by Kris Gnuse
She strode up to our prayer gathering, her gray curls beautiful. The group stopped for greetings and her update on the situation across the border. Backpacking alone across Central America, helping out at missions along the way, Nicaragua’s political unrest had sent her doubling back to the children’s home where our family serves.
We hadn’t met, so after a while in the background, I asked her name and introduced myself: I’m Kris, Matt’s wife.
Her response stunned me. Yes, she knew my husband. With him so involved at the Home, she thought I’d be on-site helping more. She hadn’t seen me the whole time she’d volunteered.
The assessment burned. For a moment, I had no words. Matt explained that I homeschool our three children and have a full plate running our household.
She wasn’t impressed. Again it came; she thought I’d be there more.
I jumped in to list my efforts: cooking team dinners, communication for our family ministry and the Home, the longer process of doing cross-cultural life.
There it was out on the table. I disappointed this interesting, brave soul. My labor didn’t count—to her.
I’m not sure what was going on in the heart of that purpose-driven woman, but I can describe a little of the turmoil inside this one. I tried to shrug, also, to nudge her opinion off of me. Instead, it stuck.
After spending most of the day spinning the scene in my head, I started asking questions and listening for the truth. Am I spending my time where I’m supposed to?
There are likely as many types of missionary mothering as there are mission families. One feeling we probably all share is wondering if we do enough. Like moms everywhere, we teeter on a scale that almost defies balance: if we work out in the world a lot, we should focus more on home. If we pour into home, we should use our talents outside it more often. Stir in some “cross-culture” and “serving the Lord” status, and things get even stickier.
When I first landed in Costa Rica as a missionary, I thought I had to be perfect. I believed serving in a new culture meant I couldn’t have any of my own. I shouldn’t have preferences or needs. It was all dying to thyself. When I was served inedible food at a restaurant, we didn’t dare complain. When the taxi driver’s cologne cloud and speed-stop-turn combos set me sick and trembling, take up thy cross. For shame, you a) brought so much Tupperware from the states, b) skipped voluntary chapel to give your overwhelmed introvert self a breather between classes, c) used your clothes dryer when it wasn’t raining. And so on, forever and ever, amen.
The strain outpaced my weight-bearing capacity. To keep from being crushed, I had to give up trying to keep up with what I thought people expected of me. I had to find my own scale and sense of balance for the calling God gave me.
Long before I ever signed up for this surrender, I felt the press of expectations. Our family came for 5 weeks in 2008 to get a taste of mission life without the team experience bells and whistles. Just us conquering the grocery store, bribing our kids with new flavors of jello for patience while we translated packaging. Just me figuring out exactly how short my Rosetta Stone work measured up. When our son’s 3-year-old, out-of-his-element wails sounded once again from the play area chaos, a different single woman from the States had words for me.
You know, to serve in this place, your kids have to toughen up. They have to live like these kids—without parents. We share everything here.
I was still on job interview behavior, trying to say the right thing, go the extra mile, make a good impression. But the rebuke knocked the people pleasing right out of me.
That is not what God is calling us to do.
My bold declaration surprised both of us. I knew it without question, though. God was not asking us to make our own children orphans so we could minister to orphans. Each family has a unique assignment; that was not ours.
My calling, God revealed over time, is to make home for our family. This safe, snug nest is the landing and launchpad for my husband’s full-time leadership at the children’s home. It’s the education of our kids, equipping them for whatever the Lord has for their future. It’s modeling a healthy family for precious hearts waiting to find theirs. It’s cooking up the taste of love for teams and making relationships from afar with words. What God asked of me is not just my contribution, it’s become my joy.
Each of us has special set of gifts and a call to use them, whether on the mission field or off. We each serve and grow the kingdom in a way only we can. Everyone hears the “not enough” message from some stereo system. It’s time to cut the power on that soundtrack.
We shouldn’t have to look like one another. Life’s canvas is richer if we don’t. Let’s embrace the spectrum of colors each brings to the table and fully enjoy painting our own.
As for me and my house, it’s picked up, but not dusted. In a culture where value is earned by the shine of your tile, I choose to set priorities in line with my calling and trust the Lord for my worth.
In a land full of expectations, the best path is freedom.
Kris Gnuse is living proof the Lord gently leads those with young. Their family of five just celebrated 5 years serving at a transitional children’s home in Costa Rica. Cross-cultural ministry, parenting, and sometimes breathing in general, drive her to God’s grace each day. Join her in embracing his great love and breaking free from what holds us back, at thegoodnewsfamily.com