Best of Times, Worst of Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  I haven’t read Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities since I cast away the polyester uniform skirt of high school, but I woke up this morning thinking about its famous opening line.  Because, my dear friends, this season of language school qualifies for both monikers.

Zarcero Town Square GardensIt’s the best of times.  We are making lifelong friendships with incredible people who are following Jesus’ call to the nations.  There’s an adventure waiting every time we step outside of our gate.  What new expression will we learn?  What breakthrough are we going to have in our ability to communicate?  What is the Lord going to do today with the offering we are lifting up?  The language and culture are opening up before us.  Day by day, we grow and learn to love it more.  There are small victories, like hanging a picture up on the wall to add warmth to your living space, finding great recipes for the unusual fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market, or having an intelligible chat with a Tico neighbor.  Then there’s the incredible love and support from people back in the states.  Phone calls and letters that are like physical embraces.  A monthly contribution statement testifying the sacrificial giving to this work that the Lord is doing through our family, like shouts of encouragement and blessing from across the miles.  This experience is humbling and amazing.

Step with CareIt’s the worst of times.  Language learning reduces doctors, teachers, and pastors alike into stuttering toddlers.  All those cute mistakes our kids made in English don’t feel as amusing when we utter them in Spanish for the 40th time as well-educated grown ups.  Tears spring up unlooked-for in classes from time to time.  And the term “culture shock” isn’t an exaggeration.  In their first week here, one family lost all their shoes set out 10 feet behind their wrought iron gate to someone’s ingenuity with a fish-hook and line.  One sweetheart in the preschool is still trying to hold back the tears each morning as she lets go of her parent’s hand.  We were regularly shorted change by taxi drivers until we thought to ask our teacher about the way things should work.  While we are making this our home, at times everything here can feel very foreign.  There are potholes to be avoided in our emotional adjustment that are just as real as those we step around on the sidewalk.  And sometimes, as hard as you try to walk carefully, you twist an ankle anyway and find yourself hobbling through the week.

Heliconia--Lobster Claw Flowers

As the hands and feet of a community of people investing into God’s heart for the nations, we need your prayers.  The increase of work involved with our 2nd trimester feels somewhat like a pressure cooker.  The opportunity to expand our fluency is exciting, but the hours of effort involved in pressing through the learning process can be heavy.   Several of us, our family included, are also still raising monthly support for this ministry that the Lord has called us to.  We would be honored if you would consider yourself invited to join with us in a financial way.  You can find our family’s giving information <here>.

It grieved my heart when our neighbors hacked their flowering bushes to the ground mid-bloom back in October.  But this girl from the prairie didn’t know then, that in a month, the plants would spring back up in better shape and bloom more abundantly.  As missionaries in language school, we are in a season of pruning.  We press on, looking forward to the flowers and fruit that The Vine has planned for our branches.

Where Feet May Fail

Spirit lead me
    where my trust is without borders.
Let me walk upon the waters,
    wherever you would call me.
Take me deeper
    than my feet could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger
    in the presence of my savior.  Hillsong United: Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

Humbling

When we left the prairie for the mission field, it felt a tiny bit glamorous.  People at church were excited for us.  The prayer ministry over us was steeped in God’s presence and promises.  Friends rallied to take care of our house (and the stuff left in it) before, during, and after the selling process.  There were beautiful heart-to-heart moments, touching gifts, encouraging words, and a crowd of our favorite faces waving farewell as we shucked our shoes for the security check in.  It made us feel pretty special.

However, the warm, fuzzy glow faded the moment we realized we had forgotten all 5 of our valuable-crammed backpacks on a bench outside of the San Jose airport.  That miraculous story was the first installment in a season of being humbled.  From a two car, comfortable income, “can do pretty much anything we need to and a good deal of what we’d like to” family, we have begun learning to do life again, from scratch.

Getting places, for example.  Being directionally challenged is tough here where streets are mostly unmarked and lined with wall-to-wall buildings.  I rely on Matt everywhere outside of our immediate neighborhood.  At this point, I could not get as far as Walmart by myself.  Some people might consider that a blessing.   I find myself nostalgic over coupons, familiar roads, and my own minivan trunk.

And let’s just confess up front that we may be conjugating 9 verb tenses in grammar class, but we really did sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” the other day in language practice.  Cabeza, Hombros, Rodillas, y Dedos in double-time is a whole new ballgame.  The substitute teacher made us do the hand motions. Then she kept changing the body parts to complete the syllabic slaughter.  When Kindermusik can take you down, you know you have a ways to go.  Learning a new language is an ongoing opportunity to lay down your pride and let yourself look foolish.  It’s times like this that I repeat the wisdom of another dear missionary, “I am not an idiot in my own language.”

Finances are new ground, too.  We are in the process of raising monthly support for our ministry here.  This means hours of phone calls each week to connect with people and invitations to join our journey.  Hours of asking for help with this work that the Lord has given us to do.  God has always provided our income, but things felt different when there was a salary-paying PT career on the books.  Employers write checks according to wage charts.  Missionaries depend on the leading of the Spirit in people’s hearts.

This sacrifice on the altar has a name: My Independence.  We are saying like John the Baptist, “He must increase, we must decrease.”  It isn’t that we are becoming super spiritual down here in the tropical humidity.  We are just more aware from this position how much we need Him, and how much we need each of you.

And speaking of you all, homesickness is sneaky.  It can catch me unaware between present and past tenses.  One moment I’m conjugating a verb in class, and the next I’m wrapped in a memory that pulls my heart back to the place we still call “home.”  Love has no problem crossing latitude and longitude.  We, however, miss real hugs, face to face conversations, and being a part of your lives in a geographical way.

Sometimes we feel as out of place as cows on a Nicaraguan beach.  But apparently, that's not as unusual as it sounds.

Sometimes we feel as out-of-place as cows on a Nicaraguan beach. But apparently, that’s not as unusual as it sounds.

Like David, we are dancing before the Lord.  The rhythm is new and our steps can seem undignified. But graceful or otherwise, we know that He loves us.  So we let go of our pride again, we release our independence, and take a new hold of His plan to use our family to serve the nations.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.  Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:6-7