There is an awesome teaching in II Kings 6 about a borrowed axe head that fell into the water and the prophet Elisha was called to pray and bring it to the surface. It was a great concern to this group of prophets. Well…we ALL know what it is like to lose something important. Maybe something very valuable – either monetarily or because it holds special meaning, important content or… as it was for the company of prophets in II Kings 6…something borrowed that belonged to someone else.
So I wrote on Tuesday about my “lost notebook” that had all my grammar rules in it. I prayed this prayer from II Kings 6 as I do with anything I lose of particular importance. I learned this practice from a lady named Carolyn several years ago. You can read more about that prayer in the blog posting of when I lost my blackberry in Guatemala back in the earlier part of the year.
This post tonight is to say one thing: The notebook did swim!!! It floated right to the top on Wednesday morning when I walked in, looked down and noticed it on the floor of my tiny classroom. How did I not see it before? We don’t know. What we do know is that “the iron did swim” for Elisha and it swam for me this week too. God is so faithful. Don’t forget to ask for help …even when you lose something that you need to find.
Life is so full. I will only write of a few extraordinary moments today. It is my 9th day here in Xela, and my 7th day of spanish class. The teaching and learning are full immersion so I am with spanish speakers all the time. We don’t sit in a classroom all day long. We are there some of the time but we are also out walking, going to the store or just changing environments to keep the learning practical and full of energy. There are a few students who also speak English so we see each other at break or on excursions…but primarily we’re in espanol. I just got home from some time with a fellow student from the USA that speaks 5 languages and was giving me some tutoring on spanish. It was all in English and that was the most English I’ve been around since I arrived. Strange! My teacher tells me: 75% espanol, 25% English… Please!
Today I moved. That was part of the plan. And it was and is exactly the best thing. But leaving Lilian’s was harder than I thought it would be. The kids are playful. It’s a large family… about 8 coming and going from there (the kids are ages 2-5) and everyone within working age range does work and the household stays very busy. Anyway – the kids are a lot of fun – and I will miss them. It was a wonderful experience to be in the home of a “normal” Guatemalan family in Xela.
Lilian. My host madre for my first week of study. Lovely lady, great cook and amazing mother, grandmother and everything else. She has been hosting students for 20 years.
As I left today Lilian was standing in the doorway holding Paula up so she could wave goodbye. She was waving so hard and calling my name; I was fighting back the tears. Luis and Jaime from the school picked me up and drove me to my apartment which is only a few moments away. My goodness… what if I had stayed two weeks with them??? Those kids would have broken my heart!
My tears vanished the moment I walked in and saw my new “home” for the week. It is tiny, perfect and has a great view of Xela mountains, sky and city. Exactly the setting for what my mind and spirit need. I am so thankful! And I already have a neighbor who is here for the next 10 days. She arrived last night.
And so…the learning continues. I will visit Lilian’s again before I leave Xela. I will play with Paula and Diego and Atudo and Scooby Doo. But for now…for these moments that unfold into days…I will enjoy the solitude, beauty and space of yet another perspective of Guatemala. And here I will be listening for the whispers of a faithful and amazing God. Let it be.
There is something wonderful about ordinary life, no matter where it is. Ordinary offers something familiar and beautiful in the midst of all the unplanned, unexpected and extraordinary events that weave themselves into our lives. Some of those are welcome, others not so much.
“The shift to ordinary”, as I thought of it this morning, occurred for me on Monday this week and it has continued with an affirming culmination today. I was walking to go study…completely lost in thoughts of what I’ve learned about “ordinary life” so far, when I heard my name called from a van driving down the street. It was Adolfo!! I’ve never been so glad to see a familiar face. After 8 days in Xela, I finally see someone I know! He pulled over and we chatted for about 10 minutes. If that wasn’t a sure sign that things have “shifted” to ordinary life, I can’t imagine what is. It was like being at home…running into a friend at the grocery, on the street, at church, etc. The people who make up what we call our community, our circles, our friends.
So that was just the strong affirmation of the shift. Here are all the others. My “top ten” signs that tell me this experience is shifting into something called “ordinary” life. And right now, I praise God for “ordinary”!
1. I can find the bank AND go in and get money without help. I also know how much money I’m getting and spending. I’m slow but I can do it.
2. I know how to get my laundry done. Clean clothes are really nice to have. I’m here for a month…I can’t stay dirty that long. Smelling clean is important for meeting new people!
3. I have a favorite spot for coffee and study that rivals The Good Cup, complete with music on occasion, local as well as international “regulars. ” The afternoon/evening waitress knows me by name, and I know her: Noelia. Isn’t that beautiful?
4. I know where to go for oatmeal, organic peanut butter and eggs. I can shop, pay and sack my groceries…at least so far. (I haven’t had to buy much…just a few test runs).
5. I found a great running route with enough flat surface to be doable, hills for a little challenge and nice vistas of Xela’s mountains.
6. Almost every day I run into someone who I know from school while I’m walking to wherever I’m going. Many work at the school, some are fellow students and the others live in the house where I’m staying. People walk a LOT here..it’s how you get around.
7. I have a hard choice to make about what I’m going to spend my time doing this weekend. Somebody won’t like my choice and somebody will…isn’t that so “ordinary” life?
8. The los niños (children: Atudo, Diego & Paula) that live here and Scooby Doo (the Schnauzer) keep running into my room if the door is open to say “hello” and play.
9. I lost my awesome moleskin notebook where I had written ALL my grammar rules so far from the short 5 days of school! I returned to every place I was yesterday and did show and tell about how important it is that I find it. No luck so far:) Yes, I prayed the II Kings 6 prayer so I’m expecting it to rise to the top anytime now.
10. Walking down the street and hearing my name called from a van…looking up to see it is a friend I’ve known longer than 8 days!
All kinds of things come with “ordinary”. We complain of boredom, get frustrated with those we love most and generally think it might mean life is passing us by if something isn’t shaking up the norm. But in truth, it is the ordinary things of life that remind us how precious each moment is and how all those ordinary moments, hours and days actually create a beautiful life on earth. Let it be.
Some decisions are harder than others. There is nothing like being in a Third World country to help you see your obsesessions and weaknesses. It’s hard to admit the things I get really crazy about, and equally disturbing to realize how much security I draw from the conveniences of my daily life. For the past few days there hasn’t been any hot water in the house. That is not very unusual here, but in Xela it’s not hot like it is in the other parts of Guatemala where I’ve spent my time. At night it is in the 40’s…which means it is also that cold in the early morning. And most homes (this one included) do not have heat. It’s not really that cold in the house …but…taking a cold shower on a cold morning is where I meet myself in this place of weakness. I am actually very partial to hot showers!!! Hmmmm… how many more days am I thinking of no hot shower AND cool weather? Because a hot shower after sweating all day is not truly necessary, but a hot shower on a normal or cool day…that is a different story. But the animals adjust, right? And we didn’t always have hot water in the United States, right?
Then there is the issue of technology. Last night I attended services at the cathedral and most of the young adults I sat with had blackberries. They may not have hot water or trash pick up but technology reaches all over the world. And many of the cafe’s have internet access. All that said, yesterday I had a major (major in the same way as the hot water issue) issue with my technology and it wasn’t pretty. Something quit working and I felt like my arm was cut off. And I thought, “oh my goodness! what if I have the rest of the month like this!!!???” At first it doesn’t sound so bad, to be disconnected. But if you add to that: no one here that I know (mi amigo is working elsewhere in the country); no car to drive anywhere (not that I would know how to do that) ; no one to speak English in the house where I am staying; no store I can go in where they can communicate in English….etc., etc. Hahahaha…so I was struggling. I know..this doesn’t even sound like me. But if I’m not backpacking or hiking I really do expect or want these things to all be available. It’s just true.
Today all that is resolved. I do have new friends at the school from Taiwan with computer backgrounds. All was remedied after school today. And so… with my cold shower far behind me and all technology up and running once again…I have to say, I really need to take a long look in the mirror for what I’m depending on these days. Security can come from a lot of sources: family, friends, spouse, education, job, status, financial means, technology, language…the list goes on and on. But really my security is only to come from one source: God. Today as I was reading for my Life Journal the verse that caught my spirit was one where Jesus was praying for himself and his disciples. He said many important things in that prayer that redefine life for me. The two verses I wrote down this morning were: “I (Jesus) have brought you (God) glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (17:4) and “My prayer is not that you will take them (the disciples) out of the world but that you will protect them from the evil one.” (17:15)
What this does for me at the moment is twofold: First, it reminds me why I am here: “to complete the work you (God) gave me to do on earth”. Secondly, it tells me that while we are on earth God is protecting us because Christ prayed this on our behalf. That redefines a lot, answers many questions and maybe…just maybe… it will realign my spirit for today. Let it be. Where is your security coming from these days?
What better way to spend a Saturday than a rigorous hike up a volcanic crater so you can see a beautiful laguna? And so we did! Laguna Chicabal is a mysterious and lovely place where the fog hangs over the lake and the Mayan people hold ceremonies on the shore. The Mayan culture is an entire adventure of its own and each encounter I have gives me pause. Today that pause was the various “stations” of ceremonial expression that we came upon as we walked around the lake. The cross is the center of the altar for each one. At the cross are carefully placed flowers, corn, and other expressions of nature the people bring as they offer prayers and thanksgivings.
I’m not sure if this was the first time I’ve actually come upon one of their ceremonial altars… but this is the first time I have been struck by the cross. The cross is our identifying symbol as Christians. If we go to a church that doesn’t have a cross, within seconds someone will say, “where is the cross?” And for the Mayans the cross sets up the altar as a place where they set apart the distractions of the day and focus for sacred time. The water at the laguna is considered a sacred place for them so there is no swimming, no boats, no pollution. The water is beautiful and clear. The fog moves over and out many times throughout the day and night, creating a mysterious and ever-changing picture of this special place.
The Presidential elections are coming up in mid-September here so there is advertising everywhere, of course. I have learned from my new Guatemalan friends and my fellow students from Taiwan that all of us disdain the inordinate use of political jargon and advertising that litters our landscapes…no matter the country where you are walking. Many people of Guatemala have apologized for it, just as we would if someone was visiting us. Anyway — that political trademark made it’s way all the way into the laguna of Chicabol so on every cross there was a little political sticker!
We removed every one of them and hope the Mayan people never saw that they were there. With it being the rainy season it is not likely any of them had been up more than a few hours.
As we finished our hike and made our way back into the village for our bus, we came upon a funeral procession. The entire village was involved which means we were as well. We walked in the crowd of Mayan people….hundreds of them, all following the casket in a Toyota pick up truck.
The tradition is to do this and to bury only at 3pm since that is when Jesus died. After 3 days there is a return to the cemetery to see if the resurrection has occurred for the loved one. Is anyone having trouble finding the lines? Crosses, 3 days, and the hope of resurrection…
All of this led to some great conversation with Kicki and Ean who are from Taiwan and neither Christian, Buddhist or anything. We all are pondering much of what was shared today. Kicki and Ean say that in Taiwan their friends who are Christian are very happy and they also say they can see that I am as well…that my work is meaningful. They have both taken a year off from their stressful work to travel Central & South American and learn Spanish in the process. He is a computer program guru (big business like GroupOn) and she is in public relations.
And so…a day at Chicabol. I walked home while the sun was setting and the night air of Xela made me pull the jacket from my backpack. People are coming and going in the cathedrals for Saturday night mass. The streets are full of music, baskets of bread and sounds coming from the rooftops of the homes. Lilian made me another amazing Guatemalan meal. I am tired and full of joy. I’m thankful and certain that as we walked along the path today, Jesus was walking with us. Let it be.
I am laughing at myself…as I am doing a lot now! I brought my blog post via jump drive to the internet cafe but..the computer is in espanol and I am not sure yet how to access my file. There is not a lot of time to figure it out so I will start from scratch. The pictures I thought were on my jump drive are really not there…oh well…as they say here… Guatever.
Learning a different language and culture is good for my soul. I am out of my comfort zone and into the place we call Faith. It is good that my school week was only three days. I study each afternoon and night. I am ready for the weekend! We have an excursion in the morning… a hike somewhere for about 6 hours…I am ready for this.
I have moved past my initial discomfort and am now meeting people, exploring a bit and practicing with my host family. There are three children in the house which is great. They welcome my elementary speech and laughter. Lilian and I are beginning to have conversation. She is very gracious. Her cooking is FABULOUS! Yes, I miss my spinach so much and I worry if I will get to eat any fresh green produce anytime soon. But… I love her plantains, her rice, beans and eggs with homemade salsa. She had a cake to bake for 30 people today so that was fun watching her create this morning and seeing the result this afternoon.
Let me say this. God made Xela a beautiful place. Surrounded by 10 mountains….quite similar to Franklin, TN in that way of special vistas. And unlike Franklin in most other ways. Sometimes in the new places of dependence on our Creator we are able to hear the whispers that go unnoticed among the noise of ordinary life. I am listening to the whispers of God rising from the mountains of Xela. It is good. God is faithful. I am grateful. Let it be.
It is good for the soul to watch the sunrise from a different view every now and then. On Tuesday morning this was on my way south above the clouds; today it is over the rooftops of my “home away from home” in Xela (Quetzaltenango). I’ve never arrived anywhere looking for a stranger with a sign until now. A lady named Raquel met me at the airport and drove me to the local bus station where I traveled with all the regular Guatemalan people to Xela. This is a very different arrival from a mission team experience! Everyone I meet is new to me; everywhere I go is from a different perspective. My eyes are wide open now. I am seeing all things new.
When the bus arrived in Xela I called a number and the next “new” people showed up; Jaime and Luis…to take me to the home where I will stay this week.My host family is wonderful. Lilian is the “head of household” for lack of better words. Her husband died of cancer 10 years ago; she is 55. Two of her daughters (along with three grandchildren) are here most of the time. Her mother, Elcira is here and her brother, Tuto came by last night for a visit. He is an orthopedic doctor here in Xela. Lilian is a baker and does this from her home…events…weddings, etc. They have provided me with a nice room where I can study and sleep. And food! My spinach, salmon, almonds, oatmeal…basics are nowhere to be seen so far. I am learning how to eat as the family eats. I hate to admit how hard it is to do it. However, contrary to my mission trip visit…no one has offered me Pepsi yet so that is good! Politely passing the offer for tea, I am very content with water and coffee.
Casa Xelaju is my school for the next two weeks. It is great– I completed my first day yesterday. My personal instructor is Lily de Leon. She has been gracious with my stumbling and stammering – patient and enjoyable. There are students here from Holland, Texas, Taiwan and one from sometimes Knoxville, sometimes St. Louis and sometimes Guatemala…just depending on the conversation.
The school has many students during the high season, which has just ended. They come from all over the world to study here in Xela – and particularly this school. Of those here, two are teachers, two are mission/humanitarian focused and two are traveling and learning for the fun of it.
Xela is high altitude and cool. I knew to bring my jacket and a rain parka for the afternoon and evening rains. There is a beautiful cemetery here and I visited it during my last trip to Guatemala.
The house where I am staying is next to it, which is nice. It is, at least, a familiar spot for me. I suppose because I am here to study and alone, the culture “shock” is quite profound to me this time. This is the city where most of the people I know
live: Adolfo, Chester, Doris of the VIM office, Juan Pablo, etc. As I walk the streets, hear the sounds and breathe in the air…I am touching and experiencing their daily life
Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but the common places of life are still the common places. It is a developing country. The streets are enchanting in one
perspective….rough stone obviously laid by tired hands over many years…but I’m
also thinking as I walk them…”will my shoes even last for one month on this terrain?” It is not even a thought I want to write, but it is true. Or…after the bus ride to Xela (4 hours of
curves, jostling and window views), there is no comfy easy chair to slide into and kick back for the evening. There is a plastic patio chair. Period. I brought my yoga cheat sheets and that was a stroke of genius because yoga is needed right now!
So, I am here! It is most humbling and exciting. There is much I can learn in one month – and also the very real truth is that in one month I will know so little of this
language and culture. This is a glimpse. It is a glimpse God isn’t going to let me avoid. There are no distractions to keep me from seeing. I am knee-deep in a culture I do not know and a language I’ve yet to speak. I’m OK with that. We all have to take our steps of obedience on our way to saying “yes” to the life we are given to live. Let it be. Beinvenidos de Guatemala!
Scripture: “As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:17)
Observation: Abraham encountered the miracles of God because he believed that God is faithful. He followed what he could not understand. He accepted what was beyond human capability. Even when he would sometimes doubt, he kept going foward because he knew God is faithful. He was “fully pursaded” (4:21) that God would do what God promised.
Application: When God nudged Abraham to do something, he did it. Most of it seemed ridiculous or impossible. He acted anyway. Because of that – things unfolded that changed the world. It started in his family and grew to “all nations”. A few months ago my Aunt Cozi posted on Facebook an invitation for any of the family to join her for an Alaskan cruise. She had decided to go on this adventure in celebation of her birthday. She felt “nudged” to invite the family to join her. When I read it, I said to myself, “impossible” and never thought another moment about it. Over the next many weeks different family members began to book the cruise…oh my goodness…the Lesters (my mom’s family) are going to Alaska! We are scattered across the country…there are over 100 of us now. In the end, 15 of us ended up on a ship bound for Alaska. My sister and I were on board. Something that was impossible happened because Aunt Cozi acted on a nudge.
Conversations were shared, memories were made, relationships were blessed and we expereienced God’s grace in a new way….a way that forever changes our lives.
Just a few weeks ago I got a nudge. Guatemala…return. But I went with the team…I did my part…how could I imagine a return? I could not ignore the nudge, and so, like Abraham, I trusted God more than I did all the reasons why it could not happen, and I shared the nudge with someone else and asked for prayer. Doors began to open. God was making a way for the impossible. I packed my bags and returned. What I encountered was God’s grace in a miracle that changed my life forever. It is not a miracle that belongs to me, it is something God is doing – much more than my eyes can see or my heart can comprehend. Ezekial is in deaf school; Bibles are in the hands of people hungry to discover God’s love; Friendships are established for collaboration and peace in the time ahead. Dreams were spoken out loud.
When have you experienced the impossible or the “what can not be” to just happen anyway?
Prayer: Gracious God, I thank you. You are amazing. You do set things into being that are impossible in human terms. You nudge us and involve us in your miracles on earth. Please help us all to have the courage and faith to act when you nudge us…however subtle or obvious. Open our eyes to the many ways you are speaking. Let us be faithful like Abraham, let us be obedient like Christ.
Some reflections from the Life Journal reading this morning…
Scripture: I Chronicles 28
Observation: King David was near death and a successor was needed. His closest confidantes, Bathsheba and Nathan, go to his beside to let him know….”it’s time”. David already knew what to do. The Lord had already prepared him for this day.
God had blessed David with success in battle and now the Lord had plans for a time of peace in the land. That time of peace was for a specific purpose: so the people could build a temple for worshipping the one true God. The Lord had already chosen Solomon (David’s son) to lead the building of this temple while he served as king. David had the vision, he had the plans and he had the faith. He had walked closely with God and he had listened along the way. God has shared the vision with him. and God had equipped the people all around to the work for the time ahead.
David’s advice to Solomon as he passes this mantle of leadership on: “Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.” (I Chronicles 28:20)
Application: As I read this what I see in my mind is Guatemala, a couple by the name of Norris and Fran Allen, and plans. Norris is the leader for the work and teams from our area that have been going into Guatemala for several years. I’ve only just recently come to know him. He and Fran were in my office a few days ago…on May 2nd. They had just returned from a trip the night before and I was leaving for a trip the day after. We had sandwiched this meeting in between so I could hear their history and dreams about Guatemala and I could share with them my experience from the most recent mission at La Toma. It had been difficult to schedule it in for all of us. Sarah from our church’s team met with us. I’m so glad she was also there!
Norris brought water system plans and drawings. He brought stories written on paper and stories written on his heart. Fran shared dreams and an obvious joy for God’s faithfulness as she could see the unfolding of continued vision. We looked at pictures. We spoke of the future. We imagined plans. We said we would pray about it and talk to our friends in Guatemala and finalize whatever seems to be best for future work. We were all blessed in this sharing.
Over this past weekend Fran experienced a massive stroke. Suddenly the conversation we shared a few days ago has become more poignant and more urgent. I find myself recalling every word she and Norris said…looking at my notes and praying I remember everything. What strikes me this morning as I read the scripture is that God works things out. God has plans. Our role is not to do the planning so much, but to be open enough to hear and brave enough to follow whatever God gives each of us to do.
I returned from Guatemala on April 18th, almost a month ago. People have asked me several times, “what are your plans?” I smile and say, “I’m listening and praying”. It’s not so much about what we want (David wanted to build the temple but God chose Solomon for that part), it is rather, about paying attention to what God is planning and simply follow the Creator. Period.
Prayer: Father, please be with Norris and Fran. Please be with the people of Guatemala. Please keep me open enough to always hear my part in your work on earth, courageous enough to follow you and humble enough to see your plans. I love you.
Yield: No need to ever worry about the future. God’s got it covered.
I am home in Tennessee. The dogwoods and honeysuckle are in bloom. The fields are green and the pine trees in our yard stand tall and strong. While I was away my sister (whom I call “Pincho”) took care of my dog, Tiki, in addition to the home we share.
Just before I left we had a big storm and several of our trees fell down so she has been busy taking care of everything from the storm damage. This morning I was just thinking about all the people who went to Guatemala with me. Maybe not “in person” but were still on the journey in spirit. There are many! Norris who was given a vision for Tennesse to be in relationship with Guatemala over 20 years ago; Sarah Mc Ginley who led the charge for our church to be involved in that mission; Debbie who covered my Bible study on Wednesday nights; John who covered my worship responsibilities on Sunday; Lynn who shouldered the care of the congregation; Pincho who kept our home in order; Fido Fitness who stepped into take care of Tiki when needed; and every person who offered a prayer or read the blog or had a conversation to tell a portion of the story. So many people – too many to count or even know.
My reading today is from Matthew 6. It is rich. It encourages us to store our treasure in the spiritual realm where NOTHING can take it away. Everything mentioned in this teaching is done in spirit – with the wisdom that wherever your treasure is – your heart will be also. We do it by
1. Praying (verse 6)
2. Surrendering to God’s will (verse 10)
3. Fasting (verse 17)
4. Seeking kingdom righteousness (verse 33)
Those who have taken this journey “in spirit” by praying, by hearing the story and by covering the gaps so I could go…every one is part of the treasure God revealed during this return to Guatemala. I am confident God will bless every one of you – those I know and those I don’t. Because when we are engaging in the spiritual with our Creator, we are no longer limited by distance or ability or resource. I am thankful for this amazing power of God! What treasure are you storing up in your life today?