Wednesday, August 26

Beginning, Middle, End

Anyone can begin. That's the easy part.
We begin the school year with fresh, unsmudged notebooks, razor-sharp pencils, a lunchbox that doesn't smell like week-old crusts, a folder with everything neatly tabbed and filed.
But come Christmas break, the lunchbox isn't even used anymore, the pencils are missing all their erasers, and the folder? What folder? A backpack makes an excellent filing system, thank you very much.
We begin an exercise program with a plan, the best shoes to enhance our performance, catchy tunes on our iPod, and intensity in our hearts. A few weeks later, the snooze button is the only thing getting a workout.
We begin marriage fully convinced that OUR marriage will be the best, the most intimate, the one that defies every odd and every statistic. A few years later, we're pretty sure we married the wrong person. It must be their fault we're not happy, not feeling that first-kiss rush.
We begin parenting with great hopes, sure plans that we will never, ever raise our voice at our children, we will spend beautiful afternoons making amazing crafts, we will provide financial security for their every need, we will play boardgames every night after our delicious dinner consisting of every food group, and we will simply be the best parents ever.

Beginnings are easy. It's that tricky middle part that makes us want to quit. The middle of the school year, the long, mind-numbing miles 12-19 of a marathon, the times with our spouse when talking through things feels like too much work and too discouraging, the days of mommyhood when the clock seems surely to have broken.

I don't want to be a person who just survives the middle.
I want to begin and end well.
I don't want to always be pushing ahead to the next milestone and miss what God is doing in my heart, in my family's hearts right now. And even though some days are endless, and some days are glorious, I know that the long days, the hard days are the ones that build my character, that prove what I am made of.

Character is a rather unglamorous word. It certainly doesn't stir great emotion, but when you know someone who has it, and who demonstrates it when you need it most, you realize just how unimaginably beautiful it is.

It's often said that a marathon is a great metaphor for life, and as a wannabe marathoner, I kept thinking about that during my first 26.2-miler. There were so many times I wished that I could JUST STOP MOVING. I wanted to have my finish-line moment already. But isn't that the point? I can't stop moving. And if "just finishing" a marathon is an accomplishment in itself, what does finishing well look like?
I want to know.
And not just in a race.

Phil. 3:13-15, The Message
I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it

Sunday, August 16

Same and Different

Life is life, no matter where you live it. There is a common human experience that makes it possible for us to relate to people who may not even speak the same language we do. In the interest of such experience, I'd like to answer the question most commonly asked of me:
"How do you live in a Third World Country??"
Here's how:
In the States, I went to the grocery store. In Guatemala, I go to the grocery store. The only difference is, I can only buy what I can carry in bags (or boxes) to my car, which is usually parked a couple of blocks away.
Well, there might be another difference. I am getting some lightning-fast math skills since I convert every price I see into dollars by dividing it by 8 in my head. I say "price I see," because often there is no price that I can see, and apparently whatever price the cashier assigns it that day is the final answer.

In the States, we sometimes visited our local farmers' market to buy produce. In Guatemala, I sometimes buy produce at the mercado. The only difference is, I speak Spanish, I try to haggle for a different price, and I have learned to ignore the iguanas, rats, roaches, and other wildlife I may come across.
On the plus side, the produce is so ripe and ready that it tastes exactly like it's supposed to.

In the States, I turned on my stove. In Guatemala, I turn on my gas stove, and if, perchance, it is out of gas, I call my friendly gas people and they bring me a new tank. If you run out of gas in the middle of cooking dinner, there's always cereal.

In the States, I went running. In Guatemala, I run with our IDC running club. The only difference is, in our many (hilly!) miles, we have come across all manner of animals, including snakes, pigs (large, and dead), aggressive bees and dogs. We also get the view of an active volcano puffing nearly every time we run.

In the States, I ran errands. In Guatemala, I run errands. The only difference is, I've learned to use my hand as my turn signal, cobblestoned streets don't even feel bumpy to me anymore, and I'm pretty sure I no longer remember what a stoplight means.

In the States, I swore we'd never own a motorcycle. In Guatemala, we do. Enough said.

In the States, we drove everywhere. In Guatemala, we still rely on our car a lot, but we've also taken advantage of our local transportation system, such as chicken buses, tuk-tuks, and just plain old walking.

In the States, I took my kids to the doctor. In Guatemala, I sometimes don't have to. Amoxicillin is available at our local farmacia, right over the counter. Nifty!

In the States, I used my dishwasher every day, sometimes twice a day. In Guatemala, I wash dishes by hand, in a single sink, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I am pretty darn fast at it.

In the States, I bought fruit and ate it. I turned on the tap and used the water for cooking and drinking. In Guatemala, the only difference is I clean fruit with a disinfectant, and I use a special filter for all of the water. Because parasites are not our friends.

In the States, we went to church. In Guatemala, we go to church. The difference is.....pretty much nothing. We worship the same God, read the same Bible, have the same love for each other, feel our hearts stirred in the same way.

In the States, we were blessed. And in Guatemala, we still are.

Sunday, August 2

July in Pictures

July has been our busiest month ever. We've had teams back-to-back, and sometimes two at a time. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the work of either leading teams (Steve) or helping to cook for them (Jess), but one of the coolest parts of what we do here is that our whole family can join in with not just the work, but the fun stuff, too. Here are some of the highlights of our month...

Our family gets to love on kids at the Malnutrition Center.

...or on the pet rabbit there.

I got to run with my friends in Antigua's Las Rosas Half-Marathon, and there was nothing better than seeing my family at the finish line...

One of the teams had lots of kids with them, so we tagged along on a visit to the local coffee finka and a hike up Volcan Pacaya.

We get to be a part of an amazing bilingual body of believers.

Celebrating Communion...

...and Jackson as an angel.

So, although July has been one of the most challenging months we've experienced in our time here, it has had many friends, new experiences, lives changed.
On to the fall.....