A Good Hour

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 119

This morning I got up before I usually do, before the rest of my family did, and drove to the vela for my friend Jose Manuel’s grandmother.  I didn’t know her.  She died on Thursday and his family held her vela Thursday night, then celebrated Jose Manuel’s son’s graduation from colegio (high school), then returned to observe another night’s vela before proceeding for the funeral this morning at 8AM.

That means they had not one but two all-night memorial services for her, with a graduation celebration in between.

I’m a gringo.  Not that many people mistake me for Nica, and if anyone does, they get that misconception corrected the instant I open my mouth.  Even though it’s an all-night service, just before 6AM is not the time to arrive for a vela.*  But, I believe, I was given the gringo pass, i.e. I was doing something slightly culturally inappropriate, but I’m a gringo, so my Nicaraguan friends don’t say ,”Dude!  INappropriate!”

Instead, Jose Manuel greeted me enthusiastically.  I was offered me a cup of coffee and a seat.  I’m sure they’d sat up all night but no one else was sitting now, but Jose Manuel sat with me.  About half a dozen people were puttering around, stacking up the chairs they’d rented and piling them on a truck, damping down the dust with a hose, and generally looking busy.  I asked Jose Manuel if he’d slept.  Yes, he told me, he’d returned from the graduation about 9:40PM and slept from four to five AM  Maybe it was 3:30 to 5:30.  It wasn’t long.  This was his second full night up.

But here’s the thing:  he was glad to see me.  Not, “Okay, I can handle one more visitor,” much less, “You’re kidding me, but it’s a gringo so I have to put up with this.”

No, this mattered.  We don’t understand Nicaraguan culture in a lot of ways, but we grasp this:  showing up matters.  We’ve had enough conversations to know that our friends remember who came to a vela.  When being present is all you can give, it counts.

His grandmother raised Jose Manuel; in truth, she was his mother.  She died at 87 years old.   He is grieving.  I came and shared his grief for an hour.  We talked.  I told him about Isaac’s death, about our Miracle Girl, Annalise, and about losing my father.  He told me how having this woman raise him had shaped his life.

He shared a little about her life and some things about his growing up and their family.  We talked about death.  We talked about life.  We talked about what hope in God means, how God is faithful and you can see lives change, yet sometimes babies die and how do you explain that?  We talked about how often grief and joy come together, inseparable, side by side.  I told him how Aria’s birthday is the day after Isaac’s birthday, which means every year we remember our son who is gone and then turn around and celebrate our daughter who is here with us.

I’m not a morning person and last night, like so many nights, I slept poorly.  I promised myself I would get up and go to the vela and then spent hours awake during the night.  Nonetheless, I was awake again at 5:15 and decided it was worth it, anyway.

It was.  It was one of the better hours I’ve spent in a long time.  I don’t think I made a huge difference.  I don’t think I said anything profoundly comforting or insightful, even if you translated it into English.

But I was there.

 

 

*Kim went at 5 AM the morning before, after the first night’s vela, and I think got a similar pass.

Depression, Choices, Faith

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[I’ve written a longer, more comprehensive reflection on depression.  You may want to start there.]

Dealing with depression in my life is more or less constant. I don’t mean that I’m constantly depressed, but that there is almost never a time when I don’t need to worry or think about it at all. It’s always there, always lurking, always chipping away.  I have to keep vigilant.  I always have to maintain the healthy practices that keep me on top of the ball, rather than having the ball roll over me.  

 Sometimes that, in itself, gets exhausting.  Even my mental image of it, running on this huge ball to keep the ball from running over me, can tire me out.* Giving in to this discouragement poses one of my biggest dangers, letting the war of attrition wear me down and knock me off of my healthy rhythms. When I do, when that happens, I start making really poor choices. I’m seeking to feel momentary relief, whatever that takes, which almost always means numbing the pain. Most of the pain-numbers are not life-giving for me.  Most of them make it harder to pray, harder to feel at peace.  In other words, most of them increase the pain once the numbing wears off.  You can guess where that leads.

My alternative to seeking the numbing agents is trusting in the disciplines, trusting that continuing to do the things I’ve found life-giving and centering will give me life and keep me centered. But that isn’t easy.

 First, it’s not easy because it means standing in the pain and trusting that doing the healthy things will lift me back out.  Usually, that goes slowly.  Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, even when I’m doing all the right things.

Second, it’s not easy because it doesn’t always work.  I’m sticking with my healthy eating, my efforts to get good sleep (as much as I can), my exercise and all my praying/reading Scripture/journaling spiritual stuff.  But the hole keeps getting bigger and I’m falling and nothing gives me traction, nothing holds me up and I’m just feeling it go, feeling the bottom drop out.  It’s hard to have faith in something that doesn’t always work.

I’m not referring to faith in God here.  I mean trusting that doing the helpful things will help.  I know that if I stop making healthy choices, the ball will plow over me.  I don’t know for sure that if I continue, keeping balance the very best I can, the bottom won’t drop out, anyway.**  

I know God is always with me, but as I’ve described before, I’m under no illusion that God always lifts me up and makes me feel all better when I ask. I believe God is always with me in my pain.  For reasons I can’t explain, and frankly have given up trying, sometimes when I pray I stay in the pit.  I don’t think that means I’m praying wrong or that I’m still guilty of some unrecognized sin which causes God to hold out on me.***  Others might disagree, but at this moment I believe that thinking God would heal me if only I would do things right takes the power from God and gives it to me.  That doesn’t actually happen, of course, but it’s an illusion some people prefer to an all-powerful, sometimes inscrutable God who doesn’t answer to us.

God is faithful.  God’s faithfulness doesn’t always look the way I would want, but God is God, not my preferences nor the settings on my tablet.  He doesn’t always do what I want, how I want, when I want, even when I think I have good arguments that he should.  When we believe that we don’t get healed because we lack faith (or think this of others), we set ourselves up to feel like we’re failing ourselves and God.  “I’m not doing my part well enough.”  This suggests God opposes us until we fix ourselves.  That trajectory of belief doesn’t end well.  Grace means God doesn’t wait for us to get it right.  Grace means we don’t earn healing.  But again, this can appeal to us because the truth might be a lot more complex and inexplicable.  

Ultimately, then, I have confidence in the things I know will help me to stay above water, but not absolute confidence.  I have faith that God will bring me through whatever waves wash over me.  But that’s easier to say when I’m standing on the beach than when the waves are crashing down on my head, when I’m slammed under the water so hard I can’t tell which way is up.  It matters more when I’m getting pulled under.  Theoretical faith is theoretical.  Faith counts more when I’m surviving by it than when I’m comfortable and don’t feel I particularly need it–but am certain I’d lean on it if I did.  “I would trust God if I were hungry” rings very differently than “I am hungry and I trust God.”  Likewise, “I know God would help me if I were depressed” means a lot less than “I’m depressed, God; help me.”

One of the few things that really jolts me out of the depression cycle is playing sports.  This will sound like a non-sequitur, but bear with me:   I was feeling myself sinking down, then went to play basketball and came back in a completely different place emotionally and was able to start writing this piece.  When I mentor young adults who face depression, I urge them to find “that thing,” the one that reliably helps them feel sane again.  It might be playing drums or reading a great novel or dancing or taking the dog for a hike.  “Cheap therapy,” we call this.  I believe God wires us to love certain things and getting to do them restores us.  If you feel too depressed to do “that thing,” it’s probably twice as important that you do.  

For me, playing ultimate or basketball doesn’t cure depression, but it 1)Gives me a break from feeling it or spinning in my brain while I’m running hard, 2)Helps me stay on top of the ball, including boosting me back up when I’m starting to slip.  I consider this both a gift God has given me and a good choice I can make.  

If you’re struggling with depression, or know someone who is, I truly, earnestly hope this helps.  It’s no magical cure–nothing that I’ve found is–but it’s how I look at the big picture.  It’s how I stay in balance.  I need to do what I need to do every day, sometimes every hour.  I use my cheap therapy when I can.  I trust God to be with me and help me, especially when I can’t find the strength or hope to do what I need to do.  I can make all the right choices and sometimes it isn’t enough yet God is here, with me, not waving a magic wand but never abandoning me.  

Write me if you want to talk.  

 

*Someone will ask, “Well, Mike, why don’t you choose a less exhausting mental image.”  Uh-huh.  The mental image comes from how the reality of living with this my whole life feels.  Being a writer, I just think of things in mental images and analogies.  Thinking of it as sitting at the beach with my toes in the sand wouldn’t change my internal reality, it would only add to my internal dissonance.  I know this is a footnote, but I’m going to say something serious here: telling yourself what you “should” do or be when you’re depressed doesn’t cure depression, it adds to it.  In my experience, anyway, trying to shout or shame or scold myself out of feeling what I feel or not being as functional as the much-higher-functioning person to whom I compare myself, you know what that does?  Right. Depresses the hell out of me.  So I try not to do that anymore.  

**Yes, I’m using several images here.  To be clear: what I can do to stay healthily functioning and out of depression I describe as keeping on top of the ball.  When I fall off the ball, that means I’ve stopped or faltered in what I can do to help myself.  I describe the depression itself with various images, falling, having the bottom drop out, etc.  I use different images because, while these are connected and have much interplay, sometimes the depression hits regardless of what I’ve done or have not done.  

***I’ve been a Jesus follower long enough to know exactly what holding onto my sin and refusing to repent feels like.  

Inspired by Wonder

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Today my family here all saw the movie Wonder (Extraordinario en Español) for three dollars eaches.*  I’m not going to give any spoilers, except maybe for tone.  We all cried.  All five of us.  I just asked my ten-year-old son and he said, with no shame, “Yeah, once.”  I cried a lot.

It reminded me of some things.  I love that kind of filmmaking.

I’ve said this before, more than once, and I’ll say it again:  the world is an awful place and its getting worse.  I’m not a pessimist, a fatalist, or a philatelist.**  I simply see a lot of pain in the world and extrapolate how much suffering and injustice must happen that I don’t see.  When we started the little school here in our barrio a few years ago, we joked that it was because of a certain boy who couldn’t read his own name and really needed help and better options.  We started the school and the school is still running, with a circle of Nicaraguan women serving as teachers.  Subsequently we started a preschool, too.

But that boy?  He barely attended.  He hangs out with the borrachos, playing cards and, I presume, drinking.  He’s 14 or 15 now.  Other days I see him on a different street, hanging out with a harder crowd.

I remember vividly Kim’s first year of teaching in inner-city Los Angeles, which was rough except for when it was brutal.  She felt miserable for the kids she could see were not making it.  In that barrio, the other option if kids did not thrive in school was to drop out and join a gang.  She could see 5th graders already very clearly heading that direction.  We talked through this around and around and finally reached a somber, disheartening conclusion:  you can’t save everyone. You can only help those who are willing to be helped, who will take your help and act on it.

That may be a law of the universe.  It’s certainly true in every area in which I’ve worked, from pastoring to counseling to coaching to teaching.  God has yet to answer my prayer to suspend someone else’s free will (temporarily, of course) so I can make better choices for them. I’ve actually stopped praying that.  It took a while.  Even I learn, eventually.

So the world’s a sucky place, full of misery, unrelenting poverty, and systemic injustice, full of greedy people who will cause other people’s suffering for profit.  Some of them even look at themselves in the mirror daily and sleep soundly with untroubled dreams.  People say, “Why do I have to, you know, repent, why do I have to ask forgiveness if I’m not making mistakes?”

Screw ’em.

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Okay, let me rephrase that more theologically.  I cannot change evil people in the world.  I can oppose their evil.  I can speak truth to power.  I can try to brighten my tiny speck of the world by encouraging everyone who comes into my path, by praying for all the people I pass, by entering into some lives when people will let me and sharing the wisdom these burn scars have earned me.

But scripture is clear that some people harden their hearts to the truth, some people delight in false gain (that would be screwing people over for profit), and many people will not respond to the truth even if someone rises from the dead right in front of them.  God loves everyone but not everyone cares to  be loved like that.  Some people would rather “sell the poor for a pair of sandals,” as the prophets would say.  And I’m not one to revel in judgment, but that’s not going to go well.  Of that, I’m certain.

I can’t fix them, I can’t change them, I can’t make them repent.  I leave them to God.  Maybe some of their lives will be redeemed.  I pray they will.


Looping back to the movie, it reminded me why I write this blog in the first place.  It reminded me why I do a lot of things.  My purposes aren’t pure and I am the first to remind us that we all have mixed, conflicting motives about virtually everything.

But it really comes to this: I write to make the world a better place.  I write to alleviate suffering, to increase joy, to help people know they are loved and that they can have hope.  Hope is elusive, joy can seem out of reach, and sometimes discouragement speaks louder than anything else.  So with whatever gift I have, I want to speak truth that helps you hear God’s voice.  If you don’t believe in God, I can’t change that for you but I can tell you that you are loved.  I hope you believe me.  I know it’s true.

I’m writing about joy deeper than happiness and knowing that I’m loved even over the voice of my own self-criticism.  I’m writing about how loving others heals us because that’s how we’re designed and I’m grateful for that, in action.

Sometimes I write about ultimate or cars or nature or abused horses. Sometimes I write about newly-paved roads or friends coming and going.  Often it’s this Nicaragua Diary I’m keeping, to help people see how living here looks, at least from my perspective.

But always, I’m trying to make a difference.  When people tell me I’ve encouraged them or that they can relate to my struggle, I know it’s working.  I’ve heard that enough to keep writing, even when I labor over a post and few people notice it, even when the voice in my head shouts, “Why bother?  Just quit!”

The world is beautiful, too.  Great people live here.  Funny, wonderful, generous people, including those who have too little to share and share anyway. I’ve seen them.  I greet them every day.  People who are brave beyond what you can imagine just by getting up in the morning, but they go on and do more.  People who have every conceivable right to hold grudges and be bitter instead show grace.

And the world goes on as if that isn’t a miracle, but it is, Dear Reader.  It is.

If people don’t want to read about that, screw ’em

perhaps they can find their inspiration elsewhere.

I’m going to keep trying to change the world.

I want you to make the world better, too, because it needs it and you can and, ultimately, that’s your calling.  In whatever way you can, in whatever way God’s gifted you, love people and help this lacerated, sorrowing world know a little more joy, a touch more beauty, a bit more wonder.

Now, if you can, see that movie.

 

 

*Name that book.  

**That’s actually true; I collect baseball cards.

El Día de Acción de Gracias

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A brief one for Thanksgiving, because there are things to say.  

I’m not going to get political, much, though this holiday is deeply conflicted.  Unless you whitewash it the whole way, we’re celebrating some bad things and we don’t have any National Days of Mourning or Grieving or Repentance, because that isn’t our style. Today when we were talking to the borrachos who hang out outside our house, Kim asked them if they knew what Thanksgiving is.  One of them said he thought so, but they all knew what Black Friday is.  Sigh. On the other hand, I don’t think you can be too grateful, to God or to the people who love you and make your life worth being alive for.  

Recently, I sat at a table and ate and drank and conversed in Spanish and laughed hard with friends, people I love in this strange (to me) land that’s been home for working on seven years now.  One of the people is abused.  None of us can fix it.  Sometimes it goes better.  Sometimes it gets a lot worse.  We’re involved and invested and all those great words that really do mean compassion and time and money.  But our lives are so utterly different.  Yet we sit together and joke and laugh and care for each other.  That’s what we can do.  

Yesterday I got such awful news it literally knocked the breath from me, like a knee driven into my chest.  It’s so bad and so private I can’t even hint at it, but it’s from someone I love, about someone I love, and all I could do was listen and feel my guts churn.  I was the safe place for it, the person who could share a little of the overwhelming pain.  That’s what we can do.  

My son is not a great baseball player and may never be.  But today when I said, “Hey, let’s go play baseball,” he said, “Oh, yes!”  We played for about an hour and I can see how he is improving.  I can tell him.  I can do what my father did for me and love him with my time and sweat and sharing what I know about fielding grounders and going with the pitch.  I’m never really sure how I’m doing as a dad, but this I can do.  

My wife often feels like when we prepare for celebrations, she does most or all of the work.  Today, the kiddos and I were able to help with some significant prep work while she was working on gifts for the moms of her preschoolers from the little preschool she and two neighbors run in our barrio.  She still probably did the majority of the work, but we did a good job with our list and when she got back, it was all done and the kitchen was clean.  I’m not the servant to my wife that I aspire to be, but today, we did okay.  

Thanksgiving crew! (Disregard the Christmas decor, it really is Thanksgiving.)

Today, in addition to being grateful for the people in my life and how they love me, I’m grateful for how I get to love them.  It’s imperfect and messy, always, but also life-giving and healing, both ways.  I believe we are healed through loving others.  

The Nicaraguan translation for Thanksgiving is “el Día de Accion de Gracias.”  I really like this.  Literally, “the day of the action of thanks.”  That means both “the day of giving thanks” and “the day of thankful action.”  

These are my thankful actions.  In the end, this is what we can do.  

On Cups, Happiness, and Joy

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[Portrait of the Apostle John, Laura Kranz]

My sister Chris’s favorite saying is, “If you can’t change something, change the way you think about it.”  She didn’t originate this saying but she definitely lives it.  

On the flip side, this lyric from a song I love by Ray LaMontagne:

Never learned to count my blessings/

I choose instead to dwell in my disasters.  

How can I appreciate both of those when they say opposite things?  

Two days ago I wrote about a beautiful day I had.  I don’t have many beautiful days.  I have many beautiful moments in the midst of my messy, grace-filled, tortured days.  I suffer insomnia most nights.  I nearly always feel like I’m falling short or failing, in the midst of which I love people and try to speak life to them.  I’ve learned not to live according to those feelings–I don’t spend my days in the fetal position–but that whole “ignore them and they’ll go away” strategy has yet to work for any extended period of time.  Prayer restores my perspective.  It helps me remember that those are mostly lies and, even if they are true, God covers my shortcomings

This next may cross the line of telling you too much about my inner workings–“What?  Mike thinks there’s a line?”–but one reason I love playing ultimate is that after a good game, I get a few hours relief from all that noise in my head.  That post-game high just quiets things down for a while.  Winning the tournament a few weeks ago?  Feeling so good gave me three days of relative quiet!  I asked Kim, “Do people experience this all the time?”  Dang!  No wonder some people can get so much done!  

Now let’s be clear on three things

1)I don’t have it as bad as many other people do, 

2)Too often I contribute to my own struggle,* and

3)God redeems this in my life by using it to give me compassion and empathy for others.  

A friend who was in recovery from alcoholism once told me, “You get it like someone who is in recovery.  I don’t know anybody else not in recovery who understands what people go through like you do.”  I still count that among the best affirmations I’ve ever received.  

On Sunday, my cup ran over.  I could say that it ran over because everything went right, which in Big Picture terms was certainly true.  More, it spilled over because I got to see God’s goodness to me in such profound ways and in so many faces.  

Are all my days that full of God’s goodness?  Could I see it on Sunday because it was writ large in my son’s baptism, in my friend’s son’s miraculous recovery, of which his baptism was the consummation and fulfillment?  


Cup half full, cup half empty.  That talk relates to whether we focus on positives or negatives, whether we feel hopeful or hopeless about what is and what might be.  But all of this addresses what happens.  

Hap is the Old Norse and Old English root of happiness, and it just means luck or chance, as did the Old French heur, giving us bonheur, good fortune or happiness. German gives us the word Gluck, which to this day means both happiness and chance.

Happiness, literally, was what happened to us, and that was ultimately out of our hands.**

There are other views of happiness, of course, but this one remains a foundational perspective for most of us.  

“How’s it going?”

“Good.  It’s been a good day,” usually meaning, “Things have gone well today.”  

I have some of this mindset, as well, but I try to resist its pull.  The wisdom of my sister’s saying is that if things are bad in a happenstance sense, I’m not stuck being miserable. Not every bad thing or difficult situation can be reframed and thus improved.  A lot can.  

I approach it differently, though.  Henri Nouwen, my all-time favorite spiritual writer (I think), gave me the framework for how I view good and bad events in my life.  

“Joy is essential to spiritual life. Whatever we may think or say about God, when we are not joyful, our thoughts and words cannot bear fruit. Jesus reveals to us God’s love so that his joy may become ours and that our joy may become complete. Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing — sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away.

“Joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. We are inclined to think that when we are sad we cannot be glad, but in the life of a God-centered person, sorrow and joy can exist together…Still, nothing happens automatically in the spiritual life. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”

 

*See LaMontagne quote above.  I don’t like it because it’s a great idea that I recommend; I like it because it speaks a truth about my, and many others’, existence.  Real art does that.  

**From Yes! Magazine, “A History of Happiness.”  

My Cup Runs Over

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 107

 

Today has been a great day.  I don’t know how many great days I have.  Not as many as the struggling days. I embrace the struggle and try to share it openly, even when it sucks, even when I might throw some people with the depth of my inner turmoil, because I know there are others who need to know they’re not alone in that fight.  

But today, I’m going to tell you about my great day!  

Corin got baptized today.  That was, undoubtedly, the highlight of a great day.  We’d been talking about it for a while and he had expressed interest, but we were giving him space to make up his mind.  As I was sitting in church, waiting for my time to preach (meaning sitting there with my stomach going crazy and trying to focus on God and breathe deeply), Kim pointed out the door and said, “Go talk to Corin” in her serious Mom voice.  

Okay. Corin’s in trouble.  In trouble for what?  No clue.  

So I’m out in the corridor with Corin and I have to ask, “What did you do?” because I’m responsible to take care of this.  

“Dad, I’ve decided I want to get baptized today.”  

Ohhhhh!  I almost start laughing out loud, which if you’ve heard me laugh, you know isn’t the best idea within 100 feet of a worship service in progress (or is that yards?).  

Shift gears.  Move nerves to backburner.  Laugh with son quietly over misunderstanding.  Get serious and talk about baptism.  

He gets it.  He really has made up his mind.  We talked a little about what baptism means, about how going under water symbolizes not just being cleansed, but dying with Jesus and then being raised to life with him.  We talked about why we need that.  He got it.  

Some part of my brain thought “how did we get here already?”  But I’m thrilled that he means it, that he’s ready.  For all our kids I’ve trusted that they would know when it’s time and I’ve never wanted to push them.  What we want to do and what we do as parents are sometimes different.  For this one, I’ve really tried to be careful; making someone get baptized makes no sense.  

So I got to tell a couple of the other elders quickly and then I preached.  I’ve posted quite a few sermons here but I don’t think I’ve ever described the experience of preaching.  That needs to be its own post.  I preached on Isaiah 58, the Kingdom of God and breaking chains.  I preached hard today, perhaps the hardest I’ve ever preached.  By that I mean I may have expressed what I understand to be the truth more forcefully than ever before.  That’s a little weird and I felt strange afterward, but encouraged, as well.  God always sides with the oppressed and calls us to take their side, too.  Impoverished people’s bad choices are not the sole, nor even the main, cause of poverty.  I said some other stuff, too.

The people whom I knew would like it told me they liked it and the people who didn’t like it didn’t tell me.  

Then we rushed home to get clothes to get wet in, because I didn’t dress for preaching and baptism.  

The baptism was beautiful on so many levels.  Nine kids and Corin’s teacher got baptized today!  Each one is a story in itself, of course.  I got to stand in the water with my friend Dave while he baptized his son who miraculously survived a horrific head injury earlier this year.  

And we baptized Corin.  When asked if he believed in God, Corin declared, “Absolutely!”  When asked if he knew that he needed forgiveness for his sins and if he had repented of his sins, he carefully parsed the questions, answered, “Yes…and sort of.”  Everyone laughed, of course.  But you know, I’m going to argue that, though not the classic answer, my son gave the theologically and pastorally astute answer.  Have I repented of all my sins?  Not do I desire to or would I like my heart to be in a place where I have, but have I?  

Sort of.  

So we laughed and then we dunked him and prayed and rejoiced.  

We finished up the baptisms and the kids all swan dived (swan dove?) back in the pool and started splashing around.  Then a twenty-seven-year-old, a friend of one of our elders, decided to get baptized, too, right there and then.  He’d been thinking and praying about it and said, “Okay, it’s time.”  Like I say, I think people know when it’s time.  He did.  So we did!  

Afterward, we headed home, I snuck in a nap*, then zoomed off to play ultimate.  I love ultimate.  I got to play with some Nicaraguans I love and love to have as teammates, notably Zeke and Andy.  I’ve talked about Zeke before.  Andy is a 15-year-old rockstar ultimate player who should get a full ride scholarship to play college ultimate…when such things exist.  We had a mighty comeback victory in which I made a pretty decent layout (diving) catch for an old guy.  Then we got trounced but still had fun and made some good plays.  No kidding, I love ultimate.  Oh, and Aria and I got to play together.  I love playing ultimate with my kids!

We zipped home, cleaned up, and hurried back to our annual International Christian Fellowship Thanksgiving Celebration,always held the Sunday before Thanksgiving, always one of our two biggest events of the year.  I emceed, which is not my gift.  I’m a better preacher than an emcee.  But it went great.  Hundreds of people, gringo and Nicaraguan (mostly gringo but a good number of Nicaraguans), feasted together on traditional Thanksgiving food, sang of God’s faithfulness, shared around the table about what we’re thankful for, and a few gave testimonies, including a poem of gratitude to a loving husband and a journey-in-progress of a young woman whose sister is recovering from cancer.  

It was a beautiful day.  Corin and I prayed together at his bedtime and already his prayers are more mature.  We pray together almost every night.  I’d never heard him pray like this before.  He’s thinking beyond himself, bigger picture.  

I thought my cup was full and seeping over the sides.  Then a dear friend I’ve mentored for years wrote me and overflowed completely.  Mentoring is a painful joy and a joyful pain.  You invest your life in someone and become invested in their progress.  You remember the bigger picture but you also suffer the ups and downs.  Yes, like parenting, but different, too.  

Here is joy:  “I forgave people who hurt me, I reconciled, I made deeper relationships with others who will encourage me to seek God with my whole heart.   And oh, yeah! God used me in this crazy way to bless a guy I just met whose estranged father recently died but turns out I knew the father through work and could tell the guy about his father things he would never have heard otherwise!”  

I officially declared him a Jedi.  That cool.  That nerdy cool. 

I love mentoring.  The best part, the very best part is when you get to step back and say to a guy who used to be a lost, confused kid, “Okay, adult to adult, father to father, friend to friend, you are there. You are living this life to the fullest, God is bursting through you, and I’m just grateful to have seen it all up close.”  That was this weekend.  That was tonight.  

In the midst of this, I cannot fail to say, Kim once again demonstrated what an incredible wife and partner she is, what a servant and mighty woman of valor, and I’m reminded how lucky/blessed/freaking fortunate I am to have her in my life.  

Tomorrow, my self-doubts will come crashing back in, I’ll dig in, pray hard, and return to the daily battle.  There will be small moments of grace and some ugly reality I’ll need God to overcome.  That’s fine.  That’s life on this side.  But today?

 Today was beautiful.  

 

*Did I mention I slept very poorly the night before?  It’s kind of my normal now, but there are more and less convenient days for my insomnia.  

MIGRACIÓN Y EXTRANJERÍA

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 103

Picture your most challenging day at the DMV, the day you were most tempted to express profanity in public.  

Now picture the hottest classroom in which you’ve ever sat, wondering why this school can’t have air conditioning.

Add that the people sitting behind the glass get to decide whether you stay in the country or not.  

Welcome to Migración.  

Yesterday, my children had an appointment to renew their cedulas.  Cedulas are the Nicaraguan version of U.S. Green Cards, the identification card that means you have legal residency in the country.  

Many of us in the U.S. have experienced a moment at the Department of Motorized Vehicles that felt like a Catch-22.  Or we’ve just sat for what felt like an insane amount of time for the simplest request.  Gringos are not good at waiting.  We’re not trained for it and we’ve been inculcated with sayings like “Time is money,” so that sitting and doing nothing for extended periods of time for no evident reason hurts us. Irritates us.  May even infuriate us.  

If you can’t endure sitting and waiting for no obvious reason, I’m going to recommend not moving to Nicaragua.  Sometimes, that is just life here.  

La  Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería is such a place and yesterday was such a time.  In fact, every visit I’ve ever had to Migración, as we fondly refer to it, has been such a time.  

Now let me say here that I am an advantaged gringo.  Our school, Nicaragua Christian Academy, International, walks us through the process of getting our cedulas, keeping them renewed, etc.  NCAI employs one person, Jairo, whose job is largely to keep the working gringos legal and squared up here, and God bless him.  I’ve talked with friends who were visiting  Migración without the benefit of such expertise who looked like they might blow all their fuses.  The section for nationals always looks even busier.  

One of the biggest challenges with remaining a legal resident here is that the rules keep changing.  Maybe they’re always changing.  Last year, we were unable to obtain appointments to renew our cedulas–including that we had several appointments scheduled which were then cancelled–and I had to travel to Costa Rica twice with an expired cedula.  I was warned that an official at the frontera might confiscate it.  Would that make getting it renewed even more difficult? It was expired anyway, I was told, and I’m already in the system, but no one knows for sure and I would be walking around without any form of legal ID to be in the country.* Though I got raised eyebrows and warnings, especially at the airport, no one took my cedula.  

The kiddos’ appointment yesterday was to get theirs renewed from when they expired last January.  Understand, this is with our friend Jairo, who knows the system, doing everything in his power to get them renewed. For about six months, none of the teachers had been able to get renewals and we were starting to worry that the government had decided to stop granting them. We’ve seen other signs that the government is getting stricter with foreign workers. Again, the rules change, usually unwritten, and then you try to adapt.  

That’s all big picture.  Small picture, we came in, took our seats, and waited.  The girls do pretty well with their books–one even took a nap–but it’s a long stretch for my 10-year-old.  There are vendors inside, ice cream and “American Doughnuts,” among others, and then rows of little food tables and stands outside.  We have a “you get one thing” rule for Migración days and we try to bring snacks and plenty of water.  Did I mention it’s hot?**  

Mostly, it’s just enduring the wait–time may be money, but if you lost your flexibility and humor, you’ll also lose your mind.  After about three hours, I went out for a walk.  Though being inside  Migración feels different than any office I’ve experienced in the States (the bathrooms are notably rougher), the walk outside really drove home that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.  Imagine very busy sidewalks, bustling with people going in both directions and dozens of food stands selling fruit, baby formula–I mean towers of formula cans–pop, snacks both packaged and being fried, signs for fotocopias scattered throughout, and then at least half a dozen little stands looking no different than the others except they had signs advertising “Abogados y Notarios.”  I bought six buñuelos (fried yuca balls), but I could also have stopped and gotten a consultation with a lawyer.  

Of course, this felt discordant to me, because we have different images of lawyers in the U.S. (“different” doesn’t always mean “better”), but it also speaks volumes about the situation: Nicaraguans trying to find their way through the red tape labyrinth.  

We succeeded yesterday.  It took about four hours of waiting (we left school about 12:30 and got home a little before 6) but the bar is very low for a successful visit–if we leave with our ID’s, we win!–and we’ve waited longer than that without success.  The action of the appointment was this: we waited two hours, the kids got their pictures taken, we waited two more hours, we received and signed for the new cards.  And truly, we’re grateful to be received here, to follow God’s calling in a place that has no obligation to host us but has allowed us to call this home.  

Oh, and they each had a doughnut.  I just had the buñuelos.

 

Buñuelos

 

PS I hope the tone has come across that, though this is a challenge of patience, as long as we’re allowed to stay and continue our work in Nicaragua, it isn’t a serious problem.  In contrast, the crises over legal, long-term residents in the US being deported are very serious problems.

 

 

*Yeah, I could carry my passport, but it doesn’t give me the rights a cedula does.  Frequently, when making any transaction–banking, purchasing, getting insurance–the first question is “may I see your cedula?”  

**To be fair, I don’t think it’s as hot as the police building where I had to pay my ticket.  That was more uncomfortable, but this has more at stake.  

Adding My Voice

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“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

A wise friend of mine once said, “Sexism, like racism, works for some, but not for others.”

She meant, of course, that some people are on the side that benefits from sexism, or racism, while others fall on the side that does not benefit.

In a spiritual view, no one benefits from racism or sexism.  Inequity of power and injustice against people who lack power damages people on both sides of the equation.  Frankly, that’s much harder to see when you get the benefit of the doubt, when you are on the receiving end of advantages.  It’s harder to see when you don’t feel like you’re the one being hurt.

Jesus said “you cannot serve God and money, because you will hate the one and love the other, or love the one and hate the other.”  One aspect of this word is that I must speak against injustice, even when doing so threatens to cost me my advantage–or perhaps especially when it does so.  Unless I see our lives through spiritual eyes, I’m always going to believe that I just deserve what I get, that I worked harder and, perhaps, that the person complaining just doesn’t follow the rules or the law or know the system as well as I.  Is that my fault?  Am I my brother or sister’s keeper?

If being the “beneficiary” of injustice harms me, then I’m working for both our good when I seek to acknowledge and correct our unlevel playing field.

Men, in my experience, generally do not like to hear the term “rape culture.”  It sounds accusatory.  It puts us on the defensive.  It suggests that the nice guys among us, who believe we’ve never committed any of these acts of sexual harassment or sexual violence against women, still contribute to the problem.  We’re still guilty.

When I first heard this term, I had to read and study.  I had to choose to keep an open mind to hear their voices above the voice in my head shouting “Nuh-uh!  Not me!  I advocate for women!  I believe in equality!  I hyphenated my name!”

Now I believe sexism is so woven into our cultures–here in Nicaragua and the U.S., the two I can speak to–that most of us men remain comfortably oblivious to something so shocking as “rape culture.”  We’re not forced to be aware of it.


Today, I’m watching my Facebook page roll by with woman after woman, friend after friend, posting “Me, too.”  #metoo.  Men and women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted are posting “Me Too” as a status to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.  A few women report being sexually harassed by other women.  I’ve seen a few men speak up.  In college, I was sexually harassed by a man, so yes, #metoo.

But though that matters, and I needed to work through my trauma and seek healing, that’s not my point today.  In fact, one stumbling block for men is to convince ourselves that we have it just as bad, that we, too, have suffered just as much.  In this, I don’t want to diminish anyone’s struggle or their journey.  But white men are not oppressed in the United States.  The loss of some privileges that we have above others, no matter how normal they seem to us, no matter how much we’ve rationalized that we deserve them, does not equal persecution.  It doesn’t.

Likewise, while some men have suffered from women being sexual predators, rape culture is a culture perpetrated primarily by men against women.*  It’s a culture that degrades and diminishes women by conveying that they are less than men, that they are objects rather than subjects, and that they must accept living in constant awareness (if not fear) that any man with whom they come in contact with might choose to use his power to hurt them for his gratification.  It also belittles these acts of violence, which are always a sin and frequently a crime, by making light of them and turning them into jokes.  Sick jokes.

When my wife and I watched the news of the rape case in which a male Stanford student sexually assaulted an unconscious female Stanford student, everything about it horrified us.  The details turned our stomachs.  The court proceedings outraged us.  We were most upset by the defense that this poor young man might have his life destroyed by a harsh sentence when he was such a promising athlete with such a bright future, the justification that this was all too much for a boy’s “twenty minutes of action.”

Okay, that’s a nightmare.  That’s rape culture.  Describing your son’s sexual assault against a helpless, unconscious human being as “twenty minutes of action” when he was convicted of three felonies—assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object–that is the epitome of rape culture.  In this description, the woman victim is a lesser human being, of lesser value than the man attacker.  This point is driven home when you read her letter to the court.

The assailant faced up to fourteen years, the prosecution asked for six years, and the judge sentenced him to six months in county jail and three years of probation, saying a harsher sentence would have a “severe impact” on him, a star swimmer who could have made it to the Olympics.  That, in my opinion, is rape culture.

But this is a nationally publicized case.  How many of the women and girls who are my friends had their cases tried?  How many saw their attackers brought to justice or received justice for themselves?  How many of them suffered silently?  How many took years to recover, to gather the courage to tell anyone?  How many were believed when they tried?  

As I’m reading these stories today, I’m seeing:

“10 years ago I took out a restraining order on a pastor for sexual harassment. He still tried to contact me. #MeToo”**

and

My first job out of college was as an ESL teacher. A 50-year-old businessman was in one of the classes that I taught. He turned in homework with threatening and sexual comments to me. When I complained to my supervisor, they did nothing. Then I overheard my supervisor telling someone else about it in a joking way. 

 I’m seeing workplaces that did not believe the women, workplaces that threatened to fire the women for not reporting quickly enough (imagine being caught between those contradictions), and a huge number of cases in which absolutely  nothing was done.  
Reflecting on her experience of sexual harassment in Nicaragua, my friend Katie wrote this post.

Then one friend posted this:

No automatic alt text available.

And so I’m writing, because writing is what I can do.  It’s not the only thing I can do, but it’s a tool that I can bring to bear, a voice I have with which to advocate for my friends.

I’ve been in vocational ministry most of my adult life.  I’ve lost track of how many girls and women I’ve prayed with over their sexual abuse, how many struggle with cutting or eating disorders or depression or suicidal urges because they’ve been sexually abused.  We must face this reality and we must change it.


Two personal experiences to conclude:

A situation I was part of many years ago in which a man in ministry abused his power by making sexual advances on a minor.  He was well-loved and charismatic; people were upset by the news and didn’t want to believe it.  He did it, he confessed to it, and people did not want to believe it happened.

What is that, when people, both men and women, desire to remain in denial rather than look this sin, this crime, in the face and shout their support and defense for the girl?

 

A woman, a friend I love dearly, had a restraining order against the man who had sexually harassed her.  We were talking and praying about it.  The restraining order had expired and the court, the judge, decided not to renew the order, in spite of her pleas and evidence.  She was struggling because she felt guilty that she was not being forgiving.

I had one of those moments where either God is speaking to me or I really am losing my mind, because the compulsion was so strong that I had to tell her, “This is not your fault.  You are not to blame.  You did nothing wrong and forgiving does not require putting yourself in a position to be abused again.”

 

Refuse to accept denial.  Refuse to remain in denial.  Speak up.  Speak out.  Advocate!  What is your one tangible action?

If you’ve suffered harassment or abuse, this is not your fault.  You are not to blame.  You did nothing wrong and forgiving does not require putting yourself in a position to be abused again.

And we hear you.  We are with you.

 

 

*Some studies suggest boys experience sexual harassment or abuse at a rate much higher than reported, still largely at the hands of men.

**Quoted with permission.

Bugs

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 51

Last night, I was sitting in our living room when I felt something brush my right foot.  I thought it was a mosquito and looked down to see if I could swat it.  It wasn’t a mosquito.  

It was, however, a tarantula.  

We’ve lived in Nicaragua for over six years now.  I haven’t had that many tarantulas brush up against me.  I haven’t found that many scorpions in my shoes or towel or sports bag.  But there have been some.  I wouldn’t quite call it commonplace.  

My response last night was “Whoa.” 

Insects are a way of life here.  They’re such a constant that we take their presence for granted.  

I remember when we first moved here, probably my first week in the country, and our kitchen was covered with ants.  At least, it seemed to be seething with insects to me.  This was the tiny, red variety we call “psycho ants” or “spaz ants” because they dart back and forth randomly, looking like they’ve lost their miniscule minds.  When I say tiny, I mean just above microscopic.  I’m not exactly a clean freak (my wife is biting her tongue right now), but seeing these bugs zipping all over the where we prepare our food upset me.  How could we be so slobby?  

Now if you hate insects–and are reading this the way other people watch horror movies–prepare yourself.  Cue the creepy organ music.  

Kim and I barely notice little ants anymore.  But we do notice them.  If I find, for example, that a box of cereal has been discovered by ants, I pull out the bag…and put it in the freezer.  The ants die.  We eat the cereal.  

If that freaks you out, Kim sometimes won’t do that.  She’ll just eat the cereal.  Certainly if she sees a few ants in her coffee, she’s not about to sacrifice a nice cup of Nicaragua coffee–they grow excellent coffee here.  “Just a little protein,” she declares, and drinks it without another thought.  In case you think we’re exceptional–or exceptionally gross–I’ve swapped this story with many other missionaries.  Almost all of them have some version to tell, the adjustment and the laughable newfound ability to disregard these critters.  

We do, however, each have our weak spots.  I have a lifelong loathing of cockroaches which Nicaragua has not cured.  I’d rather see a tarantula than a roach.  I know that’s not rational, but we all have our kryptonite, don’t we?  

Kim’s is the deadly Randall.  That’s probably not the scientific term.  Entomologists call them centipedes.  We call them “Randalls” after the purple antagonist in Monsters, Inc.  Kim hates them.  

There may have been a day–whether in legend, myth, or history–when I killed a Randall but did not remove it quickly enough from the kitchen.*  In retaliation, one of my daughters who is not squeamish may have thrown a live cockroach at me.  And hit me.  And I may have made a sound that some would interpret as a gasp or scream, though I’m certain it was more of a manly bellow.  

Mosquitoes and ticks are another subject.  Mosquitoes have caused us more misery here than anything else (except a few people**).  The Big Three that mosquitoes carry in Nicaragua are dengue, chikungunya, and zika.  I’m guessing you’ve read about zika, and it’s probably worse than you think.  A doctor friend recently told me that we’re still discovering what effects zika has on newborns whose mothers have the disease, and microcephaly is the tip of the iceberg.  

For others, the danger appears minimal and the symptoms hurt much less than dengue or chikungunya.  But zika is also asymptomatic for many–possibly up to fifty percent of those who have it–and worst of all, zika can be sexually transmitted.  All humor aside, for expecting mothers, zika is a nightmare and I would urge pregnant women to avoid countries with high reported incidence of zika…then pause to remember that poverty means expecting mothers here have no such choice.  

I’ve described chikungunya.  Remember that Princess Bride line, “Wallowing in freakish misery forever”?  No, not forever, but Kim continues to feel the effects many mornings when her feet ache as she climbs out of bed.  I don’t recommend it.  Dengue comes in second place, agony-wise, unless you get the hemorrhagic variety, which I also don’t recommend.  

So mosquitoes are the actual worst.  But if you’re a genuine bug-hater, ticks win the day.  There are many times when I have to bite my tongue because living in Nicaragua can make it easy to play the one-ups game.  “Oh, you think it’s hot there?  Let me tell you about hot!”  “Oh, you think the driving is bad where you live?  Try living here!”  I’m sure his technique is featured in “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.”  So I try hard not to diminish other people’s experiences by one-upping them.  Someone finds a tick on their dog and posts about it.  A tick.

So I don’t sound like I’m exaggerating here, I’ll tell you this story.  One day at a previous house, the back door got left open and one of our dogs came in and laid down on the tile.  I was  very annoyed–okay, angry–and for the heck of it, decided to count how many tiny little ticks I had to kill that had come swarming in off this dog.  That day, that one day of the six years and three months we’ve lived here, I killed over 800 ticks.  No typos there.  I don’t know how many ticks I’ve killed since we’ve moved to Nicaragua, but if it turned out that I’ve killed 10,000 ticks off of dogs, I would not be surprised.  

No, our lives are not endangered by these icky creatures from hell.  I’ve never heard a report of lyme disease from anyone we know here, and statistics show it is extremely rare in Nicaragua.  Thank God for that.  The nastiest bug experience we’ve had was when we had a tick infestation in our home.  They were an army, attacking in waves, and of course seeing ticks crawling all over your floor makes you feel like you have ticks crawling all over your skin.  You’re probably feeling them right now, just reading this.  You’re welcome.  We finally found some anti-tick medication for our dogs that works, and for the last year have seen very few.  Thank God for that, too.  

There are a few other insects I should mention, though they are not such regular visitors for us.  Fire ants, so named for the burning sensation their bites cause, are tiny red ants that look like the ones that frequent our kitchens.  Some of them live on the field where we play ultimate, so now and then, especially  if one of us decides “what the heck, I’m going to walk here barefoot,” a hopping and thrashing and desperate self-slapping occurs.  Everyone knows what it means.  Fire ant stings burn for 5-10 minutes, though some people are more sensitive and get huge welts to go with their burning.  

Our good friend, Jeff, once got bit by a bullet ant.  I’ve never heard of anyone else here seeing a bullet ant here.  But for perspective, Jeff is our friend who last year competed in Fuego y Agua, a race that is, frankly, insane.  Probably the description “24+ hour endurance survival race” tells you all you need to know.  Jeff said it was the most painful thing he’d ever experienced and hit him almost instantly.  He experienced waves of pain and nausea the rest of the day.  Jeff told us that after it bit him, the ant swaggered off, as if to say, “Yeah, I’m a bad ass.”  Jeff was in far too much pain to argue.  

 

I know this has probably made a few of you vow never to come visit us.  I understand.  Though bugs are a constant in our lives, other than when they are giving us nasty diseases or invading us, they are not an influential part of life here.  They’re another example of how you really can get used to almost anything.  

 

PS After I’d started writing this, I went outside to feed the cats…and found another tarantula.  The cats had already killed it.  

 

*Reports vary.  Remember that not all narrators are trustworthy, and some trustworthy narrators aren’t entirely objective.     

**Wait–did I type that out loud?

3 Medical Cases in One Day

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[Waiting room, Clinica AMOS El Samaritano]

Nicaragua Journal, Day 48

As we began today, our son had conjunctivitis (pinkeye), a daughter could not hear out of one ear, and another daughter still limped from a knee injury she suffered Sunday.  By the end of the day, I’d done a clinic visit, a hospital appointment, and a good old homeopathic treatment.  

We ran to the clinic for Annalise, who still can’t hear properly, first thing this morning.  We were the second people to arrive at the clinic and waited about 40 minutes for our appointment.  It was completely full by the time we left, with all the seats taken and folks sitting outside.  I was glad we’d gone early.  

El Samaritano Clinic is run by a medical ministry here, AMOS Health and Hope, which is directed by friends of ours.*  Samaritano is always our first stop here when we need medical care.  It’s clean, well run, and inexpensive.  A while back, they raised the fees for foreigners.  A doctor visit became $10 (300 cordobas).  I was pleased to pay all of ten dollars for a reliable doctor and, in a small way, to help Nicaraguans afford decent medical care.  

During our vist, we were the only patients who had driven a vehicle.  Though I can’t be sure, it’s a decent guess that we were the only patients there this morning who own a vehicle.  In the doctor’s office, while Annalise described her ear discomfort, I read the sign in front of me that explained the benefits of family planning (in Spanish), which included “You can choose how many children you have” and “having fewer children means more time and money for each child.”  This was addressed to someone who might never before have considered these benefits.  There were signs for new mother support groups and lists of all the prenatal services available.  

As I said, I am happy to pay $10 to receive competent medical attention at a clinic that cares for the poor.  Today, I’m not sure why, we were charged only 80 cordobas for our doctor visit.  She told us Annalise’s ear is not infected, which is good news.  She prescribed some ear drops, which we purchased at a nearby pharmacy (the third we tried, as it turned out) for 30 cordobas ($1).  Our entire medical journey cost us less than $4, plus a little fuel.  

Conjunctivitis is raging through our school and neighborhood like wildfire.  Our neighbors have been suffering it and we’ve tried desperately not to catch it.  We’d succeeded until this morning.  Corin woke up with an itchy, sore eye.  It wasn’t hard to diagnose, especially when we heard that the boy he was guarding at his elementary school basketball program yesterday had it.  Bummer.  

We talked with Phyllis, our school nurse and a close friend, and she told us there is a viral and bacterial strain and it’s hard to tell without testing which is which.  She said the ophthamologist at Metripolitano, the best hospital in Nicaragua, is prescribing antibiotic drops with steroids.  We’ve experienced that medical personnel here are quick to prescribe, often giving us four or five different medicines to take for any condition we or our kids are suffering.  Phyllis said that another parent had tried essential oils tea tree oil combined with lavender, and had quick, positive results.  We decided that was worth a shot in case we could skip one extra antibiotic with a steroid.  We’ll see.  Corin’s eye seemed better when he went to bed tonight.  

Then, this afternoon, I took Aria to Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pelas see Dr. Dino Aguilar, a well-known orthopedic surgeon here.  Another player had run into Aria on Sunday while Aria was jumping for a disc (that she caught for a score, in fact) and the collided knee-to-knee.  Aria’s knee swelled up and she couldn’t bend it much at all.  My daughter loves playing soccer and ultimate and is in the middle of her soccer season right now.  We gave it a few days to see if the swelling and pain would subside on their own, and decided today it was not improving very quickly, so we needed to find out if she had torn her ACL or miniscus or suffered some other structural damage to her knee. 

We’ve gone to Metropolitano for every serious medical issue we’ve faced, from my concussion and broken rib to Aria’s 2-month ear infection (after we tried another specialist and she was misdiagnosed for 6 weeks).  It’s a full-size, high-tech hospital, nearly everyone visiting there drives nicer cars than we have, and the waiting rooms are huge and air-conditioned.  We waited perhaps ten minutes for our appointment, which we had managed to secure this morning (and we felt very fortunate).  

Dr. Aguilar, who is a very kind and soft-spoken man, ran an ultrasound on Aria’s knee.  We were immensely relieved that he found no tears, no breaks, no indications of internal damage, simply severe bruising.  He told Aria no activity for another week and then come back to verify that she is fine and can play again.  Thank God!  

As we left, I discovered that I’d done our visit in the wrong order and was supposed to have gone through insurance first (not sure why the information desk didn’t suggest that, but they did answer my question, which was, “¿Donde esta la oficina de Dr. Aguilar?”).  So we sat down to find out that we had actually done the process completely wrong.  According to insurance policy, we were supposed to have taken Aria to the emergency room immediately, at the very latest within the first 24 hours after her injury.  Failing to have done so, we now had to pay for everything gastos de bolsillo (out of pocket) and we could then try to convince the seguro (insurance) to reimburse us.  

As you might imagine, my efforts to explain that we had been waiting to see whether the injury actually required this level of medical attention did not inspire a change in the insurance policy.  As they explained it, since we didn’t report to the emergency room and file our insurance claim immediately, they couldn’t be certain it had happened on Sunday.  I suppose that’s true.  Or, we could have reported to the emergency room on Sunday about an injury Aria had sustained some other time.  If they lacked confidence in our veracity now, why would they be certain on Sunday that we’d told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?  I didn’t press that point.  

Out of bolsa, it turned out, was $60.  That’s not meaningless for us, but to see an excellent orthopedic surgeon and get an ultrasound, that’s an amazing deal.  In truth, had we gone to an emergency room, we would not have gotten to see Dr. Aguilar and Aria likely would not have received an ultrasound, especially if we went to any other hospital.  

Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas

Clinica El Samaritano

Today was a medical day and it was a strange day, yet the strange that has become normal, seeing the opposite ends of the spectrum consecutively.  But that is only on our spectrum–Samaritano is a lovely clinic and most poor Nicaraguans experience a much lower, much less professional (and sanitary) level of care.  I’ll save those stories for another time.

We’re grateful for medical care we can afford.  Yet again, I’m reminded that these things we can access when we need them are far out of reach for many of those living around us.  May we never take them for granted, ever again.  

 

*I’ll dedicate a whole post to them sometime.  They’re amazing.