The last month has been a rollercoaster for us, starting with the return from our vacation with friends in Nosara. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed being “tourists.” We ate good food from restaurants, had a car to go wherever we wanted, and spent time connecting with close friends. When the vacation was over, I felt like it was time to return home because that’s what you do when a vacation is over. But here we still are. Instead of returning to comfort and the expected rhythms of established life, we returned to our little hole in Brasilito. No good food. No easy transportation. No close connections. No comfort. No expected rhythms of established life.
Wait. That’s not true. I can guarantee that every Friday and Saturday nights, the karaoke will be hot and heavy at the local bars until at least one o’clock in the morning. And I’m getting pretty good at recognizing the favorites.
I can guarantee that my sleep will be terrible every night. Charlotte or Jacob will wake us up at least several times throughout the night. There will be a dog barking incessantly, somewhere, for several hours. The neighbor’s rooster will land on our tin roof with a bang and start crowing at five in the morning.
I can guarantee that no matter how often we sweep and mop, the floor will feel gritty under my feet and I will need to wipe the grit off before I get into bed for the night. (Oh geez, do I miss carpet!)
I can guarantee that fire ants will swarm our kitchen counters and cabinets, no matter how fast I wipe up any food spills, and I’ll have itching and swollen sores all over my hands from their bites.
I can also guarantee that I will offend people in the local community. Our kids play in the dirt? Offended! Our kids play in the rain? Offended! I didn’t smile and give you a hug and a kiss when we passed in the street while Charlotte was screaming, crying, and clinging to my leg because I wouldn’t carry her the 100 feet to our house? Offended! I didn’t greet you as enthusiastically as you think I should have? Offended! I didn’t know that you can’t say no in this culture? Offended!
I can guarantee that I will always be inadequate with Spanish, no matter how long I live here.
I can guarantee that we will always be hot and sweaty (unless a tropical storm comes in October and dumps rain for days on end, and then we will be cold. That was unexpected), our laundry will never dry in the month of October, my clothes will never feel clean enough, and our shower will always feel too cold.
I think the hardest thing has been the bugs, though. It is guaranteed that our kids will be covered in bug bites. They play outside where they get bit, but the worst part is that they get bit while sleeping, no matter what we do. Charlotte wakes up every morning with new bug bites covering her body. As the rains have increased, so have the mosquitos. It doesn’t help that there is a field behind our house where the mosquitos breed. More recently we’ve found a couple of ticks, one on me and one on Jacob. A day or so after Rachel found the tick on Jacob’s head, she went into the kids’ bedroom to check on them while they were sleeping and, with her flashlight, saw several mosquitos in the act of sucking Charlotte’s blood. She came out and said, “I’m done. I want to go home!” This is the hardest thing for us, to see our kids being injured and to feel the threat of tropical diseases without being able to do a thing about it. We’ve looked for mosquito nets and researched where to buy them, but it’s impossible to find anything in this country.
So I guess there are expected rhythms that we are establishing here; they’re just not the kind that make us feel at home to return to. We’re four months in and our “Adventure Goggles” have been ripped off (oh, our hammocks were ripped off too, literally). What was a challenge and romantic before now just feels hard. After our hammocks were stolen, Jacob and Charlotte kept waking up in the middle of the night, afraid of robbers. For several nights, I would stay awake for hours in the living room to provide a sense of security and to help them know that everything is okay. They also keep talking about how they want to go back to California. Charlotte awoke in the middle of one night, cried out, “I want to go back to California!” and then promptly fell back asleep. They talk about how they miss the autumn leaves, and they keep asking if we packed up and saved different toys and buddies of theirs. Yes, we’ve been missing home. I guess we don’t have a home to go home to, but we’re missing what feels safe, comfortable, familiar: the comforts of familiar culture, familiar relationships, familiar routines, American standards of living, and the ease of American life. The vacation is over, but we still have six to seven months to endure.
Even in this time that feels hard for us, God has been constant and has spoken to us in various ways, sometimes through a beautiful family moment or through the words of a song or a sermon, and sometimes much more manifestly.
I started tutoring an eight year-old boy named Carlitos. He and his mother moved here from Mexico City not too long ago, and he has been struggling in the English program at an International Academy. His mother gave us a ride home from the Saturday-evening service at a Spanish-speaking church, and I mentioned that I am a teacher. She asked if I might tutor her son, and I said I gladly would twice a week. Since I’m not working this year, I have refused payment. One evening when picking her son up from our house, she said that she would really like to do something for us in exchange for helping her son. She said that she was a lawyer in Mexico so if we need any legal help (hopefully that won’t be necessary!) or would like to borrow her car to just let her know. She has asked us multiple times why we’re doing this Sabbath year. I think it’s a little hard for her to wrap her mind around why we would exchange living a comfortable life in the United States for living “a hard life” here in Brasilito. Last week, she drove through our neighborhood here in Brasilito and then asked us, “Why did you choose here in Brasilito? Even the poor people in the United States live better than you’re living here.” We tried to explain our goals of living in simplicity and of intentional relationship and service within the community, the very things that have been feeling so hard to us right now.
God manifestly worked in our lives through Patricia a couple of weeks ago. When she came to pick up Carlitos from tutoring, she said she knows that “we have come here to experience the hard life and might be opposed to this” but that she has a condo in Reserva Conchal that she is going to begin renting out as a vacation rental and wanted to gift us a weekend stay there. You should look up Reserva Conchal, but it is a beautiful luxury resort with paved streets and sidewalks and street lights and hot water and air conditioning and soft beds with beautiful sheets and no grit on the floor and wonderful pools and no roosters or dogs or karaoke. Despite our “desire to experience the hard life,” no, we were not opposed. In fact it was just what we needed to reset our perspective. It was an answer to a prayer that we had never prayed.
While we were there, enjoying the luxury, I walked out of the resort to buy some groceries at a supermarket in Brasilito, a ten-minute walk away. It was such a strange experience to go from the walls of the tranquil, beautifully manicured Reserva Conchal to the road leading into Brasilito. It was hard to reconcile the opulence of the resort with the streets of our neighborhood only a short walk away. While at the resort, we recognized God’s gift to us, but we also wondered why God provided us with such a beautiful experience and not to Comanche or to the many others who live lives of deprivation that are so much worse than what we are experiencing and have no escape, temporary nor long term.
All of our hardships are true and yet none of them are true. They’re hard for us, but where we live is luxury compared to most of our neighbors. Many neighbors don’t have windows, let alone screen doors. And yet that doesn’t make what we’re feeling any easier for us. So much of our experience in life is based on the relativity of our perspective, our interpretation of the facts and our emotions based on those interpretations. Shift the perspective and you can change the experience. And yet it is so difficult, if not impossible, to shift our own perspective and emotions.
I can’t answer why things in this world happen the way that they do, but a few days later Comanche stopped by our house to bring us some homemade arroz con leche. He told me what a blessing we have been to his family in their time of need with Madison’s brain cancer and how God sent us to them at just the right time to support and encourage them in this hardship. We are an answer to a prayer that had never been prayed. Wow…
The beautiful thing is that God is in the business of strengthening each of us and changing our perspectives to know and feel the truth. Maybe for one it’s a stay in Reserva Conchal. For someone else, it might be material assistance as his precious granddaughter fights cancer. Although there are so many unanswered questions about how and why God works, I have evidence that God works all things together for the good of those who love him. That is the Truth, and I want to remember that when my heart and perspective are floundering.
One more manifest way that God has helped to shift our perspective lately. The day after Rachel discovered mosquitos devouring our daughter in the night, we invited over a friend from church who was short on money for rent this month. We found out that she sews and could sew us mosquito nets, the very same nets that had been impossible for us to find. She went to Santa Cruz the very next day to buy the material, and although the material was unavailable, she found ready-made nets at Mágico Mundo! And Rachel also mentioned a screen door to our landlord, and within two days, he had a high-quality one custom made and installed. Our mosquito challenge, probably the most emotionally difficult challenge we’ve been facing, is feeling more manageable.
So we may not be at a point where everything feels rosy and adventurous, but I think we’re on an upward trajectory. We see God at work, helping us through our weakness, and I also believe that he is growing us to be stronger individuals who will be more capable of focusing on the abundant blessings in our lives rather than the fewer hard things.