It’s our first Thanksgiving in Costa Rica! One year ago, I wondered if I would have the joy of writing those exact words today, or if the Lord, in His perfect timing, would be pleased to have us still as Colorado residents. The answer is quite claro to me now! God has done it.
While much of my world here and in Colorado are thinking of the unpardoned turkey and his requisite festal trimmings, this morning I have a different plate in mind. It used to be “south of the border” for us but is now, from our Costa Rican Foote Rest, “north of the borders.” (It just doesn’t have the same ring, my Mexican friends!) Perhaps it was because one of the last things I read last night before sleep laid claim to my stubborn eyes is that “A burrito is really a shy taco,” which sent me into a much-too-long fit of giggles like most semi-funny things do when bedtime has been delayed yet again. I have declared jokingly on many occasions that Mexican dishes are really the same 5 ingredients wrapped in different envelopes of flour or corn. Perhaps it’s because I have to fight for the opportunity to eat spicy food here. Costa Rican cuisine considers chile heat as a plan C, after delicious saltiness and their much-beloved mayonesa (for them, plan D is moving out of the country in search of more mayonnaise). Maybe it’s because I am painfully aware that my bottle of Guatemalan Picamás is running low and I’m wondering how selfish I am allowed to be with what’s left.
In the end, it isn’t really all that, though. My palate is genuinely happy here because it has been trained for contentment in a myriad of culinary cultures. I have my Italian & Filipino missionary parents, an abundance of international travel and multiple multi-cultural friendships to thank for that. No, it’s something deeper that has me thinking of Mexican food today.
This morning, I read our emails and messages from friends and family “back home” in the rainy morning light. I could feel quiet tears spilling onto my cheeks, onto my pillow, then onto my husband’s gentle arms. One thing I learned from missionary kidhood and later, from the grief of multiple miscarriages: don’t stop the tears. Truly, you’ll feel so much better if you do what tear ducts were created to do. I believe that tears are a liquid mirror, reflecting to the outside world a fragmented glimpse of the heart’s truest yearning: to be known, to be seen. Tears were designed to be delivered from the inside out. They run so they can be received, not rejected. Do you recall the last time you held them back? It was painful, wasn’t it?
Yes. I cried when I read my mother-in-law’s email reminiscing about the last few Thanksgiving celebrations and how much joy that would bring to her heart. Her predictions about what we would all be doing & saying today, were we together = spot-on. We are familial creatures of habit. I smiled at our predictable patterns, deep grooves worn by years of togetherness. I absorbed her words. Then, I saw a Facebook picture posted by my dear friend, Sarah. Her Little Women had turned an otherwise plain banana into a smiley-face worthy of a profile picture. I laughed out loud. Then I saw that the banana was in Sarah’s fruit basket, on Sarah’s kitchen counter, in Joe & Sarah’s house. I spent many hours laughing, crying, praying, dreaming, winning & losing card games, cooking, eating, comforting and being encouraged to take the next step of faith in that house. I cried again. Giving and receiving. Take that list of verbs and multiply it by ten at Karl & Christy’s house. Mark & Carol’s house. With Christopher & Mary Rose. With Jim & Donella. With Jason & Debbie. Paul & Jeni. TJ & Leslie. Bob & Arlena. Now the faces and places are flashing before my eyes so quickly I can’t possibly type them all out. We had a community. We HAVE a community 5,000 miles away. The distance is tangible today.
What does all this have to do with Mexican food? After we lost Jorrie Noel & Judah Noel 12 Christmases ago, I crafted the term “emotional burrito” to describe the human experience of grief, held by the hands of an Almighty God. On its own, grief is paralyzing, life-draining. Yet, because we are comforted by the Holy Spirit of our Creator-Father, I learned that grief never sits alone. It’s always tangled intimately with His deep, sustaining love, ushering in a host of precious treasures, gifts for me. Whenever anyone would ask how I was feeling after any of our four miscarriages, and even after we adopted Megan & Micah, my honest answer was often, “It’s an emotional burrito – my feelings are all mixed up together. There’s no way to limit myself to saying just – this is killing me – or this is blessing me. It’s both. Burrito.” (Sidenote: the best burritos are the ones smashed together. If you’ve ever bitten into a poorly constructed one, the mouthful of only lettuce says it all. Never again. Ok, back to serious now). As soon as I declare how much I miss Colorado, my emotional burrito reminds me that I am also incredibly joyful to be here in Costa Rica, not in spite of everything I miss but because of everything I have to miss. CS Lewis said it best, “The pain now is part of the happiness then.”
I also feel that my happiness now is birthed by that pain. The part of the burrito I prize the most is that by saying goodbye to those above and to many more, we have been able to say “Hola” to a new family of faces. They are not temporary substitutes for our “real” friends. No, these are people for whom I would jump in front of a moving car if it would save them (as long as it means I can keep my Picamás under lock & key, of course – just kidding). It is an honor to stumble, second-guess & succeed through Spanish drills with them. It is a privilege to pray for them, to worship with them, to learn what makes them joyful, sad, confused, giddy, angry. God is giving us a heart for multiple mission fields through them, as most of them will move on from San José after graduation. And for our Tico friends … what a dream come true to be able to say, finally, “Let’s do cafecito today” instead of “Maybe next year!” We LOVE living here. Our aching & joyful hearts are full and are expanding constantly as more and more precious people take up residence in there. The welcome mat is out. I don’t think I could pull the mat back off the porch, even if I tried, and I don’t intend to try. God made His children so dear, all things considered. Even when we step in each others’ messiness, we can’t wipe off the fact that God has called us to be here, together, today. We have a community right here, right now. What a gift. We are deeply grateful.
So, in the spirit of today and to honor my generous, passionate God, I leave you with my burrito list of reasons why I am grateful. I will be thinking of all this while we’re eating very non-spicy Thanksgiving fare later today:
1. I’m painfully aware of my wretchedness of heart. I’m equally beholden to my Savior for thinking of me while He was bleeding on the cross, taking upon Himself the eternal consequence of my deathly sin, then conquering it forever so that Heaven, not Hell, is my eternal Home. I am thankful to my God.
2. After 19 years of friendship, 16 years of marriage, I still marvel that God gave me Jordan. He is the only human on earth who has seen me at my absolute worst and still manages to see through all that to find something worth loving, worth committing a lifetime of the many faces of devotion. Today, I’m especially thankful that he knows me so well, I don’t have to explain myself to him most of the time. He gets me, even when others don’t. He receives me, just as I am and finds joy in doing so. He has figured out how to steel himself against petty annoyances and just work on the stuff that matters. He grants me the lavish grace I long to give. I’m a woman blessed. I am thankful for my husband.
3. I love that at 7:00 this morning, our bed occupancy crescendoed from a lazy two to a lively four. This was the faceless picture I envisioned years ago when life’s current carried us from repeated pregnancy tests, to ultrasound photos, to devastating news, until the day we laid eyes on Megan, then Micah. The picture is no longer faceless. And, even while Megan & Micah were driving me nuts this week as only a 9 and 6 year old can, I couldn’t ignore the glee they generated within me. I love my kids. I am overjoyed by the privilege of a front-row seat to the process of their growth into true, delightful individuals. I am thankful for my children.
4. As you probably guessed from all I’ve already written, I am not lacking in the deep, satisfying friendship category. I still don’t understand how one gal could be so blessed to have the joy of learning to love so many amazing people. Because of #1 above, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not because I’m all that special, although I wish it were – that would feel good for about two minutes! It’s because God is so good … and because He delights in giving His children good gifts. God hard-wired me to be a connector, to relate on many levels. I’m so grateful for every opportunity He grants me to connect deeply with others. Over the years, it’s given me an uncanny intuition about peoples’ inner cogs & wheels: their fears, their insecurities, their joys, their passions even if they don’t spell it out for me. Sometimes, I love this sense as it helps me to minister to others in compassion. Sometimes, I hate it, because it’s not always my job to speak that realization into their lives. That being said, I love being a friend to others. I love being a friend of others. I am thankful for true friends.
5. I am grateful for the world of music, especially this time of year. The holidays, for me, are best experienced by intersecting God’s stories and human stories, expressed through song. It has been a beautiful way to connect with the Costa Rican culture around me, as well – they sure love to sing around here! The last few weeks, as my stress level has increased, making music has been a welcome release. A friend’s simple act of loaning me her gorgeous guitar gave me the chance to write four new songs, something I haven’t done for over a year. Our language school’s generosity to let me use the chapel piano after school hours has been a sweet, treasured blessing. I have friends & acquaintances in our community who say “Sí” when I ask them to team up with me in musical endeavors. It’s so fun to be surrounded by talented artists who speak Musica. What a gift! And thank God for Jordan’s decision to set up a VPN so I can stream Spotify anytime I want to … it’s the little things that make me happy! I am so thankful God gave us the ability to create and to be blessed by music.
From the depths of my heart, may this coming Season grant you the ability to recognize when you are being blessed with an emotional burrito. May you find the realities of your current life desirable, even though the human world is hard at work to convince you otherwise.
We are fully alive. The sensations of joy and pain are evidence of that. Let’s cry over it. Smile through it. Savor it. It’s worth every moment, no matter which side of the border we happen to be on today.
With much love,