home.” But as we were standing in the middle of a foreign place with car horns blaring and street vendors shoving their goods in front of my face, that house felt like a haven from the chaos around me. It felt like home.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Tear Collector

[what's brewing today: the stuff that keeps you up at night]

It was late and high time to be falling asleep, but I could not get my thoughts to slow down. My sister delivered her first baby today, a precious baby girl. This was a day that we dreamed of together since we were old enough to talk. I couldn’t believe my sister was now a mom, but even more difficult to believe was the fact that I would be moving out of the country, thousands of miles away from this precious baby in just 6 weeks. I knew all along it would be difficult to go, but until I held that little bundle in my arms tonight I didn’t know just how difficult it would be.

My heart was aching, and suddenly the weight of moving away from my family seemed too heavy to bear. My throat was sore from holding in my tears, and I decided to make my heartache known. “Honey?” I quietly cried out to my husband. No response. “Honey?” I said again, a bit louder. Nothing. How could this be? I feel like I’m on the edge of an emotional breakdown and my husband is sleeping peacefully next to me? I need to talk – I need to be heard, right now. I contemplate waking him, but know I will only be disappointed with his groggy response when I explain the reason he’s awake.

So I lay there, alone.

The tears start pouring down my cheeks and before I know it I’m shaking with emotion. I’m simply overwhelmed with the thought of leaving, and sad that I’m alone in this pain tonight. As I lay there crying, I suddenly have a thought so clear that I know it is not of my own mind. “You’re not alone. I’m here with you. I am the one who collects your tears, whether anyone else in the world knows of them or not. I know your heartache and I’ve promised to be near to the brokenhearted.”

I have never audibly heard God speak to me, but I am often spoken to in this way –a pressing thought that I know is not of my own thinking. As I silently interact with those thoughts, my conversations with God begin. “Oh Lord, how quickly I forget that you are the only one who truly knows my heart and the joys and pains within it. I had no idea how hard it would be to leave my family – I feel devastated over it tonight.”

My thoughts continue from there, guided by the Lord I am sure. Oh, how fortunate I am to have a family that I am grieved to leave behind. The orphaned and abandoned children that we will soon be living among do not know this feeling – they have no family members to love, nor family to love them in return. The capacity to feel this pain is a blessing that devastatingly sets me apart from thousands and thousands of children in this world.

I start to realize that this broken spot in my heart has been given to me as a bottle to collect my tears and grief in as I move forward in this journey. This bottle of tears will be turned into worship as they have been this night – I can pour them out in prayer and love for these children. I can be thankful for the capacity to grieve and intercede for those who do not know what it is to grieve separation from family members.

It is a holy moment as I lay there in bed – God has shown himself to me. He has seen my tears. He has come near to the brokenhearted...me.

And so I pray for the orphans we will soon be serving:

Oh Lord, may they someday know the depth of love that you have for them.

May they know the longing for family they feel in their hearts is a metaphor for the longing you’ve put in each of us to know you and the love you have for us.

May you allow me to love them in such a way that they will know what it feels like to grieve when we part ways in the future.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bye House...

[what's brewing today: Americano, no room for cream]

The first tangible step towards our move to the mission field was taken today. All the boxes are packed, and my husband and I are headed to live with my parents until we actually fly out of the country. Every item that we own has been individually touched and categorized accordingly:

-Need for the 3 months before we leave, but not on the field
-Need for the next 3 months and on the field
-Need on the field but not now, and
-Store until we end up back in the US someday

Some decisions were clear, some were difficult, and some were surprisingly emotional. But what has truly brought the lump to my throat as I stand in the living room of our little house for the last time is the emptiness that seems to surround me. These walls, this hard wood floor, the one bedroom and one bathroom have all represented “home” for me. We spent our first Christmas together in this house – we watched the seasons come and go here; we prayed together and made significant decisions here. And now the rooms are empty and every footstep echoes.

“Honey, are you okay?” asks my husband. I’m not sure – am I okay? I thought I was excited for this time to finally come, for the months of anticipation to kick into reality. But suddenly I’m overwhelmed by the significance of this moment. We’re walking away from everything that we know to be “home.” I want to sit on the floor and just linger – I can’t seem to walk out the door. One more night – let’s stay just one more night and sleep on the floor. Logical? No, but it feels as if this would ease the turmoil within.

How do I, born and raised right here in Colorado, explain this feeling to someone like my husband who has lived his life as an MK? He has never lived in one house for longer than 2 years – packing up and moving is as sentimental as getting an oil change for him. He is understanding of my emotions, but tries to explain that this isn’t something to be overly emotional about. “You know that if we stay here tonight, we’ll just have to do this tomorrow, right?” Yes, I know. But it feels like it would make this anxiety go away.

Soon we found ourselves leaning against the car, looking at the empty house - the porch light illuminating the number 3324 that have represented home for so long. I know we need to go, but I also know that I can’t just drive off. After all, what kind of counselor would I be if I didn’t take this opportunity to enlighten my husband on the significance of closure?

So I ask, “Do you remember the first time you ever had to pack up and leave your house, before it became routine? Didn’t you ever have the desire to call out, ‘Bye house!’ as you pulled away? We say those things as innocent children, but it’s because we feel the desire to say goodbye to things that are important to us. We’ve spent our first year as a married couple in this house – every time we look back on this year we’ll think of this house. Couldn’t we take a few minutes to remember the special moments we’ve had here?” What followed was a precious time, and I was thoroughly reminded of the steps that led us to this very moment. It’s no wonder that God instructs his people to remember, to look back and recall the ways that he has provided and brought them to their present situation.

We stood there together, shivering just a bit in the cool night air, waving and saying, “Bye House!” And I kept waving until we had turned the corner and the porch light slowly disappeared behind the trees. Bye house.


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