Happy New Year to each of you! May we all be intent on seeking God’s perfect will for our lives, families and workplaces in this new season. I hope each of you enjoyed a restful and fruitful holiday season alongside your loved ones and that the new year of 2022 brings with it new heights and depths of wisdom, conviction, revival and God-given purpose in each of our lives.
Through this post I extend our sincere gratitude to those who prayed for and financially supported this grassroots ministry in 2021. We thank God for your partnership and friendship, and we want you to know that the scope and effectiveness of this humble work is able to increase and multiply due to your faithful generosity. Thank you!
In this post I will share with you several edifying anecdotes from our annual December break as a family in which we were able to take a small sabbatical from our ongoing service in our school and local community (without ever leaving Honduras!). I hope that some of the ideas presented herein might prove insightful and maybe even be applied to your own families as you see fit.
Sincerely, Jennifer (for Darwin and family/ministry)
Foster Family Diary
December 9, 2021: My husband and I sat down with our 6 foster teenagers to prayerfully write down our short- and long-term goals. Our 13-year-old special needs son (who cannot read or write) happily got to work “writing down his goals” right alongside everyone else. At the end of the activity when each person shared, he “read” his goals confidently: go jogging every day, learn more Bible verses, give thanks each day and take the dog for a walk(all things he already does on a daily basis). Hurrah for Josue’s admirable goals!
December 13, 2021: This Christmas season my husband and I are making a concerted effort to do more “mini-adventures” as a family. My chronic insomnia has oftentimes kept us from being more active with our foster kids, but we have decided to make more of an intentional effort to spend quality time together lately in spite of the circumstances or difficulties. Eight years into the parenting journey, all of our foster kids are now teenagers who will soon grow up and have lives of their own. We thank God for these precious treasures He has blessed us with, and we’re determined to create loving memories with them for God’s glory.
December 21, 2021:With the support and encouragement of our daughters and a dear friend, I have recently begun the arduous task of translating my book into Spanish. At first my (breakneck!) speed was one page per hour, but now I’ve hit a stride and am up to two pages per hour! I hope to be able to share with the Latin American community our testimony of life, faith and lessons learned in the Lord that are presented through my book. Pray that the Lord would grant me perseverance and diligence in this monumental task!
December 22, 2021: During these few weeks of family vacation from work and school, my husband set a goal for himself to paint more. (He’s never been enrolled in art classes – it’s a new talent he’s wanting to develop!) The other day a couple of our kids were busy happily painting and drawing around our dining room table with a local friend of theirs, and Darwin got right into the mix with them for several hours! Way to go, Pa!
December 26, 2021: All of our foster teenagers (except our special needs son) are getting their toes wet out in the “real world” engaging in various work-related learning experiences this holiday season. (They earn a dailypay of 4-8 dollars for 8+ hours of work. Such is the typical minimum wage in the developing world.) One of our girls is working as a babysitter and assistant bread-maker; another is working in sales at a local clothing store. Two of our teens are working voluntarily with a local family that butchers and sells chickens for a living. We are so proud of their consistency and integrity in the workplace! 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “…Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands…” and Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”
December31, 2021: Our “family challenge” this month was for each person to read five books that they had never read before. Surprisingly, five of our teenage sons and daughters accepted the challenge and read an incredible variety of edifying books throughout December! Way to go, readers! We’ve also begun reading through the entire Bible as a family each morning, beginning in Genesis. We invite you to join the challenge!
My book that was published in 2021 is available on Amazon. If you are interested in acquiring several copies to sell in your church’s bookstore, in your workplace or among your loved ones, you can contact me directly to arrange a bulk shipment:
I send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) in Honduras. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! I hope this blog post finds each of you well and thriving in the Lord and that you are able to maintain hope, peace and high moral standards during these uncertain, yet promising times. Please know that we pray for you regularly and likewise thank God for your prayers, support and friendship.
In our little corner of the world, earlier this month we wrapped up our official school and ministry activities for 2021 as the Honduran academic calendar comes to a close in early December. Ever since taking over the position of fifth-grade homeroom teacher in July in our small grassroots mission school, my schedule had taken on additional weight and responsibility (not to mention untold joys). Our small, dedicated staff of Honduran professionals called to serve as Christian missionaries on their own soil have prospered greatly this year as they labored alongside us week after week for God’s glory. We are blessed to serve alongside of them again in 2022 (all will be returning). Over the years they’ve come to be a precious extended family to us and much-needed support network in this deeply personal, spiritual work that we’ve been called to. On a personal level, my involvement with our 40+ students this calendar year through teaching, discipleship and mentorship was perhaps more intense and at the same time more rewarding than ever.
We are grateful that the pandemic and all its restrictions and inconveniences did not hinder our face-to-face ministry this year. It was, in fact, perhaps our most productive and organized year since our inception in 2013 (although not without a great share of difficulties and trials along the way). We ask for your prayers for this month of December, as we are currently dedicating more time to our marriage, patchwork family and individual walk with the Lord as we take a much-needed annual break from ministry activities to our local community. Our special-needs foster son (now age 13) is back in our home for three months while his grandma is away working during the Christmas season, so we are thus taking extra care to tend to his needs in addition to our other 5 foster teens in our home 24/7 ages 13-18. We are still overcoming the fact that our relationship of over four years with one of our beloved foster daughters disintegrated last month as we had to ask her to leave our home due to many dangerous behaviors that she was unwilling to change. Two of our other daughters graduated high school in early December, so we likewise solicit your prayers for wisdom and the Lord’s direction over their future.
We are a non-profit ministry supported by individuals, families, small businesses and churches both here in Honduras and around the world. If you would like to make a yearend tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to live out the gospel on Honduran soil and impact many lives with biblical employment, Christian education and an opportunity at living in a stable, God-fearing family, you can go to the following website to make a one-time or recurring monthly donation to partner with us in this work: www.CTEN.org/JenniferZilly
We send you our warm greetings from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. Below is quite an extensive album of photos displaying our daily life and ministry in our hidden corner of the world. To God be all the glory, and we sincerely thank those who pray for and financially support this ongoing mission to teach, parent and disciple Honduran youth in Jesus’ name.
God bless you! Thank you for allowing us to share!
Greetings to all from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras.
I’m relieved to inform you that the political crisis has calmed down a bit lately, and the roads have been open with no noticeable protests for the last several weeks. We continue to pray that peace and justice might prevail in Honduras and that God might grant our leaders true wisdom so as to effect God-honoring, long-term solutions for this hurting nation.
Below I share with you a diverse set of photos (and detailed explanations!) from our daily life of service in this little corner of the world…
God bless you, and thank you for your continued prayers and support. Please pray that the Lord might increasingly shine His light through us and that many might come to repentance and saving faith in Christ through this hidden yet faithful work.
Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission
PS — Please feel free to contact me directly at JenniferZillyCanales@yahoo.com if you would like to share any personal prayer requests with me and/or reach out with any questions, suggestions or concerns.
Yesterday my husband Darwin went into the city with 6 of our foster children for a day of dentist visits, music classes and errands, leaving me on our rural ministry homestead with two of our foster children. From time to time we like to divide our eight foster kids up into smaller groups so that they get more individualized attention, so this turned out to be one such occasion. A couple weeks ago Darwin took our three boys on a ‘man date’ to pray for the sick and then eat ice cream together, and he took one of our girls on a one-on-one afternoon date in the city not too long ago, which made her feel very special. This time my little group was composed of quite an interesting combination of people: one of our new teen girls who moved in with us about six months ago, and our 9-year-old special needs son who has lived with us over three years.
Thanks to the addition of a new Honduran teacher/missionary a couple months ago who now helps with the teaching, administrative and discipleship load my husband and I share with our small team at the Living Waters Ranch, I’ve been relieved of many of the administrative tasks that used to dominate my time. It has always been a fine line of being an available stay-at-home mom for our kids while also balancing the responsibilities entrusted to me to direct, evangelize and teach in our little mission and the surrounding community. Thus, with the addition of our new team member the balance of service-in-the-home and service-to-the-community has been made easier for me and has allowed me more stress-free time with our kids for God’s glory.
So, we enjoyed a completely spontaneous day of agricultural activities and physical work, something I don’t normally participate in (because in recent years I’ve been ‘too busy’). We each slapped on a pair of black rubber boots (the cultural sign of a Honduran who’s ready to work in the field), we grabbed three rusty machetes and began traipsing around our rural property under the blistering sun engaging in untold adventures. There were no schedules and no rush. We were simply enjoying being together (our strange tribe of three) while simultaneously rejoicing in the breathtakingly beautiful creation our Father has placed so close to us. We ended up investigating native plants, exploring the creek behind our property (and I nearly fell into a rather deep part when I precariously tried to cross the waters via a broken tree limb that looked a lot stronger than it was), cooking from scratch in our temporarily-outdoor kitchen on our porch, taking care of our bunnies, planting a few plants, watering them, and doing various physical-labor chores around our property.
It was a sweaty, peaceful day as we truly loved one another and reveled in the beauty of the Creator, much as I imagine Adam and Eve did in the garden so many years ago — blessed, uninterrupted enjoyment of Father God, His creation, and one another.
Near the end of our day together, it occurred to me to take out our little digital camera and take a few photos together. At first they were very shy and unenthused, but after a few shots they really got into it. We even taught Josue how to hold the camera and take (somewhat off-kilter) shots!
Enjoy our rather simple yet joyful photos of a momma called by God and her precious little ones (who aren’t so little). God bless you!
Several weeks ago after a busied trip into the city to do those errands that never end, on my way back home I turned off the main highway and took the drive into one of those dangerous neighborhoods where they say you have to pass with your windows down so that the gang lords can identify who comes and goes.
In this particular neighborhood we’ve come and gone dozens of times visiting different people, so I rolled my windows down without a second thought and began making my way carefully over the neglected pavement eaten up by so many potholes.
I turned down one side road and then another, pulling to a stop in front of a small collection of homes, although I couldn’t remember which one it was. I hopped out – I believe it was raining on that particular day – and knocked on the door of a blue-colored house. I thought that was the right house, anyway. Blue.
A woman opened the door with wide eyes, unsure who I was and what my business was. I immediately realized I had knocked on the wrong door. I quickly apologized and asked if she knew which home belonged to the woman I was looking for. She knew. Two houses down, she told me.
I jumped over puddles, my bright blue rain-jacket shielding my blouse from the falling raindrops. Two houses down, also a blue house. At least I got the blue part right.
I stooped on the tiny porch, taking the hood of my rain-jacket down under the cover of the roof above. All the windows were closed and there was no sound coming from inside. It looked like no one was home, especially in this culture where people who are home have their doors and windows open, several people lounging on the porch or washing clothes in the front yard and occasionally high-volume music blasting from some stereo.
I knocked once and waited, then again and waited. As I was about to turn and leave, the door opened, ever so slowly, and a woman’s gaze met mine. At first she looked like she suspected trouble – frightened and ready to close the door immediately – but as she recognized me her countenance immediately changed and a genuine smile, albeit a surprised one, overtook her tired face.
We embraced one another as we have on so many other occasions and she quickly let me pass the threshold.
“And the kids?” Her face brightened even more as she glanced behind me, waiting to see her special-needs son and teenage daughter.
I apologized for not having brought them with me (alas, they are always with us!) and told her that the purpose of my surprise visit was not a once-per-month visit between our foster children and their biological family members but rather a visit between two adult women, between she and I.
This definitely caught her off guard, as we’ve never done such a thing in our three years of knowing one another, but she quickly accepted and showed me where to sit in the completely quiet, still home with all of its windows firmly shut. As I sat on the only couch in the living room, rather than sitting across the small room in one of the arm chairs she commented on how she preferred to be closer and sat not two feet from me on that couch. It felt right and natural.
What ensued was a free-flowing conversation that lasted over an hour between Josue and Jackeline’s mom and myself.
For months – years perhaps – the idea of becoming more involved with this woman has been floating around our hearts and minds, swelling up and speaking out at different times. More than once we’ve considered aloud between my husband and I providing this down-and-out shut-in a part-time job with us and a new start. When her two precious children first moved in with us back in January 2015 their stay in our home was meant to be a temporary solution until she could find a steady job and place to live. Three to four months they had told us. Well, a few months has turned into a few years, and she’s been unable to find any kind of stable work or place to stay. The news has always been the same, and her situation – as much economic as emotional and spiritual – has been stagnant if not declining, and up until now we really didn’t know what move to make, if any.
Employ an emotionally unstable woman who probably desperately needs a counselor in our home working with at-risk kids? Is that really a good idea? But have not many people – not only children and teens but adults as well – come to know the Lord alongside of us, and could us being more involved in her life and showing her God’s love on a more regular basis not possibly lead to her salvation and renewal? If her kids’ lives are worth the risk and investment, is not hers as well?
So that idea (without any concrete answers) had been floating around our consciousness for quite some time when our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline (who is this woman’s biological daughter) came to me out of the blue – as she oftentimes does – and informed me with great conviction that Darwin and I should give her mom a job. She and her mother have never gotten along well and still have a pretty tumultuous relationship, but she informed me through tears, “I just want my mom to know Jesus.”
So that was all it took. I talked with Darwin, and we sensed that it was finally time to act. I would go to her house unannounced (because her cellphone no longer worked so we had no way to call) and I would propose the idea to her: a healthy way out of unemployment, more physical closeness with her children, being included perhaps for the first time in her life in a loving, vibrant Christian community and hopefully a drawing near to Christ as well.
One of those very familiar questions began to show itself in my mind: Do we have the finances to provide a job for her—? before it was quickly dismissed. After all, God has called us to do many crazy things over these last few years, and He’s always provided a way to make it happen.
Well, the details of our in-depth conversation have since been lost on me, but I do know one thing: the Lord did send me there that day, and He did use me to listen to a very broken woman who desperately needs loving companionship and a new start in life. I said little; she spoke much. Several times throughout our conversation I reached across the little couch to pat her shoulder as she shared with me her struggles. Several times she mentioned her belief that only God could help her; that she had been flirting with Satan too long and that it was time to make a change and give her life over to God. I continued to listen, hope swelling in my chest.
She mentioned her kids many times – which strangely enough are also my kids now. It was surreal listening to this mother who desperately loves these same kids whom I have grown to dearly love. Toward the end of our conversation I walked over to a coffee table in the small house – her sister’s house where she’s been living in a spare room for several months – and saw an 8’ x 10’ photo of now-14-year-old Jackeline when she was a toddler. This woman holds the memories of the kids when they were little, and the memories from these last three years have largely been made with us. Between us there was no sense of competition or anger but rather of gratitude and deep respect from both parties. Surely God had orchestrated this whole thing.
So I left, and she said she would call me in the next few weeks once a family situation was resolved to see if she could come serve alongside of us two days per week. Serve in what capacity, I had no idea, but Darwin and I were ready to step out into the unknown as God was in the process of preparing just one more miracle of life and redemption.
Our initial conversation was several weeks ago. Yesterday was Momma Ingrid’s first day of work. We can say that it was lacking in any drama and full of spiritual blessing. She arrived on time, quite timid but ready to participate. Many years ago she was a secretary in a bank (a prestigious job in this society where many people are illiterate and do hard labor for a living) before falling on hard times and bad decisions, so we decided to make her our official secretary at the Living Waters Ranch (a job that never before existed). Darwin worked with her a couple hours in the office that all of our staff share in order to show her the ropes, and she joyfully went about with general office tasks for the rest of the day. She saw her kids throughout the day, participated in Bible study and prayer group in the morning, and smiled more than she normally does. Several times throughout the day she told Darwin and I that she doesn’t need to get paid; she’s just happy to help and see her kids. We listened, thanked her for her thoughtfulness and willingness to serve but assured her that we will be paying her.
She’ll be coming back again on Wednesday.
And so, yesterday at 3:00pm as I left our home with all of our teachers and Momma Ingrid piled in our old pickup truck to go drop everyone off after a long day’s work, Momma Ingrid didn’t go home to her sister’s vacant house.
Geraldina, a woman in her early 30s (just like Momma Ingrid) who was in a similar position as her not two years ago – her teenage daughter Sandra had come to live with us until her mom could get back on her feet – will be voluntarily hosting Momma Ingrid (who she just met yesterday for the first time) in her home as an act of radical Christian hospitality to the downtrodden for love of God.
Yes, an illiterate single mom of four who has suffered hunger, abuse and rejection who now works with us full-time and is learning to read and write for the first time – who went against all cultural norms and left behind her abusive husband in order to get her daughter back and even build her own wooden home! – will be extending an arm of charity and love to a woman not so different from herself.
Is it not the rich who help the poor, the powerful who help the weak?
Not this time.
So yesterday in our pickup truck after dropping all our teachers off and Momma Ingrid at Geraldina’s home, I turned to 17-year-old Sandra (Geraldina’s daughter) who sat in the passenger’s seat right next to me. She lived in our home for almost a year and continues being like a daughter to Darwin and I, and we get to see her everyday now that our community homeschool program started its 2018 classes a couple weeks ago. I patted her leg and asked sincerely, “What do you think about having Momma Ingrid live in your house?”
I was expecting her to hesitate or to comment that she was nervous about having an emotionally broken woman in her personal space, but she piped up, “It was my idea!”
My jaw must have dropped down to the floorboard as I sputtered – “Wha–?” I was definitely not expecting her to say that.
“Yeah. When Jackeline mentioned to us that Momma Ingrid would be working at the Ranch and had nowhere to stay, I told my mom that we should receive her in our home. Last year in Bible study you encouraged all of us to receive the homeless and broken in our homes as a way of ministering to Christ and, well, we’re gonna start with her.”
Goosebumps ran through my body even as they do now as I remember yesterday’s events and type this all down. Are not the poor – are not Sandra and her mom, Geraldina, people themselves who have known deep poverty their whole lives — to wallow in self-pity or look for some scheme to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’? But – to forsake their own poverty (the thousands of legitimate excuses they could have to explain why they couldn’t possibly take Momma Ingrid in, especially as no one was asking them to do so!) and to extend a hand of loving hope – even receiving her in their own humble home! – yes, that is God’s work among us.
So, Momma Ingrid spent her fist night in Sandra and Geraldina’s home last night in our rural neighborhood, and we’ll be seeing her again tomorrow as she comes up for her second day of work. Please give thanks to God with us for Sandra and Geraldina’s walk of faith and obedience as they are receiving a woman they have no relation to into their home, and pray with us blessings of harmony, service and humble love among them as they figure out how to live together. God bless you.
Friday we finished up our last day of regular classes, Bible study and dynamic group activities as the Honduran school year is coming to a close. In the ensuing days there has been much cleaning out of classrooms and office spaces, great administrative effort to close up the year well, and the moving of furniture from one little building to another to convert our primary schoolhouse into a quaint (and rather bare) guesthouse/multi-purpose building for our vacation time.
On Monday we had our last official meeting with our small but extremely devoted team of Honduran teachers/missionaries to pray together and wrap everything up logistically. But, rather than it just being the 7 of us sitting in a circle in one of our classrooms to direct the usual meeting, we had a special guest. One of our male students who has just completed his first full year of classes and discipleship with us at the Living Waters Ranch had asked permission to come to the all-adult meeting in order to share his testimony and thank us for leading him to the Lord. We’ve known him on and off for nearly four years, and he’s always been extremely timid and seemingly on the verge of joining a gang or escaping illegally to the United States. (Alas, he was one of the local vagabonds last year who mocked our students who got baptized in the river near his home! Look at all the Lord has done in him since!)
This particular young man is on the cusp of turning 18 years old and is just now finishing 7th grade. He sat in our midst in his skinny jeans with a soccer shirt and metal chain hanging casually from around his neck. On the outside, he looked like any other male teen in our area, but his eyes were aglow with life, with joy, and you could sense he was at total peace. As we each greeted him warmly at the beginning of the meeting, asking him how he felt, he kept shaking his head back and forth with a huge smile on his face (not typical of any male teen around these parts), and said more than once, “I’m just so happy about all the changes that are going on inside of me…”
All eyes trained on him – alas, this was the first time any of our students had asked permission to come to one of our planning meetings in order to share their testimony! – he began speaking, full of confidence and wisdom, as he ended up pouring his heart out for nearly an hour about how his relationship with Christ has completely changed his entire perspective. We knew this to be true as we had seen a dramatic transformation in him after many, many seeds of truth were sown in him through our Bible studies, prayer groups, individual counsel and encouragement with Darwin and Erick, and his 7th grade teacher’s spiritual investment in his life everyday in the classroom. His heart had gone from cold and disinterested to burning hot for God, and just a few weeks ago he made the decision to give his life to the Lord. He spoke with great joy and accuracy about how he used to be a vagabond; used to live totally immersed in sexual sin; used to not love his brothers and parents (and much less his enemies); used to fear the many dangerous men who roam about our neighborhood (without fearing the Lord). Now, knowing Christ and fully experiencing God’s love for him, his whole life is changing. Now he expresses love and gratitude to his family members; he asks forgiveness when he’s sinned; he listens to praise music rather than worldly music; he longs for his life to bear good fruit for God’s glory; and he loves to be close to God’s Word. If I were to write everything he said, it would take pages. In short, God radically changed the course of this young man’s life, and He is now using him as a Godly influence to reach other teens in our neighborhood with the message of Christ (not to mention his immediate family who is directly impacted by the life of God now in him).
That definitely makes every ounce of effort worth it (and leads us to give thanks to God for making all those little seeds – however imperfectly they were sown – take root and grow)!
And so today is our official celebration day as each of our students and their families will come over for an entire afternoon of year-end presentations and activities, including choir performances, a 2-mile road race involving the local community, a PowerPoint presentation of all the photos we’ve taken this year, and several other musical and dance performances by our students. At the end of the event, our students will receive their official report cards, and then we won’t see the majority of them again until January (if, in fact, they decide to continue studying with us next year).
This is a sentimental and slightly delicate time of year emotionally, as we know that a handful of the students whom we love will not be returning next year. For some, they never caught the vision or aren’t willing to persevere long enough for God to begin to work in their lives; for others, they prefer to attend the local public high school where corruption abounds and it is much easier to slip under the radar without having done much work at all. Despite our earnest, repeated efforts to seek out and encourage the lost sheep, there were over a dozen local youth who dropped out throughout the course of the year. We see them now roaming our rural neighborhood largely as vagabonds without any direction, and we always greet them warmly and remind them that they have an open door here if they should ever decide to return.
We understand that just about everything that is taught and lived here at the Living Waters Ranch is very counter-cultural (and goes against the general worldly stream as a whole), so on the one hand we are really surprised and grateful that so many of our students have been granted the divine wisdom and dogged willingness to want to participate at all! (Now that’s a good perspective to have! Praise God!)
We are officially ending our second school year of discipleship-based community homeschool with 35 full-time students, 5 part-time students and our special-needs foster son Josue, who serves as everyone’s ‘assistant’ and best friend. Several of our more faithful students have communicated enthusiastically to Darwin and me that no matter what, they’ll be back next year to continue growing in Christ with us and acquiring a vast array of academic and life skills. That makes our heart grow in joy and gratitude, as we earnestly desire to walk long-term with each of the youth under our care, not only the 10 who live with us as sons and daughters but also those from our local neighborhood who spend the majority of their daytime hours in our home and classrooms.
And so, today we will say goodbye and enter a new (albeit very short) season of vacation from the typical community hospitality and teaching we participate in 10-11 months of the year. Our local teachers/missionaries and students will have free time to spend with their families and continue to grow in God’s will as Darwin and I will work privately at the ongoing task of taming our 10 foster kids/teens with God’s love.
In these next few days Darwin has many choir events back-to-back as he will be shuttling his young singers all over the place to spread joy and sing hymns. Erick, one of the local missionaries who labors alongside of us, has great plans to take the teenagers who participate in the youth group he hosts in his home (several of which are our foster children) to a local prison to minister to the prisoners and – on another occasion – to downtown La Ceiba to pray for the homeless and drug-addicts. Several of our older teens also have plans to visit the poor and sick in our neighborhood during their vacation time as they seek to bless Christ in disguise.
Sandra, the local teen who lived with us for a season before returning to live with her mother, will be coming up to our home almost daily to give one-on-one literacy classes to her mom, who due to extreme poverty and social disadvantage never learned to read and write. Our daughter Jackeline will likewise be giving intensive math tutoring classes to our two new daughters (Carolina, 15 and Paola, 14) in the hope of getting them up to speed for next school year. Several of our foster teens, two of our teachers and I will be heading out of town to attend a Christian youth conference this weekend, and on Monday we’ll be receiving a visit from a very special friend and missionary who has been serving in Honduras over 25 years. Then my dad comes down for several days (which our kids are especially stoked about).
During these vacation times we will continue to wash our clothes by hand; between all 12 of us we’ll take turns cooking family meals 2-3 times a day; and we’ll continue to ask for God’s grace as we learn to love Him and one another.
Although I feel that I have more to write now than ever, I will most likely take a break from maintaining the blog in December as I devote myself more fully to the cultivation of our children and our relationship with Christ, especially because our kids will not be in classes and will need me to be more fully present.
Thank you to all of you who read this blog and keep us in your prayers before the Lord. For those who are wondering about my ongoing healing from chronic insomnia, it is still a daily battle. In addition to my natural supplements, I have begun taking a strong prescription sleeping aid that does help me get a full night’s sleep, but it leaves me feeling drugged and dizzy all the next day. If I don’t take it, I don’t sleep. If I do, then I feel really weird the whole next day. (So I’m left to choose the lesser of two evils).
Please continue to pray for my integral health, sincere love and joy in our marriage (amidst many daily commitments which sometimes put great pressure on our relationship), and God’s protection over our lives and property. There is much to be thankful for. He has done mighty things this year. Praise God!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. God bless you.
In these last few weeks many surprising turns have been taken deep within the souls of those in our household, not the least of which I will tell of on this post.
In our community Bible study, where we gather with our 10 foster kids, our dedicated team of local teachers/missionaries, and roughly 30 local children and teens to study God’s word together and sing His praises four mornings per week, we have been drilling hard (as in, going deep) on exactly what Christ meant when He said that anyone who wishes to be His follower must deny themselves, take up their cross (die), and follow in His footsteps.
Those words Christ spoke to His first disciples so many years ago are probably well-known by most Christians and may even be included in the list of general Bible verses we all memorize and recite without thinking twice how to actually live it.
So, we gather in our concrete-floored rustic dining room with the panoramic mountains behind us to dig deep into just what that means. What does it mean to really die to ego, to really let go of our own personal desires — however painful and scary it may be – in order to fully embrace Christ and the fullness of His teachings, His radical lifestyle? After all, to consider oneself a Christ-follower is in essence to actually follow Christ and what He taught.
How do we ‘die’ to our ego in daily life? What does this actually look like? And – dare we ask – can anyone truly follow Christ without this element of death-to-ego? Can anyone claim to call Christ Savior without recognizing Him also as Lord, as He who commands life’s decisions and attitudes? How do we go beyond memorizing or simply hearing this verse to actually living it out, to living a crucified life in the flesh (in order to enjoy a resurrected life with Christ, even now in part in the midst of this fallen world)?
These are the questions we’ve been asking, and God has been leading us to the answers.
With the arrival of our two newest daughters (now becoming 7 young women in our household ages 10-17, all of whom come from traumatic backgrounds and are on the long road toward total healing in Christ) two more precious balls have been added to our daily juggling routine. We had placed our two new arrivals together in a room with Dayana, Jackeline and Gleny, which had unintentionally cultivated a nightly ‘sleepover party’ environment, creating a huge imbalance in our household (and much noise and squealing late into the night). On the one hand Darwin and I were thrilled that all of our girls were getting along so well (that had been one of our fervent prayer requests prior to Paola and Carolina’s arrival, as with any new arrivals in our home there tends to be a period of adjustment, potential conflict, etc as everyone finds out all over again where they belong on the totem pole). On the other hand, we felt that is was unfair that one of our girls’ rooms (the one with the 5 teens) was enjoying a little too much fun each night while the other room (where two of our younger girls, Josselyn and developmentally-challenged Gabriela, biological sisters) oftentimes felt left out and destined to frustrating nights of solitude.
Although all of this may seem so trivial to the outsider’s eye, this backstory and understanding of our household layout is vital if you are to truly appreciate the ensuing events.
In our household this imbalance of sisterhood had wedged itself deep in my consciousness, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed to move at least one of our girls from the ‘sleepover party’ room into the room with only 2 girls, both to achieve more nightly quietness and also in favor of cultivating more balanced friendships (instead of 2 against 5). This thought bothered me for several days, and one day as I left one of our bi-weekly planning and prayer meetings with our local teachers/missionaries, I crossed the threshold into our home and felt the Lord guide me to go talk with Jackeline, our 14-year-old daughter who has been living with us alongside of her special-needs brother since January 2015.
I knocked on the wooden doorframe of her bedroom and asked if I could come in. She quickly passed me through, and I found her sitting on the top bunk of one of the two wooden bunkbeds, peacefully folding a huge pile of clothes. Our other girls were busy with piano practices and other household chores, so it seemed that I found her at a good time.
Feeling uneasy about the whole female rooming situation as it was and inclined toward some kind of action (but still not knowing which to take, plus it is never easy to be the bearer of what our girls would take to be bad news), I approached Jackeline and simply asked her to pray for me. She listened attentively while I explained to her my frustrations – how I felt it necessary to move one of the girls out of her room, not due to any kind of punishment but just o bring a bit more balance to our household.
She listened sincerely to my initial frustrations as I vented as I would with a wise friend (alas, God is making Jackeline into a very wise young woman), but she began resisting and even crying when I mentioned the fact that I was seriously considering splitting up her roommates and moving one of them into the ‘undesirable’ room (alas, everyone knows that to room with Gaby is less than delightful, for she wets the bed at night and has many strange and annoying behaviors that even her own biological sister cannot stand). She oftentimes speaks obscenities to her own sister, gets into her sister’s belongings, and lacks basic common sense after having suffered a childhood of prolonged sexual abuse and other mistreatments. Her healing in Christ is definitely occurring, but perhaps not as quickly as any of us would humanly like. Surely – speaking frankly – to room with Gaby is to suffer a certain kind of death to the teenage ego.
Worry crossed Jackeline’s face as she was undoubtedly pondering all the implications of any of her roommates having to begin rooming with Gaby and Josselyn, and she began saying, “No, Ma – you can’t move any of us out of our room. We all get along so well! Please…it’s not fair…It’s not fair.” She began shaking her head back and forth as she communicated several times – and very respectfully – that she was completely opposed to the idea of any one of her beloved roommates being moved out of the ‘party room’ and into the much more boring (and physically smaller) room where Gaby and Josselyn sleep. Time and again – literally for about 20 minutes or so – we openly discussed the idea as I sought her ideas for how to bring more equality to the living situation, and each time she resisted any thought of her or her roommates being split up.
I patted her leg and stroked her feet as she sat perched above me on the top bunk, me standing in front of her, my upper body resting against the bunk’s top rungs. We were communicating lovingly and respectfully, although we were completely at odds. We both knew that Darwin and I would have the final say in the matter, but just the same I wanted her input and for some reason felt that she was the one to consult with.
I continued probing and carefully explaining my reasons for wanting to make some kind of room shift – for love of Josselyn and Gaby, who oftentimes feel left out, etc – and she kept resisting, saying, “I hope I’m not the one to be moved, because Josselyn and I don’t even get along! And, the whole time I’ve lived here I’ve never slept in another room…It’s just not fair!” I kept listening and sharing, as did she, but we were getting nowhere and she was just getting more visibly upset and she kept crying.
During this initial part of our conversation two or three of her roommates walked in the room to drop something off or grab their shoes, etc, and they glanced over at Jackeline and I – she and I completely at peace and even showing physical affection as I kept stroking her feet but at the same time Jackeline distraught and with tears pouring down her face. Her roommates looked concerned but at the same time at peace, as emotional conversations (charged with God’s love and a respectful listening ear) are very common in our household and always – without fail – bring about a good result.
Then, out of nowhere, Jackeline said – still through tears but suddenly calmer – “I’ll go.”
As far as I was concerned, she might as well have said, “I’ll die.”
I blinked and my head instinctively snapped backward a couple inches. My mind went blank. I asked, “What –?”
She continued, suddenly steady as a rock: “I’ll be the one to move to the other room. Something inside of me tells me that I’m the one that’s supposed to go.”
A peaceful, beautiful silence fell over us for a moment as I recognized that the Lord had spoken to Jackeline’s heart – completely unbeknownst to me as an outsider far removed from the inner workings of her soul – and that she had not only listened to that still, small voice (that voice that instructed her to do that which her ego desperately wanted to avoid at all costs), but she had also obeyed.
I just stared at her for several moments, feeling as though I had never been more proud of her. This is what it means to follow Christ in the nitty-gritty – in the mundane – of daily life! Rather than conserve your life, lose it for His sake. Rather than seek personal gain (or comfort, or security), let go of your own desires and humble yourself for love’s sake. Consider others better than yourself. Humility. Genuine love of others, even those who are hardest to love. Renounce your life for Christ; die to what you want in order to live for what God wants. Not my will, but Yours be done.
And so I asked carefully – feeling like I was tip-toeing on holy ground, fully cognizant of the fact that God was unspeakably near – if I could sit up on the top bunk next to her. Through tears she indicated for me to climb up. Now she experienced tears not of the fear that I would break up her nightly slumber party but tears of loss that she herself would be the one to go (and not because we had chosen her but because the Lord of hosts had).
And so I sat next to her on that top bunk with my long legs hanging over the edge of the railings as I stretched out my arm and she immediately leaned in and buried her head in my embrace, now weeping harder than before. We stayed like that for a long time, and I thanked God in my heart for this marvelous work He is doing in young Jackeline’s life.
That day our conversation ended up stretching close to two hours as everyone else in our household went about their daily business of cleaning, doing homework, playing in our front yard, etc. God – in that hidden place, in that little nook of a bedroom atop that top bunk in the most unlikeliest of souls – had done what I believe to be the most impressive and supernatural work that can occur in any human’s life – that of listening to the voice of the living God and following it (especially when it goes against all that we want and desire). Jackeline had just experienced – perhaps truly for the first time – what it means to really die to ego (and not a graceful, painless death, but rather a bloody, gruesome kind of death that only the cross can inflict). The Lord had really spoken to our daughter, and she had heeded! Truly there is no greater work in the soul of mankind, no greater proof of faith.
And so from there – once she calmed down and accepted joyfully her fate in the Lord’s hands – we began a long and rather animated discussion on just this same topic: what it means to really die to self, to follow Christ even when His desires go against our own, how to hear the voice of God, how to truly love others even when it costs us, etc. We shared stories and Bible verses, talking back-and-forth as we sat with shoulders touching on that messy top bunk at mid-day.
Two days later – the moving date that she and I decided together – sure enough she gathered her belongings and bid farewell to her beloved room just as she had promised. There were no fireworks, no congratulatory remarks from her old roommates for her selflessness, no lightning striking down from the sky to indicate a victory in the heavens. It was more of a sober death march, that humbling (and painful) act of leaving behind that which one loves for the sake of a Higher Love, that dragging of the cross on one’s shoulder as death draws near.
I helped her move her belongings as you could sense the heaviness in her spirit, but at the same time the joy of the Lord was unmistakably with us. Jackeline was joyful albeit heavy with loss. She would no longer enjoy nightly sleepovers with her best friends and dearest sisters; she would now be rooming with a younger sister with whom she had never really loved and a developmentally-challenged little girl with severe behavioral issues.
That was about a week-and-a-half ago. And so now Jackeline is learning to love those whom she does not naturally love; she is experiencing the joy of the Lord on a deeper level than before (for before perhaps it cost her little; this time it has cost her much); she is learning what it means to die to self in order to live for God, and His mark is most definitely upon her.
The transition has not perhaps been easy for Jackeline, but not once has she cowered back from that which the Lord called her to do (and she has even experienced increasing joy in her decision in the midst of what have been the expected trying circumstances of her new living arrangements). We couldn’t be more proud of the divine work the Lord is etching out in her soul, that truly Christ-like character that is being formed in her.
Yesterday we tread across our large, muddy front yard under the misting rain to go ask our night-watchman’s wife if she would be willing to take a few photos of our family later that day. We hadn’t yet taken any pictures with our new daughters (Paola, age 14 and Carolina, age 15) since they had moved in several weeks ago, and we decided that yesterday was as good a day as any to go ahead and schedule the family photo shoot. Our neighbor agreed; it suddenly stopped raining; we picked a nice garden-like spot in front of our little cinderblock house for our photo backdrop; and we took the following series of photos all in a time span of about 10 minutes.
Two times in the past month my husband Darwin and I have organized a “date” in the living room of our little cinderblock home to dance together to romantic music. Many a time over the past four years we’ve organized different dates or outings together to go to dinner or even get away from home together for a couple nights every few months or so (which is increasingly hard to do because not many people can adequately handle our growing number of children, all of whom are experts at eating alive any and all “babysitters” who are not fully and completely trained and full of supernatural energy/wisdom), but we consider it important for our 10 foster kids/teens to be able to get a ‘sneak peek’ of our hidden life together as a couple rather than only witnessing the work-work-work all day long, during which we oftentimes behave more as co-workers than husband and wife. Frequently the first time we actually sit down to enjoy one another is late at night when we are behind our closed bedroom door or away at a restaurant where our kids can’t see us.
Thus, we’ve had two official dancing “dates” right there in our living room for any and all to see. We understand the importance (as much for our kids as for us) of us having a strong marriage, so we’re working to cultivate it in Christ and put it on display to encourage/teach our kids what a healthy, joyful, godly marriage relationship looks like (which they didn’t witness in their biological families).
The first time this happened was several Saturdays ago. I had been at home with about half of our kids washing clothes by hand, doing different chores, overseeing their individual piano practices, cooking meals, etc, as Darwin had spent the majority of the day in the nearby city of La Ceiba with the other half of our kids teaching music classes and running errands. Around 4:30pm as I looked at the clock and knew Darwin would be getting home soon, I went to take a shower, shave my legs and armpits (a luxury that I oftentimes don’t have time for!), and put on a new black sleeveless dress. Casual but classy, reaching beyond my knees. I put on a pair of simple silver dangly earrings and headed barefoot out of our home to cross our large front yard to reach our kitchen (which is not connected to our actual house).
Each of our kids as they saw me for the first time had a very similar reaction, “Ma! Wha–? You look so pretty! Where are you going?” Normally after a long day, I take a shower and put on my old oversized pajamas that are less than flattering. Never had I gotten all dolled up on a Saturday night without having a specific plan of going somewhere special.
I laughed at each one’s sincere reaction, thanking them for their nice comments and telling them with a twinkle in my eye that I had a date scheduled with my “boyfriend” that evening (that’s what I call Darwin to make our kids laugh). We were going to dance. Each one sort of looked at me, intrigued by this new information. They smiled big, although they appeared a bit confused. I continued walking barefoot, my long black dress lapping at my calves as I reached our kitchen to serve dinner. After family dinner we would shoo all of our kids into their rooms for our family’s daily sabbath hour and we would dance.
I glanced over at our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline in the kitchen and said, “You know, it was dancing that your Pa and I had our first kiss.”
Her eyes widened in shock and she scolded, “Ma!”
I laughed and shrugged innocently.
And so Darwin arrived in our old Toyota pickup with many heads sticking out of the truckbed just in time for dinner. We all ate together and then headed back out across our front lawn into our little bunkhouse-style home where we shower and sleep each night with our now-10 foster children ages 9-17.
The Lord started this blessed journey off with 3 kids that He brought us in 2013 (whom we are in the process of legally adopting along with one other), then He brought more in His timing. Now we’ve got people sleeping on the floor because there aren’t enough beds, and the shower rotations require increased humility (and speed) as we all share the 2 showers in our home! We never planned on receiving older kids and teenagers; after all, most people desire to foster/adopt/raise babies and smaller children because they are supposedly cuter and arrive with less baggage. That, too, had been our original plan, but God had better plans. He’s brought us those who didn’t really fit anywhere else — special needs children, sexual abuse victims who need many years to emotionally and spiritually heal, misfit teenagers, those who have a gigantic chip on their shoulder after having been in the ‘system’ for over a decade. The icing on this beautiful, God-designed cake He is making of our family was the arrival of two 14- and 15-year-old girls less than a month ago. We had no plans of receiving anyone else into our household anytime soon, but God gave us His peace and brought us two young ladies who had bounced from one foster home and orphanage to another, under a constant cloud of rejection and rebellious behavior before finally arriving at our home and finding permanency (they’ve both affirmed that they finally feel at peace somewhere and don’t desire to be moved anywhere else, and we’ve even begun talking with them about the possibility of us legally adopting them, with total disregard to whatever their behavior may look like as they heal over the coming years). Thus, our household is now a lovely patchwork of broken people whom God is healing with His love.
6:30pm or so rolled around, and several of our teen girls (we now have 7 daughters ages 17, 15, 14, 14, 13, 12 and 11) sat squeezed together like sardines on the little couch in our living room, eyes sparkling and staring at us. They could barely contain their excitement as they elbowed one another and leaned toward us with bright faces. “We’re ready!” A couple of them clapped with joy.
They thought we were going to put on a show!
Darwin and I both laughed as he got the cd player ready. He had showered and changed, sporting a nice button-down teal-colored shirt and black slacks with his hair neatly combed. He looked very handsome. We were both barefoot. We would be dancing to one of Andrea Bocelli’s romantic cds, but it most definitely wouldn’t be a show! We laughed at our girls’ eagerness to see us dance and lovingly shooed them off to their rooms, much to their disappointment. We told everyone that they were free to watch from their open doorways, but we weren’t looking to have an actual ‘audience’ within arm’s reach in the living room with us.
And so the music started and some of our girls squealed and several excited faces shined from one of the three bedrooms where our kids sleep. Others pretended not to be interested in the living room spectacle of Pa and Ma slow-dancing to romantic music, but as I looked over Darwin’s shoulder I could see them stealing glances our way and biting back smiles. Brayan, our 16-year-old son, stood in his open doorway watching, probably taking notes on how his Pa woos his Ma.
Darwin and I held each other close, our feet moving slowly as we swayed back and forth to the music. I bit my lip and held back laughter, as I loved the reactions our kids were having. This — dancing close to Andrea Bocelli’s music — was, after all, one of our first encounters as a couple back in March of 2013 (three months before we got married), and it was both astonishing and beautiful to think of all that God had orchestrated in the four-and-a-half years since. Our first round back in 2013 was in private; now we had an audience of the blessed children and teens the Lord had brought us! Single in 2013 with great hopes of parenting the orphaned together for God’s glory; married in 2017 several years into the fulfillment of that sacred mission.
As we continued dancing for close to an hour, some of our kids got bored and closed their bedroom curtains (they don’t have doors), retreating into their rooms to participate in other quiet activities while others walked right past us supposedly needing to ‘use the bathroom,’ but I suspect they wanted to secretly be closer to the action. Again, I smiled in my heart of hearts, thanking God for all that He’s done.
Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline, whom I write about frequently and who is quite special to us after an extremely rough start in our home back in 2015, went tip-toeing through our living room — not three feet from us — on her way back to her room after using the bathroom as Andrea Bocelli’s voice sang of some passionate kiss long overdue. Her eyes grew wide and she squealed in shock (as if she had heard something she wasn’t supposed to) and darted into her room, hiding quickly behind her curtain. Darwin and I both cracked up.
So that living room dance date with my “boyfriend” has occurred now two times, and both occasions have given similar results. Our girls squeal; Brayan takes notes; and our kids steal glances at Pa and Ma moving around our itty bitty living room to beautiful romantic music.
I share this with you because I frequently write about our children or what God is doing in our surrounding neighborhood through the Living Waters Ranch, but I haven’t dedicated many posts to our marriage journey and how God has and continues to use us together to display His extravagant love to our children. So that’s that! Glory to God!
Many small, beautiful shifts in attitude and perspective that would go completely overlooked by the untrained eye have been occurring in our household over the last few weeks.
The ongoing — and literally daily — task of managing our household’s laundry is a job that honestly no one enjoys doing. With then-ten (now twelve) people in our household and no washing machine or clothes dryer, the task of juggling what’s clean and what’s dirty — and where to hang the wet clothes out to dry during the rainy season — can be taken as a great headache. Plus, two of our precious children who are developmentally challenged frequently wet their beds at night or have poo- and pee-accidents in their clothing (and on rugs and towels) during the daytime, so lump bedspreads, towels, sheets and underwear all stained in pee and poo in the mix with several bucketsful of dirt- and sweat-stained clothing from all our other kids (all of which is to be washed by hand in our outdoor washboard station one piece at a time), you’ve got to find a system that works and the right mentality in order to not feel constantly frustrated.
Oh, we’ve had the bleach fall in the hands of mischevious children, ruining dozens of pieces of clothing in their halfhearted attempts at washing. We’ve had all of our clothes hanging out to dry when a sudden unexpected rain storm comes through and wets every piece to the bone within minutes, thus leading us to have to wait another day or two (or three of four depending how long the rain lasts) for the clothes to dry. During the really intense part of the rainy season (like right now), we’ve had to hang clothes up to dry inside our humid house — over doors, on bunkbed posts, on hangers hanging from open doorways, etc — with floorfans blowing on them just so that our kids would be able to put on a semi-dry school uniform the next day and not go soaking wet (as they’ve had to do on occasions). Basically any and every issue that a large family might face with managing laundry (multiplied by our context in a third world country), we’ve faced it. This has been just one small, yet constant, aspect of our daily life.
Needless to say, I’ve perhaps been the captain of the protest march in all this. I’ve tried to hide my own bad attitude in regards to our laundry woes, but it has shined through spectacularly for all to see. Washing developmentally-challenged Gabriela and Josue’s poop-stained clothes, having to sprint out of whatever building I’m in to grab all the clothes off the line and throw them inside when the rains come (only to then have to string back all 176 pieces back up on the line an hour later once the rains passed), having to constantly keep an eye on where the bleach is and who’s using it, etc, has not been my favorite aspect of our life and service in Honduras. My mindset has been: this is all such a distraction, such a waste of time; I would rather be doing something “important” like teaching a Bible study, counseling our kids, directing a meeting with our teachers, praying with someone who needs help, etc, than dedicating so much time to such an endless household chore that — to me — was anything but ‘spiritual’ and revolutionary. After all, I wanted to see lives changed into the image of Jesus Christ, and spending hours every week moving around wet and dirty clothes seemed to me not to accomplish that end.
Well, all that changed. (Not the reality of our larger-than-life laundry monster, but my attitude). In these last couple weeks, in the quiet spaces within my own soul — during those times of silent prayer, of meditating upon God’s Word that’s already been written upon my heart, of giving thanks, of reflecting on all the good that God’s done — I’ve taken much initiative in going about my business when no one’s looking as I hang out the wet clothes to dry, fold those newly sun-dried clothes that no one wants to fold, wash my own and Darwin’s clothes without complaint, etc. In essence, what I used to avoid like the plague has now become a spiritual activity, a time alone with the Lord to keep my hands occupied and my heart focused on Him. I’ve said nothing of this to my kids and, truly, everyday as I’m engaging in these radically domestic activities in a joyful manner our kids are not even normally around. While they are in classes or when I have a spare moment between activities I’ll calmly walk out our front door and check one by one the different clothing articles hanging on the line: what’s dry, what still needs to dry more. Basically, I’ve made my peace with this aspect of our daily reality, and God has even allowed me to convert it into a form of Christlike servanthood, literally acting as a slave in our own home and doing gracefully the job that no one else wants to do.
Before, each week we would assign the gargantuan task of folding several bucketsful of laundry to one or two specific children (on a rotating basis), and whoever’s turn it was would complete the task, but not with anything that resembled joy (I believe dread would be the correct word). The rains would come, and no one would want to stop whatever they were doing to go take the clothes down. Oftentimes the clothes would get soaked several times and end up staying on the line for days, possibly even falling to the ground and getting dirty all over again. Everyone hoped their name wouldn’t be called to wash Gaby and Josue’s poopy clothes. Oftentimes folded, clean laundry would remain on our living room table for days at a time as no one would take initiative to deliver it to each person’s room. In short, the kids had completely adopted my own attitude toward our household’s laundry: they viewed it as a terrible inconvenience and hoped it wouldn’t be their turn on any given week to take on the task.
So, the miracle is this: as the Lord is radically changing my own attitude regarding the simplicity of this domestic routine, several of our kids have fallen suit without me saying anything. Anyone on the outside would easily overlook this subtle yet powerful change in our attitudes — Christ’s very nature being manifested among us — but to me it has been an overwhelming sign that God is with us and that He’s leading each of us (perhaps beginning with myself) into a deeper knowledge of what it means to truly live as Christ lived, to put on that servant’s towel, to consider others better than ourselves, and to serve as others’ slave even as we fully know our final destination in God’s glorious kingdom.
The first instance was as follows: Several days ago I had hand-washed mine and Darwin’s clothes and hung them out to dry on the line. At that point it was sunny, so the prospects of the clothes actually drying seemed good. I then headed over to our kitchen, got involved in other activities, a rain storm came (I thought nothing of my clothes drying on the line; I had forgot completely), and then a couple hours later I crossed our large front lawn (which in the last few weeks has become an epic muddy slip-and-slide) on my way back to the little orange house where my husband and I live with our now-10 foster children. I glanced at the series of long ropes strung out between our home and fence (in essence, a spider-web-like figure of clotheslines) and suddenly remembered that it had rained and I had forgotten to move my clothes. My eyes searched frantically for my dripping wet clothes, but not only were my clothes no longer on the line but neither were anyone else’s. My first reaction was to feel confused. What had happened?
I then swiveled my head to the left under our large front porch, which also holds a series of clotheslines (the only ones that are under a roof and thus protected from the rain.) There I saw mine and Darwin’s clothes, every last piece of laundry perfectly hung by what were obviously careful hands.
Although it probably sounds absurd, I had perhaps never felt more blessed in recent times. Someone saw that it was raining and moved our clothes to the safe haven under the porch, and they did so not haphazardly but with great care. And I didn’t even ask, and they didn’t even come to me to boast of what they’d done. For a moment I just stood there, dumbstruck in the midst of the first blessing of this kind that I’d ever experienced.
I then headed through our front door and began asking everyone I saw in a quiet tone, almost a whisper: “Did you move the clothes under the porch?” I felt like I was walking on sacred ground.
Oh, how many times have we had to go to each member of our household asking negative questions, such as, “Did you steal the money from our room?” or “Do you know who ate such-and-such food from the kitchen without permission?” Oh, how beautiful it is to have to find the ‘culprit’ of a good deed done in secret! Yes; Christ is with us.
I finally reached our eldest daughter, 17-year-old Dayana, who — just as much as anybody in our household — in times prior dreaded the entire laundry task and never volunteered herself to go above and beyond what was specifically required of her. I asked, “Hey, do you know who moved the clothes…?”
Her face radiated kindness as she answered, “Yeah, I noticed that it started raining…Gleny and Jason helped me.”
Me, mouth sort of dangling open: “Oh. Thank you.” I just sort of stared at her for a few moments.
And so that was the first miracle. No dead were raised; no terminally ill were healed and no blind gained their sight, but God did manage to turn some selfish hearts of stone into humble hearts bent toward servanthood, which in an of itself is a sort of resurrection from the dead and renewal of sight.
Later that night — or perhaps a couple days later; I do not remember exactly — I was again folding laundry and moving wet articles from one line to another in an attempt to care for the clothing that God has entrusted us as I then carried a large laundry basket full of dry clothes into our living room. I sat down on our sofa for a few moments to read the Bible with the bin of laundry at my feet (with several other bins still waiting outside) as I was fully prepared to fold them myself and then go door-to-door to give each of our kids their dry, folded clothes to stash in their dressers before doing the rounds again the following day (if it didn’t rain and thus soak all the other clothes that were waiting their turn on the line outside).
In the quiet of the evening hours — most of our kids already in their rooms for the night and a few candles lit in our living room to give off a cozy feel — our 13-year-old daughter Gleny came happily bouncing out of her bedroom through the bright-colored curtain that hangs in the doorway. Completely out of the blue, she asked me, “Ma, whose turn is it this week to fold the laundry?”
Seeing as God has secretly led me to stop assigning the task to our children (which only leads to my grumbling and theirs) but rather to do it myself and thus manage the task more organically, I stammered, “Uh…I don’t know.”
She piped up, obviously already with the plan in mind before presenting herself in the living room, “Okay, well I’ll go ahead and take this laundry basket to my room and take care of it tonight.”
I stared at her as words could not formulate themselves in my mouth as she picked up the huge metal tin with a contagious smile on her face — my Wild Gleny who used to always scream, cry and isolate herself so many times each day, who moved into our home in 2013 as a scared and extremely aggressive 9-year-old! — and disappeared behind her bedroom curtain before anything else could be said. (And, for the record, of all of our children Gleny has in times past been the least servant-oriented of all. She’s exploded in fits of rage and tears when her sisters have asked her to help sweep their bedroom floor or collaborate in simple maintenance activities in daily life. She has never offered up extra help in any capacity unless it is specifically asked of her, so this completely Spirit-prompted act of service I literally do count as a miracle upon her heart.)
And, sure enough, the next morning Darwin’s and my socks and shirts were neatly folded outside of our door as Gleny had done exactly what God had prompted her to do (that which I had tried for years to prompt her to do without much success). She had folded that heap of clothes and gone to each person’s room during the night to deliver whatever was theirs. I’d say that’s Christ’s work in her life.
So there have been many extremely small, exceedingly beautiful moments of servanthood such as these in our household in the last couple weeks. One afternoon as I was once again quietly at work with the daily laundry chore, I began to hear Bible stories being read aloud from our living room. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (who tends to be very uptight and high-achieving with her schoolwork and other activities, oftentimes forsaking resting in God’s presence for do-do-do) was sitting cuddled up on the couch with her 9-year-old special needs brother, reading to him one of our children’s Bibles. Jackeline — who normally “doesn’t have time” for things like that, who even has said she doesn’t like to read for fun and struggles to spend time in God’s Word! What an extravagant display of God’s love. As I went in and out of our living room, carrying with me large heaps of laundry flung over my shoulders, I walked carefully, again feeling as though I were treading sacred ground.
And the coolest part is that as the rest of the world perhaps zooms onward with all of its activity and “importance,” God is touching the unlikeliest of hearts and calling us to slow down with grace, to serve rather than be served, to live as Jesus lived.
I’ve been home now five days after having been away from Honduras six weeks for medical treatment and spiritual renewal in Christ, and it’s thus far been a journey of learning all over again many things I thought I already knew. How to really live in the joy and peace of Christ, for one — not just talk about it or read about it or even counsel others on how to do so, but to really live in Christ everyday and allow His peace to permeate me no matter how much activity is going on around me. Really, these last five days have been the beginning of a completely new era (from the inside out) — in my walk with the Lord, in my relationship with my husband and our children, in handling many responsibilities with grace, and in my daily walk of loving and serving those whom the Lord has so generously placed in our lives.
A truckload of screaming teenagers greeted Darwin and I on Sunday at the little local hotel where we had been staying since I arrived on Friday. (My first “re-initiation” upon returning to Honduras was with my husband as he picked me up from the airport — alone — and we got away for two nights before I saw the kids. We are both learning all over again what it means to love one another and live in the joy of Christ right here in our daily context, and truly these last five days have provided us a completely new beginning.)
So, that truckload enthusiastically unloaded on Sunday as Pastor Domingo and close to a dozen teenagers — some our kids, some our students — ding-donged impatiently on the front gate of the little hotel where Darwin and I had been staying. Everyone exploded out of the truck and began a hugging processional as each teen and I embraced before beginning the 20-minute journey up the highway to home, where the rest of our kids were waiting. That was Sunday.
In many ways, everything is the same — the same things are happening as before I left (the same little daily adventures, learning experiences and potential frustrations that come with living in a third world country and laying your life completely down so that Christ might live through you) but the Lord has given me an entirely new attitude to confront these situations. My surroundings are the same, but I’ve been given new sight (in the sense of seeing things the way God wants me to see/experience them).
There were welcome-home posters, hand-written letters of encouragement and prayer from each of our students and teachers, and many sweet moments along the way. Although I was returning home, in many ways I felt like tip-toeing around with a sneaky grin on my face, feeling like a welcome stranger as I was experiencing everything from an entirely new perspective (and without the feeling that I had to run-run-run and handle everything myself). In many ways, these first few days back in the full swing of the daily routine have been a lot about quietly observing and discerning all over again what God wants from me in this place. I’ve gotten up at 5:15am to brush our kids’ hair and get them ready for school; I’ve washed our clothes by hand on our front porch; I’ve gotten back into our administration activities; I’ve done everything I did before, but it’s now fun and enjoyable, whereas before I felt like I was constantly trying to battle off a wave of anxiousness night and day as every demand on my time seemed like too much.
On Monday we had a lengthy meeting with our team of teachers and mentors — those six people (including my husband Darwin) who held the fort down for six weeks during my absence, taking on my teaching, parenting and administrative duties without complaint — and person after person took the time to share, unhurried, what the Lord had been doing in their life since we had last seen each other in late August. God’s presence was near, and while we perhaps should have been handling school logistics, planning the upcoming calendar or “doing” something important and work-related, the Lord led us to take several hours to share and listen to one another, as each person independently told of huge breakthroughs in their walk with the Lord over the last several weeks, many with tears.
And, the truly remarkable thing is that every aspect of the work the Lord was doing in my own heart on a range of issues over these last several weeks — from my walk with Him to my freedom from many lies the enemy had led me to believe to my new way of viewing our students and loving them better — He was also working out in our teachers’ lives completely unbeknownst to me. He literally kept us all on the same page (and even advanced us a couple chapters along the path of true freedom in Christ!) even though we were geographically far away and had very little communication. Wow.
So, fast-forwarding to Tuesday (yesterday), I gave each student individually a big hug when they came streaming through our front gate at 6:40am, participated with everyone in Bible study and worship, took on my math class again and fully (and rather spontaneously) participated in every aspect of life and service in our home with a newfound spark in everything I did. (I’ve been getting 3-5 hours of sleep since getting back to Honduras and generally feel extremely at peace in God’s presence, which has radically changed my parenting style, general outlook and attitude, etc). I even spontaneously prepared like 8 blenders-full of garlic, cucumber, and other-vegetables smoothie for all of our teachers and students (like 50 people), which led to a lot of laughter, almost-vomiting and renewed health in many. It was great!
One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was a full-blown participant in Pastor Domingo’s military-style athletic training class. (I had arrived at his class after lunch with our oldschool digital camera to just take some silly pictures of the kids, but God had other plans.) The exercises were actually not incredibly difficult, but my non-athletic attire and the scorching heat/humidity did make for quite an interesting (and sweaty!) afternoon. After all was said and done and I went to our little bathroom to take a cold shower, a ton of dirt came falling out of my hair (and not to mention all over my clothes)!
Today I whipped out my camera and went undercover (well, not quite) into each classroom throughout the day to capture what a typical Friday at the Living Waters Ranch looks like. The only classes missing from my visual log are Darwin’s girls’ choir class, my advanced math after-school tutoring and Erick’s “Men of Honor” discipleship group.
Several weeks ago my husband and I were evaluating the daily routines we’ve established to foster the integral growth and development of those in our household when a rather displeasing thought entered our minds and just wouldn’t wriggle out: rather than getting up at 5:15am each morning, let’s get up 30 minutes earlier so that we can go running as a family. Yeah! That’s just what we need to further inculcate discipline and overall health in each member of our household — go sprinting down a long, solitary road half-asleep in the pitch black with 8 kids! Sure!
Seeing as Darwin and I have both been involved in athletic training to some degree in our lives (plus the fact that we are willing to try anything that might give a positive result as we seek to ‘train up’ our 8 kids/teens in all that is good work ethic, self-discipline, integral health, etc, for God’s glory), we decided — despite our own desires to get a little more shut-eye each morning! — to give it a try the following morning.
I do not remember how we informed all the members of our diverse household — if I wrote the announcement on our family’s living room whiteboard or if we broke the news over dinner — but, needless to say, they were less than enthused.
The night prior to the big adventure, we informed everyone: when we come get you up in the morning, just put your tennis shoes on, brush your teeth and get to the front door as quickly as you possibly can. We’re not going to be rubbing our sleepy eyes and shuffling around the house aimlessly for 20 minutes (as some of our teens are accustomed to doing).
And so, the next morning the alarm sounded (it was a weekend, so we were able to sleep in a little longer and commence the run around 7:00am rather than in the wee morning hours), and our shoes were already on our feet before the last remnants of our dreams had fully left us. I went bed-to-bed jostling sleeping legs and patting tired backs as I informed in a sing-song voice, “Time to get up…we’re gonna go running. Get your shoes on…”
From that point on, everything went downhill. 12-year-old Gleny, one of our daughters who is most definitely not a morning person, received several back-to-back wake-up calls, but she ended up flopping over in bed and never actually getting up. 11-year-old developmentally-challenged Gabriela couldn’t find her tennis shoes, and everyone else had a tangibly bad attitude.
We filed out our front door and through the front gate with most of our kids grumbling and exchanging angry glances. As the run began, 16-year-old Brayan, who is extremely fit athletically and capable of beating most people in a footrace, ran slower than anyone else because he got distracted along the route when he saw the girl he liked. 9-year-old Josue, who suffers from several developmental delays, barely got to the front gate before he got tired and quit running. Our eldest daughter failed to exit our home on time as she took too long getting ready, and she came flying down the path in a less than punctual manner to catch up with us several minutes later. Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who loves to eat and is not typically known to be the queen of personal fitness, cried the entire way as she struggled to maintain a jog during the mile+ journey.
By the time we returned home, collecting stragglers and disgruntled teenagers along the way, everyone had gotten sour. By all accounts, the run had been a disaster.
As we returned home, we assigned a consequence to Gleny and Dayana, our two daughters who had not gotten ready on time. Darwin and I exchanged glances as we decided to wait a few hours before calling a family meeting to discuss the (abysmal) results of that day’s run. We gave everyone space and let everyone cool down emotionally from what had unintentionally turned out to be an absolutely terrible experience.
Later that afternoon, we all gathered in the kitchen for one of our periodic family meetings. Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, sat on our kitchen counter with her curly, afro-like hair as big as ever and her arms crossed defensively. She was leading the protest parade, and it was obvious that she was still bitter about the entire morning escapade. I sat on an ages-old rickety wooden stool as I looked around at discouraged, bitter faces. Had the run really ruined their day? Poor souls.
Darwin and I prayed, as we customarily do to begin any family meeting, and we began: “Well, the run this morning really went…terribly.” I let out a slight laugh and glanced around our large, open-air kitchen at our kids and teens, some of whom sat on the concrete floors, others standing with their backs resting against bright green walls. Dayana, arms still crossed, rolled her eyes in agreement.
Then, a ray of hope flashed across the faces of a few of our kids as I read their minds: Yeah, the whole running idea just didn’t work. At least we can say we tried! Now we can check that crazy idea off our list…Thanks for the experience, Mom and Dad!
I continued, knowing I would be dropping a bomb in their midst: “…Which is why we’re gonna do it again tomorrow. At 4:45am. Before classes. We are not going to quit just because it’s hard or just because it didn’t go well the first time. In our Christian walk we must persevere.”
Whatever flicker of hope had lit up their young, innocent eyes suddenly shut off, replaced by shock and rage. Darwin and I laughed together, as the entire idea of doing it again seemed absurd even to us. We had already tried, and it was a bust! Who on earth would want to repeat the completely negative and chaotic experience we had all been through that morning? Had we lost our minds?
As our kids glanced frantically at one another, hoping against hope that we were kidding, the second bomb was dropped: “…And not only will we run as a family tomorrow, but every single weekday for the next three weeks until vacation.”
Oh, there were protests and shaky-lip whimpers and rebellious teenage glances when the news was given, but let me tell you — that next morning at 4:45am our alarm sounded and everyone was up and successfully out of the house within 5 minutes! No complaints, no bad attitudes. Everyone ran the best they could, and the entire experience actually seemed almost fun! (As fun as it can possibly be to run down rocky gravel roads in the pitch black with drool still running down your chin hoping you don’t step on a poisonous snake!)
Well, we kept our word, and we ran with our kids for the next three weeks. And not only that — we’re currently at six weeks and counting!
Just this morning as we all shook the cobwebs from our sleepy minds at 4:45am, our little Gabriela — who first moved in with us two years ago as a severely malnourished and broken little girl who could barely walk, much less run — completed the entire 1.2 mile run for the first time (on prior runs she only got half-way due to exhaustion), arriving successfully at the finish line (the local highway intersection) at breakneck pace with Darwin running by her side! She even passed several of our older kids along the way! Wow!
And so we share this story of perseverance to encourage you in your daily walk.