Costa Rica by way of Guatemala–Part 2

Our first taste of Guatemala stretched my comfort zone beyond North American norms.  Global missions were no longer just something for other people to do, they were our hands getting dirty, our arms around precious children.  We saw God move in teams and through them, and we could not get enough of it.  Holding onto 1 Samuel 30:24’s promise that the rewards of victory are shared between the ones who go out and the ones who stay to guard the camp, we supported others as they served in the nations and took more trips ourselves whenever the Lord led us.  Over the course of two 10-day men’s teams (one where I went along to help save the guys from their own cooking) and a 4-week family stay, we saw that the Spirit had our compass pointed steadily toward the Home of Life in Costa Rica.  We connected with the children and grown-up people there in a way that made us family.  Although always excited to go and give my all, I still appreciated being able to come back again afterwards for things like paychecks and doctor appointments.

God spoke to Matt again in the fall of 2008, calling our family to pursue full-time ministry there in the land of rainforests, to host teams and do life with the people we loved.  Matt had his arms wide open, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.  Expecting the third wonderful addition to our family in the coming spring, I was again in a “no reception zone.”  As Ezekiel learned how to sleep through the night and tottered his first steps, the Lord Himself took up the “can you hear me now?” process, gradually bringing up my volume level.  There was a lot of change to acclimate to, where I had been content with the status quo.  Over the months He reminded me of all the ways I had been prepared for this calling, of the hope to fully go and serve that I didn’t even admit to myself.  But still it was hard to release the life I already knew to take our family into the unknown.

We thought it was a celestial joke when Matt and I were asked to lead a team to Guatemala in the summer of 2011, and friends who had served for months at a time in Guatemala took their team to Costa Rica.  A divine episode of trading spaces?  Ministry swap?  Definitely humorous, but profoundly powerful.  Our first impression upon returning to Guatemala after five years away was a longing for the tiny cabina and the other brown eyes on our hearts.  Sharing new experiences with our team, God’s work surrounding us, and the dear people of Guatemala were all a delight.  We coiffed hair with sparkly barrettes and shared a nonverbal gospel skit in two mountain villages, jumped off of cliffs into the river pool with the children, blew bubbles across hillsides, played soccer (badly), and hemmed pajama pants.  We roared with laughter at one person’s mistaken purchase of a beer rather than the soda she wanted from a gas station, the transformation of another person from reserved to gregarious at 8:00 p.m. each evening, and the daylong comedic stylings of our team humorist.  We rallied around one team member as she stepped into her gift of prophetic insight and another as she became comfortable with praying aloud in a group.  But we knew with certainty that Costa Rica was the focal point of God’s plan for us.

Spending time with Norm and Vickie Sutton, the missionaries who host teams at the Home of Life in Guatemala, was the pinnacle of the trip for me.  We knew them affectionately from that first trip back in 2006, and wanted to hear more about their recent launch to serve full-time. It wasn’t hard to spot the divine setup.  Their testimony with its difficulties and encouragement harmonized with the Lord’s persistent whisper in my heart.  I was undone by the clarity of the 5-bar signal.  If the Lord was so faithful to them as they walked this path, He would be faithful to us.  Tears flowed.  I surrendered my “no”–the desire to stay in the predictable security of our life in the States–and gave the Lord my “I will.”  Change my heart again, Lord, to want what You want.  The trust fall began.

The creativity of the one who made the flowers and the heavens still amazes me.  Only He would use a trip to Guatemala to spark the pilot light on our calling to Costa Rica, and then 5 years later, ignite the burner in those same mountains.  “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” Proverbs 16:9.   What a privilege to see what He will use that fire to refine in us and inspire in others over the next 5 years.

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.

Snapshots and Shared Joys

Some snapshots of recent joys shared here at Hogar de Vida.

The older kids had a fiesta day complete with barrel-bull riding and championship  slip ‘n’ sliding.  The riding rules had to be amended because Elijah was so good at holding on that he  dismantled the “bull” when he was finally shaken loose.

The younger kids had a piñata party and really taught us how to swing a stick.

The Lifegate team is here and is painting, praying, and loving up a storm.  It is such a blessing to spend these days with them.  Note to self: catch up on laundry and cook up some freezer meals before picking them up at the airport in the future, because you won’t want to miss any of it.

Sometimes the team members got painted themselves.

Kris was able to spend two mornings in the central kitchen learning to cook like a Tica and, even better, spending quality time with Vanessa and Oralia.   Vanessa handles lunches and dinners for the 50 + children and staff at Hogar each day.  Oralia and her husband Sebastian direct the Hogar de Vida in Guatemala.  Her visit to Costa Rica is a special treat to celebrate Dena’s 50th birthday and learn new ideas for managing a home of energetic children.

Another trek to the waterfall.

The sweetest reward for studying Spanish:  I was able to have my first conversation in Spanish with Oralia, who has been silently dear to me since our first global journey back in 2006.

More time with Cherie, our friend and mentor in all things “Tico!”  Also, a fun dinner with two wonderful missionary families who live here.  They were kind enough to let us tour their homes and glean from their experience while our kids romped together.  What a blessing to have friends in many countries.  When they wished we were coming down sooner,  we jokingly asked them to head the committee for praying in our financial support early.

The Mango Crew.  These fearless children picked up three wheelbarrows of fallen, yucky, buggy mangoes, making the campus a nicer looking (and smelling) place to be.  I’m so proud of them.

Leaf cutter ants munching away an entire bush in one day.  We were amazed to hear the soft crinkling sound of their busy harvesting and see the 4″ wide highway they cleared through the grass to take the clippings back to their hill.

Time has been passing quickly by, and it’s hard to grasp that we fly back to the states in less than a week.  I begin to understand the roots that we’ve planted in this trip by the resistance my heart feels towards leaving.  I pray that they are well-tended and flourish in the next year so that blossoms are ready to burst forth when we return in a year.  We are ready to take the next step.

Watching the Rain Clouds

I’m sitting on a sidewalk a little ways from our cabina overlooking the swimming pool, watching the rain clouds approach, and trying to get  a better internet signal.  Things have been pokey on the internet connection, so we haven’t been able to post as much as we have intended, and there have been lots of good tasks to stay busy with as well.  We spent a few days cleaning, dish washing, and bed making to prepare the team cabins.  Our first team has arrived in two parts late Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  Matt drove to San Jose by himself to pick up the second half.  Kris has been shadowing Dena and learning to meal plan and cook evening meals for them.  Today they all rolled up their sleeves and dug in to the list of work projects.  Matt and I are enjoying getting to know the new faces and quizzing ourselves with their names.  There are even a few runners that let me keep up with them for a mile and a third this morning.

We are working to find a new rhythm of life for our time here.  How much time to spend with the team, what will entertain our children, what to cook for our family, etc.  Laundry, for example, is a whole different ball game here.  I love that our children are getting to play outside every day, but their clothes show it.  We are thankful to have a washing machine of our own to use.  Line drying everything before the probable afternoon rains is a bit of a dance.  The daylight hours here are from around 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.  We are realizing that getting up at 5:45 a.m. is sleeping in here.  Our kids pop out of bed at 5:30 a.m.  We are used to having some quiet time before they get up so our alarms are going to start getting a workout.

We are each finding our way through the adjustment.  This morning, while he was supposed to be piously quiet during devotions, Ezekiel, our three-year old, started a kissing and “guapo/handsome”-calling match with Vanessa, a tia here.  It is sweet to see him open up to someone who doesn’t speak his mother tongue.  Bugs and sticks suddenly have high entertainment value for all the kids.  We worshipped with Iglesia Biblia church on Sunday and Eliana and Elijah met some other English-speaking, homeschooled children near their ages who live here.  This gave them the confidence to feel comfortable going to the children’s program after an hour and fifteen minutes of worship.  I went with Ezekiel to his class and was able to practice my Spanish on toddlers.

Please continue to pray that we find the balance for this work here at Hogar de Vida.  The kids also have some serious welts from bug bites that we are praying over and putting benadryl on.  Please also join us in lifting up the hearts of the team that the Lord would plant great seeds in this time.  I will conclude with the verse that one of the team members gave me as we rode in the van to church.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this. . .”  Psalm 37:5

Pre-breakfast entertainment provided by a millipede and a spoon.

What Can God Do in 10 Days?

I woke up this morning grinding my gears. Or maybe I should say grinding my fears. We are asking the Lord to raise up a team for us to lead on a 10-day Global Outreach trip to Costa Rica this June. Our heart is to take adults and families with children to serve at the Home of Life, an orphanage which cares for abandoned and at-risk children. Questions rise up. Will anyone want to go? The cost is about $1500 per person. Will the finances come in? Should we really take children? They can’t work as much as adults, and they have the same expenses. What will we do while we’re there? It would be easier and cheaper for our own family to go down for a month than for us to lead a 10-day team. What can we really accomplish in 10 days anyway? And so on, in circles.

So I journaled my heart out to the Lord, gave my fears up to him, and asked him to give me his vision for this team. He took me back to the first Global Outreach trip our family took part in: a 10-day trip to Guatemala. We left our 4 and 1.5 year old children in the states. Childcare was messy (three sets of people helped care for them over the 10 days) and I had to swallow A LOT of pride to ask for it. I was in tears the entire first team meeting. Why was I spending all this money to go help other people’s children, while making other people care for my own? It didn’t make sense.

Then God started working miracles. The finances came in for our family, and kept coming. The Lord provided enough to cover our expenses, and another team member’s as well. He gave me a great love for the team we were a part of. And he gave me a great love for his people out in the nations. We arrived and he gave me a job to do: tailoring four formal dresses for a quinceñera celebration. That is so perfectly up my alley, I can’t even tell you. Stepping out of my American comfort zone and out into the nations has changed our hearts and the focus of our lives. We aren’t so attached to the material lifestyle we live (we’re still learning, I’d hate to give up my ipod!). We have open hearts to take our family where the Lord calls us. When we aren’t going out on new trips, we are praying for and supporting those out in the nations working to share the love of the Father. We have a new level of faith because we’ve stepped out onto the water.

Those 10 days changed everything. It’s impossible to weigh the expense and results accurately. I cast down a material crown before the Lord. He’s growing it into treasure in heaven. What a blessing to be able to step out and invite other families into the journey!

Psalm 121
A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
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 forevermore.