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

Drinking Deep

When it comes to coffee drinking, I’m a lightweight.  Between a temperamental stomach and nerves that kickback 12 hours post-sip, it’s better that coffee and I enjoy each other in small installments.  Costa Rica produces some of the best liquid caffeine in the world, though.  So I feel obligated do my part and drink in the delicious culture.

At the local Chinese import store, I found some sweet little cups that are a great fit for my dainty joe capacity.  But filled with compassion for friends who come over for cafecito, I also bought an extra-grande mug—the kind you instinctively hold with two hands.

Seeing them hang side by side like David and Goliath makes me smile.  And gets me thinking.  For some things, small cups can be a blessing.  It’s good to have limits on what can turn from a blessing into a curse if taken in the wrong quantities.  Cheetos, for example.  Or television.  Perhaps shopping purchases.  Fill in your own blank.  Small cups can help us keep things in perspective.

But what size cup do I have offered up to the Lord?  I confess that sometimes in this busy season I feel full with a shot of devotion reading before classes, a squirt of bible time during lunch, and a measure of family prayers at bedtime.  Or maybe it’s just my day that feels full.  My heart definitely isn’t.  The schedule holds out a dainty espresso cup while my spirit sighs over the slosh in the bottom of the empty decanter.

And I’m reminded again that if I get everything done, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Flawless Spanish + Balanced Checkbook + Clean House – Love = 0.  I don’t know how to walk this out perfectly, but I’m going to keep trying.  I’m going to pay attention to my empty places and invite the Lord in to fill them.  I’m going to make space to be with Him and trust for His grace over the rest of the To Do List.

I stand before you, busted by my own sentences.  One of the fullest weeks yet has just drawn to a close.  We did all kinds of assignments, spent half a day in the bureaucratic jungle to get our Costa Rican driver’s licenses, and shared a bible story (with a minimum of 23 required grammar elements) in 20 minutes of Spanish for a language exam.  Lots of boxes successfully checked.  But even as I chatted about idiomatic phrases with the friendly faces on my language route, I knew I was running on empty.

2014-02-07 cups 004Thank goodness for the new mercy of this morning.  Praise God that He is a well that never runs dry.  I hold up my cup again, and He is ready to fill it.  When it comes to relationship with Jesus, I want the extra-grande.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.”  Isaiah 30: 15a

The Ultimate Culture Shock

This last Christmas I spent a lot of time thinking about the differences between Jesus’ life in heaven, and what he stepped down into, to be made flesh and live among us.  Let’s see, from being able to dive into the rainbow of glory and the embrace of the Father, to walking by faith and not sight.  From being a focal point of heaven’s adoration, to growing up a poor commoner of an oppressed nation.  From the fellowship of mighty beings calling out the holiness of God, to being jostled in dusty streets by those doubting His goodness.

That, my friends, is culture shock.

Learning life here in Costa Rica, I feel some of it, too.  After four months of “no way,” I honestly got emotional the other day in the grocery store.  I let myself use my fun money to buy a favorite treat: Swiss cheese at $8 a pound (in Nebraska, you pay $4).  I cried the first time we test drove a car for sale because I missed my “Ferrari”—our nice used minivan purchased with 90,000 miles on it.  When my dear mentor was dealing with a sore hip and couldn’t reach her toenails to cut them, it broke my heart.  The offer to stop by every week for a little pedicure was on the tip of my tongue, but nail clippers don’t work over the phone.  These are small things, I know.  But life in a new culture is full of them.  They pile up around you, and sooner or later you have to work through them if you are going to move forward.

We know that Jesus dealt with changes much greater and more profound. He gave up his face time with the father and all that he had, to walk out God’s calling.  He even did it without sinning.  What does that mean to us?  To me, it means that he is worthy to ask us to live in a new way to bring the Father glory.  When something is hard for us, Jesus understands.  We don’t have to hide the struggle. He’s ready and waiting for us to invite him into the furnace, and he has the power to help us walk through the flames.  Swiss cheese or no Swiss cheese.

Light of Dawn

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.  Hebrews 4:15-16

In all their suffering he also suffered,
    and he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
    He lifted them up and carried them
    through all the years.  Isaiah 63:9

Entering Free Fall

Two years ago I had the opportunity to jump off of a 15-foot cliff into a Guatemalan river pool.  Knees all trembly, I didn’t let myself linger up there on the edge.  It was heave-ho and go.  The free fall was glorious.  And terrifying.  Then the water caught me, and I was reoriented with gravity, with the beautiful normality of swimming to shore.  Security feels sweet after the risks have paid off and fear has been conquered.

Today is Matt’s last day of work with ProCare3, the therapy company that hired him out of grad school and never looked back.  For 14 years he has healed patients, cracking jokes as he encouraged them to tough out exercises that made their lives better.  He’s learned to smooth feathers, to finesse situations, to call out the greatness in those around him, and unleash his own.  For 14 years the Lord has used this work to provide our roof, our daily bread, and our dreams.  And today we say a “Thank you” that doesn’t come close to expressing the blessings we’ve received, and a “Goodbye” that feels like leaving behind half of yourself.  Today our feet leave the ledge and we enter free fall.

In five weeks we fly literally.  An airplane will carry us to Costa Rica, to the beginning of 5 years spent serving children who weren’t safe living with their families, and hosting teams of people who want to make a difference.  Until then, we press through a melee of packing, planning, document gathering, house selling (please, Lord), friend raising, and praying.  This is a true leap of faith.  Our roof, bread, and dreams are now in the hands of the Lord who put those brown eyes on our hearts.  He is able.

Window Framing

At some point, the river of “normal” will catch us again.  We will learn the walk to the language school, park, and grocery store.  I’ll organize our rented kitchen and fill the freezer with meals.  The fragrance of baking cinnamon rolls will waft through a new house and embellish the laughter we’ll share with new friends.  In the hang time, we’ll keep our eyes fixed on His light and continue to pray through the veil:

Let us, your servants, see you work again;
    let our children see your glory.
And may the Lord our God show us his approval
    and make our efforts successful.
    Yes, make our efforts successful!  Psalm 90:16-17

Come Be A Missionary

The other day we had a special gathering to share some of the details of our calling and to give the children a little taste of what it’s like to be a missionary.  Much fun was had by all.  Here are some of the highlights.

Being a long ways away doesn’t mean we stop being friends.  We decorated postcards with cutouts from magazines to make it easier to keep in touch.

Unidentified Flying Object

Costa Rica is home to over 1,200 known species of butterflies.  Some undiscovered varieties were seen flying around the room.  Contrary to nature, this one later grew its pipe cleaner body and curly antennae.

Eliana and Elijah made signs for each project table.

If you could only take one suitcase, what would you put in it?  Matt’s word problem gave kids a chance to flex their math skills and think it through.  Suggestions and approximate weights were given, but remember, your bag can’t weigh more than 50 lbs.

Gallo Pinto?  What Gallo Pinto?Gallo Pinto is Costa Rica’s signature beans and rice dish, often served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The primary flavoring, Lizano sauce, makes it quite tasty.  We brought a double batch, wondering if the kids would be interested.  When I wandered back to the snack table, this is what was left.  It looks like all the little Mikeys liked it.  We also enjoyed some bananas and oranges because the warm, wet climate makes it easy for them to grow there.

Ta-da!

Houses in the tropics are more open because the weather is warm year-round.  Often a small gecko will keep you company, usually out of sight, and nibble any bugs that wander in.  God created them with a special ability to climb and even run on vertical surfaces.  Our beaded versions couldn’t zoom across the walls, but they were still a big hit.

The result: happy faces with a little more understanding of what it’s like to go new places.