I have been back in the States for exactly a month today. In the whirlwind of such a big move, there hasn’t been much time to reflect! This morning, though, it seems that some of the dust has settled and I have some time to write a little.
A friend who has frequently lived abroad advised me to try and summarize in three points what I would share if someone asked me, “what did you learn while in La Paz?”. It is difficult to summarize ALL of the thoughts our time in La Paz brings to mind, but via my wise friend’s advice, here are three thoughts that I especially want to remember:
- I cannot grow in my understanding of Jesus without immersing myself in the same kind of work He did.
Jesus was in the trenches. He was touching the leper and the outcast. He was weeping with those who wept. He was with the sick, the diseased, the poor, the unaccepted and the broken. He was all in.
I can read the scriptures and imagine what it may have been like to walk alongside Him. I can look at those within my own social circle and try to emulate what I see in Him. These things are a great starting point. But I have never been so desperate to understand what Jesus would do until I was surrounded by the most heart-wrenching situations and faced with my own complete helplessness. I have also never been more in awe of how effective his methods of love and healing are until I saw those simple solutions bring light and hope to the darkest situations.
- God is willing to take our most feeble efforts and make them worth something.
The entire time I was in La Paz, I struggled with feeling “less -than”. My lack of Spanish made me feel less-than in my friendships. I was often sick, making me feel less-than able to serve as much as I hoped. I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all of the newness, much more than I thought I would, making me feel less-than the strong person of faith I hoped to be. I was working full-time, at times very sporadic hours, making me feel less-than the mom and wife I wanted to be. Even in my relationship with God, I felt less-than as I wrestled to identify my feelings, and floundered my way through prayers.
The most amazing part of all of this is that God was still working!! (right now, you are probably saying “Of course, Carmen! 😉 )
Despite my Spanish, I was given beautiful, deep relationships that will stay with me for a lifetime. My heart still aches for those who I had limited conversation with, but who were always there with a smile. Through even the most clumsy communication, our hearts connected.
Through the sicknesses, adjustments and struggles, God was working so powerfully in our friendships and family that I remain in awe. I am amazed at the way kids have grown in their confidence and understanding. I read the cards from our friends in La Paz, and feel so deeply grateful. And the work of HOPEww- Bolivia continues to grow and develop in powerful and wonderful ways, bringing me so much peace and joy. The whole time I felt less-than, God was ALWAYS working exactly as needed.
- Discomfort and pain reveal strength.
This one is the hardest for me to write on because I am still processing for myself. I realized that, in the past, when faced with discomfort or pain, my first instinct has usually been to somehow remove what is uncomfortable or painful. However, in Bolivia, there were times when I was in extremely uncomfortable situations but to leave the situation would mean walking away from someone who had a sincere need. The only right choice was to stay. Staying in the discomfort helped me see I can expect much more from myself. I don’t need to avoid pain or discomfort. If those things are part of moving along the right path, then I will be there with them and God will give me all I need.
I know these are lessons that could be learned anywhere. Maybe God was even trying to teach them to me here, but I just wasn’t catching on (very likely!!). But I am grateful for the people and stories in La Paz that tie directly to each of these thoughts, and I hope to carry them close to my heart, always.