Terrified on Election Day

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I haven’t written a blog post in a long time.  I haven’t suffered insomnia much since I moved back from Nicaragua.  This morning (3AM) I can’t sleep and here I am starting a post; I’ll let you decide if correlation equals causation.  

Today is election day.  That may be why I can’t sleep.  I may be terrified for our country.  

I’m not young anymore.  I act childishly, of course, but I’ve now seen many elections, voted many times, and been alive long enough to watch our country moving in a particular direction.  I lived outside the U.S. for seven years, which gave me a different perspective on both US politics and the impact the US has upon other parts of the world.  

People believe what they want to believe.  All of us, consciously or unconsciously, make up our minds and then gather evidence to support what we “know,” rather than looking at the evidence and deciding what to believe.  I believe this trend in public discourse has become worse as I’ve grown older.  

It isn’t a new phenomenon.  Every marriage ever survives or dies  based on this behavior.  

If you can’t see evidence that controverts what you believe, then you can never say and mean these words:  “I’m sorry, I see now I was wrong.”  

If you can’t accept evidence that contradicts what you “know,” your mind can’t be changed.  

That’s a terribly frightening position to take in life.  Frightening for you and frightening for others around you.  

If you can’t be wrong–if you can’t see when you are wrong–you are dangerous to yourself and others.  

As a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that life and death hangs on these words: “I have sinned; please forgive me.”  

“I have sinned” means “I was wrong.”  

I once gave a sermon entitled “You’re Wrong.”  Christians have an easier time saying “I’m a sinner,” than “I’m wrong.”  I think we rattle off “I’m a sinner” because that’s our party line and we know we have to acknowledge it.  The Bible says so.  “I’m wrong” proves a harder confession than “I’m a sinner,” because yeah, we’re all sinners…but I’m still right in this argument.  

That’s the opposite of repentance.  Repentance means, literally, turning around and going in the opposite direction.  

But what if I can’t–or won’t–ever see that I’m going in the wrong direction in the first place?  What if Peter looks Jesus in the eye and says, “I didn’t deny you!” and then argues for his innocence?  

Here’s the thing:  You don’t think you’re wrong.  You don’t want to believe you’re wrong.  Accepting you’re wrong is costly.  Acknowledging you’re wrong?  Hoo-boy, that’s exorbitant.  

No one wants to pay that price.  

None of this is new.  Adam and Eve both ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  When God confronted them–when their guilt was obvious for all to see: hiding from God, newly clad in fig leaves, cores and seeds strewn on the ground–neither said, “Yes, I did that. I shouldn’t have.  I’m sorry.”  

What terrifies me now is that our political parties have recognized “We will get absolute loyalty from our members when we demonize the other party.  When we can convince our members that anything the other side does, no matter how positive-looking, is either inherently evil or else a ploy to deceive people (us!) so that they can commit a more cruel and vile evil, we will never lose a voter again.”  

“Fake news” plays perfectly into this.  Any appearance that my side actually did something wrong, or even heinous, I can dismiss as fake news.  Exaggerated, twisted, taken out of context, wholly fabricated.  I can read a news report, I can listen to an audio recording, or even watch the video of an event and still tell myself, “That never happened.”*

No, I did not eat that fruit.  No, I did not deny you.  

We, our side, were not wrong, because A)You all are liars, and B)You are the enemy. Therefore, even if my side appears to have done wrong, it’s for a greater good, just as when your side appears to have done good, it’s for a deeper evil.  

I had a conversation last night with friends and one of them stated, “For people who support this president, nothing can change their minds.”  He wasn’t using hyperbole.  He meant it literally.  

I’m terrified.  

As a follower of Jesus, I believe God still redeems and heals and restores.  I believe I will see my son Isaac again.  I know God has defeated death.  

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

When I say I’m scared, I’m scared for us.  I’m scared for what we are letting our country become, I’m scared for who we will allow ourselves to be, while telling ourselves we are the opposite.  

Deceiving ourselves stands diametrically opposed to following Jesus.  Demonizing our enemies is antithetical to the Gospel…making our fellow countrymen and women the enemy and then demonizing them? 

Jesus calls us to love our enemies.  Jesus calls us to love the poor and the refugee (stranger).  Jesus commands us to love one another as he loves us. If those commandments “sound political,” the problem is not with the Gospel, but with our politics.  

Politics based on fear and hatred of our enemies, politics that vilify others to win your vote, politics that tell you to hate the people Jesus commands you to love, those are diseased.  They may appear to produce results–and even win elections–but they bear rotten fruit.  Nothing in the Gospels teaches us that the end justifies the means.  Quite the opposite.  We live faithfully and leave the results to God. 

We love faithfully, and leave the results to God.  

Where there is hatred, we sow love, not more hatred. 

I know some of my political views may offend you and if so, I appreciate that you’ve read this far…unless it’s just to prove me wrong.  I may be wrong; if so, I want to know.  

Marcus Aurelius wrote “If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.”

More importantly to me, Jesus said “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Ironically, some of those listening to him say these words argued, called him names, and, when they fully grasped what he was saying, tried to throw stones at his head.  

“Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  Racist names, at that.  

That captures my fear: when we hear the truth, will we repent? Or will we go after the speaker with stones?  Will I admit when I’m wrong or will I say you have a demon?  

The truth will make me free, if I receive it…but not if I attack it.

 

*”Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said. “Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”  This was in a speech to veterans regarding tariffs.  See video here.

 

A blog post on my fiftieth birthday.  

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(Non-sports fans–this is not a sporty post. Don’t bail at the first reference to ultimate.)  

I may be the youngest fifty-year-old I know.  And by that, I mean least mature.  

On Sunday, my ultimate team in our fall league finally won a game (kind of).  Afterward, we did a cheer for the other team, as is traditional in ultimate, a silly yell or song or something to congratulate/enourage/amuse the opponent.  Their team is “Tropical Stormtroopers.”  So I suggested, 

Tropical Stormtroopers/”That’s no moon.”/”I have a bad feeling about this.”/We’ll see you again soon. 

A teammate suggested the last line, which was a good rhyme/conclusion.  Then my teammates all told me they didn’t know my references.  They aren’t all fifteen.  I think a couple are in their thirties; one may be in his forties

So step back.  I’m out on a Sunday afternoon playing ultimate, of course I am, at 49 years and 354 days.  I played well.  Not what I could do at 29, not as fast as 39, but I didn’t embarrass myself.  I represented.  I’m guarding a kid who is 17 and faster than smoke.  A Big deal.  Makes me happy, keeps me sane.  

Then I reference Star Wars, the original, that we eventually started calling A New Hope or Episode IV, that was the formative movie of my childhood, with two of the most recognized quotes from the entire franchise (have you never seen a meme?*).  No one recognizes it.  But it rhymed, and after I explained it they were all, “OH! Okay!” And we did our cheer…

…and no one on the other team recognized the references.  

 

So here I am, youthful but old.  The mirror won’t let me forget that I’m fifty.  Neither will the sun, when it burns my scalp where I used to have high SPF hair.  

I realized long ago that to relate to young adults, which has been God’s main calling on my life, I need to have some clue what they’re talking about.  But I’ve seen people try to be hip and young when they’re not and <shudder> that doesn’t help.  Somewhere in between, there’s a balance.  

My Peter Pan streak helps.  It’s not like I have to try to remain immature.  That seems to take care of itself.  My friend Michael, celebrating his 25th anniversary today, just described marriage as “relentless tolerance.”  Ah, Lord, you have gifted Kim with that, and she practices it every day, and I am so grateful.  

My eldest, Rowan, recently expressed that life seems to expect mastery after only two rodeos. That’s a small number of rodeos.Image result for know everything by my second rodeo

I agree wholeheartedly.   I’m fifty and every day I feel like I’m winging it, trying to pick up cues from the people around me how this is supposed to work.  But at fifty I know–most other people feel that way, too.  Maybe not as often.  

There are so many things I don’t know at 50 that I thought I’d know by now.  I know so much more about myself than I did at twenty or thirty, but I still baffle me.  The line about “I’ll feel like I’m an adult when I’m…” sounds like a joke to me now.  But the lack thereof no longer stresses me out.  

At fifty, I am a pastor and a writer. How do I know?  I pastor people and I write stuff.  Will I ever make money writing?  I hope so.  It would make life easier and would sure be nicer for Kim.  But titles have no bearing on who we are: many people with the position of pastor do not pastor at all (far too many, tragically) and wherever I go and however I get paid (or not), I pastor.  God made me to be this.  Likewise, the words always flow and someone reads them and tells me they relate or that it helps or I made them laugh or think.  Will I ever have the title of “pastor” again?  I don’t know.  But on my birthday, having the people I’ve loved and invested in recognize the impact I’ve had in their lives?  Priceless.  

Several different mentors have stressed to me, “Doing flows from being.”  I get this now.  I do these things because this is who I am; I do these things from who I am.  

Maybe I can say, fifty years in, I know who I am.  Not that I always understand why I behave in certain ways, but I know who I am. I know who God made me to be.  Living from here, whether a year or another fifty, is not trying to figure that out but trying to live it faithfully.  

So how do I faithfully live being immature?  

I’m asking that half seriously, half tongue in cheek.  I tell the young people I mentor that one indicator of maturing is learning to recognize my emotions and then choose my response, rather than having my emotions dictate my response.  By this measure, I have matured phenomenally…and still have some ways to go.  

There’s an entire series to be written about spiritual maturity and I would need some guest writers to help with that (*makes mental note*).  Take this not as a summary but merely a glimmer: spiritual maturity involves being the message we speak.  In this sense, hypocrisy is the opposite of maturity.  I hope, and fervently pray, I am maturing in this.  

But as for US common measures of maturity…I don’t know where my phone is.

And a part of me hopes I don’t find it.  

 

 

 

*”That’s no moon meme” comes up second on the Google search autofill.  Yeah.  

Things That Are Going Well

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This transition has been severely stressful.  Last weekend, Kim and I were in a septic tank.  Not symbolically.  That may tell you all you need to know about the challenges.

It struck me–or God nudged me–that many things have also gone well and I’ve been blessed and encouraged a lot.  It’s easy to focus on how bloody difficult it all has been, how, in many ways, it hasn’t gone as we’d hoped, and how transitioning to the US after seven years in Nicaragua is just plain hard, no matter what.  

But in that ever-elusive balance between being honest and choosing to focus on positives, it’s time to remember, and recount, the good stuff.

We’ve been back since late June.

Friends gave us a car.  It’s hard to express how much that helped.  Financially, of course, and practically–the only thing of more practical help than a vehicle right now is a place to live–but also morale-wise.  It showed me that God is in this part of our journey, which hasn’t always been abundantly clear to me.  They felt God led them to give us the car.  Assuming they were right, that’s some pretty cool watching out for us…and some pretty powerful listening to God by them, too.

My friend Tim gave me and Corin tickets to a baseball game.  Slightly less pragmatic gift than a car.  But it also made me feel tremendously loved.  I’d screwed up with Corin and this redeemed what was otherwise going to be one of those low moments of parenting. Going to a baseball game, or not, doesn’t seem such a crucial thing in the big picture.  But in the midst of our chaotic transition it gave us a chance to spend a day together, just be together, shout our fool heads off, and stop worrying about whether the house will sell or middle school will ever get better.  We were about twelve rows from the field.  We received lavish generosity.  One of my favorite memories with my father is a trip we took to see a baseball game together.  I hope my son says the same.

We are living with family, with my in-laws, Ben and Celeste, and their two-year-old son.  The most practical need God is meeting for us right now is this place we live.  I don’t get the sense from them that they are doing us a big favor or putting themselves out–which they are and they are–and, in fact, they seem to like it. Either they have fooled me mightily or this has gone very well.  On my end, I’ve enjoyed this extended family time so much I will miss it when we have our own home.  I consider that rave reviews.  We passed three days, and then three months, that a guest should stay,* and I’ve started to wonder whether we have missed the boat in our culture.  Nicaraguan culture practices versions of this model of family everywhere.

A funny thought: practical needs are food and a home.  Worldwide, a car is a luxury item that feels like a practical need in US culture.  You know what another actual need is?

Sleep.

I’m sleeping here.  Last night I slept 7 1/2 hours straight, without waking up once.   I dreamt deeply.  I woke up feeling rested. 

After years of insomnia, I wake up feeling like I’ve experienced a mini-miracle.  I tried not to be too whiny about my insomnia–Yeah, who am I kidding? I complained incessantly about it.  I’ll offer only this defense: it sucked.

People need sleep. Sleeping, it turns out, helps. A lot.  I would be tempted to complain about the cold–who am I kidding, I’m complaining a lot about the cold because I’m already freezing my patootie off–but I’m pretty certain colder temps get much of the credit for better sleep.  I can’t say I feel less stressed here, but I definitely traded one type of stress for another; perhaps this version doesn’t keep me awake at night.  I’ll take it.  I’ll take it and rejoice.

I’ve thought a lot about relationships since I’ve gotten back.  I find it impossible to weigh what I’ve lost against what I’ve gained (back).  I’m homesick for Nicaragua, certainly, and that mostly means for my friendships there (and fresh tortillas across the street).  There are people here I missed horribly; mostly, I tried not to think about how much I missed them.  Yet I’m very lonely, thus far.  Weird.  In the midst of that, a few people have bent over backwards to help us with preparing to sell our property and  with our move.  I’m profoundly grateful for their love, shown through lifting boxes and fixing broken stuff.

Lastly, and as a parallel, I miss our daughter, Annalise, though I feel tremendously proud of her for choosing to return to Nicaragua and invest her heart in kids there.  I also love having time with our eldest, Rowan, which I had not been able to enjoy these past three years.  I can’t weigh the gain and the loss on a scale, but I’m glad for both of our children and grateful to be their dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have more things going well than this; I opted to describe these in more detail, rather than make one of my Thirty lists.

I still don’t know what it all means, but I can see glimpses of God’s faithfulness in the midst of it.

 

*”Fish and guests smell after three days.”

Brain Damage

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Here’s the thing:  I have a really good memory.  I mean, an excellent memory.  Not a great memory for facts or figures, but for anything relational.  That’s my framework and thus I always have somewhere to hang those memories.  My high school friends get a little frustrated that I can recount in detail what happened when they (sometimes) can’t remember the event I’m describing at all.  

Here’s the thing: my memory doesn’t work right now.  It’s working for skubula, and that truly frustrates me.  It feels like brain damage.  The only brain damage I’ve experienced directly is suffering concussions.  I remember nothing of my accident, for example.  It just isn’t in my memory bank.  Right now, neither are significant things people I love have told me.  I cannot stress enough how much this pisses me off.

Because here’s the thing:  Much of what I do works because I care about people and remember what they tell me.  I joke sometimes that I have no job skill, I’m just good at being friends. I’m only half joking.  All of my ministry, in every form it takes, relies on relationship, which in turn relies on my knowledge of the people in whom I invest.  

The worst example of what I’m describing:  a truly dear friend, a guy I’ve mentored for years and years, once closely, now as more of a peer and occasionally, told me his significant other was expecting and he was going to be a father.  That is huge news.  You might argue none bigger.  In fact, he told me way ahead when few others knew.  I was honored.  

And then I forgot.  

I forgot so completely that when he was describing his life, it threw me that he kept referring to his baby.  I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa–what?!?”  Which would be an appropriate response if I hadn’t been told the news.  

But I had.  

Now, I know several of you are lining up to tell me I’m getting old and this is a natural side effect.  I’m going to have an increasingly difficult time arguing against the first point, but I reject the second.  I’m not gradually having a harder time remembering things; at some point in the last 6 to 9 months, I just started dropping things, major things, with no warning.  Nope, don’t say “Yes, that’s how it works.” I’m not buying it.  

Here’s what I think, self-diagnosing as any good pastor/teacher/coach who knows little to nothing about how the brain functions must do:  some combination of grief, stress, and long-term impact of insomnia has monkey-wrenched my memory.  

Now, in order for this not to sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself–because believe me, I’m not doing self-pity, I’m angry–I know that A)I am not going through what people with serious brain damage do, B)most likely this will be temporary.  I’m fortunate and blessed in so many ways I couldn’t write a blog long enough to name them all, much less describe them.  I know that.  

But I feel strangely disabled right now.  I don’t know what to do with or about that (other than to vent about it on here, and pray…not in that order).  I have been isolating too much during our transition, and certainly this is one reason why.  It’s not just major relational things, of course.  It’s all the things.  Today I screwed up by forgetting what I told one of my kids I would do.  Kim will ask me to do something and I’ll forget she ever said it.  Yes, we’ve all forgotten to do something our spouse asked us to do.  But usually when this would happen to me before, there would be some glimmer that we’d had the conversation.  Now, like I said, it’s just a black hole there.  It’s like trying to remember when the Prado ran into me.  Nothing.  

I have no great conclusion about this, other than to repeat that I believe it will be temporary and, as with all such things, it teaches me empathy if I’ll accept the lesson.  I’m trying.  

Also, if you asked me to, you know, officiate your wedding or baptize your child or keep your darkest secret, you might want to remind me.  Except maybe the secret thing; you might be safe there.  

 

PS I am not a hypochondriac, probably the opposite, and no, I do not believe I have a brain cloud. 

PPS Bonus points if you can name the movie I just referenced there.  

Three Moments of Serendipity

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The transition, as anticipated, sucks.  We’ve experienced many good things, including some powerful moments of kindness and generosity, but we’re homesick for our adopted country, we’re stuck and waiting for some things that are out of our control (selling our house), and the Nicaraguan government continues to abuse and murder its own citizens.

How we see the world affects everything:  what we believe, how we feel, how we live.  In my post about Mom I acknowledged that choosing to see things positively–even when they aren’t all bright and sunny–impacts us over the long run.  

Thus, three glimpses of seeing the world as a place where God moves.

1)We went to the farmer’s market Saturday.  I love the farmer’s market.  It’s a glimpse of the America I want to live in.  I went buy lemon-blueberry scones for my daughter who is recovering from knee surgery while trying to start at a huge new high school (did I mention about “sucks?”) But the woman selling her baked goods was having an excellent morning and was mostly cleared out.  Bummer.

But I’m a dad trying to help, so I asked, “Do you have any more of those lemon blueberry scones?”  She looked at me funny, hesitated, then said, “My daughter cut the scones this morning.  We cut them into eighths, but she accidentally cut them into sixths.  She was embarrassed, so she set them aside.”  Then the woman reached down and pulled out two enormous scones, the biggest scone portions I’ve ever seen.  Lemon blueberry.  

The moment went from Dad Fail to bringing my recovering, discouraged child these monster scones. I explained our situation and told the woman, “Let your daughter know that her embarrassing miscut was a serendipitous blessing for my daughter.”*

2)Yesterday I took a walk to clear my head and try to replace some of the bad thoughts with better ones.  I saw a yard sale sign and thought, “Nah, I don’t need to go to a yard sale.  We need to get settled first. We don’t have anywhere to put stuff yet.”  I kept walking.  

But somehow I felt an urge to go, anyway.  So I turned around and followed the sign to the sale.  

It was a big sale, but nothing I was very interested in.  I realized she had set up inside as well as in her yard and driveway.  Lots of stuff.  I bought a few vintage magazines for the sports articles and a Kubler-Ross book for a buck.  I chatted with the home owner and her friend for a moment, mentioning that we had moved recently.  

The friend asked, “Do you want to help her move?”  And the woman asked, “How much do you charge an hour?  Do you have a buddy who could help, too?”  

Uhhh…

She explained her situation, how she must get out of the house quickly because it closes in two weeks even though her next home is not ready yet.  I took her number and told her I’d let her know.  

But as I continued my walk, I felt very clear that I should help her move and that my eldest child might join me.  So forty-five minutes later, I went back and said, “Sure, I’ll help,” and gave her my hourly rate, which she readily accepted.  She showed me all the things that need to be moved and explained her situation in more detail–she got screwed, knowingly and intentionally, by the seller of the home she’s moving to.  

As I was leaving, she said, “Thanks.  Now I’ll sleep better, knowing I have someone who can help,” and her friend said, “It wasn’t a coincidence that you came by here.  What church do you pastor.”  I don’t right now, of course, but I told her we go to New Song and asked her if she has a church.

“No, but I need one.  I’ll come visit.”  

I’ve been back since June 29.  I haven’t gone to a yard sale until yesterday. I had no plans for that one–even reasoned why not to go.  Then I went and saw why.  

I think that was my first moment since returning of seeing how God is working through me.  The hours of work will do me good. Helping will be great.  

But being the answer to someone else’s prayer, the instrument of someone else’s serendipity?  

3)This morning I hiked with Brady, a dear friend, a guy I’ve mentored ten years, the one who calls me “Yoda.”  I pushed the time back twice and when he came to pick me up, it took me a little while to get out the door. We hiked up Saddle Rock, possibly the most frequented trail in Wenatchee.  As we neared the top, we passed a group and someone yelled, “Mike!”  

I turned and saw Emily, who spent a year working at our school in Nicaragua!  She goes to college in the Seattle area, but the odds of being in that same place at that moment–she’s never been to Wenatchee before, Brady and I haven’t hiked together in years, the time of our departure changed repeatedly–were still astronomical. 

Emily is extra.  Her laugh and smile light up her surroundings.  We did that everything-at-once catch-up-in-passing and apologized to our companions, who seemed able to share in our delight of that unlikely encounter.  

 

I haven’t written much recently (see first sentence). I’ve started several posts and gotten nowhere. But as I was telling Brady about the yard sale, my brain clicked: that’s three in three days.  

Maybe they’re all coincidences.  But I see them as serendipity.

How we see changes who we are.  

 

 

*Yes, I used “serendipitous.”  It’s like cowbell–you don’t get that many opportunities and have to take full advantage when you do.   

 

Precious

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I’m tired.  It’s hard to adequately describe or even summarize the last two weeks.  I chose not to write about it at the time because I wanted to live it, instead, and my time felt limited and stretched as it was.  As always, I tried to create more time by sacrificing sleep, with varying results.  

I’m tired but happy.  it was a great trip.  

I’m 49 and my mom is 78.  I think she’s past the age where she’s offended by having her age revealed.  I hope so.  I think she should be proud of how active and amazing she is.  As I watch people age, I see characteristics intensify.  A touch of bitterness in the twenties can look surly in the fifties and full-on curmudgeonly by the seventies.  Mom is sweet and kind and generous and happy.  I think there was a time—okay, I know there was a time—when I thought she was a little too happy and positive and not shrewd or aware enough.  Those can be nice words for jaded and world-weary.  Seeing my mom at this age, I think she has chosen wisely.  Yes, you can see the worst in people and guard yourself all the time…and fifty or seventy years letter, the results will show.  The results show in Mom, too.  

We walked a lot.  We took a daily walk and I lobbied for two.  We talked about how many steps she was registering on her Fit Bit (note—steps actually happen whether or not Fit Bits score them.  I know, surprising.) and her most-steps competition with my brother-in-law.  We talked about people we know from my growing up years.  We talked about moving back from Nicaragua and my daughter’s return to Nicaragua.  We also talked about her health.  

I am not superstitious, so I don’t believe talking about being in the later or last stage of life will jinx anyone.  I don’t know how much time Mom has left.  I hope a lot.  I miss my dad a lot, crazy and difficult though he could be.  He was also my biggest encourager in my first twenty-eight years of life and generous beyond belief.  Generous with himself as well as generous with his money and things.  I visited his grave while I was there, which of course does not mean I visited Dad, merely the place where we most directly remember the joy and grief of our life together.  

I don’t know how much time Mom has left (nor how much I have, when we come to it), but I’ve learned that these visits are precious and they are the best way I can love her.  I mean, yes, coming to her house and having her feed me and spoil me.  That’s how how I love her. That’s how I let her love me.  If she were bitter or cynical, that might not work.  But she’s joyous and hopeful.  So we walk and talk and work off the cookies and brownies she makes and I eat.  (And eat.)  I’m going back a little heavier than when I arrived and at this age I’ll have to work pretty hard to take those pounds off again.  But Mom visits are feasts, not fasts.  I don’t know how many I have left, but I tried to make that the best one yet.  

My kids didn’t come along this time.  I don’t remember the last time I visited Illinois and brought none of my children.  It’s a little disappointing for Mom not to have any grandchildren running around, riding my old bike, helping eat the cookies, showing her how much they’ve learned and matured since last time.  But they are all deep in the midst of life transitions, moving countries, starting new schools, starting new jobs (I have kids starting jobs. Wow.).  So I got Mom to myself.  

On this same trip, I heard a friend describe time with her mother and frankly, it sounded awful.  I’m not someone who has only Norman Rockwell fuzzy-warm memories of family time.  I get it.  Heck, I’ve been the cause of more than one unhappy family story.  But at this stage, when “value each moment; you don’t know how much time you’ve got” is no cliche, I’m unspeakably grateful for the mom I have, for the love we have for each other, and for a visit when, amazingly, I got to know her a little bit better.  

And I think to myself…

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  I see  trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom, for me and you

and I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.”

Today, I found out that my good friend Pastor Bismarck’s mom died. I want to be there for the vela.  I want to mourn with my brother and his family.  I want to give him a hug.  But I’m here.

Will and Barry clasping hands in victory(?), Davey looking holy. Characteristically.

Today, I learned that Will, one of my basketball and ultimate players and the only person who has ever given me bacon socks, is not returning to Nicaragua for his senior year. When I was praying about staying for another year–even though Kim had committed to returning–I had three senior guys I envisioned working closely with this coming year, Barry, Davey, and Will.  They will be in Panama, Costa Rica, and the United States, respectively.

Today, I heard from a former student, who is dear to my heart, who is having a hellish time.  I tell my students that when they hit the hard times, I expect to hear from them.  I am a good foul-weather friend.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.”

The age my girls were yesterday.

Annalise, our daughter, our Miracle Girl, is returning to Nicaragua to work with the SOAAR program (Students of All Abilities Recognized) at Nicaragua Christian Academy.  Her words:
“SOAAR helped me get through school, academically. It gave me the extra help that I needed to be able to achieve my absolute best in my classes. I’m going back, to be able to give students that know me a perspective of someone who personally knows what they’re going through, and to give back to the program that helped me out so much in school.  
Even though Nicaragua is going through a rough time, I feel like that is where I’m supposed to be, and God has made it clearer to me over the past few weeks. I feel like I can help people that are going through a rough time there, and be able to give some stability to people that really need it.

How did we get here?

Yeah, that scares us, and yeah, I wish with quite a bit of my heart that I were going back, and yeah, I’m trusting God for both of us.  Before you ask, “How can you let her do that?” or if you already asked it in your head, 1)She’s 18 and we’re committed to her making the decision, 2)We’ve talked with the NCA director, the SOARR director, and the family with whom she’ll be living, all close friends of ours, all gringos who are going back, 3)We believe this is how God is leading Annalise and we’re not going to veto that.  I don’t want to teach our kids about faith and then tell them not to live it.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you
Meanwhile, I’m living in Disneyland.  I love it here, but it’s bizarre.  I love the people here, but it’s hard for them to understand what I’ve seen or why I’m not just relieved to be here.  I read bad news about Nicaragua every day and I pray and at some point soon I will start trying to raise support for a ministry there because I have to do more than I am now.
Finally, I’m scared about what’s going on in this country.  Do people hate one another more than they ever have before or is it just louder?  How do I respond faithfully to what I see in love, as a Jesus follower, not returning hate for hate, but with courage and boldness and grace?  I’m seeking community because I know I can’t do this on my own.
I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

Image may contain: 3 people, including Annalise Rumley-Wells, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

Disneyland?

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Imagine you live in Disneyland.  You’ve spent your whole life in that park, except for a few short trips to Anaheim to watch the Angels play or In-N-Out to get the world’s best burger.  You see Mickey and Snow White every day.  

You know you live in Disneyland.  You don’t believe Goofy is a real dog nor Donald a real duck.  You’ve watched the movies and understand that Ariel is representing The Little Mermaid and Mulan is an actress wearing a costume.  You understand that other places don’t have Space Mountain or Splash Mountain.  You get that the Haunted Mansion isn’t, either one.  

No one knows better or more intimately than you the shortcomings of “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  You know that some of the staff fight.  You know that a lot of kids–and adults–throw their trash on the ground.  Someone has to pick that up to keep THPoE from becoming a dump.  Maintaining happiness takes work.  You also know that being in THPoE doesn’t magically make everyone happy, Magic Kingdom though it might be.  People still scream at their children.  You’ve seen children get hit.  You’ve seen children run away.  

In other words, you know the limit of the Magic.  

So you’re neither naive nor immature in your view. 

You are, however, limited in your perspective.  Like all of us, you tend to default to believing what you’ve experienced is what others experience.  You say things like, “I know not everyone lives in an amusement park,” but you’ve only lived in an amusement park, so you don’t know exactly what that means.  You can guess.  You’ve seen pictures.  You’ve heard news reports.  But there are many aspects to life outside The Park that you can’t quite picture.  

 

No analogy is perfect and every analogy, if stretched too far, will fail.*  I’m not trying to insult anyone with this one.  I’m not suggesting that suffering and tragedies we experience are less real.  There were ways life felt richer to me there than here.  

Being back in the U.S. after living for so long in Nicaragua feels to me like living in Disneyland.  This place is extraordinary, and extravagant, and has so much that strikes me as facade.  

Every school, every public school I see in our area, has facilities vastly nicer than any but the wealthiest private schools in Nicaragua.  I’ve seen poor schools in the United States.  I know they are here, too.  But even those have much more–of almost everything–than public schools in Managua.  

I’m experiencing some of the typical reverse culture shock.  Grocery stores have So. Many. Choices.  But I’m not deadlocked or paralyzed.  I get how this works.  It’s Disneyland.

Every car on the road is nice here.  I know, people drive around some serious wreck here.  Except they don’t, not really, not in comparison to what stays on the road in Nicaragua.

Where does Nicaragua get its buses for public transportation?  Most of them are “retired” school buses. Why did they retire?  You know why.  They were too old.  Too many miles.  No longer considered “safe.”  So someone got them to Nicaragua where they were wired and welded and puttied back together, then jampacked with riders such that some literally hold onto the rear door and hang out the back.

This is Disneyland. 

I’m not saying it’s without problems.  You could argue that some of our national problems are worse than those in many developing nations (not Nicaragua’s, since April 18).  But I’m returning to a life assuming lawns and lattes and golf courses and lawnmowers.  If one assumes all of those as “normal,” a world without any of those…

Okay, some people want to debate whether you can get a latte or find a golf course in Nicaragua.  Yes, and yes.  It’s not a perfect analogy.  But golf courses and lawnmowers and even the luxury of grabbing lattes are as far from most Nicaraguans’ experience as a loudspeaker playing “Zippedy Doo Dah” and Jiminy Cricket singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  

Don’t believe me?  Our neighbor, Mileydi, who became a sister to Kim, had never seen a microwave when she first came into our kitchen.  I once tried to explain to my friend Tito, when he asked me if I owned a car, about car ownership in the U.S.  He told me, matter of factly, that he would likely never own a car.

Have you ever owned a car? 

I know, some people in the U.S. can’t afford cars.  Can anyone you know personally, anyone you are good friends with, not afford a car?  Ever in their life?  

Do me a favor.  Next time you are at church, or a grocery store if you aren’t a church-goer, just pause and look around the parking lot.  Don’t look to see who has a nicer car than you, look to see how nice the cars are there and what the sum value might be in that one parking lot, in that one church or grocery store, in your one city.  

I’m trying to adjust to Disneyland.  

Again, I’m not trying to be frivolous with this analogy.  I’m trying to convey how wildy vast and staggering our resources, our wealth, is here.

 I say this with all humility: I consider it a privilege that I lived in Nicaragua and now the world looks different to me. We were able to do that because a lot of people and some churches (i.e. groups of people) shared their resources and helped make it possible.  It cost us, too:  years toward retirement, a whole lot of hair from the top of my head, whatever the ongoing cost will be for seven years of insomnia.  

I feel responsible for that privilege, especially in how I use it to impact others. 

So here it is.  We live in Disneyland.  I live in Disneyland.  We live so differently than how the vast majority of the world lives that it’s like Disneyland by comparison.  I’m not making value judgments on us individually; I’m not saying we don’t work hard. Neither am I demeaning Nicaragua and certainly not Nicaraguans.  But if we won’t see this, or if we convince ourselves that we deserve (or earned) being born where we were, I believe we deceive ourselves.  

I’ve just been comparing U.S. life (mine, at least) to “normal” life in Nicaragua.  The violence and brutality unleashed on the Nicaraguan people by the Ortega goverment–attacking and killing unarmed citizens, firing randomly into crowds, murdering children, denying all responsibility–drives this analogy deeper.  Yesterday I heard a “bang” that sounded like a gunshot and my brain whirled to place myself.  Literally, it took me a moment, standing on our property in the mountains outside of Wenatchee, to remember I wasn’t somewhere I might be in danger from gunfire.  

I don’t think I’m traumatized.  I didn’t dive behind the brush pile I was clearing.  I am readjusting to not feeling in danger.  

So if my analogy is at all accurate, then what?  

 

 

*Snap like a rubberband, I wanted to say.  But that doesn’t exactly describe it. 

Turn, Turn, Turn

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Okay, here we go.  Last night I twisted my ankle when playing ultimate for the first time since I got back to the states.  I haven’t had an injury that’s made me miss more than a couple weeks of ultimate in…years.  I’ve been tremendously lucky at this age.  But now I’m limping like crazy when I need to be going up and down hills to get our property ready to sell (and I mean hills).  Then, as a special bonus, my son vomited spectacularly at 3AM.  

I’ve got some heavy posts about transition and following Jesus in our current climate that have been swirling in my brain, starting to take shape.  But I think I need to write a different post first.

I got to do Alex and Jameson’s wedding in Austin seven days after I arrived back in the States.  They flew me to Texas, put me up and treated me to a glimpse of their city.  It was one of the best ceremonies I’ve ever done–and I’m pretty out of practice these days–for which I give all credit to God.  It was a blast. I’m not in my mid-20’s nor a newlywed, but it restored my hope in being young and newly married, because they rock and will have an incredible, God-saturated life together, spreading the love of Jesus and learning to live by grace!  

Our friend Erinn is visiting from Maryland.  Erinn and Jeff were our best friends in Nicaragua (in a series of best-friends who-then-moved-back-to-the-US*).  I’ve got I-don’t-know-how-many friends from the US whom I’ve never seen in the US.  We’ve been introducing her to our world here.  There’s something odd but satisfying about bringing disparate parts of your world together, even as it reminds you that your life is so scattered now it will never come back together. Certainly not here.

At the beginning of the week, our friends J and A gave us a car!  I’ve got to say a few things about this.  First, moving back to the States is incredibly expensive.  It’s a great chance to see God’s faithfulness because it appears that a ladle is dipping money out of a very small bowl, very rapidly, but somehow the bowl doesn’t end up empty.  We gave our van to our friends Juan Ramon and Amada.  We were told we could probably get $2,500 for our van.  J and A were asking $2,500 for their car.  Then she felt God told her to give us the car.  

Doing what we’ve done–I would say following God’s calling the way we’ve understood it–we decided a long time ago that when people choose to share with us, we receive it with gratitude.  It’s not very self-made-and-autonomous U.S. Archetype Man of us, but missionary life wouldn’t work if we could’t receive.  Likewise, returning-from-missionary-life.  It’s humbling, but not in a bad way. 

They gave us the car in response to a request I made to borrow a car while we tried to buy one.  We got six different offers to borrow a car in addition to the Toyota Camry we were given.  Six, in 24-48 hours.  

This move is hard, and my heart still feels torn not to be in Nicaragua, but our community here pounced on the opportunity to share with us.  That helps.  I don’t know why I’m back, but I feel loved and welcomed back.  And I see God providing, even as the bill to replace the hot water unit so we can sell our house costs more than the car we didn’t buy (Man, that’s a big ladle!).  

One more thought on that, especially if you read the above and thought, “I would never take a car from someone!”   We’re able to be generous because we know God will provide for us.  I mean, we were able to give seven years of our lives because we knew God would not let us or our children go hungry.  One reason we came back, probably my least favorite but a legit one nonetheless, is to reenter working toward retirement.  As Jesus followers, we walk in faith and trust God while using discernment and acting wisely with what we’re given.  Wise doesn’t mean, “Mine, all mine!”  Neither does it mean, “I don’t need to worry about my bills!”  I think wise means we walk close to God, with open hands, giving when we see opportunity, receiving when we see opportunity.  

Finally, as I’m trying to let myself be here, not wishing I were back in Nicaragua, not questioning or arguing with God or even forcing the inevitable grief and culture shock that I’m still waiting to engulf me,** I’m reminded that God meant it about “For everything there is a season.”  I loved being in Nicaragua–I mean, after I got over hating being there–and that makes it tempting to cling to what was.  I don’t know what this new season is yet.  I don’t even know why this new season is yet, though I could explain the reasons we moved back, at least somewhat convincingly.  I simply know this is a new season and that means God has purposes for it, most of which I can’t yet see.  I could feel guilty for being back here where so much is easier–life works easier here, in so many ways.  Instead, I’m choosing, and I mean minute by minute here, to walk with my hands open for this season itself.  I don’t know what God is giving us.  I don’t know what we’ll be giving, of ourselves and what we have.  

I just know seasons change.  

 

*Jacques and Amanda, Jeff, Jeff and Aaron.  

**As someone who deals with depression, I’m daunted that re-entry is a phase in which most people experience depression.

Police Summons or Why I Left the Scene of an Accident and What Happened After That

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[I told a version of this story in my last International Christian Fellowship sermon, if you prefer to hear me tell it.]

I left the scene of an accident.

I consider that one of the truly horrible things to do, ranked somewhere in the range of mocking disabled people and hurting children.

But I did it.  I drove away.

I did return, but the other car was gone by the time I got back.

Now I don’t blame you for judging me, but unless you’ve lived through a collapsing government, I’m going to suggest you hold off.

I’m writing this with one week to go in Nicaragua but I’m not going to post it until I’m out of the country.  Do I think there could be retribution?  I do.

I pulled out to turn left on the same highway where I had my horrible accident because it’s also the place I had to drive every day.  But his time, our country was in upheaval because the government had been directing violent backlash against the protestors. This also led to a lack of police presence and neglect of protecting citizens, which meant random crime and violence was on the rise.  I’m describing June 1st.  It’s still happening.

I used what I have come to consider a Nica driving maneuver for a left turn, pulling out across lanes of oncoming traffic and waiting there, so that I can slip in when there’s an opening in the lane into which I’m turning.  Is that a dangerous move and emphatically illegal in the States?  Maybe.  I’ve become accustomed to it; I’ll need to unlearn it.

An oncoming car slowed for me—which is normal since I’m in his lane and all—and I saw a sufficient gap where I could enter, so I pulled across—and got hit.  Slammed my front passenger corner, shockingly loud, and suddenly I’m sitting still in the lane and have just shouted something and my girls are silent and what just happened?  How was there a car coming at me where I’d already turned left?

I broke a Nicaraguan rule immediately: I pulled off the road.  I sat there and breathed and prayed and groaned and probably said a few other things.  Then I got out to look at the damage to our car.  It was surprisingly minimal, considering.  Our car has headlights and also lights below.  The collision took out the passenger side foglight and scratched and dented that corner, but the bumper and the actual headlight were, to my great surprise, intact.

I then looked out at the car that had hit us/we had hit, sitting stopped in the lane, as they’re supposed to.  Someone had gotten out and was walking around the car, leaning in through the window, walking around some more.  We looked at each other.  They didn’t approach me.  I didn’t walk back out into the road.

I circled our car some more.  I breathed some more.

Now what?  Call the police?

The police had stopped functioning as police.  I hadn’t seen a single traffic police officer in over a month, since we were in Ireland and it all went crazy.  It’s not like the States, where police cruise and patrol and you might see several randomly or not see one. Here they stand by the side of the road.  In fact, about 150 meters up the road from my accident, there was a police station.  I say “Was,” because protesters burned it while Kim and I were in Ireland.  Burned it completely inside, so that there’s still a building but it’s just a shell. Before things fell apart, I’d see at least two policia transito at that station, sometimes six, at any hour, standing there waving people over, doing their thing.

But last week our friend got mugged in broad daylight, literally across the street from where I just got hit, because the police were no longer a presence.  No, that’s not true.  The police were no longer a presence restraining crime and violence.  They continued to be a presence threatening and attackingn protesters, shooting at unarmed civilians,* and guarding areas the government does not want protesters damaging. The police would dress up as civilians and commit crimes and hurt people to discredit the protestors.

Do you call the police?

Here comes the kicker:  I didn’t have my license.

Context:  I’d left my backpack, including my wallet, at our basketball team goodbye party the day before.  Stupid, but such is life.

Context: Kim had stopped carrying her license or purse at all when she drove, because again, no police on duty, and having her purse taken now seemed more of a danger than getting pulled over without it.

Context: Kim’s first week-ish driving in Nicaragua, she got pulled over without her license and the policeman immediately threatened to put her in jail. Just a threat to get a bribe? Maybe.  Probably.  Scare the gringa.  She was scared then.  Since then, she’s become such a BA she would not have blinked at that—I mean, before this all went to hell and now we’re all afraid of the police because they shoot into crowds and use sniper rifles on unarmed protesters. Because just yesterday another child, eighteen months old, was shot and killed by police.

So there I am, with two daughters in the car, trying to figure out how I got hit, trying to grasp my new situation, and I realized, “I cannot have the police come talk to me without my license.  I can’t.  I will be in a potentially bad situation that I am not prepared to put my family through—I’m not going to risk going into police custody for that.  Not now.   Not with the reports we’re hearing.”

I stood there for a while and prayed the other car would drive away.  But they didn’t.  They just looked over at me, then the person standing outside the car got back in the car and they sat there.

I drove away. We drove to school in absolute silence.  But the thought kept blaring in my head, “My daughters now think I’ll leave an accident!”

I got my backpack.  A few people spoke to me and I acted like things were normal, because AAAAAAHHHHHH!

Then I drove back.  Crazy, wild thoughts banging in my head.

When I got there, the other party was gone.  Normally, meaning back when Nicaragua was its version of “normal,” the police would arrive, eventually, talk to both parties, look at things and take pictures while traffic somehow weaved its way around.  Leaving cars exactly where they got hit is one of the Nicaraguan rules of the road I have to question, but you could always count on that it would take a long time.  Usually hours. I was composing the Spanish to explain why I’d left, which would include neither “I ran to get my license” nor “I don’t trust the police not to hurt me.”   But no one was there.  So I drove home.

I told Kim I’d been in an accident.  To her credit, she didn’t freak out at all.  She agreed that I had to have my license.

Oddly, bizarrely, I then jumped back in the car and drove the same route an hour later to pick the girls back up from youth group. Because life goes on, even when the country is coming apart.

“I had to get my wallet,” I told them.  “I couldn’t talk to the police without my license.  I felt like it was the wrong thing to do but there were no right options and I couldn’t just see how the police responded now without having it.”

“Yeah, of course,” they agreed.  Then we talked through the accident.

“How was there someone there?  Wasn’t I on the other side of the yellow line?”

“Yeah, you were.  He shouldn’t have been there.”

“Okay, that’s what I thought.”

“He came out of nowhere.”

“So…he pulled around the person who waited for me and tried to pass there?”  Because that’s a really busy, crazy place to try to pass, even for traffic here.  I mean, a motorcycle still would, but a car?

We all concluded that’s what had happened.  The fact that they hit my passenger side meant they had to be way over there, because I was turning left, remember—they should have made contact with my driver’s side.

I still felt freaked out and bad, because that’s something I never thought I’d do, but the mitigating factors remained  1)the police here, 2)I thought the other driver was at fault, 3)it was too minor of an accident to have caused injury.

I was nervous for a couple of days, just moderate anxiety to blend in with the overall anxiety of living in increasing violence and chaos.  Or disintegrating society.  Or bordering on civil war. Call it as you see it.

But really, since they were on the wrong side of the road and the police can’t really be trusted, they weren’t going to tell the police. I thought.


Last Thursday night, I came home from a wonderful, gut-laugh-filled dinner with what I affectionately referred to as “Last Gringos Standing.”  Not literally, of course, but a handful of the remaining gringos of our community.  I had been fed and loved, which felt exceptionally marvelous because 1)my family had been gone from me since that Sunday, 2)I had gotten nasty sick with some chikungunya knock-off that was still close enough to cause me misery for four days straight and this was my first day back eating a real meal or, for that matter, seeing the outside world.  Not exactly how I’d planned my last hurrah in Nicaragua, even my adjusted last hurrah within the crumbling world around us.  But there I was, glowing with amistad and choosing to focus on how great Katie and Amy and Nate and Claire and Landon are instead of “Was that my last time hanging with them?”  That was a choice.

I got home and my neighbor immediately messaged me that he had something for me.  Cool.  Totally full, but our neighbors really love me, far beyond anything I deserve, so I was nearly sure they were bringing me food, since I’m living as a bachelor without a stove.

Juan Carlos walks across the street and I make a joke about bringing me more cats.  But it’s not cats.

It’s a summons.  I’m to report to the police at 8 the next morning because of my traffic accident.  It has my name on it.  It has the license plate of my car on it.  How freaked out was I?  I went over and checked that it actually was my license plate.

Since the country erupted on April 18-19, I’ve felt moments of real fear two or three times.  Mostly, I’ve just carried the vague anxiety/trauma that it’s coming apart, people are getting hurt, and it’s impossible to know exactly how to stay safe or to help.

But when I read that, I immediately felt scared, and more than a moment’s worth.

I ran from the scene of an accident, no one knows that I came back, and this accident got reported by the guilty party—which could only mean they were prepared to lie boldly.

Possibilities:  I’m put in jail.  In Nicaragua, during crisis, while uncounted hundreds (or thousands?) are being held in secret, indefinitely.

I’m not allowed to leave the country.  Kim and kids flew out on June 18th and I could have been in the US on that date and never have seen this piece of paper.  But now I’m here.

Is the other driver going to try to shake me for everything he can get?  That’s done a lot here. Some good friends just went through that, including coercion and threats, false witnesses, police seeming to have been bribed, and ended up paying over $4,000 on false accusations.

Or did the other person get hurt?  Is that somehow possible after all?  

Lord Jesus, hear my prayer.

I think you’ve grasped context enough to know that I’m not making up bogey men here.  My Spanish is still only passable if I’m with Nicaraguan friends who adjust to help me understand them.  I can’t go to the police station alone.  I mean, besides the obvious it-would-be-good-for-someone-to-know-if-they-jail-me.

I’m writing this calmly because it’s now, but I was Freaking. The Heck. Out.  Racing, spinning, cartwheeling thoughts of worse-case scenarios.  So do I not go?  What happens then?  Do I change my ticket to fly out tomorrow? Will they stop me at the airport because of this?  Who knows?  Sometimes information enters the “system” here and a lot of times it doesn’t and who can tell which, especially now?

Again, I’m not talking about “I did something wrong and now I want to evade responsibility.”

Just to bring that into focus:

I wrote my good friend, one of the best friends I’ve had in my life.  He’s been here longer than I, dealt with an accident or two, navigates the culture far better than I, and is not one to get ruffled easily.

He wrote me this, and I am quoting it verbatim except the names–

Listen, I hesitate about telling you this, because I’m not sure if you have a choice, but want you to be prepared and to be able to get Jairo’s opinion on this. This is a message that [a woman] sent my wife two weeks ago: “We changed our flight and left Friday. Last week was a very strange week for us. Last Monday a pastor friend of ours took our vehicles to transit to finalize the registration for them to get them out of [ministry’s] name. He let us use his name since we don’t have residency. The police ended up setting him up by putting drugs in the cars. They surrounded him after he left transit and pulled him and his friend out of our cars, beat them, seized the vehicles, and took them to chipote. Now they are charging him with drug trafficking and money laundering since he was receiving the vehicles from a non profit. It is a mess! We reported the vehicles stolen to embassy but not sure if we will ever see our cars again. [My spouse] was concerned about getting out of the country because his name was on the original donation contracts that we used to get car insurance. And then afterward found out the two attorneys that told us we could own vehicles without residency were wrong. It’s like we’re in a drama movie or something. Last week was rough. So we are thankful to be out of there right now.”
I think you need to be very careful at Transit. Just rely on Jairo for communication and be very aware of what’s going on around you.

Nope, not nervous merely about a visit to the police station, not even “just” a reckoning with having made a lesser-of-two-evils choice and seeing if I made the wrong one.

You get now why I decided to wait until after flying out to publish this?

My good friend also urged me to get everything that could be construed as anti-government or pro-protesters off social media. There are rumors the government is black-marking people who post about them. Who knows what’s true?

But I’m slightly ahead of myself, because I heard back from my friend the next morning.  I still had the night to survive.

I prayed fervently whom I should ask to help me and decided I had to ask Jairo to come with.  Jairo has become a dear friend and is extremely knowledgeable in the inner workings of immigration, police, and most of the other sources of red tape and tension experienced by expats here.  He’s also calm, godly, and bi-lingual.  He said “yes.”

That was my first moment of feeling slightly better.  Slightly.  So I did some anxious organizing, just for the sake of movement, prayed with intensity and clarity that I rarely experience outside of, well, crises like we’ve been going through here, and got all ready to go see the police the next morning.  Then I went to bed.

I tossed and turned, as expected, but did fall asleep, then woke up in the middle of the night.  Yep, that’s normal for insomniac me.  Okay, so I went to bed about 11:20 and now it’s…12:50AM.

Oh.

And that’s the last I slept.  Or I might have for tiny bursts (do you sleep in bursts?), but I’m pretty experienced at sleeplessness and this was not dozing on and off.  This was intervals of praying, futilely trying all the relaxation tricks I know, and having my mind generate new worst-case scenarios.

I gave up and got up at 6:30.  Then I read my friend’s message.

Imagine if I’d read that message before I tried to sleep.


We arrived at the police station. Everything seemed normal. It was much less crowded than any of my previous visits there. We were told I had to pay 100 cordobas as an automatic fee for the incident, regardless of fault. Then we waited for a long time, at least 45 minutes to an hour. I kept watching for the other drive. At last, a policeman came out, called me into his office, and asked for my version of the story. Jairo translated. The policemen showed me the drawing of what the other driver had reported, which was not how I experienced the event at all. Then they told me to wait.

So we waited. We sat and watched grainy (World Cup) soccer on an ancient TV. The police came and went. We waited for the other party to arrive. I tried to unclench my teeth. We chatted. We waited some more.

A younger officer came out and told us to go with him. Where? He needed to look at and take pictures of my car to help them decide who was at fault. So we went out and watched him take photos.

When we came back in, a larger, much more scowling officer asked me a question at a speed and with an accent I could not understand at all. I asked him to repeat it, which seemed to anger him more. He then stood a few feet from us and reviewed papers, seemingly on my case, for a very long time. Occasionally he would stop to watch the soccer game, then return to his papers and his scowling.

Two hours went by like this. Jairo was calm. My heart felt like I was playing ultimate. The pounding part, not the joy part.

Then a policeman, a different one than , came out and explained that they had found me at fault. Okay. No mention of leaving the scene. Okay. My multa (fine) for the accident would be 350 cordobas.

The cord is presently thirty-two to the dollar.

But no, that was not all.

As we were waiting for our next instructions, a police woman came out of her office and started to talk with Jairo. She asked a question that I didn’t understand and he said Yes, of course, and the next thing I knew, we were in her office helping her with her English homework. Active and passive voice, to be exact.

The last twenty to thirty minutes of our time at the police station was spent (passive voice) helping her complete several worksheets on English grammar.

When we finished doing that (active voice)—Jairo asked, “Do we pay the fine now? Are we done?”

And she said, “No, don’t worry about it.”

Then I breathed for the first time in sixteen hours.

So that is how I paid three dollars for my accident. Plus our labor, of course.

I am certain God answered many prayers for me. It could have been a horrible situation, and as we hear new reports of violence and cruelty every day, it’s clear this wasn’t just silly worrying.

I felt so grateful to be free and alive and not scared. Breathing free air was wonderful. Is wonderful. Freedom!

But I also remember and carry heavily that over two hundred Nicaraguans have been killed by the police in the past seventy days not for crimes but for trying to speak against injustice, for trying to have a voice, or simply for being in the wrong place when the police started shooting.  This week an 18-month-old baby was shot and killed by police while being carried to his babysitter.

Therefore, I decided not to post this until I departed.

 

*This video was taken at Metrocentro, a shopping mall we’ve visited a hundred times.  A friend who was there that day told me it was a normal shopping day, then suddenly stores were closing and owners were leaving with their arms full of merchandise.  Ten minutes later, the shooting started.