Scott's Entry #8

"A Fair Trade"

It's always interesting to me how certain moments from my childhood stick with me like the smell of smoke after I've visited a truck stop diner.

For instance, I vividly remember how I, along with my buddy T.J., got sent to the office in third grade for wiping powdered donut on our faces and putting on an impromptu mime show for the lunchroom.  The time I stuck my bare big toe into a rapidly spinning bicycle wheel is also burned into my brain (for your safety, please don't try this at home). 

I am a firm believer that everything we store in our brains is there for a reason.  The problem is, I just won't live long enough to figure out, for example, why it's important to retain the memory of my mother marching all of us kids UP the DOWN escalator at Montgomery Ward's (thankfully, no one was seriously injured).

My First Day At "The Office"

I'll be traveling a lot from here and
working for the indigenous church group of the Maya K'iche people

So, I was struck dumb this week when I had a vision of a first grade field trip.  I was seated next to Michael Taylor at the lunch table at the Omniplex in Oklahoma City.  We were busily unpacking our sack lunches and tearing the aluminum foil off of our 6oz. cans of Shasta Orange Soda.  That's when Michael turned to me and said, "Wanna trade?" 

He held in his hand a mound of something that was wrapped in a napkin and some Saran Wrap.  What was it?  A piece of pie?  Chocolate cake?  Candy?  Or perhaps some really cool new lunch food I have never been exposed to?  So, I asked, "What is it?"

Michael responded, "It's a surprise.  A GOOD surprise!  How about we both trade surprises without looking?"

Me And My Pops... 
The Baked Bean Sandwich Man
(Miss You Dad!)

At that moment, I had a flashback to my dad (one of 12 kids in his house) telling me about his own childhood lunches.  It was his version of the "walking uphill to school... both ways... in the snow" story.  However, I have confirmed his tale with grandpa.  At any rate, the story goes, "When it was getting close to payday, we would all get baked bean sandwiches in our lunches.  That's right... just a glob of Van Kamp's Pork & Beans on white bread.  By noon, it was just a congealed orange mass."

I caught a glimpse of a sandwich-shaped object encased in foil in Michael's lunch sack.  Knowing this, with my astute first-grade logic I surmised that the object "up for bids" in Michael's hand wasn't the dreaded baked bean blob that dad had warned me about.  Forever the optimist, I agreed to the deal.  I held my bag of half-crushed Charles Chips behind my back and said, "OK.. let's trade." 

Michael's cat-like reflexes should have given it away.  He threw the mystery object into my lap while simultaneously grabbing the chips from me.  His smile said it all, but I had to confirm my demise.  I unwrapped the package to find inside a bunch of slightly warm, wet carrot sticks.  I had succumbed to the worst bluff of all!  I had traded junk food for health food!  BLASTED MICHAEL TAYLOR!  Today my only satisfaction is knowing that those carrots were probably the key contribution to my perfect eyesight, while the lack of vitamin A likely sent Michael to the Lasik surgeon for an operation not covered by his HMO.  

So... why did this story come to me this week?  I think that it's because I sometimes catch myself thinking I might have made another bad trade. Please believe me, I am constantly enchanted with this place.  Still, living in Guatemala is hard.  I think the shock of it all is natural.  In the past two months I have done the following (to name a few):

  • Slept overnight atop a table in a church

  • Used newspaper as toilet paper

  • Eaten questionable food served from a giant cauldron 

  • Washed all of my clothes in a stone basin

  • Awoken to find six children watching me sleep (gringos are like a freak show here)

  • Grown accustomed to having a "pee bucket" in our room for midnight emergencies

When I think of the life Gabby and I led before coming here, I can hardly believe how good we had it.  It was kooshy - a CAKE WALK!   Still, we often complained about how hard and stressful it was.  What's more, we had gobs and gobs of family and friends close by.  In hindsight, it was ideal.  So... why trade? 

The answer hit me like a flash yesterday. In addition to the list above, I am also having difficulty with another "adjustment" here.    As crazy as it sounds, I am having trouble accepting gifts.

Don't get me wrong, I love unwrapping presents.  Christmas is a blast, and birthdays are awesome as well.  The problem here is that we are constantly receiving gifts from people who are in tough financial situations.  For example, today I visited a small community in the coffee growing region.  We stopped at the house of a pastor to chat for a while.  It was a single room with a dirt floor.  I was told the pastor likely earns 250 Quetzales per month for his work (about $30).  He has a nasty case of conjunctivitis which is causing blindness all over this country (you know it as "pink eye").  So... what does his family do with their income?  They spend $1 to buy two bottles of Orange Crush for me and my traveling companion.  It's their way of showing me that they appreciate my visit.  The problem is that in MY culture, you typically have to know someone or do something to deserve a gift.  As for me, I have done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for these people.

Our host family is a wellspring of grace.  They have given us the best room in their house, one of their TVs, and are building bathrooms and a shower for us.  Knowing that we aren't in good enough shape to climb the mountain to go to church, they pay our fare to take a truck.  After seeing me nearly freeze myself sponge bathing in the pila one morning (which was like a trip to the movies for the whole family... they've never seen an idiot bathe when it's that cold outside... so they all watched in amazement), Graciela heated a huge cauldron of water for me to bathe next time.  She insisted that I use the WHOLE THING, while her family of eight shared another that took 45 minutes to heat up. 

What's more, they gave us one of those industrial sized roll of toilet paper JUST FOR US, while they use newspaper or old notebook paper.  They bought new blankets for our bed.  Our host dad sewed us a new pillow. We always have two pieces of meat at mealtime when everyone else gets only one.  They started providing napkins at every meal, even though the family has never really used them.

We want to tell them to stop, but their grace never ends.  We have done nothing to deserve it.  In fact, we are likely a drain on their family.  Just imagine how you feel when relatives come to visit for a week. Now imagine if those relatives were staying for 52 weeks and only understood a kindergartener's vocabulary.  That's us. 

So... what's it all for?  Was it a good trade?

At home, we were so wrapped up in our own world that it was sometimes hard to see the good fortune in our lives.  In fact, most of our good fortune was chalked up to hard work and persistence.  Here, it's different.  We are experiencing God's grace first-hand.  It is the best of all "surprise trade" surprises.

In truth, I haven't really done anything for God, yet my life is blessed immeasurably.  I haven't cut his lawn or washed his car.  I haven't picked up His dry cleaning or covered His tab at His favorite Tex-Mex restaurant.  Still, God forgives us and loves us no matter what.  He never says life will be easy, but He DOES say that all we have to do is be willing to receive His blessings.  Pretty amazing stuff!  I'm no Biblical scholar, but I do have a really great Bible that my mom gave me when I was 15.  It has a cool index, so I was able to find just the passage that says it best. 

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2: 6-9

I apologize for those of you who aren't used to me getting all "Jimmy Swaggart" on you.  This whole "outward spirituality" is new for me, too.  Still, it's really cool to be in a place where the Big Guy puts it all out in front of you like that.  I just like the idea that no matter what happens in life, we've all been blessed... not for what we've accomplished... but simply because WE ARE. 

In the end, figuring this out makes this trade well worth it for me.

So, what trades have you made in your life?  Have they been worth it?  If you're having trouble answering the question, just go out and enjoy the life that God has given you, and spread some of the good vibes around.  There are probably some folks who could use some of your grace right now.

'Till next time...