peru

This cold December morning

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 10.29.17 AM It's been a week and a half since my plane touched down from Peru. It was immediately cold, even though it's been a mild, snowless winter. But Peru was a hundred and ten degrees and blazing. I wrapped the spring coat I had shoved in my luggage around me and shivered. I was home. That feeling had not forsaken me.

My brother-in-law and brother picked me up from the airport and took me to my grandmother's visitation. She had passed away six days earlier, while we each were under different skies. She had told me a few months ago that she had always wanted to go to South America, and there we were -- she inhaling her final breath in Canada, me adventuring on that rich red soil in Peru.

I just wish I could call and tell her all about it.

We buried her on a cold, December morning in a plot of land directly beside her husband. We took rose petals and placed them on the casket, but I watched as a few of mine flew away. I took two roses from the stack and kept them, dried one out and hung it upside down on my bedroom wall. I pressed the other between the thin and tender pages of her favourite verse.

And now I can see the lights, and hear the songs, and smell the oranges drying out in the oven. This is Christmas, isn't it? Strings of sadness and pain alongside the joy and merriment of a hopeful Christmas and a very happy New Year. We hurt and we break and we flounder, asking God why newborn babies die and why there are so many funerals at Christmas time.

My best friend went to two other funerals last week. Two different fathers from two different families snatched away too soon. Come Christmas Day, those families won't have a dad waiting for them downstairs with sticky buns or hot chocolate. They are now splintered and cracked right open, spilling their grief alongside the rest of the world who sing, Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.

No one hurts cleanly. We are all very messy and untidy while we hurt, dripping and disheveled and scattering ourselves all over the place. And the thing that I keep thinking is: Jesus, in all his glory and righteousness, endured the breaking that made us whole. He hurts messily right beside us, our Emmanuel, our God with us. He just extends a sprig of hope through the pain of grief -- that after this, he makes us whole.

After all of this, he makes us whole.

The story of Aaron Platzlu, the day old baby

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It sits at the front of the room. It’s all I can look at, all I can see. The casket is white with silver handles. It’s too small, I keep thinking. A casket this size shouldn’t have been created.

Aaron was one day old. He fought for every breath, but I think he especially fought for those last ones. He died on the same day as my grandmother. When I cried beneath the dark sky full of stars, I cried for both of them. They’re forever linked together inside of me. My grandmother was fighting for her last few breaths, too. It doesn’t matter how long you live, whether it’s one day or eighty-nine years. The people who love you are still full from the pain of loving you only to have you ripped away. I like to think Jesus introduced Aaron and my grandmother yesterday when they both entered into his wide-spread arms.

Aaron was born early alongside his twin sister, Adalia, at a mere twenty-six weeks. Emy, his mother and the housekeeper at the house I’m staying at, began hemorrhaging and needed to go to the hospital. You must know this about Emy: she is forever smiling. Whenever she speaks, she laughs, her eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree. We’ve laughed a lot together.

I had asked her earlier what she was planning on naming her twins. She didn’t know yet, she had said, because she was worried they might die. She had lost five babies already. It was hard to name them only to have them wrenched away.

We prayed as Emy was taken to the hospital, praying over her and those two precious babies. Adalia entered our world first, just under two pounds, and Aaron came fifteen minutes later, even smaller than she. The doctor induced Emy and then went home to sleep. He didn’t think the babies had a chance of living, so he couldn’t see why he should bother to try and save them.

If the babies lived for forty-eight hours, they would be given medication. But they had to make it that long first. Aaron’s tiny collapsible lungs begged the air for breath, and Jesus blew life into him for one full day. On December 2nd, his lungs grew too tired. Jesus holds him now, and Emy’s arms are left with a twinless baby girl.

The funeral is today, the casket on a small table in front of me. When the service is over, I see Emy sitting at the front by herself. Everyone has gone outside to prepare to ride over to the burial site.

I sit beside her. For once I am grateful we do not speak the same language. I couldn’t possibly gather up a sufficient enough string of words. So I sit, and then I hold her hand, her arm, our bodies against each other, my lips pressing her soft, caramel cheek. We don’t say anything.

She stands and walks over to the small white casket. I follow. The top lifts and there he is, her baby boy. He is the smallest child I have ever seen. He hardly takes up room in the casket. I can’t stop staring at him -- his nose sloping so gently on his face, his lashes long, his mouth perfection. He is a staggering work of art -- the milkiness of his skin joined with watercolour bruises on his cheeks and neck from Emy’s hard labour.

Emy brushes his hair tenderly with the tips of her fingers. She is still smiling, only this time all I can see is sadness. Can you hear the crack and splinter of my heart fragmenting as I stand beside her? I wish I could hold him, run my lips against his downy eyebrows, and love him back to life. But Emy has enough love to drown oceans. She has much more love than I.

We gather alongside the others and press our bodies into the truck. Aaron is tucked safely in the white casket. We are the hearse. We slam down the long dirt road, this funeral procession, and Emy is sitting behind her lifeless son. 

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I watch as Segundo, Emy’s husband, digs Aaron’s grave. We sing Jesus Loves Me and It Is Well With My Soul as they lower him into the red dirt. Emy is crying and I cannot sing. Not because I don’t believe the words, but because I can hardly bear the palpable pain that makes up the air around us. It’s too much. A casket’s not supposed to be this small. A baby’s not supposed to die when his death was clearly preventable.

On the way back to our home, David, Emy’s eleven-year-old son, cries. His head is buried deep in his hands. “He’s always wanted a brother,” Emy says. “But all my boys have died.”

Oh Aaron Platzlu, you may not have been loved widely but you were loved deep. May you rest in the precious arms of Jesus until we see you again. And may Adalia live, dear God. I can’t comprehend this family having to do this again.

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Church on a concrete floor

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Jesus meets us anywhere -- of this I am certain. In Peru I have encountered him in a variety of surprising settings, which keeps making me smile because I think Jesus likes to see different places. I do too. I’ve met him at a cacao plantation, at Machu Picchu, and most recently on a concrete floor attached to the kitchen. 

A strike is in full force here. It’s been this way for a week, but I’m assuming by the time I post this it will have been longer. We have stayed inside the house to keep safe. This experience has taught me things I never would have realized. I am not nervous about our safety. I am surprisingly confident. I believe God will keep us protected and safe.

On Sunday we couldn’t go to church because of the riot, so instead we decided to have some worship on our own. There are eight of us, but we invited the housekeeper and groundskeeper who are married and live here with us, along with their three kids. When we entered the room on Sunday morning, instead of the thirteen of us I thought would be present, there were twenty-five people. I started to laugh. Word had spread and there we were, our own tiny congregation.

We didn’t have to go to church -- the church was already there. People who love Jesus were gathering together, and the church was right there with us, unfolding on a concrete floor in the jungle.

Tat and I played some worship songs. Spanish and English voices mixed, all singing the same song but with different words, and I looked at my white skin and their smooth caramel-brown. Our worlds crashed together like the clang of a symbol and the sound could not have been more beautiful to me.

Segundo, the groundskeeper, read Matthew 5 and 6 in Spanish, and then Tat’s father, Scott, read it in English:

Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Do not worry about how you will clothe your body. (Matthew 6:25)

We have more food than most of the people in Peru, I know, but even our food supply is running out with this strike happening in the city. The markets are shut down, and the roads are closed with blockades. I thought about the people sitting in front of me. I wondered if they had enough food.

Scott continued reading.

So do not consume yourself with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your Heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all of these things will be given to you too. So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today. (Matthew 6:31-34)

I’m not sure how we’re getting to the airport on Sunday, what with the blockades taking up the roads. We will most likely have to walk. The strike is causing me to ask so many questions, and yet, as I sat there cradling my ukulele, looking at the other twenty-four people around me, I kept hearing: do not worry about tomorrow.

And then I remembered it’s the start of Advent. The King is coming, and he is not afraid.

Our voices rang out one last time, my fingers strumming the strings. Our Jesus is coming. Sitting on the concrete floor surrounded by jungle, I smiled. What a way to begin ushering him in.

Finding Jesus at Machu Picchu

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I met Jesus on a mountaintop.

I was at Machu Picchu -- a stunningly enormous collection of ruins, high in the Andes mountains here in Peru. We had hiked up and down the mountains that morning, exploring the rocks and gorgeous architecture. I loved looking at the details, tracing my fingertips along the stones, fascinated by the artwork that stood in front of me.

But my favourite spot was sitting at the top of the mountain.

I had lugged my ukulele on my back all day, and I was determined to find a quiet spot to play it. It was hot and sunny and, though it’s tempting, I’ll do no romanticizing. We sat down in a shaded area, and large mosquitoes devoured my arms and elbows as I played. They hurt and left huge, itchy bites. But take note -- I was determined.

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I played one of my favourite songs for Jesus on a mountaintop in Peru.

Lord, I come, I confess Bowing here, I find my rest

“Without you, I fall apart,” my friends and I sang. “You’re the one that guides my heart.”

People on the mountain walked past us. We kept singing. A woman took a photo of us. We kept singing. An older man whistled alongside us. We kept singing.

Lord, I need you. Oh, I need you.

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There was nothing anyone could do or say that could break that moment for me. There was no mosquito large enough, no sun hot enough, no reason that could unfold me from that sacred moment in the Sacred Valley.

Every hour I need you.

I didn’t play perfectly -- not even close -- and our voices were soft and breathless from both the altitude and the heat. But we were determined to sing a song to Jesus on that mountaintop.

For so many years of my life I have fallen for the lie that Jesus’ love is meant for everyone but me. This has been an enormous struggle. I finally had to make a decision:  I could choose to believe the lie I kept falling for, or I could decide that what Jesus said is true -- that he does love me, as I am.

This is a choice I make now, even when my heart may not believe it.

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I chose to believe he loves me when I gaped at the statue of Christo Blanco, high above the city of Cusco. I chose to believe he loves me when our taxi driver, Santos, was kind to us, his name literally translating to the word holy. I chose to believe he loves me while I sang a song to him on the Andes mountains at Machu Picchu. I choose to love him in return.

Over and over again, I choose to love him in return.

I lettered this verse before we went to Machu Picchu. I read it and thought, yes, this, this is what I want my life to represent.

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May we have the power to understand that the love of God is infinitely long, and wide, and high, and deep -- even higher than the mountains of Machu Picchu, even wider than the star-spread skies, even deeper than the Atlantic ocean -- surpassing everything any of us have previously experienced.

That’s the kind of love we have. I’ll keep choosing that love -- even over oceans and stars and the staggering mountains that fill up Machu Picchu.

Where sin runs deep, your grace is more Where grace is found is where you are And where you are, Lord, I am free Holiness is Christ in me

I don’t ever want to quit choosing that love.

When I met generosity

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I met generosity yesterday. We shook hands in the small town of San Francisco De Asis, just an hour or so outside the city I’m staying in.

I wanted to remember everything about this day: the way the wind whipped my hair around my cheeks while we coasted, the long dusty road that led us to him. But the air was thick and hot and muggy, wrapping around me like a lengthy fur coat. It was hard for me to remember breathing, much less take in the details and render them permanently in my brain.

We drove down the red dirt road, pulling into a cacao plantation. Cacao trees are essentially trees that grow chocolate. I couldn’t imagine anything that could possibly be better.

With perspiration beading endlessly on our skin, we followed the chocolate farmer through his trees, and he explained to us the kinds and the differences between them. The language barrier is tricky and I didn’t understand most of what he said, but Tat translated for me. He began to chop off many of the cacao pods that were fully ripened, and then he turned to us, each at a time and smiled, holding out a gorgeous pod in his sun-kissed fingers. “Señorita,” he smiled and handed one to me.

As we walked, he chopped off many more, giving each of us plenty. These pods are huge and we held onto them tightly in our arms. They were astonishingly vibrant, too -- their colours like the fall trees in my yard back home, and I couldn’t help thinking that autumn had found us here in Peru. It just looked different than what I was used to.

The chocolate farmer went to a couple of guaba trees and cut some pieces off. “Comer,” he excitedly urged us.

“He wants us to eat,” Tat said.

We scooped the guaba from the piece he held out. It was soft and sticky, and had a similar texture to cotton balls. But it tasted like the sweetest cotton candy I’ve ever had.

Everywhere the chocolate farmer went, he gave us gifts. And each time he handed us something, his face held a huge grin with a laugh soon to follow.

He was living generosity. He was kindness personified.

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While we drank water and ate apples after our tour through his plantation, he asked me what my name was. I told him, then asked him the same.

“Curi,” he replied.

“That’s a good name,” I told him. Tat translated and Curi laughed. My Spanish is dramatically limited, so I told him the words I know, which just so happen to be “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

He asked me if I wanted to see the tigers that live on his plantation.

“Si,” I replied jokingly. But he took my response seriously so we got up and followed him, on a jungle scavenger hunt for tigers.

He took us into the thick of the Amazon rainforest. It was everything I had thought it to be and nothing like what I imagined: hot and green, and stunningly beautiful, and utterly terrifying. I was in awe of the rainforest, in awe that I was in the rainforest, and in awe that I was in the rainforest searching for tigers.

Curi showed us his water system that he had built with his own two hands. It was remarkable. Soon we grew hot and tired and we climbed back up through the jungle and to the farm. Much to my relief, we didn’t encounter any tigers.

I carried my film camera with me, and thought about what my friend Nick said as he gave it to me the night before I came to Peru. “Name your camera,” he had said. “Find someone who matters to you there and name it after them.”

I held my camera within my hands and looked up at the man who lived out generosity, the man who kept me wondering how I could shape my life similarly to his.

Now I have a camera named Curi.

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I keep falling in love

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I stand in voiceless awe.

I have no idea what I can possibly say to describe the sky that looms above me -- the stars, thousands of them, stretching out for miles and years, and I stand in inexplicable awe.

I am falling in love with Jesus all over again.

He is wooing me with the stars; he is captivating me with the cosmos. I am impassioned, flinging myself into him, and beneath this blanket of ebony darkness and dazzling light, he is cradling me, softly whispering, "This is for you, my love. I did this all for you."

I stretch my neck as far as I can beneath the sky, begging my eyes to remain open a while longer. I am nothing here, just a girl beneath the starlight, standing in the centre of the thick jungled Amazon rainforest. My Jesus, I think. I love you -- and it scares me. I taste the salt on my lips, wiping my damp cheeks with the cuff of my sleeve.

This love terrifies me, and not in a way where I feel threatened, but in the afresh recognition of both my finite smallness and his infinite grandeur. Of his strength, and his might, and his wooing, relentless love. And I am plunging headfirst into the ocean, my chest gasping more for this incessant love than for oxygen.

So help me, I am falling in love with Jesus again.

I fall in love with him every time I stop and stare at the stars, and this night is no exception. They are swallowing me whole. Part of me is grateful that a camera can hardly capture this splendor -- then they remain my secret with Jesus, and I clutch my mystery tight against me.

I see Jupiter. I see Orion's Belt. I see myself twirling in a pink dress running toward Jesus, and he is lifting me, higher and closer, and we are dancing among the constellations.

I weep as I watch his fingertips press into both me and the sky.

I weep as I watch four stars shoot, curling over the inky night.

I weep as I lean into the love that never stops saving me.

And I'm falling in love beneath the stars again.

What it looks like to be at our bravest

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.36.10 PM I’m sitting at the edge of the Amazon rain forest, in the depths of Peru. I’m here for just under six weeks, recording stories and helping my friends before they start up their girls’ home. I’m on a constant journey of searching for bravery, and I’ve realized . . .

When I look for courage, I tend to find it wherever I go.

My friends are brave for moving to Peru. They’ve been here for over a year now, and I look at their lives in wonder and amazement. They’re learning Spanish, they’re living under bug nets, they’re using a toilet that doesn’t have plumbing. They’re doing brave, hard things — things I’m not sure I would ever be able to do. And they do it, not because it’s glamorous or glorifying, but because they’re in the place where Jesus wants them to be, and doing the work that Jesus wants them to do.

I wonder if that’s true for all of us.

I think we’re at our bravest when we’re in the place where Jesus wants us to be, doing the work that Jesus wants us to be doing.

I'm over at (in)courage today -- come join me?