Pay Attention


-drawn by Sophia during church on the bulletin

When we were first dropping through the clouds and the verdant green landscape sprawled out below us, I think I was in a state of hyper-awareness.  I noticed everything.  This was Chile, our new home for the next half a dozen years.

I noticed how some of the mountains were alarmingly peaked (I’d later learn they were volcanoes).  I noticed how ramshackle most of the homes were.  I noticed how my heart was pounding in excitement and fear and that what I wanted most to notice within my heart was hope.  Hope that this place would be home, and all that that word entails.

I was looking for signs, I was so soul-awake that it was exhausting.  One can only suffer so much interior thought-feeling-emotion processing.  Time to trigger the automaton:  GET LUGGAGE.  CHANGE BABY’S DIAPER.  FIND EXIT.

If there were a word more drastic than “overwhelming”, I’d use it to describe our first week in Chile. We moved our family of four (us and our two year-old and two month-old) into a two-bedroom apartment with another Chilean family of four occupying the second bedroom.  Imagine that a moment so I won’t have to elaborate on how that was.  Thank you.

I cried every day.

I tried to do it silently because the walls were so thin and I didn’t want the Chilean family to think I’d lost my marbles.  Or whatever the equivalent would be in Spanish idioms.  I really wanted to be a good missionary, ready for anything, up to anything, being immortal wouldn’t hurt.

God had my attention as He stripped away every layer of comfort, independence, and privacy that my North American life had assured me was my birthright.  There were no locks on our doors, people came and went and startled us mid-clothing change.  It was always cold, the wood stove incapable of keeping up.  We had no vehicle, dependent on the erratic buses and the mercy of other missionaries.  We shared a washer with two other families, and I waited anxiously for our clothing to dry in front of the wood stove so that my potty-training daughter would have a pair of pants to wear.   I felt like I was being broken, but I was really just being peeled.

Do you know how after you fast for a number of days, the first food you eat tastes exquisite?  Even if it’s a common cracker?  The not-having makes the having quite sweet, quite special.

And so the tangled, wrangled gift that God was giving me; He gave everything back to me after I’d learned how to love Him without it.

I’d learned to pay attention.  To how good it feels to wrap cold hands around a cup of something hot after a walk in the freezing rain.  To how a word of encouragement can relight the fire of hope within my heart.  To how privacy and independence and comfort are gifts, not rights.  To be thankful in all circumstances, really thankful, because there are gifts and lessons which will become gifts later.  To how the rain that re-rinses the clothing that was supposed to be out drying also made an epic puddle for two happy kids to splash in.  Let us pay attention, and then, with hearts wide open, breathe thanks.


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