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.

several assorted color tags

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

Independence Across Cultures

It hit me yesterday afternoon. Today is the U.S. Independence Day. No matter that my daughter, born on July 2nd, blew out candles the day before yesterday. No matter that my Facebook feed has been lit up with pictures of, comments on, and complaints about fireworks. It still snuck up on me. I’m gifted with linear time obliviance that way.

With Costa Rica’s bid for the World Cup over, the streets around me are quiet. Fruit stands dot the roadsides, rather than firework tents. Our schedule is packed, hosting a mission team of 21 at the children’s home where we serve. I share my testimony tonight and have two more dinners to feed them.

Happy 4th of July. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about it.

I’ve never been great at “special days.” In the states, native rhythms did the heavy lifting for us: days off work, neighborhood displays, family gatherings. Colorful flyers shouted discounts for snaps and ground flowers. We stuffed ourselves at picnics and laughed at the smoke bombs that puffed a little less each year.

Here, Independence Day is September 15th and celebrates liberty from Spain, won without a fight. A nighttime parade of festive lanterns, carried by school children, ushers in the holiday as a reminder of the freedom cry spread by word of mouth through the country in 1821.

It may be a regular workday in Costa Rica, but everything about our home country affects the life our family lives here: all of our financial support, the spiritual covering of our sending church, the freedom granted by the eagle on our passports. Now, more than ever, we appreciate the privilege of our birthplace.

blake-guidry-722181-unsplashJust across the northern border, Nicaragua’s streets are choked with blockades. The citizens of that nation marched peacefully in mid-April to protest corruption and injustice. The presidential leadership unleashed months of harsh violence in response. What doesn’t rate high on the news feed has sent missionaries we know fleeing to safety, crippled business and services in Nicaragua, and flooded the borders with people seeking refuge.

We of the land of the free and the home of the brave, we don’t have utopia, but we can’t even fathom living that.

The red, white, and blue twirls my daughter hung up this morning speak something deeper to me than national identity and the faces I miss in my homeland. I did nothing to earn the benefits my country gives me; but everything about there, makes it possible for me to serve the Lord here.

Today is business as usual in Central America, yet I can feel the picnics and starbursts in the stateside air. They shine in memories of the ones we love, deep gratitude for the liberty geography gave us, and reverent honor for the long fight of many to keep us free.

May we all use it well.

I think it will be a Happy 4th of July.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.  1Timothy 2:1-2 NLT


What’s your culture for Independence Day?

Passport Photo by Blake Guidry on Unsplash

Tipping Buckets

I went from zero to sixty in the time it took to realize that the internet was down. Again. From nurturing wife planning a trip to the grocery store, to snipping, snapping grumpiness.

The last 10 days were busy with blessings. A long brunch at a cozy café shared with other missionary ladies of the area. The end of homeschool year wrap up and our first official whack at standardized testing online. A mission team from our awesome home church serving alongside us at the children’s home. Five dinners for 31 prepared and shared. My heart-story laid out before new friends. Even a rare date night, courtesy of a kind team member’s willingness to watch our children.

In tandem with the high-octane push of hosting a group, we prayed (and are still praying) Matt through his installment of the coughing crud I spent two weeks kicking. The illness is legit if the man will actually drink hot honey lemon tea, y’all. The good Lord didn’t put him together with a natural appreciation for it. Our modem was fried by lightning strike for the second time in 3 weeks, and the technicians couldn’t drop by to fix it until 5 long days later. Workmen were scheduled to come make repairs on various parts of the house we rent. Like a winter snowstorm—you never know exactly when it will hit, how long it will last, or how bad it will be.

2016_01_12_0108 edit 2 cdocSo when the little spinny connection icon at the top of my phone screen went unglued for the third time in four weeks, so did I. These moments always catch me (and my beloved) off guard. I’m like the huge bucket at the water park that fills quietly over time and suddenly dumps unannounced with the force of a tidal wave. Okay, I didn’t break anything, say any bad words, or do anything more than be short and cross with Matt, then stomp off to regain my reason. Like the monumental splash, it passed quickly enough for me to ask forgiveness and “hug it right” before I grabbed my keys for the milk run.

What am I learning about myself in this life of serving in a different country and culture?  I like things to work the way they are supposed to. Sometimes it’s fun to play pioneer and improvise by catching rainwater from the downspout to flush toilets when city water is out of service. But every once in a while the rolls really do need to be baked when the power goes out. I miss the control of owning my nest and of telling workmen the way things should be done rather than being told what they are going to do and when they may invade my space to do it. I like to be good at things. When my Spanish heads off the fairway into the rough, I feel it like buzz of speaker feedback during a worship song.

I love the role that we have been given to serve the Lord here. We see him moving in ways great and small all the time. We feel him drawing us into closer surrender, showing us his infinite care, our infinite need. Child after child, team after team, the Lord changes lives at Hogar de Vida. Matt in leadership, myself in our kitchen, we really do fit like puzzle pieces crafted to complete the picture for this time and place. It’s an honor to be here, the loving hands of so many in the states supporting this work.

So why the deluge? How can I make holes in the bucket to release the weight of life’s cross cultural, ministerial idiosyncrasies? We are three and three-quarters of a year here. Shouldn’t I have this down by now?

No.

I really mean it. No.

Listen one more time, self that expected to fling her whole being into new language and culture like a baby duckling following momma-duck off of a bridge into a sunset pond.  And then realized that being momma-duck in this beautiful family meant most of my hours are spent serving behind my own front door.

No. You aren’t supposed to have it all figured out yet. Life doesn’t work like that.

2016_01_12_0105 edit cdocI have heard a repeated theme recently from anointed missionary friends, fully immersed in the culture, whose Spanish knocks my Gallo Pinto off:

After all the years, all the effort, I’m still different from the surrounding culture. I will always be different to them. Not unloved. Not without great impact. But yes, different. Still making mistakes and working through misunderstandings.

In this season, I, Kris, am not out in the culture much. Fail. My Spanish is passable but highly imperfect. Fail. My boys have little to no interest in learning another language. Fail.  After 2.5 years of honest effort to engage a great local Spanish church, we felt led to join an English-speaking congregation. Fail.

And yet, we have seen the Lord move endearingly in our children through this new church body. Win. We’ve made new friendships and laughed more than I can remember since we left language school. Win. I’ve conquered my fear of navigating my way around the country. Win. I surrendered my pride in doing homeschool completely myself and enrolled the two older E’s in an online program. They were challenged and learned all sorts of new skills.  Just as important, our relationship got a chance to blossom with someone else in charge of the class work.  The entire family enjoyed their first year. Total win.

Understanding that I don’t have to have it all down perfect is perhaps the greatest release valve I can open. Giving myself grace to do my best and leave the rest in the Lord’s hands engages the sprinkler to make a fountain.  All those expectations don’t belong in my bucket anyway. I need to give myself time and space to recharge, freedom to not know it all.  I need to remember that sometimes life is messy and the Internet stops working when you have exactly one day left to finish the Stanford 10 Math tests. It’s okay to not be okay. Everyone has a unique journey. My job is not to achieve perfection. My calling is to live with those stresses trickling over open hands, through fingers extended to receive what the Lord has in each moment. To be the blessing that only I am capable of being to those around me.

To be a watering can, rather than a tipping bucket.

 

2016_01_07_0031 edit cdocEven the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar. . . 

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
    it will become a place of refreshing springs.
    The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
 They will continue to grow stronger,
    and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

                   Psalm 84:3a, 5-7 NLT

Drinking Deep

When it comes to coffee drinking, I’m a lightweight.  Between a temperamental stomach and nerves that kickback 12 hours post-sip, it’s better that coffee and I enjoy each other in small installments.  Costa Rica produces some of the best liquid caffeine in the world, though.  So I feel obligated do my part and drink in the delicious culture.

At the local Chinese import store, I found some sweet little cups that are a great fit for my dainty joe capacity.  But filled with compassion for friends who come over for cafecito, I also bought an extra-grande mug—the kind you instinctively hold with two hands.

Seeing them hang side by side like David and Goliath makes me smile.  And gets me thinking.  For some things, small cups can be a blessing.  It’s good to have limits on what can turn from a blessing into a curse if taken in the wrong quantities.  Cheetos, for example.  Or television.  Perhaps shopping purchases.  Fill in your own blank.  Small cups can help us keep things in perspective.

But what size cup do I have offered up to the Lord?  I confess that sometimes in this busy season I feel full with a shot of devotion reading before classes, a squirt of bible time during lunch, and a measure of family prayers at bedtime.  Or maybe it’s just my day that feels full.  My heart definitely isn’t.  The schedule holds out a dainty espresso cup while my spirit sighs over the slosh in the bottom of the empty decanter.

And I’m reminded again that if I get everything done, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Flawless Spanish + Balanced Checkbook + Clean House – Love = 0.  I don’t know how to walk this out perfectly, but I’m going to keep trying.  I’m going to pay attention to my empty places and invite the Lord in to fill them.  I’m going to make space to be with Him and trust for His grace over the rest of the To Do List.

I stand before you, busted by my own sentences.  One of the fullest weeks yet has just drawn to a close.  We did all kinds of assignments, spent half a day in the bureaucratic jungle to get our Costa Rican driver’s licenses, and shared a bible story (with a minimum of 23 required grammar elements) in 20 minutes of Spanish for a language exam.  Lots of boxes successfully checked.  But even as I chatted about idiomatic phrases with the friendly faces on my language route, I knew I was running on empty.

2014-02-07 cups 004Thank goodness for the new mercy of this morning.  Praise God that He is a well that never runs dry.  I hold up my cup again, and He is ready to fill it.  When it comes to relationship with Jesus, I want the extra-grande.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.”  Isaiah 30: 15a

The Ultimate Culture Shock

This last Christmas I spent a lot of time thinking about the differences between Jesus’ life in heaven, and what he stepped down into, to be made flesh and live among us.  Let’s see, from being able to dive into the rainbow of glory and the embrace of the Father, to walking by faith and not sight.  From being a focal point of heaven’s adoration, to growing up a poor commoner of an oppressed nation.  From the fellowship of mighty beings calling out the holiness of God, to being jostled in dusty streets by those doubting His goodness.

That, my friends, is culture shock.

Learning life here in Costa Rica, I feel some of it, too.  After four months of “no way,” I honestly got emotional the other day in the grocery store.  I let myself use my fun money to buy a favorite treat: Swiss cheese at $8 a pound (in Nebraska, you pay $4).  I cried the first time we test drove a car for sale because I missed my “Ferrari”—our nice used minivan purchased with 90,000 miles on it.  When my dear mentor was dealing with a sore hip and couldn’t reach her toenails to cut them, it broke my heart.  The offer to stop by every week for a little pedicure was on the tip of my tongue, but nail clippers don’t work over the phone.  These are small things, I know.  But life in a new culture is full of them.  They pile up around you, and sooner or later you have to work through them if you are going to move forward.

We know that Jesus dealt with changes much greater and more profound. He gave up his face time with the father and all that he had, to walk out God’s calling.  He even did it without sinning.  What does that mean to us?  To me, it means that he is worthy to ask us to live in a new way to bring the Father glory.  When something is hard for us, Jesus understands.  We don’t have to hide the struggle. He’s ready and waiting for us to invite him into the furnace, and he has the power to help us walk through the flames.  Swiss cheese or no Swiss cheese.

Light of Dawn

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.  Hebrews 4:15-16

In all their suffering he also suffered,
    and he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
    He lifted them up and carried them
    through all the years.  Isaiah 63:9