Category Archives: Reflections on Life in the United States

Choose Your Compass Carefully: A Reflection on Technology, Luxury and Following Christ

A few days ago our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline came home in the evening after having spent the day with her 8-year-old special needs brother Josue in a visit with their biological family members. I greeted them warmly at the door as Jackeline then plopped down on our little two-person floral print couch. I instinctively pulled up one of our old wicker stools as I then sat down on it a few feet in front of her. My eyes searched hers as wacky lil’ Josue began trying to do some kind of rear horsey-kick with his stubby hands grabbing the couch’s tired arm while pushing his legs up and back as he bounced about next to the couch.

Jackeline with her wild shoulder-length hair and beautiful round face did not look stressed out or worried, so I dared to ask: “How was the visit?”

That simple question was all it took for us to dive into an hour-plus conversation as she shared with me her many (very insightful) observations on the world outside of our family. (Some of our 8 foster children have regular monthly visits with their biological family members while others have gone years without hearing anything from their relatives.)

She began, voice accelerated as she entered her dramatic story-telling mode, “I asked my little cousin – you know him, the one who’s three years old – if he wanted to play cars.”

I nodded my head and smiled, for Darwin and I have met all of her biological relatives on several occasions and maintain a very positive relationship with them.

“Well, my little cousin said ‘yes’ to my invitation to play cars with him, and then he whipped out two cellphones out of nowhere and said, ‘Which one do you want?’” At this point her eyes are really wide open as she replays the shock she felt when the event happened. I felt like I was right there with her in live action!

I began giggling, and I glanced over and winked at Josue. He flashed me a big, toothy grin. Jackeline continued, “And I said, ‘What?! I asked you if you wanted to play cars with me, like toy cars….Sitting on the ground.’” She motioned with a hand weakened by shock the little back-and-forth movement as she rolled an imaginary toy car in the air.

By then I was really laughing, and she paused to reiterate the whole cellphone part: “I mean, he just whipped out not one, but two of those big fancy cellphones! Two! And he’s only three years old!” I nodded in agreement.

“So when I clarified that I wanted to play toy cars with him on the ground, he shrugged disinterestedly and said, ‘Boring,’ and then showed me the cellphones again, asking me which one I wanted to play on. He told me that he had some electronic app on the phone that was called ‘Cars’ that was more fun than what I had suggested.”

Her way of story-telling – hands moving about animatedly, passion displayed in her fluctuating tone of voice – was both hilarious and effective as she shed a lot of light on the utter absurdities of today’s world culture.

“And, like during the whole visit my little cousin ended up playing on both of the cellphones all by himself, and the television was on all the time! It was like…chaos. At one point he told me that he didn’t like one of the cellphones because it wasn’t as advanced as the other one, so he was going to give it to Charlie!”

I tilted my head, slightly confused because I had never heard mention of Charlie. She was quick to clarify: “That’s the cat!

She looked genuinely worried. Josue continued grinning and nodding enthusiastically as if he understood and agreed with the entire social commentary. I rejoiced in my heart that God is developing in Jackeline a very effective ‘truth filter’ – the ability to observe and even be immersed in what many people consider to be ‘normal’ while evaluating it from the perspective of God’s eternal Word. In effect, to be in the world but not of it.

I treasured this moment in my heart, for our precious – wild, at times immature, strikingly wise! – Jackeline, by God’s grace, is developing the ability to discern her surroundings. She will desperately need that ability, especially when she leaves our home and protection one day to enter the adult realm. In a wildly confused world that is quickly accepting all forms of sexual sin as ‘normal’ (in addition to  rampant materialism, a very isolated ‘individualism’, political corruption, etc), she is going to desperately need to be able to discern what is of God and what is not if she is to walk closely by His side in the world’s wild maze of infinite options and endless ‘ways.’

While I ruminated on all this, thanking God in my heart for the firm character and wise discernment He is forming in His daughter, she continued: “And then my grandma began telling me that it is really important for me to get a tablet and learn how to use it.”

I felt uneasy at the idea; she continued, laughing as she pointed at my reaction: “I told my grandma, ‘I don’t think my parents are gonna like that idea!’, but she said that it’s important because in daily life everyone uses one.”

At that we both began laughing, because although Darwin and I have never spoken openly against modern technological advancements, all of our kids can observe clearly that we are not addicted to them (nor do we own many of them). In our daily life we read books (those old kind made from trees); we enjoy the creativity God has given us to roll up our sleeves and do art projects; we teach classes and Bible studies in bare rooms on wooden benches; we use our hands (and sweat glands) to work around the house and yard; we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing task of developing the minds God has entrusted us; we spend ourselves joyfully on the task of binding up the brokenhearted and setting the captive free; we worship God through music; we care diligently for the various animals God has placed on our property. In a large sense, we are ‘unplugged.’

Jackeline continued, fully enjoying the process of story-telling, “And I said, ‘Grandma! But my parents are adults, and they don’t use a tablet in everyday life!’ And with that, my grandma was really surprised and asked how that was possible. I said, ‘Well, they only use their computers for like really extreme jobs, and they have no use for a calculator because they do the math in their heads!’” At that point I was rolling with laughter, and Josue continued glancing energetically between his older sister and I, eager to participate in the joy. “My grandma was shocked and had no reply! She had never heard of such a thing!”

You see, in our home my husband (who is Honduran) and I (who was born in America) have put a ‘stop’ to the endless advancements in technology and luxury that many in the world constantly chase after. We choose not to have hot water or air-conditioning; we all wash our clothes by hand; we have no television. Our kids do not have internet access; my cell phone is a little black apparatus with an itty bitty screen and old school keypad that probably made its world debut when your great-grandmother was in kindergarten. It doesn’t have any apps and can’t even take pictures. I’ve had my cellphone so many years that the part that sends text messages no longer even works. It’s only used for…*gasp*…making calls! People constantly ask me if I have ‘Whatsapp,’ and I finally had to confess the other day, “No; I don’t have ‘Whatsapp, and to be honest with you, I don’t even know what it is!

I lived my first two-and-a-half years in this country without a car; Darwin, the kids and I walked everywhere and took overcrowded public transportation, oftentimes waiting hours for the right bus to pass. Only now do we have our 16-year-old battered war vehicle; our Toyota pickup truck with a camper on the back. When we rumble by on the narrow gravel roads in our rural town, many of the neighborhood kids shout, “Chicken Coop! Chicken Coop!” because there are always so many little heads sticking out of it!

Probably within a few years – as the outside world continues its frenetic grasping at ‘new’ and ‘better’ while we remain joyfully content with a simple life in God’s presence – someone will probably label us as Amish.

I am currently away from home to attend a day-long conference several hours away from our little ‘home on the range.’ The majority of the other conference attendees – a mixture of local Honduran Christians and American missionaries – had their advanced cellphones with the big screens, cars that look to be in a lot better shape than ours, and their overall attitude (along with the content of their conversations) dripped with worldly enticement. I felt, as I do in many situations, out of place. Like I’m from a different tribe.

Several of the conference speakers spoke (inaccurately) of the need to correct and educate the local people in matters of technology; that we must show the poor that rather than washing their clothes in the river or in an old-fashioned washbin, they must learn to use a washing machine. (And with what money will they purchase and maintain one if they can barely put food on the table?) Rather than bathing with a bucket, they must learn to do so in a shower, with hot water if possible.

My heart grew heavy with each passing word pronounced by the well-intentioned Honduran speakers, for Christ did not come to improve the worldly conditions of the poor – to make them bilingual or grant them a college scholarship or purchase them a washing machine – but rather to preach the truth in the midst of a world drowning in lies; to pay the price none of us can pay in order to put us into right relationship with our Creator and our neighbor. Whether we claim to serve God at home or in a far-off nation, we must be very careful what ‘good news’ we are proclaiming with our words and lives: that of worldly prosperity (which, even at its best, not all can attain), or the everlasting Good News of a loving God who comes to redeem, to heal, to guide. Jesus went around proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!” I dare say that that should be our message as well.

In a video on human trafficking that we saw with our older girls in months past, there is a very sincere American missionary fighting the effects of the forced-prostitution industry in Asia, and he very accurately says, “This is not a matter of money and education. In the West there is abounding educational opportunities and plenty of money, but that has not solved the problem of evil. This (whether it is sex slavery, the problem of parentless children, the existence of violent gangs, political corruption, etc) is a spiritual problem.”

To be an overseas missionary — or to serve Christ anywhere — is not a matter of raffling off washing machines and giving college scholarships to help bump people up and out of poverty; it is of teaching others to know and follow Christ; to go to the ends of the earth making disciples, for we know that He will be with us until the end of the age.

Men like Adolf Hitler, Hugh Hefner and others – men with excessive power and know-how (men who have quite strategically gotten what they wanted out of life and whom  we can safely say probably did not bathe with a bucket) – have used their privileges, their intelligence, their money not for good but for evil. So we must be careful what we aspire for those whom we are serving. ‘Developing with the times’ and ‘learning the ways of the world’ do not in any way go hand-in-hand with the good news of Jesus Christ. They are two distinct messages with results that find themselves at opposite poles.

‘Helping the poor’ is not a question of bringing them up to the middle-class. If that is our goal and strategy, we may just be creating more ego-saturated materialism addicts whose hearts are even farther from God than they were to start with.

It is and always has been a battle deep within the human heart – whether the person is rich or poor. Light versus darkness. Truth versus lies. Live for the eternal or live for the temporal. Honor God with your life or believe the age-old lie Satan presented in the garden: “Take things into your own hands; you can be like your own gods!”

Last evening, as I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast hotel, I took a long walk. It was very serene — one of those rare moments of ‘alone time’. The cool breeze blew through my hair as I walked the sidewalks and nearly empty streets of an upper-middle-class neighborhood at dusk. Tall, impenetrable walls around each property. Two-and-three-story homes designed with breathtakingly beautiful architecture. Polished, highly protected people with polished, highly protected lives. No noise. No trash in the streets. I felt like I could have been perusing a wealthy neighborhood in any corner of the globe.

It is so easy to be drawn to what is most comfortable, and to then let our lives be dictated by our desire to protect the luxuries and comforts we have. As I walked the empty streets, the quiet breeze accompanying me as I reflected deeply upon the day’s conference, I felt both saddened at the way many in today’s world choose to live while simultaneously awed by God’s grace over our tiny lives and the way He has led us to take firm decisions, both for our own sake and for that of our children. We refuse to be guided by the world’s compass. Just because the world shouts “North!” does not mean that North is the way; it just might mean that the real way is South. At every turn, we must seriously consider whose voice we are heeding; that of the world’s or that of the quiet whisper of the only true shepherd.

(And, let us all remember that several times in Scripture it is noted that Satan is the prince of this world; the whole world is under his persuasion. Let us be careful lest we find ourselves as his unknowing accomplices. Nearly everyone takes the wide path that leads to destruction; few walk the narrow path that leads to life. If you find yourself saying, doing and thinking the same things as everyone else, stop and ask yourself what path you are on.)

My sandaled feet guided me along as my long skirt lapped at my legs in that quiet, perfectly insulated neighborhood, far from the mess of our daily life surrounded by hurting people in our simple cinderblock buildings. Surely in these nice homes bat droppings don’t constantly fall on their sofa and severely broken children don’t wipe poop on their walls!

A very dear family who visited us briefly in January later published on their prayer newsletter that we were ‘so poor’ – the guest room where they stayed was one of our classrooms with foam mattresses on the floor, and they observed that all we eat are rice and beans.

I continued walking, observing majestic homes that anybody would die to live in. Are we poor? I laughed at the question, for I believe we feel as the Apostle Paul felt: having nothing, we have everything. No, we are not poor: we are rich beyond measure, beyond cellphones and luxury bathrooms and insulated homes. We have infinite riches in Christ, for we know that this world is not our home; we are just passing through on our way to the eternal Kingdom where the true treasure is waiting.

Jesus said to be careful where your treasure is, for there your heart will be also. He said to store up treasures not here on earth – not worldly wealth, power, human comforts – but rather treasures in heaven. Lose your life for His sake in order to find it. Deny yourself, carry your cross and follow Him. We must not fall in love with the world and all that it offers; we are to be in the world but not of it. Renew your mind; allow God to transform you so that you may come to know His perfect will. In this life we will suffer, but we must take heart because He has overcome the world! He who affirms that he is united with God, must live as Jesus Christ lived.

And so, I humbly encourage you to evaluate your own life and carefully consider whether the fast-moving train of technology, luxury, over-eating, etc, is taking its many passengers toward a deeper relationship with their Creator, their Savior, or whether it intends to propel them blindly towards a darker fate. The world’s bandwagon has a megaphone that proclaims ‘Entertainment,’ ‘Ease,’ ‘Have it your way.’ Eat and drink, for tomorrow you die. Have we believed this message; have we blindly given our lives over to an untrustworthy system; have we jumped on the bandwagon that is leading many away from God’s heart and His eternal purpose?

We must all remember how Jesus lived among us and that He is calling us to live the same way –fully united with His Father’s will rather than fully rooted in the worldly system.

After all, our message is not a popular one just as Jesus’ wasn’t, but we proclaim it boldly and with great faith, for we know and love He who is guiding us.

All that is in the world will come to an end, but those who do the will of God will live forever.

Amen.

Vast, Unmeasured, Boundless, Free

The day after I arrived home last week I sought out a quiet place to absorb, to process, give thanks. Our five kids plus about 10 of our faithfully enthusiastic neighbors had asked permission to go to our property’s mango tree to see if there was any ripe fruit, so as the kids bounded out our front gate like a tribe of wild indians, I breathed deep, watching them go, and treasured in my heart each of their steps so marked by freedom and joy, standing in such stark contrast to the general oppression and depravity in our neighborhood and world.

There is a hymn that says that Jesus’ love is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. I felt as though in that moment I could actually see just how boundless and free that love is as I watched the kids leap across our large property.

As I stood on our front porch watching them go, having already given more than a half-dozen haircuts to shaggy boys, flinging little people around in the hammock, and wiggling my way into wayward teens’ hearts, I could only think to go be alone to treasure all that I had seen before it somehow flitted away from my memory.

So I walked into our Education House’s schoolroom and sat atop a small cement half-wall that divides the rectangular room in two, trying to hide myself in the folds of Christ’s love while contemplating all that He is. As my eyes travelled to a newly pinned-up poster that our sister Jenae had taped on the wall above the whiteboard, I read it, lost in a rare sense of wonder, and could only let out a small breath, staring around the empty schoolroom and saying, “I can see you here. Lord, I can see you here.”

The quote, written in large, block letters on purple construction paper and sprinkled here and there with glitter, read: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)

My thoughts shifted and settled as I remembered one of many things that had happened that morning. A very precious neighbor of ours, a 13-year-old boy who comes from a poor agriculturalist family with about 10 or so siblings and who himself is the size of about an 8-year-old due to malnutrition, mentioned to me while I was clipping his hair that his dad had been offered a “chopping job” (mowing a large piece of terrain with noting more than a machete) for 1,000 Lempiras (which is the equivalent of about $50), he had completed the job after many days of labor (and as the only breadwinner in his family), and then the man who had hired him decided not to pay him.

These kinds of stories are not uncommon for our ears and hearts, although for me it was after having come from visiting a country that  can afford better care for its dogs than Honduras can for some of its children. I looked at him, my eyes asking the question that we both already knew the answer to, and he said matter-of-factly, “Yeah, we don’t have any food. We didn’t eat last night and haven’t eaten yet today.”

I then took my turn saying what we both already knew because it is now a rhythm of sharing and love that the Lord has etched among us, a deep rut within the selfishness of our souls where His vast, unmeasured love can flow freely: “You know breakfast will be ready shortly.”

“…And my mom asked if you would –”

“Yes. We’ll send home some food. Don’t worry.”

His undersized 10-year-old brother just received his haircut and two of his sisters are running around our home somewhere.

So last week as my husband and I walked up the long, rocky road to our home together for the first time in over three weeks, everything seemed a less brilliant shade of green, the rocks somehow seemed bigger, and I was hit with a sobering sensation of re-entering a very real battlefield in a hidden little corner of the world where life and death literally hang in the balance.

Sweat poured down my temples and I had to watch my steps so as not to land in a cow patty along the winding path, excitement pulsing through my veins to be seeing the kids for the first time in weeks, although also fully aware that long, demanding days and possibly sleepless nights laid ahead on this journey that has only just begun.

So that first night back home I bathed under cold water from our shower head that drips rather than sprays and laid down in our double-bed, dripping in sweat even though I had just come from the shower, and I remembered that He who has called us is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free in His love for us, and that even if I cannot sleep at night I can rest in Him.

730 Days

This morning I will be catching the 9:52am flight to Honduras after having been in the United States for the first time in two-and-a-half years. I had not been back since before Darwin and I started dating.

While talking on the phone with our 10-year-old daughter Gleny about a week ago, she told me that her school principal (whom we know very well due to all the letters she sends home about Gleny and Jason’s behavior, academic struggles and progress, etc!) told Gleny to greet me for her. Gleny’s response: “My mom’s not in Honduras right now. She’s visiting the United States to tell people about God and encourage them.”

So after having attended my old college roommate’s wedding, spending almost every night in a different home, and visiting with many people who support and pray for us along with old family, friends, and coaches, I hope that Gleny’s explanation of my purpose in visiting was, in fact, true.

Gleny also asked Darwin if I would be gone a year, which, of course, was not true. After having gone over with the kids various times and with great detail why I would be gone and for how long, I laughed when Darwin told me of Gleny’s latest exaggeration, and I asked to talk with her. Over the phone, I asked, “Gleny, did you really ask you dad if I’m going to be gone a year?”

Her response: “Well, you just need to come home already.”

So right now I’m on my way home. While I’ve been gone Josue turned seven years old and began his schooling in his special needs school, all three of our guard dogs died by tragic accident, our eldest daughter Dayana showed her paintings at a downtown display and was interviewed on television, the electricity and water in our home went out more times than anyone can count, our second-grade son Jason somehow had a huge turnaround in school and is now the leader of his class, our two eldest daughters graduated from a discipleship program in our sister Jenae’s church, I had my three-year anniversary since moving to Honduras, Darwin was able to finally contract a new trash-collector after our previous one broke his contract and avoided all phone calls (and visits to his home!) after having not come to pick up our trash for over two months, and Darwin has somehow survived as a single dad for over 20 days.

Today is actually our two-year wedding anniversary, so today I will treasure in my heart all that the Lord has done in this journey of 730 days. I will treasure in my heart the fact that the Lord has called us together as a family, that amidst the heaps of trash along the dirt road to our home and the daily difficulties we face in our life in this small corner of the world, the only Living God is working out a miracle of cosmic proportions in the lives of a few average people who’ve said “Yes.”

 

Broken America: A Few Reflections Written on a Greyhound Bus

11:57am, Friday, June 5, 2015

As I write this I am rolling through the Midwest on a Greyhound bus toward Springfield, Missouri to be a bridesmaid in my college roommate’s wedding. I have ridden buses in many foreign countries, but I think this is my first time on a large bus in my native land.

Exchanging the scenery, language, and general level of hygiene, the despair among my fellow passengers is not so different from that of so many in Honduras.

In the bus terminal waiting area an obese Caucasian man of about 30 years began playing an arcade game designed for preteens, and when he didn’t get the prize he wanted, he stormed away from the lit-up game, telling his girlfriend, “Baby, honey, f*** that machine. I’m not wasting anymore quarters there.” I was stunned and saddened by his level of anger toward something so insignificant.

Now, as I sit in seat 31 on the bus, a very short young man with blonde shaggy hair a couple rows in front of me called several people on his cell-phone and began a vicious diatribe using all kinds of profanity at full-volume while his young girlfriend slept with her head on his lap. He wears a t-shirt that says, “All I do is win.”

I wonder if he believes that.

Moments ago he went off the chain with a line of cuss words when he inadvertently hit his funny bone on the armrest, and now he is brushing his girlfriend’s hair with a bright blue brush.

I am not making fun of, defending or judging these people; I am merely observing my fellow countrymen after having been away for so long.

I believe riding a Greyhound bus is a good way to see many Americans that otherwise get pushed out of our radar; they don’t exactly fit in with high school varsity football players and respectable middle-class business people. And in a country where so many people have their own cars or travel long-distance on planes, a Greyhound bus is a good place to see those who don’t have such privileges.

The majority of the dozens of people I’ve seen thus far this morning in the bus terminal and now en route have looked very unhealthy, overweight, and angry. I imagine that many of them have grown up on McDonalds, reality television, broken dreams, and not much else.

Now he’s brushing his own hair with the bright blue brush and jumping up and down giddily in his seat. I wonder when he’ll start screaming again.

So I’m not sure where to take this train of thought, other than to say that it’s not Honduras that’s broken or the down-and-out Americans; I could probably board any bus in Slovakia or South Africa or Russia and find these same people – some white, others black, some brown, each with an undeniably unique story, yet each marked by the same void: a void of Truth, of the transformative knowledge that there is a Just, Merciful God, that there is a way into His Kingdom, and that He desires to begin transforming us into His likeness right now, whether we are blue-collar workers, struggling single moms or unemployed rejects. Maybe these people have never heard it or maybe they have and they rejected it; who knows. Maybe they grew up tossed around the foster system, never knowing love, or maybe they stormed out on good, stable homes.

So I imagine the obese arcade-playing man as a young child, a baby even, and wonder if someone had come into his life to teach him the Way, to guide him into the Good Shepherd’s arms, day after day after day, if things maybe would have turned out differently. I see the shaggy-haired blonde kid with too-long jeans and see him as a rejected third grader who was put on the teacher’s ‘bad list,’ while he went home each night to his alcoholic mother because dad was in prison, and I wonder if maybe his vocabulary could be different – edifying, uplifting – if somewhere along the line someone came alongside him to teach him about the God who transforms us, who exchanges rage for self-control and self-loathing for joy.

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, but I trust in a God who does. As He is giving me new eyes to see, I come to understand more and more each day why Jesus was a man well-acquainted with sorrow: How could He not be?

Creation — even in today’s polluted, concrete world — is dripping with God’s glory, with the divine fingerprint – Just look out the window at the herds of cattle as they somber peacefully through endless green meadows! And the crazy part is that we were placed here as His image-bearers, specially designed to contain His glory in a way that no other created thing can.

And when we don’t fulfill our purpose, when we miss out on our destiny as heirs to the Kingdom, adopted sons and daughters of the King?

We place our worth in arcade games and spew profanity on buses, eating our way to an unattainable happiness, wondering why we can’t win at life.