Castles in the Sand

 

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Yesterday, I was building a sand castle with my eight year old son. It was exciting to see the castle emerge: walls, towers, ramparts, all set off by the castle moat. Only one thing kept daunting our task. From time to time, a rogue wave would move up the beach, and wash our castle into a state of ruins. It was fun to watch my son frantically move about, trying to prevent the decay of his dream. He would clutch the towers in order to better support them, and try to dig out space for the water to flow past without harming the castle. In the end, we both walked away, our lofty imaginings of a beautiful castle giving way to the reality of our failed efforts.

As we left, our ruined castle forgotten, his smile radiant and his laughter contagious, I realized something:

It was never about the castle. It was about us.

If I had been consumed with the success of our efforts, if I had become obsessed with results, I would have missed everything. His smile; our teamwork; his joy at having me sit beside him in the sticky sand and while away the hours together: These were what gave value to our endeavors.

Our human existence is a bigger picture of that sunny day on the beach. We are constantly working to build something wonderful: to create, to pull our dreams from an idea to its reality. In the Christian world, the drive to build and succeed doesn’t lessen.

But, in my own life, I see moments when I am frantically trying to keep the “towers” from crumbling, while Jesus is simply trying to get me to see HIM.

Days and weeks of effort can crumble in a moment. I can work for years trying to gain influence, improve my efficiency, and try to convince others to follow me as I follow Him. In the midst of my fervor to build the castle of my ministry, I must ask myself, “Is this still about Him, or has it become more about the castle?”

The longer I am at this, the more I am realizing that it’s my tendency to focus on the castle-building and to miss the real prize. In my desire to have something to “show for,” I leave Him to the side. I feel sure He will still be there sitting beside me once my castle has been reinforced with steel and replaced with concrete. And that’s the moment I look up, sweat dripping from my brow, my cheeks flushed with pent-up frustration, and realize He is no longer there. Sometime during my obsessed efforts to create something memorable, He walked away.

My castle has now become a prison. Cold, sterile, and well-built. It is complete, but it will never be whole.

It is missing the One who gave it any purpose.

As has happened to so many Godly men who end up wrong: My ministry is empty. A ship without a sea. A poem without a lover. A mother without a son.

The more we accomplish in Christendom and the more we can show for our efforts, the easier it is to pull away from Him. Our “success” in the ministry can ultimately result in our failure in relationship. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-9a,

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….”

Paul understood the competition between accomplishment and relationship. He made it very clear that when the two clashed, he would always abandon results for Jesus. In vs. 4-6 of the same passage, Paul lists his qualifications and successes in the ministry. He wasn’t considering sin or vice as the “garbage” to be cast away. He was denouncing his ambition, efforts, even his own ministry accomplishments. These were worthless to him, in order for him to know Christ!

Paul was willing to walk away from the sand castle if it was going to keep him from Jesus.

I look to Paul’s example, and I am challenged. I can still build this castle of ministry, but I must remember two things: 1. It is only made of sand. It was never intended to last forever. 2. It’s not about the castle. It’s about US. The castle is simply a way for Jesus and I to build together.

This is life-changing for me.

As a missionary walking dusty streets in Panamanian villages, I hold His hand. I let His heart capture mine as I look into the eyes of people who have gone their entire lives without Him. It thrills my heart to realize I’m not doing this alone. I need His help; we are building something together.

As a worship leader, my voice and instrument no longer matter. Can He see my heart? Does He know I’m weeping because I’m so honored to be here with Him, because this song will never fully express how much He means to me?

As a public speaker, looking at the crowd before me, I realize I don’t need to be influential. I just want Him to be proud of me; I just want to make Him smile. This is another day with Him, building a ministry like I built a sand castle with my son. At the end of the day, I want to walk away from the castle, still holding to His hand. At the end of my life, I want to leave behind the ministry, more in love with Him than when I began.

Despite how faithfully we attend to our ministries, the waves of life will wash over us all. In the sandy ruins of my human effort and ambition, I long for this to be what remains:

Jesus, the lover of my soul

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The end of the sand castle; but NOT the end of a beautiful friendship.

 

Traveling Trials

I’m writing this blog for those of you who think that since I am a missionary, I have been granted supernatural patience. Unfortunately, I practice patience the same way we all have to: under trial.

The date is March 24th, 2016.  Our family, (Rob and I, and our five children), had finally crammed the last possible item into our luggage and were at the airport to catch our flight to Panama. We were checking 7 items: 5 suitcases, one carry-on bag, a stuffed hiking pack and a guitar. In addition, each child had a back pack of their own with excess items I couldn’t seem to find room to pack in the suitcases. Two of our checked bags were holding the curriculum for our kids’ school-work for the next nine months. My 37 years of life had brought me to this point:

Seven bags, one guitar, five children, one husband.

Sobering thought.

It is our turn in the queue, and I get our passports ready for check-in. Ready or not, Panama, here we come!

….Except there is a little snag. Our five suitcases were overweight by 5 pounds each. Rob had bought a handy luggage scale where you hook the bag and suspend it. It gives you an “accurate” read-out of your luggage weight. Except it must have been off by 5 pounds. Verdict: Luggage scale: NOT so handy.

So, I start pulling out enough stacks of socks and shirts and PACE’s (the kids’ school books) to get the weight reduced. By the fifth bag, I think I’m getting pretty good at gauging how much weight is in an adult pair of socks or stack of t-shirts. I congratulate myself on my success at getting five bags under the weight limit. Only now I must face the fact that I have to re-allocate this weight to a guitar, an already stuffed hiking pack, and a small suitcase.

Desperation makes you creative. Under the watchful eye of other travelers waiting to check in for their flights, we take on the challenge of re-distributing our travel weight. There is nothing more humbling than this particular moment: Hours of deliberate planning and organized packing dissolve into a hasty panic of trying to stuff personal items back out of the sight of complete strangers. Rob and I no longer look like cool, collected travelers. We’re frantically stuffing socks into the cavity of his guitar. Hiding our panic, we call our kids over and start cramming books and clothes into their airplane carry-ons. Rivulets of sweat drip between my eyebrows.

While tossing items to Rob, I catch a glimpse of another passenger. He appears polished and svelte; I spot a manicured hand resting on the upraised handle of an infinitesimal Samsonite suitcase. I am torn between the twin sins of wanting to sue the “handy” luggage scale inventors, and envying my cosmopolitan fellow passenger. In a moment he will push his slick little suitcase onto the luggage scale with a victorious 15 pounds under weight. I want to verbally challenge him,

“Oh yeah? Are you living out of THAT for the next nine months???? I didn’t THINK so!”

I catch myself, realizing I am fantasizing about an argument instead of finishing this deplorable duty. Soon, the task is complete. I say a little prayer over the bulging zippers of the back-packs, and walk away satisfied. Maybe the zippers will burst and everything will fly out. At this point, I couldn’t care less. I’m a missionary, for goodness sake: If my kids don’t have extra underwear, I’ll just remind them that their next-door neighbors have been living without extra changes of clothes for their entire lives. How hard can it be?!

The next step is even tougher. We say goodbye to our parents and our kids hug their grandparents for the last time for nine months. It’s moments like these that are much harder than luggage weight re-allocation. Our hearts ache for the moments we will miss and the memories we will only share through Skype calls.

People often ask me, “What is it like to do what you do?”

This question is not easy to answer. Honestly, I am no super-hero. I am just a busy mom who is willing to live wherever God sends us. Those hectic moments of packing and re-packing and those poignant moments of heartache and goodbyes all culminate into one truth:

The Lamb is worthy.

Everything He has freely given me, I freely give back.

As we walk the breezeway to board our plane, I take a deep breath. I don’t know how my luggage will end up, but this I do know: I will proudly stand beside my husband and my 5 beautiful children as we follow God’s leading. We are living an incredible adventure that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

….But I DO have a luggage scale back home I am happy to give away to anyone who is interested…..

Family pic airport March 2016

My family at the airport. We took this photo BEFORE we realized we would be re-packing all our luggage. Hence, the nice smiles.

Furlough in Missouri

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My Large (but beautiful) Family

For the past two weeks, I’ve been driving my minivan around town and faithfully performing the following duties:

  • Dr. Appointments
  • Dental Visits (all 5 kids need their teeth cleaned and ISAAC has cavities….)
  • Orthodontic appointments (Isaac again)
  • New Driver’s license
  • Homeschooling
  • Walmart (to buy a fresh supply of underwear and socks for the next 9 months…)
  • Laundry
  • Laundry
  • Laundry

 

Actually, looking at the final three items, I’ve been ignoring some of the above mentioned duties…oops.

This list can probably be found in every suburban mother’s home, complete with children and the minivan with the sticky seats. Unfortunately, my official job description is not “stay-at-home Missouri Mom,” but “international missionary mom home on furlough.” The key word in both descriptions is “Mom,” and there’s no escaping the fact that motherhood trumps fancy job descriptions and reduces you to that lady who never has enough hours in her day….

Our furlough home has been interesting. I had this secret wish list of things to do upon arriving in Missouri:

  • Visit family
  • Hang out with friends (show them I’m learning to drink coffee…. Actually, I don’t think “official” coffee drinkers consider a “Latte” to be true coffee, but I’m breaking a non-coffee habit of 36 years…)
  • Indulge in the following hard-to-find foods in Latin America:
    • DR. PEPPER
    • Steaks cooked Medium Rare with no fear of food poisoning
    • Sour Cream. On everything… Except the Lattes.
    • American Candy, especially Reese’s Pieces.
  • Catch up on some needed rest
  • Take long soaks in the bathtub with very hot water
  • And, hey, maybe asking too much, but it’d be nice to see some snow. (Just the pretty kind that falls and doesn’t stick or make the roads dangerous.)

 

My actual time home has been much, much busier. Our crazy schedule has made the above list a bit challenging to accomplish. On the bright side, my list looks like a solid plan for “How to Gain Weight Effortlessly,” so it’s probably for the best.

To give you a little idea of what a five-week furlough can look like, in the last 5 weeks, we:

  • Drove 2,500 miles (not counting Rob’s 1,500 mile drive to Juarez, Mexico, & back)
  • Changed time zones 3 times (4 if you count going onto daylight savings time)
  • Traveled through the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri
  • Visited 6 different churches and one para-church ministry
  • Went to 10 office appointments
  • celebrated 3 birthdays and an adoption
  • Unpacked/Re-packed/Unpacked (again!) a total of 8 suitcases
  • recorded a radio/podcast interview (here’s my plug for NextGen Worship, you should take a listen sometime)

 

I don’t know if you’ve picked up on the trend yet, but I’m become very proficient at making lists. (Maybe I should’ve used the word obsessive instead of proficient…?)

Where am I heading with all of this?

Please know, first of all, I’m really not complaining. It’s so great to see our dear friends, family and supporters!

I’m blogging about this because it’s such a contrast of roles:

One minute, I’m sharing my great passion for the beautiful people in Mexico and Panama, and the next moment I’m sitting in the car singing “On the Road Again” with the kids. The slide shows, highlight videos, and RKMissions T-shirts morph into another round of suitcases, our trusty GPS unit, and another pile of laundry.

Hold on a sec. I WILL complain about that! Do any of you ever feel like that pile of laundry should really be called “Mt. NEVEREST?” As in, it will NEVER get done, EVER(est)? I have been stepping around it, my kind husband has been stepping over it, and my 5 children just run over the top of it. What’s with that anyway? I know it wouldn’t look as cute as the pink Energizer bunny marching around and around and never stopping, but, seriously, my laundry pile WILL EXIST into Infinity and Beyond!!!

Which brings me to another pile that seems to keep growing: the un-matched sock pile. Every few months, I throw away a gallon-bucket-sized pile of socks that have no mates. Only to turn around and find the “Un-matched” pile has appeared again, daring me to believe the other sock will turn up as I do the laundry.

No matter where I go, what I do, or how much I check items off my to-do list, the laundry never goes away. It patiently sits there, awaiting my next energy spurt.

But, for all my complaining, I’m still having the time of my life. (With a little less sleep than originally hoped…)

Nothing replaces our excitement to visit with our families. Nothing compares to seeing people weep as we share about loving the Ngobe Indians in Panama. Nothing erases the effects of hearing our loved ones pray for us and encourage us.

Not even the laundry pile can steal the simple joys of enjoying the fickle Missouri weather, talking with friends, and laughing with family.

We are blessed. We are loved. And whether I can see it or not, we are advancing the Kingdom,

…..one dirty sock at a time.

Kathryn Laundry

CLEAN Laundry!  (Special thanks to Matt Nickel for the Photo Bomb.)