Tag Archives: God’s love

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!

Teen Training by Way of the Sweet Tooth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

 

A Refuge for Misfits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Dancing Barefoot to Andrea Bocelli: Marriage on the Mission Field

Two times in the past month my husband Darwin and I have organized a “date” in the living room of our little cinderblock home to dance together to romantic music. Many a time over the past four years we’ve organized different dates or outings together to go to dinner or even get away from home together for a couple nights every few months or so (which is increasingly hard to do because not many people can adequately handle our growing number of children, all of whom are experts at eating alive any and all “babysitters” who are not fully and completely trained and full of supernatural energy/wisdom), but we consider it important for our 10 foster kids/teens to be able to get a ‘sneak peek’ of our hidden life together as a couple rather than only witnessing the work-work-work all day long, during which we oftentimes behave more as co-workers than husband and wife. Frequently the first time we actually sit down to enjoy one another is late at night when we are behind our closed bedroom door or away at a restaurant where our kids can’t see us.

Thus, we’ve had two official dancing “dates” right there in our living room for any and all to see. We understand the importance (as much for our kids as for us) of us having a strong marriage, so we’re working to cultivate it in Christ and put it on display to encourage/teach our kids what a healthy, joyful, godly marriage relationship looks like (which they didn’t witness in their biological families).

The first time this happened was several Saturdays ago. I had been at home with about half of our kids washing clothes by hand, doing different chores, overseeing their individual piano practices, cooking meals, etc, as Darwin had spent the majority of the day in the nearby city of La Ceiba with the other half of our kids teaching music classes and running errands. Around 4:30pm as I looked at the clock and knew Darwin would be getting home soon, I went to take a shower, shave my legs and armpits (a luxury that I oftentimes don’t have time for!), and put on a new black sleeveless dress. Casual but classy, reaching beyond my knees. I put on a pair of simple silver dangly earrings and headed barefoot out of our home to cross our large front yard to reach our kitchen (which is not connected to our actual house).

Each of our kids as they saw me for the first time had a very similar reaction, “Ma! Wha–? You look so pretty! Where are you going?” Normally after a long day, I take a shower and put on my old oversized pajamas that are less than flattering. Never had I gotten all dolled up on a Saturday night without having a specific plan of going somewhere special.

I laughed at each one’s sincere reaction, thanking them for their nice comments and telling them with a twinkle in my eye that I had a date scheduled with my “boyfriend” that evening (that’s what I call Darwin to make our kids laugh). We were going to dance. Each one sort of looked at me, intrigued by this new information. They smiled big, although they appeared a bit confused. I continued walking barefoot, my long black dress lapping at my calves as I reached our kitchen to serve dinner. After family dinner we would shoo all of our kids into their rooms for our family’s daily sabbath hour and we would dance.

I glanced over at our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline in the kitchen and said, “You know, it was dancing that your Pa and I had our first kiss.”

Her eyes widened in shock and she scolded, “Ma!”

I laughed and shrugged innocently.

And so Darwin arrived in our old Toyota pickup with many heads sticking out of the truckbed just in time for dinner. We all ate together and then headed back out across our front lawn into our little bunkhouse-style home where we shower and sleep each night with our now-10 foster children ages 9-17.

The Lord started this blessed journey off with 3 kids that He brought us in 2013 (whom we are in the process of legally adopting along with one other), then He brought more in His timing. Now we’ve got people sleeping on the floor because there aren’t enough beds, and the shower rotations require increased humility (and speed) as we all share the 2 showers in our home! We never planned on receiving older kids and teenagers; after all, most people desire to foster/adopt/raise babies and smaller children because they are supposedly cuter and arrive with less baggage. That, too, had been our original plan, but God had better plans. He’s brought us those who didn’t really fit anywhere else — special needs children, sexual abuse victims who need many years to emotionally and spiritually heal, misfit teenagers, those who have a gigantic chip on their shoulder after having been in the ‘system’ for over a decade. The icing on this beautiful, God-designed cake He is making of our family was the arrival of two 14- and 15-year-old girls less than a month ago. We had no plans of receiving anyone else into our household anytime soon, but God gave us His peace and brought us two young ladies who had bounced from one foster home and orphanage to another, under a constant cloud of rejection and rebellious behavior before finally arriving at our home and finding permanency (they’ve both affirmed that they finally feel at peace somewhere and don’t desire to be moved anywhere else, and we’ve even begun talking with them about the possibility of us legally adopting them, with total disregard to whatever their behavior may look like as they heal over the coming years). Thus, our household is now a lovely patchwork of broken people whom God is healing with His love.

6:30pm or so rolled around, and several of our teen girls (we now have 7 daughters ages 17, 15, 14, 14, 13, 12 and 11) sat squeezed together like sardines on the little couch in our living room, eyes sparkling and staring at us. They could barely contain their excitement as they elbowed one another and leaned toward us with bright faces. “We’re ready!” A couple of them clapped with joy.

They thought we were going to put on a show!

Darwin and I both laughed as he got the cd player ready. He had showered and changed, sporting a nice button-down teal-colored shirt and black slacks with his hair neatly combed. He looked very handsome. We were both barefoot. We would be dancing to one of Andrea Bocelli’s romantic cds, but it most definitely wouldn’t be a show! We laughed at our girls’ eagerness to see us dance and lovingly shooed them off to their rooms, much to their disappointment. We told everyone that they were free to watch from their open doorways, but we weren’t looking to have an actual ‘audience’ within arm’s reach in the living room with us.

And so the music started and some of our girls squealed and several excited faces shined from one of the three bedrooms where our kids sleep. Others pretended not to be interested in the living room spectacle of Pa and Ma slow-dancing to romantic music, but as I looked over Darwin’s shoulder I could see them stealing glances our way and biting back smiles. Brayan, our 16-year-old son, stood in his open doorway watching, probably taking notes on how his Pa woos his Ma.

Darwin and I held each other close, our feet moving slowly as we swayed back and forth to the music. I bit my lip and held back laughter, as I loved the reactions our kids were having. This — dancing close to Andrea Bocelli’s music — was, after all, one of our first encounters as a couple back in March of 2013 (three months before we got married), and it was both astonishing and beautiful to think of all that God had orchestrated in the four-and-a-half years since. Our first round back in 2013 was in private; now we had an audience of the blessed children and teens the Lord had brought us! Single in 2013 with great hopes of parenting the orphaned together for God’s glory; married in 2017 several years into the fulfillment of that sacred mission.

As we continued dancing for close to an hour, some of our kids got bored and closed their bedroom curtains (they don’t have doors), retreating into their rooms to participate in other quiet activities while others walked right past us supposedly needing to ‘use the bathroom,’ but I suspect they wanted to secretly be closer to the action. Again, I smiled in my heart of hearts, thanking God for all that He’s done.

Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline, whom I write about frequently and who is quite special to us after an extremely rough start in our home back in 2015, went tip-toeing through our living room — not three feet from us — on her way back to her room after using the bathroom as Andrea Bocelli’s voice sang of some passionate kiss long overdue. Her eyes grew wide and she squealed in shock (as if she had heard something she wasn’t supposed to) and darted into her room, hiding quickly behind her curtain. Darwin and I both cracked up.

So that living room dance date with my “boyfriend” has occurred now two times, and both occasions have given similar results. Our girls squeal; Brayan takes notes; and our kids steal glances at Pa and Ma moving around our itty bitty living room to beautiful romantic music.

I share this with you because I frequently write about our children or what God is doing in our surrounding neighborhood through the Living Waters Ranch, but I haven’t dedicated many posts to our marriage journey and how God has and continues to use us together to display His extravagant love to our children. So that’s that! Glory to God!

Hello, My Name is ‘Ashamed.’

“It is so nice to meet you!” I extended a long arm toward the hunched-over young man in front of me, eager to make him feel genuinely welcome. He looked to be about 15 or 16 years old and sat motionless on one of the concrete benches in our front yard, staring at the soil at his feet.

An awkward moment passed, my open hand lingering in mid-air, waiting to be received in his. He finally extended his limp hand toward mine without ever lifting his eyes from the soil.

My husband Darwin and I stood under the shade of a large tree talking with a middle-aged woman who had come up to our rural property with three of her teenage children, hoping to enroll them in our homeschool-style high school beginning next school year. They had heard about the program though a neighbor who has her son enrolled with us.

The mother was very kind and alert, commenting to us that she wants her children to be instructed according to God’s Word — which does not happen in the local public high school where chaos generally reigns. Her sons, however, did not match her enthusiasm. They seemed depressed or entirely uninterested.

After Darwin and I had given her the information about registration day (when we will be meeting/evaluating possible new students), I then turned to the young man on the bench — the one who had very reluctantly shook my hand — and I asked with great sincerity, “What is your name?” I believe my tone of voice soared even higher than it should have in an attempt to counteract his attitude of total apathy.

Another moment or two passed as he remained unresponsive. I began opening my mouth to reiterate the same question when he finally blurted his full name at the ground.

Somewhat caught off guard with the force with which he spat his name and entirely unable to understand him due to the way he murmured, I asked again, love spewing out of my voice: “Could you look me in the eyes and tell me your name again?”

Everyone present seemed to be caught off guard by my loving insistence, as bad manners such as the ones he was displaying are often accepted as normal in our area. I continued to stare at the top of his head as his eyes remained glued to the soil at his feet. I insisted. Waited.

He finally raised his eyes if only for a split second to meet mine before immediately glancing downward again, again murmuring his full name without me being able to understand him.

His mother, very well-meaning, immediately interjected with a slight laugh, ready to explain her nearly-adult son’s strange behavior, “Oh, he’s ashamed.”

She said so with the tone of voice that you would use to answer, “He’s cold” if asked why your son was wearing a scarf and mittens.

The next morning I spoke on the phone with my own mother about the prior day’s event with the ‘ashamed’ young man, and she commented very accurately, “People [in Latin American culture] use ‘shame’ as a way of naming people. Like, ‘It’s a boy’ or ‘It’s a girl.’ ‘He’s ashamed.'”

So, in this culture where many people from birth carry the stamp “Ashamed” across their forehead (and all well-meaning family members defend their right to carry it), an interaction such as the one we had yesterday is not something new to us. How many of our local students or live-ins, upon arrival, actually looked us in the eyes, were not ‘ashamed’? Very few.

So when this young man’s mother wanted to come to her boy’s rescue, defending his debilitating sense of ‘shame’ as if it were a genetic condition or acceptable form of behavior, I laughed in a very kind way and said, “Oh, there’s no place for shame here.”

I glanced over at one of the other benches a few yards away where Brayan and Arlen sat. These two precious teenage students of ours had just finished participating in a very intense Round 5 of rock-hauling, endless push-ups and frog-jumps as part of their character-formation process. They were beet red and had waterfalls of sweat pouring down their faces as their white school uniform shirts were heavily stained with dirt. I addressed them for the first time in a rather loud voice, “Is there any reason to have shame, boys?”

They both sat, exhausted to the bone, staring me in the eyes, and shook their heads ‘no’ as they confirmed verbally, “Nope.”

I threw my head back and laughed in victory. Yes! Had we not just spent over an hour with these young men along with several other of their classmates, hauling rocks across our large yard and hurling them over the fence? Had we not been loudly proclaiming truth over them as they did so —

“Let’s go, boys! Our life on earth is but a breath! There is no time to waste; submit yourselves to God’s will because He is good and faithful! You have been made in God’s image and redeemed by Christ’s blood! God loves you enough to have sent Christ to die for you, and He wants to adopt us as His sons and daughters! Your life is infinitely valuable, and there is a bright future ahead of you, but you must take hold of it in faith! Haul those rocks!”

I continued yelling out one edifying comment after another, allowing godly instruction to flow from my mouth non-stop as the youth ran back and forth all around me, sweating, bending over, lifting and throwing rocks. Suddenly I realized that many of the themes and Bible verses we’ve been studying together all year were being proclaimed over these young people as they engaged in the very difficult activity of manual labor:

“God desires to raise you up to be fully equipped workers — disciples of Christ! — who are ready and willing for any good work! We know that the harvest is plenty but the workers are few! May YOU be the workers God is seeking; take hold of this moment as training for your future! God has an entire Kingdom prepared for those who love and obey Him, but we must persevere until the end! So persevere even now, hauling these rocks, even though it is difficult! You are doing such a great job! God’s Word says that even in difficulties, God desires that we remain rooted in His perfect joy — so even now find Christ in this moment of pain, even now be joyful! Run!”

By the end of the activity my throat was sore and raspy and the kids were dog-tired. So, when I glanced over at 15-year-olds Arlen and Brayan, both of which we’ve known and been closely involved with nearly three years (they were the first local youth we met shortly after moving here) and both of which struggled mightily in the beginning with looking you in the eyes, telling the truth, maintaining focus, receiving God’s Word, etc, I felt inundated with new hope for this slouched-over young man who all his life had been taught it acceptable to call himself “Ashamed.”

And so I laughed. I laughed right there under that shady tree because I know God is still in the business of redemption, that He has a big eraser in His hand to rub off “Ashamed” from this young man’s forehead and replace it with a giant stamp that reads “Loved.”

And while my own thoughts warned me, “This kid is bad news. What kind of influence will he be on the others?,” my heart rejoiced because I know that this is exactly the kind of young man God wants to call home, wants to renew.

And so, a couple days after our encounter with the ‘ashamed’ young man, I found myself coaching our two developmentally-challenged kiddos, Gaby and Josue (both age 8) as they worked together to haul several big plastic buckets full of dirty clothes to our outdoor washing area that lies a good walk from our front door.

They were both struggling to do so as their faces scrunched up in concentration and their little fingers sought to get the best grip on the buckets’ handles. Gaby grunted in exertion and Josue teetered back and forth as he sought to keep pace with Gaby. The buckets were heavy, and they were wondering if they actually had the strength (and coordination, teamwork, etc) to get the job done.

Seeing as we engage in this character-forming activity with these two little ones every Monday morning, I began encouraging them as usual. As we crossed our large grassy front lawn — me a couple paces in front of them — I began calling out: “Let’s go, Josue! You got it, Gaby! Let’s use your strength to serve God; utilize your bodies as instruments of justice! You can do this! We must work as unto Him and not for men!”

They inched across our front yard, each little one supporting one side of the bucket (and there were three more buckets waiting for them when they finished with the first!), each showing several visible signs of exertion but almost no reaction to all of my verbal encouragement and instruction. I continued:

“God is with us and He loves us, so there is no reason to be afraid — ”

Gaby suddenly piped up, interrupting me, and added, “or ashamed!”

She caught me entirely off guard, as she generally displays almost no understanding of God’s Word despite participating in numerous Bible studies and other Christian activities each week. Is this little person with a big-girl body but little-girl mind possibly absorbing — and understanding! — more than we had thought?

She continued, as if to erase all doubt from my mind: “We don’t have to be ashamed because God loves us! Gotta work for Him and not for men. Jesus died and came back to life!”

As we passed the small high school building and neared the kitchen with still quite a long distance between us and our final destination, Gaby and Josue all the while hauling the bucket one step at a time as a towering pile of dirty clothes rocked about perilously between them, I felt as though our Father allowed me to see them in a new light, to understand His love for us in a new way.

These two children who have been abused and neglected, who are not very attractive physically and have numerous behavioral issues, Josue who wears diapers, Gaby who mispronounces words, both of whom are lightyears behind their peers developmentally and socially — these kids who the whole world probably looks at with pity, who would give them every reason to be ‘ashamed’! — are learning the secret of freedom from all shame, all fear: God’s love. If the Creator of the universe loves you and longs to include you in His family, His kingdom, what on earth is there to be ashamed of? No shame; only gratitude. Joy.

Amen! Glory to God!

A Most Unusual Butt-Chewing

Yesterday morning something rather peculiar happened on a lone side street in our rural neighborhood.

Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of an intensive two-week academic catch-up program for our high school students who, even after nearly a year of being under our care, are still experiencing the effects of the incredibly weak academic foundation they brought with them from their experiences in the local public elementary schools.

My husband and I have felt a lot of hype building up to these two weeks of intensive tutoring sessions for our weakest students as we are excited to be able to focus exclusively on those who are in most dire need of help. (Our six academically sound students who passed our 7th-grade program with no problems began their school vacation as of yesterday while the seven who need additional help will be coming for the next two weeks.)

Darwin would be teaching classes on Monday while Miss Ligia, the official 7th grade teacher, would be helping paint the entryway and bathroom of our little high school building. Everyday we would be taking turns between Darwin, Miss Ligia and myself.

Well, 7:00am rolled around and Darwin took attendance (which is extremely easy to do when the group is so small and you intimately know each person!). One of our teenage boys (the one whom I wrote about in the previous blog who shared his testimony in the Christian Leadership class) wasn’t present. I asked the other students if they knew why he hadn’t shown up – please tell me he’s on his deathbed or got an emergency call from China to travel on business! – as one of our other boys shrugged and said he had seen his classmate moping around his family’s porch that morning while the rest of the students began their walk up that long gravel road to our home.

I was alarmed that our M.I.A. student decided to play hookie on such an important day – their performance (and most importantly attendance!) during this two-week intensive program would determine whether or not they passed 7th grade! I thought he had matured quite a bit. Well, I mean, he definitely had. But why would he pull a no-show on the first day? How many times do I need to be reminded that the process of transformation is just that – a process. Everything takes time.

I felt disappointed, as I had sincerely been rooting for the kid to make a big, last-minute redemption of the school year and finish strong.

I shook it off and continued getting all the household business in order before I could leave in our old truck to spend the day in town working on the computer and running errands.

About an hour later as everything was finally in place and I rolled out the front gate, I felt God calling me to pass by our rogue student’s home and see what had happened, why he wasn’t in class. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time we’ve made a house call to go chase down run-away students (See: By God’s Design: Zebras in Honduras), but in my heart I felt as though I shouldn’t have to do so, that by golly he should have just pulled himself up by the bootstraps and gotten his little bum to class on time just like everyone else.

As I rumbled down that rocky road that passes through the little neighborhood where the majority of our students live, I finally gave in and turned the steering wheel down the narrow side road that leads to his home. Yes; God’s will is always greater than my own, and, yes, this young man was going to receive a loving house-call even though he probably didn’t deserve it because we’ve all received a free salvation that we most definitely don’t deserve.

I pulled to a stop a couple paces in front of his house and, suddenly experiencing an unexpected surge of energy and God-given joy, hopped out of the car as several neighbors whom I don’t know observed me carefully from a distance. I threw up my arm in a generous wave and sent them enthusiastic verbal greetings through a big smile, which threw them off as they, in turn, decided to greet me warmly.

I approached the small gate to our student’s home and called a general good-morning greeting through the thin curtain that hung in the front doorway.

Very quickly our student’s older sister, who happens to be the mother of another one of our students, came out to greet me with a big smile and, of course, she immediately knew why I was there. She began rattling off all that had happened that morning – the misunderstandings, the bad attitudes, the self-pity – and that, despite her incessant scolding of her younger brother as she tried to get his butt up and off to school, he wouldn’t budge. He was discouraged and had decided that it wasn’t worth going.

In a culture/neighborhood that is steeped in very low self-esteem and almost zero perseverance, a story such as this one is no longer surprising to me. What is surprising is that God is granting me a healthy dose of compassion for these youth who I used to think just needed a swift kick in the rear and a thorough butt-chewing.

I smiled genuinely as I listened to his very well-intentioned sister. When she started to lose a bit of steam, I asked if I could talk with her brother. He is, after all, 15 years old and should very well be present if and when any butt-chewing should occur.

I caught her off guard when I asked to speak face-to-face with the culprit (aren’t we all used to just getting riled up and gossiping without reaching any kind of actual conclusion?), and she immediately called her little brother’s name three times (really loudly) before he finally appeared from behind the front door’s curtain.

I smiled big when I saw him (He came out! He didn’t hide and refuse to show his face! Let’s count that as a victory! Atta boy!), and he returned the smile, although it was obviously tainted with a bit of shame for having skipped out on a very important responsibility that we are both directly involved in.

I spent a moment or two saying with great sincerity things that have been said to this precious young man dozens of times before: “You can do this. Don’t give up. We truly love and treasure you and are committed to doing everything possible to see you succeed, but you’ve also got to do your part. We love you and really do miss you when you don’t show up.”

In our first couple years of this ministry to broken youth, I thought it absurd and entirely unnecessary that we found ourselves saying the same things over and over to the same people day after day. Can you say ‘broken record’? Can you say ‘broken record’? How many times do we have to reiterate that we love the person, that we believe God has a plan for their life? How many times do we have to give the same advice to someone before they actually believe us, before they put it into action?

My thought on this has changed drastically over the last couple months as the Lord has revealed to me that I, too, have heard the same things over and over for years, and I am still slow to believe. How many times have I read, heard – preached! – that God is love and that He truly loves each one of us enough to have sent Christ to reconcile us with Himself, adopt us as His very own sons and daughters, heirs to an eternal Kingdom brimming with life, justice and joy, and even so in my heart I doubt, think Surely His love is for others, but not for me. It’s too good to be true. Oh, truly I am just like this immature young man, for I must hear the same things over and over again for years, and even so I struggle to receive, to rest in the truth.

And so, before much more time passed, I layed out my ultimatum with intense eyes and joy permeating my voice: “Look, if you don’t go get your butt ready to go to school, I’m gonna start dancing right here in the middle of the street until you get really embarrassed and decide to get ready.”

I had no idea where that came from (I’ve definitely never said anything like that before), and his older sister, very enthusiastic to support any butt-chewing I might be handing out, let out an immediate, “Yeah! You heard her!” before her face contorted oddly, finally realizing the absurdity of what I had said. Huh?

They suddenly both looked at me, eyes ablaze with wonder – was this tall, gangly white woman who is crazy about telling others about God really about to start dancing in public? It couldn’t be so.

To erase any doubt from their minds, I bowed low in a dramatic, silly curtsy and began thrusting my long arms to one side and the other, an undoubtedly awkward mixture of ‘groovy’ and ‘ridiculous.’

I spun in large circles and began some strange combination of fancy footwork that in no way kept the same beat as my wild arm motions.

A small boy on a bicycle rode by me on the street and nearly fell off as his eyes widened and his head swiveled around, unable to believe what he was seeing.

The neighbor ladies who had carefully observed and then greeted me only minutes prior also watched from a distance, alerted by the extremely joyful behavior being displayed. Who on earth would dance so freely – and so terribly! – on their street, especially in the face of such circumstances that typically provoke despair? Why, I must be crazy (or have a hope for this young man that goes beyond the despair of this world.)

My smile grew wider and wider as I informed our beloved student: “You see, I’m gonna keep dancing until you go get ready for school. Yup, I’m gonna keep on embarrassing you…”

Both our student and his adult sister laughed out loud, their eyes aglow with wonder – what an incredibly unusual butt-chewing! – as they watched me from but a couple yards away in their desolate front yard.

I only had to dance another ten seconds or so before he finally nodded his head, fully convinced that I would gladly continue my uncoordinated interpretive dancing until he really did get his butt ready for school.

I gave his sister another big, warm hug and laughed all the way to the car as I then continued on with my errands as planned.

That evening as my husband – who had been the one to give classes that morning while I had been away running errands – and I were talking over dinner, I asked him if our no-show student had arrived after all for his classes. He confirmed that he certainly did arrive and had a fabulous attitude throughout the day.

As Darwin continued to talk to me about that morning’s events in the classroom, he mentioned that it was curious that when the young man arrived late for class, he came through the front door not angry or ashamed but rather with a very innocent grin on his face. Why would that be?

I bit my lip and asked, “…Did he tell you how I convinced him to come to school…?”

Amen! Glory to God!

Art Club Kick-Off with Miss Ligia

A couple Fridays ago ‘Art Club’ commenced under the enthusiastic direction of Miss Ligia, our beloved secondary teacher who continues to brave the untravelled ‘classroom’ waters. She had studied and practiced law prior to taking the rather large leap earlier this year to begin practicing a different kind of justice — the taming of 13 unruly teenagers with God’s love.

In addition to being the full-time 7th grade teacher, she has taken on the role of leading the weekly ‘Art Club,’ and the class’ kick-off a couple Fridays ago went phenomenally well. After organizing an in-class lesson on the primary and secondary colors, etc (a very basic topic but one that is unknown to the majority of youth from our rural neighborhood as they have never taken even an introductory art class before), she grabbed the white t-shirts, fabric paint and brushes and headed out to our front lawn with her Art Club participants to spend the afternoon decorating t-shirts (which will then be used as their ‘uniform’ for the club each Friday). Oh, and I believe there was some kind of glitter-filled balloon trap hanging from the ceiling of the classroom to begin the whole activity. Way to go, Miss Ligia!

Enjoy the photos several of our younger kids and I took during the first Art Club meeting…

arte17
Miss Ligia and Darwin in our front yard with a few of the Art Club students painting t-shirts at one of our concrete tables

 

arte19
Miss Ligia with Arnold, a 13-year-old student from our rural neighborhood who participates in our 7th-grade discipleship program, piano classes with Darwin, and several of our new extracurricular clubs

 

arte6

arte4
Four of our boys as they plan how to decorate their t-shirts

 

arte9 arte10

arte12 arte13

arte20
Our 15-year-old daughter Dayana with local students Stanley and Sindy as all three paint t-shirts during their first Art Club meeting

 

arte21
12-year-old Dariela, a glitter-covered local student

 

arte23

arte30
Watch out, Miss Ligia! The girls are coming for you!

 

arte31

arte32

arte34
It looks like Miss Ligia has been fully initiated into Art Club! Nice face markings!

 

arte35
18-year-old Exson, a very artistic young man from our rural neighborhood who participates in our high school program

 

arte37
I don’t know who’s comin’ for who; both Miss Ligia and Cristian look like they’re up to no good! I bet paint is involved!

 

arte39
This was the shirt 13-year-old Elalf painted. It reads “God is love” with a lamb in the top corner.

 

arte41

arte42

arte43
Our 9-year-old son Jason took this photo and several others as he camped out in the truck-bed of our parked car. He’s pretty good paparazzi!

 

arte44 artes45

arte46

arte47
14-year-old Arlen, a local students we’ve known almost three years, as he poses with his newly-painted t-shirt


arte66

arte65
Clean-up time!

 

arte67

arte73
Our 11-year-old daughter Gleny as she greets her older sister who just got finished with Art Club

 

arte71
Time for everybody to head home! See you Monday, Miss Martha!

 

arte60
See you on Monday, Charlie and Arnold!

 

Amen! Glory to God!