March 24, 2014

Adapting to Life in Belize

I could paint you a very dramatic picture of our life in Belize. If I did, I would fill it with the soft colors of a warm afternoon, the azul sky and the vibrant jungle greens. I would color the sun yellow and the horizon hazy, painting in the dragonflies that flutter over the tall grass and the yellow birds that flit from bush to bush. If I wanted to, I would paint you a picture of our adventures, riding the bow of a boat out to a tropical oasis of an island every Sunday and watching sunsets sink behind Mt. Victoria in the evenings. I would draw lines pointing out every location we have visited, from the brightly painted Placencia to the local, authentic Dangriga. I could paint you a dramatic picture of our life in Belize, leaving you writhing with jealousy and catching the next Maya Air flight to Kanatik.

Of course, I could also paint you a more realistic picture of our day to day lives. We wake up to the sunrise, although we are beginning to be able to sleep through the bright morning sunlight, and we eat breakfast. Breakfast is usually papaya, a boiled egg, and tea or coffee. Following this exciting event, we get ready for the day, I put on mascara to feel somewhat “put together”, and then I get on my computer. Blake will sometimes go to the office because the internet speed is better there, but he’ll often work from our home, answering emails, following up with clients and preparing for the weekend tour groups. I evaluate the Morningstar curriculum, take Spanish lessons, write a few papers here and there, generally wishing that I knew how to jump star Morningstar and get things rolling faster. 

We grocery shop in Dangriga, which I enjoy immensely. The man at the farmer’s market knows us now, and he has my favorite smile in all of Belize….second only to our yard guy, Victor. Victor has the best smile in the world. The Asians who run the grocery stores always stare at me and Blake, but that doesn’t phase us, especially since their stores are the only stores that carry our coveted dry goods. Next, we go to Dis Di Fi Wi Chik’n, where free range and organic are the norm and the prices will make your jaw drop because they’re so low.

A combination of high gas prices and a lack of our own vehicle has prevented us from running off all over Belize to explore. Before we leave, we will visit Maya ruins and hike the Jaguar Reserve…but we haven’t been able to be extremely adventurous yet. So we explore our immediate area, watching out for snakes and chasing iguanas on our bikes. Life runs slowly here, the afternoons are sleepy with the heat of the day, and our evenings are spent watching movies or playing Battleship.

If I wanted to glamorize our existence in Belize, I could do it very easily, but I don’t want to. You see, Belize is beautiful and the people are kind, but we live in a fairly isolated area and that has been a shock to our system. We’re used to the vibrant college campus community, the high energy that comes from working multiple jobs, visiting friends, and eating at new restaurants every week. I don't miss all those things, per say, but I think that I am experiencing a little bit of culture shock. The glamour has worn of, even though I still love Belize, I am aware of all the little things that are different now. I find myself getting a little bit more frustrated when I am unable to be understood or do what I need to do. Even though Belize is wonderful and not particularly difficult to step into, it is still a different world and it has taken a few months to realize that it is okay to feel "culture shock" here. 

One of my textbooks, Communication Between Cultures, says, "Culture shock is a mental state that comes from the transition that occurs when you go from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one and find that your established patterns of behavior are ineffective." In so many ways, this resonates with me because my normal patterns don't make as much sense here. People don't understand my sense of humor as well. As a young woman, locals view me as a daughter figure rather than a student with ideas or big plans. There are little things I would have never considered comforting, yet, I find myself longing for a carmel macchiato just to know that I can comfortably walk into a Starbucks and know how to order. I feel tinges of culture shock when I know that "normal" activities still take more brain power and courage then they "should". 

Despite all of this, I love Belize. I love learning new things and I love the challenges of living in a new country and making a new home here. Perhaps this is why I feel so much internal conflict: I am experiencing the smallest amount of culture shock despite loving our lives here. Some moments are wonderful, some moments are hard. We have our routines, but there is no real "normal" right now.

I could paint you a beautiful picture of our lives in Belize, and everything I would say would be accurate. It is lovely here and the people are so warm and kind. Yet, there is so much more complexity to this country. Good things, bad things. Poverty, extreme wealth. Two ends of a spectrum that can never seem to meet in the middle. I am trying to figure out what our lives look like here and what they will become in our time in Belize. Our lives are simple here, realistic, but challenges still exist despite our ocean backyard. I am anxious to make this country our home, but I am the tiniest bit homesick and craving a carmel macchiato today. 

March 5, 2014

Lent - Reevaluated

(via Twitter)

I get tired of Lent.

Before you jump to any quick conclusions about this statement and before you get all of my former pastors on speed dial for an immediate intervention, hear me out.

The Easter season is my favorite season on the Christian calendar because this is what it’s all about. Mourning the death of Christ and celebrating his resurrection. Shouting out to death “Where is your sting?!” Recognizing our need for repentance and feeling the magnitude of God’s grace. Everything that makes a Christian sound crazy comes out in the season of Easter, yet, we believe: Lord help our unbelief.

Still, I get tired of Lent. Or better yet, I get tired of what Lent has become in modern Christian circles. I remember being fourteen years old and for the first time in my life, I was exposed to an Ash Wednesday service. It was a little confusing, somber, but powerful. I remember wanting to take the period of fasting seriously. To use the 40 days as a time of reflection and draw nearer to the God whom I serve. I wanted to understand what Lent was and why it was so important in the history of Christianity. After the service ended, I was asked several times, in sing-songy voices, “So what are you giving up for Lent?” When I wouldn’t say anything, I remember the good-natured teasing and the competition for who was “giving up the hardest thing” began. In the years since then, this gets repeated almost every year. In college, I have become so aggravated when I have overheard girls say, “I’m giving up sugar, all forms of sugar, because it’s a distraction in my life. And if I lose a few pounds along the way, so be it!” Or the familiar Facebook status, “Giving up Facebook for lent! If you need me, call me, text me,  email me, or tweet me for a response!” This is always followed by another status 40 days later, “SO good to be back on Facebook! You never realize how much you connect with your friends through Facebook until you give it up!” Everything about these exchanges rubs me the wrong way.

Now I have to put a disclaimer in here because disclaimers are just how the world works these days…but in no way do I think that giving up sugar or Facebook or whatever is a bad thing. I’m not trying to make fun of these people or discredit their dedication. Not at all. My complaint comes from my own failures, recognizing how I have contorted Lent into something that it is not.

There are two things that I cringe at a little every year. First, the public announcing of what everyone is giving up. During this season, I am often reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:16-18, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” This verse has always compelled me to be quiet during Lent, to use it as a time of reflection instead of a time of public declarations of righteousness. I have often told a small circle of friends what I am abstaining from during Lent in order to be held accountable, but I struggle to make sure that I tell them out of humility, not the desire to “show off”. Oh how hard it is to be humble when you’re trying to be humble.

 The second thing that I often question is the use of the term “giving up”. Rather, I wish our terminology would change to something like, “I am replacing social media with time to focus on reading the Bible” or “I am replacing sugar with the need to crave spiritual truths”. This might sound weird, I know, it sounded weird to me as I typed it…but Lent is so much more than “giving up”. Lent is replacing distractions in our lives with solid truths. Replacing things that get in the way between Christ and us in order that we may know him better. Lent is more than a diet or a breaking a bad habit. It is not a season of bragging about our self-control, but a season where we are painfully aware of our need for a Savior.

I get tired of Lent.

I get tired of seeing the Buzzfeed quiz “What should you give up for Lent?” … as if it’s a game and you need the right sacrifice to win. I get tired of feeling inadequate if I don’t give up pasta, sugar, coffee, air, water, and the ability to walk every year. I get tired of questioning my commitment to Christ if I “give up” Facebook and then forget and log in to check my messages. I get tired of Lent when it becomes an accomplishment and a contest.

google images
I want Jesus. I want to be desperate to know God. I want to feel the scars on His hands and feet and know that I am loved more than I can imagine even though I have nothing to offer, nothing to contribute, and nothing to bring to the table. I want to know that I am human, that I am fragile, and that I am redeemed. This year, to be honest, I don’t know what Lent will look like for me, but I know what I want it to look like. I want Lent to be a season of reflection, a time when I shift the focus from who I am to whose I am. I want this season to be a time of worship, humility, and grace.  I have barely dived into the meaning of Lent, I am just taking the baby steps of understanding this season…but it so much more than giving something up. This season, I am challenging myself to find the meaning, to understand the tradition, and to recognize my need for a Savior. No diet plans included. No gimmicks thrown in for good measure. I just want Jesus.