“…And Then, I Realized Adventures Are The Best Way to Learn.”

“We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong.”

It’s been a little over two weeks since my Costa Rican adventure came to a close.  I’m already back at college, and after a comedy of errors with my cell provider, I actually have a working iPhone (although I do tend to forget about it and leave texts messages unanswered for hours on end).  Life’s back to normal…but at the same time, my “normal” will never be the same again.  There is a lot that I’m still processing–I think there will be for a long time–but I wanted to take a moment, while my trip is still fresh in my mind, to share at least some about what my time in that beautiful nation taught me…

God is there during perfect mornings on world-class beaches…and at one in the morning in San Jose’s red light district.

I already wrote a little about some of the opportunities I had for ministry in Costa Rica.  Face of Justice, a group working with prostitution and human trafficking in San Jose, is an incredible ministry!  I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from them.  The wisdom, grace, and generosity of their staff and volunteers amazed me.  While their personal stories and backgrounds are diverse, they are a group knit together by a common goal. 

      The Bible calls us as Christians to be the light of the world–light in the midst of incredible darkness (Matthew 5).  Well, FOJ is the embodiment of this old adage.  I have never been so deeply challenged to live a life poured out.  To the FOJ staff, what they do is not a day job.  It is their life.  They genuinely love every single one of the prostitutes we had the opportunity to meet.  They go over to their homes.  They pray with them.  They cry with them.  They support them.  They are doing holistic ministry in a way that I admire more than I know how to express.  Their approach greatly impacted my idea of ministry…and even challenged my perceptions of what I thought my long-term goals were. I saw Jesus in the way they loved these people.  I saw Jesus in their passion for finding justice for these defenseless ones.  

But honestly, that did not totally surprise me.  I went into my trip expecting to be impacted by FOJ,  a group of people pouring out their lives daily in a way that I so desire to emulate.  What I didn’t expect, though, was how I continually found myself drawn back to God by everything else on my trip.  The breathtaking beauty, the unexpected, honest conversations…sloths, monkeys, snorkeling, perfect sunrises, secret lagoons, untold laughter… I saw God at work time and time again.  That left me grateful and in awe.  God kept surprising me, and that was one of the most beautiful parts of my entire journey.

Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right up to the time I was sitting on the plane, flying into Costa Rica, a part of me refused to believe that I was actually going to another country for five weeks.  It is something that I’ve been dreaming of for so many years that it did not seem possible that it was finally, actually happening.  People kept asking me before–and during–the trip why I chose Costa Rica.  The only honest answer I could give was “…I have absolutely no idea.” 

And that right there was one of the beautiful things about my time there.  New country. New culture.  New people. New university.  New freedom. I spent a lot of time answering questions with a palms-up shrug of the shoulders, and I loved that.  The spontaneous adventures–and even the misadventures– became comical memories that stay with me.  No, we may not always have been the most time efficient.  No, we definitely weren’t moving at the fast-paced, American speed of life. But just living in the moment, enjoying every experience was utterly priceless.  I learned to love the fact that a single day could mean going from classes to painting a home for girls rescued from human trafficking  to salsa dancing the whole night long.

There’s a quote I love that says, “…at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your eyes sparkling, and your hair a mess.”

That right there captures the essence of my daily life in Costa Rica.

I found myself wondering why I don’t live like that here in the States.  Somehow, because this is my “normal life”, it is much easier to lose sight of the beautiful moments and doorways to adventure that lie right in front of me.  Now that I’m home, I find myself living with greater intentionality–forcing myself to pause and look for those beautiful moments and adventures in the way I learned to in Costa Rica. 

Sometimes, you have to just slow down and be.

     During my last few days in Costa Rica, two of my friends and I took a last minute trip to the breathtaking beach and national park at Manuel Antonio.  We got there late one night and immediately went to bed, planning to get up for the sunrise the next morning.  We actually ended up  waking up around 3 am to the shrill screeching of howler monkeys–if you have never heard them, well, just imagine the most terrifying screams you’ve ever heard in a horror movie.  We lay there in the darkness, our shoulders shaking with laughter as we waited for our heart rates to return to normal.  We managed to fall back asleep for a little while.  Then, we got up and walked the little town until we found a cheap breakfast at the Backpackers Paradise.  From there, we went on into the national park (where most of the Manuel Antonio beaches are).  We climbed and explored.  We saw monkeys and sloths.  All three of us were phone-less (two of us managed to break ours, the third didn’t own one to begin with), so we had literally no idea what time it was.  We journaled and laughed and swam and dreamed and planned future adventures…it was literally a perfect day.  

I’ve never been too good at relaxing.  I can have a good time, but actually slowing down and not doing much of anything?  That’s always been harder for me.  I learned to value the moments of “nothing” in Costa Rica, whether lying on a beach or tucked into my favorite corner booth at La Musa Confusa or Rendezvous (two of the greatest coffee spots I’ve ever discovered).  There’s beauty to be found in simply being still.  It’s a beauty that us Americans could do with learning to appreciate.

Close your eyes and leap.

In five weeks, I went from being a girl who’d never been outside of the US to a girl that did not think twice about buying a one-way bus ticket for the weekend nd heading off to travel with one or two friends, staying in cheap hostels. (The sorts with the detached bathrooms that probably would have sent me running a few weeks prior.)  I went from being timid in my Spanish–so nervous about messing up that I did not even want to try–to having confidence that I could always get my point across–and laughing along with the ticos if my method of getting that point across happened to be less than conventional.  I went from knowing no one to having a favorite coffee shop where they teased me for my coffee obsession and knew my order before I could even place it.  

Basically, I spent five weeks totally out of my comfort zone….and I loved every second of it.  What’s more, the ways I grew during my time there almost entirely came because I allowed myself to be pushed beyond my comfort zone.  Taking the jump into the unknown is absolutely worth it.

Wanderlust is here to stay.

Traveling has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. My ambitions, dreams, plans… so many of them has always been wrapped up in exploring new places and meeting new people, actually being in the places that I fell in love with in books and movies at a very young age.  There was always this part of me, though, that was a little terrified.  What if when I finally do get to travel…I hate it?  What if I don’t have what it takes?  What if everything that I think I want is just a fantasy of what travel is like?

Well, after five weeks of cold showers, days where I could barely walk because I was so sore from hiking, learning to navigate a second language in everyday life for the first time, managing conniving taxi drivers, and staying in a hostel that lost all power while we were staying there…I can honestly say that my time in Costa Rica made me fall in love with traveling.  The crazy moments become the memories you’ll talk about for years to come, and the breathtaking, perfect moments–like reaching the peak of a volcano after hiking for hours and sitting in a park of beautiful ruins watching children laugh and play, or dancing the night away and screaming at the top of my lungs as I rush down an extremely tall water slide into hot springs in the middle of the night–moments like those make it all worth it.

So, I learned that I can travel…and now, I want to more than ever.  Traveling is addictive, and I’m already scheming and dreaming of my next adventure.

Be yourself.

In Costa Rica, I found myself challenged in my faith and convictions.  People asked me hard questions…and I had to be able to articulate where I actually stood and why.  Granted, I did not always do so as coherently as I would have liked.  The result, though, was that I walked away stronger, knowing who I was and able to speak out about my beliefs and convictions in ways I never could have before. 

       At the same time, I found a new freedom to just relax and be myself.  When you’re absorbed in figuring out how to function in an entirely new culture, you don’t have the time to over think things the way you do at home.  I found myself being more open, more quickly than I normally would have dared to be.  I was not worried about fitting in or making friends; I was too concerned with trying to make sure that I had proper change for the cab driver and that the bus I was hopping on was not going to take me to the opposite side of the country.  Friendships? Well, those sort of just…happened along the way, while I was busy being myself and living my Costa Rican life.  I found that so refreshing because it made the relationships we formed so deep and genuine…but I’m getting ahead of myself…

We’re all in this together. 

I honestly could not have made it through Costa Rica without my crazy group of fellow study abroad students.  They became my biggest supporters, cheerleaders, and adventure-buddies.  It became a running joke that we deserved our own reality television show.  Honestly, I’m pretty sure that we would have gotten top ratings.  We never could quite decide, though, if we were a sitcom or a soap opera…

Seriously, though, there’s something about studying abroad, being in a foreign country with a group of people you’ve never met, who have absolute no ties to your life at home, that opens the door for honesty and a depth of relationship at a speed and level I never expected.  It is beautiful…and life-changing.  There’s nothing to lose, so people risk letting their walls down in a very different way.  We were more willing to be honest and vulnerable. I made friendships that I know will last for years to come. (In fact, I just got a save-the-date for one of the girls’ weddings today!)

You’ll change more than you recognize at the time. 

     Ironically, while the pace of life is much slower there, my time in Costa Rica still flew by.  Oh, I knew I was changing and growing, but I had no idea how deeply I was changing…until I came home. It is in the little things that I see it, and honestly, I think that I’ll be realizing how I’ve been impacted for a long time to come.  Because, at my core, I see the world differently now..and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pura Vida.

Pura Vida. How could my list of lessons be complete without mentioning the unofficial motto of the ticos?  Pura vida…pure life.  It’s the way they live.  It’s the way I lived there.  It’s the way I’m trying to figure out how to continue living now that I’m back here.  There is a beauty and magic in their value on people and relationships as the highest priority.  They understand and appreciate the little things.  The spirit of adventure and excitement that comes with pura vida–embracing the moment–enriches life.  I want to learn to live that life right here, right now…at my little university in west Tennessee.  

Because, while I’m no longer spending my days walking Costa Rica’s perfect beaches, my memories and the lessons I learned will stay with me always.

Pura vida, mis amigos,

Anna

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