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

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

Making Angels

After a small saga of delays, our new carpet is finally installed, and the house is one giant step closer to being ready for the market.  Considering their future on unyielding tile, the kids took some time to enjoy soft poly fibers on the floor.  In the absence of snow, they made carpet angels.

All that exuberant appreciation got me thinking.  I’ve been spending time clearing away the old (thank you Craigslist, Goodwill, sanitation engineers, etc.) and working to lay the new (contact lists full of amazing people who want to keep in touch, applications for language school, gatherings and letters to share the vision) of our ministry in Costa Rica.  But it was high time to pause for a moment and count the blessings of our calling.  So I swirled my thoughts over the goodness of God’s plans for us, and made an angel of gratitude.  The wings and wisps are formed by:

  • The opportunity to make friends from around the world and to share the Lord’s work in their lives as they serve at the Home of Life.
  • The richness of becoming a bilingual family–although Matt and I will have to come up with a new way to talk “over the kids’ heads.”
  • The adventure of learning Costa Rican culture and a new way of doing life.  Rainy seasons, rambutan fruit, pace of life redefined.
  • Getting to care for at-risk children and speak blessing over them.  I love Matt’s brown eyes, but all our children got my blues.  Now I’ll have a host of bright dark eyes to love.
  • The tremendous gift it is that the Lord wants to use us in this way.  Here we are, Lord.  Send us.
  • The support of so many awesome people joining with us in this kingdom work.  Kisses to the side of the cheek for all of you.
  • The chance to trust God for what seems impossible and to see Him provide.  He is doing it.
  • Seeing the talents that He gave us fit like puzzle pieces into a whole new future of walking with Him.

Costa Rica by way of Guatemala–Part 2

Our first taste of Guatemala stretched my comfort zone beyond North American norms.  Global missions were no longer just something for other people to do, they were our hands getting dirty, our arms around precious children.  We saw God move in teams and through them, and we could not get enough of it.  Holding onto 1 Samuel 30:24’s promise that the rewards of victory are shared between the ones who go out and the ones who stay to guard the camp, we supported others as they served in the nations and took more trips ourselves whenever the Lord led us.  Over the course of two 10-day men’s teams (one where I went along to help save the guys from their own cooking) and a 4-week family stay, we saw that the Spirit had our compass pointed steadily toward the Home of Life in Costa Rica.  We connected with the children and grown-up people there in a way that made us family.  Although always excited to go and give my all, I still appreciated being able to come back again afterwards for things like paychecks and doctor appointments.

God spoke to Matt again in the fall of 2008, calling our family to pursue full-time ministry there in the land of rainforests, to host teams and do life with the people we loved.  Matt had his arms wide open, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.  Expecting the third wonderful addition to our family in the coming spring, I was again in a “no reception zone.”  As Ezekiel learned how to sleep through the night and tottered his first steps, the Lord Himself took up the “can you hear me now?” process, gradually bringing up my volume level.  There was a lot of change to acclimate to, where I had been content with the status quo.  Over the months He reminded me of all the ways I had been prepared for this calling, of the hope to fully go and serve that I didn’t even admit to myself.  But still it was hard to release the life I already knew to take our family into the unknown.

We thought it was a celestial joke when Matt and I were asked to lead a team to Guatemala in the summer of 2011, and friends who had served for months at a time in Guatemala took their team to Costa Rica.  A divine episode of trading spaces?  Ministry swap?  Definitely humorous, but profoundly powerful.  Our first impression upon returning to Guatemala after five years away was a longing for the tiny cabina and the other brown eyes on our hearts.  Sharing new experiences with our team, God’s work surrounding us, and the dear people of Guatemala were all a delight.  We coiffed hair with sparkly barrettes and shared a nonverbal gospel skit in two mountain villages, jumped off of cliffs into the river pool with the children, blew bubbles across hillsides, played soccer (badly), and hemmed pajama pants.  We roared with laughter at one person’s mistaken purchase of a beer rather than the soda she wanted from a gas station, the transformation of another person from reserved to gregarious at 8:00 p.m. each evening, and the daylong comedic stylings of our team humorist.  We rallied around one team member as she stepped into her gift of prophetic insight and another as she became comfortable with praying aloud in a group.  But we knew with certainty that Costa Rica was the focal point of God’s plan for us.

Spending time with Norm and Vickie Sutton, the missionaries who host teams at the Home of Life in Guatemala, was the pinnacle of the trip for me.  We knew them affectionately from that first trip back in 2006, and wanted to hear more about their recent launch to serve full-time. It wasn’t hard to spot the divine setup.  Their testimony with its difficulties and encouragement harmonized with the Lord’s persistent whisper in my heart.  I was undone by the clarity of the 5-bar signal.  If the Lord was so faithful to them as they walked this path, He would be faithful to us.  Tears flowed.  I surrendered my “no”–the desire to stay in the predictable security of our life in the States–and gave the Lord my “I will.”  Change my heart again, Lord, to want what You want.  The trust fall began.

The creativity of the one who made the flowers and the heavens still amazes me.  Only He would use a trip to Guatemala to spark the pilot light on our calling to Costa Rica, and then 5 years later, ignite the burner in those same mountains.  “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” Proverbs 16:9.   What a privilege to see what He will use that fire to refine in us and inspire in others over the next 5 years.

Getting on My “Going to”

It’s a common question, and one that we love to answer: ” When are you going to Costa Rica?”  Well, our family is going to spend 5 weeks there this summer hosting two teams and checking things out, then we’ll come back to the states for a year to release our stuff and to raise support.  We hope to start language school in August of 2013, if the Lord provides.  While being completely accurate, something has begun to feel wrong with this response–the words “hope” and “if.”

I’ve been reading “The Last Thing I’d Ever Do” by Peter Jordan, the true story of his family’s experience leaving their comfortable, prosperous life to follow the Lord’s call out into full-time faith ministry with YWAM.  Some of it is fresh ground for me to consider, especially the children’s perspectives on the changes and living conditions.  Some of it is well-beaten trail.  Another inspiring testimony of people stepping out with no assurance of anything more than the awesome power and love of their God.  Been there, done that.

No, wait.  I haven’t.  I’ve only read about there, and about a lot of people who’ve done that.  My feet are still comfortably on dry ground.  But we have an invitation to step out into the waters and trust the Lord to part them.  Can the Lord  provide in the calling He’s given us?  Is He big enough to launch our family in the timeline that He’s put on our hearts and confirmed with our leadership covering?  Do I trust Him enough to let go of the “if?”

Let’s recap for a moment.  How did we get here?  College-aged and engaged, Matt and I came from different denominational backgrounds, but wanted to walk together toward the Lord as man and wife.  We settled into Matt’s rural Lutheran (LCMS) church family where we grew and served for 7 years until the Lord called us to Lifegate Church in 2004.  There was never any trial period.  We knew that was where the Lord wanted us to be and His presence in that body was (and still is) awesome.  We wanted more of Him, to worship with passion, and to grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We didn’t know that Lifegate sends people out to the nations.  We just did life there: serving, loving, worshipping, learning, repenting, growing.  The Lord has been so faithful to keep pressing us “further up and further in.”  And so in the course of His plan for us, He plunked us down right where there were people already in place to stand beside us and challenge us, to mentor, support, and eventually launch us in this calling that He had waiting for our family.  If He can orchestrate that, surely He’s capable of covering the rest.  Time to trade in my “if” and get on my “going to.”

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”  Acts 17:26