Seven weeks ago, my family traded its 15th summer in colorful Colorado for a new, missionary-language-&-culture-learning life in tropical Costa Rica. If it reads like a mouthful, you can be assured, it’s even more of a heartful to live. Since then, our Facebook posts are proof positive that we have experienced exhilarating escapades. We have logged several amazing adventures:
… three days in the Monteverde Cloud Forest (met many creatures, great & small and learned much about coffee, sugar & chocolate!)
… three days in the spectacular Nicoya Peninsula (thanks to rainy season, we had the whole place & the whole beach to ourselves for a very affordable price, even though it rained only an hour or two every day!)
… a day hike to a cross above the city where God gave us the sweet surprise of sharing the gospel with a new friend (pray for her soon-to-be-surrendered heart – Jesus is pursuing her!)
… reintroduction to a (non-home) school routine for all four of us (my favorite thing: walking to and from school as a family … my least favorite thing: packing lunches for our little people again!)
… a wonderful waterfall garden excursion in La Paz (see our Facebook for more photos)
… nesting in a new-to-us neighborhood (we are enjoying our house & community!)
… choosing a church family (haven’t church-hopped in 15 years – it’s kind of fun and kind of not)
… and many new friendships forged (while missing our current ones back home!)
The comments we have received from our loved ones online, on the phone, via text all communicate relief and joy that we are doing well and that we seem to be having fun on our adventure as we adjust to a new life here. We are having fun and we are doing well, praise God!
BUT … there is also “the stuff in between.”
In between the camera’s capture of beauty. In between the funny status updates about our observations regarding cross-cultural transition. In between the prayer and praise emails. In between phone calls, FaceTime, Google Voice texts. In between the newsletters with photos and facts about our host country. Sometimes, even in between shutter clicks, there is “stuff” that happens.
I’m not lamenting this reality – it simply is what it is. There is a limitation of time & distance which means we have to be selective with what we write about, speak about, & post. There also exists the impossibility of communicating fully with just a few lines, so often, little or nothing is said. Social media opens so many doors to self-expression … and yet there is often judgment for those who are courageous enough to really say what they’re truly feeling all of the time. All of these realities pose a challenge to those of us (read: missionaries living on support) who want loved ones to know how we’re really doing in the paradoxes of transition, if we can begin to verbalize it.
Does this mean when we post about a good day or a good moment, that we’re fibbing? NOPE!
Does selectiveness in social media speech reveal a lying spirit? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Is filtering the whole truth, for missionary updates, a sin? NOT IN MY NOTHING-BUT-THE-TRUTH CONVERSATIONS WITH JESUS.
Really, we are having a wonderful time. We do love our new life, truly. We cannot believe, genuinely, that we get to serve Jesus in a place like this. BUT … in between the beautiful snapshots, in between the sweet & funny things Megan & Micah say, in between the prayer requests and the praises … there is other very real “stuff” … and that is the stuff which makes life hard. The stuff which cannot be captured on camera. The stuff for which, sometimes, there are no words.
But, in the interest of keeping things real, I will try to communicate some of that stuff right here, right now.
STUFF-in-BETWEEN #1: Almost everything takes more time & effort here. Some of it is cultural. Tico (Costa Rican) culture leans more towards, “Calma, calma. Tranquilo. No te preocupes. Poco a poco. Pura vida!” (Translation in my head: Seriously, chica, you’re going to stress about something this insignificant?! Get a hold of yourself!) By their speech, you could be led to believe that the greatest tragedy would be to experience a single minute as the opposite of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” Hurrying, here = not necessary, casi nunca (almost never).
Do you know how much effort it takes NOT to be efficient, when in the United States, the label of multi-tasking efficiency is an invisible trophy to be desired by every stay-at-home-mom and won by only the chosen few who have the most Pinterest followers? To our detriment, our homeland awards bragging rights and more for doing everything better, faster, sooner, for more money. Don’t get me wrong: there ARE time-saving devices and methods here. Many of them are just plain AMAZING because Ticos don’t have all the resources we do in the U.S., which forces an admirable level of ingenuity. Someday, I’ll write a blog about their creative ways of living with the land, just as it is. However, culturally speaking, Costa Rica has it right (in my opinion) in that timeliness and uber-efficiency are not gods for most people (one giant exception is pre-hired taxi drivers – if they arrive earlier than they said they would, they think they’ll earn more)!
Some of this is not cultural, though. Things take longer and require more effort right now because we’re the new kids on the block! We still haven’t decided a permanent location for many of our household items. We still can’t tell you the best store to find certain things and for how much savings and where those stores are in reference to each other. I’m cooking almost everything from scratch because it’s more economical (see #2 below). We chose not to have a car during our first year at the language school, so walking or taking public transportation takes longer. Avoiding dog poop, moss and slippery tile on the sidewalks takes careful effort. Not avoiding friendly neighbors means planning to delay our ETA by several minutes. And don’t even get me started on how we have to remind the kids every 5 steps that, “No, you do not need to pick up that used (insert your favorite item of trash)” and “That’s a lovely beetle, dear, and I know it’s leaving a stinky trail on the sidewalk, but we need to keep walking because school starts in two minutes!”
No dishwashers here … you’re talking to them! Yup, every single item must be well washed & rinsed because even the most microscopic of crumbs is an automatic APB for the ant population of Costa Rica to come & have at it. When seeking information about some/any/everything, we will get three contrasting opinions from Tom and Dick and Harry. (Although here, they’re more likely to be José y Carlos y JuanCarlos). These realities guarantee that decision-making, planning and execution of outlined goals will take more effort and will require a greater deal of paciencia.
Friends, this means that emotionally, it is exhausting to keep readjusting to the way things are done here. Oh, that I would learn to exit my worship of self-sustenance & self-driven-improvement and enter into a lifestyle of leaning into Christ’s timetable for my inner being … for His glory and not my selfish gain. Thank you, Costa Rica, for initiating this attitude of all is well – all will be well – gracias a Dios.
STUFF-in-BETWEEN #2: Almost everything costs more here. I know, it’s unbelievable, right? We’re in a non-first-world, progressive country! I mean, you were able to purchase 5 bracelets for the price of one in Cancún last year and you still payed LESS for those than you would for one earring at Target in Nashville. Aren’t all Latin American countries conducive to cheaper living?
Just as time is relative, so are prices, so is money. However, if you are hearing this reality from us or anyone else you know in Costa Rica … it’s true! We CAN buy almost anything here that we can buy in the U.S. … IF we’re willing to pay the price. A bottle of sunscreen which is $3 at my Walmart in Highlands Ranch, CO? $8 here. A Barbie doll which is $9.99 there? Anywhere from $20-$60 here. (I did find some on sale for $16 … but they looked weird, seriously weird). Meat which I’m used to paying $2 a lb. is now at least $5 or more per pound (not per kilo, which is 2.2 lbs, do you hear my pain???) – and that’s at our Costco (PriceSmart)! Milk is $4 a gallon – no matter which size you purchase, or how much in bulk, or which day of the week and where. It is ALWAYS $4 a gallon and our son ALWAYS wants milk. The kid is learning to like water. I’ve also kissed boneless, skinless chicken parts goodbye.
I don’t want to get into a discount-finding competition … I’m sure there are places and times for getting the above items for less than the price of 10 blankets from Guatemala and a baby llama from Peru. And yes, there are items which are MUCH cheaper here: non-imported fruits and non-imported vegetables. The produce which is locally grown is spectacular in flavor and we have switched our diet to include mainly these kinds of foods … but what would you do if your kids didn’t like papaya or avocado and could only eat so much rice & beans? I believe that eventually, our expenses & budget will even themselves out. We just need to figure out what is a staple for us and what is not. Truly, though, gone are the days of a bowl of cereal being a cheap snack! Overall, the cost of living here is much higher than our settled life & budget in Denver, Colorado. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Now you know why we chose to wait until the end of our first year here to purchase a car. Now it will make sense why I’m starting to bake our own bread and why our teammates, the Mihalkos, have joked time and again about buying a cow for milk. Vale la pena (it’s worth the price), but the sticker shock does make life harder for those of us who are new to life here. It’s a definite pressure – even while well cared-for – to spend money differently than we did in Colorado.
Friends, this means that we are working diligently to be good stewards of God’s provisions for us and that is harder right now, as everything is so new. Oh, that I would learn to exit my worship of comfort & ease and enter into a lifestyle of leaning into Christ’s constant & perfect provision … for His glory and our appropriate investment of His possessions. Thank you, Costa Rica and your thousands of colónes, for making it necessary for me to trust that I am more loved than the sparrow upon whom He has His eye.
STUFF-in-BETWEEN #3: Doing anything in more than one language can be exhausting. It’s one thing for me to be the sole translator for a two-week family vacation in Mexico. It’s another thing to be doing it full-time for 7 whole weeks of daily living. For Jordan, it’s one thing to have me near him 24/7 when he needs my language help. It’s another thing entirely for him to run errands on his own without another set of, well, everything. We’re not on vacation anymore! Some of my most tiring days are shopping days because I get to hear & speak quite a bit of Spanish, but I also have to do math in my head in two languages (and then – oh – don’t forget, we also have to haul it all back because, you got it … walking or public transport). Given the choice, I would rather speak in front of a bunch of strangers … I know, most North Americans will not agree with me on this.
Right now, I’m the only one in our family who can speak Spanish … that means every single phone conversation, visitor at the gate and any other communication more profound than, “Hello, how are you?” falls to me. Again, I’m not lamenting this. It’s just the reality we’re living with at the moment. It also means that Jordan is exhausted by not understanding everything fully and I’m exhausted by the pressure of helping him understand most things fully. This too, shall pass and yet, it’s “stuff in between.” Most nights, we’re ready to collapse into bed by 7:00 pm. But remember #1? Almost everything takes longer. So we’re not usually done with cleanup, dishes, packing lunches and bedtime routine until 8 or 8:30 … and then most nights we still have our own Spanish homework to finish.
This past week, my brain hit a wall and I began to feel what I had been told would happen & would be very normal: I began to regress in my ability to speak Spanish fluidly. The review of direct and indirect objects in Grammar class began to mess with my head and I started to shut down mentally. It was so incredibly frustrating and exhausting. My consolation: knowing this was normal and watching others who speak Spanish better than I do go through the same thing! One other consolation: Jordan can now speak in simple sentences! It has been fun to watch him grow in his knowledge of verbs, which are at the heart of this beautiful language we’re committed to learning well. Ask him sometime to conjugate the city of Denver as a regular and an irregular verb. HILARIOUS!
Friends, this means that our brains are in overdrive several hours a day and we reach the end of ourselves much more quickly than we used to. Oh, that I would learn to reject the worship of damaging perfectionism and enter into a lifestyle of leaning on the Spirit for sanctified communication … for His glory and my neighbor’s good. Thank you, Español, for keeping us humble.
STUFF-in-BETWEEN #4: Cumulative stress is real. If you were to serve me any one of the following things one at a time, I could probably handle it anywhere from alright to pretty well: 5 hours of sleep the night before, a grammar test, the smell of sewer wafting in through my kitchen windows while I cook dinner, a beggar coming to the door, the hot water ceasing & desisting, my bickering kids NOT, pounding rain for two to four hours straight to the point that I can’t hear myself think, missing the fall leaves of Colorado, snails and ants and beetles and moths paying me and my possessions not-so-neighborly visits, realizing that Jordan’s debit card was hacked and someone stole $500 from us, a phone call with a Spanish speaker who drops the end of every word so I’m forced to ask her to repeat herself to the point of feeling like the world’s biggest idiot, wondering how my slowly-dying father is doing, firecrackers at the local Catholic church which sound like they’re in my child’s bedroom window, my back pain flaring up, hoping that Jordan will be home before dark because the chances of being robbed on the streets, when you’re walking alone, goes up significantly after sundown, realizing that we’re fully committed in support, but several haven’t given in 2-3 months … just to name a few. Yes, each one of these things is a real example from our life here.
BUT … put them all together in the span of 48 hours … and all of a sudden, I can’t deal.
Sidenote: I’m fighting slight feelings of guilt right now because I know that I have dear friends who are living with multiple stresses ranging from milder than these to actually fearing for their very lives. I’m not comparing our stresses with anyone else’s stresses. I’m writing about the cumulative effects of stress, which means it doesn’t matter what the specific stressors are. Put enough of them together, for a long enough period of time, and cumulative stress affects us all in profound ways.
Friends, this means that we are living on adrenaline much of the time right now. In fact, we’ve been working to disentangle ourselves from adrenaline as much as possible, ever since we learned how damaging it can be to us physically, mentally, emotionally. But sometimes, there just isn’t any escaping it. There’s not much we can do about it but cry out, “God, help!” in the midst of the adrenaline rush and crash. Oh, that I would learn to let Jesus fight for me or help me to flee appropriately … for His glory and my ultimate joy. Thank you, stress, for providing me with the opportunity to run to my Strong Tower, to my Rock that is higher than I.
STUFF-in-BETWEEN #5: Satan is working overtime. He loves to attack during the stuff in between. He hates the genuine highlights of our God-given missionary adventure because He knows they keep us going despite the battles within and around us. I’ve gotten into the habit of telling friends & family than when God brings us to mind, for them, it’s likely a call to prayer for a reason!
Friends, this means that we are battling, not against flesh and blood! Oh, that we would learn to stand strong in our spiritual armor … for His glory and for our eternal reward. Thank you, Jesus, for being powerful enough to transform us from glory to glory, and for being sovereign over our enemy, yes, even during the stuff in between glorious realities.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NAS)