Pieces of History

This week while the four children were in music classes with Darwin, I entered the boys’ room – which sometimes looks more like the aftermath of an intense battle rather than someone’s sleeping quarters – to drop something off. As I passed by their desk on the way out of the room, I noticed two intriguingly familiar, rather worn letters sitting on the desk. I stooped over and noticed the date on the top letter – February 8, 2014, the day after Brayan moved in with us. Through the bleeding blue marker on both of the letters, my handwriting in black pen stood as strong as it was on the day I wrote it so many months ago. I immediately picked up the letters and read them, curious of what I had written to our new son so shortly after he had moved in with us. As my eyes traced the crumpled pages, my heart swelled with memories — the little breakthroughs, the moments of teeth-clenching frustration, the hugs, the wars, bedtime foot massages. Just this morning he volunteered to pray in our in-home Bible study. He has outgrown nearly all of his clothes in these last few months. We pray daily with him that God will form him into a man of justice and mercy, that someday he will be a good father and an honorable husband. So many thoughts and emotions flooded me as I stood with those two letters in my hands, feeling as though I held in my hands two pieces of raw history, long-lost historical documents about almost microscopically small, yet significant, events in God´s Kingdom.

The first was a welcome letter to our family, and the second a celebration for having given his life to Christ. God’s word says that He places the orphans in families, and in the most real sense possible God placed Brayan first in an earthy family and shortly after in the eternal one. The following are the two letters translated verbatim from their original Spanish to English.

February 8, 2014                                                                                                                                                 

Beloved son, Brayan:

I want you to know that you are in a home of peace, joy, discipline, and love. We love you because we have received the love of God and we want to share it with others. Thank you for your affection, patience, and love with Jason, Gleny, and Diana. Jason is very happy to have an older brother, and he really likes you. You have been a very good example for him in the way that you respect others, your desire to serve and help, and the spirit of peace that you have. We are going to be praying for you so that God enters your heart and you give your entire life over to Him so that you become a man of peace, mercy, love, and Truth. We are here to support you, guide you, love you, and be good parents for you. We love you, and in any moment or situation we are available to listen to you, hug you, and encourage you. Welcome to the family, Brayan.

With peace and love,

Jennifer, your mom

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February 24, 2014

(Greeting not visible due to water damage)

There are no adequate words to express how happy your dad and I are that the other night you prayed with Uncle Erick and gave your life to Christ. Now we are members of the same eternal family! We have been praying for you since before you moved here so that you would give yourself to the Eternal God. God is faithful to answer the prayers of His people, thus he heard us and saved you. Thank you, Brayan, for working so hard Saturday morning to clean Uncle Erick’s bathroom, and thank you for working so well with Gleny to clean and organize our school. Thank you for all the affection that you give us, and thank you for your good work ethic in school. Your energy and strength are gifts from God, and now we will be praying that you find the way to serve God using that energy and strength that He has given you. We love you so much!

With a big hug,

Mom

 

Below are photos from Brayan´s recent fourteenth birthday party…

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Art on the Porch

Last Friday while the kids were in homeschool with Darwin I set about transforming our porch into an afternoon art studio. I set up two wooden tables with painting and art supplies and another small table with our cd player, a plastic vase with a few freshly-cut flowers, our camera which the kids love to use, and a bowl full of fresh coconuts ready for snacking. To finish off the prep work, I pinned up a sign that read “Welcome to the Peaceful and Creative Place.” Throughout the afternoon the kids worked on painting projects, cracked open coconuts, took photos, and danced around our large porch. The following photos were taken by the children and me that afternoon.

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Somewhere Between the Family Photo Albums and The Chronicles of Narnia

June 6, 2014: Yesterday was my two-year anniversary since moving to Honduras as an idealistic recent college graduate. I arrived with nothing more that my large hiking backpack, a couple duffel bags, and a guiding determination that God had called me to be a mom to those who don’t have one.

Yesterday evening we celebrated that raw beginning and the miracle that God has worked out among us over the ensuing time. The community of believers who form the Living Waters Ranch – eleven in all, including my husband and our four kids – put on a surprise two-year anniversary party for me as we remembered the ways in which God has provided and guided as we shared stories and ate around our long wooden table. And of course there were balloons and homemade posters and cards, as is typically our party preference.

After night fell and we all began cleaning the kitchen and putting everything in its place, I wandered back to our home (which is separate from our common-area kitchen that we all share), where I stood in silence in the open doorway to our sons’ room, being taken down a landslide of memories over the previous 730 days, feeling as though I were standing on holy ground in a museum that could quite accurately be titled How God Has and Will Provide or God Alive and at Work in Our World.

The soft light of our porch dimly illuminated the empty room as my eyes traveled carefully, sentimentally, over the shadows to study each object I saw. I took in the large homemade posterboard hung on their light blue wall with ducktape – “Beloved Brayan, Welcome to the Family” – that the children painted in large, uneven letters for their new brother when he came home with us February sixth. I saw Jason’s new cartoon pijamas layed out on his dresser, ready for him to bounce home and change for bed. My eyes wandered to Brayan’s top bunk, made, although messily, with his stuffed bright yellow dragon and two teddy bears tossed about near his pillow. Toy motorcycle, wooden model airplane unassembled, full clothes hamper. Black rubber boots that I emptied the water out of earlier that day, almost expecting a frog or two to come hopping out. Brayan’s Bible sitting on his dresser, coloring books and school notebooks strewn about on top of their shared wooden desk along with art supplies and probably too many bottles of glue. Through their open window our multicolored hammock that we received as a wedding present from our mentors last June also caught my attention as it hung quietly, as if it, too, sleeps during the night. My gaze danced and re-danced over all that I saw, feeling as though I might explode from emotion but at the same time brought down to a very still sense of calm, of awe.

Standing, listening attentively to any word God might speak in the depths of my heart, taking in the significance of all that I saw, I then tried to meticulously erase each item from sight. I took away first the desk, then the poster, followed by the rest of the items in the room one-by-one, chronologically, the most recent items disappearing first. The Lord then led me into the sacred act of remembering, remembering how not even a year ago this room was completely bare, lifeless, a dream waiting patiently yet eagerly to be fulfilled.

My mind’s eye then began filling the empty room – first the dresser arrived, followed by the wooden bunkbed, then the mattresses, then Jason appeared and Brayan shortly after. Now this once-bare room is someone’s room. Or rather two rather precious and naughty someones.

I must have spent close to twenty minutes in that doorway in the still of the night, the muffled voices and activity in our nearby kitchen seeming lightyears away, trying to adequately understand and appreciate all that the Lord has done, provided, orchestrated in these two short years. The stillness – the screaming calm – in our home answered that which reverberated in my heart.

I then shifted my stance in the doorway, turning, and began to study our living room, which always seems to comfortably hold however many people are in it. My eyes began to slowly sweep the fairly small room, from our piano at which Darwin plays and Diana and Brayan practice to our two tall bookshelves occupied by framed photos, art projects, Christian and parenting literature, children’s books, various puzzles, and toys. The girls’ bedroom door also opens into our living room, around which there is a bright pink boa and black cut-outs of butterflies neatly taped in a row. Two large and rather full bulletin boards, bucket of Legos, chipped blue paint on the walls revealing the cinderblocks underneath.

After having spent several hours that day organizing our home, doing laundry, sweeping and mopping, and putting everything in order, I treasured the few minutes I could take it all in in uninterrupted tranquility before several high-energy little people would burst through the door and rather adeptly un-do any housekeeping measures that had been taken. My heart meditated on God’s goodness, how He puts everything in order, has put everything in order. As I mulled this over, kneading it carefully into the fabric of my understanding, I then tenderly packaged up and placed these first two years of faith, of joy and struggle, of God’s provision, on our bookshelf somewhere between the family photo albums and the Chronicles of Narnia.

Darwin’s 31st Birthday

Last month we did the hour+ hike up to one of the Pico Bonito National Park’s waterfalls to celebrate Darwin’s 31st birthday. Our kids, Jenae, Erick, and many members of our faith community joined us as we trekked uphill surrounded by Honduras’ pristine wildnerness. It was at the same waterfall one year ago that Darwin formally asked my dad for my hand in marriage…

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To Give One’s Life

Recently at home two of us adults were talking in private with a child to solve a disciplinary issue. The child sat on a seat in front of us, arms crossed, their little brow furrowed, stealing glances at the two of us while their gaze remained otherwise fixed on their feet dangling in front of them. To see the child in such a closed, stand-offish position truly was an ugly site to see. After a long discussion, praying together, and the assignment of a punishment, we concluded the time with the child by talking about Christ’s love for us and our love for the child. The disciplinary issue was mainly between the child and me, so the other adult talked about how a parent’s discipline for their child stems out of their immense love for them. The child, still avoiding any kind of emotional connection, continued studying their swaying feet. When asked if the child was certain of my love for them, the child stubbornly shook their head ‘no’ and said that I do not, in fact, love them.

My eyes grew wide and my heart sank, feelings of devastation and a fiery tinge of anger welling up inside me as I thought, “How on earth can you say that I don’t love you? Do you not realize I’ve given my life for you – ¨

And in that moment my thoughts took an immediate detour as I heard Christ’s words perhaps more distinctly than ever before. “I have given my life for you. And how many times do you, Jennifer, question my love, behaving like this stubborn, narrow-minded child? Accept my love – believe that I love you abundantly, just as you wish that your children would believe of you.”

My heart sank even more, my devastation at the child’s remark turned into the cutting realization of my own hardness. I then turned in inward repentance to my savior, confessing, “I will believe you, Lord. I will not question your character and love.” Peace and a newfound understanding and acceptance for Christ’s love flooded my body.

A couple days later, things having long been smoothed over with the upset child but still without any open admittance of my love for them, the child and I rode in one of Honduras’ public buses on our way to town, the child comfortably nested in my lap as we both enjoyed the view our window seat provided of vast pineapple fields, the mountain range that marks the landscape, and small shops and restaurants along the way. I felt in my heart that the issue was still unresolved for me – is the child convinced of my love and only said otherwise in an outburst of rebellion and anger, or do they truly feel that I do not love them? I whispered their name, and immediately an eager young face peeked up at me, and I asked gently, “You know that I love you, right?” And without delay their little head bobbed up and down and I heard their confident reply, “Yes.”

My heart sighed with relief and thanksgiving, and I felt a tangible sense of peace and unity borne between the two of us as we settled in for the ride to town. As the child sat wrapped in my embrace, I felt the two of us enveloped in that of the Father’s.

A Late Night Hullabaloo

We were getting ready for dinner – Jenae was in the kitchen finishing the preparations while Diana and Brayan practiced their flutes in the adjoining dining room, taking breaks to do silly dances to their music and laugh together. Gleny sat practicing her flute tranquilly after having hand-washed her clothes, and Jason was doing some version of a cartwheel around the dining room floor because he and I already spent time practicing his flute. I sat sorting beans at our long wooden table as I watched them, taking in the palpable joy all around me. All that afternoon and evening we had enjoyed an unusually light, jovial time together. We typically have to make a concerted effort to maintain peace among the four children and keep things running smoothly, so I found myself with a quirky grin creeping onto my face and gratitude exploding in heart as I looked around at each person fulfilling their role with exceptional delight, even sublimity. Dinner was likewise a joyful occasion, and during the prayer I didn’t let my lips mutter what I was singing in my heart: Peace! True joy! Thank you, Father. Thank you for the immeasurably precious gifts that only You can give. Peace.

As the meal wound down and we began the after-dinner clean-up routine, I leaned over and told Gleny that I needed to talk with her outside in private. I purposefully said it just loud enough so that everyone would hear me. I laughed in my heart as I thought about what their reaction would be to what only I knew I was about to do. They all perked up just as I suspected they would, and they looked at me and then her with curiosity, wondering why I would pull her aside when there was no seen disciplinary infraction to be discussed.

Gleny looked up at me eager to please but also visibly a bit nervous about what our one-on-one chat might hold. She finished eating quickly, grabbed my hand, and we walked down the few concrete dining room steps that lead to our front lawn.

Folding my lanky six-foot frame down to her level, I looked her in the eyes and asked, my quirky smile creeping back onto my face, “Gleny, what did you not do today?”

Her eyes began darting back and forth as she rapidly searched her mind for some uncompleted task or missed homework assignment. I didn’t want to leave her with that feeling of pending judgment for long, so after a couple seconds I said with a big smile, “You didn’t yell! Not even once!”

Her eyes immediately lit up in recognition of the fact that after such intense daily struggle for so long with raging emotions, she finally had an entire day in which she didn’t blow up in anger at one of her siblings. Now both of our smiles matching and growing, she agreed and jumped up and down, “I didn’t yell today!”

Before she had time to say or do anything else, I swept her up in my arms bridegroom style and began sprinting – well, running as fast as one can with a laughing nine-year-old in their arms – across our dark front lawn under the night’s full moon and letting out a continuos “Woooo-hoooooooooo!” like a person who has truly lost their mind.

She immediately began whooping with me, and there we ran in big circles, her bobbing up and down in my arms, hollering at full capacity and celebrating God’s faithfulness in hearing our prayer for peace in Gleny’s heart. “Praise God! Wooooooo!” We shouted as I ran with diminishing speed around our lawn. At one point, laughing as my arms began to weaken and shake, my big toe hit one of the many rocks in our yard and I almost face-planted with the little girl in my arms. I stumbled into recovery, laughing even harder than before, and we continued with our run-whoop back and forth across the lawn.

It didn’t take long for us to draw the people from the kitchen out to see us, and soon Jason was running behind us, arms in the air and hoots and hollers coming out of his mouth even though he had no idea what we were celebrating. Brayan stood on the concrete steps, watching us with intrigue as the rest continued with their tasks in the kitchen as if a whooping mother-daughter combo were as normal as a day with such sweet peace as the one we had just experienced…

Joy for the Journey

This month we had a big celebration in our home to commemorate several important anniversaries. Jenae hit her six-month mark of living and serving with us at the Ranch and Erick celebrated his four-month.  Among the children, we rejoiced with Brayan for having reached his two-month anniversary since the day he first joined our family, and Diana, Gleny and Jason their five-month. We danced, praised God and gave Him thanks for bringing each of us from a very distinct familial, cultural, and national background together for a specific purpose in His kingdom. My dad was also visiting us at the time, so we took the opportunity to celebrate his presence among us and his one-year anniversary since his first visit to Honduras.

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To Make the Radishes Grow

“That can be a sign that she sees you as compulsive, as being more interested in tasks than in being attentive to the people in your life.” I listened intently as the psychologist explained one of our daughter’s drawings, pointing to the pencil-sketch of me washing laundry in the ‘family’ drawing. “Typically, if a child draws his or her mother cooking food or with a child, it portrays an affectionate and loving spirit, a mother who is interested in providing for the needs of her family members. When a mother is depicted as cleaning in their child’s drawing, it shows that the child feels she can be impulsive and too task-oriented.”

I knew the psychologist was right.

That was several weeks ago, and between that newfound understanding and several others like it, God is helping me to recover from an over-achieving, do-er attitude and to rest in the perfect peace He intends for us, to learn how to love again.

Even yesterday, after having spent over eight hours between homeschool, preparing breakfast and lunch for the family, and coordinating various chore assignments, in the afternoon when Gleny asked eagerly if I could sit with her and work on her coloring book, I felt an immediate pull to escape, to go do something instead of be with her. My first thought was But I need to sweep the house and…

But I could feel Christ’s gentle pull to just rest and be. To love and enjoy this little girl that He has placed in my life — this princess of His — and color some panda bears and dolphins all the shades of the rainbow.

This urge to go and do, although many times it is in God’s name and for the intended benefit of others, has led me to a season of stress and very intense insomnia. I believe I am finally on the recovery swing, and after having many things stripped from me, He has shown me that in my own strength – however fast I ran the timed mile in high school or however many times I have joyfully hiked up mountainsides with family and friends – I can literally do nothing. He has taken me down from whatever tower of deeds I had constructed for myself, and shown me that apart from Him, I am nothing. The peace over our household, the radishes that we harvest from our backyard, every breath I take – all come from His grace. I cannot demand that peace dwell in the hearts of my loved ones, nor can I make the radishes grow or will my own lungs to work. All is an outflowing of God’s incomprehensible grace.

Several mornings in the last few weeks, I have felt God calling me to rise early, to find Him in the still, quiet hours before there is too-loud music playing on the stereo and several children constantly clamoring for my attention. I have oftentimes stood on our porch in amazement during the chilled, tranquil mornings, a very tangible sense of awe sweeping over me as I look out at the mist covering the mountain range behind our home, the birds of paradise beginning their early calls, another perfect day spilling forth from the heart of the Creator. In those early-morning moments, He tells me to slow down, to awaken to His breathtaking beauty and to just receive who He is.

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One biblical passage that we read frequently with the children and in our personal lives is Jesus’ radical call not to worry – about clothes, food, drink, or what tomorrow may bring. I oftentimes become frustrated when the children don’t ‘get it.’ When they still worry about food or have seventy-three questions about what we are going to do tomorrow. When they want to control others or feel they must fight for their place. But they know Jesus’ command and claim to be his followers, I think. In all of this time, however, I,more than anyone else, have missed the point. I have had my gaze too intently fixed on the preoccupations of tomorrow, fret about next month’s finances or try to peek into what next year might bring. I have proclaimed Jesus’ call to genuine trust while secretly allowing worry to eat away at my gut, trying to take matters into my own hands, under my own control, rather than falling into the hands of the Living God.

I will now fall. I will now obey, rest. I will trust that He will bless our home with peace, that He, not I, will make our radishes grow, that He will orchestrate my next breath. And even when the kids don’t behave peacefully or the crop fails or my lungs stop, I know in the depth of my heart that He is still good, that His love began before the conception of this world and will continue after it is gone, that everything from the beauty of the morning mist to Gleny’s sloppy cheek kisses to Jesus’ death on the cross is an outpouring of His incomprehensible grace, a manifestation of His majesty.

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.¨

Jesus of Nazareth in the book of St. Matthew 6:25-34

Even for Just One

One by one the majority of the students in my fourth-sixth grade Gifted and Talented program at the local school where I taught full-time last year and continue part-time this year came in as I was setting up for our usual Friday afternoon class to tell me, “Miss Jennifer, I won’t be coming to class today.” Their reasons seemed legitimate as they told me of the school-wide science fair and how they either had a competing project or wanted to see their classmates’ creations, and I thanked each child sincerely for having the respect to come and let me know that I should not expect them that afternoon although I was slightly disappointed with the news of the science fair’s conflicting schedule with my class.

But in my heart I rejoiced, thinking Yes, I can just cancel the class due to low attendance and spend time resting, reading my Bible, preparing for the coming week, and getting ready for the girls’ basketball practice that will begin in a few hours. I had spent a week in a warzone between our four children who are all struggling with the adjustment of having a new sibling, plus the continuing adjustment of dealing with their pasts, being in a new homeschooling program, accepting Darwin and I as parents, etc. The week had been filled with bouts of jealousy, various children declaring that they felt unloved or outright accusing us of favoring one child over another, the children forming teams against one another, feeling as though they need to struggle or compete to earn their spot in the family or classroom, playing the victim, and putting others down to feel better about themselves. Every day it seemed like each child had at least one eruption or shut-down, and our week was filled with stress, long prayers, varying punishments, discussion upon discussion about what it means to show the love of God to others, and so forth. I just wanted to collapse from mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, and I thought What an unexpected gift that I won’t have to teach today –

And then in came one of my eager fourth-grade students, and with a fake smile on my face I anticipated his science-fair excuse and cut him off, “Oh, it’s okay, I know there’s the science fair. Go enjoy it and we’ll just wait to have class until next week.” And somehow my exhausted cheek muscles forced out a reassuring smile, expecting him to accept my proposition as valid and leave.

“No!” And his face dropped, “I really want to have the class this afternoon…” and he looked confused about why I was considering canceling.

And I thought Dang it, why doesn’t he just go to the science fair? Doesn’t he realize I’m on the brink of some kind of breakdown?

I then asked tiredly if it would just be him or if others were also planning on attending our class, and he confirmed that there was at least one or two others who had said they would arrive.  I thought, trying desperately to justify myself in canceling the class, If there are just two or three kids – when there are nearly twenty enrolled in the program – it’s not worth it. It’s better just to wait until next week when we’ll have full attendance.

Then, as has happened so many times, Jesus’ words cut to my core “Even if there were just one person — one sinner — in the whole world, I still would have died for that person. Even for just one. Numbers don’t matter. Look at this eager little boy and accept him as I would – invite him in and teach him of Me and my ways. He matters to me. As I said to my Father in anguish before dying on the cross, have Your will be done, not mine.”

Then, even with rebellion – I might even call it self-defense – crying out in my heart, I told him that, yes, we would have class because numbers don’t matter, and in my heart I knew that having the class would be a submission of my will to God’s. His eyes immediately lit up, and he left the room and began shouting loudly to his comrades, “Let’s go! It’s time for Miss Jennifer’s class!” And I laughed and quickly stumble-ran out of the room to the school’s balcony where he stood to tell him to stop shouting because class wasn’t scheduled to start for twenty more minutes and, as he and my other students know, I am allergic to unneeded noise.

His eager little face then appeared periodically in my window over those next twenty minutes as he squinted to see the agenda I was scribbling on the whiteboard and to catch a glimpse of the learning materials I was preparing for them. My rebellious heart broke and I thanked God for having guided me into loving obedience.

That day five enthusiastic fourth-graders arrived in my classroom and we had an incredibly fruitful time that began with an in-depth reading of the words of Saint James: Religion that is pure and faultless in God’s eyes is this: to take care of widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself clean from the corruption of the world. From there each of us – myself included – spent about twenty minutes drawing what that means – not only the aspect of helping those in distress, but what it means to keep oneself pure from all of the destruction and sin in our world – be it pride, love of money, hatred, materialism, lies, sexual impurity, etc. We then continued on with a writing exercise in their journals with a given open-ended prompt, followed by an exercise I have invented called Rapid Math, and finished with a logic game, all interspersed with dynamic dialogue about what it means to know and follow the True God.

Throughout my two-hour time with my students, I recalled my husband Darwin’s words that he spoke at his cousin’s home recently. His cousin, who is married, in his late fourties, and a very wealthy businessman, had asked Darwin sincerely about the life of Teresa Devlin, the elderly missionary under whom Darwin worked and was mentored by at La Ceiba’s Music Conservatory for over ten years. Darwin answered sincerely, “She spoke frequently and sincerely of Christ as she ran the Music Conservatory, but the majority of the students and teachers received the message of Jesus with deaf ears. I heard the message and was saved. Basically I am the product of her 15 years in Honduras, and her mission was fulfilled through my life.” I remember looking at my husband in a new way – and not only him but also the life of Teresa Devlin and God’s infinite and tireless power – with renewed awe, respect, and determination.

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Even for just one, it is worth it. For one life turned toward Christ – even if it takes several years, frustration and despair over those who are lost, and daily struggle – it is worth it. Even if you or I or someone’s student or your grandchild or that terrible boss were the only human being alive on the face of the earth, Christ would have willingly died for that one person as He did for the multitudes. May we never judge our success, failure, or the value of our efforts on numbers.

Who’s Who at the Ranch

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Jenae Tiki Matikke, our beloved “Tia Tiki” (“Aunt Tiki” in Spanish), age 26, is about to celebrate her six-month anniversary living and working at the Ranch. Part of her family lives in Tennessee and the other part in Cameroon, West Africa. She and I met while studying abroad in Argentina in 2011, and during our time at the same Argentinean university we formed a strong friendship and stayed in touch after returning home to the States. She has degrees in Social Work and Spanish, and she is our beloved sister in Christ, dynamic homeschooling teacher, Bible study leader, and wonderful influence in both the children’s and our lives. God has placed it on her heart to start abstinence education classes in the surrounding rural community in the coming months in response to the high levels of sexual promiscuity and unwed teenage mothers. She is hilarious, very artistic, and has an extremely profound walk with Christ that is expressed in her humble submission to God’s will as she loves those around her. She is with us for an indefinite period of time as she continually seeks God’s will for her life.

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Erick Chavez, “Uncle Erick,” age 24, is a native Honduran and our honorable agriculturalist, Bible study leader, and godly influence in the children’s and our lives. He grew up in a Christian family and was discipled by our mutual mentors for several years before turning to worldly ways for a short season in his life. He has returned to the Christian faith with intense sincerity and has a profound testimony that he frequently shares with those around him. He is engaged to be married in May and is at the Ranch for an indefinite period of time as he continually seeks God’s guidance for him and his fiance.

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Diana, age 13, is our eldest daughter and has a very sweet yet strong spirit. She is wise beyond her years and is the spiritual leader among the children. She has a mothering spirit and a passion to learn music. She is currently studying piano, voice, music theory and music history in La Ceiba’s Music Conservatory that my husband directs, and in our homeschooling program she is learning to play the recorder along with the other children. She has a servant’s heart and is incredibly resilient considering the story that she holds at the young age of 13 years. She has mentioned wanting to be a math teacher or raise orphans as an adult, but she continues to seek the Lord’s will for her life. She and her sister Gleny participate weekly on a local girls’ basketball team that I coach.

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Gleny, age 9, whom I affectionately call “My Wild Gleny,” in, indeed, just that. She is very different from her older sister and has an incredible strength and spark that we continually pray will be used for God’s glory. She has grown in her self-confidence, trust in God, and adventurous spirit in these last few months, and she brings great joy to those around her. She oftentimes struggles with strong emotions, and in these last couple months she has begun to read the Bible on her own and says that each night she asks God for her life’s purpose. I recently asked her if she has any dreams for her future, and after thinking briefly she answered, “I want to go to the university. I want to keep taking painting classes and eventually teach others how to paint…and teach people how to read.”

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Jason, age 6, the biological brother to both Diana and Gleny, has grown incredibly in these months since the three of them moved in on November 1, 2013. He has given his life to Christ, and with that faith and confidence that he now has in God he has overcome many fears that used to immobilize and haunt him. He is our little man in training, and each Friday afternoon he, along with Brayan, has “Man Time” with Uncle Erick, who teaches them what it means to be a man of God. Jason loves to dance, is very artistic, and extremely affectionate. He loves animals and has a heart for the underdog.

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Brayan, age 13, is the newest member of our family at the Ranch. He is high-energy, very affectionate, and is learning what it means to be in a stable, loving family. He accepted Christ a short time after arriving, and is now learning to walk in the faith. He is very adventurous, fearless, and has helped Jason a lot in his growth as a young man.

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If you want to learn more about Darwin and me, you can visit the “Who We Are” page at the top of this blog.

1, 2, 3…Jump!

After many recent adjustments, long one-on-one discussions, conflict mediations, times of deep prayer, and the ongoing task of being a very non-traditional family, this past week we surprised the four kids with a trip to the local park to relax and just celebrate the fact the the Lord has us all together, even if sometimes it is uncomfortable or, well, different

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Holding All Things In Cupped Hands

It felt as though all the blood had drained from my body and I was on the urge of falling into a deep abyss. My weakened legs kept carrying me as Darwin and I walked along the seemingly endless dirt path leading away from our home, but I felt as though all strength — any ounce of fight inside of me — had left when I heard his answer to my simple question.

I had spent the day working on administration for the Ranch, writing thank-you letters, running errands, and buying groceries. Darwin had taken the kids to the city for their monthly ‘parental visit’ time that the government’s child protective agency requires. Typically it is a two-hour time slot of sitting and waiting without any real hope of a familial visit. After all, in their time under the government’s care, their mother has not visited them once after having abandoned them in a hotel over two years ago.

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As Darwin and the kids entered our gate upon their return from their day in the city, I greeted each of the kids with a hug and a kiss on the forehead as Darwin went quickly to our bathroom to get cleaned up because he and I had received a special invitation to dinner at his cousin’s home that evening and needed to leave promptly.

After having showered and changed, Darwin and I began walking hand-in-hand from our home along the two-kilometer stretch to the highway. I asked very casually how the required visit time went with the children that day, and he answered — as if I had asked him his favorite color or what he ate for breakfast –“Their dad came.”

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I felt as though my world had collapsed, as though I had a thousand questions to ask all at once, but my legs kept moving and somehow I kept breathing as I listened, as if through a heavy fog, to Darwin’s words —

Their biological father, who had not visited them in recent times and whom we did not expect to have any contact with, showed up on ‘parental visit day’ at the government’s child protective care office and talked with his three children for about an hour and a half, saying that he plans on visiting them every month and that he is going to work as hard as he can to ‘get them out of here.’ Diana, the eldest, protested her father’s proposition with a deep sincerity, saying she is content with us and does not want to leave…

Darwin gave me more details about the visit, but my mind wandered to the unthinkable, the unanswerable…

But we were planning on starting the oficial adoption process this May…and by law we cannot do that if they are receiving parental visits…right? At least that is what I had been told. What if their father does take them right back into all of the emotional damage that they came from? Although for us it would be devastating to lose them, the long-term damage they would suffer would be far worse than our loss. But there is redemption for everyone, and no one is outside of God’s reach, so He could change their father of whom I have heard so many abusive stories…right? What are we – a family or… Keep walking, Jenn…

As one dead leg slung itself in front of the other, carrying me toward the highway, my sunglasses under the red-hot sky hid my tear-filled eyes as I thought I cannot afford to have an emotional breakdown now, right before – or worse, during – this big dinner with Darwin’s cousin and his family.

As Darwin and I sat in silence waiting for the dinner to start, he looked at me, the despair in my heart portrayed on my pale face, and said, “Nearly a year ago you told me something that deeply impacted me…”

And I thought I know what he is going to do.

And sure enough he gently reached for my limp hands and joined them together, palms up, cupping my my hands in his. He said, “You told me that this is how you hold everything, in your open, cupped hands, because nothing is yours. Jennifer, nothing is ours. We are only administrators in God’s Kingdom.”

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My dulled mind travelled to the memory of what I had written in my journal roughly a year ago…

February 11, 2013: Yesterday as I sat perched on a mossy rock in the chest-deep waters of the river I lowered my cupped hands into the water, raising them up to study the small pool that remained cradled in my joined palms. Many times over the past few years I have used the phrase ´holding all things in cupped hands´ metaphorically to describe wanting to care for what God has given me — relationships, opportunities — without seeking control. Yesterday in the river I stared intently, almost obsessively, at the still pool in my hands for a few brief moments before abruptly clenching my fists. The water which I was holding, of course, took an immediate exit through my greedy fingers. Then, almost as an experiment to see what the results are when we grasp at water, at life — when we cling too tightly, too clumsily to what God has given us — I began grabbing handfuls of water and trying — unsuccessfully, of course — to clench the water, to keep it as mine, and each time I was left with the same result: nothing. I then tried the opposite approach — holding the river´s cool water on flat, uninviting hands. Rather than trying to rapaciously own the water I approached it indifferently, caring little whether it slid off my stiff palms, out of my life. Inevitably each time the water disappeared from my hands as it had no safe crevice to rest in. I then returned to my original position, marveling at my ability to maintain water in my carefully cupped hands, thinking how no other approach would work — I could try poking the water, slapping it, balancing it on my fingertips, crossing or twisting my hands, splaying my fingers, but each time I would be left with nothing. I will hold all that the Lord has given me with cupped, open hands.

I sat there, still in a fog, using what little strength I had to suppress the tears welling up in my eyes as he and I remained there for several minutes, staring at our empty, cupped hands. I imagined Diana, Gleny, and Jason – alas, not only them but everything and everyone in my life – sitting in my carefully cupped hands, looking up at me. Then I thought, no, not like that, and began imagining them running and dancing about on the slopes of my palms. I then began to see them – the small, imaginary children skipping about on my cupped palms – jumping outward from my thumbs, away from me, or being taken from my hands or voluntarily walking out of them. I began to feel an odd mixture of peace, sorrow, and understanding. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Darwin’s words, which were initially my own so many months ago, bounced slowly around the corners of my tired mind, “Nothing is ours…” and I prayed then and am praying now that the Lord may allow those words to settle and bear fruit in the depths of my soul — that I may never clasp my hands greedily or fool myself into thinking I have power, control, or ownership over anyone or anything, including my own life. I will make the resolution once more, this time with a deeper understanding of its weight: I will hold all things in cupped, open hands.

From Jennifer, with joy