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

How to See a Miracle

My car sputtered dead on the way to my first day at a new job—the kind you wear a suit to. A few years out of college, I hadn’t yet graduated from all my bad habits. I had run out of gas. Again.

My faith-walk was still in the fruit snacks stage, somewhere between craving spiritual milk and meat; I prayed hard. Being late on the first day would make an awful impression. Dear Father, please help.

The car died as I turned onto the access road, but I was able to coast down the hill, directly into the pumping station. A credit card swipe, a fast pour into the tank, the three-click-twist of the gas cap, and I was back on my way. A desperate prayer had been answered. It was a miracle.

olga-filonenko-29178-unsplashThere at that workplace I first heard it, a coworker’s flippant, “God has more important things to do than help me find my keys.”

The sentiment surprised me. Since when was the Lord too big to care about small concerns?  At what point did Holy hinder personal?

David was my biblical inspiration. From shepherd boy to mighty king, through exile, foolish rage, base sin, and rebellion, he poured out his everything to God in the Psalms. It was raw and messy. It worked.

David grew in faith and the Lord moved in miracles.

But sparing God our everyday troubles? When did we fill out the ballot to determine acceptable versus unacceptable prayers? When did the Lord ask us to? Why do we so desire to seem to have it all together? The man after God’s own heart danced undignified before the world.

I still hear it these days, even from people devoted to him, “The Lord doesn’t do miracles like that anymore.”

Perhaps the issue isn’t what God is doing, but rather the filters of our perspective: when we invite him in to move as he chooses, versus when we hedge him into the box of what we can understand. If Pharaoh hardened his heart against the miraculous hopping, flying, and crawling through his palace, I’m sure we can miss the boat, too. It’s a sobering thought.

The trouble comes when we decide anything is too small or too big for God.

Miracles are not the point, though. Refining me to become more like him is. How do we focus our vision to see the reality of God’s work in our lives, so that we can know him better? So that he can use us more?

“And [Jesus] said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Spoiler alert: The kingdom of heaven is where all the good stuff happens.

quino-al-111952-unsplashAs Mark Batterson* of The Circle Maker explains: Everyone wants to see a miracle, but no one wants to be in the childlike-faith place of needing one. Yet the latter has to precede the former.  You can’t have one without the other.

The miraculous, then, is just the Lord moving supernaturally in the lives of the ones he loves. The ones who approach him like a child.

Jesus was not bothered by the children coming to him. He encouraged it. So here’s the way I see it: Don’t be ashamed to take your childishness, your prayers to find your keys, your neediness, your unschooled heart to Jesus. He takes you into his arms and blesses you. That is kingdom living. That’s where miracles begin.

My job has changed in the years since that fuel stop.  I’ve grown in wisdom, if not stature; I never let my tank go empty anymore.  But I am still my Abba-Father’s girl. I have seen the Lord move mountains–Real ones, big and small. The links below tell some of the stories. He did it because I admitted how very much I needed him, how out-of-gas-desperate I was for his help.  I know I will always need his power working in my life.

This weekend I lost my wedding ring somewhere on the 8-acre campus of the children’s home, hauling branches and wheelbarrows full of overripe mangoes. Work gloves going on and off took more than sweat off my hands. I had zero hope of finding it. The loss was physically painful: we celebrate 20 years of marriage this fall. Even worse was the time we would spend searching when already exhausted. Praying, surrendering, and crying like a little girl, I put my hands in my pockets on the way out to the car.

It was there.

Right there in my pocket, then in my hand, and astonishingly back on my finger, as if nothing miraculous had happened.

But it had.

sweet-ice-cream-photography-408541-unsplashHaving lost at least a hundred tubes of lip balm over the course of my life, I know nothing is safe in pockets, at least in my pockets. I use them with extreme caution. There are all of 3 places on this earth I trust to hold my wedding ring. Not one of them is a pocket.

This was not forgetfulness. This was a sweet fatherly kiss from a miraculous God.

I’m never going to have it all together. How much fun would that be anyway? I’d rather open my heart and my eyes, my need and my prayers, to see miracles.

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Share your miracle stories below and check out some of mine:

On We Drive

The Backpack Story

Angel Knees

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*You can read more about Mark Batterson’s thoughts on God’s miracles today <here>. 

Larkspur Photo by Olga Filonenko, Beach Sunrise Photo by Quino Al, & Ring Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash