Saturday, June 27, 2020

Costa Rica and The Broken Body

I couldn't let today pass without writing one more reflection on my trip to Costa Rica two years ago because I was supposed to be making the same trip again this week.  Today we would have been flying home, so I am thinking about our return last time.
We loved our customs photos.
My son looks like Clark Kent
about to change into Superman.

When we bought our tickets, we scheduled an early afternoon departure so that we would not have to wake up pre-sunrise as some of the other teams did.  There were a few problems with our plan.  First, we were literally the last team to leave the seminary.  Also, the bus drivers did not want to hang around, so we left a little early and spent several hours waiting at the airport. It turns out we were tired from our week even though we didn't have to wake up as early as some others.  The other major problem was that we arrived back in the States after midnight, and that made for a long day.

For most of my life I have struggled with severe motion sickness.  It is a frequent problem, but I know how to manage it most of the time.  This time, however, I made the bad decision of taking the maximum recommended dosage of my motion sickness medicine.  My body became so sluggish, that I only vaguely remember falling asleep on the plane.  When we finally landed, it was so difficult to walk off the plane, collect my luggage, go through customs, and then find my husband at the curb.  I remember him asking, "Couldn't you hear me calling your name?"

I felt a little like the disciples when we read about Jesus' encounter with them in the garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:41 or Mark 14:38).  He had asked them to pray for Him, but He finds them sleeping instead.  He warns His disciples that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  I was certainly willing to go home with my husband, I even wanted to go home with my husband, but the quality of my body and the decisions I had made left me weak.

I wonder if we, as the flesh of Christ (the body, if you prefer), are like I was returning from Costa Rica in 2018.  We are tired.  We have made some bad decisions.  We are eager to go with God, but we can't hear Him calling our name.  Like the disciples, we must keep watching and praying because even though the flesh is weak, the Spirit is still willing.

Friday, June 26, 2020

FMF: Compromise

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.  Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
Genesis 13:8-9

Abram and Lot had set out on a journey together.  They had followed God together.  They had worked together.  They had prospered together.  In Genesis 13 we read that that their fortunes had grown so big the land could not support their livestock.  In Genesis 14 we read that Abram had 318 trained men.  That's quite a staff.

At first it appears that Abram and Lot let go of their relationship to seek wealth.  They already had plenty between them.  They could have cut back a little and continued to live together.

Instead they reached a compromise: you go one way, I will go the other.

In fact, Abram loved his nephew so much that he let Lot chose which way he would go, and Lot chose the way that looked like it held a more prosperous future.  Abram loved his nephew enough to let physical space come between them so they and their households could live in unity.  Sometimes unity means being separate.

Is that the best situation?  It may not be ideal, but it is better than the alternative of living disagreeably together.  I suppose that is the essence of a compromise, it is never what you would have dreamed of, but it could be worse.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Monday, June 22, 2020

Costa Rica and The PB&J

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like food.  I like trying new recipes.  I like eating where locals eat.  I like to make food that makes people happy.

I also like the bond that sharing food creates.  I often find myself asking my husband, "Do you remember that __ we ate in __?"  Fill in the blank: pretzel/Texas, corndog/Arizona, hotdog/Kansas City.

Six years of Spanish classes were not wasted:
I ordered this pupusa entirely in Spanish
on our layover in El Salvador.

I like what I learn about culture through food.  In Boston, I ate at the restaurant that created Boston Cream Pie.  In Colorado, we tried rocky mountain oysters.  On the way to Costa Rica, our flight had a very brief stop in El Salvador.  Between the two terminals I saw a pupuseria and couldn't let the opportunity pass me by to have an authentic pupusa. In Costa Rica, we discovered that coffee is sold with sugar already added and they have a very unique method for making drip coffee. Viva el cafecito!

One Costa Rica food memory that is universally groaned at is our daily sack lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a packaged snack.  The first day we discovered that there is an art to making a PB&J.  There is a certain peanut butter to jelly ratio that should be observed, and, of course, there are flavors of jelly that some prefer over others. By day two we realized that we would be eating this same meal every day and food swapping began - my sandwich for yours, this cookie for that one.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for the food and for the people who prepared it.  I don't want to imagine making several hundred PB&J sandwiches everyday.  That was their contribution to our mission work. I hate to admit that it was on day two or three that all excitement for our lunches had passed.  Team members were foregoing parts of their lunches, and some chose not to eat lunch entirely.  A pile of leftover food began to accumulate at our work site.

The next day when we returned to our work site, I was surprised to see all of our food was gone.  We soon discovered that Pastor Sergio, the pastor of the church we were volunteering at, had taken all of the food we deemed inedible and distributed it to his community.  I was simultaneously rejoicing that he put our leftovers to good use and mourning that we were so full while others were hungry. It's hard to think about a neighborhood that would appreciate food we reject.  It's hard to think about rejecting food others are so appreciative of.

I can't deny the intrinsic value of food.  Everyone should have the right to eat, but this is not always the case.  Both political and personal decisions create food scarcity.  Jesus so highly valued food that it is one of the six criteria by which God separates the "sheep and goats."  That is, He will distinguish those who belong to him from those who don't by the way we respond to these six areas: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting in the stranger, clothing the naked, helping the sick, and visiting prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).

If my faith were to be judged solely in these six areas... Lord, help me; I have failed miserably.

I'm sad to not be in Costa Rica right now.  However, if I am honest with myself, I recognize that there is no shortage of work I can do in my own community. I probably won't take a PB&J to my neighbor, but I can look for other ways to feed, slake, invite, clothe, help, and visit those in need.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Costa Rica and Morning Worship

When we traveled to Costa Rica in 2018, one of the things I loved most is also found at Christian

retreats, conferences, and summer camps: daily morning worship.
A clown in worship...
you don't see that everyday.

Since my first summer camp experience, I have loved corporate worship. I had grown up in church, but I have never known worship like that before. To this day I love seeing people lift their voices and hands in praise to God. I love seeing how God speaks when we are willing to listen. I love seeing differences dissipate, sometimes even our spoken language, as we focus on God. Yet in my personal life I struggle to develop the same daily habit.

If we model our faith life on scripture, there is no denying that God wants a daily relationship with us. Over the two decades we have been married, my husband has often worked night shifts. In our early years, we were like ships passing in the night; I'd come home from work and he'd hand me our son so that he could leave for work. If I worked late, he'd leave our son with his mother, and we wouldn't even see each other. Our relationship suffered, and still suffers, when we don't have time together every day, even if only for a few minutes.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He asked that God would "give us today daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). When the Israelites wandered through the desert, God literally gave them daily bread called manna. It was no good the next morning, "it was full of maggots and began to smell" (Exodus 16:20). Moses was angry with those who didn't trust him, or, more accurately, didn't trust God.  Maggots and stench revealed the hearts of the Israelites who lacked faith; when we lack faith, it's not quite as obvious. Too often I think the faith I had yesterday will be sufficient for today, but it never is.

In Proverbs 30:8, Agur prayed that God would not give him poverty, and not give him riches - ever prayed that before? - but only his daily bread.  In Job 22, as he defended his faith to Eliphaz, Job says that that he has valued God's words more than his daily bread. In Acts 2, we read about the Holy Spirit coming to believers.  The crowds did not understand and made fun of them. Peter defends the believers' actions, and he uses the opportunity to teach many about Christ.  

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:46-47)

They met together every day.  Every day.

The power of "every day" is not in checking something off your to do list.  I love to do lists; they show what I have accomplished.  I can get a lot done when I make a list. No, "every day" is not about what I have done.  It is about God.

The first few chapters of Leviticus outline the offerings that should be presented to God, but in Leviticus 9:24 we read that the fire that burned the offering came from God.  Not even our offerings are acceptable without God's help.

The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.
(Leviticus 6:12-13)

Even though the priest added to the fire every morning, the fire burned continuously.  The same is true with our faith.  Daily prayer, worship, and Bible study are only opportunities to add to the flame that God has placed in our hearts. As believers, we must tend the fire of our faith.  It must not go out.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Costa Rica and the Ministry of Availability

I can't stop thinking about it.  I am supposed to be in Costa Rica.

We cleared our schedules, told friends and family members, and saved and fundraised for months.  I traveled to Costa Rica for the first time two years ago with my older son, and I was looking forward to my younger son joining us this year.  I've shared before about the team of forty local students and their families that I traveled with to Costa Rica in 2018.  From across the United States, teams came together to serve God in a beautiful land.
Here we are gathered for morning worship before one of our work days in Costa Rica.

As we prepared for that event, our plans changed regularly.  From week to week we wondered what we would actually be doing in Costa Rica.  Part of the frustration was a difference in culture; things are done differently in Costa Rica than they are done in the United States, and that's ok.  However, it created a time of uncertainty leading up to the trip. Our team lead, a local pastor, encouraged us to adopt a ministry of availability.  We should be open to serve however we are asked, and God will do His work through our willing hands.  That spirit worked well in Costa Rica, and at our local church we've returned over and over to that idea in the last two years.  Even this week I found myself telling a new neighbor that if he ever needed a volunteer force for his business, our church would love to partner with him.  We don't necessarily have skills specific to his company, but we have a God who equips us for doing good.

Just like the trip to Costa Rica that was supposed to begin today, many of us have seen our plans crumble over the last few months.  Events, trips, and celebrations have been postponed indefinitely or cancelled. I long for things I previously took for granted.  In that loss, I lose sight of the opportunities to serve God that are right in front of me.  I do not keep myself open to the ministry of availability.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
(Isaiah 6:8)

The words of the prophet Isaiah are a good place to start the ministry of availability. God is always asking who is available. I don't believe He asks because He does not know. God asked Isaiah to give him an opportunity to respond, and God asks us the same question for that same reason.

Our response ought to be the same as Isaiah's: Send me.  Sometimes God sends us to Costa Rica, but sometimes He sends us to the corner with a bagged lunch for a homeless person.  Sometimes we stay up all night to travel around the world, but sometimes we stay up all night to pray for those in need.  Sometimes we spend our vacation time to visit foreign lands, but sometimes we use our Saturday to visit a friend.  Sometimes we spend money, and sometimes we spend time.  This is the heart of the ministry of availability.