September 20, 2004

Put The Lime In The Coconut

I was sitting on the last row of the bus, staring out the window as the Texas pine tree forests flashed by. I was exhausted. For the first time all week, I was tired of talking to teenagers. I just wanted to be alone. My back was killing me due to a week on a leaky air mattress and over 24 hrs clocked sitting on this bus. My head was pounding from the lack of caffeine and the low grade motion sickness I had been enduring for the past 6 or so hours.

It was there, in that back row of that filthy bus, that I finally began to unravel the confusion in my brain.

As each night of the previous week had come to a conclusion, instead of reviewing the day's activities and lessons, I was unable to decipher what I was experiencing. I had spent the week in Mexico, re-building a stucco wall and trying to teach my kids about compassion. As I sat in the circle each night, I knew that God was teaching all of us so many things...but the whole time, I felt detached from the whole thing. It was like my brain and my heart were disconnected.

In the beginning, someone asked us to tell why we thought God had brought us on this trip. The answered varied from teenager to adult... but most were satisfied in saying that they came to serve God. But I had to tell them that I wasn't sure why I was there. I had planned this trip, organized it; worked long, exhausting hours on it. But in all honesty, I didn't understand why God had brought me there.



The first day on our work site found me hunched over on a busy, Mexican street corner with the most unbearable stomach cramps I have ever experienced in my life. I knew I was sick, but I was clueless about how to fix it. I'd never gone through anything like that before. I couldn't breath without fighting waves of nausea. I couldn't even stand up straight. I was so frustrated that I just wanted to cry. I wanted to work, I wanted to help, I wanted to do anything besides think about how bad my stomach hurt and how badly I just wanted to throw up and pass out. The sun was scorchingly dry. I could feel the sun burning the back of my neck as I sat there praying for God to just make the pain go away. I had been across the border for less than 3 hrs, so whatever it was that made me so ill, I had brought with me from home.

I finally told one of the adult women about it (we had mostly guys on our site and they had been clueless to my misery, go figure) and they sent me with our host guide to find a bathroom that I could handle being in. When I described my symptoms to her, she took me to a fruit market and bought 6 small, round limes. She also bought a lemon soda that tasted kind of like Sprite. She poured about half a cup of soda into a glass and then proceeded to scoop out the limes and squeeze the juice into the cup. She handed me the cup and told me to down it. "Drink it all in one gulp" she said. So I did. It burned my throat like crazy and made my lips pucker worse than any crybaby candy ever has. I handed her the cup back and she just stared at me for a minute or so, and then said, "well, I guess you are ok since you didn't throw up." Apparently, this lime concoction was supposed to make me throw up...immediately. When I didn't, she took me back to the work site and told me to tough it out and gave me many other helpful hints as to how to combat the nausea.

Roughly two hours later, when everyone was taking a lunch break, I was still sitting in my hunched over position praying my heart out for God to just let me die. For Jesus to come back. For the world to end. For anything that would make it stop. And then, with a sudden leap of my stomach, it became very clear to me that the limes had come to call finally. I got up and ran as far away as I could from the lunching crowd (which, I am told, was not far enough for their taste) and proceeded to toss my proverbial cookies.

Maybe it was because there weren't any women around, or maybe it was because everyone was just in shock that I was so sick...but it seemed to me that everyone was completely ignoring the fact that I couldn't even stand up. Eventually, in what now is a hilarious scene, a very scared looking dad gingerly handed me a bottle of water and then kinda took 3 giant steps back and just looked at me. Those poor men. It was very obvious who had taken care of their kids when they had gotten sick in the middle of the night.

Anyway, to get on with the story, I got sick a couple of more times that day and was pretty much useless for the first 2 days of our trip. It totally bummed me out. For someone who bases their worth on how much they can accomplish and for someone who has a servant's heart, having the ability to work taken from you is a very uncomfortable and vulnerable experience.



As the week went on and I gained my strength back, I still struggled with not feeling connected. I knew that going across the border was going to be an emotional experience. I expected to be profoundly sad and full of compassion for those people that I saw. And while I was touched by the people, I never really felt as sad as I was expecting. I just took it all in stride. The one, truly emotional moment I had happened when we were in the cardboard city and this very sick, starved, mangy dog hid in the shade under our bus. That dog broke my heart.

There I was, surrounded by babies, children, and adults who had nothing--they really lived in cardboard houses--and I wanted to cry over a dog. That's when I knew something was very, very wrong with me. This feeling stayed with me for the entirety of the trip.



It was still with me as I stared out the window. After driving for 11 hours, we were almost home and I was still unable to make sense of myself and the emotions I wasn't feeling. It really disturbed me that I had been so shut off to experiencing this trip. I have tried unbelievably hard in the past year or so to change that particular character flaw. I have had the ability to just shut down when the emotional tough got going for many years, and have been aware of this pattern for at least 2 or 3 years now. It was how I dealt with Jon. It was how I dealt with moving away from home. It was how I dealt with not getting homesick when I went to camps, and it was how I dealt with the heartache of leaving Dawn and Lorelle at the end of the summer. It was my defense mechanism tool #1. I could shut down weeks in advance if I knew something hard was coming up. That is why I was so proud of myself for how I handled graduation and leaving Georgetown, and my amazing college friends and roommates. I grieved. I cried. I dealt with it. While it was happening. It was such a huge step for me. I had made the conscious decision to not shut down, and it had actually worked.

I guess I just thought that I was passed doing that now. Mexico blew that theory out of the water. I was shut down the entire time.

I was beginning to realize this fact as we neared home. I was so angry and disappointed in myself. I was afraid I wasn't going to have learned any lessons at all even though I had been through this potentially life-changing experience...and I'm not talking about the limes.

Just as I was about to start banging my head against the window in frustration, we passed a church. The church had one of those small signs out front that had the weekly aphorism on it. And as we zoomed passed, what I saw was this:



Simply,
To Thy Cross
I Come
I don't know if that is what the sign really said. I'll never know. But that doesn't matter. Those six words began to clear away the fog that was in my brain. It took me the rest of the weekend to make heads or tails of that sign and the thoughts it had spawned. Eventually, though, I ended up getting an amazing lesson out of it. One that I told my kids that Sunday night. One that I will write in here another time. For my attention span is wanning, and so, I bet, is yours. And this is a good lesson, and you and I both need to be able to give it the time it deserves.
But those limes...now, didn't that little tidbit give this post meaning and purpose?
I know I will never forget them
Me.

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