Wednesday, March 14

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

I thought it would be a typical day.

Coffee. Gym. School. Errands. Except, I added in a visit to Paso a Paso...a little school in the village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, a school where many of our missions teams have gone to help.

I rode a bumpy and completely-off-the-map ride with a group of IDC women through the town and entered the small complex.  I'm always amazed at how simple these schools are. No metal detectors. No choir rooms. No gymnasium. And no soccer field...I thought. Until a little lady, clothed in indigenous garb, began to spray down the dirt-covered common area that was smaller in size than my living room. She wet it with a hose until it wasn't as dusty, and then...then...the real business of the day began.

I had thought we were there to be thanked for all of the work our teams had done, but, in reality, we were there to be schooled. In futbol.

I joined my team of ladies who were nearly all dressed in skirts and I thought I, as a runner, would hold my own. Boy was I wrong. These ladies work hard. All day. Every day for their families. And they know how to play hard too.

I lost count of how many times my elbow hit the cement block wall or how many times my shin was kicked or how many times the ladies yelled "mano!" (hand) or argued vehemently with the referee (aka the poor man who got roped into the job) over a goal.

These ladies were all in. We laughed (I couldn't tell if they were laughing AT or WITH me), and we ultimately won, despite a few toddlers wandering onto the "field" and a few kicks into dusty corners or fragile trees.

There was no spiritual lesson, nothing I could give them. But as we played hard and then stood around afterwards and simply talked, I realized that that is all that is required. To talk. To share. To be in the moment with them. Not to think about all I COULD have been doing back at my house, but to laugh with them at the shortness of my name (most Guate women have 5 or more names...keeping their father's name and adding on), talking about how many kids we had, making jokes about our cultural differences. That was all they wanted. And all I wanted.

They didn't want a program or an extravagant, spreadsheet-laden plan. They wanted to spend the afternoon with some ladies who, despite their differences in skin color, were actually remarkably similar. Kids. Food. Exercise. Politics.

God, help me let go of my agendas and simply be present where You are working. In a village. On a dirty soccer field. Not for myself, but for the love of people and of You. Amen.

Monday, March 5

Sink or Swim

In every family, there are stories that, over the years, have grown and mushroomed into tales of near-legend which no longer bear much resemblance to actual fact. My family is no exception.

Perhaps my dad's favorite with which to regale guests at the family's B&B, church, let's face it...complete strangers is the story of his grandson's birth. I had been in labor for a mere 36 hours in a military hospital. For you civilians, this means that your doctors are garbed in camouflage and you address your doctor as Colonel. Very comforting. After much discussion and debate, a surgical delivery was decided upon. But then the committee of officers decided to discuss some more. Don't mind me. I'm just sitting here in my hospital bed in excruciating pain. After many more back-and-forths and votes and talks, my mom politely asked to speak to Dr. Colonel in the hallway and informed him (did I mention politely?) that it was time. We'd made a decision. It needed to happen. Now. Politely. And it did.

Of course, when Dad tells this story now, Mom has put a Five Star General into a chokehold and has taken siege of the hospital by the mere sound of her voice.

My older brother has inherited the embellishment gene and likes to my parents by informing everyone that HE learned to swim this way: my parents dropped him off at the local YMCA whereupon his simply looked him in the eye and said, "Time to swim." And then they dropped him in. Sink or swim buddy.

My mom always corrects the story with a kindler, gentler, possibly more truthful version. But my brother's story always gets the laugh.

His experience, fictional or not, has come to my mind a lot recently. Life is a strange and circuitous route of brief periods of calm, where I am simply floating, and then other stretches of Class 4 white water rapids where there is no time to catch my breath and no time to even think about how to paddle. Instinct and a lifetime of habits, good or bad, kick in. When the stretch of calm comes again, I can look back, inhale for a moment and think about how I handled that intense water. But I can't think for long, because there is always another rapid around the bend.

The last few years, with their health difficulties, cultural challenges, financial stresses and relational navigations have felt like one rapid after another. I was talking with a friend about it recently and she mentioned that she often felt guilty for being stressed over her problems when so many have it so much worse. It's true. I feel that same twinge. But the thing is, my deep waters ARE deep waters to me. And hers are deep to her. No one is given the same boat, the same river or the same passengers.

The trick comes in how to make it through those deep waters. Many days, all I want to do is survive. Swimming? Eh. Overrated. Paddling well? I'll figure that out later. It's sink or swim time.

I don't have the "Sunday School" answer for that. Many people will quote things like Romans 8:28 or say, "This too shall pass." And that might bring comfort to them. For me, I have found strength in two vastly different phrases. First, simply repeating, "This too shall be made right," a lyric repeated to me not long ago (Derek Webb song by the same name). I might not always believe it, but I say it until I mean it, and I can see the calm waters ahead. Justice. Wrongs made right. Mercy. They will all come someday. And then there's the less-spiritual-but-just-as-helpful Spanish phrase I hear a lot..."poco a poco." Little by little. Not just surviving but sticking my oar back into the water even when my arms are exhausted. Moving forward. Forward being the key word.

So I'll keep paddling and maybe, in those rare moments of calm, I'll turn to the others in my boat and say, "Let me tell you a story about these rapids I went through once." And proceed to exaggerate my way through the tale. Because what's a good story without a little embellishment.