Volcán de Pacayo

I climbed a volcano folks, an honest to goodness active volcano. If I had known that roasting marshmallows over hot lava oozing from the rocks was a thing, I would have put it on my bucket list. Some things in life come as an added bonus.

We followed our guide up a narrow mountain pathway. The forest is lush and green thanks to the years of nutrients that flowed down the mountain. The earth beneath us is coal black sand. The trail wound up the mountain, our guide stopped here and there to point out things of interest, an avocado tree, the lake below, a view of the volcano, or a nest of baby birds. It’s fairly steep so we stopped quite often but it’s not long. I’m guessing it took us only a little over an hour to climb to the top.

The trees became smaller and scarcer as we climbed higher, evidence of more recent eruptions. We stopped at the end of the trail to take pictures and to watch as now and again, lava would bubble up and roll down the mountain, leaving a trail of glowing lava.

Then we walked on, past the sign that said “entry is prohibited” (our guide took us) and we climbed across large lava rocks to a spot on the mountainside where the heat was flowing out between the rocks. The guide passed out sticks and marshmallows and we settled in to roast them. It took only a minute to have a perfectly toasted marshmallow dripping from the stick.

I looked around me in amazement. Honestly surprised to be here. How did I not know that people do this?

There was an incredible view of the city below us and the amazement of the volcano in front of us.

I’m always amazed at these times by how God makes everything beautiful. Volcanoes are dangerous, terrible things and still they are breathtakingly beautiful.

I walked down, a bit behimd the others. Content with my thoughts. Happy in the silence, with only the sound of my footsteps in the sand. The peace of the mountains surrounded me and for a moment I was back home in my mountains. Mountains all speak the same language, I’ve discovered. They speak of strength, of stability, of peace. Riding home in the darkness with the voice of the mountains still fresh in my mind, I am happy.

Why am I so blessed?

I have friends by my side, adventures in my life, a cookie in my hand.

I climbed a volcano.

Thank you, God.

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Lake Atítlan

Today is Father’s day at home. I’m kind of missing my dad today. I have this vague feeling that I was gone for Father’s day last year too but I don’t remember where. But anyhow, cheers to the best dad ever!

I’m at a weird stage in learning spanish where my brain conjugates random verbs any time it’s not busy otherwise. Sometimes I can’t even remember what the verb means and still my brain insists on going through all the forms.

We took a break Friday afternoon and Saturday and headed for San Marcos. A tiny hipster town on the edge of Lake Atítlan. The town seems to be full of kombucha, marijuana, massages and barefoot backpackers. We stayed at a small airb&b way up on the mountain. It had a beautiful deck with hammocks as well as 2 dogs and possibly 5 cats although I never managed to count exactly. Emily and I went down the hill in search of supper and stopped at the first restaurant we came to. We asked if we could get food “to go” and they were like “sure, just bring the plates back tomorrow morning” It was starting to rain at that point so they carefully wrapped each plate in plastic and we headed back up the hill. It didn’t take us very long to decide we need a tuc-tuc. The combination of steep hill and rain didn’t make walking a very good option.

The next morning we explored the town and then took the ferry across the lake to Panajachel, another gorgeous village on the edge of the lake. The water was beautiful and the surrounding volcanoes and mountains impressive. We would gladly have stayed on the ferry all day.

After some adventurous exploring we found a street full of touristy market stands so we explored that for awhile and bargained with people for some souvenirs. We ate at a little local restaurant and had some delicious chicken, guacamole, and homemade tortillas with what seemed to be a cantaloupe drink. I love the food here. I honestly don’t think there was anything here that I didn’t like.

Our shuttle picked us up soon after four, and for 3 hours we wound through mountains and villages back to our own little apartment in Antigua. We had walked a lot and it felt good to be “home”. Unfortunately we hadn’t had supper and were hungry so we headed into town. The streets are slightly creepy after dark so we always stay close together. We found a small bakery and bought ham and cheese croissants and a piece of carrot cake. He offered th heat the croissants for us so we sat down and ate them there but brought the cake home to eat here. I almost couldn’t stay awake long enough to eat it. I took a cold shower, ate several bites of cake and fell asleep.

We woke up to a beautiful sunday and this week we made it in time to get a cup of coffee and a sweet roll. The church here is very interesting with people from all over. We sing loud worship songs like “You’re a good, good Father” and “God’s not dead” alternating randomly between English and Spanish. They had a Father’s day service today so all the dads got a candy bar and a devotional book. I really enjoyed the sermon about how God is a father too us and it was encouraging to realize that I really can understand more Spanish than I could last week although I still didn’t get nearly all of it. Sonya and I spotted 2 guys that we thought for sure were “beachy” but they managed to escape before we caught them. It was also cool to see one of our fellow students there. We had talked to him several times but it was just cool to see him in church.

We spent several sunny hours on the roof and now it’s pouring rain. We still have to get supper and I’m just hoping it slows down at least before we have to go out. My teacher told me that we should have brought raincoats but so far its mainly rained at night.

Antigua the Beautiful

It’s my fifth day in Antigua and my head is afloat with words like “olvidar” “comprender” and “partir”. Those are all Spanish verbs and now I know what to tell my students when they ask annoyedly (is that a word?) why they have to know what an infinitive is. It will make it easier to learn Spanish and since their teacher went to spanish school surely they’ll all want to go too, right?

Sonya hasn’t let me complain even once since I’m here but there hasn’t been much to complain about anyhow so that isn’t really a problem. We have a beautiful place to stay with a large roof. That’s where we spend a lot of our time since it’s the perfect place to study. We’ve been turning a shade darker each day so I’m not sure you’ll recognize us when we come back. We have wi-fi, good food, and it’s not hot. Actually I’m cold at night although my teacher says Antigua has a “clima perfecto.” There are about 6 or 7 other people staying here as well and they come from all over. One from France, another from England, and one from Italy. At school we’ve met people from Switzerland and South Korea. I don’t think I’ve ever met people from that many places in a single week, before. It’s quite interesting. I’m especially fond of all the accents. There’s one guy at the school who has to be from Australia, if I know anything about accents but I haven’t had a chance to ask him yet.

Our house mates are mostly gone for the weekend, some to the lake, and others to the top of the enormous volcano. I’m looking forward to hearing about it. We had classes on Saturday since we didn’t start until Wednesday this week.

I can’t believe how blessed I am with the two girls who are with me. We all get along great so far and understand each other’s sense of humor which is a big thing when you’re all living in the same room. I’ve laughed more in the last week than I have in a long time and I also have time to simply sit and meditate or have long discussions deep into the night. I’m loving it so far but I keep thinking it will be over soon. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in that I have another three weeks here.

This morning we go up and drank instant coffee and ate granola bars for breakfast (they don’t cook for us on sundays) and then headed off to church. We had just concluded that we might be a bit lost when we saw a mennonite lady coming towards us. Turns out she was also headed to church and a little bit lost so together we managed to find the church. Afterwards we ate papuses together while she told us a bit about her very interesting life. I’m so amazed by all the interesting people I’m meeting. (I think I already said that). We got pizza for supper and now we’re in bed quite early. I’ve never in my life slept as much as I have since I’m here. I think learning a new language and splitting all those brain cells makes you tired. I’ll blame it on that at least.

Narnia

I think my dislike for winter fuels my love for the Chronicles of Narnia.

I never read C.S. Lewis until I was past 20, and I was hooked.

It’s just enough fantasy and imagination mixed with real-life issues to make a splendid allegory.

An allegory that can be interpreted many different ways, it’s true, but that’s probably what makes it good.

It’s also what can make them a little dangerous. Open to interpretation means open to wrong interpretation.

But I still think you should read them.

It’s quite easy to become Lucy or Edmund, or Peter or Susan and when we fight their battles and identify their enemies we end up with strategies and weapons to fight our own battles.

It’s said that C.S. Lewis meant for Children to be able to recognize Jesus because they knew Aslan first, but I think for some of us who didn’t read these as children, Aslan helps us to look past our preconceived ideas of who Jesus is, and find the truth of who he really is.

Of Travel and Opportunities

I’m headed for Guatemala, folks. I’m sort of surprised that I’m actually going but here I am, in the airport, waiting for the next 2 hours because of a flight change. And I’m going to learn Spanish. At least as much Spanish as a person with average intelligence and self-discipline can learn in four weeks.It just sort of happened, in one of those cool – this is what life has for me – sort of ways and I am thankful. It will be good for me to be a student again and to simply step outside of my normal life for awhile.I’ve been learning something lately, and I think it might be a big something.All of the really good and adventurous things in my life have happened because there was an opportunity and instead of being afraid I said yes.Take the opportunity in front of you. No you don’t know what will happen but you don’t know what will happen if you don’t take it either.Experiences are worth much more than their immediate cost. They change you and shape you and slowly, before you know how it happened, you are a different person.But maybe you’re happy about the person you are. Maybe your life is the best it can be.But for me, it is worth it. I like the person I’m becoming more than I liked the person I left behind.So I’m going to Guatemala. I’m taking this opportunity and we’ll see what happens.I think when God gives us an opportunity, He’s disappointed when we ignore it and keep going down the same old path. God is a God of adventure.I’m along for the ride.

This Child

If you came with me to children’s ministry and met Tyrone, you’d probably wonder why we even let him come.

Sometimes we wonder why we let him come.

Sometimes all we see when we look at him is the scowl on his face, the anger in his eyes, the cuss words coming from his mouth. The tobacco in his pocket that he’s chewed since he was 3 years old.

Sometimes we forget that he’s only 12 years old. That he’s still a little boy, really.

Sometimes.

But sometimes we remember.

We remember the child who stood outside the fence because he was too afraid to come in.

We remember the child who bolted out the door because it was simply too much.

We remember the young man who paced up and down the road in an effort to get his anger under control.

And we remember other things. The way his mother curses him when he comes home. The fact that his dad has been in jail “a whole lot of times”. We remember that he’s two years behind in school thanks to his parents irresponsibility.

But the saddest story, to me, is why he doesn’t go to church.

“Do you go to church on Sundays?” Sharon asked.

“You know,” he answered. “I used to but I just don’t anymore. You see, my mom’s boyfriend is so annoying and when I’d come home he’d be like ‘oh so you’re going to be a good boy now, going to church, how nice. Be a good boy’ and he’d just make fun of me and it made me so mad and I’d just cuss him out and you know, I just couldn’t handle that. It just ain’t right, I can’t cuss straight outa church so I just quit going.”

“Why don’t y’all have kids church every night? he asked.

And I remember the sad, afraid little boy beneath the angry young man and I want to cry.

What will happen to Tyrone?

Where will he be in 20 years from now?

I don’t know.

I can only hope and pray that God will reach down and touch his life.

I pray that his anger could be channeled into an anger against sin.

That his energy could be channeled into building the kingdom of God.

That his leadership skills could be channeled into leading the church.

This child is a child of potential

For good. Or for evil.

Pray that he would choose the good.

Pray that God could be the father he so much wants in his life.

I Stand

I stand in the rain.

Gentle drops of coldness on my face.

Springy earth beneath my feet.

I stand in the rain.

I stand in the storm.

Raging winds beat upon my brow.

What comes to tear me down,

Instead builds strength.

I stand in the storm.

The Strong One

He is strong.

I forget that sometimes. I try to be the the strong one. I try to hold everything together. I think somehow I’ll make it through.

I can be strong.

And sometimes we need to be strong. We need to be the warriors. We need to be the one that others can lean on. We need to be brave.

Even when we are afraid.

Especially when we are afraid.

That is when we need to be strong.

Because He is Strong. The Lion of Judah. The defender of the weak.

I am not strong. Sometimes I pretend to be strong. I can be a warrior for awhile, but deep inside, the warrior is a child.

Children need someone to fight for them. Someone to be their defender. Someone to run to.

I am the child.

Often I am afraid.

But He is strong. I can run to Him. I don’t need to be strong for Him. I don’t even need to pretend to be strong.

Because He makes my weakness strong. I don’t know how He does it. I don’t understand.

But He promised.

My strength is made perfect in weakness.

Perfect.

He promised.

And He is the Strong One.

Jesus Today

He is not here.

The tomb is empty.

They were words of sadness. Disappointment. Abandonment.

He had promised he would never leave them. And now he was gone.

He is not here.

It was the angel’s message.

But Mary only had half the story. It wasn’t finished yet. The story that seemed so finished, wrapped, tied, knotted.

It wasn’t over.

But how was she supposed to know?

“My Lord is gone, I do not know where they have laid him”

He was there all the time but she,overtaken by grief, failure, disappointment, could not see him.

Her eyes were probably tear clouded. Her heart broken.

She couldn’t see him.

Even though he was there.

It’s Easter morning.

My Lord is here.

Stepping out of the dead places in your life. Hidden behind the tears on your eyes.

He is here.

And He dries the tears.

He heals the broken heart.

He brings life to dying dreams and stone-sealed disappointments.

He is here.

And He is life.

Not Too far from Here

Not too far from here lives a girl with cold eyes and a hardened heart. Her dad is in jail, her mom is somewhere but she doesn’t know where. She lives with her dad’s ex-girlfriend supposedly but most of the time she’s staying with one friend or another. She’s been abandoned. Raped. And in and out of foster care seven times. She cries, but she’s not ready to share her pain, not yet.

Not too far from here is young girl who lives with her aunt, and her aunt’s boyfriend’s father. Her cousins use her as a scapegoat. Her “papaw” beats her for for minor infractions until she’s covered with bruises. She’s been taken from her mother thanks to all of her mother’s boyfriends but life hasn’t gotten better. Her face is sadness personified. Even her smiles are edged in sadness.

Not too far from here lives a young man who tells me casually that no one would care anyhow if he died. I can tell by the flatness of his voice that he believes the words. “I’d care” I say.

Uselessly.

He doesn’t believe me either.

Not too far from here is a nine- year old who says she worships the devil. And why not? Her father, the man who should protect her, has raped her more times than she can count. She cuts lines into her arms, the physical pain helping her to forget the emotional pain for at least a little bit. Her only hope is the tiny one that perhaps he’ll be put back in jail eventually.

Not too far from here is a little girl whose grandma is to old to climb the stairs to tuck her into bed. No one comes when she has nightmares. Her daddy and her uncle fight. The police come. She’s afraid and there is no one to hold her close.

The stories pile up, slowly, the ball of pain gets larger with every layer, like snowballs rolling down the snowy hill. And suddenly, without warning, the weight is too much, and the haunting does not leave.

These children.

We love them.

Some nights it’s hard to sleep.

Some days are hard to stay focused.

And you realize that if you had lived that life, you would not be the heroic survivor.

I would be the bitter young girl with hardened eyes.

And suddenly you question your own identity because you are not the person you always imagined yourself to be.

And than there’s guilt.

What can you really do? You always thought you would be the person who would help, who would do something.

And then you come face to face with your own helplessness.

And you realize there is nothing you can do.

You cannot make it better.

You cannot even make it stop.

You are helpless.

I should be positive probably. I should say that God can fix it. Because He can. But that only brings more questions. Why does he allow it to happen in the first place?

Pray for the children tonight.

Pray for those of us who carry the weight of their stories.