All photos taken by Angelica Gomez on her underwater camera July 30, 2013 in El Pino, Honduras.
Several weeks ago when our family wasn’t going to be able to attend the Christian discipleship group that we normally attend every Sunday morning, Darwin and I responded to something different that God had placed on our heart: a morning of complete silence. We sat down with our four kids the night before, explaining how the next morning we would all be in total silence until noon, when lunch would be served and the silence would be broken. Each person could go wherever they wanted to within the limits of our property – in the hammock, under the shade of a tree, in their own bedroom, anywhere – in order to spend a personal time completely focused on God. Each person could spend time reading the Bible, praying, or meditating, and the only guidelines were that each person would maintain absolute silence and would focus the morning hours only on God. As Darwin and I explained this, the kids reactions were fused with intrigue. Our home is typically filled with little voices humming about, chattering non-stop about 108 different things, so Darwin and I naturally wondered if they would truly be able to maintain silence for such an extended period of time, but we trusted God’s voice within us and knew He would be faithful in what He led us to do.
The next morning we each got up when we were fully rested, and each person began what would be several hours of focused silence. As I left my room in the early morning to go to the kitchen, Jason greeted me, as he always does, and I responded with a smile and a “shh” gesture with my pointer finger over my mouth, reminding him that we were to be in total silence.
Darwin went on a solitude hike to spend time in contemplation, and I returned to our room to read Paul’s first and second letters to the early Corinthian church. After my encounter with Jason I neither saw nor heard a single other soul all morning. I thought the children must have left because no one knocked on our bedroom door or appeared suddenly in our windowsill for a friendly greeting!
We all came together at lunchtime as planned, and looking visibly refreshed and at peace, we each brought to the table our experiences with the Lord that morning. Gleny, our nine-year-old, explained in detail how she read Proverbs 31 about the exemplary woman (a bedtime favorite for the girls), and she realized for the first time that work is a blessing that the Lord gives us. Gleny noted this with a tinge of excitement, explaining how the woman in Proverbs 31 was a very hard-worker, and how through her dignified work she was able to provide for her family. Gleny then explained that she used to complain about having to work and do her chores (which is true), but that now that she understands that work is biblical and a blessing, she looks at it as a privilege instead of a burden. Darwin and I watched our little girl — this little girl who stains her clothes playing outside, just recently learned how to read and write, and loves Disney princess movies — with a sense of awe, thankful that we were obedient to God’s call to implement a morning of silence and amazed at what He did in her heart after just a couple hours completely absorbed in His presence.
Each person’s experiences during the morning of silence were unique, and that day we sat around our long wooden dining table discussing what we learned, read, and prayed that morning. It was as though the Lord was breathing new life into each one of us.
We have since had the morning of silence two more times, each time with unique and personal results. That time of set-aside silence unto the Lord is becoming a cornerstone for our family, and I challenge you to try the morning of silence with your own family, roommates, or friends and share your experiences via a comment on the blog post.
July 27, 2014: Our family hosted its first music recital on our front porch in front of dozens of neighbors, close friends, and members of our Christian discipleship group. Jason (7), Gleny (9), and Brayan (14) debuted in their first public music performance after having practiced with their director (and dad) for roughly six months. For Diana (13) it was her second public recital, and she gracefully played recorder and three pieces on the piano. All nine of us who live and serve at the Living Waters Ranch participated in the finale — three songs sung by our choir (When There is Sorrow, It Is Well With My Soul, and Peace and Liberty). It was a joyous celebration of God´s graceful and mighty hand among us, and we sense that He is calling our family to host similar public recitals at local medical clinics in the months to come as we witness to the redemption, unity, and hope that we have in Christ Jesus.
Our homeschool program gives us the flexibility to have the children highly involved in the wellbeing and upkeep of our farm animals, crops, and ranch chores in addition to their academic studies. We currently have two pregnant cows, two pregnant goats, nine hens, one rooster, and two puppies in addition to various crops and fruit trees planted around the 17-acre property. In these past couple weeks Darwin and Erick have been making the effort to prepare the soil and plant 50 saplings of rambutan, a local fruit, in the large field alongside the inner border of our property. Thank goodness they had four trusty farmhands to help out!
Look at Jason´s tongue!
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
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,
Below are photos from Brayan´s recent fourteenth birthday party…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
“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.
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