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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

Shrug.

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.

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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.

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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

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