Friday, November 12, 2010

Pura Vida

My visa ran out at the end of October, and Honduras gave me two options. I could pay an insane amount of money at the border or I could take a trip to Costa Rica! Not much of a debate. I first met up with my friend, Etelvina, who is from Honduras and lived with me 5 years ago at the mission. She is now living in Nicaragua with her husband. After I took the 8 hr. bus ride to meet her in Niaragua, we took a four hr. bus ride to Costa Rica then another 2 hr. local bus to Tamarindo beach!!! The most challenging part about the ride was trying to use the bathroom while the bus was moving...slightly more difficult than in an airplane...and I can confidently say the space was even smaller than an airplane! Granted at times during the ride it is difficult to stay seated with bumps and stops (for bulls and goats to pass and such) let alone trying to hold on for dear life to the complimentary grip bar as you are trying to squat for fear--no terror of sitting my behind on what is better described as a hole than a toilet of which I could see the road underneath me with who knows what trailing from the bus. As I was holding on for dear life and focusing intently on my aim, I failed to notice that there was a window in the bathroom until I felt a slight breeze and realized it was wide open! All I could do at this point was to just finish what I started and try not to make eye contact with the bikers on the side of the road.

We found a cute little hostel called the Chocolate Hostel. There were 4 sets of bunkbeds with a small kitchen and a porch with a hammock for $15 dollars a night. We had two very nice girls as roommates, one from the States and the other from Germany.
This magical little place was secluded from every disappointment or suffering. It was an oasis of europeans, gringos, and bathrooms with toilet paper! All the seductions of the world at your disposal to forget any pain or heartache; anything goes and everyone lives in peace and harmony. A sort of bizarre “perfect world” centered around my needs, my wants, my life. The ME centered life; what will bring me the most satisfaction today with the least effort. Pura Vida they call it…pure life. It’s a phrase that Costa Rica is well known for. It seemed as if something was missing…even with all the apparent glamour and excitement I first experienced. It seems that you could make the argument that this is a place where different cultures from all around the world can live together in unity; a ‘utopian society’ if you will. And though it’s true that everyone is living in the same however many square footage of space; everyone is only pleasing to themselves; even though they are pleasant towards their neighbors. This means I can’t go out of my way to help someone if it means that I don’t experience immediate happiness. Which, unlike the gift of freedom, really makes us retreat more within ourselves, putting up imagary boundaries and walls. The problem with this train of thought is that your world becomes smaller and you become less aware or respondent to real life and settle for a false satisfaction until you realize as did the Rolling Stones that ‘I can’t get no satisfaction!’ Nor will you ever with the ME centered attitude.

Then there’s the other side of the spectrum; the WE centered life; expressed through the Holy Trinity. Since we are made to live in the infinite, the present moment can never satisfy our deepest longings, for it is only temporal. By giving into our passions and carnal desires, we are hindered from experiencing true joy because we settle for the lesser good. We participate in the Holy Trinity to the extent that we recognize ourselves in the reflection of Jesus by first consulting the Father in all we do. This is achieved by being constantly perceptive to listening to the voice of God as it comes to us in the ‘gentle breeze’ as stated in the Old Testament or the promptings that bring peace to our lives. By doing this, every action becomes a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it gives life; meaning to all we do. Mother Teresa states that, “Peace is obtained through service.”

On the way back from Costa Rica, at the Nicaraguan border, there was a couple with their newborn baby boy, he was only 15 days old. They showed such tender loving care for him. What was remarkable is that the baby’s head was partly sunken in on one side and his ear looked as if it was inside out. They saw that baby as no different and content with the greatest blessing they had ever received from God. It was only through the pure love of that couple for one another that overflowed and was apparent in the love they showed their child, and all those around them. There was a street kid, asking for money. The family didn’t have anything to give him, but the generous love they showed their baby boy inspired this street kid to make a perfect act of love. The little boy instead of running off upset that he didn’t get money from the couple, approached the baby and kissed the bottom of his feet. It reminded me of how the little drummer boy may have responded to Jesus on that cold night in Bethlehem. And in the hottest part of the day, that little bus station at the border of Nicaragua became a second Bethlehem.
Happy Pre-Advent season--It´s never too late for Christmas music or Christmas lights as we know too well in the South!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Latino Haircut

As of now in my lifetime I can say that I’ve jumped off a waterfall, and survived the ferris wheel in a third world country but nothing comes close to the exhilarating experience of my first Latin American haircut. Now every hairdresser I’ve ever gone to has always discouraged me from getting bangs. “No darlin. Not with your tiny forehead!’’ they say. Well I ventured to ask again and the hair dresser to my utmost surprise said, “Of course, if that’s what you want!” The anticipation lingered as she parted my hair, using a clip for every 15 strands of my hair. The climax was reached when she began to use this razor disguised as a comb. There it goes…the cut..the bang!! The name suits well.

It reminds me of the old fable about an old man, his boy, and his horse. They go into town; the man on the horse and the boy pulling the donkey behind. The townspeople cried “How could that little boy be expected to pull so much weight.” The old man gets off the horse and tells his son to get on and when they saw this they exclaimed, “That poor old man shouldn’t have to pull such a load with the healthy young boy to help.” So the old man and the son both got on the donkey but they said, “That poor donkey, it can’t be expected to pull such a heavy load.” Naturally they both get off and carry the donkey but never reached their destination. I say naturally because it is our natural tendency as human beings to want to appear pleasing to others.

As I was leaving the hair salon, a child looks up at me and cries, a shrilling cry. Just a coincidence, I muse to myself. Until someone calls out "Look, its Sally Pippin, the Hobbit child from Lord of the Rings." So I put it halfway up and someone tells me "You know who you look like; that girl from flashdance!" as they proceed to sing "She´s a maniac." So then I let my hair down and put a little latino strut in my step and a dab of Pantene and now they just call me "Chichita pero picante" which means short but spicy...just like Sally Pippin! So if you want to live a fullfilled life know yourself and be pleasing to your God or else you will never reach your destination!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Authenticity of Service

A little boy was at the door asking for food, which isn´t an uncommon occurrence. We try to get to know the people of our neighborhood that we serve, so we ask them to come in and eat with us. He said he wanted to take it home to his family, his mom is sick and he has six other siblings and there is no father in the house.

It´s the same story anytime anyone comes to the door. It´s overwhelming, what´s worse is I feel like I´m only making myself feel better in giving them food for a meal that won´t even begin to fill the emptiness of their heart or self esteem. They are oppressed by their own goverment, neighbors and even within their own families, which has repeated itself for genereations and generations.

Hatred is a much deadlier sickness than poverty. People here are cut with deep wounds--that are filled with the dirt and the garbage they live in and consume through the lies of the world which they believe; but that only numb their minds until they are unable to discern truth. They cling to the only false hope that is left; rationalization.

It is a dictatorship to say "This is my culture and this is how we act, how we dress. I have sex and do drugs and am enslaved by my passions because it´s part of my culture." And what about free will...self discipline...and ultimately rising above the expectations others have for your life. These are the very virtues in life which empower us to rise above mediocrity. Nothing fills that emptiness except love...give until it hurts and then keep giving.--Mother Teresa. What we have is never enough and the work is always too much. But it is in the knowledge of our nothingness that we see in clear light the authenticity of service. A priest recently helped me to understand the virtue of patience that comes from waiting. He said that it is that when we get to the point where we feel that maybe God doesn´t care or that he isn´t listening to our prayers; it is this moment that we are so close to finding our true calling we just can´t see it...and so many times we want to turn back or make our own way when he had something better already laid out for us the whole time. He also said that our patience is equivalent to our ability to suffer. Through the need of others approval, fear and perverted self-indulgement drain us from life, and many times even bring death, stealing from us the perfection which God has chosen for us and brings us to. St. Catherine of Sienna

Carol, the director, told me once that the only hope for girls in this neighborhood and this country to gain respect and dignity is to have an education. I met a lady with her baby waiting in line at San Bendito and I sat with her. She must have been no more than 17, if that. I gave her a coloring sheet and crayons and held the baby for her as they waited. At first glance, my corporal being was rejected to the idea of holding a child with dried up throwup on his shirt and a horrible scab on his nose, that was starting to bleed again. The more dejected I felt to holding this child, the closer I held him to me and the more tender I stroked his sticky hair. Gnats were eating at his scab and it wasn´t enough just to blow them off, I had to pick them out with my finger. I washed his hands and face with a cup of water and my shirt.

When I looked up I noticed that a rough looking man, probably early 30s was watching me the whole time. It made me realize that we´ve all been hurt by love and maybe that was the first time he experienced the pure intention of love expressed as love and not lust. And just maybe it touched his heart in a way that allows him to show that same tenderness to another. We choose by our actions to repair our brokenness and those of others or we allow ourselves to sink into despair and drag others down with us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happiness is a Choice

Happiness is a choice. --Mother Teresa

A young adult at 19 years old loses his eye in a car accident and is able to say only 2 weeks after the traumatic event—“Now I just have to get used to only having one eye” with a smile on his face and glad to be alive. A mother and now grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and tells me how she was in church and was able to console someone who was crying because she too had just been diagnosed with the same cancer. She then understood that even if she was given this cross to carry, it is worth it; if only to identify herself with this one other lady who was suffering also. A lady who suffered from asthma all her life was fasting for another woman in her prayer group who had some type of illness and she found that she herself was cured from her asthma after sacrificing and praying for someone else. A mother sacrifices to feed her 10 children after her husband dies by collecting plastic bottles to get them through school. Her daughter now 21 is studying to be a doctor. These are the fruits that come from suffering.

But in all these situations an acceptance of sharing in the cross of Jesus was first made. God will never give us more than we can take and He will always give us more than we can imagine with the little we choose to give Him.

Think of Peter when after all night of not catching any fish…Jesus tells Him to cast out his net one more time. Peter does so without hesitation only out of loving obedience. He doesn’t even ponder to think of the possibility that he would catch anything but maybe his faith proved stronger in not knowing. For if he had known he would have done so with full knowledge that what he was doing would be to his own interest.

These are my teachers; they teach me to stay present to what is present—they teach me how to trust. And allow me to experience a joy that is profoundly greater than the sufferings in life we encounter; simply by waking up every morning and choosing happiness.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Champion of the World

The world cup was a month long event, hosted in South Africa, that began each morning at the crack of dawn with fireworks and Shakira blasting from every little home throughout our neighborhood. One of my patients, Noe, always kept me up to date and would fill in my official scorecard. He would explain to me the official rules of the world cup and even the physics of the amount of air pumped into the official ball used during the event. His family invited me over for the final game between Spain and Holland.

Very few events could have exceeded the anticipation that was absorbed from every corner of the stadium straight though the TV screen followed by one three letter word....GOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLL! Spain finally came through in the end, with only minutes remaining in overtime, and conquered the world once again. There was intense sweat and sacrifice that permeated every inch of the field that night. Holland in dismay of their defeat and Spain in their victory as Queen's 'We are the Champions of the World' played in the background. And indeed Spain is the champion of the world! What could anyone say to you after that?

Noe, who I mentioned earlier, is a 22 year old young man that became paralyzed after being shot in a drive by shooting, from a bullet that wasn't intended for him. He has been confined to his bed for the past 5 years. About a month ago, a medical brigade came down from the states and perfomed an operation that would allow him to be able to sit up in a wheelchair. We are gradually approaching that goal as he is now able to sit up for up to 15 min without adverse effects. We are looking for a lawn chair that could gradually be inclined so that he can get used to sitting up for longer time and be able to adjust the back of the chair to the desired height.

Growing up, this young man was one of the strongest and most athletic of his youth, and an absolute asset to the game of football. One day your visions of the future hold every possibility and the next day you are closed in by 4 walls and can't even see outside your doorway. This was the reality for Noe and he had to fight for a quality of life that many would say isn´t worth living for. He had to first make the internal decision to live or die. He was in the hospital for a long time with Denia, who is now his girlfriend of five years. She has stayed by his side all this time, but what is more is that it was only after the accident when she was helping out the family by going to take care of him at the hospital, that their relationship formed. It was all she could do in the beginning to get him to take a drop of water. Now she continues to wait on him for whatever need he has without ever complaining. There relationship is one of true love through complete self giving.

I learn a little more about life with each visit to see Noe. He has formed his will and tempered his desires by accepting what God wants of his life even if it means he will never do what others his age are able to do. He understands that the true meaning of suffering is to approach the cross in order to experience Christ in a profound and personal way. In the world´s view, this may not be what power or success looks but he has conquered his passions and has found peace in surrendering to God´s will for his life even if it doesn´t look like what he had planned. I´m sure when he thought five years ago about where he would be now; it wasn´t restricted to his bed, but God always works in mysterious ways. What good is it to win the world and lose your soul. Noe shows the world what it looks like to be a champion of one´s soul. This is the sacrifice and dedication we should admire and strive for in ourselves. These are the heroes of our times that our generation should imitate.

Noe and Denia are now in the process of preparing for the next step of their lives in holy matrimony. They have the vision of living in the mountains to minister through their example. Noe specifically is passionate about sharing his life experiences with the youth. Most wouldn't have these aspirations for the future in his circumstance, but that's just the kind of guy Noe is. There is a story of 2 men in jail who both look out of the same window, one looks down at the mud and the other looks up at the sky. This couple only has a hope and a dream but I am asking in faith to anyone who may be reading this to please consider helping monetarily in any way possible and to please keep this beautiful couple in your prayers during the joys and sorrows they will face down the road. May the grace they will recieve through the sacrament of marriage, overflow to bless you and your families.

If you are able to help in any way--please send all funds to this address below:

Missioners of Christ:
Noe and Denia's Wedding
5880 Oak Terrace Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23464

Monday, June 28, 2010

Taka Chichinga!

Every day in Honduras is a new day to create something--whether it is a bridge made from a school bus that is suspended 20 ft high, a car wash converted into a snack shop drive thru, ice cream in a bag (cremitas...yum!) or even a word like Taka Chichinga. Taka Chichinga is a universal a language used in our house to help break all communication barriers. Where's the bathroom?? (Taka Chichinga??) What...beans and rice for supper again?! (Taka Chichinga?!) Did you hear what happened in the market today!?! (Taka Chichinga!?!) We play alot of bilingual SCRABBLE here. If I made up the rules to the game--it would be alot more interesting and would give birth to new and exciting words. When did people ever stop creating words anyway?

To create is to live! I remember a priest not long ago that gave a homily about vocations. He said, our first calling or vocation as christians is to life! We are called to live and be life to others so that life can be constantly recreated through God within us. This means fighting our feelings or tendencies to become discouraged or anxious about tommorrow when we only have today. This doesn´t mean to suppress these feeling as if they don´t exist but to rise above them and first make a conscious decision to choose life and realize that we have to change the path of our mind because we can´t change the attitudes of others or even the fact that there is evil in the world, but we can change ourselves. Our 2nd vocation is one in the same, the call to eternal life. How often do we think about the reality of eternal life? It is a word of immeasurable significance and without limits; yet my temporal mind only thinks of the word and it is forgotten.

Without first getting to know yourself now and where you are going ultimately, it will be difficult and unfair to commit to something you cannot make a promise you cannot keep. To have a vocation is to be a guardian of life. When one chooses a vocation of marriage he is responsible for the souls of his spouse and children. In religious life; priests, ministers, and rabbi´s are all responsible for the souls of their parishoners and a person called to the single life is responsible for the souls entrusted to him by the providential encounters of those he meets along the way.

I had to leave the country recently because my 90 day visa ran out, so I went to visit my brother. He is studying in a catholic seminary in CT called the Legionnaries of Christ. We spent a day in NYC and I have to admit I was a little nervous for my brother walking around in a collar. Although he is only in his 3rd year in seminary, he wears the collar. He´s explained to me before that this signifies his priesthood, as a reminder to him and others, that he is a representation of Christ to others and that´s why he always wears it as often as he can (even if it´s 90 degrees outside.) In the city, there were gangster guys calling out to him saying "Hey priest!" from 10 ft away--my first thought was "cover it up!!!" (Like it was a disease of some kind) but then the guy said "Im Petey and this is my little brother Pablo. Put in a prayer for us Father." I thought it was very sincere that they would entrust their names to someone they didn´t even know. I realized that these young men had been helped before by a good priest who has represented the priesthood so well that now these men truly believes in prayer and salvation because they have experienced it and recognize it in my brother. I was very moved and proud to be his sister at that momemt..and of course always! It was the ordinary and poor that recognized my brother and genuinely reached out to him by a wave or a smile or a free ride on the subway! Please take a minute to say a prayer for our priests; for their faithfulness and holiness.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Worm Burn

I finally went to the doctor after waking up one morning with 3 spiral marks on my arm. The doctor told me he had never seen anything like it in his whole life--but he said it was pretty. Thank you doctor for telling me my worm infested arm is pretty--here's 200 L. I feel all better now! So I tell him my other symptoms that I had been dealing with as far as stomach issues go (I won't go into detail) and I say it might be a parasite...what do you think. Well, he says, 'You're probably right' as he hands me a written prescription for parasites. So I'm apparently qualified to diagnose myself. I went to get another opinion and the doctor told me that there is a type of worm that falls from the roof and if it lays on you it first poos and then literally burns your skin. So how's that for a souvenir. As for the stomach issues 1 stool sample, 2 blood tests and 3 months later still no sign of parasites. But my stomach is feeling much better and I have a pretty honduran tattoo...who could ask for anything more!