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Tipping Buckets

I went from zero to sixty in the time it took to realize that the internet was down. Again. From nurturing wife planning a trip to the grocery store, to snipping, snapping grumpiness.

The last 10 days were busy with blessings. A long brunch at a cozy café shared with other missionary ladies of the area. The end of homeschool year wrap up and our first official whack at standardized testing online. A mission team from our awesome home church serving alongside us at the children’s home. Five dinners for 31 prepared and shared. My heart-story laid out before new friends. Even a rare date night, courtesy of a kind team member’s willingness to watch our children.

In tandem with the high-octane push of hosting a group, we prayed (and are still praying) Matt through his installment of the coughing crud I spent two weeks kicking. The illness is legit if the man will actually drink hot honey lemon tea, y’all. The good Lord didn’t put him together with a natural appreciation for it. Our modem was fried by lightning strike for the second time in 3 weeks, and the technicians couldn’t drop by to fix it until 5 long days later. Workmen were scheduled to come make repairs on various parts of the house we rent. Like a winter snowstorm—you never know exactly when it will hit, how long it will last, or how bad it will be.

Golden Shower Tree FlowersSo when the little spinny connection icon at the top of my phone screen went unglued for the third time in four weeks, so did I. These moments always catch me (and my beloved) off guard. I’m like the huge bucket at the water park that fills quietly over time and suddenly dumps unannounced with the force of a tidal wave. Okay, I didn’t break anything, say any bad words, or do anything more than be short and cross with Matt, then stomp off to regain my reason. Like the monumental splash, it passed quickly enough for me to ask forgiveness and “hug it right” before I grabbed my keys for the milk run.

What am I learning about myself in this life of serving in a different country and culture?  I like things to work the way they are supposed to. Sometimes it’s fun to play pioneer and improvise by catching rainwater from the downspout to flush toilets when city water is out of service. But every once in a while the rolls really do need to be baked when the power goes out. I miss the control of owning my nest and of telling workmen the way things should be done rather than being told what they are going to do and when they may invade my space to do it. I like to be good at things. When my Spanish heads off the fairway into the rough, I feel it like buzz of speaker feedback during a worship song.

I love the role that we have been given to serve the Lord here. We see him moving in ways great and small all the time. We feel him drawing us into closer surrender, showing us his infinite care, our infinite need. Child after child, team after team, the Lord changes lives at Hogar de Vida. Matt in leadership, myself in our kitchen, we really do fit like puzzle pieces crafted to complete the picture for this time and place. It’s an honor to be here, the loving hands of so many in the states supporting this work.

So why the deluge? How can I make holes in the bucket to release the weight of life’s cross cultural, ministerial idiosyncrasies? We are three and three-quarters of a year here. Shouldn’t I have this down by now?

No.

I really mean it. No.

Listen one more time, self that expected to fling her whole being into new language and culture like a baby duckling following momma-duck off of a bridge into a sunset pond.  And then realized that being momma-duck in this beautiful family meant most of my hours are spent serving behind my own front door.

No. You aren’t supposed to have it all figured out yet. Life doesn’t work like that.

2016_01_12_0105 edit.jpgI have heard a repeated theme recently from anointed missionary friends, fully immersed in the culture, whose Spanish knocks my Gallo Pinto off:

After all the years, all the effort, I’m still different from the surrounding culture. I will always be different to them. Not unloved. Not without great impact. But yes, different. Still making mistakes and working through misunderstandings.

In this season, I, Kris, am not out in the culture much. Fail. My Spanish is passable but highly imperfect. Fail. My boys have little to no interest in learning another language. Fail.  After 2.5 years of honest effort to engage a great local Spanish church, we felt led to join an English-speaking congregation. Fail.

And yet, we have seen the Lord move endearingly in our children through this new church body. Win. We’ve made new friendships and laughed more than I can remember since we left language school. Win. I’ve conquered my fear of navigating my way around the country. Win. I surrendered my pride in doing homeschool completely myself and enrolled the two older E’s in an online program. They were challenged and learned all sorts of new skills.  Just as important, our relationship got a chance to blossom with someone else in charge of the class work.  The entire family enjoyed their first year. Total win.

Understanding that I don’t have to have it all down perfect is perhaps the greatest release valve I can open. Giving myself grace to do my best and leave the rest in the Lord’s hands engages the sprinkler to make a fountain.  All those expectations don’t belong in my bucket anyway. I need to give myself time and space to recharge, freedom to not know it all.  I need to remember that sometimes life is messy and the Internet stops working when you have exactly one day left to finish the Stanford 10 Math tests. It’s okay to not be okay. Everyone has a unique journey. My job is not to achieve perfection. My calling is to live with those stresses trickling over open hands, through fingers extended to receive what the Lord has in each moment. To be the blessing that only I am capable of being to those around me.

To be a watering can, rather than a tipping bucket.

 

2016_01_07_0031 edit.jpgEven the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar. . . 

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
    it will become a place of refreshing springs.
    The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
 They will continue to grow stronger,
    and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

                   Psalm 84:3a, 5-7 NLT

Reaching

I don’t want to go.

If tonight’s the same as the last two weeks, I will gulp some chocolate for courage, pack up my books, and head out the door, shoulders squared.  Butterflies will give way to June bugs bouncing around my stomach.  I’ll wish I could thwack them away with a satisfying “ping,” like I did off of the screen door last night.

Is it lions I’m facing?  A legal interrogation?  Long division by paper and pencil?  No.  Something sweeter and more terrifying—friendship in Spanish.  I joined a bible study on Wednesday nights with some of the tias that work at the children’s home.

In English, this would be easy.  Vulnerability and the things of the spirit are familiar waters in the ship of my mother tongue.  But the language barrier isn’t just a wall that you peer over to the people on other side.  It’s also a burqa that you wear, a box that traps your personality.  You can only express the part of yourself that you have vocabulary for.

Sugar Cane PlumesFor several years now, I’ve heard of praying for a word for each calendar year, a heart-focus from the Lord to press into.  At the beginning of 2015, I flicked the question out to my Abba Father like a shrug: “Got anything for me this year?”  The answer was immediate.  Reach.  

Reach?  21 months into our new life serving in Costa Rica, wrapping up the homeschool year, and poised to begin the freefall of the busy summer team season, I would have chosen a different word.  How about “breathe” or “rest?”  “Be still and know” sounds good, too, although technically, it’s four words.  No.  It’s reach.  Shoot.

I know why He’s calling me out.  There’s been a bit of a turtle act going on lately.  It’s easier to smile and nod when the RPM of the conversation zooms past my brain’s capacity to distinguish individual words.  My language skills build Lincoln Log bridges that can’t quite support the weight of the heart over the communication gap.  I can navigate the grocery store, find my way around town, and hold the newly arrived baby twins at Hogar de Vida.  I’ve mastered the meet & greet banter with Sunday-morning-fellowship-hall flair.  Those things have grown comfortable, even ordinary.

But friendship?  That’s going to take some reaching.

And yet, isn’t that exactly where my day-to-day living is malnourished?  Isn’t that precisely what the Lord called me to this country to do, to be?  More than baked goods, team dinners, and cheerful pleasantries, God wants me to share my heart with the people here.  He is encouraging me to grow to be able to support their dreams, understand their struggles, and experience their joys.  To be able, not only to broadcast my love, but to receive theirs.

Orange FlowerSo I will stretch my courage to say new things beyond my grammar’s beaten path.  I will press on in the listening to grasp the meaning of the flying words.  I will exchange embraces and seek out expressions to add to their value.

I will face the June bugs.  I will reach.

“I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers.  May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”  Ruth 2: 11b-12 NLT

 

 

Celebrations

They happen every day.  Sometimes I miss them, my eyes focused on the road ahead of me, the to-do list on my shoulders.  But when I catch a glimpse, and stop my busyness, my spirit looks up to share a smiling gaze with the Almighty.  A butterfly outside my window, a sweet moment with the children, a miracle unmerited.  I am leaning into the Lord’s heart in the celebrations He gives our family, both large and small.

  • Snowmen painted on my toes Tica-style in honor of the winter white stuff we miss on the prairie.
  • The little dear who eyed Matt with caution and shied away from his hand while we prayed over her entry into the Hogar de Vida family, running to give him a hug a week later.  Hearing the kids call out, “(Ma)Teo!” when he goes by.
  •  Flowering BeautyRealizing the soft blues and greens of the quilt I pieced before we launched to the mission field coordinate perfectly with the view of trees, mountains, and sky out our balcony.
  • The verification that our second language is taking root.  Yelling, “¿Qué está haciendo? / What are you doing?” without thinking when awakened from a dead sleep at 3:30 a.m. by someone’s loud footsteps on the neighbor’s tin roof next to our bedroom windows.
  • Sharing hospitality and life with friends around our table.  Cracking jokes and being real in Spanish and English.
  • Discovering the High School Musicals with my kids and savoring this season when singing the songs with their mom is still cool.
  • Laughing nonstop with House Tias on a 3-hour bus ride.  Hearing my name called out in the verbal melee, “Krease!”
  • Seeing Ezekiel charm team members, Eliana in her element helping out in the houses, and Elijah playing alongside boys his own age.
  • Feeling the Holy Spirit show up in a unique way each time I share my testimony with a team.
  • God’s mercy and my husband’s ingenuity saving my laptop after a baptism by pumpkin spice tea.
  • Celebrating our Elijah’s arrival into double digits and his growth into a tender warrior.
  • Sips of coffee and birdsong in the presence of the Lord each morning.  A basket ready on my dresser with bible, journal, candle, and everything else I might be tempted to leave my chair for.
  • The tiny infant who fussed night and day against some unknown anxiety, calming into peaceful smiles and trusting cuddles through Hogar’s united intercession before the throne of our good Father.
  • Standing here, humbled on holy ground, filled with gratitude for the provision, prayer, and affection poured out on us.  

River Running Rainmaker TrailWe would not be here without all of you.  It is an incredible privilege to be your hands and feet, serving in this land.  Often I ask, like David, “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” 2 Samuel 7:18.

Thank you for every way that you have joined with us in this journey.  May the Lord of the harvest multiply each seed sown and return to you a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, poured into your lap this holiday season.  Merry Christmas from the Gnuses in Costa Rica.  A savior has been born.  May His light illuminate your 2015.

May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.  Colossians 1:11b-12 NLT

 

 

Catching Foxes

It happened fast. One minute, my heart was doing the cha-cha over the newly installed water line to our washing machine and bidding adieu to the personal sprinkler that “mostly” connected to the sink faucet. I was even dreaming up a blog post on the little things that I’m thankful for, the small details that bless the way we do life. The perfect place to store the inexpensive, but oh-so-versatile, plastic stools. A shelf for our collection of chargers and corded stuff with blinking lights. A laundry sink now freed up for pre-treating and hand-washing. Learning just where to hang out 4 beds’ worth of sheets to make the most of a sunny morning. I’d gotten as far as the kids’ suction cup toothbrush holders that free up our 10 square inches of bathroom counter space, when they gathered around.

Foxes. The little foxes that ruin the vineyard. The ones that steal joy.

It started with something silly. Doesn’t it always? I pulled one of my special cleaning cloths from the washer and found it crusted with PVC cement from the recent renovation. My husband’s definition of “rag” was substantially different than mine. These good-and-faithful servants had been important enough on my scale to rate airfare from Nebraska. It was like losing a member of your infantry corps. We’d been through the trenches together, across 4 houses , 3 tours of potty training, a son with reflux, and an ailing cat. I may have teared up a little.

I should have known when I heard myself grumble, but it took me a while longer.

MonarchCleaning rags aside, I have this magical person in my life called a husband. Things break, he fixes them. We need to get somewhere, he figures out how. When we opened a Costa Rican bank account, he was the one who ping-ponged around the branch office for hours to get it up and running. He then decoded the complicated rite of logging into that account online, using multiple identity codes and the number generation of a security key fob.

So when the newly upgraded internet service and our month-old router went on strike, it was his territory. Common ground he was used to navigating. 4 Days and 12 hours of help-line assistance later, we had neither functional wifi, nor any logical reason for it to be so stubbornly silent. What we did have was 1 frustrated husband and 1 wife feeling increasingly isolated. The world wide web is an artery to the work we do here and a lifeline to community back in the states. The broken-internet-elephant stomped on toes as it took up a huge amount of emotional space in the room and all of Matt’s free time. We prayed and asked others to join us. We waited for God to move.

Then the real storm blew in. Someone’s economy or ingenuity—a piece of thin plastic electrical conduit grafted into the water line from the holding tank—burst. When your tile floor becomes a running streambed, all you can do is open the back door and grab a broom. But be careful, wet tile is slippery. You may need to get back up on your feet a time or two.

As I bailed, we had a rapid-fire discussion. Too low of a pipe to use a bucket. No way to plug the 1” hole. My swishes kept time while that incredible husband searched for the shut-off valve to the water tank. The deluge was over in something like 60 seconds. We mopped up late into the night, counting our blessings. The ballooning tube hadn’t given way until we were home and yet still awake. We had easy access to the gated water tank because of a neighbor’s help with a hacksaw during a previous plumbing adventure. The water hadn’t reached far enough to touch any of the important rooms or valuable stuff. A trip to Hogar de Vida’s workshop didn’t yield all of the pieces Matt needed for the repair, but we dropped off to sleep feeling like we’d dodged the bullet by God’s grace.

2013-11-30 Christmas Program 072 cropThe reason that every house on the block has a water tank in the first place is that the municipal water in our area only runs intermittently, usually in the wee hours of the morning. When I heard the tank begin to fill around 4 a.m., I should have done more than give thanks for the closed shut-off valve and roll my tired self over. Two and a half hours later when Matt went down to pray, he found the major flooding we thought we had avoided. Apparently, the city water flows in to fill the tank through the same broken pipe that draws water out of it.

With rolled-up pajamas and a frazzled heart, I was back to bailing. And bailing. Matt’s screwdriver poked and prodded the front yard until the Lord showed him the shut-off valve for the house’s main water line. Better than any Easter egg, it was hidden inside of a sunken culvert half-filled with turf.

The stream stopped like the River Jordan, and we started to cross over to the other side of the damage. My love for plastic storage had served us well, but everything touching the floor had to be moved to either dry in the sun or make way for broom and towel. In place of rest on the Sabbath, we had upheaval. I pushed back emotions like I was pushing water on the floor.

A phone call later, our neighbor arrived with an offer of help, an armload of towels, and a large squeegee on a pole. Slowly, things dried up and found their places again. The Lord had protected us from serious loss. I was grateful, but as if through a distantly focused lens. The worship song I began to sing in the cleanup was more warfare than adoration.

The foxes still had me.

LantanaCome dinnertime, when the oven control panel stopped responding, I had had enough. The rag: my ability to keep house. The internet: a big part of my ministry and connection to friends and family. The flood: the order and peace of our home. The oven: the heartbeat of my hospitality to our family and this community. I was done with those clever bushy tails.

I spoke out my weakness to deal with these issues and put it all into the strength of God’s hands. Then I declared that no matter how bad things got, I wasn’t going anywhere. I wouldn’t leave this calling until the Lord moved us. So there, foxes.

That moment, the oven came back on like normal. Over the next few days, the house came back together with fresh appreciation for its comfort. When Matt reconnected the wifi router, it cozied up to the modem like an old friend. For a week, anyway. But when we lost service again, my focus was back where it should be.

The foxes may be fleet of foot, but the Lord is worthy. We will stand our ground and let Him work through us. The vineyards are in blossom.

2013-11-30 Christmas Program 081 crop

Catch for us the foxes,
    the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
    our vineyards that are in bloom.

Song of Songs 2:15 NIV

When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  

Isaiah 43:2-3a

Hello Goodbye

I felt her almost before I saw her—a little girl blur running to wrap her 4-year-old arms around my legs and snuggle her cheek against my skirt. Taking in her bright pigtails and Sunday best, I greeted her softly, grateful for her warm welcome and the fact that I knew her name.  With Hogar de Vida’s fluid population of 35 children, I am always learning names.  Always messing them up, too.

My hands hugged her close as my heart came a little undone.  People milled around me, exchanging good mornings with tico flair.  They kissed to the side of one another’s cheek and asked about family members while I tried to freeze time.

We were freshly returned to Costa Rica, our new home.  For the 3 weeks prior, we had whirled through our first visit back to the states.  The dust of the Heartland was still clinging to my sandals.  Driving the smooth, well-marked roads had made it feel like our year of language learning and cultural adjustment never happened.  I found myself stepping lightly, holding on to the glow of seeing friends and family, of being fluent in the words on the street.  I was feeling strange again in the place we were called to.

Then this little butterfly of a child launched herself into my lap.  She stayed with me as worship cascaded around us, amusing herself with the buttons on my watch, the freckles on my arms.  The presence of the Lord was richer that morning.  I leaned with my whole spirit into prayers for her heart, her life.  Her giggle sang sweeter praise in the heavens than my voice lifted up.  She wasn’t the first at-risk child to warm my heart, but she was the first to reach so deep that I didn’t want to let go.

In the handful of weeks since, she often greeted me with light in her eyes and a leap into my arms.  I was her cradle as she drifted to sleep while Matt and I prayed over her.  We asked the Lord to break off the trauma of the past and lay a foundation of blessing in her life to grow on.  I assumed we’d have months if not years.

Looking AheadYesterday we said goodbye.

She was sweetly excited to go live with another family member.  Her little feet flounced her dress as she gave hugs and climbed into the cab.  And just like that, the butterfly took flight beyond my reach.  I probably won’t ever know if the bad dreams keep coming or if she feels safe in those new arms.

So this is what it feels like to put your love in a basket and send it downstream.  This is our calling:  to open our hearts and do what we can in the time we are given, then to trust the rest in prayer to the one who sees the bigger picture.   To embrace the hello, and live so that we can grieve the goodbye.

 

    . . .He will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and for evermore.  Psalm 121:7-8