Two Sundays ago as we came barrelling home in our old pickup truck after having spent the entire day up in the mountains with our faith community, we stopped by several homes in our rural neighborhood to drop off four of our students who had accompanied us that morning.
Everyone was joyfully exhausted from our Sunday routine of two-and-a-half hours round-trip drive to study God´s Word and worship His name with our small community of believers that meets at our mentors’ home. Miss Isis, our primary teacher and beloved sister in Christ who now lives at the Living Waters Ranch with her 1-year-old daughter, sat in the seat behind me scrunched up alongside a few of our kids while the rest bounced along in the truckbed.
Long gone are the days of Darwin and I intimately relating with our three, four or five kids at a slow, intentional pace while the rest of the world carries on with their own business. Now we have several local students, a single mom in her twenties and a precious 1-year-old who form part of our growing extended family that demands our time and love on nights and weekends in addition to the eight who sleep under our tin roof. When did things change so much, so quickly? Is it blessing or mere hassle to include everyone all the time? Are we even a family anymore? Were we ever?
These thoughts weighed me down as I sat in the passenger´s seat at Darwin’s right. With a great jolt we passed the speedbump-like threshold through our front gate and came to a stop on our large grassy lawn in front of our home. It was already past 4:00pm. I looked over at Darwin as surely both of our minds were immediately greeted with all that had to be done: unload the car, supervise the lengthy bathing process of eight kids/teens with one common shower, get dinner ready (and then serve it, then clean up), tend to the general emotional needs of the kids and help resolve any conflicts throughout the process, and prepare our living room for our traditional Sunday-night movie as a family. All in about an hour.
¨Can we call a family meeting? I have something I need to express.¨
He looked over at me as he took the key out of the ignition, ¨Sure. I´ll call the kids.¨
So about two minutes later our eight kids, Darwin and I were all seated on sofas and stools and floor in our rectangle-shaped living room to see what it was that I had to say. Family meetings are not uncommon for us, as each person has such a unique schedule between school, work and other activities that a general meeting has to be held if one hopes to communicate something to everyone at once.
So there we sat as I began to express how I felt — not necessarily how things actually are or how the others see things, just simply how I was feeling .
I sat on the floor with my back propped up against our closed front door, putting words to my heart’s heaviness: in a normal family, bonding time between parent and child is allowed from birth until the teens before the young adult then flies the coop, carrying with them their family´s investment in their lives as they enter the adult realm. In our situation, however — when our kids come to us at age 13, 11, 7 or 15 — we are granted very little time to make any kind of familial connection, to gather twigs together and form some kind of makeshift nest before they are already taking flight.
Perhaps I feel that I am that small bird, eagerly collecting twigs and pieces of twine and other useful tidbits to make a suitable nest for the ones the Lord has brought us, carefully weaving them together with all my joyful imperfection, good intentions stained by the fall of humanity. Many of our little birds, however, are already taking flight, looking anxiously to their quickly-approaching adulthood while their childhood remains an unanswered question, a gaping void.
I remain perched, cut short in my earnest dedication, a lifeless twig dangling from my beak as those around me are already flapping their wings, nest half-made.
Three of our daughters already wear the same bra size that I do, and it seems like they´re on the constant search for a boyfriend. A boyfriend? And we never even got the chance to rock them in our arms. Even 9-year-old Jason, who came to us when he was 6, is growing so quickly and doesn´t search me out for maternal warmth as he did in his first year or two with us. Our home is quickly shedding childhood and leaving it behind as more of our kids are reaching adolescence; in four years’ time our youngest kids will be twelve. The oldest, twenty.
So all eyes were trained on me as I simply expressed my own sadness at how quickly things are moving forward, growing up. We are in the process of legally adopting almost-16-year-old Dayana and her younger siblings, but it is very likely that she will be in college or married before she actually holds our last name.
Our home is the Lord’s mission base is a school for local kids is the discipleship center: everything we have is shared with others. During daytime hours, many women cook in our kitchen and many neighbors eat from it. Monday through Friday dozens of adults, teens and kids spend their lives within our front gate, within our personal space, lives. Our car is public transport for choir kids, for our Christian laborers, students. Oftentimes I feel that our days are at the mercy of others´ needs. Everyone wants to invite friends to dinner and neighbors to our Sunday worship activities. This is good; this is blessing; but have we lost all sense of cultivating this precious little patchwork quilt of lives the Lord is knitting together under this roof? What good is it to reach the multitudes, expand our school, disciple our neighbors if we lose those the Lord has placed most near to us? Did His call to raise orphaned and abandoned children — to be His family to those who have none — not come to us before that of a school or discipleship center?
Darwin and the kids listened carefully and heads began to nod slowly in agreement. I asked sincerely: ¨Does anyone else feel this way?¨
Dayana, sitting on my right and typically so wrapped up in her own adolescence, looked at me with hesitant, vulnerable eyes as she confirmed that she, too, has felt that our nest is not yet complete, that it is still not time to fly away, that roots must continue to be laid.
So our discussion opened up as thoughts were shared. Soon the question was presented: ¨What are some special things that we do as a family — and only as a family, without our Christian laborers or students or neighbors involved, although we love them all dearly?¨
12-year-old Jackeline spoke up for the first time from across the room, seated on our small couch with a pillow held closely to her chest: ¨When we go to the park on Wednesdays as a family.¨ Several others voiced their agreement.
I went next: ¨I really enjoy going into your rooms at night to pray with you or just spend time together. I know I don´t do it all the time because I´m normally exhausted at the end of the day, but I feel very close to you on the ocassions when I do go.¨
11-year-old Gleny perked up and smiled big, ¨Yeah! I really like when you put us to bed.¨
So we continued onward, naming the various activities — and, surprisingly, there were about a dozen or so — that we do on a regular basis to intentionally weave twigs into the always-evolving nest the Lord has entrusted us.
By the end of the lengthy conversation, it became evident to Darwin and I that we needed to take action to schedule some kind of family respite, some activity that would allow us to focus exclusively on our own little birds rather than on all our neighborhood´s little birds who flock through our front gate each day for school and discipleship.
So, we cancelled all our activities this past Friday and spent the day as a family at a local wildlife refuge. Together, all 10 of us wove a few more twigs into this patchwork nest, rested our busy wings and settled down together to enjoy our Father´s love that has been manifested in our midst.
Amen! Glory to God!