Merry Christmas!

Santa fam

2014 has been “The Year of Sabbatical,” planning for, living, and recovering from Dave’s pastoral sabbatical (this blog, if you care to keep reading, is all about the sabbatical adventure and what God taught us along the way). Dave enjoyed 3 1/2 months off from his job as Associate Pastor at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church. The first 6 weeks, while the kids were in school, he took a series of short trips – camping with family and friends, school overnight with Quinn, backpacking with his brother, a pastors’ retreat with his covenant pastors, and a fishing trip with a friend.

Within days of the kids’ official start of summer, we were off: two months in Costa Rica! God provided in amazing ways and taught us great lessons about Himself, life, family, friends, creation, recreation, work… Understandably, the kids kept saying the trip was “too long” (a lot of family time without friends) but both have since admitted that the trip has changed them for the better.

We returned one week before the start of the new school year. Corban is 16, a sophomore at Campolindo High School. He has been hitting the gym after school most days and enjoying the beginning of rugby season. Quinn, 10, is in 5th grade at Camino Pablo School. In year two of trumpet he recently declared, “This is my gift!”

The theme for Dave’s sabbatical was “Sabbath, Service, and Sustaining Relationships.” Resting with and enjoying God; serving others; cultivating deep and abiding friendships – we think these are important, necessary, ways to live an intentional and meaningful life, and we pray that you will enjoy each in equal measure in 2015.

What a Gift!

Two months ago today we returned from Costa Rica, weary from travel but thrilled to be back in “our” place – in our home, our neighborhood, our town, nearby our church, thanks be to God. When Quinn learned the significance of this day he threw his arms in the air and shouted, “Hooray!” Yup, home is good.

But so is travel. This trip changed us. A few weeks ago, and coincidentally on the same day, both kids individually confessed that they feel different, more mature, and attributed the change to having lived out of the country for two months. Of course we had hoped this would happen but we wouldn’t have been surprised if it had taken them years to admit it.

The grown-ups have talked a lot about the difference. We are conscious of wanting to go slower, of intentionally driving slower and spending at least a few minutes here and there doing nothing, just being. (Siv cleaned the tortoise cage and spent time watching the tortoise walk around the grass – that’s “nothing” for ya!). We are more conscious than ever of the frenzied pace of Lamorinda life and the struggle of trying to resist being sucked into the whirlwind. We haven’t yet hung a clothesline (we will, eventually), but we’re reading more and watching less TV; we’ve been hiking on our days off and shopping as often as possible at the farmers’ market. We’re attempting to use what we have and not give in to the temptation to buy what we want. Our goal is to prioritize relationships.

A few weeks ago Dave and Siv shared with one of the adult classes at church about the first phrase of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

A simple statement that packs a wallop.

I believe in: We believe in, not about. It’s easy to believe things about God. It’s life-changing to believe in God.

God = Father: God is not an impersonal diety, but Someone with whom we can have a loving relationship. He is our Father. We are His children. With Jesus we pray, “Our Father…”

God = Almighty: Our loving Father knows the number of hairs on our heads. He is all-powerful and nothing happens without His knowledge. We may not always understand Him, but we can trust Him.

God = Source of Everything: As the Creator, it’s all His. He’s put His “maker’s mark” everywhere and we can get a good sense of His character as we stop to notice this great big gorgeous world.

As a family, we talked about our trip to Costa Rica as a “God Treasure Hunt.” We went looking for God in His creation, in the opportunities He presented, with people who served in His name; it wasn’t just a long vacation but an opportunity to seek God in new ways in a new place.

As we prepared for the talk we gave that morning, three phrases bounced around in Siv’s mind:

The glory of God is the human being fully alive. –Irenaus of Lyon

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. –Westminster Shorter Catechism

Pura Vida – Costa Rica’s unofficial motto

In Costa Rica we experienced a heightened sense of reality, of life, because we received it as a gift direct from God’s hands, and a gift in which we expected that He wanted to show up and show us new things.

The challenge now is to come back to “normal” life and to receive each day as that gift, to always be looking for God, to honor the Father-child relationship He wants to have with us, the Almighty power He holds and displays, and to be good stewards of His creation. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Bienvenidos (“Welcome”) – Aug 18

Two months ago today we landed in Costa Rica. We returned home this weekend after a major airport itinerary revision that took us through El Salvador instead of Texas. We are slowly unpacking, grocery and school supply shopping, and beginning to reconnect with friends. Truthfully, we are feeling a little overwhelmed. As we drive around Lamorinda, Quinn sighs, “I love this view… this road… these trees…” We are happy to be home, but continuing to process the adventure we shared.

For the last Sunday of this sabbatical, we chose to attend another local church. We walked in just as the pastor explained that we would be singing in Spanish. God has a sense of humor! All summer in a Spanish-speaking country, we worshiped in English; now at home, we worshiped in Spanish. Not only that, but the sermon was delivered by the pastor of a church in the Dominican Republic entirely in Spanish!

The sermon was on John 5:1-15, Jesus healing the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda. His points: Jesus comes close to us; He sees in us beloved children created in His image; He desires to heal us body and soul, and heals us in order to send us out: “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

The Sunday before we left for CR, we attended a local church where we prayed in Spanish. The Sunday after we returned, the majority of the service was in Spanish. In worship, God book-ended our trip with reminders that He is God of the whole world. It’s like He wanted to say to us: “I heard your prayers, and I provided this trip as a gift for you. I have done things for you that you don’t fully understand yet. I am at work, healing you so that you can do great things in my name. Get up and go!”

Jesus Calling for Aug 14 (our coming-home travel day) says:

“This world is constantly changing- time passes, seasons change, people change… But I never change. I am always the same – yesterday, today, and forever. Because I never change, you can always count on Me. You never have to be afraid, because I am always with you and I never change.”

Dave is back to work. The kids start school in a week. Summer is ending, fall is beginning, and things are changing. But God remains the same, our Solid Rock. We’ve had a tremendous adventure this summer; who knows what adventures God has yet in store for us? Thank God we can trust Him!

 

Pura Vida – Aug 14

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

Tsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

We expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

Thanks once again to The MVPC Foundation for their generous support of God’s work in our lives and in the world through this Costa Rica sabbatical adventure!

 

Costa Rica Travel Tips & Ricketts’ Best of – Aug 13

Some things we’ve learned about traveling in CR:

Packing –

  • Pack light, quick-dry layers, including long sleeves and pants (good for keeping sun/bugs off), more than you think you’ll need – you will get wet and things don’t dry quickly in the jungle.
  • Bug spray might be more important than sunscreen.
  • Keep a light rain jacket, pack towel, handi-wipes, and water with you at all times.

Driving –

  • GPS = essential! Many roads are unnamed, unmarked, and/or unpaved, there are NO street addresses (everything is relative to a locally-known landmark), and Ticos are notorious for bad directions.
  • Drive defensively. The rules of the road are merely suggestions.
  • Keep cash/change in the car for toll roads.
  • All gas stations are full service.

Food –

  • White rice and black beans (sometimes red) are served breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Comida Tipica is a lunchtime “plate of the day” consisting of rice, beans, veggies (often a picadillo of a variety of potatoes, onions, squash), a protein, and sweet plantains.
  • Roadside fruit and veggie stands or farmers’ markets are the best places to shop for food. Grocery stores are expensive.

Miscellaneous –

  • Now and then, hiring a hiking or fishing guide will be a good investment.
  • Most Ticos are generously kind!

 

Sabbatical4Ricketts Best Of list (in no particular order):

  • Excursion: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
  • Accommodations (besides our “home” in Escazu): La Ceiba
  • Beach for collecting shells: Tamarindo
  • Beach for long walks: Uvita (Whale’s Tail) and Matapalo
  • National Park hike: Carara
  • Road trip pit stop: Rio Tarcoles Bridge and the frutera
  • Adventure experience: Snorkeling/Scuba Diving Cano Island (and the boat trip both ways)
  • Spontaneous family fun: creek walk/swim to the waterfall near Matapalo
  • Cultural experience: A day with the BriBri people in Yorkin
  • Animal interactions: Proyecto Asis
  • Animal rehabilitation: Jaguar Rescue Center
  • Reptile park: Parque Reptilandia
  • Spot to see snakes in the wild: Sierpe River area
  • Restaurant: Amimodo (best pizza we’ve had in CR + the coconut shrimp and tropical ravioli were out of this world!)
  • Drink: Mint Lemonade at Cafe Milagro
  • Snack food: Chile-Limon Plantain Chips
  • Chocolate: Bananas dipped in freshly made chocolate syrup in Yorkin
  • Spot to meet/interact with others: ASVO (Playa Matapalo turtle project)
  • Souvenir shopping: Mercado de Artesanias

 

For our last full day in CR we returned to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, the site of our first CR hike. Last time it was pouring down rain and, fortunately, this time the rain held off until we completed our hike. It was interesting to note that the sights and sounds that seemed so Jurassic Park when we first got here now seem “normal,” though still beautiful.

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And another gift: the boys had lost their third soccer ball in the bushes (the dog bit the other two) and we weren’t going to buy another. Hooray, the gardener found it for them this morning, so they had one last game!

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All God’s Creatures – Aug 12

Last night we heard a new noise, something like sprinklers, except the garden doesn’t have sprinklers. Upon investigation we discovered a moth as large as a hummingbird flitting around the kitchen ceiling light. Beautiful!

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This morning, Dave spotted a pair of blue-crowned motmots in the backyard. We are so enamored of CR’s “common” creatures.

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We spent this morning at Roblealto Child Care Association, a Christian non-profit working for the welfare of high-risk children. Founded in 1932, they currently serve 700 children through a Bible home (residential care), three (soon to be four) child care centers, and a home for adolescents. In addition to providing care for children they also work with parents, providing parenting workshops, social services, and discipleship opportunities. We were impressed with Roblealto’s longevity as a ministry and with their commitment to the health of the whole family and desire to reunite families whenever possible. We were happy to leave with them a large suitcase of clothing, shoe, and toy donations.

A unique aspect to this ministry: Roblealto has an adjacent large farm with cows and chickens that provides milk, cheese, eggs, and chicken meat to the Bible home/school but is also for sale to the community and beyond; farm proceeds help to pay Roblealto staff salaries.

Roblealto will have 9 homes, but currently has 7 occupied homes with 10 children in each

Roblealto will have 9 homes, but currently has 7 occupied homes with 10 children in each

Doing puzzles with Brandon

Doing puzzles with Brandon

An average bedroom

A bedroom in the preschool home

The dining room of the newly renovated Arco Iris home

The dining room of the newly renovated Arco Iris home

The on-site school serves the students who live at Roblealto + about 100 students from the local community

The on-site school serves the students who live at Roblealto + about 100 students from the local community

The dining room - great food! All school kids eat lunch together

The dining room serves great food! All school kids eat lunch together

Making friends with Rashid

Making friends with Rashid

The volunteer team house sleeps up to 20

The volunteer team house sleeps up to 20

Clouds & Quetzals – Aug 11

After a long car day on Friday we flopped over the weekend, lots of reading and playing and Netflix. Oh, and we began the packing process (hard to believe it’s here – this two-month adventure is coming to an end…). We attended church Sunday evening; Pastor David preached the story of Gideon (Judges 6-9) with the encouragement that God is with us, a timely reminder as we fly home in a few days and assimilate back into our life. It has been a tremendous blessing to find an English-speaking church, close to “home,” where we have felt welcome and comfortable and worshiped with fellow believers – another gift from God.

Deck view - good for coffee, reading, birding, and watching kids play

Deck view – good for coffee, reading, birding, and watching kids play

Today we drove 2.5hrs to Monteverde, a cloud forest reserve. For the last 45mins we were on the worst road we’ve seen in CR, and that’s really saying something. But the drive was almost instantly worth it – the views from the mountaintop looked all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. Even better, we had walked only a few minutes when Siv said aloud, “Let’s find a quetzal,” and there it was!

Check out that tail feather!

Check out that tail feather!

We fell in step with a newlywed couple and they paid us a generous compliment by saying that we make good tour guides. We have learned a few things on this trip! They showed us a tarantula snugly tucked away in a crevice of a rock wall (how they found it…?) and together we saw some Capuchin monkeys playing in the trees.

The challenge of this hike: watching the rocks/mud at our feet while also watching the trees

The challenge of this hike: watching the rocks/mud at our feet while also watching the trees

Hiking through clouds

Hiking through clouds

So nice of this hummer to pose for us

So nice of this hummer to pose for us

A suspension bridge

A suspension bridge

On our way back down the mountain we saw a fellow hiker gazing up into the trees – he’d spotted a juvenile quetzal. We thought we wouldn’t see one, and now we’ve seen two. Woo hoo!

Juvenile quetzal (no tail feather)

Juvenile quetzal (no tail feather)

The am view was better than the pm view, but still...

The am view was better than the pm view, but still…