Our Purpose in Parenting: Raising Up a Fierce Yet Compassionate Generation

My dad has asked me twice what our purpose is in raising other people’s kids, why we do it, what we ultimately hope for these kids. Maybe you are wondering the same thing. Do we do it out of some sense of charity that makes us feel warm inside? Do we hope to discover a child genious in the crowd of abandoned children? Or are we merely trying to call attention to ourselves and be ‘good people’?

Each time my dad has asked me our purpose in parenting, my response has been the same: “Dad, our goal is that these kids — who will become teenagers, then adults, then will have families of their own — know Christ and have a burning desire for the things of His heart. You can follow Christ as a doctor, as a poor rural farmer, as a teacher, stay-at-home mom, overseas missionary — you name it. We will educate the children as best we can to give them a good academic foundation, but ultimately we aren’t hoping to form them into average middle-class citizens with good salaries and material comforts. We want them to be attune to God’s call and follow Him, which is different for each person.”

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From extensive reading I have done about children’s homes and even some foster families, I know that some are sort of like ‘holding areas’ — stagnant institutions without much growth opportunity or Truth, and the minute a child reaches the age of 18 they are sent out into the world, oftentimes without any real skills or passion. This is why so many of the girls who grow up in such institutions turn to prostitution and the boys end up as beggars and drunks.

Our purpose, contrary to being some kind of charity organization for the less fortunate, is to raise up a fierce yet compassionate generation of Christ-centered servants, people who seek first the Kingdom of God and whose faith is expressed in works of love. We love the children and have this extraoridinary hope for them because we ourselves have experienced the love and forgiveness of God and have the privilege of participating in His eternal purpose. Nothing less.

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“Coach is Allergic to Complaints.”

The girls on my basketball team know very well that their coach is “allergic to complaints.” Last year, our first year together as a team, the girls would often complain of sore muscles or voice their disagreement with difficult drills, push-up competitions and the like. I responded — rather dramatically — by telling them that I have been diagnosed with a severe complaint allergy, so if they want their coach to stay in good health, they’d better maintain their comments to themselves.

This year the veterans on my team of 4th-6th grade girls know that if they complain I will only make the drill longer, increase the number of push-ups, or count slower as they do wall-sits. Recently during our weekly practice one of the girls who is prone to complaining opened her mouth to voice her opinion, and another girl hushed her, saying, “Shh. Coach is allergic to complaints.”

At the end of each practice I have the girls do a series of wind sprints on the school’s old asphalt basketball court. As they run, sometimes up to ten or twelve sprints total, I declare, “I’m testing your character. Let’s see who complains.” They pant and bend over between sprints, but they have finally arrived at the understanding that it is not worth complaining because I will only make it harder — Oh, I do remember the day when my own high school basketball coach yelled, “Run until get tired!”

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As the girls run, one sprint at a time, I say, “Don’t tell me it’s hard. I know this is difficult. Most people in life choose the easiest thing, the path of least resistance, but God’s way, as we are learning, is indeed difficult. Christ says that most people choose the wide, easy road, but the path that reaches His Kingdom is narrow and difficult, and it is the only path that leads to true joy, freedom, and eternal life. Choose the difficult path. Go!” And the girls do another sprint.

Frequently with my basketball girls, gifted and talented classroom students, my own children — really anyone who will listen — I read the following text from the Gospel of Matthew: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

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Recently I had each of my basketball players complete a written evaluation of their experiences on the team, what they have learned, how I can support them personally in this stage of their lives, what their view of God is and if they have the desire to know and follow Him. As I read each evaluation, some written with large letters in pink marker, others with small scribbles in pen, some in broken English, others in Spanish, I almost began weeping and rejoicing as I sat there alone on the empty court after practice, all of the girls having already been picked up by their family members, as literally every evaluation that I read revealed — in their own words — that each girl is truly interested in knowing God more and following Him, that they really are listening when we read Christ’s words each practice and that they are hungry for a deeper understanding. Two of the girls even explicitly mentioned how they want me to guide them so that they may enter through the “narrow, difficult gate” and accomplish hard things for God’s glory.

As you read this, I ask that you would sincerely pray for my basketball girls and for the way that God is using me as an instrument of truth in their lives. Ask that I may be given wisdom in guiding them and that as we study the Bible together before each basketball practice that it is not just me reading dead words from an ancient book, but words of life-giving Truth that touch their spirits. Pray that Christ may call each one of these precious girls into a life of humble service to Him, that they may joyfully enter through the narrow, difficult gate that leads to abundant, eternal life.

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You Bring the Rain

The following is a prayer I wrote during a solitude retreat I am currently taking in the Cangrejal River Valley near our home in Honduras. I have been struggling with insomnia for several months now, and Darwin and I decided I needed a three-night getaway to rejuvenate spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically after so many recent changes in this last year-and-a-half so that I may return home with renewed energy, vision, and joy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Yahweh,

Without Your power I can literally do nothing. I am like the shallow, dirty waters of the Cangrejal River during the dry season. Although I try again and again, each time making a determined resolution to be better, I cannot even love and respect my own husband and family without impatience, stress, and a rebellious spirit bubbling up from within me. I weep for the souls of my students at the Episcopal School, yet I stand powerless to truly transform their lives, convince them that You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Sitting here on a hammock perched high above the Cangrejal River, I can hear it roaring now that the rainy season has arrived, a powerful symbol of Your capacity to transform, strengthen, give life. I already explored the small bed and breakfast’s property, trying to get a glimpse of Your majesty revealed through the renewed and impressive flow of the Cangrejal’s crystalline waters, but with so many trees blocking my view I must be satisfied with merely hearing its roar, hearing Your whisper that that is what you want to do to me, if I allow it – transform me from a shallow, dirty, struggling soul into a powerful source of your strength, beauty and glory, purifying me with the rain of Your spirit, bringing life and energy to what was previously slow, mediocre, worn-out. Transform me, Yahweh. Literally in my own power I cannot love well, cannot open the eyes of my basketball girls or gifted and talented kids to see Your Truth, cannot raise up a generation of Christ followers if I myself am limping along, always impatient, exhausted, and clinging to the little spiritual understanding that I possess, hoping that my words and example will be enough. Carry me on Your waters so that I may rest in Your majesty. A river does not make its own waters flow, does not generate its own energy – You bring the rain. Bring me rain, Lord.

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“She will be your daughter.”

God has changed my plans many times over the course of these last few years, and this is a story of one such time.

Darwin, Jenae, and I were waiting anxiously for the first two children to arrive at the Ranch from Honduras’ child protective agency. Weeks passed by, phone calls and visits were made, emails were sent, and we were getting nowhere. Every time we spoke with a representative from the agency, they said there were no children available, all the personnel were busy in custody cases, or that we had to come back another time because they were swamped with work and didn’t have time for us.

One afternoon, standing on the empty porch of the Ranch’s small education building, Jenae laughed and said, “There are orphans in the whole world, and here we are, three people called by God and ready to take care of them, and supposedly there aren’t any available.”

More time passed, and finally we received a call from the agency: there were two sibling groups available, but each group had three members, which is more than we were originally planning for. The agency told us the first group had kids ages 2, 4, and 6 years old, and the second group composed of children ages 4, 7, and 9. All along we were intent on receiving children between the ages of 2 and 7 years old, because the older a child is, the more baggage he or she has and the more difficult it is to impact their lives.

Or so they say.

Upon hearing of the older sibling group, with a nine-year-old boy who fell outside of our 2-7 range, God spoke to my heart and said that we should take them. Everyone wants the little ones, so if you don’t take the older ones, who will? Isn’t that your purpose — to raise children that no one else wants? I prayed during the night for confirmation regarding this decision, and the following day received unquestioned support from both Darwin and Jenae.

The next day Darwin and I were in the city of La Ceiba, near the government agency’s office, and called repeatedly, almost desperately, to tell them that we wanted to at least meet the older sibling group. After several calls they finally answered, very unexpectedly telling us that that day was ‘visit day’ for all the foster homes and orphanages, so all the kids from the surrounding area would be visiting the agency’s main office that afternoon. Darwin and I looked at each other with a joyful panic in our eyes, rearranged our plans for the afternoon, and began walking briskly to the run-down, bright pink government office that had been such a source of frustration and confusion for us during the previous months.

This time we arrived with hope and anticipation bursting forth in our hearts, thinking Today we may meet our future children. As we approached the office, seeing dozens upon dozens of children in the dirt playground, swinging on old metal swings, or sitting idly waiting for parental visits, I looked at each child, wondering in my heart Is that him? Is that her? Are those — or those over there — our future children? 

We entered the rusty gate, and there, sitting all three in a row — biggest, middle, then smallest — were children that seemed different than the rest. I made eye contact with the oldest, a girl, and I think she smiled — or maybe only I did! — and God spoke to my heart, “She will be your daughter.” I thought — How? The government agency said that the oldest child, the 9-year-old, was a boy… — but I stopped the thoughts and chose to trust God’s plan. We were immediately whisked into the director’s office, and then he quickly left to bring us the three children he supposedly told us about by phone. In the depth of my heart I knew, or perhaps only hoped, that she and her two younger siblings would be them, but I knew from a rational point of view that my hope was foolish.

Soon enough the door to the office swung open, and there they stood, her and her two younger siblings waiting somewhat awkwardly, the middle sister stealing shy grins at us. We were encouraged to find a somewhat private spot on the small, concrete property to get to know the kids, and it was quickly established that the oldest one was the spokesperson for the younger two. Not having a script and being filled with all sorts of intense emotions, Darwin and I began asking them basic questions to get to know them — their ages, what they like to do, etc. When the oldest one answered that she was 13, I nearly gasped as I thought, “God, how could we possibly take in a teenager? She’s only ten years younger than myself! We’re looking for kids who are between the ages of two and seven…” But those thoughts quickly disappeared as I sensed God was calling us to obey, to have open hearts and fulfill what He had promised me — that she would be our daughter.

After an hour of talking with them individually and with their foster mom, Darwin and I said our goodbyes and began leaving to supposedly go home and pray about the situation. The children stood behind their beloved foster mom, a Christian widow in her sixties, and watched us with intense interest and we waved and smiled. Before exiting the complex, I looked at Darwin and said, “I want them. I know we said that we were going to pray about it, but I don’t think we need to. Those will be our children.” He immediately agreed, saying that he also had God’s confirmation, so we slid into the director’s office and asked what we needed to do to bring them home with us.

The three of them became part of our family the next day, November 1, 2013.

Diana, our eldest daughter, is a tremendous blessing for both her siblings and us, and she is a powerful example of purity, joy, deep faith, and selfless service. We are so proud of her and daily give thanks to God that He had plans different from our own.

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“Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Why?

Please read the “Who We Are” section of this blog to understand more about our purpose in recording our family’s story in this way. It is our hope and prayer that this blog may prove to be a source of encouragement, challenge, Truth, and joy to those who read it. Please pray for Darwin, me, our children, and community members Jenae and Erick as we all seek to walk together in Truth and Grace. Or rather pray that we may dance upon injustice, proclaiming God’s undeserved mercy to a world full of lies, greed, complacency, and wars.

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Thank you for your support, and we ask for your sincere prayers as God guides us on this journey that we have only just begun.

From Jennifer, with joy