Pura Vida: Lessons Learned for Quarantine in Costa Rica

Our trip to Costa Rica seems like a lifetime ago. We spent two weeks exploring one of the most unique places on the planet; and returned home just 1 day before the world turned upside down. In the two months since we have returned home I’ve had to cancel trips to Kentucky, Florida, Washington DC, and Greece. And just like the rest of the world we’ve had to work to adjust to a new normal without being able to go into schools, stores, or even our church. Before Covid-19 my house was rarely empty, my front door was a revolving door for friends and family. But now, the doors are closed and we haven’t been allowed to hug our family or play with our friends in weeks. And if I’m being honest I’m late to post about our Costa Rica trip not because I’ve been terribly busy but because it stirred something in my heart. Each time I looked at a picture of our adventure it reminded me of all we’ve lost with our “new normal.”

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The funny thing is, that attitude is so contrary to Costa Rican life. Costa Ricans have a phrase they use, it’s “Pura Vida.” Translated, it means pure life or simple life. It’s this concept of leaning into each day to get the most out of it. It’s a slower and fuller life. Costa Ricans wake up each morning grateful for the day and excited where it might take them. Their schedules are empty and yet their hearts are full. As I filter through my pictures and memories it struck me – the Costa Rican way of life isn’t reserved for Costa Rica. It’s not a physical way of life, it’s a mental shift. It doesn’t matter if we are adventuring in the rain forest or picnicking in the backyard during a pandemic, an intentional full life can be lived anywhere.

Here are 5 ways I’m learning to implement Pura Vida in the middle of our quarantine story:

Don’t live only by what you can see.

Our first stop on our Costa Rica adventure was to the base of a volcano. Mt. Arenal is a 5,358 ft volcano in the northwestern part of Costa Rica. The people didn’t know it was a volcano until it erupted suddenly in 1968. They assumed it was just a mountain. When we arrived in La Fortuna we could see the volcano clearly as we checked into our hotel at its base. The next morning, when we woke, it was covered in clouds and completely non-visible. If I hadn’t seen the volcano the night before, I wouldn’t believe it was there. Several times on a hike, I looked around and had no idea which direction the volcano was even in. Turns out you can’t live only by what you can see.

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I have to re-learn this lesson every winter when I look outside my window at all the barren plants. Without winter, without all the work that happens below eye-level deep in the underground, spring wouldn’t appear. The same rings true in quarantine. If I focus only on what I’ve lost, then I lose even more. But if I stop to gather an inventory of what may be going on below the surface, I’m bound to come out richer than before. I have found that my family is the one constant element in an ever-changing life. We’ve had the opportunity to practice what we preach and to live out faith over fear. My kids play together more than they ever have. What started as the only playmate option has turned into the favorite option. Having no schedule has allowed us to do things we wouldn’t normally have time for. Those things have made us laugh, feel accomplished, and brought us closer together. I’ve learned the depth of my friends’ hearts, turns out they aren’t bound by playdates or face to face encounters; they are the type of people that will still be there waiting when all this dust settles. This new imposed slower way of life has given me countless gifts, I just have to open my eyes a little wider to see them at times.

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It doesn’t hurt to be a little unhindered.

I hate to admit it but, I’m a pretty hindered person. I like my ducks in a row and I like for that row to color coordinate with every other row. Do I let my kids play in the mud? Of course I do, when I have a clean change of clothes and a towel in the car. I like to plan my messes. I refer to it often, as my organized chaos. My Cam, on the other hand, everything about him is uncalculated and unhindered. He never thinks before he leaps and I’m constantly chasing him around trying to teach him the value of a calculated decision. When we were in Costa Rica, we saw some hang-gliders. Cam mentioned he’d like to try it one day. Our Costa-Rican tour guide, in true Costa Rican fashion, asks, “You wanna go right now? I know a guy!” Cam, in true Cam fashion, never even hesitated. It wasn’t until my 10-year-old had already jumped off the side of a cliff with a complete stranger that I second-guessed my parenting skills. As I watched Cam glide in and out of the clouds completely lost in the moment I forgot for a minute (a quick minute) that there was no waiver or paperwork to sign. I overlooked that his tandem guide was an 18-year-old kid and found myself envious of my child’s ability to say yes to whatever lies around the corner.

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Disclaimer, I’m certainly not telling everyone to let their kids jump off a cliff. That is not something I would recommend. But I am suggesting that we do a few things that we wouldn’t ordinarily do.  I’m suggesting we say ‘yes’ more. Yes to messes, even the unplanned messes. Yes to trying something new.  Yes to couch forts over laundry.  Yes to mud between our toes. Yes to 5 more minutes. And yes to ice cream before dinner, heck, yes to ice cream for dinner.  I have a feeling when this is all over, it’s these moments my family will remember the most.

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We can always grow.

I knew this trip would be hard for my littlest (by 1 minute!) babe. Chaser prefers to have two feet firmly planted on the safer side of all the things. He can most often be found perusing encyclopedias and other nonfiction informational books. He doesn’t like new things or anything that has any level of risk involved. It took him months to agree to even sit on the counter when we are baking together, and even now you won’t find him anywhere near the edge. Quarantine fits Chase. Costa Rica, now that was a stretch. Our itinerary included hiking volcanos, a night hike to find nocturnal (often venomous) animals, crossing swinging bridges over the rainforest, and a riverboat through a crocodile-infested river. I often struggle to find the line with him. To let him be him, in just the way God created him to be; and yet to push him to grow in faith, courage, and confidence. This will forever be one of my favorite trips. I’ve seen sunsets off the coast and the most stunning flowers in the middle of the rainforest but none of it holds a candle to watching chase choose brave over fear. Each time he took a step he walked stronger and taller. His confidence grew more in this two-week adventure than in anything we have ever done. Chase will always see danger under every rock but instead of always avoiding hard and risky things, I want to empower him to be able to step out of his comfort zone. Only then will he grow.

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Truth be told I like safe and comfortable.  But that’s not where I grow either.  Quarantine has made me uncomfortable in a lot of ways.  I found a lot of purpose in a busy schedule.  Having things to do somehow gave me some level of worth and value.  Having things to look forward to and to plan gave me purpose. Without those things, I’ve found myself a little lost at times.  I’m not afraid of problems or conflict but I do get squeamish around vulnerability.  I don’t like exposing those ugly bare parts of myself.  Turns out those bare places are invitations.  Invitations for God to exchange our vulnerability for his strength and his purpose. “Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.  They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.  They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we are stuck.  This very moment is the perfect teacher.” (Pema Chodron).

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We can do hard things.

I had a friend tell me once that before they travel or do some sort of activity they weigh the hassle vs. the fun.  If the hassle of getting to the destination isn’t worth the anticipated level fun when they arrive, they don’t go.  They have four little kids which means the hassle level just to get out of the house is constantly at def con 10, therefore they have passed on traveling during this season of life.   Things don’t always go as planned when we travel (or any day, really), and some moments are so hard that we are always reevaluating our decision to trek our kids around the world.

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One particular day, we climbed down to a waterfall. I remember when we were hiking down (in the morning shade) saying something like, “Oh man it’s going to be hard coming back up this hill.” Had I understood how hard it was going to be to get back to the car before the hike, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Let me set the scene: The trail up was rocky and steep. We went down in the shade but climbed back up in the 90+ degree heat of the day. I have a bum ankle that acts up every once in a while, so I’m limping, I’m slipping, I’m sweating and quite frankly I’m second-guessing every life decision I have ever made. To top it off, we ran out of water halfway up when my 10-year-old decided to wash his dirty feet with the remaining drinking water. I can’t get the kid to take a shower after a day of playing outside, but somehow washing the dust off his feet in the middle of a dusty trail seemed like a good idea. We had skipped lunch that day, opting for snacks and adventure, not realizing we were leaving us low on energy and stamina for our trek back to the car. Jimmy and I were each toting a heavy backpacks of all of the ‘essential’ things we didn’t want to leave in our unattended car. Chase stepped in a fire ant nest and so to top it off, I was also carrying my not-so-light screaming three-year-old. He was crying, I was crying, There were a lot of tears going around. Over and over again I repeated out loud so my kids could hear and also to remind myself, “We can do hard things. We can do hard things. We can do hard things.” Don’t get me wrong it was a beautiful waterfall, but it was our 4th waterfall of the trip and so had I known how it would end, I definitely would have passed or so I thought.

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Recently, we went on a local hike. As per usual we strayed from the trail and found ourselves down by the river. When we attempted to get back to the trail we had to cross the river and then climb back up a steep but quick hill. I anticipated Chase’s fear and immediately started saying my normal monologue. “We can do this. One step at a time. Let’s just stay together.” To my complete surprise, he responded, “I know mama because we can do hard things.” Shut.the.front.door. It turns out that a hard hike in Costa Rica carried more weight than I could have known. Knowing what I know now, I have to change my previous answer – the hassle and hard were far greater than the fun but it turns out there’s more on the scale than just those two factors. The life lessons bring purpose to the hardship make it worth it in the end. Just because something is a hassle and is hard, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any value. I know quarantine is hard. Isolation is hard. Change is hard. Finances are hard. Uncertainty is hard. But we can do hard things.

Soak in the magic of each moment

We spent 10 days exploring this beautiful country. Around every corner we found something new and yet I know it was only the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t matter if we were at the base of an active volcano, hunting for sloth sightings, or eating fresh pineapple on the side of the road, the heartbeat of the country shines through: Pura Vida. Live a life of intentionality, soaking up everything each moment has to offer, whether it is a simple moment or a complex one.

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The same lessons remain for me here in quarantine. Love your people well. Spend the time together, make it count. Look for the joy in each moment. Choose kindness. Err on the side of grace. Don’t leave room for regrets.

Our doors have slowly begun to open again. We saw some friends this past weekend and it was like food for my starving soul. There are definitely some things I won’t miss about quarantine. But I also hope I can let these lessons seep deep. I hope to learn the beauty of leaning into these crazed moments and making them count.

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“Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming.  When nothing is certain, everything is possible” Author Unknown

XOXO,Holly