Tuesday, August 28, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Recovering What Was Lost

In his fabulous book on vocation called Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer writes, "Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent."

I first read these words fresh out of college, at a time when I was slowly recovering from a deep depression/crisis of self after an eye opening and even traumatizing study abroad experience. Horrified at the poverty and injustice I saw throughout Central America, I thrashed from angry to hopeless to numb and back for months after my return.

But I don't count it as a waste. In fact, the very darkness that threatened to envelop me provided the space and silence to actually learn to listen to what my own life was speaking to me. To tune my ears to my true self. To see the values and truths I embody when expectations are thrown out the window.

Out of the darkness, out the rubble, I learned to hear God's voice. I learned to listen to my own voice and learned to gauge and discern my own responses, my attractions and repulsions. Out of the silence I found life. I found hope. I found a job that brought me more joy and purpose than I could have ever imagined. I found a church that fed my soul and helped me to experience God as a personal, present, powerful source of Love within me.

I had learned, to some extent, to let my life speak.

But now, after a year of burnout and tears and agonizing over whether or not I should leave the job that had once brought me so much joy, I find myself at loss for what I really want.

While trying to survive burnout, to end my job well, to live up to all of the responsibilities I had taken on, I somehow forgot how to listen to my own life. I find myself here in Guatemala, fulfilling a long time dream, and yet I still feel hollow, like I've become a stranger to myself.

These last few months I have written, I have banked on, what I think God would or should be telling me instead of what I really hear.

And I've been calling it trust.

I haven't really been hearing from God. Not like I used to. I've been remembering what He told me. I've been rewriting His past promises. Is this being true to myself? How can it be bad to remind myself of God's character, voice, and promises? When does it become untrue? When am I feeding the emptiness, the expectations? When does anchoring myself on the past become an excuse not to listen for His voice today?

In his poem East Coker, T.S. Eliot writes, "There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again."

I am fighting to recover what was lost--my joy at work, my sense of purpose, my ability to hear from God, the patience to listen and discern what my own life is telling me. In the clinical sense, it's a journey to overcome burnout and depression; in the spiritual sense, it's a journey to recover my true self, who I am in the eyes of God who loves me. 

As of right now, I don't really know what I want. I know what I am SUPPOSED to want, but I don't know what I REALLY want. 

I SHOULD want to blog.
I SHOULD want to connect. 
I SHOULD want to hear from God.
I SHOULD want to help people.
I SHOULD want to spend my time wisely and be a voice for the voiceless. 
I SHOULD want to do something about the poverty and injustice I see around me.

But really I want to disconnect. I don't want to care or get involved or commit myself to anything. Just because I am no longer crying everyday or agonizing over my decision to leave, doesn't mean I am healed. Doesn't mean I am myself again. 

I take heart in T.S. Eliot's words, that it's a fight to recover what was lost and found and lost again. It is a journey.  It is a process. And this time I know the Healer. 

So in the next couple of weeks, this blog may be a little silent as I visit friends back in the States and also take some time to listen--to God and to myself.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Same Old Hang-ups, The Same Powerful God

Every time I try something new, go somewhere new, I am convinced that I will be different. I won't be scared or shy. I won't find myself burrowing into a book in terror or feigning invisible in social situations. Miraculously, I will love meeting new people and suddenly I will become an outgoing, hospitable, social butterfly.

Yet again, this is not the case. Here in Guatemala, in this new place where I want to invest and plant roots and share life, I find myself stuck on the same old hang ups, the same old fears. In this quest for hope, this challenge to find the bright spots, I've found the greatest obstacle is not cynicism or doubt, but my own desire to withdraw, to be comfortable, to remain untouched, unchallenged, and unchanged.

I say I want to know their story, but more often than not, I haven't even asked them how they're doing, much less invited them to share their story. 

Six years ago when I studied abroad in Costa Rica, I wrote the thoughts below, and today I echo this desire to connect with others despite my battle with fear and complacency.

I say I want to know your story, but I haven't even asked. 

When I look into your eyes, I can see your story.
But that's as far as I get.
What is love?
What is kindness?
Where does my story stop and your story begin?

I've spent my whole life writing my own story.
I haven't had time to listen to yours.

Why am I paralyzed in fear?
Why is it so hard to look past my story for one minute?
What is it that I'm scared of?
Am I scared that your story will be different, or do I fear that it will be the same?

I say I want to know your story,
but I haven't even asked.

I can live with you for a semester and not even know you.
I can live with you for a lifetime and never even know your dreams.
I want to know you, I really do.

What story do I believe in?
That this is it, this is all?
Is there a heaven or a God?

Why haven't I learned that your story is my story?
That when I ignore you, I discount myself.
When I'm scared of you, it's really me that I'm afraid of.

If I really knew His love, would I be scared?
His love is supposed to drive out fear.

Today, I resonate with this ache to see past myself, with this thirst to witness the power of God. But, unlike six years ago, I am now confident that Love will drive out fear.  I have seen Him do it. In my life and in the lives of those around me. I have experienced freedom from fear, from self-loathing, from bondage to rules. I have experienced Love and Joy and Peace and the wondrous re-creation of the Holy Spirit on my behalf.

I have learned and am still learning to see past fear. To push past my normal limits. I am learning that I am loved and that I can turn to Him when I am scared. I am learning to trust Him. I am learning to love Him.

Today I ask this God of Love, the God who is Love, to allow His love to be my story so that my heart may be opened to others' stories. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hope Tour #1: Where Kids Can Just Be Kids


Workers wait to dig through trash dropped off
in the Guatemala City garbage dump
Photo Credit: Safe Passage
Visiting a garbage dump in Managua, Nicaragua in spring 2006 changed my life. (You can read about it here.) When I returned to school and life in Southern California, I vowed to do something to help the children and families who lived and worked and breathed the toxic life of digging through trash. 

I eventually found an organization in my own city that empowers rural farmers in developing countries to restore their land and improve their incomes before they’re forced to go looking for work in the city, often in the slums and garbage dumps.

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of visiting a non-profit in Guatemala City called Safe Passage, or Camino Seguro in Spanish. Safe Passage works with the children and families who have already emigrated from small, rural towns, to the Red Zones of Guatemala City. Red Zones are areas where the government has recognized a high incidence of gang violence and organized crime. Safe Passage joins with the mostly single-parent families who live near the Guatemala City garbage dump. These families supplement their income by working in the dump, digging through trash to collect metals, glass, aluminum, and other scraps that can be reworked and recycled for a small profit, including food that can be resold in the streets. 

Children under age 14 are no longer allowed to work in the dump, but parents often bring home their finds for children to sort through and separate to contribute to family income. Many families live in the makeshift houses of squatter cities that lack running water and siphon off electricity from neighboring streets with a tangle of live wires.

On the tour with Safe Passage, I learned that the violence rate in Guatemala today is higher than during the conflict. The physical violence, that is. I’ve been told there is nowhere near as much psychological violence or terror as there was during the war, but the injustice, extreme poverty, and social problems that existed before the war, that caused the guerrillas to pick up their arms and fight for a revolution, still exist today.

Vultures perch outside the Guatemala City garbage dump
Photo Credit: Safe Passage
Perched on the edge of a cemetery that overlooks the expansive dump, I could see how such living conditions could lead to violence, insecurity, and organized crime. Vultures circled above the sea of debris, and I had flashbacks of my visit to the dump in Managua. Only this time we weren’t cruelly rushed off to the mall to indulgently eat ice cream and feel awful about ourselves. Instead of focusing on the overwhelming horror of it all (and it was horrible), we were taken instead to see the good that is being done, the hope that has become manifest.

After viewing the dump, we drove just a few blocks to the new Safe Passage preschool, or escuelita, the part of the Safe Passage’s educational reinforcement program that targets the youngest, most vulnerable children, ages 2 to 6. The contrast was staggering. In the very same neighborhood as the garbage dump, the preschool is a haven of safety and fun.

The Escuelita looks like any other preschool. Kids were jumping and squealing and rattling off a million questions a minute. Tiny chairs surrounded knee high tables adorned with primary color construction paper. We even caught a bit of the day’s English lesson and break dancing session, and man did those five-year-olds have some dope hip hop moves. 

Part of the Safe Passage preschool playground.
 The blue wall separates the school
from the rough neighborhood.
Everyday from 9am to 3pm these kids who live in the roughest area of an already crime riddled city, get to just be kids. They’re given breakfast, snacks, and lunches. They get a head start on an education that will prepare them for better jobs and will open them up to a world of economic opportunity beyond work in the garbage dump. Instead of sorting through trash or begging on the streets, they are treated as kids: they get to run and squirm and pick their noses.

I understand it can be easy to be swayed by squealing preschoolers, but Safe Passage gets high marks for also addressing root causes and following best practices in development: their programs are run by local Guatemalans, they work closely with the entire family, not just children, collaborate with and reinforce the efforts of local public schools, and even offer adult literacy and social entrepreneurship programs to help the parents of these children work their way out of the dump.

I think you can see that I was clearly impressed. I’d encourage you to check out their blog and website and look for ways to get involved, I know I will.

In addition to learning about a really cool organization that I may be able to partner with this year, I am grateful for the compassion, care, and patience the staff extended to us visitors as we grappled to absorb such weighty issues. And I am excited to share more bright spots and encouraging stories from Guatemala in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: What a Difference Hope Can Make

“You do not know what hope is, until you have lost it. You only know what it is not to hope.”  T.S. Eliot, Family Reunion
I know what it is not to hope. 

The Guatemala City garbage dump, where hundreds work
 each day to support their families.
Six years ago I came to Guatemala at the end of my semester abroad in Central America. After three months of visiting garbage dumps, hearing rants on U.S. involvement in dictatorial coups throughout Central America, and basically having my entire Christian belief system come crashing down, I was numb and tired. Tired of hearing of injustice. Tired of trying to care.

From the airport in Guatemala City we drove to Seteca, the theological seminary where we would be staying until we separated out again into different groups for a week long work project.  We’d barely had time so to set our bags down and sit down before our professor began yet another belligerent, and yet no longer shocking, tirade about U.S. involvement in Guatemala.  

In a rare act of encouragement, one of our leaders played a song in which the singer confidently declared that in God’s hands her “pain and hurt looked less like scars and more like character.”  We’d been through a lot that semester, but we were developing character, my study abroad program implied.  Character shmaracter, I thought.  What if you no longer believe that God has hands for you to be in?  Or feet?  Or a heart?  Anything?  Had I gone Nietzche on myself?  Could I really believe that God was dead?  

Yep, dead as a doornail.  Or a least in a coma.  

Our professor, Don Mike, continued to rant and rave, we heard from different people involved in myriad types of government positions, toured the city, went to the dump, talked about justice and Jesus and liberation theology

Is it so awful to say that after awhile all third world countries start to look the same?  The littered highways, the graffiti-covered concrete buildings, the bars and spikes and security guards with guns.  I wish I could say that I instantly connected with Guatemalans, that it mattered to me that they had been in a civil war for decades.  But I didn’t care about the indigenous, specifically Mayan, influence on the culture or that hundreds of thousands of women had mysteriously lost their husbands and sons, fathers and brothers to midnight kidnappings and mass murders during the war.  I feared there was nothing in me that cared anymore.

I had lost my hope.

Throughout the last six years, I have experienced a Love that saves, a Joy that saves, a Hope that saves. My friends and family and church and coworkers have shown me that my anger doesn’t help the suffering, my hopelessness does not prove my compassion. They have shown me, and God continues to teach me, that Hope brings change, that Joy alleviates suffering, that Love drives out fear.

This time around in Guatemala, although I’ve already heard countless stories of war and violence and injustice, although I’ve already visited the wasteland of the Guatemala City garbage dump, although there are plenty of reasons to shut down and tune out, I will cling to hope. I will look for the bright spots.

I will remember the words of AnnVoskamp in One Thousand Gifts,
“Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world."

This time around I will not be paralyzed. I will not reject joy. I will listen and I will move and I will act. I will engage.

I will not disregard the suffering. I will not turn a complacent eye to their pain. But amidst the pain and horror, I will look for hope. I pray I will be brave enough to “focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true.”

So far I’ve seen some incredibly hopeful, transformative work being done in Guatemala. There are so many ways for me to get involved in bringing Hope and Life and Joy to the people around me. But I don’t know quite where to spend my time yet. Despite my commitment to move, I feel a call to be patient, to wait on God’s timing and leading. I pray for wisdom in how to spend my time here. I ask for an open heart to accompany my open schedule.

Kids playing with bubbles in the park in Antigua
As I wait and look for ways to engage, I will share the bright spots that I have seen. Throughout the week, and I imagine beyond this week as well, I will share the stories of hope and redemption and transformation that I have glimpsed. I will write of the miracle of kids being able to be kids in the midst of gang violence and extreme poverty, of women speaking out against injustice and sharing their stories of pain for the first time, of brave individuals seeking alternatives to violence, of people daring to hope and try and move in a place where the problems seem copiously complex and insurmountable.

I know what it is not to hope; this time around I will fix my eyes on the Hope that saves. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

How I came to lie to an entire group of peace builders

Sheesh. Last week was a full one for me. I was stretched and shaped and shocked without a bit of time or mental energy to blog.

I spent 2½ days at a violence prevention workshop through an organization called Alternatives to Violence where a motley crew of gringas, Guatemaltecos, and Mayas joined together to find ways to cultivate peace and alternatives to violence in our respective relationships, families, and communities. We shared 20 hours of team building and conflict resolution, complete with improvised socio-dramas, exercises in empathy, and even trust falls ALL IN SPANISH.

Forced bonding with strangers is not particularly high up on my list of hobbies and interests when I’m communicating in my native tongue; small talking in Spanish is a different beast entirely. I’ve found that I’ve acquired the aggravating level of Spanish where I can understand most of what is spoken to me, but I just so happen to forget everything I’ve ever learned whenever I am asked a question, only to remember exactly how I should have worded my response two minutes after the person I was speaking with has left the room.

So on Tuesday when we were asked to break into small groups for a conflict resolution activity, I was already feeling a bit tongue-tied and insecure.  Then came the kicker: I was put on the spot to share a personal story of how I’ve diffused a potentially violent situation in my own life in Spanish.

So what did I do?

I panicked.

My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and verb charts flashed before my eyes in an onslaught of subjunctives as I racked my brain for stories of potential violence from my inopportunely peaceful life.

I told the group I didn’t really have a violent story to share and thought I was going to be let off the hook. But then they started prodding me, have you ever had a problem with your family? Have you had a problem at work? they asked.

Yes, yes, I’ve had a misunderstanding at work, I schemed, I mean thought. I could tell them about a misunderstanding with my boss. Only I didn’t know how to say misunderstanding. I could say conflict though—close enough.

So I started telling a woefully uneventful story about a conflict with my boss. I wanted to say that there was a miscommunication and that I felt unappreciated. What came out of my mouth in Spanish was a different story entirely.

After I fumbled through saying that my boss and I met with human resources, I tried to think of a good way to end my tale. In real life the story ended quite peaceably. We talked it out. The problem was resolved. No hard feelings.

Only the problem of recounting the story in Spanish to my eager groupmates remained.

During the slight hesitation in which I was internally conjugating resolve into the past perfect tense, a group member helpfully offered up an alternate ending to my classic tale of exploited worker vs. vindictive boss:

“Él fue despedido?” “He was fired?” he asked in such perfectly conjugated and impeccably pronounced Spanish that I found myself nodding my head emphatically in agreement. My compañeros beamed at me, obviously impressed with my gumption, and I basked in the accomplishment of a story well told for an entire two seconds before I realized that my story was in no way true. I have never had a boss fired nor have I ever wanted that to happen.

But it was too late. One group member began writing my fantastic story on a big piece of paper to share with the rest of the groups. My lie was going to be the example!

I watched in an awkward blend of pride and horror as my groupmate recounted my story to everyone in the room.  I thanked God that only the friend I came with would see through my fabricated fable. She gave me a quizzical, confused look; I just smiled and shrugged as they moved on to the next group’s harrowing tale.

So that is how I came to lie to an entire group of peace builders. However, the point of the story isn’t that I lied or that I am learning to lie. The point of the story is that I’m learning to communicate, and it’s hard work in any language. Second language acquisition isn’t just an academic endeavor; it’s a daily surrender to grace, humility, and sometimes even a smidge of humiliation. Some days my Spanish takes one step forward and two steps toward two-faced, but, more importantly, I’m learning to fumble through. To keep going. To keep trying. To force some pitiful syllables out of my mouth when it would be much easier to stay silent. To disengage.

Throughout the 2½ day workshop, I was shown such grace by my fellow participants. They were patient with me, teaching me to be patient with myself. They were loving with me, reinforcing that my self worth is not measured in the smart things I can say. That there are other ways to connect and bond and engage. To show empathy. To share in excitement. To build friendship.

Except for the one little lying incident, the workshop showed me that people from all different socio-economic backgrounds, who speak different languages, claim different faith traditions and varying ethnicities can still work together. We can use our actions and what little words we have to build greater peace and understanding. And that is not a lie. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Case of the Hope-days

Wow. I don't know if you've noticed, but the blogosphere has been blowing up with one word lately: hope. Last week I had the amazing privilege of joining in the Hope 2012 Blog Relay by sharing my thoughts on how I've recently seen hope and hope to see hope (meta, yeah?) in Guatemala.

Today Melanie Crutchfield, mastermind behind the Hope relay, concluded the event with a mesmerizing sampling of posts from the last few weeks.

Please, please, please check out the "collective chronicles of hope, written elegantly, poignantly, hilariously, irreverently, and devoutly by you crazy-amazing hordes of writers" by clicking

Here

And thank you to Adrian Waller for not dropping the baton that I hastily shoved into his bloggy hands. He contributed a fabulous post at Life Before the Bucket

What are you waiting for? Get reading and catch a case of the hope-days.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Guatemala: A Hope Offering



This post is part of the Hope 2012 Blog Relay started by the indomitable Melanie Crutchfield and the not-so-subtle nudge from my wonderful mentor and friend, Melissa Tucker. The basic premise, you guessed it, is to write about hope. 

So hope, the enemy of self-respecting cynics the world over. What could a sarcastic-around-the-edges gringa possibly have to say about hope from the city of La Antigua, Guatemala?

Thus far my life here has been idyllic. Each morning I've attended one-on-one language classes where every stunted phrase I've uttered in Spanish has been reinforced with a friendly nod and a "Buen trabajo" from my encouraging teacher. I've spent my afternoons meandering the cobblestone streets while sliding slippery mangos from plastic bags onto my tastebuds rapt with anticipation. I pass women in colorful woven skirts and tops pressing their palms together in the pat-pat-pat of tortilla making. The city of Antigua, where poverty is smoothed over by smiles and tourists just like the renovated facades of its 16th century architecture, makes a postcard perfect backdrop for the next year of my life.

In Antigua, the souvenirs, the coffee, and the bars are easy to find. It's the tumultuous history and subsequent signs of hope and reconciliation you have to go looking for.

I don't know how much you know about Guatemalan history, but for over 30 years, from 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was entrenched in brutal civil war. When I visited Guatemala during my semester abroad, we visited an organization committed to helping people who had lost friends and relatives in the civil war. Not an organization so much as a support group, un apoyo mutuo. Hundreds of portraits lined the walls. There were young men, old men, fat men, some merely boys. All were missing. Gone.

Desaparecidos. Disappeared.

As the leader, an indigenous woman wearing a crumpled grey skirt as crinkled as her wrinkled, weary eyes, described the group’s brave and somber purpose, I snuck back to the bathroom. I returned during the question and answer segment. I had just slid into my cold, metal chair when one of my classmates asked the question we’d all wanted to know.

“How many men have you found?” “Cuantos han encontrado?” The group was devoted to searching for the missing family members, los desaparecidos. Surely, some must have been reunited with their loved ones.

Cero,” the woman stated matter-of-factly. “Zero.”

After the war, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that “more than 200,000 people were killed — the vast majority ofwhom were civilian indigenous people.” 

Six years later, the eyes that used to haunt me from these posters, the faces I used to call forth to justify my anger, the stories I used to tell to bash ignorant Americans, now implore me to look for a different reality. To look for hope in the scenery around me, in the life around me in Guatemala.

If I allow myself to look deeper, to not be seduced by cheap tours, cheap drinks, and cheap Spanish classes, I think I will find this place I now call home to be a country of great hope.  Hope against all odds. Reconciliation and healing and redemption against all odds.

If I look closely and sensitively enough, I will see that the woman wearing traje (the typical indigenous dress unique to each village and people group) isn’t just the source of my lunchtime tortillas (a gift in itself), but she is also a sign of hope.

I will see that the parade I witnessed this morning wasn't just a festive reason to yell and shout and dance, but was a symbol of the survival of a culture despite great adversity and discrimination in celebration called,  Dia de los Mayas (Day of the Maya).

I will glimpse the magnitude of healing that has taken place as people who used to kill each other now walk down the same streets, shop in the same stores, and send their kids to the same schools in peace.
I will hear the Kaqchikel words a mother whispers to her wide eyed child in the dentist office not just with linguistic amusement, but with awe and gratitude that the syllables will be passed to the next generation.  

While driving through Guatemala City, I will see the Mayan flag waving from the palace as not just a splash of color in the cityscape, but as a sign of inclusion, a step toward reconciliation.

This year I have the chance not only to learn Spanish and eat mangos and dance salsa, but also to share meals with some very brave, very inspiring people, to hear stories of unbelievable horror and unbelievable healing, and to learn from a country that is, poco a poco, choosing hope. 

***
Fabulous blogger friends of mine... you interested? If you want to join the Hope Relay, let me know!

Adrian Waller: Life Before The Bucket
Anita Mathias: Dreaming Beneath the Spires
Tim Høiland: Tim Høiland

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I am with you


I am with you.

You don’t have to jump through hoops or mine your deepest thoughts.

I am with you.

You don’t have to journal or write or set aside time for me.

I am with you.

You don’t have to pray or talk to me.

I am with you.

You don’t have to serve me.

I am with you.

You don't have to figure it all out.

I am with you.

You don't have to wait till my voice rings loud and true. 

I am with you in the silence.

I am with you in the secret.

I am with you in the stillness. 

I am with you always. I love you endlessly.

Sometimes I forget that God is with me even when I don’t do all my daily rituals that make me feel closer to Him. The reading and writing and examining and praying are part of the relationship, for sure, but He’s with me even when I don’t hold up my end of the bargain. He’s with me no matter what. And that’s pretty cool. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

All Is Well

I came across this quote awhile back, and yesterday as I sat reading in the park in the center of Antigua, catching bits of Spanish conversation buzzing around me and reflecting on my life, I was reminded of it:  

"The time is ripe for looking back over the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are, and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts. We turn on the television maybe. We pick up a newspaper or book. We find some chore to do that could easily wait for the next day. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. We cling to the surface out of fear for what lies beneath the surface. 
But there is a deeper need yet, I believe, and that is the need - not all of the time, but from time to time - to enter that still room within us where the past lives on as part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive to ourselves, to the long journeys of our lives with all their twistings and turnings and to where our journeys have brought us.

There we will find, beyond any feelings of joy or regret, a profound and undergirding peace, a sense that in some unfathomable way, all is well." -Frederick Buechner

The time feels right for looking back. I am starting new, starting fresh, moving forward. My mind tells me I should be sifting, analyzing, searching for things done and undone. But even in the park alone with my thoughts, in my room alone with my journal, I can't get myself to muster up any evaluations, to come to any conclusions. 

My mind usually reels; it's my modus operandus. The silence is what unnerves me.  

These last few days, however, my first days in this new place, I've encountered a friendly silence, a peaceful cessation of thoughts and worries and concerns. 

When I look back, I don't feel either joy or regret. When I think about the last year and how heartbroken I was when I learned I couldn't keep my job and live in Guatemala, when I think about the bewilderment of burnout and the weight of decision making that anchored me to the ground, when I think about the dream job I now possess in my dream location, I am overwhelmed with a sense a peace. 

I still can't believe my journey with all its twistings and turnings has brought me here, to Guatemala. That I type these words from my new room in Antigua, the place I have dreamed of living, is in itself a miracle. 

Here in this place I have found, "beyond any feelings of joy or regret, a profound and undergirding peace, a sense that in some unfathomable way, all is well." 

And that is a gift a thousand times over. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

First Post from Guatemala

Guess what, guys? I am finally HERE! I am writing from my new home in Antigua, Guatemala!


Mom, Dad, and other concerned citizens: I made it safely and even got to watch a little bit of the Olympics on the plane ride over. My travel buddy, Becky, and I were picked up by her mom at the airport and made it to Antigua with enough time to (briefly, we were tired after all) go out on the town and reunite with some of Becky's friends. 

 On our first day, we planned out the next month that Becky will be here with me and did some recon to determine which tour companies to use for our adventures and which language school to attend and hunted out the local gym so I can keep the beans and tortillas safely away from my love handles.  I also unpacked my belongings into my new room, we caught a free showing of Kite Runner (which I highly recommend), and then watched Danell Leyva win a medal (we couldn't tell which medal because there was no volume and NBC, frustratingly, did not show any final standings--I later learned he won bronze) in men's gymnastics at the only bar we could find that was showing the Olympics. 
My morning coffee drinking view: be jealous.

And that was Day One for anyone who is interested. But enough of the travelogue and on to my musings. 

By the length of that last paragraph, it seems like I've had an eventful trip thus far. Yet I've been plagued with this sense that I'm not getting enough done. Shouldn't I be fluent in Spanish and have a million Guatemalan friends and be bombarded by job and volunteer opportunities already? 

I have a tendency to get ahead of myself. I still remember my freshman year roommate and I kicking ourselves because we hadn't managed to solicit a committed surfer boyfriend three days into New Student Orientation. (To our defense, one girl on our hall had secured a boyfriend in that time and they are now happily married with a beautiful little girl.)

My new home!
If I've learned anything since then, it's that things take time. I mean, it's been eight years since I unloaded my tropical print, extra long comforter from Target and tacked posters of my favorite Christian boy band and Olympic gymnasts on my dorm room wall with University-sanctioned blue tape. I've outgrown the Christian boy bands, and I still have a weak spot for male gymnasts, especially the medal winners, and it seems I still I have a problem with expecting too much, too soon. 

That boyfriend is still nowhere to be found. And that's okay. My boyfriendless status means I am free to be here, in Guatemala, experiencing a new adventure on my own. Things take time. And that's okay. Things don't always work out as we expect or demand. And that's okay. 

My room is behind the bottom window. 
It will be awhile before I feel at home even though I am very blessed to live with amazing, hospitable friends who already feel like family. It will be awhile before I can conjugate my Spanish verbs fast enough to actually maintain a conversation to the level of my liking. Before I make friends of my own and can walk the streets of Antigua like a pro, where the navigational trials produce less and less errors and unexpected detours. 

For now, in my second day of expatriotism, I am content with the fact that I am here, drinking coffee on the patio overlooking the lush courtyard where plants doggedly climb the stuccoed walls and birds call and caw to each other at Segundo Avenido 6B in Antigua, Guatemala, my new home. I am here, and for now, that is more than enough.