Everything Has a Beginning and an End

The other day Jason, our seven-year-old, and I sat on a concrete bench at the bus stop as we began discussing how sad we both were that one of our dogs had died from a strange stomach condition after having taken her to the vet several times. I’m not sure why, but I suddenly began telling Jason how everything – everything – has a beginning and an end. Except God.


This fact is probably rather obvious, but for both of us it proved to be a rather profound realization. Every animal, plant, and human has a beginning (when it is born or planted) and its end, when it dies. Even the oldest, most majestic of all trees will one day fall. Earth had its beginning as it exploded out of the Creator’s heart, and one day it will have its end when He calls his people to enter the Kingdom. Every opportunity, job, meal, building, project and relationship has a beginning and an end. Same with the sun, the stars. Our own bodies change every day, each day drawing nearer to their physical end. Snowflakes melt, childhood passes, my favorite hiking boots come undone at the seams.


Living on a ranch with the children has allowed each of us the priceless experience of learning first-hand that birth and death are normal parts of life while we are on Earth. Our horse died of a poisonous snake bite, several baby chicks died upon being born, fruits are picked from the trees and eaten. More radish seeds are planted, the chicks grow into chickens, and the rooster is killed when his season has passed. Birth. Life. Death.

first_steps_of_new_chick Rooster2hanging

I am currently on a three-night solitude retreat high up in the mountains of Honduras at a small bed and breakfast. This afternoon I walked barefoot around the well-manicured grounds, hearing the river roar far below, admiring this peaceful escape while at the same time realizing that it won’t be here forever. The building itself will begin to wear down over the years, the owners may close down or pass away, and things will change.


I don’t know about you, but this realization helps me tremendously to let go. When I get so wrapped up in our marriage or focused on some material improvement or place my identity in my temporary vocation, God whispers: It will all pass except me.


So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18


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I Myself Am That Man

The other morning I was in the large coastal city of La Ceiba running some errands when I stopped by my favorite breakfast spot – an old wooden cart parked alongside the curb in one of the city’s busy downtown streets. Taxis, buses, cars, bicylists, pedestrians and emaciated street dogs passed by as a few women prepared baleadas (think Mexican tacos) over several gas-powered burners, flipping tortillas on the skillet with their bare hands and calling out orders as people stoond in line to buy the Honduran delicacy. The cart itself doesn’t look like it would be sanitary enough to eat out of, and much less when you consider the pollution, exhaust, and raw city life on all sides.

But nonetheless, that little cart is one of our favorite places to eat.

That morning as I sat on one of about a half dozen plastic chairs lining the sidewalk, eating my breakfast in a small basket in my lap alongside a couple businessmen, an elderly woman, and a young mother, I became surprisingly disgusted with my surroundings. This is not hard to do in La Ceiba, as trash lines the streets, most buildings have chipped paint, people and animals urinate on the sidewalks, and everything tends to have a grimy feel. My eyes followed a rather beautiful yet unfortunate street dog with a broken front leg, hobbling along looking for food until a man aggressively shooed him and he darted off. I cringed as he ran. Then my eyes found a homeless man rummaging through a trash can less than two yards from me. My mind filled with thoughts like I would really rather not be eating breakfast in this environment. Thank you, God, for giving us a home in the countryside, for sparing us from living in the midst of all this mess of pain and sin.

And then my eyes landed upon another homeless man an arm’s reach away, this one with a knotted rope in his hands, talking nonsense and swinging the rope up against the back of someone’s truck, a sort of soft whipping motion. A thoroughly unpleasant man from all points of view, and I considered leaving with my breakfast to find somewhere else to sit and eat, away from him and his whipping rope. I studied him with my eyes as I hesitated to leave (knowing that any other sidewalk or park bench nearby would have the same unfortunate surroundings), and suddenly a thought intruded on me: I myself am that man. We are all that man in God’s sight in our filthiness, our nonsense, our unpleasant nature.

I don’t know how to take the thought much further than that, but we are all, in fact, that man. That dirty, crazy, his-presence-ruins-my-breakfast man. In God’s sight that is each one of us, each one of us falling short of His glory no matter how intelligent, accomplished or polished we are. If I think I am better than that man because I graduated from college and don’t pee in the street and know that whipping a rope against a car is not socially acceptable, I’m more lost than he is. God sees us much more clearly than we see ourselves: that man and I are on the same level, both desperately in need of God’s grace, my sin no better or worse than his. God chose to send His son to die for us – for that man and you and me – not because we deserve it but because He is merciful. And let us not be fooled into believing otherwise.

“Hidden Treasures” Blog in Spanish

Several months ago I began to feel a restlessness in my heart to start a version of this blog in Spanish in order to serve as a witness to God’s work not only among English speakers but also to those in Latin America, Spain, and those around the world who speak Spanish.

I am excited to announce that the Spanish blog finally exists and can be found at the following address:


The stories, photos, prayer requests, etc, that I will post on the Spanish blog will closely mirror the content posted on the English one, and the purpose in having the Spanish blog is the same as the English one: to proclaim God’s Kingdom and encourage those who read it on their search for Truth, which is Jesus Christ.

30 Things We’ve Learned in our First Year as Parents

November 1, 2014 will be our one-year anniversary as parents. A couple days ago Darwin and I sat down and compiled the following list of some of the things we’ve learned thus far:

  1. In order to get them to stop slamming doors, simply sit down with them once and say very calmly, “The next person who slams a door will lose their bedroom door. We will literally take down your door and hang up a curtain, because you can’t slam a curtain. Well, I guess you can, but it wouldn’t make any noise,” and they will never slam a door again. (We used to have several slammed doors per day, but now it’s been roughly seven months and counting without a single slammed door.)
  2. Parenting books really do help.
  3. In raising children, if our hope and purpose is placed in the children themselves, we will continually feel frustrated and in despair as they make mistakes, sin, and fail to meet expectations – rather our purpose in being parents must be rooted in the love of and obedience to God, who is perfect and does not change.
  4. The kids should not be allowed to cook by themselves (or they prepare 17 tortillas per person for breakfast).
  5. It is wise to have a “turkey talk” with them about the changes their body will soon experience, God’s vision of purity, and sex before they hear misinformation from a classmate or some other source. Give them accurate and honest information on an age-appropriate level so that they are responsible before God to make informed decisions.
  6. That African proverb that says “It takes a whole village to raise a child” really is true. The raising of any child is a team effort, and teachers, coaches, neighbors, aunts and uncles, nurses, day-care workers, etc, probably underestimate the true impact they have (or could potentially have) on the children in their lives. With that being said, those who aren’t necessarily “parents” may in fact be part of the parenting team of one or more children.
  7. The kids enjoy seeing us be affectionate with one another (holding hands in public, hugs in the kitchen, etc) and seem to feel very secure knowing that Mom and Dad genuinely love and care for one another.
  8. Children “know” many things and may even be able to finish our sentences and quote Bible verses, but it is not knowledge that counts, but rather practice. Saying a beautiful prayer over dinner about the need to be truthful does not necessarily lead to truth-telling once a sticky situation arises. Hypocrisy is always lurking, so the focus must always be on putting into earnest practice the good that we know rather than merely talking about it, as if knowledge alone suffices. (We know this is a rampant sin among adults as well, and this year we’ve learned that it begins in childhood and even when detected early on requires much prayer, constant guidance, and discipline to correct.)
  9. Asking their opinion when it is possible (which route they think we should take to get home, what order we should do our activities in, an opinion regarding a certain family decision, etc) helps them in the development of their self-confidence and decision-making ability, and they feel very important and valued in being asked what they think.
  10. If we do not carve out time each day for just the two of us to spend time together, all of our time quickly gets swept away with the children. (We learned this after it seemed like every night we were all in the living room playing and spending time together until 9:00 or 10:00pm before we would head to our room late, exhausted. Now we have a house norm that the kids must be in their rooms at 8:00pm and lights out at 9:00pm, which gives us alone time each evening to talk and connect.)
  11. Being a parent is a 24/7 job, and even when we are not physically with the kids we are likely praying for them, reading a book on how to parent them better, talking or thinking about them, planning activities for them, or doing something for them.
  12. Children should never be allowed to use Clorox bleach under any circumstances. (We made this grave mistake in the first several months as parents, allowing them to use bleach for cleaning purposes, but we ended up with towels and sheets with big bleach stains and many ruined clothes.)
  13. Loving all of them equally and treating each one differently are not mutually exclusive terms; rather we must learn what each one needs and wants and be able to respond accordingly so that our love for them can be genuinely shown. The way that we show our love for our 14-year-old daughter and our 7-year-old son are very different even though we treasure them both equally.
  14. Natural intelligence does not necessarily have a strong correlation with academic achievement.
  15. In a family with more than one child, it is vitally important to create time for each child to receive individual attention. We call these “dates” in our family, and they are held in high esteem by everyone. (I grew up an only child, so my memories of childhood were like one long “date” with both of my parents that I frequently wished would end!)
  16. Having a schedule that is fairly fixed each day is a tremendous help in cultivating a familial rhythm and sense of order. (Having a daily schedule may seem rather obvious, but we stumbled through our first several months, groping at chaos as we were trying to figure out how to manage a busy household, attend to everyone’s needs, establish special family traditions, make sure everyone was wearing clean clothes, etc.)
  17. When one child, especially one of the older ones, is struggling with a particular sin (lying, etc), all are put in danger of falling into the same. It is very important that the older ones set good examples, because they will be copied whether they want to be or not.
  18. The incessant and potentially annoying question “Why?” actually does have a purpose: the child is trying to understand the world around him and form his own opinions of how things work that will eventually govern him as an adult. We should be thanking God that he’s asking us “Why?” instead of answering all his questions with what he sees in the media and in his friends’ lives! Taking the time to answer all the “why’s” clearly and honestly is a huge investment we can make into their future decision-making.
  19. Children recognize and appreciate honesty in adults.
  20. Children don’t mind not having access to a television. (We’ve never had one in our home, and the children haven’t complained once about it.)
  21. The best way to help the children relax is to take them to an open-air area, such as the river or park.
  22. We should not seek to keep them little and cute; we should help them to take appropriate risks, be their constant cheerleaders, allow them to speak for themselves, assume the consequences for their actions, and take on new challenges and skills in their lives so that they become the men and women God would have them to be.
  23. Kids have a lot of great ideas if we will take the time to listen.
  24. Fulfilling promises as much as possible is crucial.
  25. A pet (such as a chick or a dog) helps the children to relax.
  26. If we implement a new family rule, norm, change of the daily schedule, or disciplinary procedure (or, even better, if we get everyone’s input and everyone agrees upon what is just and do-able together) and take the time to lovingly explain why, it is actually very easy for them to accept changes, even if the children don’t necessarily understand “what’s in it for them.”
  27. One child should never be compared to another.
  28. It is extremely fun to parent a very bright child, but it also requires much more from us.
  29. You should always speak well of your spouse to your children – the kids catch on and can feel a strong sense of family unity, plus they, too, begin to speak well of those who aren’t present.
  30. Creative, imaginative play is so crucial to their overall development (and quite fun to participate in with them).

Perhaps the Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Learned


The desert is the world.

The desert does not merely represent passing difficulties, a season of suffering, or some big problem we are facing. The Promised Land is not just around the corner; it cannot be entered upon accepting a new job, making the most of a new opportunity, falling in love, pursuing your dreams, or regaining your health. Or whatever else you think will make you happy.


Only upon dying do we enter the Promised Land fully.

Up until a few days ago I was terribly mistaken – I believed that for me being entrusted with the Living Waters Ranch was in some way an entering God’s Promised Land, a sacred place of safety where I would somehow be removed from the stains of this world, completely immersed in the goodness of His Kingdom. Something like heaven on earth. My grand exit from my affluent life in the States into my role as “mom” for orphaned and abandoned kids has actually increased my daily trials ten-fold. Robberies. Financial insecurity. Corruption. Lost friendships due to geographical distance. Water and electricity that go out frequently. The Promised Land?

I’m still in the desert.

And so are you, or maybe you’re still in slavery, which, although it might seem more comfortable than life in the desert, is worse.

woman cries

Most people are at least fairly familiar with the story of Exodus, of God rescuing His people out of slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, leading them through the parted Red Sea, guiding them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then finally leading them to the abundant land He promised to Abraham years before.

Although it is probably shockingly simple to some, what I learned this past week through our beloved mentor who has humbly served as a missionary in Honduras for over 20 years has profoundly altered my perspective on everything:

Egyptian slavery represents our life when we were slaves to sin and far from God.

The crossing of the Red Sea represents our salvation, when we recognize Jesus as our Lord. This crossing was the literal salvation of the Israelites fleeing Egypt as God allowed them to escape via the parted sea from their enemies who were hounding them.

The 40 years in the desert represent life after salvation while we are still alive. This time of desert trial does not end while we are alive. It is incredibly difficult and, as is mentioned in Exodus chapter 17, many of us may even wonder why it is that we left Egypt (which, remember, represents slavery.) Our task in the desert is to believe God is with us even though the temptation will be to doubt, to feel abandoned in a dry land.

pray for sick

The Promised Land represents our entrance into the Kingdom of God, or, more commonly know as heaven. This entrance becomes fully realized only upon death. While in this world we are participants in the Kingdom of God and get tastes of the King’s goodness, we do not fully enter until our death in this world, i.e. our complete exit from the desert.


Our problems and daily difficulties are not to be griped about or even merely tolerated, waiting eagerly for the day when they will pass. We are to find Christ in the midst of those difficulties, give thanks even though it may at first seem unnatural, and confirm in our spirit that God is with us and guiding us home.


So a couple days ago as Darwin and I were in the midst of a couple potentially distressful situations, I felt as though perhaps for the first time in my life I was truly enjoying that inexplicable peace that Christ offers us rather than trying to take everything in my own hands and fix the problems myself, vowing not to rest until everything is under control (which is never). My normal reaction would have been for my heart rate to accelerate, my thoughts roaring against the question Why? and trying to find the quickest and most painless solution, straining ahead looking for a glimpse of tranquility, of the Promised Land that never seems to arrive. But instead of growing dark circles under my eyes a contagious grin took over my face and that peace that I have never before experienced enveloped me. My husband looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and I shrugged care-freely and said, “We’re in the desert. This is our time of trial to see if we believe God is with us. And I believe He is. Let us give thanks for this trial because it will help perfect our faith.”

And then we sat down to discuss everything I had learned that week in our faith community’s discipleship group because he had been in the hospital caring for our youngest and had not been able to attend. After discussing animatedly the fact that our task while we are alive is to embrace our trials and difficulties, giving thanks to God and trusting He is with us (not waiting impatiently for the trials to end…because they never do, or complaining in the desert as the Isrealites did), knowing that Christ, our rock, is with us if only we will recognize Him, Darwin looked at me, amazed at this work God is doing in his young wife who typically maintains an almost constant level of stress and anxiety. With wonder in his eyes, he said, “You look serene.”

I laughed as words of thanksgiving flowed from my mouth, and he and I read together the following verses from the Bible:

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

joy in suffering

Exodus 17: 1-7 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 95 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”


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Our Favorite Neighbor

Entering our kitchen pantry, composed, I bent over to scoop out concentrated feed mix from a large burlap bag when I suddenly felt like someone had taken a strong fist to my solar plexus, and tears began to flood my eyes.

No, I thought. Not now, not yet. I forced the flood gates to close and regained momentary composure, knowing that we would be going to the chicken run together in a couple minutes. This would be our last early morning trip together to feed and water our hungry laying hens. Then we would help him pack his bags. And he would move out.

After over eight months of almost constant struggle – sometimes meaningful, profound, fringed with beauty as we saw hints of progress, while at other times so mind-bogglingly frustrating that we wanted to pull our hair out and stomp about like mad men – the local 14-year-old, Brayan, whom we had taken in as a son, decided to leave and return to his step-mother’s home a short walk away.

For several months now – or perhaps the whole time he lived with us – we used our wills to propel him forward due to his almost entire lack of motivation. We willed him to pass fourth grade, were on top of him every step of the way to complete the very few homework assignments he had, but even so he would lie, cut corners, and do a shockingly poor job even when he knew help was readily available. Hours and hours of one-on-one tutoring resulted in him declaring several times per week, “I will not receive classes today!” as he put his head defiantly on his desk and stubbornly fulfilled his own prophecy. Sending him to re-wash the same clothes four and five times still ended in brand new clothing stained and ruined within two or three uses. We invested in private sessions with a Christian psychologist, vitamins to help his intellectual capacity, weekly classes with his private tutor, hours upon hours of prayer, quality time spent individually with him, and a firm yet loving system of discipline and rewards.

As things progressed and he overtly refused to participate in his homeschool classes, voluntarily stopped taking music lessons with Darwin, disrespected his private tutor time after time, left without permission and did not return one night until after we were all in bed, refused to fulfill his basic chore duties, defied any disciplinary measures we took, and stopped participating in the basic agricultural activities that we do as a family, we entered into a period of prayerful discernment with him, lovingly explaining that he had a decision to make: change several things and thus choose to continue living with us, or carry on as he had been and thus freely choose to leave.

Two weeks later as things worsened with him and we felt the others were at increased risk of being infected by his rebellious, foolish spirit (or physically in danger due to angry outbursts), we decided with Brayan that it was time for him to leave because his actions had declared loudly, clearly, and consistently that he had no interest in respecting the guidelines of our home nor the people in it.

But instead of saying any of the above, instead of scolding him for having done things poorly or for his overwhelming laziness and ungratefulness, I gently held his face in my hands, his eyes drilling mine with an intensity I had yet seen from him, as the Lord gave me word after word to speak into his broken life before this chapter came to close and he would walk out the door with his belongings in plastic bags. We stood there, in the kitchen he and I, for over an hour, him listening intently as the Lord spoke through me to this young man, this prodigal son of His, because I myself had no more words to give. This tough guy who never cries, who laughs loud when he’s nervous and pokes fun at others to hide his own insecurities, who only this year learned how to read and write, had tears welling up in his eyes, as I did cascading over my heart. After giving him one last sermon – and this one seemed to be one of the first to be openly welcomed – I gave him a big hug before he would step into the real world beyond the daily discipline, help, and love of Ma and Pa.

As my fingers tousled his hair, I asked, “Do you want to go with me to the chicken run before we help you pack your stuff?,” Such a good-bye activity may appear odd to some but for us it seemed like the perfect ending to what God had crafted into one of His perfect jaggedy-patchwork chapters in His overarching redemption of mankind.

Basically it all boils down to freedom. That’s what we discussed at length with Brayan, and that is what has enabled us to enjoy such joyful peace in the midst of heartbreaking loss. God grants that freedom – free will – to each one of us, and He does not interfere with our use of it. It is only due to this free will that we can freely choose to love and follow the Good Shepherd. If we were not free to choose evil, we would likewise not be free to choose good. If I cannot choose hatred, neither can I choose love. God does not force our hand, and when someone refuses to accept Christ and submit themselves to His will, He lets them go. Saddened, yes, and longing for their repentance, their return, but He lets them go because they are merely exercising the freedom that He granted to them. There are consequences for how we use our freedom, of course, and when we stand in front of His throne at the end of our lives those consequences will prove eternal and irreversible, but we will have no one to look to beyond ourselves, for it is we who decided how to use the delicate freedom entrusted to us.

Likewise with Brayan. We did everything within our power to help him excel, to aid his growth, to convince him to be a productive, joyful member of both our temporal family and God’s eternal one, but ultimately it is and always was his choice. In respecting his right to choose, we affirm God’s role in letting us choose.

We also enjoy such abounding peace because we do not feel like we left anything unsaid nor missed one of the many opportunities to ask for his forgiveness after some folly on our part. We did not withhold any good thing from him, any measure of affection. Foot massages, singing him to sleep at night. Did not forget to say “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or “We’re certain God will form you into a brave, compassionate man, an honorable father and faithful husband.” Oh, how many hundreds of times did we say those things! In many senses we lived every day with him (and the others) as if it could be our last, because we truly did not know if one day the government would swoop in and remove the children, if their biological families would come to claim them, or if the gangs in our neighborhood would storm our home at night and take our lives.

So now Brayan is our favorite neighbor, and we still see him nearly every day, exchanging big hugs as we pass one another along the dirt road or stopping by one another’s homes for an unscheduled visit. He is currently not in school or working, nor does he show desire to do either. Please pray with us for Brayan as God guides him in this season of discernment as he learns to take responsibility for the life and talents God has given him. And above all, let us give thanks to God for the eight months of growth, guidance, discipline, and love that he received under our roof in Jesus’ name.