Some things I learned in Costa Rica

The first full day I spent in Costa Rica was an adventure to say the least. My concert at the youth service wasn’t until Friday so my friend and I thought we should check out some of the sights around Turrialba. I had already researched a lot about Costa Rica and thought I was decently prepared for what lay ahead… This is lesson #1: No matter how much you read about a place you must experience it for yourself to understand what it is really like. In the same way, simply knowing a lot about God is not enough. We must experience His life working in ours in order to even begin to understand His vastness.

Lesson #2 began around 10:00am. We were staying a little outside of Turrialba so we decided to hop on a bus, head into town, and catch a cab to the nearest volcano (Volcán Turrialba). Our stomachs were quivering with excitement (well, not really, but phrases like that make stories sound more interesting!) as we arrived a few minutes later at the Turrialba bus stop.

First step was to catch a cab. If you know anything about me you know that I have been studying Spanish for years and am fluent in the language—NOT!!! Truthfully, I haven’t studied Spanish since my sophomore year of High School. I’m ok with singing in Spanish, but I haven’t exactly mastered communicating with taxi drivers in Spanish speaking countries. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to explain to Mr. Taxi driver where we wanted to go. He set a price which we hastily agreed to and a few moments later, we were off.

Here began the most hilarious adventure of my life. After driving for about 20 minutes I began to wonder how far outside of town this volcano really was (I don’t know why I was expecting to be dropped off at the bottom of a volcano . . . nor do I know why I thought volcanoes were close to the ground.). I would have been nervous had I not seen a couple of signs informing us that we were driving in the right direction. In spite of the drive being a little bit longer than either one of us expected we were enjoying ourselves immensely. The views were spectacular and the sun was shining brightly . . . at least, at first. As we began to drive further and further up some random mountain (I discovered later that we were actually driving up the volcano) the temperature dropped and there was a strange fog (CLOUDS, Stephanie, CLOUDS!!). I had read all about dressing for temperature changes but somehow this information had not sunk in (again, we usually need to see, touch, smell or taste something before we really understand it). As the road became narrower and the concrete turned to gravel I started to get a little nervous. This trip was taking far longer than I expected and we were getting further away from any sign of life apart from horses and cows. I asked my friend if she thought we should head back to town (it had been about 45 minutes). She didn’t know and neither did I.

I started muttering random Spanish phrases but Mr. Taxi driver did not quite understand. “Oh well,” I thought and laughed nervously to myself. Soon the treacherous road which was covered in gravel began to be an even more treacherous dirt/rock road. This wouldn’t have been so bad had there been no precipitation, but the moisture from the clouds was definitely causing the dirty, rocky road to be slippery. The next thing I know Mr. Taxi driver’s car was stuck. Hmm…

I grabbed my Costa Rica travel book which had a few phrases in the back. One was “Take me to the bus station.” That would have to do. I said it. The taxi driver laughed, thinking I was joking. I wasn’t. My friend and I exchanged anxious glances as he tried with no avail to get the car unstuck. I (again) started saying random things in Spanish, using hand gestures to try and get my point across. He, in turn, spoke slowly and clearly (in Spanish) also using hand gestures to tell me what he thought we should do. (My friend was watching all of this in amusement.) After a while I understood that he thought we should get out and “caminar” (walk) the rest of the way. This sounded like a great plan and possibly our only option at this point.

Before we left, I made Mr. Taxi driver PROMISE he would wait for us (at least I think I was asking him that . . .). He shook his head “yes” emphatically. Cool! I told him we would be back in five minutes. He smiled and nodded.

Before I go any further with this story I must tell you how incredibly beautiful and quiet this mountain was. I couldn’t have asked for a more remote and lovely place to get my thoughts together . . . if my friend and I hadn’t been laughing so hard we probably would have been stunned at the deafening silence and beauty surrounding us. As it was, we were having a wonderful time.

After walking (first down, then up) for about 10 minutes, we heard the sound of a motor behind us. It was Mr. Taxi driver! He had obviously gotten his car “un-stuck.” I have to say I was a little sad. I had hoped for a hike.

We climbed in the car and drove for a few minutes before stopping one last time. We had reached a point where if the car went down it would not come back up. He smiled and we understood it was time to get out and “caminar.” I yelled in the car “five minutes.” I figured we MUST be close now.

We walked, and walked, and walked . . . the down and up now became up and up. Our climb was getting steeper and we were wondering if we had worn the proper clothes. The temperature was changing from hot to cold, then back to hot. The view went from foggy to clear, back to foggy again.

We passed the “national park” entrance, a tiny house with a padlock with clothes hanging outside and a few trucks parked out front. On and on and on this went. Every time we thought we were “almost there” we rounded the corner to see an even steeper hill.

We began to wonder how long Mr. Taxi driver would wait for us (or if he would wait at all). This put kind of a panicked-sick feeling in the pit of my stomach but on we went.

We kept seeing signs that encouraged us to keep going (2km, 1km) . . . finally, with 800 meters to go we decided to turn around. We were hungry and extremely tired and were confident that our taxi driver friend was no more. I still remember our conversation: “I’m sorry, I just don’t think it’s worth going any further. It’s been so long and I’m sure our taxi driver has left us. Besides, we really don’t know what’s up there. . . .We’re kind of out in the boonies and it doesn’t seem to be a popular place. . . It’s probably not worth seeing. . . .I’ve heard there are only a few picnic tables up there anyway . . . either way, it’s been a fun hike and we got our adventure!” We both agreed that we wouldn’t be disappointed in not seeing the volcano.

Our trip down the mountain lasted less than 60 seconds. We took a few steps, stopped, looked at each other and I said, “You know . . . I’ve never seen a volcano before.” My friend laughed and said, “That’s EXACTLY what I was thinking.”

Up we went!

When we finally reached the top we were amazed. It was far more breathtaking than either one of us could have imagined. As soon as we reached the top the fog, which had been coming and going all throughout our hike, parted as if God desired to show us one of the many beautiful sights of His creation. It was quiet, with only the sound of birds chirping in the background. The plants and flowers were beautiful and the view was spectacular. It was (not to sound cliché) heavenly.

There are many things I took away from my volcano adventure. I would like to share a few of them with you :

When we left for Volcán Turrialba we had no idea how far it was (or how high it was) or anything for that matter. There is very little written about this volcano in the tour books (probably because it is the smallest volcano in Costa Rica). All I knew was that there is a volcano in Turrialba and that I wanted to see it.

Sometimes this happens to us: Someone or something brings our attention to God and gives us a small idea of what He has in store for those who love Him. When this happens our hearts are stirred and we embark on a journey in order to experience what we have heard/read about. We start out excited not knowing how far, how high, or how difficult the “climb” may be.

As days, months, and years go by we begin to realize that the journey of faith is a lot more than we bargained for. We go through extreme temperature changes (heat and cold), and often find ourselves driving through “fog” that limits our visibility. These things make us a bit uneasy about the decision we have made to “see” and experience this “place.” Sometimes we find ourselves completely unsure of where we are or if we are even on the right path. The “fog” and uncertainty scares us and cause us to want to go back to where we were (our comfort zone) and forget about the whole “ridiculous” thing. We think to ourselves, “I don’t even know what’s at the top anyway. I’ve heard mixed messages. Some people say it’s beautiful, other’s say there’s really nothing up there but a couple of picnic tables.”

In addition to the increasing doubt in our minds and heart, we run into obstacles that only serve to compound our fears and once in a while we get “stuck in the mud.”

The hardest part for me and for my friend is that we did not really know what would be waiting for us at the top (or around the corner for that matter!). We started out knowing only a little about it, and to be honest, we weren’t sure if the trip would be worth the time, money, and energy we were putting into it. There were no guarantees about the future. We were not promised a “spectacular” view or a great time. But we knew in order to truly know we must keep going no matter how difficult and frustrating the path became or looked like. This reminds me of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Had we turned back because of uncertainty, fear, or exhaustion, my friend and I never would have known what we had missed. The beauty of that volcano is impossible to describe with words. But even more importantly, the lessons we learned on the way up (and even on the way down) were priceless.

That Friday night I had the privilege to speak to a group of young people in Turrialba. Because of the experience I had had two days prior, I was able to share something I could not otherwise share:

Then Moses went up {the mountain} with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. . . . and they saw God, and they ate and drank. Now the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. (Exodus 24:9-12)

Moses heard God’s call to know and experience His goodness. He was not satisfied with simply “eating and drinking” in the Presence of God. He knew there was so much more to discover about his Lord and he chose to continue climbing that steep mountain in order to spend more time with His Maker. Unlike Moses, Aaron and the rest of the elders did not go any further than halfway. They weren’t invited. Why? Because God knew that even though they were eating and drinking in His Presence, their hearts were not fully committed to Him (this is clearly seen when a short time later they made an idol and caused the rest of Israel to worship it). The sad thing is I don’t think Aaron (or the rest of the people of Israel) ever knew what they missed by not setting their hearts to seek their Savior. They were fully satisfied with what they had seen so far (some of them even longed to go back to their former bondage to the Egyptians!).

Throughout our lives we are faced with choices: To follow Christ or to turn away; to hold on or to let go. God’s invitation has been extended to all of us through the blood of Christ. It is our choice as to whether or not we will go “all the way.” We can be like Aaron and the rest, satisfied to “eat in drink” in the Presence of God (enjoy a good church service, praise, and occasionally read our bibles) only to engage in idolatry the rest of the time, or we can follow Moses’ example and set our hearts to seek the One Who is able to meet every one of our emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.

Some of us hear God’s call and ignore it. Others start following for a while but turn away the moment things get tough. Others go halfway, obtaining just enough to feel satisfied, but not pushing ourselves to discover what that “still, small voice” inside caused us to desire. I think most of us are in the “halfway” category. We’ve heard the call and we’ve made it halfway. But the journey has been hard at times and we feel too tired to keep going. We’ve seen some beautiful things along the way and have enjoyed fellowship with our Maker. “Isn’t that enough?” we think. “Must I really wear myself out when I don’t know if it’s even worth it?”

Hebrews 11:1 says that “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It doesn’t matter how long we have been walking, it doesn’t matter how tired we are, we must keep going. We must not ignore His gentle whisper inside that says, “you’re almost there!” God has promised to give us all the strength we need to continue on.

He has wonderful things in store for those who love Him:

But just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Oh, just so you know, when we finally came back to where we’d been dropped off (2 and a half hours later) our taxi driver friend was sitting in his car (the windows up because of the cold) waiting for us. God is good!

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