Monday, June 14, 2010

My Life Here :)

Ok Blog World: I am truly and deeply sorry that it has been more than a month since I last updated. I have opened up my blog and sat down to type updates on multiple occasions... only to shut my computer with nothing written down. Why can't I put into words what I am feeling here? How could I ever express my experiences in a short blog post? I am feeling limited by my own vocabulary and language. Words cannot describe how I feel about Jaco and the people that I am with here. No update would do justice to the changes in my heart and life, and I am struggling to communicate the depth of love in my heart for the people I have come to know. But I can try.

I'll run through my life here: Wake up and have breakfast around 7:30 - Cooking eggs or having a bowl of cereal and tea in my cute little apartment, looking outside to the sun shining in through the leaves of our mango tree. The team meets for prayer, worship or planning around 8, and it's off to the river for a 9:00 arrival.

My only mode of transportation here is my beautiful blue beach cruiser bike with a basket. While initially I wasn't looking forward to riding my bike every time I had to go somewhere, I am now really enjoying it. Traveling around town isn't all about the destination anymore - it's an adventure any time I need to run an errand, and the "getting there" process is now half the fun. So far I've almost been hit by cars on countless occasions, watched a man pee on the sidewalk, had to stop and wait for horses to cross the street, have carried a surfboard under my arm, and both ridden on the bike bar or had kids ride on it with me!

As I ride my bike down the street that leads into the river, I get more and more excited. The community feels strangely like home to me, and I almost daily wonder if I could live in a place like it long term. There is a unique feel to it that I cannot describe: women sitting on the porches of their homes, rocking babies and talking, chickens pecking among the rocks, children splashing in the dirty river that runs straight through their neighborhood, puppies romping on the banks of the water, teenagers coming and going on rusty bikes... it is nothing like where I come from and yet I am comfortable. On the outside, it doesn't seem appealing. But a closer look at this neighborhood reveals a sense of community that few are fortunate to know, especially in the individualistic society of America that I was raised in. Back home, I don't know my neighbors well. In the river, neighbors are family and care for each others' children, pets and needs. Relationship is a priority, and no one is ever too busy or private to share with the ones around them. Something about it draws me in and makes me wish I had a shack along the river where I could sit and visit with the people who come through every day, watching children and animals play while enjoying the simple yet invaluable pleasures of family and friendship.

As I am pulled into that community daily, I am greeted by children running full-speed, barefoot, across the rocky banks of the river and straight into my arms. I am greeted with "regalos" - gifts - from the kids we work with. They spend their time drawing me pictures and writing me letters, the younger ones sending flowers colored with love and the older ones letting me know with their words that I am special to them. Even after I've received about 13948 drawings from these kids, each one still makes my heart skip a beat as they hand it to me with sincerity and a loving eagerness that I can only hope to return in full.

Each day is different in the "classroom" - or outdoor shelter with tables and some supplies - that we work in every day. Some days it's flooded and we play in the puddles as we spend time sweeping water out and then sliding around on the slippery floor. Other days many kids have homework and we get right down to business on studying and tutoring. Often we'll read Bible stories together or sing songs to our beautiful God. Sometimes we color and draw for the better part of the day, or have an impromptu art lesson. Other times we play UNO and practice numbers, colors and counting. Math practice, English homework, Hangman, Bible verse studies, worship songs, Duck Duck Goose... it's a whirlwind of interactive learning, love and play that is as special to me as it is to the kids. It's hard to be organized sometimes, and difficult to get kids from 2 to 17 years old to all cooperate with one another. Some days I feel discouraged, asking myself how valuable playing really is. I feel driven and an external pressure to be "productive." Then I am reminded of my own childhood, and how the times that stand out are the ones when I was most loved, valued and cherished. I realize that these kids are not seeking productivity or achievement. They are most hungry for love: unconditional, raw, unceasing love that comes from something bigger than myself and that has the power to transform their life.

So instead of focusing on homework or how well the kids are learning what we are striving to teach them, I am relaxing and focusing on hugging the child that looks sad. I am not as much quizzing them on their multiplication tables, but instead on where their heart is at and what they're going through in their homes and families and lives at the moment. Lessons on character and integrity are currently more important than those on English and science.

As important as the kids' education is, and as excited as I am to see them succeeding in and passionate about school, the real value in our working with these kids is the time we get to spend with them and the fruits in both of our lives that I am seeing out of the relationships we've built!

So on with my day... after our time in the river, we come home and make lunch - that is, if the beach isn't looking too pretty to stop off at and admire on the way home. Or if the laundry doesn't need picked up at the strange laundromat, or if we don't need to bike a crate of eggs home from the grocery. The trip could be 5 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on whether or not I run into someone I know on the street and stop to chat for awhile - which happens nearly every day. Afternoons vary depending on whether or not we give in and let the kids come over for the afternoon to play and talk and enjoy cookies and tea. Sometimes errands need run, families need Skyped or naps demand our attention. Bible studies happen once a week, church is on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings, and an eclectic blend of activities and meetings fill the remaining time here.

There is never a dull moment. There are always things to be done – errands to be run, kids to be played with, food to be shared… ministry here is not confined to our schedules or locations, but has expanded to every aspect of our lives. Just this morning I woke up to my girls at the door, asking for water and a haircut. Shortly after, some of the boys stopped by to hang out and talk, turning our “day off” into a new opportunity to continue sharing Christ through our hospitality and relationships. My life here is not as I expected or anticipated. It is far better.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day by Day

I only have a few words about my time here... I'm in love with it. I am hot, but happy. I'm muddy but loved. I'm eaten alive by bugs but being fed by God daily. I am in a country that doesn't speak my language, yet I am communicating volumes with those I meet. I am in love with the children we're working with. My heart is simultaneously full and broken for the women in prostitution here. I am learning to love the men on the streets, locals and tourists alike. I am laughing off things that once insulted me, and beginning to see good in things and people I used to hate. I am seeing God change lives and am being changed myself. I am not just happy here... I am full of joy that can only come from God. I feel released of future pressure and am living day by day, asking God how I can love Him and my neighbors with all my heart, strength, soul and mind - every day. And I'm doing just that :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Fire (Literally) For God

The thermometer tipped past 100 today. Each day is hotter than the day before. And on days like this (which has been EVERY day), my brain is hijacked by the heat and can usually only produce one repetitive and unproductive thought: "I'm hot." Literally every other thought in my head is about the heat. A normal thought process would go something like this: "Time for lunch. It's so hot here. What is there to eat? I don't know, but I'm burning up right now. Maybe we should go out for lunch. Although it's far too HOT to walk anywhere. Cook pasta? Nah I'm too hot to eat pasta" - etc, etc... it is inescapable, both physically and mentally. So imagine my dismay tonight when the power went out. I've dealt with power outages for days before, and the lack of light or television have never been much of an issue. But our recent power outages, which have been at most inconvenient times, have been causing Amanda and I much more distress than ever before. No electricity here means no light in a place where we don't have candles or flashlights lying around. No more internet exists. It means no ability to cook meals, and the most epic implication of all is that our air goes out. Our little air conditioner is like a tank of oxygen that our very survival depends upon. Perhaps I'm getting dramatic... but the power also controls our ceiling fan. Without those two little guys working together, our room quickly becomes a steamy oven of frustration and impending death. Whoa, dramatic.

Tonight we came into our apartment after a long day and laid down to rest. We woke up shortly, however, to a blazing hot room and no electricity. Big surprise. But tonight, God had plans I was too human to realize. I think He may have had a hand in our 2-hour-long power outage that left me laying in bed covered in sweat and trying not to move. As I wandered in and out of sleep, I began feeling delirious and wondering how anyone lives in weather like this. At the peak of my frustration and yelling for the electricity to come back on, I resigned myself to the fact that we probably wouldn't get electricity back tonight and to just chill out. That mindset shift caused me to lay down, turn on some worship music, and decide to pray to and worship God even in the sweltering heat and moment of anger that I was experiencing. That simple decision -to be content in my relationship with God no matter the circumstances - resulted in one of the best quiet times and communion with God that I had had in a really long time. Had the electricity been on all night, I probably would have been distracted by Facebook, microwaving tea, Skyping family or just peacefully sleeping the evening away as I had originally intended. The cool thing, though, is that this little power outage - and my overreaction that accompanied it - actually brought me a lot closer to God. He used those crappy few hours to let me commune with Him instead, and worship my God who is more important than a skipped meal, more valuable than a ceiling fan and far more powerful than the heat.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making a Home in Jaco

WE'RE IN JACO!! Emily's game of life just went from great to incredible. In the past, outreach locations and housing have been... well, interesting to say the least. My missions trip last year with YWAM took me on a 2-month trek through Russia and Eastern Europe. I lived out of a school-sized backpack for that amount of time, and slept on everything from a concrete church basement to a mattress with stains that looked suspiciously like blood. It was rough, but that was my idea of missions on-the-go. And it was fine. My tolerance for "gross" skyrocketed and I even took showers without flip-flops in questionable conditions. I actually don't really recommend that one ever again... Anyway, all that is to say that when I decided to come to Costa Rica, and especially to move to Jaco, I was in no way anticipating nice living conditions during the outreach phase. Turns out the base in San Jose was actually a little rougher than I had anticipated, as there was much construction and we had a few mice making their homes in and around our beds. But those three months are over, and I got the privilege to move to Jaco with my good friend Amanda. I couldn't ask for a better roommate, so that was a good start. But when we arrived at our new home yesterday, I was blown away. I almost cried with happiness. We somehow got blessed with an incredibly cheap, beautiful, perfect, nearly pristine little apartment. Perhaps apartment is an overstatement... it is one room. But there are some counters and cabinets and a sink, plus a refrigerator. That's a complete kitchen in my book. A mattress on the floor and a mattress in the "loft" (which I can't quite stand up in...) comprise our beds, and the bathroom is just beautiful. I am finally able to unpack and live out of something other than my suitcase. We can refrigerate our water. We can have a space to ourselves, a place to be private and rest and rejuvenate between ministry times. Internet is free and fast. The biggest bonus: there is AC in a room that would otherwise be closer to the 98 degrees on the thermostat. These things may not sound like a big deal, but with such low expectations for housing, I am feeling incredibly blessed. I know that this new home of mine will be a haven from the harsh realities just outside its walls. I will not try to escape the town I am in, but I do feel that this place is a kind of a refuge from all that we will be encountering from the moment we step outside our gate until the moment we're back in it. Jaco is a dark place - but I am finding light in little places. And my new home is one of them. Thank you, Jesus.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Ok, I have been a terrible Blogger. My only semi-excuses are that I was sick for a couple of weeks, and made an epic journey home for 6 days. Now I’m back in San Jose, Costa Rica... moving to Jaco tomorrow, and super excited for this next chapter of my life!

The last two weeks of lecture phase for the Children At Risk School were really amazing. Ro Potter came and shared so much new and exciting information about human trafficking. I learned far more in those 5 days of class than I had learned total about human trafficking in the past. Tons of new information was presented, and I walked away feeling inspired and ready to take action! She was a gifted speaker and her heart for justice was contagious. I think the entire base was fired up by the end of that week. The following week, we had a speaker from Switzerland come and teach about attachment disorder. This disorder is a fairly recent discovery, but affects an alarmingly large number of children. We learned about the vital importance of a strong and trusting bond to form within the first couple years of a child’s life. If at least one strong relationship isn’t formed for a child in those early years, many negative symptoms of attachment disorder will creep up later in life and cause a lot of issues for the child. Documentaries, case studies and personal stories made for an enlightening week on the subject. I feel much more able to attribute certain difficult children’s issues to attachment disorder, piecing together the behaviors I’ve witnessed with what I know about their past. It was an epiphanic week for me!

The end of the school meant no more living with the 8 other wonderful students I did this course with… Although a few of us are heading to Jaco together, I had to say goodbye to valuable friends I’d made during my time in San Jose. Sometimes YWAM’s on-the-go schedule rubs me the wrong way. We form deep and spiritually rooted relationships with those we are around – living, serving, working, and playing together daily. But 3 months later, it’s goodbye and we’re scattered all over the world again! I won’t complain, though. I made some friends for life and am ever grateful for the people I had the privilege to meet during this time. So to my Children At Risk buddies, good luck on the field, guys – I’ll miss you :)

The black and white picture posted below is a drawing I did of a boy, Jesus, that I formed a unique relationship with while I was here. He lives in Santa Ana, the community we visited every Friday and did the programs with. He is 9 years old, and a precious and very special child to me! We played and talked and really loved each other during my time here. It was emotional saying goodbye to the children – especially ones like Jesus that I had grown very close to. It’s hard to say goodbye “forever,” since I can never really guarantee that I will return. If that’s hard on me – an adult who knew that my time in San Jose was for a mere 3 months – then I would imagine it was especially difficult for a child who opened up their heart to someone who is now leaving them. I feel borderline guilty about it. But, technology can be a blessing and I have the little guy’s phone number. Maybe I can continue loving on the kids of Santa Ana regardless of distance!

So home was incredible. It was like a beautiful dream that I woke up from, still sick in my bed on a YWAM Base. I got some kind of flu for my last week of classes, then spend the duration of my time at home at the doctor’s office, giving blood tests, and double checking that I didn’t have malaria or some kind of parasite. Thank God, everything checked out okay and I am finally starting to feel better. But the week was full of laughter and conversation with the people I love most in the world. It was my mom’s birthday that week, but I’m thinking I received the biggest gift. My little nephews seemed to remember who I was pretty well, thanks to hours of Skype peek-a-boo. Again, God bless technology. Saying goodbye to family is hard, but much easier when you know that they love and support you. I am so thankful to have such loving and wonderful people in my life!

Now I’m refreshed and revitalized… ready to get to Jaco and see what God has for us there! I cannot wait to put these last three months into practice and see God moving in miraculous and big ways. Please continue praying for me and my team as we embark on this transition… I will keep you posted!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010