A few days into our month long trip to Chile, I saw this patch of ground. It was a long ways away from the house. And I never had my phone with me (glorious, let me just say that…) so I never got a picture of it, but it is permanently written into my memory. It was bone dry. Completely parched. You could tell it hadn’t seen a drop of rain for who knows how long. Like none. It was beyond a little dusty and more like just hardened, packed, totally broken ground. It wasn’t comfortable to walk over. It was uneven and awkward. It was ugly and lifeless. As I walked across it and Finn saw fit to explore every crevice and bump in the ground, my heart breathed a deep internal sigh. I would walk past it many times over the coming weeks and it wasn’t until the second week that I was struck by why I felt attached to this little stretch of dirt. Why I felt compelled to look intently at it every time I passed. Why I was drawn to it.
There were parts of my life that felt just like that patch of arrid soil. That might sound hard to believe. Somehow though, its possible to have certain aspects of life feel rich and blessed and thriving while others are crumbling and impoverished. Maybe your life looks good on Sunday at church because parts of life are truly, genuinely wonderful and you think no one notices the part of your heart that is thirsty and desperate for water, for life. I used to believe that if you felt that way, lived that way, it meant your life was fragmented, too compartmentalized, maybe even hypocritical, couldn’t possibly be authentic and real. How everything had to be connected and in sync and crap like that. But that was a younger, quicker to judge, slower to give grace version of myself. With every passing year, I understand a little bit more how blistering hard life can be. I watch my friends bear up under unspeakably difficult things. I listen to their stories and I read books and I see with my own eyes incredible, searing pain and heartache. I yell and weep and scratch in my journal and read the only Book that brings peace in dark nights. And woven in to every one of those hearts, those lives–mine included–is a myriad of lovely things in the midst of pressing in, hard life.
Water is a big deal in most of the world. Ours is one of a precious few nations where water is really a given wherever you may be. Our children don’t grow up thinking about it, lets be honest, neither do most of us grown ups. They take for granted from toddler-hood that when they turn a faucet on, water will come and out and they can drink it, wash with it, do whatever they want with it and there will always be more. When we arrived in Chile, there was immediately talk of the canal that ran right through our friends’ land and how their neighbor had built a dam, illegally, to provide him with an overflowing abundant source of water for his late-planted potato crop. There was less rainfall than normal and the countryside was dust laden and scorched. So dry. One day we drove by the gypsy tents near town and there were flames leaping two stories as their little temporary dwelling places caught fire. Something had sparked a fire and everything being so dry the flames were out of control very quickly.
There were neighbors across the road whose well ran dry a few weeks into our stay. What it feels like to have no water for cooking, drinking, bathing, livestock….I cannot begin to understand. They had to come fill jugs with water at our house and ended up paying a truck to come bring them a tank of water. Cows wandered fields that looked devoid of any living thing, no green grass. Trees with deep roots provided lush shelter and respite from the blazing afternoon sun were their saving grace no doubt. The cars we drove were covered in thick layers of dirt and dust. But it seemed terribly wasteful to use such a commodity as water to clean them. So we didn’t. More than once we ran the water tank all the way out of water. If we forgot to fill the tank up twice daily, it could run out.
All this talk and thought of water was not lost on me. When some parts of your life are okay or good even, I think it makes it easier (not easy) to keep moving forward. It can make life more doable in the short term to just forge ahead. But as we faced a dry, water-starved land alongside our beloved friends of nearly two decades, the reality of our own thirsty places stared back at us. And it became clear that Chile held more for us than a cross-cultural learning experience, more than the many (amazing) new encounters and adventures, more than family bonding and unending Daddy time. In my shortsightedness and near panic preparing for such a monumental trip with six young children, I had no time to take inventory of my own heart before we departed. We took each simple day as it came to us and were fairly swept away by laughter and life and love. Love that we might have lost sight of in these past couple of years. Love that we had to go to Chile to find again.