25 December, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

It is 9:42 am, Christmas Day 2007, and I am sitting on our sofa in our house in San Jose, Costa Rica. There is Christmas music playing on the stereo. Our two girls are playing with the presents they opened EARLY this morning. Today is our first Christmas spent outside of the United States.

Although December is technically in the "Drier Season" here in Costa Rica, it is heavily raining right now. There have been very few rainy days in December thus far, mostly just some sprinkles here and there that didn't last very long.

Earlier this morning I was gazing out of our living room window at the plants in our small back yard, wondering if they had been getting enough water during these drier months. God decided to bring out his watering can and give them a drink. We have a small new gardenia plant in our backyard next to the large cactus tree. We are patiently waiting for the sweet white blooms to appear so we can enjoy the lovely fragrance. I was never a big fan of gardenia-scented items when we lived in Kansas City. Keeley used to make candles, and gardenia was a pretty big seller for her, but I never cared for it much. One day at our Language School here we were walking down the main sidewalk that leads to our class rooms when we were captured by the scent of something wonderful. Planted next to the sidewalk is a large gardenia plant with many flowers. It has become part of our morning routine to "stop and smell the flowers" on our way to our classes.

This Christmas is very different than what we are used to. But as I stop to reflect on where we are and what God is doing in our lives, there are so many sweet blossoms to smell and enjoy.

Thanks God for giving us your only Son. Thanks God for giving us so
much to be thankful for. Thanks God for giving us fragrant blessings to
stop and enjoy.

What fragrant blessings has God placed in your life today? Are you slowing down long enough to enjoy them deeply?

Merry Christmas!

23 December, 2007

Nicarauguan Adventure

When we came into Costa Rica, the immigration office issued us a Tourist Visa that is good for three months. In order to stay in the country longer than that, we have to either get a different type of Visa or leave the country for 72 hours and then come back in to renew the Tourist Visa for another three months.

We are in the process of getting all of our paperwork together to apply for a Student Visa which will be good for six months and can be renewed without leaving the country. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, so it is taking longer than expected.

So we needed to leave the country and then come back in.

Some friends of ours who graduated from the Language Institute this month were moving to a city in Northwestern Costa Rica called La Cruz. We offered to drive the 6 hour trip with them to help unload their moving truck. After looking at a map, I realized that La Cruz is very close to the Nicaraguan border, only about 40 minutes driving. It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up, so we decided to make a trip accross the border after we finished helping our friends move.

Using the power of the internet, I was able to locate and secure some lodging for us on an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is an enormous lake at the Southern end of Nicaragua. It rivals the Great Lakes in size, we are talking really big. So this island is called Ometepe and consists of two volcanoes with some flat land around and in between. It is roughly the shape of a figure eight with a slight bend in the middle. I spoke to the man at the hotel who spoke English very well and made our reservations.

On Sunday morning, December 17th, our friend in La Cruz drove us to the border and dropped us off. We found ourselves in a sea of people that were crossing the border in one direction or the other. No signs directing us where to begin the process, no information booth to point us in the right direction. So after observing the flow of people for a little while, we got into the line that seemed to be head the direction we wanted to go. The Costa Rican police man at the head of the line examined our passports and informed us that we needed to get our Costa Rican exit stamp before he would let us through. He pointed to the building we needed to go to which was about 300 yards in the direction we had just come from.

The building that houses Costa Rican immigration looks like a bus station due to the number of busses that are parked there. Since the busses are crossing the border too, everyone on the busses must get off and go into the immigration office to get their exit stamp too. Needless to say, this makes the lines VERY long. Eventually we got our exit stamps and led our hot and tired daughters back to the line we waited in at the beginning.

This time the police man let us through and we entered into a kind of "limbo" zone. It was a wierd place that wasn't Costa Rica and wasn't Nicaragua, just this peice of land in between that was loaded with food vendors and people that wanted to "help" us pale skinned tourists. It is not a comfortable thing to stand out in these types of situations. We can be as culturally sensitive as possible, but there is no changing the fact that we are four gringos in a place with very few other gringos. That means we instantly became targets for anyone with something to sell. So in addition to watching our girls, watching our backpacks, protecting our pockets, and trying to figure out where to go next, we also had to fend of the multiple people offering their "services".

After two hours of waiting in long, hot lines, we made it through Nicarauguan immigration. We had secured a taxi already and he was ready for us as soon as we got our entry stamp. He drove us to Rivas, which is a city on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Here a large ferry boat took us over to the Isla de Ometepe.

We enjoyed the island. There was a nice beach at the hotel where we stayed, and the food was pretty good.

On Wednesday morning at 4:30 am it was time to begin our trip back accross the border and home to San Jose. We took the island taxi back to the port where the ferry would pick us up. Rode the ferry back accross the lake to Rivas. Took a taxi back to the border. Waited in more lines to get out of Nicaragua and back into Costa Rica. Got our entry stamps (and our renewed tourist visas) at the Costa Rican immigration office. Then finally took another taxi back to our friends house in La Cruz where we spent the night.

Wow was it good to be back in Costa Rica!! It is always more comfortable to be in the familiar, and for us Costa Rica has become the familiar.

God took great care of us the entire trip. We never felt in danger or lacked for anything.

This trip removed any hint of procrastination on my part to submit our paperwork to obtain a Student Visa. The next time we leave Costa Rica I want it to be because we want to, not because we have to.

03 December, 2007

God's Hand Upon Us

I am not much of a shopper. Surely this does not come as much of a surprise since I am a man, and most men are not shoppers by nature. So while I enjoy celebrating Christmas with family and friends, I do not enjoy the craziness this time of year brings to any store bearing the description of "retail".

Here in Costa Rica, I have not been able to escape this end-of-the-year phenomenon that causes me to be extremely fond of online shopping.

This past Saturday Keeley and I and some other friends of ours from the Language Institute traveled down town (by public bus) to the Avenida Central to do some Christmas shopping. This part of San Jose is an enjoyable place to visit. There is an approximately 10 block stretch of Central Avenue that has been converted to a walking mall, so you don't have to be distracted with being run over. (Pedestrians here have the right........the right to be run over). It was extra crowded with Christmas shoppers.

So we were picking up some gifts here and there, enjoying our time downtown, when we ran into some close friends of ours from our church. We stopped and talked for a little while and I introduced them to the other students that were with us. While we were talking, my Tico friend (who has a lot of street smarts) interrupts and says, "There are three guys standing behind you all that are waiting to rob you, I recognize one of them". He then tells us to all turn around and stare at them.

All eleven of us proceed to turn around and stare at these three men who were suspiciously standing behind us. They weren't going around us, and they weren't looking at a store, they were waiting for an opportunity. Needless to say, they were the ones that looked uncomfortable when we demonstrated clearly that we knew they were there and we knew what their intentions were. After staring at them for a long time (I'm sure it was every bit of 30 seconds...), my friend instructed us to keep walking down the avenue while he waited there to make sure they would not follow us.

Down the avenue we went, stopping to look behind us every so often. No one followed us, and we concluded our visit to downtown without incident.

Yesterday at church I was able to find out the rest of the story from my friend. He said that after we started walking again, the three men began to walk after us. He stood in their way and told them they would have to deal with him first. At that point they quickly left in another direction.

While reading this morning in the book of Ezra, I came upon this verse that reminded me clearly of how God's hand was upon us.

Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.
Ezra 8:31

Was it coincidence that we ran into our friends downtown at just that moment of time? Definitely it was not coincidence. It was the hand of our God upon us.

Could God have allowed us to have been robbed and then used that event in our life to draw us closer to Him? Yes, that could have happened too. But I was reminded of how closely God interacts with every detail of our life, big and small. What an awesome God we serve.

The hand of God is upon His children, most of the time we are not intentional enough about seeing it. How do you see the hand of God upon you?
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