Part 5: No Need For Words

This is the fifth part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer,  a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first four parts, click here.

I’m a talker–I always have been and I think that I always will be. I love the fine details in things, getting to know other people and hearing the voices of others. Naturally, I’ve always valued spoke words, feeling that without them we could never know such wonderful, intimate things of life. I was proved wrong when I went to Mexico this summer…

She came up beside me while I was framing and looked down at me, her big brown eyes fixed on my hands as I hammered unskillfully at the nail in the wooden frame that was to be one of the walls of her new home. I noticed her gaze and I stopped hammering. From reading her name tag, I found that her name was “Besenta” but I was too shy to try to pronounce it so I just smiled and held out the hammer, offering her a turn at framing. It might seem like I was just trying to hand off my job to someone else and maybe I was, but the YWAM staff had said to let the family help out as much as possible. Soon I was wondering if I should have said something, though she probably wouldn’t have understood it, to let my motion be known. But I didn’t have to for she knew what I meant–there was no need for words.

Besenta took the hammer from me and bent over in a working position. She was short when standing, even shorter than my 5’2 frame and now she was even smaller. Her face was usually solemn and right now was no exception, though I could see a look of something different–of hope, pride, and of friendship shining through and I was glad that I had given her the hammer. I turned my eyes to the board that she was hitting and noticed how skillful she was for a beginner, if indeed she was a beginner like I fathomed at the time. In any event, she was a million times better than I was! Again, there was no need for words.

I pushed my paint brush harder into the bucket, in the hopes of spreading more of the meagre paint onto the house.  I sighed as the measly paint barely showed on the wall that Besenta and I had framed earlier,  feeling sure that this was the last of it though we still had a quarter of a wall left to cover. As I was thinking these thoughts, I noticed a person standing beside me–it was Besenta, a paint brush in hand and the same solemn but kind expression lighting her brown face. I smiled at her and said “Gracias”, accepting her help fondly. She, on the other hand, remained silent, simply dipping her brush into the last bit of paint for there was no need for words.

We painted for what seemed like a decade as we both had difficulty scraping up the last of the paint and making it spread on the wood while stretching our short arms upwards. During this time, I tried to strike up a conversation with Besenta, feeling unnatural without some chatter coming from my lips. Finally, after much contemplation on what she would find interesting that I could also say in Spanish, I uttered shyly, in my Canadian interpretation of the language–”Tres hermanos?” (I was trying to ask if she had 3 children.) She shook her head “Cuatro.” “Oh.” I replied awkwardly, smiling and blushing violently.  I think that I was about to say cool when I realized that wasn’t really fitting even if she did understand English! To cover my embarressment, I began painting again, wishing desperately that I hadn’t ruined things. I saw Besenta’s brown hand reach up with her wet, blue paint brush and cover another blank spot. I looked back down at the near empty paint can and then my mind drifted to the house with the make-shift, tarp roof that stood behind us, the house that Besenta and her family of eight had been using for the last year. Suddenly, I felt the perseverance, and encouragement of the moment and with that I realized that there was no need for words.

“Ouch!” I cried. After I had been informed that there was indeed more paint, I had taken off down the little hill to where one of the YWAM staff stirred a bucket of the coveted blue paint. However, my enthusiasm was altered when I stumbled and fell, cutting myself on a sharp rock. The blood was oozing out of my knee and slowly I got up and started to stagger towards the First Aid Kit which I knew to be nearby.  Feeling a nudge at my shoulder, I halted. I looked up to see Besenta–a look of genuine concern and love showing on her face. I smiled, despite my pain and she opened the first aid kit and found a bandage for me. Tenderly, she wiped my knee off and bandaged the cut, just like a beloved friend, just as my mother who was two countries away from me at the moment, would have done. I smiled my thanks, and she returned my grin with a comforting look–there was no need for words.

So often we think that language must be spoken to be understood, to be relevant, and to matter but Besenta taught me otherwise during those two days of building. Yes indeed, there are times to be silent, times when not saying anything can be relevent and will matter. In fact, there are even times, like the one that I just described when there is no need for words–our actions say it all.

Besenta (far right) with two of her children and me.

Part 4: Love At First Sight

This is the fourth part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer,  a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first three parts, click here.

Dear Cadira,

Love is a very strange thing indeed–the emotions, the feelings, the brilliant connection between one and another is so amazingly strange, so uncomprehendable. But even stranger than that is something that I thought was silly, something I said to be impossible many times before–love at first sight. And you showed me that it is indeed possible, and not silly at all.

It was a Thursday and I had been in Mexico for four days: we came to your neighbourhood to put on a VBS at the pastor’s house. I remember with a slight smile, how I had my little notebook with a story I’d written to read to you kids and a whole schedule of how things would be. I had it all planned out and it was going to be a success. But then, I saw you all laughing and playing and kicking the soccer ball. I stood dumbly for a minute, watched some of my friends jump in and play with you and scrapped my notebook and joined in, realizing that you didn’t need my finely scheduled VBS–you just wanted to play, you just wanted us, you wanted love. And I wanted it too. In fact, I fell in love.

No, actually I didn’t fall in love. I was already in love–with Mexico, with God, and with love itself but I didn’t realize it until that moment when I stood before you. Before then I did not know the extreme power of love or that love for someone else can be developed in a very short amount of time. On that Thursday, I met you and the other children and the connection was too powerful to be titled anything less than love at first sight.

I don’t know what it was about you, Cadira, but you really caught my eye. Perhaps it was your shy smile just wanting to please someone that reminded me of myself. Maybe it was the way you wiggled your tooth or your big brown eyes. Or could it just have been the way that you accepted me, and the way that you loved? In any event, I loved you from the first. And you loved me too–not that you ever told me that for you couldn’t speak English and I didn’t know much Spanish but from the way you looked at me, the way you followed me about, I could tell that you loved me too.

That day that I met you was one of the best days of my life.

 I will always cherish the way you smiled when I threw the ball to you, asking you, in action, if you would like to play with me.

I can still hear your laughter and the giggles and shouts of the other children as I ran around with all of you on my back. How tired I was, but how worth it in the end! Everyone had to take their turn and I could tell that you wanted yours more than anyone else. How you shrieked with giggles as I ran and skipped and jumped with you upon my back.

I can still see the way your eyes lit up when I told you “Cadira es bonita.” And that, was truly one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

I hated it when we had to leave. It broke my heart, it really did. I hugged you all good-bye but I hugged you last–how terrible it was to leave you! I could tell that you hated it too. I knew that I would never see you again as I waved good-bye from the van window, watching your little body and big brown eyes fade away in the dusty road.

It seems strange to me that we, being the unlikely pair that we are–you an eight year old Mexican girl speaking no English and me, a teenaged, Canadian girl who spoke but a little Spanish, could connect so well, could befriend so quickly, could fall in love at first sight.

But we did, and I suppose that is because love at first sight is possible. After all, when God looked at us for the first time, He was in love. So that must be it, that must be why I could love you so much and you could love me back. Because God made it possible for He is love.

I only pray that you may come to know that kind of love, the ultimate, pure passion of Christ for you and that I may see you again one day when my journey here ends and I go to my eternal home.

Love,

Elizabeth

Part 3: Brimming Over

This is the third part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer,  a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first two parts, click here.

A girl in bright pink shorts with braided hair and a sun-burned face, collecting garbage in a big, black bag on a mountainside full of people, waving “Hola” and introducing herself and asking others their names in broken Spanish and telling them that they or something about them is “bonita” must be a laughable sight. After all, the people around her–mostly Mexicans couldn’t help but giggle at her strange friendliness or looks. And when the girl thinks on the situation now, seven months later, she laughs aloud and recalls fondly. But it doesn’t matter to her that she made a fool of herself because she had been filled so full that she was unquenchable, she was crammed to the top, she was brimming over.

That girl was me on my third day in Mexico. It was my first YWAM outreach, the first time that I had a Spanish conversation with someone who didn’t speak English, the first time that my hair was a mess, my face was bright red and I wore geeky shorts and didn’t care, the first time I told a stranger that I loved them…the first time that my cup spilled over.

It was a day of many firsts, of many laughs, of joy after pain. It was the day that I put my fears asside and replaced them with boldness. It was a time that I threw my insecurity away and adopted confidence. It was a moment and a place that I was just myself and no one else. I didn’t worry about what others thought or that I wasn’t good enough–I just did what I could do whether it was in my comfort zone or not, and because of that and the God that made me, I overflowed that day.

Two of my first Mexican amigas and me.

I met new friends who did not speak a single syllable in English. I told one of these friends that I liked her purse and asked her if she had made it (I actually have no idea how I did this!) I told a girl that I loved her and watched her face break into a smile. I saw the surprised but happy toothless grin of a woman when I told her that she was bonita. I played futbol (soccer) for the first time in a long time, without worrying about how unathletic I was. I danced like no one was watching me. I picked up garbage in the hot, Mexican sun with two girls and I smiled and laughed instead of complaining. I was swarmed with little girls and mothers who wanted the hair clips and stickers that I had. I watched two young girls faces explode with happiness when I gave them two simple things–a mirror and a comb. I was brimming over by the simplest, most ordinary but ever wonderful things of life.

When people ask me about Mexico I think of this day and all of the fun that I had. I try to re-tell it the way I saw and loved it but it never works. I always just get blank looks or smiles that don’t understand. It’s not the peoples fault or anyone’s really, it’s just that sometimes things are impossible to understand without the experience and I guess the feeling over being overflowed in love is just that kind of one. But that’s OK with me because God has given me a memory and a time in which I spilled over in abundance with simple joys, with new friends and beautiful smiles…with love I overflowed.

Part 2: Filled

This is the second part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer,  a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed Part 1, click here.

It was 6:45 AM and I sat in a corner of the YWAM dining hall, with a cup of tea steeping on the table before me. I had just awoken after the worst night of my life. After my youth leader talked to me, she finally convinced me to go downstairs. Pretty soon after that we had chapel, which was good…until we started to sing, that is. At YWAM they played loud, crazy music that I wasn’t used to and even worse than that — they danced, something I was not very comfortable with. Soon, I couldn’t take it any more and I just started to cry. I tried to stop myself but the tears kept flowing…so I went up to my room and got ready for bed. I couldn’t sleep though for I was too hot inside of my sleeping bag and the evil thoughts kept churning in my head. Things only got worse when my roommates got back and were chatting happily. It seemed like forever until they stopped and turned out the lights. But even then I couldn’t sleep and when I did, I still woke up empty, for the sleep could not fill me.

I sipped my now ready tea. “Yuck!” I thought, making a disgusted face. “It must be that powdered cream.” I continued to sip my tea, trying to get used to the taste. But no matter what I did, the tea did not cleanse my emptiness, the flavoured water with the powdered cream could not fill me.

“Can I sit here?” I looked up to see Matt, my youth pastor, looking down at me, a cup of coffee with the same disgusting powdered cream in his hand.

“Sure.” I replied, trying to smile. Instead, I felt the tears coming so I looked out the window where a dog wandered aimlessly and a boy helped his father put up a fence.

“The worship is sure different here than it is at church.” Matt finally said after a long silence.

I nodded. Again, the tears clouded my eyes for his words, no matter how loving or kindly intended, could not fill me either.

Breakfast, of which I scraped half of into the garbage, was served shortly thereafter. But neither it nor the steady companionship of friends filled my empty heart. My feelings were the same as they had been the previous day and I was more confused than ever.

“Elizabeth, we need to get you a devotions book. We have chapel at eight.” Matt said to me, as I returned to our table from the garbage can.

“Ok.” I replied. I gulped. His words reminded me that I had skipped out on my own devotions in Acts this morning.

Once I had the book, I settled comfortably (or rather, uncomfortably but as nicely as you can when you are on a creaky top bunk) with it, a pen and my bible. The devotional instructed me to read first Joshua so I flipped to it in the little travel bible that my mom had given me the night before I left. Before starting I said one thing to God: “Please Lord, I’m here for a reason. Show me that as I read. Fill me again.”

If I hadn’t already believed in God I would have started at that moment. No sooner had I said this prayer and turned to Joshua, I was starting to feel better. Though nothing “earth shattering” is said for the first eight verses, just reading God’s word made me relax and feel comforted. And then I read it! The verse that changed me! The passage that showed me what I was to do! The verse that filled me!

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged: for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. 

Joshua 1:9

Suddenly, I knew that God was indeed with me and that He really did have a purpose for me in Mexico. My homesickness, my pain, my tears, my emptiness all disappeared. With that verse God threw them into the darkness, not to be seen again for that trip and replaced them with His heavenly touch, He filled my heart up again. And although I was only at the beginning of my journey in Mexico, and despite the fact that many hard things were up ahead, I was filled in the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and in that I had confidence, reassurance, and hope. I would not be discouraged or terrified: I would be strong and courageous for I was filled.

Part 1: Empty

This is the beginning of a series on my travels in Mexico last summer, a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth.

I stared at my half eaten taco and a queasy feeling came over me. I listened to my friends laugh and chat and I watched the game of Ninja in the corner but I only felt worse.  Tears entered my hazel eyes and I felt like crying. But I didn’t know why. Everything was fine, great actually! Throughout the past 2 months I had made accomplishment after accomplishment: I’d performed my eleventh play, completed grade 10, written a book, sung and played at recitals and professed my faith. My social life had been soaring in every place, I was well-liked wherever I went, and my relationship with God was better than ever. To top it all  off, I was now in Mexico, a place that I’d imagined all year, on a trip that I’d dreamed of doing my entire life.  But even so, I felt drained, famished, empty.

I couldn’t take it anymore, so I threw my plate out and darted up the red, brick stairs of the YWAM base and into my room on the third floor. But it wasn’t my room, it wasn’t my home and I saw that as soon as I flung the door open and my blurry, tear filled eyes saw two of my friends sorting American money, strange pieces of paper to my Canadian eyes. My emptiness only grew.

Embarrassed, I ran into the bathroom, locked the door, and planted myself against the it. I knew my friends were talking about what to do but I couldn’t hear them. All I could hear was a voice inside of me saying: “Why did you come on this trip? Didn’t you know that you wouldn’t be strong enough to handle it? You should have thought about it more. But there you go again, making the same old mistakes. You are so stupid.” These words drained my already empty soul.

By and by, my friends talked to me, asked me what was the matter and if they could do anything to help. I said no, I was fine. I lied. They didn’t believe me, I could tell. They invited me to get smoothies with them, they told me that they loved me but my heart remained empty.

I looked in the mirror at my tear-stained, sun-burned, blemished face and I only cried more. I felt ugly and that made me believe the lies I’d heard earlier. As I washed my face and applied foundation and blush, I asked myself again and again why I had come on this trip at all. I asked God why He had sent me but I couldn’t hear anything back. I looked back at my make up covered face, but only felt emptier.

Later, I flung myself on top of my sleeping-bag-covered-top-bunk in utter despair and misery. I cried again, clearing the make up off my face. I asked God where He was again, but He didn’t seem to answer. I asked myself why I was here once more, and the same lies blocked my memory. The emptiness prevailed and I let the tears fall.

My youth leader came in to get something from her bag and noticed me buried in my sleeping bag. She asked what the matter was and I told her that I was resting. She asked why I was hiding my face from her. I didn’t answer. She climbed the ladder and talked to me, she comforted me but I was still drained, still famished, still too empty to find my way out.

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