Wednesday, June 17, 2009

a new blog for a new chapter

If you'd like to follow my adventures back in Texas, you can do so here:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

at the end of a chapter

“God is always speaking to us, and always teaching us, and obviously He wanted you to learn something today. So learn, and don´t look back. Don´t worry about mistakes. No one is perfect, no one has a script. At the end of the story, you´re going to be who you´re afraid to be.”

Those were the words spoken to me in July 2006 by Iskra, one of the girls who would become one of my closest Nica friends during these last 3 years. And I had almost forgotten about them until a timely comment by my friend Dawn brought them back to mind.

God is always speaking to us…always teaching us.

Even though I wasn’t always listening, God has taught me a lot since I left San Antonio three years ago—about Himself, about people, about culture, about development, about strength and weakness, about grace and forgiveness, about community, about love. Each of those deserves pages of reflection, which hopefully will come as I slowly try to process all that has happened in these last three years.

No one is perfect—no one has a script.

Even if I had the script before I started, I never would have believed it. Would I have believed that most fulfilling aspect of my work would simply be talking to Nicaraguans and sharing their stories with the world? Would I have believed that I would have seen ¾ of the country and been amazed by its beauty rather than crushed by its poverty? Would I have believed that I would feel the very farthest from God I have ever felt in my life in the middle of the most intentional time of service to Him? Would I have believed that my roommate would become my best friend—a friend for life?

Living cross-culturally exposed my weaknesses and frailty in ways I did not expect. But for all the mistakes I know I made, the thing that counts is—as I remember hearing long ago—not what you do, but what you do next. I can only hope that what I did “next” is what will be remembered.

You’re going to be who you’re afraid to be.

Fear keeps us from stepping out in faith. Fear keeps us from believing that God’s best is better than our well-thought-out plans. Fear keeps us from experiencing, living in, and sharing the plenitud [fullness] of God’s love. Fear keeps us from accepting our true identity and worth as beloved children of God in Christ.

A year ago, I was living in fear—fear of punishment for sin committed, fear of loving again, fear of being myself, fear that God’s purpose for my time in Nicaragua might never be fulfilled.

1 John tells us that “Perfect love drives out fear.” I’ve written before about how the unconditional love of a few friends and a new community of faith brought a genuine smile back to my face and joy to my heart. But not until this week did I realize that Iskra was right.

As one chapter ends and another begins, I have become the person I was meant to be.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

quality time

It's all I have left really--a few precious days to spend with all the people I love in this amazing country---and so that is what I have been doing. In between selling off my furniture and trying to figure out how to fit 3 years into 2 suitcases and organizing files and leaving things in a good place for the person who will take my place, I have been spending every other spare moment with dear, dear friends. And I couldn't be happier.

Maybe I'm still in denial that I'm really leaving, but, in a way, maybe it's better I save the sadness for the other side... when I can no longer look into their eyes and hear their voices daily...when the daily commute no longer involves fruit stands and crazy ayudantes....when instead of endless trees and sunsets, skyscrapers fill my horizon...when I no longer speak Spanish for 6-10 hours a day...when I can no longer buy gallo pinto off the street, when the radio no longer plays bachata, when the fresh green mountains are much further away than a 3 hour bus ride...

When I am home, but maybe never really home again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

esperanza verde

In Spanish, it means "Green Hope", and indeed this farm high in the mountains of Matagalpa was a super green reprieve from the oppressive heat of Managua.

Andrea and I escaped for a couple days just before Easter--probably our last trip to the region together--and we had a wonderful time hiking all over the place, relaxing, reading, and reflecting, and drinking amazing coffee and eating delicious homecooked meals.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died like 3 hours after I got there, but here are some of the photos Andrea took. :-)

Saturday, April 04, 2009


I’ve been avoiding the obligatory “my whole life is changing” post for a while now, but with the one-month-left-in-Nicaragua marker having passed this week, I figure it’s time.

First, I have to say that the last 6-8 months of my life here have been amazing. Even in difficult or stressful work or cultural situations, I am truly happy here. I love my life. I love my roommates, the North American friends I have made, and my Nicaraguan friends in my office and in my church.

I love everything about this country—well, except for the recent oppressive heat, the dust, and the sketchy guys who made rude comments on my way to work—and I would come back in a heartbeat if God opened a door again down the road.

When I think about leaving, I get teary eyed. I think about all the amazing, faith-filled Nicaraguans I have met, people who have taught me so much with their love, their hospitality, their trust in a God who is bigger than the poverty that surrounds them. I think about the people who welcomed me into their homes and gave a bed and a meal without even really knowing me. I think about the breathtaking places I have gotten to see—volcanoes, beaches, mountains, rivers, colonial cities—and how sadly, so many Nicaraguans have never realized the beauty and richness of their own country.

I think about how my own faith has been challenged and stretched, strengthened and confirmed. I think about all the things I never thought I would ever do that God allowed me to do—from little things like ride a horse to bigger things like build trust-filled relationships with Nicaraguans. I think about the concrete things that maybe I am leaving behind just a little bit better than I found them, and the intangible things I may be leaving behind that I will never know about.

I think about how God has protected me—from serious illness, injury, crime and/or accidents. (Hmmm, except there was that one time with a motorcycle….). I think about how He has been faithful when I have been faithless.

And the most recent evidence of that faithfulness is the news two weeks ago that I was accepted to graduate school. For much of the last year, I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing when I went back home, but now it’s settled. For those of you out there who didn’t see my Facebook message, I’ll be pursuing a Masters degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas in Austin beginning in August.

So, on May 1st, I will get on a plane back to Texas and begin a whole new chapter. And while the transition—which has already begun—will be hard, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and in all other ways—I am also happy as I prepare and look forward.

For I know in Whom I have believed, and I am confident that this story has a good, good end.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

fotos de tierra tica

En el barrio la Carpio cerca de San Jose/In a Nica neighborhood in San Jose we met Maria Jesus (green shirt) and her husband Alexis (a mason) and her family. Even though they've been living in Costa Rica over 10 years, life is still hard. Still, Alexis says, "Por que voy a quejar? (Why am I going to complain?) Dios me ha dado el aire sin limite. (God gives me air to breathe without limit).

A church in Cartago, the old capital/Una iglesia en Cartago, la vieja capital

Yes, we were above the clouds at Volcan Irazu/Estuvimos encima de las nubes en Volcan Irazu
La vista preciosa/The incredible view (looks a lot like Masaya Volcano from this angle, actually!)

Not sure what the green liquid in the center is...but it IS an active volcano

Me, my roommate Alicia, and the students in front of the crater

Not quite sure what this animal is, but it was hanging out in the parking lot

From the Precolumbian Gold Museum in San Jose--awesome!

A former Costa Rican president statue (the one who eliminated the CR military in 1948) looks out over the San Jose skyline as the flag waves in the distance.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


So justice is far from us, and right-eousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows…” (Is 59:9)

Today my heart walks in deep shadows and justice seems far off.

Justice IS far off for Beatrice—a woman who represents thousands unnamed others. A woman I met as the golden light of late afternoon bathes the western horizon, A woman who has been abandoned by her husband, and who is looked after only by her teenage daughter. A woman who lives in a partially constructed house on a hill in a dry northwestern pueblo, separated from the elements by a roof and a thin layer of plastic. A woman whose feet carry the dust of a dozen weekly trips to the clay-rich hills. A woman who spends all week making pottery to sell in the nearest market town Saturdays and Sundays, making $5-6 on which to feed herself and her daughter.

A woman whose conversion to Jesus has put a smile on her face and joy in her heart, but whose pain of rejection remains ever present, palpable in her faraway gaze. A woman who, together with her daughter, carefully guards the hope of a better future. In this future, her caring and servant hearted daughter Genny can go to school, can become a teacher, can fulfill her dreams. But this dream, which seems so simple--a mere $20 a month would cover her daughter’s travel and course materials—remains far off. Genny’s love for her mother shines in her eyes, in the tender way she holds her hand as they sit together on the hammock, and she will never pursue this goal while her mother needs her help to survive.

So, yes, tonight, I look for light, but my soul walks in deep shadows….thinking of Beatrice and Genny.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

as the world spins madly on

I know, I haven't been around much lately. The truth is, lately I've been much more interested in living my life here than writing about it. Because it's slowly but inevitably sinking in that I have just two and a half months left in Nicaragua. Believe me, I could tell you new versions of old stories about crazy bus rides, good food, enriching conversations, challenging tasks, inspiring people, political drama, tragic injustice, and reasons for hope...

But, for the moment, all I want to do is treasure every special moment in my heart, look at each person I meet deeply to remember every feature of their face, listen ever so carefully to every word spoken by friends, smell (almost) every odor that wafts through the air I breathe each day, and experience every second as if it truly could be my last in this land of lakes of volcanoes that I love so much.

So if you don't see much of me around these parts between now and May, please be patient with me. Many of the stories of these last few months may just have to wait to be told face to face.

2 JOHN 12

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

lo dichoso

"Dichoso soy más que el árbol
(More blessed am I than a tree)

Porque este es apenas sensitivo,
(For it's barely sensitive)

Y más que la piedra dura, por que esta ya no siente
(And more than the hard stone, for it already does not feel)

Pues lo mas grande de ser vivo
(For the greatest part of being alive),

es que el dolor, no me quita lo vivo
(is that pain does not take away my life).

Y el mayor agrado es tener una vida consiente
(and the highest pleasure is a conscience-filled life);

Ser y saber quien soy
(to be and to know who I am),

por que existo y cual es mi propósito
(why I exist and what my purpose is)

Y la satisfacción de haber sido y un futuro seguro
(and the satisfaction of having been, and a secure future)

Y el sentimiento tranquilo pese a estar mañana muerto
(and a peaceful feeling despite being dead tomorrow)

Y disfrutar la vida, y su amanecer y lo que conozco
(and to enjoy life and its waking and what I know)

Y en lo que creo
(and in what I believe)

Y la vida que ofrece sus frescos racimos
(and life which offers its fresh clusters)

Y la tumba que aguarda hasta el día que vaya a mi breve descanso
(and the grave that waits for the day that I go to my brief rest).

Y saber a donde voy, y de quien vengo.
(and to know where I am going and from whom I come)"

-Ruben Dario, Nicaragua's most famous poet

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

a bottle's tale

there once was a bottle named nalgene
who left managua one evening full and clean
on a journey across the forest green land
to serve with a small but energetic band

over bridges and rivers and many a hill
in the pitch black of night where all was so still
until finally the destination came into view
and bottle, like all, uttered a "whew!"

after a midmorning nap and a tasty lunch
it was off to paint for the motivated bunch
and the bottle changed hands many a time
growing increasing spotty with paint and grime

but this did not matter to the thirsty crowd
"where is it now," they wondered aloud
for the sun grew strong and the work more intense
conversations fell quiet and muscles grew tense

even so their spirits and joy were sustained
by daily gallo pinto and choral refrains
and the laughter and joking filled the coastal air
while with the paint they took not quite so much care

adorning their faces with shapes of all kinds
the banter was fierce and quick were their minds
and with paint covered hands they sought the bottle still
to quench their thirst and avoid falling ill

in the cool of the evening the nalgene had a wee bit of rest
for the group would sing songs and share prayer requests
by the light of their cell phones the scriptures together they read
and after a brief time of fellowship it was off to bed

by the end of the week the bottle's color had changed
from a dark musky green to spotted white and light orange
the many hands that had held it leaving evidence behind
that the days of work and play and growth were of a special kind

for the bottle held stories of sweat and smiles
of ladders climbed and traveled miles
of prayers spoken, bonds formed, and sweaters shared
of accidents, sickness, healing, and loving care

yet the nalgene's tale ends on a bittersweet note
for after a trip down the river on a motor boat
in the rush to get into town it was left all alone
"oh no, it's gone", her owner cried with a moan

but thankfully the memories live on in her photos and in her soul
back in managua, with her smile rich and her heart full

-pjn 1/27/09

Album here:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

to Kukra hill

Tonight I'm going on a journey I have never been on: a 5-6 hour bus ride across central Nicaragua to El Rama, where the highway ends. From there, I'll take a truck on roads barely passable another unknown quantity of hours to a community called Kukra Hill, just west of Bluefields (located on the Atlantic Ocean) in the RAAS (the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua).

Why? Kukra Hill is the site of a recent Baptist Church plant which I and 11 of my fellow jovenes from the First Baptist Church of Managua are going to support through painting/construction projects and outreach for the next 5 days, sharing the love of Christ in an integrated way with the people of this semi-rural community.

Unlike some areas of the Atlantic Coast where creolle English or Miskito (an indigenous language) is spoken, Spanish is the predominant language here. Most of the population is non-practicing (cultural) Catholic. Some people have animals. Most people live off the land, growing rice, beans, corn and plantains.

This will be my first time east of Matagalpa--and my first time to participate in a bi-cultural "mission trip" where Nicaraguans go to serve their fellow Nicaraguans. It will no doubt be an amazing learning experience, and I promise to share my stories and photos from the trip in this space when I return this coming Saturday.

Finally, since I will be away from internet in the meantime, I offer you this quote from a poem I recently read that fits with the events in my country this week, as well the one I currently call home.

"in the face of the intolerable
this is the time to insist
the time to become whole
and give back what you’ve learned in wholeness
eyelid of light
a disciplined gift of pure grace
for anyone who can breathe and for those
whose breath was stolen or just left them" -Kathy Engel, "Inaugural"


Thursday, January 15, 2009

recent days in photos

Tuesday I was in Chinandega visiting a new community and gathering information for a report. Hopefully we will be starting a new Child Development Program there this spring. These are some the kids who followed me around as I accompanied the FH team who was also in the area doing home visits. They won my heart with their smiles and carefree love...

Over the weekend I attended the annual leadership formation "campamento" of CECNIC, the Nicaraguan version of IVCF. Above is the familia Mendoza (from L to R: Carlos, Julio, Josue, Aura, Yaoska--all brothers and sisters), special friends of mine from church who also have a history of involvement with the Christian college student movement here. They delighted their fellow students and recent graduates with rendition of popular protest music from Violeta Parra (Chile) during la noche cultural Saturday.

Me and Denisse, one of the students at the campamento who I also went to Mexico with this past July for a regional conference.

The campamento was held on the southern outskirts of Managua at a place called Villa Esperanza, which is actually a home for girls who are trying to make a better life for themselves than what's possible in La Chureca (the Managua dump). This is the view from the hill on the property. In the background is the "Loma de Nejapa", which I see every day on my way to and from the office.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

the return of the butterflies

In His time and in His love
even the deepest wound finds
a balm that soothes
even the darkest cave finds
a flame that illuminates
even the coldest night finds
a hearth that warms
even the most parched throat finds
a fountain of living water…
and even the loneliest soul
finds a kindred spirit who loves without condition.-pjn

In 2008, I was that woman who had been deeply wounded, who lived in dark caves, who despaired in cold nights of the soul, who longed for water in a dry and weary land. Who waited for love.

Looking back, I can clearly divide this past year into two parts—before and after my trip to Mexico in July. The first 6 months of 2008 were probably the hardest of my entire life….for various reasons that included a relationship-gone-bad, extreme homesickness, and the sensation of great distance from the Lord. During that time, I truly despaired of ever coming out of my emotional and spiritual valley.

But God is good and He knows what we need before we even know how to ask for it. When I went to Mexico with the Nica college students from CECNIC for a leadership formation conference, I wasn’t expecting a miracle—I was just hoping for a little encouragement. But what I got was so much more. While I was there, God broke through the layers of the dark cocoon where I had been hiding in my pain, and the seed of a friendship was planted that would help me decisively turn a corner in September and October in my relationship with Christ.

At the same time, I began to attend a new church where I made some new friends, a few of whom have become extremely close to me over the last 3 months. Healing has come in the form of relational vulnerability, the renewed sensation of belonging, and some tender brotherly love. My roomie told me last week that she could see that my joy has returned, and indeed it has. The process is not over yet, I know, but as 2009 begins, I feel the veracity of Paul’s words in my soul: “the old is gone, the new has come.”

Aleluia, the cocoon is gone, and the time of butterflies has come.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 02, 2009

adventures with meara

This past week while both my roommates were back in North America, I had the amazing blessing of a visit from my dear friend Meara from Dec. 26th til Jan 1st. We had many fun adventures, including a trip to two different volcanoes (Mombacho and Masaya), a visit to a community where FH works and to the house of a Nehemiah Center co-worker and family, a trek to the beach, a close call with some street fireworks, nd much, much more. A few photos are below; check out the full album here.