Glorious Rear Guard

Our journey to Costa Rica on Monday started out innocently enough.  A small miracle of our current favorite song played twice on the same radio station in 20 minutes, chorusing the benediction “Let the future begin.”  A laughter-through-tears time of farewell at the airport.  Two uneventful flights sandwiching a leisurely layover in Dallas and some nice crispy grease from Mickey D’s.  We were given a shortcut through the immigration line (may have been the squirrelly kids or the soccer jerseys we wore), hugged our friends Tim and Dena, rejoiced that they had ferried all of our stuff in good condition from Hogar de Vida, met our wonderful Big Sisters from language school, and loaded our baggage into the van rented to drive us to our house.

I was admiring the city lights as we drove down the highway, eagerly tuning into the conversation about something Costa Rican when Matt said it, veiled urgency in his voice:

We don’t have our backpacks.

A quick call to Tim and Dena confirmed it.  They didn’t have them in their vehicle either.  The bags stuffed with all of the things too important to let out of our sight were in fact still sitting on a bench outside of the San Jose airport in the traffic of new arrivals and taxi drivers.  In the relief of long anticipated greetings and hugs, the unsuccessful scramble to find working seat belts in the van for the children, and the busy loading of 50 lb. bags, we had let our guard down and simply forgotten to take a count.  Total rookie mistake.  We had driven around 20 minutes away, and the return trip seemed to last an eternity.  Praying with everything that an overtaxed me could muster, I called down God’s goodness over us, His plan for our time in Costa Rica, His angels over our bags hiding them from the sight of anyone on the prowl for theft.  I knew the odds were impossible.  This was San Jose, where a bag left on the seat of a locked car is an embossed invitation, and even backpacks being worn aren’t impervious.

My mind took inventory of the stakes: our passports, our laptops, the immigration paperwork, our phones, about $2,000 of cash for rent payments, and my wallet topped the list.  I pushed back the nausea and kept praying.  The city lights were an agony passing by in reverse.  Finally we entered the drop zone and saw what we had hoped and prayed for–the most beautiful lineup of colorful backpacks sitting on the bench.  We burst out of the van and collected them like prodigal children, praising God every step.  Searching through the various compartments, we found everything exactly where it was supposed to be.  Relief washed over us, with a cream rinse of exhaustion.

Backlit LarkspurWhat do you do in the wake of a miracle like that, where God has shown Himself so big, where disaster was averted only by His grace? Is there a thank you note magnificent enough?  All we have to give Him is ourselves.  So we open our hearts on a deeper level and lean more fully into this plan He has for our family to walk out His love in Costa Rica.

Bring on the cockroaches.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Isaiah 58:8

On We Drive

It was time to turn off the radio.  The lights on the dash were dimming as we drove onward into the western prairie.  We were headed toward the other edge of Nebraska, and a campground family gathering somewhere we had never been before.  Somewhere we didn’t quite know how to get to.  But even in our newlywed existence, we were pretty sure we could recognize alternator failure.  My baby-faith was rushing in where angels might fear to tread, praying miracles over us like thunder.  In the meantime, we were conserving electricity by nixing the tunes and the A/C.  The summer night was humid and the darkness thick out on the country road.

2013-06-03 Colorado 002

Our alternator (and the angels) got us as far as a convenience store near the campground.  Out where cellphones had trouble reaching, we explained our situation to the clerk and called collect again to our Heavenly Daddy.  It was only a few minutes later that our nephew walked in with his buddies.  He must have been surprised at our excitement to see him, and then our commandeering their car to drive us safely in.  We weren’t.  We had been expecting God to make a way.

The lights are dimming down on our time here in Omaha.  It’s time to forsake Craigslist in favor of the Goodwill drop-off drive-thru.  If you stop by our house, odds are we will try to give you something.  We just got all our official documents to apply for Costa Rican residency, and the suitcases are filling up.  We don’t know exactly how it will look to get from here to there—closet/cabinet status is improving but not yet empty, our house is still waiting to meet its new owners, our monthly funding is at 56%—but our faith is driving on.  We know God will make a way.

Be strong and courageous!  Don’t be afraid or discouraged. . .for there is a power far greater on our side!  We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!  2 Chronicles 32:7, 8a

The Escalator Escapade

We inched our way through the ribbon maze, checking our watches every minute, praying furiously for our connecting flight to be delayed.  The older two E’s were tired of maneuvering their backpacks and wheeled carry-ons.  Our arms were weary of the same, plus hefting the youngest.  Finally, bags emerged from the x-ray tunnel and shoes were shoved back on feet, just as our flight was scheduled  to pull away from the terminal.

Ready, set, go!  Off to find the gate while Houston flaunted it’s size.  Quick, quick!  We know you are tired, just keep going and we’ll sit for hours once we get there.  You can do it.

Then we came to the escalator.

Normally the anchor duck in our family line, keeping count of the ducklings ahead, I leapt on first.  Elijah and Eliana got on a few steps behind me.  The stairs began to rise.  I held my breath as Elijah’s bag tottered and fell down onto him.  Over-balanced by a stuffed backpack, he fell backwards onto his sister.  She, likewise, toppled over onto her bag, and they all went down in a heap of domino helplessness, arms and legs flailing like a pair of up-ended turtles, all the while being carried rapidly up to the next floor.  Matt bounded up to get feet and luggage wheels back in touch with the stair treads.  My respiration resumed.

Then the worst.

From 20 feet above, I saw Ezekiel, just 3 years old, standing alone and unsure at the bottom, afraid to get on the moving belt.  Stair after stair passed by as I barked panicked encouragement while a traffic jam of strangers looked on behind him.  Get on, Buddy, get on!

Then the angel appeared.

A man gently picked him up and put him on the escalator.  Up he rode, safely delivered into our arms, which were now very glad to carry him.  Laughter and tears had to wait until we reached our gate.  Well, the laughter did, anyway.  Happy tears don’t slow you down much.

Praying hack and slash the whole way, we continued to trot the concourses and finally charged up to our gate, finding it blessedly crammed with people.  Great news, our flight was delayed–a mechanical issue.  They would know more in half an hour.  Relief washed over us.  Fatigue and full bladders chimed in, and we trundled gratefully to the restrooms.  As the adrenaline faded, peaceful thoughts of contentment made way for some wondering: how long would it take to begin the last leg of our journey home?  I looked at Eliana over the soap and warm water, and chuckled out another prayer, “Lord, thank you so much for delaying the flight so we could make it.  Would you please speed things up now that we are here?”

Before we even reached our seats in the waiting area, God’s heartbeat of love for us sounded again.  The loudspeaker announced, “Ladies and gentleman, the mechanical issue has been resolved.  We will now begin boarding. . .”

The 3-E's at the Airport

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.”

Isaiah 40:11

Thank heaven for that.

Costa Rica by way of Guatemala–Part 1

Learning the Windows 8 operating system has reminded me of some of my as-yet-unredeemed character traits.  When things don’t work the way I expect them to–or don’t work at all–I can get my grumble on.   It’s easy to assume that if something isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, it’s a Windows 8 glitch (of which there are many).  I spent days irritated at the lack of sound on my laptop’s video application before Matt discovered that the volume default was set to mute.

Similarly, back in 2006, my spiritual ear was set on mute with regard to global missions.  Matt went a gentle nine rounds with my “no” when the Lord spoke to him about the two of us serving in Guatemala that summer.  Who would take care of our kids for 10 days?  How would it feel to leave them for so long?  Where would the funds come from?  Would we need shots?  It was all just too messy to pursue.  Grumble.  Exasperated with the direction I couldn’t hear, I eventually went to the source and huffed out a “Lord!”  His still, small voice asked me, “Do you want My way or your way?”  My heart squinched up it’s little face, balled it’s fists, and proclaimed, “I want MY way!”  Then, knowing where that rebellion would lead in the end, my self-righteousness deflated.  I repented.  That moment I became close friends with a prayer that has changed my life over the years since, and will surely serve me well the rest of my days: “Lord, help me to want what You want.  Help me to want Your way.

We signed on for the trip and I emotionally muscled my way through the first meeting.  Over nachos with the leaders after the second gathering, I enjoyed a revelation with my queso:  this was going to be a lot of fun.  So I put my shoulder to the yoke, and we got busy.  Letters written, Psalm 91 prayed, skirts scored via Goodwill, vaccinations updated, culture-adjustment book read, and a lot of laughter shared.  The Lord overwhelmed us with encouragement and provision–enough to pay all of our expenses and another team member’s as well.  As we lingered over goodbyes at their grandparents’ house, our children were eager to begin the special time with people they loved.  Our then 4-year old daughter gently took my hand and interrupted the conversation with a loving, “I want you to go now.”  All cleared for takeoff.

We set off on the trip that opened our lives to serve beyond the box of our language,  culture, and comfort.  Many lessons were learned: how to brush your teeth with bottled water, how to pace yourself during days filled with activity, how to tailor four formal dresses with a few needles and a lot of God-inspired creativity, how to look around for the hot water knob in the shower <shiver>, how to be content with your assignment and not covet your husband’s, how to NEVER AGAIN drink a large shake before a 3-hour restroom-less drive up the mountain.

We could see the impact of our love and effort.  Four young ladies were celebrated at a beautiful coming of age quinceañera (fifteenth birthday fiesta).  A developmentally delayed baby girl made so much progress than Matt had to credit the Lord’s goodness rather than his own physical therapy skills.  The local women were treated to an afternoon tea complete with spa treatments, gifts, and a time of worship where the Lord spoke to them about uniting in spirit despite their different congregations.  The courtyard wall shared with the town’s prosperous witch doctor was fortified with prayer.

And perhaps most important of all, my heart grew.  It occurred to me for the first time that English might not be God’s favorite language.  I fell in love with the brilliant colors and stoic expressions of people who lived in a simplicity I had never considered before, with the beauty of mountains and cultures that I had yet to ascend.

A Different Kind of Love Story

Okay, I admit it: love stories make me cry.  The other day as I was reading our history lesson over Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s tragic end, my daughter patted my arm and went to fetch me a kleenex.  Then I happened upon the trailer for a new movie rendition of the Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina, and I began to consider what the world values as a great love story.  In these two examples, at least, the answer is made up of intensity of emotion being held as a virtue to the exclusion of wisdom, demanding immediate access to privileges that haven’t been earned, and the forsaking of holy covenants and duty for the pleasure of an unsustainable present without regard for the crumbling future.  In view of the way they turn out (one in history, the other in fiction), isn’t it odd that they are lauded as some of the greatest love stories of all time?  I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but “happily ever after” they were not.  This “love” wreaked havoc on everyone around it, destroying lives literally and figuratively.

The Lord’s calling for our family to serve in the nations is a much different kind of love story.  Bit by bit we are releasing the things that our flesh wants to cling to, to take hold of the future that the Lord has for us.  Some of it is easy.  Craigslist can have those golf clubs I haven’t used for 10 years. But the cozy bed I climb into at night feels so real, I can’t always grasp that the day is coming when we will say goodbye.  Life goes on as normal.  We do school lessons, grocery shop, cook meals, wave goodbye to Matt as he leaves for work, and mob him when he comes home.  But underneath all that is a revolution building.  My heart tentatively touches concepts that feel raw and strange–living on faith support, speaking Spanish, different government and healthcare systems–to see if they are becoming less uncomfortable as the days pass.

Some moments I stand surprised and awed at the ways Lord is establishing this work He is doing.  Prayers covering over us, divine connections made, love unlooked-for freely given, new inspiration for loving on short-term mission teams and at-risk children. I shouldn’t be surprised that God is able, but I am.  He really is good.  In the face of change that is so big I can’t conceive of it all, I remember again that He’s bigger.  This call is stripping me of all the little veils covering my eyes about my own faith.  I am humbled and yet thankful to understand how shaky I am and let the Lord lead me to higher ground.

Instead of living for the moment and leaving the future to itself, the Lord has us planting our present comforts in the field of His hands.  We are trusting that He will use it to bring forth a future harvest.  Team members inspired to live all out for the Lord.  At-risk children loved, fed, and healed into the kingdom of God.  Laughter and life-giving relationship with Costa Ricans.  Growing faith that expects the Lord to do what He has promised.  When this love story concludes, we pray it will be filled with lives blessed and hearts lifted by His strength, His love, and His glory.  Kleenex optional.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:13