Five Little Monkeys

Several nights ago as we were getting ready to watch a movie together as a family, everyone was in and out of the shower, brushing teeth and generally quite frenzied as we were all bringing pillows, stuffed animals and blankets for the big event in our living room. As I walked out of our bedroom, I laughed out loud as I saw five little monkeys pretending to be asleep (our eldest was not present and Josselyn had not yet arrived to live with us).

The “Five Little Monkeys” books by Eileen Christelow about a mom and her terribly naughty children are some of our kids’ favorites, so I ran and got our camera to record our own mischievously precious monkeys…


Five of our little monkeys pretending to behave (Jason, 8; Josue, 7; Jackeline, 11; Gabriela, 6; and Gleny, 10)




Our Kids´ Reflections and Goals: July 2015

Yesterday I wrote a few writing assignments geared toward self-examination on the dry-erase board in our living room for our kids to complete during the afternoon. Below you can find some of their answers.

Write a list of at least 5 goals you have for the remainder of the year 2015:


(Gleny, 10 years old):

  1. [Keep singing] praises in choir
  2. Love Josselyn and Gabriela more [the two young sisters who arrived this month to our home]
  3. Keep doing well in my studies
  4. Keep having a relationship with God
  5. Concentrate more on the Way of Jesus Christ


(Dayana, 14 years old):

  1. Be able to have a good level of music [proficiency], principally in violin
  2. Be able to pass my exams (pass them with effort)
  3. Be able to concentrate on God and have the power to be a teacher [of His Word]
  4. Learn English well
  5. Be able to learn another [musical] instrument
  6. Have a good level [of proficiency] in piano
  7. Be able to do well in all of my classes
  8. Be able to become a positive young woman
  9. Learn more about life
  10. To truly have a good attitude on a heart-level
  11. Be able to be sincere from  the heart
  12. Learn to cook
  13. Learn more from you [Darwin, I and others]
  14. Be able to have more moments with Pa and Ma
  15. Be able to show love and help others


Write at least 8 things that you have learned recently (from God’s Word, at school, from another person, in daily life, etc.):


(Gleny, 10 years old):

  1. What I learned is that we have a relationship with God and that we can reflect Him.
  2. God gave us a place where we could enjoy Him. [In the Garden of ‘Eden’, which means ‘Pleasure’] He gave us all of our pleasure so that we could eat any fruit from any tree except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
  3. We have the full decision to choose good or evil, but we see choosing evil as being easier.
  4. What I have learned from my daily life is that respect is important among people. To be sincere, sometimes I do not respect my siblings.
  5. Another thing I have learned is sincerity. You always have to be honest with other people so that they believe you.
  6. Honesty is useful to us to be true, sincere and just.
  7. Friendliness is useful to us to be happy and to share with others.
  8. Loving others is important because I believe that if I want others to love me then I should do the same for them.


(Jackeline, 11 years old):

  1. I learned to love and appreciate others
  2. To pray
  3. To not have hatred or repay evil with evil
  4. To read His Word
  5. To trust
  6. To not have fear
  7. To never give up
  8. To have a good attitude
  9. To have compassion
  10. To have self-control


(Dayana, 14 years old):

  1. To not focus on the appearances of others but rather on how they are in their heart
  2. To be firm in my word
  3. To wait for the appropriate time for things to occur (example: get married)
  4. To show who I am without fear
  5. To listen to others
  6. To speak of God with people who need Him without fear
  7. To have love, compassion and hope in this life
  8. To have patience with what I do and have love towards others


I will also include 8-year-old Jason’s list of things he has learned recently because it is kind of funny…

  1. To not fight
  2. To not make a ruckus
  3. To not say bad things
  4. To always say “I can”
  5. To not tell others they are ugly
  6. To not laugh while we are praying at church
  7. To not laugh at old people
  8. To not hate other people

Life and Ministry Updates: July 2015

Seasons Change for Missionary Jenae Matikke

Jenae Matikke, our dear sister who has been laboring alongside of us for almost two years, told us recently that after a period of discernment she feels that her time at the Living Waters Ranch has come to a close and will thus be moving to the nearby city of La Ceiba to work alongside of the pastors of her church in various forms of youth outreach. Her last day with us will be August 1, and we will miss her greatly but are grateful for the many ways the Lord taught and encouraged us through her during the time she has lived with us.


Defining Limits and Sharpening Vision

In these past few weeks we have made a few tough decisions as we sensed it was necessary to set more appropriate limits on the children and youth from our neighborhood who visit our home/mission periodically throughout the week. With our open-gate policy, we sensed our hospitality was being taken advantage of as many youth who voluntarily left our homeschool or music programs would still come back at mealtimes to eat, bully others and make a general ruckus. It is a fine line between receiving everyone with open arms and being realistic about how much food we can serve, how well we can invest in each person’s life who comes to us, and whether or not we are simply enabling poor behavior and choices. After a period of prayer and discernment (and after a rather large food robbery from our kitchen), we recently posted a sign on our Education Building’s front door announcing that from now on we will only provide breakfast and lunch to those who are in homeschool and agriculture, and will no longer be receiving guests on Fridays, the day that Darwin and I are away from the property teaching in La Ceiba and therefore only Miss Martha and Jenae (who will soon be leaving) are there to receive, counsel, and love the guests. Our goal is to honor Christ by giving hospitality with excellence, and we hope these decisions will help us to achieve that goal.


Continued Weekly Discipleship

As a family (Darwin and I with our seven kids) we continue to go to our mentors’ home about an hour’s drive away each Sunday to spend the day in a discipleship group, prayer, and fellowship. We are also developing a new routine as a family of going to the local park one afternoon each week and dedicating the first part of our time there to reading the Word before playing, swimming, or collecting fruit fallen from the trees. Four of our seven kids have professed faith in Christ, and we are working closely with them to form a strong foundation of biblical knowledge and Godly virtues as we seek with them God’s will for their lives.


Progress Report: Miss Martha, Our Nurse and Cook

Miss Martha, a local Christian woman in her 50s who began working with us full-time last month, has been and continues to be a tremendous blessing. She manages the kitchen and several basic care-giving duties from 6:30am-3:00pm Monday-Friday, the same hours that we receive youth from our neighborhood for agriculture, music, homeschool, and other activities. She and her family have been very supportive as her husband and adult children have come to visit us and meet our kids, have invited us several times to their home, have prayed and fasted on our behalf, and came to the kids’ music concert last month to encourage Darwin and the kids.


Gleny and Jason: Blossoming in Their Christian School

Gleny (age 10, 4th grade) and Jason (age 8, 2nd grade) have now been in their Christian school for five months and are thriving in their new environment. Having them in that school was the original reason we bought our car in December 2014, as we spend over an hour round-trip to school every morning at 5:45am and then again to pick them back up at 2:00pm. Recently, I asked Jason what his favorite thing was about his school. His response: “Everything.” His least favorite thing? “Nothing.”


Homeschool: Juggling Nine Students on Six Different Academic Levels

We currently have 5 of our own kids in homeschool (all but Jason and Gleny) plus a sibling group of 4 from our rural neighborhood. It is a demanding job as we juggle 9 students ages 6-15 who are each on very distinct behavioral, academic, spiritual and developmental levels! We see much fruit from this assignment, and we are excited to continue offering these classes from 7:00am-12:00pm three days a week to those who for various reasons do not fit in the normal school environment.


Dayana, the Eldest, Excelling in the Arts

Our eldest daughter, Dayana (14 years old) shares a passion for music with Darwin. She has been taking piano, voice, and recorder lessons for a year and a half, and last month began taking twice-weekly violin lessons at a music school in the nearby city of La Ceiba. During the academic school year she also serves as Darwin’s teaching assistant one day per week in a local high school where he gives beginner music classes, and she has taken a leadership role among the 20+ choir members who come to our home 2-3 times per week. She is also currently enrolled in a local art school two afternoons per week, and last month she was actually invited to show her paintings at a local art exposition in La Ceiba and give an interview on television!


Josue’s Progress in His Special Needs School

Josue, our 7-year-old son who arrived in January of this year with his older sister, has been going twice weekly to his special needs school since early June. The issue of transportation is extremely difficult as we live far removed in the countryside and his school is about 35-40 minutes away, and we are not available to drive him ourselves due to the other commitments we have in our schedules. We currently have a private taxi come out to our property every Tuesday and Thursday to take him to and from his school, but it is costing $50 a week just for this transportation, not including the fees we pay for him to attend the school. Please pray for us as we continue to discern what Josue needs in regards to education and what the most efficient way of providing that would be.


A Growing Living-Room Library

One thing almost all of our kids struggle with is reading (as in, they can’t read very well and by their own initiative aren’t too concerned about improving). By Honduran culture, most people are not big readers, the selection of books available for rent or purchase is woefully small, and a good portion of the adult population does not even know how to read or write. One thing that we are really excited about is our growing “living-room library” (that’s not what we call it – I just gave it that name right now because I like the way it sounds). While attending a conference in May in another city in Honduras, Darwin and I happened upon a wonderful Christian bookstore with a fantastic collection of books in Spanish, so we loaded up a big box and brought them home as resources and teaching tools both for us and our kids. On the bookshelf in our living room we now have dozens of books by Christian authors that offer friendship advice, discipleship guidance, biographies, wholesome fiction, etc. The other day I walked into our living room and heard our three oldest girls (Dayana, Jackeline and Gleny) in Dayana’s room taking turns reading out loud from a book geared toward young women who have suffered sexual abuse. Wow!


Building Strong Foundations: A Season of Rapid Change Gives Way to a Season of Rest

Darwin and I sense that the Lord is leading us as a family and mission into a season of rest in the sense that many, many changes have occurred over the last 2-3 years, and right now is a time of settling in, of laying a strong foundation with the children/youth under our care (both in our home and in homeschool, music, etc) before advancing forward with any new projects, initiatives, etc. Everything seems to be tilted up on one end as this calendar year we went from having 3 kids under our full-time care (Dayana, Gleny and Jason, biological siblings) to receiving a sibling group of 2 in January and then another sibling group of 2 this month along with my trip to the States, the pending change of Jenae moving out, many new faces in homeschool and music classes, and the arrival of Miss Martha. Please pray that the Lord may grant us continued wisdom and discernment as we seek His will for our own lives and the many who have been placed under our care/guidance.


Second Milking Cow Gives Birth

After having acquired two young adult milking cows over a year ago, both of them have now given birth to healthy calves, one male and one female. Darwin milks them each morning at 4:30am, and between the two cows there is enough milk for drinking, cooking and making cheese!


My Health

Overall, my health is okay at this point, although last night I was up with a fever, sharp stomach pains and a migraine that have continued this morning. At 6:30am I went to get blood drawn and will have the results early this afternoon. We think it might be Dengue Fever or another virus that is going around right now. Please pray that God is glorified whether I am at full strength or not!

Ramblings on Bedtime Routines, Unborn Twins, Laboring in Vain and God’s Sovereignty

A couple nights ago as the very wiggly, shaved-headed Gabriela lay on her mattress on our bedroom floor, us ready for her to go to sleep but her not yet convinced, I knelt down, cupped her sweaty, round little face in my hands (a technique I’ve begun using every time I want to get her full attention) and said in a high-pitched playful voice, wanting desperately to remind her how much we adore her even in the midst of so many daily disciplinary procedures and frustrating moments: “We are so content that you are here with us!”

A smile immediately overtook her face, and she asked, “And Jolie too?”

“Jolie” is what she calls her older sister Josselyn, who just arrived to live with us Thursday, exactly one week after the little popcorn kernel did. As with Gabriela, we don’t know her exact age, but are told she is between 10-11 years old. All along (as in, ever since two and a half weeks ago) we were planning on receiving both girls after Honduras’ child protective agency’s lawyer had called us, but the authorities had a hard time finding the elder sister because she was wandering the streets collecting bottles until the wee hours of the morning, so she did not initially arrive when 6- or 7-year-old Gabriela did.

So, to answer Gabriela’s question of whether or not we are happy to have “Jolie” with us too, I said, still holding her face in my palms, “Yes! And Josselyn too! You are both so precious – ”

Her response: “You’re my mom, right?”

I laughed, and, to answer the question that she has asked over 1,245 times since the day she moved in July 9, I said, “By God’s grace, I am now – “ and was prepared to give a much longer explanation, but the stop clock on her attention span reached its limit, and she asked, “Now you’re gonna pray for me, right?”

After I stroked her feet and Darwin and I prayed over her, asking in God’s mercy that she may be liberated from such a devastating chain of sin and evil that has up until this point threatened to strangle her, she sat up on the mattress, a large stuffed animal moose in her arms (which earlier that day had asked me what it was, and, not understanding what a ‘moose’ is, she decided it was a sheep) and said, “Sing me the music!”

So Darwin and I began to sing songs of God’s praise over her for about 20 minutes or so until she finally drifted off into a deep sleep that she would enjoy for the next 11 hours or so.

Loving Gabriela is not always easy. It is not easy when she runs away from me at the bank or at the used clothing shop or when she turns her back to me 97% of the time when I call her name and begins to walk briskly in the other direction. It’s not easy when she disrespects her own older sister, seems to have her own agenda on everything (and somehow we didn’t attend the same planning meeting ahead of time), when she tries to shower and change her clothes 4-5 times a day without permission, and when she takes things which aren’t hers (and sometimes are mine).

Yesterday our little bully was disobeying as usual, turned her back on me, and began to scuttle across the front yard on a mission of her own when suddenly I heard a new kind of cry. It wasn’t Gleny’s cry, nor Jason’s nor Josue’s. I paused and then realized that this new cry, a terrible noise, must be Gabriela. In over a week of being with her, I had yet to hear or see her cry or show any form of weakness. I arrived where she was and bent down, and she looked up at me with these huge crocodile tears in her eyes and the most awful expression on her face (it turned out it was a simple scuffle with Jason and Josue – both her age – and she fell down), and I realized this is Gabriela. This – these terrible bone-chilling shrieks and contorted face – is probably how she spent much of her time in her previous life, being used as her step-father’s sexual plaything, enduring horrors that I cannot – will not — fathom. The little rebel, the independent bully, the sassy, loud-talking, obnoxious, jaded little girl who I had seen up until that point – and after that point – is some pseudo personality that has emerged, like a body armor with large, defensive spikes, to protect a heart that has been laid on the chopping block time and again.

So anyways, now we are a family of nine – five girls, two boys, Pa and Ma.

It is worth mentioning that the biological family that Gabriela and Josselyn come from includes five siblings, of which Josselyn is the eldest, and the mother is currently pregnant with twins without any resources or real desire to care for any of them. As the child protective agency’s lawyer shared this with me – not suggesting or asking if we would take in all the siblings, but rather just sharing the information – I sort of felt like by God’s mysterious providence through us He has rescued these two little girls off a large, sinking ship with several other passengers who for some reason were not chosen. That is not at all a comforting feeling, but rather a too-real nightmare, and it leads to a perpetual wanting to do more and more, ‘rescue’ more and more of Honduras’ forgotten youth who wander the streets after dark collecting bottles or are put to use to satisfy the lusts of some.

Thus, a few days ago I felt quite literally like I was in a dark pit of despair, like we could take in 100 or 1,000 or a million unwanted, mistreated children, and it would never be enough. The unfit mother (who probably herself was a mistreated, uneducated little girl) is pregnant with twins, for heaven’s sake! I sat on our kitchen counter across from Darwin as he cleaned out the large bucket he fills with fresh cows’ milk every morning, and I felt as though I was worlds away, drowning in the pain of those unborn twins along with so many others, wondering what grand difference being family to seven makes when there are so, so many.

I felt a strong pull from the Lord: Come away with me. Come find Me in the middle of what you perceive as despair. Come to Me and I will give you rest.

My thought responses shot off in all directions: No – I need to go clean the toilet! Oh, but I should really sit down with Gleny to discuss such-and-such thing that happened… Ugh! I just, I just – Ay, maybe if only I talk with Darwin more, process things. Where’s Gabriela?!

In the futility of my thoughts I finally I gave up and sat down on our double-sized bed, scrunched up in the corner, hoping to somehow be absorbed into the walls as I pulled my long legs up to my chest. I picked up my Spanish Bible and didn’t know where to start, but somehow I ended up in Isaiah, and I knew that what I found was a direct word from my Father in that moment for me:

He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.” [Isaiah 49:3-4)

As hard as it may be for some to understand, at the end of it all, it’s not even about the children. It’s not about raising two children with tragic pasts or 13 or none at all; it’s about God’s glory, about light shining in the darkness. As much as I love our son Jason (who just turned eight years old July 17th!), I love him because I love my King, because my King loves him and has called me to love Jason. It’s not about taking kids off the streets and turning them into college graduates; it’s about the Living God entering lives broken by sin and pain and calling them home. It’s about mysteries beyond our understanding being revealed in the life of Jesus Christ as lived through those who carry His Name. It’s about believing that one life being touched with His love is as important to our Father as if a thousand were.

So if one or all of our kids grow up and make terrible choices and fall away from the faith or those twins do, in fact, experience a life of incredible suffering, I still choose to believe that the Lord shines in the darkness, that He will be glorified even in the midst of those who ignore or reject Him, that our small assignment for the King is not in vain, that He has overcome the world and has a sovereign plan.

That in the end, He’s the Savior of the world, not us, and it’s none of my business to worry about results anyway.

Comic Relief with Mayonnaise

Sunday evening, after having spent the whole day with our faith community up in the mountains over an hour’s drive away, Darwin, our six kids and I came tumbling home down the long gravel road quite joyfully but generally exhausted to the bone after such a demanding week with the arrival of Gabriela.

But rather than shuffling everyone off to shower and head to bed early, I knew the day could not come to a close until one last assignment was tackled: lice.

Although we had won several battles against lice in the last year and a half, it seemed as though we were losing the war. Just about the time everyone combed out that last louse, some neighbor kid would come to visit or enter in homeschool or join choir or one of Gleny’s classmates at her school would have lice and suddenly we would all be infected all over again.

We had invested in more than a couple dozen bottles of chemical lice shampoo, Vaseline to remove the eggs, special fine-toothed combs, the works, but here we were once again facing the same problem.

So I decided to try a home remedy that worked for me while studying abroad in Argentina, where I had been infected with lice after working in a kids’ soup kitchen: Mayonnaise.

I lined up our three eldest girls in front of the tiny mirror in the kids’ bathroom and revealed the largest container of Mayonnaise they had ever seen. I began explaining how they could each attempt to apply the substance to their own hair, but if little drops of Mayonnaise started dripping on the counter, then I would do it for them.

Little did any of us know, but the simple treatment turned into over an hour of rowdy fun, and Mayonnaise ended up everywhere – on the bathroom walls, all over our clothes, on the floor, up my nose and on the handle of our house’s front door as we all darted outside toward the end of the escapade to begin running around our large front lawn.

So here are the photos that Darwin took as I laughed and told him to get the camera. He reluctantly left his splay of sheet music at the wooden table in our living room and captured the following photos…

mayo2mayo5mayo7 mayo9 mayo10 mayo12 mayo14 mayo16 mayo17

Then things really got out of hand when someone’s finger went up my nose! At the time I didn’t know which of the three was the culprit, until I later reviewed the pictures. The evidence speaks clearly enough: it was Jackeline!

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The Little Angel in the White Dress

(Written Saturday, July 11, 2015): Two days ago I found myself signing the now-familiar paperwork in Honduras’ child protection agency after having received an entirely unexpected call from the agency’s lawyer the day prior.

Our 11-year-old daughter Jackeline and our eldest, 14-year-old Dayana, had asked to come along with me for what promised to be a “wild card” event. Jackeline had gone to use the restroom in the child protection agency’s small downtown building after all three of us had been waiting upon the arrival of the newest member of our family in the case worker’s office. As I flipped through the thin manila folder that contained a pending blood test and a typed letter from the Honduran government legally placing the child under our custody along with zero personal or background information, 11-year-old Jackeline suddenly appeared from her trip to the bathroom with somebody quite small connected to her right hand. Jackeline looked close to tears as she told me that while using the bathroom she happened across our new family member in the hallway en route to the room where we waited.

Jackeline, who has only been with us five-and-a-half months and who has not yet been subject to the generally extreme shock waves that come with receiving someone new into the family, looked proud and gentle and sensitively joyful in a way that I had yet seen her. I gazed upon Jackeline, who is quickly becoming a young woman, and smiled in awe of the work God is etching out in her before I crouched before the little angel connected to her arm. We had been told she was seven years old but looked to be more like five or six (the agency later told us that no one knows her real age because she doesn’t have a birth certificate). Before I could say anything, Jackeline bent down and said to the little angel in the white dress, “This is my mom,” pointing up at me. “She will be your mom too.”

Jackeline told me in an urgent whisper that our new little friend was hungry and that Jackeline wanted to walk with her over to the little window shop on the agency’s property to get her a snack. I sensed that this was a beautiful prompting from God in Jackeline’s heart, a simple expression of God’s love flowing through Jackeline as a vessel into the life of an obviously-overwhelmed (and hungry!) little girl, so I gave Jackeline some money and felt a bubbling sense of joy in my chest as they walked off, still hand-in-hand.

Less than two minutes later I found Jackeline without the snack and instead in tears as she squinted her eyes shut and rocked back-and-forth in my embrace, telling me that in the distance of a few dozen yards as she was on her way to the window shop one of the building’s maintenance men or guards had inappropriately approached her. He had worked at the women’s shelter where Jackeline had previously lived with her mom and little brother for a few months, and he had, in Jackeline’s words, “treated [her] mom as a prostitute.”

So that was the beginning of the story that seems to already have so many details even though it is still so overwhelmingly new. For now she sleeps on a mattress on the floor in Darwin’s and my bedroom until things settle down a bit. Every night – for the two nights she’s been here, that is – I sit on the floor next to her mattress in our small bedroom and stroke her head and rub her feet and sing to her about Jesus’ love until she finally dozes off to sleep. And then I climb into bed and pray for her life and listen over-attentively throughout the night at every little sigh or toss or turn or cough or her occasional sleep-talk as she dozes somewhat acrobatically but profoundly on the mattress not six inches from ours.

Because, you see, this angel has not known what it is to be a little girl; thus far in her life she has been used as her stepfather’s sexual plaything and possibly that of other men as well. Our little angel with a shaved head that reveals more than a couple dozen bald spots on her scalp has experienced the same things that a jaded prostitute has.

Height-wise she doesn’t even reach my belly-button.

The first night our new little angel (Gabriela) was in our home, Gleny, our 10-year-old fireball who has been with us almost two years, was saying things that a generally care-free 10-year-old should say as all of us sat around together. Gleny was explaining somewhat dramatically how her nose is the most sensitive part of her body, and if she bonks it on something, her nose will start to bleed. Immediately, smiling and wanting to join in the quite normal conversation, our newest little angel stated simply: “I bleed from down there,” pointing to her vagina.

So she is understandably aggressive and talks way too much and way too loud and doesn’t listen and hasn’t yet learned how to make eye contact. She makes sexual comments in normal conversation, has to be under constant surveillance because she will try to touch the boys and men around her, tried to undress in front of my husband, typically struggles to follow a simple train of thought, takes her clothes off in public, steals and lies.

On her second day here – yesterday — she, our seven-year-old special needs son Josue and I were up early as I swung them back and forth on two of the wooden swings hung from the porch on our property’s Education House. Darwin had already left at 5:30am that morning to head to work as a music teacher in the nearby city of La Ceiba, and I gazed out across our large grassy property as our cows – the second of which gave birth about a week ago – roamed about in the quiet morning hours. I whispered a prayer asking God for strength and couldn’t shake the notion that this would prove to be a grueling day after having slept only three hours that night and less the night before.

Gabriela generally talks on and on to no one in particular and I’m not able to understand most of it because she has a lisp and dreadfully mispronounces a good deal of the words she uses, but this time I realized she was asking me a specific question so I squatted down in front of her and asked her to repeat what she had asked me. “When’s he coming here? Am I goin’ back there next week?” I asked for clarity, and, yes, she was talking about her stepfather. Having to call her focus back to me several times, I told her a couple inches from her face: “You’re not going to see him right now, and he is definitely not coming here. What he did to you was not okay, and I am so sorry. You can rest now because here he cannot touch you.”

She seemed to miraculously follow that train of thought after having always previously answered me with a far-off and really loud, “Huh?!” Whether I had said, “Time for dinner” or “How are you feeling, Gabriela?” or given a slow, thoughtful explanation of what we would be doing next in our schedule, she always seemed to answer with a bewildered, “Huh?!”

But not this time. This time she went on a rant, saying that she’s gonna put him in jail, she’s gonna jail him. Never getting up from my squatted position next to her swing, I apologized again for everything she had been through and told her that she didn’t have to worry about enacting justice because that was not her job, that God would ultimately do justice in the situation, whether that is eternal condemnation or repentance and transformation. We can trust in God because He is just and good.

She continued yelling about putting him in jail, swinging past me back and forth on the front porch swing, and I gently said, “Gabriela, I know you are mad at him, but it is my hope that God will enable you to forgive him. Rather than hating him, we can pray for him.”

Entirely unexpectedly, she put her short legs down to stop the violent back-and-forth of movement, and looked at me, again without a “Huh?!” and simply said, “Ok,” then looking expectant of something.

Caught off guard, I asked, “Ok…? Oh! Do you want us to pray for him right now?”

That was, in fact, what she wanted, so I put my hand on her shoulder and began praying for the Lord to do a work both in her heart and in the life of the man who took what was not his.

About three minutes later, she asked to pray for him again.

So she calls me “Hey you!” whenever she wants to talk to me (which is about 89.73 times per day) and does a guttural shout to get people’s attention in normal conversation. She holds my hand in tender moments at bed-time when every other waking second of the day seems like full-on warfare. Friday I left her side for under 45 seconds to run and get a toilet brush for Jackeline, and when I came back she was manhandling Josue over a petty fight to see who would get the porch swing (and there are two swings). So Darwin and I stay up until past midnight praying together and I tell her about a savior she can’t see and we don’t stop clinging to the belief in a God who makes all things new.

Thursday, her first night here, as she was changing into her pijamas and I stood in the bathroom with her at her request, holding up a towel to give her both privacy and company, she said from the other side of the towel in her usual straight-forward, aggressive tone, “Hey you! Isn’t it right that you like me?”

I laughed and said, “Yes, I really like you, Gabriela.”

She asked abruptly, “I’m leaving here next week, right?”

Me: “No, you’re going to be here for quite some time. We’re your new family, and we’re not going to mistreat you.”

Gabriela: “Oh.” And then, equally abruptly, almost interrogatively: “You’re my mom, right?”

I laughed again and said, “Yes.

“Hola Ma.”

During the few weeks that I was away from home last month visiting the United States, every day as Darwin and I would talk on the phone my thoughts would scream around the one question that I knew I shouldn’t ask, but, even so, I verbalized it on several occasions: “How is Brayan? Have you seen him?”

Brayan, who just turned 15 years old yesterday, is the young man who came into our life and home a year and a half ago as a rejected teen recently orphaned by his father and long abandoned by his mother.

In a dizzying swirl of events we met him as he lazily attended the neighboring cow-herd grazing on our property, heard his story and his step-mom’s plea for him to move in with us, and, determinedly, I sat cross-legged on our double-sized bed night after night passionately convincing my husband that God wanted us to take him in as a son, which would add to the sibling group of three that we at that point had had living with us not even four months.

Darwin protested initially, firm in his conviction that taking on another 13-year-old would push me over the limit with my already very poor health and night after night of laying wide awake coupled with long, exhausting days. I knew he was right, but I fought with a deep conviction that the Lord wanted us to take him in even if none of the ‘normal’ signs seemed to make any sense.

So, after praying together for a few more days, Darwin felt peace and Brayan moved in.

He did not know the alphabet; he did not know how to tell the truth, and he did not know how to look you in the eye when you spoke to him. He did not know what it was to be accepted after having been abandoned by his mother when he was two months old, thus commencing what he recounts as a tragically unbalanced life of bouncing around with his father from one step-mom to another, one of his dad’s lovers after another, until finally his dad — drunk and doing some tight-rope-walking circus routine — fell from a great height and died.

So Brayan moved in, and against all logic we became family to him, loving him into God’ eternal one. He learned to look us in the eye, even when he was mad. He even learned to forgive his parents, visiting his mother’s home with Darwin about an hour-and-a-half’s walk away, and we prayed with him over his dad’s cemetery site in our local town, supporting Brayan through tears as he constructed a little cross out of twigs to place on the mound of dirt covering his dad’s underground casket. I read him and our seven-year-old son Jason bedtime stories. I will never forget a certain evening as the three of us sat on the tile floor in their bedroom as I read a great Lion King picture book. Brayan’s face was alit with wonder as if he were a little boy.

And I learned to love that young man more than I ever thought possible. Every morning, seemingly before anyone else even saw me or had been greeted, I would hear his voice come from somewhere: “Hola Ma” (meaning “Hi Mom.”) Many times he would just walk by my open bedroom door in the late afternoon or as I was cleaning my bathroom and say my name just to make sure I was there.

And then the unthinkable happened. After having lived with us as our son for about eight months, a series of events occurred such that he was choosing to move out, returning to live with his three step-brothers and his poor, incredibly hard-working but maternally burnt-out step-mom, the last of his deceased father’s lovers who lives about a ten-minute walk from our home. All the teeth-grinding progress that we earnestly believed had been etched out in his soul over the previous eight months was seemingly being voluntarily erased, given up on.

So he left, and we embarked on our new relationship with Brayan-our-neighbor-who-we-still-call-a-son-and-who-still-calls-us-his-parents.

And shortly after, he returned to our homeschool program, so he became Brayan-our-son-and-student-who-we-see-everyday-but-who-does-not-live-in-our-home.

Many blurry lines, but it seemed to work. He was still growing and thriving, was still eating almost every meal in our home with us, taking his daily vitamins alongside of our now-five kids who live in our home, enjoying rich companionship — brotherhood — with all of us, and he even accompanied us on our family vacation trip to the zoo and to our faith community over an hour’s drive away every Sunday.

Until, less than two months ago, he broke his student’s contract (a formal written agreement typed up and signed between each of our homeschool participants and ourselves with explicit expectations, etc) and Darwin and I were forced to sit across our wooden dining table with him and inform him of what he should have already known: he had been expelled from school, which also implied losing access to breakfast in our home each morning, daily companionship with the other students, and a host of other benefits.

As we talked with him over an hour that morning, he sat across the table from us, looking us in the eyes without breaking his stare, and I almost wanted him to storm out and leave or accuse us unjustly. Something other than this show of utter respect that he had somehow learned by God’s grace under our care — oh, how beautifully he puts it into practice on some occasions, but not on others!

Searching his eyes, his soul, from across the table, I said, hoping that somehow God would reveal to me in that moment the answer: “Brayan, I honestly don’t know what’s left for us…If things had gone the way your Pa and I had wanted, you would still be living with us as our son. But you chose against that, so then we accepted you as a student. Now you have chosen against that, so…I don’t know what is left for us…”

So we discussed God’s abundant blessing of free will and our ability as humans to use that dangerous freedom to honor God and enjoy His blessing or turn our backs on Him and suffer the consequences — all the things we’ve said to Brayan so many times before.

A few days after the incident, having seen Brayan a couple times and encouraging him to look in our local town for honest work or an education, I was flipping through the book of Proverbs as I had sat down with four of our other kids for the exciting bi-weekly event in our household: payday for chores. Each kid has three envelopes (think Dave Ramsey’s method if you are familiar with it): a “Give” envelope, a “Save” envelope and a “Spend” one. Coupled with the divvying out of small bills for a job well done comes financial education, so as I searched for Proverbs that instruct on the wise use and handling of money, avoidance of debts, etc, my eyes actually fell upon and seemed glued to Proverbs 23:9:

Don’t waste your breath on fools, for they will despise the wisest advice.

It might as well have been written: Jennifer, stop wasting your breath on Brayan, because he has and is despising even your wise, well-intentioned advice.

Accompanying that, of course, was a deep sense of knowing that Brayan is not ours and never was. Whatever has or will happen in Brayan’s life is permitted by God for some reason, and in the end it will be to God’s glory. And I can rest in that, in Him.

So I released Brayan from my heart, bowing before the cross and entrusting Brayan to Him, for He cares for us. I do, after all, have that  written on our bedroom wall (“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7) to remind me daily that beyond an unstable government, neighbors who steal from us and our own wayward hearts guiding children imbued with equal rebellion, there is a conquering, good King who holds the entire universe in His hands.

Even with this newfound freedom in entrusting all that is Brayan’s suffering, confusion and poor choices to the Lord’s care, he constantly knocked on my thoughts as I visited many different churches, groups and homes in the United States. And as Darwin patiently answered my questions about our prodigal son over the telephone, I was not encouraged: Brayan had been beaten up near one of the popular swimming holes in our neighborhood, later had been kicked out of his step-mom’s house for good reason, had not been coming around our home for several weeks, was heard to have been working with a few local men ‘chopping’ fields with a machete (a job I had personally witnessed Brayan do on several occasions and knew was not his forte.)

So last week during my first couple days back home, as I cut several neighbor boys’ hair with my electric clippers on our front porch, I suddenly heard from a distance that same voice that I would recognize anywhere as it travelled briskly up the long path to our front gate: “Hola Ma.”

My whole being smiled as I quickly debated within myself how to greet him, or rather how he would greet me before decidedly setting down the clippers and walking out to greet him as he entered freely through our gate that lets in so many. His ear-to-ear smile matched mine and he fit perfectly under my chin as we embraced, him then giving me his customary peck-on-the-cheek. I looked at his long, light-brown waves and said, “You need a haircut, young man.” If possible, his smile grew even more and he took his place in line after a few other teen boys who have not violated the codes of conduct in our home as often or as severely as Brayan, but who also, for some unknown reason, have not wiggled their way into my heart nearly as deeply as he has.

So as I cut his hair we talked, and he mentioned how much he wanted to go watch the concert that Darwin and the youth were going to put on that night after he himself had recently dropped out after having been our only faithful tenor for over a year. I asked how much money he had to pay for the ticket, and he said 60 Lempiras (the equivalent of three dollars). I said that if he really wanted to go, that we would pay the remaining two dollars for his ticket, and it seemed joyfully settled. He also asked if he could come with us to our faith community’s discipleship group on Sunday, and I sensed permission from God in my heart and said, “yes.”

When the time rolled around to go to the concert that night and then the discipleship group two days following, he did not show up either time.

So I am learning all over again to entrust him to the Lord and to trust beyond a shadow of a doubt that our focus should be on obedience to our great Father — expressed in faithful love — rather than any interest in visible results.

Please pray with us for Brayan and that the Lord may reveal to us what role — if any — we are to play in his life during this season.

To read a couple other posts about our journey with Brayan, you can go click on: Our Favorite Neighbor and It All Started with a Cup of Water.

God of the Impossible [With 8 Videos of Darwin’s Choir]

Last Friday 9 kids, 7 teenagers, 4 adults and several backpacks and suitcases piled into our cab-and-a-half 2001 Toyota pickup to drive the Living Waters Ranch’s young singers from our rural town of El Pino about 20 miles to the city of La Ceiba for a musical performance at a local concert.

The drive, of course, took closer to an hour one-way as our truck moaned and wobbled up long, rocky, trash-littered side roads as we made house-stops to pick up each of our neighbors from their home, most living in shanties accompanied by more than a few family members, emaciated dogs, extremely free-roam chickens and welll-experienced clothes hung on the line or on barbed-wire fences.

The children and youth that you will see in the video links below in bow-ties and spotless white shirts typically spend their days in dirty, ragged clothes wandering aimlessly around those same long, rocky, trash-littered side roads, working occasionally with a machete or struggling to learn how to read for the first time at age 14.

We came to know each one of them because at some point amid their long, directionless days they wandered up to our front gate at the end of our long, rocky, trash-littered road.

One by one they’ve come over the last year or so, and to be impiously honest, I had hoped that they wouldn’t come, that one more undisciplined youth wouldn’t come up to our front gate under the guise of looking for something.

Because I knew that what they really needed wasn’t a cup of water or a hot lunch or a pay-by-the-day job ‘chopping’ our yard with a machete or an afternoon of rough-housing with our kids. They needed guidance, the kind of day-after-day, show-up-at-all-the-most-inconvenient-times, cling-onto-you-because-few-others-pay-any-attention kind of guidance, the kind of shepherding into Christ’s fold in which one minute the sheep want to belong to the flock and the next they have split from the herd to play tag with the roving wolves.

I was busy — am busy — learning how to parent a teenager, a special needs child and three others thrown in the mix, trying to figure out how to wash the dishes with buckets of water because the running water went out once more, trying against all logic to keep a perpetually dirty house clean, juggling teaching and coaching in the local Episcopal School with life at home, making more than my share of mistakes as I learn how to direct a small Honduran foundation, and struggling night after night through bitter insomnia and various sicknesses.

But nonetheless they came, some lethargically accompanying our neighbor’s cowherd as they sauntered across our property, others simply standing eagerly outside of our gate waiting to see if someone would come greet them.

And so, this past Friday evening after the concert as our young singers let loose and ran about wildly around the playground of the facility where the concert had been held and I click-clacked out in my long dress and nice sandals to round ’em all up and head home, God’s will hit me hard, like an unexpected blow to the solar plexus: as they all came bounding toward me, ranging in age between 7-16, I knew for the first time beyond any hint of a doubt that these rogue neighbors of ours are just as much ours as the five who live under our roof. Not ‘ours’ in any sense of ownership, but in the sense that we are responsible to God for shepherding them. As much as I have resisted, as much as I have complained during the grueling process of learning how to love and respect one another, as much as limits have been set and broken and re-adjusted, as much as they’ve yelled too loud and hit the soccer ball up under the roof overhang too many times, as often as they’ve showed up way too early in the morning, as often as I’ve selfishly put my own well-being before theirs, and whether my flesh likes it or not, this gaggle of lost hooligans has been entrusted under our care just as much as those whom I tuck into bed each night.

So on the ride home, as little 7-year-old Paola sat in my lap and Darwin drove slowly through the night, our car’s joints creaking and complaining under the weight of so many passengers, my heart rejoiced. My heart rejoiced in the Lord because I finally get it.

As we passed slowly, windows rolled down, through the main drag in our neighborhood — which can be likened to a steaming pot of sin, violence and despair — the song drifting powerfully from our car’s stereo proclaimed over and again the God of the impossible, and I couldn’t agree more. As we passed by the newly-constructed open-air bar that now occupies what used to be the local boys’ dirt soccer field, loud music about who-knows-what invaded our open windows and effortlessly drowned out the voice that proclaimed the God of the impossible.

That is just like the world, isn’t it? With all the noise in our hearts, our heads, in the media, the race for bigger and more, our overriding need for ‘security’, the desire for human omnipotence, we think we are drowning out the God of the impossible, as if we must only make enough clatter in order to have somehow overpowered Him, swapped our place from created to Creator.

And I smiled, little light-as-a-feather Paola in my lap, the humid night air seeping into our pores, as I became filled with glee, convinced I shared a secret with the Almighty that few others seem to know.

Because the truth is actually just the opposite.

The God of the impossible cannot, will not, be drowned out by human babblings. He existed before and will exist after human reason — He created the earth upon which that bar shanty was constructed, and His winds, rain and justice will someday bring it down. He brings lost boys and girls home, enables rotten mouths to proclaim songs of praise, brings together His scattered people from all tribes, tongues and nations into one united family. He sets the orphans in families and turns neglected boys raised by tired mothers and absent fathers into faithful husbands and loving fathers. The God of the impossible does not grow weary even when we do; He performed the impossible task of granting something as dangerous as free will to a being as disobedient as the human, and then re-defined ‘impossible’ by sacrificing His own son to bring the prodigals home.

So last Friday as we retraced those long, rocky, trash-littered side roads to drop our young singers off to unknown home lives, I entrusted my heart to the God of the impossible and participated in the dangerous task of looking upon each of their moonlit faces as they jumped out of the truckbed and came to my rolled-down window to say “goodnight” with the same love in which I look upon each of our own children.


[Below you will find the links to watch a few videos taken during the concert.]

To watch our eldest daughter, 14-year-old Dayana, playing piano, click HERE.

To watch Darwin’s youth choir sing “Cuando haya tristeza” and “Venid a Jesus,” click HERE.

To watch Darwin’s youth choir sing “Cristo ya resucitó”, click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Spirit of Truth”, click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Vois Sur Ton Chemin” in French, click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Estoy bien” (the hymn “It is Well”), click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Maria Mater Gratie” in Latin, click HERE.

To watch our daughter Dayana sing a solo in Italian, click HERE.