Human glasses, God glasses: Reflection on a mission to Puerto Rico

By Jessica Brodie

Sometimes, it’s just so hard being a human being. It’s like we’re stuck wearing these thick, clunky, half-broken glasses, and we peer through them thinking we’re seeing reality, but really we’re just seeing the world through our own distorted spectacles.

It would be so much simpler if we could slip them off and slide on our God-glasses instead—the kind with the super-large, panoramic view of the world, crystal-clear and never foggy, smudged, or scratched-up.

But nope, we’re stuck for now with the human specs, sometimes catching a glimpse of how things really are, sometimes stuck with the fuzzy, usually not fully knowing which is one versus the other.

That’s how I felt after I’d spent eight days in Arecibo and Hatillo, Puerto Rico, helping hurricane survivors as part of a church rebuild and recovery construction team (read the news article about my trip here). I didn’t know what to expect before we went; I’d heard stories of desperation and devastation, of anger and despair. We were warned to expect rustic conditions, possibly no electricity or cellular reception, and we’d better not get injured, because we were hours from a hospital.

It was pretty rustic. We stayed at a church camp in the mountains that felt like the middle of nowhere. My phone didn’t work, we slept with mosquito nets in open-air concrete bedrooms, and we only had power for two hours a day when they ran the generator. Pigs and dogs freely roamed the litter-strewn roadways, eager for food scraps and other handouts. The frogs were the size of cantaloupes, lizards and iguanas were everywhere, spiders and roaches scurried underfoot, and I woke up one morning to hear a horse munching from a tin outside my window.

The houses we worked at were rough, many with mold problems, missing exterior walls, half-tarped roofs or no roofs at all. Piles of discarded trash mixed with housing rubble everywhere we looked. One older lady lived in a small home with a tarped roof that leaked (we helped fixed it), but her next-door neighbor wasn’t so lucky. His roofless house was left entirely to the elements, a tattered, ruinous example of what the storms had left behind.

And yet the beauty left me breathless most days. Nature and humanity mingled there in Hatillo, a town known for having as many cows as people. I didn’t miss so-called creature comforts one whit as I painted wood trim, hammered down metal roofing sheets, and carted off debris day after day. While there was no air conditioning, the ocean provided breeze enough. I craved the room temperature bottled water we drank, not an icy extra-large soda. Even the cold shower felt refreshing after a hard day’s work.

I found myself truly enjoying the rhythm of a week spent in labor—wake early, work hard, eat with gratitude, bask in simple pleasures, gaze up at the stars, sleep long and restful.

Back home, I look around and wonder who has it best: me, with my 45-minute commute in air-conditioned luxury, my cushy suburban house, my high heels and expensive purses, my hustle and bustle as I struggle with issues that come from a life of excess, such as learning how to relax or taming my electronics usage. Or the lady whose house I worked on in a tiny town in northern Puerto Rico, whose shoulders shook with laughter instead of tension, whose eyes lit with tranquility instead of glazed from the press of her to-do list, who had learned to be content in her tiny tarp-roof home surrounded by chicken coops.

Even with my human glasses squarely on, I know the truth. Simplicity is best. Gratitude is best. Time with God and in nature is best.

As the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (4:12-13).

Jessica Brodie is a Christian author, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach. Read more of her blogs here, or check out her bio and fiction and journalism work here.