Just When I Thought I was Good at This

Sit right back and hear the tale of my epic team dinner kitchen fail.

The recipe goes like this: a hungry youth group, a spaghetti dinner routine I’ve run at least a dozen times a year for the last 4, the ever-changing landscape of a team cabin kitchen, and, for texture, my habitual time crunch.  Pot on open flame.  Tomato paste, water, cornstarch, chicken bullion, sugar, whisk.  Taste.

Eyes grow wide.  Houston, we have a problem.  Salty like the sea.  How?

Stay calm.  You can fix it.  Add the meat to absorb flavor.  More water, cornstarch, sugar.  Whisk.  Taste.


Don’t panic.  Maybe the chicken bullion just finished dissolving and this new container was more potent than before.  You can outrun it.  No other choice.  Nothing to start over with.  Hungry eighth graders milling around.  Don’t show fear.  They might escalate to feeding frenzy.  Move forward.

Seasonings might help.  Shake in basil, oregano, black pepper.  More water, cornstarch, sugar.  Whisk.

Dear, Lord.  It’s. Not. Getting. Better.  Are my taste buds going numb?  What is going on?  Don’t say that bad word in your brain out loud.

More water, cornstarch, sugar.




Why is the sugar in this jar so white?  Could this be. . . ?



Hurriedly scoop last spoonful of “sugar” out of the pot and toss it.  Brain whirling.  Salt in the cabin always comes in a big shaker.  Sugar lives safe from ants in a peanut butter jar.  The last team must have put a bag of salt in a jar just like the one for sugar.  Oh, look.  The jar actually labeled “Sugar” is sitting right there on top of the microwave.

I had mistakenly added salt, salt, and more salt to balance out the salt in the sauce!

alcohol background bar beer

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Dumping in genuine sugar, progress started.  The team got a spaghetti dinner with the punch of a Pringles can.  We laughed that it was more of a pasta dipping sauce than a marinara.  Everyone was fed.  And gracious.  But I had still messed up something I can normally do by heart.  It burned a bit, like the salinity in my mouth.

If revenge is a dish best served cold, humility apparently goes well with salt.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8 NIV

Have you ever found yourself making a big mistake on your own home turf?  I would love to hear about it below.

Embracing Life From the Second Row

I was not just upset;  I was upset with myself for being upset.

After years of “maybe someday,” I had finally auditioned for worship choir.  Kick your thoughts of robes and high sopranos to the curb.  This group was cool.

I stepped onto the risers that first Sunday, trembly with nerves.  My heart was full of prayers to open the heavens.  My head was running harmonies, timing changes, and bridge lyrics.  My pride, the tricky beast, was bumped by my spot in the second row.

Until that moment, I hadn’t known how much I wanted to be seen

The leadership wisely put anchor people in the most visible places.  When the spiritual climate of a thousand is at stake, holiness trumps height.  My 5’2″ stature had always placed me front, if not also center.  This group was different, arranged by experience and anointing.

The veterans in front of me topped my height by inches, even with the riser’s help.  I could still open the heavens—through the small window between two heads and their nearly touching shoulders.  My expectations had been widescreen.  Bump.

20171230 IMG_9016 fi cdocHow could my compass be so stuck on me when I was there specifically to point heavenward?  I muscled my attitude back in line with devotion and invited the Lord’s presence into the morning.

It was glorious.

Moving to our mission country provided a similar bump to second row.  We were shocked to hear children must be 18 years old to be left unattended.  Our uber-responsible, babysitting-aged daughter could not legally watch her younger brothers here.  A family four houses down was reported to child protective services for the latchkey schedule of their son.  Our neighbor had to choose between employment and motherhood.

My window to serve went from panoramic to porthole.

Gently, the Lord drew me back from widescreen expectations of work projects alongside teams and cradling each child at the home.  My ministry GPS reconfigured, abandoning the scenic route but not the destination.  I point heavenward through food and words shared, prayers on my balcony, and databases current with ways to connect.  I wrestle our daily routine in line with devotion through the frame of homeschool and cross-cultural living.

I have learned anew the simple beauty of well-sung backup harmony.

It’s still glorious.

I will probably always want to be seen.  More than I like to admit.  Yet, this is holy ground here in the second row.  The heavens are open.

He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.    Psalm 40:3 NLT

Have you ever spent time in the second row?  What was your experience like?

Cross Cultural Good Eats

I smile when I remember the first meals I passed off as good eats. For every recipe, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a can of creamed soup for every recipe.  We munched late night tater tots and frozen fish sticks when it still felt cool to have an oven and pay the electric bill.  Life was good, even if my cooking  wasn’t.

I began to pick up on things.  Don’t be seduced by the discount on ketchup into buying half a dozen bottles.  It will go back on sale before you have to stand the first one on end.   True story.

Enter a deep freezer for Christmas.  Stocking it became my favorite pastime.  We scanned the sale ads for meat, prayed for rhubarb patches, and gleaned our friends’ sweet corn fields. Filling up the open space was easy.  Turning the booty into treasure took more finesse.

I learned—by serving surprisingly tart lasagna at a large family gathering—to taste each element of a recipe and to start adjusting flavors.  Cooking became a little less math and a lot more art.

Living in a foreign country puts a whole new spin on making good food.  While U.S. style cans and brands are popping up on shelves here, they tend to be pricey when available.  It’s been an adventure to adapt to the local offerings.  Sometimes the results disappoint.  Sometimes they get rave reviews.  I thought you might enjoy a peek into the process.

20180508 IMG_9148 cdocIf you were in my mother-in-law’s kitchen making her Italian Soup, you would cook up some Jimmy Dean Italian sausage and ground beef, chop onion, celery, & carrots, open 5 cans (tomatoes, tomato sauce, red beans, green beans), shake in some seasoning, and set the pot to simmer.  A fair amount of work, but still possible on a weeknight.

Here in Costa Rica, it all starts with the weekly farmer’s market.  The best prices and selection, along with cheerful banter, happen there before lunchtime.  It’s the only place to get baby green beans that aren’t matured to bumpy toughness.  Cruise the stalls for fresh tomatoes, celery, carrots, and onions, too.  Feel pleased that you understood the numbers rattled off so quickly in Spanish.  Ask how everyone’s family is, as you count out your coins and brightly colored bills to pay.  Stop at the brick and mortar grocery store on the way home for dry beans, tomato paste, ground pork, and beef.

At home, set your kiddos to snap the green beans so you can get them washed and steaming.  I know it’s tempting to throw them raw into the soup, but remember the one time we tried that.  Right, it tasted like grass.  Some people might go for that.  We prefer soup with green beans over Green Bean Soup.

Brown the pork and beef like normal, adding seasonings to make the plain pork more like sausage.  It’s okay, you can google the recipe. Try not to marvel that there is absolutely no fat in the pork.  Drain off the water that made up the other 15% of your ground beef.  Cattle in this country have to grow big on grass, so most red meat here is lean.

Chop/slice the onion, celery, and carrots as usual, and then before you clear the cutting board, seed and dice your pounds of fresh tomatoes.  This is where we give thanks that we spent our Christmas money on a food processor.

Hydrate the tomato paste back into a sauce with water. For real, it’s a thing.  Yes, you can buy 4 oz packets of tomato sauce at the store.  But who wants to open and squeeze out (and pay for) 8 of them per batch?  One and a third large packets of paste will get you a rich 4 cups of sauce.  Whisk in a little sugar and salt to make it tasty.

If you are getting tired at this point, I usually am, too.  Think of those dear faces who gather at your dinner table.  Keep going.  You can do it.  I believe in you.

20180508 IMG_9147 edit cdocIf you forgot to soak your dry beans overnight, you can bring them to a boil  and quick soak them for an hour.  It really does help our bellies to drain the soak water afterwards.  Get them going in fresh water in the pressure cooker for a 40 min. process, or set them to boil for a few hours.  (Check to make sure they softened up.  Every once in a while, life sells you some old beans that refuse to dance to the music of moisture and heat.  It’s helpful to realize they are still crunchy before you marry them to the rest of your ingredients.  Another lesson learned the hard way.  The kids tried not to complain too much.)  Drain and rinse the cooked beans to keep the aforementioned “soup-with-beans”-over-Bean-Soup balance.

When everything is (finally) ready, put it all into one extra grande pot and add the seasonings.  Let’s be honest, you always add too many beans and vegetables to stretch the batch, so add double of every flavoring to start.  If you happen to have any pepperoni, whether smuggled in from the states or bought locally with hefty import taxes,  dice up a bit of the precious goodness and throw it in with love.  Bring to a simmer for the flavors to meld, and keep tinkering with more tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar, hot sauce, basil, and oregano until you say, “Mmmmm.”

It only took you most of the day.  That’s why you made a huge batch.  Now the family has a hearty supper and the freezer has some treasure to chill.  It may not exactly be my mother-in-law’s Italian soup, but it is definitely cross cultural good eats.  Enjoy!

Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Enculturating

Eliana’s View: Asha’s Story

Newest to the toddler house, Asha held my hand as we led the way to the pool.  She stepped up to the fence and pressed her face up to the bars to peer at the shimmering surface.  The tía unlocked the gate, and we followed the train of eager faces onto the warm concrete.  Squeals and excited yells abounded as the toddlers jumped into the water.

But not Asha.

In the blink of an eye, her expression dimmed.  The same child that had smiled at me all morning now wore a panicked expression on her face.  My brow wrinkled.  Why was she so scared?  I stepped closer to the water, and she let out a sob.  She buried her face in my leg and held on tightly.  A new realization entered my head.

She’s afraid of the water.

The same sparkling blue that looked so inviting to me was what gave Asha so much terror.  I had seen fears of water before, but not one as paralyzing as this.  With each step I took closer to the water, she screamed more and clung tighter.


One of the tías noticed my plight and brought over a box for me to sit on in the shade.  I led Asha over and sat down, and she climbed into my lap.  Her body slowly relaxed as we watched the splashing and laughter that went on before us.

Though we sat in the shade, the sun still peeked through peepholes in the leaves and reached us down below.  The day was heating up.  The cooling water looked even more refreshing when I was silently dripping, a few feet away.

The breeze rustled Asha’s dark curls, bringing with it an idea.  I shifted her off my lap and moved slowly towards the pool.  She clung to my hand and fussed all the way.  When I was within arm’s reach of the water, I stopped.  I dipped my hand into the water and splashed it onto my hot, dusty feet.  Then I dipped my hand in again and ladled water onto her feet.  The cool water glistened on our toes.  Her tense figure softened, and we walked back to our box in the shade.

After another five minutes, we got up and walked to the water a second time.  Within a minute we would return to our box, feet cooled off and refreshed.  Another few minutes, and we did it again.  And again.  And again.  Each time we went, Asha stepped a little closer to the water.  She started pointing out her feet like a ballerina so I could put more water on them.  With each trip we made, her fear diminished a bit more.

As lunchtime drew near, it was time to go.  Leaving Asha sitting in the shade, the tías and I began to bring the soaked toddlers out, one by one, to dress and dry them.  After a few minutes, I looked up to a sweet surprise.

There was Asha, squatted at the edge of the pool, dipping her hands in the water. 

20170605 IMG_2318 cdoc

As she splashed around, her face was lit up with a smile.  She turned and sat on the edge, dangling her feet into the pool.  My heart melted.  This sweet princess, brand new to the Hogar family, was blossoming before my very eyes.

Asha still is afraid of the water.  Each new day, the tías give her their love and support, and she dips her hands in for one more day.  They know she will be afraid tomorrow, but God’s love outlasts that fear.  It never ends.  It wraps Asha in comfort and peace, so that she can touch the water once more.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

Lamentations 3:1

Kris’s Note:  We all have hopes for our children.  Taking our babies out of the nest of our community in the states and learning to do life in Costa Rica was a leap of faith.  The Lord promised to take good care of each of us.  As Eliana shares her experience here, I see fulfillment of that promise.  I could not be more proud of her.

Smoothing Hackles: What I Learned Making Friends with a Mean Dog

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.

20170107 IMG_8730 cdoc

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.


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