A few of my clients can’t believe that I’m the camping type. When they hear that their hairstylist is not going to the beach for vacation, but instead going to the corn fields of Illinois to camp for a week at a music festival, their faces tend to take on this scrunchy, why-on-earth-would-you-do-that expression. But you see, this kind of ‘roughing it’ is nothing compared to camping at an orphanage in El Salvador.
Thirteen years ago I embarked on a summer mission trip with a team of about 30 people. After two weeks of boot camp type preparation, we reached our destination in El Salvador and promptly set up our camp site. The day was sunny and the hours seemed long, as they always do when you’re 14 years old and don’t know what you’re doing.
If I had known what I was doing, not only would I have set up faster, but I probably wouldn’t have situated my tent at the bottom of a hill. Did you know that El Salvador’s rainy season is from May to October? There we were, smack dab in the middle of their invierno. And so that first night, with no mercy, we received the welcoming rains of what I can only describe as a monsoon. And every single drop made its way down the hill to my tent.
I awoke to a soggy sleeping bag beneath me. Knowing that I needed more height to stay dry, I looked over at my duffel bag and considered its contents: a bucket, a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, a box of laundry detergent, my hard hat, etc. Uncomfortable as it might have been, it was clearly my only option for staying dry at that point. I placed my duffel bag on top of my sleeping bag and felt like a stray cat as I curled up on it. It was about as cozy as curling up on a shelf of canned goods. This arrangement only worked for so long as eventually my tent, my duffel bag, my hair, the clothes I was wearing and, I can only assume, everything else in the entire country was drenched through and through. And, oh, it was cold. So cold. Do you know that I get very irritable when I’m cold?
Miserable and mad at the world, I must have looked like an angry little hornet the next morning. I had gotten no sleep worth mentioning. For the first time in my life I considered that this might be what it feels like to be homeless and at the mercy of the elements. I threw a significant pity party for myself. I couldn’t believe that I had spent months raising support for this, babysitting and house cleaning just to fly to Central America to camp in a monsoon. Couldn’t I have just stayed home and slept in a creek for free and without all the hassle? Woe was me.
Then God, in His kindness, opened my eyes to the reality of the situation. Yeah, I might have felt homeless, but I most certainly was not. This was one night out of 14 years that I slept both cold and wet; unfortunately some people don’t even have the protection of a paper-thin tent. This night was an exception for me, but it’s the norm for some others. And for crying out loud, I was at an orphanage! At least I had the assurance of knowing that when this trip was over I had a mother at home waiting for me. How could I be so near-sighted as to lose perspective of this? What I initially believed to be one of the most hated experiences in my life turned out to be one of the most gracious lessons and biggest eye-openers: If this is as bad as it gets, then I’ve got it pretty good.
I repeated that mantra to myself a lot that summer. Like when my body was tired from hauling heavy bags of cement back and forth to the worksite: If this is as bad as it gets, then I’ve got it pretty good. Or when I got sick upon eating at an El Salvadorian Burger King: If this is as bad as it gets, then I’ve got it pretty good.
I encourage you to stop and consider your blessings today. A lot of the times when we get angry it is because something that is the exception has affected our norm. Be thankful that these are merely exceptions.