In English Composition class, we’ve been made to write a “personal essay” about a place, event, or the like that helped to make us who we are today. So, naturally, I wrote mine about Costa Rica.
I didn’t expect the essay to turn out like it did, but I’ve learned not to force it when I’m writing things like this–the key is to just start writing and let the words go where they please.
So it is what it is, and I’m quite pleased with it–for a first draft, anyway. I’m looking forward to seeing what it turns into as I revise and improve it.
It’s just shy of six in the morning as I wander across the cold, hard floor of the living room. Soft noises come from the kitchen where our hosts are starting to make breakfast, but other than that all is silent. I carefully open the big wooden door and walk outside, closing it behind me—but not all the way, because I don’t want to lock myself out. My bare feet make a hushed padding noise as I walk across the deck to the long wooden bench and sit down, crossing my legs and folding my hands in my lap. The mountains stand jagged and tall against the grey-blue sky. As I sit, I close my eyes and breathe.
There is a chill in the air this morning—most people think that Costa Rica is hot and tropical all the time, but here in Los Anonos, by the mountains, it’s mild and sweet. I take in a slow, deep breath of the misty morning air. It smells of little fuchsia flowers, and leafy green trees, and the motorcycles that zip back and forth on the street below me. It smells of fruit, and rain, and the wide brown river that I can just catch a glimpse of between clusters of little tin shacks.
As I let out that breath in a long, contemplative sigh, I look lovingly down at the community of Los Anonos below, taking in that precious view that never ceases to take my breath away. That view carries more meaning than anything I’ve seen before. Devastation that breaks my heart. Poverty that makes me want to shy away and hide from it all. And yet something about that view is stunningly gorgeous. I could sit and gaze at it for a lifetime.
This view brings a song to mind, a song that we sing down the street in the orange room at Casa Nueva. It’s called Dulcemente Quebrantado. It’s one of those songs that grabs my heart every single time I hear it; one of those songs that means more to me than just what the lyrics say. The title translates to “sweetly broken,” and it is Los Anonos through my eyes.
As I stare down from my place on the deck, transfixed, everything I see is sweetly broken. Broken because of the poverty. Broken because of the drugs. Broken because of the murders and the theft. Broken because of the flooding and landslides that devastated hundreds of families last fall and left a big empty scar in the hillside across the river. When I saw all of this for the first time years ago, I thought that there was no hope. I thought that all was lost, and I found it utterly heartbreaking.
But now I’ve seen this community up close and personal, I’ve been down into its depths, I’ve fallen in love with it, and I know that not all is lost—there is so much more here than brokenness! There are the select few people who have decided to strive for something better. These people see that there is more to life than their brokenness, than the empty hopelessness that seems to overwhelm everywhere they look.
There is the group of youth who pick up trash in the streets because they care about their community and want to take care of it. There are the women who run the thrift store to make a living and provide for their children. There is the man who thought he had lost everything and just wanted to die until something changed and he found a will to live; to live fully. These people are like candles; they illuminate their little corners of the community. They are a light to those who live in darkness. They are sometimes the only sure thing in a community that lives in confusion and pain.
But why? Why do the youth care? What motivates the women to work? What changed in that man’s life? I know the answer to those questions, because it’s the same thing that gives me a reason to live. It’s the very thing that gives my own life meaning.
It’s my relationship with Christ. I understand what it means to be sweetly broken, because I’ve been there. In fact, I’m still there. Broken. But it is only through my brokenness that Christ can save me. It is only through my hopelessness that Christ gives me meaning. It is only through my sin that Christ can redeem me. So yes, I am broken. I am hopeless. On my own, I am the drug addicts, the murderers, the prostitutes, the criminals, the desperately impoverished, the sick and the injured. But the sweetness of it all is the redemption. Christ in me means that I am no longer any of those things—I am a new creation. Christ in me is hope, beauty, life, a clean slate, a new start every single day.
How can there be healing without first having pain? What good is a light when there is no darkness? What is redemption without something to redeem? What is renovation without wreckage? What does good mean without evil? Brokenness is difficult, but it doesn’t have to end there.
This is what I live for. This is what gives me meaning. This is what makes me strive to be more than my mistakes, more than my disfiguring brokenness. Left to my own devices, I will fall back into despair every single day. On my own, I am not proud of who I am. But together with Christ’s help, I don’t have to be that person anymore. I can be the person I was made to be.
My experiences in Costa Rica have given me a drastically different perspective on life, love, and pain. They have opened up my eyes, mind, and heart to perceive things in a new way.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when everything changed; I think it was more of a gradual shift in perspective than a sudden epiphany. I don’t know how or when it happened, but all I know is that my experiences in Costa Rica have helped me give words to something I could never say before. My life has been changed, and I’ve come to understand why I’m here.
This is who I am now.