When the Snow Globe Settles

We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.

My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Listen 6:40

Well lucky for me the people here in Ecuador are anything but mean. The streets, though? They’re pretty mean. Steve and I have learned that even though we have a stroller, it’s actually easier to put the third born in the baby backpack (I swear by the Tula; Steve’s preference is the Ergo Sport). Why? The “sidewalks” here are TREACHEROUS! Huge cracks, broken grates, cliffs-for-curbs — yeah, it’s an adventure every time we go for a walk.

So I’m reading through my mom’s copy of My Utmost for His Highest this year, and I’ll tell ya: this edition is OLD. A couple of days ago it said — and I quote — “ejaculate to Him all the time.” I’m sorry, what? Thank goodness for newer editions.

But this particular quote about being exceptional? Gold. Take even the ordinary things and make them exceptional. I think of my bread baking as pretty ordinary, and yet I am constantly trying to perfect it. At the moment, I’m struggling with a 20-year-old gas stove that doesn’t retain heat well and at the highest gets up to only 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If ever there was an “ordinary” stove, it’s mine.

(I’ve named her Beulah.)

She gets the job done baking my bread, and she’s better than the teeny electric oven in my kitchen. I keep an iron skillet in the bottom to retain the heat a little better, and things are baking along. Even with ordinary Beulah, I try to make exceptional bread. And exceptional bread makes life a whole lot better.

This thing called life certainly forces the issue of the ordinary — have you noticed? We’re always trying to avoid the ordinary, to escape it, to deny it. We want the excitement! The adrenaline! The new shiny thing!

The new oven! The $224.95 Challenger Bread Pan! The fancy bread lame (only $37.50)!

But here’s the gold nugget: even without the new oven and the expensive bread pan and the fancy lame, my bread is exceptionally yummy — it just may not consistently look exceptionally good. From the ordinary, the exceptional(ly-tasting bread) comes. That’s life, isn’t it.

But I don’t let it, let it get me down
’cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin’ around

That’s Life, Frank Sinatra

A fine world, indeed, when we get to eat delicious bread.

Before we moved to Quito, I often thought about how life would be in a new country around new people learning a new language. So much newness and adventure and excitement! And I think that was part of the allure of moving.

I got more views on my Instagram stories than ever when we started our journey — from pulling out of our driveway in Florida to dumping our stuff and collapsing in our new apartment in Quito. The first morning we were here, I documented our apartment, our view, and my taste-testing of all the weird fruits that had been bought for our arrival. I received lots of comments about how people were so excited to follow our adventures in Ecuador.

We felt like we were inside a snow globe that had just been shaken up. We left our comfortable, familiar life behind to start a new life in a different country — with three young kids.

We didn’t know what we were doing.

And that was exciting. And a rush. And a frenzy of whatever the little white pieces inside a snow globe are.

But as life has a habit of doing, it settled.

So here we are living life: baking bread, going on walks, buying groceries, playing Mario Uno, catching the Zoomy Gloomies, and doing otherwise inane activities.

And yet, there’s something very exceptional about this ordinary life of ours. What love we have inside this apartment compound that is surrounded by an electric fence (because let’s face it we live in a dangerous area). What laughs we have together when we breakdance on the floor to the soundtrack of Trolls (because I don’t deny it we bought a smart TV almost as soon as we got here). What embarrassment we have when Quito Pizza Company calls us on the phone to confirm our address (because we definitely don’t know Spanish well enough to understand someone speaking 5000 miles per hour over the phone).

It’s a good, ordinary life.

And you know what? As I live and love and get embarrassed, I realize that sometimes the ordinary remains ordinary and that’s OK.

It’s exceptional even.

I’d like to leave you now with a picture of something very ordinary. But I hope you can see that something we consider ordinary is anything but.

Fruit:

Enjoy your life, people. Make ordinary things exceptional when you can, yes. But remember to embrace the ordinary, too. And remember that sometimes, the ordinary becomes exceptional only with a shift in perspective. Like fruit.

(Mostly I just wanted to show you my fruit haul.)

Truth — What Is It Good For?

The baseboard may possibly have been loose because Roger had spent ten minutes kicking it, but for a man like Roger a truth is a truth, regardless of its cause.

Anxious People, Fredrik Backman

Listen 8:14

The truth is, there is a no-peeing sign posted in a public park we hiked to last weekend. More specifically, a FORBIDDEN TO URINATE! IN THIS PLACE sign with a pic of a dude takin’ a leak. But if that’s the only truth we have, it wouldn’t really show the whole picture. And the whole picture is that there must have been enough of a problem of people openly peeing in this particular area to justify the bureaucracy paying for, creating, and posting a sign.

It’s silly to think that people didn’t have at least a little (yellow) influence on the posting of that sign.

It’s silly to think that by kicking and kicking and kicking Roger didn’t cause the baseboard to become loose.

There is action. And then there is reaction. Kicking the baseboard –> loose baseboard. Peeing on the fence –> posted sign on the fence.

It’s silly to think that we can kick and pee without taking any responsibility. Truth is there, but that doesn’t mean that a human didn’t kick or pee it into existence.

So I want to focus on those truths that come about because of human action.

I start thinking about the upcoming US election and the debates and the pandemic and the protests and the fires and the conspiracies. All of those came about from human action.

  • The election: constitutional framers trying to create a democracy
  • The debates: people realizing that the public would be interested in hearing the candidates talk about controversial topics
  • The pandemic: person to person spreading
  • The protests: people taking a stand against systemic racism among other things
  • The fires: human-influenced climate change (oh, and a gender reveal party that used pyrotechnics — WHOOPS)
  • The conspiracies: um . . . people with too much time on their hands? I don’t know on this one.

When we pee all over the place and then refuse to believe that we had anything to with the sign going up, what happens to truth? The truth is the sign. With no context. And that’s confusing.

Before 1950, carbon dioxide had never reached over 300 parts per million. Now it’s at over 400. It’s silly to think that big-truck-driving humans have nothing to do with that number (and neither do the cattle farting it up in the human-designed, human-built factory farms). Right?

What a life of luxury we must have to sit on our leather armchairs waving away all responsibilities of our actions and entertaining all of the conspiracy theories.

But guess what? We don’t have to be like kick-the-baseboard Roger. And we certainly don’t have to pee in public parks.

Because even if we doubt truth or get confused about truth or get swayed to distrust the truth, we can still be good humans.

Good humans take responsibility for their actions.

Better humans take action because of their responsibility.

I get it. The truth seems to be sitting on shifting sands. So we try our best. We don’t waste the precious time we’ve been given on this beautiful earth by retweeting the Babylon Bee actually believing that Twitter has shut down “Entire Network To Slow Spread of Negative Biden News.” As a quick aside, let’s remember that Babylon Bee is a satirical news site.

What is one to do, though, when it seems that all the messages careening towards us are designed to twist and spin and distort and dismay?

Here’s what I do. Maybe you might resonate with these ideas, too:

  • Instead of doomsday scrolling, go outside and take a walk in nature. Breathe in fresh air. Look at the expansive sky. Realize how very small we are in the universe. Then look down at your fingerprints and appreciate yourself as a unique being.
Where I got to go outside today. Ecuador, I love you, even though I couldn’t really see the expansive sky through the fog.
  • Instead of YouTube rabbit-holing, grab a notebook and write. Grab a book and read. Grab some string and make art from a random wooden frame you have lying around in the apartment, left by the previous tenants. Exercise. Work with your hands.
  • Instead of fretting over politics, think about what you can vote for right now with your money. Yesterday at our little local grocery store, Santa Maria, I bought flour packaged in fabric scraps sewn together. For me, avoiding plastic packaging is a huge win. I voted with my money when I purchased my bags of flour. It’s just a small act, but it’s something — and something is certainly better than nothing. It’s also better than doomsday scrolling, YouTube rabbit-holing, and fretting over politics.

(Important qualification: Vote with your money, yes. But please, please also vote in the election.)

  • Lastly: LOOK UP. Look up from your screens. Look up from your bias. Look up from your carefully curated construct of life. Look up so that you can see others that may need your help.

I really do believe that when we are face to face with the truth of people who need help, we help. It’s just that it’s so easy to sink deeper into the leather armchair, looking down at our screens, losing sight of reality — bit by iPhone bit.

“Lifting your eyes from the things of this world is an activity that must begin WHERE YOU ARE.”

K.P. Yohannan

So look up, get up, and go do something good.

The truth? We can be good humans. Let’s start there.

Here are a few be-good resources:

  • International Justice Mission, “a global organization partnering with local justice systems to end violence against people living in poverty.”
  • Education Equals Hope, a mission dedicated to providing “for the education of those living in desperate and difficult situations” in Ecuador, Rwanda, Kenya, and Haiti.
  • Us! We are mindful to vote with our money, and we vote to support the local people here in Quito whenever and wherever possible.

Pizza, Parks, and the Best Laid Plans — in Quito, Ecuador

There’s a beauty that we never know what the future holds.

“The Wine We Drink,” Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

Listen 6:43

A lot has happened since last we spoke:

We ordered pizza.

At first it seemed so easy. I was able to order completely online, having the luxury of looking up Spanish words and phrases as I bumped along. I put in extra information to help the delivery guy find our apartment (addresses here are at best a COMPLETE SHOT IN THE DARK). I had to put a phone number on the order, so I put Steve’s Ecuadorian number. I was feeling good.

Then Steve’s phone rings.

We knew it was Quito Pizza Company. Steve picks it up, and I — because I am an empathetic and loving wife — immediately start pit-sweating. I pit sweat; Steve laughs. He starts chuckling, and I know things are bad. He speaks in the bits and pieces of Spanish he knows to communicate to the driver that we live in a “casa blanca,” which induces more chuckles, with a “puerta negra.” I am just looking at Steve, with a terrified look on my face, hoping to goodness gracious communication is happening. We decide to open the gate to see if we could locate any confused pizza delivery guy lurking around our ‘hood. No luck.

Steve gets off the phone, and we decide that they must have called because they needed better directions than what I had given online.

Wait, what? I planned for this! I made sure to give our address in addition to fantastic, informative tid-bits! I did not want a phone call in Spanish.

And yet. There’s a beauty that we never know what the delivery guy will do even though you’ve given VERY good directions that even a child could understand.

Steve is still chuckling at this point and says that he could hear people in the background calling him the ever-endearing “gringo.”

Well good. Listen, I am under no illusion that I am going to knit myself into this community seamlessly. One of the reasons Steve and I decided to move to a Spanish-speaking country is to be humbled in life. We both admit that we thought we were getting pretty good at life in the states. It’s weird writing that, but Steve and I both admit that we can be prideful. If you know us, you know.

So we were expecting the gringo call-out. I’m surprised it took so long, actually (though perhaps it had already happened, and we were simply oblivious to it).

Then Steve’s phone rings again. He answers it, and mostly repeats what he had already said before realizing that the pizza guy is here. I run into the house to buzz open the gate, and there he is in all his glory holding a beautiful pizza box. We are very happy-nervous-excited-giggly. We tip the guy, get our pizza, and tell him “chao!”

There’s a beauty that we never know what the future holds. Like last weekend when we *planned* to walk to a local park only to end up walking completely around it looking for any open entrance. This included hiking up part of a mountain, walking next to a busy expressway for about half a mile, and then walking home in the pouring rain. We never made it to the park. Luckily, we did discover another little park en route. The kids got to play, and I got to embarrass myself trying to flip on some gymnastic rings — I did eventually manage to do it with the help of my foot, sloppily hooking onto the right ring to propel my body over. I definitely cheered for myself, and I think onlookers just laughed. BUT I DID IT.

But back to the pizza: I thought I had accounted for all the variables. And maybe it didn’t even matter what I wrote online. Perhaps they would have called either way. In the end, though, there was beauty:

  • A new, albeit terrifying, experience of talking to someone on the phone in Spanish: beauty.
  • Successfully directing the pizza guy to our house: beauty.
  • Eating delicious pizza that we didn’t have to make: BEAUTY.
  • Discovering a local park that we otherwise would have never gone to and flipping on some rings: beauty.

We may be gringos, but, man, what a beautiful gringo life we lead.

So thanks, Drew and Ellie Holcomb, for your wise words that transcend continents. There certainly is a beauty to not knowing what the future holds.

Because even in a different country, struggling against a language barrier, being newbies at everything, getting laughed at, and generally not knowing how to do most things, there’s no one I’d rather not-know-things-with than Steve. Because at the end of the day, he is the one thing that I know.

There’s a beauty that we never know what the future holds.
Beneath the surface we are the calm, we are the storm.
I’m not a sunset or a hurricane or a Vincent Van Gogh.
You are the one thing that I know.

Happy Birthday a little early, Steve. I love you.

Wish him a happy one on October 13. Maybe order a pizza from a local joint.