Monday, March 28, 2016

Tough Love

(My monthly missions newsletter)

There's a little nearly-two-year-old boy named Thomas at Casa Adalia right now. He is in constant motion: running, climbing, and jumping. He has split open the skin above both eyebrows, nearly broken a finger in a door, and is continually being cautioned, caught, picked up, and comforted (and/or bandaged). Watching Thomas plunge around, it feels as though he's on a path to self-destruct. But I love him anyway. Recently I've started watching him on Monday mornings so his Mom can work. She has a part-time job and is working hard to plan a future for the two of them. So Thomas and I go to a nearby park where he can run and climb and play until he falls asleep in his stroller. Watching him tear around, Desi and I talked about how maybe when he grows up he'll be into extreme sports, or something else involving quick, brave decisions.

Over at Casa Gabriel, I've recently seen another type of self-destruction. One of the boys who has been there since before I arrived over two years ago, Dario, made poor choices which hurt the rest of the boys in the house. He went through denying it, downplaying it, and showing no remorse, holding a defensive attitude as though the rest of the staff and I were the ones wronging him. Sadly, this was not the first time Dario has had problems making good choices and working through the consequences. After a day of discussion, evaluation, and prayer, Dario was asked to leave. If he chooses, he can reapply to Casa Gabriel after a period of time. He packed his bags and went to stay with relatives. The staff and I, including Youth World leader Aaron (who was pulled in as we made this heavy decision), all told Dario, "This doesn't close any doors with us. You may not be living here right now, but we are your friends and you can come to us. We're here for you." It was tough love which was incredibly difficult on everyone ... though in the end, it was the kind of love needed.

I've seen Dario show such kindness and thoughtfulness, yet sometimes, it's one step forward, two steps back. Just as I care for little Thomas even when he doesn't listen, I care for Dario and other boys who have left the home, praying that they will mature and face consequences in a healthy way. As with Jonah, likely we all have times of running from something we don't like and don't want to face, before coming to repentance.

Or like the story of the prodigal son, which shows how grace isn't always received in an instant, but realized over time.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."   - Luke 15: 20


Monday, March 21, 2016

Small Kindnesses

This is a devotion I wrote for the weekly Youth World newsletter which goes out to everyone in our Ecuador missions community.

I have always loved this poem by Emily Dickinson:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Have you ever had someone – a friend or complete stranger – say or do something which made your whole day better? A simple smile, a kind gesture, and suddenly that small bit of thoughtfulness can make a huge difference. 

We don’t always know how our lives impact the people around us. Sure if you’re in a place to save someone’s life or help them through a difficult time, it’s more obvious than the moments when you give a simple compliment, let someone go before you in line, or show patience and understanding in a frustrating situation. Human nature proclaims, “I’m first. I need to think about myself and my needs before others.” The Holy Spirit leads us to the opposite approach: putting others first. 

Think about a time when someone did something kind for you, and it inspired you to do something thoughtful for someone else. It can be a ripple effect. I only wish we could see a map of that pattern, small kindnesses spreading outwards and being paid forward. 

You matter.
You are valued.
You are loved.
You make a difference in the lives of others. 

Remember that today. Then find a way to remind someone else. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Snipets Of Daily Life (part 3)

"You got to hold on
Take my hand
I'm standing right here
You got to hold on"
- "Hold On" by Tom Waits

There was an earthquake this morning. I was in the kitchen when everything started shaking and rattling. It's also so surreal; as in, "Is this really happening? Is it really an earthquake or is someone using some large machinery outside which is causing things to shake?" In a few seconds it had passed. The water in the large purifier on the counter was swaying as though it was just set down hard, and the light fixtures swayed back and forth.
As I walked down the hill twenty minutes later, I looked at the city's horizon and tried to determine if the lingering haze was clouds waiting to be burned off by the sun, or was dust which was shaken up, floating, looking for a place to land.

Walking home, I saw the neighborhood uni-cyclist. No joke: there is a guy who rides a unicycle up and down the hill near my apartment. He is thin and older; greying hair. He wears a helmet, knee pads, and a bright orange vest. As he rides down the hill, arms outstretched, balancing, I admire his prowess. Seeing him never fails to make me smile.

I listened to the song "Hold On" by Tom Waits. It is soft and mournful. I played it on repeat. I find a new song I love and play it over and over. This one, an older song, I stumbled upon while looking for something else. The lyrics tell a whole poetic story of love and loss and hope. Waits's voice is gravely, reminiscent of Bob Dylan, but it grows on me, grows as the song builds until it has become something lovely.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Personal Space

"Don't stand
Don't stand so
Don't stand so close to me"
 - Don't Stand So Close To Me, by The Police
(yes, I know what this song is about, the refrain just works for this so go with it)


There are ups and downs to having personal space.

Growing up in the US, I learned that everyone has their own bubble of space around them*. We all know 'that person' who doesn't respect the bubble: the person who starts a conversation by stepping forward and leaning in so that there's less than a foot of space between you and them, and suddenly you're focusing not on what they're saying but on trying to casually step back without offending them, because you really don't want to smell their breath. Or the person who stands a bit too close behind you in line, and you're uncomfortable because you don't want to feel their breath. We are taught to avoid these social missteps with one simple rule: respect the bubble, because everyone likes to have their space.

People in South America don't have this rule.

The other day I was in a grocery store and a woman stood so close in line behind me that every time she moved, her elbow prodded by back. I couldn't move forward without bumping my cart into the person in front of me so I just glanced back at her. She didn't take the hint. Then someone brought her a cart which she pushed into me. When I moved to begin unloading my groceries, she shoved her cart into mine before running to get a last item. Here in Ecuador, people are very concerned about loosing their place in line. It's a push-comes-to-shove-very-quickly society. Every man for himself. Lines are formed, but if you don't keep moving someone will step ahead of you. If you don't drive the moment a light turns green, people start honking. It's just how it is.

Here, everyone greets each other with a "besito". That's when you lean forward and touch cheeks while making a kissing sound. Some people, if they are very close to the other person, give an actual peck on the cheek, but most just kiss the air. This is the standard greeting for everyone. Of course in the US, people have their preferences. You might go in for a hug and someone holds out their hand instead, or turns sideways to give a simple side-hug. It's just personal preference for what kind of contact you desire, how you want someone to invade your bubble or not.

In Ecuador, every bus costs a mere twenty-five cents, and since many people don't have cars, rush hour for buses can be insane. I've had people 'helpfully' push me onto a crowded bus before the doors squeezed closed, because I wasn't going to be able to shove in on my own. There I stood, packed like a sardine along with tons of other people. I've had strangers grab my arm to keep their balance because they couldn't reach a hand-hold. I've had to learn how to be okay with strangers pressed all around, and how to elbow my way through a crowd. 

These may sound like bad things, and it's true that they were difficult to get used to. Honestly some days I still feel frustrated, swearing in my head, "Just give me some space!". But there are good things too. Like how the boys of Casa Gabriel will put their arms around each other in companionship. (the other evening, we were all sitting in the living room and Luis, one of the new boys, fell asleep leaning against Carlos's shoulder, after Carlos put his arm around him in a protective, big-brotherly style). How women will walk down the street arm-in-arm, sometimes sharing an umbrella this way, sometimes just being close friends. There is no stigma to it. If we saw that in the US, we might wonder about them, yet here no one thinks anything except that they are friends. In a culture where so many children are abandoned and abused, they need the assurance of love from friends. In the US we're taught that babies and children must be held and hugged and nurtured for them to thrive. So many of the things we learn and take for granted they are still barely learning in South America and may not even be able to do. A mother whose husband/boyfriend has left and who is struggling to buy food doesn't think about nurturing her child. She thinks about survival.

 In a crowded bus, everyone may be pushing and shoving but they're all in it together. The strangers who grab a hold of my arm for support know it's okay because they would let someone else do the same to them. They - we - are all fighting for our space in line, etc., while all the while acknowledging that everyone else is doing the same. It's just how it is. No one has time to think about someone's personal bubble. They squeeze onto a packed bus and then hold hands with their best friend walking down the street, because that's how it all balances out.

Once, I was sitting in the back of a crowded bus, eating an apple. I held the finished core in my hand, when the man pressed against my left side offered to throw it away for me. He took the sticky core and tossed it in a trash can I couldn't reach. It was a tiny thing, but I - who had been sitting there somewhat annoyed that I had to be touched by strangers - was so thankful. My bubble was invaded, and someone took the opportunity to do a small, kind thing. Faith in humanity restored.

There will likely always be days when I'm frustrated with cultural differences. But if I can try and understand, then I can see the good in it too. Different can be good, too.