Tag Archives: God

The Cow is Returned: God’s Power in Action

As I wrote in my previous post four days ago, local cattle thieves stole another one of our young dairy cows for the second time in 10 months, and the entire ordeal left us feeling discouraged, on high alert, and at a loss as to what our next move should be (or as to who the thief could have been).

Well, today I will write about the events that ensued after the initial shock we experienced on Sunday morning upon realizing that our foster daughter’s cow was no longer among our small herd. This is definitely a story worth telling, and I hope it encourages you to believe in God’s power if only we would cry out to Him.

My husband Darwin and our daughter Jackeline left home Sunday morning and spent the entire day out looking for our lost cow, asking our neighbors if they had seen her and reporting the robbery at the local police station. Monday was spent in similar fashion – Darwin made many phone calls, returned to the police station, consulted with more neighbors and took several trips out to the far end of our rural property to see the extent of the damage done to our fence and take pictures for evidence.

All our efforts seemed futile, especially in Honduras where police investigations are few to none and we had no real lead onto who might have taken our daughter’s cow. 14-year-old Jackeline, who had saved her money for a long time in order to buy the cow two years ago and hoped it would help get her through college, spent great amounts of time sprawled out on the couch in our living room, her eyes puffy from crying. On more than one occasion I sat down to listen to her as she anguished over the lost cow, which represented both a financial investment and a pet to her. Jackeline reminisced about her cow – hoping against hope that it might still be alive – and all the other kids told her to get over her loss. But she couldn’t.

One day passed, then another. By this time everyone knew rationally that the cow must have already been butchered and sold on the black market, because cattle thieves almost always act quickly so as not to get caught. Our other two cows that were stolen last November were butchered immediately upon being stolen. At dawn we found their bloody hides and severed heads thrown out in the field by our front gate. To think that this cow could still be alive several days after being stolen would have been naïve.

Monday night rolled around, and the details cannot be shared of the encounters but I will say that two key eye-witnesses came forth with fear and trembling (both of which are Christians). They saw who cut our fence and they knew who had our cow. Darwin shared with me in a hushed voice late at night in our bathroom as a huge spotlight was then suddenly illuminating the entire case before our very eyes. Adrenaline ran through our veins and we prayed together after discussing everything at length. What to do? Our eye-witnesses were too scared to come forth in public, and there would be no way to confront the thief on our own.

Then Tuesday came. That is generally my day to leave our rural homestead and spend 8-10 hours doing management, computer work and errands in town, so I left without a second thought. In my mind, it was all a closed case: the cow was already dead and we had to figure out what proactive steps we would be taking to assure the safety of the rest of our herd while we would wait in vain for the police to act upon our suspect.

About 3:00pm on Tuesday Darwin called me, informing me in an unnerving tone that he had gone with the local police again – hoping to bother them enough that they would act on the case just to get him off their backs – and they actually came out to our property and picked him up in an effort to go chase down the thief, who an informant had told Darwin was stationed in the pineapple fields right behind our property with the cow still alive. Darwin asked me for immediate prayer and as my heart raced faster I pleaded him not to get out of the police car or get directly involved in any kind of armed confrontation that might occur between the police and the thieves.

I hung up the phone, my heart now racing even more than before – in part from the adrenaline of knowing that against all odds the cow was still alive three days after being stolen and that there was a real chance that the police might capture those who had her, but even more for the danger that my husband would be diving into upon confronting the thief directly.

My car sped down the highway, the windows rolled down to let fresh air in because the A/C stopped working several months ago. Light droplets of rain landed on my arm as I prayed harder than I have in a long time. I prayed for protection for Darwin and all involved; I prayed that the thief would repent; I prayed for God’s favor and His justice in our hour of need. I felt God undeniably close, and I sensed that we were on the verge of some colossal battle, much of which would be fought in the heavenly realm. I continued to pray as I zipped down the highway that parallels the Caribbean Ocean and neared our rural property with my heart and head ablaze. Let Darwin live; may there be no blood shed today; may You utilize these police officers as true agents of justice; may the thief admit his deed and seek forgiveness and new life in Christ. If Darwin should die as a result (as his brother did two years ago when he spoke out against local cattle thieves), please give me the grace, perseverance and faith to continue onward in his absence, however hard it may be…

In Honduras, many such encounters with thieves result in someone’s death – either that of the thieves or those who try to confront them, so my emotions were rightly understood to be on edge. Our old pickup truck jostled up the long gravel road to our property as I found all of our kids to be doing just fine. Darwin had left them alone as he had to leave unexpectedly with the police officers, so I checked on our local tutors with their six after-school students and our seven foster kids to make sure everyone was on task as I then unpacked the car and waited anxiously for a call from Darwin.

After exchanging several phone calls with him to ask what progress had been made and to see if he was okay he finally arrived at home several hours later. The police had done the stake-out and had identified the area where they had been holding the cow but came up empty-handed. It was a bit of progress (or at least a scare for the thieves), but it wasn’t enough. Darwin and I felt frustrated, as we knew that was probably the only real attempt the police would be making to try to catch the culprit.

That night several additional phone calls were made in the stillness of our little bathroom as we sought to communicate once more with our eye-witnesses to see if they would have the courage to come forth and make another police report with us, but all were frozen with fear. We ended up talking to a local community leader who is a friend of ours and happens to be feared by many (and has recently become a Christian and attends the same church where Darwin is involved with a men’s group). We hesitantly shared with him our situation, certain that if anyone could do vigilante justice it would be him but at the same time unsure that he would believe us. The thief, after all, is a family member of his and he could very easily turn on us for having accused his kin.

The whole ordeal – holed up in our bathroom late at night, door shut and floor-fan turned on high speed to cover up our voices so that our 7 foster kids wouldn’t be able to hear our conversations – seemed like something straight out of a movie. Darwin and I sat on the little grey rug on our tile floor, alternating between making phone calls, praying, and discussing the matter between the two of us.

What had initially seemed like a lost case in which we would simply have to throw up our hands and try to turn lemons into lemonade had suddenly turned into a hot chase in which we might fall into grave danger if we made one wrong move.

While communicating with the local community leader whom we get along very well with as neighbors, Darwin shared with him who the thief in the matter was, and our neighbor fell silent. He wasn’t sure whether to believe us or defend his family member, whom he thought to be innocent. His reaction: he went to his relative’s house (the accused), and eventually put him on the phone with us. Darwin put the conversation on speakerphone, and chills ran through my body as the thief talked smoothly and casually, assuring us that he was a man of great morals and values and that he would never steal from anyone. He called us both by very respectful titles and assured us that we were local leaders in our community and that it would be a disgrace for anyone to steal from us. His flattering and reassuring words came rolling of his tongue so smoothly and so confidently that I glanced over at Darwin and wondered in my heart of hearts if we had gotten it all wrong. After all, I wanted desperately to believe him. It had all been a big mistake.

But the two eye-witnesses? The two people who know first-hand that this is the thief?

This man is an expert liar with years of experience. My body turned semi-cold as I contemplated this fact and the spiritual ramifications: does not Satan approach humanity this way – smooth, reassuring tongue, saying beautiful, promising things, but it is all a lie? Oh, he promises happiness, pleasure, eternal youth and more, but it all turns out to be nothing more than a breathtakingly beautiful mirage, not reality. He is persuasive and attractive, but in the end leads only to death.

We essentially got nowhere with our phone conversation, as the thief did not allow Darwin to get many words in. He even offered to come up to our property the next morning to peacefully smooth everything out in person, to which Darwin responded: “Better yet, let’s meet tomorrow morning at 7:00am at the police station to smooth everything out.” That definitely tripped up his previously-seamless speech as Darwin continued, “Look, I have an eye-witness who saw you cut through our fence. What I want is my cow. Tomorrow morning at the first hour I will be going to the police station again. What I want is my cow.”

The phone was passed back to our friend, who was more perplexed than before as to who might be telling the truth, and he assured us that he and his family would be praying.

The conversation soon came to a close, and Darwin expressed the fact that he was not blind to the fact that all of this might get him killed and that he truly had nothing against the thief and wanted what was best for him (an honest life lived in God’s light, not a lying life of thieves.) We hung up, both our hearts racing, and prayed. It would be a long night, and whatever would unfold in the next 12 hours would likely decide the fate of our cow, this case and possibly even our lives.

Wednesday morning (yesterday) we got up at 5:00am as is our custom, and I entered the three bedrooms where our kids sleep and jostled them awake, informing them that we would be having a family prayer meeting in our living room before beginning the day’s chores.

Everyone came shuffling out into our living room, from our eldest who is less than a week away from turning 18 to our youngest, a 10-year-old boy with special needs. We sat around our wooden table – everyone wishing they were still asleep – as Darwin and I tried to begin explaining as best we could (and without instilling fear or directly implying who the thief was) the progress of the case and the imminent danger that might be facing us if the thief tries to silence us or take revenge. It was a very heavy conversation, and in a very real sense I feared that it might be our last family meeting. Jackeline was overjoyed to hear that her cow was still alive, and she thanked God repeatedly for having heard her cries. Each person prayed, and among the many words I shared with my Lord, I said: “If it pleases You that we parent these children and youth and continue along in this work, then please protect our lives…” Our children gave thanks to God and prayed that the thief might repent, that he might return the cow voluntarily, and that God would protect Darwin and me.

After about twenty minutes or so around our wooden dining room table, we all stood up, enveloped in a very real heaviness, and began moving about our house doing our daily morning chores. We opened our front door to go out on the porch (where our kitchen is), and we immediately heard the call of our night watchman’s wife who was standing out by our front gate.

“The cow is back!” She called out in the still, dark morning.

We all froze.

The moon still hanging in the sky above our large, grassy property, we all began to glance at one another, some with incredulity in their eyes and others with raw joy.

Our neighbor continued, “She’s loose right next to our back fence!”

Darwin quickly got into action, sending two of our night watchman’s teenage sons to shuttle her onto our property quietly. I was still frozen as all of our kids began staring at me. God had answered our prayers, and rather immediately. The thieves had untied her and sent her back home. Justice had won out. No blood had been shed. God had won this victory – not with guns, hatred and violence but rather with prayer and unity among Christians.

I felt as though I was walking on holy ground as I made my way silently toward our cow pen. I was still dressed in my old baggy pajamas the light of day was barely creeping over the horizon. Was this all too good to believe? I looked on as our precious Jackeline rushed out to meet her cow and began checking her over from head to foot. Her snout and neck had deep marks on it were she had been roped up too tightly, and her body had scratches all over it. Jackeline stroked her large white cow who quite literally had come back to the land of the living by the mighty hand of God. She should have been slaughtered three days ago.

One of our night watchman’s young adult sons came up the path rather quickly on his bike. By Darwin’s instruction, he had gone out in the wee hours of the morning to keep a lookout on who might be coming or going along the road. He informed, “She didn’t come back on her own. They drug her across the pineapple field. There are tracks to prove it. The thieves brought her back.”

Darwin and I smiled and nodded. We had already figured that out – God had led the thieves to return what was never rightly theirs. This was something that only God could do, and He did.

This all seemed very surreal, and I stood for a long while under a tree in our front yard looking out over our grassy property and contemplating this mighty work of God. I felt that I didn’t even have words for my Lord – only admiration.

Darwin made several phone calls to inform our witnesses that the cows had come back, and they all rejoiced with us and commented that they had been praying fervently that God would act and return the cow to us (something that is unheard of in Honduran cattle culture). Our high-profile friend who had facilitated our phone conversation the night prior with the thief confessed that he finally believed us, and he apologized for his family member’s hostility toward us.

The morning moved quicker than I would have liked, and suddenly all of our 40+ local students and teachers were arriving for what (to them) would be a normal day of classes and Christian discipleship. I still felt like I was recovering from the intensity of the last several days and the fact that God made everything work out just as it should. I vowed that later that morning upon getting out of math class I would write a long, reconciliatory letter to the thief, assuring him that we don’t want ongoing wars with him and that we earnestly hope that he will seek God’s forgiveness and the new life offered to all through Christ.

It ended up being a 4-page handwritten letter written in Jesus’ name, and later that same day (yesterday) as I was running through our neighborhood for exercise I left the letter with a family member who promised to give it to him. I even saw the thief on my way back home as I jogged past his house, baseball cap on my head and tennis shoes on my feet, sweaty from head to toe under the hot mid-day sun. I glanced over as I saw him working on his front porch. I raised my hand hesitantly to wave, and he greeted me by name for the first time in the five years that we’ve been neighbors.

That was yesterday. Today has been a normal day, albeit somewhat sticky with the divine residue of all that God orchestrated in these last few days. We are still getting over all this, processing the implications, and giving thanks to God for His mighty hand. Our daughter Jackeline commented to me yesterday afternoon as we were preparing dinner that she would like to write a letter to the thief (although she still doesn’t know who it is) to let him know that she forgives him and hopes he will seek God’s will for his life. I smiled as I informed her that I had already done the same and that I could deliver her letter if and when she writes it. She seemed content with my reply, and we kept cutting broccoli and onions for the spaghetti sauce.

Please thank God with us for this mighty turn of events in these last few days, and I encourage you to recognize that this was, in fact, God’s justice entering into our fall world. Thank you to all of you who prayed for us in these last few days. We continue to hope for the thief’s salvation and transformation and would appreciate your prayers for him. God bless you.

Glory to God!

In a Land Replete with Water Damage, a Refuge from the Rain

A few nights ago I lay awake amidst dull, humid air as my husband’s steady snore quietly hummed around our little bedroom, bouncing softly off the walls to accompany what was otherwise a perfectly silent night.

It was probably an hour or two after midnight, and I had yet to fall asleep. I stared at my husband, not three inches from me, as a too-familiar jealously overtook my weary body as my thoughts jumped to accuse the unfairness of the situation. The alarm on my cellphone would sound at 5:00am to get us both up for a new day, regardless of how much or how little each had slept.

My foggy thoughts then began marching off in one direction and then the next as I frantically tried to reel them in, unsuccessfully trying to trap and tame them under a desperate prayer for peace, for sleep. How many nights over these past few years had I spent with eyes clamped shut but with my mind spinning onward, struggling against my own utter exhaustion to plead with God that He may grant me sleep?

And then, suddenly — in the midst of flip-flopping from one side to the other, positioning and re-positioning a pillow between my knees or held close to my chest, heart racing and anger rising for another night spent without any semblance or rest — it began to rain. And I mean, really rain.

I could no longer hear Darwin’s maddening snore — before I could even think to remember if we had clothes out on the line, our tin roof had become a chaotic drum set, playing a rather majestic yet frightful series of sounds as so much water hammered down over our little home in the foothills of the mountains.

It rains quite frequently in our part of Honduras, but, even so, whenever a rain of such caliber comes down, you can’t help but shiver with fearful awe at such power.

And then, as strong winds came to accompany the rain in its madness overhead, the thought entered my mind and, with it, a very real sense of worry: What if our roof blows off?

Now, this had never happened to us before, but due to the construction of our home, it would not be a far-off possibility in the face of such a strong storm. In many other occasions — and this one included — the wind had come up under the tin roof with such force that the roof actually does warp and flap, creating an impressive metal-on-metal noise to accompany all the slapping of water on metal.

The thought that immediately followed the first was: That would be absolutely terrible. I mean, everything would get really, really wet. 

Sometimes such simple, obvious thoughts are made somehow more special or enlightening when one is so sleep-deprived. I looked, mind drained of energy, over at Darwin, who continued to sleep as if he was completely unaware of any pending danger of losing our roof.

I lay on my back, looking up at our roof but at the same time convinced that at any moment I would be under the direct rain if and when the storm decided to take our roof away. In a daze, as if using a flashlight to light a small path through my mind, I began considering the absolute usefulness of a roof, hoping against hope that we might be able to continue enjoying the benefits of our own.

In rain, to keep dry. And not just people, but objects. Without the roof, the computer gets wet and ruined, all paperwork, other electronics, books, wood furniture over time if it gets enough exposure. Clothes mold. Bed becomes soggy and unusable.

In sun, to keep protected. Otherwise, the direct rays would be almost unbearable.

In snow, the roof provides obvious protection from such cold elements. Who could sleep in their bed under a heavy snowfall if they didn’t have a roof?

Oh, a roof is such a wonderful thing, and I had never truly considered it before now in the face of possibly losing it!

Not only provides protection from the elements but also against bugs and other animals, together with the support of the walls. And, heaven knows, in our home we would be living wild if it weren’t for our little tin roof and cinderblock walls! How many of the bats that we hear and see daily, rats, mosquitos, and other large scurrying animals would be our housemates if it weren’t for our blessed roof!

So, as the wind and the rain howled onward, growing in their anger —I could hardly hear myself think in the midst of such din! — I continued to light up small, forgotten corners of my mind as I remembered all the ways in which a roof is so utterly valuable.

I was then unexpectedly swept up into a sense of newfound awe at just how utterly amazing a roof really is.  I mean, we’re facing pounding rain and really strong winds — and I’m not wet! Not even a little bit! It’s as if I’m in another world, apart from the aggressive elements, but, really, this is all thanks to the roof, nothing more. I should be soaking wet — everything outside is! But I’m not. It’s as if I’m not even in close proximity to the storm, because the roof is protecting me.

Then, completely out of nowhere, as if that itty-bitty flashlight that was oh-so-slowly searching the deepest recesses of my mind was suddenly exchanged for a giant light-switch that illuminated everything at once:

“I AM your roof.”

 

He is my roof. With that, I felt like a thousand new revelations came upon my mind like rain: He is our refuge, our shelter. Literally. In the storms of this life — the chaos, the injustice, the suffering, the stress, the loss — we can hide under Him and remain untouched. There is no longer any rationalizing of this nonsense about falling prey to worry, control, outrage, and fear. The storms of this life that come beating down upon us, howling and threatening to consume us, can actually not even touch us if we remain under the One Roof who cannot be stripped and blown away. The Lord is my refuge; now I understand what that means. To get swept up in the storms of this life, soaking wet with the chaos of this world, is proof that one does not understand this. I have not understood this.

And so I continued to lay there as the storm raged on, but now with my thoughts swept up in awe at the God of Refuge, who — if we dare to trust Him — takes the hit of the rain and the wind so that we may hide beneath Him, untouched in the midst of a land replete with water damage. May He give us the eyes to see this and the faith to live accordingly! Amen.

 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”   Psalm 91:1-2

I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.   Psalm 55:8

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.    Psalm 32:7

Toiling Upward in the Night

During these past few days there has been a palpable sense of preparation– of everyone preparing for something – permeating nearly every occurrence in our household. I can’t speak for our kids, but my own anticipation for this time had been growing exponentially in these past few weeks, for I know that I hold in my hands some secret key that many others have yet to find nor search for.

This week all 8 of our kids, Darwin and I are on vacation from all our normal activities for ‘Holy Week’ (the week leading up to Easter that can be taken as the American equivalent of Spring Break).

In our household, every time there is any kind of extended vacation such as this, everyone knows what to expect, and they do so with well-intentioned groans and good-natured murmuring, although I know that deep down they rejoice. They know without fail that Mom will spend considerable time each evening elaborating long, specific lists of goals, homework assignments, and other guided activities for each person on the whiteboard outside of their bedroom door. And each person is expected to meet these goals with diligence and joy before 5:00pm the following day.

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Gleny (11) and Jason’s (8) whiteboard of activities one day this week

 

My heart quickens with giddiness just thinking about it, because as many squander their precious free time, we busy ourselves with the joyful art of preparation, knowing our Father has something in store for us and wanting to be prepared when the time comes.

A quote that I stumbled upon during my college years that has greatly marked my outlook every since is this:

The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And although I have never breathed mention of this quote to Darwin or our kids (nor do we have it painted in huge, bold letters over our front door, although that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea), the reality of its words is already deeply imprinted upon our hours and days.

So while the rest of our neighbors or even our beloved students who study at our school most likely spend these 9 days of vacation wandering aimlessly (as is the favorite pastime of youth in our neighborhood), watching hour after hour of television or idly chit-chatting and gossiping on their front porches, we are toiling upward in the night.

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Sandra (15) and Jackeline’s (12) whiteboard of activities one day this week

 

Each day our 6 kids who can read and write have a host of healthy, guided activities to set about doing: study specific chapters from the Bible, play piano or recorder for a certain amount of time, practice the times tables with a certain sibling, go to a quiet place with so-and-so to share and pray, write a letter of friendship or encouragement for someone else, write a reflection or list of life goals, study English as a second language for an hour, stand up and read out loud 45 minutes from any book of their choosing, or participate in our version of cross-fit training (100 push-ups, 100 frog-jumps, and 10 laps to and from the far gate, etc). Each person (ages 8-15) must manage their list of 4-8 activities by themselves, checking off each activity throughout the day as it is completed. When 5:00pm rolls around, the goal is that each person has finished all that was assigned to them.

In the beginning (as in, until very recently) this was like trying to herd cats on steroids (as my dad would say), especially with the younger kids who generally used to get distracted or were moved to acts of disobedience every 16.45 seconds, but after months (and, for some of them, over two years) of consistent encouragement, fair discipline, modeling by example, dogged persistence, and real-world consequences, by now everyone is well-adjusted to Mom’s terrible habit of expecting everyone to toil upward in the night with her. By some act of divine grace, they’ve recognized that, although in the here-and-now they would rather do as they please, long-term it really is what’s best for them and, as such, they have decided to hop on board willingly with all this crazy business of toiling while just about everyone else they know does the exact opposite.

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Josselyn (11) and Dayana’s (15) whiteboard one day this week

 

A couple nights ago 8-year-old Jason, who has been known to be quite the procrastinator and not the best general manager of his time and resources (by golly, he’s only 8!), approached me at 5:00pm as we were all setting the table for dinner and said in a very even, mature tone, although clearly disappointed with himself: “Mom, I need a consequence because I didn’t finish all of my goals on time. I got most of them done, but I’m still working on writing all the times tables from 0-10.”

I squatted down in front of him and said in a very sympathetic tone, “Well, everyone who did finish their goals will get pudding with their dinner and then your Dad and I will watch a movie with them afterward, so your consequence is that you don’t get the pudding and will have to go to bed early instead of watching the movie.” I shrugged innocently and added: “Maybe tomorrow you will manage your time better.”

The consequence seemed clear and fair to him, so he smiled, nodded in agreement, and we continued lightheartedly with the dinner preparations.

The next day he got up early and worked (independently of any adult help or encouragement) more diligently and joyfully than I have ever seen him work, and finished all of his goals not by 5:00pm but by 1:00pm. And, that night, he got his chocolate pudding at dinner and got to watch the movie in addition to having quite a bit of free time in the afternoon to play after having finished his goals!

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Our kids’ assignments from just two days of vacation! Included here are thoughts/reflections on different Biblical passages, the times tables, personal reflections and goals, and more!

 

Something that brings me great joy in a sneaky sort of way is that among the 7th grade students from our local community who study at our home/mission, our eldest daughter, Dayana (15 years old), has quickly and efficiently distinguished herself among them without any conscious effort. The other students are literally astounded by many of her abilities, whether it is the fact that she plays piano quite well and already gives classes, is Darwin’s very capable assistant in the choir and frequently teaches the sopranos by herself, or that she delivered several lethal blows in the class’ first organized debate, speaking with such authority and confidence as if she were already a well-trained lawyer. On the first set of quizzes that rolled around, she was the only student who passed, and right now as we are ending the first grading period, she is the only student who has an ‘A’ average. While others glaze over in Bible study, she participates actively and wisely, and she has to turn away many classmates who seek her help in group projects or homework assignments because she knows they will only distract her.

One day as she and I were discussing the reality of her overwhelming success thus far in our 7th-grade program (which is the first year in high school according to the Honduran system), she laughed earnestly and said, “And I thought I wouldn’t do well in high school!

I, too, laughed with her, amazed at all the Lord has done with her young life in less than two and a half years of living in our home (after two years of living with a foster mom before us), and I asked with a careful tone: “Do your classmates know that you didn’t enter first grade until you were 11 years old?” Understanding that my goal was not to shame her for the fact that her biological parents never put her in school but rather to point out the impressive fact that all of her academic, musical, and Christ-like developments have been made in four years’ time, she looked over at me with a sly grin and said, “…No.”

Upon hearing her answer I believe I threw my head back and let out a laugh that came rumbling up from my gut. If only they knew: Dayana is not some genius; she has simply mastered the art of toiling upward in the night.

So at 6:30am on any given day as our 26 students (16 in high school and 10 in elementary) come pouring in our front gate, many drawn to those beautiful notes coming from the keyboard just inside the schoolhouse door, eyes wide when they peek their head in and see it is 15-year-old Dayana playing Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, I smile because I know she practiced 2-4 hours every day during her vacations and continues to do so an hour each afternoon after getting out of her academic classes. It’s not luck or some special gifting; she’s a toiler.

Or when 8-year-old Jason’s principal at his private Christian school comments to us with wide, sincere eyes that she is shocked by Jason’s turnaround from a rude, immature student to one of the most well-adjusted, stable students in his class in less than a year’s time, I smile because I know all the toiling upward we’ve done with him while the rest of the world was sleeping.

So Tuesday of this week of vacations each of our kids set about accomplishing the different assignments on their whiteboard, certain activities intended for spiritual or relational growth while other focused on more practical skills such as math, reading and public speaking. It quickly became evident – to my total surprise – that not even one of our kids needed encouragement or redirection because each one was already so joyfully entrenched in their interdisciplinary assignments, so I did something I have literally never done before: with the rain in a constant drizzle outside, lowering the usually hot tropical climate to an almost-nippy cool, I got out a blanket and author Ted Dekker’s new book and curled up on the couch in our living room to read.

You must understand: Darwin and I are typically in constant motion from about 5:00am until about 8:00pm – going to and from the office or school buildings to supervise, teach and counsel, correcting and disciplining so-and-so or attending to such-and-such semi-crisis, talking with him-and-her about their attitudes or going after the lost sheep who stormed out in anger, working on paperwork or accounting, attending to various visitors, etc.

But Tuesday was different. I looked around me, taking in with careful observation all that I saw: Dayana peacefully holed up in the school building, producing beautiful notes from the piano; Sandra in her bedroom, her voice soaring high as she practiced the different choir songs; Jackeline and Jason rather dynamically practicing the times tables with flash cards; Josselyn writing a reflection on what she had read from the book of John; Gleny at our square wooden table a few feet from me, contentedly coloring a large graphic drawing of flowers and such; my husband Darwin finally having 5 seconds of free time to study his English textbooks and audio tapes, his materials spread out as he studied uninterrupted in our dining room; and Josue and Gaby playing with some degree of focus with blocks and stuffed animals on the floor beside me. I assessed and re-assessed the situation, thoroughly convinced that at any moment someone would urgently need me or possibly explode with anger or need to be encouraged to manage their time more wisely, but, despite all odds, each person continued onward in serenity and efficiency, managing themselves with a self-discipline that I had never before seen in such perfect bloom.

Seeing that everything was quite under control, I hesitantly sat down on the couch – a sacred act which does not happen often, as we have the widely-accepted rule that no one can sit on the couch until evening once everyone has bathed and has on clean clothes – with my book in hand, waiting to see what would happen. I tentatively read a few pages, constantly lifting my eyes from the written plot to supervise and verbally encourage/praise the little ones around me, until the daring thought struck me: I think I could actually remove myself from active involvement in this situation and…nothing bad would happen. Cool! I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna get out the blanket, curl up and really relax! Is this possible?! I’m sitting – no, laying! – on the couch at noon! Whoa!

So that day – for the first time that I can recall – I curled up horizontally on our little couch with multi-colored cushions under a big quilt and spent several hours devouring my new book. Yes, Gaby came over more than a dozen times to pat me, sit on me, put her stuffed animal cat in my face and generally try to reel me into her love trap, but the general tranquility and diligence around me continued on unabated the rest of the day as each child/teen reached all of their goals way before the designated hour, and did so with grace. My heart smiled as I reached out in gratitude to our Good Father, thanking him for these seeds of diligence and wisdom that He has planted among us and allowed to begin bearing such fruit.

So in our household, we are learning that it’s not about taking in orphaned and abandoned children and giving them a toothbrush, a safe place to sleep and three square meals a day and assuming we’ve done our job well; it’s about toiling with them upward in the night, taking what was broken, thrown-away and abused and seeking God’s power to transform, renew, and germinate in such a way that we all – Darwin and I included – become increasingly useful instruments in His hands. It’s about throwing aside what eats our time, what only distracts and destroys, and secretly plodding onward toward a new calling, a new Kingdom, while the rest of the world sleeps. It’s about seeking to prepare the little ones one day after the next with such a dogged perseverance that the world may very well call us unrealistic or too demanding, so that they may be found prepared and willing in the hour when He may call and reveal the purpose He has for them.

Amen!

Urgent Prayer Request (A Cry for Justice)

[Written Sunday, March 6, 2016]: Last night around 10:30pm my husband and I put on tall rubber boots and covered up in long pants and sleeves to protect us from the hungry mosquitos as we walked down the gravel road to the big front gate of the 17-acre property where we live and work.

We waited under the large lampposts for quite some time, swatting away hungry mosquitos, before finally turning around and returning home. Our night watchman, who is armed with nothing more than a flashlight, stood guard on his front porch about 100 yards away, having already done his rounds on the perimeter of the property and probably wondering why Darwin and I were doing such a strange night-walk.

The next morning (which is today), as we all got up and everyone started getting ready for the day, our older girls – who very well knew why we had taken that walk down to our large front gate – asked expectantly if the police had come as they had promised. We’ll be there is 10-15 minutes, the officer had told Darwin over the phone the night before. Well-acquainted with disappointments in these last several days, I didn’t even sugar-coat it and simply said, “No. Pa finally called the officer and he told us there was an auto accident on the highway that they had to attend to, so maybe they’ll come today.”

Sandra (15) and Jackeline (12) scoffed and mumbled, “They’ll never come.”

Last evening while our two eldest daughters – Dayana and Sandra (both 15 years old) – were at church with a local family whom they attend with several times per month, Sandra’s sexually abusive step-father (whom she was rescued from) found them and began harassing and threatening Sandra. He passed by the home of the family where they were spending a few minutes before attending the service, and began to verbally berate Sandra and Dayana, listing too accurately all of their movements over the last few weeks – the days and times they’ve left our home to attend music class or to work on a school assignment with their classmates, etc, evening listing the clothes they were wearing every time he’s seen them – telling them that he has ‘spies’ (his friends) in our little rural town (where he, too, lives) that are tracking their every move, and that he thinks that Sandra needs to come back home to him so that he can ‘care for her.’ The mother of the church-going family pulled Sandra inside the house (they were on the porch), and Sandra – obviously very shaken up – said she wanted to go home (to our house) immediately and not stay for the church service out of fear that he would go to the church and harm her.

She took a mototaxi (which is like a three-wheeled cross between a car and a motorcycle) up the long path to our home while Dayana decided to stay and attend the church service, seeing as the step-father is not directly looking to harm her, but Sandra.

Well, Dayana stayed, and later that evening (last night) she told us that as she was standing up to read one of the Bible verses in the church service, the step-dad showed up at the back door aggressively looking for Sandra, and passed by several times after that. Once Dayana had begun her journey home in mototaxi after the service had ended, she saw the step-dad on the way (or rather he saw her), him trying to glance inside the open-air mototaxi to see if Sandra was with Dayana.

So Sandra got home first, and we listened to her and prayed, and then once Dayana got home a couple hours later we sort of repeated the whole process again, inviting 12-year-olds Josselyn and Jackeline (all four of the girls share a room in our home and, thus, a special sense of sisterhood) to join us as we all sat on our bedroom floor – Darwin and I and our four eldest daughters, as we talked openly about many different topics for what I think were several hours. Josselyn sat cuddled up in my lap, Dayana rested her head comfortably on a pile of clean laundry that Darwin and I had not yet put away, and we all sat more or less sprawled-out or propped-up in a circle sharing, counseling, listening and encouraging.

After having prayed, addressed the emotional needs and fears of our girls, and talked once more about the strongholds of abuse that Satan holds in the lives of so many (and how Father God wants to liberate them, see them walk in victory in His love), we then did an honest brainstorm of what-to-do, seeing as normal answers such as ‘let’s-call-the-police’ aren’t hardly worth mentioning.

Already in these past four or five days we have had close to a dozen nothing-comes-of-it encounters with the police about a (different) child molester who our students have seen roaming the long, lonely road up to our property and whom is known to have already sexually abused several children from our community. We’ve called the Honduran 9-1-1 to report the man several times, we’ve called the private cell-phones of several police officers who work in our area, and Darwin even made a face-to-face visit with the police officers at the local police station a couple days ago, and our efforts to protect our students from this man have produced a lot of mind-boggling frustration for us and not much else. And all we are asking is that the police – who have their official command post literally 1.2 miles from our home/mission! – do a once-a-day (or once-a-week, once-a-year!) patrol – in their car, on foot, however – just so that there is a police presence and, hopefully, the child molester gets spooked. The day that Darwin went to file the official complaint at the police station (after we had called with detailed information to no avail many, many times), the police officer who received the complaint just stared at Darwin blankly and said, “Just let us know when he abuses someone. Until then we can’t do anything.”

We’ve called and they’ve (falsely) promised to pass by at a specific time (Friday and then again last night), but the majority of the time they flat-out say that they can’t (won’t) do anything. One of the students in our high school shared in prayer group the other day that his 16-year-old sister was held at knifepoint a few days ago as a man from our small rural community tried to rape her, but thankfully she escaped. Their parents went to the police station the next day to report the man (and they know exactly who it was!), but the police said dryly, “We can’t do anything because 24 hours have already passed.” Our 12-year-old daughter Josselyn shared with us last night that her grandfather had raped a young woman many years ago and that the police had put him in jail. For two days.

‘Utter bewilderment’ and ‘rage’ and ‘exhaustion’ do not even begin to describe how Darwin, our kids and I currently feel toward the ‘justice’ system here. Just yesterday as we passed through the nearby city of La Ceiba in our old pickup truck with our 8 kids on our way home from a dentist appointment I read a new billboard, advertising the police, that says, “I called 9-1-1, I filed a complaint, and that was enough (as in, the police then reacted and brought justice to the situation.)” I scoffed and my heart began to fill with a certain rage that is becoming too familiar.

I do not want to become a scoffer, and I am keenly aware that a deep cynicism is threatening to consume me. This morning as I was in the shower – a small trickle of cold water falling over me – I asked the Lord, “What do we do? What would you have us to do?”

It is all too easy to sit around and invent apocalyptic nightmares, imaging the worst-case-scenario, becoming suspicious of everyone, generally giving in to fear and falling in the same pit as nearly everyone else. (The majority of people here fear leaving their homes at night, don’t send their kids on public transportation, build tall, barbed-wire prison-like walls around their homes and live under a very real cloud of constant fear and doom, which go directly against the peace-that-passes-understanding that Christ wants to bestow on us.)

Darwin and I have intentionally swung the other direction and have even begun discerning if we should go to the step-father’s home in a bold but loving confrontation and share with him God’s liberating Word, possibly inviting other Christian neighbors to join us.

So as I stood there, little drops of cold water sliding over my skin in the shower this morning, the only answer I heard immediately and clearly to my question of what-would-the-Lord-have-us-to-do was this: “Be still and know that I am God.”

So please pray with and for us right now, especially in regards to these two cases – Sandra’s step-father who is following and threatening her (and who knows where we live because our town is so small) and the other child molester who has been hiding out along the road to our home/mission and who several concerned students and parents have told me is trying to grab our students on their way to classes each morning. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, so I ask for special prayers of deliverance, repentance and transformation for these two men, whether the Lord chooses to use us as His instruments to confront them or if He reaches them in anther way. Please pray God’s divine protection over all 28 of our students and over Sandra during this time of very real danger. Pray also for the police – that they may be prompted to begin patrolling the 1.2-mile stretch of gravel road that leads up to our property, and that they may actually begin responding to the people’s cries for justice. And, perhaps most importantly of all: pray that the Lord may saturate our hearts and minds with His perfect peace and that we may not fall prey to living in constant fear and dread. May we fear only God Himself and not men!

Amen!

Isaiah 9:1-7 [What we have been studying in our community Bible study]: Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever…The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod…The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

Gabriela’s ‘Theater’ of Reality: What Is Said When No One’s Listening

A few days ago in the late afternoon I was in our bedroom folding clothes and putting away loose papers as I eavesdropped on little Gabriela and Josue’s conversation through our open windows. Immediately outside of two of our windows lies our front porch, from which typically come shouts of joy and squeals and too-loud play on the five hammocks we’ve strung up.

On this occasion, rather than swinging somewhat mindlessly on the hammocks and shouting greetings to me through the window, roughly 7-year-old Gabriela was carefully instructing Josue (who is her age but suffers several developmental disabilities most likely due to abuse in his infancy) that they were to play ‘Ma and Pa.’

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Gabriela, our little popcorn kernel who’s been in our home since July 2015, toying with the shore on a recent family trip to a local beach

 

Thrilled to hear that she was using her imagination and likewise intrigued at how ‘Ma and Pa’ would play out, I kept folding and putting away clothes with one ear very intentionally tuned in to the little drama that was unfolding just yards away.

As their voices faded in and out, I could hear her coaching Josue on how they would prepare dinner for the kids, and then she told him that it was time to put the kids to sleep. I focused hard through other distracting noises – dogs outside, other kids moving about, etc – to hear how her view of bedtime would play out in her make-believe (yet very real) world, especially when she thought no one else was listening.

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‘Ma’ Gabriela said to ‘daughter’ Gabriela: “Ok, Gabriela, time to go to sleep. We will pray with you and sing for you.”

My heart smiled because that is, in fact, what we do with her nearly every night.

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Then: “We love you.”

In Spanish (which is the language my husband, kids and I communicate in) there are two different forms of “I love you.” There is a much more commonly used form that can be used in friendships and not-so-intimate relationships (Te quiero), and then there is the much more personal form that is very rarely used because (in my opinion) it is so powerful (Te amo). Darwin and I use the more powerful version with one another and with our kids to communicate God’s intensely personal love for them, but even our kids do not typically respond with the stronger version but rather the more ‘tame’ love. For example, I’ll say: “Good night, Dayana. I (strong, deep) love you,” and she’ll respond joyfully: “I (less intense, more common) love you, too, Ma.” I think only two or three times in these two years of parenting one of our kids has said that they love anyone (among siblings, other family members, to Darwin and I, etc) using the stronger version, and even then it was written in a card rather than spoken because (I imagine) it just seems too risky.

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So that afternoon as I eavesdropped on Gabriela’s ‘theater’ of her own reality, the power of her statement to ‘herself’ almost took my breath away, because she used the almost-forbidden-because-it’s-so-strong version of “I love you,” which is the version we use with her but that I have never heard leave her lips before. On a normal day she’ll follow me around the house proclaiming, “I love you, Ma!” with the less-intense version, and I’ll stop and give her hugs or kisses or pick her up and then she’ll keep on professing her ‘love’ for me, but always with the friendly, less-personal version of love.

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So when I heard her innocent play-time “I love you,” my heart sunk into a deep pool of gratitude, my thoughts immediately swept up in: She knows. She really knows – understands – that we love her. Thank you, Lord. Amidst all of our trials with her, the times when she wants to sit in my lap but it’s already occupied by someone else, the times when my attitude screams impatience or when I feel inadequate to meet her many, many needs – even amidst all the discipline and correction, she really, really knows. Thank you, Lord. Please keep showing her Your love for her through us, however imperfect we are. We love her because You do. Thank you.

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The Great Pyramid of Daughters

When you’ve got enough daughters to start making a legitimate human pyramid, you know you’re in a class of your own…

Cheers to Dayana (15), Jackeline (12), Gleny (11), Josselyn (11) and Gabriela (7). We adore these five daughters of the King and are astonished at the magnitude of the good work the Lord has begun in each of their lives in such a short time.

I think the three on the bottom finally understood the benefits of all the pushups, frog-jumps and wind-sprints I tend to make them do…We were preparing for this:

The Great Pyramid of Daughters

(with the help of one faithful dad)…

 

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After having taken these pictures on a family outing to the beach this past Saturday, I reflected with my husband on the symbolism of these photos that jumps out at me: the three on the bottom of the pyramid, who have all been with us 1-2 years, serve as the sturdy base for the newer building blocks — the two biological sisters on top who’ve been with us 6 months. And, as is the case in our daily rhythms of life, Gabriela is the one who needs constant help, support and encouragement, so it is suiting that in the photos Darwin is physically holding her up. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Darwin — a man — is the one present to help them build their structure, as is Father God in all of our lives. After having been abused, abandoned and mistreated by other father figures in their lives, finally a man with God’s own heart is placed alongside of them to hold them up as Father God continues to strengthen them — each person in their correct place, working together to keep one another from falling — according to His good will…

And, of course, there is struggle and laughter throughout the journey…

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