The Backpack Story: Our Biggest Blunder, God’s Biggest Miracle

Our 5 year ministry launch to Costa Rica started calmly enough. A radio station mishap played a favorite song twice on the short drive to the airport. We sang to the sunrise,”Let the future begin.”

Wow. A small miracle just for us. How kind of you, Lord.

We laughed through tears, saying farewell to family and friends at the security gate. Two low-key flights sandwiched a leisurely layover and some McDonalds fries. We touched down in the land of “Pura Vida” and were given a shortcut through immigration: mercy granted for either squirrelly kids or the right soccer jerseys. Stepping out into the tropical evening, we hugged the children’s home founders, cheered over storage totes sent ahead months before, and met our language school big sisters.

In the melee mix of passersby and friends, I kept track of our 1-2-3 children. When Matt started throwing suitcases to the roof of the van, I mother-henned them inside it to settle booster seats and hunt for working seatbelts.

Everyone climbed in and we headed towards a new home.

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The city lights zipped past. I followed the Spanglish conversation through the hum of highway and fatigue. Then Matt turned, his voice urgent:

Do you have our backpacks?

I didn’t. We didn’t. The other truck didn’t.

Five bags double-stuffed with our most important things sat abandoned on a bench, now 20 minutes away, outside of the San Jose airport. By all odds, they were already gone. Local culture isn’t just finder’s keepers, it’s often takers keepers, as well.

I prayed like thunder and tried not to throw up.

Our passports, laptops, immigration paperwork, phones, $2,000 cash for rent, and my wallet topped the missing persons list. A gringo buffet zipped up into nylon takeout: everything we needed to start life here.

Dear Lord, please help.

Matt’s Spanish coordinated our return to the scene, my English cried out to God, and the street lights began passing by in reverse.

Father, you called us here to serve you. We know you are strong. Protect our backpacks. Put angels around them so no one even sees them. We know you will take care of us if everything is gone, but please don’t let that happen. Provide for us the way you promised. Thank you for how you are going to show your power in this.

I kept praying the whole way back as warfare against panic.

We pulled up, and unbelievably, saw them still on the bench: a line of multicolored glory. Like lost children found, we gathered them in with a record for the 50-yard dash.

Hesitant to celebrate, our guide suggested we take inventory.

We opened every zipper, counted every envelope: it was all there, not a single thing missing. Just one added to the bunch—a huge miracle. God’s kindness was speaking, declaring he is in this calling with us, his hands are not tied, he is mighty to save.

Relief washed over us, with a cream rinse of exhaustion.

What 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 grand enough? All we have to give him is ourselves. So we open our hearts on a deeper level and lean more fully into walking out his love here in Costa Rica.

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On Sunday, we celebrated the 5 year anniversary of our dramatic arrival. The Lord stunned us that night, but he moves each day in this place. Children’s lives are planted with new hope and teams experience his goodness in fresh ways at Hogar de Vida.

Our first ministry term is complete, but the view keeps getting more beautiful. We see long-held dreams just now beginning to blossom: Matt’s discipleship teaching and Kris’s writing. We are settled in this work with gratitude for what God is doing and the faithful support that makes it possible.

Let the future begin.

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


Do you have a blunder experience that the Lord redeemed? Or didn’t? How did it encourage your path forward?

Slatted Bench Photo by DIMITRIS GEREBAKANIS & Backpack Bridge Photo by Christian Joudrey on Unsplash

When I Stopped Expecting Perfection from Myself and My Family

I heard the crash and pieces skittering across the floor. I came unglued. Our son’s little hands and my favorite snack bowls shared a propellant chemistry. Dish duty produced frequent launches and the tile floors were merciless. We were down to half the supply packed in from the states, half of the comfort routine I had banked on.

I yelled. A lot. I was wrong.

It was my illusion of control that was breaking. Control over my surroundings and control over myself. A missionary momma fresh on the ground, there was so much I didn’t know how to do. It scared me. My fear of failure actually fueled my worst failures. Pieces of my son’s heart went in the trash with the shards of bright plastic.

Time always brought me back to, “I love you.  Please forgive me.” He always did.

Cross-cultural living is a great place to learn humility. Over and over I got it wrong, and in my repentance little arms would encircle me again. Forgiveness is a gift beyond price.

At some point I realized the truth: they were all going to break. I had to find a new source. Not just for bowls, but also for peace.

I couldn’t base my sense of security on my family’s perfection. We were often good, but none of us were ever perfect. I couldn’t support it with my ability to do life, because I had to learn everything from scratch in this new place. I couldn’t put it on my stuff: things + time = wreckage.

We came to this country to live out God’s love; the one he rescued first was me. I began to see myself without the filters of know-how. Who I was when I expected perfection was the exact opposite of who I wanted to be. I admitted it. I took the full weight of my significance off of myself, my husband, and my kids, and put it–imperfectly–into the Father’s hands.

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Five years later, I’m still learning to live this out, but we share a new dance, my son and I: who can quip the best joke. High compliments are paid for well-timed song lyrics or movie lines. Insects fascinate him, so we call out to each other when interesting characters show up. He teaches me all about their details. Together we admire the special features God gave them, and I encourage the ones God gave him.

There is always new ground to surrender.

The other day my daughter helped out and spearheaded the week’s laundry. In the process, bleach dripped on our colored sheets. I caught my breath at the sad splotches. Disappointed, yes, but not distraught. In place of explosions, I spoke a wise friend’s motto: people are more important than things.

I have a new source.

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My guess is, if you breathe, then sometimes you blow it. Here are 5 steps that help me to begin making it right.

Admit fault. To cash a check, we have to fill in the amount. Being specific about what we did wrong starts the bill pay process to forgive a debt. I’m sorry. I used harsh words and was unloving to you.

Explain what we will do differently going forward. Model making better choices and the value we place on the person. Next time I will speak calmly and help you clean up.

Ask forgiveness. Honor others by giving them the choice and time to consider it. Will you forgive me?

Hug it out. Love expressed through healthy touch can restore heart closeness. Ask to hold hands, give a soft pat to the arm, or embrace to knit back together. When I scuffle with my husband, the litmus test for breakthrough is being able to hold each other again. There’s no rush or pressure here, just a goal to pursue healing until the relationship is restored.

Give positive encouragement. Set up for success by validating the good effort of others.  What is rewarded will be repeated. This has been a game changer for our family. Thank you for drying all those dishes.  I really appreciate your help. You are a great part of this team.

I would love to share a prayer for infinite patience, but that would just be another form of the perfectionism I have to renounce daily.

This is a constant process in me. Simply getting my crew out the door can still trigger impatience. After barking us into the car the other day, I apologized, discouraged at how often I mess up.  Then inspiration hit. Dave-Letterman-style, I announced 10 great things my child did that week. Each one lit his face a little more, until we were both back to bouncy.

When mishaps make breakage, forgiveness frees us from having to be perfect. When you accidentally blow holes in the landscape, use them to plant something beautiful.


Do you struggle with expectations for yourself or others?  What sets you free?

Broken Dish Photo by chuttersnapHeart Dishes Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

How to Leave Behind Feeling Left Out: Give the Blessing You Want

When it comes to strangers, I’m strong at hello. Smiling eye contact, a two-pump, quick-release handshake, or a Costa Rican hug with a kiss to the side, I want to know your name and how to spell it. Letters stick better in my head than sounds.

Tell me your story. I used to worry about who I would sit by in a crowd, but I’ve realized most people have something to say. Asking questions and caring about the answers conquers loneliness in almost any gathering.

Regarding hello, I’m an extrovert. Put the music on, let’s dance.

Then there’s goodbye; I’ve noticed my hesitation, a longing to slip away. The introvert inside doesn’t like to assume you have any special words for me. I want it, though: a blessing that the time together touched you, that our laughter was good, that you saw me.

Goodbye leaves me in grade school on the sidelines, waiting to be picked for a team.

Dawdling on the edges of another conference wrap-up, the Lord whispered,

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Give the blessing you want.

Hey now?  

The encouragement you would like, go give it to these people in front of you.

Deep breath. Alright then.

I stepped forward to one face at a time, thanking for the experience shared, the wise insight, the unique beauty. I went from killing time to living it.

Best group goodbye ever. I ended up one of the last out, and I left blessed.

Give the blessing you want.

It’s not a new thought. Jesus told us to do unto others what we would have them do to us. Good stuff, right? Somehow it doesn’t always occur to me to apply it to my current view, my everyday details.

That teaching can seem more fit for gridlock situations or grand daydreams that flit by. Like the other day when when I read an article by Kathryn Bronn*. The colors and flavors of her trek through the Middle East made me feel all Indiana Jones. I pictured myself sharing Jesus in the dangers of the land, fulfilled and fully alive.

Then I remembered my zombie enthusiasm to make tonight’s dinner and how I avoided the panhandler at our gate this morning. If I struggle to serve well here at the foot of Mount Laundry, why would I do any better in a new place?

Sometimes life might work that way, leaps of faith can evoke spiritual superpowers, but usually our existing strengths and weaknesses earn airline miles alongside us.

Give the blessing you want.

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Let’s be honest: I can think of a lot of blessings I‘d like. How about you? Those desires can be our inspiration. Let’s become students of our present surroundings, learning to see the gaps and reaching to fill them with goodness. If we want adventure in our lives, we can make it happen without plane tickets.  Familiarity may breed contempt, but love makes everything interesting.

There’s no place better to grow than exactly where we are.

This house with the dust and disorder. This calling, workplace, team. This relationship. Today’s to-do list. Each one is a ripe opportunity for doing good. Each one is a perfect place to belong.

There’s no time like now to start giving the blessings we would want. The Lord moves in our obedience. As we minister to others, he fills our hands. Kingdom math: we give as he leads us and we come away full.

In our habits of hesitation, we can keep waiting for love to choose us, or we can begin living it out.

The beauty is, this doesn’t have to be extravagant or complicated. Every act of kindness counts. Love can be as simple as saying goodbye like it’s another form of hello.

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! ‭Luke‬ ‭6:31 MSG‬‬


Are there situations that leave you feeling unsure or unwanted? Or maybe just uninspired? Can you think of a way to bless someone else from that spot? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

 

* ”Debunking Ministry Myths in the Middle Eastby the incredible Kathryn Bronn

Hello Photo by Karolina Szczur  & Flower-Giving Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Who Do You Say I Am? How Names Define Us

Names. I hear a lot of them out on the morning road. Costa Ricans are a friendly bunch and blue skies inspire greetings. My favorite booms out from an elderly man working in his pasture, “¡Ay caramba, machita! ¿Como está?”  

My goodness, little blondie, how are you?

With such a welcome, it would be hard not to call back the customary, “Very well, thank you.  How are you?”

Amor (Love), Hija (Daughter), the formal Señora (Ma’am): local culture embraces endearments and nicknames. A cheery pineapple vendor once called my friend, “negrita.”  It translates as little black girl, but also refers to the patron saint of the country, a stone representation of the mother of Christ. His intended meaning to the Caucasian matron was something like “dear, kind woman.”

Referring to someone by their ethnicity is also common here, as when a grandmother at church told me so-and-so’s wife is “la china”—the Chinese lady, although the term covers any Asian lineage. And while the movies of my youth gave me a negative slant of the word “gringo,” in Central America it just means people who aren’t Latinos. Europeans, North Americans, we all qualify without malice.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Names mean something.  They speak value, or the lack of it. Taking the time to use a name ups the intensity. Whether it’s an encouragement of being known, or a parent hauling out the long form for fear factor, what’s written on your birth certificate is only the beginning.

What names define me? What names do you call yourself?

Some names are comfortable: wife, friend, sister.

Some labels we hesitate to claim, as if we might not deserve them: runner, writer, good mother.

Names have power, they evoke a response. Most likely, something happens inside you when you read the word Jesus or Trump.

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Here in the tropics, this is insect paradise. Some visit us like blessings. We reach out to them and hope they draw close. We admire their colors, learn from them, and release their beauty forward. They inspire us.

Some bugs we stomp on sight, knowing their danger.

Names should be the same way.

In the states, you might feel a tiny tickle on your skin and give a look. Usually, nothing is there. In Costa Rica, something almost always is. At any given moment, a tiny ant crawls into view onto my book, my arm, my phone, even occasionally my eyeglasses. Yes, the ones on my face that I’m looking through. It’s crazy.

Without invitation, names crawl onto us, as well. Lazy, needy, too _________, or not enough _________. Everyone can fill in their own blanks. Those names never decide to crawl themselves back off. They have to be remedied and rubbed away.

How?

The problem starts with names; the solution begins there, too.

Jesus was given the name above all names, authority over every name. He turns to each of us to ask, “As for you, who do you say I am?”

There are a variety of answers: good teacher, irrelevant, prophet, blasphemer, Son of God.

My response is Lord and Savior.

Some names are easy to brush off like those tiny ants. Others seem to take hold and burrow in. Almost every morning of my eighth grade year, one boy greeted me, “Hello, Ugly.” I tried to smile and make it something pretty. Inside of me, it never worked.

So I turn to Jesus and ask him in return, “As for you, who do you say that I am?”

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There are a variety of answers: beloved, daughter, overcomer, chosen, cherished.

Beautiful.

Many names, each one true. The ones he uses are the only ones that matter.

“to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.” Isaiah‬ ‭56:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things [all those false names]; preserve my life according to your word [the true names you give me].”  ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:37‬ ‭NIV‬


Who do you say that Jesus is?  And who does he say that you are?  Share you names with us. We’d love to cheer you on.

Nametags Photo by chuttersnap  & Flower Photo by Gaston Roulstone on Unsplash

What Does Holy Ground Feel Like?

The question struck me as I sojourned through Exodus at a Come Before Winter Renewal last month. Moses went barefoot at the burning bush.

What does holy ground feel like?  

Was it rough gravel or fine sand?  Were there rocks poking Moses’s instep? Cockleburs he had to pick off of his robe afterwards? Did sharp sticks leave any splinters? Was it sunburn hot or dessert night cold?

It wasn’t the quality of the ground that made it holy. It was the presence of the Living God in that moment.

elliott-engelmann-53566-unsplash fi.jpgI realize this applies to me, too. I stand on holy ground in the place of calling to ministry.

There are rocks: my pride. Have I mentioned that I like being able to do things well? I was fully functional back in the states. Here on the field after 5 years, I still struggle to do life at times. My Spanish is so-so, and my government office navigation skills are worse.

There are cockleburs: my desire to be valued. I want my efforts to be seen and appreciated. Who doesn’t, really? But approval is like manna, it tends to rot overnight. Most mornings send you out searching to fill your basket again. God is the only reliable source.

There is definitely a burn: comparison. When I measure myself or my contribution up against those around me, I always lose. It doesn’t matter what the score says. If you pay the ante, you forfeit your chips.

christopher-sardegna-157-unsplashHoly ground is a one-on-one moment, face to face with the Lord. It’s my morning coffee over the Word, my prayer to want what he wants each day. It’s a worship song on my heart, a breath prayer to invite his presence to change me.

My toes are in the dirt. It’s humble. There is no other option but to need him here. He called us into the adventure of full dependency. Every day as I step out my front gate, every month when we open the financial statement.

He listens to my insecurities and excuses. Then he tells me who He is and what He will do. The staff may become a snake. The snake may reform as a staff. The hand may cycle whole, leprous, and healed again. He never changes.

I see his glory passing by in each child we pray healing into. I feel it shine in each team member we encourage out of their comfort zone sandals.

This is holy ground.

This is the place where freedom begins in me, and through me, in others.

Like Moses was, I am surrounded by everyday sheep—cooking, cleaning, discipling my children, homeschooling, loving, writing.

I can become distracted by all of the curly tails and wooly bottoms,

Or I can turn and focus on the burning bush calling me by name.

tim-marshall-121101-unsplashI choose the fire.

I accept the challenge to trust him and go higher up the mountain.

I’m kicking off my expectations of being perfect, and the trap of comparison.

I am going skin to skin with holiness, instead.


The Lord calls each of us to holy ground, wherever we are in our relationship with him. What does the spot you’re standing on feel like?

Beach Walk Photo by Esther Wiegardt, Desert Scrub Photo by Elliott Engelmann, Footprints Photo by Christopher Sardegna, & Valley Road Photo by Tim Marshall  on Unsplash