Friday, May 26, 2006

Guatemala, Part I

I leave for Guatemala on Tuesday. I love to say that. I have learned that the best part of an exotic trip is rarely the trip itself. Some people are the adventurous type. I am a homebody who still manages to travel regularly. So each trip is a challenge, pushing me beyond my comfort zone, demanding that I release control of my life, forcing me into contact with those I don’t know, reshaping my understanding of myself and the world. I get stressed choosing places to eat or what to eat. I get tired and crabby after a day of endless decisions. I worry that I am in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing all the time. So why do I keep traveling? Why do I keep putting myself through all of this?

The most noble reason is to learn more of the world… and that is certainly a piece of this trip to Guatemala. I have never been to Central America. I have been to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, but this will be something different. I have been watching some videos and doing a little reading on the history of the country. I am not sure what it means to be a tourist in a country so recently ravaged by civil war. It has only been 10 years since the peace accords were signed between the government and the guerillas. The village we will be visiting will not be telling us history. They will be telling us the stories of their lives. I am grateful for the chance to grasp even a little more fully the reality of this world and so to better understand who I am and who God is.

I must admit, though, that there are also less noble reasons for going. It has been so much fun telling people where I am going on vacation. Are you doing anything this summer? I am. I’m actually going on vacation with a few friends next week. Where are you going? Guatemala. I say it casually. As if it is no big deal. And wait for the reactions. I must admit, I love the surprise in people’s faces. I love that it changes their perception of me a little.

And I love having the stories to tell, the pictures to show, the odd souvenirs around my home. I love being considered a world traveler. If I am going to be a single, 39 year old, professional woman, I might as well enjoy it. I might as well be the exotic aunt who travels around the world bringing back strange gifts and has an aura of mystery and wanderlust around her. I might as well make the most of my freedom and financial independence.

I realize that my travels are a privilege. I don’t take them entirely for granted. I would trade them in a second for a family and all the accompanying financial responsibilities. But I also realize that many people, single or married, will never have the opportunities I have to travel. Or they will travel for necessity rather than pleasure. I was watching The Motorcycle Diaries this weekend, the story of the young Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s journey across South America. In one scene he and his friend are sitting around a campfire with a couple they met hiking along the road. This couple begins telling them of how their land was taken and their need to travel in order to find work to support their family. They then turn to Che and ask if he is also looking for work. When he answers no, they inquire why he is traveling. Che gets a sheepish look on his face and answers that he is simply traveling for pleasure. It is the beginning of his awakening to the needs of the people, an awakening that would eventually lead him to champion the cause of migrant workers throughout the world.

I don’t foresee such a revolutionary awakening in my own life, but I hope that I allow for the possibility. I hope that in encountering others, if I allow myself to truly see them, in some small way I might be changed.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Cinderella Story

High school for me was a bit of a Cinderella story. Middle school was a nightmare. A tomboy. Silent. A brain. Braces on my teeth. A back brace to keep my spine straight. Carried a cello to and from school on the bus every day. My junior year in high school I got my braces off… all of them. I was elected Junior Class Representative. I became a cheerleader. The star running back from the football team asked me out. Cinderella, all the way.

Why would God choose that time to interrupt my life? Why would God choose that time to call me to faith? And yet that is exactly what happened. Now Mark and I remember this story differently. He insists he invited me to youth group. I insist that I asked him if I could come along. Though my life seemed to be going well, I was still not happy. My family was struggling. My friends had just started getting involved with drinking, drugs, and sex. I was looking for something better. And this group of students from Marin Covenant Church seemed to have it. The youth group had recently had something of a revival. Over 100 students from my high school attended each week. And they seemed happy. Truly happy. Mark was a leader in the youth group and the quarterback of the football team. So, one day I invited myself along.

That night at Youth Group they showed a multimedia presentation… God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. And I accepted Christ. It was that simple. The minute I heard the presentation I knew it was true. And that this was something I was going to give my life to. The leader asked us to bow our heads and raise our hands if we wanted to accept Christ. A leader would come find us after the presentation. You would think God would make something like this easy. But God’s timing was different than mine. No one approached me after the service. No one seemed to notice that I had tried to become a Christian.

Perhaps it was not the smartest move to arrive at youth group for the first time with a car load of football players. We walked into the gym. The guys walked one way. The girls avoided me like the plague. I was moving in on their territory. Youth group was miserable. Here I was trying to become a Christian and no one would talk to me. Except for Mark. Faithfully, every week, he invited me to youth group. “Pick you up at 7:00 pm?” he’d say. I knew it was a mistake to show up with these guys each week, but honestly, can you blame me for saying yes?

I must have raised my hand a dozen times over the next few months. And nothing. Seriously. Who has to fight this hard to get into the kingdom? And then, one day, someone from the youth group sat next to me at a meeting and invited me to a waterski retreat. About halfway through the retreat a youth volunteer noticed that I seemed to be interested in this faith stuff and asked if I had questions about Christianity. I burst out crying! How do I become a Christian? What was I doing wrong? What do I do now? What is a quiet time? For the next few years Patty took me under her wings and mentored me. She bought me a bible. She taught me how to do daily devotions. She recommended me for leadership in the youth group. She opened up her home to me. I am forever in her debt for laying the foundation of my faith.

Today, Mark and I are both pastors in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Mark’s brother, two other friends from San Rafael High, and several of the volunteer leaders are also ordained in the Covenant. High school was a Cinderella story for me, but it wasn’t the transformation any of us expected.