84 Years

My Grandpa was born in 1935. The same year Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Pacific and the Hoover Dam was built. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, the great depression was in full swing and World War 2 was brewing.

My grandpa is an old man now. He spends his nights and most of his days on his recliner.

An old man, full of stories, many of which no one will ever hear, much less remember.

And I wonder what it would be like, to be him.

He chose a slow-paced life. Driving a horse and buggy. Farming. Milking cows.

His grandchildren come to see him. Driving cars, carrying smartphones, wearing smartwatches. They are truckers, builders, business managers.

They travel to foreign places and send postcards of their smiling faces.

He worries about us.

He jokes about technology. About Alien invasions and robots.

And then he stops to tell a story about his time as a conscientious objector during the war.

Or about his father who left the North Dakota plains to move to Indiana for the girl he loved.

Or about the time he packed his seven children into a bus and traveled through Central America.

It’s then I realize that while lifestyles change and the technology moves forward with breathtaking speed.

Nothing important really changes at all.

Our values are constant.

Our family comes first.

And our love of adventure is inherited.

Grandpa never needed Facebook, but then neither do I. He may have spent his life with a horse and buggy and yet, during his time as a CO he got his license and drove a truck.

He did what needed to be done.

And that, I think, is the legacy he left us.

Bright Spots

It’s the little things that make up the big ones and it’s the little pieces of happy strung together that make the good life and sometimes it’s not so much having the moments of happy as it is noticing and holding on to the moments.

Here are my happy moments.

I’m finding happy moments in the winter.

Please congratulate me.

1. That spot of sunshine that comes in my window perfectly onto my desk. In the afternoons when I’m tired and have a headache and I still have to grade aalllll those papers, just at that moment the sun angles perfectly in through the window and I remember that the world holds sunshine after all.2. Seeing a new podcast on The Rubin Report featuring Ravi Zacharias. I literally smiled for like 15 minutes and the phrase “inordinately happy” came to mind. I don’t know why it made me so happy really. It just did. I love things that feed my mind.

3. When my students sing with all their heart. I am sad to admit that this happens far too rarely and there are many mornings when it sounds more like croaking and they are all half asleep. But sometimes… Sometimes everything synchronizes and comes together and they all SING. I love it.

4. Sunrises from the mountain top. Over Christmas break a crew of cousins and one brave uncle climbed the three miles to the top in the predawn darkness. Gold spilled across the mountain and melted into pink, and orange and gradually turned into soft light and we could see the Powell Mountains in front of us and far in the distance the hazy Smokies. It couldn’t have been more worth it.5. Handel’s Messiah. I mean I’d listened to it before but I’d never been to a live performance and being there with the music dancing and swirling around you and watching while each musician plays his own part perfectly to produce one overwhelming whole. I am not the same.6. Coffee. Any hot drink really. I love to hold a cup of warmth in my hands and know that it is will become part of me and I will be warm inside because of this simple cup I hold carefully in my hands.

7. John Green. I just finished reading Turtle’s all the way Down and before that it was Looking for Alaska. I may not agree with John Green on a lot of things but sometimes I just need to think about something that is far removed from life right here and John Green is perfect for that.

Seven is the number of completion and that’s the end of my happy list. I’m more happy than that but you don’t really want to hear about my awesome friends, my amazing family or my favorite food.

But be happy.

Courageously happy.

In the moments.

Creator God

Creator of little things

Of buds, and bugs and birds that sing.

To thee be praise.

Creator of hidden things

Of atoms, molecules, and tings.

I bring thee praise.

Creator of unseen things

Of spirit, soul, and angel wings

I stand in awe.

Creator of awesome things

Of mountain, lightening, fairy ring.

I love thee more.

Creator of everything,

Of all I have, to thee I bring.

Creator of me.

The hardest hike in my life so far.

I broke free from the confines of my yoder genes and did something I didn’t plan to do while I’m in Guatemala. I hiked the third highest peak in Central America. Acatenango. It’s an eleven mile hike with a 5,000 foot elevation. I’ve never been that high before, outside of an airplane and I’ve never before gone on a hike as hard as that one. I waited a day to write this in order to have a more clear view of how it really was (also because I spent a good part of the last day sleeping) and my legs are still aching with every step I take. I’m quite sure that I now know how it feels to be old. I feel a great deal of sympathy for my grandpa.

We started up the trail around lunchtime and fifteen minutes in I knew that it was going to be a long day. The trail was volcanic ash and it was similar to slogging up a sand dune. There’s nothing like a gently curving uphill slope. The trail goes straight up.

And then, before we even made it to the forested part of the mountain, the rain began.

Keep in mind that we were carrying 20 pound backpacks with our food, water and clothes for the next two days.

Thankfully we had taken the advice of everyone who had gone before us and bought rain ponchos. I felt similar to a walking tent but at least my backpack stayed dry.

We slogged on, one foot in front of the other, stopping every 30 minutes or so for a break. We stopped for lunch. Everyone ate their plates of cold chicken and rice. This struck me as funny for some reason. I mean who packs chicken and rice when they go on a hike? And here we were, a group of twenty strangers from all around the world, sitting in the rain eating chicken and rice.

Not long after lunch, the hail started. Real balls of ice pounding down on us. The water rushed down the trails. My shoes were soggy and squished with every step. I had a breif moment where I thought “I’m going to get hypothermia and die on this mountain” And then the common sense side of me took over and said, “no you aren’t, you’re not even cold inside”. So I picked up my head and kept on.

And then, much after and sooner than I expected the guide said that we only have 15 minutes until we reach the flat part of the trail that leads to camp.

The rain stopped and the mountain mist turned everything into a fairyland that reminded me of Narnia for some reason. Something to do with fighting hard battles in another world.

Flat is relative, of course, and we wound around the mountain for another hour and took a tiny winding trail up a little higher and there was our camp, a row of tents, facing Volcán de Fuego and a larger tarp covered shack with a hot fire underneath.

We rushed for the fire with no time to worry about watching a volcano. And here again I found myself intrigued with the fact that I was here. The French Canadian beside me stripped of his shoes and socks and roasted them over the fire, his girlfriend told us about how she was here for a month and then he came to surprise her. The young girl fron germany shivered uncontrollably until she finally changed into a dry shirt, the Polish man turned his pockets inside out to dry. The guides didn’t seem fazed in the least. They set to work making hot chocolate for everyone.

Slowly the clouds cleared and the active volcano was directly in front of us. We watched in amazement as it spewed out clouds of smoke and bursts of fire. The two mountains are connected so our mountain would shake whenever Fuego erupted.

The light faded, we heated our bowls of spaghetti over the fire and ate, in between racing out to see the the eruptions.

Wanting to practice our spanish and also being a bit nosy we chatted with our tour guide. A young man who told us interesting details. His father lives in Ohio. He climbs acatanango twice a week carrying an 80 lb pack (I can’t imagine) he gets paid 100 quetzals a day to do this. (About $14. That’s just wrong, the 15 people had each paid 225 quetzals, who’s getting all the money?) He showed us pictures of the best eruptions he’s seen and I was amazed.

And then it was time to go to bed. We were cold, still a bit damp, and very tired. We had mats and sleeping bags but the ground was hard packed ash. It took me a long time to get warm and even longer to find a relatively comfortable position. I slept in short intervals.

The wake-up call came at 3:30. We scrambled into our borrowed coats and hats, and grabbed our hiking sticks and flashlights. We still had an hour and a half to the top and we wanted to see the sunrise.

That last stretch is indescribable. You’re climbing through ash. I regretted my coat at first because I was promptly soaked in sweat. but as we got higher it also got colder and I was having a hard time catching my breath. It was bare now, except for patches of moss and here and there a daisy-like flower peaking between the rocks. I stopped to look down at the panorama. And then I looked up and I kept going.

The guide was at the top waiting. “welcome from the United States” he said and shook my hand. I smiled back, too out of breath to say a word.

It was cold. The wind was strong and I was thankful for every layer of clothes I was wearing.

But it was beautiful. From the top you can see three more volcanoes, mountain ranges, Lake Atitlan, and far in the distance, the ocean.

I was on top of the world.

Unfortunately you can’t stay long. It’s frigid up there and you’re exhausted and it’s windy.

And so amazing.

It’s not describable, and pictures aren’t the same.

And then we started down. We skied. I think that’s the best way to describe it, sort of half run, half slide.

I stopped for a moment there, with my shoes half full of dirt. More dirty than I’ve been in years, with my too big coat and very ugly hat and I thought “I can’t believe how happy I am to be here”.

We stopped for breakfast at camp. We had hot coffee and yogurt and a banana. And we picked up our much lighter backpacks and started down. It was impossible to walk normally. We ran, slid, and picked our way down. It only took us half as long as the way up and it was perfectly clear.

Towards the bottom my toes began to complain. They didn’t appreciate being slammed against the front of my shoes over and over. I considered taking them off and going barefoot but decided against it. Now 24 hours later, I don’t want to see any shoes anywhere close to me feet. Actually I threw my shoes in the trash can the moment I walked into the house. They weren’t worth saving.

The van ride home was silent. All 15 of us dead with tiredness.

I’ve never been so thankful for a hot shower and clean clothes.

So. Was it worth it?

Yes.

Should you try it? Yes.

Would I do it again?

I’m thinking no. Once in a lifetime is often enough for some things.

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.

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.

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.

Light at the end of the Tunnel

I didn’t really think I’d ever actually do it. I mean, I believe in doing everything at least once in your life but hey, you know how it is, some things are too close to home and then you can’t actually do them.

And that was the problem with the train tunnel. The mile long train tunnel through the mountain. The one that is just big enough for the train so if a train comes while you’re in it you have to squish into a little man-hole along the wall.

I can’t decide if I’m glad or sad that we made it through without meeting a train.

The tunnel is long and it’s dark and wet. We walked fast, running sometimes with only phone lights for flashlights.

I ended up with a skinned knee like I probably haven’t had since 3rd grade.

Train tracks are awkward to walk on. the ties spaced just to short for one step and to long for taking 2 in a step. Irritating.

We could see the light at the other end. It couldn’t be that far.

We would walk for awhile and then frustrated with how the light was getting no brighter, we picked up our skirts and ran (who cares, I thought, it’s pitch dark in here). We would run until one of us tripped and tumbled to the ground. Then we stopped, dusted ourselves off, and kept going.

But we didn’t stop. And we didn’t turn around. We kept going, always towards the light. And though it was a bit slow in coming. We reached the end.

And it was worth it.

As Libby said, “I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything”

The Stars Hang Low

I step out of my car and into the night. The stars hang low overhead.

Brilliant

Glittering

Tantalizing

They hang so low that I feel sure that if I would reach out I could touch them.

But I have a carload of four kids.

My hands are full of jar rings, avocados, and a crockpot full of red beets.

My mind is full of the dresses that need to be in the dryer, the end-times, (thanks to a certain book I devoured this afternoon) and the fact that it’s 10:00 and two little boys want to go trapping with their brother/cousin at 7 A.M.

But the stars…

My hands are full. My mind is busy. How could I touch the stars?