Friday, November 6, 2009

Stanford Duck Syndrome

I so often feel like I don't belong here. Almost every day that thought crosses my mind that I shouldn't be at Stanford with all of these super-smart people. Not only are they smart, but they have all already done such cool things in life - internships with the best companies, patent applications, volunteer work, and research. AND they're articulate, social, and fit right into the physically fit, healthy-eating California lifestyle. They have already read ahead in the textbook and are able to correct the professor if he makes an error while writing on the board in class. They can ask well-worded thoughtful questions at the end of a presentation. They all seem so confident and self-assured. In short, they've got their "sh**" together. I do not have it all together!

However, there is a diagnosis for these feelings I am having. The Stanford Duck Syndrome. I look around at everyone - well-dressed, put together, and on top of their game and I feel inferior. How is it that for everyone else this stuff is effortless but for me it's such an intense struggle? The secret truth is, everyone is struggling. The image of ducks on a pond is the perfect illustration for this discrepancy between perception and reality. While ducks appear to glide easily along the surface of the water, beneath the surface they are paddling like heck.

I recently experienced this in my thermodynamics class. I have felt so intimidated all quarter. As I feverishly copy down the notes during class, trying to sort of understand where the professor is going, other students are knowledgeable and smart enough to correct him or ask really advanced questions. Then my midterm came - the one I compared to entering the ring as Rocky in my previous post. Then, faithful readers, the midterm grades came. Did I get my butt kicked by the test? No. I did really well on the midterm! - top of the class in fact. How can that be? Well, maybe I know more than I give myself credit for. Maybe the other kids don't know quite as much as I give them credit for (I give them a lot of credit!) Or maybe by the grace of God I did well on this midterm. I think all three statements are probably true, but the last one is the real reason I did well on this test.

I could launch into a whole discussion about the evils of comparing yourself to others but I'll keep it brief. My value and worth as a person cannot be found in the perceptions of others, in grades, physical fitness, or in the number of facebook friends I have (467 actually). My true worth is given to me by God in my identity as His beloved child. That He loved me so much to pay the price for my sins on the cross so that I could be forgiven is the sweetest truth, the best news that I could ever hear.

And though I'll probably still be the one duck that paddles a little crooked and struggles a little more than the other ducks, the fact that we're all paddling toward a common goal of learning and causing positive change in the world totally changes the way I see Stanford. I'm able to say "Ok, what can I learn from all of the amazing peers I have? What can they learn from me? What can we all do together to change the world? And thank you God for this amazing opportunity and phase of my life."

Friday, October 30, 2009

We're not in undergrad anymore...

I just finished my first round of Stanford midterms. I had a linear algebra test Monday and a thermodynamics test this morning. This morning while biking to class to take my midterm, I had the song "Eye of the Tiger" in my head. When I started to think about it though, the Rocky movies make a good analogy to midterms. I was heading into the ring against this midterm exam and odds were that I would get my butt kicked. Rocky usually went into the ring as the underdog as well. So did I get my butt kicked? By the grace of God, not really. It still wasn't great, but not horrible either.

Now though I'm getting ready to have a fun, relaxing weekend with friends. So far in grad school I've been less worried about the perfecting the details of my classes than I was in undergrad. As a result I've been a lot more relaxed and I have spent a more time investing in friendships and Christian community.

Well I'm going to go celebrate being done with tests by baking brownies and going shopping for the supplies I need for my halloween costume!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Refurbished blog and update

Thanks to anyone who still reads this! I took a break from writing over the summer but now I'm finally at Stanford for graduate school. I even refurbished the layout and put up a new picture to reflect my new environment and this new phase in my life.

I had a great drive out here with my mom. We loaded up the corolla and started down highway I-43 at about 5am, Sept 5. Our trip was as follows:

Day 1: drive from New Berlin to Denver, CO. This was a long and very boring drive, especially through Nebraska. It was so boring the only scenery I took pictures of was windmills and haystacks! We stayed with Patty, Tim, and their boys for the night.
Day 2: Spend quality time with Patty and Tim! Church and hiking.
Day 3: Drive to Colorado Springs to see Larry, Kathy, Joel, and Annie for another hike and a Labor Day barbecue.

Day 4: Drive Hwy 70 west through the mountains (scary!) and arrive at Arches National Park in Utah around midday.

Finish the day by arriving in Las Vegas for the night.
Day 5: Final 9 hour trek up through a very boring California landscape until we reached Stanford around 6pm.

Stanford Memorial Church

We moved in and met my roommates - one, Sharolyn, is chinese-born but went to high school and college in Canada. The other, Sonia, is U.S. born but lived most of her life and went to college in Ireland. It's fun talking about different social customs, language (variations of English) and culture. We get along really well and I'm so thankful for such nice roommies.

Mom and I went on Saturday to see the golden gate bridge! It was so foggy! Afterward we went down to the Henry Cowell Redwoods state park to see some big trees and then went to Santa Cruz to see the beach, boardwalk, and sea lions! We had a great dinner overlooking the ocean.

I'm so glad to finally be here after such a long week traveling. We even took some pictures on campus to celebrate finally being here! (Me of course in my new Stanford shirt!)

Soon I'll write about orientation week, my new friends (2 other Mechanical Engineers from Wisconsin!), and my first ever Division 1 football game as a student (see title picture for preview).

My first day of class is tomorrow and I'm about to head off to a welcome barbecue put on by one of the Christian campus groups. They're promising food, volleyball, kickball, and good fellowship!


Thursday, May 14, 2009


I'm leaving my house here in an hour to go home to the states. My mamatica is out on an errand so I'm alone with my suitcases. She left a CD of Jesus Adrian Romero playing that I woke up to every morning when I FIRST stayed with her, with Justine on our trip in 2007. It's all very surreal.

It's like I said to a student of mine after my last-ever class here a few days ago. He said how lucky I am to get to travel around and experience a different culture, and have friends in a different place - basically be part of two worlds. I said yes of course, thanks to God a million times for this experience. I wouldn't trade it for anything. But since I'm leaving I also reminded him of the negative side. My heart is in all different places and no matter where I am I'll always be missing people who are far away. I have a real family in the united states, but I also have people here who are (and even refer to themselves as) my mothers, aunties, brothers, sisters, and friends.

Please pray for me and for Yanira, my mama tica, through this transition.

The next time I post it will be from the U.S. of A. or as I now prefer to call them the EEUU (Estados Unidos)

Here's a picture we took after my last youth group on Saturday night:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Thunder Rolls

Hey everyone,

The rainy season officially started over the weekend and it has poured every day since, like clockwork. Loud thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain coming down noisily on the tin roofs. During my classes at the project I can barely hear my students even though it's a one-on-one teaching environment. We're still saying "¿Cómo?" "¿Qué dijo?" (Huh? What did you say?) Also, umbrellas are suddenly "like gold", as Candace puts it. The best birthday present you could give someone with a May birthday is an umbrella!

Also, Costa Rican supserstitions about water, getting wet, and things with temperature and feet are especially serious these days. Today Yanira told me that the waters of the first rains of the season are worse for your health than "normal" rainwater. She had a sniffle and said "Look! And I got my feet wet two days ago! These first rainstorms are dangerous for one's health."

The weekend before last we went to a restaurant up on a nearby mountain. The road was in disrepair and I started to feel carsick from sitting in the back, going up switchbacks, and over so many bumps. I had a headache and didn't want to eat too much. Yanira scolded me saying it was my fault for having walked in the house without sandals the day before! If only it were that easy to avoid carsickness.

I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but Costa Ricans have "allergies" to all kinds of things - clouds, wind, cold, onions, rain, etc. Anything that might make you sniffle. Our pastor has allergies to open windows and ceiling fans when we play cards. Today, Yanira prayed before breakfast as she always does and while praying for her sister she got teary. After the prayer she said "Look! Praying gave me allergies!"

The rain also gives me another positive thought about going home. It's springtime in Wisconsin, whereas the summer here just ended. I will go from summertime to summertime and will have successfully dodged winter except for the months of rain at the start of my stay in CR and the month I spent in Wisconsin at Christmas.

It's also kind of neat to think that I'm going through a similar life change along with everyone who will graduate high school or college this year. I know one year here is nothing like four years at a school, but it's neat that we're all marking off our final days, trying to make the most of our time, wrapping up final projects, and saying farewells. In my case it's trying to do one last act of service for people who have most impacted me while I've been here, and also get one last picture with them. I made raspberry bars for Nathalia and David, Aaron and Candace. I made a cheesecake for Steve and Georgiana and I'll be babysitting their kids tonight so they can go out on a date. This is really helping me focus on others and make the most of my time instead of dwelling on how sad I am to leave. I still need to do things/bake food for Flori and family, Jonathan and Amy, and Yanira and Fernando. I'm thinking white chocolate popcorn, potted plant, and a nice note for each group. What do you think?

To help my transition, Yanira is having a party here at the house next Tuesday. I'm sure there will be dancing, food, and lots of laughing. You're all invited, for any that want to make the trip :)

Talk to you soon, see some of you very soon!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Slowing down

First of all I want to give a shoutout to my uncle Jeff, who's birthday is today. Happy birthday Jeff!

Now to continue with my post... My life is somewhat slowing down now that I'm the only intern at the project. It's not that I don't have things to keep me busy, but I'm used to going from one thing to the next all day, every day. This has its benefits and drawbacks. I am getting enough sleep and having time to read and relax when I'm not teaching. However I've also had a lot of time to dwell on leaving, and that makes me sad.

Pastor Jorge already asked me to say a few words in church this Sunday, which will be my last Sunday here. I'm pretty nervous about forgetting my Spanish in front of everyone but even more nervous that I'll just start crying and it won't matter what language I remember. It kind of hit me in church yesterday, while I was thinking about how great the worship band sounds, that I won't be here in two weeks to enjoy it anymore. That soon I'm going to say final words of encouragement to my students, take take one last picture with everyone, and say goodbye for a long time.

I know God will go with me though, and I know wherever I go He will be my joy and fulfillment in life. I can just look back at how hard I cried on Sept. 19, the night before my flight to Costa Rica to begin this whole adventure. I was crying and scared to begin what came be the best months of my life so far. God has certainly taken care of me and will not cease to do so, ever.

A few pictures:

Me and my Spanish teacher, Nuria:

Me and the Griffith family: Amy, Caia, and Jonathan:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Water update...

So after updating last I called Nathalia and David to come and help me. David is very handy and has lots of tools. After having a good laugh at me for "destroying the house" David used a vicegrips to grip what was left of the valve top to open it. Once he opened it though, water started coming out the top of the valve! Definitely something that wasn't happening before. Looks like we now have TWO water leaks on our property. The valve is situated in a coffee-can-sized-hole in our driveway, and the hole quickly filled with murky water, making it impossible to see the ruined valve at the bottom. David was eventually able to situate it so that the valve is open for us to have water in the house but not too much water is coming out in the driveway. My job now is to fill all of our pots and pans with water, take a shower, and wash dishes quickly before attempting to close the valve and then heading off to church. I'm just thankful this wasn't the 12-foot geyser-type water leak that someone else on our street had a few weeks back.

Kind of funny but not really...

My mama tica is gone for the weekend. We also have a water leak somewhere beneath our house. Because of this, we have to turn off the outside water valve whenever we're not using water. I just went outside to open it and as soon as I started trying to turn it the valve handle BROKE OFF!

Ok Julie, you can handle this. You're a mechanical engineer. Just find a pliers or some vicegrips and you can open the valve using the little bit of handle left on there. No problem, right?

I have just finished scouring the house for tools and I can report that about half of the tools we have are philips screwdrivers and the other half are machetes! I'm going to call Steve Thomas to see what he can lend me and I'll let you all know soon how this water crisis pans out.

There's something new and interesting every day, you know?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thankful to God

I only have two weeks left of my wonderful experience here in Costa Rica. I am very very sad to leave but God has indeed prepared me for this next step. I no longer think as I did two months ago that life would end may 14 when my plane lifted off from SJO.

I've said this a few times now in conversation and I wanted to put it here too: I can honestly say that every single day of my time here, I have thanked God for my life and my work. I've never been this happy or felt so fulfilled. When I walk to the project every day and look west to the mountains, I marvel at what an awesome and powerful God we have. If God can make those gorgeous mountains, and the green plants growing down the sides of them, and the blue sky above, how much more can He take care of the things in my life, both big and little.

This goes along with an anecdote that one of my math students shared in church a few months ago. It goes like this:

God told a certain man to push a large boulder. The man obeyed God and started to push on the boulder but it wouldn't budge. The man remained obedient and kept pushing, even though his arms and legs grew weary in the struggle and sweat ran down his brow. After a time, the devil came to confront the man and asked what he was doing. The devil asked why he would continue to push on the boulder when it was clear he was too weak to accomplish the task. The man continued to push on the boulder but began to doubt God's instruction. Finally after a long struggle the man cried out to God, "Why do you have me here pushing this boulder? Can't you see that I'm took weak to move it? Why are you asking me to do things I can't even do?" God replied to the man, "Look at your arms and legs. Haven't they become strong from the work of pushing on the boulder? Look at how your self-discipline and determination have developed from the task I set you to." The man replied "But Lord, I haven't accomplished anything at all! I still can't move the boulder!" And at last God told the man, "It has never been your job to move the boulder. I am the one who will move the boulder. I am the one who provides the victory in this task and the reward to your work. It never asked you to move the boulder - I asked you to dedicate yourself to pushing against it with all your might and trust in me. I asked for your obedience."

I have felt like that a lot this year. In teaching my math classes I have had to fight for my students' education against all odds, against a culture that doesn't always emphasize hard work, discipline, punctuality, and high achievement in school. Against my students' own fears of math and lack of self-confidence. Against some horrible teaching and test administration on the part of the education system here. And even against history and low expectations. If Victor had already tried for 6 years to pass his exam and had failed the exam 6 times, why should things be any different during the 7th year and his 7th attempt? But as we found out last week, God was faithful and rewarded our work, Victor's work, and our faith in Him. God rewarded Brian and I for our obedience in coming here for the year to dedicate ourselves to the impossible task of teaching math and making a difference. It was never my job or my efforts that were going to get Victor to pass the exam. It was our all-powerful God who ultimately moved that giant boulder aside in his life.

It is this same God who will be going with me back home for the summer, to Stanford in the fall, and wherever life takes me after that. If that isn't something to be thankful for, I don't know what is.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Dear faithful readers,

I've written about 6 half-posts but I wasn't satisfied with any of them enough to post them. Apologies aside though, I have big news. Huge huge news....

Victor, who has been my student here since September, finally passed his math exam to get his high school diploma! This is incredible. He has taken the exam and failed upwards of 7 times, enough that people stopped counting. He was the main person Brian and I both had in mind when we decided to come down for this year to teach math. He is our "project" if you will.

Some background: Not having your GED here is a huge roadblock on life. A person can't get a decent-paying job, can't go on to college, and usually can't get a visa to visit other countries, namely the U.S. Without a U.S. visa it's really difficult even to travel to places like Europe, Asia, or Africa because so many flights pass through the U.S. Basically people are stuck between high school and the rest of life, already having finished high school classes but having failed the government exams needed to officially get their diploma.

A bit about the exam: This is a comprehensive exam covering high school math, much of which is not "life-skills math". Algebra, Functions, Logarithms, Geometry, and Trigonometry are covered. How many of you remember how to find the volume of a sphere? How many of you know the domain of the tangent function? How many can find the equation of a line given one point and the equation of a perpendicular line? These are all test questions and things which are not easy to teach yourself at home from a book. People here aren't unintelligent, but they are in desperate need of instruction if they're going to pass this exam.

Now a little bit about Victor. He makes an impression on everyone who meets him. I bet almost every volunteer who has come down to the project to serve even for just a few days remembers him. He is one of the most talented people I've ever met and has an unforgettable personality and passion for Christ. He wants to study theatre and possibly business in college and one day hopes to have his own theatre company. He has huge dreams to do theatre, dance, and other arts performances worldwide to share Jesus' love with peope wherever he goes. He's had invitations to attend theatre academies in other countries and been invited to do internships with different ministries in the United States. Before this week, all of those opportunities were blocked off by one thing - the high school math exam that he had yet to pass.

Now I want to tell you all how victory on this exam was a miracle from God. The test is like any other standardized test, with a test booklet and a separate scantron answer sheet - you know, use a #2 pencil to fill in the bubbles. Anyways, for the government exam they let the test-takers leave with their test booklet, containing all of the questions, answer choices, and scratch work. Victor worked through the test booklet, indicating his answers, and at the end he filled in the corresponding bubbles on the answer sheet to turn in. After the exam he brought his test booklet to Brian and me to see how he'd done. We corrected his exam and gave him at best a score in the high 50's when a 70 is needed to pass. We were disappointed, but I remained optimistic, refusing to tell anyone that he'd failed. I just said I'm still optimistic and waiting for God to do a miracle. I said "Maybe God confused him between his question sheet and his answer sheet and he accidentally filled in some correct answers." After all, we're at the Abraham Project, where God has provided everything from the beginning and continues to take care of everyone on a daily basis. Why should we doubt him in something as small as a math test when he's provided construction materials and money, and even miraculous healing at all the right times?

As it turns out, God did do the miracle in helping Victor pass his exam. And the best part about it is, God didn't leave any room for doubt that He was the one who accomplished this feat. If we had concluded from Victor's question sheet that he had passed, we could feel good about ourselves as teachers and Victor could feel proud as a student. As it is though, we can boast in nothing but Christ who gave all of us great victory over death and Hell and who answered our prayers to give us this small earthly victory over a math test.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Incline

Kevin and I are about to hike the Mt. Manitou Scenic Incline. It used to be a cog railway but now only the railroad ties remain, forming a set of stairs straight up the mountain. I just looked it up and the average grade is 41%! Yikes. It's supposed to be "like walking up stairs for a mile." You know what this means? I can eat jelly beans AND cheesecake tomorrow at Patty's.

The trail is also on private property, so we will be trespassing... but it's also been called "the most trespassed trail in Colorado." It's not wrong if all of the other kids are doing it too, right mom?

It snowed this morning so I'm going to go bundle up and meet this challenge :)
Here's a picture of the trail (the straight cleared path through the trees) :

Monday, April 6, 2009

Renewing my Visa

Every 3 months I have to leave the country for a minimum of 72 hours in order to renew my visa in Costa Rica. If I don't, I become an illegal alien - not something I want. I don't think other governments are as friendly to illegal immigrants as the U.S. government is.

I was originally thinking about taking the bus to Nicaragua or Honduras, which would be kind of scary to do alone and involve long hours on buses. Then for fun I checked flights to places where my family is located. I checked Atlanta first... way too expensive, sorry Dresdows. Then Chicago, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and finally, Denver. Who would've thought that flights from San Jose to Denver for Easter would start at $67 each way? That's as much as my bus to Honduras would cost.

Well there ya go folks. After many online server errors and then spending an hour on the phone to straighten everything out, I have a super cheap trip to Denver from April 8-15 and I get to spend Easter with family - Larry, Kathy, Kevin, Anna, Tim, Patty, Noah, Kyle! Ha! I can't even believe I'll be stateside in two days, looking at snow-covered mountains instead of palm trees.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Briefest of updates...

Happy Palm Sunday everyone! Hosanna in the highest.

To summarize I'm working on a long post to cover the last two weeks of activities, teams, and visitors. In the meantime, since my friend Lauren is here for the month, her blog ( is a much better-written account of what I've been doing than anything I could come up with. She is also a professional photographer so there are some amazing pictures there as well.

Here is a teaser of what I've been up to, in photos:

Surfing in Jaco:

Tortuga Island:

Sunset on the roof:


Take care, I hope everyone has a blessed Holy Week. Special note to family: I miss you even more than usual during holiday times like this! Love you guys.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

New Photos

Hi all,
First of all I want to draw your attention to new pictures that I posted on my Picassa album. There are pictures from February and March up until this morning. The pictures and their captions should fill in any stories or details I left out of my posts.
Hope you enjoy!

Here are some of my favorites:

Chilling on the sidewalk in Cartago waiting for the bus to Irazu:

Horseback riding in La Fortuna:

Arenal Volcano:

I also have a small achievement to report. When we went to the feeding program on Wednesday, Jonathan had me translate after lunch while Ronald shared his testimony with the group. I prayed before beginning and I know God helped me a lot because there were only 3 words I didn't know! Rosa even told me afterward that I did a really good job. The group was very moved by hearing about how God rescued Ronald from drug abuse and gangs to use him in the amazing Transformations ministry he has now. God can use absolutely ANYONE if they are obedient to his call. I have much more confidence translating after this experience and I'm so glad I took the chance to do it.

The remaining two weeks of March will be verrrry busy. I'm currently exhausted from a week with the UGA team, who leave tomorrow. Monday and Wednesday of the coming week we have Joshua Expedition teams coming to the project. Tuesday I have a meeting with Steve and Georgiana and a lot of emails, phone calls, and organizing to catch up on. Wednesday through Friday I have Spanish classes. I also have to teach math every night of the week. Saturday a new team comes in for the following week as well as visitors Jon and Vincent. Lauren arrives Monday of that week to stay for a month making a documentary of the project.

Hopefully I'll continue to post often but if I don't, at least you'll have some idea what I'm up to!


Monday, March 9, 2009

A Few Random Thoughts

Auntie Barb suggested that I make my posts shorter and more frequent so this is my first try. I also want to take this time to send a shout out to my uncle Jeff in Madison, I know he reads this :)

First of all lots of people ask me what I plan to do with my engineering degree. Pretty much every member of every group that visits the project asks me that. Also, all Costa Ricans think that because I've already got my bachelor's, I've got my life figured out. As Dwight from the office would say, "False!" The frank answer is I have no idea. I like teaching, but I really don't want to be a slave to research while trying to sneak in some meaningful teaching at the University level. I can't really see myself in a classroom of high-schoolers either - that seems terrifying. I like engineering, solving problems, and making things work better but I somehow can't see myself sitting behind a desk crunching numbers all day to make the perfect all-weather tire or ideal lawnmower for a big company. How does that benefit mankind? I usually answer them that I have a unique conglomerate of interests and talents and that I'll know the opportunity or niche God has for me when I see it. (I also think I used two SAT words in that last sentence.)

Yesterday afternoon a group arrived from UGA Wesley. They're so far proving to be very hard workers and lots of fun. It's nice to have more college-age kids to hang out with who are at the same age-of-many-life-choices as I am.

Brian's girlfriend and my good friend Rosa is also visiting right now. Yaaaay! We're keeping her busy with little outings and she's also helping with the team. Yanira is also thrilled to have another girl in the house, and one who can keep pace with her in Spanish! It's also great for me to have a close girlfriend to talk to who has known me for more than just a few months. That's one of the hardest things about being here for me - no other unmarried English-speaking girls to talk to. And let's face it, sometimes boys have about as much ability to sympathize as a tree stump. Ha. Don't tell them I said that.

Alrighty well my best student Victor just arrived and even though we're both really tired from construction all day, he will learn sine, cosine, radians, and the unit circle today. Anyone else interested in signing up for classes?


Friday, March 6, 2009

Always new experiences

Alright y'all (I think every other American volunteer is from the south and it's rubbed off), someone finally wrote “update your blog, woman!” on my facebook so… I oblige.
I will first fill in on my life lately and then backtrack to tell you about Panama and the Camp I went to.

Last week there was a team here from Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church. It's the church of Steve Thomas's mom so it's especially exciting to have them here. They are focusing more on evangelism than the construction that most teams do.
We did a lot of children’s activities, including one for about 200 children in a squatter's village. It's basically a refugee camp of illegal Nicaraguans, El Salvadorians, and other impoverished people who build their houses out of scrap pieces. It's an area of extreme poverty with very high rates of drug use and prostitution, even among children. Here is a picture I discreetly took while trying not to get mugged for my camera:

The activity included face painting, crafts, games, songs, a drama, and a Biblical message. I was translating and painting faces the whole time and helping out in the crafts area. I have to tell you all, I had a first-time experience: I painted a little red heart on a baby's face WHILE it was breastfeeding. Yep, you read that right. But what was I going to do when the mom saw I was painting children's faces and wanted her baby's face painted, nevermind that I had to paint like an inch away from … well, a nipple? It's a weird image but a good example of how in a different country and culture you end up doing things you'd never normally do - but in those situations you just do it with a smile on your face and the love of Jesus in your heart, tell the woman how beautiful her baby is, and then write all about it on your blog.

Last Saturday we did an activity in a rehabilitation center for prostitutes. One member of the team from Franklin Crossroads shared her testimony about being sexually abused as a child, how her husband was put in jail for murder, and how shortly thereafter she had a miscarriage at 6 months. These are obviously really bad things to have happen in life, but I was so glad that she had a testimony that the recovering prostitutes could relate to. Most of us don’t. How condescending would it seem for the average North American woman to tell a room full of “used and abused” women that she could understand their suffering? It struck me how God uses these horrific parts of her past to actually arm or equip her to relate to other people in broken and horrible situations. After talking about how God can heal all wounds in our lives, we had a time for prayer and sharing. I met some absolutely incredible women, most of whom were products of their own mother’s prostitution and were abused or sold for sex as children, only to continue that life through adulthood. Now, because of the rehabilitation center they have learned about Jesus and begun to heal emotionally and spiritually while they leave behind their past and (with much help from the center) pursue new training or vocations. As a side note we also did a craft with them to make purses out of two handkerchiefs. They were so cool! Picture below:

Props to the team for being sooo prepared and bringing EVERYTHING with them in their suitcases for all children’s and adult activities. Saturday afternoon we went to put on another children’s activity in a church on the edge of the “zona roja” or red-light district of San Jose. This is the really bad area within the city. It’s much more dangerous than the squatter’s village we went to. (Ask Johanna, her bus from Honduras arrived at a bus stop on the edge of the zona roja). Just for an example, during the activity we saw out the window a woman sitting on the curb and injecting herself with drugs while the man next to her pulled out a big plastic bag and started smoking something inside of it. It was a disturbing image but reminded me that, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” as Jesus said. It really couldn’t hurt for these children to go back to their homes with little hearts and crosses painted on their faces and tell their parents about Jesus.

On Sunday night we went to a church up in the mountains. It was the most active church service I’ve ever been to, and I honestly thought I’d seen it all. Has anyone seen the movie Blues Brothers? Ok, so it wasn’t quite like that, but I’m not joking, during about the 4th song, everyone was in front waving their hands and jumping around when suddenly… they all broke out in a choreographed dance. I’m talking about over a hundred people suddenly doing a crazy jumpy dance to the worship song! I thought I’d been transported to High School Musical or something. I’m not even lying when I say that every day living here something shocks and amazes me.

Two weeks ago a Joshua Expeditions team came to the project. These are teams that come to the project for one day to volunteer as part of a longer mission and adventure trip around the country. There were 40 of them and they worked so hard! They dug all of the post holes for the…. Dun dun dun… new WALL we’re putting up! Remember the pictures of the old wall? Well here’s a picture of the new one:

Our interns, John Mark and Hunter are here for two months (February and March) and they are in charge of the wall project. They are awesome guys who graduated from Auburn with degrees in construction science and love trying to speak Spanish. Hunter calls everyone “casa de [person’s name]”. He comes up to me and says “What’s up casa de Julie?” which means “what’s up Julie’s house?”. I try to remind him that I’m not a building but he just loves spicing up his everyday sentences with whatever Spanish words he feels are appropriate. It definitely brightens my day.

A quick note about the wall: Just because the wall is being put up does not mean it is financed. Actually, it isn’t and we are still trying to solicit funds for it. I know we’re in a crisis, but if you’d like to make a donation to the safety of the children in the foster homes at the project there is information on the right sidebar of this blog.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about opportunities that people have in life. I used to believe like most Americans that poor people with no opportunities in life were those born in the inner city and who grew up in project housing. I don’t want to say that such people don’t have unfortunate circumstances, but compared to so much of the world that life is not actually so bad. Lately I’ve realized how lucky those people are that they live in the United States and at least have a statistical chance to apply to college or have a shot at earning a scholarship. Maybe not a high percentage, but a chance nonetheless. I used to think of the “world” as being pretty much like the United States, except maybe with different food and languages on different continents. Through my experiences and the little bit of traveling I’ve done I realized that most of the world is what we would consider “dirt poor.” We who have food, clothing, shelter, and safety are in the minority. I always knew there were poor people in the world, but I never realized how many and how much of the world is SO different from the U.S. What struck me most about staying with a family in Nicaragua is that to them it’s simply life as usual to be poor. Everyone around them is poor, and their families have lived in the same little farm for years. While to me it was shocking to bathe and cook with rain water and use a latrine as a bathroom, they’ve never known anything else. Most of the world doesn’t have video games, iphones, or a nice cars and to them these things aren’t attainable. It really strikes me how in some places in the world so little has changed in probably hundreds of years yet in other places so much has changed. Remember my example from Nicaragua, how the bride’s family slaughtered the fattened calf for the wedding feast? Well, just as there are no wedding halls to rent out or caterers, there are also no college scholarships or student exchange programs to give opportunities to young people. I think there’s actually a 0% chance for most of them to win anything like that. If anyone has seen “Slumdog Millionaire”, you have some idea of what I’m talking about, although even that movie portrayed extreme poverty within a modern city. There are so many people who are completely “off the map” to the developed world. Nobody even knows or thinks about them.

Alrighty well this is already a pretty long post and it’s awfully tempting to go to sleep. I promise to write about the first team of the year, the campamento and Panama soon though!


Monday, February 9, 2009

Still Alive and Well

Hi everyone, I apologize for the huge break in posting. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more consistent – at least once a week.

To summarize the last 6 weeks, I spent a lot of great time with my family in Wisconsin, chatting, playing speed scrabble, and eating lots of foods I missed during the past 3 months. I also went to Massachusetts to visit Jon and I got to visit Heather and her family in New Hampshire and spend a day with Justine in downtown Boston.

Then on Jan 13 I came back to Costa Rica with my mom and our friend Heidi. We went to two very neat places in the country, Arenal Volcano, and Manuel Antonio National Park. It was so exciting for me because although I’ve been here for months I haven’t explored the biggest natural wonders that all of the tourists come to see. The Arenal Volcano area was beautiful but unfortunately we didn’t get to see the crater or lava because of rain and clouds the days we were there. We did go…. Ziplining! (my mom was a professional according to our guides), and we went on an amazing hanging bridges tour through the different forest levels. Our tour guide howled at the howler monkeys and they howled back at her! We also saw a tarantula, leaf-cutter ants, white-faced monkeys, a snake, a herd of raccoon-like creatures, and a lot of interesting trees and flowers.

Here is a picture of mom and me at our hotel in Arenal:

In Manuel Antonio we went snorkeling (Heidi is a big snorkeler and enjoys underwater photography). I was surprised that all you have to do is stick your face in the water to see beautiful bright fish and coral – nobody would ever know it was there just walking along the beach. We also went on hikes through the park and were surrounded by a whole family of white-faced monkeys passing through. Some of them were as close as a meter away from us. We also did a challenging hike down a very high steep bank to “playa escondida” the hidden beach. It was an adventure getting back up the bank at the end of the day, and most people had already left the park. Suddenly we heard howler monkeys right above us and we all jumped. Once we had recovered from the shock we tried to howl at them as our tour guide had done in Arenal. It worked! They howled right back at us! Heidi even took a video to prove it.

After our time of tourism we returned to the project so my mom could get to know my life and my environment here. We cooked meals for three different families – my host family (chicken in the oven!), Brian’s host family (classic north-American chili), and Steve and Georgiana (chicken casserole and raspberry oatmeal bars). The ticos were blown away by these fascinating flavors, and Steve and Georgiana invited mom and Heidi to stay permanently. During their visit we also spent some time with my students and stayed about an hour after church on Sunday to chat and meet all of the wonderful people in my life here.

Warning, I’m about to brag: My mom is a language genius. She learned Spanish so fast! She didn’t know more than 3 words coming into the country but by the end she could understand my mama tica and more or less communicate with her. She explained about her work, how she’s going to buy a condo, and how Mark is studying at Wisconsin. She used a dictionary a bit but she did it all without my help! For me, this is very promising. It means that my mom can move here WITH me someday! Horay!

Ok well I’m going to stop the update for now because half an update is better than none at all. Next post will include my trip to Panama for a women’s retreat and my weekend helping out at a “campamento” or Christian youth camp.

Thanks for reading, of there are any of you faithful people left!