“Pick your battles.” It’s a pretty common phrase, especially with regard to parenting and marriage relationships. The idea being that you can’t work on everything all at once. One month into our life as missionaries in Costa Rica, the wisdom has an interesting ring.
Many of the changes we are facing don’t raise any quarrel within me. Cooking from scratch has always been close to my heart. Fully weaned from my bread machine, my new motto is “There’s no sense in making a single batch of anything.” My KitchenAid has never felt so appreciated. Multigrain bread, dinner rolls, pizza dough, and cinnamon rolls have all risen beautifully to the challenge of life in the tropics, at least for the short time they’re allotted before being devoured. Last weekend I even made some jam. My favorite strawberry-rhubarb of the prairie made way for mango-pineapple and straight pineapple, with delicious results. And no one could quibble with the ever-changing dance of clouds across the mountains that we drink in every morning from our balcony. The frequent rainstorms beat a rhythm that my heart sings to, and the sandal-worthy weather is a delight, even when cool temps make me reach for a hoodie.
Some of the new experiences are neutral. Putting bathroom tissue in the wastebasket rather than the plumbing is more an exercise of memory than of will. Exploring each grocery store’s limited repertoire for the things we need, figuring out a new shopping routine, and travelling by foot is a good opportunity to interact with the local culture and language. I’ve gotten used to ignoring the traffic whizzing by on Calle Principal (Main Street) and being fully aware of the people around me. When Eliana and I got caught out in a heavy downpour, we laughed at the raging gutter-rivers we had to ford to bring our milk and flour home. Had we forgotten the umbrellas, it could have been significantly less amusing. Getting splashed by buses was a one-hit wonder to check off our bucket lists.
Then there are the situations that, despite our efforts, we aren’t able to fully conquer. We can wash all of our dishes religiously, wipe the counters regularly, sweep the floors, and put down Terro dots (ant bait), but there will always be tiny hormigas foraging across most surfaces of the house and fruit flies hovering in the kitchen. When researching roach control, the first two tips are to completely seal off entry points and eliminate water sources, neither of which is possible in tropical houses. Locks, fences, and window bars we have, but weatherstripping is absent where windows stay open year-round. It appears, though, that the tube of gel bait left behind in our house by previous language school students still has some kick to it. My squeal upon finding a victim in my utensil drawer rallied the whole house. I don’t mind dispatching the intruder–although I much prefer they don’t come in at all– it’s just the surprise of discovery that catches me off guard.
There are some things, however, that I’m taking on with my fists up. Spanish prepositions, for example. We’ve gone a few rounds, but I’m determined to best the different uses of por and para, entre and hasta. I’m doing battle with my inner introvert who would rather clam up than speak imperfect Spanish to the neighbors on our block. Hopefully, the chocolate chip scones we took them will increase their grace for learning gringos. And while I can’t fix the peeling paint, temperamental light switches, or cracked tiles of our rental house, I can make it clean and well-organized. Every day we attack a little more of the remaining clutter and sort it into working systems. Time spent scraping paint off of windows and grout slops off of tile are making the best of this space that we’ve been given for this school year. Decorations are finding their way onto walls, and new family routines are forming.
So we’ll pull out the putty knife and scrub brush. We’ll click up the razor blade, squirt the degreaser, study the grammar, and invest in new relationships. With every battle wisely picked, with every bit of ground we gain against ourselves, the language, or our surroundings, we make Costa Rica more our home.
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 2 Corinthians 4:17