Self-Care: When Dying to Self is Killing You

One quick acceleration and I toppled backwards. An upended turtle, my view rocked from skyline to ceiling panels.

Leading our first mission team in 2011, we did all the things. Teaching on culture, prayer, and how to brush your teeth with bottled water. We collected passports, had a packing party, weighed suitcases. I tagged every bag with hot lime velour and ditched a slowpoke carry-on for a double-stuffed backpack. The first overseas flight for over half the group, we planned every detail to make it great.

We raced past airport artwork to the Skyway train for a tight connection. Counting heads as the doors closed, I forgot to brace my feet or take a handhold. Zero to thirty in 2.2 secs toppled me like a Jenga tower. It was almost comical. Over easy on Mt. Backpack, my head bobbed safely above the floor. Hands reached down to hoist me back up. No harm done, but a lesson to be learned–and relearned.

Self-care: care of oneself. Putting your own oxygen mask on first. Filling the cup you pour out of. We hear the message everywhere these days. You’d think it would be easier to actually do.

I’m not talking pedicures and pampering here, though those are nice applications. My style is more camping-ready than cocktail party, but I find time to adult my eyebrows and–why, God?–nose hair. What about white space and emotional health? How often do we focus on everything else to the point of falling over?

Honest truth: it’s nice to meet needs. If I can support someone in heart-details, our lives touch. I love that. Productivity feels like significance. It’s biblical. Multiply your talents to earn the “well done.” The days are short, make the most of every opportunity. Run with perseverance the race set before us.

There is genuine value in our every effort. There is a balance to find, also. The endorphin hit of crossing items off a to-do list can mask unresolved issues like hurt and emptiness.


These words started to whisper in the middle of a kid-free, responsibility-free space, celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. It was amazing–and surprising. Without the treadmill hum of routine, my emotions demanded airtime.

Wait, what?

I ate good chocolate, read a good novel*, watched good movies, and started asking good questions. What had God and I done in the last 10 years? I sat and journaled out pages of mountaintops and valleys. The panorama gave me a chance to spot correlations. In every difficulty I faced, God grew some area of strength and beauty. Sometimes he provided. Sometimes he taught me to do without. From every vantage point, I saw blessing.

The boundary markers have fallen for me in pleasant places. It’s not an easy life, but it is a good one.

So why exactly was I out of whack?

We hiked the Grand Canyon for our getaway. The girl who fought panic on the roof of our house looked out over miles of gorgeous descent. It was breathtaking; it made my knees wobble. No safety lines or fences guarded the trails into the gorge. Every so often, I could look up and admire the horizon. Mostly, I had to focus on each steep step. I felt the open space beside me as a physical pull and leaned instinctively towards solid rock.

Life is that way. We often need to concentrate on the path to keep moving. It takes dedication to reach new destinations. But we miss a lot if we never make time to catch the view.

Open space emotions may startle us back to walls that feel safer, but they can also teach us wisdom we desperately need for the journey.

In the stillness, I began to understand. Five years of ministry trail have fatigued my grace along with the rest of me. As new projects and dreams come alive to pour into, I tend to crowd out what fills me up. I set goals and deadlines to push my heave-ho. Too often, I try to out-love and out-serve the lonely spaces and tender places of my day-to-day.

You know where this is going, right?

Living from exhausted resources eventually makes you crabby with everyone and everything that receives your efforts without caring for you in return. I have to take a brutal look at the scenery around me. Some of that giving has to stop. Dying-to-self that flows out of real love never leaves you feeling dead. Unbalanced relationships and endeavors usually do.

I have to get real with my messiness to figure out what I need to be healthy. I have to be humble enough to ask for it, from myself and others. I have to face up to my own limitations and set life-giving boundaries. I have to adjust my expectations.

cristina-gottardi-406961-unsplash edit

A scene in the movie Catch Me if You Can shares the humorous parable of a mouse that fell into a pitcher of cream. The little beast scurried to stay afloat so furiously, for long enough, the cream churned into butter which the mouse climbed up to escape.

Will you hear my heart on a harsh truth I need to accept? No amount of flailing can save all the sweet mice I’d like in my life.

There is only so much me. When I live out of the fullness Jesus offers, I can do all things, but not all at the same time. To be filled with love, I have to nurture it inside myself. Love needs time and space, spiritual sunlight and water, truth and rest. I can’t expect people to do the work for me. I have to practice caring for myself, so I can care well for others as the Lord leads.

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
–Parker Palmer as quoted in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

Circle back around. Falling over is neither noble nor necessary. Everyone has their own brightly colored talents and zippered schedules to fill. We get to choose what to carry, what to declutter, and how to reach out for support. Self-care is an ongoing process, a spirit-led conversation. A one-and-done checkbox might be easier, but would never teach us how to be the unique blessing God has in mind.

When our load lines up with the Lord’s best for us, we can serve in a way that brings life to everyone–including ourselves. When we are soaked in his presence and walk in healing care, we can take up our cross daily and really live.

Do you ever find yourself suffocated by the effort to do it all? How do you get free? What does self-care look like in your life?

*What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty is poignantly hilarious. Alice wakes up not remembering the last 10 years of her life, and finds a whole new perspective on her present. Check it out.

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Photos by Savvas Kalimeris and Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

How to Fall in Love with Normal Life Again

I got off the plane and stepped out into the height of rainy season. The hard stuff struck me like the honeymoon glow of language school blowing its first transformer. Mold in full bloom on our car seats and furniture. Trash scattered on the streets. The cramped feel of our house after the heartland’s big wide open. Five years serving in Costa Rica grooved it all normal, but 3 weeks stateside lured me out of sync with pura vida rhythms.

As a missionary, stateside visits are a sprint effort. Work and play full out, all of it different from the routine of life abroad. It doesn’t take long to acclimate to the absence of pre-dawn roosters, childcare by grandparents, or hometown selection and prices.

I thought re-entry stress would dissipate as we became seasoned at life here. It’s always nice to get back into our own space, sleep in our own beds, cook in our own kitchen. Each time the bump of transition greets me with the new ink in my passport, whichever direction I’m going. I no longer see it as an assessment of my functionality at the destination. It’s just an admission that change is always a little difficult, wherever you call home.

How do we smooth the landing, or just shake off the everyday doldrums, and fall in love with normal again? When our nest is cozy, life follows suit, so that’s a great place to start.

img_9082Clean something.

No kidding. The best way to appreciate something is to invest in it. When I feel down on my digs, one solution is to grab a rag and use it. This doesn’t mean clean everything.  Martha Stewart is not the goal; progress is. I cut a deal with myself to dirty one dust rag or wipe one wall. The clean spot usually leads to another, a beneficial momentum. Clear windows aren’t my strong suit, but they do give a better view. Tackling dust bunnies, or let’s be honest–woolly mammoths–helps me feel in control.

I can make this place better. I can make a difference. I can love this again.

Let something go.

A statement I heard years ago stuck with me: what we love about all those Pinterest decor shots is really the lack of clutter. Everything inside our walls costs us physical and emotional space. Suitcases usually return from our passport country laden with goodness.  The abundance is like Christmas, but it all has to fit somewhere.

Use the happy of the new to help release the old.  Send it forward as donations or landfill, and revel in the order and openness. I can’t make my house bigger, but I can reduce the unnecessary and make it feel that way. Last week I went medieval on our storage. I pitched expired meds, outgrown clothes, ratty shoes, and that stuff set aside months ago to see if I would miss it. No surprise–I didn’t.

Side note: do not let “maybe I’ll need this someday” trick you into keeping PVC pipe joints or random extra parts of any sort.  You know your husband will go to the store and buy new things without searching the dusty “miscellaneous” box. Just say goodbye now and live free.

Save a bit of splurge for home.

Often we arrive at our doorstep with a back-to-the-grindstone attitude. The fun shouldn’t end the minute we cross the threshold. As we scrubbed mold and overhauled storage totes, my husband suggested we treat ourselves to lunch out after worship. I was surprised how nice it felt to have something to look forward to.  It reminded me that life in our mission country isn’t all DIY. There is much to be enjoyed alongside the serving. Plan something playful to help your heart transition back.

Knowing is half the battle.  

Expect turbulence in the landing. G.I. Joe had it right. Understanding makes it easier to walk through. Give yourself grace. Don’t pole vault into work the next day, if you can reasonably avoid it. Make time to reconnect. Message your friends on the ground and the ones you just hugged goodbye. Set a date for coffee or Skype. Leave white space to process.

What did you love about your time away? What bumped you about your home culture? What’s the good, bad, and ugly about being back?

Go to your happy place.

Sipping coffee on my balcony or getting creative in the kitchen puts new spring in my step. Getting outside of our walls into the sunshine is good for the soul. Sharing simple eats like popcorn or pancakes fill the house with something better than tasty smells–life.

So put your favorite tunes on, diffuse homey scents, light a candle, laugh together. Take space to be real and love real to see the extraordinary in the everyday again.

Lord, through all the generations
    you have been our home.  Psalm 90: 1a NLT

What are your favorite ways to reacclimate after a time away from normal routines? What makes you grateful to be home again?

Linked this post to in The Grove: Content

Bowls on Shelf Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

Light: How We Need It, How to Shine

Light. It does something good inside us.

Our first year in Costa Rica was lit with cold, white CFLs. In language school fashion, we chose a house to rent over email from back in the states. A handful of snapshots was all we had to determine the best of our three options. We didn’t love the peeling paint or dim interior, but luxuries like a water tank, kitchen cabinets, and a small balcony made life brighter. The cost of electricity and year-round 6 o’clock sunset put energy saving bulbs in high demand. The place came equipped, but low voltage lumens gave our nest a parking lot ambiance. It felt weird. I chalked up my blues to stress and gave thanks for the manageable power bill.

Morning and evening, I studied on the couch next to a small lamp left behind by another family. The only incandescence in the house, it was first on as I woke and last off at bedtime. I liked the way it changed the feel of the room. Nearly tipping over one morning, I realized I was leaning towards the warm glow, soaking it in. I could feel the pull as a physical force. It was then I understood the light was changing the feel of my heart, too.

Learning to do life in a new country was a big part of the heaviness I carried that year. Transition is a season of magnified highs and lows. Another genuine weight was the simple lack of light. Understanding this helped me get intentional; I sat by my lamp and sought out sunshine whenever rainy season let it through. When we moved near the children’s home, we decked out every fixture in warm-hued bulbs. Somehow the golden cast made for instant home.

Light changes things.


Two years back, a wise friend came down to teach some basics of Common Sense Parenting. The concept of giving far more positive reinforcements than negative widened my eyes. Too often I critiqued the imperfect and let my silence reward the well done. Encouragement is another form of light, drawing us towards better choices and relationships. We don’t stop to think about it, it’s like emotional gravity. I started paying attention: when do I shine cool and distant rather than love’s full spectrum?

I tried it out. Jangling a snack pack of M&M’s, I explained what I was looking for from my kids on the most basic level. One sweet tidbit for each follow-through. Thank you for looking me in the eyes. Thank you for answering me. Thank you for checking back to tell me you finished the task. A smile, a kind word, a high five, a hug, the taste of chocolate—I saw it change the atmosphere in our house. One morning full of positives put new shine in my children’s eyes.

Whether we realize it or not, we all lean to the light. Wherever love and grace are, there we are drawn. Sparkles on waves, a friend’s praise, these things touch our hearts for a reason. The miracle happens when we understand we don’t just hunger for brightness, we can shine it as well. Regardless of the weather or utility budget, light is available.

A soft knock shot me out of bed the other night. My son stood in the dark gasping for breath, fighting a cold in his lungs. We fumbled our way down the stairs and counted drops of medicine into the nebulizer. My brain as foggy as the mist helping him, I pulled him close to wait out the treatment, then smiled. Over the hum, I read him Mr. Putter and Tabby’s adventures to pick the pears and fly the plane. By a small lamp in the predawn, we made our own sunshine.



The way I see it, we can all use more light in our lives. What are some simple ways to shine?

Practice gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for: blue sky, my family, breath in my lungs, this moment to live. I’m the last person to whitewash life’s hard stuff. Struggles and pain are real, but so is our Heavenly Father who delights in us. If we can lift our eyes from the path for bit, there are all kinds of good things to see.

Be kind. A little warmth goes a long way to healing a situation. Things may not look the way we’d like, but Mary Poppins was onto something.

Go to the source. There is always Jesus to run to. Let’s lace up our shoes. A worship song, a verse that comes alive, the still small voice is waiting to speak with us.

When we are filled with his light, illumination comes naturally. When we are secure in his love, we change the feel of the room.

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 MSG

What are some ways you have seen light change your perspective?  Are there places you want your life to be brighter?

Plant in Window Photo by Olu Eletu, & Beam on Deck Photo by Andrew Pons on Unsplash


Nose Chicken: Dealing with the Battles You Can’t Win

Sometimes you just can’t help but play along. When our middle child was a toddler, his blue eyes could trump my reason. Each bedtime snuggle he declared, “Nose Chicken!” The golden boy pressed his face into mine, nose to nose, until my grown up smeller yielded, whimpering. His laughter rang out in big, belly peals. Squishy youth always triumphed over my bone and cartilage. Each time I thought I could hold out. Each time my eyes watered and I had to surrender. I lost the battles, but won sweet memories with my son.

Life can be like that, too. How often do we play games we can’t win? Like Boggle against my husband, there is no chance of victory, only opportunity to either enjoy the journey or set a healthy boundary.

Oh, there are dream destinations: the clean house, our goal weight, a happy marriage. The thing is, those end goals aren’t the end. When we get there, no golden buzzer sounds to bedazzle the stage with confetti and launch us to the final round. Ultimate wins are rare. More often, success is a moment on a stream that we paddle up. We can stay there with effort, but setting the cruise control will likely sweep us back downstream.

The cardio to hold our ground in these areas is worth it. The empty laundry basket, some extra space in our jeans, a smile shared across the table—each is a reason to celebrate. Conquest may not be possible, but management is. Every effort in the journey makes today a better place and breaks trail for tomorrow.


Then there are tangles that never admit a truce: quicksand zones, where our struggle digs us deeper. Pleasing everyone. Trying to be perfect. Social media debates where everyone is yelling and no one is listening.

Surrender can be the best course correction even without roadblock flashers. There is only so much of us to go around. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to others.

There is no shame in admitting a battle isn’t worth the fight, and choosing not to engage. Hard work is necessary to live and love well–we know life isn’t all about us or what makes us happy. But sometimes it’s more helpful for everyone if we care from a distance rather than jumping into the mosh pit.

Our strength and focus are worth saving for the right battles in God’s timing. We have to follow the Spirit’s leading to know when to invest ourselves and when to guard our pearls from death by bacon.

So clean out your email inbox, keep praying for breakthrough, put on your deodorant. Fight the battles that make life sweeter in the process and release the ones that come only to steal, kill, and destroy.

Eventually I had to find another way to laugh with my son at lights out. We abandoned the game, but held onto the joy.


Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:6 NIV

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John‬ ‭10:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

How do you see this at work in your life? What battles could you leave behind to gain victory?

Toss Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on Unsplash

Of Ministry and Mom Guilt: Getting Over What Others Think

She strode up to our prayer gathering, her gray curls beautiful. The group stopped for greetings and her update on the situation across the border. Backpacking alone across Central America, helping out at missions along the way, Nicaragua’s political unrest had sent her doubling back to the children’s home where our family serves.

We hadn’t met, so after a while in the background, I asked her name and introduced myself: I’m Kris, Matt’s wife.

Her response stunned me. Yes, she knew my husband. With him so involved at the Home, she thought I’d be on-site helping more. She hadn’t seen me the whole time she’d volunteered.

The assessment burned. For a moment, I had no words. Matt explained that I homeschool our three children and have a full plate running our household.

She wasn’t impressed. Again it came; she thought I’d be there more.

I jumped in to list my efforts: cooking team dinners, communication for our family ministry and the Home, the longer process of doing cross-cultural life.


There it was out on the table. I disappointed this interesting, brave soul. My labor didn’t count—to her.

I’m not sure what was going on in the heart of that purpose-driven woman, but I can describe a little of the turmoil inside this one. I tried to shrug, also, to nudge her opinion off of me. Instead, it stuck.


After spending most of the day spinning the scene in my head, I started asking questions and listening for the truth.

Am I spending my time where I’m supposed to?

There are likely as many types of missionary mothering as there are mission families. One feeling we probably all share is wondering if we do enough. Like moms everywhere, we teeter on a scale that almost defies balance: if we work out in the world a lot, we should focus more on home. If we pour into home, we should use our talents outside it more often. Stir in some “cross-culture” and “serving the Lord” status, and things get even stickier.

When I first landed in Costa Rica as a missionary, I thought I had to be perfect. I believed serving in a new culture meant I couldn’t have any of my own. I shouldn’t have preferences or needs. It was all dying to thyself. When I was served inedible food at a restaurant, we didn’t dare complain. When the taxi driver’s cologne cloud and speed-stop-turn combos set me sick and trembling, take up thy cross. For shame, you a) brought so much Tupperware from the states, b) skipped voluntary chapel to give your overwhelmed introvert self a breather between classes, c) used your clothes dryer when it wasn’t raining. And so on, forever and ever, amen.

The strain outpaced my weight-bearing capacity. To keep from being crushed, I had to give up trying to keep up with what I thought people expected of me. I had to find my own scale and sense of balance for the calling God gave me.

What is my calling?

Long before I ever signed up for this surrender, I felt the press of expectations. Our family came for 5 weeks in 2008 to get a taste of mission life without the team experience bells and whistles. Just us conquering the grocery store, bribing our kids with new flavors of jello for patience while we translated packaging. Just me figuring out exactly how short my Rosetta Stone work measured up. When our son’s 3-year-old, out-of-his-element wails sounded once again from the play area chaos, a different single woman from the states had words for me.

You know, to serve in this place, your kids have to toughen up. They have to live like these kids—without parents. We share everything here.

I was still on job interview behavior, trying to say the right thing, go the extra mile, make a good impression. But the rebuke knocked the people pleasing right out of me.

That is not what God is calling us to do.

My bold declaration surprised both of us. I knew it without question, though. God was not asking us to make our own children orphans so we could minister to orphans. Each family has a unique assignment; that was not ours.

My calling, God revealed over time, is to make home for our family. This safe, snug nest is the landing and launchpad for my husband’s full-time leadership at the children’s home. It’s the education of our kids, equipping them for whatever the Lord has for their future. It’s modeling a healthy family for precious hearts waiting to find theirs. It’s cooking up the taste of love for teams and making relationships from afar with words. What God asked of me is not just my contribution, it’s become my joy.


Each of us has special set of gifts and a call to use them, whether on the mission field or off. We each serve and grow the kingdom in a way only we can. Everyone hears the “not enough” message from some stereo system. It’s time to cut the power on that soundtrack.

We shouldn’t have to look like one another. Life’s canvas is richer if we don’t. Let’s embrace the spectrum of colors each brings to the table and fully enjoy painting our own.

As for me and my house, it’s picked up, but not dusted. In a culture where value is earned by the shine of your tile, I choose to set priorities in line with my calling and trust the Lord for my worth.

In a land full of expectations, the best path is freedom.

How about you? Do you struggle with what others think about what you feel led to do? You’re not alone. Share your thoughts and encouragement in the comments below.

Family Waves Photo by Natalya Zaritskaya & Piggyback Photo by Jenn Evelyn-Ann on Unsplash