Not An Adventure

I’d like to preface this whole thing by saying that this is a preemptive strike, or rather, post. Why?

Well, because I’d like to clear the air of something that’s been nagging me for the past year. That way, when the time comes (very soon, I might add) that finds me back in the United States, I want to be able to have conversations with people without losing my marbles. I want to share what I have learned, what I have seen. I want to share the love I have felt. I don’t want to share my bad mood that you might set off just by saying the wrong thing.

So here’s the thing. People frequently, with their good intentions, continue to wish me success, happiness, and the like while I am here at NPH El Salvador. Something akin to “on this adventure of yours” is almost always tacked on to the end of the sentence. Adventure. My adventures. My year full of adventures.

In a word, gross.

That’s not what this is. My presence and geographical location for the last year has not been an adventure. It’s not an escapade, a voyage, or what have you. Try out most of adventure’s synonyms and try to claim that what I am doing is in fact of an adventurous nature, and I’ll find a way to disagree with you.

For me, the word adventure implies a passing fancy or some thrill-seeking…thing, as if I just decided to take a year off after finishing college before entering the “work world” to go backpacking or gallivanting through Europe kind of adventure. (Not that that is bad. It’s not! I’d love to travel through Europe, someday.)

My volunteer service, nay, my time in community with my crazy big Salvadoran family is not an adventure.

I was not blown here by the wind. I didn’t blindly place my finger on a spinning globe to see where I should go on a whim. I didn’t look up a list of international volunteer/service organizations and choose one at random from a search engine result page.

All I did was come back to a place that my bones knew and called as yet another home for me. (See the Home Series posts #1, 2, and 3 for a better understanding.) It wasn’t just that I returned home to this family, to this place where I felt and feel loved. I was called back. God planted a seed many years ago and has lovingly nurtured it. I’m blessed to say that it has grown into an awesome little tree. And you know what? Trees keep growing! Life keeps growing and twisting and turning!

God’s plan for my life brought me here. Now granted I could have said no and refused. I could have said, you know what? I’m going to get a paying job and stay. But when you come to know a place like this, when you come to know such beautiful people, and when God says, hey why don’t you go live there? It’s pretty easy to make that choice (and would be definitely mind-boggling if you did say no!)

I love hiking in the mountains or near the lake at home. Sometimes I just love walking along the river near my old apartment for no reason. There’s something about physical paths that I am drawn to, so it makes logical sense that my favorite metaphorical figure for my life is in fact, a path or the trail.

My life, the path that I am walking on and have been on since the day I was born, has climbed up up up in altitude. Sometimes it gradually descends, sometimes rapidly. Then it ascends again with tortoise or hare-like velocity. Sometimes it’s full of switchbacks; sometimes it’s full of big ol’ lazy curves. When I came to NPH El Salvador, I wasn’t switching paths. I was and am continuing on the one I initially set off on, 23 years ago.

So…to bring it all back. It’s not that I don’t like the word adventure and what it means. Will I go on adventures? You bet! Do I think every day holds the possibility of being an adventure? Of course! Have I been on adventures while serving and living in El Salvador? Absolutely. I’ve got a whole mental list of stories at the ready to tell you.

But please, please, please do not mistake my time and presence in El Salvador as a whole as being an adventure. To be quite frank, I hate it when people say, “oh it’s an adventure.” “How exciting is this adventure for you!” What you are doing to me and to my kids here is compartmentalizing our lives, our experiences. We are not some item to check off on a list of things to do in the world and in life.

This is not a philanthropic volun-tourist thing. I didn’t come down to a country rife with poverty and violence to do “good” and make myself feel better, like people often do these days in their quests to “find themselves.” To say to myself, “yeah I have these big grandiose ideas about how I’m gonna change the world and eliminate suffering…okay I did my thing down here and now I can move on with my life.” That’s pretty shallow. If you are going to do service, wherever in the world it might be, do it for the right reasons. Do it because you are serving your neighbor, not serving yourself.

After having countless cup-runneth-over days here at NPH El Salvador, I seriously cannot imagine living out such a ludicrous notion of self-before-others. I came down not to make myself feel better or to change the world. I came down to be a part of someone’s life, to tell him and to tell her, hey you know, I love you. You’re going to be someone in this world. I believe in you.

St. Vincent Palloti says, “You must be holy in the way God asks you to be holy. God does not ask you to be a Trappist monk or a hermit. He wants you to sanctify the world and your everyday life.”

That’s pretty awesome, don’t you think? I’m doing my best to do what God asks of me, my call to holiness, as it were. So, NPH El Salvador isn’t an adventure. It’s the best way I know how to live out the call to holiness.

It’s my life.

Over the Hill-Mountain and Through the River

My official title here at NPH is just Volunteer, but sometimes I feel like the resident photographer. This “job” is actually quite fun for me as it has allowed me to do really cool things with the kids, because documenting daily life here is in a roundabout way in my job description!

And so, as things go, I went on an adventure last weekend. I’ll admit that initially I wasn’t too excited about going because I had a lot of other work to do, but I acquiesced to the invitation.

And I’m so glad that I did.

Our college students, along with some young adults from a local parish, lead a youth group for our kids. On Saturday they planned a hike to a nearby (and I mean, nearby) mountain. I’ve always wanted to go hike Cerro but have never had the chance.

In order to get to the nonexistent trail (the kids just know how to get there – it’s awesome), we had to walk about 10 minutes along the road, then cut through some fields on another dirt road. So before you even hike, you do a bit of walking.DSC_4485I’ve done my fair share of hiking on a variety of trails/mountains. However, I’ve never hiked anything this steep. Going to the top of Cerro is so sheer! I couldn’t believe it. My dogs were aching by the time we got to the top, and I’m also at the tail-end of a gnarly cold. However, instead of moaning in misery like I could have, I could only smile because this is what greeted us:

DSC_4492The buildings and most of the fields that you can see are of NPH. How cool is that? Also, the view in and of itself is breathtaking.

The buildings and most of the fields that you can see are of NPH. How cool is that? Also, the view in and of itself is breathtaking.

The plan was to hike down the other side to the river (which runs through part of our property!) The going down part was infinitely trickier than scaling the mountain, especially when we encountered some bees. I think someone stirred up the nest, because they were swarming and everyone started running. Imagine…running down the side of mountain that isn’t meant to be run on. Haha. It was mildly terrifying – do I get away from the bees as quickly as possible and risk rolling all the way down to the bottom? I made it mostly unscathed, only one bee got me.

DSC_4510We got to the river and took off our shoes to go walking to some undetermined point. Normally I love going barefoot. I prefer it actually, in most circumstances. However, after walking 15 minutes on slippery river rocks, I wished I had worn my Tevas (or at least kept my sneakers on, but who wants to walk around in wet socks?). Now not only were my legs on fire, but my feet felt like…well, like I had walked on rocks. Big rocks. Little rocks. Slippery rocks. Dry rocks. Hot sand. Mud. You name it, it was there.

We finally arrived to what I would like to call the Sweet Spot. I was having a blast before ever getting to the river, but once we got to the swimming hole, it was like someone opened up a can of fun-sauce. Almost everyone hopped in and had an awesome time.

DSC_4531 DSC_4553 DSC_4627It was a most excellent adventure, and I didn’t have to go very far. Normally back home, if I want to hike in the Smokies, I have to drive at least 45 minutes to an hour just to get to the park. Within the park it can take even longer depending on which trail I want to hike.

I don’t have that problem now, not here at NPH El Salvador. We’ve got a mountain that’s 10 minutes away by foot and a river on our property. It seems like there are one million ways to get to both places, and I only saw two of those “trails.” That’s pretty darn cool.

DSC_4630I’m also the proud recipient of a well-earned pair of jellylegs.