Thursday, January 29, 2015

Room with(out) a view

We’ve been in La Paz a month now, researching the yearly meeting archives, interviewing people—especially the old ones, discussing our findings with our team, and writing. There is the occasional exciting discovery, another clue to help us unlock the mystery of God’s working and the church’s responding. Or not responding. There’s the joy of being with these people our lives have intertwined with for so many years. Yes, there’s all this.
But, for the most part, the work is tedious. Stacks of old minutes and letters to go through. Days when we work alone and make no enlightening discoveries. Rainy days. Days without poetry.
Part of the struggle is the place we live in. This place is also part of our joy, and something to thank God for.  But some days I have to remind myself to be thankful.
The INELA (Bolivian Friends Church) has provided us with a small room on the property that also houses yearly meeting headquarters, the large urban Friends Church, and the Friends grade and high schools. Our place includes a small private bathroom, a tiny kitchen unit, a place to sleep and a table to use for meals and study. It meets most of our basic human needs and is close to the history project office. We pay a minimal rent to the yearly meeting and this is, indeed, a help to them, as well as a way to economize for us. There is much to be thankful for.
But one of my “requirements” for anyplace I live in is a room with a view. And a way for sunlight to enter, at least part of the day. At home in Newberg, our little condo is blessed by a large maple tree that fills the bedroom and office windows with green beauty, and fleshes out the changes of the seasons. From the other rooms I look over rooftops to distant trees and hills. It’s not spectacular but it’s enough.
Here in La Paz, our little room is tucked between and under other buildings. The one large window looks out to the brick wall five feet away. Not one ray of sun dares enter. Ever.
We originally called our home, “The Cave,” but we’ve changed the name to “The Hobbit Hole,” in an effort to keep positive. People here refer to it as “The Refrigerator.” The floors and walls of cement seem to radiate the cold of this high Andean climate.
“But,” I tell myself, “I have a clean private bathroom.” Would I trade that for a view? Probably not.
The electric space heater is gradually making it less of a refrigerator. In fact, people stepping in now notice right off how cozy it feels. A few scattered rugs make their contribution. We purchased a good bed, so we sleep well. And some kind person anonymously gave an offering designated for the purchase of a small literal refrigerator (without even knowing the nickname given to this space). All this increases our ability to live in some comfort and that helps us get our work done.
But still—the view? My need for beauty and light?
One thing I’ve done to try and supply a view is cover the walls with photographs of the Pacific Northwest. Actually, these are old calendar pictures. I can’t throw away any beautiful picture, so I dug through my collection before we traveled and brought with me about 20 views of ocean, forest, stream, waterfall, flowers and two pesky raccoons precariously hanging from a branch. These now adorn the wooden partition that separates the sleeping and working areas of our room. My friend Catherine hand-lettered some words from Scripture, and these also encourage us.
The books I’ve loaded on my Kindle include a selection of poetry—a volume each of Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Billy Collins and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. These always open windows and let in strange and lovely views.
My key strategy is spiritual. I’m asking God’s help to let this be a season when I behold him in his beauty, regardless of my surroundings. He is Light and beauty and goodness, all the view I need.
To live in this Reality is my ideal and my deep desire. And I have now the perfect opportunity to experience this.
I wish I could say that it’s actually happening, that my spirit is soaring in all the spiritual beauty and light available in Jesus.
However, I’m very human, and yesterday, for example, cabin fever was raging. I felt restless and homesick, wanting to be in my own room, looking through the lovely bones of my maple tree to the houses across the street. I even counted the days until we can fly back to Oregon.
But this morning I woke up, renewed in hope and thanking Jesus for his gracious presence in my life and my present circumstances, including this Hobbit Hole. So day by day, I walk forward.
I think it’s actually getting lighter in here.


  1. Mary Thiessen NationJanuary 30, 2015 at 11:13 AM

    trying again

  2. I have tried several ways to respond--I found one that worked so here goes. Thanks for these windows into your life and work and needs and joys--and all in a windowless place. Stunning.