Bottom line: it was an amazing trip, where I felt God moving and working, both in the old friendships and new bonds. It was wonderful, different (in good and bad ways), and some beautiful memories were made I'll always cherish. I miss Ciudad and Cozumel with every fiber of my being.
Without further ado, here are some things I learned in Cozumel:
1. The best days/weeks go by the fastest. The worst days go by the slowest.
How is this right, universe? Why should the worst days take forever, and the best ones feel like they are cut short? We left for Cozumel 2 weeks from March 1st. Those were two of the painstakingly hardest weeks of the semester (between classes and the anxiousness of wanting to be in Cozumel), and felt practically unending. The trip itself was 8 days (including 1 1/2 travel days), and yet it felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. Though most days were long, (10+ hours) jam-packed busy days, it really never felt like it to me. Time goes by so fast when you do something you love. The irony is that the culture is so, so much slower down there. I love it, but it's such a tough dichotomy between a slow, relaxed atmosphere and yet time itself going by so darn fast!
2. Reunions in the dark are hard.
On the 1st night we're there, we have our annual "S'more Fest", where we are reunited for the 1st time with the angels over s'mores outside on the campus. By the time we get to the campus, it is already dark, so it was hard to reconnect with some of the kids. Conny didn't recognize me in the dark, but the next day we were back to how we were the year prior, as if a year hadn't lapsed between visits! I love that girl.
|The next morning, in the sunshine so I could see her beautiful face!|
3. Never underestimate the difference 1 year can make.
One of the things I love about this trip is the opportunity to go back year to year. I am so thankful I was able to go for a 2nd year, and Lord willing I'll return for a 3rd next year. It AMAZED me to see the difference a year made, both physically and in personality. Some were the same with some minor differences, some were drastically different, but there wasn't one kid that was exactly the same. I guess part of me felt like they'd freeze in time and stay the same, but they of course change and grow and grow up, just like us. I wasn't prepared for this, especially with the little ones! It's crazy what one year can do.
|And don't even get me started on how much THIS girl has grown up. **Sigh** Such a beauty.|
4. No matter how much he grows up, I can always count on Carlos to take silly photos on my phone/camera.
I'll let these pictures speak for themselves:
|We tried the whole "selfie" think but this is how it turned out. Haha.|
|This one's my favorite. :)|
5. The Sheet Game= Real-Life Name That Angel.
At our team retreat, we play a very competitive game called Name That Angel, where we have to guess the kid's names after Mark reads us a description of them (we get a few minutes to study the info packet with names, pics, and descriptions). It's rather intense and a fun way to start learning names.
So, on one of the nights we had the grandes (teenagers) over for food and games and a devo. The game Abby and Luke came up with was called the sheet game- we split up, Lipscomb vs. Grandes, sat across from each other, and each took a turn saying our names; after that, they held up a sheet in front of both teams, and one by one we sat in front of the sheet, the sheet would drop and we had to try to guess a person's name from the other team that was on the other side. Andrew called it real-life Name That Angel... and I about died of laughter. It was true, and absolutely hilarious! We played for practice at retreat... now we have to play the real-deal.
Not gonna lie... this game stressed me out; but seeing how much the grandes got into it was the best. You'd think that since we knew the kids names and had studied them prior, we would have won, but alas- the grandes beat us by one! (sub-lesson: teenagers are competitive no matter what nationality they are).
(enough silly stuff (for now), now onto more serious/Jesus lessons):
6. When you ask God for something specifically, He really, really delivers.
He may not deliver in the way you expect, but man, does He deliver.
I went into the trip very exhausted and drained; the semester (especially the hellish week leading UP to the trip!) has been busy and rough and all kinds of stressful. It showed on the first night (you know, the awkward reunion-in-the-dark), and I just knew I HAD to do better.
I was having quiet time/journal time outside, by the pool the next morning, when Jesus Culture's "Holy Spirit" played on my phone.
I had been journaling about the night prior and how I felt about it, and this song kind of stopped me for a minute. Instead of continuing to journal, I wrote out a prayer in my journal - a prayer that I would become fully aware of God's spirit, and that I seek His presence and where He was leading me with my whole heart. When you pray for God to show up, He doesn't just trickle in... He overwhelms. In the best way possible.
Becoming aware and seeing God's presence became a theme for me for this trip in different aspects, but it was in this prayer of asking for awareness that I was able to see and feel God throughout this trip. This whole writing down a prayer was a different thing for me- but I kept doing it everyday(anybody else think of Abilene writing her prayers from The Help like I did?); after I'd write about the day and what all happened, I'd write a prayer out for the next day, asking for whatever I felt like I needed to do or whatever was coming my way that day. But each prayer started with asking for His presence- and the awareness of His presence. And as I'll talk about in the next lesson, He answered this for me in some beautiful ways. Something about writing the words where I can see them and go back and see exactly how he answered my prayer is just so powerful. Even going back and reading them now, seeing how they changed throughout the week, how my prayers started including specific kids and events... it really brought me a whole different way of remembering parts and memories of the trip. I've been continuing this practice since I came home, and I hope it becomes a habit in my prayer life.
7. God works in the smallest, most spontaneous moments of our lives.
I think I oftentimes look for and expect God in these grandiose, in-your-face, overt actions. Sometimes, He does come through those, in these larger-than-life moments that are unmistakably God. But as He's been teaching me, and as He primarily taught me through this trip, it's in those more miniscule, almost forgettable moments that He works His way into. . . into the margins of the day, in the little in-between details and the spontaneous moments and words that He speaks to life when we aren't looking. Sometimes it's in those moments that you don't think of when they happen, but look back on in reflection and have a sort of "aha!" moment- that God was all over that moment without my noticing.
It's amazing to see how God works His joy into every part of our day, especially while I'm in Cozumel. While His presence became overwhelming (as I mentioned in lesson #6), it was overwhelming in these little obscure, fleeting moments where God revealed Himself and His lessons to me. It reminds me of one of my favorite hymns, My Father's World, particularly this line : "This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere."
Some of the best, God-soaked moments were the littlest, private details, such as:
-Marce pointing me out and recognizing me the 1st night- best. feeling. EVER.
-Painting nails with Conny and Cristi
-Watching Conny color, write my name (how she remembered it AND knew how to spell it I'll NEVER know), and give her drawings to me as a gift.
-Carlos and his silly faces
-Chasing Marce around the playground and hearing that God-given musical laugh. I miss that laugh.
-Realizing that I have almost enough broken Spanish and Wendy has enough broken English to hold a decent conversation!
-Letting Conny and Alicia play with my hair (the results of that were just fabulous)
-Watching the kids that could swim really well, and helping those that couldn't swim (especially that little goober Cristi who was SO determined to get to the deep end despite not being able to swim a lick). It was kinda crazy sitting there thinking how much they depended on us in that moment...
-Seeing Marce's face light up when she saw me from across the playground- and her running into my arms for a hug (I think there's a picture of that somewhere, but I haven't found it yet)
-watching Wendy work on her own on a craft, then receiving a card (in English) from her. The sweetest.
-reading to Marce and seeing her try to make some of the sounds/ faces of the story (Andrew was right, I WAS in heaven in that moment).
There are many more I could list, but I think I made my point: God is in everything. He really does speak to me everywhere, even when I'm struggling to hear Him at all.
It's amazing what one little prayer can do to open my eyes to His presence. Especially in such a God-breathed place- it's really not hard to see God there, but when you're struggling like I was, letting God open my eyes really showed me all the little places He was intervening in.
8. Relational trips are really awesome. They are also really, really hard.
Ask just about anyone that knows me, and you'll know I'm not the best with my hands. I'm clumsy, I turn just about everything into a bigger and better mess, and asking me to build something is just out of the question. Which is why, as I've learned due to previous trips, that a mission trip based around building/a work project is not for me. I used to think those were the only kind of mission trips, until I came to Lipscomb. I'd never heard of a trip solely based on relationships-- but it seemed right up my alley. Yes, we do work projects and some task-y things while we're at Ciudad, but the primary goal is to build relationships and love on these kids while we're there. It's so great, because I LOVE getting to know people and love that relationship and being with people is the center of our trip. It was so much fun spending time bonding and engaging in conversation that I'll remember forever.
It's also really hard, because at the end of the week you have to leave those friendships back in Mexico, with a "hasta proximo año" (I hope), and return to normalcy. It's not easy. I miss the kids, I miss the conversations, the laughs... I miss it all! It's hard to come back to reality after 1 short week of spending time at Ciudad.
9. These angels are normal kids and teens, and should be loved as such.
A friend/team member of mine pointed this out a couple times while on the trip; I didn't really 'get' it for myself though until later. I guess I kinda have a tendency to assume that since they're in a children's home, their circumstances make them extremely different. But their circumstances don't make them any less human. They still act and behave like kids and teenagers do, they just come home to Ciudad as opposed to a normal living situation. Yes, they do have some different situations and some things that are different about them, because of what they've been through and because of life at Ciudad; however, they don't let that stop them from being themselves.
The little kids are like normal kids, that like to play games and want you to push 'em on the swings or chase them around. The teenagers are like normal teenagers that sometimes don't want to sing in front of everyone with their siblings for fear of embarrassment (sorry Wendy), or don't like school and would rather play soccer, or like the same bands or singers or movies you do. They all like hugs and high fives. They love crafts, and they love to laugh-with you and at you.
They want us (me) to realize that they are human, and they deserve to be loved and treated like such--- not any different because of their circumstances. I'm starting to understand this looking back on the trip.
10. Ciudad will ALWAYS have a piece of my heart.
There aren't many words to describe what this place means to me. I can't wait to (Lord-willing) return next year to the friendships and the silliness and the sweet sweet people there. My friend Lydia last year said that God's fingerprints were visible all over Ciudad... and she couldn't be more right. My heart is filled with such joy and peace from the minute I'm there, and my prayer is that the love and joy and peace I had there will be visible back here too. It's hard, but I know God is here in Nashville like He was in Ciudad... I just have to tune my heart more to see Him. I can't wait to be back in this place someday soon.
(& one last fun lesson!)
11. Mexican kids love Frozen too!
We learned this during our Wednesday hang out time in Casa 3... After the Americans in the room gave a rousing performance of "Let It Go", we noticed they knew the words too! We then proceeded to find the Spanish version of the song and let the kids sing it. It was the cutest. thing. ever. Then all of us decided to perform the English version and video tape it... Probably one of the most outlandish things I've ever done, but it was so much fun! I have a video of them singing the spanish one... but my phone isn't cooperating at the moment, so hopefully I'll add it soon!
Until next time, thanks for reading about what I learned in Cozumel!