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

The Backpack Story

Our journey to Costa Rica on Monday started out innocently enough.  The small miracle of a favorite song played twice on the car radio in 20 minutes, chorusing the benediction “Let the future begin.”  A laughter-through-tears farewell at the airport.  Two low-key flights sandwiching a leisurely layover and McDonalds fries.  We were given a shortcut through the immigration line (may have been the squirrelly kids or the soccer jerseys we wore), hugged the ministry founders, Tim and Dena, rejoiced that they had ferried all of our stuff in good condition from Hogar de Vida, met our wonderful Big Sisters from language school, and loaded our baggage into the van rented to drive us to our house.

I was admiring the city lights as we drove down the highway, eagerly tuning into the conversation about something Costa Rican when Matt said it, veiled urgency in his voice:

We don’t have our backpacks.

A quick call to Tim and Dena confirmed it.  They didn’t have them in their vehicle either.  The bags stuffed with all of the things too important to let out of our sight were in fact still sitting on a bench outside of the San Jose airport in the traffic of new arrivals and taxi drivers.  In the relief of long anticipated greetings and hugs, the unsuccessful scramble to find working seat belts in the van for the children, and the busy loading of 50 lb. bags, we had let our guard down and simply forgotten to take a count.  Total rookie mistake.  We had driven around 20 minutes away, and the return trip seemed to last an eternity.  Praying with everything that an overtaxed me could muster, I called down God’s goodness over us, His plan for our time in Costa Rica, His angels over our bags hiding them from the sight of anyone on the prowl for theft.  I knew the odds were impossible.  This was San Jose, where a bag left on the seat of a locked car is an embossed invitation, and even backpacks being worn aren’t impervious.

My mind took inventory of the stakes: our passports, our laptops, the immigration paperwork, our phones, about $2,000 of cash for rent payments, and my wallet topped the list.  I pushed back the nausea and kept praying.  The city lights were an agony passing by in reverse.  Finally we entered the drop zone and saw what we had hoped and prayed for–the most beautiful lineup of colorful backpacks sitting on the bench.  We burst out of the van and collected them like prodigal children, praising God every step.  Searching through the various compartments, we found everything exactly where it was supposed to be.  Relief washed over us, with a cream rinse of exhaustion.

Backlit LarkspurWhat 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 magnificent enough?  All we have to give Him is ourselves.  So we open our hearts on a deeper level and lean more fully into this plan He has for our family to walk out His love in Costa Rica.

Bring on the cockroaches.

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

The Escalator Escapade

We inched our way through the ribbon maze, checking our watches every minute, praying furiously for our connecting flight to be delayed.  The older two E’s were tired of maneuvering their backpacks and wheeled carry-ons.  Our arms were weary of the same, plus hefting the youngest.  Finally, bags emerged from the x-ray tunnel and shoes were shoved back on feet, just as our flight was scheduled  to pull away from the terminal.

Ready, set, go!  Off to find the gate while Houston flaunted it’s size.  Quick, quick!  We know you are tired, just keep going and we’ll sit for hours once we get there.  You can do it.

Then we came to the escalator.

Normally the anchor duck in our family line, keeping count of the ducklings ahead, I leapt on first.  Elijah and Eliana got on a few steps behind me.  The stairs began to rise.  I held my breath as Elijah’s bag tottered and fell down onto him.  Over-balanced by a stuffed backpack, he fell backwards onto his sister.  She, likewise, toppled over onto her bag, and they all went down in a heap of domino helplessness, arms and legs flailing like a pair of up-ended turtles, all the while being carried rapidly up to the next floor.  Matt bounded up to get feet and luggage wheels back in touch with the stair treads.  My respiration resumed.

Then the worst.

From 20 feet above, I saw Ezekiel, just 3 years old, standing alone and unsure at the bottom, afraid to get on the moving belt.  Stair after stair passed by as I barked panicked encouragement while a traffic jam of strangers looked on behind him.  Get on, Buddy, get on!

Then the angel appeared.

A man gently picked him up and put him on the escalator.  Up he rode, safely delivered into our arms, which were now very glad to carry him.  Laughter and tears had to wait until we reached our gate.  Well, the laughter did, anyway.  Happy tears don’t slow you down much.

Praying hack and slash the whole way, we continued to trot the concourses and finally charged up to our gate, finding it blessedly crammed with people.  Great news, our flight was delayed–a mechanical issue.  They would know more in half an hour.  Relief washed over us.  Fatigue and full bladders chimed in, and we trundled gratefully to the restrooms.  As the adrenaline faded, peaceful thoughts of contentment made way for some wondering: how long would it take to begin the last leg of our journey home?  I looked at Eliana over the soap and warm water, and chuckled out another prayer, “Lord, thank you so much for delaying the flight so we could make it.  Would you please speed things up now that we are here?”

Before we even reached our seats in the waiting area, God’s heartbeat of love for us sounded again.  The loudspeaker announced, “Ladies and gentleman, the mechanical issue has been resolved.  We will now begin boarding. . .”

The 3-E's at the Airport

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.”

Isaiah 40:11

Thank heaven for that.