The final leg of our journey was through the mountains to the village of Sibinal, high up on the side of Tacaná, the second highest volcano in Central America. Our trip took us through small cities, mountainside towns, lush tiered farmland, steep landscapes so destroyed by deforestation and over-grazing they looked like moonscapes, barren slopes where nothing green would grow.
Our driver, a young man from Santiago Atitlan, had brought a friend to make the drive back with him. They laughed as we went further and further into the mountains.
"Where are we going?" they asked repeatedly. "Are we still in Guatemala?"
Late in the day, we stopped to stretch our legs and take in the view. We were traveling up Tacaná, and from a narrow pull-out on the rough dirt road, we could see Tajumulco, the highest volcanic peak in Central America.
There was a sign marking the overlook, but I couldn't tell what it said. The driver, strolling along the steep drop, was speaking to his friend, but I couldn't understand that either.
In fact, as we traveled through the region, met our son's friends, visited his market, I was struck, again and again, at my own limited understanding.
Words, translated, can mean something very different. Gestures, translated, can say something not intended. People, moved from one context to another, can go from confident to uncertain, from quiet to exuberant, from servant to leader.
That trip shook my perspective. What right do I have to washer and dryer, when so many women wash their laundry by hand in cold water, carry it home in plastic tubs, hang it to dry in the cool, misty weather? What right do I have to a minivan, when so many travel by foot on steep, rocky paths, and wait on the side of the dusty road for lurching chicken bus?
Our son's landlady and friends gave a large dinner in our honor. Chickens were killed and plucked, hundreds of tortillas were made by hand. Speeches were made and translated. Words of welcome, of thanks, of appreciation in every direction.
Our son's landlord's speech remains in my memory.
"I worked many years in your country. No one invited me to dinner. Now you are here in our country. We are glad to make you welcome."
That word of welcome stung, and has made me rethink, and rethink again, my understanding of hospitality.
There are many words I have understood only in part, only from my own perspective. The picture across the top of the page reminds me to look more closely, to realize how little I know, and to struggle toward understanding.
It reminds me, too, that the Word, Jesus, came to live among us. To speak our language. To help us see what we can't see, to know what we can't begin to know. To invite us deeper into a story that remains half heard, partially understood.
And it reminds me that God continues to speak - through his creation, through his people, through his written word. We can listen well, or poorly. We can welcome that word, even as it stings and challenges what we thought we knew, or we can choose to turn away.