Yesterday around 5:00pm several of our kids were out in our large front yard playing soccer with our neighbors while others were playing board games in our house and our eldest was giving a beginners’ piano class to two young neighbors in our school building. I began to dish out the rice and beans, pasta, and chocolate cake for dinner after a surprisingly productive afternoon in which all of our kids wowed me with their initiative and finished all their homework with excellence before 3:30pm.
When it comes to serving food in our home, you’ve got to be good at math.
Whenever the time comes to take out the cups, plates and forks, you’ve got to do a quick mental head-count of who will be eating: Dayana and Jackeline are out at church with such-and-such local family, so that’s 7 kids – 2 that are not currently present = 5 kids that will be eating here + Darwin and I, so that’s 7 of everything. Got it.
Or: Today for the twice-weekly community lunch/Bible study, we’ll be serving food for the 12 students in elementary school + 16 from high school (but Arnold didn’t come today because he’s sick, so that makes 15) + the 2 teachers + Miss Martha + Darwin and I + our 2 middle-aged neighbors who will be attending + our other 5 kids who are out at school but will be home in about an hour and will need to eat + perhaps 6 other young neighbors who might show up = about 45. Does anyone have a calculator?!
But last night, seeing as our kids, Darwin and I were home together and Miss Martha and the other laborers, students, neighbors, etc had all left by 3:00pm (as they do each day Monday-Friday), I put my mind on autopilot and began taking out 9 of everything, which has been our magic number since July when Josselyn and Gabriela moved in. 7 kids + 2 adults.
As I began lining up all the plates on our kitchen counter, however, something felt odd. I counted the plates again. Yup; 9 plates. 7 kids + 2 adults, right? 7 kids…My mind wandered around somewhat confused until the still-very-new thought hit me: No! Now they’re 8 kids! Ha! That’s what was missing. Our new ‘magic number’ is 10. I quickly added an additional plate, and suddenly everything seemed to make sense.
A couple months ago our 12-year-old daughter Jackeline, who has now been in our family a full year, made a comment to me in a silly tone of voice: “If any new kids arrive in our family in this next year, I sure hope they’re younger than me.” I had laughed and – thoroughly convinced myself – assured her that I did not think more kids would be arriving in this next year or two, seeing as our hearts and schedules were already quite full with 7.
Well, Jackeline’s wish didn’t come true.
Last Thursday, our second day of classes with all of our elementary and secondary students who now study in our home/mission 5 days a week, one of our new 7th-grade students approached us for prayer after Bible study. My husband, the two teachers (Miss Isis and Miss Ligia), and I sat around her in our dining room as she began sharing with us her concern for her mother’s health. As we asked careful questions, she continued to open up until the root of the issue was exposed: her step-father is physically and sexually abusive (and has been for the last 6 years), putting her life in very real danger and causing tremendous stress and pain to her mother as well. The mother had gone to the police several times, explaining the situation and filing official reports, but, as is frequently the case here, nothing had been done. As the story continued to unravel — taking on the horrific shape of so many others we’ve heard too many times — I felt a very strong prompting in my chest from the Lord, so I asked to speak to my husband in private before continuing with the conversation/prayer.
He and I walked briskly outside and I told him: “Gabriela and Josselyn were rescued out of this exact kind of situation. I feel that God wants us to offer her refuge,” and he immediately confirmed. Our conversation must have lasted all of 19 seconds; we then re-entered the dining room, offered her the invitation to escape the abuse by coming to live with us, and she told us that she would talk with her mom and let us know. We prayed with her – for her mom, for her step-father, for God’s will to be done.
Several days passed, and then on Tuesday of this week she approached me with a large grin on her face, asking to talk with Darwin and me. My heart leapt and sunk all at the same time – guessing quite accurately what she would be telling us – and, sure enough, she informed us that she and her mom had discussed it and that her mom wanted to take us up on the offer of refuge for her daughter because she truly is in danger with her step-father.
So, phone calls were made, a meeting with the local government-run child protective agency’s office was made, we signed all the documents with the lawyer, the psychological evaluation was completed, and yesterday morning (Thursday) as she came walking up our long gravel road in her school uniform to attend classes, she brought with her an additional grocery bag filled with all of her belongings.
Her name is Sandra, and she’s 15 years old. Darwin and I are already in communication with her mom to see what more can be done with the official complaints the mother has filed with the police, although right now our hope in the system of justice here on earth (and especially in Honduras) is realistically dim. In the coming weeks/months we will continue to be in contact with her mom to see what plan of escape or new beginning can be made for the mom and her other three children (all of which are biological children of the stepdad and who, for that reason, he treats well), although we still do not have many details or much information at all.
Please pray with us not only for her adjustment to living in our home, but also for the mom’s protection and step-father’s salvation and transformation. Sandra and her mom are both authentic Christians, very humble, and have a very real understanding of and love for God’s Word. Please pray that the Lord’s hand would be over this entire situation/process and that, if possible, Sandra can be reunited with her mom in the right timing and once the familial situation is no longer dangerous.
So, yesterday 12-year-old Jackeline (the same one who didn’t want another older sister to push her down the totem pole) enthusiastically took Sandra out to our rural property’s mango tree, to the little stream behind our home, and traipsing around here and there, giving her new ‘big sister’ a genuine welcome. Sandra’s face shined with joy as our other girls took her out to play soccer; I fixed up her bed with clean sheets and a hand-written welcome note, 8-year-old Jason asked me sheepishly to introduce him to the newest of his now-6 sisters, and I prepared 8 tupperware containers with our kids’ snacks for school today instead of the traditional 7. Thanks to the mysteries of God’s perfect will, the entire transition has seemed surprisingly light-hearted and even fun.
So, of our 8 kids/teens, some of them consider us to be their authentic parents while others view us as loving mentor-figures the Lord has placed in their path. Some call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ without hesitation while others call us by our first names. Some may be reunited with their blood families if it is God’s will, whereas others may be officially adopted into the ‘Canales-Zilly’ household if the Lord permits it.
Lines are blurry, but everyone is growing in grace.
If someone asks us how many sons and daughters we have, I don’t know if we should answer “7 with 1 honored guest” (because Sandra may very well return to her mother soon if the situation with the step-father is taken care of) or if everyone is automatically included, making it 8 without thinking twice. Lines will doubtlessly become blurrier if and when we have any biological children, but of this I am convinced: the Lord is forming us into a tribe, a people after His own heart. He is erasing divisions created by Man; He is uniting us by Jesus’ blood rather than our own, calling us home to His eternal family that is formed by those who submit themselves to the Good Father’s will. And by some act of miraculous grace, He is enabling our stubborn mouths to freely proclaim: “Father, may Your will be done, not mine…”
Glory to God!