We spent last week in Canela, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. (For those of you familiar with the REE-oh Grand, you pronounce this one HEE-oh GRAN-gee.) It's the southernmost state and since we're below the equator, it means that it's colder. Fortunately for those of us from more tropical climes, it's summer. Had it been winter, we just might have seen snow. The climate is perfect for hydrangeas and we were there on the tail end of the growing season. They were everywhere! (Hydrangeas have been a favorite of mine since we went to Sydney so seeing them was a highlight of the trip.)
The weather isn't the only thing that makes this part of Brazil different from Bahia. It's home to many German and Italian immigrants (compared to all our African descendents) so just about everything is different: the food, the architecture, the faces. Russ, with his German background, definitely didn't stick out there! The region is known for production of all kinds of good things: chocolate, wine (and grape juice!), cheese, chocolate, leather goods, chocolate...I could go on forever!
What brought us to Canela was the annual missionary conference. It's a great opportunity to take some time to be fed spiritually. We have class sessions and worship times all in English! I loved getting to hear Russ lead singing in English for a change. I miss that!
It was a powerful week for me. In our women's classes, the speaker, Jean Blackwell, helped us examine our lives and develop in our practice of spiritual disciplines. We spent some time looking at pride. I was already quite convicted of the fact that I need to get rid of all the pride in my life when something else happened to help drive it home.
I went on an excursion to a nearby waterfall on Wednesday afternoon. It was beautiful to stand at the top and look out from the observation deck. But there was another option--900 stairs down to the bottom. (That's more than 40 flights, for those of you keeping score at home!) I decided to go for it and headed down with my friends, all of whom are in much better shape than I am, completely missing the sign that said not to do it if you have asthma. (I probably would have done it anyway since my asthma is mild and rarely a problem. Signs like that just help me remember to pace myself.)
We made it down without much difficulty, only pausing to slow down our momentum. We got to the bottom in a matter of minutes and didn't feel too bad. We checked out watched--over an hour left until we had to be back at the van--no problem.
We scurried up the first couple of flights. We got to the first rest area and I wanted to die. I pulled out my inhaler and did my best to breathe. Eventually I felt able to do the next flight. And then I had to rest again. Unfortunately, there is no other way up--it's walk up those stairs yourself or on someone's back! What followed was an exercise in humility for me. I had to admit, not just to myself but to my friends, that I was too weak to go on. I had to admit it over and over again, sometimes sitting down in the middle of a flight of stairs. My friends were wonderfully patient with me and encouraging but in many ways, admitting my weakness to them was harder than trying to breathe. We reached the top with just enough time to grab a celebratory popsicle before meeting the others.
I had done similar things at waterfalls around the world without problems (Of course, I was twenty years old and in the best shape of my life!) But combined with what I had been realizing about myself though our classes, it was a humbling experience.
So why am I telling you? It's not to say, "Look how humble I am now!". It's with totally the opposite spirit. I am a proud person--I fight pride every day of my life. Today, I am telling you this story as a part of my journey to be open about my weaknesses. As missionaries, sometimes we get put on pedestals. Sometimes our pride gets mistaken for faith. And sometimes we start to believe the things other people believe about us. But in reality, we're not super-Christians. We fight the same things everyone else does. I had a hard time admitting my weakness before I was a missionary and now that I am, it's even harder. If I admit I'm struggling with something will we lose our support? If I am open about my weakness will people question our worth as missionaries?
As you know, this past year has been a tough one for us. God and I have had some things to work out, but through that process I've found a new level of relationship with Him. In that same spirit of transformation, I'm trying to reach a new level of relationship with the people around me. If my weaknesses are known, then His power will seem even greater. At least that's my theory. That's not to say I'm going to let it all hang out--I think some things should remain between me and God. But this year I'm seeking to reach a new level in my candor. I want to be open about my life, the good and the bad.
Ha! I tricked you. I made this look like a chatty post about the missionary conference and then I got all deep. Honestly, when I sat down to write this, I didn't know that those were the words my fingers would find to type. But I'm glad they did.
(Part Two is coming and I don't anticipate that it will be as serious. But you never know!)