It All Started With a Cup of Water

Instead of going to work today, my husband and I received a new 13-year-old son. That is certainly a sentence I’ve never written before.

That is what I wrote on a slip of paper in one of my disorganized notebooks the evening of Friday, February 7, 2014.

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It all started with a cup of water about a month ago.

This is a story of how God works miraculously – and sometimes rather quickly – if we are willing to submit to His plan and crumple up and throw away whatever plan we ourselves had sketched out so neatly.

He – Brayan, that is, the newest member of our family – arrived on our 17-acre property several weeks ago as one of the young cow-herders who bring the local cow herd to our fields a couple times per week to graze. The first time I saw him he was resting on Erick’s porch with his young companion as they monitored the cows walking and grazing in their midst.

As I saw the two young boys from a distance, I remembered Jesus’ words that we are to give to those in need, and that if we give even a cup of water to a thirsty person in His name, we will be blessed.

Without thinking about the ramifications – Oh, God does have His plan, and oftentimes our first little step leads us much farther than we ever intended to go! – I went to our kitchen and filled up two plastic cups of water for the boys, walked across the property to where they were sitting idly, greeted them, dropped off the water, asked their names, left, and didn’t think much more about the incident.

A couple nights later at dinner Jenae announced, “You remember Brayan, one of the young cowherders?” And I thought, Yes, I think he was one of the ones I gave water to the other day…And she continued, “Well, I was talking with him and it looks like he wants to enter our homeschooling program.” I felt like a train hit me, and my immediate thought was No. I then wondered rather indignantly why she felt the liberty to invite him into our school program that we were supposedly planning explicitly for our three children, and I began searching my mind for several reasons why her proposition was absurd.

After a short time – a couple days perhaps, I don’t remember exactly – the Lord changed my heart and we decided to try to find the eager young Brayan, who hadn’t been in school for some time, to at least talk with him and probe his reasons for wanting to be in our school. Darwin and I ran into him along the long dirt road that leads from our home to the highway several mornings the followig week, and we talked with him about the possibility of becoming a student in our homeschooling program. We felt confirmation and peace from God, so the next step was to call his step-mother with whom he lived to get her permission, talk about requirements, and get copies of his birth certificate and prior school registration.

By chance we acquired her phone number from one of her young sons who was roaming along the dirt path one evening as Darwin and I were returning home, and, once home, I called her. She answered, and I introduced myself, telling her how her step-son was interested in becoming a student in our homeschool program –

“It’s better that he just live with you,” was her response.

Another train, and I felt like all the blood in my veins left my body. Quickly, feeling like I was doing a solo tap-dance routine in front of a large audience without knowing the choreography, I began to explain to her that, no, that was not an option – right?—but that we could offer him a spot in our school. She repeated the fact that she would prefer that he live with us, telling me that his biological mother left him at the age of two months and that his father died this year, leaving her, his step-mom, with him and her three other young children while she works long hours and struggles to feed her family.

I told her that we would be in touch regarding his schooling, trying to politely ignore her comment about him living with us, and then we ended the conversation.

That night I did not sleep as Jesus’ words resonated in my mind, knocking on the door of my heart: I oftentimes come in disguise – as a street person, as an orphan, as the lowliest of the low – and if you open the door, if you love these outcasts, you are actually loving Me. And if you reject them, you are rejecting Me.


It is a biblical passage I had studied so many times, and even that week had explained in-depth and with great enthusiasm to my students, basketball players, and my own children the weighty meaning of that passage in chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel – if we visit the prisoners and the sick, if we give food to those who are hungry, if we do any act of love in the name of Christ to those on the margins of society, we are actually loving Christ himself, and at the end of the world He will separate all people into two groups: those who ignored the lowliest, and those who reached out to them in love and Truth.

I tossed and turned, trying desperately to find a reason to close our door – our hearts  – to Brayan – afterall, we weren’t planning on receiving more children for about a year, and especially not a 13-year-old boy, and not with my ongoing insomnia and our new marriage…but God’s whisper was calling me — us — to faithful obedience.

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The next day I talked with Darwin, Jenae, and Erick about this, and although it was not a plan that birthed from any of our own personal plans, we all agreed that God had placed Brayan – someone that literally no one else wanted, that no one else was guiding into Christ’s liberating Truth – in our path, and that accepting him into our family would be more than an act of charity or even a risky move; it would be a step of faith born out of obedience.

So the next day, we almost frantically jumped through all the necessary hoops to have him officially form part of the Ranch family, and that night he slept under our roof for the first time. The story continues, but this is its beautiful beginning…

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Releasing All

A prayer of declaration from my solitude retreat, January 14, 2014:

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If I lose everything that I currently have – my husband, our children, the Ranch, our spiritual community, my health, the ability to walk or talk, my money, my reputation, my friends, I am fine; I am letting go of everything, in this moment, forever. I am letting go of any worry I have about our finances, my role as a wife, the future of the Ranch, the spiritual growth of our children and their purposes as adults, the lives and souls of my students, all of the pains and injustices of the world, all the lost people. I cannot change the world; I cannot save it – only You can, and if You use me in any small way, from the depths of my heart I will rejoice for having been used by the King. I am letting go of any desire for control, for power, for autonomy, for recognition, or a position of leadership and influence. If I lose everything in this world, I am fine. Moreover, I am considering that I have already lost everything, that nothing belongs to me, nobody owes me, I do not deserve anything. If one day I wake up and everything that I used to have has been taken away from me, I will continue onward – perhaps poor, miserable from the point of view of this world, a failure, starting over – but with joy in my heart, knowing that I have not lost the hidden treasure, You, Christ. Help me, Lord, to live like this – completely liberated from the worries that used to torment me. Nothing is mine, and if I lose everything, I will consider it a great privilege to have had those experiences and the company of those people during the time that You permitted. Only You are my treasure, my everything, and nobody can take that away. Liberate me from my worries, from the nightmares I experience about the injustices of the world and all the lost people, the groans of a hurting world, and help me to trust completely in You. Give me peace and rest. I am letting go of everything.

Gleny’s Letters

Gleny, our 9-year-old daughter, who I affectionately call “My Wild Gleny” due to her roller-coaster emotions and natural spunk, has taken up the task of writing heart-felt letters of spiritual and emotional encouragement to the people in her life. Both Diana, age 13, and Jason, age 6, have also begun writing letters to others with a deep sincerity, but in this post I will focus on two of little Gleny’s letters that she has written in the last few weeks.

Darwin, Jenae, Erick, and I often write notes and letters of encouragement and love to the children, and it has touched our hearts to see that they, too, have now taken upon themselves the task of doing the same for others.

I have translated the letters from Spanish to English exactly as she wrote them without making any changes.


Diana, my beloved sister:

All of us love you so much – you are so friendly. There are times that we fight when we play, and I like then you tickle me. You are an excellent reader, and thank you because you are my best sister, and Jason is my best brother. My mom, dad, Aunt Jenae, and Uncle Erick, and Jason love you, and everyone from our faith community. I hope that you tickle me tonight, and that you never lose your smile or your God. Thank you for everything.

With a lot of love,



Gleny wrote the following letter to the foster mom that her and her siblings had for two years after the children spent a few hours with her recently in a visit that we scheduled for them. Their beloved foster mom is a Christian widow in her sixties, and we are thankful for the seeds of love, faith, and discipline that she sowed into the children while they were with her. Below are Gleny’s words for her.

For Ms. Irma:

Hi! How are you? I hope that you have a lot of peace and a lot of joy and patience, love, and truth, and with compassion like Christ. We love you a lot, Ms. Irma. I miss you a lot. Thank you for the ice cream and thank you for your love and time for us, and thank you for taking us out for a trip around town. You were the best mom in the whole world. [At this point, as Gleny was dictating the letter to me and I was writing verbatim what she was saying because she still doesn’t have the confidence or educational background to write long letters properly, she looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Just like you, Mom!” and I laughed.] You did not yell at us or hit us, you just gave us punishments. And thank you for teaching us to read even though I did not pay attention while you were explaining the textbook to us. Forgive me for making a lot of noise in the morning every day. Thank you for all of your advice, and thank you for explaining to us when we did not understand something. Thank you for your hospitality with us. If we had not known you, we would not be as we are now. Please say “hello” to… [and she lists over 10 people].

With a lot of love,


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“Oh no, Mom raised the tire swings…”

Our children have many normal fears that other children have — fear of the dark, fear of trying new things — plus a few extra fears such as fear of abandonment or fear of dangerous neighbors that children who come from stable families do not have. We have worked extensively and very intentionally with the children with the goal that they literally fear nothing and no one except God.

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The other day it dawned on me to try to instill this fearless attitude in the children in a tangible way, so I headed determinedly to our porch and began raising the tire swings two to three feet higher than they had been previously. The kids all came to watch, mouths wide open and with looks of terror on their faces, and they asked why on earth I would do such a thing. I responded confidently, ¨You should fear nothing and no one except God. Don’t fear these tire swings.¨

And I left the scene, watching very intently from a distance as the three remained gathered around the tire swings, each wanting to see if he/she could mount the new challenge but filled with the fear of failing. The oldest and youngest half-heartedly tried, but Gleny backed away from the dreadful thing as if the tire swing itself might come after her and fulfill her moribund expectations. Gleny continued trembling and crying (even though no one was telling her she had to attempt the new challenge) while Diana and Jason tried repeatedly and eventually succeeded, which left the intimidated Gleny not wanting to be left out but still held entirely captive by her fear.

Gleny then approached me as I stood passively removed yet intensely interested, and sobbed, ¨Mom, I can’t do it. Help me! I can’t do it!¨ I said lovingly yet firmly, ¨You can indeed do it. I’m not going to help you. You are letting your fear dominate you.¨ Searching her mind frantically for a resource beyond Mom, light shone in her eyes as she said, ¨I’ll bring a stool!¨ I congratulated her for her creative thinking, and she returned quickly with a plastic kitchen stool to help her mount the seemingly impossible tire swing. Literally quivering, she got up half-way and then fear drove her back to solid ground. After several efforts she at last achieved the goal of mounting — and enjoying rather than dreading— the rush of swinging high in the air.

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Later that day as the children passed by the tire swings I overheard them grumble, ¨Ugh, Mom raised the tire swings to teach us not to fear anything but God…¨

And my heart rejoiced.