Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some things never change...

Some things never change...just look at my sidewalks and flower beds.

When I was in the process of writing "Pace Yourself," a daily devotional book spurned from everyday events, there was more than one entry that bemoaned the fact that weeds grew all too easily between the cracks of my sidewalk. I spent countless hours sitting there in the hot sun, needlenose pliers in hand to pull that pesky vegetation out from the roots. It was a tough job that frustrated me to no end. How was it that weeds grew so freely and relentlessly when carefully tended seedlings in the perfect conditions struggled to survive? Not fair.

Then Gary told me about weed killer. Yes. He was right. It was--and still is--easier to pull out dead weeds than ones that are thriving. But there's one little problem. The herbicide he gave me takes about two weeks to work. The only good thing about that is that I get to procrastinate a little bit longer in ridding the sidewalk and beds of the ugliness. There's no sense in working harder to pull those weeds now, is there?

This got me thinking. Those weeds I sprayed yesterday are in the process of dying...I just can't see it. They still look okay. In fact, they appear to be thriving. No brown leaves or wilting stems. In fact, if I didn't know the weeds had been treated, I would assume there was nothing wrong. But, I know that the poison I sprayed onto their leaves is slowly being sucked into the plant and carried to the roots. Though the process is slow, the result is quite predictable: death.

Admittedly, I tend to do this at times. I look pretty good on the outside despite the fact that I have poisoned myself, killing off righteous living one cell at a time. The old adage, "If you play with fire, you're gonna get burned," is all too true. The deadly poison or destructive flames licking away at our souls might be jealousy, envy, subjecting ourselves to inappropriate music or movies, or engaging in frivolous speech or unkind words. Though we may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, there is no fooling God. He knows the thoughts and intents of our mind. We dare not let sin eat away at our insides no matter how good we appear on the outside.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:7,8 

To read more on weeds and the spiritual analogies, consult the June 5, 6, and 12 entries in Pace Yourself: 366 Devotions from the Daily Grind. Free shipping is available on

Monday, June 27, 2011

Costa Rica Recap

I'm not sure where to start. How can I possibly begin to describe the Costa Rican mission trip experience? In fact, it is almost surreal now that I am back in the States and beginning to slide into a normal routine. And yet, I never want to forget what transpired during those ten days abroad.

Our missionary hosts, Lamar and Joanna Salley, along with their three children, were skeptical about the wisdom of housing 14 women and one man, Hands of Compassion Int'l president, Chris Tolley, under their roof. Surely, the predominately teenage group would be entangled in squabbles and drama, right? Wrong. I can honestly report that not one bit of discontent or personal conflict reared its ugly head during our trip. No one fussed about who was going to take a shower when and in what order. No one complained about crowded (but comfortable) rooming arrangements. No one hogged the last pancake or selfishly snagged the pile of mango on the breakfast table. It is clearly a testimony of the Spirit working in the heart and lives of the group.

But what about our work? It was exhausting, to say the least. Often, our roll out of bed was at 5:30 or 6:00 am, only to return home between 8:30 and 11:30 pm. In between, we participated in volleyball clinics in the schools, played in mini-soccer tournaments, taught English in high school classrooms, performed the mime (wordless skit) in public parks and schools, engaged in great fun and frolic at an overnight camp for young professionals (age 18-25), and shared testimonies and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all those venues. The children of the dump town, Carpio, clamored for love and attention, sucking out all the energy we had left.  We ate on the run, consuming more rice and beans, chicken, hamburgers and french fries than we could ever have imagined. But none of us would trade a second of it for all the creature comforts and lazy, hazy days in the world.

The interesting thing about short-term mission trips is that God seems to use them to recreate His workers. Only eternity will reveal heart changes in the Costa Rican people. But I can assure you that God did amazing things in the hearts of this mission team.

I know that "campfire" experiences, common with these kind of trips, usually fade with the morning light. It's easy to be fired up and an enthusiastic follower of Christ when everyone around you is also in the same mode. But all too often, claims of commitment fall short when life settles back into normal routine. Will that happen this time? For some, maybe that desire will become a distant memory. For most, I don't think so.

As a group, we talked a lot about NOT  being lukewarm in our Christian walk, for God hates that with a passion. But what is a "hot" walk to look like? I think I Thessalonians 1:3 describes just that. The Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Thessaloniki and affectionately tells them, "We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Consider this: We produce work as a result of faith, we labor out of love, and we can endure because we have hope. All three life characteristics, work, labor, and endurance, are direct results of faith, love and hope. It really is a simple concept. Unfortunately, our propensity for sin stands in the way. So, what to do? As Ephesians 5:15 and 16 a says, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. . ."

The girls are eager to pursue righteousness, desiring mentoring and accountability relationships. They desire to pour themselves into others. Ideas of how they can practically minister to others are rampant. I look forward to continuing to meet with them on a routine basis so that we might together reflect Christ in our lives and mature in our faith.

Thank you, girls, for being such an encouragement to me.

For more pictures of our trip, please visit my Facebook album at

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A day at the dump

A typical Carpio home
The young children of Carpio
Literally. Today  we got to feel what it would be like to live and work in and around the city dump. A modern day Samaria, many Costa Ricans would never think of stepping into the town known as Carpio. Occupied by Nicaraguan immigrants, they came to improve their positions in life. And, believe it or not, living in the squalor of the dump is a step up.

Waiting to enter the school
Driving into the area, we were all impressed by the houses, the tiny sidewalk shops on each street corner, the filth, but most of all the children roaming the streets. Even little ones, perhaps three and four years old, played alone in the narrow passageways crowded by cars and speeding dump trucks. It seemed to be an accident waiting to happen.

The school we were allowed to enter was protected by huge bars on every window and intimidating iron gates. I wondered if it was to keep the children in or evil out.

Our job was to teach two different classrooms of children a little bit of English. Crowded, dirty and ill-equipped rooms could not prevent the explosion of excitement at the sight of gringas entering the classroom. But it was no easy task. Many students were unruly and few knew even a syllable of English.

When the girls pulled out the photo albums they brought, the children clamored to keep the photos. In moments, each photo and every newly acquired bracelet and anklet purchased during yesterday's souvenir shopping excursion was relinquished to the kids. By the time we left, my girls had voluntarily been stripped. However, more important than the physical possessions left behind were the beaming faces of the kids with their newly acquired treasures.

The church is the building with the blue sliding doors

Then it was off to play with the many of the children at the "church" around the corner. An indoor playground turned into a chaotic frenzy when the school children, dismissed after just three hours, poured through the doors. Inside that humble building with it's unfinished and uneven concrete floors, marginal toilets, and areas still under construction, swings, climbing, face painting, volleyball clinics, hugs, kisses, and yes, a few bullies who took advantage, kept us occupied throughout the day.

The final Kid's Carnival culminated in games and dispensing treats and a new toy to each eager child. But as the toy was handed to them, we necessarily had to say adios and push them out the door. Many tried to enter again, claiming they never received their gift, some even trying to steal from the box. It was odd to close the heavy metal doors behind them, only to hear them clamor and pound to enter once again before conceding their special day had come to an end. Yet others, climbed the windows, grasped the metal bars, their heads forward and peering in. It had a sad, zoo-like aura as we watched them yearn for more time and attention.

Indoor playground
It is good to be reminded of how fortunate we are to have clean facilities, nice homes, and intact sewer systems, plenty of food to eat and people to love. And yet, despite the daily challenges that the people of Carpio face, children still smiled, waving feverishly at the bus as we passed on our way out. Though we were anxious to shower away the filth of the day, may we never rid ourselves of the lessons learned.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another day in not-so-sunny Costa Rica: A short update

Well, the girls on this team continue to amaze. We are watching them grow in so many ways. They are becoming more bold and confident each day as they interact with the kids and freely share their faith and the wonderful gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today was a lesson in flexibility. It seemed that the plan changed no less than every seven minutes. And yet, they never missed a beat, never complained, and rose to each occasion.

After a time of devotion in the morning, we traveled to our destination for a soccer tournament, only to find it cancelled. So, back on the bus, we took a thirty minute shopping trip followed by a stop at a busy downtown park. The kids performed their dramatic mime, causing many on the busy streets to stop and watch the eight minute presentation. Then it was time to pass out gospel tracts, finding few who refused the offering.

The afternoon was filled with an English teaching session in a large high school. However, prior to entering the classroom, the girls were like magnets, drawing many of the kids into conversation and impromptu games. The session in the school was well received and helped the soccer games that followed to be contested in a friendly manner. Then, it was back to do another lesson at the school for adult ESL students. Again, the students engaged freely with our girls and watched intently as the mime was once again offered.

Finally, after another 12 hour day, we returned home only to be encouraged with our own team time. What a continued privilege to watch God working in all our hearts.

Tomorrow we will be taking about 25 Costa Rican young people (age 18-25) to a rustic camp for a couple of days. We will have no web access but I hope to be able to report again (with some pictures!) later Saturday night.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Two days down

Up at 6 am. Breakfast. Leave by 7 or 8 am. Volleyball clinics in elementary schools. Indoor soccer 5-on-5 tournaments, dramas in parks and testimonies shared. English classes taught in high schools. Dodge deafening downpours while running for cover under tin roofs. Return home by 11:30 pm.

Our sports-centered mission team hit the ground running. Not literally. San Jose, the bustling capital city of Costa Rica is anything but runner friendly. Narrow, winding streets, all without name or numbers, make running the streets and staying alive simultaneously nearly impossible. But we are not left wanting for physical activity. Working with SCORE missionaries, we have done four volleyball clinics for elementary school kids. The children, with their big, beautiful brown eyes are eager participants and just as eager to give hugs and smiles.

The soccer tournaments, two so far, are played on turf fields under the protection of metal roofs. Two hours running, the play is fast and furious...or at least for those who know what they are doing. The teams played last night were made up of very skilled young women, perhaps in their late teens or early twenties. You could tell they had been playing for a very long time. The team we played tonight was not as experienced, allowing us gringas to play unencumbered by intimidation.

However, beyond our athletic endeavors, the team of athletes have been performing dramas in the schools, after athletic contests, and even in public parks. To watch their transformation from timid to bold presenters of both the drama and their personal testimonies has been a privilege.

Today, they added teaching English in a large public hospital. Assuming all responsibility to use games and conversation to teach English, they stepped outside their comfort zones and did a great job.

I am most impressed by the maturity of these girls accepting the challenge of these busy days. They are not along for the ride. They are, in fact, the ride. What an experience for them and for us who observe. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

10 hours and counting

My head is spinning. Actually, it's been spinning a bit off it's axis for the last couple of months. Coaching, unexpected teaching responsibilities, and challenging home improvement activities have cast me into my private little orbit in far out space. Good thing I was tethered to the mothership. If not, I would still be drifting  in the deep and distant darkness.

But, I do have one more mission before coming in for a splash-down. I will be getting on a plane tomorrow with a dozen female athletes, traveling to Costa Rica. Over a period of ten days, we will be jumping, running, playing games and kicking soccer balls with our Costa Rican counterparts. But why?

Let me explain. A frequent question asked of me over the years as been, "Why do you run?"

My standard quip was usually "Because I can." But that's not really it. The last several years I have been impacted by the thought that my athletic ability was not an accident or a handy skill sculpted and honed by coaches. No. I am an athlete because God made me that way. And just like the musician, engineer, artist, or doctor, I have a responsibility to use that talent to bring honor to the Father and point toward his love for us. Hence, a mission trip with like-minded athletes to serve young Costa Rican athletes and share our faith.

Our team of athletes has adopted a theme for this trip: "Go with love. Return with honor." Our purpose is to use our love of sport to establish relationships with the athletic high school girls of San Jose. For in relationships, communication is established and trust is forged. It will take setting aside what is familiar and comfortable and an embrace of a different culture and perspective. We will need to see those girls not as an oddity or a refreshing respite from American culture but as people who need to understand the truthful claims of Jesus Christ. If we do not go with love and serve with compassion, we cannot possibly return with honor.

We have been praying that God ordain divine appointments with just the right people at just the right time for just the right purpose. It is our desire to use the platform of athletics to share the hope of an abundant life in Christ. As God brings us to your mind over the next week and a half, please pray for our safety, willing hearts and Spirit-guided minds, and an effective ministry because God is choosing to draw those ticas (Costa Rican girls) to himself.

If technology does not fail us, I hope to be able to post here while we are in country. Also, please check or follow us on Facebook for pictures and information about our daily activities.

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

By the time I finish most races, I've figured out at least the first paragraph of my post-race story. This was one of the few where the ...