Tag Archives: Adopt

A Quiet Reflection on Love, Loss and Hope for the Future

First of all, thank you to all of you who responded to our previous blog post with sincere comments and to those who emailed me directly with words of encouragement. God bless each of you, and thank you for your availability and prayers.

A few Saturdays ago I sat around the rectangular wooden table in our family room with two of our teenage foster daughters. More than a complete spread of notebooks, office supplies, backpacks and books took over the surface area as we began working contentedly, the front door wide open to let in light and what little breeze there was. Every evening we eat dinner around this same table with its floral-print tablecloth, each person elbow-to-elbow with those next to them. We drag over the piano bench so that there will be enough seats for everyone.

On this particular occasion, the three of us gathered at this table with the intention of working on our ‘homework’ — my girls on math and grammar assignments; me on planning and administration. I serve as their math, grammar, Bible, chess and P.E. teacher in the homeschool program we operate out of our home for roughly 50 teens (our 7 fosters and  41 local youth), but when we’re not in classes I’m just their mom. My husband and I do much role-hopping throughout the week, and with God’s grace it has become normal to us.

That particular day my husband Darwin, three of our foster children and a half dozen of our local students had taken the trip into town for a day of art and music classes while I stayed on our rural homestead with our other 4 foster children. This is, in fact, the routine split-up that occurs every Saturday.

For this very reason, Saturdays are one of my favorite days of the week. I treasure when my husband and I split up our kids so that we can invest more individualized time in each one (and take a little break from the general havoc of having our complete swarm of busy-bees present). When all 7 are together (or 10, which is the number we used to have), everything just sort of turns into crowd control, which is not much fun for me.

So, our preciously quiet Saturdays grant a much slower pace and allow me increased one-on-one time with the small group that stays at home with me all day. Monday through Friday we’re “on” as close to 60 people invade our home (and need guidance, love, surveillance, prayer, classes, organization, etc.) from 6:45am until 4:00pm, so the few moments when all is still and quiet are truly a gift.

I glanced out beyond our chain-linked fence to watch our small herd of milking cows roam about our large, grassy property. After the cattle thieves had broken in and slaughtered our two adult milking cows last November, leaving us devastated (and scared), we’ve recuperated and our new momma cow just gave birth recently to a little male. My husband and two of our kids milk her every morning at 5:00am, and at least for now we don’t have to buy milk at the grocery store.

My eyes traced our expansive lawn as I took in the view of the flowering plants and the bright-colored clothes hanging on the clothesline. When the masses leave, this rural property turns into a quiet haven, a peaceful paradise. It is home and ministry to us at the same time. It is the center of our community outreach and evangelism and at the same time serves as my own refuge after long, tiring days of service.

On Saturdays I move about slower than usual, oftentimes in baggy, old clothes and my curly hair up in a messy bun as I relish in the quieter pace to reflect, seek God’s ongoing direction, remember.

I stood barefoot on our front lawn, no one looking for me or needing me, as I studied with joy our special-needs son Josue as he teetered about our silent yard on his dearly loved but extremely beaten-up bicycle. He can spend hours on that little bike without saying a word, and on this particular occasion he didn’t even realize I was watching him.

Our other daughter was practicing piano in the stillness of the purple-colored house next to ours that during the week serves as our high school building. I contemplated with joy her simple, sure notes that she played so beautifully.

After meandering around the yard a few more minutes, I crossed the threshold into our living room, returning to where our two girls awaited me. I took one glance at my to-do pile and realized that I didn’t want to do any of it. By the look on my girls’ faces, they were thinking just the same about their homework.

I slipped out of our living room and crossed the yard again, still barefoot. I entered that little purple building that lies a stone’s throw from our family’s home. I passed silently by our daughter playing the piano and entered the little community office we share during the week with our small team of Honduran missionaries/teachers. I grabbed a couple boxes of oil pastels, paper and envelopes, feeling invigorated as I was about to break all the rules and put aside my endless stacks of ‘adult homework’ for the day.

Re-entering our living room once more, I sat down on a wooden chair next to our two girls with a smile and quickly began diving into my unspoken art project. Our girls stared at me, mischievously  happy to see me acting somewhat like a small child.

What was I doing? I was taking my part in going the extra mile, and joyfully so. At a staff meeting the day prior our small team had agreed to split up the task of writing individual letters of encouragement, friendship and spiritual orientation for the roughly-50 youth in our homeschool. Each child and teen would receive 2 letters (from different people), meaning we would need a total of almost 100 personalized, creative letters with decorated envelopes if possible. We had done just this same task a couple weeks prior in an effort to reach out to our students on a very individualized, thoughtful level to encourage them in their walk with the Lord and to express our sincere love and appreciation for them.

A few of our letters prepared for the youth we love, disciple and teach

This ended up being a big hit, as most of our students had never received such long, inspiring and touching letters from adults in their lives. One 14-year-old teen boy commented innocently to his teacher after having received his two uplifting letters, “I had no idea that people could write such kind letters without them being directed toward a dating relationship.” This, after all, has been a big struggle among our teen students. If and when they do write any kind of personal letter to a classmate, it is normally an inappropriate effort at expressing ‘love’ to their secret boyfriend or girlfriend.

So, God has given us the task of setting a powerful, loving example of just what it means to write a letter under God’s perfect will and with His purposes in mind. Our letters are all about pure encouragement, godly counsel and sincere appreciation, and they come from the mature adults in their lives, not from their immature peers who are seeking affirmation and identity in all the wrong places.

This particular round of letters would not be handed over for another two weeks (and that is why it had not been on my ‘urgent’ to-do list for the day), but it suddenly seemed more important and desirable than all the other potential tasks at hand.

My list of letter recipients included 14 students ages 6-18, so I began decorating envelopes with the oil pastels and expressing my sincere thoughts on paper for these youth whom I have grown to know and love dearly.

My two girls immediately took interest in my little project and asked what I was doing. It didn’t take long until they, too, put their homework aside and asked to borrow some oil pastels. All three of us began drawing and coloring with great interest, and suddenly several hours had gone by without us really noticing at all.

Waist-deep in the whole process, I began writing my letter to Alejandra, a very petite and soft-spoken 10-year-old in fourth grade. She is the younger sister of Sandra, a local teen with whom we have a deep, beautiful and — currently — tragic history.

Sandra, now 17 years old, came into our lives almost three years ago as a very submissive and responsible teen who was looking for refuge from a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father. She moved into our patchwork family for about 10 months until her mother (Geraldina), a brave and very faithful Christian woman, was able to escape the situation of abuse and move out on her own. She recovered her daughter Sandra under her care only to then pass through immense difficulties with her increasingly rebellious daughter. My husband and I stayed in the picture as Sandra’s teachers in our homeschool program and we began employing her mom. We likewise sought to serve as two additional counselors and supporters alongside of her mom as she struggled to control the reigns on her daughter’s new behavioral problems. Sandra had come to the know the Lord under our care and asked to be baptized along with her mom, grandfather and little sister, but the decisions she began making months later did not reflect God’s desire for her life.

This up-and-down continued over the next couple years, and she even moved back in with us for several months last year as a last-resort effort to guide her in the truth once she refused to obey her mom’s authority in the home. From there it is a sad story of her escaping from her mom’s home more than once and making a series of very dangerous decisions, all of which culminated in her running away with a young man she barely knew several months ago.

Sandra has approached us hesitantly for counsel since then, and several weeks ago we met with her in the privacy of her grandma’s home to speak truth and light into her life, all of which she listened to with bold, sincere eyes. We prayed with her at her request and embraced her. She still calls us Mom and Dad, a habit she got into while living in our home. (She has a different name for her real mom and for me, but they both mean mom.) We left our meeting with her unsure how to feel, and since then we’ve seen her several times around our rural neighborhood with the guy (she didn’t take any part of our advice and they are still living together out of wedlock), and just recently they moved across the country looking for manual labor jobs in order to survive as an uneducated, underage couple completely outside of God’s will.

So, when I picked up my black pen to write what should have been a very happy, upbeat letter to her 10-year-old littler sister, a very unexpected heaviness came over me and I had to fight back tears. I didn’t see this emotional storm within me coming, as I have remained publicly very calm and rational about Sandra’s decision-making and demise over the past several months. As my mom mentioned to me on the phone recently, it is probably easier to feel angry than sad, and that’s why I’ve kept so outwardly cool about something that has actually ripped me apart.

So, as I began writing about my sincere appreciation and hopes in the Lord for her precious little sister (who looks and acts just like her, thus reminding me of her constantly), all the intense sadness that I’ve been holding at bay for months came crashing in.

I wanted to say, totally deflated and serene, to no one in particular, “This letter should have been for Sandra, not for her little sister…I am now giving her little sister all the advice that she herself didn’t take. Oh, the work the Lord assigned us was in her, not in her little sister…but she has turned her back on the Lord and given herself over to sin. We loved her so much, and now she’s gone. …WHY…?

I felt like banging my fists on the table or locking myself in my bedroom only to lose myself in the locked-up emotions I had refused to experience in prior months. It definitely is much less painful to stay cool and collected (angry even) than to allow yourself to feel the weight of the sadness of broken dreams, lost souls.

I did not hit the table or leave the room; I continued writing the letter to her little sister, which turned out to be much longer than I had intended.

The letter ended up being very joyful but profoundly sincere. As a final touch, I drew bright-colored hearts all around the margins of the letter. I re-read it several times, thinking each time more about Sandra than about her little sister, and tried to hide the intense emotions that threatened to come out at any moment.

This year, Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) continues to labor alongside of us in cooking and cleaning as the Lord is doing great things in her life, and Sandra’s two little sisters are in school with us for the first time. Another young family member of Sandra’s is now also in school with us, and all are doing very well. Everyone is here except the one who God brought to us first: Sandra.

God places people in our lives to love and guide, and it is heartbreaking when they go astray and refuse to come back. Love is not costless, and it requires sacrifice and risk to truly love as God loves.

Well, last Thursday was the official day to hand over our hand-written labor of love to the youth the Lord has placed under our care. Each of our local teachers/missionaries brought their stack — some decorated; others more plain but just as sincere — as I would then organize them all and head into the classrooms to deliver them.

A few of our teachers handing over their letters in the purple-colored little office that we all share. It’s the big day!

Once all my companions left to go to their respective classrooms at 7:00am, I had too much fun sifting through the letters and admiring the great love, detail and effort that was surely put into each one.

My plan was to take pictures of our students’ joy while opening their letters, but I quickly realized that doing so would invade their privacy and taint the beauty of the moment. Thus, I discretely took as few photos as possible, and only in the classrooms where I felt unspoken permission to take them…

Our three first graders reading their letters with the help of their tutor/teacher, a local teen male who has been involved at the Living Waters Ranch under our guidance for roughly four years.
What a picture! I love this — four of our big, extremely active teen boys (ages 13-18) caught all in silence, reading very tender letters of encouragement and spiritual direction from Christian adults who love them dearly!
A part of our sixth grade class opening their letters
Our foster daughter Gleny (smiling), with her teacher and a few classmates as they opened their letters
My husband Darwin reading letters with his spunky group of second- and third-graders, all of whom come from unique family situations/difficult personal backgrounds
Two of our seventh-grade girls reading their personalized letters from their beloved teachers

Thank God for the small acts of kindness that He leads us to take in order to recognize, love and guide those whom He has put in our path. (One of our 16-year-old boys who typically suffers from great immaturity and doesn’t display much emotional depth informed me very sincerely the afternoon that I handed out the envelopes, “I still haven’t read my two letters yet…I’m gonna wait until I get home, get changed, turn the fan on, and then in the stillness of my home I’m gonna really take my time to read them…”) Wow! Praise God that something so simple as a letter can truly impact someone’s life in the love of God.

Also, as a last note, Geraldina (the mother of Sandra’s little sister whom I wrote one of my lengthy letters to), came up to me that afternoon with a huge smile on her face thanking me for the beautiful letter I had written her young daughter. She caught me off guard when she mentioned, “Alejandra is so very encouraged by what you wrote about God’s plan to grant her a Christian husband someday.” My jaw hung down around my ankles as I honestly didn’t even remember having written that in the letter, but it makes total sense. In a culture where so many women settle for a life of marital abuse and neglect with men who know nothing of God’s sacrificial love, that little comment in her long letter spoke life — and hope — into her young life. There are godly men out there; wait in purity and seek God first. God desires for you to enjoy your marriage with a Christian man, not to be one more woman disillusioned by an unfaithful or abusive husband. God declares that you are worth it; He paid the blood of His Son in order to adopt you as His daughter.

In conclusion (yes, this has been a very long post — hopefully you enjoyed a big cup of coffee while you were reading it!), thank you for your prayers and support, and God bless each of you. May the Lord give you the grace to love abundantly those whom He has placed near to you. Take every opportunity you have to share words of light and truth with them, and may we trust God to do the rest.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

Better Yet, Don’t Do Your Chores (A Funny Yet Effective Parenting Technique)

The following is a true (and slightly hilarious) story that occurred in our home this very morning.

Over these past 4+ years of learning to parent the children and teenagers the Lord has blessed us with, we’ve read many Christian parenting books and sought advice from many trusted people in our attempts to relate to our young ones in a loving yet firm manner.

Our 13-year-old daughter Gleny, whom we are in the process of legally adopting with her two siblings, came into our lives as a rather angry and malnourished 9-year-old. In her tiny body with big, frizzy hair she experienced very intense mood swings and bouts of unexpected screaming and crying during her first couple years with us. We kept praying for her but oftentimes wondered what would become of her if the Lord did not heal her treacherous emotional swings. Although there is still much more work to be done, we have without a doubt seen the Lord calming her wild heart and granting her more peaceful, loving and happy emotions in recent times. She has experienced great advancements – academic, spiritual and developmental – in her nearly-five years in our family, and after great academic struggles in primary school she is now one of the best students in her class of ten 7th-graders in the little high school we operate out of our home. She has been very consistent in her violin lessons for over a year now, and we’re discovering that she’s a talented painter as well. She knows God’s Word and is very quick to engage in meaningful conversation about Him.

Well, all of this to point out the many triumphs in my precious Gleny’s life…but I will now point out a recent struggle and how I am working (with humor and grace) to resolve it.

Although she manages almost without flaw her many homework and group project assignments in our high school, she has not found the technique (or rather, desire) to fulfill her household chores every morning.

In our home we get up at 5:00am as each person gets busy doing the various tasks assigned to them. Darwin goes to milk the cow with two of our kids; our eldest sweeps our home and porch; Jason feeds the cat; I empty all the trash cans and tidy up the living room. Others clean the bathroom; some fold clothes; and so goes the routine.

Our goal is to leave our home clean and tidy before walking out the door and entering a full day of classes and Christian discipleship on our rural property from 6:45am-4:00pm, and on most days we reach this goal pretty darn well. We are a well-oiled machine.

Except for the squeaky parts (and, yes, Gleny is one of them.) On most days I walk on bare feet into the stillness of the room she shares with two of her sisters and quietly stroke her feet or pat her arm as I lovingly wake her up only to pass by again 20 or 30 minutes later to find her sleeping again. Everyone else is on their feet taking a shower, making their bed or going about their daily duties, and I have to call her name loudly just so that she’ll sit up in bed, startled.

Once up, she meanders around our house in a daze for nearly an hour, oftentimes spending an inordinate amount of time making her bed or going to the bathroom. (I suspect she’s taking a nap on the toilet.)

I have tried many techniques to try to rouse her and incite her to fulfill the only chore she has each morning (everyone else has 2-3 chores and they fulfill them without complaint), but I have oftentimes been left frustrated after reminding her two or three times to go do her chore only to find that she never does it.

Well, this morning a new idea occurred to me, and it worked like magic. I pulled back three bedroom door curtains and entered three silent bedrooms to awake 7 sleepy people this morning as usual, and we were off. Little Jason was taking the fruit and vegetable remains from the day prior out to the cows’ stable; Jackeline was washing the dishes; my husband was cleaning our bathroom; I was feeding the dogs.

I passed by Gleny’s room just to make sure she was up, which I suspected she wasn’t. “Gleny!” I called from the other side of the curtain, a good half-hour after having gone to wake her up the first time, and her older sister replied, “She’s not up yet.”

Instead of feeling frustrated with our chronic (but precious) squeaky wheel, I responded joyfully, “Oh, that’s okay. Just let her be!”

I’m sure everyone who heard me was surprised by my response, but I kept on my merry way – look for little Josue’s socks; help him put his shoes on; go get a bar of soap for Jackeline; take my vitamins.

Well, at some point Gleny did get up and asked permission to use our bathroom to take a shower. I felt almost giddy (in a naughty-child type of sense) as I thought I-hope-she-doesn’t-do-her-chore-this-morning. I-hope-she-gives-me-the-chance-to-do-what-I-want-to-do!

6:45am rolled around and all of our local teachers and uniformed students began streaming through our front gate. At this point family time (and house-cleaning time) is over and we enter our sacred daily routine of service to the poor, the proclamation of God’s Word, and humble love to the lost. God has sent several dozen local young people our way who spend the majority of their waking hours under our guidance as we seek to draw them nearer to Christ. We teach the ignorant, encourage the faint of heart, discipline the unruly and include many in this beautiful lifestyle with and for Christ. It is a very good, rich life. We love what we do.

Soon enough I forgot all about Gleny and whether or not she had done her chore of picking up whatever was left laying about in our outdoor washing station.

I began hugging little kids and teenage girls and extending my hand and a warm pat on the back to teen boys. It is our morning routine. I slipped into the office to greet each of our teachers and I watched as little ones began playing on the rope swings dangling from the trees in our yard.

Fifteen minutes or so later – once each group had been tucked away in their respective classrooms – I walked back over to our home (which is about 5-10 paces from our school).

Gleny! I suddenly remembered. I headed for our outdoor washing station (called a ‘pila’ in Spanish) on the edge of our porch where we wash our household’s clothes, shoes and bedding.

Yes! Ah-HAH! My eyes alit with glee as I saw the many rags and tidbits thrown about the washing station. Gleny had not done her job!

I got to work doing the job myself, laughing all the while. I hand-washed a shirt and several underpants and rags that had been left half-washed and sitting in a pan; I collected the long blue rope that was laying haphazardly on the ground; I collected the many shoes that were scattered about; I picked up and re-hung the clothes that had fallen off the line. Perfect.

Upon finishing my job, I headed straight into our little cinderblock home (still laughing to myself) and wrote on our family’s living-room whiteboard the following message that will be read by all later this afternoon once they get out of classes and come streaming into our home:

Blessings to you, Gleny! Don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t clean up the washing station this morning; I took 10-15 minutes to do it once you were in class. Now you can go ahead and cover my job of washing the boys’ clothes this Friday since I did your job this morning. I am available to fulfill your responsibilities when you need help! I love you. –Mom

So I am now at peace and will happily cover her morning duty when she ‘forgets’ to do it – and then she will have to take one of my jobs!

I had instituted this same technique a year ago with another one of our teen daughters with fantastic and rather quick results. One afternoon she did not do some chore of hers, so I switched roles with her (unbeknownst to her) and vegged out in her room watching a movie with one of our other daughters. When she walked in, shocked to find me slouched out on her floor without a care in the world, I informed her, “Oh, I did your chore because you forgot, so now you’ve got to do mine. Normally I make dinner, bathe your little brother, bring in the dry clothes from the line, feed the dogs, supervise all your siblings and help them resolve any conflict they might have. I hope you have a great time, sweetie. Don’t come look for me; I’m enjoying this great movie with your sister.” She was left with her jaw hanging down around her ankles, and sure enough she got busy doing my long list of chores while I enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon and evening. From that day forward, every time she considered not fulfilling her chores I amiably offered to do them for her and she would scream, “No; they’re mine! I’m on it!” because she didn’t want to assume my long list of chores. Score!

This parenting idea and many others can be found in Danny Silk’s phenomenal book Loving Our Kids on Purpose. It sure beats nagging and frustration! (And I certainly hope she neglects the washing station again tomorrow so that I can assign her another one of my jobs!)

God bless you and keep you!

Mid-Year Update 2018

In June my husband Darwin and I celebrated 5 years of faithful marriage, and later this year in November we will celebrate our 5-year anniversary of parenting fatherless children together for God’s glory. The Lord has used our marriage to parent 11 children and teens thus far, 7 of which continue under our full-time care, and close to 100 have passed through the discipleship-based homeschool program we operate out of our home for local youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thank you to all who have supported us along the way, and please know that we are committed to continue onward in this lifestyle of service to the poor, Christian hospitality and relational discipleship as long as the Lord allows.

One of the local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in our school took the following photos a couple weeks ago during a mid-year celebration day at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve. Darwin, our 7 foster children and I practiced several nights in a row to put together a surprise dance that we would perform in front of our all of our students and teachers! As you can tell by the very happy faces behind us (below), they loved it!

In a country where many families have been broken apart and the majority of our students’ parents are largely absent from their lives, we treasure these moments where Darwin and I can put on display the love and joy of the Lord knit together in family unity.

We work very hard teaching Bible studies, doing one-on-one and group counseling/prayer sessions, and leading by example so that the youth in our home and school may live for Christ instead of falling prey to the many wrong attitudes and behaviors that abound in Honduran society. After many long days (and nights) doing the trench work of digging deep in souls and teaching the youth both in and out of the classroom, we really enjoyed this light-hearted mid-year break as we simply danced and made a lot of people laugh! (I don’t think we’ll be going on tour any time soon!)

Below are more photos taken during our mid-year fun activity day at the Living Waters Ranch. In addition to our family dance, we all enjoyed a Christian rap performance by three of our teen boys, several soccer matches, traditional Honduran yard games and a motivational workshop by our Christian psychologist (below, yellow shirt).

We are now in the second half of our 2018 efforts to disciple and teach, as the Honduran school calendar runs from February-November. There are currently 48 youth enrolled full-time in our program who visit our home each day from 6:45am-3:00/4:00pm for Christian discipleship, academic classes, extracurricular and service-oriented activities, etc. Over a dozen have dropped out since January due to family instability, poor decision-making, etc, and we continue onward with a highly committed group of young people who are taking full advantage of the life-giving opportunity God has granted them to be part of a loving Christian community dedicated to their integral growth in Christ.


 As for our family status apart from our general ministry to our local community, the purpose the Lord has given us is to welcome children and teens who were unwanted or uncared for by their biological relatives into our patchwork family so that they might come to know the redemptive love of God. Some come and others go as many eventually go live with a stable biological family member; others will stay forever as this is the only home they know.

Please pray for us in the ongoing adoption process for those who have chosen us to be their forever family, and pray with us for our sons’ and daughters’ complete healing and transformation in Christ after having come from very traumatic childhoods. On many days our home seems like a warzone between good and evil, light and darkness, as there are many generational chains from our children’s biological families that must be broken so that they may be free to live for Christ. Pray that we may be granted the grace of loving one another well and that our fellowship with the Lord would increase daily.

Thank you to those who pray for and support this mission. Without you we would not be able to touch the lives the Lord brings our way.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family 

 

The Living Waters Ranch: Christian family to the orphaned and integral discipleship/education to the lost

Family Photo Shoot: Celebrating Five Years of Marriage

Yesterday my husband and I reached five years of marriage, and as part of the celebration we decided to organize a family photo shoot.

Our previous official family photos were taken in November of last year, and several changes have occurred in our family since then. Josselyn and Gabriela, biological sisters who lived with us over two years, moved in with a Christian aunt and uncle of theirs in January of this year, and our teenage foster son Brayan left our home very abruptly in April of this year and did not return. (I plan on writing more about this at some point in the coming weeks.)

I informed our seven foster children/teens in preparation for the shoot: Take a bath, brush your hair, and put on something you won’t be embarrassed to see yourself in several years from now, because I’m totally going to show these photos at your wedding. They laughed and headed for the showers, as we had all gotten pretty stinky that morning working around our home and yard as a family. Some of our teen girls had been cutting back the weeds with a machete and bathing our guard dogs; others had been hand-washing their clothes and chasing our small herd of milking cows around our rural property in order to give them their anti-parasitic. Gleny had done painting touch-ups around our two school buildings, and two of our other kids had helped me clean our house from top to bottom.

So, before heading out on our dinner date we asked our beloved Honduran teacher who had come over to take care of our kids if she could help us take a series of family photos near the entrance of our rural property. Unbeknownst to us, she enjoys photography and did a phenomenal job with our impromptu shoot!

To many who see these photos, they may seem like nothing more than normal — even beautiful — shots of a normal, happy family. We know, however, that this family unity has not been automatic and that we’ve even had to fight for joy in these past 4+ years with our extremely mixed family who comes from all kinds of broken places.

These photos are extremely precious to me, and I treasure the sheer joy and love that radiates from our children’s faces, as I know well where they’ve come from and the battles we’ve fought alongside of them in Christ and won. God bless you!

Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (second from the left) randomly decided to dress like some kind of teenage rebel or punk rapper, which is hilarious because she is a wonderful student, is very mature and has a tender heart toward God. We’re not sure why she whipped out this interesting attire for our family photo shoot, but I’ll certainly be showing these photos at her wedding someday!


When Darwin bent down, I thought he was going to give me a kiss (and all of our kids could sense this from me), so they all burst out laughing when he stood back up without noticing that I was waiting for a kiss.
He’s gonna make it all better!
I love the look on Carolina’s face (the one in the red shirt). It’s as if she wants to say, “Look at what I have to put up with!)

Now it’s time to get in groups of three with the strongest person in each group carrying the other two! (Darwin’s got it the easiest because our two boys are the smallest in the family!)
Already carrying Gleny’s weight on my back, I told Paola (camouflage pants), “We’re just gonna pretend that I’m picking you up. Keep one leg on the ground!”
Great underpants, Josue!

I managed to get our two oldest daughters (17 and 15) off the ground at the same time! Those are two big babies I’ve got!

Our eldest daughter wanted to carry Darwin and our cute hippie-rapper wanted to carry me and one of our other girls at the same time! We’ve got some pretty strong gals in our family!

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers and support. May God continue to be glorified through our family, and may our foster children and those we minister to in our neighborhood continue to experience freedom in Christ in ever-increasing measure.

Personal Reflection and Family Update

Yesterday evening we sat around the wooden table in our living room to eat dinner together as a family. Two of our teen foster daughters had prepared a delicious chicken soup with rice. In our household our diet oftentimes consists of rice and beans, so this soup was a special treat. The plates and silverware were all laid out on our floral-print tablecloth that I had purchased at a local thrift store a couple months ago. A candle was placed in the middle of the setup, although on this occasion it remained unlit.

Eating dinner together as a family each night has not been one of our strong points during these first few years together as a foster family and ministry homestead. Oftentimes it has seemed like a triumph just to get to the finish line at the end of each day still standing, and to make any additional effort to prepare an evening banquet for close to a dozen people just seems overwhelming. Thus, on many occasions each person just warms up rice and beans that were leftover from lunch or whips up something light due to everyone’s distinct schedule (and Mom’s exhaustion).

Some of our kids go into town two evenings per week for their ballet class; one night a week we’re out at a neighbor’s house for a Bible study; some evenings Darwin is out counseling people in our neighborhood or organizing choir practices. Oftentimes our teens have group homework projects or are practicing their musical instruments in the evenings, thus it has not been easy to pin down all the highly active members of our household for a daily routine of eating together. I imagine that in any family if a daily dinner is going to be achieved, it must be carefully scheduled and protected.

So, that is what we’ve decided to do. At Darwin’s suggestion, on Sunday I designed a fairly simple daily dinner schedule (indicating whose turn it is to cook, as we already have a nightly cleaning schedule), and we’re committed to protect and enforce this even if fatigue or busyness threaten to put this priority on the back-burner.

Yesterday morning all seven of our foster kids had been in classes and Christian discipleship in our homeschool program that we operate out of our rural homestead from 7:00am — 3:00pm. I had taught group Bible study that morning; Darwin had taught classes all morning with his small group of wily second- and third-graders and directed the girls’ choir practice after lunch. Our eldest foster daughter had a one-on-one meeting with our Christian psychologist to continue navigating the waters of healing and restoration while also looking to the future to discern the vocation/purpose that the Lord has for her in these coming years. A couple of our girls had been in cooking class; I taught my math class with 16 teens earlier that morning before heading into town to attend a three-hour meeting with local government officials.

And so, we ate dinner as a family. Last night was our first attempt to follow this new dinner schedule, and it was successful. It was nothing spectacular, but we were together. At the beginning of the meal we all joined hands and bowed our heads as Darwin gave God thanks for the food, and then our 17-year-old daughter, the eldest, graciously served everyone’s food. Surprisingly she started with my plate, which was doubtlessly a gesture of friendship as we are both making the effort to improve our relationship after having gone through many rocky patches over these past few months. (This afternoon she and I have a ‘date’ planned as I’ve invited her on a bike ride around our neighborhood as an opportunity to spend more time together and connect.)

This new season has brought small but important changes such as our new family dinner routine that we will carefully put into practice.

Each night as our kids all head into their rooms for homework and rest, I put on a sermon or two on my laptop (connected to two little speakers) in the living room so that our household is flooded with Biblical teaching. This specifically has been a very pivotal change in our home, as over these past several months I have downloaded dozens of sermons from respected pastors from different parts of the world to come directly into our home and teach us each evening. Our kids are resting in their rooms or taking a shower in the quiet of the night and everyone is receiving Scriptural encouragement. This has been very fruitful, and we will continue to do this each evening as we sow seeds into their young lives (and our own lives) for God’s glory.

Another small change we’ve made is that our 10-year-old foster son Jason, who is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with his two older sisters, now accompanies Darwin each night to go walk down our long gravel entryway to lock the two gates on our rural property. This gives him ‘man time’ with Dad and teaches him that it will one day be his job to protect and care for his own family.

Yesterday evening as our dinner was coming to a close, one of our new foster teens who moved in with us late last year expressed a question she had after having read the book of Galatians in the Bible for a homework assignment I had given her. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had actually read it and with enough attention to want to ask me a question about what she had read. I asked her to bring her Bible to the dinner table to show me the verse she had a question about, so she darted off into her room and quickly reappeared at the table, Bible in hand. As she opened the Bible, she said to herself as she flipped through the pages, “Galatians. After Corinthians.”

It was so seemingly insignificant what she was saying, but it hit me like a train. It’s working! Many of our foster kids and local students are very used to hearing others teach them about God’s Word, but they had yet to develop the habit of reading it for themselves. To change that, several months ago we started a routine that each person in our family now individually reads the Bible as we all spread out in our living room on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and in the two classes that I teach in our community homeschool (advanced math and reading/writing) I now make all the students sit individually and read the Bible 15 minutes before starting each class and then they discuss in partners what they read for about 5 minutes afterward (to get them used to openly talking about God’s Word). In these last couple months they’ve read the whole book of John and of Romans; they are now in Acts and Luke. (This specific daughter of ours is in both my classes, so she receives a double-dose of Bible-reading!) This has thus far produced marvelous results, as many of the teens have commented in awe, “I always hear so-and-so saying that we should love one another, and now I get that it actually comes from the Bible! I just read it!”

Our foster daughter who had been well-versed in Christianity throughout her childhood in various foster homes and orphanages, several months ago had very little first-hand knowledge of the actual Bible. When asked to flip to a certain book, she had to go to the table of contents and spend several moments searching for it. For her to say, “Galatians. After Corinthians.” and find that tiny book in the midst of 65 others is of great encouragement to me as she is now getting to know God’s Word not based on what others tell her but based on her own time reading and exploring its depths. Praise God!

There is much more I could write, but for now I will leave it at that. Thank you so much to those who support this mission and pray for us regularly. I continue to sleep much better in recent months after having battled insomnia for so many years, and after being bedridden with Typhoid Fever a few weeks ago my health is currently fairly strong. My husband Darwin and I will be celebrating 5 years of marriage this Sunday, and all of the local Honduran missionaries and teachers who serve alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch are doing very well.

Please continue to pray for the restoration and transformation of our foster children/teens and local students into the image of Christ, and also pray that the Lord would continue to protect us physically as we live in a very violent part of the world.

God bless you.

 

A Shoulder Massage Taken to a Whole New Level: Quality Time in Our Large Family

In our large, mixed family my husband and I parent 8 foster kids ages 9-17, all of whom come from traumatic circumstances and are daily growing and healing in the love of God.

In our daily interactions and family affairs, more than once I’ve told them the following story from my dad’s childhood.

You see, in my family of origin we all really enjoy a good foot or shoulder massage, so my grandmother (my dad’s mother) used to sit in her recliner chair with her feet up on a stool while my dad — who was a child at the time — would sit on the floor in front of her and give her a foot massage. Now, the key to my grandmother’s success was this: she maintained a Snickers bar beside her, cutting it up into little pieces and slipping them to my dad one by one as he kept going with the massage. Now that’s a smart lady.

My dad frequently told me this story when I was growing up, and I have since begun telling it to our 8 foster kids as we all laugh at my grandma’s strategy. Then, one day several months ago it dawned on me: I should do the same. So that same day I went to the grocery store and got a couple big packages of Oreo cookies and came home laughing to myself at my plan. I wrote on our family’s whiteboard in our living room: If anyone’s willing to give Mom a foot massage this evening, she’s got Oreos…

That was all it took. Sure enough, after dinnertime they came out of the woodwork as I suddenly had five or six eager masseuses — one on each hand and foot and one rubbing my shoulders. As they progressed with the massage, they earned several Oreos and there was much laughter and warm memories along the way. (I even think it is safe to say that they enjoyed the laughter and the closeness more than the Oreos.)

This has since become a normal activity in our household every few weeks or so, and a few days ago was no exception. My dad was visiting us and staying in our home for a few days, and as he came walking into our living room Sunday morning after our typical Scripture reading as a family, he found five or six kids and teens giving me a massage. (Of course, the bucket of lollipops was close by.) He laughed out loud and took the following pictures, which I now share with you.

These photos represent a silly, warm side of our family as we all seek to walk in the light of Christ together in our daily context in rural Honduras. It is also worth mentioning that this somewhat goofy time of bribed massages has been helpful in our development of healthy, loving touch with our kids and is also a way for me to have fun quality time with them.

Enjoy the photos!



The Unusual Tribe of Three: Quality Time on Our Rural Homestead

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!

Josue and I posing in front of the little plants we planted near our fence. We’ve both got our working boots on!
Carolina (15) and Josue (9)
Josue learning to take photos…his finger managed to make it in several of them!

They are such hard workers! (We enjoyed about a half hour together shoveling dirt/rocks in our front yard.)

Time to help momma bunny give milk to her five babies in our living room!
The little guy was so enthusiastically drinking milk that his feet were up in the air!

   

Josue sure is a lot of fun!
Tickle time!
Gotta love this photo of Josue’s buttcheeks! We laughed hard when we saw this photo — he was intent on tickling me and didn’t realize that he probably should have been wearing a belt!

Now Josue’s taking the photos!

After balancing Carolina up with my legs, we had a wipe out!
Now let’s head over to the mango tree!

This is one of my favorite photos! Absolutely beautiful!
Time to jump down! Be careful!



Here come the buttcheeks again! You really do need a belt, Josue!
One of the last chores of the day — washing the clothes in our outdoor washing station!

Josue learned how to rake the leaves! Good boy!
At the end of the day, I sent Josue to go take a shower to get all the dirt and grime off. As he finished showering and changed into his pijamas, I asked (without seeing him), “Josue, did you shower with soap?” because sometimes he tries to only bathe with water. Carolina, seeing Josue come around the corner, began laughing and assured me, “Oh, he certainly did bathe with soap.” Perplexed, I began to ask how she could possibly know that when I saw the same evidence — Josue had big globs of soap in his hair and ears! He sure did shower with soap!

Amen! Glory to God!

Multiplying Responsibility Like Bunnies

The latest greatest on our rural homestead in Honduras is the arrival of our five bunnies! Many local friends of ours had recommended that we get involved in bunny care as a way of producing small quantities of meat for our family’s consumption, so we finally did so when a local woman was looking to sell her adult bunnies at a good price.

A couple weeks ago we started off with four females and a male…and we’ve already got babies! The care-taking of our precious bunnies has been a huge hit for our kids, as they’ve been given the task of feeding them several times a day, which includes going out to the pasture to cut grass with a machete for them and chopping up fruit and veggies for their consumption. The bunnies were very skittish when they first arrived and we were told that they couldn’t be held, but our kids have been working hard to domesticate them, and one of our teen daughters in particular has become quite a delightful bunny tamer. She helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that each of the babies gets enough to eat, and she’s constantly checking to make sure they’re okay. (Our kids consider themselves too old and mature to play with stuffed animals, but cuddling the bunnies is fair game! We love it!)

Here are a few photos!

Our 10-year-old son Jason whom we are in the process of legally adopting squeezed into the bunny hutch! My husband Darwin and I are enjoying having the bunnies on our homestead because their presence is teaching our kids more responsibility, how to gently care for God’s creation, and they are healthy entertainment! (We’ve chosen not to have a television in our home, and our kids don’t have internet access.)
Our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline LOVES the bunnies! She’s offered to feed them three times per day, and every morning and evening she helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that her babies get enough sustenance! Jackeline is also very involved in the care and upkeep of our small herd of milking cows and is excited about the pig pen we are in the process of constructing. We are very proud of the new, very mature character the Lord is forming in her as He transforms her with His love.

Here is our eldest, 17-year-old Dayana, whom we are also in the process of adopting. She’s not too fond of the animals, but — fear not! — Jackeline is close by to make sure everyone’s okay.
This is 15-year-old Carolina, another one of our beloved foster teens. She moved in with us late last year and is doing extremely well in our household.
Jackeline took several portraits with the bunnies!
Here are the babies when they were just a couple days old! When our kids first saw them, they asked if they were rats!


      Amen! Glory to God!

Kindness Training

Yesterday in our large, mixed household in rural Honduras we did a new thing. We invented kindness training.

Our foster kids/teens oftentimes struggle with asking for things politely or humbly submitting to authority figures. Rather than asking, “Could you please…[fill in the blank],” oftentimes we hear people barking at their siblings, “Give me [fill in the blank] or go do [fill in the blank]” without actually asking or adding a kind ‘please’ onto it. Many times we’ve verbally corrected them, instructing them how to politely ask for something rather than demanding it, but this has brought little behavioral change.

Likewise, when sent to do something or given an order by an authority, many a time we hear murmuring or complaints like, “Why is it always me?” or “I don’t want to… [fill in the blank.]”

Several months ago we had even reached the point of washing out all of our mouths with soap (my husband and I included) because we had all been misusing the free speech the Lord has given us. We lined up one by one in the kids’ bathroom after a long, serious family meeting and took turns scrubbing out the insides of our mouths as a consequence for getting snippy with one another and participating in complaints and gossip. It was a bitter lesson!

Thus, yesterday morning as I was pondering on just how we might improve this politeness dynamic in our household, an idea occurred to me: kindness training. Now, of course, I had no idea what that was nor did it probably exist before we did it for the first time last night, but it turned out great once the brainstorm kept flowing in my mind and the idea was developed.

Last evening we drove into our rural neighborhood to pick five of our teens up from their weekly youth group in the home of a local Honduran missionary couple whom we serve with, and we brought them all home in time for dinner, as is our Monday routine. As the rice and beans were heating up on our gas stove, rather than everyone sitting around idly talking about how their day went, I called everyone together and informed them that we would be doing a family activity (which any teenager absolutely loves…not) and that everybody had to come to the dining room. Two of our teen girls tried to cleverly escape by ‘going to the bathroom,’ but they quickly got called back. Soon enough everyone was present and waiting for instruction.

We would go one by one, taking turns standing up in front of the rest of our family members as those in the ‘audience’ would then ask something of the person standing in the middle or give them a loving order. The goal in all this: learn to ask things with kindness and to respond likewise.

I went first in order to show them how it goes. Darwin took the lead: “Jennifer, could you please go get me a glass of water?”

I responded quickly and earnestly, “Sure! My pleasure.”

Then others followed suit, each person taking their turn to ask me to go close the gate, check the food on the stove, etc. Each person asked rather than demanded (being sure to attach a sincere ‘please’ on what they were asking), and as far as I was able to do what they were asking I responded sincerely and with a joyful attitude. I was willing to serve and not at all inclined toward grumbling or laziness; this was the example to follow.

As I finished my turn, I sat down and we waited to see who would go next. One of our extremely precious teen girls who has a reputation for being more than a bit explosive in our household — especially when people ask her to do things or help out, heaven forbid! — jumped up with a spring in her step, eager to be the next volunteer. Our eyes all widened and we wondered how this would go! Would she grow sulky or irritated as we asked her to complete the various hypothetical things we were about to say?

She had a big smile on her face — this was miracle #1! I don’t remember who was the first brave soul to ask something of her, but soon enough we were all taking turns politely asking her to help sweep the floor, go wash her clothes, take a shower promptly, etc. Each time she responded politely — this was miracle #2! Wow!

And so we all took turns, learning how to ask things of others with grace (rather than demanding them) and how to humbly submit to another’s request as we seek to serve one another with the same attitude that Christ showed us. After about twenty minutes or so everyone had done the rounds. It was time for dinner!

Once we had eaten, two of our younger sons and I were on kitchen duty so we began washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and putting everything away. I was stationed at the sink when another one of our teen girls — who typically doesn’t really pay much attention to the people around her when she’s going to reach for something and most definitely doesn’t normally say ‘please’ — came over to the sink where I was — and without invading my personal space and brushing right past me — patiently stood behind me, waiting her turn, and asked in a very natural, polite fashion: “Mom, could you please fill my cup with water?”

I froze, at first inclined to laugh out loud because I thought she was doing it on purpose as a sort of joke since we had all just practiced asking politely for things. I answered slowly, without turning around to look at her, “Yes…it’s my pleasure.”

With my response, her eyes grew wide, she gasped slightly and squealed, “Hey! I did it!” She was surprised that she had actually put into practice what we had all just learned. At that we both laughed.

Again this morning — the following day after our first kindness training as a family last night — I overheard a conversation between our two youngest boys as they were getting ready for school and one asked the other for something in an extremely polite and patient fashion. They could not even see me and had no idea I could hear them — wow!

In like manner, a few weeks ago in our first advanced math class of the new year at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, I informed my 18 teenage students that each day as they entered my classroom they would have to greet me. Upon hearing this, many started to smirk and giggle at my request — I was actually instructing them that they had to shake my hand, look me in the eyes, and tell me, “Good morning.” How absurd! I continued as I informed them, quite seriously, that at the end of each class they would likewise have to shake my hand again and verbally thank me for the class. Many looked very surprised at this, as this type of training seems a bit audacious (and makes the teacher saying all this seem a bit self-centered), but I told them that the benefit was not meant for me but rather that I desired to train them to be polite and thankful with all of their other teachers and in all situations, both with God and with people. Well, my students and I are now several weeks into this process and they are now fully trained to greet me kindly at the beginning of the class and thank me at the end of the class — and not only that, but I’ve overheard them doing it also with their other teachers at the most unexpected of moments! Yes!

And so, these are small stories about attitude shifts and how to cultivate a more gentle spirit in the way we interact with those around us for God’s glory. Be encouraged! (Maybe you can even try these wacky but effective methods in your own home or workplace!)

Amen! Glory to God!

Teen Training by Way of the Sweet Tooth

In our large, mixed family in which my husband and I have fostered 11 children and teens in the last four-and-a-half-years, we’ve had to find (and most times create) different methods — however wacky they might turn out to be — in order to train our precious little ones in the ways of righteousness.

Well, our ‘little ones’ are no longer little, as the majority of our kids now lie in the age range of 13-17 years old. Simple rebukes, time-outs or other common disciplinary procedures designed for small children just don’t do the trick (especially not with ours, who arrived in our home already on their way to puberty or several years into it). So, in addition to regular times of prayer, Biblical counsel and healthy family time, we’ve gotten creative in the way that we train our teens.

One constant struggle in our household (mainly among our 5 teenage girls) is that of gossiping, hurt feelings, and the like. On many occasions we’ve facilitated very on-edge conflict resolutions among our girls, always guided by prayer and asking for Christ’s peace to cover each of us in the process. By God’s grace our girls have come a long way, and they now have better (and more loving) communication skills that most of their peers but there are still certain ‘tweaks’ that we hope to make in the attitudes and behaviors in our home.

With that being said, a few nights ago a plan struck me: I would go innocently pop by our girls’ rooms to encourage them in love, and each time I would do so I would give them some kind of tiny treat. One of our girls was out for the night at a friend’s house, so our teen girls numbered four for that night. Two in one room; two in the other.

Knowing too well the attitudes we had been facing in our home in the last few weeks between these four (and their tendency to form teams against one another), I asked God for an extra dose of joy and began my absurd rounds, all in the name of brotherly (or rather sisterly) love.

I had already hugged each of our kids and bid them goodnight not 15 minutes prior, so at this point no one was expecting me to come back by again. It was still early, so I knew they would be doing homework or chit-chatting quietly in their rooms. It was a perfect opportunity for a lesson in God’s love.

I approached the first room, a black curtain hung in the doorway (our kids don’t have doors on their rooms). We had just recently painted our kids’ rooms for the first time in a few years, and this particular room now sported a beautiful turquoise blue with black music notes painted along one wall. I knocked on the frame around the curtain and asked in a joyful tune if I could come in.

They quickly answered, telling me to pass. This was Team 1, and I was determined to do all that was in my power to assure that their nightly ‘sleepover party’ didn’t turn into a gossiping match against their other sisters. I slid the curtain open, my face now beaming through it as I greeted our two precious teens with my wide, energetic eyes as they sat quietly on their floor doing the math homework I had assigned them. They looked up at me expectantly, waiting to see what I needed.

My voice rose high as I accentuated the end of the question: “Are you two loving each other?”

Their brows furrowed a little, not expecting that question, and nodded ‘yes.’ They were less than enthused with their guest.

Another question on the heels of the first: “Are you loving your other two sisters who are in the other room…?”

One of them, now a bit on the defensive, answered, “We’re not even talking about them! We’re doing our math homework.”

I kept going, undeterred, “Oh, I’m not accusing you of talking poorly of them. I’m only asking. I can see you’re both working really hard….But you’re sure you’re loving your sisters even in thought and spirit?”

A small smile cracked the lips of one of our girls, and she answered, “Yessss, Mom. In thought and spirit we love them.” The other one arched an eyebrow, which seemed to say otherwise.

That’s okay, I thought. We’ll work on that.

I kept prodding, “Okay, because as daughters of God we love others even when they aren’t present, right?”

Then they started giggling at their crazy mom who was bent on teaching them to not back-stab others, “Yesssss, Mom!

With that I whipped out my left hand that had been hidden on the other side of their curtain, revealing two little packages of Oreo cookies. “Praise God!!! I’m so proud of you girls for loving your sisters. Here are some cookies.”

I threw the cookies toward them as they reached out responsive hands to grab them in the air, now squealing with excitement. This game was not only a little weird, but also fun!

I then entered fully into their room, passing the threshold and bending down to kiss each of them on top of their head. Then I was gone, out in our living room commencing the long journey (of about a yard and a half) to reach the doorway where our other two teen girls were. This time a bright mixture of pinks and purples greeted me from the curtain dangling in their doorway.

Knock-knock. “Girls, can I come in?” My voice was sing-song, and surely they already knew what was up because in our house you can practically hear every conversation that goes on from one room to the next.

They let me pass, and in this room, too, I kept my left hand hidden behind the curtain with the treats held firmly in it. I asked them the same questions, if they were loving their sisters.

One of our teens, not at all amused and having had a pretty rough week with one of our daughters in the other room blew me off and replied, “Uh, sure. We’re loving them.” The other girl present, one of our new daughters who has only been with us a few months, looked a bit confused by my question and sing-song voice.

I wasn’t convinced, so I continued prodding with all love, “Are you loving them not only in speech and in action but also in thought and in spirit?”

The same teen replied, “Um, honestly, no. My thoughts toward them are not very loving.”

I kept going, appreciating her honesty: “Okay, then we’re going to change those thoughts. Think a loving thought about her, because that is what God wants from us. Love.”

Her face betrayed anything but enthusiasm as she then murmured something about having a nice thought about her sister, although her attitude had not really changed. I encouraged them to love and honor their sisters for love of God, not only in their presence but also behind their backs. Hesitating on whether or not they really deserved the cookies, I headed in anyway and tossed them their incentive. They both looked surprised as they received their chocolate cookies (a rare treat in Honduras), and I went to each one and gave them a kiss on top of their head. Then I left.

Only two or three minutes passed before I entered my bedroom stash and grabbed more treats, ready to do my second round of many. I went to both rooms, knocking first and then asking each group similar questions as to whether they were truly loving their sisters and honoring them in thought, deed, speech, soul and spirit. (Each time I went I made the questions longer and a bit sillier). By now they understood what was happening and answered the questions quickly and enthusiastically, waiting for their treat. After answering the questions and receiving their prize I would give each one a kiss on the top of the head and a pat on the back or a hug.

And so every few minutes — repeating itself more than five or six times — I would make the rounds to the two rooms, trying to intercept/distract/combat against any potential gossiping or bad attitudes that could easily happen during our family’s Sabbath Hour when we don’t have as much contact with them. Each time their reactions (and facial expressions) got happier, and they came to laugh really hard about the craziness of it all.

At one point — now over 30 minutes or so into the outrageous process and with our girls enjoying a small fortune of sweets — I entered the second room and the girls were laughing so hard that they were almost crying. After I asked my questions and they affirmed their love for their sisters, I went to toss them a bag of chips and they both blurted, “We thought you were going to bring lollipops!” and began howling with laughter as if that was the funniest thing anyone had ever said. I’m not sure why they thought I was going to bring lollipops or why it was so funny to them, but they both began rolling on the floor and pointing at one another with uncontrollable laughter as they struggled to breathe. I stood in the doorway and contemplated what joy can do to a person. They looked absolutely beautiful, much more so than when I first appeared and they were put-off and closed down emotionally. Now the fun could not be contained!

On my following round (which ended up being my last), I entered their same doorway and asked them the now-infamous questions. Their faces were still speckled-red and tears were brimming in their eyes from their laughing fit as they now felt eager to answer my questions. One of them, the one who was first so unenthused, actually invented a song and began sining really loud about how much she loved her sisters (by name, even including the one she hasn’t typically gotten along with!) and finished her performance off by adding, “I love my sisters in deed, in word, in thought, in soul, in spirit, with my nose, with my knees, and with my hair.” With that the laughing fit overtook her again and she began rolling around the floor, pointing at different body parts of hers and gasping that she loved her sister with her ears, her elbows, etc.

By now I was laughing along with them, and in that moment I whipped out a lollipop for my singing daughter. Her eyes grew wider (the lollipop was what she had wanted all along), and she squealed really loud and kept going with her proclamations of love as she received her reward. The other one, seeing the other lollipop in my hand, began laughing hysterically and singing her own song about how much she loves her sisters. It was a total riot, and she won her lollipop!

So, that is our crazy story that took place four nights ago in our little cinderblock home at the base of the mountains in a third world country deeply scarred by hatred and sin. It may not be much, but I share it with you so that we may all be encouraged to love one another (face to face and behind our backs) for love of God. Our Father designed us to love Him and love one another, and I believe a bit more riotous laughter within God’s perfect will can go a long way to heal certain scars caused by sin. There is a Way more excellent than that of resentment, relational wars and lack of forgiveness, and it is that of love in Christ. Be encouraged!

God bless you!

 

A Refuge for Misfits

Yesterday as I was taking four of our foster children to the dentist in the city that lies about a half hour from our rural homestead, my phone rang.

It was my husband: “Three more kids just arrived wanting to enroll in our homeschool program this year.”

I breathed deep, knowing that the number of local children and teens who had already enrolled in these past few weeks had greatly surpassed any established limit we would have liked to set. A few days prior I had shuffled through all the enrollment papers in our office, assuming the sum total would be up around 50, about 10 or 15 more than last year.

But my eyes grew wide as I saw that the count was 63. Considering our limited resources and experience, we decided to close the enrollment period. 63 students — almost all of whom come from devastating backgrounds — would be more than enough, seeing as we were facing almost double the amount of students we finished last year with in November.

And then the next day three more local students arrived at our front gate and I felt God lead me to accept them (despite my own personal preferences). 66!

Now Darwin is calling me about three more! We’re getting close to 70, and we don’t have the tables, chairs or really the classroom space to comfortably have so many people running around our home! Help!

Darwin gave me more details about the prospective new students: “It’s a single dad who is raising his three kids because his wife left him when he had a stroke several years ago. He’s unable to work and lives in a room in a little church where a local pastor is economically supporting him and his three children.”

Then there was a moment of silence over the phone as we both considered what this meant.

God has placed us in our rural neighborhood stricken by deep poverty and suffering for this exact purpose: to shine as Christ’s lights in the darkness and extend the love and mercy of God to this hurting corner of the world. If this disabled single father does not fit within the parameters of the mission the Lord has given us, then I’m not sure who does. Surely we must accept them.

Darwin continued: “…And there’s one more as well. It’s a teen boy who’s on his way to ninth grade and last year was unable to study at the local high school because he didn’t have the money to do so. He’s very eager to learn but hasn’t had the opportunity to do so.”

Even in the midst of my own fears and desire for control (and love of small numbers), I breathed deeply – a streak of excitement passing through my chest as I contemplated all the lost and broken people the Lord is entrusting us for healing, “Of course; bring them all in,” I answered over the phone as I zipped down the highway. That was the answer God had placed on both of our hearts.

Teenagers – always more teenagers! The group of young people the Lord has sent us this year is turning out to be quite a ragtag bunch (and that’s just the way we want it). There are many private schools in our area who look for the best, most well-behaved students with good credentials and decent family backgrounds. Our search is just about the opposite: we look for and receive those on the farthest margins, those who are likely within a short distance of falling into gangs or becoming local vagabonds (if they aren’t already).

This year we’re receiving a young man who is already in his early twenties who will be entering third grade with us and another third-grade student who is a teen on the cusp of 15 or 16 years old who is a notorious vagabond in our area with bright purple-died hair who has tried school several times but has thus far always dropped out. We have hope that this time God will give him the perseverance and grace to finish the year, and maybe even several more after that.

Another teen is entering who finished primary school five years ago and dropped out of school since then. He’s now 16 and will be entering 7th grade with us. What made him want to enroll in a God-fearing community homeschool program that is heavy on discipline, love and truth when all that he’s been accustomed to is probably the opposite? Why not continue roaming our neighborhood aimlessly or simply enroll in the local public high school, where everything is easier and cheating/corruption are easily overlooked? We have no idea, but we thank God that this young man and roughly 70 others will be willingly exposed to God’s Word and the truth of His love day after day under our guidance.

There are many other similar stories – many fatherless children and teens who will be entering our school where they will finally have loving, Christian adult males to lead them; many coming from malnutrition and deep poverty who physically look several years younger than they actually are; others who come from the public school system discouraged and rejected after years of trying to learn and failing. The Lord is creating a small, beautiful haven for misfits, and He will be the one to fortify this work, for He is the one who brought so many young people to us.

I contemplated all this as I drove up the long gravel road to our home the other day. Crossing through our rural neighborhood I saw one of our new male students – a 15-year-old who will be entering 6th grade after having been a local vagabond for the past several years – meandering around the streets on his bike. I gave him a double-honk from inside our car to greet him, and then all of a sudden he changed course and began darting up the path in front of my old pickup truck as fast as he could.

This particular young man has had quite a bit of contact with us this month, even coming up to our home to participate in our riotous P.E. classes with our teachers (as in, our teachers are the students). Darwin had met him several months ago when he took our kids to a local field to play soccer, and he’s been developing a relationship with him ever since.

I smiled and continued driving onward, me now following him as he began pedaling as fast as he could up the slighting inclined path to our home. The car continued to rumble along as he passed as quickly as he could over uneven terrain, rocks and puddles so as to keep his lead on me. Were we in a race? I didn’t think so. I had no idea what was happening, but I enjoyed the game and he seemed really intent on beating me to our gate.

Making the last turn up to our property, our home and the majestic mountains just beyond now in full eyesight, the young man finally reached his destination, threw his bike to one side in one fluid motion and pulled open our front gate, panting and smiling big.

I rolled down my window as I directed the car to pass through the opening. Leaning over to greet the young victor, I thanked him for opening the gate for me. Had he really gone out of his way and beat me up the path just for that? Just to show me an act of kindness? Surely he must have had other business up here…

Still panting, he informed me through my open window: “I wanted to come open the gate for you!” An enormous smile flooded the precious, soon-to-be ex-vagabond’s face.

Chills ran through my body as I suddenly realized I was the recipient of a very extravagant display of friendship and favor. I immediately thanked God in my heart, feeling that the good work in this young man’s life had already begun, and that He used this simple boy to even touch my own heart with His love.

I pulled all the way through the gate; he closed it behind me; and he was off. Mission accomplished!

Many young boys in disadvantaged Honduran neighborhoods such as ours begin working with local gangs from about age 10 on, participating in horrible crimes and Satanic worship perhaps for lack of a better place to belong. Our 16-year-old foster son Brayan (whom we are in the process of legally adopting), has commented to us several times that if God had not placed us in his path when he was 12 years old, he would probably belong to a gang by now or be dead. So, we thank God that he is bringing in the vagabonds and lost young men and women who very well may be within a yard of Hell, and we praise Him that He’s brining them home, bringing them to a knowledge and experience of God’s love for them through Christ.

Please pray with us for this increasing group of children and teens whom the Lord has entrusted us as we are finishing off our preparations for the new year of discipleship and integral education that will begin Monday, February 5th.

God bless you!

2017 Yearend Photos

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Here are photos that were taken at our yearend celebratory event with our students, teachers/missionaries and local community a few weeks ago at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve as Christ’s body.

(I have not updated the blog recently due to the fact that our 10 foster kids/teens are on vacation from our community homeschool program, and I’ve been dedicating more ‘momma’ time to them as they’ve needed me to be more present in the home and put the majority of my administrative/communication duties on hold for now). God bless you, and please continue praying for the unstable political scene in Honduras, as the chaos has calmed down for now but is rumored to heat up again after the holidays.

My husband Darwin directing his youth choir in songs of the hope we have in Christ

Our 16-year-old son Brayan and me sitting in the audience as we awaited the arrival of our neighbors
Darwin directing our 10-year-old son Jason with a piano piece

Darwin and our 13-year-old daughter Gleny accompanied by Annie, a precious teen who I taught and discipled in the Episcopal School in the nearby city of La Ceiba for several years after moving to Honduras in 2012. She and her two sisters are now homeschooled by their parents and are involved part-time at the Living Waters Ranch in music, agriculture, community service, and Christian discipleship to complement the academic education they are already receiving at home. Annie and her two sisters are very special to Darwin and me as we’ve known them closely for several years, and it was a very pleasant surprise to talk with their parents a couple months ago and see a door opened to have them come study and grow in Christ alongside of us part-time at our home. Their parents drive them about 30 minutes from their home in the city out to our rural property in order for them to participate! Praise God!

 

Three of our local teen boys who study with us in our discipleship-based community homeschool program. 15-year-old Cristian (the one in the middle), came into our lives about three years ago as a very malnourished and completely uneducated boy who had never gone to school before, and now he has a heart for the Lord and he’s on his way to high school after successfully completing our accelerated program for older students! He and four of his siblings study full-time in our home, and both of his parents are now employed with us.
Geraldina, Sandra’s mom, getting ready for the preparations. (She even put on a pair of borrowed shorts and competed in the 2-mile roadrace after the musical activities finished!)
During several of the choir’s songs, the older kids and mature teens were all afraid to stand near the microphone! Our 10-year-old developmentally-challenged foster daughter Gabriela (blue dress), who LOVES to sing, unashamedly took up the front and center spot right in front of the microphone when all others were afraid to do so! I laughed when I saw her — knowing that her voice would resonate above all else’s due to her position so close to the microphone — and I whispered to the person next to me, “I sure hope she knows the lyrics!” She frequently mispronounces words and has many difficulties in daily living, but she truly shined during the choir performance — and she did a great job with the lyrics! It was a beautiful moment and one of the first times I’ve really felt proud of our quirky little one. Praise God!
Two of our daughters (Jackeline, left, and Dayana, right)

 

Amen! Glory to God!

2017 Yearend Update

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.

The Lord’s Whisper: Renounce Your Life for My Sake

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.

Amen! Glory to God!

Standing at the Gates of Hell

The two new young women I wrote about in the previous post arrived at our front gate on Monday of this week (three days ago), and it has been a very intense and exceedingly blessed three days with them. They are two young women (ages 14 and 15, not related biologically) who have been through many hard hits in life (and dealt some hard hits in return), and we feel utterly convinced that after having bounced around in various foster homes and orphanages the Lord brought them to our home to find stability, permanent family, healing and, ultimately, a transforming relationship with Christ.

In these first three days with them we’ve shared many moments that are too delicate to share on this blog, but in increasing measure the joy of the Lord is experienced in our household as Darwin, our 8 kids who’ve been with us for several years and I are truly collaborating together — as the body of Christ — to extend God’s love to two teens who literally no one else was willing to receive.

Two days ago after some shocking news was revealed to us about one of our new arrivals, I experienced many moments of ‘becoming undone’ emotionally as we sought to appropriately deal with the information and its implications in the way that God saw fit. It was a day of bitter weeping, much prayer and a very serious family meeting so that our 8 would all be on the same page — united in Christ — with Darwin and I so as to love these two teen girls (and protect those who are already in our household) in a way that very likely they had not priorly been loved.

At the end of that very trying, stretching day (Tuesday), I sat at the long wooden table in our living room next to our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline who quietly went about completing her math homework (I’m her math teacher) by candlelight as the Lord enveloped our household in that blessed nightly silence during our family’s “sabbath hour.” It had been perhaps the most difficult day we had experienced as a family in some time, and yet I felt the Lord’s presence and His hand over the entire situation more strongly than ever before. I sat next to Jackeline stroking her back as she continued hard at work, wooden pencil in hand and notebook illuminated by the little candle in front of her. We stayed like that for a long time — me stroking her back, her working on her homework, the rest of our kids quietly tucked into their rooms for the night along with our two new arrivals — when I asked her, “Jackeline, you know that I love you, right?”

This is something that we communicate frequently to our kids, so without skipping a beat she immediately took her concentration away from her schoolwork, penetrated my eyes with hers with striking joy, and said  with a big nod and a smile, “Yup.”

I smiled, still sensing the Lord increasingly near in the midst of the rescue mission He had very unexpectedly sent our family on to go after the souls of these two young women who would have very likely become prostitutes within the next couple years had He not intervened. Then I bent in closer towards Jackeline, my hand still patting her back as she had quickly resumed her schoolwork, and I whispered, “You know, you’re one of my favorites.”

This time the smile overtook her face as her eyes came up to meet mine again and she let out a little laugh and said, “I know!”

We both laughed at that, and then I said, “You wanna know a secret?”

She nodded her head ‘yes,’ momentarily forgetting her math homework. I continued, “I’ve never felt happier in my life, and it’s because I’ve never felt nearer to the Lord.”

She studied my eyes for a few moments — fully knowing the day that our family had just lived, how our obedience to Christ was put to the test in a big way once we received the news we did about one of our new foster daughters — and then she nodded quietly in agreement, understanding what that joy is that goes beyond fluctuating ‘happiness’ and is found only within God’s will.

Her pencil quickly resumed moving back and forth as she calculated numbers and solved algebraic equations. I continued contemplating the beauty of our Lord and what it means to serve Him in this great rescue mission, literally tackling people off the path as they’re headed into Hell. I felt like weeping — for joy, for pain over what each of our children (and so many others all around the world) have suffered, for the great privilege that our Lord allows us to serve Him in such a way — but I had already wept so much that day that I felt dry, emptied. At peace. So I just thanked Him in my heart. In the face of what almost any sane person would call an impossible situation, I never felt closer to Him, more convinced of His burning desire to rescue these two young ladies from the snares of the enemy.

So we give thanks for all 10 of our children and we enter into yet another chapter of our life and service with Christ now with 7 daughters and 3 sons, all of whom come from devastating circumstances and whom have found (or are finding) healing and freedom in God’s eternal family through Christ. There are many things to pray for — perhaps even urgently so, desperately so — but for now all I can think to do is give thanks. Our new girls’ names are Carolina and Paola. Please pray with us for their salvation and transformation into the image of Christ, and for our other 8 kids, that God would use them mightily to minister to their two new housemates as we band together as a family to stand at the gates of Hell, blocking the entrance and joyfully receiving those whom the Lord chooses to rescue, whatever the personal cost may be. Thank you. To God be the glory and praise forever. Amen.

“Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.”

— C.T. Studd