Tomorrow (Thursday, December 29) we will have been here in Jinotega, Nicaragua for three months. That's a whole season. In some ways it feels like we have been here a long time. We are fairly comfortable getting around town, and our Spanish is getting better all the time. We have already made friends with many people locally. But, in other ways it's like we just got here. We're still not in a house, and we're still figuring out how our daily life needs to flow to accomplish the goals we have set. We do have friends, but we don't know enough Spanish yet to have really deep relationships. I guess we're in an "in between" stage right now, which puts me in the mood for reflection and introspection. Before I get started afresh on various projects, I want to share with you some things I have learned so far while being here:
Lesson 1 - Moving to a different country does not automatically make me a different person.
Yes, I am always changing as a person and growing as a Christian, which led to my coming here. However, I find that I have followed myself here. My habits (good and bad), preferences, and corny sense of humor are all still present. My personality hasn't changed, though it does sometimes play out differently in the different situations I find myself in. I still have the same pet sins (darn it!). I still have the same coping mechanisms for stress. But, I also have the same God. It is very comforting to know that He followed me here too. (Or, rather, I followed Him.)
Lesson 2 - Life can be very draining, and it is important to recharge.
So far our experience has been that it takes more effort and energy to do even simple, everyday things. The language barrier plays into this, obviously, as well as not always knowing how to go about doing things in this location and culture. Anytime we need to go anywhere, we have to take the time and effort to figure out how we're going to get there. (Is there a mission vehicle available? Do we have money for a taxi? Is it close enough just to walk? Etc.) There are almost always lots of people around, and even though that can be a good thing, it takes its toll on us introverts. There are all sorts of little "life" things I could add to this list that wear us out bit by bit every day. Things that we took for granted before are all just slightly harder here, so our "baseline" stress level is higher. Because of that, it is so important for us take the time to gain back that energy. Whether we do that through the obvious things like sleeping, eating, praying, etc. or by vegging for a time on the Internet, those times of being refilled are crucial. Many times we feel like we should always be "doing" something, but to do that would leave us without anything left to give. There has to be a balance.
Lesson 3 - However, sometimes we just have to suck it up and "do" things anyway.
Life is rarely ideal, and it seems so far like things are even less ideal here. Communication is always an issue. Planning (whether too much or too little) is always an issue. Often those two come together and we find that there was a plan, but it was not communicated. In those moments, we just have to ignore how low our energy is at the time, pray for strength and wisdom, and do whatever needs to be done. There is a sign in the dining room at the mission which says, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape." We find ourselves needing to live by this quote every single day.
Lesson 4 - In order to be transformed into better, more Christ-like people, our old self has to die.
There is an awful lot I could say about this, and most of you are probably already well-acquainted with the truth of this statement. But, this concept is fresh in my mind as I have been reading "Mere Christianity" (by C.S. Lewis) and thinking about some of the stresses I have been dealing with lately. To sum up Lewis' words, when Jesus says to "be perfect as [he] is perfect," he is serious. However, that perfection comes from him (Jesus, not Lewis). In fact, what he offers us is perfection and nothing less. When we choose to live a life in Christ, we are choosing to allow him to work in us in order to present us perfect to God. We certainly can't be perfect on our own, so he has to do it. But, giving him free reign of our entire being is so hard because we know that doing so will bring our imperfections to light. Right now I definitely feel like many of my imperfections are being brought to light, and I don't like it. I know, though, that going through this process is ultimately bringing me closer to God, which makes it make sense. I recently read John chapter 16, and the last verse (v. 33) was very comforting to me:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Lesson 5 - I think I would like life on a ship.
Okay, I'll have to explain this one a little more. Most of you probably know that I am into Science Fiction. I like Star Trek and Star Wars and most shows that have something to do with living in space. I realized a while back (before moving here) that one of the main things that appeals to me about those shows is that, usually, there is some sort of ship or space station or something where all of the people are living and working together. They don't have "houses"--or even "rooms"--but "quarters." The reason the people are there together is because they have some objective that they are working toward, whether it be fighting the enemy or simply exploring. The characters have relationships with each other that are both personal and professional. It occurred to me one day that I longed for that type of situation, and on many levels I think I have now achieved it. I am living in "unknown territory" with a team of people who I both work and play with to accomplish a set purpose. We are exploring more of this place all the time, and new "characters" are being introduced into our lives. We are constantly up against spiritual enemies who would seek to undermine our work, but we already know that we win at the end of the story. Alright, maybe this metaphor is incredibly dramatic and cheesy to you, but it helps me to stay on track. :)
Wow, well, I hope all of my "lessons" didn't depress you. I realize it may sound like life here is so hard and stressful all the time. Really, overall we are very happy to be here. The thing is, life is hard, regardless of where you are. The things I said (mostly) could apply to anyone at any time in any place. As I think of these things as a whole, I guess the bottom line to me is that I keep seeing God at work in my life. To try to take Him out of the equation doesn't even compute with me. While it's easy for it to get convoluted, I know that my life has a purpose, and instead of feeling pressure and guilt at not always knowing how to fulfill that purpose, I can rejoice that God is the one leading the way and that He knows what He's doing.