Our family lived in Costa Rica in 2005. When we first moved there, I hated it.
I know. You’re thinking I’m a crazy whiner. And you’re right. But here’s the deal: I was expecting tropical paradise. The reality – at least in San Jose – wasn’t quite that.
We didn’t have a car when we lived there, so we walked. A lot. And those first few weeks, all I saw was what was on the ground – it was nasty. And when I happened to look up a little, I just saw all the gates in front of the houses, the barbed wire protecting the gates, the armed guards protecting the barbed wire protecting the gates.Until we moved to Costa Rica, the only foreign countries I had visited were Canada and Spain. And, while Costa Rica is not third world, it is not Canada or Spain, either.
So I whined and complained and wiped the mold and trash and animal debris from my shoes everyday and wondered why in the world people I had talked to raved so much about this country. It was smelly and gross and the end of our year there couldn’t come fast enough.
And then, one day, I looked up. Way up. And suddenly, immediately, my perspective changed.
San Jose is in a valley, completely surrounded by mountains. Beautiful, green mountains. Above the mountains, there is an incredibly blue sky. Having grown up in central Florida and moved to north Texas, mountains were a vacation destination, not a daily sight. And these mountains were amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Then I started noticing other things. I’d be sitting in class (we were studying Spanish at the amazing Spanish Language Institute) and see a hummingbird flitting outside. Occasionally, we’d even seen parakeets. I looked around and saw trees with fruits that I couldn’t identify. In our own front yard, we had an avocado tree — free, fresh guacamole year ’round! I started noticing smells, too. Good smells. Coffee beans roasting. Bread being baked. Tropical flowers.
In less than two months, I went from hating this city to being in love with it. I barely even noticed the nasty ground, the bars or barbed wire. By the time our year there had ended, I was in mourning. I didn’t want to leave. I knew I’d miss it so much. And I do.
I’m sure you can see the spiritual parallels to this story. I know God has reminded me of this often in the years since. It’s easy to see the “yuck” factor in our lives. People we don’t like, situations that annoy us. We can get stuck looking at the yuck, thinking about the yuck, wallowing in the yuck. And we miss the beauty. It’s there. Even in the worst of situations. Sometimes, I know, you have to look really hard. You have to force your eyes up. Way up. But beauty is there because God is there. Right with you. Every step of the way.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.