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Mitch Bixby brought this message to the meeting on 14 June, 2009.


Returns

It was the perfect vacation. In 2004, my sister was doing her final unit of field research in Costa Rica, and I was able to spend two weeks with her as she made her final rounds. She not only knew the country, but many of the people working at the biological field stations. What a blast. Despite our shared childhoods (you folks with siblings know how this is), we turned out to be excellent traveling companions. Near the end of the trip, a chance conversation with her at a market resulted in some inadvertent haggling; I didn't know it was possible to do this inadvertently. But a chance conversation in English with my sister, another in Spanish with the lady, and I wound up with 2 bracelets when I only had the money for one. They were hand-made out of local materials and quite lovely: the perfect reminder of a perfect vacation.

I promptly lost them both. Less than 24 hours later, we were back in San Jose, preparing for my flight the next morning. And here's me rummaging through my enormous backpack, checking every zipper (including the two that go nowhere) and getting wrapped up what seems like a mile of straps looking for my perfect souvenirs. It was 3 hours later, and well past dark, when I finally came to the conclusion that they had been swept off the nightstand during our hasty morning departure and were gone for good. What a drag.

The next morning I was too groggy to think much about them. My 8:00am flight needed me at the airport at 6; you can extrapolate back from there. No amount of coffee was going to help me. Furthermore, in order to even leave the airport, I needed to pay $26 IN US DOLLARS (not the local currency, thank you) which I advanced on my VISA from the ATM for about 26 US dollars. Worst of all, my great vacation was ending. I was leaving this fabulously kind and relaxed country to return to a fearful, paranoid nation picking fights everywhere.

So I was in no particular mood to deal with the customs guy, who turned out to be kind, relaxed and excited to using his English. His job, though, was to sort through our luggage by hand; an unpleasant job at best, and tedious for me. He began his investigation not by opening the main zipper but by unzipping one of these useless ones. I was thinking, "You're not going to get anywhere with those" but was too tired.

Besides, as I thought this, I saw he was extracting a small bag.

Containing two bracelets.

Suffice it to say, he and I shared a moment. A rather loud, boisterous moment.

In the years since, I've had a surface understanding of it, but never delved. I couldn't quite articulate the thing, as if some crucial part was missing. Something hadn't yet arrived.

So, a month ago, I went kayaking. Sunny day, getting on the sunscreen, I take off a new necklace. It's recently been assembled: the pendant is a jade turtle, from India, a gift from friends to help me carry my thesis; the lanyard is the fruit of several months effort by a good friend, multiple discussions, and much love and care. On returning home from kayaking, I realize... no necklace. Is it in the car? Did I leave it on the car? Is it IN THE COLUMBIA SLOUGH?

I admit. This one was harder to let go. And I never truly did. Always thinking: could it be... or how about... or did I ask...? After a couple days, I stopped trying. A flash of insight a week later, I turn around, and it's lying on my living room floor.

Okay, God. I get it. Have it your way. I will bring this theme. But which theme? Exactly?

I've taken this mostly as a particular lesson in faith, an aspect of my life that has required more than a little nurturing. I put something like: "This thing that has been lost may be returned to you." Sounds hopeful enough. It's certainly an ethic I was able to practice in Costa Rica, where things went wrong, or were misplaced the entire trip. Yet, all was well. "This thing that has been lost may be returned to you."

But that "may" is substantial. That "may" is the thing around which everything pivots. "May" is not a promise. It is not assurance. It's conditional. To make it work, you have to let it go. Giving it up to God means not really expecting a return. Really, truly letting it go, not as a means but as an end, is essential.

But it wasn't until writing this message that I recognized what rediscovery was teaching me. Don't sweat the small stuff, maybe. It seems strange that it took me 5 years to remember the Costa Rican national expression "purr vida," which carries the sense: don't sweat anything. It's ironic: someone like me has to work hard at not sweating things. The bracelets, the trinkets, these are not to be worried over. They may come back, or they might not. Hey, Mitch. Use this opportunity to trust God, to let God into your life, so that when for the larger, harder things, I know better what to do.

Over the New Year, I was reconciled with an old friend. We hadn't talked for nearly two years, but, through some means, grace, I assume, we can laugh now and joke with each other. More importantly, we can talk calmly about the things that made us angry. This is a tremendous gift for me, and it makes me glad. This friendship had been lost, but was returned to me.

Where have you rediscovered something you thought was gone for good?