i have always depended on the kindness of strangers

a photo I took of downtown San Jose.

10 bonus points to the person who knows where the title of this post comes from. This is a long story, but I hope it will bless you as much as it has me.

As I mentioned yesterday, my husband somehow left his iPhone in San Jose, Costa Rica, on the last day of our visit there. This last day, I must say, can barely be considered a day. We arose around 3:30 in the morning. Possibly the only thing that got me out of bed that early was that our awesome AirBnB host had promised coffee and breakfast would still be ready, even before the actual crack of dawn, and so I dragged myself out of bed, did my last bit of packing, and enjoyed fresh bananas with granola, and home baked bread, and some of the most delicious coffee in the world. We were in a bit of a rush to eat breakfast, get a taxi, get to a bus stop, and take that bus to the airport in order to arrive by 4:30 am for a very early flight. With steps 1 and 2 completed, we were in the taxi almost to the bus stop when Jon noticed he didn’t have his phone with him. I remind you at this point that it was insanely early in the morning, and we may not have been thinking clearly. He checked his backpack and his pockets, and didn’t find the phone. We figured he had left it by the computer he was using at the casa right before we left, and pondered if we could go back for it, but realized we couldn’t if we wanted to make our flight. We decided we would have to email our hosts when we got back to the States and see if they could send it back to us.

As we rode the bus to the airport, we saw many pilgrims walking along the sides of the road to a city in Costa Rica called Cartago. An estimated 2 million people all over the country were walking, many for days, to reach this city in order to show thanks to God for their blessings, and, for many, to ask for healing. Our friends in San Jose had told us of a man in the papers who had already received the miracle of being healed of his blindness during this year’s pilgrimage. Seeing them walk along the road, carrying only small backpacks, in the wee hours of the morning was a great blessing. I’m not sure I can really explain why, but their devotion and dedication and sacrifice touched my heart, and as we roared past each little group in our great big bus, I said a little prayer that God would bless them for their faith. God certainly blessed me with their faith.

We made it onto our plane and eventually arrived home in Arkansas. Here is where I also pause to mention that it is difficult to secure a ride home from the airport without a phone, especially now that airports, realizing that most everyone has a cell phone, have eliminated pay phones. And, in the event that one does manage to find an actual payphone in actual working order, who still has any phone numbers memorized that he or she could call? Not us! A taxi home was the way we had to go, as we were weary and absolutely could not face the prospect of yet another bus.

We finally arrived home, and Jon emailed our hosts explaining the lost phone situation. We then headed to church, happy to connect with our friends there after a week away. That night, Ryan preached on what is commonly known as the Golden Rule, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We discussed how that verse marks a transition, where Jesus turns from speaking about our relationship with God (“ask, seek, knock”), to our relationship with each other, a relationship that should be characterized by us doing what is good and loving to others, even when, and perhaps most especially when, it is no guarantee that this goodness and love will be returned. We do not participate in goodness and love in order to receive it, but because when we participate in goodness and love, we participate in the very character of God, a character perhaps best illustrated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in which God is radically UNfair, bestowing love and goodness even when it is least deserved.

The next morning, Jon received an email from our hosts Darrylle and Juan Carlos telling their side of the story of the lost iPhone. I asked for their permission to share this story:

As soon as we received your message we searched the house and found no sign of your iphone. We were so sad for you as we knew that if you’d lost it in the street or in the taxi or bus that there would be only a chance in a million that we could find it. We called the number to see if we could hear it ringing somewhere in the house or if someone would answer. After many rings a woman answered and when Juan Carlos spoke with her she asked if the phone was his. He told her that it was and she said that we could pick it up. She lives high up in the mountains near Turrialba about 2 hours southeast of San Jose.

We jumped in the car and headed toward the area. The road to Cartago was packed with pilgrims walking in the rain and it was amazing to experience their dedication and determination. By the time we got to her area it was dark and raining. After seeking information from people along the road and calling her on numerous occasions, we finally found her standing in front of a small shanty along a little road way off the main highway deep into the countryside. She is a single mother working nights in San Jose and takes this long two hour trip daily. She had found the phone in the back of the taxi about 5 a.m., at first thought of giving it to the driver, but then had second thoughts. She said she knew if she gave it to him he would make no effort to find its owner. Throughout the day she told several people she had found the phone and received several offers to buy it. Of course, she could have used the money, but decided that she would keep it for several days and if the owner didn’t appear that she would then sell it.

When we met her along side the road, she just walked up to the car window and handed us the phone and didn’t ask for anything. Unfortunately, we’d left the house in a hurry so I only had ¢10,000 ($20), so I gave it to her but she seemed happier to have found the owner than to have received the money. It was a blessing to be in the presence of this sweet, happy, honest and caring woman. Juan Carlos and I had spent time together yesterday morning, as part of our daily spiritual practice, discussing how if we keep our minds in synch with thoughts of goodness, if we hold the intention to bestow rather than to receive, if we focus on our true Self rather than our illusionary ego, that miracles will appear. As we reached the main road to return to San Jose we simultaneously expressed our realization that we had just experienced a miracle and our minds filled with light and joy. Everybody gained, there was no loss and each and every one of us received a blessing of love. Thank you so much for providing the opportunity to experience God in our lives. It was amazing.

Amazing indeed. Jon and I both choked up as we read the email and realized what a miracle this was. Sure, it’s just a returned iPhone. Why would God care about such a thing when there are literally blind people walking to Cartago in need of sight? Because this story is not about the iPhone, but about the goodness at the heart of people everywhere. I personally believe this goodness is the image of God. It’s the goodness that inspires someone to get up insanely early to send a traveler off with a good breakfast. It’s the goodness that inspires people to walk for days and days in order to say thanks and perhaps beg for a miracle. It’s the goodness that inspires people to drive for 4 hours for someone else’s phone. And it’s the goodness that inspires a woman living in poverty to do someone a great kindness, even when doing the opposite would help her provide for her children. It’s the goodness that lies at the heart of the God of the universe, a goodness that lives inside each one of us, if we choose to honor and nurture the image in which we are created.

I needed a reminder of this goodness. When we arrived in Atlanta, it was a rude welcome home to the States. The customs agent who checked my passport said something very ethoncentric about people who speak other languages. The man in front of me in the security line acted absolutely beastly to everyone he encountered. And my personality is such that I often tend to dwell on those people who don’t nurture their inner goodness, rather than those who do. And yet, here in front of me, here in my life, I have been given a miraculous reminder of the nature of God and the true nature of all God created and declared good. And I am so truly thankful.

trying to live la pura vida

I’m back from an amazing week in Costa Rica. Did you miss me?

I want to write all about the trip, and kept a journal while we were there in order to do so, but our camera broke while we were there, and my husband’s iPhone, which became our backup camera, was left in San Jose. Through a strange and amazing series of circumstances which I will surely tell you about later, the phone is on its way back, but I’m not going to write about the bulk of the trip until I have some pictures of beautiful Costa Rica to share as well. I really fell in love with the country and the people we met there.

One thing people in Costa Rica say a lot is “pura vida.” It literally translates to “pure life” but can also be used to sort of mean “full of life.” It’s definitely true of Costa Rica, it was true of our trip, and it’s something I’m trying to make true of my life as well. As the comments on the “No Clothes” post keep rolling in and people affirm the challenge, I’ve been pondering my motivations for the challenge and for my desire to begin to live a simpler life in general. Part of it is that I know that for me, the cycle of wanting and buying and wanting and buying is not actually leading to a happier, more joyful life, but rather a vicious cycle of materialism. And another part of it is, I don’t want the things that give me happiness, like a pretty new dress, to be tainted by the fact that they’re bad for the environment and made by very poor people in very poor working conditions. A life of “pura vida” would be about life and happiness for all, not life and happiness that is dependent on others’ suffering and oppression.

When we were in San Jose, we stayed in an amazing house-turned-bed-and-breakfast that we found through AirBnB. Our host, when we asked what brought him to Costa Rica, told us about the day he was liberated from a life of comfort and material things the day a wildfire destroyed his nice house and everything he owned in Southern California. And that’s the way he describes that experience: liberating. Now he lives in a lovely condo in San Jose and shares the gifts of hospitality and good conversation with everyone blessed to stay with him. And I do mean blessed– hospitality, shared meals, and good conversation are practically the sacraments of my faith.

Over the course of the week, I just kept ruminating on what it would be like to feel liberated from materialism. I don’t mean liberated from actually having things, or appreciating beauty, or even from buying things, but I do mean liberated from the never-ending desire of my current shopping habits. For example– I like to browse lots of style blogs, largely for inspiration on how to wear things I already have, or things to DIY for myself or my home– they inspire my creativity, and that’s always a good thing. However, they also often inspire my desire to shop and spend. For example, while perusing my backlog accumulated in Google Reader during a week without my computer, I saw, and immediately wanted this dress from Ruche: Why? Because it’s a very good knockoff of a Marc Jacobs dress I’ve been coveting ever since Michelle Obama wore it (source): The Marc Jacobs version was $685. The Ruche version, which is sold out, was $43. Why? Well, the knockoff is 100% polyester (read: made from petroleum, not very breathable) and “imported” (read: probably not manufactured under the best of conditions). I could (were it not sold out, and had I not taken a no shopping for clothes vow) buy that $43 dress and simply enjoy its beauty and the feeling that I had scored a great look that I had long admired at an insane price. But I’d be bothered by the fact that it’s a blatant ripoff of something someone else created, and I’d be more bothered by the fact that it was made of oil and most likely sewn under not great working conditions. And the sad fact is, the person I am right now, that person can easily say to herself, “BUT IT’S CUUUUTE. AND SO CHEAP!” I don’t want to be that person. That person who says she cares about living “la pura vida” and advocates for the environment and social justice, but is willing to throw all that away for a cute dress. Maybe one day I’ll actually live up to my own values, but it’s hard. Anyone else out there on the same sort of journey?