Tag Archives: Christian

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

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.

 

Music Concert Adventure

Last week Darwin loaded up five of our foster children and over a dozen of his local choir youth onto a rented bus along with a few adult chaperones and made the 3-hour drive to San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city to participate in their biggest concert yet. An internationally-trained director conducted one of Honduras’ largest orchestras and led approximately 200 children and teenagers from around the country as they sang classical masterpieces they had been practicing for months for this specific event.

Darwin’s group from our rural town of El Pino plus several of his students whom he teaches in the nearby city of La Ceiba on Saturdays. They had never sung in (or stepped foot in) a building so fancy!
Before going out to sing on stage, Darwin always rounds everyone up to make a massage train so that everyone relaxes!

I can see some familiar faces in that big choir!
Our boys are the ones without ties!
This is Aracely, one of our beloved teachers/missionaries who serves alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch, with our son Jason (left) and his best friend Francisco who spends about 8 hours in our home each day for Christian discipleship, academics and extracurricular classes alongside of our other students.
Here’s Darwin (teal shirt) with a group of our older teen boys, several of which we’ve been closely involved with over four years for God’s glory. 16-year-old Cristian (far right) arrived at our front gate in 2014 malnourished and illiterate as he and his little brother were simply seeking out friendship and a snack. He and four of his siblings have now all been in school with us during these last four years, and both of his parents are employed with us and actually live on our property in the watchman’s house.

Here is a video taken of one of the songs our kids sang:

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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!



Spontaneous Photo Shoot: Jackeline’s Reading Perch

A couple days ago after our discipleship-based community homeschool classes had let out at 3:00pm and our local students had returned to their homes in our rural neighborhood, I crossed our quiet front yard and caught sight of our 14-year-old foster daughter reading a Christian novel while perched on top of our large play structure that is normally swarmed with kids during recess time. It warmed my heart to see her so still and at peace while reading for pleasure (she used to hate reading, and we’ve been intentionally working on this not only with her but with all of our kids), and the sight of her way up there overlooking the beautiful pastures inspired me to go grab our little digital camera and take a few undercover photos of her…

When I got up close for one of my shots of her, my cover was broken and she started laughing when she saw me!
Our 15-year-old foster daughter Carolina — who moved in with us about six months ago — watched from close by and laughed while enjoying our spontaneous photo-taking antics.
Soon enough both Carolina and another foster daughter of ours, 14-year-old Paola, joined in the fun and started swinging on the monkey bars below Jackeline’s reading spot. (Great focus, Jackeline! She just kept on reading as if they weren’t there!)
The jungle gym is not only for little kids, but also for teens! Our kids are very playful…
…And so are their parents! Now it’s my turn! (At this point Jackeline’s taking photos from her perch!)

This is a photo Jackeline took of our cows’ barn in the distance and the mountains behind our property.
Our 16-year-old son Brayan, whom we are in the process of legally adopting, has greatly grown in his maturity/initiative in these last few weeks with the help of a local tutor. He finished his homework early (which used to never happen), so he went out front to enjoy a couple hours playing with the soccer ball! Good boy!

One last shot of Jackeline on her reading perch at dusk…beautiful!


Amen! Glory to God!

The Reading Class Paparazzi

This morning I had the privilege of going room-to-room around our rural property to take each of our students out of their respective reading classes in order to take an individual photo of them.

After initially having signed up close to 70 students during our enrollment time in January, we currently have 60 who have persevered (this is normal in our area where drop-out rates are high and limited perspectives abound) and are already two-and-a-half weeks into a very rigorous, fun, and blessed year of Christian discipleship, academic classes, organic agriculture, music, and community service/evangelism with us.

Our students come from all walks of life — some are good, normal kids who come from stable families and simply need to grow in the truth of Christ; others are well into their teens and are just now entering primary school; still others have catastrophic backgrounds and are coming to know what it is to grow in a loving, God-fearing environment for the first time in their lives. This year we have several older teen boys (15-18 years old) who have decided to enter our discipleship-based homeschool after having spent the last several years of their lives working full-time or simply roaming our rural neighborhood without direction. The majority of our students have lost at least one of their parents, and even as we are in the mere beginnings of this year the Lord’s work has already begun to manifest itself in the lives of several of them.

So, this morning I walked out the front door of our cinderblock home and crossed our front yard as I entered the little bright-colored buildings to greet our precious children and teens for the second time today (the first time was this morning at 6:45am as they came streaming through our front gate, each one received by name with a hug and/or handshake). During this process of taking the individual shots, I also took photos of various groups of students who were enjoying their reading class out on our front lawn and alongside the shade of our front porch.

Enjoy the first batch of many photos that we will take this year. I didn’t include all 60 of our students, but here is a portion of them in no particular order…








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!

 

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

 

March 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

A Young Entrepreneur: Jackeline’s Cow

Darwin and I have been actively educating our children and teens in the realm of godly stewardship (how to wisely and generously manage their finances) for several years. Each of our foster children have several weekly chores that they are responsible for, and they receive a small income for them every other week. In a recent family meeting we shared with them the idea of investing their savings in the purchase of a young dairy calf, which will eventually grow at almost no cost and can then be sold (or kept to have babies). Jackeline, one of our teenage daughters, very enthusiastically embraced our suggestion and has since utilized the money she had been saving in order to purchase a young female dairy cow from a neighbor who sold it to us at a great price. Her calf now lives on our large rural property with our small herd that Darwin manages and milks each morning with our 15-year-old son Brayan. We are very excited that she has made this wise investment, and the cow – especially if it gives birth several times, whose calves can then be sold – has the potential to provide the income to send Jackeline to college, help transition her into adulthood, etc. You go, girl!

The following are photos from Pastor Domingo’s weekly Carpentry Club. He is a local pastor whose son entered our high school last year. He is now involved part-time as one of our Christian laborers and teaches elementary-level math, supports one of our prayer groups, teaches a Christian leadership class and does weekly house visits to our students’ homes in addition to leading the Carpentry Club. He is in the process of finishing a large swing set structure that will soon be installed in the Living Waters Ranch’s front yard.

A House Full of Pianists

Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, continues faithfully onward in her piano studies as she is now in her third year of playing music under Darwin’s guidance. Every Saturday she goes into the nearby city of La Ceiba as Darwin’s assistant to teach piano lessons to a small group of young students. She has a dogged work ethic and has been extremely consistent in practicing roughly ten hours each week. Six of our other children are also in piano and/or violin, and just recently I, too, began practicing piano on a daily basis. Several months ago I felt God was nudging me toward learning more hymns and worship songs on the piano (I took lessons for about six months upon moving to Honduras in 2012), and as of this past week I am joyfully walking in obedience! I sat down at the piano bench for the first time in several months on Saturday to learn a new hymn, and I ended up practicing for five hours! In these past six days I’ve practiced 13 hours and learned two new worship songs!  It is becoming a daily routine in our household that once our students and teachers leave around 3:45pm, several of us head to the schoolhouse (where the two big pianos are and several keyboards) to tap away for an hour or two. We praise God for this aspect of our daily lives and are encouraged as we see the majority of our kids develop the self-discipline and focus required to learn a musical instrument for God’s glory.

This is a photo of our four full-time Christian laborers (Reina, Erick, Isis and Ligia) taken during a team-building workshop we held in January. (Pastor Domingo was not present at the taking of the photo.) We give thanks to God for His faithful (and extremely hard-working) servants!

Relational Discipleship

We are thrilled and blessed that all of our Christian laborers have begun actively forming relationships with our students after-hours and on the weekends. Three of them live in our tiny rural neighborhood while two daily take a bus in from a nearby city. Erick, whose story I mentioned on a prior blog, has started a weekly Bible study in his home for several of our teen boys, and Pastor Domingo has opened up his home on the weekends to several of our students whom he has joyfully put to work sanding and sawing in his carpentry shop. He has also received several students in the church he leads in his front yard, and our other teachers recently organized a riotous hiking/swimming outing to a local nature spot on a Sunday. We are thankful that God is allowing us to form a holistic ‘lifeline’ for these children and youth who may not have other loving, God-fearing adults in their lives.

This is a photo of Miss Isis’ weekly dance club. Four of our kids (Dayana, Brayan, Sandra and Josselyn) are in this class, and I think the two hours that they get footloose in our dining room are the highlight of their week!

 

Here is a photo from Erick’s weekly Christian Leadership after-school club. (He teaches the class with a certain group of students on Wednesdays, and Pastor Domingo has a different group on Tuesdays.) Reina, who is one of our teachers, participates in the class as a student along with Geraldina, Sandra’s mom who manages the kitchen.

Genesis Returns Home

Genesis, the teenager who had moved from across the country to live with us and study in our high school, unfortunately made the decision to return home to her family. She struggled with great mood swings and general negativity during her four weeks living in our home, and despite our best efforts to encourage, pray for, and try to convince her to continue studying and preparing herself to fulfill God’s will for her life (she had said that she wanted to become a lawyer, learn piano and return to her rural village fully equipped to serve God), she decided to return home about two weeks ago to her dry, very poor rural region where she has almost zero educational opportunities and no plan. Please pray with us for her, as we do not believe she made the correct decision but hope all the best for her according to God’s will for her life.

Here are photos taken during Darwin’s Advanced English class. Two local young people who are not students in our school participate in the classes as well. Darwin loves to go around speaking English to all of our students, but very few of them have any idea what he’s talking about!

Working as a Team: Learning to Delegate Tasks

Amidst our many daily responsibilities as parents, directors of the Living Waters Ranch and teachers, Darwin and I are learning which tasks can be delegated and to whom. We are very excited and blessed that we have now delegated all of our legal communications with our lawyer who resides seven hours away in the capital city (in Honduras your lawyer has to live in the capital city if you want to experience any progress because that is where all the legal action takes place) to Miss Ligia, one of our faithful teachers who is a trained lawyer. She has taken great initiative to communicate and move forward with our capital-city lawyer in the adoptions that are currently in-process along with several other general legal procedures. We thank God for the team of very hard-working local Hondurans He has placed at our side and for the fact that Darwin and I are learning to rely upon them so that we do not get stretched too thin.

The following are photos taken during my secondary-level Art Club. On this particular day the students’ creativity was unleashed as they used clay, pipe cleaners and goggly eyes to design their own city/world — they could choose between the ‘Earth’ theme or, more fun, ‘Outer Space!’

Prayer for Sandra

We are currently seeking prayer for Sandra, the local teen who we met last year when she entered our homeschool-style high school and then later moved in with us for seven months to escape a situation of sexual abuse in the home. She has since moved back in with us nearly two months ago due to various dangers and bad decisions she was facing in our rural neighborhood. She has sought Darwin and I out in private to talk/listen, confess different things she had hidden, and seek prayer for her life, but she is still extremely unstable and, according to what our other daughters have told us, seems to be on the cusp of dropping out of our high school and returning to our rural neighborhood to live a life of purposelessness and sin. She is extremely bright and has many God-given talents, but lacks perseverance and steadfast faith to see things through. She was baptized last year and has expressed to us several times that God has placed the desire on her heart to begin ministering to a group of young children who wander aimlessly around our neighborhood through the creation of a weekly Bible study, but she is easily distracted and has yet to take any steps toward fulfilling this specific call God has on her life. We love her dearly and have been through quite a bit with her thus far, and we are seeking prayer once more that God would illuminate her mind and that she would remain firm in her decision to love and follow Christ.

A few weeks ago Darwin and I celebrated our two-year anniversary of parenting 13-year-old Jackeline (the proud new cow-owner) and her 8-year-old special needs brother Josue. We took them out to a local restaurant while Erick and his wife Aracely came over to our house to stay with the rest of our kids. Jackeline and Josue continue to have monthly contact with their biological relatives, and by God’s grace we maintain a very positive relationship with them.

Insomnia Progress

There is finally good news to be reported about my insomnia! Over the past two months I have been visiting a very professional local physical/massage therapist twice weekly as a last-ditch resort to finding the root of my sleep disorder. She has found several stress-related physical problems that have remained hidden over the last several years, and she has been working with me extensively on how to manage my stress levels better so that they don’t take root and turn into physical problems. My sleeping has improved drastically over these past two months although there is still much progress to be made. At home we have also made several positive changes to help manage stress levels better (such as the aforementioned delegating of tasks along with my new daily routine of playing worship songs on the piano), and I have begun sleeping much better. Please continue to pray for me as this will probably be an ongoing battle over the course of my lifetime (learning to trust in God and lay all my cares/stresses at the foot of the cross). Praise God for this progress!

This is Miss Ligia teaching the Beginners’ English after-school club. We keep class sizes small in order to create a family-like atmosphere that enables individualized contact and relational discipleship. Our teachers spend their recess and lunch period playing and talking with our students in addition to being their prayer group leaders on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This is Miss Ligia’s elementary-level Art Club!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

September 2016 Updates and Prayer Requests

Trip to Capital City of Tegucigalpa with Three of Our Girls, Final Papers Signed to Receive Honduran Residency Status

This month I took three of our girls — Sandra (16), Jackeline (12) and Josselyn (12) — with me on a three-day trip to the nation’s capital as I signed the final papers to officially receive my Honduran residency after nearly four years of active waiting. We had a wonderful time together as our girls travelled out of our immediate region for the first time in their lives. We visited a zoo, a national park, Honduras’ first children’s museum, and the national university in addition to meeting together each morning as a family in the small hotel cafeteria to study God’s Word together. [The photos included in this post were taken on our trip.]
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Sandra (16) and Josselyn (12) feeling nervous on their first professional bus ride! We arrived at the capital 7 hours later!

 

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I tired them out as we walked all around Honduras’ largest university for several hours! Jackeline commented, “I don’t think I want to study here in the future…There are too many stairs!”

 

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Josselyn and I “communicating” on our fake cell phones (blocks of wood) as we waited for the children’s museum to open.

 

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Learning to use a microscope for the first time

 

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It was our girls’ first time to visit a zoo and see animals like lions, ostriches and alligators in person!

Darwin’s Youth Choir Sang at His Family Members’ Memorial Service

After the murder of Darwin’s brother and the death of his mother earlier this month (See: Worshipping Death: What Happens When We Reject the Life-Giver), a couple weeks ago the young men and women in Darwin’s youth choir piled into our truckbed and headed for the memorial service. Under Darwin’s direction, they sang songs and hymns of praise as they sought to worship God even in the midst of tragedy. The majority of Darwin’s family members are not believers and have been deeply shaken by the sudden loss of two family members. We thank God that Darwin has taken the initiative to speak words of life and Truth into the lives of his brothers and sisters as they seek to cope.

 

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Experiencing the digestive system as never before! Our girls entered the “mouth” as food, went down the throat slide, passed through the intestines and came out the other end! As Jackeline came crawling out the tube that represented the waste chute, she crinkled her nose and announced with disgust, “Now I’m poo!”

 

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Sandra on the bed of nails

 

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They loved the museum’s costume area! What a cute pirate!

 

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Jackeline and Josselyn enjoying a large, modern playground for the first time

 

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Jackeline inside of the large nose at the children’s museum! While we were all inside of it, it sneezed and big fans turned on!

Meeting Held with Local Students’ Parents, Plans Being Made for Next Year

Last week Darwin hosted an open meeting for the parents of the students who study at the Living Waters Ranch as ideas were exchanged and plans were put into prayer for the following year. It seems that the parents who attended the meeting are very pleased with the results they are seeing in their children and are planning on keeping them enrolled in our discipleship-based program next school year, which begins in February 2017. Please pray with us as many decisions are involved as we continually seek God’s will and direction for the program.
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Honduras’ first children’s museum gave our girls many fun experiences they had never before dreamed of!

 

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Watch out! Here she comes!

 

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Watch out, Jackeline — Sandra’s gaining on you!

 

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They loved the bubble room!

 

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Jackeline wobbling her way across a fun bridge!

 

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Josselyn and Sandra in the media room

 

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Our “big girls” enjoyed the children’s museum as if they were little kids because they had never experienced anything like it before!

 

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Weekly Schedule Altered to Allow Darwin and I to Dedicate More Time Teaching in the Primary and Secondary Schools

After a period of discernment with two of our Honduran teachers, we were able to change the weekly ‘flow’ of activities to allow Darwin and I to both teach one day per week in elementary (8 students) and one day in secondary (13 students). In prior months our time had largely been consumed with errands and administrative work, which took away from our hands-on time with the students. Praise God that two of our teachers now spend two days a week helping out tremendously with the errands and office work while Darwin and I are able to get our hands dirty in the classroom, loving the children and teaching them God’s ways. In the 3-4 weeks since we have made this change, we have seen very positive results as God is allowing us to bring new energy into the classroom and we are deepening our relationships with the kids in our program for God’s glory.
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The best part about our trip to the children’s museum was that we got to climb on a several-stories-tall representation of a sugar molecule!

 

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If our girls acted like little kids at the museum, so did I!

 

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 Amen! Glory to God!

 

God’s Hand Over the Next Generation: Compassion Shown by the Unlikely

Friday evening I was in the midst of distributing and applying anti-fungus creams, encouraging young readers and commanding small soldiers to pick up scattered Legos.

As a weekly treat for our kids, each Friday we move our family’s Sabbath Hour from its traditional 7:15pm mark back to 8:30pm or so. I glanced at the clock – barely 7:00pm – and sighed deeply as I wondered where I would find the strength to continue in the daily bustle another hour and a half.

Josselyn tapped away on the wobbly electric keyboard that teetered on a wooden stool in front of her as she sat perched on our small, fading floral-print couch that has survived admirably through many years and owners. Gleny and Jason were sprawled out on the other couch with its bright, multi-colored cushions, each reading a children’s Bible. Our older girls were in their bedroom painting fingernails and such while my attention was fully dedicated to keeping an intense control on developmentally-challenged Gaby and Josue, who are prone to prancing about and making a general ruckus in our not-so-spacious house that doesn’t quite seem to accommodate such exuberant activity (especially at night). Darwin was in our bathroom taking a shower.

Everything seemed to be in order, but I still fought back a very real sense of exhaustion as I knew I would have to confront pianos and giggles and jumping children and read-alouds until late that night whereas on other nights we are granted that blessed blanket of silence from 7:15pm on.

Having chauffeured our littlest ones to the bathroom, I squatted down in front of 8-year-old Josue to change his diaper in the boys’ stall as Gaby started prematurely coming out of the girls’ stall, not three feet away.

“Wait just a second, Gaby! Let me finish with Josue before you come out…”

The little Velcro tabs were quickly put into place, stretchy-waistband shorts pulled up, big toothy grin smiling back at me.

Good to go. The three of us headed for the sink.

“Ok, now wash your hands.” I glanced over at Gaby, “ – Always with soap.” She looked up at me, pretending to be innocently surprised, as she was already ¾ done with washing her stubby fingers with water alone. “I shouldn’t have to tell you that every time, Gaby. You know better. Where’s the soap anyway?”

She scuttled over and brought a bar of light green soap from the kids’ shower. I began washing Josue’s hands – those fingers that can’t seem to coordinate themselves to do anything productive but always find their way into his mouth with perfect execution – as I then passed the bar of soap to Gaby. I instructed her, once again, how and why to wash her hands with soap.

Once the hand-washing was done with a certain degree of excellence, I reached for the kids’ toothpaste. Oh, how many tubes of toothpaste have been so quickly emptied as these two little ones have snuck in the bathroom at all hours to shove the tube in their mouth and feast!

Gaby passed me the half-empty tube, and Josue began nodding enthusiastically and babbling in his broken speech as he informed me that he knew he wasn’t supposed to eat it. “Ma! Pata, pata. Yo no. Yo pata no!” I smiled wearily and affirmed that he was absolutely right but that he needed to put into practice what he knew, otherwise his knowledge was worth nothing.

I squirted out a small amount of toothpaste onto each of their toothbrushes, wetted them, and handed the brushes to them individually, instructing them – as they are told every morning and evening – to take their time and brush up, down, etc. Take good care of your teeth or you’ll lose them.

(Oh, how many teens and adults in our neighborhood are missing teeth due to dental negligence! Many young adults in their 20s and 30s wear dentures or have all their upper front teeth missing due to years of Coca-Cola drinking and no-tooth-brushing. Josue moved in 20 months ago and Gaby 14 months ago after having been removed from distinct situations of abuse/neglect with their biological families, and both received extensive dental work earlier this year to fix teeth that had been blackened and rotted out after years of neglect.)

Gaby immediately extended her toothbrush to the sink, turned the faucet on full-power and was effectively about to blast the little squirt of toothpaste right off the brush and down the drain – as she tries to do almost every day – when I corrected her with my make-nice tone that was becoming increasingly irritated: “Gaby, no! I already wetted your toothbrush, and you saw me do it. Just brush your teeth.”

I stood by the sink a couple minutes as my young comrades struggled mightily – as they tend to in almost all activities – to clean their teeth.

Having finally finished the tedious process, I began shuttling them back through the living room, reminding them that it had been a long day – a good day, praise God, but a long one – and that now was not the time to be jumping and running around. They could play quietly with the bucket of Legos, grab a book and sit down, or go to their bed. Their choice.

As I was in the midst of explaining this daily process to our littlest ones, 12-year-old Josselyn, Gaby’s biological sister, intercepted me as she suddenly stood up from where she was playing piano and very intentionally put herself in my path. It was clear she intended to add to my to-do list.

My immediate thought was: Everyone needs me all the time! Can’t you just keep playing piano and let me finish what I’m doing with Gaby and Josue? I’ve already spent the entire day playing with all of you, cooking for you, cleaning the house with you, teaching you and helping you solve various conflicts. Everyone else has already showered and is enjoying a fun activity. Can’t I?

With her small, round face illuminated with joy, she asked, “Can I talk to you?”

That simple phrase oftentimes indicates the beginning of a long, sit-and-pour-your-heart-out time of up to an hour or two. It involves listening to their problems, answering difficult questions, wrestling with disturbing memories from the past, etc, and then seeking out solutions together, praying together.

Much fruit – much growth – has been harvested for God’s glory from such times of intimate communication, but late at night after a long day is not my finest hour to do so. My morale immediately dropped (and probably my face as well) as I imagined I would be spending a good chunk of time – and a good chunk of emotional energy that I already didn’t have – listening to my small friend.

I answered wearily, hoping against hope that it might be something quick like Can-you-give-me-the-hydrogen-peroxide-to-pour-on-the-scrape-on-my-knee, “Ok, go ahead. What is it?”

She answered with equaled (or perhaps increasing) joy, undeterred by my unenthusiastic response: “No, not here! In private.”

“Oh…ok.” Dang it. “Where?” Not in private! That indicates a longer, more intense conversation! Lord, I have nothing left to give. Please accompany me in this moment of great trial. I’m so tired.

She smiled and indicated for me to follow her into her bedroom, where we passed that bright teal curtain into the room she shares with her little sister. Wooden bunkbed with mismatched but clean bedding. Big plastic bucket as clothes hamper. An unclothed babydoll and a stuffed-animal tabby cat. Wooden dresser shared by both. Small black plastic trashcan emptied earlier that morning. Antique (as in, very old) wooden chair with a fading blue cushion. Floor impeccably clean – swept and mopped to perfection – and all belongings in their place after having spent the morning cleaning together as a family.

I remained close to the doorway, my body language communicating my heart’s hidden intention: a quick escape if things got hairy.

She began in an upbeat tone, very direct yet respectful, catching me off guard with her question: “You’re in a bad mood, right?”

My heart sank. Oh no. She could tell I was frustrated. Great self-control, Jennifer. Did I really look that bad? How negative had my attitude been toward Gaby and Josue in the bathroom?

I mustered a sincere smile and answered, carefully managing my tone of voice, “No, I’m not in a bad mood. I’m just really tired. But I’m okay; thanks for asking.”

My body turned slightly toward the doorway; I was ready to leave.

Her facial expression indicated that she anticipated I would answer that way, so she threw up her thin, muscular arms with clear, innocent eyes and asked, “Can I pray for you?”

That was why she had asked to talk to me in private. She had taken note of my emotional fatigue and intended to pray for me.

Just the day prior this young woman and I had experienced a heated conflict . We had sat down, both cross-legged on a small strip of concrete behind our house as I had wanted to approach her lovingly about my desire that she improve her relationship with her little sister. She misunderstood my motives, got offended and screamed at me, burying her face in her knees pulled up to her chest and crying uncontrollably. My attitude went south, frustrated that she had reacted so strongly to what I had hoped would be a peaceful, productive conversation. I usurped the uncontrollable cryer’s freedom and sent her to her room to calm down. As she passed through that same bright teal curtain, she turned toward me and spat ugly words. My own anger increasingly incited, I sent her to wash her mouth out with soap, leading her into the bathroom as she continued to cry and murmur against me.

It had been neither her best moment nor mine. Her words were loud; mine were piercing. “You need to learn to control your mouth!” I scolded; she stormed off to her room, where she would be until she was ready to talk lovingly. (Until I was ready to talk lovingly).

Feeling annoyed by her unnecessary outburst – in no way had I intended for our initial conversation to offend or upset her – and full of self-justification, I sensed my heart being subtly persuaded toward an intensifying anger.

I walked with hands slightly trembling to the next building on our rural property. Several minutes prior I had seen Dayana, our eldest daughter, sitting on the floor in the entryway as she organized the choir members’ folders and sheet music. I hoped to find her there again.

The Lord had spoken to my heart: Go ask Dayana for prayer. Your anger has led you out of My will. You must re-enter in love in order to treat Josselyn the way I want you to.

I had stopped in the doorway as Dayana’s eyes moved from the dozens of black folders splayed out around her on the tile floor up to me. She smiled.

Now. Ask her for prayer now.

I passed the threshold and sat down next to her, trying to make small talk about the folders she was organizing, wanting to avoid having to ask for prayer. The “I’m-right; she’s-wrong!” ballad was playing quite loudly in my mind as I finally humbled myself and informed Dayana that Josselyn and I were having a conflict and that I wanted her to pray for the situation – for both of us.

She immediately freed her attention of the busy work of folder-organizing, put her hands in mine as we turned to face one another, both heads bowed. She began praying earnestly for reconciliation between Josselyn and I, that our Father would guide us both toward a healing of our relationship and the fulfillment of His will.

She finished the prayer, her adolescent hands – those small fingers adorned with several fun rings and that bright pink wristwatch that she never takes off – releasing my larger hands, long fingers crowned with chipped black nail polish.

9-year-old Jason, Dayana’s younger biological brother, suddenly appeared in the open doorway as messenger: “Ma, Josselyn is ready to talk to you. She’s in her room waiting.”

I thanked him for the message, eyed Dayana with a smile, thanking her for the very timely prayer, and began walking towards Josselyn’s bedroom. God’s peace had replaced the raging anger in my heart right on time.

I knocked on her doorframe, my hands no longer trembling, and she indicated that I come in. My eyes swept the room as they suddenly landed on the prize: short-haired, very small-framed Josselyn sitting in a far corner in that antique wooden armchair. Her eyes were red and swollen from violent tears, but her open posture and even breathing indicated that the intense emotional battle was already over.

I approached her, both of our attitudes having been corrected by our Father, and I squatted down in front of her, my hand placed affectionately on hers.

She began: “I was…so upset. I thought you were furious with me. But…then…God revealed to me that I – was the one who was furious…It wasn’t you. Forgive me.”

If ‘Furious’ had been her name, ‘Impatient’ and ‘Rash’ had been mine. I accepted her apology and followed her lead, asking for forgiveness for my escalating reactivity and assuring her that it had not been my purpose to upset or anger her with our initial conversation.

We were both at peace; forgiveness reigned; God was glorified.

So then, the day after our timely reconciliation, she stood before me asking if she could pray for me. I felt as though I could not answer, had not rehearsed for this. Prayer is a normal part of our daily life together  – we pray as a family before meals each day, send requests and thanksgiving to our Father in prayer groups several times a week with our local students, pray with our kids for their many conflicts and emotional problems, pray with our faith community on Sundays – but her praying for me? Taking the initiative to search me out, chase me down with love? None of our kids had ever done that before.

Sensing my surprise, she shrugged, eyes still very bright, and informed me with total assurance, “I feel that it’s what God wants me to do.”

I nodded awkwardly, words still escaping me, and I took a few strange steps toward that same antique armchair that marked our reconciliation from the day prior.

I sat down, still unsure how this would go and at the same time feeling incredibly blessed by this little one’s faith flushed out in deeds – her unswerving obedience to God’s instruction on her heart – in the midst of what was one of my less inspiring moments.

She instinctively squatted down in front of me – the posture I take with our kids many, many times each day as a way of getting on eye level with them (especially because I am extremely tall) – and reached for my hands that rested idly in my lap.

Our posture – me in the chair, her squatting down, embracing my hands – was a perfect reversal from the day prior.

Without giggling nervously or wondering aloud where to start, she immediately bowed her head and began praying for me out loud with great confidence, admirable faith. She prayed many things, the majority of which I cannot remember – but at the end of the prayer she asked God to grant Darwin and I the perseverance to continue onward in this marathon work during many years to come. She prayed that I may be granted rest, that even in difficulties God would grant me great joy.

Having finished the prayer, still feeling awkwardly blessed after having received such undeserved compassion from such an unlikely person, I stood up and gave her a big, slightly awkward hug. This time my tall frame enveloped her small one as her face disappeared somewhere in the middle of my torso.

Having reversed roles if only for a moment, this small preteen – this young warrior princess who only a year-and-a-half ago was wandering dark streets collecting bottles in the wee hours of the morning, sleeping in nooks and crannies in public places after having been effectively disowned by her blood relatives, body emaciated and hair shaved off – had been used by Father God to express compassion and faith to this discouraged mom.

Passing through that bright teal curtain, I re-entered our living room and noticed that Josue was already lying in his bottom bunk. He never is much of a night owl. With renewed faith, I walked over to his open doorway, bent over in order to see his little eyes, and asked if I could come in. His response was an enthusiastic “Chi, Ma! Chi,” slightly dulled by sleepiness. I crossed the threshold, perched myself on the side of his bed, bent over so as to fit under the not-so-high top bunk above his, and intended to pray.

Whereas on most nights it’s a quick good-night-hug and kiss-on-the-top-of-the-head and off-to-bed-you-go, Josselyn’s daring act of faith inspired me to step out of the boat as well, to take up my cross and joyfully follow Christ even when it isn’t easy. I bowed my head — Josue’s eyes squinted intensely shut as his whole face crinkled up in prayer, my fingers tracing up and down his baby-soft arms — and I allowed Christ’s perfect peace to invade Josue’s bottom bunk, daring to ask God to heal this broken little boy.

Amen! Glory to God!