Archive for July, 2009

21st July
written by Michelle

After an incredibly long day of traveling involving all forms of public transportation (planes, taxis, chicken buses, the back of a pick-up truck and yes, even a boat) Jen and I made it to our first destination and this creative, handmade sign sat on our table: La Dulce Vida.

I ordered a liquado con fresa (Guatemala’s version of a strawberry smoothie) and sighed with contentment. Sitting in this quaint open air patio next to the lake, I realized yes, this is the sweet life. Traveling in Guatemala is not exactly convenient or easy. Life is not catered to tourists. There is no posted bus schedule. The bus “system” (If I can even call it that is in question) still remains a mystery to me. Sometimes there are big spiders in the rooms. And hot water remains a luxury that only some families have. I know I am not doing a great job at “selling” the high points of Guatemala to you, but I guess my point is that even with these modern inconveniences, some part of me just loves it here. When I am in Guatemala my best self comes out.

I believe there are certain people and places that bring out our “best selves”- you know, the person you wish you were all the time, but often gets buried somewhere between the stress of work or piles of laundry or waiting in line at the grocery store. ugh. Those situations do not always bring out the best parts of me. But something about life in Guatemala brings out my best self- the self that is patient when things don’t go according to plan; the self that is just as eager to listen as to talk; the self that is willing to try something new. It brings out the self that is content to just sit and smile and meet someone new, and maybe most noteworthy, I find that this self is filled with gratitude.

Guatemala reminds me that the process is just as important and maybe even more important than the product. I am not even sure what “product” I am referring to per se, maybe its the abstract feeling that is always sitting restlessly inside of me, longing and searching and wondering whats next. It’s this internal and maybe external feeling that once I get there (wherever there is) then I’ll be content, or happy or _________ (fill in whatever adjective you choose) But something about being in Guatemala, reminds me that I am exactly where I need to be.

Traveling with one of my best friends, meeting new people, visiting old friends, learning about a coffee farm and seeing kids from the schools where I worked last year would have made the trip worthwhile. But there is something deeper, far more significant that happens in my heart while I am in Guatemala. Somewhere between the laughing and exploring and resting and waiting and dancing and learning is this deep sense of fulfillment. Life is Good*

*more to come.

13th July
written by Michelle

I tend to be someone who makes decisions with my head- I think about and analyze and sometimes over-analyze what I should do. Or I weigh my decisions on the scale of efficiency- what’s the most practical or efficient way to get this done. And not that those are inherently bad ways to make decisions, but sometimes I can neglect or overlook my emotions or my heart.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about learning to follow. And part of that means learning to listen to and follow my heart. So as the end of summer school was near I realized I had two free weeks before my one of my best friend’s weddings and I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I had a complete list of what I should do and what I could get done if stayed in Santa Barbara, but some part of my heart just felt this tug to go back. To go back to a country that I love. To visit dear friends and enjoy a simpler and slower pace of life. To wander around cities without a map and sit in coffee shops and soak up more Spanish. To go back to a place that for the past two years has shaped part of who I am and forced me to see things with a different perspective.

So I am following my heart…back to Guatemala. And the best part is that my roommate, Jen is coming with me. I am SO SO excited. Can you tell? I am excited. I leave in T-3 hours and I cannot wait.

More posts to come from Guatemala…

10th July
written by Michelle

I spent a view days this past week up at a summer camp with 21 kids from our Westside Kids Club. For many of them it was their FIRST camp experience of any kind and it was such a joy to watch them soak up each and every part of camp. I wish you could have seen their faces as they hauled their duffel bags down the dirt road and literally ran to their cabins where they found six individual bunk beds. One little boy was astonished—“You mean no one is going to sleep next to me? (Most of these kids share beds with their siblings in their apartments so this was a luxury.) And it’s funny, most kids complain about the dull, kinda blah camp food that often gets a bad wrap, but not these kids. They ate with enthusiasm at every meal and piled their plates with 8 pieces of garlic bread because they’re used to meals that are limited by whatever the cafeteria size tray can old.

For those of you have been to some kind of summer camp you know that there is just something unique that happens when kids (and adults) enter the world of camp. Our sense of time literally changes. Daily routines are organized around shared meals and games and free time. There is open space and few distractions and endless opportunities to soak up nature. Camp takes kids out of their ordinary lives and hopefully gives them a chance to experience something extraordinary.

I have known many of these kids for the past two years. I have spent time learning about their lives and meeting their families. It doesn’t seem fair that many of these kids have known more pain and abuse and brokenness than most adults will experience in their lifetime. They carry their pasts with them—all of their hurts, fears and memories are stored somewhere deep within. And sometimes its both heartbreaking and frustrating because it’s hard to see change and growth when these kids’ lives have been shaped and influenced by circumstances out of their control.

I am learning that when you chose to care and love and build relationships with people (especially kids) its no about seeing immediate change. I long and pray for transformation. I want to see these kids grow up to be compassionate, caring and competent adults who know deep down that they are valued and cherished. I want them to come to know a Heavenly Father who loves them so much, even when many live with no earthly fathers. I love these kids and pray for them and learn from them, but sometimes I also feel stuck because I am short-sighted. I don’t see the big picture.

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me this prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero and I just found it buried under a pile of papers. Archbishop was an incredibly wise and courageous man who served the people of El Salvador. He was assassinated in 1980 while he was saying mass in San Salvador. He offers these words to us:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view…

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders.


I realize that if I take a long view it means that I may never see the end result, and maybe that’s the point. We are sometimes called to love people and be present with them in this moment. And perhaps admitting that it’s only by some element of grace and humility that the master builder uses people like me and you.

7th July
written by Michelle

I have always loved the 4th of July. It feels like the epitome of summer with the smell of BBQ and long hours spent in the sun, lounge chairs and watermelon, hooded sweatshirts and fireworks. Aww, I think in fact it may be my favorite holiday, maybe because it’s not quite as commercialized as other holidays. Ok, well…at least its not as commercialized for quite as long as other holidays. It’s one of the only holidays that doesn’t seem to center on fancy dinners at long tables, where relatives gather and comment how especially good the dead, upside down bird tastes this year.

Even when I was a little kid I remember sitting excitedly on the curb at our neighborhood block parties watching my dad light fireworks and being mesmerized by the explosion of light and color and pure mystery. (yes, this was before having your own fire works show was deemed illegal) There was just something special, almost magical about the 4th of July. And even though some of that childlike wonder and glee wears off with age, I still think there is something about the 4th that just makes me happy.

And this year was no different. I had a wonderful 4th of July. Beach time with friends. BBQs. Good food. Fireworks. But this year I was also struck by the tension of celebrating and appreciating our country, while also acknowledging some of the failures and embarrassments of the very nation I love. We seem to be plagued with, what Barbara Kingsolver describes as prideful wastefulness. She begs the question, “What other name can there be for our noisy, celebratory appetite for unnecessary things and our vast carelessness regarding their manufacture and disposal?” And it’s not just that we live in a consumer culture (that I too, buy into) it’s that sometimes we don’t seem to connect the dots: the food that I eat, and the store who hires the workers, and the rain runoff that drains into the ocean and the oil used to fuel my car and the refugees in Afghanistan…they are all connected. As a nation we cannot continue to use resources at the rate we do and simply pretend that we’re entitled to an unlimited amount. At some point I think we need to learn to live within our means.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not live by some ideal super-conscious lifestyle checklist that monitors where I buy my food and how the workers are treated and if they land is preserved and replenished. I wish I lived a more sustainable lifestyle, rooted in simplicity and contentment, rather than selfishness and entitlement. The truth is I am attached to convenience like the rest of us. I drive my car when my bike or two legs would work just as well. I’ll buy a new shirt because it’s a “good deal” regardless of where it was made. Sometimes I waste food and let the run water too long. And all too often I choose to ignore the injustices and inequalities that are apparent both in my local community and in the world at large. I recently read that the United Nations estimates that $13 billion in foreign aide would provide health and nutrition to EVERYONE in the world. And you know what? Americans and Europeans collectively spend $17 billion a year on pet food.

Sometimes I am humbled and slightly frightened that my generation has more access to information than ever before, and not just information, but with one click of a mouse or a nifty iphone app we can Google search any word or phrase or language. We can see pictures and videos and live satellite images from parts of the world that only National Geographic photographers used to be able to go. We have access to news broadcasts and articles and blogs from just about every nation. And yet I wonder, do we live any differently? Is having access to this much information helpful or does it only leave us numb to the real human stories and people behind the facts that we can so easily search? Does it change the way I live or at least challenge the way I make decisions?

The day after 4th of July I walked along the beach by the Santa Barbara harbor. Every Sunday a group of volunteers place crosses in the sand for each solider who has been tragically killed in Iraq. This makeshift memorial is known as Arlington West and it’s easy to simply walk or drive by and not even notice it, but this Sunday I stopped. My life is comfortable and convenient and I do not often think of the 4,323 America men and women who have lost their lives. Nor do I pause to remember the countless numbers of Iraqi men, women and children who have also died and the thousands more who are still alive, yet mourning the loss of a loved one. Loss is loss. I remember walking through the streets of Sarajevo during college and hearing an aide worker who lived through the Balkan Conflict quote “War is the lesser of two evils. No one wins in war.” A few months ago I saw a documentary called the Road to Fallujah as part of the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was equally challenging and eye-opening to get a first hand glimpse of the horrors of war in Iraq. It is all too easy to sit behind the comfort of my home computer and ignore the reality of what is happening in our world.

I don’t completely understand the ins and outs of foreign affairs and I am the first to admit that the situation in Iraq and now Afghanistan and Iran is terribly complicated, but I don’t want to celebrate a nation that seems to be more concerned about it’s corporate profit and mini oil fields than limiting fossil fuel emissions and creating fair and equitable treatment for workers. I want to celebrate a nation that is generous with our resources and our aide; a country that comes to see the connectedness between people and the land with which we live on.

In her book, Small Wonders, Kingsolver states, “Real generosity involves not only making a gift, but also giving up something.” If living generously is a goal I have for my country, I realize it probably starts with me and with you. It starts small. It starts with every day, average people choosing to live differently, choosing to live differently and in the process giving up something.