Refined.

Some of us are living in places where quarantine regulations are lifting. For my family, that looks like beaches being open from 5-8 am, spending more time with neighbors, and certain public places opening at half capacity.

As we come out of the fog of quarantine, there has been a lot of talk about the fact that the world will never return to “normal.” It will never be the same, and that is a scary thought for many.

I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but I do know one thing: nothing can pass through fire without being either consumed or refined.

Remember how Jeremiah had to constantly warn God’s people about their idolatry? He used trials as an attempt to refine them, but they did not listen.

“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do, because of my people?” -Jeremiah 9:7

We can’t just forget the last few months and move forward as if they never happened. What are we taking away from quarantine? What is God trying to teach us? How can we leave “refined” from this fire?

*Side note: A great song about not being alone while we pass through life’s fires is Another in the Fire by Hillsong United.*

God has been teaching me too many lessons to write in one blog post, but I would love to share one insight.

As a missionary whose “formal” ministry is teaching, I have struggled with the fact that I am reaching a significantly smaller number of students via online classes. Like much of quarantine life, it has felt like our ministry has been frozen. (Ok… just kidding it’s WAYYY too hot here for anything to freeze. Let’s go with PAUSED…)

Our team stumbled upon the topic of prayer one night, and it occurred to us that we are all prayer slackers. It was something we had discussed previously, but had not really found a tangible solution other than to pray more.

Through the discovery of one little app called PrayerMate, God has completely transformed my prayer life. Many people already use notecards or have some slick system, but this has been a great way for Type B me to suck it up and regularly pray for ALL people in my life.

Praying consistently for a wide variety of people has opened my eyes to what God is doing in the lives of others. This heightened awareness has enabled me to be able to connect more deeply with the body of Christ and minister in more meaningful ways. Also, it is ENCOURAGING to see how the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of all mankind.

At the end of teaching an English class this last week, I showed one of my students her name in my app and the notes with topics I had been praying over her. She choked up and explained that she recently has been feeling the need to connect with God. She didn’t go into much detail, but it was evident that God was on the move in her life, and the things I had been praying over her matched up with the specific ways God was speaking to her. Wow!

Even though my physical distance from so many people is what motivated my prayer ministry, it is something that I would like to continue to grow in and make time for as this quarantine comes to an end.

No longer do I feel isolated from ministry. Quite the contrary, I feel humbly connected to God’s work throughout the world.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. -Ephesians 6:18

How has the “fire” of quarantine refined you? What has God taught you through this experience? Please share in the comments! 

You Are NOT What You Do

365 days ago…

We were frantically finishing up our last days at the ministry we had worked at for the past two years, training the next leaders to take over. With it being a sudden and unexpected transition, days were full of tasks… packing and prepping for our month long stay in the capital, where August was to be born. So much anticipation, so much anxiety about the unknown future.

Chaotic transition.

It was partly pregnancy hormones, but I could not rest knowing that our life was about to change forever, especially since it would be a while before we would know what that would look like. At that point, all we knew was that we didn’t want to leave our sweet village in Costa Rica and all of those teens that had become like family. Obviously we were going to have another child, but what were we going to do next? Where would we live? When would we know if we were going to have to uproot our little family and move to another country? What were we supposed to do in the meantime??

The days unfolded differently as expected.

August decided to wait two weeks past his due date to be born (which could have been seen as an opportunity to practice patience…). Then we spent a month in our home in Esterillos, packing for a furlough in the States that was originally supposed to last about two months, but was not guaranteed without having a ministry to return to.

Uncertainty.

Then began the eternal furlough of 22 houses in less than 6 months… nonstop travel, transition, packing, mourning the end of a season, and looking for a sense of purpose while our life was seemingly paused. The whole time we were so overwhelmed because we didn’t know how long we were to be in transition. A few more weeks or another year? Plus sleep deprivation with two babies makes everything so much more interesting…

Anxiously wandering.

I will never forget how hard it was to feel like we were just meandering through life, not knowing what the next step would be.

When we finally returned to our beach home in December, we were stoked to dive into ministry (whatever that would look like). The days were slow, but exciting. Also, I was relieved to know that there would not be any major moves in the near future (as fun as it is to pack up your life every 7-10 days).

We finally (FINALLY!!) got started after months of building relationships and preparing. Our team was thrilled to be gaining momentum. Even so, I had anxiety about another transition. This was it, the start to our new reality!! I even made an amazing color-coded schedule in my bullet journal (an impressive task for a Type B personality like myself).

After our first day, we received word that Costa Rica would be closing its schools until after Semana Santa or Holy Week.

Just like that, the momentum train stopped in its tracks.

And that is where we find ourselves currently. Waiting. Wandering. AGAIN.

And this time, you are all with us. Experiencing the grief of missing out on events, trying to transition into a temporary new routine without going crazy thinking of the “what ifs” of the future. Trying to make this interruption “normal.” Dreaming of the day when quarantine is done.

Listen.

I will be real with you. The last 365 days of my life do not look super productive on paper. In a way, it would be easy to dismiss the last rotation around the sun as a “loss.” As if life were on pause and the last year didn’t count because we don’t have a lot to show for that time (at least from the perspective of a task-based North American).

Ethan is constantly reminding me, “Amanda, you are NOT what you do.”

I hate that reminder because I LOVE doing. I love accomplishing tasks and being productive.

But he makes a great point, and I think we can all join together in reflecting on it during this unprecedented time where most people in the world are being exposed. For many, it is the first time “what they do” has been ripped away from them, so they are faced with the question, “Who am I?”

What is our identity, and who is our God?

Is our progress and productivity what defines our worth? Is it our title? A finished checklist at the end of the day? Is God waiting for this pandemic to pass so He can get back to work? Do we really even know what God is accomplishing through us at any given time?

I am a missionary mom who used to be daily overwhelmed by the needs I would see, and constantly felt like I am was not doing enough.

And then the last 365 days happened.

And I realized that it is true.

NO ONE can do enough.

There will always be more needs than we can meet.

God did not call us to save the world…That is why He sent Jesus.

Right now you might feel like I have many times in the last year. Uneasy about the future. Mourning the loss of a life that will never be exactly what it was.

But that is not where our identity is. And PLEASE do not try to find it in perfect color-coded homeschool schedules or newfound TikTok fame.

Instead, join me in singing (Click here for video link):

My worth is not in what I own
Not in the strength of flesh and bone
But in the costly wounds of love
At the cross

My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross

I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

As summer flow’rs we fade and die
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by
But life eternal calls to us
At the cross

I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross

I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

God is NOT in Quarantine

Stuck.

Working from home.

Loss of momentum from canceled events.

Financially frozen in light of uncertain times.

Historical headlines of fear, disease, and empty arenas.

Around the globe, people are in the same boat, yet living in isolation.

Loneliness.

A sinking economy.

Hungry children.

Empty church pews.

Infected family members dying alone.

Worlds are being turned upside down as busy schedules are being transformed into empty, monotonous days.

Time used to pass quickly with a distracted mind…now the minutes are painfully slow.

Life might seem like it is on pause for the unforeseeable future, but TAKE HEART.

God is not in quarantine.

He is not hanging out on His throne watching Netflix.

He is not wringing His hands in worry about Coronavirus and its impact on the world.

Even though it all seems so unsure and scary right now, remember that we have a God who is not afraid of this world.

Jesus entered into the mess of humanity long ago in Bethlehem.

Since then He has been pursuing the hearts of all people, drawing them closer to Him.

For God, nothing has changed.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

-Isaiah 41:10

No one is really alone.

He is holding the hand of the “infected” grandfather as he takes his last breath in isolation.

He is bringing peace to the single mother who is surviving at home with her four children.

He is comforting the hysteric person who can’t stop reading about conspiracy theories.

He is hanging out with the bored teen scrolling through tiktok for endless hours.

Whether you are worried, bored, anxious, stuck, afraid, or sick…

God is with you.

He is strengthening you.

Helping you.

Whether or not you feel or want His presence, He is there.

So in this time of uncertainty and information overload, put down your device and soak up His presence. Be in His word. Reflect. Ask Him what He wants you to learn.

And know that no matter your current state, He is holding you up.

A Slow Start

As expected, the start to the school year has been super slow. Schedules are still being finalized, and we have been drinking coffee with leaders of the community, building relationships.

This week we finally were ready to start our new schedule. After an inspiring first day, schools were shut down for a month for Coronavirus prevention.

I don’t know if it’s the Gringa in me, but I am chomping at the bit, ready to see progress. Now.

Recently I have been tempted to force that progress. I want to push my teenage friend to go back to high school. I want to see my neighbor go to church every Sunday. I want to watch the village alcoholic put his bottle down and follow Jesus.

These are all good things, but let’s be real.

God calls us to love others. Not to make them our projects. Not to convince them to be believers. Not to make sure that they are progressing in a certain direction.  Not to get to know them only to later reveal our hidden agenda.

If Jesus’ ministry were to be evaluated by the progress His followers made, it would be easy to say that it was a failure.

Prostitutes. Alcoholics. Doubters. Tax collectors. Outcasts.

It was His own disciple Judas who betrayed Him. When arrested, His disciples disappeared and hid in fear.

Jesus loved people just as they were. On the cross, he prayed “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”

Let’s follow Jesus’s example and love others. Invite them into our homes. Walk with them through the good and the bad. Trust that Jesus is shining through us.

When we first moved to Esterillos, we had a policy of not lending money to anyone, under any circumstances. Gringos are stereotyped as being wealthy, so we are a target for being asked for loans of even the smallest amount.

A really good friend of ours borrowed some money from us. Normally we wouldn’t have done so, but we trusted this person. We spent time with them daily and had a solid relationship.

When they never returned the cash, we were hurt. But it was our reaction that was the true ministry. We forgave them and moved on as if nothing had happened. When we continued to talk to them, they were surprised.

The temptation is to insert a sermon. To give a long explanation for why we love them the way that we do. But instead we just love them, prepared to give an answer for why.

Recently this friend has returned the love. They have been going above and beyond to mimic our servant love. And they ask questions about our hope. They are encouraged by our faith.

God is on the move.

Join me today in this prayer:

“Lord, take me where you want me to go;

Let me meet who you want me to meet;

Tell me what you want me to say;

And keep me out of your way. Amen.”

 -Father Mychal Judge, NYFD chaplain, killed in 9/11 World Trade Center attack

Amor y Amar

♫ “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s amore…” ♫

Amor. Love.

When we talk about amor, it’s sometimes hard to put into words. There is romantic love, unconditional love, familial love, etc.

So when God calls us to love others, it can seem confusing. It is easy to understand WHY we love others:

“We love because he first loved us.-1 John 4:19

But HOW can we love?

In Spanish, the verb to love is amar. In a recent meeting with a pastor friend, he reminded us that there is a distinct difference between amor (the noun “love”) and amar (the verb “to love”).

I feel this applies to so much of life.

As a mom, I have so much love for my children, but are my actions showing it? Is letting Aubree eat another sugary cookie to make her feel happy really LOVING her, or is teaching her self control and what is appropriate to eat a better way to show her God’s love?

As a wife, I have love (amor) for my husband. But do I love (amar) him with my actions?

As a neighbor, God calls me to reflect His love. So how can I do that??

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” -Ephesians 4:2

Lately I have been challenged to amar more like God. He calls us to be humble, gentle, and patient, just as He humbly suffered on a cross, the most amazing example of amar.

But to love, to truly show unconditional love with my actions, to deny my pride and love others even when they are unloveable… is NOT an easy task. And it is impossible to do on my own.

The more time I spend in the Word, soaking up the beautiful story of God’s redemption, the more amor flows out of me!

Right now, our ministry team is on the cusp of starting a new program. When working with a program, it is tempting to get so caught up in making it successful that even though God has filled us with His amor for His people, we forget what it truly means to amar them.

So we are bearing with others. Drinking coffee with them. Living life, the good and bad. Loving people through marital problems. Loving them through conflicts. Loving them through their drunkenness or bitterness. Loving them even when they hurt us.

And we listen. We don’t jump in to fix their problems or change them. We wait on the Lord, seek advice, and study on HOW we can truly amar them.

It is slow, but it is how we learn the needs of people so that we can truly amar them.

Let all that you do be done in love. -1 Corinthians 16:14

Cheers and may you find joy in loving others this Valentine’s Day!

Brave

I see you.

Staying in another temporary home, a new baby boy shows up, crying and taking up all of Mommy’s time. You don’t understand why this little creature is so special and why you need to be “sweet” to him.

Mommy might seem distracted, but I see you.

Hours strapped to a carseat, only to wait in line in a brightly lit, overcrowded building where you are asked to walk through strange equipment. More lines, more sitting.

You don’t know where we are going or fully understand why. All you know is that another transition is coming, and your life will be different again.

But you smile anyway and make it into an adventure. “Look mommy, clouds!”

I see you.

Running through another grocery store (since we are staying in a new town again), singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at the top of your lungs. You have all of the energy that your parents lack. Everyone who hears your little voice smiles because your sweet innocence brightens their day.

They don’t know that you are out of your “element” and that your familiar world is constantly being rocked.

I might seem focused on getting groceries, but I see you.

Hiding behind my legs at your cousins’ house, afraid to join in because even though they look just like you, they are different. They play with foreign toys and use different words. I desperately want to help you feel comfortable, but my attempts are met with screaming and fear.

I see you, taking brave little steps after days of observing, to join in and play.

Pushing and screaming, you try to kick your friends out of our home. Everyone is confused, including yourself, because just 6 months ago you were playing perfectly fine with them. After days of living in timeout for your aggressive behavior and unwillingness to share, you retreat from our neighbors again and whisper into my ear, “Mommy, no Spanish please.”

When I ask you if you want to practice your Spanish so that you can play with your friends like you used to, your face lights up and you say, “Sí, ¡por favor!”

What a life you have lived at only three years old!

Forgive me for all the times I have lost my patience with you or misunderstood your emotions and behaviors.

You might not believe it now, but I see you.

And even though you might feel disheveled, I want you to know that you are the bravest little girl I know.

I’m in no hurry to see you grow up, but I know that you are going to be a grounded woman, your identity rooted in Christ Jesus.

So stay brave, sweet girl.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Año Nuevo

I didn’t make any resolutions this year.

To be honest, we spent 50% of 2019 uprooted from our home or any sense of normalcy, so when we finally made it back to our casa in December, the last thing on my mind was “switching up” the routine that we just started settling into.

For those of you who know me well, you are aware that I suffer from a severe case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). So as soon as the New Year celebrations came and went, I was left in a state of panic.

All of a sudden it was January 2nd, and I had not even reflected on 2019, let alone thought about the upcoming year.

Without a resolution, what do I have to look forward to in 2020?

It’s like I think that I need to wait until 2021 to do anything meaningful.

This morning I read Matthew 14:30-31, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” 

I bet Peter beat himself up so much after that moment. He had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk on the water with Jesus, and he doubted. I’m sure from that moment he resolved to never doubt again.

Well, **spoiler alert** that didn’t end up being the case.

Why do we make resolutions with the expectation that we are going to keep them perfectly? Why is it that by April, most people don’t even remember what their goals were?

I’ve considered many things this year:

Not get angry when I parent.

Spend an hour a day in the Word.

Work out regularly.

Start a Bible journaling group.

Pray more with mothers.

Write a blog post every two weeks.

Pray more regularly for my neighbors.

Friends, whether you have made a resolution or not, I encourage you to rest in the reassurance that Jesus is there to catch you when you fail or fall. And just like He was there for Peter, He will be there for you IMMEDIATELY, ready to forgive and walk alongside you again.

God’s love is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

The expression “New year, new me” is cute, but the reality is that we are continually made new by the forgiveness and blood of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

-2 Corinthians 5:17

So if your resolution ends up being a fail, it’s not all over. Just be forgiven, and try again.

Pura Vida, feliz año nuevo.