Saturday, August 16, 2014

On the Occasion of my Fortieth Birthday

I sat in the passenger seat as the diesel pulled us back up the mountain with Antigua visible in the left side-view mirror. Relief finally popped in my ear as we reached an accustomed altitude. I noticed a small creamy skinned boy with his hands clasped by his mother and sister walking alongside the mountain pass wearing baby blue and a matching wool cap. The sky was easy and the sun was warm. I breathed in the thin, cool air as I realized that I felt healthy enough to write.

The past summer has been fast paced. What is often called vacation was an essential and meaningful sprint. We've laughed and loved, shared powerful moments of mission, and made essential contacts. I am very thankful. We've also carried the weight of family disputes in the U.S. and I've lost  essential lifelong connections that have been foundational to my life. My soul feels scorched. The price is high, and yet it is nothing at all. God has given far more than I could ever lose.

All these thoughts float through my head like road-dust in the haze of the morning sun. The tires hum over the asphalt as road-side vendors of paintings and tortillas blur along the side. Living panoramic stories of the individuals we pass cause me to reflect on the decades past.

Kellie returned home from volunteering at the Christian Academy yesterday with instructions for me to be ready with an "overnight bag." I jumped in the passenger side and our wheels began to roll towards Antigua. I loved being stolen away with an unawareness of the destination. It felt like a welcomed escape.

As we left San Lucas I thought to myself... I am content. If I died today, I would leave this world with no present regret. We make our choices the best that we can and we try to release those things that we can not control. We fall to our knees in dark moments and seek the face of God. He is sufficient.

Most of our days consist of a simple breakfast in the morning, PB&J sandwiches for lunch, and a fresh dinner using local ingredients; usually some combination of chicken, beans, rice, tortillas, cheese, veggies and avocado. We live with sparse belongings, but in relative comfort with typically dependable power and water. We love it and have found more with less.

But today was different. We came to a simple door on a street in the ruined city of Antigua that opened up into a beautiful garden. Eight small rooms surrounded a fountain and beautiful manicured topiaries. Great care had been given to the placement of each stone and seemingly even every blade of grass. Art dominated my vision in the form of paintings, sculptures, water, and architecture. 

Our evening began with a walk across the ancient cobblestones to a small bistro ran by a frenchman. My date had on a dress and braved the broken and erratic surfaces wearing high heels. We walked through the sights and sounds of tourists, street vendors, and ambiance that is Antigua. 

Our meal began with a small dish of marinated olives and ended with a jazzed up version of Guatemalan hot chocolate. Everything was expertly prepared and unbelievably seasoned. We had arrived earlier than the rush and we selected our own table beside an ancient and thick window. We stretched dinner out to three hours as the world moved by outside with the shadow of the sun creeping down the pane.

A walk back to our storybook hidden garden room meandered past Central Square with illuminated fountains and couples huddled in starry-eyed embrace throughout the soft shadows. Marimba music laced the air in a perfect soundtrack.

The night was surreal. I felt the nagging of concerns from reality trying to crowd into the moment, and I was aware of the poverty that exists so nearby as we walked in the cool air of a tranquil night. Our appetites were sated and we would sleep on pillow top luxury. Even though the price was far less than it would cost for a hotel stay in the U.S., it is still difficult to take a night of rest in a world that burns.

We slept in twilight throughout the night, listening to the cannons on the quarter hour at La Merced Church just a stone's throw from where we lay. Soft bells also chimed on the hour and on the half. A cool breeze kept the warm air pleasant as moonlight brought the stark white sheets to a nearly animate state.

Sunlight warmed our faces to welcome the morning. I found a folded note from my wife. My dislike of cards was taken into account as she listed on plain, white paper, "40 Reasons I Love You." I found her waiting for me at a table in the wooden cathedral ceilinged dining room where we sat side-by-side with dishes of fresh local fruit and coffee. 

Breakfast came with the room and was served on white linen, porcelain, and silver. A crystal glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice was a perfect counterpoint to the earthy darkness of the coffee. I ordered the house specialty, (always a good idea in Antigua) poached eggs on tomato with pesto drizzle. I laughed as I shared a memory with Kellie from my mental healthcare days...

...I was helping Albert with assisted daily living skills in his residential care facility. Albert had been diagnosed with a mental illness that came with a side of personality disorder. It was my job on this particular day to teach him how to cook breakfast. We were following a pre-planned menu that was carefully prepared by our overweight dietician (I always found that ironic). I announced to Albert that we were going to poach eggs.

Albert immediately turned to me with a very concerned look on his face. "It is illegal to poach in Indiana!" We decided to scramble them instead.

Our turn off approaches and my mind is brought back to reality. It's time to return to a house full of wonderful and very noisy kids, return to fundraising, sermon-writing, study, and preparation for service. Our schedule is about to heat up to a 4 month frenzy that will find us collapsed into a warm Christmas.

And I contemplate the number 40. I think it is a good number. In fact, I consider that I have spent my entire life leading up to this moment. While I acknowledge the absence of time passed, I more strongly gravitate to the awareness of the days to come. Forty is not a marker of days behind, it is the beginning of everything that is to come.

We pull into our stone drive and I realize that we have been prepared for this time. I am thankful for the struggles, the loss, the pain, the heartaches... they shape me. They prepare me. There is a darkness that comes for all of us. We must not give in. Every day is a day to daily die to self. 

I am thankful for moments that remind us of the strength of goodness in the world. Moments as simple as 40 sentences on a page, or a perfectly poached egg. 

Among the pain of your life, search for the beauty. You will find yourself there.