Tag Archives: Foster

Following Jesus, Our Lord Who Sought Out the Tax Collectors, Prostitutes and Sinners

(The following is a rather long story, but well worth the read…)

In our rural town about a half-hour drive outside of one of Honduras’ major cities, it is not uncommon for sporadic murders to take place. Oftentimes our neighbors will inform us that a dead body was found thrown out in the local pineapple fields or seen alongside the highway that runs right through the middle of our town.

In six years of living here, we’ve personally known several people whose lives have been taken by murder, and it is totally expected that the police will take no action to investigate or punish these violent crimes.

Several weeks ago my husband, our 7 foster children and I were driving at about 10 miles per hour in our old Toyota pickup truck through our sleepy town towards the highway. It was almost Easter Sunday, and we suddenly noticed a large crowd of people standing about alongside the road. We always drive with our windows rolled down in order to get more of a breeze inside the hot truck cabin, and my husband casually extended an arm outside of the truck to point at the crowd, commenting, “Oh, I bet a local church is doing some kind of Easter parade for the resurrection.”

He slowed down even more as all of us began peering at the crowd. I began waving at the people, extending a friendly greeting as I searched for familiar faces among them. Soon I realized that something just didn’t seem right as everyone stared on rather gloomily, and they hardly looked like they were parading in triumph to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

Darwin was the first to notice the dead body covered haphazardly with a bloody bedsheet in someone’s front yard, and he muttered something under his breath and sped up the car a tad in order to move all of us past what he realized was not a parade but rather a crime scene.

I glanced over at him, searching his face for clues, and then glanced back out the passenger’s window when I then realized what he had seen. I let out a slight gasp, looked away, and immediately stopped waving at everyone as chills covered my body. Our daughters who were inside the cabin with us grew totally silent as we all considered the tragedy.

The police station is located only a few blocks away, but there were no police to be found among the somber crowd and we knew that they most likely would show up hours or even days later just to say they were sorry about the family’s loss (if they even decided to show up at all). 

We continued onward in silence for several minutes as we all wondered who had been killed and why. Was it gang-related? Did two late-night drunks get in a fight? Was it a meticulously planned murder, or was it a crime of passion that developed in the blink of an eye?

Not two weeks earlier another dead body was seen (this one uncovered) along the same main road as my husband shuttled a group of our pre-teen students up to our rural ministry homestead for another day of classes and discipleship. Many of the kids had immaturely pointed and laughed, because to them it is entirely normal to see corpses.

On our way back home several hours after having passed by the almost-Easter crime scene, my husband cautiously stopped by a local shop near our home to inquire about the victim of the murder. (It is extremely important not to get too involved in the details or fall into gossiping or finger-pointing when such a crime occurs, because if your comments reach the wrong ears the perpetrators might target you as the next victim in order to silence you.)

My husband Darwin simply asked who the victim had been (and not why he had been killed or by whom), and the shop owner let out a belly laugh and pointed to a house a few doors down and said in an unnecessarily loud voice, “It was Roberto! They took him out!” He shook his head as if it were a shame and continued laughing about his neighbor’s tragic murder as Darwin and I just stared at him, surprised and deeply saddened by his response.

Another grown man and a teenage boy were with the shop owner, and they, too, began laughing and joking about their neighbor’s murder. Darwin excused us politely from their presence, and we continued driving onward toward home, again in silence. 

The victim in question was a man we had seen and greeted on occasion but not known personally. He was the young live-in boyfriend of a notorious middle-aged woman about whom we have heard many terrible rumors. 

Fast-forward a few days.

I was again in our old white pickup truck, but this time alone. I had been running a few errands in our town before I began rumbling back up that long gravel road to our rural property. As I passed the home of the man who had been murdered — which lies less than a half-mile from where we live — a sudden and unmistakeable impression from the Lord was pressed upon me in regards to the woman who survived him: “Go console her.”

The command came to me entirely unexpectedly as I was immediately in front of her home, but the car continued in motion almost a block as I considered what I had been instructed to do. I felt surprised and at the same time excited that the Lord had so clearly spoken to me, but I began to reason that it would just be too much of a hassle to turn the car around at this point. It would have been nice to go console the woman whose live-in boyfriend had just been murdered — it was, in fact, what Jesus probably would have done — but maybe another day. Or maybe never.

The car kept rolling up that gravel road — farther and farther from her home as I tried to reason my way out of obedience — when I finally turned the car around and parked in front of her home. God had won. I breathed deeply — praying that the Lord would give me the right words and that He might open the woman’s heart to receive something from Him — and I got out of the car and approached the twig-and-barbed wire front gate.

Most people in our rural town recognize my husband Darwin and I as the directors/teachers of our little discipleship school and know generally that we are doing Christian work in our neighborhood, but there are still many people whom we don’t know personally. This woman was one such case, as we had passed by her home just about every day and waved to her as she hand-washed her clothes in her front yard or as her children played on the porch, but we had yet to take the next step to really get to know one another. (Although last year we were tempted to call the police or storm up to her front porch personally to rebuke her for the harmful and potentially illegal influence she was having on several of our male students.)

As I stood at her front gate and gave a general greeting to alert her of my presence, one of her teenage daughters came out of the house and stared at me. I informed her with a smile, “I was passing by your home when God directed me to come visit you — “

I wasn’t sure at that moment what else I was going to say, but that seemed to be the signal she needed. Before I could say anything else, she invited me in and showed me a place on their living room couch.

Several little children and a few young adult women were hanging around in the small living space and suddenly staring at me, waiting. I began, at once totally sure, “God directed me to come here to visit you. My husband and I heard about what happened, and we are really sorry…”

The command the Lord had impressed so undeniably upon me was, “Console her,” not “Confront her about whether or not she has been selling drugs to the neighborhood boys and tempting them sexually” nor even “Share the gospel with her” at this time. I remembered this as I asked the Lord once more for direction. He wanted me to console her, regardless of who she is and what she had done.

The woman appeared from around the corner and immediately sat next to me on the small couch without any physical or emotional barriers between us as if we were old friends. I put my hand on her knee and explained once more that the Lord had specifically sent me to visit her to console her for the murder of her live-in boyfriend. I asked her how she felt and reiterated several times that we were very sorry for her loss (always without getting involved in the details or the who-done-it questions). Trust was quickly established among us as I listened to her, and she began sobbing as I embraced her in a comforting hug. I felt like I was consoling one of our teenage foster daughters in one of their moments of crisis, but this time it was our precious neighbor who is in her mid-40s. 

After twenty minutes or so of consoling her in this way, I offered to pray for her if she should accept my doing so even though she is not a Christian. She eagerly agreed, and I held her hands in mine and prayed that in His timing God might grant her salvation, peace and transformation in Christ for His glory. I did not expect God to do anything in that specific moment, but I trusted he could bring her to repentance and saving faith by His own methods in His own timing. 

Throughout the entire encounter all of the young people around us observed us quietly, and at the time of my departure I hugged several of them and left with joy in my heart, knowing that the Lord had very clearly worked through me.

A couple weeks passed, and I was again in our car but this time with a group of our teen foster daughters and local students sharing food with our neighbors and praying for people. The outing was going very well as the young women would go door-to-door offering to bless our neighbors with a provision of rice, beans, flour and oil and pray for them as well if they were willing to receive prayer. 

We were coming to the end of our journey when we passed in front of the woman’s house whom I had visited and consoled. She was not on our list to visit in that moment, but she came out of her house and approached me while I sat in the car. I greeted her warmly, and she asked if I could share a Bible with her because she had just begun going to church and was now seeking the Lord. My eyes grew wide and I informed her that I didn’t have an extra Bible with me just then but that I could get one for her in the next few days.

As our teen girls exited the last official house on our route, I informed them that I felt like God was leading us to one more home: that of my new friend who had asked for the Bible. Several of our girls seemed hesitant and others downright scared, as this woman’s negative reputation is pretty well-known in our neighborhood. Her teenage daughters had even verbally insulted our girls on many occasions without reason. This would definitely be a powerful lesson in loving their enemies as Christ taught us to and praying for people who don’t fall into their category of “family” or “best friends.”

The girls looked at me as if to ask, “Are you sure?”, and I assured them that she would be very open to prayer and that she had recently begun seeking the Lord. I would wait in the car because I wanted them to learn to serve as Christ’s messengers without an adult constantly leading them. 

As they began walking quietly toward that same twig-and-barbed wire front gate I whispered to one of my foster daughters who was toward the back of the group, “She needs a lot of hugs. Make sure you give her one.” I winked at her, and the look in my eyes encouraged her not to be scared; that this, in fact, was the Lord’s will and a powerful way of sharing His love with a woman few people draw near to.

I waited in the car quite a long time before all of our girls came filing out from within that same house that I had visited a couple weeks prior. Their expressions had changed drastically and suddenly reflected great measures of peace and joy. They piled back into the car with me as they lovingly bid farewell to the woman whom they had been reluctant to visit. 

Pulling away from her home, I turned around in my seat to ask one of our local students how the experience had been. She beamed and answered, “Oh, it was so good. She was really open to receiving prayer and several of us prayed for her. At the end we each took turns giving her a hug, and that really touched her. I think she needed that.”

I smiled and thanked God in my heart as we rumbled back up that long gravel road to our ministry homestead, the car now empty of the sacks of food it had held but each young woman full of a profound experience of Christ’s love in and through them. 

To God be the glory!

May 2019: Photos and a Prayer Request

I write to you from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern strip of Honduras.

Please enjoy the following collection of photos taken from our daily life of love and Christian discipleship among the youth whom we serve through our little discipleship school. (We have many newer photos we’ve taken in the last several days, but first I want to share this batch before revealing the others.)

Farther down I have also included a new prayer request in addition to follow-up regarding our previous prayer request shared several weeks ago.

Twice-weekly Bible study with our younger students (ages 12 and under)
After-school dance class with all of our female students and foster daughters

A devotional during an after-school Christian dance class

Math tutoring
My husband Darwin teaching an introductory choir class
Boys’ organic agriculture class on the Living Waters Ranch property (where we live, teach and serve for God’s glory)
Two local students working in the pineapple patch
Learning a good work ethic in organic agriculture class

One of our local Honduran missionary-teachers who has been serving alongside of us in discipleship/education for the last three years
The entryway of our rural ministry homestead
My husband Darwin leading our teen boys’ weekly P.E. class

One of our local students doing a presentation on the book he read in Spanish class
One of our foster daughters presenting publicly as a character from the novel she read
My high school Spanish class the day of their book presentations (they had to come dressed as a character from the book they read)
English class competition
One of our local missionary-teachers leading a couple teen disciples in a community service project (leveling out a very rocky road)
Our newest missionary-teacher leading our pre-teen boys after a Christian dance presentation

 

Thank you to all those who had prayed for our previous request in regards to our relationship with the local educational authorities – my husband has had a few unforeseen breakthroughs in our communication with them and we are currently enjoying a more peaceful season under their supervision although still with great paperwork demands and certain external pressures. Please keep this ongoing petition for peace with government authorities in prayer (and that their ever-changing regulations might not become a stumbling block or distraction to the calling the Lord has given us to form young people in Christ), but let us also give thanks to God for having acted on our behalf in the last few weeks! Thank you for praying.

NEW PRAYER REQUEST

I now will ask for prayer in regard to my sleeping patterns, as the arrival of our newest teen foster daughter (named Soad) roughly five weeks ago has triggered my insomnia and I have had great difficulty sleeping each night since. 

Her arrival was accepted out of obedience to God as He called us to offer our family to her, and we are fully convinced that we made the right decision. Nonetheless, some of her behaviors in these first several weeks have been very taxing on me personally and on our family as a whole, and we are looking to God for continued healing for her and wisdom for us in how to best parent her for God’s glory. 

Also, our other 6 foster children are all going through their own emotional ups and downs and insecurities with having a new “instant sibling” in our house. Last night we had a very long and productive family meeting in which many laid their feelings bare in a very honest and loving way and at the end we all prayed together, but there is still a long way to go to establish a “new normal” for all and assure God’s best for everyone in our household.

Please pray with us for Soad, that her transition into our family might bring with it peace and joy to her heart (and the hearts of our other 6), and for me, that the Lord might grant me total peace and trust — especially at night — as I rest in Him and don’t try to take things on in my own strength. Thank you, and God bless.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Heavenly Joy Bursting Out Through My Bones: The Effects of a Radical Change of Plans

The government agency called twice, and I said no both times without giving it a second thought. 

My husband Darwin and I had decided between the two of us that we would not be receiving any additional foster children for at least the next several years. Most of our foster children are currently teenagers whose delicate needs require our full attention, plus our little discipleship-based homeschool that we run out of our rural homestead has been growing to such an extent that directing, teaching and community discipling has become a beautiful yet very time-consuming daily venture.

A few weeks ago we reintegrated Josue, our special-needs foster son, back into a healthy family situation with his biological grandmother, and afterward things in our house actually became almost normal — calmer, more organized, fairly predictable — for the first time in almost six years.

My husband and I breathed deep and contemplated those in our household — five teenage daughters and one pre-teen son, some as long-term fosters and others in the process of being legally adopted by us. 

After going through numerous ups and downs as new parents and having had up to 10 in our home at a time, 6 seemed manageable and even easy. The house even seemed tangibly cleaner than usual and I thanked God that we had survived the brutal years of unwanted poo- and pee- disasters with 2 special needs foster children. On the walls, on the rug, in the bed — you name it. But those days were over, at least for the time being…

My selfish prayer seemed like it just might come true, “Oh God, I just want a normal life. At least slightly normal, slightly calm. My husband and I have virtually no ‘personal time’ and oftentimes feel stretched thin. I don’t even know what it means to sustain a normal friendship with normal people anymore. We love our kids dearly and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You have called us to parent them for Your glory, but sometimes it is so hard and their healing process is messy at best. Please grant us some sense of normalcy and ease in this season in Jesus’ name. I’m exhausted.”

No-more-kids and We-want-a-sane-household have been our soft battlecries over the last several months, and it almost seemed like we were achieving our desired goal.

Until the government agency called twice. 

My husband and I have every right to say no when they call us about receiving a new child or teen into our family, and I absolutely exercised that right in the name of defending my own sanity. What was our motto? No-more-kids, and I was sticking to my guns.

Well, as many of us know, oftentimes our own plans are just that: our own plans, not God’s. As I said my second ‘no’ over the phone to the government social worker whom I know and get along with very well, I was ready to politely hang up the phone and carry on with my business when the Lord led me to consider the possibility of laying my own plans — my own sanity, my own control — on the altar in the name of love. 

What I did next — pause long enough to ask the social worker the details about the person at hand — brought with it a God-designed tidal wave that utterly and completely wiped out all of our own plans for normalcy and familial stability.

Thirteen year-old girl. Has already lived as an adult man’s wife. Dad’s not in the picture. Mom is highly unstable. Needs a family.

As I listened in silence to all the details I probably could have imagined on my own — for the majority of cases are very similar in the aspects of familial abandonment/irresponsibility and some element of sexual abuse — the social worker actually began pleading. “We have nowhere else to put her.”

Emotionally detached as much as possible from the phone conversation (because sometimes it is easier not to feel too deeply), I thought ‘Of course. Most people are scared to death about receiving teenagers, especially those with adult sexual experiences. They came looking for us because they know we love our teen girls and have had a large measure of success with them…’

The social worker continued, “If you receive her, you would be giving her…an opportunity at life.”

An opportunity to live. To find life in Christ. To know joy. To grow up in a family like any normal 13-year-old girl.

By this point in the conversation the Lord was working mightily on my heart, and I asked more questions before telling the social worker that we would agree to meet the girl but would make no over-the-phone commitment to take her in before seeing her face-to-face and talking with her. The social worker was ecstatic.

After hanging up, I went directly to our little office building we share with our local Honduran missionaries/teachers who serve alongside of us in our community homeschool. I found one of our female teachers fairly unoccupied and asked her for prayer and counsel. She quickly accepted, and we sat down next to each other on the little purple couch in the prayer room in our office building and closed the door for more privacy.

I shared openly and extensively with her, both secretly excited about the possibility of extending “an opportunity at life” to one more person while also tense and scared about all that could go wrong. 

I voiced my thoughts as she listened attentively, “I mean, we could take her in, but there are a thousand other teen girls in her same situation — dysfunctional family, history of sexual abuse/sin —“

Our beloved teacher nodded quietly, fully aware that in our area of Honduras there are numerous cases of 12- and 13-year-old girls who already live with their “boyfriends” or who daily endure unhealthy home-lives. The need is oftentimes overwhelming.

I continued, “And, it just wouldn’t be realistic to take in a thousand of them. I mean, we can’t be family to a thousand.” My argument sounded right-on, and I felt I was gaining momentum. Our teacher nodded in agreement again, quietly listening as I verbally processed the storm within me.

But in that very moment the Lord struck me deep and to such an extent that His very words came out of my own mouth, dripping with conviction as I made a 180 degree turn in my argument. I said slowly, “But He’s not asking us to take in a thousand. They called us about one. Only one.”

I felt like in that moment I had surrendered to His will in one fatal blow. ‘You won,’ I thought with great heaviness mixed with the first fruits of joy welling up in my heart. He was indeed calling us to start over again with a new lost daughter of His. Not with a thousand, but with just one. And I would obey not only willingly but with a joy that very few can understand.

My teacher friend and I sat in silence several moments as the weight of the situation — and the enormity of the decision being considered — sat heavily between us. I repeated, “He’s just asking us to take in one…”

At the end of our conversation she prayed with me for the young woman in question and that the Lord might grant my husband and I the love, strength and wisdom to accept this new challenge if He should so desire us to take it on.

Fast-forward three days.

We went into the government-run complex to meet the young woman, her psychologist and the lawyers/social worker involved in her case. We asked the key questions we needed to ask, got our kids involved in the process of meeting her and exchanging several question-answer games with her, and throughout the entire encounter we felt the undeniable peace of God as confirmation. We would soon be parents to six teenage daughters and one pre-teen son. 

The adjustment would of course be difficult for all, as our home tends to be in total upheaval for the ensuing 3-6 months each time a new person arrives as new friendships are forged and the teenage hierarchy is re-shuffled as everyone tries to find out all over again where they fit on the totem pole. There are oftentimes feelings of jealously and insecurity to be carefully dealt with in our kids who’ve been with us the longest, and Mom and Dad have to engage in the dogged task of forging a close relationship with a new, possibly frightened teen all over again.

Even so, it is a small price to be paid in comparison with what our Lord did on the cross to save us all, and it is the way in which He has called my husband and I to share in His sufferings (and likewise eventually share in His glory). To love the lost; to be parents to the fatherless; to extend hospitality and grace to those who might even make us suffer greatly in the short-term for having done so.

I spoke with the social worker and her eyes grew like saucers when I said yes, and the young woman (Soad, pronounced So-add) enthusiastically said that she would like to move in the same day. 

That night — about two-and-a-half weeks ago — my husband and I prepared a foam mattress on our bedroom floor for our new arrival. Instead of moving her in with our teen girls all at once, we decided to have her with us for the first week in order to help ease her transition more calmly while also forging some semblance of parent-child bond with her in a condensed amount of time. 

We sat down on the cool tile floor next to her mattress and asked if we could pray for her. She said yes. After doing so we tucked her into bed — our teenage-sized new baby! — and gave her a hug and a kiss before climbing into our own bed not three feet from hers. 

My husband quickly drifted off into sweet slumber as I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, hot room. My heart raced for joy as I listened closely trying to identify if our new daughter had already fallen asleep or was still wide awake as I was. Did she feel welcome and loved here? Would we be able to form a close bond with time, or would she prove distant and guarded? Would she sleep throughout the night or wake up screaming with nightmares? What if she stopped breathing right there on her mattress?

My mind raced with a thousand thoughts as I thanked God in my heart for who He is and for leading us on this wild adventure, especially because it was never our plan to begin with. The minutes turned to hours as I periodically tried to steal glances at our new daughter’s still form in our dark room, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I drifted off to sleep in spite of the heavenly joy that I felt might burst right out through my bones…

 

A photo of my husband and our seven kids taken on my husband’s birthday two days after Soad’s arrival. (She is in the pink tank top on Darwin’s right.)

We thank God for these processes He takes us through as He draws us closer to His own heart and enables us to participate in His quest to reach lost humanity. Please pray for us during this time, especially for our other kids as they adjust to having to share Mom and Dad with someone new. God bless you all, and thank you to those who pray for and financially support this little mission in rural Honduras. To God be the glory.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Communication Sabbatical

I will be taking a break from this blog and a large part of my general communication responsibilities during the upcoming month of December and probably the first week or so of January. 

I hope to spend more focused time with my husband and our 7 foster children as all of us will have a month-long break from our normal school, work and ministry activities. (The Honduran school calendar runs from January/February — November, so December is generally the month students and teachers have off).

In the last month I wrote three articles for online news sources (Dallas News and The Stream) in regards to the current migrant caravans leaving Central America and heading for the States, and the articles got a pretty wide response. Much of my time this past month has been dedicated to writing (and then re-writing) these articles and then tending to the many commentaries people post afterward. This has been a new, challenging and rewarding experience, as the Lord has been teaching me through this how to be open to other people’s opinions, respond with grace, and actively love/pray for those who have very harsh criticisms of me.

Needless to say, I’ve dedicated an inordinate amount of time to these writing projects and have begun to feel the weight of several conflicting responsibilities (marriage/motherhood, directing/teaching in the Living Waters Ranch and now a few ventures into freelance writing).

Please pray for us during this upcoming month as my husband Darwin and I seek to slow down and rediscover how to live a quiet, private life before the Lord while cultivating our foster children/teens in Christ. Pray that the Lord might guide us in doing so and that the many things clamouring for our attention might be put at bay for the time being.

Thank you to all who pray for us and support this mission financially. We could not serve in the way that we do without you. God bless you, and may your holiday season abound in rest, joy and the Lord’s perfect peace. I look forward to being in touch in January.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Jennifer

Request for Prayer and Encouragement

To all who pray for and support this mission:

I ask that you would pray for us during this season specifically in regards to our emotional reserves and spiritual endurance.

The relational work we are dedicated to in Honduras requires us to be on the clock 24/7, and our ‘personal time’ almost always includes at least half a dozen young people who need to be lovingly supervised and tended to. (This can be very taxing on my introverted tendencies, as I oftentimes feel drained being around people all the time and wish everyone would just leave me alone for a couple hours.)

We spend our Monday-Friday working hours in teaching, community discipleship and administration out of our home-mission at the Living Waters Ranch, and then as our daytime teaching staff and local students leave we are then ‘on’ during nights and weekends with our 7 children who live with us full-time, 5 of which are teenagers with very delicate and pressing needs. (Oftentimes there is no dividing line between what is work and what is rest/personal time, and frequently the teens we serve in our home are those who end up draining us even more with their poor attitudes and criticism of us.) Please pray that the Lord would grant our children grateful hearts who are willing to serve and bless in Jesus’ name, as that would greatly alleviate the burden we shoulder in our home and grant us allies in our home-ministry.

I share this with you as I seek prayer for our marriage and our personal growth with the Lord (and that of our children), as the majority of our energy is spent actively proclaiming the truth to broken people and helping them resolve their crises. Thus, oftentimes little energy is available to intentionally cultivate our marriage or delve deeper in our personal walk with the Lord (and seek healing for our own brokenness).

(And, as a side note, thanks to God’s healing hand I am sleeping a lot better as my insomnia has greatly dissipated in these last few months without taking any kind of sleeping medication, but even so I am facing exhaustion and potential discouragement due to the many demands we face each day from 5:00am until bedtime.)

We are committed to continue in this daily effort as family to the orphaned/abandoned and lighthouse of hope to the lost for as many years as the Lord allows (and we have seen many breakthroughs and transformation in and around us in these last several years since beginning the journey), thus we are currently searching to see what Spirit-led changes can be made in our approach to ensure that we don’t fall prey to total burnout. We always seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse, and many times I lend a compassionate ear to our teen girls’ deep emotional struggles and spiritual searches and then reach the end of the day wondering who will lend me a listening ear because my husband is likewise as exhausted as I am or is working in our home office until late at night.

As a last note (and please forgive me for such a heavy and potentially discouraging post), I feel that I am personally in pressing need of words of encouragement at this time. Our lifestyle and the demands on my time have not permitted me to maintain any of my old friendships or cultivate new ones, so I find myself frequently lonely or tackling the many tasks before me by myself. As one of our spiritual mentors told my husband and I at the beginning of this journey several years ago, “It’s lonely to lead.” We have found this to be true, as the lifestyle the Lord has blessed us with does not grant many companions along the way.

So, if you read this blog and are able to reply with a sincere word of encouragement for me personally (or for Darwin), I would be extremely grateful and it would go a long way.

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Mid-Year Update 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family 

 

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

Family Photo Shoot: Celebrating Five Years of Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Personal Reflection and Family Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you.

 

Personal Reflection: Our Current Season of Life and Ministry

I write to you from our rural homestead in Honduras, Central America where the Lord has planted us firmly with the purpose of parenting the orphaned, proclaiming His Word, teaching the ignorant, reaching out to the destitute in our area with tangible help and living a simple, honest life with and for Christ.

Next month my husband, who is a native Honduran whom I met here in Honduras while I was already walking the path the Lord had placed before me, and I will celebrate five years of marriage, and a few months after that we will celebrate five years of parenting the orphaned and ministering to the lost together for God’s glory. Four months after we married in 2013 our first three children arrived – the eldest of whom was 13 years old when she moved in, only 10 years younger than me.

The current season of life, of marriage, of ministry and parenting that we are in is definitely new. Our house used to be filled with childhood relics – baby dolls and stuffed animals, sound-it-out books for those learning to read for the first time, pint-sized clothes that fit malnourished frames, and the like.

Now – especially since two of our younger foster daughters left our home in January of this year to begin living with a stable Christian aunt – our home is full not of clingy, eyes-wide-because-everything-is-new-and-exciting children, but rather seasoned teenagers who have seen and heard just about everything, and now all that’s left is really believing it with all their heart and putting it into practice. Our two youngest will turn 10 and 11 within the next two months, and our older teens already have their eyes fixed on university goals and desires for marriage someday.

Our eldest daughter has learned to drive our old pickup and now routinely shuttles over a dozen of our teachers and local students to and from our home each day. She turns 18 in just a few months. One of our other teen daughters is now enrolled in a beauty class in our discipleship-based homeschool program and cut my hair not four days ago with the helpful oversight of her instructor. This upcoming week five of our kids will be traveling with my husband Darwin to one of Honduras’ largest cities to participate in a music concert by an internationally-renowned director. They have been preparing for weeks.

I, like our children, used to feel like everything was new and exciting – every new or meaningful encounter, every inquisitive question they asked me about God or His Word, every heart-warming interaction that occurred in our non-traditional family – I wrote it down and felt compelled to share it with the world. I was a heart-on-fire idealist for Christ; I wanted to change the world; I found deep meaning in everything; every day was an adventure.

This current season is not like that. This season is not bad or boring or disappointing; I simply think I’m entering new depths, new understanding that is necessary for this marathon race that I had originally misunderstood to be a sprint (and I definitely did get tired a few hundred meters into the wild dash).

We’re now more organized; our days are largely more predictable than they once were; our kids have less emotional meltdowns; we’ve grown in knowledge of His Word; and we’re now better equipped to handle the many situations thrown at us daily, whereas before most things used to catch us blindsided or throw us off balance.

We’ve invested what the Lord has given us – His Word and His love, material provision, relational availability, counsel, our very lives — in certain people here only to see them eventually turn their back on the Lord and on us. This has been heartbreaking, but after having occurred numerous times it is no longer surprising. We’ve seen people come to the Lord and others stray from their commitment to Him. We’ve seen people we love make God-honoring decisions, and we’ve seen others we love make the worst decision possible even after receiving great amounts of godly counsel. Sometimes our foster teens surprise us with Spirit-led revelation or genuine spiritual hunger in their lives, and at other times I am left frustrated at their selfishness and spiritual coldness (and mine).

Many profound, even tear-jerking things do still occur – and perhaps even more frequently so than before – in our household, and I do still receive revelations from the Lord, but I have not felt as compelled to write. Or perhaps I have not even known where to start.

From age 17 on I filled up one hand-written journal after another – in addition to several hundred pages of written logs on my laptop – as I fervently sought the Lord, asked Him my questions, searched high and low for my life’s calling and reflected on just about every event that unfolded in my daily life. It was through this incessant search – desperate even – that the Lord revealed to me at age 20 that my role in His Kingdom here on earth would be to be a mother to those who have none. With time He has expanded, deepened that call to now include the relational discipleship and integral teaching we dedicate ourselves to in our home for dozens of local youth in addition to the 8 who live in our home.

I had to learn Spanish, and I have learned it. I did not know if I was ever going to get married, but the Lord provided a faithful, loving husband for me (and permanent father for our children who all come from fatherless backgrounds). I had to be willing to give my own life away – give up on my own plans, relinquish my own ‘freedom’ and personal space – and the Lord has given not only me but also my husband the grace to live this lifestyle of radical hospitality in Christ, of Biblical parenthood for the orphaned and abandoned. Our lives are not our own; we are truly walking in our call.

Six or seven years ago there were so many unknowns in my life, so many questions I pleaded God to answer. I was like a little, impatient child tugging on their Father’s pants-leg and staring up at Him, waiting for the answers.

And He’s given them, and by some miracle I have believed – and not only in my heart but also with my life, with actions, with a daily walk. He’s been so generous, so gracious in our errors and mishaps; He has been such a good teacher, a patient Father to us in these first five years in the trenches!

So, my question – however absurd or naïve it may sound – is: now what? Not ‘now what?’ in the sense of we’re-going-to-now-move-to-another-place-and-do-something-entirely-different-with-our-lives, but in the sense of, really, what does the Lord now have for us? Right here, with these same kids who are now teens and in these same little multi-colored buildings where He’s taught us so much already – what is in store for this new season? Is it just more of the same, but a deepening of it, a downward plunge into greater depths of excellence, of wisdom, of divine communion? In many ways I am in need of a new word from Him.

This season has brought and continues to bring many blessings, two of which are the new teen girls who moved in with us late last year and have become integral parts of our family. This has been a new trek – becoming mom all over again, this time to girls well into adolescence who have already had many ‘moms.’ This journey has been beautiful and has proved to bring unexpected joy to our household in addition to the expected trials the girls present and the sacrifice required of my husband Darwin and I to parent them with grace, according to God’s Word.

This year – this season – I teach an advanced math class for 16 teen students in the Christian school we operate out of our home, and I share God’s Word three times weekly in our large group Bible study where we gather in our dining room with about 40 people or so. I teach a dynamic (and pretty funny) karate class on Wednesday afternoons, and I serve in a much less hands-on role administratively in our office this year, making sure all runs smoothly alongside of our dedicated Honduran staff. I handwash our clothes. I water the plants. I share the cooking load with our teenage girls (and our 10-year-old son Jason who loves to work in the kitchen). I listen to Christian sermons and teaching series online in my free time to continue growing. On weekends Darwin and I do maintenance and physical labor chores with our kids around our extensive rural property. We read the Word together as a family. I oversee our kids in their daily chores and academic activities. My husband and I play chauffer for our teens on their way to music and dance classes. I lend a listening ear and a prayerful heart to our local students who oftentimes seek me out to help them in conflict resolution or if they simply want to vent. On an ongoing basis I seek to discern, to listen, to whatever it is that God wants to teach us on this narrow, beautiful path with Him.

So, I’m not sure if this not-so-organized post will prove interesting or noteworthy to anyone who reads it, but I do thank all of you who pray for us and support this work on an ongoing basis. Please know that we continue onward with great faithfulness, and daily ask God to make grow these many seeds we are planting all around us. My writing patterns over the coming months may prove more sporadic as I have not been as led to write all our daily reflections as I have in years past, but this does not indicate that the work in Honduras is faltering or stagnant. We love Christ and daily seek to draw nearer to Him as our very lives are permanently marked with the good news of His salvation. His eternal Kingdom is our goal, and we desperately ask Him to bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

God bless you.

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

Yesterday my husband Darwin went into the city with 6 of our foster children for a day of dentist visits, music classes and errands, leaving me on our rural ministry homestead with two of our foster children. From time to time we like to divide our eight foster kids up into smaller groups so that they get more individualized attention, so this turned out to be one such occasion. A couple weeks ago Darwin took our three boys on a ‘man date’ to pray for the sick and then eat ice cream together, and he took one of our girls on a one-on-one afternoon date in the city not too long ago, which made her feel very special. This time my little group was composed of quite an interesting combination of people: one of our new teen girls who moved in with us about six months ago, and our 9-year-old special needs son who has lived with us over three years.

Thanks to the addition of a new Honduran teacher/missionary a couple months ago who now helps with the teaching, administrative and discipleship load my husband and I share with our small team at the Living Waters Ranch, I’ve been relieved of many of the administrative tasks that used to dominate my time. It has always been a fine line of being an available stay-at-home mom for our kids while also balancing the responsibilities entrusted to me to direct, evangelize and teach in our little mission and the surrounding community. Thus, with the addition of our new team member the balance of service-in-the-home and service-to-the-community has been made easier for me and has allowed me more stress-free time with our kids for God’s glory.

So, we enjoyed a completely spontaneous day of agricultural activities and physical work, something I don’t normally participate in (because in recent years I’ve been ‘too busy’). We each slapped on a pair of black rubber boots (the cultural sign of a Honduran who’s ready to work in the field), we grabbed three rusty machetes and began traipsing around our rural property under the blistering sun engaging in untold adventures. There were no schedules and no rush. We were simply enjoying being together (our strange tribe of three) while simultaneously rejoicing in the breathtakingly beautiful creation our Father has placed so close to us. We ended up investigating native plants, exploring the creek behind our property (and I nearly fell into a rather deep part when I precariously tried to cross the waters via a broken tree limb that looked a lot stronger than it was), cooking from scratch in our temporarily-outdoor kitchen on our porch, taking care of our bunnies, planting a few plants, watering them, and doing various physical-labor chores around our property.

It was a sweaty, peaceful day as we truly loved one another and reveled in the beauty of the Creator, much as I imagine Adam and Eve did in the garden so many years ago — blessed, uninterrupted enjoyment of Father God, His creation, and one another.

Near the end of our day together, it occurred to me to take out our little digital camera and take a few photos together. At first they were very shy and unenthused, but after a few shots they really got into it. We even taught Josue how to hold the camera and take (somewhat off-kilter) shots!

Enjoy our rather simple yet joyful photos of a momma called by God and her precious little ones (who aren’t so little). God bless you!

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

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

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

   

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

Now Josue’s taking the photos!

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

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



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

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

Amen! Glory to God!

Multiplying Responsibility Like Bunnies

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

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

Here are a few photos!

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

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


      Amen! Glory to God!

Friday Spy: My Undercover Photo Shoot of Marimba Players, Pig Pits and More

Several hours after our group Bible study this morning, I grabbed our old-fashioned digital camera and headed undercover (well, not quite) to each of our intensive classes that we hold every Friday for our more mature students. Most of our teens tried to run away or hide their faces when they realized I was taking pictures, but even so I got a few shots that are worth sharing.

The following are photos taken of the following intensive 3-hour classes: Music/Orchestra (piano, violin, recorder, marimba and guitar), English as a second language, and organic agriculture/discipleship. Normally during this early afternoon time-slot there is also a group in community evangelism, but this week that class was cancelled because the local pastor who directs the group is in surgery. Thank you to all of you who support this redemptive work and/or pray for God’s continued guidance and protection over us.

This is Ariel, one of our older local teen boys who comes from a very chaotic, undisciplined home life learning to play the marimba.
These are two of our daughters whom we are in the process of adopting. Musical training – paired with ongoing relational Christian discipleship – is one of our techniques to redeem broken teens and heal them through healthy, dynamic activities for God’s glory.
Paola (left), one of our new foster daughters who moved in with us about six months ago, with a local teen as they learn to play the recorder.
The builders are making great progress on the dining room annex! (For the last couple weeks our community kitchen with its fridge, stove, pantry, etc  has been moved to our front porch! Thank goodness we’ve got a big porch!)

The classes imparted at the Living Waters Ranch are not confined to normal classroom walls: we oftentimes teach outdoors, go on prayer walks with our students, and interact with the beautiful Honduran habitat around our buildings as part of the youth’s integral learning experience.
This is Miss Ligia’s English as a second language class. Everyone got the giggles and tried to hide their faces when I entered with the camera!
Nobody wanted to show their face!
When I got close to her with the camera, she got the giggles! What a beautiful smile!
Now back outside with the beginners’ recorder class on the porch!
This is our new Christian psychologist who is multi-talented! In addition to helping greatly in the integral psychological/spiritual healing of our youth in Christ, she has also been instrumental teaching in the classroom, leading a group of teen girls in twice-weekly prayer time and freely sharing her God-given talents through various outlets.
One of our local Honduran missionaries has a great passion to pair organic agriculture with small-group Christian discipleship, so several of these agriculture/discipleship classes are given throughout the week to the 60 youth in our program who desire to participate. In these photos our 16-year-old foster son Brayan is working with a local teen to dig a 12-foot-deep hole to receive the waste from the pig pen we are building. These activities cultivate work ethic, perseverance and strength of character in our teens in addition to a deepened love of God’s Word.

They’ve been working on this pit for weeks — one rock at a time!
Two of our local teachers/missionaries work alongside of our students to cultivate the land organically as they learn more about their Creator and how to care for His creation.
This is the little plot our kids have been working so hard on. They’ve planted plantains and banana trees here.

After my escapade out in the pasture, I passed back through our front gate and found one of our musicians hard at work in his song notebook.
My last stop: a posed photo with three of our beloved recorder players (our foster daughter Jackeline, far left, and two local teens who have been in our program full-time over two years). Lookin’ good!
Who knew that teenagers could be this cute?
This is our foster daughter Jackeline. She is a talented mathematician, an avid cow-farmer and a great big sister to special-needs Josue. The Lord has done great things to transform her since she first moved in with us over three years ago, and we love her dearly.

 

Nobody else was willing to participate in an impromptu photo shoot, so I headed back across our front lawn to our cinderblock home to finish up my admin duties for the day! God bless you!

Updates and Prayer Requests from the First Quarter of 2018

Construction of Annex

A friend of ours who serves as a missionary to Honduras felt the Lord lead him to help us construct an addition on the back of our dining room/kitchen in order to accommodate the increased number of people we are serving this year. The dining room (where we hold our group Bible studies/worship times in addition to being our lunchroom and multi-purpose classroom) will be doubled in size, and a classroom will be added on as well. This is the first time we’ve made any real structural changes/additions onto the property since the leadership of the Living Waters Ranch was granted us in 2012, and we are very thankful to our missionary friend for financially covering this cost and directing the construction workers in the process.

Our existing dining room/kitchen (yellow building) with the annex being built out back

Josselyn and Gabriela Return to Their Biological Family

Two of our foster daughters (ages 13 and 11) who moved in with us in July 2015 as they escaped situations of abuse and neglect were recently moved out of our home and under the protection of a loving, stable Christian aunt. After performing the legal investigation to see if the home and family members would prove safe for the girls, they were officially moved in with their aunt in mid-January. Unlike the rest of our foster kids, these two always longed to return to their biological family, so this move was considered a triumph. The girls’ aunt has been raising their little brother since birth, and she had always hoped to receive the girls as well (which we did not know until several months ago when we were in contact with her for the first time). We continue to pray for the girls and are in phone contact with them from time to time. We currently have 8 foster kids/teens in our family ages 9-17, and we do not anticipate receiving more in the foreseeable future as we’re trying to establish ‘normal’ with those whom we have after having gone through many emotionally taxing adjustments over the past several months with the arrival of our two new teen girls (15-year-old Carolina and 14-year-old Paola) in October 2017 and now the departure of Josselyn and Gaby not two months ago.

This was little Gabriela (Gaby) shortly after moving in with us in 2015. A biological family member had shaved her head and she was deeply malnourished and emotionally broken after having been the recipient of her step-father’s sexual abuse. Of the 11 kids we’ve fostered, she has perhaps had the most behavioral problems and daily challenges.
Living under our care over two years, Gaby overcame some of her developmental and emotional delays although there was still much work to be done. She defied all odds and even learned to read and write, something we initially thought would not be within her mental reach. Darwin and I were prepared to be her lifelong caretakers and had even offered to adopt her and Josselyn, so now the fact that they are no longer with us is somewhat of an emotional shock to our system. We hope all the best for them in their new home and that their loving aunt can meet Gaby’s many needs.
Josselyn, just like her younger sister Gaby, came to us with her hair extremely short, malnourished, and never having gone to school. She came to confess faith in Christ while in our home, was baptized, and in our accelerated homeschool program was able to catch up academically by doing two grades in one year. This year she is in sixth grade and studying at a local school close to her aunt’s home. She has more intellectual capacity than her younger sister but always lacked a certain degree of common sense and faithfulness, so our greatest prayer for her in this new season of her life is that God may grant her the wisdom and the faith to put into practice the many things we tried to teach her.
This is a photo we took of Josselyn a few months ago (after having been under our care over two years). She’s grown so much!

New Teacher/Missionary Added to Team

Due to our increased number of students this year (60 in 2018; 35 last year), we saw the necessity of acquiring another local teacher/missionary to serve alongside of us in the classroom, in discipleship activities, and administratively in the office in order to alleviate the burden the rest of us were feeling with the larger number of youth being served. A sister in Christ whom we’ve known several years through a mentor of ours recently graduated college and was on a job hunt (which in Honduras can be increasingly difficult due to the scarcity of jobs available), and we snagged her before anyone else could! She has a passion for Christ and has a long history of working with children and youth, so she has been a great fit in these first few weeks on the job. Our team is now composed of 8 full-time and 6 part-time Honduran workers/missionaries including my husband and me.

Some of our foster teens and local students helping shovel gravel during a day of organized maintenance/construction activities
Two of our girls doing their homework by candlelight in our living room. Our kids make fun of me because I’m very old-fashioned!

Thank you for your prayers and support! God bless you.

Kindness Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen! Glory to God!