The wires or the wonder?

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Costa Rica is – undeniably – a beautiful country!

When we share with individuals and churches in the US about our calling to serve here, we often encounter what I call the “Groupon Getaway Effect.” When people think of Costa Rica they think of beaches, volcanoes, and rainforests. They don’t think about the scourge of human trafficking or the challenges of deep poverty. They don’t know about the many bivocational pastors working hard to plant and grow healthy churches. They don’t see the strategic ministry opportunities to impact the entire Latin world from this small, stable nation.

cr-beautyThe problem with the “Groupon Getaway Effect” is that it misses the whole picture. Yes, Costa Rica is very beautiful! Those Groupon Getaways are worth it. You should come visit!

But there is also much more to this country. When we welcome visitors, we delight in meals with pastor friends as much as we enjoy the photos with toucans. We want them to visit kids programs in the slums just as much as we want them to see beautiful beaches and volcanos.

balcony-viewI’ve also discovered that the effect works in reverse. You can focus only on the obstructions and the challenges, without seeing the beauty.

For many years, I’ve enjoyed photography and one of the most frustrating things about trying to take photos here is the ubiquitous wires. As I write this, I look out my window and can see nine separate utility wires

Each morning, I drink my coffee looking out at the mountains of Tres Rios, east of San José. bird-on-a-wireBeautiful birds perch on those wires.

And yet, more than once, I’ve found myself frustrated by the wires without seeing the beauty. Ironically, the more beautiful the scene – bright clear day, beautiful crimson sunset – the easier it is to be frustrated.

And therein lies the lesson for believers. No matter where we live, every day we have a choice. We encounter beauty and blessings. Even in the darkest seasons, when the difficult things are in the foreground, God is at work.

And the question for each of us, every day, is – what will you focus on? The wires, or the wonder?

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Benny has the wonder thing down!

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Celebrating in a foreign land!

 

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Kids’ birthdays in 2015 – their first in Costa Rica

It started when we’d only lived in Costa Rica for 13 days. Our family took a bus downtown. We found a taxi and managed the Spanish to get to the Children’s Museum. When we arrived, we made out the word “luz” (light) and eventually understood the museum was closed because of a power outage. We ended up in San José’s equivalent of Central Park, followed by a lunch together to celebrate Maddy’s birthday on our final day before starting the one year journey of language school.

Earlier this week, we celebrated Melanie’s birthday completing two birthday celebrations in Costa Rica for each member of our family. That’s one-third of Sam’s birthdays, a half of Maddy’s, and all of Ben’s, celebrated here in our new home.

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2016 celebrations!

Like that first celebration, each has included tastes of the great and the difficult parts of living in Costa Rica. Some have included exciting visits from grandparents. Some have included trips to the beach or to visit a volcano. Parties have included celebrations with new friends. Birthday wishes have come from all over the world – in two languages – from a dizzying array of sources: Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, texts, emails, and phone calls. We have felt loved.

And yet, we’ve also felt alone. Those trips have been reminders to our kids that this country isn’t their homeland. Those visits from grandparents are reminders we live far apart. Some of those new friends have already left to serve in other countries and those well wishes in Spanish are a reminder that we’re on a long journey to feel fully at home here.

And so we live holding those two realities in tension. We love our new home, we rejoice in the new experiences and new friends, and we are thankful for the love of the many people who make it possible for us to serve here. But, we also miss our family and friends in the US and Australia, at times we long for the comfort of “home,” and sometimes it’s hard not to focus on what’s been left behind.

The Bible regularly uses the language of the foreigner to describe the relationship between those who trust in Jesus and this world. In Revelation 21, the Apostle John offers a beautiful picture of heaven as a place where God himself will wipe away the tears of His people. Death, mourning, crying, and pain are no more. The “old order” will have passed away.

And that is our life, celebrating in a foreign land. There is some pain. Sometimes there are tears. But we know that the “old order” will pass away.

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Los Sábados

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Soccer Uniforms!

Saturdays are nice days. It’s taken a while, but we’ve gotten into new routines and developed new family traditions (although this time of year I do miss our old traditions of apple picking and pumpkin patches!)

One of the (many) great things about living in Costa Rica is that each little neighborhood offers free soccer classes. Basically the local parks & rec department. Sam & Madeleine faithfully go every Saturday, and they love it. They have a great time playing fútbol and making new friends. We enjoy cheering them on, chatting with other parents and watching Benjamin kick a ball against the fence and cheer on the players (wishing he was old enough to join his siblings!)

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Playing Hard

Soccer class is right next to our local feria (farmers market). After class we load up on fresh fruits and veggies (fresh produce is one of the few things which is really cheap here in Costa Rica–and delicious).

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The Market

After the market the afternoons vary, sometimes the kids help Peter wash the car (an essential cultural practice here!), sometimes we visit ministry partners or meet up with friends, but we always finish Saturdays with family game night. We each select a board game, eat a dinner of heavy snacks (with lots of freshly purchased fruits and veggies), and play games together. We take turns cheering each other on and enjoying time together.

Saturdays are a sweet gift of grace to our family and we cherish them.

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Just a little update

IMG_7341We haven’t blogged in a while! Unfortunately for me (Melanie), the guilt gets to me and I postpone blogging even longer.  I especially feel guilty because I worry (unhealthily and sinfully so) that our supporters (prayer and financial) will feel neglected. Maybe they’ll feel  as though they aren’t important to us…

Of course this isn’t true. We pray for them daily, we talk about them in our home by name, we tell our kids that it’s because of the Body of Christ that we are here.

So what exactly have we been doing in the past few months?

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Peter opening the first day of Spiritual Emphasis Week in Spanish

We are continuing with our language studies and are just two months from graduation! Each day we spend about five hours at the language school, and then have homework and studying for the remainder of the day.  

We are really grateful for the progress we’ve made so far in Spanish. A week ago, I was able to give a brief (if imperfect!) speech in Spanish at an appreciation luncheon for our children’s teachers. Peter is continuing his role as student chaplain which has included several bilingual chapel services and a daily bilingual worship time for our “Spiritual Emphasis Week.”

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Melanie, Ben, and Maddy leaving school after classes

The kids are attending the elementary and preschool attached to the language school. It is going really well. They are becoming more confident in their Spanish abilities daily and we continue to be amazed at how quickly they pick things up. Although, it does mean I need to work with Sam a few hours each day to keep him at grade level in English. I’m pretty sure they love having two days of school each day: one day in Spanish at the language school then one day with me in English! We are also exploring and praying through schooling options when we complete language school.

We moved! This is a huge praise. We have been blessed with a lovely home (at significantly below market value) that will be a great base for our ministry here. The kids are most excited that they now have windows in their room! Our old apartment did not have any windows in the kids room. (Peter and I don’t have windows, but we don’t care as much) We’ve spent time getting to know our neighbors and neighborhood. We took cookies to our neighbors at Christmas time, and have been hanging out at the playgrounds to meet some friends.

Speaking of parks, we made our first trip to the ER when Benjamin walked behind a swing. The swings are wood and metal here, so he got whacked just above the eye and required stitches.

Now that our Spanish is improving, we are beginning to make friends here. We have enjoyed hosting friends for meals and playdates. We are so blessed to have a home that allows us to host people easily. We continue to plug into our local church, something that continues to get easier as our language skills improve.

Peter is now transitioning into his full-time role as City Team Leader of the San José Team. He’ll formally start that role on March 15. I am continuing to explore how best to use my gifting and experiences to minister once we finish language school.

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Family pic at the “family day” Valentine’s Day celebration

We are thankful for the many, many supporters who have been praying for us faithfully throughout this journey. We thank God for you every day!

 

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Six Things I’ve learned (and love) about Costa Rica in 6 months

Today is a milestone for our family: we have lived in Costa Rica for six (6!) months.

Celebrating 6 months in Costa Rica.

Celebrating 6 months in Costa Rica.

The overwhelming feeling of this time is gratitude. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve here. Living in another culture has taught me even more about the richness of God. This is the God who made every tribe and tongue.

As I live here, I simultaneously appreciate the beauty of Costa Rican culture more each day and long to feel more “at home” here. It is a constant reminder that my “home” is in heaven not in any country.

So, here are six things I’ve learned in our first six months:

  1. Children are awesome. This is a culture that celebrates children (quite literally – on September 9, Costa Ricans celebrate the Dia Del Niño). Everyone (and I mean everyone teenagers, senior citizens, our teachers, other parents) stops to say hello and coo at our children. It is really a remarkable experience, and I love it!
  2. Much like a fine wine, the Spanish language is complicated and beautiful.
  3. Not every country has, needs, or wants a military. (No military here in Costa Rica – an odd thing to this army brat)
  4. Pura Vida (pure life) is a great phrase! It can be a salutation, a response to the question “ how are you,” and a general phrase for “it’s okay/no worries.” ¡Pura vida, pura vida!
  5. Hair gel is fantastic. I know it’s a common product in the US, but I never used it. In this humid climate, it has changed our life – and my daughters hair – forever! She now has sleek perfect pigtails and braids.
  6. Dulce de Leche is amazing and delicious. Seriously. Get it. Eat it and love it. It is great slathered on pancakes, stuffed inside churros, in cake, as an ice cream flavor, as a coffee flavor,  spread on a croissant…. I could go on. and on. and on.

As I look back on my first six months in Costa Rica I feel incredibly blessed by the opportunity to live here. Costa Ricans have been warm, welcoming and incredibly patient with my Spanish.

I joyfully look forward to making more friends, learning more about this wonderful country, and understanding how to love its people well. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy to minister in this country and thankful for the partnership of many of you on this journey.

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An unpleasant experience and an opportunity

Today is Father’s Day in Australia. And it was this time a year ago that my family encountered a closed minded neighbor who verbally abused us while we were on a walk with a new born Benny.

However, in the words of Joseph in Genesis 50, what man meant for evil, God meant for good. The experience resulted in my oped being published in the Washington Post, urging our families and society in general to invest in equipping and supporting good dads.

Today, as I reflect on the many ways God has blessed me through my Dad, I am thankful for last year’s sad experience because it allowed me to share my heart to challenge and equip dads.

My parenting style is a learned behavior. Research shows that role models and social networks are critical to increasing the success of dads. Dads need to talk to other men about the struggles and triumphs of fatherhood. We need to take other men along with us when we’re spending time with junior. They need to see the spit up, diaper changes and tantrums, before they experience them in their own children.

Read the whole thing here.

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First day!

First day 2015Today Sam had his first day of kindergarten!

In some ways, it was not unlike the same day a year ago. He posed for We tried to get him to pose for a photo, we did special breakfast and after school celebration, we even took him to a school where Spanish was the primary language spoken and taught.

DSC_0071But in many ways it was different. We were in our new home. It was also a big day for his sister – her first day of PreK-3. All five of us were getting ready for first days back at school!

A year ago, when we thought about Sam’s first day of kindergarten, we thought about the things we would be losing by moving him to Costa Rica. Today, it’s hard to think about anything except the blessings of our family, our new home, and this great journey we’re on together.

Here are some more pictures of the special day”

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First day designs – dinosaur sandwich for Sam, butterfly sandwich for Madeleine, and first-day-of-kindergarten “cake” by the kids

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Outtakes!

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Maddy takes the first day of school SERIOUSLY!


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