Category Archives: Marriage

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Family Quotes and Happenings

12-year-old (quite immature) Jackeline answering my question as to whether she wants almost-11-year-old (extremely mature) Josselyn to attend church with her and the local family whom she goes with on Saturday evenings: “I don’t think so, because I don’t know if she’ll obey me in church.”

 

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Three of our kids with Goliath, our Rottweiler

 

One day as my husband Darwin and I crossed paths in front of the schoolhouse on our property, he came over and gave me a peck on the cheek. Our 6-year-old popcorn kernel Gabriela, who was standing up on a wooden swing a few yards off, saw us, although we thought nothing of it. As Darwin kept walking in one direction and I headed over to say hi to Gabriela, she blurted: “Ain’t dat right dat he’s yo bofen?”

We all know that her pronunciation of many words is catastrophically terrible, but in this instance I literally didn’t have any clue what she was saying. I asked: “What? What’s ‘bofen’?”

She pointed with a finger to where Darwin had walked off to, and say, “He’s yo bofen.”

I finally realized that she was saying her version of ‘boyfriend,’ and I laughed and said, “No, Gabriela, he’s my husband, that’s like a ‘bofen’ for life.”

 

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Gleny (age 11) giving Gabriela (age 6) a ride around our front yard

 

As I held 12-year-old Jackeline’s homeschool exam in my hands, ready to grade it, I saw scribbled across the top of the first page in her handwriting: “God help me [with this exam].” I laughed, well aware that she has not proven herself to be a very good student, and said: “I sure hope He did.” She ended up getting a 95%!

 

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Josue, 7-years-old and with several developmental disabilities, tends to put himself between my husband and I when we get too close, points an irate finger at Darwin and says, “No! Mine!”, pursing his lips and tilting his head to the side in a very goofy but determined stance.

The other night when that happened again over dinner, Darwin said simply, “I think I’ll only be able to kiss you for about four more years.”

Me, perplexed: “What? Why’s that?”

Darwin: “Because Josue’ll be pretty big by then and he’ll really have the strength to do me some damage.”

 

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Josue (age 7) and Jason (age 8), our two boys

 

Over dinner one night, 6-year-old Gabriela who has been living with us roughly 4 months and who is mentally and emotionally 4 years old due to severe abuse, begins shooting off all these questions in her usual loud tone about what grade everyone is in: “Dayana? What gray’s she in?”

Me: “Sixth grade.”
Gabriela: “Ah Dayana’s in sist grade. And Jason?”

And so on, until she had asked all 7 of our kids’ grades more than once, and, to derail the repetetiveness of so many of the conversations she initiates, I asked: “Gabriela, do you know what grade I’m in?”

Without missing a beat, she says with total confidence: “First.”

 

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Our 2001 Toyota Tacoma trucked at about half-capacity

 

One night as we were doing after-dinner kitchen clean-up, Darwin wanted to give 6-year-old Gabriela a hug or a pat on the back or something along those lines, and she scooted away. He said something about how we all love her and are not going to hurt her, and then asked, “Gabi, do you love me?”

She answered with wide eyes and a big, fake smile: “No.”

Gleny, our 11-year-old daughter who’s been with us over 2 years, came around the corner and asked: “Gabi, you love my mom, don’t you?”

Gabi, without changing her deer-in-the-headlight look, said: “Yes.”

Gleny, exasperated by her new little sister, said, “Gabi, if you love my mom, you also love my dad because they’re like one flesh.”

 

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A couple things that we heavily stress in our day-to-day family life are teamwork and initiative, and a few weeks ago we set aside about an hour or two for each person to really do a good, deep clean of their bedroom and belongings. Our eldest has her own room and is extremely clean and organized, so she had no problems. Our two boys (8-year-old Jason who’s quick as a whip and 7-year-old special needs Josue) share a room, and then our four younger girls (12, 11, 10 and 6) share a room. (I bet you can imagine where the majority of the organizational and emotional chaos is concentrated.)

Over dinner that night the boys and girls were reflecting on how their afternoon went with their roommate(s) in an effort to work together and clean their shared space. The four girls exchanged glances and began telling of tears shed and arguments had (alas, we were there with them to witness it all and help them work through it peacefully), each one still a bit altered after such a dramatic experience, and then out of nowhere 8-year-old Jason pipes up and says: “Oh, Josue and I did awesome! He helped me fold the sheets, and he was in charge of opening the windows and organzing the shoes while I swept and mopped the floor.” Josue, who can only say a handful of 1- or 2-syllable words and wears diapers, sat there with a big toothy grin and pointed at Jason across the table in affirmation that all he said was true.

 

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Many, many people eat from our kitchen and many, many people work together trying to keep it clean!

 

One night over dinner several weeks ago after 12-year-old Jackeline’s birthday party, I told our kids to guess how many photos I had taken. Each person made their guess somewhere between 11 and 200, but 6-year-old Gabriela didn’t seem to understand what the guessing was all about, so 11-year-old Gleny tells her, expasperated as tends to be her style, “Gabi, just say a number!”

Gabi, looking around at all of us nervously, with a big fake smile says through gritted little teeth: “A number.”

 

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Darwin at the helm of the daily homework routine around our kitchen table

 

After Gabriela had received a stark behavior report from her pre-school teacher (she attends a special class with only 4 students that serves to meet the psychological needs of special needs and/or children who’ve suffered traumatic pasts)  informing us that Gabriela had kicked and thrown herself on the teacher, ate the other kids’ snacks, lied, and screamed that she wouldn’t be obeying anybody, Gabriela came bounding through our front door the following day after class announcing triumphantly, Mom! Jennifer! I didn’t kick the teacher today!”

 

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Everybody wants to play chess!

 

11-year-old Gleny tells me she needs to conduct an ‘interview’ with me for some fourth-grade writing assignment at her school. I get excited, put aside what I’m working on, and say, “Okay, shoot.”

Gleny, very professional: “What is your favorite animal?”

Me, utterly disappointed by the (low) quality of the question: What? Oh…Uh…my favorite animal would have to be…unicorns.” [I laugh nervously, afraid my answer might not be valid.] “Next question?”

Gleny, still very serious: “No; this is the only question. Why is the unicorn your favorite animal?” She’s got her No. 2 pencil in her hand and she’s ready to write down whatever I say.

Me: “Uh…What? You mean you need to know why I love unicorns?” Then, assuming the same serious demeanor as my interviewer, I furrowed my brow and said, “Oh, of course, because they are extremely cuddly.” I was satisfied with my answer and trying not to laugh out loud as she wrote it all down in her wobbly cursive handwriting.

Gleny, looking up at me from her notebook: “Why else?”

Me: “Huh?…Oh, they’re so magical and friendly, too.” Her teacher’s gonna kill me!

Gleny, writing down verbatim my answer: “I need one more reason.”

Me: “They’re…smart?

Gleny: “Ok, great! Now I’m gonna go interview Dad.”

[Later that afternoon…]

Me to Darwin: “Hey, did Gleny interview you about your favorite animal?”

Darwin: “Yeah, mine’s the tiger.”

Me: “That’s sooo boring…”

 

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Jason in his school uniform. We just received notice that both he and Gleny passed their respective grades after a lot of rough starts and trying days in their first year in their private school!

 

In a drawing/card that 11-year-old Gleny made for me: “I love you a lot, Mom. God is always with you wherever you go, and where you are in any place. Keep strengthening your commitment to be a mom. May God guide you in the correct place. You are a very good mom. From your daughter, Gleny. It was a pleasure to give you this card.”

 

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Life and Ministry Updates: October 2015

Dayana’s Quinceanera (15th Birthday)

The eldest of the 7 children the Lord has placed in our home, Dayana, turned 15 this month, which is a big milestone for young women in Latin American culture. We worked hard during several weeks leading up to the event on invitations, preparations, etc, and the actual event was a joyous occasion with about 60 people in attendance – several who travelled over an hour to attend – who have formed part of her extended family in these past several years.  We are so proud of her — please continue to pray with us for her continued wisdom, protection and joy as she draws nearer to adulthood each day. May she be a beacon of light in the midst of this dark world, and may she be useful in the Lord’s hands for His work.

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Darwin and Dayana making the big appearance on the day of her quinceañera (fifteenth birthday)

 

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The table my mom and I prepared for the party, displaying photos of Dayana in the last two years that she has been with us along with three of her paintings

 

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Lighting the birthday cake that Jenae made for her

 

Jackeline Turns 12, We Face Big Decisions With Her

Jackeline, who moved into our home in January of this year with her younger special needs brother Josue, also had a birthday this month and is now 12 years old. We are currently in a period of discernment regarding the crucial decision of whether she will stay with us long-term as our daughter, growing up in our household until she is an adult and maintaining the parent-child bond with us afterward or if she can/should return to live with her biological family, most likely her grandmother. The other children under our care do not have this decision to make because their biological family members are not in the picture, but Jackeline has both her biological mother (who is extremely manipulative and possibly mentally ill and does not currently have a stable job) and grandmother (who is a wonderful Christian woman but does not have much in terms of economic means) who visit her once a month. When Jackeline and Josue initially moved in with us roughly 8 months ago, the mother said she would only need us to care for them for 3-4 months until she got back on her feet, but recently she told us she is only truly interested in taking Josue back, although even that is uncertain because her emotional and economic state are not stable enough to do so. Jackeline’s attitude during these past several months has mirrored that of a roller coaster, and on many occasions she has refused to do her school work, has disrespected both her teacher and our nurse/cook Miss Martha, and has had an I-don’t-care approach to many things between moments of light, joy and revelation. After entering into a very serious period of discernment with her several weeks ago and praying alongside of her every night about her future, about a week ago she announced that after many weeks of private prayer the Lord granted her peace about staying with us rather than return with her family. Darwin and I continue praying and are waiting on a word from the Lord before making any decisions. Please continue to pray with us regarding these decisions about her future and that the Lord’s will for her life be made known to us, her, and her biological family so that it may be fulfilled in the right timing. Please pray against stress, confusion, and attacks from the Enemy in this time.

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Jackeline all dolled up for Dayana’s birthday party

 

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Our kids love to play chess!

 

Josselyn (10) Accepts the Lord

Josselyn, who moved into our home with her younger sister Gabriela less than three months ago, recently made the decision to accept Christ during a Bible study in our dining room in the presence of about 30 neighbors, friends, and family. Several of us prayed with her, and immediately afterward she came to me with several confessions, bringing to light what she had previously hid under lies, and desiring to ask forgiveness from her biological mom, who, according to Josselyn, she had mistreated and robbed when she used to live with her. In this short time after her conversion we have rejoiced with her as we see visible changes in her behavior and habits. The morning after receiving the Lord, she took the initiative to go behind our home to kneel in God’s presence, pray, and sing His praises. Please pray for her continued walk with the Lord, her daily protection from the Enemy, and her overall development and joy. She is currently in our homeschool program on the kindergarten level and is eagerly learning the alphabet and the sounds of the letters for the first time in her life. She has interestingly learned to play chess before learning to read!

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Josselyn (in pink) posing for photos with Jackeline (12) and Dayana (15) during my mom’s recent visit

 

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Josselyn enjoying her stuffed animals and dolls!

 

Updates on My Health

Since the inception of this blog I have asked for prayer regarding my health, as I have struggled with severe insomnia for several years now and typically sleep only 2-5 nights per week in addition to having had Dengue Fever, Typhoid Fever, and several other blood infections, fevers, etc since moving to Honduras. I praise God for my currently good health (I do not currently have any fevers or viruses), although I still only sleep a few nights per week at best. Please continue to pray that the Lord would grant me a deep rest every night, and that in a very practical way I can lay all my burdens on Him.

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Working on homework with our kids in our dining room. Many times I feel like I myself am back in school with all the time we spend doing homework each week!

 

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Darwin and I are nearing 2-and-a-half years of marriage!

Gabriela (6) Begins Attending the Same School as Josue (7)

Gabriela, who entered our home in July of this year with her older sister Josselyn after having suffered severe abuse, has entered the same small, focused school that Josue attends, and now both are in classes together every morning five days a week. Together with two other classmates and two teachers/psychologists to guide them, they are learning basic manners, the colors, and other basic pre-school behaviors to prepare them eventually for a normal school. Josue still does not talk more than the few basic syllables he has always used and still has to use diapers, but we do have hope that Gabriela will be able to fully recover from the trauma of her past and become a fully-participating member of society one day. Please pray with us for her salvation and transformation, as the other day we received a note from her teacher saying she had kicked the teacher, lied, eaten the other kids’ food, and announced that she would not obey anybody. That was not a good day!

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Our dear sister Miss Martha (who fills the roles of nurse/cook at the Living Waters Ranch) with Gabriela (6) and Josue (7) in our front yard

 

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Darwin and I with our two smallest wild Indians, Josue and Gabriela

 

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Gabriela and Josue, best friends and playmates

 

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Lookin’ good, Gabriela! Playing dress-up and putting on a show for my mom during her visit

Road Race in Las Mangas [Photos]

This past Saturday we went as a family to our mentors’ and dear friends’ home up in the mountains for their annual 2-mile road race that they host in their local community. In Honduras, the schools generally do not have track teams nor are there a lot of sporting events (or sports) or really any opportunities to train physically beyond a pick-up game of soccer on a dirt field, so an organized 2-mile road race really is a big event.

Our mentor/pastor/friend Larry came in first place with a time of 11:23, and Darwin came in fourth place with a time of 12:55. Our 11-year-old daughter Gleny surprised us by deciding to participate, and she came in third place among the women who ran!

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Sharing God’s Word with the racers before the competition

 

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When I told Darwin to “strike a pose” before the event, he certainly did!

 

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Our dear friend/mentor/pastor Allison taking the official film of the event with her and Larry’s daughter Eliya strapped on her back

 

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Our 7-year-old special needs son Josue running his own race as he accompanied me to one end of the “track” to wait for the runners to arrive

 

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Our mentor/pastor/friend Larry coming in first place among men who are 20-30 years younger than him!

 

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Darwin coming in fourth place before guys who are 10-15 years younger than him! Go, Darwin, go!

 

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Bayron (age 21) and Erick (26), members of our faith community, finishing in 7th and 8th place

 

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Gleny ran the whole 2-mile race without stopping and finished after 21 minutes!

 

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The kids’ 7-and-under 100m race

 

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15-year-old Danny and 32-year-old Darwin, who stuck neck-and-neck throughout the race until Darwin pulled ahead at the end and beat him by 8 seconds!

 

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Darwin and Gleny, the two racers from our family!

 

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Gleny with the other female competitors

 

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Darwin and Larry after the race

 

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Larry with the young man who came in second place

 

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Gleny receiving her third-place medal

 

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Larry and Allison with two of their three daughters

 

Sanitary Pads, Flirting and Ballet Flats: The Fear-Inspiring Task of Parenting a Teenager

The eldest of the seven children the Lord has put in our household to care for as sons and daughters will turn 15 years old in less than three weeks and, honestly, I’m scared to death.

I sit here, reading and re-reading parenting books — entirely skipping over the baby and toddler sections and heading straight for the chapters on adolescence, on how to love and guide someone who is no longer a child — looking to glean bits of wisdom for a journey that instills fear in the hearts of even those parents who have been raising their own child since the day of its birth.

She moved into our home with her two younger siblings exactly 4 months and 8 days after my husband and I were married. I was 23 and she was 13, although I very well might have felt like I was 13 while she may have felt 23. I will never forget the day we met her at the Honduras government’s Child Services office among dozens of other children — as Darwin and I walked up, not knowing the exact ages or genders of the sibling group of three that we would be meeting and possibly inviting to move in with us, I made eye contact with her and the Lord spoke to my heart, “She will be your daughter.” When I asked her age and she innocently answered, “13,” I literally almost passed out.

That raw fear, that trembling sense of awe I felt upon meeting her for the first time has accompanied me every single day since. Many young Honduran women — especially those in rural areas or those affected by poverty — get ‘married’ and/or pregnant by 11 or 12 years old, so to take in a 13-year-old girl who comes from a tragic childhood is to commit oneself to what promises to be a grueling  uphill battle with possibly devastating results despite your best efforts.

A gripping sense of being unprepared, of even being the wrong person for the job, often threatens to spook me out of the gargantuan task before Darwin and me. I do puzzles with the younger ones, give piggy-back rides and console those who scrape their knees — but her? What do I do with a young woman who now wears the same bra size I do and who lends me a sanitary pad when I forget to go to the store to buy more?

She calls Darwin and me “Pa” and “Ma,” and we have plans to begin the legal adoption process with her and her siblings in June of next year once we hit our 3-year wedding anniversary and become legally capable of adoption, although she very well might be 17 or 18 by the time all the paperwork gets processed.

So I applied calamine lotion to her spots when she had chicken pox and help with fun hairdos for her different outings. We have long talks with her about decision-making, pray with her for her sexual purity, confront her on her sin as she does on ours, and we resolutely move on after asking for forgiveness and forgiving, trusting in God to work out the great redemption. She flirts with boys and thinks we don’t notice, and Darwin and I stay up late praying for her, discussing her growth, and grabbing at any scrap of wisdom the Lord tosses us on how to raise this young woman according to His will. She oftentimes asks me to put her to sleep at night, and there we have long conversations tinged with a maturity and openness that the younger ones don’t yet have. From there I sing lullabies and songs of praise and give a foot massage, stroking her hair as she drifts off to sleep, sending desperate prayers up to God that our imperfect, late-in-the-game efforts will be enough and that He’ll do the rest.

A couple weeks after she moved into our home in 2013 I was reading the Bible passage to her and her little sister at bedtime about when Jesus says that familial blood ties are not as important as those who, by obeying God, are united in one eternal family. She sat up in her top bunk and said that she wanted to join that family. We talked further, prayed together, and although we have never shared blood ties here on earth, she and I are now united by the blood of Christ and obedience to our Father.

So she plays on the girls’ basketball team I coach and is our faithful, enthusiastic participant in the various Bible studies and classes we teach. She fills the role of Darwin’s teaching assistant in the choirs and music lessons he directs and is even studying at a local university on Saturdays to learn English. She struggles to tell the truth in a culture of lies, fights with ego as I do, tries to make sense of her past, and accepts many changes around her as new siblings arrive and others go. She feels that Darwin and I don’t always understand her, and we put up with her frustrated glances and mood-swings. At times we have wild, joyful tickle fights as she chases us or we chase her around our front yard while on other occasions we endure her chilly silence, not knowing exactly how she is or what she’s struggling with. I desire to be her confidant, to share stories and feelings for hours on end as we both sit cross-legged on her bed, but in reality I don’t have the time to do so nor is that the role the Lord has given me to fill. Sometimes she and I are both in and out so much that a couple days pass before we really sit down and have a good conversation, but what she doesn’t know is that she’s always on my heart, never far from my thoughts and prayers.

On the airplane this June after having attended the wedding of a dear friend of mine who maintained sexually pure until the day of her wedding, I wrote through tears a letter to Dayana, recounting the beautiful details of the wedding and reminding her that I want to be able to rejoice with her, too, someday, as she walks in all white down the aisle to be wed to a man of God. Upon giving her the letter (bundled up with several others I had written her during the time I was away from home), she later told me that she, too, cried upon reading it and hopes by God’s grace that she may be able to walk in such a way.

So she faces adolescent temptations but still enjoys a wild go-around of hide-and-go-seek every once in a while, likes to wear ballet flats even though we live in the country, gets fed up on occasion with her younger siblings, and is in the beginning stages of searching out her identity in the adult realm, the specific purpose and path the Lord would have for her to take. We pay for her art classes, spend evenings hacking through her math homework assignments together, and invite her friends over for movies and popcorn. We laugh that we will be old women together one day, and Darwin and I remind her again of our expectations and hopes for her as God’s child. So I hug her goodnight and she says, “Thanks, Ma, for everything,” and in the depth of my heart I wonder if she means it or if she really resents us and is on the verge of self-destruction. I call my own mom asking desperately for parenting advice, and then, because the electricity has gone out once again, I talk with Dayana by flashlight about my own inadequacies, struggles and faith.

From my limited experience, parenting a teenager seems almost like learning how to cultivate a mentoring relationship with someone who is suddenly joining you and your husband as the third adult in the household. Strict bedtimes no longer seem realistic or necessary, and discipline that works for the younger ones just isn’t appropriate with her anymore. It is a season of learning all over again what it means to trust in God’s grace, to release our grip on control and, rather than turn our knuckles blue with worry or seek to control every move she makes for fear of her failure or humiliation (or ours), we entrust her to the Lord anew, recognizing that she was His all along.

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Dayana (age 13) in December 2013, roughly a month after moving in with us
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Dayana in August 2015, nearing her 15th birthday and her two-year anniversary with us

 

A compelling excerpt from Mike Mason’s book The Mystery of Children in a chapter on adolescence:

Every once in a while in the midst of this darkness [the author’s teenage daughter’s struggles with adolescence], a dim light would flash and I’d hear the words, “This is a spiritual battle. Pray for her.” But prayer is the last thing anyone wants to do in a crisis. Sure, you pray, but it’s not where your main energy goes. Your main energy goes into worrying, fearing, plotting, strategizing. Your imagination paints lurid scenarios and your brain works overtime, spewing out plan after plan to stave off encroaching doom…Meanwhile there’s this gnat buzzing around your head, whispering, “Pray for her. She needs your prayers. I’m her Father. Give her up to Me. Trust Me and pray.” How hard this is! We don’t mind praying so long as we can keep on worrying too. We Christian parents would not be caught bowing down before a pagan shrine, but night after night we kneel and worry beside our children’s beds. We think we are praying, but we are not. There is nothing godly, virtuous, or even practical about worry. Worry is not prayer to God, it is prayer to the person we are worried about…We’re looking to our children to bestow grace upon us. Our peace of mind depends upon their every move…Finally, as a last resort, I let go of my guilt and shame long enough to pray for Heather. That New Year’s Eve I breathed a prayer I knew was right: a clean, clear, humble, bold prayer for the darkness around my daughter to be driven back and for God’s light to fill her heart.

 

When We Become Available

God has planted a new idea in our hearts, and that is to establish a fixed time each week in which we study the Word of God with our neighbors.

It’s really as simple as deciding to do it and setting a time, so last week Darwin and I went walking around the gravel paths of our neighborhood to pop in and invite about a couple dozen households with which we already have relationships. We didn’t even have any kind of handout or written invitation or really even a developed idea of what the Bible study would look like, so we simply said, “If you want to come to our home tomorrow at noon, we’re going to eat lunch and then study God’s word from 1:00-2:00pm. We’ll be doing this every Wednesday at the same time with whomever has the desire to join us.”

So Tuesday night as Darwin and I were discussing who else we should invite to the Bible study the next day (in Honduras if you invite people one or two weeks ahead of time, they forget and don’t come), before processing the thought, my lips said, “Brayan and Little Darwin.”

Darwin looked at me and let out a sigh-laugh, saying, “This must be from God, because in my flesh I definitely do not want to invite them.” After both got expelled and/or quit voluntarily from homeschool twice in the last year and have since been back only to bully others, steal and cause a ruckus, we haven’t been too keen on having them around our home in the last several weeks. We’ve heard from various sources that they’ve stolen from other neighbors as well, have had sexually errant behavior together in the local river, and are slandering us in the local community.

‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ doesn’t necessarily mean give another undeserved opportunity to someone who’s thrown away the many they’ve had (as in “Come on back to homeschool again” or “That’s okay, you can come eat in our home everyday even though you aren’t currently working or studying and you don’t respect us”), but to us it does mean open up your home to study God’s True Word with anyone and everyone that has a desire to do so, even if they’ve done you wrong, rejected any prior help, or are currently walking the wrong path.

We both agreed to invite them out of obedience to God and then leave it up to them whether or not they came, so the next day we passed by the shanty where Little Darwin lives with his parents and where Brayan is also currently living after his step-mom got fed up with his antics and kicked him out. We breathed deep as several emaciated dogs came charging at us, determined to protect the rocky, muddy, trash- and feces-littered property. A young female relative and Little Darwin’s mom greeted us enthusiastically and invited us inside the fence to talk. As my husband sat on a plastic chair and I sat on a rock beside him, we gave the simple invitation to his mom as she rocked back-and-forth on a threadbare hammock, asking her to pass the message on to Brayan and Little Darwin when they returned home.

As we were getting up to leave, Little Darwin (we call him this only to distinguish him from my husband Darwin, but now that he is 14 or 15 years old he’s not little at all) came walking through the front gate, undoubtedly surprised to see us chit-chatting with his mom. We stood up to greet him, shook his hand, invited him to study God’s Word with us in about an hour-and-a-half (it was already 10:30am), and then left.

Darwin (my husband) and I arrived home, showered, and were finishing the preparations for the Bible study with a lot of anticipation in our hearts to see if any of our neighbors would end up coming. Around 11:45am Darwin walked out front to see how things were coming along, and when he came back to our bedroom I asked him if anyone had come yet.

His answer: “Little Darwin.”

I almost couldn’t believe it (and so punctual!), so I walked out front on my way to the kitchen and, sure enough, Little Darwin, a giant among children, stood somewhat awkwardly but not ashamedly against the wall on the Education House’s porch freshly bathed and in mismatched camoflauge clothing. We smiled when we saw each other and I gave him a big hug, inviting him and several of the other kids to play soccer with me while we waited to see if anyone else was going to arrive.

Well, 17 neighbors ended up coming that first day to study God’s Word with us – some as old as 70-something years and others as young as eight or ten. Several youth from Darwin’s choir came in sibling groups, a couple older men came alone, and one middle-aged neighbor (the one who showed up a few Sunday’s ago with his guns to help trap the teen thieves) came with his wife, their four kids, and a granddaughter. In all, there were 26 people gathered in our dining room – some who steal, others who trap those who do, and others still who get stolen from, all in the same room – united for the sole purpose of learning more about the Living God. Some arrived in cars, others arrived on foot. Some already know the Savior and others might have only come because they know some of His followers. One teenage boy showed up with a notebook and pencil, ready to take notes on the study, and another elderly neighbor told us afterward that he plans on inviting another neighbor of his to our “classes.” Many people prayed, many people shared, and overall I was stunned by what God can do when we simply become available.

I think many times we delay our obedience to God because we are waiting for the perfect time or for the stars to align or for a sickness to pass or for our schedule to clear up.

The only reason we carried through with this initiative last week was because we had determined in our hearts to do so out of obedience, to take the first step and allow God to guide those that follow. I have been struggling with a virus that has had me confined to bed-rest several hours per day for over four weeks now, and as my fever continues on day after day and my body struggles in its weakness, I thought Surely we can delay the Bible Study a couple more weeks until I feel better, but I sensed the Lord was telling me: The time is now. Just become available, and I will do the rest. I can work through your weakness.

So no signs, no music, no frills, and maybe no real energy or health – just a simple spoken invitation in the foothills of the mountains to come study the Word of God with a couple people who themselves still have a whole lot left to learn.

He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Justice in a Lawless Land

This morning at 5:53am as I went rolling down the highway with Jason and Gleny in the backseat on our way to drop them off at school, I whispered a prayer as I looked out over the misty pineapple fields that spawned out to our right under the gaze of the mountain range beyond: Lord, I know Your Word says to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and even though that doesn’t always make sense to me and right now in my flesh I don’t want to do that, I will trust You and obey, so I pray now for them. Although I don’t know exactly what to pray or what should happen, You do, so I pray that You would see them and be with them. Amen.

Yesterday was my 25th birthday, and while we had planned to spend the entire day celebrating with our faith community about an hour away from our home, my husband Darwin ended up spending just about the entire day in La Ceiba’s police station. That morning we had received a series of phone calls while in our discipleship group informing us that several local youth had broken into our home that morning while it was left unattended, and that numerous key members of our little town had collaborated to respond to the incident.

This was the second robbery in a span of two weeks, and the ump-teenth robbery in two years. But rather than it being a mysterious disappearance of our chickens in the night or finding our fence with a cut-out hole the next morning or wondering who broke the pad-lock off the storage unit to steal the electric generator or where the big sack of rice had gone, this time we caught the thieves in action. After experiencing a clone of the same robbery two Sundays ago, we hired a dear friend of ours to hide out at our home (think some strange breed of guerrilla-warfare) this Sunday while we would be gone, making himself invisible to see who the thieves are. He did just that, and, sure enough, the thieves came, called out to see if anyone was home, and, when no one answered, they hopped the fence and broke into the kitchen, starting to fill several big sacks full of food while two companions kept the look-out on the other side of the fence.

It was then that our friend called the police, who, of course, tragically delayed in their response and arrived on the scene way after-the-fact only after the vice-mayor of the town was called and got involved. But, thankfully, our watchman friend immediately called another neighbor of ours who showed up via the back of our property with his own weapons and, to not go into all the details, trapped the thieves red-handed with the help of two adult men.

Two of the teenage boys who were trapped and sent to the police station (a rare event here – most people are afraid to report robberies because the police fail to take action and then the thieves harm or kill those who reported them) are members of Darwin’s choir and work closely with us in agriculture each week, and the other two are not known personally. After investigation, they all confessed that the other two members of their ‘gang’ who broke in two Sundays ago are Brayan and Little Darwin. Yes, Brayan whom we have loved as a son and Little Darwin who has participated in homeschool, music and agriculture.

So yesterday as I sat on the cool concrete floor in our mentors’ home during discipleship group surrounded by our seven children and numerous brothers and sisters in the faith, Darwin doing the police processing in La Ceiba, I struggled mightily with rage in my heart toward those who only want to kill, steal and destroy, those who can’t just leave us alone to etch out the little living that God has called us to. We have enough problems with our seven kids’ behavior and generational struggles, demanding work from sun-up to sun-down, doing the difficult task of shepherding those who don’t always want to be shepherded, and having to put up with power and water outages all the time without having to deal with all this additional chaos that only distracts, stresses and exhausts.

God’s Word is never far from my thoughts, and as though forming a protective cloud or shield around my anger, God placed His commandment to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us on all sides of my violent mental wanderings. As my thoughts shot off in one direction or another and as I fantasized about how I wished I would have caught them and taken a baseball bat to them or worse, my thoughts could never go too far because, like a ping-pong ball trapped within walls, I always hit up against God’s perfect Word and could go no further. But bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, my anger boiled and ping-ponged around inside of me, always finding God’s command and turning back.

So my question is not Is God just? or Where is God in the midst of so much suffering and chaos? or Why is this happening to us? But rather, trusting all the answers that we already have available to us in Scripture, my prayer – sometimes through tears and sometimes through rage or disappointment, stress or total exhaustion – is for perseverance.

It is not enough to believe God is just in a moment of serene prayer or upon reading a passage from Scripture or after having been encouraged by a dear friend. We must believe He is just every hour of every day until we take our last breath – during seasons of peace and seasons of war, in the midst of betrayals, after great loss and when we find ourselves beaten down by the evil of this world (both within us and without).

It is not enough to read Jesus’ words that call us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and think among roses that we have none – we must live those words when the times comes when we do, in fact, find evil breathing down our necks.

It is not enough to say that God is good when we have a stable job and a roof over our head and our family members are alive and we’ve eaten today. To believe that God is good is to say it through tears, in despair and confusion, without all the answers and in times of trial in addition to in times of happiness and ease – to know that He is good not because our lives are currently good or the weather is favorable or we got what we wanted but because He never changes and deserves our praise.

So we pray for our dear friend who played ‘watchman’ yesterday, for his protection after he took a rather daring step that almost no one here takes. Last night as our kids lie asleep and Darwin and I sat on a small rug in our bathroom, discussing the events of the day, he told me that our friend asked for Darwin and I to take care of his wife and kids should those same confused thieves or their friends decide to take his life for reporting them. The young robbers are loose once again after the police gave them a slap on the wrist, and we wait for their next strike in this twisted game of cat and mouse, light and darkness.

Oh, and I just received an alarming phone call from our 8-year-old son Jason’s teacher saying that his behavior today has been atrocious, that he is refusing to do his work and is telling his classmates he is going to kill them and cut off their heads. So in the here and now, I can’t really place where it is that light is streaming in on this battlefield of eternal proportions, this fight for justice in a lawless land.

But I can tell you one thing – that whether by the results we can see it seems futile to work for the Good because the forces of darkness win battle after battle in the here and now, the flickering light of Christ waits patiently: God is good, and He is just, and He calls us to persevere until the end, because His perfect, liberating justice will be served in this lawless land.

Speech Therapy, Tyfoid Fever and Illiterate Youth, Oh My! (Nine Updates: May 2015)

For those of you who support us or are interested in knowing more of the nuts-and-bolts of our daily life, these updates will provide you with a deeper understanding of certain day-to-day activities we are currently involved in along with personal updates about Darwin and I and the kids under our full-time care. I have also included prayer requests for those of you who want to know how to pray for us in this season.

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Homeschool Program Open to Illiterate Youth from our Neighborhood

Six illiterate youth from our neighborhood (ages 7-14) are enrolled in the nationally-accredited program we use in our homeschool three days per week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7:00am-12:00pm) along with Brayan, the local 14-year-old who lived with us for eight months and continues to be like a son and two of our daughters (Dayana, 14, and Jackeline, 11). Please pray for Jenae, Darwin and I as we guide the nine children/teenagers and that above all else their knowledge of and obedience to Christ may strengthen through spending time under our care.

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Who wants to work on homework when you can dogpile on Dayana instead?
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Our 14-year-old son, Brayan, with two young women the Lord has placed in his life to love and serve as sisters. All three are currently in fifth grade in our homeschool program, and we are so proud of them!

A New Tactic With Groceries

Now that we are feeding between 10-15 kids breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, our grocery bills have shot up! Thanks to the advice of several people here, we have changed grocery stores (the small grocery store in our town has very high prices, and although it was more convenient to shop there because of geographical closeness, it was quickly becoming unreasonable to do so!), thus we now shop once a week at a warehouse-type grocery store about a 35-minute drive away in downtown La Ceiba where prices are considerably lower and we can buy in bulk. I am also in communication with a large grocery chain in La Ceiba about receiving the products they are unable to sell. Please pray that we would trust in God to provide, and let us rejoice that several of our malnourished neighbors who are in the homeschool program are able to eat with us in our home several times per week.

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Our six-year-old son Josue learning to draw!

Darwin’s Music Lessons and Youth Choir with Neighborhood Kids

Darwin has opened our home to give choir, piano, and recorder lessons to kids in our local community as a way of reaching out to them with God’s love. Every Monday afternoon from 2:00-7:30pm we have about a couple dozen kids and teenagers in our home playing and singing music, and we are developing holistic relationships with them and their families in order to plant seeds for God’s Kingdom. We are currently preparing for a community concert we’re going to hold in our home on May 17th.

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Four precious (and rowdy!) neighborhood boys who frecuent our home each week for music classes, meals, homeschool and other activities.

Young Agriculturalists

Every Monday morning from 7:00am-11:00am Darwin works in agriculture and maintenance with 10-15 youth who come to our property to work and learn. Teenage boys, all of whom are also in our homeschool program and/or music lessons, work together in the grassy field with their machetes while our eldest daughter leads the other young women in extensive cleaning projects in the Education House and garden maintenance. This weekly experience has been a blessing both for us and for those who come to work, because unemployment in our little rural town is rampant, and many of the children and youth wander around or sit about without anything to do.

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Prayer for Darwin and I

Please pray for my husband and I during this season, as we both feel exhausted and possibly stretched too thin. Every child and youth the Lord has placed in our path (the five under our full-time care, the 20+ that are involved in activities in our home plus our students in a local school where we teach/coach/guide every Friday) are a blessing and we know the Lord is utilizing us in their lives for His glory, but as of late we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, especially because more and more children and youth are arriving at our front gate wanting to be in our homeschool program or in music classes, in need of some form of help, etc. Please pray that the Lord may guide us and that we may learn to truly rest in Him at all times, whether we are in a busy schoolroom surrounded by a swarm of students who need us or if we are driving down the highway to take our kids to art class. Also, please pray with us regarding the future and direction of the Living Waters Ranch, as we are continually discerning God’s will for us, those under our care/guidance, and those who may arrive in the future.

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Afternoon educational fun in our dining room with homeschool students and a couple neighborhood boys!

 

My Health

After about seven weeks of battling Tyfoid Fever, my health has finally taken a turn for the better although I still get fatigued very quickly. I got so many shots in my butt cheeks that they turned speckled with bruises! Thank you to those of you who lifted me up in prayer during those difficult weeks, and pray that my body may be strengthened even now as I am recovering physical strength and endurance.

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Josue to Enter Speech Therapy

Josue, the six-year-old little boy who has been placed under our full-time care whom I wrote about in the previous blog entry, will enter an intensive speech therapy schedule for two months before hopefully entering his private special needs school’s pre-school class with other kids. Please pray for his integral recovery from the abuse he suffered when he was little and that Christ may be glorified in and through his life and the way that we love and care for him.

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Educational Progress Report: Jason and Gleny in Their New Christian School

Gleny (age 10, fourth grade) and Jason (age 7, second grade) have been in a small Christian elementary school since early February of this year, and although there have been certain academic and behavioral issues as they have had to become accustomed to a new and somewhat demanding daily routine (4:45am get-ups every morning, school uniforms and homework every afternoon!), they have finally settled in, are making new friends, etc. After the first grading period they passed all of their classes, and they seem genuinely happy in their new school environment. Please pray for our continued discernment regarding what they and the other kids under our full-time care need from us in regards to academic, emotional and spiritual support/guidance.

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Strengthening Forces: A New Laborer Comes Alongside of Us

Martha, a local Honduran woman in her 50s who is a strong Christian and has a gentle yet very active spirit, has come to labor alongside of us after a long, God-inspired series of events. She is a registered nurse and secretary (and excellent cook!), and starting in mid-June will begin coming to our home/mission Monday-Friday to help love on all the kids who come to our home along with take control of the kitchen/community dining room. We give thanks to God for bringing such a dynamic, loving woman into our lives to help fulfill the great purpose the Lord has set before us. Please pray for our developing relationship with her and that Darwin, Jenae, her and I may form a wonderful team.

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This Little Light of Mine…

A couple nights ago we celebrated Darwin´s 32nd birthday with our six kids and our dear sister Jenae in the dining room we all share. We all prepared posters, poems, Bible verses, cards and presents for one of God´s special servants who serves as husband, father, brother, friend and mentor in our lives. For the first time ever, the kids did a great job keeping a secret — Darwin was genuinely surprised with what we had all put together!

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My husband on the eve of his 32nd birthday! With each year God grants him more wisdom, strength and patience.
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Our sister Jenae Matikke, who has been serving alongside of us for almost two years and who brings laughter, Truth and warmth everywhere she goes
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Jason, our seven-year-old son who has found freedom in Christ from the many chains that used to bind him. He is our young gentleman in training!
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Josue, our six-year-old special needs son, our great teacher who instructs us all in patience and unconditional love
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My ¨Wild¨ Gleny, our 10-year-old daughter who — in my dad´s words — has the heart of a lion!
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Darwin´s wife who loves him dearly and to whom he daily shows much patience and grace!
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Jackeline, our 11-year-old daughter who recently accepted her place in God´s Kingdom as His daughter
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Brayan, our 14-year-old son of whom we are so proud! God is transforming him more and more each day into a man after God´s own heart!
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Dayana, our 14-year-old daughter who is very quickly becoming a young lady! She is our musician, our artist, our fellow traveller along Christ´s liberating Way.
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Darwin has gone from a single man to a married father of six in under two years!

What Jackeline, age 11, wrote in her birthday card to Darwin:

Hi Pa on this very special day I want to tell you ‘Happy birthday’ and tell you that you are the dad I never had. I love you, I love you a lot, Pa. You have given me the life of having a father. I never had a father and now I have someone to give gifts and letters to on Father’s Day. Now I have you, Dad. Darwin Joel Canales Avila, I love you a lot, Dad, and I will give you the time you need, and when you are sick I will cure you [she has aspirations of becoming a nurse]. You won’t have to pay Miss Zoila [our local nurse] and other nurses; only me, and my pay will be your smile. I love you with all my heart. You will always be in my heart, and if my biological mom comes to take me with her, you will still always be in my heart. You will always be the dad I never had. I love you, Pa Darwin. Happy birthday, Pa Darwin. You will always be in my heart!

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What Gleny, age 10, wrote in her birthday card to Darwin:

 For: my dad

Happy birthday Dad.

Thank you for disciplining me and guiding me on the right path. I love you a lot, dad. Thank you for having me well taken-care of here. May you feel loved even more.

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We finally have a photo of all nine of us! This is the Living Waters Ranch family!

That’s Why We Don’t Have Television.

Recently we had a very special visit from a dear friend of mine and her husband, Ben and Kailin Craft. Our friendship dates back to the playground in first grade, and although we have not been close since middle school, the Lord has brought us back together during this season to encourage one another along His Way.

At our home we don’t typically receive many visitors, but when we do it is always a blessing to see how everyone gets involved to prep the guest room, decorate big posters, put together flower arrangements, and pray for those on their way to visit us. Below are several photos that were taken during their stay…

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Me: “No! I don’t want to take family photos right now – we just came back from the river and we’re all sweaty and dirty! I need a shower, and Josue’s not wearing a shirt!”

Kailin: “But this is real life!”

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“Kailin, have you already given your life to Christ?” – Jackeline, age 11

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“So if Kailin and Ben are leaving tomorrow, I guess that means you weren’t able to convince them to stay.” – Gleny, age 10

Me: “Not yet, but we’ll keep praying.”

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“I’m not ready to get married – I mean, I don’t even know how to wash the clothes!” – Jackeline, age 11

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“Ben’s mom has a pet bird.”

The kids: “That’s so cruel. Birds should be free.”

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 Jackeline, age 11: “Why can’t you two just stay here forever?”

Kailin, “Well, we have a home and jobs to return to.”

Jackeline: “You have a home and jobs?!”

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 Kailin: “Jason, if you move the tadpole to a different part of the river, don’t you think he’ll miss his family?”

Jason, age 7: “No. At this age they can still move houses.”

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Jackeline, age 11, to Kailin and Ben, who were preparing dinner: “Can you also make a salad?”

Kailin and Ben: “Well, I think with the pasta we have enough food for everyone.”

Jackeline: “Yeah, but it has chemicals.”

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Ben: “Josue [the 6-year-old special needs boy] is the great teacher at the Living Waters Ranch.”

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Kailin: “Good thing the kids don’t know that Ben is a chemical engineer, or they would get really upset [because Darwin has trained the kids to be big on organic farming].”

Me: “They just think he’s a regular engineer.”

Ben: “There’s no such thing.”

Me: “For us there is.”

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The kids: “What did you and our mom do when you were little?”

Kailin, “Well, your mom was crazy…”

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Ben: “I think it’s pretty cool that these kids are astounded when they hear that they were created by God and that he intends for us to be His light in this world, because in America we’ve heard it so many times that we oftentimes forget or lose the true meaning.”

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 Darwin: “The marriage relationship between man and woman is exquisite and precious, and that is the relationship God desires with each one of us.”

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 Kailin: “Ok, kids! We’re going to play a new game: lay down, and whoever falls asleep first, wins!”

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[Looking out at the kids as they put on a broom-balancing, bow-and-arrow-shooting circus show in our front yard after lunch one day]: “That’s why we don’t have television.”

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(Juggling eggs)

Me: “Now we don’t have to buy cheese or milk because our cow gave birth and Darwin milks her every morning at 4:00am.”

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Me: “Ok, to start basketball practice you will do 53 laps up and down the stairs…”

The girls: “What?!

Me: “…Minus 48. Go!”

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Gleny, age 10, exasperated as she hops into our truck after school, “Ugh, Mom, the kids in my class make me so mad!”

Me: “Uh-oh. What happened?”

Gleny: “They all love money! They’re like ‘Oh, when I’m big I want to make a lot of money and buy all this nice stuff’ and I told them, ‘It’s not about the money!’ and they just kept talking about how they want a big house and stuff, and I said, ‘What about God?! He’s the one who provides!’

Me, laughing as my heart swelled with gratitude toward God for the character He is forming within this little woman: “Oh, the voice of justice crying out in the fourth grade classroom…”

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2014 in Review (An Unorganized List of 64 Small Miracles)

Yesterday afternoon as the kids were in paint class and Darwin was resting in our room after a very busy week, I took a walk around our property, studying the visible differences of what this past year has brought –our faithful garden with its new sprouts of radish and squash that Darwin and the kids planted, the ducks who now inhabit our chicken run, our school building finally organized, certain rooms freshly painted – and caught off guard with a deep awe of all God has done in this past year that isn’t so visible – the emotional growth and health of the children, my own healing from severe insomnia, new relationships formed, prayers answered. After the dogs happily followed me around our yard, tails in a constant lazy wag as I admired all God has done this year, I sat down at the wooden table in our living room to make a list of all I could think of that He has orchestrated, permitted, given and guided in this past year. I started with a single sheet of notebook paper but soon had to bring a second and then a third sheet. The list, without any order or importance, is as follows…

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1. Many local boys have received haircuts in our home, and in the process I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the mohawk.

2. Due to God’s abundant provision, we have been able to joyously be His “middle-men” in sharing clothes, backpacks, food, and other goods with our neighbors for His glory.

3. Darwin, the children and I attended a week-long intensive missions course with our faith community to prepare us for a mission trip that we are planning for January 2015 to a village in southern Honduras.

4. We survived several robberies, difficulties, and encounters with corrupt people (including a very dangerous fraud).

5. After much deliberation, we finally purchased a gun for security purposes (and had to use it shoot-in-the-air-style-to-scare-the-burglar the day after we learned how to use it!)

6. The message of Christ has been shared in local churches, on public buses, in a school, at a used clothing shop, in Darwin’s sister’s home, and in various other places as God presents opportunities.

7. We have developed a very friendly relationship with our elderly neighbor who has a large herd of milking cows, and our large grassy property has been utilized to feed his grazers several times per week.

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8. We said “yes” and actively followed four different leads in order to receive more children into our family, but none of them produced results, so we continue to wait for God’s timing.

9. Darwin and I have been able to dedicate ourselves to God’s purposes in our home/family/farm/mission six days per week (we each spend one day per week as teachers at a local school).

10. Relationships have been formed with Brayan, his stepmother and three stepbrothers.

11. By God’s grace He enabled us to have kids in our home for the duration of the calendar year.

12. Peace has been poured out over our home and in the children’s hearts after months of very intense emotional waves, spiritual battles, disciplinary struggles and outbursts of all types.

13. Our living room, the kids’ bathroom, and the schoolroom were painted.

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14. The four kids received homeschool classes along with private academic tutoring.

15. Many, many mistakes have been made and learned from.

16. The four kids received therapy with a Christian psychologist for several months.

17. Our used truck was purchased (and Darwin got his driver’s license for the first time!)

2014-518. High-security steel doors have been installed on the two houses and school building.

19. We have instituted the (very small and indescript) whiteboard in our living room where I write the next day’s schedule in great detail each night so that I don’t have to answer 84 questions about what we’re going to do tomorrow.

20. Four dogs have been purchased/adopted for security purposes (and therapy with the kids!)

2014-721. Two batches of chicks were born in our chicken run and hundreds of eggs laid.

22. Twelve ducks were purchased to lay eggs in our chicken run.

23. We enjoyed the visit of eight fellow believers in our home for several days in July.

24. Fifty rhambutan saplings have been planted.

25. Darwin and the kids have maintained a small garden behind our kitchen weekly.

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26. Darwin and our accountant organized and submitted the last four years of financial statements.

27. Many, many hours have been spent on the preparation of legal documents, in meetings with the board of directors and with lawyers, and making trips to and from different offices.

28. A daily system of cleaning/chores has been put into practice for the kids and adults.

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29. Hundreds of man-hours have been spent preparing the land and cultivating small gardens without extremely little success due to infertile, rocky soil and long dry spells.

30. We’ve enjoyed a full year of growth and relationship with our dear sister Jenae Matikke, who lives alongside of us, raises the kids with us and serves in our local community.

31. A large steel trashcan has been constructed behind our property to deposit our trash.

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32. We’ve been able to continue developing and deepening our relationship with our faith community and mentors, visiting their home weekly.

33. We’re at three months and counting of the children taking a high-quality B-complex vitamin daily to help with their overall growth and mental activity –  (and it’s working!)

34. Our kids have enjoyed one full year of weekly paint, music, agriculture and Bible classes.

35. Two public music concerts have been held in our home for our neighbors and friends.

36. Darwin has formed a youth choir as a way of reaching out to local kids and forming relationships with our neighbors.

37. Our little plants produced harvests of plantains, a rare fruit called guanabana that tastes like cotton candy and looks like a very squishy white pineapple, mango, yucca, lemon, radish, chili peppers, cucumber and papaya.

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38. Darwin and our eldest daughter, Diana, have begun taking weekly English classes.

39. Relationships and trust have been formed with local business owners.

40. We have begun teaching the kids biblically-based financial education to accompany their small incomes for household chores.

41. Various visitors have been received in our home, thus providing all of us with many opportunities to offer hospitality and learn from and love those who stay with us.

42. Our first long-distance family trip is planned for the last two days of this year to visit Honduras’ biggest and perhaps only zoo in a town several hours away.

43. The Living Waters Ranch’s mission statement has been written.

44. We’ve formed a weekly Bible study every Wednesday morning where we dedicate time to growing spiritually as a family/community and giving thanks.

45. Sexual education has been given to our kids/teenagers several times and in many different forms.

46. I’ve received ten months and counting of medical treatment for my insomnia, and the larger part of recovery has been achieved.

47. Our kids have learned how to swim and play chess.

48. God’s provision and protection have been with us daily.

49. After much trial and error and team brainstorming, we were able to make the decision of how to use each of the three “houses” on our property most efficiently.

50. The “School House”, the second of the three houses, has been furnished and put into use for homeschooling, music classes, and for receiving neighbor kids in the large living room that serves as a play room.

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51. The question of maintaining our (extremely large, rocky, and uneven) yard trim has been settled by hiring a local man to weedeat it once a month. (We used to have a full-time employee who dedicated the majority of his time to cutting our lawn bent-over with his machete, but he could only cut a piece the size of about two backyard swimming pools per day, and the job was never done and thus our yard always looked like someone with long, untamed hair who took a buzz-cutter to a few sections here and there, thus the poisonous snakes had a heyday.)

52. The office has been put together and Darwin constructed bookshelves for our library.

2014-13

53. Friendships have been formed with a handful of children and teenagers from our local community who come to our home to play soccer, work in agriculture, receive sex education classes, spend time in our playroom, and attend Bible study.

54. Our four kids gave their lives to Christ.

55. Darwin and I attended Honduras’ “Children’s Home Conference” in May to learn from others who serve in the same capacity.

56. We have begun developing relationships with various neighbors, visiting them in their homes and likewise opening our home to them.

57. Darwin and I celebrated our year-and-a-half anniversary December 24, 2014.

58. Darwin and I enjoyed three marriage retreats to escape from the kids for a few nights and focus on cultivating our still very-new marriage.

59. New telephone poles have been put up and electrical lights repaired.

60. We have sanded and painted the steel window bars on the houses, dining room and kitchen to save them from rusting.

61. We have achieved much better organizational structure and financial accounting as a registered Honduran NGO.

62. Official schedule, menu, and budget have been made for legal purposes.

63. Our eldest daughter has begun to sell her paintings.

64. God has cultivated a very pleasing attitude of love and respect in our children towards Himself and others.

Attitude Check

We live out in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long gravel road at the base of a mountain range. Our water system has always been an enigma to me, and it has continually frustrated me as it has run dry at inopportune times. When we least expect it, there is a problem with the tubing or the tank or the community’s water supply and suddenly there is no running water on our property for a couple hours or a couple days.

When it rains hard (which it does here frequently), the tubes get clogged up with debris, leaving us without water. When they do work on the community’s water system up the mountain, they close off the pipes, leaving us without water. When our dear neighbor’s cow herd comes over to graze (which happens several times per week), the cows break the tubes, leaving us without water.

That means no water for washing dirty dishes, no water for showers, and extra costs and hassle in buying large back-up water jugs for drinking water. It also means traipsing down to the river behind our property to wash clothes, to fill up the farm animal’s drinking pails, and maybe even to bathe ourselves.

A couple weeks ago as Darwin was getting ready to go out of town for a week with our faith community to install a potable water system in a poor rural village in another part of Honduras, I found myself complaining about our own water system and not looking forward to having to jimmy with the valves, revise the tubes, hope the water didn’t go out when we had a pyramid of dirty dishes, etc, while Darwin was away.

Praise God Darwin cut me off before I sent out official invitations to my pity party. With a sincere grin on his face and outstretched arms he said, “Hey, we haven’t died of thirst yet!”

That is code for: Jennifer, God has continually provided us with what we need, even if at times it is not convenient or easy. Let’s give thanks rather than complain.

And he is so right. I laughed and agreed, “You’re right; we haven’t died of thirst yet,” and assumed an inward posture of humble thanksgiving toward our Constant Provider, knowing full well that He is always good and worthy of praise.

A few days later while Darwin was out of town, I was working in our living room when someone came to our front door. It was our beloved neighbor who weed-eats our yard each month, and he came bearing bad news. While weed-eating, he accidentally chopped the entire tube in half that descends from our water tank to provide water to the buildings on our property.

I left what I was doing and serenely followed him around the back of the kitchen to the scene of the accident, certain that what I was about to see wouldn’t be pretty, but at the same time not bothered at all. Sure enough, the tube was sliced in half and water was spraying out in all directions, rapidly emptying the tank of our entire source of water. I laughed and thought, Well, this is new!

With newfound peace and thanksgiving bursting forth from my heart, knowing full well that we would be without water until he would be able to go buy the replacement part and return to fix the tube, I assured him that mistakes happen and that God is always good.

Later that afternoon, as the mountain of laundry called my name, I filled up bucket after bucket, hauling them on my shoulders down to the river behind our home, laughing under the falling rain at the goodness of God’s grace. As I knelt on the river’s shore, washing our clothes and towels in the rushing, cleansing current, I felt as though I had never before been happier or had a deeper understanding of how constant God’s provision is. Completely wet and completely joyful, my jeans marked up with mud and grass stains and my wooly socks saturated inside of my rain boots, body straining to heave heavy buckets of wet clothes across our property, I never felt more clearly the joy of God’s presence.

Ministry Updates

BRAYAN RETURNS TO HOMESCHOOL Brayan, the local 14-year-old who lived with us for over eight months, has decided to keep studying in our homeschool program to finish out this school year, which ends in January 2015. He is still living at his stepmother’s home and we are committed to helping provide their family with food every month to help care for him. He has returned to us on a part-time basis through homeschool, our Wednesday morning Bible study and afternoon visits, and there is newfound joy and gratitude in his face that wasn’t there before. Pray for us in developing a new relationship with him as we discern what role God would have us to play in this young man’s life during this season.

OPEN TO RECEIVING MORE KIDS We have put our “feelers” out there with the Honduran child protective agency about possibly receiving 2-3 additional kiddos in our home. This is a tedious process laden with bureaucracy, and the first time we received kids we had to go back-and-forth with the agency for over six months before the three siblings finally moved in. It is also a very delicate emotional process, both for the three that are already here, us, and those that may arrive. Please pray that the next kids to arrive, whenever they do, may be the exact children that the Lord would have us to care for. Pray that Diana, Gleny, and Jason may have tender and open hearts towards those who may come and that the adaptation process may go as peacefully as possible.

DARWIN ON A WATER PROJECT IN SOUTHERN HONDURAS This week Darwin is installing a potable water system in a poor rural village in Choluteca, one of Honduras’ 18 departments, with our mentor from our faith community and a diverse group of American and Honduran Christians. The goal is to live among the people for the week, sleeping in hammocks at night and doing manual labor alongside the townspeople during the day, in order to provide a physical need (potable water) and a spiritual one (the gospel of Jesus Christ). Our faith community has been participating in these trips twice per year for several years, but this is Darwin’s first trip. Pray for guidance over him and the rest of the people participating in the trip, and ask that God may grant open and willing hearts to the villagers who are being served.

RELATIONSHIP WITH THE EPISCOPAL SCHOOL In the past month the Lord has led me to preach twice in La Ceiba’s Episcopal School, where I have worked in various capacities for three years (first grade teacher, basketball coach, and Gifted and Talented program teacher). Each week the high schoolers have a designated 40-minute block of “church” within their class schedule, and I have had the opportunity to deliver the message twice in the past month. I am excited to see where God would lead me and in what capacity He would have me to serve among the students in this school year. I am open to continue preaching from time to time as He leads me, and I am planning on re-starting weekly girls’ basketball practices in January 2015 after taking several months off due to my severe insomnia.

ROBBERIES In the United States, if a crime is committed, the police are called and the justice system goes to work. In Honduras, if a crime is committed, it is rare if anything happens, even if the police are called. Robberies – both petty and large-scale – are extremely common here. People have stolen our shoes, crops, chickens, agricultural supplies, clothes, and an electrical generator. Robbers have cut through our fences, broken through locks, and pried open windows. We have called the police, gone to their offices in person, and submitted various reports, but nothing is done. We recently purchased an 8-month-old German Shepherd to team up with our other two guard dogs to ward off potential robbers, but ultimately our safety is in the Lord’s hands. Please pray for wisdom in deciding how to approach this issue, God’s continual protection of us, and that we may always have enough to generously aid our neighbors if they come to us in the daylight in need. Please also pray for the people who have or are currently robbing us, that they would be convicted of what they are doing and that the Lord would change their hearts. Praise God that these robberies make it much easier to not put our hope and security in this world but rather in His Kingdom where love and justice reign!

NO LEGAL PROGRESS Several weeks ago I wrote about our current legal battles. We have all of our paperwork compiled and ready, but there has been no progress on any front.

IMMIGRATION CRISIS We are still available to receive refugee children in our home who have been deported from the United States, but we have not received any phone calls or further information.

QUACK QUACK QUACK! Our chicken run has a few new inhabitants: a momma duck with her ten ducklings and their “stepfather.” Ducks lay eggs just as chickens do, and it is said that their eggs are extremely rich in protein and vitamins. We are raising the female babies to be “laying ducks” in the coming months, and we will eat the young males and/or be able to bless our neighbors with free meat.

HARVEST In the past several weeks we have enjoyed a harvest of organic radishes, chile peppers and cucumbers from our gardens. We continue experimenting to see which crops grow best in our incredibly rocky soil.

30 Things We’ve Learned in our First Year as Parents

November 1, 2014 will be our one-year anniversary as parents. A couple days ago Darwin and I sat down and compiled the following list of some of the things we’ve learned thus far:

  1. In order to get them to stop slamming doors, simply sit down with them once and say very calmly, “The next person who slams a door will lose their bedroom door. We will literally take down your door and hang up a curtain, because you can’t slam a curtain. Well, I guess you can, but it wouldn’t make any noise,” and they will never slam a door again. (We used to have several slammed doors per day, but now it’s been roughly seven months and counting without a single slammed door.)
  2. Parenting books really do help.
  3. In raising children, if our hope and purpose is placed in the children themselves, we will continually feel frustrated and in despair as they make mistakes, sin, and fail to meet expectations – rather our purpose in being parents must be rooted in the love of and obedience to God, who is perfect and does not change.
  4. The kids should not be allowed to cook by themselves (or they prepare 17 tortillas per person for breakfast).
  5. It is wise to have a “turkey talk” with them about the changes their body will soon experience, God’s vision of purity, and sex before they hear misinformation from a classmate or some other source. Give them accurate and honest information on an age-appropriate level so that they are responsible before God to make informed decisions.
  6. That African proverb that says “It takes a whole village to raise a child” really is true. The raising of any child is a team effort, and teachers, coaches, neighbors, aunts and uncles, nurses, day-care workers, etc, probably underestimate the true impact they have (or could potentially have) on the children in their lives. With that being said, those who aren’t necessarily “parents” may in fact be part of the parenting team of one or more children.
  7. The kids enjoy seeing us be affectionate with one another (holding hands in public, hugs in the kitchen, etc) and seem to feel very secure knowing that Mom and Dad genuinely love and care for one another.
  8. Children “know” many things and may even be able to finish our sentences and quote Bible verses, but it is not knowledge that counts, but rather practice. Saying a beautiful prayer over dinner about the need to be truthful does not necessarily lead to truth-telling once a sticky situation arises. Hypocrisy is always lurking, so the focus must always be on putting into earnest practice the good that we know rather than merely talking about it, as if knowledge alone suffices. (We know this is a rampant sin among adults as well, and this year we’ve learned that it begins in childhood and even when detected early on requires much prayer, constant guidance, and discipline to correct.)
  9. Asking their opinion when it is possible (which route they think we should take to get home, what order we should do our activities in, an opinion regarding a certain family decision, etc) helps them in the development of their self-confidence and decision-making ability, and they feel very important and valued in being asked what they think.
  10. If we do not carve out time each day for just the two of us to spend time together, all of our time quickly gets swept away with the children. (We learned this after it seemed like every night we were all in the living room playing and spending time together until 9:00 or 10:00pm before we would head to our room late, exhausted. Now we have a house norm that the kids must be in their rooms at 8:00pm and lights out at 9:00pm, which gives us alone time each evening to talk and connect.)
  11. Being a parent is a 24/7 job, and even when we are not physically with the kids we are likely praying for them, reading a book on how to parent them better, talking or thinking about them, planning activities for them, or doing something for them.
  12. Children should never be allowed to use Clorox bleach under any circumstances. (We made this grave mistake in the first several months as parents, allowing them to use bleach for cleaning purposes, but we ended up with towels and sheets with big bleach stains and many ruined clothes.)
  13. Loving all of them equally and treating each one differently are not mutually exclusive terms; rather we must learn what each one needs and wants and be able to respond accordingly so that our love for them can be genuinely shown. The way that we show our love for our 14-year-old daughter and our 7-year-old son are very different even though we treasure them both equally.
  14. Natural intelligence does not necessarily have a strong correlation with academic achievement.
  15. In a family with more than one child, it is vitally important to create time for each child to receive individual attention. We call these “dates” in our family, and they are held in high esteem by everyone. (I grew up an only child, so my memories of childhood were like one long “date” with both of my parents that I frequently wished would end!)
  16. Having a schedule that is fairly fixed each day is a tremendous help in cultivating a familial rhythm and sense of order. (Having a daily schedule may seem rather obvious, but we stumbled through our first several months, groping at chaos as we were trying to figure out how to manage a busy household, attend to everyone’s needs, establish special family traditions, make sure everyone was wearing clean clothes, etc.)
  17. When one child, especially one of the older ones, is struggling with a particular sin (lying, etc), all are put in danger of falling into the same. It is very important that the older ones set good examples, because they will be copied whether they want to be or not.
  18. The incessant and potentially annoying question “Why?” actually does have a purpose: the child is trying to understand the world around him and form his own opinions of how things work that will eventually govern him as an adult. We should be thanking God that he’s asking us “Why?” instead of answering all his questions with what he sees in the media and in his friends’ lives! Taking the time to answer all the “why’s” clearly and honestly is a huge investment we can make into their future decision-making.
  19. Children recognize and appreciate honesty in adults.
  20. Children don’t mind not having access to a television. (We’ve never had one in our home, and the children haven’t complained once about it.)
  21. The best way to help the children relax is to take them to an open-air area, such as the river or park.
  22. We should not seek to keep them little and cute; we should help them to take appropriate risks, be their constant cheerleaders, allow them to speak for themselves, assume the consequences for their actions, and take on new challenges and skills in their lives so that they become the men and women God would have them to be.
  23. Kids have a lot of great ideas if we will take the time to listen.
  24. Fulfilling promises as much as possible is crucial.
  25. A pet (such as a chick or a dog) helps the children to relax.
  26. If we implement a new family rule, norm, change of the daily schedule, or disciplinary procedure (or, even better, if we get everyone’s input and everyone agrees upon what is just and do-able together) and take the time to lovingly explain why, it is actually very easy for them to accept changes, even if the children don’t necessarily understand “what’s in it for them.”
  27. One child should never be compared to another.
  28. It is extremely fun to parent a very bright child, but it also requires much more from us.
  29. You should always speak well of your spouse to your children – the kids catch on and can feel a strong sense of family unity, plus they, too, begin to speak well of those who aren’t present.
  30. Creative, imaginative play is so crucial to their overall development (and quite fun to participate in with them).

Perhaps the Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Learned

Lightbulb.

The desert is the world.

The desert does not merely represent passing difficulties, a season of suffering, or some big problem we are facing. The Promised Land is not just around the corner; it cannot be entered upon accepting a new job, making the most of a new opportunity, falling in love, pursuing your dreams, or regaining your health. Or whatever else you think will make you happy.

LONELINESS

Only upon dying do we enter the Promised Land fully.

Up until a few days ago I was terribly mistaken – I believed that for me being entrusted with the Living Waters Ranch was in some way an entering God’s Promised Land, a sacred place of safety where I would somehow be removed from the stains of this world, completely immersed in the goodness of His Kingdom. Something like heaven on earth. My grand exit from my affluent life in the States into my role as “mom” for orphaned and abandoned kids has actually increased my daily trials ten-fold. Robberies. Financial insecurity. Corruption. Lost friendships due to geographical distance. Water and electricity that go out frequently. The Promised Land?

I’m still in the desert.

And so are you, or maybe you’re still in slavery, which, although it might seem more comfortable than life in the desert, is worse.

woman cries

Most people are at least fairly familiar with the story of Exodus, of God rescuing His people out of slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, leading them through the parted Red Sea, guiding them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then finally leading them to the abundant land He promised to Abraham years before.

Although it is probably shockingly simple to some, what I learned this past week through our beloved mentor who has humbly served as a missionary in Honduras for over 20 years has profoundly altered my perspective on everything:

Egyptian slavery represents our life when we were slaves to sin and far from God.

The crossing of the Red Sea represents our salvation, when we recognize Jesus as our Lord. This crossing was the literal salvation of the Israelites fleeing Egypt as God allowed them to escape via the parted sea from their enemies who were hounding them.

The 40 years in the desert represent life after salvation while we are still alive. This time of desert trial does not end while we are alive. It is incredibly difficult and, as is mentioned in Exodus chapter 17, many of us may even wonder why it is that we left Egypt (which, remember, represents slavery.) Our task in the desert is to believe God is with us even though the temptation will be to doubt, to feel abandoned in a dry land.

pray for sick

The Promised Land represents our entrance into the Kingdom of God, or, more commonly know as heaven. This entrance becomes fully realized only upon death. While in this world we are participants in the Kingdom of God and get tastes of the King’s goodness, we do not fully enter until our death in this world, i.e. our complete exit from the desert.

SUFFERING

Our problems and daily difficulties are not to be griped about or even merely tolerated, waiting eagerly for the day when they will pass. We are to find Christ in the midst of those difficulties, give thanks even though it may at first seem unnatural, and confirm in our spirit that God is with us and guiding us home.

violins

So a couple days ago as Darwin and I were in the midst of a couple potentially distressful situations, I felt as though perhaps for the first time in my life I was truly enjoying that inexplicable peace that Christ offers us rather than trying to take everything in my own hands and fix the problems myself, vowing not to rest until everything is under control (which is never). My normal reaction would have been for my heart rate to accelerate, my thoughts roaring against the question Why? and trying to find the quickest and most painless solution, straining ahead looking for a glimpse of tranquility, of the Promised Land that never seems to arrive. But instead of growing dark circles under my eyes a contagious grin took over my face and that peace that I have never before experienced enveloped me. My husband looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and I shrugged care-freely and said, “We’re in the desert. This is our time of trial to see if we believe God is with us. And I believe He is. Let us give thanks for this trial because it will help perfect our faith.”

And then we sat down to discuss everything I had learned that week in our faith community’s discipleship group because he had been in the hospital caring for our youngest and had not been able to attend. After discussing animatedly the fact that our task while we are alive is to embrace our trials and difficulties, giving thanks to God and trusting He is with us (not waiting impatiently for the trials to end…because they never do, or complaining in the desert as the Isrealites did), knowing that Christ, our rock, is with us if only we will recognize Him, Darwin looked at me, amazed at this work God is doing in his young wife who typically maintains an almost constant level of stress and anxiety. With wonder in his eyes, he said, “You look serene.”

I laughed as words of thanksgiving flowed from my mouth, and he and I read together the following verses from the Bible:

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

joy in suffering

Exodus 17: 1-7 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 95 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

 

Photo sites:

http://gnato.deviantart.com/art/LONELINESS-6327864

http://kindnessblog.com/2013/10/30/child-playing-the-violin-at-his-teachers-funeral/

http://jeremyfokkens.com/blog/pabna-mental-institution/

http://fredbroom.blogspot.com/2013_05_01_archive.html

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140211/world/Of-human-suffering.506339

http://everynationgta.org/sermons/finding-joy-in-suffering/

Busy Parent Syndrome

Oh, Busy Parent Syndrome — you know what it is. It’s that ugly beast that rears its head when Mom and Dad are too occupied in adult affairs to spend quality time with their kids, so to ease their guilt they buy their children gifts.

wrapped package

I have fallen ill with this syndrome.

Our household these past few weeks has been tilted at an odd angle — Darwin and I have spent what seems like more than half the week on long day trips to the large nearby city of La Ceiba, on important errands, meeting with lawyers, organizing our board of directors — etc, etc, etc. Without going into details, we’ll say these past few weeks have been quite hectic and filled with heightened levels of general uncertainty and stress.

Family movie nights have thus morphed into kids-watch-a-movie-and-mom-and-dad-go-to-their-room-to-destress, and more than once in these last few weeks I’ve come home with purchased surprises for the kids when I knew I hadn’t come home early enough to spend the afternoon playing or reading with them.

Yesterday some of the symptoms of BPS (Busy Parent Syndrome) worsened as I brought home some cute clothes from a resale shop for our youngest two, knowing that I wasn’t able to offer myself to them during this busy season, but falling prey to the lie that at least I could offer something. Little nine-year-old Gleny was visibly excited to receive her secondhand polka-dot t-shirt I bought her, but after the fleeting thrill wore off she set it down and started chattering my ear off about something else, approaching me eagerly with one of her (rather painful) wrap-her-arms-around-your-neck-and-lift-her-legs-up-bear-hug, obviously more interested in having Mom than anything Mom could buy her. A blob of guilt rose up in my throat, knowing she would have taken an afternoon of juice-carton art projects or sit-in-my-lap time over me doing something or buying something for her.

z kids' clothes

Sound at all like how we treat our relationship with God sometimes? Go to church, attend small groups, serve in some capacity, are financially generous — do, do, do — but neglect the actual relationship, skirting around it with a lot of busyness without actually embracing His love and reciprocating it?

So last night as a family we took a stand against BPS. We organized a family movie night (and impromptu dance party and creativity competition in the living room), stuck to the plan even though Darwin and I were dog tired, cuddled with the kids on the couch, and enjoyed mugs of hot, sweet milk (a common treat in our home) that I had prepared in our kitchen. It was the most joyful evening we have spent as a family in some time, laughing together and genuinely enjoying one another’s company, setting the demands of the day aside, knowing that to some extent they will always be there.

Jesus’ words trickled through my mind all night and into the morning as I meditated on the sweetness of our evening with the children and how we have so carelessly allowed the demands of the day to interfere with the blessed communion our family enjoys with our Creator and one another: Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own…Be still and know that I am God.