Tag Archives: Minnesota

Back away from the Doorbell, Buddy!


In my last post I talked about letting go of my fear of having our house broken into.  Today I’m going to be a bit more practical.  Yes, we trust the Lord.  Yes, we know that if someone wants in your house badly enough they will figure out a way to get in.  Yes, we have a daily peace, knowing that the Lord is with us.  However, that does not mean we no longer take precautions.  There’s no sense inviting the Fox into the hen house, so to speak.

Photo credit: bitzcelt / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: bitzcelt / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I actually feel safer inside my house here in San Jose, Costa Rica than I did when we were home on our last furlough and living in the suburbs of the Twin Cities.  My sense of space has changed.  Here in Costa Rica, our house has a big, tall wall around the whole property.  If someone wants to ring our doorbell, they stand on the street and ding the speaker phone.  I can choose to answer the phone or not.  They would never know if I was avoiding them like a Jehovah’s Witness or if I was simply not home.  In order to let someone into our house, I must walk down the driveway and manually open the door for them to enter into our yard first.

Compare that to how close a stranger actually comes to me when he rings my doorbell in Minnesota.  I remember the jolt of fear that I felt at seeing a perfect stranger standing right at my front door, looking shamelessly into my living room through the window at the side of the front door.  I wanted to click an imaginary speaker phone and order the guy back out onto the street.  “Hey! Hey! Hey!  You are WAY TOO CLOSE to my house!” I wanted to yell, “Back off Buddy!”

I had changed.

In addition to the doorbell out on the street and a wall around the yard, when we were negotiating our contract with the land lord, we agreed to install a security system with door alarms if he would beef up the security of the wall.  He gladly agreed.  A few weeks later we had a lovely electric fence on top of the front of the wall and barbed razor wire around the sides and the back of the wall.  Not very pretty, I admit, but MAN DO I FEEL SAFE NOW!  Everyone, and I mean everyone, has barbed wire around their walls.  Now we blend in.  And I like that.

So that explains how I actually feel SAFER living in Costa Rica than I did living in Garrison Keillor’s imagination (I’m referring to Lake Wobegon, in case you have no idea or have never heard Prairie Home Companion Radio Broadcast.  It’s hilarious, by the way.)  Here I know that no one can get close to my house just by ringing my doorbell.


Photo credit: just.Luc / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: just.Luc / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

It is a horrible feeling to know that someone has been in your house, looking at your pictures, touching your things… robbing you.  I count that our house has been broken into 3 times, our car has been stolen twice, and less importantly, our garage has been broken into and our bikes and tools all stolen.  And only one of those home invasions happened overseas.

I am fully convinced that God knows our fears even better than we do.  I believe that He was preparing us for life overseas by forcing us to face our fears in our own beloved Minnesota.  We don’t live in Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.  But sometimes when we are overseas we tend to romanticize “home”.  We think, “This never would have happened to me if I had stayed in Minnesota!”

But that’s just not true.  Houses get robbed in Minnesota too.  Cars get stolen in middle class neighborhoods in First World Countries.  If someone wants to get into your house badly enough, no amount of locks and security systems will stop them.  They could drive a car through the wall of your living room if they wanted to.  Bad things happen in America too.

So I think the Lord knew that by facing my fears while we were still living in America, it would have the effect of releasing me from those fears.  It’s like facing your fear of heights by going rock climbing or facing your fear of public speaking by giving a toast at a wedding.  Once you see that your fear was survivable, well then it has lost its grip on your mind.

It took a long time after each violation for my peace to return to me, but eventually it did.  At the moment of our last break-in, in Mexico, my husband and I held each other and cried.  As I cried, I prayed out loud and thanked God that we were safe, that our children were at school today, that not much was stolen.  I repeated the scripture verse from Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”  And I felt like we passed a test.  Deep in my heart I felt the approval of the Lord.  I sensed that we would not have to face this test again.

When we picked up our kids from school, we worried about their reactions when we told them that the house was broken into while we were away that morning.  They only asked if all their toys were still there.  They were not the least bit concerned otherwise.  I marveled at how the Lord had given them a resiliency that I didn’t even think to ask for.  I thanked the Lord for giving us peace once again.


Our dog Nacho

Our dog Nacho

We have a dog named Nacho.  Before we even left for the mission field, back in 2004 we promised our kids that once we got through itineration, language school and two international moves that we would get a dog.  So once we landed in Mexico, we made plans to fulfill our promise.  We sent a message home to my parents to go to a breeder and pick out a dog for us.  We wanted a Shih Tzu.

So my parents went out to the farm where the breeder lives and picked out the cutest, most cuddly puppy they had.  Some friends of ours from Mexico were in town for a wedding, so we made plans for Nacho to travel back to Mexico with them.  They brought us this adorable little fur ball.

Nacho has traveled to Mexico, back to Minnesota, and on to Costa Rica with us.  Missionary kids have to give up a lot of things as we move country to country.  So we make an effort to keep Nacho as one of the “constants” in their lives.  Some missionary families have to leave their pets on the field and get a new pet in each new place where they live.  That works for some families but I don’t think that would work for our kids.

The other thing that Nacho is good for is as a built in alarm system.  He barks whenever anyone comes to our door.  He guards our yard, although the most dangerous thing that enters our yard are those yellow birds that he hates and the gardener with his evil “weed wacker.”  But he lets those on the outside of our gate know that a dog lives here and so they better beware.  He’s got an important job to do.

Nacho loved the snow in Minnesota

Nacho loved the snow in Minnesota

But one major pitfall of having a pet when you live the life of a global nomad is that you must constantly be searching for someone to watch your dog for you when you leave town for a night or a week or a year.  It’s a head ache!  When we were home on furlough this last time there was a lovely lady in our home church who offered to take Nacho for us whenever we left town to go speak at a church.  She said, “I don’t have any money to support a missionary, but this is something I can do to bless you.”  And that was HUGE for us!!  Just huge!  To know that we never had to worry about finding a dog sitter when we had to travel and that Nacho was being well cared for was indeed a huge blessing for our family.

So I would like to encourage all of you who love missions but don’t have the financial means to support a missionary.  Look for practical ways that you can bless a missionary and make their life back home a little less stressful.  It might be offering to take in their mail, shovel their snowy driveway, mow their lawn, or water their plants while they are away.  Or offering to be the emergency contact person for the school where their children attend (a few times we found ourselves stuck in traffic and couldn’t pick up our kids after school.  It helped having friends who could run up to the school and pick them up for us.)  Ask a missionary if they have someone to fold and stuff their newsletters a few times a year.  That’s a practical blessing for sure!

Or maybe you know that the family will be arriving in your state in the middle of winter and they will have NO snow clothing for the first few weeks.  This would be a great opportunity to ask your friends if the family could borrow jackets and boots and mittens for a few weeks.  You have no idea how fast kids grow and how hard it is to find winter coats in December!  Anyhow, look for practical ways that you can bless others.  Listen to what they are talking about and ask yourself if there is a need you can meet here.  It’s a huge blessing for us missionaries!

Called to be a Dandelion


gardeniaLast year on the campus of our school there was a beautiful, ancient gardenia bush that bloomed and bloomed for the pleasure of all who would pass by it.  It was about the size of a VW bug… the old kind.  I loved that bush.  I know what it takes to keep a bush like that alive and blooming.  I’ve had three of them in my past gardening history.  They are spoiled, temperamental plants.  I currently feed mine coffee grounds every few weeks… it likes coffee.

But one day I came to school and was horrified to see that the old gardenia bush was under attack.  Every single leaf had a huge bite taken out of it.  During the night, leaf cutter ants had demolished the ancient bush.  The gardener pruned it hard, but it could not be saved.  I mourned the day that they cut the bush down completely.

One of my first purchases when we moved to Costa Rica was to buy a pair of books about the Birds and Plants of Costa Rica.  Yes, I’m kind of a nerd like that.  I like to know the names of things.  Back home in Minnesota I have a huge Encyclopedia of Gardening, 900 pages worth!  I spent many a winter day reading about the Ph of soils and the light requirements of various plants.  I just really like plants.

dandelionsIf I were to compare myself to a flower, I would say that I’m not a gardenia, a rose, or a jasmine.  I’m a dandelion.  I have read that dandelions are not native to America, though they seem quite happy in Minnesota lawns.  I read that one of the first governors of Minnesota had a wife who heard about dandelion salads being in vogue in Europe.  So she imported the stylish “flower” to cultivate in her kitchen garden.  Little did she realize that she would single handedly blanket the state with the yellow weeds which are the bane of every weekend gardener’s existence.

blowing a dandelionI am a dandelion.  I’m not saying I’m a weed to be hated.  I’m saying I’m common, ordinary, and imported.  Being a missionary, I am not native to my soil here in Costa Rica.  But my plan is to reproduce our ministry prolifically.  We are in University ministry.  We hope to blanket the country with students who will reach out to other students who will reach out to other students… on and on.  This is the goal of every missionary- spiritual reproduction.

I don’t want what I do to be so fragile and finicky that it is easily destroyed by an army of pests.  I don’t want what I plant to be beautiful but high maintenance.  I want the wind of the Holy Spirit to carry the hardy seeds of our ministry to distant soils.  I want University Campuses to become the natural environment for Christian small groups and Bible studies to spring up every where.  I want Christian university students to be so numerous that they are no longer rare.  I want us to be common.  I am called to be a dandelion.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameliatwu/3839938475/”>CameliaTWU</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/Flowers/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vincealongi/2537227873/”>Vince Alongi</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/Flowers/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/a6u571n/3131321415/”>aguscr</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

Faith is the evidence of things not seen


I woke up this morning with a “Summer Head Cold”.  (It is still Summer here in Costa Rica, even though my Minnesota friends have recently had another foot of snow dumped on them in a rare “Spring storm”.) I automatically wondered, “Where did this cold come from?”  I spent a few minutes reviewing the events of my week, searching for a particularly germy location where I could have picked up a bug.  It was a toss up between being at school with 150 children or spending hours in the Immigration office, which was air-conditioned.  Costa Ricans firmly believe that a rapid change in temperature can make you sick (or kill you).  Apparently they were proven right today.  It’s no more ridiculous than American mothers ordering their children to put on hats to prevent a cold.

Anyhow, once I had settled on a possible source of my cold, I actually felt more at ease.  Silly, I know.  I am one of those people who feel better with more information.  When things are left vague, I am uneasy.  I am hard-wired to sift through the grains of life searching for nuggets of information to guide my decision-making.  When I can’t find those nuggets or the sifter is torn from my hands, I feel like life is out of control.  I am programmed to search for purpose and meaning in life.

For me, faith is going forward with insufficient information.  I do not consider it faith when I witness a miracle, or when I pray in another language, or when I observe the physical effects of contact with the spirit world.  No, for me those things are logical manifestations of the supremacy of our God.  We should by fact have a physical reaction when a Superior Being gets close to us- that’s normal, in my mind.  That requires no faith, for me.

Where I am stretched is when I am required to take a step without being totally secure of my data-base, when I don’t see a purpose.  If I know the WHY, I can proceed without fear.  If I know the final destination of these steps, the WHERE, then I can walk forward without concern.  If I can see an obvious HOW, then I have no reason to draw on my faith.  But when those questions are left ambiguous, or worse when they are completely unaddressed, then I frantically cast about for something else to hold on to like a drowning person searches for a life preserver.  The thing I seize upon is where my faith is anchored:  the personality of God.  God is the rope that I cling to.

What I believe God to be is the core of faith.  I cannot see Him.  But I can see the EVIDENCE of what he is, of who he is.  Just like I can’t see wind, for example, but I can see the evidence that wind exists- so it is with God.  Having faith is like being a forensic investigator.  We have to look for clues, finger prints, that God was here.  We build up our knowledge of him, our data-base, which gives us a larger and stronger rope to grab on to when the trail has taken an unexpected turn or the lead has gone cold.  In those times, when I am left without a WHY or a HOW or a WHERE I hold onto the rope, which is my faith in who God is.

I say to myself, “I don’t know why I am going through this, but I know that God has already approved this trial because he is all knowing.  He is in control and nothing surprises him.  He has promised that he only has good plans for me.  He will not harm me.”  When I can’t make sense of my reality, I hold onto my faith in the Goodness of Almighty God.  God is always good… even when I have a cold.

Behind the 8 Ball


8 ballDo you ever have those seasons in life where you feel like you’re barely hanging on by a thread.  You feel like you can never get caught up on all you have to do.  Just when the “In Box” is at it’s urgent fullness, life dumps an avalanche on your desk.  Latinos have a saying, “All the Gringos have watches, but none of them have time.”  Hurry, Rush, Busy Busy Busy!

I don’t like going through long stretches of time feeling like I’m just doing enough to make it through today.  I’m a planner.  I want to get stuff done so I don’t have to think about it for weeks on end.  For example, in school I do my lesson plans for an entire month at one time.  I have a yearly plan that is less specific.  I don’t want to plan too far in advance because things happen and the schedule needs a cushion to accomodate unexpected changes.  But I want to plan far enough in advance that I don’t have to scramble each night to prepare for tomorrow’s lessons.

Unfortunately we have to be flexible.  Back in Minnesota we had the occasional “Snow Day” and school would be canceled.  Here we have various natural disasters to contend with.  We had a huge earthquake at the beginning of the school year and we lost a day for that.  Two years ago we had a huge mudslide on one side of the city and the government closed school all over the city for a few days to keep parents from having to drive around the closed off area.  And in Mexico City sometimes they close school for “Smog Days” when it’s just too polluted for kids to be playing outside during recess.  One of those days can throw off a whole month of lesson plans.  Being flexible is part of life.

But on the Mission Field, my commitment to flexibility is tested almost daily.  Plans change sometimes hourly.  I either adapt or go through life frustrated.  My skills in “flying by the seat of my pants” come in handy when someone doesn’t show up for a meeting (usually without calling) or an event is canceled the hour it’s supposed to begin.  I have to “wing it”.  This means I constantly feel like I can’t rely too heavily on my plans.  I still DO plan, because it’s my nature, but I can’t get upset when plans fall through.

This makes me feel like I’m constantly making decisions in the moment, living behind the 8 ball, but that’s how the world runs here.  No one is upset by this but the Gringos.  No one expects things to happen on time except the Americans.  No one is surprised when plans change except the Foreigners.  Change happens.  What’s the big deal?  Go with the flow, “just keep swimming,” and you can survive here in Latin America.  Flexibility is a necessary life skill.  It will either make you or break you on the mission field.

Take a step back


For all you non-bloggers out there, let me take a step back and explain what just happened when you clicked on my blog today.  (This is not a blog, this is only a test of the Emergency Blog system.)

We have this feature on WordPress called “reblog”.  When I read a cool post from another blogger, and I want to share it with you all here at Monkeys in My Bag, I just have to click the reblog button and it shows up over here.  It’s cool, in theory.  But the thing that I don’t like is that you get this confusing look to the reblog with just a link to the original and MY comments about it on the very bottom.  In my opinion, my comments should be the first thing you see so I can tell you WHY I thought this other blog was reblog-worthy.

But since I have no control over this, I want to encourage you to take a step back to yesterday and read the reblog that I posted for your blog-reading-enjoyment.

The reason why I chose to share that reblog called “When Serving Jesus is a One Way Ticket” is because the author very simply and very accurately describes that feeling that I have as a missionary of being less and less at home in the world.  I’ve said it before, so I’ll take a step back and repeat myself, “When I’m in Costa Rica, I miss Minnesota.  When I’m in Minnesota, I miss Costa Rica.  It’s all because my real home is in Heaven.”  I’m always pining for something that isn’t mine… yet.  Home.

Heaven is my home, my Great Hope, my Anticipation.  Someday I’ll hear God say to me those words that thrill my soul, “Well done, Daughter.  Here’s your eternal home… and you never have to move again.”  Welcome home, there have never been two sweeter words.

So take a step back to the repost from yesterday evening and enjoy a blog that really spoke to me.

The view from my home in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Room Temperature Butter


If I ever started a band, I might name it “Room Temperature Butter”.  But that has nothing to do with this blog.  I’ll get to the butter in a minute.

Since moving to Costa Rica I have noticed how much the weather was a part of our lives in Minnesota, or more specifically, how the weather is always the same here.  In Minnesota, I had a thermometer conveniently placed right outside my kitchen window.  I had another in my car.  I watched the news every night to see what the temperature would be the next day.  If I missed the evening news, I would check the weather channel’s website.  And I knew where every bank with a digital clock/thermometer sign was on my side of town.  Knowing the weather in Minnesota was an important daily ritual because on any given day the temperature can vary as much at 40* within a matter of hours!

The weather is also an important topic of conversation in Minnesota.  Nobody really cares, but we use it as a filler topic.  Minnesotans don’t like to have heavy conversations and we don’t like awkward pauses.  We all carry about mental flash cards with small talk themes that we can impliment to ward off an uncomfortable conversational lull.  Deep conversations are like dessert for the one or two friends that make it past the 20 year mark, but everyone else nibbles on appetizer conversations.   “How’s the weather up in Alex?” is right up there with “How ’bout those Twins!”  If we happen to be having unusual weather for a particular season, this can easily consume months and months of conversation rations.  Minnesotans will talk about a hard winter for the next 25 years!  As a matter of fact, I still remember the snow drifts in 1983.

The dramatic changes in weather are also signals to change out the wardrobe.  One of my favorite seasonal chores in Minnesota is rotating the seasonal clothing.  I love getting out the boxes of clothes for the next season and feeling like I’m getting a whole new wardrobe!  I love that.  In Costa Rica we only change out our accessories.  When the rainy season starts we get out the umbrellas, rain boots, jackets and light boxes.  (That’s to avoid the depression brought on by 40 straight days of rain, I don’t know how Noah managed.)  When the dry season arrives, we use more sun screen.  And that’s about it.

Finally, the weather clearly defines the changing of the seasons in Minnesota.  It is one of the real beauties of our State.  Each season has its awe-inspiring moments that make you wonder if you could ever be truly happy without all 4 seasons.  Even if you don’t particularly care for one season, change will occur in a few months and you’ll feel it’s all worthwhile. It’s worth it just to experience the joy of spotting the first green sprouts peeking up from the winter sleepy garden, or admiring the breath-taking fall colored leaves that radiate with an internal brilliance, or spying the first snow flake or the season with a child-like thrill.  It’s worth it.

But here in Costa Rica our seasonal changes are less dramatic.  We basically have two seasons: Rainy (April-Nov.) and Dry (Dec.-March).  We have our weather jokes like most places do.  We say we have two seasons, wet and wetter. It’s the equivalent of Minnesota having winter and road construction.  We have certain flowers that bloom during various times of the year (I don’t know what allergen blooms in the “spring” but it’s sheer torture for me.).  We have certain fruits that come into season once a year (mango season is my favorite- just before Easter).

Our year is also broken up by religious holidays.  Semana Santa (Holy Week or Easter Week) is a time when all the hotels on the coasts are booked solid.  The church puts on pageants and parades, it’s quite the sight!  Schools have their long summer break over Christmas time from December to mid-February.  So many people plan vacations during that time as well.  If you stay in the city, there are festivals and parades and bull fights and tamales and fireworks to mark the season.  We even have our own version of the Holidazzle Parade minus the  -40*F wind chills.  Each holiday has its special ingredients that make up the flavors of Costa Rica.  (This is a video clip of the bull fights that we watch on TV all December long it’s hilarious!!)

Our temperatures are pretty stable in the 70s and 80s all year round.  What changes is the level of humidity.  In Rainy season it feels like I’m  breathing through a wet blanket wrapped around my head.  In Dry Season I enjoying the refreshing tropical breezes of the Christmas Winds.  My family back home balks when I complain about being cold when it’s 50*F here.  They forget that when it’s 50*F back in Minnesota, it feels good… outside of the house.  No one thinks it feels good inside the house.  Inside we have heat, fireplaces, carpeting, insulated windows, and blankets to keep the crisp air outside.  Here in Costa Rica, I judge the climate by the state of my room temperature butter.  When the butter is rock solid… it’s cold.  Butter doesn’t lie, People!  Unfortunately when it’s cold here, we don’t have heat in the house, carpets, windows that close all the way, or warm clothes.  It’s all relative, I guess.

So all of this is why compared to how Minnesotans talk about the weather in literally every conversation, Costa Ricans almost never talk about the weather.  It’s just not a topic of conversation around here.  It’s the same every day, so why talk about it?  It’s just not an issue.  It’s the equivalent of asking someone, “how’s your butter doing?”