Early this morning I rolled over, extending a lazy arm across the edge of our small double-sized mattress, still very much enveloped in a blessed sleep. As I realized the other half of the bed was empty save my gangly arm, the lights of my mind snapped on: Did Darwin already get up? What time is it?
I wearily peeled my eyes open as I saw him not three yards away, participating in his peaceful morning ritual, unseen by the world and oftentimes unseen by his own wife: slip on those dirty black rubber boots and those old, mismatched clothes, brush his teeth and head quietly out the door to go milk the cows before the sun comes up.
An exclamation point stamped itself across my consciousness as I suddenly reached for my cellphone, alarmed that I had not heard the wake-up jingle I had set the night before. I jabbed at a button on the little black phone and the screen lit up: 4:46am. Oh no! It’s already time. He had woken up before the 4:45am alarm and had turned it off, thinking he was doing me a favor.
You see, the 4:45am get-ups have not really been my strong point. Normally he heads out the door and I stay in bed a little while longer before finally allowing my bare feet to make contact with the tile floor an hour later at 5:45am.
But not today. Today that 4:45am get-up was as much for me as it was for him. He just didn’t know it.
So I mustered whatever pinch of energy that short night of sleep had granted me and got to my feet, made the bed, and shuffled my way into our tiny bathroom, silently nudging him over so that he would share the sink with me. Brush my teeth. Hairband on to push my wild, short hair back. I would change out of my pajamas later.
Darwin looked at me with a confused smile on his face as he studied me, amused: my eyes drooped sleepily as I methodically brushed my teeth, moving about very purposefully albeit in a very low-energy fashion as I very clearly was getting ready for something. He asked with a twinkle in his eyes: “You’re not tired?”
My unenthusiastic response: “Oh, I’m very tired.” I spit in the sink and reached for the towel.
He continued to stare at me as his unspoken question still waited for an answer: Why on earth was I up so early, and where was I going?
My response: “I have a deal with God.”
He let out a single laugh, waiting for more explanation but didn’t receive any. I grabbed my keys, put on my sandals and headed out our bedroom door without another word, intent on fulfilling my promise from the day before.
As I inserted my key into our front door, prepared to head out without making much ruckus, our 9-year-old son Jason, quite the early bird, sat up suddenly in his bunkbed and peered at me through his open doorway as our door creaked. I smiled and went to greet him, shuffling over to his top bunk and giving him a kiss on the top of his head as his eyes asked the same questions as Darwin’s: Why on earth was I up so early, and where was I going?
Without answering him, I slipped out that gaping hole leading to darkest night.
Both our sleepy guard dogs stretched lazily and began their enthusiastic tail wag as they saw me unexpectedly approach. I shuffled carefully with strained eyes, hoping I wouldn’t come across a snake along the short path. I squinted in the darkness as I held my jumble of keys up close to my face, searching for the key to that little painted cinderblock building that lies right next to our family’s home. I entered only to be greeted by more darkness. Standing in the building’s main room, the search continued as I felt with tired fingers for the next key: the office.
That silent little office with its two very full bookshelves and lone round table with its team of three faithful chairs serves as a library and meeting room and is probably one of the only places where I can go and not be easily found. I flicked the lightswitch on but quickly decided to turn it off again. The strong light in the wee morning hours seemed too abrasive.
I pulled up one of the wicker chairs to an open window, hoping my clumsy feet would not come across a scorpion or other frightful creature in the dark room. Face inches from that cool morning breeze, our backyard only slightly illuminated by a dull porch light, I began to pray.
During that hour from 4:45-5:45am that I typically toss and turn, seeking out a last-minute refuge in that illusive sleep-rest, I instead sought refuge in the Giver of Life in a clumsy attempt at divine communion.
I sat by that window and gave thanks to the Unseen God, asked Him for forgiveness, guidance, liberation, new life. I confessed: “I have nothing more to give. I’m dry bones. I’m so tired, Father. Fill up this empty soul with You, with Life.”
A stream of bats came sweeping by and leafy branches swayed, rustled with unseen life. Fighting against mental and physical fatigue, I continued. After all, I had promised God that I would participate in this morning prayer routine every day during the coming months.
In many ways, the vast questions of “What now?” and “What more?” have been whispering in the recesses of our minds, and only a deepening of our communion with Yahweh can provide the answers, the joy to continue onward in the midst of the daily humdrum.
If there was ever any sparkle dust, any warm fuzzies or all-consuming adrenaline rush at ‘doing something new,’ that has worn off.
I am no longer that 21-year-old recent college graduate who moved to that third world country with nothing other than a large hiking backpack and the certainty of a call from God to be mom to those who have none.
With each of the total-of-9 children and teens who have come in and through our home in the last almost-three years, there has been a great urgency, a great push, a 9-1-1 response of sorts, the big welcome and the ensuing months of very real spiritual warfare, of freedom-seeking in Christ.
Everything has been new; in many ways these first three years have been spent in a state of constant crisis. Children who have been abandoned, orphaned, raped, beaten, thrown away — those are the ones whom Father God has so miraculously allowed call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa.’ Our eyes have been pried open; our hair has been whipped back and we have participated in this charged expedition for answers on this wild ride of seeking and fulfilling God’s will. They were exciting times as one by one God brought the children, taught us by way of difficulty and tears, love stretched to its limit. Newness was everywhere; everything an adventure waiting to be had.
Daily we experienced something new; everything was a teachable moment; the kids were naive; we were naive. How should we interact with and talk to this child so that he will stop hiding under furniture? How can we counsel her through the tough decisions of adolescence? Oh, we need to take them to the dentist? How on earth can we keep this kitchen clean?! She has accepted Christ! Let’s take our first family vacation together with the children! How do we form some kind of dynamic, Christ-centered homeschool program to educate our kids in a holistic way? Are we to accept local youth into our school as well? How do we balance marriage, ‘family’ with many foster children, and ministry to the local community?
Now, as we are nearing our three-year anniversary with the three kids who started it all in November 2013, it seems like nothing is new. We’ve already had the big, silly experience of taking the kids to the local movie theater for the first time. The majority of our kids have already accepted Christ and are faithfully walking with Him, growing in Him. Many of the major disciplinary battles and bad-habit-breaking brigades are well underway. Those who didn’t know how to read and write have learned. They’ve asked their sincere questions about life, about sex, about God; we’ve sought together for answers, learned together from God’s Word. We’ve prayed for healing, for freedom, and in large part we are rejoicing in answered prayers. We’ve been through big and little moments alongside them, and, now…it’s just…daily life.
Whereas there used to be constant verbal battles among the kids — kids from different (highly dysfunctional) biological families suddenly thrust together under one roof with new rules, new parents — now we can spend an entire day (maybe even two, three!) without any real discord. I have to do less and less conflict mediations. The kids are acquiring more self-control. Several are even becoming good students. Whereas they came to us malnourished, too small for their age, girls with buzzed-off hair and large bald patches, now they are healthy, growing, normal. Most of our kids even have pretty good manners now; they are learning piano, look you in the eyes when you talk to them, and generally react as a child who truly knows they’re loved.
So now, in this season where the newness of it all has worn off — alas, the 9-1-1 hotline has calmed down — a new word has been laid before us: perseverance. Now it is no longer a great, exciting question waiting to be answered of “Who will the children be? What will their names be, and how old? Oh, Lord, may we be ready when they arrive!” but rather it is a matter of looking into those same faces — those 9 whom we’ve been called to parent in addition to the 25+ in our school — day after day after month after year and faithfully fulfilling God’s will for us as His instruments in their lives, loving even when the warm fuzzies are long gone.
So, sitting quietly in that wicker chair this morning, I prayed. I asked God for new strength, for a perseverance that goes beyond feelings, that transcends novelty, that remains firm even when routine replaces adventure.
As the sun shed its first rays over our large, grassy property, I checked my cell phone: 5:45am. It was time. I returned the wicker chair to its station around our office’s table, left the building quietly and returned through that same creaky front door to a still-silent house.
And, yes, the events of this morning played out as they do just about every other morning: I squatted by beds, jostled sleepy legs and stroked tired shoulders, waking up the children one by one. I then chaperoned 8-year-old Josue to the bathroom for the umpteenth time to change his diaper as he babbled to me joyfully in his broken speech. I squirted out toothpaste for Gaby and Josue, gave Josselyn a good-morning hug, and opened the front gate for our students and teachers.
While I felt no immediate effects of my early morning spent in prayer, one thing I do know: I will go again tomorrow.
He who has called us to the great adoption as His sons and daughters is faithful, and He fervently desires that same faithfulness reciprocated in our devotion to Him. He is with us in the exciting moments of discovery along with the hidden, mundane moments of steadfast obedience. Nailed to a cross, dying for the sins of the world, having participated throughout His life in both the mundane and the miraculous — He continued onward, trusting in His Father even when the task’s attractiveness gave way to pain, when raw obedience was put to the ultimate test, when pleasing emotions or any sense of reeling adventure were long gone. May He empower us to do the same — to remain joyfully faithful until the end!