Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Expectations and Memories...That's What Moments Are Made Of

“And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back--if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?” –C.S. Lewis, from Out of the Silent Planet

                Ok, I had to start this with a C.S. Lewis quote. (anyone who knows me is not particularly surprised by this) And it is a pretty good point-much of the joy from an experience usually comes from expecting it and remembering it afterwards. So what does this have to do with Paraguay?
                First, the whole expectation thing. I figured out quickly that it’s pretty unwise to have lots of set-in-stone expectations about a trip like this. When I first came, I thought I’d be spending the whole six weeks out in the country teaching English. To say that some of my expectations were a bit off the mark would be correct. A few things that I didn’t expect:

1. I didn’t expect to live in Asunción for 3 weeks. It´s been a really great experience, but I didn´t exactly see it coming.

2. I didn´t expect that part of a missions trip would be chasing a dog around the mission house and playing tug-of-war (not that I´m complaining about that one).

Jake-the-dog, not to be confused with Jake-the-person, whom some of you may know

3. Neither did I anticipate having a bad cold that basically put me out of commission for the better part of a week. Yuck.

4. Cow barns with chandeliers and a Paraguayan fair that played Korean pop music were unanticipated experiences.

Awesome chandelier in a cow barn

5. I definitely didn´t expect this sunny, 70-80 degree weather during the Paraguayan winter. If I ever come here again, I´ll be bringing more shorts.

6. I didn´t expect passion fruit ice cream, juice, and quick bread to taste quite this good. I´m going to miss that so much when I go home.

7. I didn´t expect to adjust to some things quite this fast. For example, the random motorcyclist who has decided to take a shortcut on the sidewalk only prompts the following thought: “Hmm, I should probably move out of his way.”

                As for the memories, I´ll have a ton of those from this trip. But there are always a few that stick will stick with me, whether I have pictures of them or not. A few things I never want to forget:

1. The sound of all the Paraguayan passengers clapping when the plane landed safely on the runway in Asunción. This is apparently a Paraguayan tradition of sorts. I have to say, I agreed with them quite heartily (especially since the plane landed 7 hours behind schedule).

2. The taste of a fresh mandarina (tangerine), picked for me by half a dozen adorable elementary kids. Nothing tastes as good as fresh-picked fruit.

3. The sight of the hills, not flowing like ocean waves, but sticking straight out of the flat landscape like the fins of giant fish. And knowing that this sight is a broken shadow of the one in the world to come is even more awe-inspiring.
Just lovely

4. The smell of freshly made cocido (yerba mate tea with milk and sugar). While staying with a family in the village, I drank it every morning for breakfast.

5. The touch of about 40 other human beings crushing against my body on a public bus. All I could think about was (another) C.S. Lewis quote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare... There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal... it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

It´s hard to comprehend that this quote described every single person in the bus that night-not to mention every single person in this city. So many people that are loved, whether they know it or not.

6. The feeling of accomplishment when I was actually able to walk a block or two to the store and complete a transaction there by myself. Sometimes it´s healthy to get back to elementary school level.    

7. The laughter of little kids and big kids, too. That´s the same in any language.

My kids from English class

             So a moment is not just the moment itself. It´s the expectation, and how the reality differs from the expectation, and how we remember the moment days or years later. But they´re all a gift. I think that´s part of the reason why we don´t get to live the same moments over again-because we´d never get to enjoy all the other aspects of it if we could have the reality as often as we wanted. So savor your moments, cherish your memories, and hold loosely to your expectations (advice I´m still learning to take myself). You never know what unexpected things may come up in a life led by God.

Until next time,


Friday, July 5, 2013

Fear Factor: Paraguay Style

What are you afraid of? That´s a good question to ask yourself from time to time. What fears are driving you? Why do you avoid certain things, or do the things that you do? I don´t know about you, but I tend to let my fears drive the bus...right off a cliff. Which is ironic, because I´m scared of heights. But more on that later.
Fear can be a big factor when traveling to a new country-new food, new language, new culture, new people...and the list continues. So for this blog post, I thought I´d talk about a few fears I´ve dealt with in the past week.

Number 1: Of Cats and Passion Fruit...

I stayed with a neighbor of the Bowens over the weekend, and made friends with their 5-year-old daughter, Luz. She had lots of fun teaching me Guaraní words and listening to me trying to pronounce them. Words learned: mbarakaja and mburukuja. And I discovered the hard way that these two pronunciations are NOT interchangeable at all...
                Fast forward two days to church on Sunday in Asunción. There was a meal after the service (yummy!) and this prompted a discussion of Paraguayan food-all in Spanish, of course. A girl there was trying to explain to me how to make various kinds of Paraguayan food, and I wanted to tell her that I had tried some delicious juice. Now in English, this is passion fruit juice. But they use a Guaraní word here, which is one of the above. So I told her that I tried some “jugo de mbarakaja.” She looked at me a little strangely, then said “Do you mean mburukuja?” And then I realized what I´d said. In Guaraní, I had told her that I had tried “cat juice.” Oops. Well, at least we both got a good laugh out of it.
And I´m continuing to learn something that I started learning in South Korea last summer. Traveling is not exactly fantastic for your ego. It does unfortunate things to it, such as plunking you down in a country where you have the discourse level of a kindergartner. It forces you to consider that you don´t know everything, or even as much as you thought. It forces you to rely on other people more than you ever dreamed. And it makes you face your fear of looking stupid. Yes, I´m afraid that I´ll accidentally insult someone or say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and hurt my witness or another person. In fact, there are days when I´d like to hide in the mission house, speak English, and not take any risks. But what would that really do? It would keep me from looking like a fool, but it would also cause me to miss out on some great opportunities and relationships.

Number 2: I Believe I Can Fly...NOT.

                So as mentioned before, I have a little problem with heights. Actually, that might be an understatement. My first flight, I gripped the arms of my chair, gasped and panted like I was dying, and stared dazedly at the seat in front of me. Now, the airplane fear is under control. But other high places? I get woozy ten feet off the ground.
But this week, I climbed a tree. (see picture below as proof) Admittedly, it took another WGM volunteer coaxing me-a lot. And some helpful advice from a missionary´s son while I was in the tree: “Don´t pass out.” And to make a full confession, I spent a good part of the experience with my arms wrapped all the way around the branches like a koala bear. But nevertheless, I can still credit myself with having climbed the tree. I was shaking when I got down, but I´m still glad I did it.

So what have I learned? (cue Veggie Tales music) That experiences that cause weakness are actually healthy...even though we might be afraid of them. That weakness itself is a good reminder that we are not able to do all things ourselves, without God and other people. That fear can make you look and feel terrible-but it’s pushing through it that counts.
And let’s see if Qwerty has a verse (still on a Veggie Tales kick)... “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (1 Cor. 12:9) So it’s the power of God that lets us overcome fears and weaknesses, after we admit to Him that we actually have them.
So what fears and weaknesses are controlling you? Is there some way in which God is challenging you right now? Think and pray about that this week. Thanks for reading. I’ll blog more very soon.

Until next time,