Paddle boarding through a mangrove swamp. Check.
Yoga with running water trickling in the background. Check.
Thirteen ziplines over a luscious, impenetrable rain forest. Check.
Horseback riding on muddy jungle trails and white sand beaches. Check.
But 60 kilometers of ATVing in the high mountains? Yes, during our Costa Rica vacation several weeks ago, we did that too. It was there, doing something new and unplanned, that I encountered God again.
|Our tutorial – none of us knew what to do!|
This whole four wheeling gig is highly out of character for the Comptons, because my parents have long considered the vehicles a source of unnecessary danger. But, the folks who provided the horseback riding also offer ATV tours, and after a week and half of exploration, we had pretty much ventured on every excursion we had hoped to do. There were still three days to kill before our departure, though, so Hoffa signed us up for the following day. I was hesitant. It seemed like a waste of money and time. I just saw four wheelers as loud, dangerous gas guzzlers. What’s the point of riding on one all day? I thought hanging out at the house or beach reading The Two Towers would probably be a better use of my diminishing days of vacation.
|I don’t know about this…|
But, as I often am, I was wrong. ATVing provided many surprises. Now that we’ve been back a few weeks, we have already begun reminiscing on this summer’s family vacation, and almost all of us – I included – agree that the quad tour was especially memorable.
|How the Comptons feel about four wheelers now|
If you recall from previous posts, we initially struggled to navigate the twisting, unpaved roads surrounding Nosara. Because we didn’t rent a car, we had been walking everywhere for the past week, and even the Compton girls were gaining some sense of direction. My first surprise began as, bend after bend, we quickly departed from the unpaved Costa Rican roads we had come to know. Blindly following our jovial German guide, we entered remote villages, and I began to see glimpses of a more authentic Costa Rica – the tourists’ Pura Vida mask, the false presentation of luxurious paradise, was stripped to its origin. Everyone still smiles, the mangos are still sweet, and the jungle still pristine. But here, despite our swift pace, I noticed the difference. Impoverished farmers struggle to provide for their large families. Sons escape reality on the soccer field. Mothers seek solace in the church. Skinny pets scavenge to survive. Life is hard.
Without an ATV, I would’ve missed this. True, these two weeks were a vacation, but I’m grateful that I have not returned as another tourist oblivious to the economics which prevail most of the country. I had seen this kind of life – and far worse circumstances – in Cambodia, but the more poverty you witness in different places across the globe, the more you realize your own blessings.
While our indirect encounter with poverty was good, it was my second unanticipated surprise that makes this excursion so memorable and precious. High in the Costa Rican mountains, I had an authentic meeting with the Lord. Ever since traveling to Cambodia, I have struggled in my faith as I never have before. (For more on that, check the archived blog titled Jesus? Oh, Jesus). I walked with a childlike faith well into college. Even when I faced challenges at Roanoke, I held on to the relationship and experiences he and I shared together from my youth. I knew his names, and I continued to call on him, even when I didn’t necessarily feel his presence. Jesus – the Beautiful Savior. The Holy One, Beginning and End, untamed lion and sacrificial lamb. He is a heart healer, miracle worker, and grace giver.
Though he calls us to have a childlike faith, God has brought me back to the basics this summer and taught me that that is just what our faith should be – childlike. Not the belief in God that children hold when they are six and have grown up in the church. Most kids believe because they are taught, and they accept the authority of their teachers. They flourish off of the spiritual milk they are given, and while they are still children, it suffices.
Adults, however, must grow up and face the world’s challenges. We’ve got adult minds; we’re skeptical realists. We face the hardships of life and sometimes we say, “Where are you God?” What’s worse, a lot of times there is silence. Sometimes even more hardships are piled on top of the perceived silence. So we conclude that our Sunday school teachers were wrong. God must not be here after all. When we face those obstacles, we can’t function off of milk. We need wholesome spiritual food, consisting of worship, prayer, fellowship, scriptural meditation, and repentance. Only then can we defend the Gospel, as we’re called to do*. As we depend wholly on a gracious father, we return to our childlike faith. Our God’s promises do not fail; he gives good gifts and desires to speak and work through his children. We are his beloved.
Intermittently this past year, I have swung on a self-serving, schedule-filled pendulum which has made it hard to wholly accept those truths. Perhaps in my head. Yes, I chose to believe. I deliberately chose, despite not really “feeling” God’s presence, to hold on to things which had proven to be true in the past. Unexpectedly, Dark Nights of the Soul still came charging, and when they did I felt lost, alone, and confused. I now knew and understood the doubts others had described to me before. Though I appreciated the perspective, I felt like I was supposed to be the solid Christian who is attuned to the Spirit and showing people the Lord’s love. My own doubt both frightened and frustrated me.
Just as those dark moments crawled into my heart, unforeseen and uncalled, it was atop a strange ATV in the bumpy mountains of Costa Rica that I suddenly began to experience God’s good love as I once had.
Most people like four wheelers for their utility – being able to drive cross country where no other vehicle can go. My favorite part is the noisy silence it offers, inviting conscious contemplation. It was amidst this white noise of revving engines that I began to worship the Lord. A quad is too loud for conversation, so even though I was technically with my family as I had been for the past two weeks, I did a lot of solitary looking, thinking, and listening. As we climbed into the mountains, the landscape transformed into grand canopied mountains. The forest boasted countless plant species and shades of green.
Our conversation was simple. Finally being able to hear his voice again, and know that it was him was delight enough.
God, look at this! Unreal! I love your Creation. I love that I can be in it and enjoy it. Thank you for this treat.
I love you, Jessica. This is a gift from Me, and I am here with you. I will not leave you.
Each curving bend brought a new view, which kindled another prayer of thanksgiving. Prayers on prayers became worship, an intermingling of song and conversation. I noticed how many of the songs I sang in my head were about repentance and return.
So I come, straight into your arms
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
Lord, I come to you
We will run to you, turning from our sin we return to you
Even now, here’s my heart God
Yes I shall arise and return to my Father
Ever since the Fall in the garden, humans have naturally sought their own desires. One way or another we have become lost and destitute, and we yearn for redemption. So we have Jesus now, one who never did turn away. He is a shepherd who cares for his flock, and he seeks our hearts. After we have done it our own way and it doesn’t work, we turn back.
On that ATV, my heart, over my mind or will or desire, began turning back to God’s own. I felt his radiant presence, his delight when I called him my only, my worthy One, and the Holy Spirit filled me with a divine joy. You might be thinking, Jessica, you’re a pretty joyful person all the time. This was not the same. It was unearthly, contagious joy resulting directly from returning fully into the Lord’s realm. It came from a denial of the self, of giving him complete praise and telling him that I am his, and everything I do is for his glory. When that offer is earnest, he loves it.
So I want you to know this: if you’ve been having faith struggles of your own, I get you. I am not some holier-than-thou church-going gal that you can’t relate to. Doubt sucks. I am following God’s command in Joel 2:12 – “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” I am choosing to return to God’s love, and I am trusting that it is real and enough.
When I straddled the ATV that morning, all I felt was reserved anxiety. I never expected to encounter poverty or the geography of the mountains, much less the most holy encounter with the Lord that I’ve had in a long time. That’s our God for you, though. Many times he is most present in the unexpected. He is always there when we return to him, and he truly delights when we worship him. Hallelujah, praise to a good God.
* But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness andirespect -1 Peter 3:15