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

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