Saturday, March 15, 2014

Life in the Canyon

My friend, Gina, has been keeping a gratitude journal of sorts on Facebook this year.  When I occasionally open that site, I like to see the little moments in her life that make her happy and grateful.  Living in gratitude makes all the difference in a whole-souled life.

When our family works in Mexico, we have the opportunity to serve breakfast to families who live in the old dump in Tijuana.  The dump is a series of hills that forms a canyon, and that is the kind name for that neighborhood.  Really though, it's just a dump built into houses.  It amazes me each time I visit that this level of poverty is just minutes away from the wasteful wealth of Americans living a bountiful life in San Diego.  I do like seeing the ingenuity of people who build homes from others' unwanted items.  Even more, I love the gratitude and happiness of the people who live there.  My first time serving breakfast in the canyon, I was flattered by some young boys who brought me a tiny flower as a thank you gift.  They giggled shyly when I fawned over their gift and stuck the flower above my ear.

I've never visited any of the residents in their homes, but as I began reading the following account written by David Hessler, who runs the Breakfast Club there, I felt a burden of hopelessness.  I would not know where to start each day knowing that it was just another day to try to survive.  Yet these people manage to feed not just their families but also their spirits.  David's words at the end of his post chase away the hopelessness I feel on behalf of these people, because they aren't feeling it for themselves.  Instead, as he states, they choose to live with gratitude for the blessings God gives them and with a positive outlook for their lives.  I can attest that I have seen their smiles and their warmth in the short interactions I've had with them.  Because they don't feel sorry for themselves, I can be better at being grateful for the blessings I have too.

I hope you remember your own blessings as you read this description of Life in the Canyon, which was originally posted November 4, 2013 on the Life in the Canyon blog.

Imagine if you would, going to bed at night in the comfort of your home, in thenice house 1neighborhood where you currently live. Your digesting the huge dinner you had not long ago, the dishes are working their way through the dish water, the kids finally asleep in their rooms, the car alarm set and the truck is secured away in the garage. The coffee maker set so that the aroma in the morning provides incentive to get out of bed. The dogs have settled into their beds glancing up wondering how long you are going to be in the shower before tucking yourself in. All the while trying not to think about all the things you have to do tomorrow; school, lunches, traffic, paying the utility bills, work, meetings, dinner, back to school night….
…. and then waking up in the Canyon.
No need for an alarm clock, the Roster’s have you up well before any sense of normalcy. It’s not the aroma of coffee you smell. It’s the smell of mold and mildew from the previousIMG_6749rains that have soaked the pieces of carpet on the dirt floor. Your eyes open to the gaps of space in the roof trying to determine if the sun is up yet. Your back aches from the old mattress lying on a piece of wood. You look over to see your children sleeping in bed next to you and on the small love seat that you found discarded along the roadway. As you place your feet on the ground, you look around to see what lies ahead of you today. There’s no need to move, everything is just aIMG_6752few feet away. Except for the bathroom, which might be an outhouse if your lucky or a bucket if not.
You look over at the small cook stove in the corner of the room. Last nights rice and beans still coat the pans they were reheated in. The two plastic cups that everyone shared drinking from, rest on top. No refrigerator to look in, no cupboard to search for what might be available to cook. Actually no food at all. That’s something to work out a little later on.
Looking at the water jugs sitting below the dishes, you remember why last nights pans are still sitting there. There was no water left in the jugs to wash them with. Which means there’s no water to wash with. Looking at the drinking water jug, you see there is only aIMG_8969few inches remaining. Which do I need to go get first? Do I wake one of the children to help me, or do I just venture off on my own attempting to carry two 5 gallon containers of water the mile and a half away. Maybe it’s best if I just head out on my own. It will give me time to think about how I might find work today.
Meanwhile, mom wakes up to the same sights and smells. Her thoughts gradually gravitate to realizing that the children need to get ready for school. Their school uniforms have notIMG_7711been washed in 2 days, but if they can get through today, laundry will be on the list of things to do. Noticing that her husband is gone along with the water jugs, she hopes he will not be upset when she asks him to go fill the jugs again so that she can wash clothes. But from her perspective, thinking about how long it will take her to scrub everything by hand and the time it will take to air dry the clothes hanging on the fence, she figures he is getting the better part of the deal.
She chooses which of the children to wake first, based on the degree of difficulty it requiresIMG_6744 to get them ready. The 5 gallon paint bucket filled with rain water, serves as the shower. The children try to run as the cold water is poured over them. Unable to escape, standing there shivering as mom soaps them up, waiting for the next dowsing of water over their head. And then on to the next child…..
Before she is finished, the younger ones are saying, “mom, I’m hungry.” How many creative ways can you come up with to hold off their hunger for just a little while more. Knowing that their father will most likely stop to pick up tortillas on his way back. Hopefully he will have enough to buy warm ones today instead of the cold day old ones that are half the price. As she puts their back packs together, gathering up the books and supplies lying around from the day before,her thoughts go to how to make lunches for them. Nothing here today, but there’s still time to put something together and return to the school later on.
Dad returns dripping with sweat as he places both water jugs on the ground. He retrieves the packet of tortillas from his waistband and smiles as he pulls an avocado from his front pocket. Quickly slicing it up into the tortillas as the children surround him with their hands raised in the air. With a few drops of hot sauce, the kids are feed and ready for the walk to school. Dad advises them to be careful as their was rain during the night and the IMGP0161ground outside has turned to mud. Mom wonders if there will be school, knowing that most families will decide not to go today. But knowing how important it is for them to have a chance at a different life, off they go on their 5 mile hike to 3 different schools.
As they arrive at the front gates of each of the schools, all the other children arrive at the same time. Some by car. Mom’s thoughts go to wondering what it would be like to be able to live somewhere where you could have a car and how that life might be. She sometimes thinks about how she is dressed in comparison to the other mom’s and tends to slink away from the others out of embarrassment. But reality soon takes over and her thoughts return to getting back home so that she can figure out what to make them for lunch and then the return trips to the school in just a couple of hours. She looks at the store next door where children line up buying what they will need for lunch thinking about how much easier that would be. However, there is no money for that today, so she starts on her way back home.
When she returns, she finds two small packets of rice and beans next to the cook stove. Scrawled in pencil on a torn piece of paper is a note from her husband. He was able to go with a neighbor to catch a ride to the garbage dump to work for the day. If things worked out well, he would return at night fall with enough money to buy food for dinner and maybeIMGP0227for the next day. If he were able to do this a second day, maybe there would be enough money to buy a candle or two so they could have lights at night. Quickly washing the pans, she prepares the rice and beans and makes burritos for the children’s lunch and for herself. No time to wash the pans again. She needs to hike back to the schools again to bring them lunch. This time she brings one of the 5 gallons jugs so that on her way back she can stop at the Pilar and fill it up for free so that she can do the laundry. Upon returning home, she only has a short amount of time before she has to return to school again to gather the children up for the walk home. It’s only just noon.
When the children are home, they all want to go play. Mom explains that there will be time for that later, but right now they need to help her with the laundry. The children are each assigned a different task of washing, rinsing, scrubbing or hanging. Some tasks can be more fun than others, but not really what they had in mind. When they are finished, they areIMG_0147hoping that now they can go play. However, mom has a different idea. It’s time for homework. Wishing that they might be able to just do it on their own, but knowing that now it’s time for mom to be a school teacher. So everyone goes inside to lay their books out on the bed. (There’s no kitchen table.) Motivation comes in the form of encouraging them to finish so that they CAN go and play. Mom’s motivation is that maybe she will get just a little time to herself along with hoping that the activity will keep their mind off of being hungry for a couple more hours until Dad get’s home.
Then mom remembers that it’s Thursday. The day she hosts Bible Study with some of the other mom’s who live close by. She likes this time together with others who think like she does. It’s a time of gratitude for the blessings that they have in their lives. Thankful for husbands who spend their time looking for work to take care of their families and not outAliciadrinking and doing drugs. Thankful for all of their children and they are healthy and not in need of medicine or treatment. Grateful that they were able to eat today and had water to drink. And grateful for the opportunity to study God’s word, but mostly for the love that he shows them. And a time to pray for their needs, which gives them hope. For some, it’s the glue that keeps them together.
Just before dark, Dad returns. Although he is visibly tired and dirty, he’s in a good mood. He had a good day. He was able to cover all the costs of working today and made enough to buy food for this evening as well as a little bit for tomorrow. The people he went with promised him a ride again tomorrow which gives him hope of being able to buy something more than just food and water; the candles that his wife mentioned and maybe gas for the cook stove. The week was looking up….
A small fire burns outside to heat up some water for Dad to wash up with and also for the dishes. The morning promises to be a little easier than it was today. The family visits together for awhile and then Dad spends some time reading from the Bible to the children before bed. Not what they really had in mind, but they are happy to have Dad spend time with them and it does make them a little sleepy. Luckily for Mom and Dad as they put them all in their bed, hoping they will fall asleep soon. Darkness surrounds them, but the fire outside provides a little light to see inside. The dogs go to their places on top of the roof to keep an eye out for passer’s by who they may feel the need to protect their territory. Finally it’s time for Mom and Dad to move the children over so they can find room to sleep in anticipation of new opportunities tomorrow.
When I wrote this, there were specific families that I was thinking of.  The thing that has impacted me the most, is the sense of gratitude that each of these families show each day.  They are so grateful for their families, for the work that God provides their men, for the food that God provides for their children, for all of the things that they are blessed with each day.  They are so positive in their outlook on life which is reflected in the smiles on their children’s faces.   These families also serve each day at their Church.  I often hear them saying how when they serve others for just a few hours, God blesses them all day long.
They are such a powerful example for others to see and an inspiration to me each day.


VickieG said...

Thanks for sharing the lives of these beautiful families; we have so much to be grateful for.

Brian Howard said... please help

huntwork said...

I love your writing. I've been moved by your account. I copied it and would like to use it at some time in the future if that's ok with you. We need to somehow get together. I know you would be able to write a wonderful account of the Gibson family. By the way do you still have my books? Just asking