Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two in One

(Due to the prolonged delay of this blog, I have decided to combine two themes into one post. I would recommend not reading them consecutively, but rather waiting at least 1 day between them... so as to not be overwhelmed by the multitude of new details concerning my life in the GAP.)

Santo Tomás, Chontales
     The writing of this post has by far been the hardest. How does one write when there are no words? 'Ah, but I thought you had a problem with Spanish, not with English' you say. Indeed, this is the case. But there are some matters which, in their greatness, transcend any one language, and the best we can do is render our words as mere footholds that lead us at least somewhat closer to them. In my case, I have been left speechless by a people. Let me explain. In the last week of October, The Gappers took a bus a mere 12 hours north-east of San Jose to a small town in Nicaragua, named Santo Tomás. Little did I know such a short distance could merit such drastic changes. 12 hours north, and the air around us grew sweeter, warmer, dustier, wilder, and  more filled with the busied gabble of human life: the now familiar Costa Rican accent exchanged for one nearly indiscernible to my still-adjusting ears. Streetvenders, money changers, customs police, and parrots were our first welcome party, but we were soon greeted by coordinator of the community of Cristo Resucitado, and two hours later, we had arrived at our home. Four Gappers, five days: a youth retreat, bible study, and evangelization night. Being so few in number, we all had more responsibilities: I lead the retreat games, a section of the Bible study, and gave my testimony in the evangelization night. These events were my first true test in Spanish; the first time in two months that I had been useful on account of my words. And before, during, and after every single event I was under the sweetly humbling realization that every word I uttered, correct or ill-used, was not my own... and that I was being formed, humbled, and used in these events solely for the glory of God. Yet when I think back on that trip, what lingers in my mind is not the words I spoke, nor the games I lead, but rather the great generosity of the people there.  
       From our very first moments in their town to our final night, we were given their best, their all. Every moment, every encounter, every meal was imbued with a disposition of selflessness and service. My immediate reaction was not one of gratitude, but one of confusion. Why this goodness towards me? I had done nothing for them. No good deed, no act of service had I offered them to render their actions justified. But it was through this generosity that I realized that every other act of goodness done towards me was not because I deserved it, but rather that everything I have been given is a gift.  And it was in their generosity, flowing not from their excess of material goods, but rather from the spring of a self-abandoned heart, that I encountered something tangible and life-changing. If one were to ask me how I would describe selflessness in action, I would point their eyes to the small town of Santo Tomás



Most Gladly Therefore...
      This second post-within-a-post is basically a summary of all of the other things I have been doing in my time as a GAP-er. I have indeed waited far too long to write this post, and I fear it will turn out more vague and confusing than enlightening, but we shall see. Recently we finished a 5-showing event of the movie October Baby in an effort to promote respect for human life, as well as raise funds to help pregnancy crisis centers. We are also doing a lot of preparations for a conference in Honduras in January with youth groups from Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. This Friday I will be leading an event called Cafe con Biblia with the university outreach section. Cafe con Biblia is basically a Bible study where we drink coffee and explore a specific passage or theme of the Bible. The theme will be Hope.  
       In other news, we have had a grand total of 6 retreats in my nearly 4 months in the GAP... three were for our benefit, and the other three we led. It truly has come full circle as our most recent retreat was at the same retreat site as my very first retreat. However, whereas in my first retreat I spent my time preparing refreshments and sitting underneath a eucalyptus tree praying for the retreatants and begging God to show me how I was going to make it through this year, this latter retreat I spent as the co-leader of logistics, and praying to God for the strength to make it through the day. Maybe you are not very impressed with that change, but that's alright; I am not asking you to be.   

        Actually, speaking as someone who thought it would take me two months to become fluent in a foreign language without any experience beforehand, I can understand the feeling of disappointment. I have now reached that lovely point in my Spanish in which I make a lot of mistakes. Before I would sit in silence and nod my head so that people would know I was still alive and understood the blurred idea of the conversation. Now when given the occasion, I open my mouth and make a fool of myself. To think that I will probably spend my entire GAP year struggling to be understood and speaking with words that are not truly my own is something that used to terrify me. But I have come to realize that my words were taken from me so that I could see that the gift of speech was never mine to begin with. And in this realization I could give back more fully what already belonged to God. Not to mention, most of us spend our entire lives being misunderstood.. I have just been given a 10-month-long license to be frustrated by that fact.
     To believe that I have nearly completed four months here is something I still have trouble getting my mind around. So much of me still feels like I have just arrived. More like time hasn't moved at all for the last few months. My hope is that I am serving well, and growing in faith. I am certainly learning how to fight well, to get back up when I have fallen. And above all, I am learning to find joy in my weakness

 In Peace, 
Catherine 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

as Spikenard upon His feet

The cards were laid and my task was simple: the GAPers were going to have an international dinner, and I was in charge of baking the apple pie. The completion of this task with absolute perfection was paramount, and my initial reluctance to sign on to the task developed into excitement. Perhaps I couldn't communicate, or give talks, or lead Bible studies, or even play guitar... but maybe I could bake an apple pie. And if I could make a pie, all would be justified and the whole world would know that I had, and could, accomplish something. I set about my task with utmost care: collecting, preparing, adding, and mixing each ingredient as though it were the crown piece of the recipe. And yet, somehow, things kept going wrong... perhaps it was because I was using a new recipe, or because I started a little too late at night, or because the oven kept changing temperatures, or because the much-too-liquidy batter caught fire in the stove. In any case, instead of falling asleep at an early hour to the smell of two perfectly baked pies, I found myself in a smokey kitchen at 2 in the morning, scrubbing charred pie-filling off of every surface, and staring vacantly at two pie tins filled with singed and soggy masses of apple.  The true tragedy occurred when I awoke the next morning, and discovered that my pies were not quite as bad as they appeared the night before, but were, in fact, "salvageable".....

     Salvageable is a great word to hear just after a shipwreck, or a house fire. But when the object in question is about baking, or a haircut, or homemade crafts, it is a death sentence. It means that you have neither succeeded, nor failed; simply completed. Like some wild beasts, mindlessly following instinct and the semblance of order, you have completed the task. But it is a task completed without the beauty and artistry which makes what we have done beautiful, praiseworthy, inspiring. The difference between artistry and completion is what separates Mozart's symphonies from the sounds made when a frightened guinea pig waddles across a keyboard... And I had simply completed. But I brought my guinea-pig-symphony-of-a-pie to the dinner, and everyone ate it with great grace, and loaded on heaps of vanilla ice-cream to disguise the smokey flavor, and I sat small-ly in my chair, and for the hundreth time experienced the dull sting of humiliation.
<<<<>>>>
           Now, I have many many other stories to tell from my adventures here. But I chose this one because it sums up much of what I have experienced here thus far. I came on my GAP year expecting to both grow and be humbled, but I suppose I expected a much more heroic humbling. Who doesn't desire brave deeds, preferably with a large audience to sit hushed in wonder at the conclusion? Instead, it is in the smallest things, in acts most often misunderstood or forgotten that I am truly growing and being humbled. And it is in the responsibilities where I am least capable --in leading music for a missionary's mass, or evangelizing on a college campus, or giving my testimony, or taking care of the logistics of a retreat-- that I feel I am truly serving. I think about if I had chosen a different path this year; what if I were serving in an english-speaking country,  or leading wilderness hikes for kids, or off at college doing something for the betterment of mankind? Yes, perhaps I would have a higher tally of 'feel good' moments, and I would probably have more friends, and I would probably accomplish more in a given day. And in those ways I would be more 'useful'. But I know I have been called here, and all I can do is be faithful to that call. And I know and have found that within this call there is more true service, beauty, and fulfillment than in any of the many other things I could be doing in this year. So daily I pour out this gift of time- precious and rare as it is- and trust that the Lord will use it for His glory.

In Christ,
Catherine 



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Some Facts (FAQS, rather)

1. What Sorts of Things Are You Doing?
 The basic format for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday:
5:00 am Wake up, breakfast, run, take a city bus to mass
8:00am Mass
9:00am Morning prayer corporately and then individually
11:00am  lunch and free time
1:00-4:00 pm individual projects of the GAP year (retreat organization,personal formation, meetings)

Wednesday we serve at an orphanage: playing with the kids, and cleaning. Monday night we go to Shalom (the Arbol del Vida Community's youth group); Tuesday and Friday afternoon there is a spanish class; Thursday night is a Bible study with a small group of young women; Friday nights are a university outreach (Christianos En Marcha) event; Saturday there is a gathering with the community, and a celebration of the Lord's Day at night. Sunday is a 'free' day, or a 'crash-and-do-nothing-but-sleep' day. Starting this week, Thursday will also be our college evangelization day. This means that we will be going to the UCR (University of Costa Rica), and basically giving our testimony to whomever we encounter. Needless to say, I am slightly terrified. But less than I would normally be, since any insults or rejections will probably in rapid-fire spanish, and thus go right over my head.

<<<>>>

2. Entendiste?/ How Goes Your Spanish?
This question always makes me laugh... or not... depending on how long of a day it has been. There are two reasons why it evokes such a response: 1) A complex immortal soul just asked if I understood them. 2) They were speaking another language. Regardless, I am improving. And though there are days when not being able to understand others or speak with them literally drives me to my knees, there is always grace to continue. And it is there, when I am empty and have nothing left to give, that I am truly blessed.

<<<>>>

3. Are You Homesick?
I have been in this country for 1 month and 2 days -- eating food that is unfamiliar, speaking words that have never been uttered from my mouth with people that I do not know. I spend my nights in a bed that is not my own, and my days in a room whose walls are still foreign to me. And yet, despite all of this, I still call this place my home. Why? Because homesickness is a funny thing. We can be surrounded by our family, or home, or our friends, and still be homesick. And I believe, if you will bear with my philosophy, that this is because our hearts were not meant for this place alone. Our hearts rest in an eternal kingdom and as long as we are on this earth, we will never be truly home. So, do I miss the comfort of my family, my home, my friends? Yes. But if I were to pack my bags tonight and go home to Minnesota, a piece of my heart would remain here.


<<<>>>

Blessings!
Catherine

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Earthquake!

We interrupt this blog for an important news update:
On September 6, 2012, at roughly 8:42 am, an earthquake of magnitude 7.6 struck 88 miles west of San Jose, terrifying many and putting into effect a tsunami warning for Costa Rica and the surrounding countries. The Red Cross recommends staying calm.....
In San Jose, the effects of the quake were not extraordinary: objects were thrown from tables and shelves, entire buildings were rocked violently back and forth and up and down, and pots, mirrors, and other such things were broken to bits. The mercy of this quake was that it struck 20 miles underground, significantly decreasing the superficial effects of the quake. The following is a story from one of the eyewitnesses herself. It is a story of self-sacrifice, honor, and bravery; a true heart-render, and sure to bring a tear to the eye and valiance to the heart:
<<<<>>>>
I got up that morning at the usual 5 am, thinking it would simply be another normal day of mission work. After daily mass, we were headed off to the orphanage as we do every Wednesday for our social mission day. We were supposed to arrive at 9, but by the grace of God, we had arrived 1/2 hour early that day. All five of us Gappers were sitting in a room, discussing the plan for the day with when the shaking started. Minnesota doesn't have earthquakes so my first thought was "I didn't know there were train-tracks that ran through the orphanage." My second was "there aren't train-tracks that run through the orphanage", and my third was "so this must be an earthquake". The shaking lasted for nearly a minute, and as the walls of the building continued to shake and buckle, we all stumbled out as quickly as possible, grabbing the hands of the children around us, and congregating in the grass outside. Children were crying, some had been thrown to the ground by the seismic waves... it was pretty disorienting. We linked arms,crouching together until the shaking stopped. The rest of that day was spent with the infants and youngest children of the orphanage, comforting, and caring for them, calling people to tell them that we were alive, watching what we had just experienced unfold on CNN, and then decorating the hallways for Costa Rican Independence Day.

**In another interview, a friend of the eyewitness commented: "Thankfully the orphanage is in the mountains so the effects of the quake were reduced. But never in my life have I seen such quick-thinking and calm in the face of such circumstances. She's a true fighter."
 **the contents of this quote are more or less stretching the truth...

<<<<>>>>

The lessons from this quake are simple: 
1. Always be aware of your surroundings
2. The best excuse ever for not having a clean room is: 'the earthquake messed it up'
3. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, it is equivalent to a magnitude 7 earthquake, 20 miles underground.
4. Gappers bring it.

Until next time, God bless and goodnight!
Catherine



Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Which I Lose my Wallet


I wanted the title of this post to be "In which I lose a wallet, my voice, and my sanity but rediscover friendship, music, and hope"... but that would've been much too long and even I would have been bored of reading by that point. But I shall explain each of these anyway, and if you get bored, feel free to never read this again. 

In truth, the story of the wallet is quite uninteresting, and is the least important. I was at the office of the Arbol de Vida Community on Monday night, dropped it on the ground, and now it is gone. The importance of this event is that in my wallet was $200 (rationing 50 per month, it was supposed to support me for the next 4 months), and my driver's license. Also, this was the first day of my first full week in Costa Rica, and after this event I jumped to the rational conclusion that this entire year was going to be just awful. But let us depart from this incident.

 My Voice: For all intensive purposes, I am mute and deaf. I speak little, understand precious little more, and am mostly completely lost whenever we have a meeting. I'm sure I pose an interesting picture: bewildered eyes beneath a furrowed brow in a generally spaced-out expression. What I have come to see, is the beauty of silence. Unless you become like a little child echoes in my soul much more frequently now. And it is true. Because I do not have much of an ability to speak or hear, there is much more silence around me. And in this silence, Christ is re-teaching me many things: not only how to speak to others and hear what they are saying, but how to pray to Him, how to listen to His voice. Also, the whole country of Costa Rica is probably benefiting from the fact that the voice of Catherine is much less heard. 
 My Sanity:there is not much to be said on this point. I have not truly lost my sanity, in fact I am probably more sane now than I was before I left. Who in their right mind goes on a Gap year anyway?

Friendship, Music, and Hope. There is much to be said here, but I shall not say it all. What I have rediscovered is that words are not necessary for friendship. If people can be so close with their pets, how much more so can we share with others? Language does create a barrier, but it is more of a picket fence at times than a full-blown wall. And music: that universal language. It makes more sense now why Paul and Silas sang songs of joy while they were in chains. Music is the voice that cries out to go beyond yourself and your situation. I have felt no closer to people here than when there was a piano, two guitars, a set of bongos, and several voices rising up together in harmony. We did not speak, because who needs words when there is song? No translation is needed when each note tells it's own story. And hope: esperanza, the song of my own heart. 'Esperar' means to wait, and it is used often, so daily I am being surrounded by hope. What joy there is in that. 

"Wait for the Lord. Be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord" -Psalm 27:14

In Hope, 
Catherine




Monday, August 20, 2012

... And Many Other Firsts

 Life is different in Costa Rica.
Because there are so many 'firsts', I thought it best to just write a list. Without further ado:
Since I have been in Costa Rica, it is the first time I have.....
-kissed so many strangers on the cheek
-listened to an entire homily and an entire talk and not understood anything
-watched a spanish-dubbed movie
-been mistaken for being older than I actually am (apparently I have aged 2 years in 5 days)
-played Wii and enjoyed it
-willfully woken up at 7am 
-gone 5 days without seeing another blonde (the streak was broken by a foreign exchange student from Germany)
-been welcomed into so many different homes
-taken a taxi
-spoken so little
-understood so little
-felt so little
-realized how blessed life is...
               In other words, I am a brechista (GAP-er), and I don't speak Spanish.
If there was a Gapper book of records, I'm sure I would break at least some of them.

Humility is the name of this game, and it is hard to play it well. But I am learning; learning many many things. May I repeat: I do not speak Spanish, and English is no one's first language. Spanish is intimidating because I fear not being understood. English is intimidating for the same reason.

Permit me to describe a conversation to you: it's not quite head-under-water, but it's not the kiddy pool either. It's more like that really uncomfortable stage where the water is right below your bottom lip, so if you move too much, you get a mouthful of water, and if you don't move at all, the waves will get in your mouth anyway, and you never really learned how to swim so you're treading water like a dog, and what you really want to do is either learn to swim or get out of the water, but neither are an immediate option, so you keep on doggy-paddling........Perhaps you taller folk have never experienced this, however, it's an analogy, and it's not perfect, but hopefully you catch my drift.

Now let me leave you with some hope.  The people in this community are so welcoming, and so so so kind. The last 'first time' that's listed is realizing how blessed life is. This could not be more true. There are many little and large blessings to be found here: red-orange sunsets, a baby falling asleep on my shoulder, learning a new word, thunderstorms, the smile of a new friend, fresh fruit, a song that I recognize, morning prayer.... The list goes on and on.

Again I repeat: Christ is here, in these people. I'm used to finding Him in words. Here I find Him everywhere.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you. -2 Corinthians 13:13




Peace,
Catherine


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The First Day

Although exhaustion threatens to knock me from my chair, I feel it is my duty to write a new post before the pell-mell of the year sets in. After two hours of 'sleep', I departed this morning from the comfort of the place that I have called home for the past 18 years and embarked into the unknown. This unknown included huge security lines, a two-hour long conversation with a complete stranger about everything ranging from books, to religion, to aerospace engineering, nearly missing my connecting flight, giving directions to another stranger about where and how to reach the mountains of Costa Rica by bus, and various existential thoughts about humanity (this final item is not so much the unknown as well-charted territory, but is worth noting).  After what I would consider a normal day of flying, I am finally outside the San Jose Airport. Every fear, worry, excitement, confidence, and doubt about the year, about what I was doing, and why I was doing it, culminated as I stood outside, breathing the humid Costa Rican air with my luggage piled in tumbling pyramids about me, and the hum of an unfamiliar dialect weaving in and out of my consciousness. And that is when the car pulled up, Dani Diaz holding a red star-shaped balloon in her hand and a huge smile on her face. It is marvelous how so many of our expectations, both good and bad, pale and dissolve in the clear light of reality. In that car ride home, the tour of the house and the general introductions that followed, I experienced the sweet taste of living in a moment and cherishing that moment. I could end there, but it gets better.
Despite the alternations between 'hola' and 'hello', the tendency to bite on the french word threatening to spill out because there isn't a spanish one to take its place, the frequent desire to even supplement latin into my mostly-english-spanglish, and the joyfully humbling fact that the 7-year-old, Sophia, has been assigned as my language buddy (she works on her english, I fumble a reply in Spanish, mostly consisting of cómo se dice...), my family has already welcomed me so well into their hearts and their homes. There is community here, there is laughter and joy here, there is life just as much here as anywhere else. Above all, God is here. He doesn't check out when we pass through customs, and although tomorrow is sure to bring it's own challenges, tonight brings sweetness, and comfort, and hope in Christ. 

Blessings from (finally) Costa Rica, 
Catherine


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Final Preparations

Just a quick update: I leave for Costa Rica this Thursday, August 16th, and will not be back in the States until Christmas time. It is amazing how fast this Summer has flown by, but how blessed it has been. I just came back from a week-long retreat: the School of the New Evangelization (SNE). It was a grace-filled week in which the Lord worked powerfully in my life, and through which I had the privilege of meeting 200 other Catholic missionaries who are on fire for their faith. I could not ask for a bigger blessing than this before leaving. With less than a week left, the magnitude of how much must be left behind (family, friends, culture, home, language etc..) is starting to sink in. But the Lord has shown me again and again that He will not be outdone in generosity, and the very first unravellings of His plan for my life this year are beginning to show.  I await my early morning flight and the adventures it will bring with slightly bated breath, but firm trust in the truth that God in His perfect love are the same no matter where I go.
Until then;
Peace,
Catherine DeMarais

Saturday, June 16, 2012

An Introduction

The world of blogging is one wholly unfamiliar to me. Being that as it is, I find myself, as my former highschool taught me so well, in need of stating my thesis. The reason for this blog is to connect the world of Costa Rica with the world I know and love in Minnesota (or Rome, or New Jersey, or any other place which I do not love quite as much, and also which is not Costa Rica). I hope that by this blog, the work of the people of Costa Rica, as well as my own service, might be a source of light and strength to those that read it, and that it might serve in furthering God's kingdom.

And now to the details. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, on August 13th, I will embark on a nearly ten-month journey in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. I will be serving directly under an organization called Kairos during my GAP year. I will be working with a Christian Community called Arbol de Vida ("Tree of Life"), serving their youth, their offices, surrounding universities, and also visiting other neighboring communities in Honduras and Nicaragua. During my year, I will stay with a family in the community and care for their families as well as be cared for by them.

"As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him."- Matthew 4:18-20

Why on earth am I doing this GAP year? Believe me, there are days when I wonder myself. The motto for Kairos' GAP program is "a year set apart for a life set apart". Even before I was familiar with this phrase, or even with the GAP program, I felt the call, as Peter did, to leave it behind and follow Christ. Throughout my life, I have embraced the role of student, daughter, friend, classmate, employee. Now, I see myself not so much abandoning these roles, but refining and re-centering them in Christ as Peter left his nets, yet remained a fisherman.  This year is an active way that I can step forward in that call to be a disciple. It is also a way for me to give back in a more direct way for the huge blessings I have been given in my life. God has given me an amazing family, strong friends, and a ever-supportive community. I am overwhelmed at the thought of even attempting to repay the Lord for his constant goodness.

One Final thing: I am still very much in need of support both in prayer, and financially. The year will cost somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 dollars (depending on housing arrangements), and the idea of going to another country whose language I barely speak is quite daunting at times. Please email me (catherine.v.demarais@gmail.com) if you have any questions or if you would like to support me in this year of mission.
So there we have it. The first post of a hopeful many. Blessings,
Catherine DeMarais