Smoothing Hackles

Teeth bared, the brindle fur went spiky on the back of his neck. He loped toward me, barking hostility. Face to face. No way around. Aggression in attack stance at arm’s reach.

One enters cross cultural ministry expecting to experience the new and different. The sheer width and breadth of the unknown had me wrestling with the Lord over our calling, long before we landed. I find I rather enjoy knowing how to do things well. Embracing God’s plan for our family meant peeling off my pride and independence at a deep level.

Childlike faith is a sweet concept, but sometimes a messy action.

Thumping your face into the glass wall of the language barrier can make your eyes water.  Discovering a driving law by getting a traffic ticket is humbling.  Ordering seafood pizza and finding curly tentacles on board is surprising (and chewy).

Figuring out how life works in a new country puts you in minor status again. You walk like a child, learning the streets. You talk like a child, learning the vocabulary. You pray like a child, learning to trust.

When we take our Abba Father’s hand in open-hearted faith, he gives us new vistas to understand his glory in.

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So when this muscular bundle of canine fury parked himself in my path declaring, “You shall not pass,” I stopped dead away.

I thought about our last encounter, where I had picked up a stone to throw. Some dogs skitter away at that tactic. This one had responded like an MMA fighter yelling, “Bring it!” Thankfully, the owner had heard the commotion and wrestled said beast back behind their home gate.

With a chance to start fresh, I looked at warm brown fur and amber eyes. I spoke calmly that he was okay. I wasn’t going to hurt him or the home he was protecting. As I set the tone of reassurance, I saw ears relax and hackles smooth. He sniffed my hand. Not only did I avoid battle, I made a friend.

Lots of dogs wander the streets of this country. Learning to watch body language and diffuse tension is a skill I never expected to grow out on my morning run. The locals often walk with a stick, ready to swing. I respect that sometimes defense is necessary. Not every puppy responds to social graces.

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I see myself in those golden eyes, though. I can be all too willing to narrow my gaze when someone barks back at my sharpness. I am grateful to find safety and reassurance when I’m frazzled. At the heart of things, I want to make friends.

Each day, this land of “new and different” gives me a fresh opportunity to expand my vocabulary in the way of care and connection. Octopus on pizza may not be your thing. You may walk easier with a stick handy for growling dogs.

But love goes well on everything.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. 

We love each other because he loved us first.

1 John 4: 16, 17a, 19 NLT

What Love Looks Like

Sometimes love looks like an abandoned child nestled in your arms, or a mission team hearing the Lord’s voice in a new timbre.  Sometimes love looks like a list of conjugated verbs and definite articles to help bridge the gap between hearts.  Our family is on the ascent to those vistas, but our first 10 days here in Costa Rica were colored by some of love’s other hues: lots of elbow grease applied to clean spaces and organize our things, a heavy duty extension cord delivered in the rain after some of the house’s wiring self-destructed, meals from scratch, and laughter with new friends.  Click on a photo in the gallery below to take a tour of our Tico beginning.

Lifting My Eyes

Sometimes when people hear about what the Lord is doing in our family they make a statement:  “I could never do that.”  The truth is that without Him, we can’t either.  Sometimes we stride, sometimes we stumble, but always the ground is taken one step at a time. When I’m struggling, the best thing for me to do is to pick up my pen and journal.  There’s something about putting my thoughts down on paper that makes it easier to sort the good from the bad.  The Spirit led me to let you peek at one of my rough spots as a big hug when the path ahead seems difficult.  It may not always be easy, but He is always good.  When my heart lifts its gaze up from the rocks in the way, I can see His rainbow of love over my life again.

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Lord, it hit me tonight so quickly that it almost took my breath away:  [In this moment,] I don’t want to go.  All these changes, all the work of this year-long goodbye.  Letters, prayer cards, friend-raising, presentations, decluttering, de-stuffing, rent or sell?, storing, packing, decision-making.  Prayer.

Come be with me, Daddy.  Hold my hand.  Wait, it’s clinging to my kitchen counter with all its strength.  Peel back the fingers, lovingly, one by one, and fill them with Yourself.  Help me again to want what You want.  To trust the plans You have for our family.  Give me kisses for orphan faces, momma-bear hugs for their hurts, and laughter for their antics.  Give me tender wisdom to guide team members out of their comfort zones and warm grace to welcome them in as friends.  Give me Your love for them all, and for myself.  Wrap me up in it.  Your banner over me is love.  You are good, and like David in the waiting, I will trust in You.  Let my soul glorify the Lord.

His love over each of us is brilliant.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
where does my help come from?
 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

 He will not let your foot slip –
he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

 The Lord will keep you from all harm –
he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and for evermore.  Psalm 121

One Thing Remains

Language.  Culture.  Climate.  Currency.  Source of provision.  Available products and prices thereof.  Food.  Church.  Profession.  With our upcoming launch to serve at The Home of Life children’s home in Costa Rica, so much is going to change in our lives over the next year.  In a moment of humorous inspiration, I sat down and made a list of what will stay the same (mostly).  It brings me comfort to recognize some stability and makes me smile over what my heart values.  Here’s a non-exhaustive, unordered peek.

1.) Our family being together.  When the Lord called us to homeschool 5 1/2 years ago, I had a sinking feeling that He was setting us up for the mission field.  Turns out I was right.  Only now I don’t feel so sinking about it.  What a comfort to already have a good familiarity with how to do school as a family before we venture out into the nations.  The kids will attend one year of traditional school while Matt and I are up to our eardrums in Spanish immersion classes, then it will be back to the kitchen table for lessons together.  We know that this call to go and serve is for our children just as much as us grown-ups.  We have seen the impact of their smiles and Spanish phrases on Tico hearts.  They have a unique anointing that’s an essential part of what the Lord is doing.  I’m so thankful to be able to walk this path as a family.

2.) God.  Life serving the Lord in Costa Rica won’t be any more spiritual than serving Him in the Midwest  but the change is certainly pressing us into His arms.  As He meets us here, we know He will meet us there.  Perhaps even more so, because we will be so much more aware of our need for Him.

3.) Rice and beans.  It’s like a Dr. Seuss book.  We eat them here, we’ll eat them there.  We’d probably eat them anywhere.  After our first global journey to Guatemala in 2006, I started our family’s exploration into the land of legumes.  Toss a rice cooker into the mix and we had some yummy dinners afoot.  Matt is no longer dubious when I come home with a 20 lb. bag of rice.  Gallo Pinto, anyone?

4.) Books, worship, and working out.  How awesome that some of my very favorite things are completely portable.  We may not be able to drive to a public library full of material in English, but modern technology can still keep us learning, recreating, and soaking in the Lord’s presence.  It’s on our heart to start a small group that gathers for contemporary worship (courtesy of mp3 files– none of our family plays an instrument).  Thank you, Lord, for Kindles, the internet, iPods, laptops, and Jillian Michaels’ dvds.  And while the sidewalks may be more of a challenge in Costa Rica, the weather certainly won’t be, so I’ll have little excuse not to lace up my running shoes.

5.) Making things from scratch.  I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a do-it-yourself-er.    If you can make something cheaper or better (preferably both) than you can buy it, then I’m game to try it.  This especially goes for food.  Lately I’ve been aflutter to learn to make the things that we love to eat here, but probably won’t be able to get there.  Chicken Tikka Masala.  Naan.  Auntie Anne’s pretzels.  You should really come over.  Company motivates me to cook.  Part of my role at the Home of Life will be to prepare meals for visiting teams, and there couldn’t be a better spot for my heart to sing.  Penzeys Spices’ motto says it perfectly: “Love People.  Cook them tasty food.”

But where there are lessons, they will be handed in (and possibly forgotten).  Where Jillian is pounding you with reps, cool down time will eventually begin.  Intriguing plots will conclude.  Recipes will be enjoyed and cleared from the table.  But one thing will remain:  Love.  The love we share with the Lord, with each other, and with the people He puts into our lives on the journey.