Sunday, April 29, 2018

Listening to Chopin

Sad music is salve for a soul

Nothing more than a band-aid

For a heart that loves and loves

Even against its owners will and rationality,

One that loves and loves but runs on fumes

Some days pitifully, regrettably weak:

In the words of King Claudius,

"Tis unmannly grief!"

Demeaned by lies in my head,

By cruel words spoken long ago,

My heart breaks for loneliness,

Daunted by the impossible task

Of finding someone who can

Untangle my unreasonable riddles,

And hear the hidden stories

Told not by the easy expression of words

But instead by labored strings of notes

Sometimes shaded only by harmony

Or musical sentences that speak what

Cannot be said aloud.

But the task is not mine.

By night my heart breaks for loneliness,

But by day I rejoice in God's promises

Of someone who knows his plans

And already knows that person perfectly.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Lonely in a frozen Siberian waste.

Daily the the enemy impales me

With flaming darts

That melt me into wax

Which is recovered

And made into food

To feed hungry souls

While I survive

On barely minimum

Just enough to live and breathe.

Everyday I am reborn

Everyday the same painful pattern

Why can't there be a change for once?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Late Night Thoughts

Irrational fears

Like a demonic hit man

Oozing through the window

With a silencer on his gun

Ready to snuff out a smoldering wick.

Irrational images

Of poisonous hairy long-legged spiders

Squivering along the underside

Of brother's top bunk

Spinning webs right above.

Ghostly spirits appear

And disappear silently

Then hover a foot away

Singing a silent seductive song

Ondine haunts nightmares.

Real images

Disturbing, painful, cruel

Of horrors not forgotten

Of words that hang in the ear

Still whispering years later.

And that cyclone of speculation

Always revolving

Always questioning "what if?"

About the days preceding

And certainly planning the days ahead.

Pleasant memories

Blown out of proportion,

Kind words have too much meaning

Mean words insult relentlessly,

Ambiguous words torment in that cyclone of speculation.

Oh the headache

Of waiting hours to sleep

Then dozing painfully for a minute

Only to wake up soon

Morning has come too quickly.

Perhaps tomorrow night will be better.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Winter Sunrise in Antarctica

It's like that long hoped-for thing

When joy appears and passes

Almost silently in the night.

A grey light

That hints at a greater light elsewhere

But here doesn't permeate.

A glimmer choked

By circumstantial position

Over before it began.

Instead auroras replace it

Fantastical dreams that dance in the night sky

Of people who don't exist,

Of impossible moments

That may never come

To this frozen dark landscape

Populated only by penguins.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cabo San Lucas, Part 6: Perspective

We landed in Portland at 9:32 pm last night. We disembarked, gathered up our luggage, and departed to our own houses. It passed all in a blur. In the space of fifteen minutes, our trip was over. My dad and I went home then. I ate dinner, watched a little bit of TV with my family, and played the piano for a few hours. Then I went to bed, got up this morning, went to the Easter church service, and came home. Basically life resumed like normal.

Now, wait, you must be saying. What happened on Friday and Saturday?

I'm getting to that. I wasn't able to write my last post yesterday while on the plane, so I'm doing it now, on Sunday afternoon--April 1st. This time, I'm on a real computer, able to actually type, instead of making do with my phone. Everything about my situation, at this moment, epitomizes the complete switch, from one culture to another.

Back to Thursday and Friday. Those were are "heavy labor" days--instead of doing a lot of outreach (like earlier in the week), we instead made cement and built a new concrete wall foundation for the front of Steve's house. It was a lot of work, and I'm sure most of my batches of concrete were less than ideal (some were too dry, some too watery, some not mixed well enough), but it was altogether very satisfying. Thursday afternoon, Steve rewarded us by giving us the rest of Thursday off. We went to a beach a little out of town, and then to store in Cabo San Lucas (Walmart) to buy souvenirs. I got a beautiful little metal chain with a sombrero on it, and a Cabo t-shirt.

Friday night was one of the most satisfying nights of my life. We went to a church in Cabo were we did another health fair outreach. What was different here, though, was that afterwards they gave us tamales, then held a beautiful worship service. We got to meet that church's youth group, which was a truly great experience. A few of them could speak a little English, and so between their English and our Spanish we were able to have a lot of fun hanging out, taking pictures, and just plain chatting.

Early on in the night, I got to know some of the people there. It came out that I like playing piano, and that I am studying to become a concert pianist. They immediately asked me to play. Jim and the rest of the worship team were just starting to do music, and some of the musicians from that church set a keyboard so that I could play with them. Sadly, we had not rehearsed at all beforehand, and I was positioned quite poorly, and thus couldn't even hear where Jim and the rest were in the song. So after one attempt I let that go. '

But then Steve announced that I would play a solo piece for them--"un concierto, en este momento" (a concert, at this moment). So I played them the Schubert Impromptu in G-flat, which  was very difficult considering the lightness of the keyboard, and I ended up improvising half of the piece, eventually bringing it around to the end. But they loved in anyway. Later, their own worship team did music for us, and Sawyer got to hop in on  piano and/or cajon. He was quite flustered at first (especially since Sawyer doesn't speak much Spanish), but once he figured out that they use solf├Ęge, the system of do-re-mi-fa-so-la-te-do (instead of the traditional circle of fifths), he adapted quite well.

But the best parts were still to come. They served us tamales for dinner--delicious, carefully-made tamales, filled with spicy chicken and wrapped in a banana peel. Then they started their church service--with their own worship team (and Sawyer), and then a long introduction about missionaries who spread the Gospel, and finally the Gospel message itself, told by Steve Cruz, with all the children sitting up front, with all their backpacks and goodie bags and balloons. Then they prayed, Mexican style, and Steve said that if any want to receive Christ as their savior, they could raise their hands, with every head bowed and every eye closed. And, he said later, one girl did. That warms my heart so much.

But what warmed me more was when a couple that the church had been ministering to for some time came up to the front and publicly accepted Jesus. I almost never get to see this happen--so far, most of the work God has given me in ministry has either been to strengthening Christians or else planting seeds in soil that is not yet ready for Christ's word. So you can imagine my joy, and the joy of the entire church, when this couple came up to the front. They prayed for that couple, Mexican-style, which really does mean all at once.

After that, everything became a blur. We all arose early the next morning, quickly packed, drove to the airport San Jose Los Cabos, and then flew home, with a long layover in Los Angeles. I readjust significantly--I accidently spoke in Spanish a few times on the plane, I found myself translating English signs in Spanish in my head, and, most of all, missing Cabo already.

But home isn't so bad, you know? If I'm thirsty, I can drink straight out of the tap. I can flush my toilet paper down the toilet, and not put it in the trash (TMI, probably, but it's a true thing). I enjoyed a long, hot shower last night, and another one this morning. At church, I looked presentable for the first time in a week. And right now, above all, it's raining. Being a true North-westerner, I love rain. Ah, Oregon. Cursed, blessed Oregon. It's good ll to be home, where I can apply the lessons I learned in Baja and apply them here. Perhaps another blog post down the road will be in order? We'll see.

Hasta luego, amigos. Ha sido un placer (it's been a pleasure).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Cabo San Lucas, Part 5--Wakeup Call

Well, yesterday (Wednesday) had a big turnaround halfway through it. I was getting all ready to right an upbeat post, but then we got a flat tire.

You see, I was wrong on Monday that that lunch at Alpha y Omega would be the last time I would see the kids. So I got a second chance see all my new friends there, to have another day with them, and then say goodbye again. This time was even harder, because this time, we really aren't coming back.

We went back to Steve's house and ate a quick lunch. Then we got on the road for San Juan Los Cabos, a neighboring city about a 45 minute-drive away. Except it didn't take us 45 minutes, but more like 3 hours.

Up to this point so far, I had seen so much joy and love from these people that I had almost forgotten how truly dark this place is. In America, we rarely see trucks driving around with heavily armed soldiers and machine guns in the back. But in Cabo, it's a normal thing. It was quite unsettling at first. Especially when one realizes why these are necessary, and the implications for the people of Cabo. And we always complain about corrupt law and police brutality in America? We've seen nothing.

Imagine the consequences for a community when the only armed forces in the city are warring against each other: 6 or 8 rival drug cartels, a corrupt local police force, and a federal police force that is supposed to "correct" the corrupt local police. Imagine these three groups fighting each other. Connect that mentally to my photos and writings thus far. All these people we serve are caught in the crossfire. That's what it means to be a Christian here.

Back to our trip. We are driving east on the highway to Los Cabos, when we suddenly get a flat tire on the rental van. A bad one. We pull off at a resort exit to change it, then discover that it's rusted on and can't be changed. So what do we do? Our little group walks down to the resort and "sneaks" through it, heading down to the beach. The beach is beautiful, and everything in the resort is super high-class and manicured. A huge culture-shock.

Then we have to get back up the top of the hill, so do we do? Simple. Hitch a ride with the employee shuttle--a red small red pickup in which we all clamber into the back and ride up to the top. Smart, right? Not. Steve's got a lot of words of words for us about how stupid that was. We wouldn't do that in Beaverton, why the heck is it any better of an idea to do it here? There are so many ways that can go wrong, and it was a huge miracle that the hotel employees where who they said they were. I spend the rest of the trip thinking about how I should have listened to my gut and where we could be because I, the one who gets paid to be OCD about rules, let my guard down. Well, it won't happen again.

We take a new van out to the slums of San Lucas, where we hurriedly set up our health fair stations, make pancakes, and give out goodie bags of health supplies. Like usual, the kids are full of joy. I help a little girl get treatment for a swollen eye, and banter with a very chipper 9 year-old kid who deliberately speaks rapid-fire, pleased with how it flusters us. But I take him once a tell him his name, Santiago, is the same as my last name, James, in English. They were all so excited about that, and it lifted my spirits to hear them clamor to hear if their names were different in English as well.

Then we went to go have dinner at a local church that outreaches to the same area we do. They give some kind of fish stew out of a pot the size of a small hot tub. It's delicious, and sort of like Mexican pho. We put different things on it, like salsa, jalapenos, and avocado. It's so good. We sing them a song. And then they break our hearts.

They pull out an old song that they'd taught us years ago, called Dios es Poderoso. God is Able. Know that name? So did we. Then we sing Lord We Lift Your Name on High, once is Spanish and once in English. Then the pastor shares about how their church was completely destroyed by a hurricane in 2014, and how many surrounding churches are helping them rebuild. Then his wife tells us about their ministry here, and how Doctor Alvaro is their lifeline of supplies. They work with the children of the street, the kids who have been forced out of their homes because their parents are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Those were the same kids that were chattering so joyfully earlier tonight.

It made me cry then, and it makes me cry now, as I write this early the next morning. Soon I will get up and cook pancakes for breakfast. Today and tomorrow will pass, with whatever they bring. Then we will leave Saturday and return home. But I will never forget this place, or last night. Yes, yesterday was a wakeup call that reopened a lot my own old wounds, and inflicted new ones--but good ones. I will be thinking more about this in the future. You may notice I changed tense multiple times this essay. That was on purpose. I wanted to reflect the transformation that happened in my mind.

Hasta luego.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Cabo San Lucas, Part 4--Communication

Last night was so much fun! And God gave me exactly what I needed, which was not exactly what Jan had in mind for me--this was better, and she knew it.

We worked hard all through the morning. Steve had us working on two projects: there was the space near the poor tree that we'd MOVED the day before, where we further dug our trench, the slid a thousand-pound concrete septic tank lid in sideways to make a retaining wall. That was tough. We also bent rebar to make a frame for new retaining wall on the other side of the driveway.

Sawyer, Domanik, Timmy, and I spent a really long time trying to excavate the old concrete foundation with a pickax before Steve pointed out that we were really supposed to just "clean out" the loose dirt, not the whole concrete post!!! After all that work, we ate a great lunch a of barbeque chicken.

Oh, just a word about the food here: everything I've had has been really good. And most of the meals Jan has prepared for us has been the same kind of things my dad makes at home: fajitas, spaghetti, and yesterday's barbeque chicken. It has all been amazing!

Then last night we went to a park to do another health fair, like what we did Sunday night. Except that this time, I ended up not having a table to run, so I became a "floater." Well, I didn't end up doing much floating! Instead, I talked with a local man named Roberto, whose kids were at the health fair, for over an hour, ALL IN SPANISH!!! We talked about so much--like Cabo and Oregon, our faith, our jobs, the different neighborhoods of Cabo ... It was amazing. I didn't know I had that much Spanish in me! Sure, our conversation (and my word usage) looped a few times, but I got a good picture of the life of a more middle-class family in Cabo. He works about 40 hours a week, doing different kinds of landscape and painting work. I introduced him to pastor Jim, Sawyer, and Rachel; and he introduced me to his family.

By the time we were done (I had to help clean up, and he had to leave), I was thoroughly excited, and tired. Then, almost right away, Jim asked me to help him talk to another man named Frederico who was about to go on his shift. So I talked with him a little bit as well. Then I went to go play basketball with Domanik, Sawyer, Rachel, and a few other kids.

That night was so cool. Everywhere I looked, everyone on our team had found a way to communicate, even if they didn't speak Spanish, and those that did were becoming more confident. In an earlier prayer time, we had prayed that God would transcend the language barrier. And last night, He truly did.