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

 

 

A Friend in the Bargain

“No photos.  No photos.”  She waved her hand dismissively at Matt, shooing away his Canon.  Up and down the cobblestone street stalls overflowed with colorful Guatemalan bargains.  But here was something new: a lady and her loom, actually making one.  Having more time than quetzales just then, Matt broke out his basic Spanish.  Her name was Manuela.  It wasn’t that she was camera-shy, she just understood the value of the unique scene she made amidst a repetitive market.  In an economy that earned her something like $8 for a 15-hour table runner, sitting fees traveled the other direction.  He watched her weave bright threads and pack them down firmly with a smooth stick, each motion quick and sure from long practice.

¿Cuantos?” he asked her, smiling, “How much?”  In amiable fashion, the bargaining commenced.  She pointed to her Pepsi bottle, “10.  I need to buy food and drink for my family.”  He pointed to his pocket, “I only have 8.  I would like to show your picture to my wife.  She loves the color blue.”  They chatted more about the topics within reach of his language skills: the number of children they had and how long it took to make her wares.  Eventually she consented, softened by his good nature and the evidence that his wallet was being honest about it’s contents.  For about a dollar and some courtesy, he gained a beautiful picture and made a memory that will outlast everything else we bought that trip– a connection with another culture, a friend made in the bargain.

Manuela's Loom

Sowing Seeds

Our church took part in the nationwide 21-day Awakening Fast this January.  We broke the fast on Sunday, and most of us are happily reacquainting ourselves with the pleasures that we put on the altar for a time.  Meat.  Solid food.  Facebook.  Chocolate.  Movies.  Sweet nothings by the mouthful.

I’m relieved to have finished out the 21 days, but find myself reluctanct to leave this place at the altar.  This place where I couldn’t run to the candy bowl for comfort, so I opened my arms to my Savior.  This place where my time was better focused because I wasn’t checking Facebook 20+ times a day.  You all are  fascinating, you know.  This place where the Lord lit a fire in me to study Spanish so that I will be able to connect on a heart level with the beautiful people at the Home of Life in Costa Rica this summer.  Where I began to sort through our abundance of things and release them.

The journey that stretches before us is a marathon rather than a sprint.  My quality time each day with Rosetta Stone and StudySpanish.com is chipping away at the language barrier before me.  The skis we sold on Craigslist, the ski boots we still have posted, and the craft room piled with outgrown toys waiting to be posted are drops in the bucket of bailing out our home.  And the Lord whispers in my heart that this is planting time.  The Spring, if you will, of the new direction the Lord is taking us.  Each verb that I learn to conjugate, each one-time treasure released to a new home, each prayer lifted up to fill the bowls in the throne room is a seed sown into the field of His future for our family.

So I linger at this altar of 3 weeks that advanced His purposes in my heart, praying over what to let back into my days and with what boundaries.  Because planting time has only begun, and I don’t want to short the harvest He has for our lives one measure by underestimating the value of each seed sown.