Tag Archives: Female Missionary Blog

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!

 

The Miracle Dinner: Give It All Away to Make Room For the Impossible

Darwin and I stood out just beyond our front gate in a circle with our 10 foster kids ages 9-17. A million tiny lights twinkled above as we took in the perfectly still night on our rural property near the mountains. In a country where corruption, widespread despair and unpunished violence are the norm, to look another human being in the eye — alas! one that does not even share your blood! — and to really feel God’s love for that person truly is a sign of our Father’s active work in the world. We all held hands in that blessed circle that night, each person in perfect peace as our kids waited for what Darwin and I were going to tell them.

Earlier that day Darwin had told me that one of our beloved local students that we’ve been closely discipling and teaching for two years was probably going to have to drop out of our community homeschool in order to begin working full-time because his father had lost his job and his family thus had no means of purchasing food. The love that God has given us for this student is immense, and we knew full well the poverty his family was in when his father did have a job: several family members live together in a one-room wooden shack with a dirt floor and suffer what we can imagine to be immense daily hardship. And now that our student’s father — the sole provider of the household — had gotten laid off, how would they survive?

As Darwin shared this devastating news with me, the Lord immediately put an instruction upon my heart, “Share your rice and beans with them.”

We had just received a day or two prior two big sacks of rice and two big sacks of beans (each weighing like 50 pounds). The Lord had already led us to give away one sack of each, thus leaving one of each for our family’s consumption and daily use in our community kitchen where we serve lunch to roughly 45 people on schooldays. For us, rice and beans are not a cute side dish but literally our steak and potatoes that we eat 2-3 times each day. It is our daily bread. To give away that which was given to us — to supply our own very real economic need as we seek to feed many hungry mouths each day — would surely be foolish, right? It would be poor administration of that which was given to sustain us. Downright crazy! If we were to give away our rice and beans, what would we eat?

Even as these extremely logical objections showered my mind, my heart was already convinced; ready to obey, and to do so joyfully. To participate with the living God as His hands and feet to the most vulnerable? Surely there is no greater privilege than this! Count us in.

(As I share this story and the rest of the ensuing events, I do so not to call attention upon ourselves but rather to serve as witnesses to God’s active work in the world with the great hope of stirring you on toward great faith, obedience and good deeds in Jesus’ name.)

Then, completely unexpectedly, the Lord spoke another command to my heart: “Not only your rice and beans, but also all the other food you purchased this morning.”

Wha– ?

Oh, I had made my peace with giving away our bulk-sized sacks full of rice and beans, but also those specialty items I had purchased that same day at the local grocery store? Those spaghetti noodles, cartons of eggs, and frozen chickens that would serve as delicious — and sometimes rare — compliments to our general menu of strictly rice and beans? Surely if we gave away all of that food as well (which, again, was destined toward a great purpose: to feed our foster children and local students, all of whom come from backgrounds of devastating poverty and malnutrition), we would be committing a great act of irresponsibility. To give away not only our rice and beans but also the additional food would literally leave us with nothing! (And it is not a mere question of running back to the supermarket to buy more.) That food was destined to be our provision — our daily sustenance — for then next week or so!

Then Jesus’ words entered my mind, right on the heels of His command: “If you are asked to carry a load one mile, carry it two miles. Go the extra mile for love of Me. Don’t give just your rice and beans; give it all.”

Oh, how many times do we congratulate ourselves on giving away our leftovers, that which we never truly wanted or needed! But to give away all that we have for love of God? Oh, this is pure, raw obedience. This is the kind of stuff miracles are made of! Surely God was making room for the impossible. I ruminated on His second command, still trying to reason myself out of it.

Hours later, then under that beautiful starry night sky in that blessed circle with my husband and our 10 kids, we made the announcement. Carefully, in hushed voices, we informed our children of our student’s (their friend’s) great economic need and that God had spoken to our hearts that He would supply their need through us. Our kids listened attentively, some with a sparkle in their eyes.

I spoke, “God told me to give them our big sacks of rice and beans.”

I breathed as I felt like I was taking a running start as I was about to go free-falling over a giant cliff, “…and all the other food in our kitchen.

That was it! That was what God wanted me to say!

Total peace flooded my body, and all those noisy objections were at once silenced.

I continued, then full of confidence in God’s perfect will (especially when it goes completely against all human logic), “So, now all of you will head into our kitchen, and whatever God leads you to give away, grab it and we’re going to load it up in our truck. Remember, we don’t give away what we don’t like; we give to God the best of what we have.”

Their eyes trained on ours, smiles grew on their faces as Darwin and I indicated to them that it was their moment to participate, to act as God’s warriors of compassion on the front lines of the war. They squealed and raced off through our front gate and into our large, concrete-floored kitchen as if they were hot on the trail of delicious treats in some competitive Easter-egg hunt.

Darwin and I followed in their enthusiastic footsteps and we entered our kitchen to find our 10 kids in a frenzy, grabbing egg cartons and frozen chickens, salt, and the like. Our eldest son, 16-year-old Brayan, had one of the big sacks of rice or beans on his shoulder as he carried the incredibly heavy bag out the door. Others grabbed bananas and just about every food that moments before was sitting idly on our pantry’s shelf.

At one point, as the frenzy was winding down, one of our daughters reached for a bag of Cornflakes to add to the giving bag. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline intervened, eyes full of sincerity and joy as she stopped her sister, “Better yet, let’s give away the bag of granola. I like the granola more.”

Oh, she got it! To give away that which one likes more. Jackeline prefers granola; thus that is what the Lord led her to give away. Yes!

And so within a time span of five minutes or so our kitchen was completely emptied — all but one frozen chicken, some toilet paper and possibly that bag of Cornflakes that Jackeline left behind. We bounded out to our vehicle — everyone helping shoulder loads, carry bags and load the whole prize up into our truckbed.

As everyone got on board, we instructed our kids to be as quiet as possible, as this act should be done in secret. This was not about us; it was about obedience to God’s call to love. After all, Jesus said that to feed those who don’t have food is to feed Christ Himself. We were on a sacred mission to feed Christ in disguise. Surely there is no greater fun, no greater rush of adrenaline that to live in a constant gamble for God! Our hearts were bursting with joy.

And so we rumbled quietly down that pitch dark gravel road to a lonely corner on the edge of a pineapple field where our beloved student lives. It appeared that no one was home. This encouraged us, as we would then be able to leave everything in their front yard as a total surprise gift without being recognized as the ones who were used by God in the process.

A few emaciated dogs howled near the house as our girls asked us nervously, “And if thieves come and take the food before the family returns home?”

My honest, immediate response, “May God bless the thieves.”

Their eyes grew as they stared at me in disbelief, although deep down they knew that to be true. Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. It was what God had been teaching us in word and deed over the last several weeks. This was just one more experience of stepping out in faith.

Forgetting the flashlights at home, I used my itty bitty cellphone to light a path through the overgrowth as everyone shuffled out of the car and began unloading the food as quietly as possible so as not to alert the neighbors. Oh, what a reverse robbery! Arriving in secret to give rather than to steal! Blessed be the name of the Lord, for He loves these reconnaissance missions.

Once everything was unloaded, we quickly re-entered our old pickup truck and rumbled back up that rocky trail to our rural homestead. We could feel God’s presence unspeakably near.

As I look back on these events — which happened a few weeks ago — I cannot remember if it was that same night or the next day, but what I will now share with you is the truly surprising part of the whole story.

As we were left with nearly no food in the house, we joyfully went about our business without giving a second thought to our empty pantry. I even got wrapped up in a deep conversation with Carolina, our new 15-year-old daughter who moved in with us last month, and our scheduled dinner hour completely escaped me. As she and I wrapped up our conversation with prayer and a long hug, I glanced at the clock and realized I had not fulfilled my “momma” duty very well to prepare dinner (but what was there to prepare anyway?), so I assured our hungry kiddos that I would head over to our kitchen and see what I could scrap up to make dinner.

In that moment our teenage son Brayan came through our front door and said, “Dinner’s ready.”

My head cocked to one side and one eyebrow probably instinctively raised high as I asked, “What? Really? Who made dinner?” (And what on earth did they make? Dry Cornflakes and a couple squares of toilet paper to go with it?)

“Yup! Dinner’s ready,” asserted Brayan as I continued to stare on in incredulity. He clarified, “Carminda brought dinner over. Everything’s served.”

Carminda — our night-watchman’s wife who works with us part-time during the week in cleaning and cooking but who has no commitment whatsoever to make dinner for us on a weekend. It was Sunday. And, let it be known that she had never made dinner for us before when it wasn’t specifically her day to come work and prepare food (nor had anyone else).

(Plus — just to go further in my explanation of these events — she had no idea that we had just given away all of our food.) It was already late and she should have thought that we had already eaten dinner. What had prompted her? That is for God to know and for us to marvel at in awe and joy.

So I walked — taking careful steps as if walking on holy ground — across our front lawn and over to our community kitchen building that also serves as our family’s kitchen. There on our wooden dining room table were two big pots — one with a chicken-and-vegetable soup, the other with hot, fresh rice — and (if I remember correctly) she had also made fresh tortillas for us. A full meal. And she wasn’t even there, beaming with a big smile to see our reaction to her generosity. She — herself a poor woman who frequently doesn’t have enough food to feed her own family — had simply prepared us an extravagant meal, dropped it off almost as if in secret, and went on her merry way.

I stared at the food in silence.

Our kids enthusiastically opened up the pots to take a sneak-peek at what was inside as everyone’s stomachs were growling. It smelled so good! Our kids ran to the sink to wash their hands then sat down, squeezed together like sardines, around our rectangular table as they waited anxiously for Darwin and I to sit down with them so that we could all pray together and then eat.

I waited a few more moments, my heart exploding in a thousand fireworks of faith. Surely this is a miracle of God’s provision!

As we sat down to give thanks for that food — the miracle food that showed up when we had given away all that we had — Darwin and I explained with steadiness in our voice and joy shining forth from our faces that we were truly living a miracle. Never before had anything like this happened to us, and it could not simply be explained away by common human reason. Truly God had led us to give it all away, and truly He had prompted our poor, blessed neighbor to prepare food for us even as she had no idea of our act of total obedience.

And so we ate with great joy and thanksgiving. And, dare I say, many other events — some small, some big — of this same breed have been happening around here in these past few weeks. Miracles of generosity and miracles of provision. I hope to write about more of them soon. Be encouraged as we are encouraged, and let us all give ourselves fully over to the will of the living God. He is mysterious in His ways, and great in love and mercy!

Amen! Glory to God!

September 2017 Prayer Requests and Triumphs

Below are our current prayer requests and triumph reports from our life of service with Christ in Honduras. Thank you for your interest in supporting/following this work.
***All of the photos on this post were taken by Isabel Dayton during her visit to the Living Waters Ranch a couple months ago. Even though the work at the ranch has continued onward in my absence and I’m in frequent touch with those in Honduras, we don’t have any new photos at this time. (I’ll try to take some once I’m back in the routine of service next week.) Thank you and God bless!
1. We are coming to the end of our second full school year of Spirit-led “discipleship-based community homeschool” with roughly 40 students who meet daily in our home (the Living Waters Ranch) for a complete homeschool curriculum that we’ve designed/tweaked over these last two years as God has led. The Honduran school calendar runs from February — November, so we are nearing the end of school and are reflecting back on all that has happened this year. The Lord brought new key Honduran missionaries/teachers/pastors to our team; He brought additional students, all of whom come from very broken places; and we’ve all learned a lot (sometimes the hard way) and are actively drawing near to the Lord as we seek to walk alongside of the children/youth in our school in the Way of Christ. We simply give thanks to God for allowing us to participate on this great adventure and for the fact that many kids/teens are coming into a saving knowledge of Christ and are genuinely walking with Him. Nothing has been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. Classes will wind down and come to a close in November, and then all of our teachers and students will reconvene in early January to begin prayerfully planning for the new school year. Please continue to pray for God’s protection and blessing over our community homeschool — the lives of all our students, that of our teachers, the physical protection of our property where we live and serve, etc — as Honduras is a very dangerous country. He has protected us until now, so we eagerly press onward.
 
2. We thank God for His continued provision over our lives, as we have lacked nothing in these 5+ years of serving Christ by faith in Honduras. We thank God for His miraculous provision (in every sense of the word — financial provision, His way of bringing each of our local teachers/missionaries to work alongside of us, His provision of believers who actively intercede for this mission, people who lend us their expertise, the wisdom and discernment He has provided when we have needed it most, etc) and stand in awe of His power made manifest in our little corner of the globe. Thanks be to God.
 
3. We are currently facing several potential complications/frustrations in regards to the process of legally adopting 4 of the 8 children my husband and I are fostering. We have had to switch lawyers and are having to re-submit much of our paperwork, so please pray first and foremost that this process (which tends to put our nerves on end, especially as we are coming into close contact with a third-world government that suffers from great corruption, inefficacy, etc) would bring us great joy rather than stress, as we are earnestly convinced that God wants us to be family forever to our kids, and that makes the legal hassles and uncertainties worth it. Please pray that the government may have favor upon us, that everything would be expedited as much as possible, and that all monetary costs involved in the adoption would be provided for (as all of our needs are). Thank you.
4. I will give a quick update in regards to 12-year-old Josselyn, one of the young women who has formed part of our family since July 2015 and for whom many of you had been praying in months prior. She had gone through a very rough season earlier this year as she even ran away from our home twice in search of her biological family (where she had been sexually abused and generally neglected), thus I had solicited urgent prayer on her behalf. She continues to live with us to this day, and she has not run away again (or even threatened to do so) in these last several months. She and her little sister Gabriela (Gaby) are currently in a season of monthly monitored visits with their biological family members, and thus far we have been able to maintain a respectful relationship and kind with them, so we thank God for this emotional stability in Josselyn’s life as she has accepted that her home (at least for now) is with us, and we ask God’s continued blessing and guidance over these monthly family visits. We are unable to adopt these two girls because their biological family is still closely involved, so we simply ask that each day the Lord would accompany us as we seek to parent and love them without holding on too tightly or feeling threatened by their biological family. Our payer is that the peace of Christ reign in our relationship with our 2 girls and their biological family members, and that God’s will be freely done. Amen.
5. Lastly, as many were informed, I had come back to the States for roughly five-and-a-half weeks in August/September for emergency medical, spiritual and emotional intervention as I had reached a breaking point in Honduras and could not go on without receiving help. I had been struggling with debilitating insomnia for several years and, as a result, had contracted any and all viruses, tropical fevers, etc, one right after another and was spending more time in bed receiving shots/IVs/antibiotics than I was participating in our daily life of service, so I accepted my parents’ offer at help and came back to San Antonio, TX in search of healing. I’ve written about this journey in greater detail in the prior post, so you may click on it if you would like to know more about my healing journey. I will be heading home to Honduras in three days. Please continue to pray for my ongoing recovery so that I may be as healthy of an instrument as possible in God’s hands, and let us thank Him for fully orchestrating my visit to San Antonio, my diagnosis, several breakthroughs I experienced, provision to cover medical costs, etc. Thank you.
I could probably list many more prayer requests and triumphs, but I will leave it at that for now. If you or anyone you know is not currently receiving our periodic printed newsletter and would like to receive it (it contains photos, testimonies/stories, etc, very similar to this blog), please send me via email that person’s name and physical mailing address so that they may be included on the mailing list. Thank you again for partnering with us in this amazing Kingdom work; God bless you.
With peace and gratitude in Christ,
Jennifer, for Darwin and all of our kids/teachers

Another Healing Update

This is the third update I’m writing in regards to my search for healing from the chronic insomnia that I’ve struggled with for many years (which had then led me to all kinds of viruses, tropical fevers, etc, all of which sort of snowballed and caused me to get weaker and weaker, always awake the majority of nights and struggling through exhaustion on top of sickness. ) As one friend who met to pray with me a few weeks ago mentioned with a dry laugh, “You’ve been on a steady diet of IVs and antibiotics these last few years…” Thus, I came to Texas for a few weeks to seek out healing in every realm — spirit, mind and body — as I had reached a breaking point.

I was scheduled to return to Honduras today after having been in Texas since August 20th, but several days ago I decided to push my return flight back a week so that I may have a few additional days of rest as my body is still far from full strength. Thus I will be returning to Darwin, our kids, teaching, etc, next Friday (September 29th).

During the past week-and-a-half or so, all of the diagnostic tests (many, many bloodwork panels, stool cultures, saliva and urine samples, etc) finally came back with their results, and we’ve been able to find out several underlying issues that have been contributing to my insomnia and low-immune battle over these last several years.

I will explain: according to all the testing we’ve done, I have Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease (a thyroid disorder in which the thyroid gland, which controls many important functions in the body, attacks itself), a rampant fungal and yeast infection inside of my whole body (called Candida, which oftentimes begins when you take too many antibiotics, thus killing off the good bacteria in your gut and letting the bad bacteria run wild), sleep apnea, and a couple general disorders in which my body has not properly processed zinc and b-vitamins, which has led to a state of almost constant stress and anxiousness. Many of these things sort of ‘go together’ and affect one another, and all of them have been proven to cause insomnia, anxiety, high physical stress, low immune function, etc. I had even been having a lot of heart pain and difficulty breathing, and I discovered that that can also be attributed to the aforementioned disorders/problems. At least on the physical front, I am very thankful that we finally have these diagnoses and that I’m on a very rigorous treatment plan (including a general detox, high-quality supplements, Thyroid medication, immune support, a strict diet, etc) to begin healing.

All of this was discovered in the last week-and-a-half, so I’ve been following the regimen religiously, although it will probably take 2-3 months or so for everything to really get in my system so that I can begin noticing significant changes in the way I feel. My body has been so out-of-whack for so long that the physical healing process will not be an overnight phenomenon (although I would like it to be). In the meantime my doctors have prescribed me various heavy-duty sleep aids to help “knock me out” at night, but the pills have had little to no effect on my sleeping and have caused many weird side effects, so I’ve vowed to no longer take them but rather wait patiently upon the Lord for my integral healing while I continue following the long-term plan to correct the aforementioned disorders/stresses my body has been facing.

The Lord continues to bring several people alongside of me to pray for my healing, and — as I mentioned in the prior update — I feel that spiritually and emotionally I’ve had many breakthroughs and am being granted ‘new sight’ to see things the way Christ sees them, as I had prior been fighting against a lot of pessimism, self-condemnation, fear, etc. This aspect of my healing has been fascinating, at times two-steps-forward-then-one-step-back, and encouraging. I am so excited to return home to Darwin and our life in Honduras with renewed passion and faith as God ushers me into a new chapter with renewed outlook. More than anything, I believe this trip to the States has been about God reminding me what He’s already done. He really has been with us.

Darwin and I are in communication almost daily by phone, and he’s been able to share with me that the Lord is doing a big work in his own heart during this time as he is being convicted and set free from many negative thinking pattens, pessimism, fears, etc. It is very neat to see that even though Darwin cannot be here with me, the Lord is doing a very similar work in both of our hearts as He prepares us to be reunited next week. I believe these changes the Lord is doing deep down in our hearts will greatly affect (in a positive way) our children’s lives and our hidden life with Christ at the foothills of the mountains long-term.

The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.” However many times I had read that before, now for the first time I am actually learning to live in such a way, even if sleep still eludes me for now. Darwin and I have been through some hard hits and difficult learning experiences in these last few years together (Darwin’s kidnapping last year, many trials with our 8 children who all come from severely broken backgrounds, many robberies, a young marriage, my ongoing insomnia, etc) and in many ways we fell too often in the trap of worry, stress, wanting to try to control that which was out of our control, etc — in few words, we were basically not thinking about that which is noble, right and pure (we were not fully trusting and resting in God). So, we earnestly thank God that He is making this shift deep down in each of our hearts as He is drawing us nearer to Himself and releasing us from our fears, doubts and anxieties (however invisible this process still is on the outside). With time we hope it will bear great fruit for God’s glory.

As for everything in Honduras, our children are okay, our animals (cows, guard dogs, kitchen cats) are alive, and the daily outreach to disciple and teach our neighbors through our community homeschool program continues onward. I’ve been able to send a few long letters down to them to be read aloud during their group Bible study time when everyone (teachers, students, etc) is together in our dining room on Tuesdays/Thursdays. These letters have been a blessing and have provided encouragement both to me and to those who’ve read them as we maintain communication and love from afar, always encouraging one another in Christ.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the local Hondurans who labor alongside of us are pulling double-time to cover many of my duties and support Darwin in his single-parenting venture of our 8 wily (I mean ‘well-behaved’) children, so that has been a huge blessing. Really there have been no big hiccups, and they’ve even begun implementing several small changes/adjustments to the daily routines as the Lord leads. Yesterday all 40 students plus the teachers had an extended prayer and Bible study time in the morning and entered math class late because God had led them in another direction. Amen!

So, I will be returning home next Friday — fully knowing that the true healing process will be worked out over the months to come. I would like to sincerely thank those of you who have been praying for us and supporting us in various ways. God bless you.

 

Learning to Persevere: The Family Footrace at Dawn

Several weeks ago my husband and I were evaluating the daily routines we’ve established to foster the integral growth and development of those in our household when a rather displeasing thought entered our minds and just wouldn’t wriggle out: rather than getting up at 5:15am each morning, let’s get up 30 minutes earlier so that we can go running as a family. Yeah! That’s just what we need to further inculcate discipline and overall health in each member of our household — go sprinting down a long, solitary road half-asleep in the pitch black with 8 kids! Sure!

Seeing as Darwin and I have both been involved in athletic training to some degree in our lives (plus the fact that we are willing to try anything that might give a positive result as we seek to ‘train up’ our 8 kids/teens in all that is good work ethic, self-discipline, integral health, etc, for God’s glory), we decided — despite our own desires to get a little more shut-eye each morning! — to give it a try the following morning.

I do not remember how we informed all the members of our diverse household — if I wrote the announcement on our family’s living room whiteboard or if we broke the news over dinner — but, needless to say, they were less than enthused.

The night prior to the big adventure, we informed everyone: when we come get you up in the morning, just put your tennis shoes on, brush your teeth and get to the front door as quickly as you possibly can. We’re not going to be rubbing our sleepy eyes and shuffling around the house aimlessly for 20 minutes (as some of our teens are accustomed to doing).

And so, the next morning the alarm sounded (it was a weekend, so we were able to sleep in a little longer and commence the run around 7:00am rather than in the wee morning hours), and our shoes were already on our feet before the last remnants of our dreams had fully left us. I went bed-to-bed jostling sleeping legs and patting tired backs as I informed in a sing-song voice, “Time to get up…we’re gonna go running. Get your shoes on…”

From that point on, everything went downhill. 12-year-old Gleny, one of our daughters who is most definitely not a morning person, received several back-to-back wake-up calls, but she ended up flopping over in bed and never actually getting up. 11-year-old developmentally-challenged Gabriela couldn’t find her tennis shoes, and everyone else had a tangibly bad attitude.

We filed out our front door and through the front gate with most of our kids grumbling and exchanging angry glances. As the run began, 16-year-old Brayan, who is extremely fit athletically and capable of beating most people in a footrace, ran slower than anyone else because he got distracted along the route when he saw the girl he liked. 9-year-old Josue, who suffers from several developmental delays, barely got to the front gate before he got tired and quit running. Our eldest daughter failed to exit our home on time as she took too long getting ready, and she came flying down the path in a less than punctual manner to catch up with us several minutes later. Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who loves to eat and is not typically known to be the queen of personal fitness, cried the entire way as she struggled to maintain a jog during the mile+ journey.

By the time we returned home, collecting stragglers and disgruntled teenagers along the way, everyone had gotten sour. By all accounts, the run had been a disaster.

As we returned home, we assigned a consequence to Gleny and Dayana, our two daughters who had not gotten ready on time. Darwin and I exchanged glances as we decided to wait a few hours before calling a family meeting to discuss the (abysmal) results of that day’s run. We gave everyone space and let everyone cool down emotionally from what had unintentionally turned out to be an absolutely terrible experience.

Later that afternoon, we all gathered in the kitchen for one of our periodic family meetings. Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, sat on our kitchen counter with her curly, afro-like hair as big as ever and her arms crossed defensively. She was leading the protest parade, and it was obvious that she was still bitter about the entire morning escapade. I sat on an ages-old rickety wooden stool as I looked around at discouraged, bitter faces. Had the run really ruined their day? Poor souls.

Darwin and I prayed, as we customarily do to begin any family meeting, and we began: “Well, the run this morning really went…terribly.” I let out a slight laugh and glanced around our large, open-air kitchen at our kids and teens, some of whom sat on the concrete floors, others standing with their backs resting against bright green walls. Dayana, arms still crossed, rolled her eyes in agreement.

Then, a ray of hope flashed across the faces of a few of our kids as I read their minds: Yeah, the whole running idea just didn’t work. At least we can say we tried! Now we can check that crazy idea off our list…Thanks for the experience, Mom and Dad!

I continued, knowing I would be dropping a bomb in their midst: “…Which is why we’re gonna do it again tomorrow. At 4:45am. Before classes. We are not going to quit just because it’s hard or just because it didn’t go well the first time. In our Christian walk we must persevere.”

Whatever flicker of hope had lit up their young, innocent eyes suddenly shut off, replaced by shock and rage. Darwin and I laughed together, as the entire idea of doing it again seemed absurd even to us. We had already tried, and it was a bust! Who on earth would want to repeat the completely negative and chaotic experience we had all been through that morning? Had we lost our minds?

As our kids glanced frantically at one another, hoping against hope that we were kidding, the second bomb was dropped: “…And not only will we run as a family tomorrow, but every single weekday for the next three weeks until vacation.”

Whoa!

Oh, there were protests and shaky-lip whimpers and rebellious teenage glances when the news was given, but let me tell you — that next morning at 4:45am our alarm sounded and everyone was up and successfully out of the house within 5 minutes! No complaints, no bad attitudes. Everyone ran the best they could, and the entire experience actually seemed almost fun! (As fun as it can possibly be to run down rocky gravel roads in the pitch black with drool still running down your chin hoping you don’t step on a poisonous snake!)

Well, we kept our word, and we ran with our kids for the next three weeks. And not only that — we’re currently at six weeks and counting!

Just this morning as we all shook the cobwebs from our sleepy minds at 4:45am, our little Gabriela — who first moved in with us two years ago as a severely malnourished and broken little girl who could barely walk, much less run — completed the entire 1.2 mile run for the first time (on prior runs she only got half-way due to exhaustion), arriving successfully at the finish line (the local highway intersection) at breakneck pace with Darwin running by her side! She even passed several of our older kids along the way! Wow!

And so we share this story of perseverance to encourage you in your daily walk.

Amen! Glory to God!

Sweeping Away Bitterness: Learning to Foster Gratitude and Humility in Our Home

In our little cinderblock home out in the countryside with our 8 foster kids, roughly 30 local youth in our community homeschool, 5 local missionaries/teachers, a few guard dogs, more chickens than you can count and about a half dozen cattle thrown in the mix (all under the blistering Honduran sun without air-conditioning or properly sealed buildings), we are constantly innovating new cleaning routines so as to maintain our rustic little buildings as clean as they can possibly be (for at least five minutes before they get dirty again).

We have two local moms come help us out part-time in the kitchen and with general cleaning during the schoolweek, but even so everything seems to be perpetually grimy. Sweaty, dirty children (many of whom come from local poor families that do not bathe or brush their teeth frequently/properly, do not own deodorant, etc) dart about our property, leaving dirty hand- and shoe-prints all over our walls; bats, rats, bugs and other creatures constantly invade; and special-needs children frequently leave pee- and poo-messes in the least desirable places.

Thus, we dedicate a good chunk of time to scratching our heads and scheming up new ways to tackle the hygiene giant on our rural property (without becoming totally obsessed with this endeavor, as our ultimate purpose is not to maintain an immaculate house but rather to usher young men and women to the foot of the Cross).

And so on Monday of this week I orchestrated a long day of deep-cleaning activities around our property in collaboration with the ongoing effort to establish good hygiene. Brayan spent the entire morning washing the walls of our 2 school houses with abundant water and detergent (we had done so not three weeks prior, but they were already dirty again). Developmentally-challenged Gaby and Josue helped out by filling four grocery bags full of little bits and pieces of trash, thrown-out papers, etc, that they found in and around the porches and tables on our front lawn (this is also a job that is done weekly, but many Hondurans are accustomed to throwing trash wherever they want, and they frequently choose our front lawn).

Each person had a job, and all seemed to be going according to plan as a rather simple (perhaps even obvious) idea dawned on me: what we really needed (and had yet to establish) was a morning sweeping routine, as we sweep all floors and porches once or twice in the late-morning/afternoon, but each morning as we receive all our local students through our front gate, it would be really great if the porches were already swept. Our porches are large cement slabs that are often covered in a fine layer of dirt, dog hair or insect remains, as people and animals with dirty feet are constantly walking across them. Although our morning routine is already tight with our 4:45am get-ups and the very precious task of getting 8 young people ready, making beds, serving breakfast, etc before all of our neighbors arrive, I came to the conclusion that the sweeping routine must be added to our daily schedule if we were going to elevate our overall hygiene standards as we hoped to.

I briefly considered who would do this job – I personally enjoy sweeping, but with my many other early morning commitments, I knew that my time simply would not allow me to take on any additional commitments. And our kids? How would they react to the news of being the new chief executives of the morning sweeping routine? 

As is evidenced throughout the Bible, humankind oftentimes is given to murmuring and complaining, and our kids are no exception. Just the day prior I was listening to the Old Testament on CD as I drove around town doing errands. As I listened, I felt surprised and personally convicted by the fact that the Israelites – who had been rescued out of grueling slavery in Egypt by God’s powerful hand! – fell into the trap of complaining so many times in their journey through the desert. Had they not just been rescued, and should they not be grateful and full of faith in the good God rather than constantly complaining, doubting and murmuring? Unfortunately, humanity has not changed much, and I mulled this over as I considered how to break the news to our kids. In any situation of responsibility or work, we want our kids to approach the activity with joy and humility, doing all things with excellence as unto the Lord and not unto men, but this grace-filled attitude is not always achieved. How could I break the news to them about my fabulous new idea to sweep each morning without them falling into murmuring, complaints, and “it’s not fair”?

Without further ado, I headed to our family’s whiteboard in our living room, feeling suddenly sure of what I was to write: “…We are going to start a new sweeping routine every morning. The schedule is written on the piece of paper above this whiteboard. If anyone has a problem with this, you can talk with Mom and Dad and exchange jobs with them, and they will gladly sweep for you. Mom and Dad’s jobs are: wake everyone up each morning, prepare/serve breakfast, make sure everyone makes their beds and brushes their teeth, brush the girls’ hair, and bathe Gaby and Josue and get them dressed. If you do not want to sweep or see this job as unfair, then just talk with Mom and Dad, and you can take their jobs instead.”

I laughed to myself as I wrote the breaking headline on our frequently-used family whiteboard. I knew that within moments everyone would be flocking to it to see what the latest announcement was. I added at the end of my short informational paragraph: “Please be encouraged to take on this new morning routine not as a punishment or extra baggage, but rather as a privilege as we learn to serve one another and take care of the home God has given us. God bless you!”

Sure enough, our kids all read the message and there were immediately signs of negative attitudes as several of our girls exchanged glances that seemed to say, “I don’t like this. Why is Mom giving us one more job? This isn’t fair. Ugh.”

Refusing to be discouraged, I kept a smile on my face.

The next morning I was glad to see that our first two daughters on the list completed their task after a friendly reminder. Although I can’t say that they did so joyfully, the porches did get swept in a timely fashion.

Later that afternoon, our eldest daughter approached me in the kitchen pretending to not understand the new sweeping schedule that I had written and taped to our living room wall. She is a very smooth-talker and very emotionally astute, so she began the conversation with me as I was serving dinner: “Hey Mom, I guess I didn’t really understand the sweeping schedule…My days are Tuesday and Friday, right?”

I smiled at her – knowing that she was probably masking her true feelings about her new job – and said, “No. Your days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The four days we have classes.”

Her eyes grew wide as her face displayed a slight grimace. Ouch! Not two days, but four! She and Josselyn would take the weekdays for now, and our other two teen girls the weekends. She probed further with her smooth talk, still trying to find a way out: “When is the schedule gonna change?”

“I’m not sure, but for now it remains as is.”

She crossed her arms as she leaned back against the kitchen counter. She looked thoughtful. This conversation hadn’t quite turned out the way she had hoped.

Just in case she really had not understood the whiteboard message or had read it too quickly, I added with an upbeat attitude: “I personally really enjoy sweeping, but I just don’t have the time to take the job on in the morning. You know, if you want to exchange jobs with me, I’ll gladly take yours. Each morning I prepare and serve breakfast, bathe Gaby and Josue – “

She stood up straight with a look of genuine surprise in her eyes and cut me off before I could finish listing off my morning responsibilities, “No thanks!” She let out a sincere little laugh and shook her head in an enthusiastic ‘no’ as her rather simple job of sweeping two porches suddenly seemed a whole lot more desirable. Her entire countenance changed as she approached the job with gratitude for the first time.

I laughed with her and continued cutting the watermelon that I would be adding to each person’s dinner plate. Joy had suddenly been restored among us as I thanked God in my heart for this change of attitude in our delightful daughter.

To all you parents and educators out there: try this technique! I learned it from Danny Silk’s book Loving Our Kids on Purpose.

 

Amen! Glory to God!

The Cross in Daily Life: A Story

A few months ago I was listening to an online podcast by Frank Viola about the ingredient that is perhaps most important in authentic Christian community (and that which we most often overlook because it is the most painful): the cross. Not the cross which Jesus bore, which we frequently remember and give thanks for, but that cross which He called us to bear when He instructed His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. He who loves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

Without this element of the cross, genuine Christian community cannot exist.

To understand what is meant by “the cross,” GotQuestions.org informs: To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop. Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

Now, when you live alone or perhaps congregate in a large church setting where you simply file in and take your pew anonymously, it is easy enough to avoid this cross. If you participate in a civil meeting over a cup of coffee or an hour-long Bible study gathering, it is easy enough to carefully sweep your sin to one side and forget all notions of the cross, of dying to self. After all, anyone can be a ‘good person’ for an hour or two within reasonable parameters.

However, when you engage in deeper human contact (‘collisions’ might possibly be the more accurate word), the reality of the cross — that each person must die to their own selfish desires so that God’s will may flourish among the group without inflated egos getting in the way — becomes entirely obvious and necessary. When you are around another human being in a transparent setting long enough — whether it be as a family or in a marriage relationship, as a close-knit group of friends or in some other context of nitty-gritty human relationships, sooner rather than later the problem of sin — of bad tempers, impatience, lies, jealously, etc — is going to arise, and we must know how to deal with it if the relationship is going to thrive under God’s will and for His glory.

By human nature no one wants to ask forgiveness, admit they were wrong, listen to another’s ideas before their own, or humbly submit to another’s authority. Thus; the cross. Jesus calls us to die to our own wills; to literally crucify our desires, plans, and the demands of our ego. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me. And it hurts. I mean, really hurts. When you do so, it sort of feels like you’re dying to all that you are because, well, you are.

What I am about to share is one such story that occurred in our household only a few days ago.

On Sunday my husband and six of our foster/adopted children spent the entire day away from home visiting Darwin’s extended family members in a neighboring town while I chose to stay at home and rest with two of our sons. I spent the day organizing mounds of paperwork in our home and office, cooking meals for our two boys, spending time with them and practicing piano.

During that day I called my husband a couple times to try to find out if I was expected to cook dinner for him and our other six kids that evening (sometimes when we visit Darwin’s extended family members we eat dinner in their home while on other occasions we return home early and eat in our own kitchen); thus I did not know their expected return time nor if they would be arriving hungry. I am not a particularly enthused cook, so I not-so-secretly hoped that they would arrive home with bellies already full.

On both occasions, however, Darwin did not answer my calls as it appeared his cellphone was turned off. Thus, I waited until about 7:00pm (we normally eat dinner at about 5:00pm, so it was reasonable to think they had already eaten). When they still had not returned home (or called to let me know any details as to their dinner plans), I felt quite like Pontius Pilate as I “washed my hands clean” of any dinner-making responsibility and began cleaning the kitchen. Although it had been a quiet, easy day, I was feeling a bit tired from such a long week and was looking forward to putting away the last of the dishes and heading to our room for an early rest (in our household we get up at 4:45am).

Lo and behold, at about 7:45pm as wacky lil’ Josue and I are finishing off the last of the kitchen duties, I spot two large headlights approaching our front gate. Honestly, my immediate thought was: Run and hide! Pretend you’re asleep!  I knew full well they would be entering what had been our nearly-silent household with much noise, enthusiasm and stories (so late!), plus I ran the risk of them not having eaten, which would then usher me into the responsibility of preparing dinner from scratch for 7 hungry people (which is no small task in any country).

I decided to play it cool as they came bounding in our previously peaceful kitchen. Suddenly there were hugs, loud greetings, a dozen heavy feet pounding on the cement floor and, of course, many wild stories of conquest and adventure that had to be told.

I smiled wearily as I asked in a very nonchalant manner, “Hey, um, you guys ate dinner at your aunts’ and uncles’ home, right?” I bit my tongue in expectation as I waited for them to say ‘yes.’

Several heads snapped toward me at the mention of dinner and answered, “No. We ate lunch with our aunts and uncles, but that was hours ago.”

My face dropped. I tried again, still hopeful, “But, I mean, are y’all like just a little bit hungry or really hungry? I mean, it’s pretty late.”

13-year-old Jackeline, one of our precious daughters who never has a problem with her appetite, piped up, “Well I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m really hungry.”

Hoping I had heard her wrong, I asked with the last of my fading hopes, “You’re not really hungry?”

“No; I said I’m really hungry. What’s for dinner?” She looked around at our empty, sparkling kitchen.

And that’s when I lost my cool. Darwin came strolling into our kitchen after what had probably been a lovely day visiting his family members. I greeted him sharply, “I called you twice to ask if I was supposed to prepare dinner for everyone, and you didn’t answer or return my calls! Now everyone’s hungry and I didn’t prepare anything because you people came home so late that I thought you had already eaten! Zero communication!” I huffed and puffed and threw the refrigerator door open. I wanted to stick my head in and cry. Everyone seemed surprised, as I do not typically behave in such a manner.

I was immediately ashamed for my outburst but continued to feel justified in my anger (and extremely tired), so I continued murmuring a bit about how we need to have better communication and how I had already cleaned the kitchen (which in our large, rustic kitchen is a gargantuan task) and was ready to go rest for the night. I was determined to win the gold medal in bad attitudes, and there seemed to be no turning back.

Seeing as they are extremely resilient, our kids kept bounding toward me with their great tales of their visit to Grandpa Joaquin’s farm — their encounter with an angry pig mom when they touched her piglets; their visit to the crocodile-infested river; how Josselyn cut her nose with a machete while opening a coconut. I half-heartedly listened to their stories as I began pulling things out of the fridge, warming up a pot of beans and figuring out what the heck I would feed these 7 hungry people (and who would clean the kitchen up afterwards, because it certainly wouldn’t be me).

Well, the dinner routine was brought to completion and everyone ate, although I felt like a mad porcupine throughout the process. About an hour later everyone was finally tucked in their rooms in what had turned out to be a less-than-punctual Sabbath Hour, and I felt convicted about my sour attitude. Soon enough I laid down to rest and thought, “Tomorrow I will ask for forgiveness via our family’s dry-erase board — I will write a note to everyone asking for forgiveness for my bad attitude,” but I sensed in my heart that writing it on the board would be too easy — would not truly be ‘carrying my cross’ and admitting my mistake, my sin (which we all hate to do). God wanted me to go to each person individually, humble myself — die to all that is my pride, my ego! — and ask forgiveness for my terrible attitude. I determined in my heart to do so, even though the very thought made me want to scream bloody murder. (Admit I was wrong? Humble myself in front of our kids? I would rather stub my toe or bruise my funny bone!) But this is the way of the cross, and the Lord is guiding me in it, however loudly I scream in resistance.

And so early the next morning — which was Monday of this week — I found myself washing dishes in our large rustic kitchen as Dayana and Jason (our 16-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old brother) were serving their breakfast. I breathed deeply as I looked beyond the rusting wire mesh on our panoramic windows out towards our grazing cows and beyond to the mountain range behind our property. My heart suddenly began beating faster as I knew this was the moment God has designated for me to begin the humiliating death-to-ego process. Oh Lord, why couldn’t I have just written a general note to all on our family’s whiteboard? Why must You lead me to ask forgiveness not once, but on multiple occasions for the same error? Please, no!

Before I could ‘reason’ my way out of obedience, I turned around to face our two unsuspecting kids and said all at once, “Please forgive me for my bad attitude last night.” Oh, I wanted to add so much more to that simple phrase — I longed to justify my attitude or subtly excuse my misbehavior with sophisticated words, but the Lord would not have it to be so!

They both looked up at me, smiled softly and answered, “We forgive you.”

No excuses; no justifications; no guilt.

I breathed deeply again, but this time in relief. “Thank you.” I held their eye contact for a good moment or two before I turned around again and continued washing the dishes. Even though I still felt close to the agonizing cries of my own death, I suddenly felt lighter. Something had been restored among us. I believe it was God’s blessing.

Two down. Several more to go.

Moments later 13-year-old Josselyn with her unkempt black hair came in the kitchen, put-off because she had wanted to spend the morning chit-chatting with her friends but had to hand-wash the clothes as a disciplinary procedure for an infraction she incurred. She huffed and puffed as she passed by me in our kitchen, on her way to grab more soap and detergent before heading back outside to continue the laborious process of washing. I declared over her what she didn’t want to hear, “I know you want to spend time with your friends, but right now your responsibility is to wash the clothes with Jackeline. Finish the task at hand, and then you can see your friends.” Her bad attitude was tangible (as mine had been the night prior), and as she and her dark cloud began exiting our kitchen I called her name. She quickly reappeared, her eyes trained on mine but not at all happy.

I breathed deeply, again feeling like someone was about to push me off a cliff — heels dug in, arms flailing, facing imminent death! — and I said softly, “Hey, I wanted to ask your forgiveness for my bad attitude last night.”

Her face immediately changed — she smiled! — and she came over to give me a big hug. Wow!

Three down.

Less than an hour later I was sitting at one of the pianos in our high school building to practice a new piece when my husband Darwin came up behind me to give me a warm bear-hug. My cue from God could not have been more clear: Now! Ask his forgiveness now.

And suddenly, once more, I felt like every ounce of ‘me’ was being put under immediate threat. My ego was facing the death penalty. I felt scared and angry, like a cornered wolf. I don’t want to die! Anything but this! Please! 

I suddenly went tumbling over the ledge of the cliff, my descent made ever the faster due to the weight of the large cross I was carrying —

“Pleaseforgivemeformybadattitudelastnight.” It all came rolling off my tongue so fast because I knew that if I didn’t say it quickly, then it might never come out. I glanced down at the black and white keys in front of me as Darwin’s hug didn’t loosen.

“You’re forgiven.” He smiled at his dead wife.

Okay! Please change the subject…and quickly! Ouch, that was painful!

Not long after that I came face-to-face again with that terrible sensation of being pushed over a cliff as I humbled myself and asked forgiveness from Jackeline and Gleny, the other two recipients of my undeserved vitriol the night prior.

And so that was my experience this week with the cross, and since then several of our children and teens have followed this example and have humbled themselves — without excuses or justifications — to seek me out asking for forgiveness for their various bad attitudes or misbehaviors. Look at how all that works!

Amen! Glory to God!

 

A Day Without Water: Superwoman Transformed Into a Desperately Dry Husk

[Written a few weeks ago]: This morning at 5:00am my husband and I rolled out of bed and made the usual rounds, patting sleepy backs and whispering early morning greetings as we went room-to-room waking our 8 kids up for a new day of classes and untold adventures.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan until one of our kids went to use a faucet to wet their toothbrush, and no water came out. We then tried the other faucets in our home to no avail, and a conclusion was quickly reached: we found ourselves absolutely without water. Upon reaching our kitchen (which on our rural property is not attached to our sleeping quarters), we discovered the kitchen faucet equally dry.

In the third world country where we live, the electricity frequently goes out, and there have been dozens of times in the past when we’ve been without water for up to a day or two, but today – in the midst of an extreme heat wave we’ve been experiencing for the last several days – the reality of being without water in our rural, no-air-conditioning home hit us (or at least me) unusually hard. We were no longer in the delightful rainy season in which we enjoy slightly cooler temperatures, but in the blistering hot, dry summer months.

16-year-old Dayana, the eldest of our kids, towel in hand, looked at me with her big, curly hair and asked, “Is it okay if I go down to the creek to bathe? I didn’t take a shower last night…”

Knowing that she is accustomed to taking a shower each morning – and the fact that we were facing the no-water situation – I agreed to her idea, and off she went. Soon her younger sister followed her, bar of soap in hand and towel flapping behind her as she raced off to the little creek – which was most likely also nearly dry – behind our home.

Several young voices, dry toothbrushes in hand, eyed me and asked, “Mom…how are we gonna brush our teeth?”

“Well, I guess we’re just gonna get cavities today…” I answered, already feeling choked up in the hot, humid air thinking about a whole day of smelly breath.

“And how are we gonna wash our hands…?”

“Not sure, sweetheart, but just don’t touch me…” I gave hugs and kisses on the tops of heads, trying strategically to avoid contact with their little hands that always seem to be touching floors, exploring the inside of their noses, etc. How on earth was I going to serve breakfast without having washed my own hands? All of us had been sick on and off the last few weeks with fevers and viruses, and the idea of falling ill again didn’t appeal to me.

I reached our kitchen around 5:40am after overseeing the general morning routine in our home. I glanced at the kitchen counter – where my husband Darwin and our 15-year-old son Brayan normally leave the large bucketful of fresh milk they get out of our two cows each morning – and saw nothing. I opened the fridge and peered in. Nothing. Where was the — ?

I glanced over at Darwin, who stood across the kitchen in his old raggy milking clothes that he wears each morning, and my eyes spoke the question for me. He answered, “Oh, the cows wouldn’t give any milk this morning. Their calves are getting so big that their utters are no longer producing. But the good news is that both cows are well along in their current pregnancy and should be birthing soon.”

No milk? I had gone to the grocery store the day prior to buy several big bulk-sized bags of Cornflakes and other cereals, but we never buy milk because we get it fresh from our cows each morning. Cornflakes without milk? I glanced at him, somewhat irritated as if it was his fault that he couldn’t squeeze out at least a few liters of nonexistent milk, and I suddenly felt a strange emotion: desperation. I was starting to feel like I was in some kind of apocalyptic nightmare, some kind of worldwide scarcity endemic that just might possibly sweep the planet in the coming years due to climate change, deforestation, rampant pollution, etc. Had we reached the point in which countries will war over water rather than petroleum?

Darwin added calmly, “Brayan said that we have powdered milk in the pantry.”

I laughed sarcastically, convinced that he was wrong, but I went to go check just in case. I took a few brisk steps and swung by head into our nearly bare pantry where our two ‘guard cats’ sleep. Several sacks of rice and beans; more than a few cartons of eggs; close to a dozen bottles of cooking oil. Pots and pans…and…

Bingo. My eyes landed on a lone canister of powdered milk. A large supermarket chain that donates expired and damaged goods to us about once a month had included a dinged-up can of powdered milk that we hadn’t used or even noticed due to our prior daily abundance of cows’ milk. I went to grab it when the accusatory words suddenly came out of my mouth, “But we don’t have water! How am I going to be able to prepare the powdered milk?!”

I suddenly felt very, very thirsty.

At that point Brayan spotted one single jug of emergency water that was sitting idly under one of our countertops. Atta boy. It would be enough to mix into the powdered milk and serve our family a glass of water for breakfast, but it wouldn’t get us all through the rest of the day, especially considering that roughly 50 people would need to eat (and drink) from our kitchen once our local students and teachers arrived.

I got to work preparing the powdered milk and serving the cereal bowls for our littlest ones while I then filled up my Nalgene water bottle to the brim with water from our emergency jug. I gulped deep as I felt the cool water sliding down my hot, dry throat. The feeling of desperation continued as I entertained the uneasy thought that that might be the last glass of water I would be able to drink in a long, long time. (And I’m the kind of person who is constantly thirsty and drinks many more than the recommended 8 glasses of water per day. A single glass in the morning wouldn’t cut it. Within an hour or two I would need more.)

By 6:15am I was already sweating bullets as my husband and I began organizing our dining room to receive all of our students and Christian laborers in our twice-weekly worship time and Bible study. As our kids came and went, each grabbing their breakfast cereal with powdered milk, we would laugh dryly (no pun intended) each time they would approach the sink, empty bowl in hand, to wash their dishes. They would turn the handle on the faucet, wait, look over at me, confused, and then suddenly remember that we didn’t have water. “What do I do with my breakfast dishes?” they would ask as I motioned for them to leave them next to the sink. (And if the water didn’t come back for several days? What would we do with the Mount Everest of dirty dishes?)

Back in our bathroom – that little cave-like room attached onto our bedroom for my husband’s and my use – our poor toilet quickly became a gurgling, stewing melting pot of nasty sights and odors. Seeing as we’re both seeking to take really good care of our health, we had taken certain vitamins to help cleanse our system, so between the two of us we had gone #2 three times in that porcelain pot before 7:00am. I had also gone pee two or three times, plus I was menstruating, so every time that toilet lid was lifted up, it felt like a bomb was set off in our bathroom. Each time I went to go use our restroom – which seemed to be more frequent than usual – I pranced around outside of the door for a moment or two, psyching myself up, took a big, deep breath – cheeks inflated with emergency reserve oxygen – and darted in, opened the lid as quickly as possible, did my business in the most efficient manner – covering my nose and mouth with part of my long skirt – shut the lid, and darted out, gasping for clean air on the other end.

Throughout this whole morning escapade, I housed a sense of thoughtful dread in my chest. Would the world come to this someday, and will it be sooner than we think? When will the world’s water sources dry up or get so contaminated after years of senseless pollution that they are no longer drinkable? In a matter of hours I had become a very philosophical, dry husk.

Take electricity or petroleum away from man, and he can survive, although without the luxuries he is accustomed to. Take water away – even for a very short time – and he gets put face to face with a life and death situation.

My morning – which I had thought would be all about normal affairs, human relationships, Bible study, preparing for classes, etc – suddenly became all-consumed by a single thought: water. Survival. Although externally I continued to joyfully fulfill the many duties (privileges) before me, internally I was becoming quite frantic. All I could think about were the sunburns on my arms and neck from day after day of walking under the blistering Honduran sun, the beads of sweat forming all over my body, and my dry throat. Everyone around me started to look sweaty and worn out; we were quickly becoming like a band of Israelites wandering around a very dry desert. When would it end?

We humans believe we are so powerful, so smart, so capable of taking on any difficult situation and coming out victorious – we’ve traveled and conquered the globe, learned new languages, earned advanced degrees, own many of the greatest comforts and luxuries the world can offer – but if you take water out of the equation, our own weakness gets put immediately in perspective. It turns out that we are not our own gods; we are not the all-powerful, super-independent individuals we’d like to think we are.

It turns out that, after all, each and every one of us is extremely fragile, surprisingly weak. We must be constantly sustained and cared for in order to survive. Taken out of a situation of comfort and security, we quickly become fearful and aggressive as our own mortality stares us in the face. Dry husks whose beauty and power disappear faster than the snacks in our pantry.

Just a few days ago as I was running errands in the nearby city of La Ceiba I passed by a little stand on the side of the road that sells newspapers. The daily headline had been printed out extra large and pasted on the outer wall of the stand so that passersby could see the news and hopefully be attracted to purchase the newspaper. My eyes felt automatically drawn to the large, colorful poster with the day’s breaking headlines although I knew, as usual, they would hold devastating news.

Sure enough, an oversized photo of an extremely fit man with rippling muscles in his 20s or 30s gave visual power to the text below: Local gym owner murdered.

I do not know why he was murdered — if he was involved in illegal business with the wrong crowd and it finally caught up with him, if he had refused to pay the ‘war tax’ to local extortionists or if he was simply an innocent victim to one of many senseless murders in our area, but what I do know is this: his large muscles and perfect physique could not save him, did not preserve his life. What’s more, I’m convinced that yesterday was a normal day for him — he probably went about his business without the idea of death having crossed his mind once. He probably woke up, went to work at the gym, and thought he had many years of vibrant life and excellent health before him. He might have even marveled at his own impressive body and thought that by doing so much exercise he was even extending his lifespan. I’m convinced that never in his wildest dreams did he think that his very own photo would make national headlines the next day to announce his sudden death.

And so, as I went about my own business on that extremely dry day, the reality of our human frailty — no matter how chiseled our muscles are or how much money we have saved up in the bank — suddenly became inescapable. As odd as it sounds, I thank God for this. Living here in the midst of rampant violence and gang activity, police corruption/unresponsiveness, devastating poverty all around, highly dangerous viruses and tropical illnesses and even uncomfortable physical elements such as scorching heat and no-water days, I am daily faced with my own mortality. I must daily come to grips with the fact that I need a Savior, that my own life dangles by a little thread with many roaming machetes threatening to cut it.

I may have all my accounts in order, put into practice a daily exercise routine, eat right, and live a healthy and respectful life by anyone’s standards, but when faced with a prolonged water outage or some angry neighbor carried toward violence (we know of far too many accounts in our area where one neighbor turns against another, oftentimes due to jealously or a simple misunderstanding, and a life is taken), my entire well-being — my very existence on Earth — is put into question.

That morning, in the midst of my own mortal insecurity as my thoughts frantically ran toward the obvious: my own physical discomfort and even possible danger if clean water did not start running out of our faucets as soon as possible, my eternal security in Christ was affirmed once more. For even if the worst happens — if there is a worldwide water crisis or the local gangs burst through our front gate or cancer hits close to home — nothing and nobody can take from us the eternal redemption we have in Christ Jesus. He is the only thing in the whole universe that doesn’t change, can’t be purchased, and doesn’t belong to this quickly-fading world. I felt as the Apostle Paul did, “Externally we are wasting away, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Several hours later, as everyone was drooping lower and lower due to the heat and lack of water, I went to the bathroom once more and instinctively went to flush the toilet even though it had not been able to be flushed all day. Like music to my ears, I heard a loud ‘whoosh’ of water as all the day’s waste was taken from the pot down through the plumbing. The water had come back! I ran outside, my long arms extended high in victory as if we had all just won the Olympic gold as I announced to everyone who would hear, “The water’s back! We have water! Praise God! Yes!”

Once I had sprinted to the nearest faucet to take in a big glass of water, wash my hands and brush my teeth, my own pending mortality got quietly placed back on the shelf. I felt like Superwoman — well-hydrated and ready for anything! Bring it on! Me? A mortal being only inches from death at any given moment? How could that be so? I felt great and looked great (except for the waterfalls of sweat cascading all over my body, but never mind those because I would soon wash all that away with a nice cold shower!)

As I rejoiced, feeling eternally young and fully alive — just because the water had come back! — the quiet voice of truth whispered to me, “It’s not true. You’re not Superwoman. Don’t get fooled into thinking you have everything under control or that this world is your home. Just because you now have all the human comforts at your fingertips — full belly, access to abundant water, roof over your head — does not mean that you can secure a life on Earth forever, nor should you desire to do so. I am your home; My Kingdom is your eternal home.” In my heart I repented for my sudden turn in attitude, my brusk ignorance of my own mortality as I suddenly felt myself to be the all-powerful (all-hydrated) being.

And so I encourage you, too, to see your own life and your own human frailty from an eternal perspective. Secure home, stable job, vibrant health, normal life — it can all come to an end at any moment, whether you live in a prosperous nation or a third world country. (And praise God that it is so! Praise Him that we don’t have to live on earth in the midst of such suffering, corruption and sickness forever!) We know that Jesus Himself is actively preparing for us another home, free of all death, sin and suffering. We are just passing through in this life. Let us be careful, lest we get too comfortable and forget that we will soon be face-to-face with the Living God.

Amen! Glory to God!

A Rag-Tag Group of Godly Young Men: The Art of Transformation

Yesterday we began our three-week period of intensive, dynamic ‘mid-year’ classes with our roughly-40 students to shake things up a bit and further serve them in their integral development as loving, joyful beings under the headship of loving, joyful God.

After Bible study, prayer groups, and group geography class in the ‘movie theater’ (the students called it that because we used a projector to show large images and maps on the wall, something we had never done before because we just purchased the projector a few days ago), all of our students divided up into two groups: the girls with Darwin for choir class (I participated as a very naughty student in the choir, and the girls loved it), and all the boys in our large dining room for art class with the rest of the teachers.

At one point I snuck out of the little building where we were having choir to go check on the boys in their first large-group art class, and I found them all very much hard at work, collaborating with one another and thoroughly enjoying the whole creative process. I have absolutely no idea what the actual project was (they seemed to be divided up in several groups according to age/ability/interest as some were working with cardboard, others with string and hot glue guns, others with simple paper and crayons), but God’s peace among them was tangible and I marveled at the beauty of what God is doing deep in their hearts.

I share with you the following photos that were taken of roughly 20 young men that we absolutely adore and are so proud of. Some of them we have known and been closely discipling for two to three years while others entered our lives but four months ago. Many of these young men have dropped out of school several times, entertained the idea of moving illegally to the United States, or become dangerously close to becoming teen fathers. They are quite the rag-tag group — some are naturally very bright and well-adjusted; others have been orphaned or had family struggles and no longer live under the protection of their parents; others suffer mild to severe learning disabilities; all of whom are growing in the knowledge and love of God. Especially in our rural community and the general Honduran culture, seeing young men become brilliantly alive in God’s love –actively seeking out His Word, submitting their lives to His will, recognizing and developing their God-given ‘hidden treasures’  and talents in order to more fully serve Christ — is no common occurrence. There is a high percentage of young men in our neighborhood who are vagabonds and thieves, oftentimes committing themselves to the service of the local gangs who end their lives before age 20. Thus, with great astonishment at God’s active work in these precious young men’s lives, I share with you the following photos we took yesterday…

This is Charlie, one of our high school students who didn’t pass his grade with us last year but has valiantly come back again to give it a second try (after much persuasion), and this year he is one of our more consistent and joyful students. He was baptized last year, and he has become actively involved in the search for God, both at the Living Waters Ranch and in his personal life with his family.
A year or two ago I don’t think we could have ever imagined that our dining room would become so multi-purpose! Sometimes several times daily we move around the tables and benches to transform the space into whatever we need it to be. We use this room for our twice-weekly Bible study, 5th and 6th grade homeschool, worship time, academic support group, dance club, the new geography class, and now group art lessons!
This young man on the left is Eduardo, a 14-year-old who joined us at the beginning of the Honduran school year in January. He had dropped out of the local public high school last year and recently experienced a bout of depression/discouragement and came dangerously close to dropping out of our program as well. Darwin, the teachers and I have all had productive one-on-one conversations with him over the last several weeks to encourage him to continue seeking God’s will for his life and to stay put at the Living Waters Ranch so that he can keep growing, and after a recent visit Darwin paid to his house to talk with his mom he has experienced a change for the better and is now participating more fully and seems to be genuinely happy and engaged.

This is Miss Ligia, a local lawyer who came to us by divine appointment and has been serving with us as a teacher for a year-and-a-half. She always has wonderful arts and crafts projects for the kids, and this is a particular blessing in our context because the majority of our students have poor fine motor skills and/or developmental delays, so the act of measuring, cutting with scissors, painting, etc, is very therapeutic and aids them in their recovery from past traumas/neglect.

This is Brayan, our 15-year-old son who has experienced healing and freedom on many levels over these past several years. He is not the best student and still struggles with emotional immaturity at times, but his heart and his soul are being renewed with God’s love, and he knows who he is as one of Father God’s beloved children. He will be finishing 6th grade this year and entering our high school program (which begins at the 7th-grade level) next January.
Something that happens in our discipleship-focused community homeschool (the name just keeps getting longer!) that doesn’t happen in most other schools is that students of different ages and grade levels have a lot of contact with one another, which we believe cultivates in them compassion for one another along with mentor-like relationships that blossom among the students. In this photo is 14-year-old Cristian (right) who comes from a very poor family and had never been in school before joining us in 2014 and is now in 6th grade as one of our best overall students is working alongside of Alejandro (left) a 12-year-old who had gone through the public elementary school system his whole childhood, successfully finishing 6th grade and supposedly ready for high school but without the basic knowledge of knowing how to read, write and do math, so he entered four months ago with us on the second-grade level and is learning for the first time the basic academic- and life-skills that the public schools failed to teach him.


Our littler/less mature male students (and sons!) were at this long wooden table as they experimented with crayons, oils pastels and paints. Most public (and even some private) schools in Honduras do not have art supplies for students, and it is uncommon to find these kinds of basic enrichment activities in most Honduran homes, so for many children/youth the act of taking time to draw, paint and be creative is a rare treat and can go a long way towards restoring and developing them for God’s glory.

Here’s Erick (one of our extremely faithful and wise local Christian teachers/mentors) helping out with the boys’ art class. I think he might have preferred to direct a prayer group or teach agriculture class, but he was a great sport, and I’m sure the boys loved having him with them during their art time!

Reina was the hot-glue-gun-master! Here she is working with Yexon, one of our night watchman’s children who just passed fourth grade in our accelerated homeschool program for older students.

                       

Amen! Glory to God!

May 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Play Structure Complete!

The large wooden play structure we had designed was finished a few weeks ago by Domingo, one of our faithful team members who is a local pastor in his 50s who serves with us as the Christian Leadership teacher, Carpentry Club leader, and elementary math teacher. We love the way it turned out, and the kids are all over it every chance they get! It has added a very fun and dynamic dimension to recess and lunch hour, and it supports our overall mission to restore broken youth spiritually, emotionally and physically for God’s glory.

Living Waters Ranch to Enter a Three-Week Intensive Mid-Year Term

With our roughly-40 students (8 from our foster/adoptive family and about 30 from our local community who participate daily in our discipleship-based homeschool) we will be entering a three-week period of different classes as of next week to ‘shake things up’ while further equipping our youth with experiences and knowledge they need in order to continue growing and exploring God’s will for their lives. My husband Darwin will be giving several intensive choir workshops; I’ll be teaching a Biblically-based world geography class (in addition to a crash course in grammar along with several Speech/Communication workshops) with our older students; and each child/teen will have the option of ‘specializing’ in one of several areas, including English as a second language, Agriculture/Christian Leadership, Carpentry/Christian Leadership, etc. All students will be involved in twice-weekly art classes during this mid-term time, and we’ll continue faithfully with our Bible study and prayer groups as usual.

The following three pictures were taken during Darwin’s reading class. (This is our 15-year-old son Brayan who is so sweaty because he just came in from recess). Darwin has been extremely creative in the class as he’s taught the kids to read in latin, organize a class play, study the Scriptures, watch and write about motivational videos, read personal and spiritual anecdotes from great spiritual leaders from centuries past, read about brain psychology, and so on. The students Darwin has in his class are teens who generally don’t get too excited about reading (and/or are extremely shy and prefer to just sit there as Wallflowers), so his very concentrated (and energetic) efforts with these guys has had a phenomenal impact on their integral development.

 

Ariel, 14 years old

 

Eduardo, 14 years old

 

Donaris, 13 years old

 

Rolan, 15 years old

 

Eber, 17 years old

Updates Regarding Katy

The lawyer from the local government office has yet to fulfill her word to go out to Katy’s family’s home to investigate her living situation, although she promises to do so this upcoming week. Please pray for all the government workers involved, as they are overburdened with cases of child abuse, neglect, etc, and the personnel and their resources simply aren’t enough to manage each one with excellence. Our home and our hearts are prepared to accept Katy into our home if and when the Lord should bring her, and we continue our active communication with the government agency in hopes of her rescue.

A couple weeks ago Darwin went out to spend time with and take a few photos of five of our night watchman’s children who are all in our school on the elementary level. Our relationship with them began almost three years ago, and God has blessed our friendship with their family in a very special way. All of the kids had not previously been in school, and the majority of their family members are illiterate and malnourished. The family was accustomed to moving homes frequently in search of jobs and a stable food supply for their family as they struggled in extreme poverty. God brought us into relationship with them first through Darwin’s youth choir, then the kids entered school with us full-time, and now the family as a whole is about to celebrate their 2-year anniversary of living on our property and serving alongside of us. The eldest son is currently in his last year of elementary school in our accelerated program for older students and is on track to enter high school in 2018. The eldest son decided to be publicly baptized last year, and most of the family members are actively involved in Bible study and prayer groups. These kids/teens are also some of our own kids’ best friends, as we all live on the same rural property.

Second-to-the-left is Armando, our faithful night watchman and the father of these five beautiful children. He is generally very quiet and keeps to himself, but Darwin caught him playing with his kids one evening and took advantage of these family photos.

Brayan and Darwin Compete in Local Race

My husband Darwin and Brayan, our 15-year-old son, competed last week in a large organized road race in the nearby city of La Ceiba along with Larry, a longtime spiritual mentor of ours, and several other local youth whom we have friendships with. Events such as these are almost unheard of in our area (there are generally very few organized sports teams for youth, and athletic training of any kind is uncommon), so Brayan and Darwin had been training together for several weeks prior as they got amped up for the big event. Brayan, who came into our lives as a very uncoordinated and broken 12-year-old in 2014, has really taken hold of long-distance running over the past couple months as he’s been training with Darwin and Erick, and he actually won third place in the youth category! I was unable to attend the race (I stayed at home with the rest of our kids), but they told me there were roughly 80 or so teen males who participated, and our son — who comes from very broken places, and whom God has been restoring and healing over the past several years in accordance with His will — came in third! Wow! We are very excited about his newfound self-discipline and motivation that Father God is inculcating in this young man whom we love so much, and Brayan is excited to travel with Darwin and Erick next month to compete in another road race in a city that lies 3 hours away.

Health Updates

As was written on our prior blog post, my health as of late had been quite weak as I was battling Typhoid fever and an aggressive virus. I’ve gone in several days over the past few weeks to a local clinic to receive IV fluids packed with vitamins and antibiotics, and they’ve done their job well! I’ve recuperated strength and energy and have even felt the desire to begin playing with the kids and exercising again. (A couple days ago I got into a pretty extreme game of Monkey-in-the-Middle with a large group of our students and had a blast). Thank you to all of you who have prayed for my recovery.

These photos were taken in Darwin’s twice-weekly PE class. As of July, we will be dividing all of our students up into different PE groups: dance, military patrol training (with Pastor Domingo who was in the military 20 years), long-distance running, sports, and games (for the little guys).

Teachers Attend 3-Day Conference

I am currently attending a 3-day conference with two of our teachers (Isis and Reina) in another city in Honduras as we seek to continue learning about this field that the Lord has placed us in. We’ve attended workshops on the legal side of managing a ministry, heard testimonies and advice from other people who have fostered/adopted kids, learned more about child psychology and how to nurture kids who have been through severe traumas, etc. It has been a fruitful time of making connections with others who serve in similar fields, learning from the experts, and also continuing to form the bond between the three of us as sisters in Christ. Below you’ll see a few silly photos we took when no one else at the conference was looking…

Reina jamming out with the translation headset…

 

Me pretending to give a speech at the conference. (I was not one of the speakers…)

 

Isis playing hide-and-seek under our conference table…

 

Amen! Glory to God!

First Report of the New School Year: the Positive Reinforcement of Play

Yesterday evening at dusk our old Toyota truck pulled to a slow stop along a narrow strip of gravel road in our neighborhood as one of our students who had been riding in the truckbed prepared to jump off. This was his stop.

I reached over to touch Darwin’s arm, motioning for him to wait, and said, “I’d like to get out and say hi to Stanley’s mom. I’ll be right back.” I then paused and laughed to myself, murmuring under my breath, “This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve visited this house.”

Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who was sitting inside the cab with us, piped up and said, “Yeah, you’ve come to visit Stanley and his cousin Sindy quite a few times, right, Ma?”

I laughed even harder and admitted, “No, never Sindy. Just Stanley.”

Sindy and Stanley, who both live at this address, had been students in our seventh-grade program last year. While Sindy had shone brightly as a very high-acheiving and easily-managed student, her cousin Stanley had proved to be a roller coaster of volatile emotions and foolish choices. He seemed prone to making bad decisions and had wanted to drop out of school several times. He had even told Darwin that his life dream was to join a gang, and he had participated in a robbery at our home in 2015.

And so I glanced over at Jackeline, who was a bit confused, and I smiled at her as I knew perhaps the depths and lengths I personally had been through with young, rebellious Stanley were a precious secret that only God and I shared (and Stanley’s mom). After all, I had showed up unexpected on their doorstep on several occasions looking for him, and twice I had even danced in that little strip of gravel road to try to convince him to come back to the Ranch, to continue seeking God’s will for his life.

And so I hopped down from the passenger’s seat of our truck and shouted over to Stanley, who had just gotten down from our truckbed, “Is it okay if I say ‘hi’ to your mom real quick?”

His face suddenly dropped, an instinct probably acquired due to the many times I’d had to ‘say hi to his mom’ for negative reasons, but suddenly a huge smile appeared on his face as he realized this time he had nothing to hide. We both laughed as I patted him on that back and said, “This time it’s good news.”

I waited at the twine gate, but they quickly passed me through to the  more intimate realm of their property. I guess after having visited a house so many times, you sort of become like family. Stanley’s mom suddenly appeared from behind the thin curtain hanging in the front door, and we embraced, as we have on many occasions. This time, however, instead of Stanley escaping out the back door or hanging his head low, refusing to look anyone in the eyes, he stood tall right next to his mom, proud.

His mother instinctively looked worried as she wondered what had merited my unannounced house visit (as in, what-has-my-son-done-this-time), but I quickly reassured her that this time I came to brag on him and announce the fantastic news that he had earned a daily average of 89% during his first week of intensive preparation and had exhibited an entirely new attitude among his peers and towards us. Tears welled up in his mom’s eyes as I told her that her son had even begun taking great leadership among his peers and is a godly example for the new students to follow. Respectful, attentive, enthusiastic and hard-working during the daily hour of physical training. He had even completed all of his homework over the last several days, which had never happened before.

And so we gave thanks to God, I embraced his mother one more time, and we were off to do similar visits with the other students who remained joyfully squeezed in our truckbed.

We went house to house down long, remote gravel roads as we embraced mothers and step-mothers — both ones we’ve already had a relationship with from last school year along with ones that we are just now meeting for the first time. We had, after all, just spent the entire afternoon at a local park with our students who had earned a daily average of 80% or higher during their first week of intensive preparation for the school year, and we were eager to bear that good news to their parents.

In our rural community that hobbles around, bound by laziness, apathy and self-pity (not to mention rampant violence and a culture of lies), to see teenagers — especially those who in years past have been on the margins of society, on the brink of self-destruction or turning into instruments to destroy others — become fully alive, read God’s Word, and suddenly acquire a dogged work ethic and new hope regarding their future truly is miraculous.

On one of our last stops, at a small one-room shack with several barefoot little girls running about in the dirt yard, we shared the news of Charlie’s revival with his step-mom, who truly cares for him and who had been quite worried last year as time and time again Charlie slipped into irresponsibility and self-pity before finally failing his school year entirely. We had worked hard to convince his dad and step-mom to allow him to keep studying with us after his first year was an apparent failure (for we know the secret that many local parents don’t: this battle for salvation, for transformation is one that is done over the long-haul and one that cannot be given up on if the first year or two or three don’t go as planned). Charlie, who is 13 years old but has the appearance of an 8 or 9-year-old due to malnutrition, stood tall, his chest puffed out and his face serene as we enthusiastically shared the news with his step-mom. Charlie had earned a daily average of 97% in his first week of intensive prep, and his gracious attitude, servants’ heart and leadership skills — things that were not visible in him last year — shone brightly. His step-mom glowed with joy as she commented that she, too, had seen a distinct change in him over the last several days.

As we said our goodbyes and began walking down that little rocky dirt path back to our car, our 15-year-old son Brayan, who did a phenomenal job in his first week of classes, turned around and said jokingly, “And my house visit?” (As in, are you gonna brag on me too?) I laughed, knowing that we had already bragged on him more than 653 times this past week and I said with a grin, “I think your mom already knows that you did a fantastic job.” He smiled like a little boy and reached out a long, muscular arm towards me and said, “You’re my mom!” and I nodded my head and laughed.

And so we’ve been reading a lot of the book of Proverbs and the students have been copying whole chapters for homework. We’ve been reviewing basic math, assigning personal reflections each night to get the kids thinking, and participating in quite intense physical exercises with them each afternoon. The majority of our students come to us with an extremely weak academic base and need to be taught (or re-taught) the basic of subtraction, multiplication, etc, along with basic grammatical norms and reading support. This can be a tedious process as many of our students have learning disabilities/delays, but this week — praise God! — it was fun and effective. All but two of our students attended every single day, which in and of itself is a great triumph because discouragement and lack of attendance tend to be rampant in the educational system in Honduras.

The first week of intensive prep involved roughly 20 students (those who are new to our program along with those who need additional support), and next week roughly 20 more will be joining us as we enter our second and final week of academic, spiritual and physical ‘bootcamp’ before the official school year begins in early February.

And so we took that small group of students who truly fulfilled that first week of ‘bootcamp’ with excellence to a local park to participate in games of soccer and volleyball, enjoy the pool, and generally play. We are very excited to be able to do this type of positive reinforcement (we call them ‘good consequences’) from the get-go to establish healthy limits and a good foundation of choices/consequences with our students as we enter into this year of intimate commitment with them.

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Miss Ligia, one of our beloved local teachers (who by trained profession is a lawyer) who has signed on for another full year shepherding wily, precious youth for God’s glory. She squeezed in that little truckbed with 13 youth on the journey to the park!

 

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A photo our 9-year-old son Jason took from the inside of the truckbed as more and more youth piled on! Everybody make room!

 

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Darwin explaining behavioral expectations and guidelines as we arrived at the park. Although this is a weekly trip we make as a family, the majority of our students had never had the privilege to enter, so it was a new experience for most. We hit a ‘home run’ by treating each kid to a soda and ice cream, which was also a very special treat that the majority of the local youth in our neighborhood very rarely if ever experience!

 

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Stanley, left, with whom we have a long and treasured history and Eduardo, right, a new student who just entered our high school program this past week

 

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Miss Isis, one of our very dedicated local teachers who has been with us since August 2015, leading Michelle to the pool. Michelle is 10 years old although she physically appears to be about 5 or 6 due to extreme poverty/malnutrition. She has been in school with us several times over the last two years but has had very little constancy in her education because her family moves frequently. She is currently in first grade learning the basics of reading and writing with our daughter Gabriela.

 

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Charlie (back left), one of our other students who did not pass seventh grade last year and was hesitant about re-entering, enjoyed a phenomenal first week at the Ranch alongside of his cousin, Nixon (front right), who just entered our program this year.

 

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Our 12-year-old daughter Gleny, who does not officially enter her classes with us until this upcoming Tuesday, helped out tremendously during the first week of intensive prep as she spent several hours tutoring a new student in reading and math. We are so proud of her!

 

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Our 15-year-old son Brayan, who had a 99% average in his first week of classes/intensive training, enjoying a soccer game alongside of his new classmate Eduardo. Brayan has never been a good student (he repeated fifth grade with us several times), but a change has occurred in him and he has begun taking great initiative with his homework, assuming positive male leadership among his peers (something that is also new), and showing a newfound gratitude and enthusiasm in all that he does. Praise God for this transformation!

 

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Darwin, who is naturally a very gifted swimmer, got in the soccer mix as he, Dayana and Brayan (our two oldest kids) teamed up in an intense math of 3-on-3 against three of our local students. In this photo he and Stanley are going full force for the ball! (Not bad, Darwin, considering the kids are 20 years younger than him!)

 

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Please pray with us for our students (and for our team of teachers, counselors and mentors) as we are beginning a new school year with more youth than we have ever had in our program before. Please pray also for my health, as my insomnia remains a daily constant, and I physically am weak and prone to acquiring viruses/infections, as I have one right now (high fever and throat infection that has lasted much longer than it should). The insomnia greatly affects my mood, daily energy levels, and my relationship with everyone around me. Pray that this burden may be taken from me so that I may be even more effective in this great work the Lord has put before us.

Amen! Glory to God!

Red Ink, Blue Ink and Pencil: The Next Chapter

As I saw the hand-written note carefully wedged in the handle of our dining room door my heart sunk as I sensed I already knew what the contents would hold.

I had been granted the rare treat that morning of being home alone as Darwin had taken all of our kids to town with him to a music session. It was Saturday, and I had spent the morning in our quiet home writing and praying. 15-year-old Brayan — that same young man who lived with us for 8 months in 2014 and has since been heavily involved in school with us, discipleship and occasional family outings — had asked permission to be in our school building that morning working on his homework assignments alone, as his general focus level is very low and he’s thus unable to work effectively in his step-mom’s house in the midst of younger siblings and much activity.

I had not seen or heard from him all morning as he was holed up in our school building with his notebooks and audio learning tapes while I was holed up in our cinderblock home with my own quiet activities.

It was early afternoon when I came upon the carefully folded-up letter wedged in the door on my way to get water from the open-air kitchen that the three small buildings on our property share.

I immediately knew the letter was from Brayan, and I felt my eyes could see right through the lined notebook paper to the inside of its contents, read the entire letter without unfolding it.

I un-wedged the little note from the door handle and cradled it in my hands for a few moments, just staring at it and wanting to delay the inevitable. It’s like getting a life-changing phone call or having your pregnancy test come back positive; for better or worse, your life will never be the same again afterward.

Darwin and the rest of the kids far from our rural property, I breathed slowly as my heart increased the beat of its rhythm. I took a step back from the emotion of the present moment as I very intentionally situated myself under God’s perfect will, staving off my own rebellion with something greater. I breathed those increasingly familiar words once more, bracing myself for what would come next. “Father, may Your will be done, not mine…”

A sense of very selfish dread filled my chest not because I feared some vulgar message or devastating piece of news scribbled inside but rather because I knew he was right.

I unfolded it and realized it was not one page but two. Front and back. Wobbly cursive hand-writing that must have taken all morning to perfect. One paragraph written in red ink, then the next in blue, then the next in pencil. The entire document was written like this, alternating between colors. Paragraph after paragraph, the pattern never broke. Red ink, blue ink, pencil.

At the end of the second page, there were three hearts, one in red ink, one in blue and the other in pencil.

Brayan, our beloved “martian child” who in the past couple years had not managed to pass fifth grade despite his many efforts in our accelerated program for older students — whose emotions (and body) have been hammered by pain and abandonment from a very young age — did, in fact, write exactly what I had feared. And worse, for once he was being logical.

Please, God, give me a solid reason to say no because I certainly can’t think of one.

What about that quickly-fading (and extremely selfish) dream of mine of attaining some sense of ‘normal’ someday? What about the under-control household environment, the small collection of beautiful, high-achieving biological children? Brayan is possibly the worst student academically that we have! And — and we have so many daughters! Surely this would just feed the chaos. Why can’t we just keep on going as we have been this year with him — a friendly, mentor-type relationship, but at a safe distance? And our house is so small; we’re going to have to start piling people one on top of the other to make everyone fit! Please give me a reason to say no…

My rebellion continued as my ego turned red-hot and stamped its feet: If we are going to take in kids who sprung from another woman’s womb, at least bring us ones that are ready for a quick recovery! May they have bright, active minds — may they be able to fully integrate into productive society! But the broken ones, the ones who will forever need emotional crutches, who will probably never really spread their wings and fly? I mean, we already have developmentally-challenged Gabriela and Josue who have more needs than anyone can fill. Oh, Father…

In this past year we’ve made it a habit to tell our kids that there is nothing they could ever do that could make us stop loving them. Good decisions, bad decisions — it doesn’t matter. God has placed us in their lives to show them daily — over the long haul that is the rest of our lives — what His love is for us, and it’s unconditional. They can rest in our love as we all rest in God’s; we’re not going away nor will we ever abandon them.

Was I prepared to look Brayan in the eyes and say the same thing to him, day after day?

My eyes wearily took in the heart-breaking multi-colored paragraphs that I know he pined over all morning, searching for just the right words. And, even as my own ego rebelled against his request, my Father confirmed in my heart what I had known all along: our prodigal son would be coming home.

His step-mother, the very hard-working woman up to her thighs in poverty who had been taking care of him all year, would be sending him away to another town to live with his biological mom (who abandoned him in his infancy and since then has had almost zero role in his life) once he finished his school year this month because she could no longer manage the heavy burden that Brayan presents.

His step-mother had every right to do so — it was not her choice to be Brayan’s sole guardian after his father (the step-mom’s husband) died a few years ago. But Brayan — and I — understood what that would mean. No more school, no more guidance. He is, after all, too old to be in a public elementary school, and very few people have been granted the grace to love Brayan well. He would be sentenced to a life of probably wandering around aimlessly, very far geographically from the love and Biblical guidance that we provide him daily. No more Bible study, no weekly trips with us to the park, no fun birthday parties, choir trips, and prayer groups. Just a life of being cut off from the only real source of love he’s possibly ever known.

We were and always have been the family that God has blessed this young man with, even if over the last two years it has been at arm’s length.

So he asked several times and in several different ways — and with several different shades of ink — if he could move back in with us. He asked for forgiveness for the times he’s disrespected us, not followed the rules. He asked again and again, and it broke my heart even as my mind rattled off its last few objections and then eventually gave up.

He wasn’t the one who needed to ask for forgiveness; it was us.

We had been the ones to be too impatient with him, earnestly seeking harvest where we should have been concerned only with sowing. Had we not thrown up our hands in exasperation so many times with Brayan, unable to see any light at the end of what seemed to us to be a never-ending tunnel? (And had we not found ourselves in very similar stages of frustration with each and every one of the kids under our care, but had we not persevered with them where we hadn’t with Brayan?)

And so, six days after receiving that multi-colored note, Brayan moved back in with his cardboard box-full of belongings. Darwin, Brayan, and I went to sign all the paperwork down at the local government office to allow him to legally begin living with us again (which turned out to be no paperwork at all because the lawyer who had agreed to meet with us was out of the office and the other lawyer just spoke with me briefly and jotted down Brayan’s name on a little piece of paper before letting us go). First I then Darwin embraced Brayan bear-hug style with a big grin on our faces that matched that of his. God’s glory among us was palpable as we surely displayed the appearance of people who genuinely like — love — one another, something that in this culture is very rarely shown even among biological family members. The middle-aged female lawyer who had spoken with me in her office just observed us from a careful distance with a curious expression on her face. Why on earth were Darwin and I — and this rogue young man who has no other place to live, no real love in his life, so many reasons to be depressed and angry — so joyful, and how on earth did we feel such freedom so as to hug him? The majority of the minors who are admitted into foster families or children’s homes are little children — not towering young men with budding facial hair. Why had this abandoned, broken teenager chosen to find refuge in a Christian family rather than a gang?

So as we sat around the dining room table together that first night as a 10-again family (two parents and 8 kids), Dayana — who had shared our little cinderblock home with him during his first round in our household back in 2014 — smiled ear-to-ear and said, “Welcome home again, Brayan.”

Since his move home, these first twenty-two days have been off to a blessed start. In the wee hours of each morning Darwin gets Brayan up, they both slip on their rubber boots and old work clothes and head out to the barn together to milk the cows. Whereas during his first round of living in our home he and Darwin often butted heads like two of those male mountain goats that you see on Discovery Channel, both wanting to knock the other one off the mountainside, now he and Darwin wrestle together for fun, poking each other and giving the other a hard time with a big smile on their face. Whereas in his early times in our household nearly three years ago he was a loud, uncontrollable young man with extreme impulses, he is now much calmer, more mature and smiles frequently (as is consistent with his behavior this year in school with us). Darwin calls him “Brayan Big Beard” due to the little budding facial hairs on his upper lip, and Brayan adds a good dose of testosterone to our household after having previously been dominated almost entirely by young women. The girls are putting into practice good, healthy limits as is he, and we are all clinging to God’s grace each day as we are trusting with all our might that this is what He’s asked us to do.

Amen! Glory to God!

Other posts written about our journey following God’s will with Brayan: It All Started With a Cup of Water (February 2014), Our Favorite Neighbor (October 2014), “Hola Ma” (July 2015) and A Million Pinpricks of Light: The Hand of God in a Dark World (January 2016)

Glue Sandwiches: The Definition of a Chaotic Life

Recently 8-year-old Gabriela (who is about 4 years old developmentally and is prone to being quite off-the-wall in her general speech and re-telling of daily events) commented to me across our large dining room table as several of our other kids were arriving home from school, her face all scrunched up and her arms waving about wildly:

“Ma! Isn’t that right that this morning you grabbed that piece of bread and poured glue all over it?” Her stubby, uncoordinated hands mimicked the action of pouring glue all over an imaginary slice of bread as she smiled big.

12-year-old Gleny walked through the dining room door in her school uniform and too-full backpack in tow, overhearing her little sister’s odd comment. She glanced over at me and rolled her eyes in response to the little one’s crazy tale. Glue on a sandwich?

Gabriela continued, unaware that anyone else was listening to her: “And Ma! You – you grabbed that bread and put…put…what’s that called? What’d you put all over it?” Her enthusiasm grew with each passing moment.

I glanced up from where I was folding the clothes, a little grin growing on my face, and I helped her out: “Deodorant.”

“Dodorat! Yeah! And then! And then – you, Ma, you picked up the bread and you poured hydrada – what’s it called?”

I continued folding clothes and smiling. I knew Gleny was staring at me in disbelief, but I didn’t look at her. “Hydrogen peroxide. ”

Hydraden peroside! Yeah. You poured it all over the bread, and then you asked who wanted to eat it!” She wagged a short finger back and forth and said, “Not me!” Her giggle grew and overtook her small frame as her body shook with delight. She repeated, “Not me! Nobody wanted to eat it!”

A moment passed as little Gabriela paused to recall other details.

Her eyes lit up. “And then, Ma, you stomped on the cellphone and broke it! I saw you!”

Gleny, who had grabbed her lunch from the kitchen and began making her way toward Gabriela and I at the table, had the strangest expression on her face as she wondered why on earth I was encouraging little Gabriela in her odd fantasy. She glanced at me again, and I just smiled innocently without interrupting Gabriela nor defending her.

What Gleny didn’t know was that her oddball little sister who has a very real struggle with lying and tends to ‘stretch’ the truth may not have been as off-the-mark this time as she might have thought…

Earlier that morning in our twice-weekly Bible study time with all of our students and Christian laborers (Gleny and two of our other children were not present because this year they have been attending a local private school) I had wanted to make a point. I knew that many of our students and laborers were growing in the truth of God’s Word due to distinct character transformations we’ve seen and sincere comments of faith people have shared with me, but I felt frustrated that frequently as we came together on Tuesday and Thursday mornings the majority of the people seemed to have ‘forgotten’ what we had learned together in the prior meeting. Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday as I enthusiastically asked what they remembered from the prior Bible Study, I was frequently met with blank stares and discouraging shrugs as our students would murmur, “I don’t remember.”

You don’t remember? You don’t remember that just two days ago we talked extensively about the joy-filled life, that God expects us to live day by day giving Him thanks and rejoicing in Him – even in the midst of difficulties — because in Him we have a hope that cannot be altered, an Eternal Father who has invited us to share His entire Kingdom with Him, and He Himself has paid our entrance with His Son’s own blood? Must we start again from ground zero, say it all again because you’ve ‘forgotten’?

So I got a bit creative and entered our Bible study time with some special supplies. As we finished our time of praise and worship, Darwin leading us on the keyboard, I took my place along one of the long wooden benches in our rustic dining room and informed everyone very plainly, “Okay, go ahead and open up your Bibles to the book of Philipians. We’re gonna keep reading chapters two and four about the importance of rejoicing in the Lord at all times.”

I grabbed a children’s book and held it upside down in my hands, very seriously searching the contents for Philippians chapters two and four.

As my brow furrowed in concentration and my fingers flipped through the upside-down pages, the atmosphere in our concrete-floored dining room suddenly fell awkward as several silent moments passed.

Then, two or three brave souls began to giggle. Then, everyone.

I looked up, an utterly surprised expression plastered across my face, and asked, “Well what on earth are you laughing at? Open up your Bibles!”

Someone said, “Uh…that’s not a Bible.” More giggles sprinkled about.

I pretended to be taken aback. I turned the book around and began investigating the cover carefully, “Well, how on earth do you know that?” I squinted my eyes and searched for clear evidence among the large drawings and bold font on the bookcover.

“Well, you people, I certainly didn’t tell you just now that this wasn’t a Bible? You mean, at some point in your life someone taught you what a Bible looks like, and, based on that knowledge, you were able to decifer just now – without any problems whatsoever – that this, in fact, is not a Bible?”

Everyone around the circle nodded slowly as they stared at me, slightly confused. Man, she’s talkin’ weird.

“Dang!” I sighed, impressed by their extremely accurate use of past knowledge, and closed the book. I took one last good look at it as I turned it upside down, inspecting it one more time. “And you mean, you didn’t forget? I mean, I imagine they taught you quite a while ago, or was it just this morning that someone reminded you what a Bible looks like?”

The majority of the roughly 30 people in attendance just stared with a couple verbally affirming that, yes, in fact, they were taught long ago what a Bible is and isn’t and that they had not forgotten the valuable piece of information since then.

I put the book to one side, shaking my head in amazement, and I continued onward, murmuring to myself, “Wow. They didn’t forget. Man, they’ve got a good memory…”

I suddenly changed the topic.

“Look, I’m real sorry, but I didn’t have time to eat breakfast before Bible Study and I’m really hungry, so if you don’t mind I’m gonna go ahead and eat real quick.” I pulled out a couple pieces of wheat bread and placed them on a bright blue plastic plate in my lap as I looked at all the blank faces around the oblong rectangle, seeking everyone’s approval.

Everyone just stared at me, somewhat confused – was this truly the appropriate time to be eating breakfast? – but no one protested.

I opened the two slices of bread as if I were about to prepare a sandwich and began applying the ingredients little Gabriela had quite accurately recalled – glue, deodorant, hydrogen peroxide. (She forgot to mention the q-tips that I sprinkled in between), and then I cut the gooey sandwhich into four pieces with a pair of scissors. Anybody want a slice?

Nearly everyone pulled their head back in disgust, voicing the absurdity of my offer. “Gross! No!”

My jaw dropped open. “W-what? You don’t want a slice? I mean, I’ll share it with you. C’mon.”

“No way! You put glue all over it! And…deodorant!” A riot was breaking out as many voices chimed in at once. Who on earth would voluntarily eat a sandwich like that?

“Well, now what do you mean you don’t want to eat glue or q-tips? Why not? I don’t get it.” I threw my hands up in frustration, looking around the circle for someone who would want to share my sandwich with me. No one?

“Glue’s not meant to be eatin’! You could die!” A cacophony of voices rose from all around.

“Well, what on earth is it for?” I sighed dramatically, determined to find answers.

“For…sticking things together!”

I put my hands on my hips, my mouth still slightly agape with brow furrowed. “And how do you know that? I mean, I certainly didn’t teach you guys that just now. Gosh, you people seem to know so many things.”

The kids began catching on. This was a game. Their eyes twinkled with mischief as they shouted: “Someone taught us when we were younger!”

“Ohhh. Someone taught you at some point in your life that glue is not meant for bread?”

Everyone in unison, exasperated: “Yes!”

“And you mean you haven’t, like, forgotten?”

Dozens of voices crescendoed: “No!”

“Because, I mean, you probably learned it for the first time like a long, long time ago. Or was it just last Tuesday?”

“It was a long time ago! But we haven’t forgotten!”

“And, you mean you’ve put into practice this knowledge of glue-is-for-sticking-things-together-and-not-for-eating ever since then with positive results?”

Everyone at once: “Yes!”

I sat back, resting slightly against the cinderblock wall behind me. “Ahhh. I see. You learned.

I let my statement hang in the air a few moments. A few eyes lit up. They were getting it.

We continued onward.

Socks on my hands. Skirt on my head. Household appliances wrapped in sticky laminate paper. ‘Drinking’ my bottle of water by pouring it on my knee. Trying to open a pillow with my keys.

“Gosh, I just – ah, excuse me. This dang cellphone of mine just keeps on buzzing. I mean, I just… I just can’t stand this phone. Everyone’s always calling me. I think I’m gonna just go ahead and turn it off so I can get a bit of peace and quiet for once.”

Everyone’s eyes were trained on me as I grabbed the little black cellphone that looked exactly like my own (no ‘Smart’ cellphone by any stretch of the imagination) and threw it violently on the ground at my feet before emphatically stamping it under my heel repeatedly, my sandaled feet crushing the small device before I picked it up quite calmly and broke it completely in two, my tone of voice remaining utterly even: “Whew. I’m so glad I turned my cellphone off.”

Several mouths gaped open, as they were convinced I had, in fact, completely destroyed my actual cellphone. (What they didn’t know is that it was an old cellphone that no longer worked.) No she’s really gone overboard.

“That’s not how you turn off a cellphone! You completely ruined it! To turn it off you’ve just gotta press the little button!” Many students were seriously worried.

My mouth dropped open in shock. “What? What do you mean that’s not how you turn a cellphone off? How dare you say that?”

Everyone in unison: “Someone taught us!”

“Oh, you mean a family member or friend taught you once that that’s not how you turn a cellphone off, and since then you’ve actually been able to remember that information?”

“Yes!”

“But…surely you were taught that valuable piece of information long ago, right? Or was it like last Thursday? I mean, it’s hard to remember things from like two or three days ago, right?”

“They taught us a long time ago, but we haven’t forgotten!”

I sat back again, impressed by their ability to remember important information. “Lookie there. And, putting into practice this information has been useful to you in daily life, or have you daily tried to destroy your cellphone as I just did?”

Everybody laughed as mental lightbulbs began doing off. Ah. There’s a lot of things we’ve learned – maybe we were only taught once, maybe even by mere observation – and that knowledge has stuck with us. What’s more, we’ve relied on that information to make daily decisions about how to live, what’s important to us, how to lead a successful life. Why, then, are we so easily content with saying we’ve ‘forgotten’ a lesson on the truth that we’ve learned but two days ago (or ten minutes ago)? Is this not a grave problem that must be confronted?

Is this not one of the Satan’s invisible strongholds in our lives — that we have become a people ready and able to learn anything and everything — how to operate complicated technology, how to drive a car (or bicycle, motorcycle, plane!), how to store countless trivia and academic information in our minds — yet we fail to learn the truth, are slow to grasp what can actually save us? We are experts in the details of life that, in the end, have zero effect on our relationship with our Creator. Begin talking to us about eternal matters — about life and death, sin and justice, truth and lie — and people’s minds shut off. Sure; I read the entire manual for my new SmartPhone or tablet and can now adeptly maneuver every button, every screen, every app with perfect execution and confidence, but what was that again that so-and-so shared with me — or that I read personally, that I’ve heard dozens of times over and over again in different ways! — about the truth, about a loving God who goes beyond this world, who holds the keys to death and Hell? I don’t remember.

Holding the destroyed cellphone in my hands, I continued, “I’ve gotta ask. If someone lives ‘forgetting’ all they are taught, failing to put into practice what they know – pouring glue on sandwiches and destroying cellphones in a misguided attempt to turn them off – what kind of life is that?

A short silence engulfed the room as everyone thought about the question. After a couple moments, a soft voice from across the circle said, “…a chaotic life.”

“A chaotic life!” My finger enthusiastically pointed at the person with the prize answer.

They’re with me. I dared onward into the real territory, the actual lesson of the morning. “And a life that is spent receiving God’s Word in one ear and letting it fall right out the other, a life that never actually puts into practice what God’s Word teaches?” I continued, putting it into the specific context of the lesson we had been learning for several weeks – “A life spent ‘forgetting’ to rejoice in the Lord always, a life spent rather complaining, gossiping, and murmuring, never content? A life spent refusing to embrace the goodness of God, ‘forgetting’ to give thanks in all occasions and never experiencing the joy found in Christ? What kind of life would that be?”

Two or three youth answered together as I believe many others, too, found the answer silently in their minds: “…A chaotic life.”

I bent forward, my voice even, serious. “We musn’t forget. Just as in daily life we cannot afford to forget that 2+2 is four – or have to learn it over and over again every day for years – we cannot forget that we are all in need of a Savior. Even as we’ve just become angry with another person, Jesus says we’re no different than a murderer. Just as we cannot afford to ‘forget’ that a toothbrush is for teeth and not for brushing our hair, even moreso – infinitely more so! – we absolutely cannot forget every Word of truth, every word of hope, of eternal instruction that we have been learning here together twice a week for this entire year.”

I continued, “So many people see the simple act of ‘forgetting’ what we’ve learned about God as an innocent act of negligence, but the Psalms say that those who ‘forget’ about God are wicked. Can you think why?”

Someone from across the room spoke: “Because…apart from union with Christ, we’re all wicked. So…if we forget the One who saves us from our wickedness — who grants us His own justice, then we’re right back in the same boat with the wicked.”

Another teen spoke up, “If we forget God, then…we’re back in the group with Adam and Eve. Without Christ’s power over sin and death. Satan wins.”

“Yes! And so, kids, every Tuesday and Thursday that we meet here — and every other time that you go to church with your family or are exposed to God’s Word in other contexts — I do not want you to lazily shrug and say that you ‘forgot’ what it is we’re learning together. This is serious business. I want to be able to run into you guys in town in 20 or 40 years and be able to talk about things we’ve learned together this year. This is so absolutely important. We cannot forget. Forgetting the truth is the equivalent of rejecting the truth – never putting it into practice – and living a life of chaos, a life that doesn’t make sense, a life that is full of suffering and, in the end, leads to destruction.”

Serious, listening faces stared back at me. We had gone from a hoot-and-holler cellphone-destroying riot to touching the heart of God’s desire for us – to remember Him in all that we do, to heed His Word and put into practice every single one of His teachings so that we would not be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.

May our Father empower us to remember every word He has spoken to us, and may He defend us against the thief who desires only to steal, kill and destroy the truth that has been planted in us!

Amen! Glory to God!

Up that Long Gravel Road and to a Birthday Party We Go!

This past Saturday we celebrated the joint birthdays of Jackeline (13) and Dayana (16), two of the young women the Lord has placed in our household as daughters. Although they are not biological sisters, they were both born on October first, so they decided to have a shared birthday party (with two separate cakes, of course).

We handed our digital camera off to many small, eager photographers who very contentedly ran here and there, functioning as the event’s paparazzi. They did a pretty good job with the photos!

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The majority of our primary and secondary students who study at the Living Waters Ranch attended our girls’ birthday party in addition to several neighbors.

 

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Jackeline (13) and Josselyn (12), two of the young women who live in our home.

 

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Putting the finishing touches on Jackeline’s cake!

 

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My husband Darwin and our 9-year-old son Jason baked the cakes, and 12-year-old Gleny and I prepared the icing/decorations!

 

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One of the big poster boards hanging in our dining room that we decorated/wrote on for the celebration

 

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The majority of the youth in our neighborhood — especially the young men — sit idly on street corners, aimlessly wander roads or get wrapped up in a life of violent crime, so inviting these young men to a healthy, family-oriented birthday party (in addition to being involved in our discipleship-based school program 5 days a week) is a very revolutionary step in their lives that God is using for His glory.

 

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We left out blank poster boards and pieces of paper on our dining room table for the party guests to write a birthday message for our girls.

 

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8-year-old Josue, who has special needs and moved in with us in January 2015, used to fall down frequently, did not walk with much confidence and was severely overweight. His coordination and general motor skills have improved drastically in these past 20 months. Look at him go!

 

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15-year-old Brayan, the young man who lived with us for 8 months in 2014 and who continues to be heavily involved in the Lord’s purposes at the Living Waters Ranch, enjoying the dinner we served to the birthday party guests. He took the initiative to pray for our birthday girls — who are like sisters to him — alongside of Darwin and a local pastor.

 

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Our dining room, where we also hold our community Bible study on Tuesdays and Thursdays,. was the hub of the birthday activity.

 

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Miss Martha — who had to stop laboring at the Living Waters Ranch this past month due to chronic pains — was the first one to arrive at our girls’ birthday party and joyfully began helping in the kitchen! Since discontinuing her daily involvement at the Ranch, she still comes back every Tuesday to participate in Bible study and the Christian leadership class.

 

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Everybody get ready to sing!

 

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Thank goodness your choir teacher is here to help get your voices warmed up!

 

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We consider ourselves to be really fun parents, but our girls just think we’re embarrassing!

 

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Now let’s sing again! This time for Jackeline!

 

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Gotta love that precious face!

 

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Darwin with Elalf, one of our local students who participates in our homeschool-style high school along with piano lessons with Darwin. He and his dad, who is a local pastor, attended the birthday party.

 

Amen! Glory to God!