Monday, March 14, 2016

Some Potholes On The Road To Paradise

    Along the Costa Rican Continental Divide
Last Wednesday I left on the first leg of a long awaited journey to see my aging brother Sanford, 85, and his wonderful wife Martha, in beautiful and balmy northern Costa Rica. They moved there in 1968, raised all ten of their children there and were having a family reunion with each of the ten present, an event to which I was invited to share some family stories and to talk about our younger sister and husband's untimely deaths in December. Sanford had been unable to attend their memorial service.

My brother Sanford's home

My original plan had been to depart for the Roanoke airport early on Thursday to catch my 8:30 am American flight to San Jose (via Charlotte, where our son Brad was scheduled to meet me from Pittsburgh). Then just days before I learned that my sister Lovina's condition was worsening following a recent stroke, which had me debating whether I should even go. After some conversations with my wife and other family members, I decided to leave the afternoon before and spend the evening by Lovina's bed at their home in rural Campbell County, just south of Lynchburg, and then leave for Roanoke early the next morning.

A Setback on I-64

Just before getting to the Fishersville exit on the interstate my left front tire went royally flat. I knew the tread on the front tires of my little pickup was low, but after having the tires checked the day before I decided to go ahead with plans to take the Nissan anyway, against my good wife's advice, so she could have our car to use while I was gone. I also wanted to listen to a tape recorded interview I had done with my father back in 1984 that I wanted to share excerpts of with my brother (our car doesn't have a tape deck).

Bad news: I had never changed a tire on my 1996 pickup, and even finding a way to get the  spare from under the truck looked like a daunting task. Besides, I felt an urgent need to get to my sister's place.

Good news: Only minutes after pulling off the highway and dialing #77 (the police emergency hotline), I saw one of their Safety Service trucks, lights flashing, in my rear view mirror. It had just stopped a couple of hundred yards behind me to tag a motorcycle that was stranded because it had run out of gas.

What are the odds of such a thing happening, I marveled? In all of my interstate travels, I don't remember even seeing such a vehicle, much less needing help from one, so I was already prepared to wait forever for one to come to my aid. But in a very short time this angel visitor in disguise had me on my way to nearby Eavers Tire Service on Tinkling Springs Road where I had some new tires installed just before their closing time. Another great example of what I call "Mercy's Law".

And had I not decided to go see my dying sister Wednesday and left at 4:30 am Thursday instead for Roanoke, I may have had my flat along I-81 at a time when I could not been able to get the help I needed in time to make my flight.

Sad News and Sweet Consolation

After landing near the capitol city in early afternoon, we were greeted by my nephew Philip and escorted through busy traffic and mountainous roads for a two-hour drive across the country's Continental Divide and through its "cloud forest" (a high altitude rain forest-like area with abundant moisture brought in from the Atlantic) and down the other side to the tiny village of La Merced and my brother's home.

We enjoyed a near perfect evening, and took time for a memorable stop at a rustic roadside restaurant, plus another one by one of the many waterfalls in the area, all of which added to the feeling that we were in an earthly paradise, one in which temperatures are almost always somewhere between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sadly, among my brother's first words when we arrived at 7 pm were, "We just got word that Lovina passed away at 4 this afternoon."

Bittersweet emotions run deep at a time like this, with grief at her parting mixed with joy at reuniting with family members. Plus my realizing that with our youngest sister and now our three oldest ones gone, there were only three of us brothers and two sisters left. I was ever so glad I had been able to spend time at Lovina's bedside the night before to tell her how much I loved her and to experience my prayerful goodbye.

A Four-Day Taste of Promised Land

Yoder family "choir" at the reunion
On Friday and Saturday we spent precious time together reminiscing, singing and celebrating with Sanford and Martha's children, five from the states and five from Central America, and with many of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All the meals and many of the activities were planned and prepared by my grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

And did I mention singing? The community center where we met rang with laughter and song, wonderful a cappella music in heavenly four-part harmony, all a sacred taste of the life to come.

Sunday proved to be more of the same, with a morning worship service in one of the ten indigenous churches my brother and some of his ordained sons helped establish, and one in which one of the native pastors spoke. A fellow pastor interpreted for a couple of us.

Arenal Lake and Volcano
On our last full day some of us accompanied Sanford and Martha west to Arenal, near where they lived when they first arrived in the country in 1968, a location where a nearby volcano erupted soon after they were settled. That traumatic event, along with the building of a huge lake for producing hydroelectric power that flooded much of their land, led them to leave what has since become a thriving tourist area, and to move to the Pital region to the east.

Home Again

I brought home with me a taste of an earthly paradise, memories of a haven for exotic birds and other wildlife and a heaven of fellowship with some of the people closest to my heart.

I felt I could have settled down at such a place forever, and my faith boldly claims that some day we will, enjoying a new and unpolluted heavens and an earth restored to its Creator's perfection. And one in which wolf will lie down with lamb and none will study war any more.

I know there may still be plenty of potholes on the way, not unlike those encountered in the last five miles of our journey to La Merced, with one of the roughest, rockiest rides imaginable. But it's all a part of the journey.

Our son Brad sang the following words from the New Testament letter to the Philippians as a kind of benediction on one of our last nights together in Costa Rica:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. 
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 
Then you will experience God’s peace, 
which exceeds anything we can understand. 
God's peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (New Living Translation)
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