Even for Just One

One by one the majority of the students in my fourth-sixth grade Gifted and Talented program at the local school where I taught full-time last year and continue part-time this year came in as I was setting up for our usual Friday afternoon class to tell me, “Miss Jennifer, I won’t be coming to class today.” Their reasons seemed legitimate as they told me of the school-wide science fair and how they either had a competing project or wanted to see their classmates’ creations, and I thanked each child sincerely for having the respect to come and let me know that I should not expect them that afternoon although I was slightly disappointed with the news of the science fair’s conflicting schedule with my class.

But in my heart I rejoiced, thinking Yes, I can just cancel the class due to low attendance and spend time resting, reading my Bible, preparing for the coming week, and getting ready for the girls’ basketball practice that will begin in a few hours. I had spent a week in a warzone between our four children who are all struggling with the adjustment of having a new sibling, plus the continuing adjustment of dealing with their pasts, being in a new homeschooling program, accepting Darwin and I as parents, etc. The week had been filled with bouts of jealousy, various children declaring that they felt unloved or outright accusing us of favoring one child over another, the children forming teams against one another, feeling as though they need to struggle or compete to earn their spot in the family or classroom, playing the victim, and putting others down to feel better about themselves. Every day it seemed like each child had at least one eruption or shut-down, and our week was filled with stress, long prayers, varying punishments, discussion upon discussion about what it means to show the love of God to others, and so forth. I just wanted to collapse from mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, and I thought What an unexpected gift that I won’t have to teach today –

And then in came one of my eager fourth-grade students, and with a fake smile on my face I anticipated his science-fair excuse and cut him off, “Oh, it’s okay, I know there’s the science fair. Go enjoy it and we’ll just wait to have class until next week.” And somehow my exhausted cheek muscles forced out a reassuring smile, expecting him to accept my proposition as valid and leave.

“No!” And his face dropped, “I really want to have the class this afternoon…” and he looked confused about why I was considering canceling.

And I thought Dang it, why doesn’t he just go to the science fair? Doesn’t he realize I’m on the brink of some kind of breakdown?

I then asked tiredly if it would just be him or if others were also planning on attending our class, and he confirmed that there was at least one or two others who had said they would arrive.  I thought, trying desperately to justify myself in canceling the class, If there are just two or three kids – when there are nearly twenty enrolled in the program – it’s not worth it. It’s better just to wait until next week when we’ll have full attendance.

Then, as has happened so many times, Jesus’ words cut to my core “Even if there were just one person — one sinner — in the whole world, I still would have died for that person. Even for just one. Numbers don’t matter. Look at this eager little boy and accept him as I would – invite him in and teach him of Me and my ways. He matters to me. As I said to my Father in anguish before dying on the cross, have Your will be done, not mine.”

Then, even with rebellion – I might even call it self-defense – crying out in my heart, I told him that, yes, we would have class because numbers don’t matter, and in my heart I knew that having the class would be a submission of my will to God’s. His eyes immediately lit up, and he left the room and began shouting loudly to his comrades, “Let’s go! It’s time for Miss Jennifer’s class!” And I laughed and quickly stumble-ran out of the room to the school’s balcony where he stood to tell him to stop shouting because class wasn’t scheduled to start for twenty more minutes and, as he and my other students know, I am allergic to unneeded noise.

His eager little face then appeared periodically in my window over those next twenty minutes as he squinted to see the agenda I was scribbling on the whiteboard and to catch a glimpse of the learning materials I was preparing for them. My rebellious heart broke and I thanked God for having guided me into loving obedience.

That day five enthusiastic fourth-graders arrived in my classroom and we had an incredibly fruitful time that began with an in-depth reading of the words of Saint James: Religion that is pure and faultless in God’s eyes is this: to take care of widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself clean from the corruption of the world. From there each of us – myself included – spent about twenty minutes drawing what that means – not only the aspect of helping those in distress, but what it means to keep oneself pure from all of the destruction and sin in our world – be it pride, love of money, hatred, materialism, lies, sexual impurity, etc. We then continued on with a writing exercise in their journals with a given open-ended prompt, followed by an exercise I have invented called Rapid Math, and finished with a logic game, all interspersed with dynamic dialogue about what it means to know and follow the True God.

Throughout my two-hour time with my students, I recalled my husband Darwin’s words that he spoke at his cousin’s home recently. His cousin, who is married, in his late fourties, and a very wealthy businessman, had asked Darwin sincerely about the life of Teresa Devlin, the elderly missionary under whom Darwin worked and was mentored by at La Ceiba’s Music Conservatory for over ten years. Darwin answered sincerely, “She spoke frequently and sincerely of Christ as she ran the Music Conservatory, but the majority of the students and teachers received the message of Jesus with deaf ears. I heard the message and was saved. Basically I am the product of her 15 years in Honduras, and her mission was fulfilled through my life.” I remember looking at my husband in a new way – and not only him but also the life of Teresa Devlin and God’s infinite and tireless power – with renewed awe, respect, and determination.


Even for just one, it is worth it. For one life turned toward Christ – even if it takes several years, frustration and despair over those who are lost, and daily struggle – it is worth it. Even if you or I or someone’s student or your grandchild or that terrible boss were the only human being alive on the face of the earth, Christ would have willingly died for that one person as He did for the multitudes. May we never judge our success, failure, or the value of our efforts on numbers.

Who’s Who at the Ranch

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Jenae Tiki Matikke, our beloved “Tia Tiki” (“Aunt Tiki” in Spanish), age 26, is about to celebrate her six-month anniversary living and working at the Ranch. Part of her family lives in Tennessee and the other part in Cameroon, West Africa. She and I met while studying abroad in Argentina in 2011, and during our time at the same Argentinean university we formed a strong friendship and stayed in touch after returning home to the States. She has degrees in Social Work and Spanish, and she is our beloved sister in Christ, dynamic homeschooling teacher, Bible study leader, and wonderful influence in both the children’s and our lives. God has placed it on her heart to start abstinence education classes in the surrounding rural community in the coming months in response to the high levels of sexual promiscuity and unwed teenage mothers. She is hilarious, very artistic, and has an extremely profound walk with Christ that is expressed in her humble submission to God’s will as she loves those around her. She is with us for an indefinite period of time as she continually seeks God’s will for her life.

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Erick Chavez, “Uncle Erick,” age 24, is a native Honduran and our honorable agriculturalist, Bible study leader, and godly influence in the children’s and our lives. He grew up in a Christian family and was discipled by our mutual mentors for several years before turning to worldly ways for a short season in his life. He has returned to the Christian faith with intense sincerity and has a profound testimony that he frequently shares with those around him. He is engaged to be married in May and is at the Ranch for an indefinite period of time as he continually seeks God’s guidance for him and his fiance.

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Diana, age 13, is our eldest daughter and has a very sweet yet strong spirit. She is wise beyond her years and is the spiritual leader among the children. She has a mothering spirit and a passion to learn music. She is currently studying piano, voice, music theory and music history in La Ceiba’s Music Conservatory that my husband directs, and in our homeschooling program she is learning to play the recorder along with the other children. She has a servant’s heart and is incredibly resilient considering the story that she holds at the young age of 13 years. She has mentioned wanting to be a math teacher or raise orphans as an adult, but she continues to seek the Lord’s will for her life. She and her sister Gleny participate weekly on a local girls’ basketball team that I coach.

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Gleny, age 9, whom I affectionately call “My Wild Gleny,” in, indeed, just that. She is very different from her older sister and has an incredible strength and spark that we continually pray will be used for God’s glory. She has grown in her self-confidence, trust in God, and adventurous spirit in these last few months, and she brings great joy to those around her. She oftentimes struggles with strong emotions, and in these last couple months she has begun to read the Bible on her own and says that each night she asks God for her life’s purpose. I recently asked her if she has any dreams for her future, and after thinking briefly she answered, “I want to go to the university. I want to keep taking painting classes and eventually teach others how to paint…and teach people how to read.”

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Jason, age 6, the biological brother to both Diana and Gleny, has grown incredibly in these months since the three of them moved in on November 1, 2013. He has given his life to Christ, and with that faith and confidence that he now has in God he has overcome many fears that used to immobilize and haunt him. He is our little man in training, and each Friday afternoon he, along with Brayan, has “Man Time” with Uncle Erick, who teaches them what it means to be a man of God. Jason loves to dance, is very artistic, and extremely affectionate. He loves animals and has a heart for the underdog.

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Brayan, age 13, is the newest member of our family at the Ranch. He is high-energy, very affectionate, and is learning what it means to be in a stable, loving family. He accepted Christ a short time after arriving, and is now learning to walk in the faith. He is very adventurous, fearless, and has helped Jason a lot in his growth as a young man.

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If you want to learn more about Darwin and me, you can visit the “Who We Are” page at the top of this blog.

1, 2, 3…Jump!

After many recent adjustments, long one-on-one discussions, conflict mediations, times of deep prayer, and the ongoing task of being a very non-traditional family, this past week we surprised the four kids with a trip to the local park to relax and just celebrate the fact the the Lord has us all together, even if sometimes it is uncomfortable or, well, different

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Holding All Things In Cupped Hands

It felt as though all the blood had drained from my body and I was on the urge of falling into a deep abyss. My weakened legs kept carrying me as Darwin and I walked along the seemingly endless dirt path leading away from our home, but I felt as though all strength — any ounce of fight inside of me — had left when I heard his answer to my simple question.

I had spent the day working on administration for the Ranch, writing thank-you letters, running errands, and buying groceries. Darwin had taken the kids to the city for their monthly ‘parental visit’ time that the government’s child protective agency requires. Typically it is a two-hour time slot of sitting and waiting without any real hope of a familial visit. After all, in their time under the government’s care, their mother has not visited them once after having abandoned them in a hotel over two years ago.


As Darwin and the kids entered our gate upon their return from their day in the city, I greeted each of the kids with a hug and a kiss on the forehead as Darwin went quickly to our bathroom to get cleaned up because he and I had received a special invitation to dinner at his cousin’s home that evening and needed to leave promptly.

After having showered and changed, Darwin and I began walking hand-in-hand from our home along the two-kilometer stretch to the highway. I asked very casually how the required visit time went with the children that day, and he answered — as if I had asked him his favorite color or what he ate for breakfast –“Their dad came.”


I felt as though my world had collapsed, as though I had a thousand questions to ask all at once, but my legs kept moving and somehow I kept breathing as I listened, as if through a heavy fog, to Darwin’s words —

Their biological father, who had not visited them in recent times and whom we did not expect to have any contact with, showed up on ‘parental visit day’ at the government’s child protective care office and talked with his three children for about an hour and a half, saying that he plans on visiting them every month and that he is going to work as hard as he can to ‘get them out of here.’ Diana, the eldest, protested her father’s proposition with a deep sincerity, saying she is content with us and does not want to leave…

Darwin gave me more details about the visit, but my mind wandered to the unthinkable, the unanswerable…

But we were planning on starting the oficial adoption process this May…and by law we cannot do that if they are receiving parental visits…right? At least that is what I had been told. What if their father does take them right back into all of the emotional damage that they came from? Although for us it would be devastating to lose them, the long-term damage they would suffer would be far worse than our loss. But there is redemption for everyone, and no one is outside of God’s reach, so He could change their father of whom I have heard so many abusive stories…right? What are we – a family or… Keep walking, Jenn…

As one dead leg slung itself in front of the other, carrying me toward the highway, my sunglasses under the red-hot sky hid my tear-filled eyes as I thought I cannot afford to have an emotional breakdown now, right before – or worse, during – this big dinner with Darwin’s cousin and his family.

As Darwin and I sat in silence waiting for the dinner to start, he looked at me, the despair in my heart portrayed on my pale face, and said, “Nearly a year ago you told me something that deeply impacted me…”

And I thought I know what he is going to do.

And sure enough he gently reached for my limp hands and joined them together, palms up, cupping my my hands in his. He said, “You told me that this is how you hold everything, in your open, cupped hands, because nothing is yours. Jennifer, nothing is ours. We are only administrators in God’s Kingdom.”


My dulled mind travelled to the memory of what I had written in my journal roughly a year ago…

February 11, 2013: Yesterday as I sat perched on a mossy rock in the chest-deep waters of the river I lowered my cupped hands into the water, raising them up to study the small pool that remained cradled in my joined palms. Many times over the past few years I have used the phrase ´holding all things in cupped hands´ metaphorically to describe wanting to care for what God has given me — relationships, opportunities — without seeking control. Yesterday in the river I stared intently, almost obsessively, at the still pool in my hands for a few brief moments before abruptly clenching my fists. The water which I was holding, of course, took an immediate exit through my greedy fingers. Then, almost as an experiment to see what the results are when we grasp at water, at life — when we cling too tightly, too clumsily to what God has given us — I began grabbing handfuls of water and trying — unsuccessfully, of course — to clench the water, to keep it as mine, and each time I was left with the same result: nothing. I then tried the opposite approach — holding the river´s cool water on flat, uninviting hands. Rather than trying to rapaciously own the water I approached it indifferently, caring little whether it slid off my stiff palms, out of my life. Inevitably each time the water disappeared from my hands as it had no safe crevice to rest in. I then returned to my original position, marveling at my ability to maintain water in my carefully cupped hands, thinking how no other approach would work — I could try poking the water, slapping it, balancing it on my fingertips, crossing or twisting my hands, splaying my fingers, but each time I would be left with nothing. I will hold all that the Lord has given me with cupped, open hands.

I sat there, still in a fog, using what little strength I had to suppress the tears welling up in my eyes as he and I remained there for several minutes, staring at our empty, cupped hands. I imagined Diana, Gleny, and Jason – alas, not only them but everything and everyone in my life – sitting in my carefully cupped hands, looking up at me. Then I thought, no, not like that, and began imagining them running and dancing about on the slopes of my palms. I then began to see them – the small, imaginary children skipping about on my cupped palms – jumping outward from my thumbs, away from me, or being taken from my hands or voluntarily walking out of them. I began to feel an odd mixture of peace, sorrow, and understanding. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Darwin’s words, which were initially my own so many months ago, bounced slowly around the corners of my tired mind, “Nothing is ours…” and I prayed then and am praying now that the Lord may allow those words to settle and bear fruit in the depths of my soul — that I may never clasp my hands greedily or fool myself into thinking I have power, control, or ownership over anyone or anything, including my own life. I will make the resolution once more, this time with a deeper understanding of its weight: I will hold all things in cupped, open hands.

Helping Dad Play the Piano

The other night I walked into our living room to find little Jason on top of Darwin´s shoulders as Darwin passionately played classical music as if it were the most normal thing in the world to have a six-year-old on one´s shoulders while playing Beethoven´s masterpieces. I quickly ran into our bedroom to grab our camera…

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