Wednesday, March 2, 2011

puntos y pancake mix

february was kind of rough.

i welcomed it into my life, to be sure. i would understand if i'd cursed it before it even began, if i had already begun to spite its existence before january had breathed its last breath. but, the thing is, i was glad when february arrived. to me, it would come bearing promises of new fruits and new adventures, beckoning to me with its forecasts of abundant sunshine, a week at the beach and mornings full of new mercies and undeserved grace.

i'm trying to be fair here, february, but you never really stood a chance. where do i start?

one week in particular really stands out to me. on a monday, three of the girls and i got really, profoundly lost in a very dangerous part of the city and probably should have died, but a stern, fatherly bus driver saw fit to save us from such a fate and rescued us from the horrors that surely awaited us. we all woke up the next day, feeling a little stupid but alive, and ventured on with our lives, sure that that was enough horror for the week and every day from there on out would be filled with lollipops and flowers in bloom.

wrong. that night, i accidentally set one of my favorite shirts on fire and probably almost burned down the five story church in which we live. mortified, i went to bed crying that night and wished for a swift death. as luck would have it, the final destination gods seemed to have heard me, and the week of terrors continued.

wednesday, we started our last week of VBS, this time in arguably one of the most dangerous barrios in which we work. all was going pretty swimmingly until snack time rolled around. i consider myself to be a relatively good authority figure, despite my small stature, so i was content to play the part of the giver of the cheese puffs. i happily handed them out, kid by kid, but some came to me again and again and just begged for more cheesy goodness. i gave in for the third and fourth and fifth rounds, but one of the kids was just being a brat, pushing down the smaller children as they stood in line and causing general mayhem.

i don't love kids. really, i don't. and when this chico started to push my buttons, i decided i'd had enough of it and told him he needed to leave me alone and stop being a brat (well, not quite, but that's what i REALLY wanted to say, and probably would have said, if i'd known the appropriate spanish equivalent). a few seconds later, homeboy comes back WITH A PIECE OF BROKEN GLASS and takes a stab at my hand in an effort to split open the plastic bag of goodies, and, i don't know, make cheese puffs rain from the sky.

it wasn't exactly a day ruiner, but it surely didn't make me love kids much more than i had at the beginning of this entire venture, and i felt sure that it was a sign from God that he'd abandoned our VBS project and we should probably do the same.

which brings me to thursday.

caty and i don't have doorknobs (even to this day), and we began to lock ourselves in quite frequently until we hatched a new plan and just (quite unintelligently) stuck a hair of haircutting scissors through the hole instead. we nicked ourselves quite a bit, but these little cuts were a small price to pay to be able to open and close our door as we pleased. and so, thursday morning, a few of the girls and i were goofing off in the hallway, pretending to stretch before we started our new workout routine on our five flights of stairs, and i literally ran STRAIGHT into the door and jabbed my forearm riiiiiiight into the scissors.

one cut-up pair of clown pants (don't worry about it), a half hour in the E.R. and three stitches later, all was well again. well, my arm hurt, and it was covered in gauze and our team leader made me wear a makeshift sling and i felt slightly nauseous from the pain meds, but i gladly took the opportunity to miss an afternoon of VBS and put on my horse dress and headed to the local cafe to sit and enjoy the afternoon. it had been a rough week so far, but how could it get worse? things would surely look up soon.

friday passed without major consequence, and saturday was pretty swell, too. sunday, my pastor from home (the wonderful chris seay) came into town and surprised us, taking us to a tango show that night. and it was just beautiful! the talent was unbelievable, the steak delectable, and the wine and champagne gladly welcomed after a stressful week.

the next day (valentine's day...again, don't worry about it) arrived and we felt hopeful and ready for the new week. then, chris called. bad news. a sweet, sweet girl from our home church, ecclesia, was losing her battle with cancer, and quickly. chris decided to catch a flight home that night and told us to meet him at his hotel for one last quick meeting before he jetted out.

and then, our worlds got turned upside down. significant changes were made to the program, no questions asked, and our team was told to just trust in this time of uncertainty that everything would be okay, that the men who made these decisions knew what they were doing. all of a sudden everything was crazy again. we felt startled, unsure of our futures, divided and torn and confused and sad and oh, just about every emotion you can imagine.

the next morning felt how surely the morning after an earthquake or significant natural disaster must feel to its survivors. we woke up, feeling dazed and sad, and it took a split second before we all remembered where the bad feeling was coming from. oh, yes. yes, i remember now, i understand why my spirit feels broken and my hopes lost.

later that day we remembered that chris had come bearing treats sent by my gracious and dear brother-in-law. really though, i could hardly be bothered by them at that point in time. i was too depressed to be thankful for peanut butter, too melancholy for pancake mix, so i pushed both back into the cabinet and tried to forget about the previous eight days, or really, about the last five months.

here's the thing about wallowing, though. it LOVES company, and sometimes, that company happens to be sustenance. and so, i didn't end up ignoring the food for long. and, as it turned out, the pancake mix ended up really being a small little blessing. it didn't really fix anything...i still had one less tank top, three stitches in my arm, and plenty of newly broken relationships to be mended, but we also had food to make when our grocery money ran out, and i got to practice my spanish with three sweet teenagers while they hung out in the kitchen where i was making breakfast for my team, asking me all about pancakes and american foods and my native country in general. i got to have a little taste of home when i needed it the most, when i felt the most lonely and isolated and separated from everything that was once just within my fingertips.

i have realized that God does this a lot. sometimes, i feel like he turns our worlds upside down, takes us right out of our comfort zones, gives us bad news after bad news after bad news and then hops back on his plane and flies away again. he really doesn't ever leave us, though, and he never forgets to leave us with little reminders of his love. a good conversation with a new friend, bouts of laughter that break spells of sadness, or even a box of pancake mix.

hidden under all of our junk, our pain, our sorrow, our failures, and loneliness, there is always a silver lining, a small bit of solace, a tiny taste of comfort. and sometimes, sometimes, it has a faint scent of buttermilk.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

join the music of the rescued ones.

there is a real thief out there, and he is out for our joy.

if there is a single thing i have learned about myself in the last several months (or, really, the past 23 years), it is that i am infallibly human, through and through. i prove this to myself over and over again, every second of every day. i lose my patience, i say things i don't actually mean, i give into temptations both serious and silly alike and i forget on a daily basis to live like the person i was made to be. claire, but a better one. a redeemed version of myself.

in addition to being thoroughly infallibly human, i am also thoroughly and infallibly my father's daughter. i love my dad a ridiculous amount, and i tend to take him at his word (sometimes to a fault...sorry, dad). i tend to perk up and pay attention to things in which he is interested, but i also tend to automatically disdain things to which he (proverbially, mostly) turns up his nose. (sidenote: there are a few things i enjoy that my father really hates: "sit-down" restaurants [AKA, ones that don't "trust the people"--you may inquire later as to what that means, if you are so inclined], "exotic" foods such as cheesecake and pei wei [don't ask], and, last but not least, undisciplined dietary habits [e.g. "hey claire, do you want an apple or a piece of apple pie?" "apple pie, duh"]. my father is not one to be tempted by worldly pleasures such as dense, calorie-laden, DELICIOUS pastries. but i digress.)

along with stuck-up waiters ("they think they're so much better than me!" ", they just want to refill your drink for you"), my dad also tends to despise christian catchphrases. you know what i am talking about. this trait was also passed along to me, perhaps affecting me even more strongly than him. in fact, i am known to have adverse (almost allergic) reactions to anything described as being "life-giving"or "intentional". this has seriously limited the number of churches and ministries in which i am able to participate, in addition to giving me an attitude of far superiority to those who fall victim to using such jargon.

until recently, i think i had always abandoned "redemption" to this pile of rejected phrases. argentina has a habit of doing funny things to you, though, and in the last three weeks i have found myself in situations increasingly often thinking to myself "and even this can be redeemed."

my first three months here were less than fruitful, to say the least. if i hopped, full of hope and a sense of adventure, on the plane to buenos aires in september to begin my journey here, i trudged onto the plane a few weeks ago, this time filled with dread and a general sense of doom. (i'm not joking.) i prepared myself to come back to a world where i was not understood, in which i had no friends, purpose, or joys. and when my flight landed, i set out to carve out an existence for myself once more, carefully this time, full of the knowledge that nothing in argentina was as it had seemed during my study abroad in mendoza--that life here was not easy, was not to be enjoyed.

in spite of myself, though, i found myself illogically joyful. i actually really liked being reunited with the other five crazy members of my team, and i found that the summer here (though hot), also lent itself to an inexplicable feeling of both adventurous freedom and sloth-like laze. i found myself wandering downtown, months later still in awe of all the beautiful sights; at a huge reggaeton concert deep in a barrio with some neighbors, singing shamelessly, loudly along with the unruly crowd; even in my own room, laughing uproariously with my roommate over the ridiculousness of each day's events.

and then, i realized what redemption REALLY was in my life. what is is now. what i hope i will always find to be true. while i had abandoned it, tossed it aside in the same pile as wild at heart, the prayer of jabez and the shack, it relentlessly resurfaced to me, over and over again, beckoning to me with its sense of promise and renewal. and slowly, finally, it hit me. not necessarily what redemption IS, but what it is NOT.

redemption is not a one-time deal. it is not something that we can do for ourselves, and it is definitely not anything to toss to the side. it is real, it is joyful, it is ongoing, it is GIVEN and to be RECEIVED with arms wide open (cue that one awful creed song--oh wait, they are all terrible). i realized that it was being offered to me freely, every day, that it was just waiting to sweep me off my feet and remind me of the deep and true love of the One who saved us, who still saves us every day.

back to the thief. some days, i wake up and can just sense the spirit of provision of love in my life, and the sweet aroma of hope and promise seems to flood my senses and overwhelm my being. i love those days--when life seems to be filled to the brim with sundresses, the warm beating of the sun against my skin, swingsets, and laughter.

other days, though, are a struggle. there are those days i can't seem to get anything right, when everyone around me seems to have forgotten about how hard MY life is, about MY needs, when all i can really do is focus on myself and go into survival mode and pray for a swift end to the next 6 months. and these are the days i REALLY have to focus on living like a person redeemed. it is on these days, when i can hardly drag my feet up the five flights of stairs just to flop down onto my bed and let the tears flow, that i can hear the soft, sweet whisper. "and even this can be redeemed."

more than anything, i am asking you, as my dear friends and beloved stalkers, to hold me accountable to this free gift of redemption, to help me remember to accept it both humbly and boldly even on the days when i feel most robbed of my joy.

one definition of redemption is "the recovery of something pawned or mortgaged." i realize, in my most broken times, that i have pawned myself off to a lonely, sad way of life, one void of joy and goodness and instead filled with selfish desires and inward thinking. it is in these times, though, that i can feel Jesus taking me by the hand, to both recover me from my helpless estate and restore me to the design for which he had originally created me. and when i remember how gentle his hands on mine, guiding me back to the life he has planned for me, i cannot help but feel joy, and love, and sunshine on my skin.

what a vicious and sweet cycle redemption is, friends. let us never take it for granted.