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

 

 

Change in the Air

We can all feel it.  A desire to put away the grammar books and draw out conversation instead.  A focus on the new home to be settled into, and release of that forever-ambition to clean the light fixture in this one.  Heartstrings tug as we do life alongside language school friends, knowing there are only a few more runs to catch together, only a few more cups of tea shared face to face.  We have four weeks left of walking the same sidewalks, shopping the same Saturday morning farmer’s market.  Being newbies together in a foreign language/culture/country has forged some beautiful connections.

And yet, this was never the end goal.  The common thread of learning Spanish has woven us together for a time, but different expressions of Christ’s love in different countries form the ultimate tapestry.  As Aragorn said to Arwen in the movie version of The Two Towers, “This is a dream.”   “Then it is a good dream,” she answered.  That is just what this time has been.

2014-04-18 Atenas House 009 colorIt’s hard to leave.  All of the questions we set aside to embrace Spanish have risen in a new tide.  Will we like our new home?  How long will it take to learn the ropes there?  Will we be good at our area of ministry?  How will our kids adjust?  All of the now-familiar paths and places will make way for another round of breaking trails—marking out the way to the grocery store, orienting to new unmarked streets, learning how to pay bills, finding the bank/doctor/dentist/hospital/pharmacy.  The structure of our days will change again.  For our family, school will move back home as most of Matt’s work transfers out of it.  This season of having my best friend by my side all day as study partner, navigator, and negotiator will come to a close.

I have felt the stress, had it nudge me out of bed to be prayed over and sorted through.  And to be honest, I have it easy.  I have a house already rented and most of its furnishings gathered.  We’re heading to a town I’m familiar with, where we already have relationships and a working knowledge of our ministry home.  My heart goes out to braver friends leaving for new countries and ministries that they’ve barely met.  If my transition is difficult, theirs is heroic.

Being a missionary doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at change, it means you keep taking steps forward until the Lord brings you out on the other side.

Breaking break for the first time in our rental house.

First lunch in our rental house.  With PB&J, who needs furniture?

Each change has a price tag, some easy, some dearly bought.  But this path of following Jesus is also blessed with celebrations along the way.  Friendships made that will last a lifetime.  Our sweet little kitchen, waiting to be filled with the smell of baking bread and meals for mission teams.  The 12 gallons of paint in our laundry room, ready to color a house into home.  Fun Spanish conversations like we had with the paint reps, explaining the English names of the colors–“What is bisque anyway?”   Little fingers and toes to hold during morning devotions.  Smiles to charm out of shy faces, laughter to share with outgoing ones.  Connecting with people from around the world with a common heart to live for the Lord.

This transition is both tender and exciting.  We are about to step into the dream that the Lord gave us at the very beginning of this journey.  Language school has been a challenging, yet beautiful time of preparation.  May the Lord bless us all as we go forward to serve, wherever He may lead us.

 

The Fun Stuff

It’s no secret that we are all working hard right now.  The kids are busy with school.  Eliana is enjoying the challenge of 6th grade, but isn’t crazy about the official feel of tests and report cards.  Elijah was promoted to 4th because he had already mastered the material scheduled for the 3rd grade (his age appropriate class).  He loves it, and never missed a beat academically.  Matt just spent the evening working on a science project with him, and I spent the day untangling dollars and colones in our Quicken records.  Before the bell rings for class in the morning, we have a date with the Spanish indicative past tense verb conjugations–the three regular varieties and the 7 categories of irregulars.  Every week we learn more about how to navigate the culture, the language, and the city of San Jose.  All of this is building our family’s ability to do life here well and serve at the Home of Life come June.

But in the midst of the effort, we have been having some fun, too.  Our sloped driveway has proven to be a huge blessing for the E’s to romp in and chase balls around.  Sometimes we even borrow the neighbor’s beagle.  Matt recently got some new rope to rehang a hammock-swing that was left here by a previous family.  The kids delight in being pendulums.  I am thankful for the ample space to dry clothes and my game of racing-the-weather—I play hard to win that one, but it’s nice to have a dryer on my defensive line.  We have taken some walks around the neighborhood to enjoy the little front gardens and the feel of the tight-packed houses.  I’ve laughed my way through three Junie B. Jones books in Spanish and am going to try La Telaraña de Carlota (Charlotte’s Web) next.  Our Dominion cards are back into circulation and we even got in a round of Settlers of Catan this weekend at a language student family game night.  Balancing the work with some play is necessary to avoid burn out.  There is never a shortage of things needing our attention, but we can tackle them better with some joy tucked in between the layers.

A while back we were able to visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens, the Costa Rican equivalent of the Henry Doorly Zoo.  While the animals on display were significantly fewer, the rain forest exhibit was out of this world.  We thought after hearing about many of the challenges involved in living abroad, you might like to see some of the fun things, too.