Category Archives: Family

Celebrations of Life and Belonging

In the past four days we have celebrated two birthdays in our large, God-designed household — one of our new foster daughters turned 16, and one of our girls who’s been in our household nearly five years and is in the process of being adopted by us turned 14.

Since answering the call to Biblical parenthood to the orphaned and abandoned five years ago, my husband and I have vacillated in our response to birthdays. The first year or so each birthday was largely extravagant due to the newness of the whole affair and our desire to make our new children feel welcomed and loved, but then over the ensuing 2-3 years birthdays became routine and even boring (largely due to the fact that we’ve had up to 10 children/teens in our family at a time, which makes for a whole lot of birthdays). We stopped going the extra mile and settled for simple birthday wishes and little to no gifts.

Well, this year we are diving back into (and now with more depth, increased love and hours of dedicated thoughtfulness and planning) the act of blessing our 7 children in a unique way on their birthday as we celebrate with them all God has done in their lives and the precious gift that they are to my husband and me.

The following photos were taken in our 10′ x 20′ living room around the wooden table where we eat meals, have family meetings, do homework, pray together and enjoy art projects. We give thanks to God for allowing us to rediscover the joy of celebrating the beauty of our children and making them feel treasured on their birthday.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. God bless you, and may you be encouraged by the sheer joy displayed on our children’s faces as they know they are loved by God and by many more.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family

Yesterday was our daughter Gleny’s 14th birthday. She came to us when she was a malnourished and very scared 9-year-old, and now she is a beautiful and blossoming young woman growing in God’s grace. Gleny has been known to struggle in her relationships with her siblings due to her very strong and even dominating temperament, so it was very special to see everyone reach out to and support her last night on her birthday (and to see the way she responded with love and gratitude). I especially enjoy the way her older biological sister (Dayana, purple t-shirt) is looking upon her in this photo, as the Lord has done a lot this year to restore the relationship of sisterhood between these two after many years of emotional distance (despite always having lived in the same household). Praise God for the way He is healing our children.
This is the birthday poster board I designed with two of our teen girls for Gleny’s birthday.
A couple nights prior one of our new foster daughters, Carolina, celebrated her 16th birthday. She has lived with us nearly a year and has been in the child welfare system since early childhood. We feel called by God to legally adopt her once she turns 21 years old, and she is very excited about this. (Certain children/teens in Honduras are adoptable before age 21 and others must wait until 21 for various legal reasons, so she will continue to live with us as our daughter in Christ until she can legally become our daughter once she turns 21.) She wanted ice cream instead of a cake, so we stuck the candles in two tubs of ice cream!
This particular daughter of ours loves pulling pranks on other people, so included in the gifts we got her were plastic glasses, buckteeth, a pirate’s patch and fake snot. (It ended up being fun for the whole family!)
What a pretty birthday girl!

This is Josue, our special-needs foster son who has been living with us over three years. He’s a total ham and loves getting in on the action with everyone else!

Our 11-year-old with the fake snot! Too funny!

Don’t I have a really handsome husband?

Even though this picture turned out a bit blurry, I love it because our eldest (almost 18) is normally quite serious and note prone to doing anything “childish.” It really touched my heart that she got in on the fun right alongside everyone else!

Last but not least…Try not to laugh…I grabbed a big blue bow that was on top of one of our girls’ presents and put it on Darwin! (I had put it on myself first, but then our kids encouraged me to try it on him as well…) Our kids started cracking up and calling out, “Mom! Your present has arrived! It’s Dad!”
Gotta love this photo! (Even though Darwin doesn’t!) He started speaking in a nonexistent foreign language with his birthday bow on his head…He had us all rolling!

 

That’s all for now! God bless you!

A Quiet Reflection on Love, Loss and Hope for the Future

First of all, thank you to all of you who responded to our previous blog post with sincere comments and to those who emailed me directly with words of encouragement. God bless each of you, and thank you for your availability and prayers.

A few Saturdays ago I sat around the rectangular wooden table in our family room with two of our teenage foster daughters. More than a complete spread of notebooks, office supplies, backpacks and books took over the surface area as we began working contentedly, the front door wide open to let in light and what little breeze there was. Every evening we eat dinner around this same table with its floral-print tablecloth, each person elbow-to-elbow with those next to them. We drag over the piano bench so that there will be enough seats for everyone.

On this particular occasion, the three of us gathered at this table with the intention of working on our ‘homework’ — my girls on math and grammar assignments; me on planning and administration. I serve as their math, grammar, Bible, chess and P.E. teacher in the homeschool program we operate out of our home for roughly 50 teens (our 7 fosters and  41 local youth), but when we’re not in classes I’m just their mom. My husband and I do much role-hopping throughout the week, and with God’s grace it has become normal to us.

That particular day my husband Darwin, three of our foster children and a half dozen of our local students had taken the trip into town for a day of art and music classes while I stayed on our rural homestead with our other 4 foster children. This is, in fact, the routine split-up that occurs every Saturday.

For this very reason, Saturdays are one of my favorite days of the week. I treasure when my husband and I split up our kids so that we can invest more individualized time in each one (and take a little break from the general havoc of having our complete swarm of busy-bees present). When all 7 are together (or 10, which is the number we used to have), everything just sort of turns into crowd control, which is not much fun for me.

So, our preciously quiet Saturdays grant a much slower pace and allow me increased one-on-one time with the small group that stays at home with me all day. Monday through Friday we’re “on” as close to 60 people invade our home (and need guidance, love, surveillance, prayer, classes, organization, etc.) from 6:45am until 4:00pm, so the few moments when all is still and quiet are truly a gift.

I glanced out beyond our chain-linked fence to watch our small herd of milking cows roam about our large, grassy property. After the cattle thieves had broken in and slaughtered our two adult milking cows last November, leaving us devastated (and scared), we’ve recuperated and our new momma cow just gave birth recently to a little male. My husband and two of our kids milk her every morning at 5:00am, and at least for now we don’t have to buy milk at the grocery store.

My eyes traced our expansive lawn as I took in the view of the flowering plants and the bright-colored clothes hanging on the clothesline. When the masses leave, this rural property turns into a quiet haven, a peaceful paradise. It is home and ministry to us at the same time. It is the center of our community outreach and evangelism and at the same time serves as my own refuge after long, tiring days of service.

On Saturdays I move about slower than usual, oftentimes in baggy, old clothes and my curly hair up in a messy bun as I relish in the quieter pace to reflect, seek God’s ongoing direction, remember.

I stood barefoot on our front lawn, no one looking for me or needing me, as I studied with joy our special-needs son Josue as he teetered about our silent yard on his dearly loved but extremely beaten-up bicycle. He can spend hours on that little bike without saying a word, and on this particular occasion he didn’t even realize I was watching him.

Our other daughter was practicing piano in the stillness of the purple-colored house next to ours that during the week serves as our high school building. I contemplated with joy her simple, sure notes that she played so beautifully.

After meandering around the yard a few more minutes, I crossed the threshold into our living room, returning to where our two girls awaited me. I took one glance at my to-do pile and realized that I didn’t want to do any of it. By the look on my girls’ faces, they were thinking just the same about their homework.

I slipped out of our living room and crossed the yard again, still barefoot. I entered that little purple building that lies a stone’s throw from our family’s home. I passed silently by our daughter playing the piano and entered the little community office we share during the week with our small team of Honduran missionaries/teachers. I grabbed a couple boxes of oil pastels, paper and envelopes, feeling invigorated as I was about to break all the rules and put aside my endless stacks of ‘adult homework’ for the day.

Re-entering our living room once more, I sat down on a wooden chair next to our two girls with a smile and quickly began diving into my unspoken art project. Our girls stared at me, mischievously  happy to see me acting somewhat like a small child.

What was I doing? I was taking my part in going the extra mile, and joyfully so. At a staff meeting the day prior our small team had agreed to split up the task of writing individual letters of encouragement, friendship and spiritual orientation for the roughly-50 youth in our homeschool. Each child and teen would receive 2 letters (from different people), meaning we would need a total of almost 100 personalized, creative letters with decorated envelopes if possible. We had done just this same task a couple weeks prior in an effort to reach out to our students on a very individualized, thoughtful level to encourage them in their walk with the Lord and to express our sincere love and appreciation for them.

A few of our letters prepared for the youth we love, disciple and teach

This ended up being a big hit, as most of our students had never received such long, inspiring and touching letters from adults in their lives. One 14-year-old teen boy commented innocently to his teacher after having received his two uplifting letters, “I had no idea that people could write such kind letters without them being directed toward a dating relationship.” This, after all, has been a big struggle among our teen students. If and when they do write any kind of personal letter to a classmate, it is normally an inappropriate effort at expressing ‘love’ to their secret boyfriend or girlfriend.

So, God has given us the task of setting a powerful, loving example of just what it means to write a letter under God’s perfect will and with His purposes in mind. Our letters are all about pure encouragement, godly counsel and sincere appreciation, and they come from the mature adults in their lives, not from their immature peers who are seeking affirmation and identity in all the wrong places.

This particular round of letters would not be handed over for another two weeks (and that is why it had not been on my ‘urgent’ to-do list for the day), but it suddenly seemed more important and desirable than all the other potential tasks at hand.

My list of letter recipients included 14 students ages 6-18, so I began decorating envelopes with the oil pastels and expressing my sincere thoughts on paper for these youth whom I have grown to know and love dearly.

My two girls immediately took interest in my little project and asked what I was doing. It didn’t take long until they, too, put their homework aside and asked to borrow some oil pastels. All three of us began drawing and coloring with great interest, and suddenly several hours had gone by without us really noticing at all.

Waist-deep in the whole process, I began writing my letter to Alejandra, a very petite and soft-spoken 10-year-old in fourth grade. She is the younger sister of Sandra, a local teen with whom we have a deep, beautiful and — currently — tragic history.

Sandra, now 17 years old, came into our lives almost three years ago as a very submissive and responsible teen who was looking for refuge from a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father. She moved into our patchwork family for about 10 months until her mother (Geraldina), a brave and very faithful Christian woman, was able to escape the situation of abuse and move out on her own. She recovered her daughter Sandra under her care only to then pass through immense difficulties with her increasingly rebellious daughter. My husband and I stayed in the picture as Sandra’s teachers in our homeschool program and we began employing her mom. We likewise sought to serve as two additional counselors and supporters alongside of her mom as she struggled to control the reigns on her daughter’s new behavioral problems. Sandra had come to the know the Lord under our care and asked to be baptized along with her mom, grandfather and little sister, but the decisions she began making months later did not reflect God’s desire for her life.

This up-and-down continued over the next couple years, and she even moved back in with us for several months last year as a last-resort effort to guide her in the truth once she refused to obey her mom’s authority in the home. From there it is a sad story of her escaping from her mom’s home more than once and making a series of very dangerous decisions, all of which culminated in her running away with a young man she barely knew several months ago.

Sandra has approached us hesitantly for counsel since then, and several weeks ago we met with her in the privacy of her grandma’s home to speak truth and light into her life, all of which she listened to with bold, sincere eyes. We prayed with her at her request and embraced her. She still calls us Mom and Dad, a habit she got into while living in our home. (She has a different name for her real mom and for me, but they both mean mom.) We left our meeting with her unsure how to feel, and since then we’ve seen her several times around our rural neighborhood with the guy (she didn’t take any part of our advice and they are still living together out of wedlock), and just recently they moved across the country looking for manual labor jobs in order to survive as an uneducated, underage couple completely outside of God’s will.

So, when I picked up my black pen to write what should have been a very happy, upbeat letter to her 10-year-old littler sister, a very unexpected heaviness came over me and I had to fight back tears. I didn’t see this emotional storm within me coming, as I have remained publicly very calm and rational about Sandra’s decision-making and demise over the past several months. As my mom mentioned to me on the phone recently, it is probably easier to feel angry than sad, and that’s why I’ve kept so outwardly cool about something that has actually ripped me apart.

So, as I began writing about my sincere appreciation and hopes in the Lord for her precious little sister (who looks and acts just like her, thus reminding me of her constantly), all the intense sadness that I’ve been holding at bay for months came crashing in.

I wanted to say, totally deflated and serene, to no one in particular, “This letter should have been for Sandra, not for her little sister…I am now giving her little sister all the advice that she herself didn’t take. Oh, the work the Lord assigned us was in her, not in her little sister…but she has turned her back on the Lord and given herself over to sin. We loved her so much, and now she’s gone. …WHY…?

I felt like banging my fists on the table or locking myself in my bedroom only to lose myself in the locked-up emotions I had refused to experience in prior months. It definitely is much less painful to stay cool and collected (angry even) than to allow yourself to feel the weight of the sadness of broken dreams, lost souls.

I did not hit the table or leave the room; I continued writing the letter to her little sister, which turned out to be much longer than I had intended.

The letter ended up being very joyful but profoundly sincere. As a final touch, I drew bright-colored hearts all around the margins of the letter. I re-read it several times, thinking each time more about Sandra than about her little sister, and tried to hide the intense emotions that threatened to come out at any moment.

This year, Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) continues to labor alongside of us in cooking and cleaning as the Lord is doing great things in her life, and Sandra’s two little sisters are in school with us for the first time. Another young family member of Sandra’s is now also in school with us, and all are doing very well. Everyone is here except the one who God brought to us first: Sandra.

God places people in our lives to love and guide, and it is heartbreaking when they go astray and refuse to come back. Love is not costless, and it requires sacrifice and risk to truly love as God loves.

Well, last Thursday was the official day to hand over our hand-written labor of love to the youth the Lord has placed under our care. Each of our local teachers/missionaries brought their stack — some decorated; others more plain but just as sincere — as I would then organize them all and head into the classrooms to deliver them.

A few of our teachers handing over their letters in the purple-colored little office that we all share. It’s the big day!

Once all my companions left to go to their respective classrooms at 7:00am, I had too much fun sifting through the letters and admiring the great love, detail and effort that was surely put into each one.

My plan was to take pictures of our students’ joy while opening their letters, but I quickly realized that doing so would invade their privacy and taint the beauty of the moment. Thus, I discretely took as few photos as possible, and only in the classrooms where I felt unspoken permission to take them…

Our three first graders reading their letters with the help of their tutor/teacher, a local teen male who has been involved at the Living Waters Ranch under our guidance for roughly four years.
What a picture! I love this — four of our big, extremely active teen boys (ages 13-18) caught all in silence, reading very tender letters of encouragement and spiritual direction from Christian adults who love them dearly!
A part of our sixth grade class opening their letters
Our foster daughter Gleny (smiling), with her teacher and a few classmates as they opened their letters
My husband Darwin reading letters with his spunky group of second- and third-graders, all of whom come from unique family situations/difficult personal backgrounds
Two of our seventh-grade girls reading their personalized letters from their beloved teachers

Thank God for the small acts of kindness that He leads us to take in order to recognize, love and guide those whom He has put in our path. (One of our 16-year-old boys who typically suffers from great immaturity and doesn’t display much emotional depth informed me very sincerely the afternoon that I handed out the envelopes, “I still haven’t read my two letters yet…I’m gonna wait until I get home, get changed, turn the fan on, and then in the stillness of my home I’m gonna really take my time to read them…”) Wow! Praise God that something so simple as a letter can truly impact someone’s life in the love of God.

Also, as a last note, Geraldina (the mother of Sandra’s little sister whom I wrote one of my lengthy letters to), came up to me that afternoon with a huge smile on her face thanking me for the beautiful letter I had written her young daughter. She caught me off guard when she mentioned, “Alejandra is so very encouraged by what you wrote about God’s plan to grant her a Christian husband someday.” My jaw hung down around my ankles as I honestly didn’t even remember having written that in the letter, but it makes total sense. In a culture where so many women settle for a life of marital abuse and neglect with men who know nothing of God’s sacrificial love, that little comment in her long letter spoke life — and hope — into her young life. There are godly men out there; wait in purity and seek God first. God desires for you to enjoy your marriage with a Christian man, not to be one more woman disillusioned by an unfaithful or abusive husband. God declares that you are worth it; He paid the blood of His Son in order to adopt you as His daughter.

In conclusion (yes, this has been a very long post — hopefully you enjoyed a big cup of coffee while you were reading it!), thank you for your prayers and support, and God bless each of you. May the Lord give you the grace to love abundantly those whom He has placed near to you. Take every opportunity you have to share words of light and truth with them, and may we trust God to do the rest.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

Request for Prayer and Encouragement

To all who pray for and support this mission:

I ask that you would pray for us during this season specifically in regards to our emotional reserves and spiritual endurance.

The relational work we are dedicated to in Honduras requires us to be on the clock 24/7, and our ‘personal time’ almost always includes at least half a dozen young people who need to be lovingly supervised and tended to. (This can be very taxing on my introverted tendencies, as I oftentimes feel drained being around people all the time and wish everyone would just leave me alone for a couple hours.)

We spend our Monday-Friday working hours in teaching, community discipleship and administration out of our home-mission at the Living Waters Ranch, and then as our daytime teaching staff and local students leave we are then ‘on’ during nights and weekends with our 7 children who live with us full-time, 5 of which are teenagers with very delicate and pressing needs. (Oftentimes there is no dividing line between what is work and what is rest/personal time, and frequently the teens we serve in our home are those who end up draining us even more with their poor attitudes and criticism of us.) Please pray that the Lord would grant our children grateful hearts who are willing to serve and bless in Jesus’ name, as that would greatly alleviate the burden we shoulder in our home and grant us allies in our home-ministry.

I share this with you as I seek prayer for our marriage and our personal growth with the Lord (and that of our children), as the majority of our energy is spent actively proclaiming the truth to broken people and helping them resolve their crises. Thus, oftentimes little energy is available to intentionally cultivate our marriage or delve deeper in our personal walk with the Lord (and seek healing for our own brokenness).

(And, as a side note, thanks to God’s healing hand I am sleeping a lot better as my insomnia has greatly dissipated in these last few months without taking any kind of sleeping medication, but even so I am facing exhaustion and potential discouragement due to the many demands we face each day from 5:00am until bedtime.)

We are committed to continue in this daily effort as family to the orphaned/abandoned and lighthouse of hope to the lost for as many years as the Lord allows (and we have seen many breakthroughs and transformation in and around us in these last several years since beginning the journey), thus we are currently searching to see what Spirit-led changes can be made in our approach to ensure that we don’t fall prey to total burnout. We always seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse, and many times I lend a compassionate ear to our teen girls’ deep emotional struggles and spiritual searches and then reach the end of the day wondering who will lend me a listening ear because my husband is likewise as exhausted as I am or is working in our home office until late at night.

As a last note (and please forgive me for such a heavy and potentially discouraging post), I feel that I am personally in pressing need of words of encouragement at this time. Our lifestyle and the demands on my time have not permitted me to maintain any of my old friendships or cultivate new ones, so I find myself frequently lonely or tackling the many tasks before me by myself. As one of our spiritual mentors told my husband and I at the beginning of this journey several years ago, “It’s lonely to lead.” We have found this to be true, as the lifestyle the Lord has blessed us with does not grant many companions along the way.

So, if you read this blog and are able to reply with a sincere word of encouragement for me personally (or for Darwin), I would be extremely grateful and it would go a long way.

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Better Yet, Don’t Do Your Chores (A Funny Yet Effective Parenting Technique)

The following is a true (and slightly hilarious) story that occurred in our home this very morning.

Over these past 4+ years of learning to parent the children and teenagers the Lord has blessed us with, we’ve read many Christian parenting books and sought advice from many trusted people in our attempts to relate to our young ones in a loving yet firm manner.

Our 13-year-old daughter Gleny, whom we are in the process of legally adopting with her two siblings, came into our lives as a rather angry and malnourished 9-year-old. In her tiny body with big, frizzy hair she experienced very intense mood swings and bouts of unexpected screaming and crying during her first couple years with us. We kept praying for her but oftentimes wondered what would become of her if the Lord did not heal her treacherous emotional swings. Although there is still much more work to be done, we have without a doubt seen the Lord calming her wild heart and granting her more peaceful, loving and happy emotions in recent times. She has experienced great advancements – academic, spiritual and developmental – in her nearly-five years in our family, and after great academic struggles in primary school she is now one of the best students in her class of ten 7th-graders in the little high school we operate out of our home. She has been very consistent in her violin lessons for over a year now, and we’re discovering that she’s a talented painter as well. She knows God’s Word and is very quick to engage in meaningful conversation about Him.

Well, all of this to point out the many triumphs in my precious Gleny’s life…but I will now point out a recent struggle and how I am working (with humor and grace) to resolve it.

Although she manages almost without flaw her many homework and group project assignments in our high school, she has not found the technique (or rather, desire) to fulfill her household chores every morning.

In our home we get up at 5:00am as each person gets busy doing the various tasks assigned to them. Darwin goes to milk the cow with two of our kids; our eldest sweeps our home and porch; Jason feeds the cat; I empty all the trash cans and tidy up the living room. Others clean the bathroom; some fold clothes; and so goes the routine.

Our goal is to leave our home clean and tidy before walking out the door and entering a full day of classes and Christian discipleship on our rural property from 6:45am-4:00pm, and on most days we reach this goal pretty darn well. We are a well-oiled machine.

Except for the squeaky parts (and, yes, Gleny is one of them.) On most days I walk on bare feet into the stillness of the room she shares with two of her sisters and quietly stroke her feet or pat her arm as I lovingly wake her up only to pass by again 20 or 30 minutes later to find her sleeping again. Everyone else is on their feet taking a shower, making their bed or going about their daily duties, and I have to call her name loudly just so that she’ll sit up in bed, startled.

Once up, she meanders around our house in a daze for nearly an hour, oftentimes spending an inordinate amount of time making her bed or going to the bathroom. (I suspect she’s taking a nap on the toilet.)

I have tried many techniques to try to rouse her and incite her to fulfill the only chore she has each morning (everyone else has 2-3 chores and they fulfill them without complaint), but I have oftentimes been left frustrated after reminding her two or three times to go do her chore only to find that she never does it.

Well, this morning a new idea occurred to me, and it worked like magic. I pulled back three bedroom door curtains and entered three silent bedrooms to awake 7 sleepy people this morning as usual, and we were off. Little Jason was taking the fruit and vegetable remains from the day prior out to the cows’ stable; Jackeline was washing the dishes; my husband was cleaning our bathroom; I was feeding the dogs.

I passed by Gleny’s room just to make sure she was up, which I suspected she wasn’t. “Gleny!” I called from the other side of the curtain, a good half-hour after having gone to wake her up the first time, and her older sister replied, “She’s not up yet.”

Instead of feeling frustrated with our chronic (but precious) squeaky wheel, I responded joyfully, “Oh, that’s okay. Just let her be!”

I’m sure everyone who heard me was surprised by my response, but I kept on my merry way – look for little Josue’s socks; help him put his shoes on; go get a bar of soap for Jackeline; take my vitamins.

Well, at some point Gleny did get up and asked permission to use our bathroom to take a shower. I felt almost giddy (in a naughty-child type of sense) as I thought I-hope-she-doesn’t-do-her-chore-this-morning. I-hope-she-gives-me-the-chance-to-do-what-I-want-to-do!

6:45am rolled around and all of our local teachers and uniformed students began streaming through our front gate. At this point family time (and house-cleaning time) is over and we enter our sacred daily routine of service to the poor, the proclamation of God’s Word, and humble love to the lost. God has sent several dozen local young people our way who spend the majority of their waking hours under our guidance as we seek to draw them nearer to Christ. We teach the ignorant, encourage the faint of heart, discipline the unruly and include many in this beautiful lifestyle with and for Christ. It is a very good, rich life. We love what we do.

Soon enough I forgot all about Gleny and whether or not she had done her chore of picking up whatever was left laying about in our outdoor washing station.

I began hugging little kids and teenage girls and extending my hand and a warm pat on the back to teen boys. It is our morning routine. I slipped into the office to greet each of our teachers and I watched as little ones began playing on the rope swings dangling from the trees in our yard.

Fifteen minutes or so later – once each group had been tucked away in their respective classrooms – I walked back over to our home (which is about 5-10 paces from our school).

Gleny! I suddenly remembered. I headed for our outdoor washing station (called a ‘pila’ in Spanish) on the edge of our porch where we wash our household’s clothes, shoes and bedding.

Yes! Ah-HAH! My eyes alit with glee as I saw the many rags and tidbits thrown about the washing station. Gleny had not done her job!

I got to work doing the job myself, laughing all the while. I hand-washed a shirt and several underpants and rags that had been left half-washed and sitting in a pan; I collected the long blue rope that was laying haphazardly on the ground; I collected the many shoes that were scattered about; I picked up and re-hung the clothes that had fallen off the line. Perfect.

Upon finishing my job, I headed straight into our little cinderblock home (still laughing to myself) and wrote on our family’s living-room whiteboard the following message that will be read by all later this afternoon once they get out of classes and come streaming into our home:

Blessings to you, Gleny! Don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t clean up the washing station this morning; I took 10-15 minutes to do it once you were in class. Now you can go ahead and cover my job of washing the boys’ clothes this Friday since I did your job this morning. I am available to fulfill your responsibilities when you need help! I love you. –Mom

So I am now at peace and will happily cover her morning duty when she ‘forgets’ to do it – and then she will have to take one of my jobs!

I had instituted this same technique a year ago with another one of our teen daughters with fantastic and rather quick results. One afternoon she did not do some chore of hers, so I switched roles with her (unbeknownst to her) and vegged out in her room watching a movie with one of our other daughters. When she walked in, shocked to find me slouched out on her floor without a care in the world, I informed her, “Oh, I did your chore because you forgot, so now you’ve got to do mine. Normally I make dinner, bathe your little brother, bring in the dry clothes from the line, feed the dogs, supervise all your siblings and help them resolve any conflict they might have. I hope you have a great time, sweetie. Don’t come look for me; I’m enjoying this great movie with your sister.” She was left with her jaw hanging down around her ankles, and sure enough she got busy doing my long list of chores while I enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon and evening. From that day forward, every time she considered not fulfilling her chores I amiably offered to do them for her and she would scream, “No; they’re mine! I’m on it!” because she didn’t want to assume my long list of chores. Score!

This parenting idea and many others can be found in Danny Silk’s phenomenal book Loving Our Kids on Purpose. It sure beats nagging and frustration! (And I certainly hope she neglects the washing station again tomorrow so that I can assign her another one of my jobs!)

God bless you and keep you!

Mid-Year Update 2018

In June my husband Darwin and I celebrated 5 years of faithful marriage, and later this year in November we will celebrate our 5-year anniversary of parenting fatherless children together for God’s glory. The Lord has used our marriage to parent 11 children and teens thus far, 7 of which continue under our full-time care, and close to 100 have passed through the discipleship-based homeschool program we operate out of our home for local youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thank you to all who have supported us along the way, and please know that we are committed to continue onward in this lifestyle of service to the poor, Christian hospitality and relational discipleship as long as the Lord allows.

One of the local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in our school took the following photos a couple weeks ago during a mid-year celebration day at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve. Darwin, our 7 foster children and I practiced several nights in a row to put together a surprise dance that we would perform in front of our all of our students and teachers! As you can tell by the very happy faces behind us (below), they loved it!

In a country where many families have been broken apart and the majority of our students’ parents are largely absent from their lives, we treasure these moments where Darwin and I can put on display the love and joy of the Lord knit together in family unity.

We work very hard teaching Bible studies, doing one-on-one and group counseling/prayer sessions, and leading by example so that the youth in our home and school may live for Christ instead of falling prey to the many wrong attitudes and behaviors that abound in Honduran society. After many long days (and nights) doing the trench work of digging deep in souls and teaching the youth both in and out of the classroom, we really enjoyed this light-hearted mid-year break as we simply danced and made a lot of people laugh! (I don’t think we’ll be going on tour any time soon!)

Below are more photos taken during our mid-year fun activity day at the Living Waters Ranch. In addition to our family dance, we all enjoyed a Christian rap performance by three of our teen boys, several soccer matches, traditional Honduran yard games and a motivational workshop by our Christian psychologist (below, yellow shirt).

We are now in the second half of our 2018 efforts to disciple and teach, as the Honduran school calendar runs from February-November. There are currently 48 youth enrolled full-time in our program who visit our home each day from 6:45am-3:00/4:00pm for Christian discipleship, academic classes, extracurricular and service-oriented activities, etc. Over a dozen have dropped out since January due to family instability, poor decision-making, etc, and we continue onward with a highly committed group of young people who are taking full advantage of the life-giving opportunity God has granted them to be part of a loving Christian community dedicated to their integral growth in Christ.


 As for our family status apart from our general ministry to our local community, the purpose the Lord has given us is to welcome children and teens who were unwanted or uncared for by their biological relatives into our patchwork family so that they might come to know the redemptive love of God. Some come and others go as many eventually go live with a stable biological family member; others will stay forever as this is the only home they know.

Please pray for us in the ongoing adoption process for those who have chosen us to be their forever family, and pray with us for our sons’ and daughters’ complete healing and transformation in Christ after having come from very traumatic childhoods. On many days our home seems like a warzone between good and evil, light and darkness, as there are many generational chains from our children’s biological families that must be broken so that they may be free to live for Christ. Pray that we may be granted the grace of loving one another well and that our fellowship with the Lord would increase daily.

Thank you to those who pray for and support this mission. Without you we would not be able to touch the lives the Lord brings our way.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family 

 

The Living Waters Ranch: Christian family to the orphaned and integral discipleship/education to the lost

Family Photo Shoot: Celebrating Five Years of Marriage

Yesterday my husband and I reached five years of marriage, and as part of the celebration we decided to organize a family photo shoot.

Our previous official family photos were taken in November of last year, and several changes have occurred in our family since then. Josselyn and Gabriela, biological sisters who lived with us over two years, moved in with a Christian aunt and uncle of theirs in January of this year, and our teenage foster son Brayan left our home very abruptly in April of this year and did not return. (I plan on writing more about this at some point in the coming weeks.)

I informed our seven foster children/teens in preparation for the shoot: Take a bath, brush your hair, and put on something you won’t be embarrassed to see yourself in several years from now, because I’m totally going to show these photos at your wedding. They laughed and headed for the showers, as we had all gotten pretty stinky that morning working around our home and yard as a family. Some of our teen girls had been cutting back the weeds with a machete and bathing our guard dogs; others had been hand-washing their clothes and chasing our small herd of milking cows around our rural property in order to give them their anti-parasitic. Gleny had done painting touch-ups around our two school buildings, and two of our other kids had helped me clean our house from top to bottom.

So, before heading out on our dinner date we asked our beloved Honduran teacher who had come over to take care of our kids if she could help us take a series of family photos near the entrance of our rural property. Unbeknownst to us, she enjoys photography and did a phenomenal job with our impromptu shoot!

To many who see these photos, they may seem like nothing more than normal — even beautiful — shots of a normal, happy family. We know, however, that this family unity has not been automatic and that we’ve even had to fight for joy in these past 4+ years with our extremely mixed family who comes from all kinds of broken places.

These photos are extremely precious to me, and I treasure the sheer joy and love that radiates from our children’s faces, as I know well where they’ve come from and the battles we’ve fought alongside of them in Christ and won. God bless you!

Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (second from the left) randomly decided to dress like some kind of teenage rebel or punk rapper, which is hilarious because she is a wonderful student, is very mature and has a tender heart toward God. We’re not sure why she whipped out this interesting attire for our family photo shoot, but I’ll certainly be showing these photos at her wedding someday!


When Darwin bent down, I thought he was going to give me a kiss (and all of our kids could sense this from me), so they all burst out laughing when he stood back up without noticing that I was waiting for a kiss.
He’s gonna make it all better!
I love the look on Carolina’s face (the one in the red shirt). It’s as if she wants to say, “Look at what I have to put up with!)

Now it’s time to get in groups of three with the strongest person in each group carrying the other two! (Darwin’s got it the easiest because our two boys are the smallest in the family!)
Already carrying Gleny’s weight on my back, I told Paola (camouflage pants), “We’re just gonna pretend that I’m picking you up. Keep one leg on the ground!”
Great underpants, Josue!

I managed to get our two oldest daughters (17 and 15) off the ground at the same time! Those are two big babies I’ve got!

Our eldest daughter wanted to carry Darwin and our cute hippie-rapper wanted to carry me and one of our other girls at the same time! We’ve got some pretty strong gals in our family!

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers and support. May God continue to be glorified through our family, and may our foster children and those we minister to in our neighborhood continue to experience freedom in Christ in ever-increasing measure.

Personal Reflection and Family Update

Yesterday evening we sat around the wooden table in our living room to eat dinner together as a family. Two of our teen foster daughters had prepared a delicious chicken soup with rice. In our household our diet oftentimes consists of rice and beans, so this soup was a special treat. The plates and silverware were all laid out on our floral-print tablecloth that I had purchased at a local thrift store a couple months ago. A candle was placed in the middle of the setup, although on this occasion it remained unlit.

Eating dinner together as a family each night has not been one of our strong points during these first few years together as a foster family and ministry homestead. Oftentimes it has seemed like a triumph just to get to the finish line at the end of each day still standing, and to make any additional effort to prepare an evening banquet for close to a dozen people just seems overwhelming. Thus, on many occasions each person just warms up rice and beans that were leftover from lunch or whips up something light due to everyone’s distinct schedule (and Mom’s exhaustion).

Some of our kids go into town two evenings per week for their ballet class; one night a week we’re out at a neighbor’s house for a Bible study; some evenings Darwin is out counseling people in our neighborhood or organizing choir practices. Oftentimes our teens have group homework projects or are practicing their musical instruments in the evenings, thus it has not been easy to pin down all the highly active members of our household for a daily routine of eating together. I imagine that in any family if a daily dinner is going to be achieved, it must be carefully scheduled and protected.

So, that is what we’ve decided to do. At Darwin’s suggestion, on Sunday I designed a fairly simple daily dinner schedule (indicating whose turn it is to cook, as we already have a nightly cleaning schedule), and we’re committed to protect and enforce this even if fatigue or busyness threaten to put this priority on the back-burner.

Yesterday morning all seven of our foster kids had been in classes and Christian discipleship in our homeschool program that we operate out of our rural homestead from 7:00am — 3:00pm. I had taught group Bible study that morning; Darwin had taught classes all morning with his small group of wily second- and third-graders and directed the girls’ choir practice after lunch. Our eldest foster daughter had a one-on-one meeting with our Christian psychologist to continue navigating the waters of healing and restoration while also looking to the future to discern the vocation/purpose that the Lord has for her in these coming years. A couple of our girls had been in cooking class; I taught my math class with 16 teens earlier that morning before heading into town to attend a three-hour meeting with local government officials.

And so, we ate dinner as a family. Last night was our first attempt to follow this new dinner schedule, and it was successful. It was nothing spectacular, but we were together. At the beginning of the meal we all joined hands and bowed our heads as Darwin gave God thanks for the food, and then our 17-year-old daughter, the eldest, graciously served everyone’s food. Surprisingly she started with my plate, which was doubtlessly a gesture of friendship as we are both making the effort to improve our relationship after having gone through many rocky patches over these past few months. (This afternoon she and I have a ‘date’ planned as I’ve invited her on a bike ride around our neighborhood as an opportunity to spend more time together and connect.)

This new season has brought small but important changes such as our new family dinner routine that we will carefully put into practice.

Each night as our kids all head into their rooms for homework and rest, I put on a sermon or two on my laptop (connected to two little speakers) in the living room so that our household is flooded with Biblical teaching. This specifically has been a very pivotal change in our home, as over these past several months I have downloaded dozens of sermons from respected pastors from different parts of the world to come directly into our home and teach us each evening. Our kids are resting in their rooms or taking a shower in the quiet of the night and everyone is receiving Scriptural encouragement. This has been very fruitful, and we will continue to do this each evening as we sow seeds into their young lives (and our own lives) for God’s glory.

Another small change we’ve made is that our 10-year-old foster son Jason, who is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with his two older sisters, now accompanies Darwin each night to go walk down our long gravel entryway to lock the two gates on our rural property. This gives him ‘man time’ with Dad and teaches him that it will one day be his job to protect and care for his own family.

Yesterday evening as our dinner was coming to a close, one of our new foster teens who moved in with us late last year expressed a question she had after having read the book of Galatians in the Bible for a homework assignment I had given her. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had actually read it and with enough attention to want to ask me a question about what she had read. I asked her to bring her Bible to the dinner table to show me the verse she had a question about, so she darted off into her room and quickly reappeared at the table, Bible in hand. As she opened the Bible, she said to herself as she flipped through the pages, “Galatians. After Corinthians.”

It was so seemingly insignificant what she was saying, but it hit me like a train. It’s working! Many of our foster kids and local students are very used to hearing others teach them about God’s Word, but they had yet to develop the habit of reading it for themselves. To change that, several months ago we started a routine that each person in our family now individually reads the Bible as we all spread out in our living room on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and in the two classes that I teach in our community homeschool (advanced math and reading/writing) I now make all the students sit individually and read the Bible 15 minutes before starting each class and then they discuss in partners what they read for about 5 minutes afterward (to get them used to openly talking about God’s Word). In these last couple months they’ve read the whole book of John and of Romans; they are now in Acts and Luke. (This specific daughter of ours is in both my classes, so she receives a double-dose of Bible-reading!) This has thus far produced marvelous results, as many of the teens have commented in awe, “I always hear so-and-so saying that we should love one another, and now I get that it actually comes from the Bible! I just read it!”

Our foster daughter who had been well-versed in Christianity throughout her childhood in various foster homes and orphanages, several months ago had very little first-hand knowledge of the actual Bible. When asked to flip to a certain book, she had to go to the table of contents and spend several moments searching for it. For her to say, “Galatians. After Corinthians.” and find that tiny book in the midst of 65 others is of great encouragement to me as she is now getting to know God’s Word not based on what others tell her but based on her own time reading and exploring its depths. Praise God!

There is much more I could write, but for now I will leave it at that. Thank you so much to those who support this mission and pray for us regularly. I continue to sleep much better in recent months after having battled insomnia for so many years, and after being bedridden with Typhoid Fever a few weeks ago my health is currently fairly strong. My husband Darwin and I will be celebrating 5 years of marriage this Sunday, and all of the local Honduran missionaries and teachers who serve alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch are doing very well.

Please continue to pray for the restoration and transformation of our foster children/teens and local students into the image of Christ, and also pray that the Lord would continue to protect us physically as we live in a very violent part of the world.

God bless you.

 

Personal Reflection: Our Current Season of Life and Ministry

I write to you from our rural homestead in Honduras, Central America where the Lord has planted us firmly with the purpose of parenting the orphaned, proclaiming His Word, teaching the ignorant, reaching out to the destitute in our area with tangible help and living a simple, honest life with and for Christ.

Next month my husband, who is a native Honduran whom I met here in Honduras while I was already walking the path the Lord had placed before me, and I will celebrate five years of marriage, and a few months after that we will celebrate five years of parenting the orphaned and ministering to the lost together for God’s glory. Four months after we married in 2013 our first three children arrived – the eldest of whom was 13 years old when she moved in, only 10 years younger than me.

The current season of life, of marriage, of ministry and parenting that we are in is definitely new. Our house used to be filled with childhood relics – baby dolls and stuffed animals, sound-it-out books for those learning to read for the first time, pint-sized clothes that fit malnourished frames, and the like.

Now – especially since two of our younger foster daughters left our home in January of this year to begin living with a stable Christian aunt – our home is full not of clingy, eyes-wide-because-everything-is-new-and-exciting children, but rather seasoned teenagers who have seen and heard just about everything, and now all that’s left is really believing it with all their heart and putting it into practice. Our two youngest will turn 10 and 11 within the next two months, and our older teens already have their eyes fixed on university goals and desires for marriage someday.

Our eldest daughter has learned to drive our old pickup and now routinely shuttles over a dozen of our teachers and local students to and from our home each day. She turns 18 in just a few months. One of our other teen daughters is now enrolled in a beauty class in our discipleship-based homeschool program and cut my hair not four days ago with the helpful oversight of her instructor. This upcoming week five of our kids will be traveling with my husband Darwin to one of Honduras’ largest cities to participate in a music concert by an internationally-renowned director. They have been preparing for weeks.

I, like our children, used to feel like everything was new and exciting – every new or meaningful encounter, every inquisitive question they asked me about God or His Word, every heart-warming interaction that occurred in our non-traditional family – I wrote it down and felt compelled to share it with the world. I was a heart-on-fire idealist for Christ; I wanted to change the world; I found deep meaning in everything; every day was an adventure.

This current season is not like that. This season is not bad or boring or disappointing; I simply think I’m entering new depths, new understanding that is necessary for this marathon race that I had originally misunderstood to be a sprint (and I definitely did get tired a few hundred meters into the wild dash).

We’re now more organized; our days are largely more predictable than they once were; our kids have less emotional meltdowns; we’ve grown in knowledge of His Word; and we’re now better equipped to handle the many situations thrown at us daily, whereas before most things used to catch us blindsided or throw us off balance.

We’ve invested what the Lord has given us – His Word and His love, material provision, relational availability, counsel, our very lives — in certain people here only to see them eventually turn their back on the Lord and on us. This has been heartbreaking, but after having occurred numerous times it is no longer surprising. We’ve seen people come to the Lord and others stray from their commitment to Him. We’ve seen people we love make God-honoring decisions, and we’ve seen others we love make the worst decision possible even after receiving great amounts of godly counsel. Sometimes our foster teens surprise us with Spirit-led revelation or genuine spiritual hunger in their lives, and at other times I am left frustrated at their selfishness and spiritual coldness (and mine).

Many profound, even tear-jerking things do still occur – and perhaps even more frequently so than before – in our household, and I do still receive revelations from the Lord, but I have not felt as compelled to write. Or perhaps I have not even known where to start.

From age 17 on I filled up one hand-written journal after another – in addition to several hundred pages of written logs on my laptop – as I fervently sought the Lord, asked Him my questions, searched high and low for my life’s calling and reflected on just about every event that unfolded in my daily life. It was through this incessant search – desperate even – that the Lord revealed to me at age 20 that my role in His Kingdom here on earth would be to be a mother to those who have none. With time He has expanded, deepened that call to now include the relational discipleship and integral teaching we dedicate ourselves to in our home for dozens of local youth in addition to the 8 who live in our home.

I had to learn Spanish, and I have learned it. I did not know if I was ever going to get married, but the Lord provided a faithful, loving husband for me (and permanent father for our children who all come from fatherless backgrounds). I had to be willing to give my own life away – give up on my own plans, relinquish my own ‘freedom’ and personal space – and the Lord has given not only me but also my husband the grace to live this lifestyle of radical hospitality in Christ, of Biblical parenthood for the orphaned and abandoned. Our lives are not our own; we are truly walking in our call.

Six or seven years ago there were so many unknowns in my life, so many questions I pleaded God to answer. I was like a little, impatient child tugging on their Father’s pants-leg and staring up at Him, waiting for the answers.

And He’s given them, and by some miracle I have believed – and not only in my heart but also with my life, with actions, with a daily walk. He’s been so generous, so gracious in our errors and mishaps; He has been such a good teacher, a patient Father to us in these first five years in the trenches!

So, my question – however absurd or naïve it may sound – is: now what? Not ‘now what?’ in the sense of we’re-going-to-now-move-to-another-place-and-do-something-entirely-different-with-our-lives, but in the sense of, really, what does the Lord now have for us? Right here, with these same kids who are now teens and in these same little multi-colored buildings where He’s taught us so much already – what is in store for this new season? Is it just more of the same, but a deepening of it, a downward plunge into greater depths of excellence, of wisdom, of divine communion? In many ways I am in need of a new word from Him.

This season has brought and continues to bring many blessings, two of which are the new teen girls who moved in with us late last year and have become integral parts of our family. This has been a new trek – becoming mom all over again, this time to girls well into adolescence who have already had many ‘moms.’ This journey has been beautiful and has proved to bring unexpected joy to our household in addition to the expected trials the girls present and the sacrifice required of my husband Darwin and I to parent them with grace, according to God’s Word.

This year – this season – I teach an advanced math class for 16 teen students in the Christian school we operate out of our home, and I share God’s Word three times weekly in our large group Bible study where we gather in our dining room with about 40 people or so. I teach a dynamic (and pretty funny) karate class on Wednesday afternoons, and I serve in a much less hands-on role administratively in our office this year, making sure all runs smoothly alongside of our dedicated Honduran staff. I handwash our clothes. I water the plants. I share the cooking load with our teenage girls (and our 10-year-old son Jason who loves to work in the kitchen). I listen to Christian sermons and teaching series online in my free time to continue growing. On weekends Darwin and I do maintenance and physical labor chores with our kids around our extensive rural property. We read the Word together as a family. I oversee our kids in their daily chores and academic activities. My husband and I play chauffer for our teens on their way to music and dance classes. I lend a listening ear and a prayerful heart to our local students who oftentimes seek me out to help them in conflict resolution or if they simply want to vent. On an ongoing basis I seek to discern, to listen, to whatever it is that God wants to teach us on this narrow, beautiful path with Him.

So, I’m not sure if this not-so-organized post will prove interesting or noteworthy to anyone who reads it, but I do thank all of you who pray for us and support this work on an ongoing basis. Please know that we continue onward with great faithfulness, and daily ask God to make grow these many seeds we are planting all around us. My writing patterns over the coming months may prove more sporadic as I have not been as led to write all our daily reflections as I have in years past, but this does not indicate that the work in Honduras is faltering or stagnant. We love Christ and daily seek to draw nearer to Him as our very lives are permanently marked with the good news of His salvation. His eternal Kingdom is our goal, and we desperately ask Him to bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

God bless you.

A Shoulder Massage Taken to a Whole New Level: Quality Time in Our Large Family

In our large, mixed family my husband and I parent 8 foster kids ages 9-17, all of whom come from traumatic circumstances and are daily growing and healing in the love of God.

In our daily interactions and family affairs, more than once I’ve told them the following story from my dad’s childhood.

You see, in my family of origin we all really enjoy a good foot or shoulder massage, so my grandmother (my dad’s mother) used to sit in her recliner chair with her feet up on a stool while my dad — who was a child at the time — would sit on the floor in front of her and give her a foot massage. Now, the key to my grandmother’s success was this: she maintained a Snickers bar beside her, cutting it up into little pieces and slipping them to my dad one by one as he kept going with the massage. Now that’s a smart lady.

My dad frequently told me this story when I was growing up, and I have since begun telling it to our 8 foster kids as we all laugh at my grandma’s strategy. Then, one day several months ago it dawned on me: I should do the same. So that same day I went to the grocery store and got a couple big packages of Oreo cookies and came home laughing to myself at my plan. I wrote on our family’s whiteboard in our living room: If anyone’s willing to give Mom a foot massage this evening, she’s got Oreos…

That was all it took. Sure enough, after dinnertime they came out of the woodwork as I suddenly had five or six eager masseuses — one on each hand and foot and one rubbing my shoulders. As they progressed with the massage, they earned several Oreos and there was much laughter and warm memories along the way. (I even think it is safe to say that they enjoyed the laughter and the closeness more than the Oreos.)

This has since become a normal activity in our household every few weeks or so, and a few days ago was no exception. My dad was visiting us and staying in our home for a few days, and as he came walking into our living room Sunday morning after our typical Scripture reading as a family, he found five or six kids and teens giving me a massage. (Of course, the bucket of lollipops was close by.) He laughed out loud and took the following pictures, which I now share with you.

These photos represent a silly, warm side of our family as we all seek to walk in the light of Christ together in our daily context in rural Honduras. It is also worth mentioning that this somewhat goofy time of bribed massages has been helpful in our development of healthy, loving touch with our kids and is also a way for me to have fun quality time with them.

Enjoy the photos!



The Unusual Tribe of Three: Quality Time on Our Rural Homestead

Yesterday my husband Darwin went into the city with 6 of our foster children for a day of dentist visits, music classes and errands, leaving me on our rural ministry homestead with two of our foster children. From time to time we like to divide our eight foster kids up into smaller groups so that they get more individualized attention, so this turned out to be one such occasion. A couple weeks ago Darwin took our three boys on a ‘man date’ to pray for the sick and then eat ice cream together, and he took one of our girls on a one-on-one afternoon date in the city not too long ago, which made her feel very special. This time my little group was composed of quite an interesting combination of people: one of our new teen girls who moved in with us about six months ago, and our 9-year-old special needs son who has lived with us over three years.

Thanks to the addition of a new Honduran teacher/missionary a couple months ago who now helps with the teaching, administrative and discipleship load my husband and I share with our small team at the Living Waters Ranch, I’ve been relieved of many of the administrative tasks that used to dominate my time. It has always been a fine line of being an available stay-at-home mom for our kids while also balancing the responsibilities entrusted to me to direct, evangelize and teach in our little mission and the surrounding community. Thus, with the addition of our new team member the balance of service-in-the-home and service-to-the-community has been made easier for me and has allowed me more stress-free time with our kids for God’s glory.

So, we enjoyed a completely spontaneous day of agricultural activities and physical work, something I don’t normally participate in (because in recent years I’ve been ‘too busy’). We each slapped on a pair of black rubber boots (the cultural sign of a Honduran who’s ready to work in the field), we grabbed three rusty machetes and began traipsing around our rural property under the blistering sun engaging in untold adventures. There were no schedules and no rush. We were simply enjoying being together (our strange tribe of three) while simultaneously rejoicing in the breathtakingly beautiful creation our Father has placed so close to us. We ended up investigating native plants, exploring the creek behind our property (and I nearly fell into a rather deep part when I precariously tried to cross the waters via a broken tree limb that looked a lot stronger than it was), cooking from scratch in our temporarily-outdoor kitchen on our porch, taking care of our bunnies, planting a few plants, watering them, and doing various physical-labor chores around our property.

It was a sweaty, peaceful day as we truly loved one another and reveled in the beauty of the Creator, much as I imagine Adam and Eve did in the garden so many years ago — blessed, uninterrupted enjoyment of Father God, His creation, and one another.

Near the end of our day together, it occurred to me to take out our little digital camera and take a few photos together. At first they were very shy and unenthused, but after a few shots they really got into it. We even taught Josue how to hold the camera and take (somewhat off-kilter) shots!

Enjoy our rather simple yet joyful photos of a momma called by God and her precious little ones (who aren’t so little). God bless you!

Josue and I posing in front of the little plants we planted near our fence. We’ve both got our working boots on!
Carolina (15) and Josue (9)
Josue learning to take photos…his finger managed to make it in several of them!

They are such hard workers! (We enjoyed about a half hour together shoveling dirt/rocks in our front yard.)

Time to help momma bunny give milk to her five babies in our living room!
The little guy was so enthusiastically drinking milk that his feet were up in the air!

   

Josue sure is a lot of fun!
Tickle time!
Gotta love this photo of Josue’s buttcheeks! We laughed hard when we saw this photo — he was intent on tickling me and didn’t realize that he probably should have been wearing a belt!

Now Josue’s taking the photos!

After balancing Carolina up with my legs, we had a wipe out!
Now let’s head over to the mango tree!

This is one of my favorite photos! Absolutely beautiful!
Time to jump down! Be careful!



Here come the buttcheeks again! You really do need a belt, Josue!
One of the last chores of the day — washing the clothes in our outdoor washing station!

Josue learned how to rake the leaves! Good boy!
At the end of the day, I sent Josue to go take a shower to get all the dirt and grime off. As he finished showering and changed into his pijamas, I asked (without seeing him), “Josue, did you shower with soap?” because sometimes he tries to only bathe with water. Carolina, seeing Josue come around the corner, began laughing and assured me, “Oh, he certainly did bathe with soap.” Perplexed, I began to ask how she could possibly know that when I saw the same evidence — Josue had big globs of soap in his hair and ears! He sure did shower with soap!

Amen! Glory to God!

Multiplying Responsibility Like Bunnies

The latest greatest on our rural homestead in Honduras is the arrival of our five bunnies! Many local friends of ours had recommended that we get involved in bunny care as a way of producing small quantities of meat for our family’s consumption, so we finally did so when a local woman was looking to sell her adult bunnies at a good price.

A couple weeks ago we started off with four females and a male…and we’ve already got babies! The care-taking of our precious bunnies has been a huge hit for our kids, as they’ve been given the task of feeding them several times a day, which includes going out to the pasture to cut grass with a machete for them and chopping up fruit and veggies for their consumption. The bunnies were very skittish when they first arrived and we were told that they couldn’t be held, but our kids have been working hard to domesticate them, and one of our teen daughters in particular has become quite a delightful bunny tamer. She helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that each of the babies gets enough to eat, and she’s constantly checking to make sure they’re okay. (Our kids consider themselves too old and mature to play with stuffed animals, but cuddling the bunnies is fair game! We love it!)

Here are a few photos!

Our 10-year-old son Jason whom we are in the process of legally adopting squeezed into the bunny hutch! My husband Darwin and I are enjoying having the bunnies on our homestead because their presence is teaching our kids more responsibility, how to gently care for God’s creation, and they are healthy entertainment! (We’ve chosen not to have a television in our home, and our kids don’t have internet access.)
Our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline LOVES the bunnies! She’s offered to feed them three times per day, and every morning and evening she helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that her babies get enough sustenance! Jackeline is also very involved in the care and upkeep of our small herd of milking cows and is excited about the pig pen we are in the process of constructing. We are very proud of the new, very mature character the Lord is forming in her as He transforms her with His love.

Here is our eldest, 17-year-old Dayana, whom we are also in the process of adopting. She’s not too fond of the animals, but — fear not! — Jackeline is close by to make sure everyone’s okay.
This is 15-year-old Carolina, another one of our beloved foster teens. She moved in with us late last year and is doing extremely well in our household.
Jackeline took several portraits with the bunnies!
Here are the babies when they were just a couple days old! When our kids first saw them, they asked if they were rats!


      Amen! Glory to God!

Lord, How Do You Choose? A Testimony of the Miraculous

A beloved local pastor who labors alongside of us part-time teaching carpentry classes and leading our youth in community evangelism was diagnosed a few weeks ago with a devastating tumor on his spinal chord. Our staff and students at the Living Waters Ranch along with the pastor’s family, his church congregation and many households in our rural town were devastated. Hospital conditions in Honduras are not the best, especially when considering an extremely delicate surgery on someone’s spinal chord. His wife feared the worst; his church congregation went into fervent prayer and began holding fundraisers to pay for the expensive surgery; and doctors said that he would likely need to spend up to two years in bed recovering from the removal of the large mass. And this is our beloved pastor who is as strong as a rock, oftentimes hauling huge wooden boards to and fro in his carpentry shop, with much greater physical strength than some of our stronger teen boys!

Thus, my husband Darwin and our three foster sons went to visit him several days ago as they prayed with him, consoled his wife and accompanied him as he lied in bed awaiting the looming surgery. The sudden diagnosis seemed surreal to us all.

In Honduras, there are many (true) tales of people going in for routine surgeries in large, public hospitals and what should have been routine takes a turn for the worst due to lack of clinical care, hygiene issues, etc. We’ve even heard several testimonies of families who have lost young women who’ve gone to the hospitals to give birth and their bodies are later found maimed or chopped up in trash bags behind the hospital. These are extreme cases, but here underfunded, understaffed public hospitals do not generally inspire confidence, especially not when it comes to such a delicate surgery as the removal of a tumor from someone’s spinal chord.

Thus, these last few weeks we’ve all been carefully praying for our dear pastor friend and waiting with uncertainty for what might turn out to be the loss of his life or the paralyzation of his legs if anything goes wrong in the surgery.

With all of this looming in the air, yesterday after teaching my advanced math class I headed out during my free period to visit the homes of several of our students. I enjoyed several encouraging (and sometimes hilarious) visits with well-meaning but sometimes under-equipped parents as I went home-to-home in our rural neighborhood where poverty and unpunished crime abound.

At one point I was sitting in a plastic lawn chair on a dirt lawn with two sunburned parents who work very hard in the local pineapple fields as I sought to counsel them on how to better parent their extremely gifted but often rebellious teenage son who is in our discipleship-based homeschool program. We’ve had a close relationship with this family for several years, and their son has many natural leadership giftings and considers himself to be quite grown-up at the ripe old age of 16, so I started speaking frankly to his parents. (After all, last year we bumped him down a grade for immature and inconsistent behavior, and this year his attendance and homework completion had been up and down with many bright, promising spots along the way.) After assuring the parents several times that we love their son dearly and desperately want God’s purposes to be fulfilled in his life, I laid it out cold-turkey, “Look, the Bible says that if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The parents’ eyes grew and the normally-serious mom even let out a surprised burst of laughter as I began explaining that many teen boys in our area live like little kings — they have a cellphone, three square meals a day, total freedom to do whatever they want…and zero responsibilities. No job; no work. Their parents (who themselves are very hard-working and barely making ends meet) pick up the bill on their boys’ irresponsibility and let them become comfortable vagabonds or — worse — ripe pick for the local gangs. So, I advised these particular parents to take God’s Word and put it into action with the authority the Lord has given them as this young man’s parents: don’t serve him dinner until he sits his butt down and starts working on the homework that’s long overdue. A simple limit, but firm. This seemed to be a new concept to the parents, and I reiterated the biblical nature of this advice time and again, encouraging them to assume their role as their son’s authority and not leave him to his own means, which includes endless vagabonding, going to the river for hours on end, and getting mixed up in the wrong crowd. After praying with the parents, I headed for my next stop.

At the next house a similar visit was held as I met with another set of local parents on their front porch. A few emaciated dogs eyed me suspiciously from a few yards away. At this particular house, however, there was someone else present as well: our student’s blind 90-year-old great-grandmother. I have read many counts (both directly from the Bible and from modern-day Christians) of God healing blind people, and this — seeing God heal the sick and disabled — has been a longing of mine for many years. Beyond asking God for His wisdom in my life, I’m oftentimes found asking Him to grant me the privilege of seeing the miraculous — visions, healings, etc. I’ve been reading a book that details the fact that, as Christians, we should not be doing the possible but rather the impossible — that which is only possible with God. I wanted God to do the impossible through me!

And so, on this particular occasion yesterday after encouraging another one of our students’ parents, I felt very clearly that God was leading me to pray that this blind old lady would get her vision back. These kinds of prayers make me nervous, as I know full well that God can heal her, but I’m not quite sure what response to have if or when He doesn’t heal the person. Plus, thus far in my life the Lord has not chosen to use me as an instrument of His divine healing. Why start now, and won’t I end up looking like a fool if He doesn’t heal her? After all, I don’t want to illusion her if it is God’s plan that she continue blind for the rest of her life.

Well, my faith somehow seemed to increase and I dared to pray with this woman, who is a devout Christian. In another plastic lawn chair (which is the furniture that most people have here, both inside their house and out) under a simple overhang very close to the edge of the jungle as the rumbling river passed by on the other side of their house, I bowed my head and prayed as best I could that God would heal His daughter’s eyes. She prayed along with me, and I began to sincerely feel that He would heal her.

When we finished praying, I took my hand off her eyes and asked enthusiastically if she could see. She could not.

I felt sad but at the same time vowed to pray for her again the next time I saw her (which turned out to be today as I ended up visiting their house two days in a row.) I embraced her and said goodbye to the parents as I headed out and off to my next house visit. I couldn’t help feeling let down, as I felt that God had given me the faith and even the expectation of a miracle, but it didn’t come through.

Later that day (yesterday) all of our local students left our home around 3:00pm and our 8 foster kids and I got to work washing our clothes by hand in our outdoor washing station and doing school homework for the next day.

Once evening came, three of our foster teens and I attended a discipleship group in the home of a local married couple that labors with us for God’s glory. We gathered around their cement living room floor in the humid air for over an hour worshipping God and learning more of the life of Christ before we bid our farewells and climbed aboard the three-wheeled mototaxi, a form of public transportation that is a combination between a motorcycle and a traditional car. (My husband Darwin was about a half-hour away in the city of La Ceiba taking three of our daughters to their Christian ballet class, and he had two of our other sons with him as company.) Thus, the three who were with me got aboard the tiny mototaxi with me at dusk as we were leaving the discipleship group and headed for home.

At that moment the wife of the married couple who directs the discipleship group and who labors alongside of us during daytime hours at the Living Waters Ranch came running out to the dirt road where we were boarding the bright red mototaxi.

She had forgotten to tell us something. Somewhat out of breath, she came near the mototaxi and said with great excitement, “Jennifer! The pastor is healed. He went to the hospital earlier today for his final exam before entering surgery tomorrow, and the doctors found that his tumor is gone!”

Her eyes trained on ours with great joy as our three teens who were with me stared at her, both shocked and overjoyed. One of our girls’ jaws just about dropped to the floorboard as she processed the information.

Our dear married friend continued: “He no longer needs the surgery! He’s at home now and will be fine. God healed him!”

Eyes aglow with faith come alive, our teens and I thanked her for the wonderful news and we began zipping off the rocking path up to our rural property. Our teens commented among themselves, amazed at what God had done — we had all been praying for just this!

I stared up at the starry night sky through the open side of the little mototaxi as the night wind whipped my face. Amazed, my only question towards God was: “Lord, how do You choose?”

I marvelled at God — just hours earlier I had asked Him for a miracle for the blind old lady, and it had not been granted. Our pastors’ healing, however, was granted miraculously (which I honestly did not expect). I smiled big as I stared up at the sky, marveling at the mysteriousness of God. Again I repeated deep down in my heart as I admired my Father: “Lord, how do You choose?” Of course, this question probably will not be answered in this lifetime, but I can still wonder in awe of the Great Healer.

And so, I leave you with this little testimony. God is great; He is alive; and His ways are mysterious. He is to be praised! Amen.

Friday Spy: My Undercover Photo Shoot of Marimba Players, Pig Pits and More

Several hours after our group Bible study this morning, I grabbed our old-fashioned digital camera and headed undercover (well, not quite) to each of our intensive classes that we hold every Friday for our more mature students. Most of our teens tried to run away or hide their faces when they realized I was taking pictures, but even so I got a few shots that are worth sharing.

The following are photos taken of the following intensive 3-hour classes: Music/Orchestra (piano, violin, recorder, marimba and guitar), English as a second language, and organic agriculture/discipleship. Normally during this early afternoon time-slot there is also a group in community evangelism, but this week that class was cancelled because the local pastor who directs the group is in surgery. Thank you to all of you who support this redemptive work and/or pray for God’s continued guidance and protection over us.

This is Ariel, one of our older local teen boys who comes from a very chaotic, undisciplined home life learning to play the marimba.
These are two of our daughters whom we are in the process of adopting. Musical training – paired with ongoing relational Christian discipleship – is one of our techniques to redeem broken teens and heal them through healthy, dynamic activities for God’s glory.
Paola (left), one of our new foster daughters who moved in with us about six months ago, with a local teen as they learn to play the recorder.
The builders are making great progress on the dining room annex! (For the last couple weeks our community kitchen with its fridge, stove, pantry, etc  has been moved to our front porch! Thank goodness we’ve got a big porch!)

The classes imparted at the Living Waters Ranch are not confined to normal classroom walls: we oftentimes teach outdoors, go on prayer walks with our students, and interact with the beautiful Honduran habitat around our buildings as part of the youth’s integral learning experience.
This is Miss Ligia’s English as a second language class. Everyone got the giggles and tried to hide their faces when I entered with the camera!
Nobody wanted to show their face!
When I got close to her with the camera, she got the giggles! What a beautiful smile!
Now back outside with the beginners’ recorder class on the porch!
This is our new Christian psychologist who is multi-talented! In addition to helping greatly in the integral psychological/spiritual healing of our youth in Christ, she has also been instrumental teaching in the classroom, leading a group of teen girls in twice-weekly prayer time and freely sharing her God-given talents through various outlets.
One of our local Honduran missionaries has a great passion to pair organic agriculture with small-group Christian discipleship, so several of these agriculture/discipleship classes are given throughout the week to the 60 youth in our program who desire to participate. In these photos our 16-year-old foster son Brayan is working with a local teen to dig a 12-foot-deep hole to receive the waste from the pig pen we are building. These activities cultivate work ethic, perseverance and strength of character in our teens in addition to a deepened love of God’s Word.

They’ve been working on this pit for weeks — one rock at a time!
Two of our local teachers/missionaries work alongside of our students to cultivate the land organically as they learn more about their Creator and how to care for His creation.
This is the little plot our kids have been working so hard on. They’ve planted plantains and banana trees here.

After my escapade out in the pasture, I passed back through our front gate and found one of our musicians hard at work in his song notebook.
My last stop: a posed photo with three of our beloved recorder players (our foster daughter Jackeline, far left, and two local teens who have been in our program full-time over two years). Lookin’ good!
Who knew that teenagers could be this cute?
This is our foster daughter Jackeline. She is a talented mathematician, an avid cow-farmer and a great big sister to special-needs Josue. The Lord has done great things to transform her since she first moved in with us over three years ago, and we love her dearly.

 

Nobody else was willing to participate in an impromptu photo shoot, so I headed back across our front lawn to our cinderblock home to finish up my admin duties for the day! God bless you!

Spontaneous Photo Shoot: Jackeline’s Reading Perch

A couple days ago after our discipleship-based community homeschool classes had let out at 3:00pm and our local students had returned to their homes in our rural neighborhood, I crossed our quiet front yard and caught sight of our 14-year-old foster daughter reading a Christian novel while perched on top of our large play structure that is normally swarmed with kids during recess time. It warmed my heart to see her so still and at peace while reading for pleasure (she used to hate reading, and we’ve been intentionally working on this not only with her but with all of our kids), and the sight of her way up there overlooking the beautiful pastures inspired me to go grab our little digital camera and take a few undercover photos of her…

When I got up close for one of my shots of her, my cover was broken and she started laughing when she saw me!
Our 15-year-old foster daughter Carolina — who moved in with us about six months ago — watched from close by and laughed while enjoying our spontaneous photo-taking antics.
Soon enough both Carolina and another foster daughter of ours, 14-year-old Paola, joined in the fun and started swinging on the monkey bars below Jackeline’s reading spot. (Great focus, Jackeline! She just kept on reading as if they weren’t there!)
The jungle gym is not only for little kids, but also for teens! Our kids are very playful…
…And so are their parents! Now it’s my turn! (At this point Jackeline’s taking photos from her perch!)

This is a photo Jackeline took of our cows’ barn in the distance and the mountains behind our property.
Our 16-year-old son Brayan, whom we are in the process of legally adopting, has greatly grown in his maturity/initiative in these last few weeks with the help of a local tutor. He finished his homework early (which used to never happen), so he went out front to enjoy a couple hours playing with the soccer ball! Good boy!

One last shot of Jackeline on her reading perch at dusk…beautiful!


Amen! Glory to God!

Kindness Training

Yesterday in our large, mixed household in rural Honduras we did a new thing. We invented kindness training.

Our foster kids/teens oftentimes struggle with asking for things politely or humbly submitting to authority figures. Rather than asking, “Could you please…[fill in the blank],” oftentimes we hear people barking at their siblings, “Give me [fill in the blank] or go do [fill in the blank]” without actually asking or adding a kind ‘please’ onto it. Many times we’ve verbally corrected them, instructing them how to politely ask for something rather than demanding it, but this has brought little behavioral change.

Likewise, when sent to do something or given an order by an authority, many a time we hear murmuring or complaints like, “Why is it always me?” or “I don’t want to… [fill in the blank.]”

Several months ago we had even reached the point of washing out all of our mouths with soap (my husband and I included) because we had all been misusing the free speech the Lord has given us. We lined up one by one in the kids’ bathroom after a long, serious family meeting and took turns scrubbing out the insides of our mouths as a consequence for getting snippy with one another and participating in complaints and gossip. It was a bitter lesson!

Thus, yesterday morning as I was pondering on just how we might improve this politeness dynamic in our household, an idea occurred to me: kindness training. Now, of course, I had no idea what that was nor did it probably exist before we did it for the first time last night, but it turned out great once the brainstorm kept flowing in my mind and the idea was developed.

Last evening we drove into our rural neighborhood to pick five of our teens up from their weekly youth group in the home of a local Honduran missionary couple whom we serve with, and we brought them all home in time for dinner, as is our Monday routine. As the rice and beans were heating up on our gas stove, rather than everyone sitting around idly talking about how their day went, I called everyone together and informed them that we would be doing a family activity (which any teenager absolutely loves…not) and that everybody had to come to the dining room. Two of our teen girls tried to cleverly escape by ‘going to the bathroom,’ but they quickly got called back. Soon enough everyone was present and waiting for instruction.

We would go one by one, taking turns standing up in front of the rest of our family members as those in the ‘audience’ would then ask something of the person standing in the middle or give them a loving order. The goal in all this: learn to ask things with kindness and to respond likewise.

I went first in order to show them how it goes. Darwin took the lead: “Jennifer, could you please go get me a glass of water?”

I responded quickly and earnestly, “Sure! My pleasure.”

Then others followed suit, each person taking their turn to ask me to go close the gate, check the food on the stove, etc. Each person asked rather than demanded (being sure to attach a sincere ‘please’ on what they were asking), and as far as I was able to do what they were asking I responded sincerely and with a joyful attitude. I was willing to serve and not at all inclined toward grumbling or laziness; this was the example to follow.

As I finished my turn, I sat down and we waited to see who would go next. One of our extremely precious teen girls who has a reputation for being more than a bit explosive in our household — especially when people ask her to do things or help out, heaven forbid! — jumped up with a spring in her step, eager to be the next volunteer. Our eyes all widened and we wondered how this would go! Would she grow sulky or irritated as we asked her to complete the various hypothetical things we were about to say?

She had a big smile on her face — this was miracle #1! I don’t remember who was the first brave soul to ask something of her, but soon enough we were all taking turns politely asking her to help sweep the floor, go wash her clothes, take a shower promptly, etc. Each time she responded politely — this was miracle #2! Wow!

And so we all took turns, learning how to ask things of others with grace (rather than demanding them) and how to humbly submit to another’s request as we seek to serve one another with the same attitude that Christ showed us. After about twenty minutes or so everyone had done the rounds. It was time for dinner!

Once we had eaten, two of our younger sons and I were on kitchen duty so we began washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and putting everything away. I was stationed at the sink when another one of our teen girls — who typically doesn’t really pay much attention to the people around her when she’s going to reach for something and most definitely doesn’t normally say ‘please’ — came over to the sink where I was — and without invading my personal space and brushing right past me — patiently stood behind me, waiting her turn, and asked in a very natural, polite fashion: “Mom, could you please fill my cup with water?”

I froze, at first inclined to laugh out loud because I thought she was doing it on purpose as a sort of joke since we had all just practiced asking politely for things. I answered slowly, without turning around to look at her, “Yes…it’s my pleasure.”

With my response, her eyes grew wide, she gasped slightly and squealed, “Hey! I did it!” She was surprised that she had actually put into practice what we had all just learned. At that we both laughed.

Again this morning — the following day after our first kindness training as a family last night — I overheard a conversation between our two youngest boys as they were getting ready for school and one asked the other for something in an extremely polite and patient fashion. They could not even see me and had no idea I could hear them — wow!

In like manner, a few weeks ago in our first advanced math class of the new year at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, I informed my 18 teenage students that each day as they entered my classroom they would have to greet me. Upon hearing this, many started to smirk and giggle at my request — I was actually instructing them that they had to shake my hand, look me in the eyes, and tell me, “Good morning.” How absurd! I continued as I informed them, quite seriously, that at the end of each class they would likewise have to shake my hand again and verbally thank me for the class. Many looked very surprised at this, as this type of training seems a bit audacious (and makes the teacher saying all this seem a bit self-centered), but I told them that the benefit was not meant for me but rather that I desired to train them to be polite and thankful with all of their other teachers and in all situations, both with God and with people. Well, my students and I are now several weeks into this process and they are now fully trained to greet me kindly at the beginning of the class and thank me at the end of the class — and not only that, but I’ve overheard them doing it also with their other teachers at the most unexpected of moments! Yes!

And so, these are small stories about attitude shifts and how to cultivate a more gentle spirit in the way we interact with those around us for God’s glory. Be encouraged! (Maybe you can even try these wacky but effective methods in your own home or workplace!)

Amen! Glory to God!