Marie Alvero is a former missionary to Africa and Mexico. She currently lives a happy, busy life with her husband and children in Central Texas, USA.
Four friends sit around the kitchen island. Each of us has jobs, schedules, responsibilities that pull us in different directions, and it isn’t often that we have the opportunity to hang out together. But on this evening we sit together and share life.
I lived in a village in Tanzania that had a big, old avocado tree that was a local treasure. The tree grew in the middle of town, and its fruit was available to anyone in the village. The tree was cherished and protected by the villagers—for some of whom an avocado might comprise most of the food they’d get in a day.
The ringing of my phone interrupted my quiet evening drive. It was a close friend on the other end, “Marie, I need you to pray for me!” She only had a few minutes to talk, just enough time to tell me about the very stressful things going on in her life, and I assured her that I would pray for her. After she hung up, I prayed for her out loud for the rest of my drive.
It was summer and I was on a youth mission trip on the northern coast of Poland. As our trip came to a close, our base in Warsaw was sending a van to pick most of us up, while Nick, René, and I planned to head back by train/bus/hitchhiking. I have no idea how this harebrained plan was conceived, but for some reason, we thought it was great.
When my youngest was a toddler, each night I would put her to sleep in her own bed. Sometimes this was an easy job and my tired little one would be asleep in minutes; sometimes it was a hardcore showdown of her stubbornness against mine. But always, eventually, she would end up peacefully asleep. (Mom won!)
I have a hard time defining success, specifically when it comes to my work. It seems like any enterprise that gets 40+ hours of my life each week should be setting me up for tangible success. There should be promotion, challenge, and a sense of pride and accomplishment. But what if there isn’t? What if you feel pretty much invisible at work; no one is recognizing you, let alone promoting you? Does that mean you’re not succeeding? If success isn’t measured by achievements, then how is it measured?
My family and I once drove up to the top of Pikes Peak, the highest summit in the Rocky Mountains. Around 14,000 feet above sea level, we took in the breathtaking views of winding mountaintop lakes, rock formations, forests, and soaring mountains on all sides. The whole scene has been etched into our family’s collective memory, to be shared over and over.
I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of people who just up and change their lives. The successful surgeon who becomes a baker, the beggar who becomes a Wall Street tycoon, the soccer mom who becomes a backpacking mountaineer, the high-powered corporate couple who embrace minimalism and travel the world living out of a suitcase. I must like the comfort of believing that if it’s ever necessary, I too can change when I need to.
Sometimes I feel paralyzed by all the suffering in the world. There’s simply no way I could make a dent in all the hunger, sickness, poverty, depression, oppression, loneliness, and death. When you look at the brokenness in its entirety, all you see is desolation.
As followers of Jesus, “grateful” should be our default setting when we consider that Jesus died to redeem us from an eternity of being separated from God. This should put a spring in our step and cause all the not-so-great stuff to bounce off as irrelevant. But I tend to succumb to less-than-grateful reactions, because, well, traffic, mess, stress, too little of this, too much of that. You know how it goes.