I got back from Costa Rica last Sunday…. again. When our student pastor said our church was going to take a mission trip this year with high schoolers– before I could think I heard myself say, “Can I go?”. Which after a bit of reflecting, I was pretty proud of myself for. After we lived there for a month- that felt like a year… all 6 of us in a hotel …not really speaking Spanish, I said I would be very happy never leaving America..more specifically the southeast -again. But two weeks ago 19 high schoolers and two adult leaders and I boarded a Delta plane to that same airport we left, fairly ironically three years ago to the week that we left the first time.
It takes a lot for me to leave home…especially now. This time I took the most helpful kid with me :). But I knew this trip was something I needed to do. It’s strange when you have those moments of clarity. The week before we left, I lost my passport (I found it) and considered just saying I wasn’t going because I felt the pressure of work and home and kids.
I wondered if I would get off the plane and start crying and not stop the whole week. I was with a bunch of cool kid teenagers so I had my friends praying that I would keep it together. Yet, as we stepped off the plane this time -that land of everything unfamiliar three years ago-looked like a tall glass of water on a hot day.
The work we did was some of the most precious I’ve done in 41 years of serving people. We slid into a preexisting ministry called Roblealto that has been around for 85 years helping the poor. The partner church that loved us so well while we were there getting the boys works with them as their local outreach in the community and has groups all summer that come and serve for a week-painting, working along side the teachers who love and serve families that fit into the category of making “less than $400 a month” and who commit to the programs they provide. Our students killed it. Paige came on this trip too-and I loved seeing things from her eyes. I met new friends, got closer to old ones, learned I snore and saw that teenagers are not weird, but they are wonderful (ok they are weird too…but in a wonderful way).
This might sound odd: but as my summer lined up I started to feel very weary. I was more than tired. I was soul tired. I had a hard time making decisions which for me is a key warning sign that something needs attention. But fairly quickly I saw that this summer was going to be full of special things. Vacation –and a little longer than normal. This mission trip, a week at the lake, and on top of that -our church is doing something different and taking off two Sundays in a row over that tricky July 4th window and closing the office too.
About two months ago in a week’s time span I met with my counselor, my prayer mentor friend, my friend who is also a counselor (not to be confused with the two previous friends) and a few of my friends in ministry and each of them mentioned the concept of “sabbath” almost without much prompting. I have realized that when this happens I need to listen. So by that hot Friday morning when I was walking my puppy around my in-laws neighborhood with Angel I had it figured out. I was going to take each of these gifts this summer as a chance to pull away and find deep soul rest.
At the start of the summer it took me 7 days on our vacation to Fort Walton to key down. How weird is that?! I was unsettled and almost agitated until day 7… and then I rested. Even now–I am kicking myself at the irony of that. God mentions “sabbath” in the early account of creation in Genesis. He worked hard creating all things in 6 days and then on the 7th He rested. Not that God was tired, but it set up a rhythm for his people and one that He knew we needed even Him to observe because its just that hard. I am just as guilty as the rest for going and going and going…even if I try to rest– 4 kids and a full time ministry job rarely equals rest.
(May Forth Walton Beach Family Trip)
Its hard to imagine that a mission trip with 19 teenagers could be restful. But this trip was exactly what I needed. First, we stayed in a very nice place. The Costa Rican people are incredibly hospitable. The church wanted us to have a place to lay our heads at night that felt easy and warm and gave us a home. And our accommodations were more than that. Secondly, we were on central time–so I naturally woke up 2 hours earlier than necessary. I made it my routine to grab a cup of coffee and sit by the mountains as the sun greeted the day and pray and read. But lastly, God simply did a work. And I will try my best to explain it because I don’t want to forget.
You see: when we came to San Jose three years earlier it was like inflicting a purposeful wound to our family. I know that sounds harsh. But you don’t enter in to an older child international adoption with two boys who have been removed from their birth parents gracefully. This was not the movie Annie. There’s nothing really graceful about it. It was hard. Ugly. Painful for them…and us. The first day of our mission trip with the students we were driving around the city and I thought to myself, “who in the world did I think I was adopting two older boys from a foreign country?!?!”. It’s crazy really. I still can’t believe we did it.
(June 18, 2013 Gotcha Day)
But two weeks ago I once again held hands with children from hard places with scars no child should have. I saw teachers help them eat every meal away from home, because there were no meals at home, brush their teeth and get their pjs on in the late afternoon because their parents couldn’t. These kids are beautiful. Chosen. Cherished. We all fell in love with them individually and corporately.
We rubbed their backs at nap time while Hosanna played (strangely loud) and they drifted off safely to sleep for nap time at school. We taught them through a few words and a lot of hand motions and crafts that God loves them, God gave them Jesus, they can believe and receive this love and gift. I didn’t cry nonstop the whole week but I did see teenagers think outside of themselves, care for the broken, paint like champions (well… with hearts of champions) and act like Jesus would if He was here…because in some way, when God’s people serve sacrificially He is right there.
On Wednesday we traveled WAY up a mountain to the children’s full time shelter that Roblealto runs. It is a beautiful place, but I lost it terribly. The director started talking about the kids, their families, and why they were living at this shelter rather than their homes. She showed us those little beds that reminded me of the shelter where the boys lived for two years. The director talked about how they are working with the families to learn how to be good parents and how they come to visit every weekend. She talked about how Costa Rica doesn’t remove children from their birth parents if the child is under 6 years old-unless it is a very VERY bad situation. She talked about how kids come to this shelter on so many medications–and really what they need is love, structure and consistency.
I ugly cried…the kind where I look like a frog when I’m done and my eyes are still swollen the next morning. I cried because my boys, if they were at this place, would not have had parents who came to visit–and would eventually would have been removed from this place to a government run shelter. I cried because they were 4 and 6 when they last saw their mom…and who knows when they last saw their dad-which according to Costa Rica–means it was far worse than the paperwork made it sound. I cried because Dominic was on a whole host of psychiatric medications…. and now he’s on none. I cried because we entered into the most unnatural of situations… and have questioned hearing God and have had our little family ripped open–only to see them rally and have their hearts grow and love even more. I cried because adoption is tiring and many many days, you put actions of love before feelings of love and that is just soul tiring. Leaking tears all over the place. Yet it was a healing cry not a breaking one like it was before.
We traveled to the beach -Puenta Leona–the exact same beach we stayed at for 10 days while we waited for paperwork to get finalized. I remembered leaving the last time and a new hotel was being built–and I thought, “next time we are here it will be done” only to think– “there’s probably not going to be a next time”. Yet there we were– driving by… and it was finished. We went to Playa Blanca and I walked down the beach and saw “our spot” where we sat among all of that beauty with Dominic in a time out circle drawing hearts in the sand and girls holding hands in the surf and Justin walking carefully in the sand. Our tree–where we hung our towels– was there. The lady who we bought Dominic’s wooden toucan from –was still there. All of it-was just as we left it. Yet I was so very different.
You see that wound was a part of God’s plan for us. Adding children is always a blessing, but this way was a very difficult way to do it. Yet, it was wide open and like wounds do-it was raw, painful, tender, open, and deep. It needed time, healing, covering, hovering around it….and now there I was walking down that beach, so very familiar to me, collecting stones smoothed by the waves and I realized– we did it. I’m still not sure who I think I was–but it dawned on me–that a life fully surrendered to the Lord will look crazy at times. It will be risky at times. And yes, it all was a wound, but we have healed with a beautiful scar. And we can run with that scar knowing that, although we have debt to pay off still… we have a beautiful full colorful family with a story of God’s redemption and mercy and sustaining grace.
One of my biggest concerns three years ago was that this was going to break Chloe. She is our most tender child. So caring, and peacemaking. She loves us visibly, tenderly and vocally. The boys and their learning of discipline and the grieving that looked more like defiance was way more than her tender heart had seen and maybe should have ever seen. It was probably one week into the boys being with us at our hotel when I woke up from a dead sleep and I was crying…and told Matt to bring me Chloe who was fast asleep and I held her, as I sobbed, wondering what story she would tell and if her family that she held so dear was gone….and we did it on purpose.
I got home from our mission trip-heart full and contented with hope for the kids we met. Full of renewed love for the Costa Rican culture and hospitality. I was so ready and thankful to have heard God’s voice and have my own little Costa Ricans waiting for me in their very own beds with big stories to tell. And very ready to sleep in my own bed.
Part of our family cadence is that after dinner we often retreat to our upstairs porch, light candles and chat about the day. Apparently, while I was gone, Chloe took my spot with Matt in this routine. Sunday night after dinner and baths, I found her outside on the porch by herself. Matt was tired after 7 days of solo parenting and was already in bed.
She was listening to ” O Come to the Alter” which is one of my favorite songs. They sang it at camp a few weeks before and I had left before I could debrief with her about her week at camp.
I sat down in the white rocking chair and my now 12 year old baby girl curled up in my arms-like she did that morning three years ago and like she still does today. And I held her and rocked her as we watched the lightening in the distance….and she sang in her precious, alto voice, “oh come to the alter, the Father’s arms are open wide. Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Oh what a Savior, isn’t He wonderful, sing Hallelujah Christ is risen”. I joined her and in this tender moment that I wanted to embrace fully and never forget.
In that moment I realized God did far more than my fears. She wasn’t broken. She didn’t loose anything. She gained a heart that learned that when you offer up what is most precious to you—God gives back 10 fold. She has been stretched and God has given her the heart of a worshiper. And we are all more than ok.