Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Finding the Power to Do What I Cannot

Going to the post office to pick up the mail for our house is always an exciting task; after all, who doesn’t love getting mail? About four weeks ago, I stopped by the post office after work and was pleased to see a letter in our box with my name on the outside. I came home and read the first paragraph of the letter and then saw the following words: “I’ve been reading your blog. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well.” I laughed a little to myself at the irony because the truth was that throughout most of March and April, I was not doing well. I felt that I have not been totally open in my blog posts if I am giving the impression that all has been well over the last six months. Since reading this letter, I have wanted to share some of my struggles but have been hesitant to admit that life has not been the peaches. At the same time, I set up this blog to share my experience with friends and family back home and if I only share the good, then how can you all be a part of my whole experience? So even though I am hesitant, I have finally worked up the nerve to share the low points that have been integral to my last three months in Nicaragua.
Ever since my arrival back in December, I have struggled with language and homesickness and ever since beginning work in January, I have questioned if I am a good fit for Pajarito Azul. I was trying to take it all in stride, as I have expressed in previous posts, but by the middle of March, I was crumbling beneath the weight of these burdens. I could not understand what was being said to me in Spanish, much less express my own thoughts; my heart ached and deeply longed for the comforts and familiarities of home, family, and friends; and every day at work I felt that my capabilities were not sufficient enough to serve the residents at Pajarito. I was carrying all of this around, not fully knowing how to deal with it and on Easter Sunday, I hit a breaking point.

I spent most of the day in tears trying to work through all of my thoughts and emotions. When I called home, I told my family that I was not sure if I could stay in Nicaragua. I was totally depleted at that point. All I wanted was a hug from someone who knew me, but I could not even have that until at least December. Everything that I desired in that moment was so far away. I talked with my family, released more healing tears, and listened to what they had to say. When I hung up the phone I did not know how long I would be in Nicaragua but I did know that I needed more time. As much as I wanted to return home, I felt that if I did so I would be running from the very challenges that had the potential to transform me. I decided that I would give myself the chance to face these challenges head-on and if I still felt disconsolate, I would go home knowing that I gave it my all.

Thankfully, March and April were full of fun distractions (trips to the beach, visitors from Belize, etc.) to help me along. However, every time I slowed down, I could not shake the feeling that maybe being in Nicaragua was too much, maybe I bit off more than I could chew, maybe I was not meant to be here. I kept going though, remembering the pact I made with myself on Easter.

One morning in April, I woke up feeling especially sad, lonesome, and homesick. I made my normal forty-five minute morning routine last about an hour and a half. I did not think I had it in me to make it one more day in Nicaragua, much less go to a job where I did not yet feel comfortable and then try to communicate in another language. I sat down in a rocking chair feeling defeated before the day even started. Staring back at me from our coffee table was a prayer book. I reached over, picked it up, and began flipping through the pages when I came across the following quote from St. Augustine: “Do what you can and then pray that God will give you the power to do what you cannot.” I thought to myself, “Okay, Andrea, you might not feel like you can go to work today but you can get out of this chair and walk down the street to the bus stop.” So I got up out of the chair and I walked to the bus stop. When the bus came around the corner, I heeded St. Augustine’s words and I prayed that God would give me the power to at least get to work, as I was unsure if I had the strength to do so. I climbed on board the bus. Once I sat down, I said to myself, “After you get off of the bus, you can walk into work and say hi to your co-workers and the residents.” I then prayed that God would give me the power to have conversations with my co-workers and to have fun with the residents. I walked into work and did what I could, praying that God would help me along. I took the entire day step-by-step like this and somehow, someway, by the end of the day, I had made it through.

After this particular day, I used this method to help when I felt homesick or inadequate at work or with Spanish. I did what I knew I could do and prayed that God would help me go one step further. By May, I was feeling better. I continued to take life day-by-day, moment-by-moment and sometimes it was (and still is) two steps forward and one step back. Nevertheless, there was (and is) forward motion. About halfway through May, I noticed that I was feeling more comfortable so I began to set a challenge for myself at the beginning of each day. Some days it was small, like saying hi to someone I don’t normally talk to, and other days it was bigger, like working with a completely different group of residents. I quickly began to see how pushing myself to go further at work was drastically improving how I felt there. Additionally, the better I felt at work, the better I felt in Nicaragua and the better I felt in Nicaragua, the less daunted I felt by the next year and a half.

Now I write to you on the first of June and tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary of my arrival in Nicaragua. I’m proud to have made it this far, especially in light of the hurdles I recently faced. I feel that the small steps I have taken throughout the last six months, and especially the last three, are beginning to add up to something worthwhile. I still have hard days at work, I’m still working my way through Spanish, and I still miss home but I can say now that I’m doing well and that I want to stay in Nicaragua. I’ve been given the opportunity to grow so much since December 2nd and I’m excited to see where the next year and a half will take me but if tomorrow or the next day or someday a year from now I wake up unsure of myself, I’ll remember to do what I can and pray that God give me the strength to do what I cannot.
As I was reflecting on what I wanted to say in this blog post, I messed around on Paint on my computer and began doing a mini-mural of what has impacted me in Nicaragua thus far. Since it helped inspire this post, I’m including it for you to interpret it how you wish!


  1. I think you developed my talent as an artist. Funny thing is...I can make out a lot of images, especially the hand flowers. Dad printed your mural and has it on his wall at work...kind of like those "Dad" pictures you would draw when you where little. All kidding aside. I'm glad you got past your writer's block and could finally put your feelings on paper. Well done! We are grateful for your progress and continue to lift your intentions in daily prayer. Te Amo!!!!

  2. Andrea, I am so happy you have found the power of prayer. Remember God loves you and is always there.
    moms cousin Denise

  3. Dear Andrea,
    I just found the link to your blog. Guess I wasn't looking too hard. I am here with tears streaming down my face, thinking of the lovely young lady who shared some of her life with me around New Year's. I remember when Patrick was going through those rough first months. It was hard to hear about it, but still so good to be in on it, to walk with him on his journey. Your journey is well named for this. Keep up the honest reflection. Share what you can. I'm so glad, as your mother (or her cousin?) said, it is good that you discovered this saving grace of prayer. I think I was 30 before I really had to depend on prayer. It is hard, but such a great gift. You are in my prayers, my dear friend. Day by day. Love, Leah

  4. Andrea,
    You are truly an inspiration. Many can learn from your "step by step" "minute by minute" approach. How powerful to be reminded of Mother Theresa's words "Do what you can and pray that God gives you the power to do what you cannot." Thank you so much for sharing what was (and continues to be) a very personal and trying experience for you. It shows that you ARE human and also demonstrates your deep faith and trust in God. Know that you continue to be in our prayers back here in St. Louis.
    Hang in there!
    (loved the pic)
    Debbie and Kurt Kientzle (just figured out how to post a comment - sorry it's taken so long!)

  5. Chatted with your ma tonight and she gave me the blog address. So glad to reconnect and hear how you are *really* doing.

    You are prayed for daily and I will step it up for you as you struggle with homesickness.
    Can I just also tell you that I can totally relate and you had me crying there in the middle when you said you took twice as long to do your normal routine, and you felt crushed under the burden of it. I have been there all of this year out here in Phoenix. And it has been excruciating. I love the prayer you found from St. Augustine, and I will be praying that every day.

    Love and hugs!!
    Stacey Chik