Tag Archives: learning lessons

The Godfathers


If you ever get invited to a wedding in another culture, you should go.   Without hesitation- just go.  It will be so worth it!  We were honored to be invited to the church wedding of two of the young people that we have been working with the past 3 years.  (The civil ceremony which makes the wedding legal happened a few days before.)  The first thing we attempted to do was to discover the protocol for gift giving.  What kind of gift is appropriate to give?  How much money are guests expected to spend?  Are gifts brought to the ceremony or sent to the house ahead of time?  Is there any such thing as a gift registry?  Those are the questions we asked.

The answers were not so easy to come by.  After asking many people, both gringos and Ticos we learned that there were some upscale stores that do a gift registry.  Our couple had listed a store on their invitations… though often times there is no formal paper invitation to be had since there is no mail service delivered directly to the houses here… because there are no addresses, obviously.  Duh.  However, we were given a hand delivered invitation with the name of a store on it.  My husband proceeded to ask around for the location of the store.  He eventually found a website with no wedding registry information on it, but he did find the phone number.  After many calls to the store which was in a different city, my husband placed an order for a gift and asked for it to be delivered to the couple… after we got directions to the house where they were going to live.

So we thought that we all set.  We were familiar with the city where the wedding would be held and Josh had actually been to the church before, so we were good.  The last time we tried to go to a wedding in another town we spent 6 hours wandering lost in the mountains before we decided that we probably missed the wedding and we should just head home.  Turns out weddings don’t start on time either.  We probably could have made it still.

On our way to the wedding, the store called and asked when Josh wanted to come pick up the gift.  He was shocked!  He told them, “You were supposed to deliver the gift yesterday!  If you deliver it today, no one will be at the house.  They are all at the church!”  So after some bickering back and forth, they agreed to have someone deliver the gift the following day.  Strike one for the wedding guests.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

When we arrived at the church, we were sure the ceremony would not be starting on time.  The groom was standing out front waiting for us.  Josh whispered to me, “Oh I hope they don’t ask me to say anything spur of the moment!”  Well he lucked out, all the groom wanted to know was if we would be the “Padrinos” or Godparents of the newly weds.  My husband said we would be honored, but what do the Padrinos do?  The groom laughed like we were making a joke and said, “Oh, you just pay for the wedding.”  (Costa Ricans love teasing and sarcasm.)  And we all laughed… nervously.  We still had no clue what was expected of us.

As we walked into the sanctuary, I grabbed the sister of the groom and whispered, “Where do we sit and what do the Godparents do?”

She shrugged and pointed to the back of the center aisle.  “Just wait here for instructions.”  She said it didn’t matter which side we sat on.  We chose seats in the middle of one of the sections since we didn’t want to presume that the Padrinos would walk down the aisle or be seated at the front.  We were wrong in our humble assumptions.  Strike two for the gringos.

I was actually surprised that we started within an hour of when the invitation said the wedding would start.  I had heard that often times the time on the invitation is when the wedding preparations start for the bride.  So if the wedding starts at 10:00 am, that means the bride will be getting in the shower at 10:00.  The family might sit down to lunch while she gets ready and by 3:00 pm, everyone will be making their way to the church.  No one really knows when the service will actually start.  And no one is bothered by this except the Americans.

In Costa Rica, there is an M.C. that directs the ceremony calling each person down in their proper order like fashion models walking down the cat walk.  “And now we have the grandmother of the bride being escorted by her grand-nephew.  And now we have the Padrinos, please walk to the front Josh and April.”  We hastily jumped up from our seats, ran up the side aisle and walked back down the center aisle together.  At the head of the aisle I looked to the announcer for directions about which side to sit on or if we were supposed to come up on the stage or stay standing along the front like groomsmen.  He was already on to the next fashion models and we were left awkwardly standing at the front.  We slid discretely down into the front pew.  Strike three for the totally lost Padrinos.

Both sets of parents sat across the aisle from us in the front pew and the sister of the groom sat next to me.  It was all totally disorganized and no one seemed to care.  When we realized that we were the only ones who were bothered by this, we let the blush cool on our cheeks and relaxed our tense shoulders.  “Pura Vida” we whispered to each other.  That is the Costa Rican motto which really means “No worries mon!”  Just go with the flow.

After the ceremony we were uncertain what would happen next.  The announcer did something totally surprising.  He said, “If anyone wants their picture with the bride and groom, just come up on the stage.”  So for an hour the guests pushed and cajoled for a spot in line to have their picture taken with the new couple.  It was like a mad receiving line with iPhone cameras flashing everywhere.  Totally disorganized, and again, no one cared.

We didn’t know if there was a reception somewhere.  We didn’t see any gifts on a table anywhere.  (For the record, I did see some relatives whisk some packages into a car earlier on.)  We loitered around the back of the sanctuary talking with guests and family, waiting for some kind of sign.  When the groom finally said he had to get going, we figured that was the end of it.  We headed home to San Jose… hungry.

I had heard of weddings where there was indeed a beautiful cake on a table, but it turned out that the cake was cardboard and only one little disk at the top was real for cutting for the photo.  It seems that Hollywood has influenced Costa Rican culture in a way where young couples thought they wanted a cake since that’s what they do in the movies, but no one knew what to do with it.  And since cakes can be insanely expensive here (Most people don’t bake or even know how to use their ovens.  They store their Tupperware in their ovens.) they opt for a fake cake that looks good in the pictures.  So I was bracing for no cake.  I was quite shocked at no reception at all.  Strike four for the hungry Godparents.

The lessons we learned at the wedding made us feel honored that our friends had opened this cultural portal for us.  We left feeling proud to have navigated another pot-hole filled mile of culture and for having not embarrassed ourselves too badly by not knowing what was going on.  We were able to “roll with the punches” and we survived.  Plus we learned that not much flusters a Costa Rican, so we should just relax and enjoy the Pura Vida too.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat


“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” -Tom Bodett

shampoo kidHave you ever read the back of a shampoo bottle before?  I did once.  It actually had directions on it!  They said, “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.”  How odd, I thought, wouldn’t the shampoo be strong enough to do the job the first time?  Why repeat?

Several years later I read somewhere that some marketing guy came up with the idea to put those instructions on the bottle of shampoo.  His idea was considered folly until the end of the fiscal year showed a 30% increase in shampoo sales!  Of course then he was hailed as a genius.  I still don’t know why it worked, but apparently people believe what they read on the back of shampoo bottles.  After all, why would your shampoo lie to you?

There are times in life when I’ve felt like I was reading the back of the shampoo bottle, spiritually speaking.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat… and repeat and repeat and repeat until the lesson is learned.  God keeps us cycling through lessons until we master them.  For example, have you noticed how forgiveness is not a one-time shot?  You have to deliberately forgive someone and let go of hurt feelings over and over again until it becomes second nature to you.

You have to flex those spiritual muscles over and over, building up their strength, concentrating on your form, until those spiritual movements are habits.  Forgiveness, tithing, prayer, a devotional life, taking captive every thought, not lusting, not coveting, not gossiping… all of these spiritual actions take training.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Having to repeat a life lesson because you just didn’t learn it the first time around is not something to be ashamed of, it’s just how us humans learn.  Practice makes perfect in the spiritual realm too.  Anything worth learning is worth repeating until you have it down perfectly.  Forgive 70×7.  Capture and return stray thoughts to God a hundred times a day if you have to.  Bounce your eyes away from lust inducing images over and over again.  Repent as many times as necessary.

If Jesus told us to forgive our brother 70×7 then how much more is our Heavenly Father disposed to forgive us over and over when we fail and fall short, but want to keep trying.  Do it again.  Repeat the lesson again.  You haven’t mastered it yet.  I want you to nail this one.  Try again.  And again.  And again.

Repeating lessons over an over is like Father God running next to our bicycle as we learn to ride without training wheels.  We fall, he picks us up again and sets us back on the bike.  Try again, Child.  He is our patient, loving Father.  He gives us chances to repeat lessons because he loves us and wants us to succeed, not to punish us.  This is for our good.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbird/19648336/”>thejbird</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/People/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>



This week I got an email from a long-time friend in the throes of change.  She was discouraged that she was moving back to her hometown after living overseas.  She felt like she was moving backwards in her life.

I know that feeling well.  I too, have left places only to return a few years later.  I remember feeling depressed at going back.  I had changed, would my old life try to press me back into its mold?  Would old friendships still be available to me?  Would old habits or bad memories pounce on me and try to shackle me again?  Fear mixed with sadness blunted my hope and anticipation of the future.

Re-entry shock is real for missionaries.  Not only have new shops and subdivisions been built while I was gone, but new people have moved into the space that I once occupied within my circle of friends.  There are new faces at church, new faces on campus, new faces in all your old places.  I remember many years after I graduated from college I returned to the campus to say Hi to some friends who still worked there.  I needed to use the bathroom.  I excused myself and headed down the hallway were there USED TO BE a public restroom.  Suddenly I noticed that the whole wing had been renovated.  I stood looking at the wall were the door had once been.  I looked left, I looked right.  I finally hailed the nearest 19-year old and asked where the bathroom was.  She called me ma’am.  I felt so old.  I used to know this place like the back of my hand!  I used to know people here and they knew me too!  I felt like shouting down the hall to no one in particular, “Hey!  I used to BE somebody here, you know!!”

The thing is, Life rarely moves in a straight line.  Sometimes it doesn’t even move forward.  Time always moves forward, but sometimes Life goes backwards, or sideways, or even comes to a stand still for a while.  (Ever have a loved one in the hospital?  Then you know what I mean.)

Life is more like a Slinky.  If you hold the top of a Slinky and let the bottom drop you get a long spiral.  This is how I imagine Life.  We keep cycling and recycling up through lessons, places and relationships but each time we cycle back around we are on a different level.  Hopefully a higher level.  This time around we are more mature and will see details that we missed with our more youthful perspective.  We have a greater framework of experience on which to hang these reviewed experiences.  We are wiser and know how to avoid traps that we fell into before.  God has a new lesson to teach us in an old place.

We can look at those old shackles lying on the ground at our feet and not fear that we might pick them up and put them on again.  That’s called “Victory”.  We now know how to pick them up and move them out of the way so we can keep moving on.  We don’t have to fear old habits, old relationships, old ways of being.  We let God teach us how to hang them up for good. And remind ourselves that we are not the same person who passed through here last time.  I have changed. I am stronger, wiser, more focused, more powerful.  This time around I have a better perspective.  This time around I am more of who God is making me to be.  So don’t let the Slinky of Life get tangled and cause frustration.  Just keep moving upwards as God leads you and teaches you.