Picking Our Battles

“Pick your battles.”  It’s a pretty common phrase, especially with regard to parenting and marriage relationships.  The idea being that you can’t work on everything all at once.  One month into our life as missionaries in Costa Rica, the wisdom has an interesting ring.

Jam LineupMany of the changes we are facing don’t raise any quarrel within me.  Cooking from scratch has always been close to my heart.  Fully weaned from my bread machine, my new motto is “There’s no sense in making a single batch of anything.”   My KitchenAid has never felt so appreciated.  Multigrain bread, dinner rolls, pizza dough, and cinnamon rolls have all risen beautifully to the challenge of life in the tropics, at least for the short time they’re allotted before being devoured.  Last weekend I even made some jam.  My favorite strawberry-rhubarb of the prairie made way for mango-pineapple and straight pineapple, with delicious results.  And no one could quibble with the ever-changing dance of clouds across the mountains that we drink in every morning from our balcony.  The frequent rainstorms beat a rhythm that my heart sings to, and the sandal-worthy weather is a delight, even when cool temps make me reach for a hoodie.

Some of the new experiences are neutral.  Putting bathroom tissue in the wastebasket rather than the plumbing is more an exercise of memory than of will.  Exploring each grocery store’s limited repertoire for the things we need, figuring out a new shopping routine, and travelling by foot is a good opportunity to interact with the local culture and language.  I’ve gotten used to ignoring the traffic whizzing by on Calle Principal (Main Street) and being fully aware of the people around me.  When Eliana and I got caught out in a heavy downpour, we laughed at the raging gutter-rivers we had to ford to bring our milk and flour home.  Had we forgotten the umbrellas, it could have been significantly less amusing.  Getting splashed by buses was a one-hit wonder to check off our bucket lists.

Then there are the situations that, despite our efforts, we aren’t able to fully conquer.  We can wash all of our dishes religiously, wipe the counters regularly, sweep the floors, and put down Terro dots (ant bait), but there will always be tiny hormigas foraging across most surfaces of the house and fruit flies hovering in the kitchen.  When researching roach control, the first two tips are to completely seal off entry points and eliminate water sources, neither of which is possible in tropical houses.  Locks, fences, and window bars we have, but weatherstripping is absent where windows stay open year-round.  It appears, though, that the tube of gel bait left behind in our house by previous language school students still has some kick to it.  My squeal upon finding a victim in my utensil drawer rallied the whole house.  I don’t mind dispatching the intruder–although I much prefer they don’t come in at all– it’s just the surprise of discovery that catches me off guard.

Grout AttackThere are some things, however, that I’m taking on with my fists up.  Spanish prepositions, for example.  We’ve gone a few rounds, but I’m determined to best the different uses of por and para, entre and hasta.  I’m doing battle with my inner introvert who would rather clam up than speak imperfect Spanish to the neighbors on our block.  Hopefully, the chocolate chip scones we took them will increase their grace for learning gringos.  And while I can’t fix the peeling paint, temperamental light switches, or cracked tiles of our rental house, I can make it clean and well-organized.  Every day we attack a little more of the remaining clutter and sort it into working systems.  Time spent scraping paint off of windows and grout slops off of tile are making the best of this space that we’ve been given for this school year.  Decorations are finding their way onto walls, and new family routines are forming.

So we’ll pull out the putty knife and scrub brush.  We’ll click up the razor blade, squirt the degreaser, study the grammar, and invest in new relationships.  With every battle wisely picked, with every bit of ground we gain against ourselves, the language, or our surroundings, we make Costa Rica more our home.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  2 Corinthians 4:17

One Thing Remains

Language.  Culture.  Climate.  Currency.  Source of provision.  Available products and prices thereof.  Food.  Church.  Profession.  With our upcoming launch to serve at The Home of Life children’s home in Costa Rica, so much is going to change in our lives over the next year.  In a moment of humorous inspiration, I sat down and made a list of what will stay the same (mostly).  It brings me comfort to recognize some stability and makes me smile over what my heart values.  Here’s a non-exhaustive, unordered peek.

1.) Our family being together.  When the Lord called us to homeschool 5 1/2 years ago, I had a sinking feeling that He was setting us up for the mission field.  Turns out I was right.  Only now I don’t feel so sinking about it.  What a comfort to already have a good familiarity with how to do school as a family before we venture out into the nations.  The kids will attend one year of traditional school while Matt and I are up to our eardrums in Spanish immersion classes, then it will be back to the kitchen table for lessons together.  We know that this call to go and serve is for our children just as much as us grown-ups.  We have seen the impact of their smiles and Spanish phrases on Tico hearts.  They have a unique anointing that’s an essential part of what the Lord is doing.  I’m so thankful to be able to walk this path as a family.

2.) God.  Life serving the Lord in Costa Rica won’t be any more spiritual than serving Him in the Midwest  but the change is certainly pressing us into His arms.  As He meets us here, we know He will meet us there.  Perhaps even more so, because we will be so much more aware of our need for Him.

3.) Rice and beans.  It’s like a Dr. Seuss book.  We eat them here, we’ll eat them there.  We’d probably eat them anywhere.  After our first global journey to Guatemala in 2006, I started our family’s exploration into the land of legumes.  Toss a rice cooker into the mix and we had some yummy dinners afoot.  Matt is no longer dubious when I come home with a 20 lb. bag of rice.  Gallo Pinto, anyone?

4.) Books, worship, and working out.  How awesome that some of my very favorite things are completely portable.  We may not be able to drive to a public library full of material in English, but modern technology can still keep us learning, recreating, and soaking in the Lord’s presence.  It’s on our heart to start a small group that gathers for contemporary worship (courtesy of mp3 files– none of our family plays an instrument).  Thank you, Lord, for Kindles, the internet, iPods, laptops, and Jillian Michaels’ dvds.  And while the sidewalks may be more of a challenge in Costa Rica, the weather certainly won’t be, so I’ll have little excuse not to lace up my running shoes.

5.) Making things from scratch.  I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a do-it-yourself-er.    If you can make something cheaper or better (preferably both) than you can buy it, then I’m game to try it.  This especially goes for food.  Lately I’ve been aflutter to learn to make the things that we love to eat here, but probably won’t be able to get there.  Chicken Tikka Masala.  Naan.  Auntie Anne’s pretzels.  You should really come over.  Company motivates me to cook.  Part of my role at the Home of Life will be to prepare meals for visiting teams, and there couldn’t be a better spot for my heart to sing.  Penzeys Spices’ motto says it perfectly: “Love People.  Cook them tasty food.”

But where there are lessons, they will be handed in (and possibly forgotten).  Where Jillian is pounding you with reps, cool down time will eventually begin.  Intriguing plots will conclude.  Recipes will be enjoyed and cleared from the table.  But one thing will remain:  Love.  The love we share with the Lord, with each other, and with the people He puts into our lives on the journey.