Yesterday my husband and I reached five years of marriage, and as part of the celebration we decided to organize a family photo shoot.
Our previous official family photos were taken in November of last year, and several changes have occurred in our family since then. Josselyn and Gabriela, biological sisters who lived with us over two years, moved in with a Christian aunt and uncle of theirs in January of this year, and our teenage foster son Brayan left our home very abruptly in April of this year and did not return. (I plan on writing more about this at some point in the coming weeks.)
I informed our seven foster children/teens in preparation for the shoot: Take a bath, brush your hair, and put on something you won’t be embarrassed to see yourself in several years from now, because I’m totally going to show these photos at your wedding. They laughed and headed for the showers, as we had all gotten pretty stinky that morning working around our home and yard as a family. Some of our teen girls had been cutting back the weeds with a machete and bathing our guard dogs; others had been hand-washing their clothes and chasing our small herd of milking cows around our rural property in order to give them their anti-parasitic. Gleny had done painting touch-ups around our two school buildings, and two of our other kids had helped me clean our house from top to bottom.
So, before heading out on our dinner date we asked our beloved Honduran teacher who had come over to take care of our kids if she could help us take a series of family photos near the entrance of our rural property. Unbeknownst to us, she enjoys photography and did a phenomenal job with our impromptu shoot!
To many who see these photos, they may seem like nothing more than normal — even beautiful — shots of a normal, happy family. We know, however, that this family unity has not been automatic and that we’ve even had to fight for joy in these past 4+ years with our extremely mixed family who comes from all kinds of broken places.
These photos are extremely precious to me, and I treasure the sheer joy and love that radiates from our children’s faces, as I know well where they’ve come from and the battles we’ve fought alongside of them in Christ and won. God bless you!
Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers and support. May God continue to be glorified through our family, and may our foster children and those we minister to in our neighborhood continue to experience freedom in Christ in ever-increasing measure.
A beloved local pastor who labors alongside of us part-time teaching carpentry classes and leading our youth in community evangelism was diagnosed a few weeks ago with a devastating tumor on his spinal chord. Our staff and students at the Living Waters Ranch along with the pastor’s family, his church congregation and many households in our rural town were devastated. Hospital conditions in Honduras are not the best, especially when considering an extremely delicate surgery on someone’s spinal chord. His wife feared the worst; his church congregation went into fervent prayer and began holding fundraisers to pay for the expensive surgery; and doctors said that he would likely need to spend up to two years in bed recovering from the removal of the large mass. And this is our beloved pastor who is as strong as a rock, oftentimes hauling huge wooden boards to and fro in his carpentry shop, with much greater physical strength than some of our stronger teen boys!
Thus, my husband Darwin and our three foster sons went to visit him several days ago as they prayed with him, consoled his wife and accompanied him as he lied in bed awaiting the looming surgery. The sudden diagnosis seemed surreal to us all.
In Honduras, there are many (true) tales of people going in for routine surgeries in large, public hospitals and what should have been routine takes a turn for the worst due to lack of clinical care, hygiene issues, etc. We’ve even heard several testimonies of families who have lost young women who’ve gone to the hospitals to give birth and their bodies are later found maimed or chopped up in trash bags behind the hospital. These are extreme cases, but here underfunded, understaffed public hospitals do not generally inspire confidence, especially not when it comes to such a delicate surgery as the removal of a tumor from someone’s spinal chord.
Thus, these last few weeks we’ve all been carefully praying for our dear pastor friend and waiting with uncertainty for what might turn out to be the loss of his life or the paralyzation of his legs if anything goes wrong in the surgery.
With all of this looming in the air, yesterday after teaching my advanced math class I headed out during my free period to visit the homes of several of our students. I enjoyed several encouraging (and sometimes hilarious) visits with well-meaning but sometimes under-equipped parents as I went home-to-home in our rural neighborhood where poverty and unpunished crime abound.
At one point I was sitting in a plastic lawn chair on a dirt lawn with two sunburned parents who work very hard in the local pineapple fields as I sought to counsel them on how to better parent their extremely gifted but often rebellious teenage son who is in our discipleship-based homeschool program. We’ve had a close relationship with this family for several years, and their son has many natural leadership giftings and considers himself to be quite grown-up at the ripe old age of 16, so I started speaking frankly to his parents. (After all, last year we bumped him down a grade for immature and inconsistent behavior, and this year his attendance and homework completion had been up and down with many bright, promising spots along the way.) After assuring the parents several times that we love their son dearly and desperately want God’s purposes to be fulfilled in his life, I laid it out cold-turkey, “Look, the Bible says that if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The parents’ eyes grew and the normally-serious mom even let out a surprised burst of laughter as I began explaining that many teen boys in our area live like little kings — they have a cellphone, three square meals a day, total freedom to do whatever they want…and zero responsibilities. No job; no work. Their parents (who themselves are very hard-working and barely making ends meet) pick up the bill on their boys’ irresponsibility and let them become comfortable vagabonds or — worse — ripe pick for the local gangs. So, I advised these particular parents to take God’s Word and put it into action with the authority the Lord has given them as this young man’s parents: don’t serve him dinner until he sits his butt down and starts working on the homework that’s long overdue. A simple limit, but firm. This seemed to be a new concept to the parents, and I reiterated the biblical nature of this advice time and again, encouraging them to assume their role as their son’s authority and not leave him to his own means, which includes endless vagabonding, going to the river for hours on end, and getting mixed up in the wrong crowd. After praying with the parents, I headed for my next stop.
At the next house a similar visit was held as I met with another set of local parents on their front porch. A few emaciated dogs eyed me suspiciously from a few yards away. At this particular house, however, there was someone else present as well: our student’s blind 90-year-old great-grandmother. I have read many counts (both directly from the Bible and from modern-day Christians) of God healing blind people, and this — seeing God heal the sick and disabled — has been a longing of mine for many years. Beyond asking God for His wisdom in my life, I’m oftentimes found asking Him to grant me the privilege of seeing the miraculous — visions, healings, etc. I’ve been reading a book that details the fact that, as Christians, we should not be doing the possible but rather the impossible — that which is only possible with God. I wanted God to do the impossible through me!
And so, on this particular occasion yesterday after encouraging another one of our students’ parents, I felt very clearly that God was leading me to pray that this blind old lady would get her vision back. These kinds of prayers make me nervous, as I know full well that God can heal her, but I’m not quite sure what response to have if or when He doesn’t heal the person. Plus, thus far in my life the Lord has not chosen to use me as an instrument of His divine healing. Why start now, and won’t I end up looking like a fool if He doesn’t heal her? After all, I don’t want to illusion her if it is God’s plan that she continue blind for the rest of her life.
Well, my faith somehow seemed to increase and I dared to pray with this woman, who is a devout Christian. In another plastic lawn chair (which is the furniture that most people have here, both inside their house and out) under a simple overhang very close to the edge of the jungle as the rumbling river passed by on the other side of their house, I bowed my head and prayed as best I could that God would heal His daughter’s eyes. She prayed along with me, and I began to sincerely feel that He would heal her.
When we finished praying, I took my hand off her eyes and asked enthusiastically if she could see. She could not.
I felt sad but at the same time vowed to pray for her again the next time I saw her (which turned out to be today as I ended up visiting their house two days in a row.) I embraced her and said goodbye to the parents as I headed out and off to my next house visit. I couldn’t help feeling let down, as I felt that God had given me the faith and even the expectation of a miracle, but it didn’t come through.
Later that day (yesterday) all of our local students left our home around 3:00pm and our 8 foster kids and I got to work washing our clothes by hand in our outdoor washing station and doing school homework for the next day.
Once evening came, three of our foster teens and I attended a discipleship group in the home of a local married couple that labors with us for God’s glory. We gathered around their cement living room floor in the humid air for over an hour worshipping God and learning more of the life of Christ before we bid our farewells and climbed aboard the three-wheeled mototaxi, a form of public transportation that is a combination between a motorcycle and a traditional car. (My husband Darwin was about a half-hour away in the city of La Ceiba taking three of our daughters to their Christian ballet class, and he had two of our other sons with him as company.) Thus, the three who were with me got aboard the tiny mototaxi with me at dusk as we were leaving the discipleship group and headed for home.
At that moment the wife of the married couple who directs the discipleship group and who labors alongside of us during daytime hours at the Living Waters Ranch came running out to the dirt road where we were boarding the bright red mototaxi.
She had forgotten to tell us something. Somewhat out of breath, she came near the mototaxi and said with great excitement, “Jennifer! The pastor is healed. He went to the hospital earlier today for his final exam before entering surgery tomorrow, and the doctors found that his tumor is gone!”
Her eyes trained on ours with great joy as our three teens who were with me stared at her, both shocked and overjoyed. One of our girls’ jaws just about dropped to the floorboard as she processed the information.
Our dear married friend continued: “He no longer needs the surgery! He’s at home now and will be fine. God healed him!”
Eyes aglow with faith come alive, our teens and I thanked her for the wonderful news and we began zipping off the rocking path up to our rural property. Our teens commented among themselves, amazed at what God had done — we had all been praying for just this!
I stared up at the starry night sky through the open side of the little mototaxi as the night wind whipped my face. Amazed, my only question towards God was: “Lord, how do You choose?”
I marvelled at God — just hours earlier I had asked Him for a miracle for the blind old lady, and it had not been granted. Our pastors’ healing, however, was granted miraculously (which I honestly did not expect). I smiled big as I stared up at the sky, marveling at the mysteriousness of God. Again I repeated deep down in my heart as I admired my Father: “Lord, how do You choose?” Of course, this question probably will not be answered in this lifetime, but I can still wonder in awe of the Great Healer.
And so, I leave you with this little testimony. God is great; He is alive; and His ways are mysterious. He is to be praised! Amen.
Several hours after our group Bible study this morning, I grabbed our old-fashioned digital camera and headed undercover (well, not quite) to each of our intensive classes that we hold every Friday for our more mature students. Most of our teens tried to run away or hide their faces when they realized I was taking pictures, but even so I got a few shots that are worth sharing.
The following are photos taken of the following intensive 3-hour classes: Music/Orchestra (piano, violin, recorder, marimba and guitar), English as a second language, and organic agriculture/discipleship. Normally during this early afternoon time-slot there is also a group in community evangelism, but this week that class was cancelled because the local pastor who directs the group is in surgery. Thank you to all of you who support this redemptive work and/or pray for God’s continued guidance and protection over us.
Nobody else was willing to participate in an impromptu photo shoot, so I headed back across our front lawn to our cinderblock home to finish up my admin duties for the day! God bless you!
Last Friday we organized an afternoon of competitive games, footraces, teamwork exercises and good ole fashioned sweaty fun to celebrate with our students and teachers who have persevered and really put forth a good effort in their classes.
One striking deficiency in Honduran culture (and perhaps world culture as a whole) that Darwin and I oftentimes reflect upon is the lack of healthy, loving physical touch. Many parents in our area aren’t physically affectionate with their own children; spouses do not hug or hold hands; friends do not support one another via hugs, high-fives and the like.
Due to the fact that the God who is love created us to be social beings in need of physical touch, the tragedy is that many young people (and old people) who never received loving, healthy physical touch seek it out in wrong ways. In this culture (and, again, perhaps in world culture as a whole) there is a lot of pushing and shoving, rape, problem solving via violence, physical and sexual abuse, other forms of sexual sin, etc. Trying to fill the void of healthy physical touch (hugs, pats on the back, loving caresses from an attentive mother, etc), many turn to violence and sin as they desperately seek physical contact with other human beings.
Truly, this point needs to be meditated upon very seriously as we consider how we are treating one another, beginning with the members of our own household.
And so, on Friday afternoon just about every game we organized included healthy (and sometimes hilarious) physical touch as an integral part of the activity. One of our favorites (that we learned last year at a youth retreat) is “Backpack, Baby, Tower.” Everybody teams up in pairs of two (boys with boys; girls with girls), and the leader (who doesn’t have a partner) stands in the middle of all the pairs of people and shouts out “Baby!” and in each team of two one of the people has to pick up the other person and cradle them as if he/she were their baby. Then, “Backpack!” and each pair has to quickly shuffle position to throw one of the two on their back as if they were a backpack. (“Tower” is much easier and more boring: the two people in each team simply raise their arms high and clasp hands, but nonetheless it is still healthy physical touch.) The game is an absolute riot, as the leader calls out the different commands one after another, and everyone ends up swinging around their partner from the cradling position to the backpack position as quickly as possible, everyone panting and laughing hysterically. It is an instant friendship-maker and gives everyone involved a really strong dose of healthy physical touch and riotous laughter.
And, the best part of all, is that our teachers who serve as local Honduran missionaries participate right alongside of our foster children and students! 34-year-old Geraldina, Sandra’s mom, who serves in the community kitchen and general cleaning activities (because she hasn’t yet learned to read and write), had finished all of her duties early on Friday, so we invited her to participate right alongside of everyone else. She sent her daughter to run home and bring her some comfortable clothes to ‘play’ in (she was wearing a dress), and literally for the first time in her life she played. After a childhood (and early adulthood) of intense suffering, poverty, abuse and rejection, the Lord is restoring her even in an area as innocent (and oftentimes overlooked) as fun, healthy touch and intense, gut-wrenching laughter. She was laughing perhaps harder than anyone else — and this from a woman who used to be too timid to greet people and had never received hugs before she began working with us earlier this year (and now she receives several daily)!
So, I share this with you to encourage each of us to earnestly show love (not only in words but also in appropriate, loving touch) to those whom the Lord has put in our lives, because God can use it to truly alter people’s lives and serve in the process of healing wounded souls. Thus I boast in the Lord of the transformative work He’s begun in each of us — not only in the children and teens whom we serve, but also in the adults who participate in this ministry. Praise be to God!
I sat in the noisy McDonald’s in downtown Tegucigalpa — Honduras’ highly overcrowded capital city — waiting to meet with one prospective lawyer for our kids’ adoption. I had just taken a 7-hour busride from our home on the other side of the country for my whirlwind tour of the capital as I planned to meet with three prospective lawyers in addition to my scheduled appointment at the Foreign Affairs building to renew my Honduran residency.
Wealthy, undisciplined teenagers from a local bilingual school gathered in large groups at the tables all around me, too-loud secular music blasted from the built-in speakers above, and a highly choreographed wrestling match blared behind my head on the flatscreen television on the wall.
I had arrived early as I had taken a taxi directly from the bus station, and the lawyer had instructed me by phone to wait for him at the McDonald’s until he could further instruct me how to arrive at his nearby office.
Thirty minutes or so passed as I read a book at an empty table in the corner. The noises around me raged on. My phone ringed.
I reached for my little black cellphone — one of those with the oldschool keypad that doesn’t have internet, can’t even take pictures and most definitely doesn’t have any “apps” — instinctively thinking it was the lawyer calling to tell me he was close by. Thank goodness; I was ready to get out of the chaos!
My eyes took in the caller identification in one fell swoop as I lifted the device up to my ear. Honduras’ child protective services from our hometown. Not the capital city adoption lawyer.
I answered to the familiar voice of one of the government’s case workers whom we’ve worked closely with in regards to all 8 of our foster children. She along with her co-workers are responsible for placing children in homes/families, doing follow-up, trying to facilitate family reintegration when possible, etc. With the amount of abuse, abandonment and neglect cases in this country paired with the lack of funding and low number of staff on her team, her job is nearly impossible. We oftentimes spend months to years approaching their office for help on certain subjects (like getting official birth certificates for our kids) with little success as the government workers are constantly running around frantically, trying to put out forest fires with a squirt gun and slap band-aids on mortal wounds.
She and I exchanged a genuinely kind greeting over the phone, as this specific government lawyer and I have worked together several years, and she’s taken personal interest in our kids’ stories. The Lord had even led us to pray together in her office on more than one occasion, which is less than common in any country. She asked how our kids were; I said everything was excellent.
Then her question, completely unexpected (as it always is): “Would you be willing to take in two 15-year-old girls?”
Then I began to sputter, naming off all the excuses I could think of, “Oh, uh, actually I’m not even at home right now. I won’t be back until Sunday…And my health — my health hasn’t been very strong…” I paused, trying to get my footing. “Um, what’s their story?”
Through a broken cellphone signal — I could catch every three words or so out of five — she began to tell me that they were with a foster mother (at least that’s what I think I heard) but that they were recently moved several hours away to another children’s home. Can’t stay there permanently. Need to finish their public school year at the local high school close to where they had been living, which is in a town next to ours. Would we take them both in for at least 15 days so that they could finish off their school year. After that, one will most likely go to another children’s home where she has younger siblings; the other will most likely remain with us long-term. Yes or no?
They always catch us by surprise with these calls, and my first reaction is to reel off as many excuses (both out loud and to myself) in an attempt to defend ourselves against what just might potentially be God’s will — His mighty plan to rescue one more person from within a yard of hell.
So, I silenced that fear-driven inner voice and told the lawyer that I needed to speak with Darwin first. I would call her the next morning. Naturally, she wanted the answer then and there in order to bring the girls over to our home immediately, but she knows that we don’t operate like that. First we have to pray and consider; then, if the answer is yes, we have to carefully share the news with our kids. New arrivals oftentimes leave in their wake 3-5 months of pretty rough waves in our household as everyone adjusts to having a new sibling, so the news must be tenderly shared and covered in prayer.
She agreed and we hung up. Thoughts rushed my tired mind. The capital city adoption lawyer whom I was waiting for still hadn’t showed up, so I had a few minutes to calmly pray in the most unlikely of places. The teenagers continued to hang all over each other; the music continued at high volume; the wrestlers behind me kept up their nonsensical fighting. I prayed silently, asking God what His will was in this situation.
He didn’t answer immediately, but I did feel at peace (which itself is an answer). I kept praying. That evening — several hours later — after finally meeting with the adoption lawyer and arriving safely to the home where I would be staying in the huge metropolitan city that is so different from our isolated ranch at the base of the mountains 7 hours away, I called Darwin. I honestly expected him to say no — because of my ill health, because we already have so many other commitments, because of 100 legitimate reasons that any sane person wouldn’t want to blindly accept two teenage girls into their home — but he very calmly listened to the details as I presented them to him, and he said yes. And even as the yes left his lips, my heart rested in that yes and even clicked its heels for joy.
And so, we hung up the phone and I lay on that antique floral-print bedspread in an upstairs room of the missionary’s home I was staying in, and I laughed to myself. My eyes traced along the ceiling as I recalled all of my “excuses” no longer as reasons to say no or to feel scared but rather as the parameters for just one more miracle that God is setting up. He’s the God of the impossible, you see, and lately I’ve been learning that He loves impossible situations where human logic fails, where mortal strength is insufficient and where He can put on grand display His power.
Two unknown teenage girls? They might arrive on our doorstep pregnant for all we knew. After all, no one in their right mind — in any country! — blindly accepts two suffering adolescents who have very likely never had a stable home to lock arms with and live alongside of for the indefinite future. They probably lie and steal and are prone to sexual promiscuity. The government most certainly wouldn’t be providing us with any family background studies, psychological evaluations, behavior information, etc. They may not even have birth certificates or know their real ages. Ha! Surely we have lost our minds and are free-falling into yet one more impossible situation that God will turn into a miracle of grace. My socked feet tapped back in forth in the air as I laid spread out, considering the impossible.
And the craziest thing of all — perhaps the true mark that this is all of God even if it all falls through and turned out to be merely a test of faith — is that I’m at peace. Darwin’s at peace. We are so completely convinced that God is with and for us and that His heart is big enough to include these two girls into His plan of eternal redemption and that He’ll even give us all the resources and emotional reserves necessary to effectively minister to them, Christ acting in us toward them.
And so, I’ve now been back in Honduras exactly two weeks after my six-week-long stay in Texas to seek urgent medical help for my chronic insomnia and extremely low immune system. I’m still on the strict regimen, still taking everything the doctors prescribed, and my sleep is currently at 2-5 hours per night, which is a drastic improvement from times prior although there is still a long ways to go. Everyone in our home and school has gotten pink eye in the last few weeks, but I didn’t. And even on the nights when I’m up for good at midnight or toss and turn all night without success, I’m no longer led to anxiousness or stress. Our eldest daughter commented to me not two days ago that she’s noticed a marked difference in my overall attitude since coming back home. Even though I’m still not sleeping like a normal person, she says she can see that I have joy. That is God’s hand over me.
And so, I humbly (and excitedly) ask for prayer as we are preparing to receive these two young ladies on Monday morning. They called yesterday with the proposal; I returned the call this morning with our ‘yes’ answer; and I return home to the Honduran north coast on Sunday from Tegucigalpa where I am currently dealing with several legal matters. Please pray specifically for our 8 kids who already live with us, as I mentioned above that whenever we receive someone new into the family, a long adjustment period oftentimes follows as the totem pole gets shaken up, new friendships are formed, and everyone sort of feels out their role in the family all over again. This can be a scary process for our kids, all of whom have been rejected by their own biological families, so please pray that they may be granted God’s sight to see this situation and may truly receive these two new young women (I don’t even know their names!) with love and grace rather than feeling intimidated by them. Pray also for our 16-year-old son Brayan, that he may receive them with purity of heart and that he may respect them as he does our other daughters. Pray also for Darwin and I as many long family discussions, prayer times, conflict resolutions, etc, will be in order as we enter the adjustment period (and the additional emotional energy that will be required of us as we seek to love and know these two new young women). And, above and beyond everything else, pray with us that God would go before us in all this, preparing the way and the hearts of each person involved, and that His perfect will would be done as only He can orchestrate. May He give us the patience, time, love, etc that we lack in order to receive these women as He would receive them. Amen! Glory to God!
As I drove down the bumpy gravel road in our old pickup truck, endless pineapple fields stretching out on either side of the dusty strip, I began to pray, for I knew if I didn’t my mind would immediately race to the task of worrying and jumping to conclusions, which I am learning brings no positive result in addition to going against God’s will for His children.
After all, the shiny new silver truck with a neat government logo pasted on the outside was following me. Today was the official visit the Honduran government’s child protective service would make to two of our daughters’ biological family’s household to determine whether the house and its members were apt to receive our girls, who have been living under our protection since July 2015. We had never done any kind of investigational visit like this before, and I knew that when dealing with the Honduran government I had to hide my own emotions and play by certain rules if I wanted to preserve the good standing we have thus far enjoyed with them.
I breathed deeply, trying to keep my thoughts neutral and my heart fixed on the perfect peace that is available to us at all times through Christ Jesus. I whispered, alone in the car, as I journeyed farther and farther into the middle of nowhere, guiding the large vehicle behind me: “Lord, if it is Your plan and Your desire that the girls return to their biological family, I pray that You would make that very clear to all involved. Convince the government social worker and grant Darwin and me peace in our heart about the decision.” Because, Lord knows, at that point neither Darwin nor I had peace about one or both of our girls leaving the protection of our home to return to what we perceived to be a highly unstable, dangerous situation with their biological family. We were only realizing the legal investigations because Josselyn was pushing hard to do so, and it was our duty in the eyes of the law to reunite our girls with their family if at all possible.
After several weeks of phone calls, emails and visits to the little building that manages all of the cases for local abandoned, abused and orphaned children (which there are too many of) in attempts to organize this visit – a grasping at some kind of closure, some kind of answer for our 12-year-old Josselyn and for us to know what direction to head in during this new season — the day had finally arrived. Pint-sized Josselyn with her shaggy black hair had her heart set on moving back in with her biological family members after having gotten in touch with them on a chance encounter downtown a couple months ago, and today we would most likely receive our answer.
I continued onward as I started to doubt that I even remembered where the house was located. In Honduras there are no street signs (or street names), and on this long, dusty stretch everything looked about the same to me. I continued praying: “Lord, on the contrary, if it is not Your will that our girls go back to their family, convince the social worker of that, and grant Josselyn peace in her heart when we have to tell her the news. Whichever way this all goes, I ask that Your peace reign over the situation and over our hearts. May Your will be done; not ours. Show us all the way, and give us the grace and strength to walk in it.”
Several minutes later I spotted the only landmark I remembered from the prior visit I had made to the home – a small tin overhang above the front gate, a twine-and-twig contraption that could not effectively keep anyone in or out. I pulled to a stop, and the large government vehicle behind me followed suit.
Within moments I led the social worker, a very kind local Christian woman whom we don’t yet have much experience with, and the car’s driver down a narrow dirt path and crossed the threshold into our girls’ grandparents’ very simple home. Their small dirt backyard gave way to an endless sea of pineapple fields.
The girls’ grandmother, an extremely frail but alert woman, immediately received us with a hug and the customary kiss on the cheek, eagerly pulling out two plastic chairs to accommodate us in their otherwise totally bare living room. We sat down, me with a smile on my face and my lips sealed firmly shut. This very official visit was technically to be had between the social worker and the family; I was lucky to be present and knew my role was not to be an active one. Despite having been the day-to-day hands-on mom, counselor and teacher for the girls for nearly the last two years, the government sees Darwin and I – and others in our area who serve God in similar capacities – as nothing more than an emergency, short-term shelter rather than a living, breathing family – the very hands and feet of God to rescue those who are so close to the flames! – so the social worker looked to Grandma to get all the details straight rather than to Darwin and I.
Thus the interview process started with several straggling aunts, uncles and cousins of all ages quietly gathering around the open windows and doors to observe the conversation at hand.
The social worker, very eager to reunite lost children with their families (which in theory sounds excellent), began discussing with Grandma the logistics of placing both of her long-lost granddaughters under her legal care. I kept my tongue firmly placed between my teeth, intent on saying nothing. It was clear to me that Grandma and the social worker did not know – or did not want to tell – the whole story, and they had not invited me to speak, so I did not.
The social worker took out a very formal stapled questionnaire that she began filling out as Grandma began answering her questions. One of the first was: “How many people live in your home?”
It seemed simple enough; in the quietness of my own mind I had assumed that Grandma and Grandpa lived alone. There always seemed to be a whole lot of family members everywhere, but I had guessed that they all lived close by and simply enjoyed spending time together during daytime hours, seeing as no one had a stable job and none of the children were in school. Lots of free, idle time; thus, let’s spend it together.
After the social worker’s question, there was an odd pause. Grandma glanced over at her husband, and it became clear that neither of them knew the answer. They sent one of the young aunts to take a head count, and she came back a few minutes later with the answer: “17.”
The social worker’s eyes grew wide as she glanced in surprise at the lines her paper permitted her for that section: there were only ten spaces. She began asking one-by-one the names of all who lived there, ages, genders, etc, as she had to turn her page over and extend the section in her own freehand on the back of the sheet.
Grandma, oftentimes contradicting herself and having to consult constantly with other relatives as to the names, ages, and current whereabouts of those who live under her roof – a three-bedroom, one bath house – began naming several sons and grandsons of hers in their teens and twenties who live and sleep under her roof. I bit down even harder on my tongue as dark images darted across my mind, knowing full well that both of our girls had been severely sexually abused by their very own family members.
During our first supervised family visit several weeks ago, Josselyn later told one of our older daughters that I had had a lengthy conversation with one of her uncles who had raped her, and that ‘everything seemed okay now’ because I had had a pleasant conversation with him – completely unbeknownst to me that he had been one of the perpetrators – and that she would be fine living with him because he had treated me nicely and I got along well with him.
Roughly ten teenage and young adult men – none of whom study or have stable jobs and who have a known history of sexually abusing children – living and sleeping alongside of our two girls in a tiny house that holds only two or three beds? Over my dead body. Righteous anger was quickly awakened within me, but I still said nothing.
The social worker began asking about the girls’ future education, if and when they move back in. Grandma was very hesitant about this, as absolutely none of her dozens of grandchildren are in school, and all of the adults are illiterate. They move frequently and have no stable employment and, although they can afford sodas and candies and cell phones (as so many poor Honduran families do), they have no money for the kids’ education.
At some point during the conversation Grandma mentioned that the girls’ biological mom – whom many family members have told us is highly emotionally unstable and became irate when she heard the news that her daughters visited several weeks ago, thinking that we were going to leave them with her – was ‘out’ with Papo, the infamous stepfather who developed the habit of raping our daughter Gabriela while she lived under his care.
At the mention on his name, I couldn’t take it any longer – even though I had written and submitted official reports to the local government office regarding the nature of our girls’ sexual abuse (there was even a police raid to Papo’s home at the time of Gabriela’s rescue in order to put him behind bars, but he escaped the raid and the police have made no further attempt to pursue him), it was clear that the social worker had no idea who we were dealing with. She continued inquiring calmly about the mom and step-dad, when I very carefully raised a finger and asked if I could speak.
My plastic chair positioned carefully in a triangular position between the other two chairs – my attempt to show my support and collaboration with both parties equally – I spoke up, my voice quivering slightly with rage, “That man – the girls’ stepdad – is the same one who sexually abused Gabriela. I absolutely do not feel right about having her return to live anywhere in proximity to that man – “
The social worker’s eyes grew wide once more as she glanced over at Grandma to clear up the issue. Grandma, possibly wanting to defend her family members or her own integrity or simply unversed on the real issue at hand, began claiming that Gabriela was crazy and that it was all a lie. Gaby was fine and had never been abused. She always used to say bad words and take her clothes off in Grandma’s house, but Grandma knew that she did so because she was crazy.
I spoke up again, this time without asking permission, still trying to keep my voice calm while I was not at all pleased with the idea that we had such a cloud of witnesses around us, eavesdropping on such a delicate issue: “When Gaby first moved in with us roughly two years ago she constantly took her clothes off in public, tried to have sexual relations with any boy or man who was close to her, screamed and talked loudly about Papo – her stepdad – saying that she was gonna put him in jail, and her own sister affirms that Papo had taken Gabriela as his young lover from a very early age on. Her mind and body had been damaged to such an extent that she had become borderline special-needs, oftentimes struggling with self-loathing, learning disabilities and constant disciplinary issues, and the recovery process has been grueling.” (She was about seven or eight years old when she was rescued out of that situation, and we have no idea of knowing for how many years he had been mistreating her prior to that.)
I was desperate to tell the truth while not openly offending this very poor, fragile family. All the people around us had been created in God’s image just as much as I had been, and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had paid the price of their redemption. God truly loves these people – even the abusers – and desires for them to be saved and renewed. I could not judge these people nor look down upon them, but I could do whatever was necessary to assure that these two girls did not fall back into a very dark pit. Lord, forgive me if I am over-stepping my bounds.
I had put my cards quite strongly on the table, and I had put myself at risk of being called biased or even possibly against the family reintegration process (which is a cardinal sin in Honduras). The social worker, obviously alarmed by all the information I was sharing (even though I had shared it with her and her colleagues before, possibly having fallen on deaf ears until now), began probing Grandma on the topic as she continued denying the whole thing as the list of lies and excuses lengthened.
As the conversation continued onward amiably but very professionally, the social worker jotting down all of her official notes, someone suddenly appeared in the doorway and I felt what little air I had in my lungs jump right out.
Everything around me disappeared as my eyes locked in on her extremely small frame and shaved head. She was even wearing a white dress, which was actually just a shirt that reached her waist. She wore no pants; little undies and a white shirt were all. Her eyes seemed glazed over and travelled up and across the walls.
The dialogue between the social worker and Grandma continued onward as I suddenly felt lost in space. None of the other ten or fifteen family members present even noticed her arrival. She was like a small, almost unconscious ghost. Frail and broken – probably much tinier than whatever her real age was – and with a shaved head and white dress.
I let out a slight gasp, my whole body being slammed with very strong memories of the other little angel in the white dress as I glanced over at a teen male who stood a few feet from me. I pointed a finger at the little girl and asked with deep respect and awe, “That is Katy, isn’t it?”
He affirmed casually that, yes, that was Katy. I continued staring at her – looking past Grandma to that little, lost figure with the shaved head who stood idly near her chair, eyes still glazed over and far, far away.
I spoke again without permission, this time to no one in particular, “That is Josselyn and Gabriela’s little sister. Katy.”
Oh, I knew her when I saw her because that is exactly how our Gabriela arrived under our care in 2015: shaved head riddled with scars and open wounds; lost, far-off look in the eyes; strikingly similar facial features; extremely small frame; she was even wearing a white dress the day we met her.
I felt an immediate connection with that little girl that goes beyond explanation. I felt that I knew her already; I even felt that she was Gabriela herself two years ago. I stared at her little bitty legs that led up to her underwear in plain sight and her white, nearly see-through shirt that fell slightly off one shoulder. I tried to make eye contact with her several times, but her glossed-over stare seemed to look right past me. Only a couple times did her eyes actually find mine as a very quick, very tiny smile tugged at one side of her tired cheeks before the glossy stare overtook her again. After standing idly in the doorway for what seemed an eternity, she then began hobbling over toward the adjacent room. A family member who was not present at that moment had commented to me on a prior visit that she had just begun walking recently due to severe malnutrition. Exactly like Gaby.
I do not remember the specifics of the rest of the conversation; just that I got up from my seat and sat down on the concrete floor right next to Katy and began stroking her arm and back, as I would with any of our kids. I felt that she was mine even though she had no idea who I was. Her eyes never met mine, and even the loving physical touch could not snap her out of her zombie-like state. I patted my lap and asked if she wanted to sit with me, but she neither looked at me nor responded.
At one point Grandma glanced over at me, visibly confused as I no longer displayed my happy, neutral smile. My countenance had grown dark and I silently fought back an onslaught of tears and rage.
The visit was concluded with cordial hugs, handshakes and on-the-cheek customary kisses, and we soon began walking back to the main road where our vehicles awaited us.
Once we were out of the family’s earshot, I dared to ask the social worker, “What were your thoughts on the visit?”
She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and commented very sincerely, “It seems to me that they don’t always tell the truth.”
I let out a long, unexpected sigh and dared to probe further, knowing I was trodding on fragile ground: “In your opinion, do you think that it will be best for the girls to return to their family?”
Just weeks prior when I met with the same social worker to inform her of the family’s whereabouts and of Josselyn’s desire to move back in with them, her immediate, upbeat response was, “Great! It’s always better for kids to be with their family.”
This time, however – having seen first-hand the situation in which one or both of the girls would be diving into – she responded without wasting a beat, “No way. The girls would be entering a situation of sexual abuse upon returning to their home. Plus none of the kids who live with Grandma are in school and they move so frequently that we would lose all follow-up with them. I will file the report, but in my opinion, they shouldn’t go back there.”
I let out a slight laugh of pure glee as it dawned on me that God had granted my humble request and thus confirmed His will for our girls. He opened the social worker’s eyes to the real situation at hand, helped her to detect the many lies, and convinced her that our girls should not return there. Now the only thing left (and perhaps most difficult of all), would be sharing the news with Josselyn, who had so longed to return to what she had convinced herself was the ideal life.
Feeling compelled by God to speak out about Katy’s situation, I shared with the social worker my concern for the little girl. She looked exactly as Gaby did upon arrival to our home, and I feared the worst: now that abusive step-dad Papo no longer has access to Gaby, he has probably begun abusing little Katy in the same way. The social worker seemed to understand (there are so many cases such as these that the elements of surprise and rage oftentimes don’t even come into play for those who work daily in this sphere), and I affirmed to her that if and when the government should remove her from the familial situation, we would be more than willing to accept her.
On the car ride home I prayed fervently for Josselyn – that God would console her heart upon receiving the news that she would not be able to return to her family, and that He would grant her His perfect peace to understand why. Upon arriving home I spoke with Darwin – who had been teaching classes all morning – to inform him of the news, and I wept in his presence of my encounter with Katy.
About an hour later we arranged to talk in private with Josselyn. Darwin prayed as the three of us – Darwin, Josselyn and I – held hands with heads bowed in one of our empty classrooms, the teachers and students having already returned home for the evening. By God’s grace we were able to share the news well, and although silent tears rolled down Josselyn’s dark cheeks, she did not turn violent or seem carried toward total despair. We continued talking and praying with her afterward and embraced her in a ‘sandwich hug,’ something we do with all of our kids (Darwin on one side and me on the other, both of us embracing the little person who stands between us.) We had — have — no other choice but to throw ourselves at God’s feet, asking for mercy and for His perfect peace in the face of what could possibly turn into total depression and despair for His daughter Josselyn.
Darwin then left to tend to the rest of our kids as the open conversation – by this time not so heavy – continued between Josselyn and I for quite some time. I then carefully asked Josselyn’s permission to share the news with the rest of our kids, seeing as they all knew about that day’s official visit and were eager to know the result. She consented, saying that it was okay for us to talk about it with the rest of our household but that she preferred not to be present. I agreed, and she went out front with little Gaby to play ball and climb the mango tree with a few young neighbors.
The news was shared with our other six kids – even the news of my experience meeting little Katy – and 16-year-old Dayana, our eldest, was the first to suggest that Katy should come live under our protection. 13-year-old Jackeline was rightfully enraged and surprised that the police had not put step-dad Papo behind bars (even though we had previously shared this information with our children), and a very heavy but peaceful solemnity came over the room where we prayed over and discussed with our children serious details and realities that are far from most households. We reiterated the utter importance of maintaining all forms of sexual abuse and misconduct far from our household; we affirmed our love and commitment to each of our kids; we spoke tenderly of the need to have compassion and patience for Josselyn during this time. As we left the meeting, I was certain God met us there as He had also that morning in the official visit and earlier that afternoon when we spoke with Josselyn.
Later that evening, I found Dayana playing piano and gave her a long hug followed by a kiss on the top of the head as I told her how amazed I was with the heart – the compassion – God was forming in her. The suggestion she had made during the earlier family meeting to receive Katy into our home was nothing short of a miracle, for we all know the extreme adjustments, sacrifices and general household instability that follow the addition of any new child. Surely God was granting Dayana His own heart for those on the margins; surely He was transforming her into a daughter of the King.
That night as everyone was quietly tucked into their bedrooms for our family’s daily Sabbath Hour, Darwin and I arrived at Josselyn and Gaby’s quarters and asked to come in. As we passed through their floral-print door curtain, we found both sisters quietly sitting on their tile floor, working on homework and puzzles. We sat down with them as we informed little Gaby that I had had the privilege of meeting her sister Katy that morning, and that Katy reminded me a lot of Gaby. Her eyes grew wide at the sound of her sister’s name, and I smiled at her and told her that Darwin and I would like to pray with them for Katy.
The sisters’ hands instinctively extended towards ours as the four of us formed an imperfect circle on their tile floor. We prayed for Katy, asking God’s protection over her life and that He would indicate to us what we are to do in this situation. As we finished praying, we embraced each of the sisters and gave them a kiss on the top of their head as we then left their room for the night.
That was Wednesday, two days ago. Please pray with us, both for Josselyn’s continued acceptance and peace with the fact that she will not legally be able to return to her family’s care along with Katy’s very delicate situation, knowing that multitudes of other boys and girls around the globe also silently face sexual abuse day after day. Pray that the local authorities would move to investigate Katy’s living situation and that, if it is God’s will, she would come to our home to be raised in a God-fearing way along with her sisters.
Amen. To God be the glory, for He hears us and comes to our encounter.
Friday evening I was in the midst of distributing and applying anti-fungus creams, encouraging young readers and commanding small soldiers to pick up scattered Legos.
As a weekly treat for our kids, each Friday we move our family’s Sabbath Hour from its traditional 7:15pm mark back to 8:30pm or so. I glanced at the clock – barely 7:00pm – and sighed deeply as I wondered where I would find the strength to continue in the daily bustle another hour and a half.
Josselyn tapped away on the wobbly electric keyboard that teetered on a wooden stool in front of her as she sat perched on our small, fading floral-print couch that has survived admirably through many years and owners. Gleny and Jason were sprawled out on the other couch with its bright, multi-colored cushions, each reading a children’s Bible. Our older girls were in their bedroom painting fingernails and such while my attention was fully dedicated to keeping an intense control on developmentally-challenged Gaby and Josue, who are prone to prancing about and making a general ruckus in our not-so-spacious house that doesn’t quite seem to accommodate such exuberant activity (especially at night). Darwin was in our bathroom taking a shower.
Everything seemed to be in order, but I still fought back a very real sense of exhaustion as I knew I would have to confront pianos and giggles and jumping children and read-alouds until late that night whereas on other nights we are granted that blessed blanket of silence from 7:15pm on.
Having chauffeured our littlest ones to the bathroom, I squatted down in front of 8-year-old Josue to change his diaper in the boys’ stall as Gaby started prematurely coming out of the girls’ stall, not three feet away.
“Wait just a second, Gaby! Let me finish with Josue before you come out…”
The little Velcro tabs were quickly put into place, stretchy-waistband shorts pulled up, big toothy grin smiling back at me.
Good to go. The three of us headed for the sink.
“Ok, now wash your hands.” I glanced over at Gaby, “ – Always with soap.” She looked up at me, pretending to be innocently surprised, as she was already ¾ done with washing her stubby fingers with water alone. “I shouldn’t have to tell you that every time, Gaby. You know better. Where’s the soap anyway?”
She scuttled over and brought a bar of light green soap from the kids’ shower. I began washing Josue’s hands – those fingers that can’t seem to coordinate themselves to do anything productive but always find their way into his mouth with perfect execution – as I then passed the bar of soap to Gaby. I instructed her, once again, how and why to wash her hands with soap.
Once the hand-washing was done with a certain degree of excellence, I reached for the kids’ toothpaste. Oh, how many tubes of toothpaste have been so quickly emptied as these two little ones have snuck in the bathroom at all hours to shove the tube in their mouth and feast!
Gaby passed me the half-empty tube, and Josue began nodding enthusiastically and babbling in his broken speech as he informed me that he knew he wasn’t supposed to eat it. “Ma! Pata, pata. Yo no. Yo pata no!” I smiled wearily and affirmed that he was absolutely right but that he needed to put into practice what he knew, otherwise his knowledge was worth nothing.
I squirted out a small amount of toothpaste onto each of their toothbrushes, wetted them, and handed the brushes to them individually, instructing them – as they are told every morning and evening – to take their time and brush up, down, etc. Take good care of your teeth or you’ll lose them.
(Oh, how many teens and adults in our neighborhood are missing teeth due to dental negligence! Many young adults in their 20s and 30s wear dentures or have all their upper front teeth missing due to years of Coca-Cola drinking and no-tooth-brushing. Josue moved in 20 months ago and Gaby 14 months ago after having been removed from distinct situations of abuse/neglect with their biological families, and both received extensive dental work earlier this year to fix teeth that had been blackened and rotted out after years of neglect.)
Gaby immediately extended her toothbrush to the sink, turned the faucet on full-power and was effectively about to blast the little squirt of toothpaste right off the brush and down the drain – as she tries to do almost every day – when I corrected her with my make-nice tone that was becoming increasingly irritated: “Gaby, no! I already wetted your toothbrush, and you saw me do it. Just brush your teeth.”
I stood by the sink a couple minutes as my young comrades struggled mightily – as they tend to in almost all activities – to clean their teeth.
Having finally finished the tedious process, I began shuttling them back through the living room, reminding them that it had been a long day – a good day, praise God, but a long one – and that now was not the time to be jumping and running around. They could play quietly with the bucket of Legos, grab a book and sit down, or go to their bed. Their choice.
As I was in the midst of explaining this daily process to our littlest ones, 12-year-old Josselyn, Gaby’s biological sister, intercepted me as she suddenly stood up from where she was playing piano and very intentionally put herself in my path. It was clear she intended to add to my to-do list.
My immediate thought was: Everyone needs me allthetime! Can’t you just keep playing piano and let me finish what I’m doing with Gaby and Josue? I’ve already spent the entire day playing with all of you, cooking for you, cleaning the house with you, teaching you and helping you solve various conflicts. Everyone else has already showered and is enjoying a fun activity. Can’t I?
With her small, round face illuminated with joy, she asked, “Can I talk to you?”
That simple phrase oftentimes indicates the beginning of a long, sit-and-pour-your-heart-out time of up to an hour or two. It involves listening to their problems, answering difficult questions, wrestling with disturbing memories from the past, etc, and then seeking out solutions together, praying together.
Much fruit – much growth – has been harvested for God’s glory from such times of intimate communication, but late at night after a long day is not my finest hour to do so. My morale immediately dropped (and probably my face as well) as I imagined I would be spending a good chunk of time – and a good chunk of emotional energy that I already didn’t have – listening to my small friend.
I answered wearily, hoping against hope that it might be something quick like Can-you-give-me-the-hydrogen-peroxide-to-pour-on-the-scrape-on-my-knee, “Ok, go ahead. What is it?”
She answered with equaled (or perhaps increasing) joy, undeterred by my unenthusiastic response: “No, not here! In private.”
“Oh…ok.” Dang it. “Where?” Not in private! That indicates a longer, more intense conversation! Lord, I have nothing left to give. Please accompany me in this moment of great trial. I’m so tired.
She smiled and indicated for me to follow her into her bedroom, where we passed that bright teal curtain into the room she shares with her little sister. Wooden bunkbed with mismatched but clean bedding. Big plastic bucket as clothes hamper. An unclothed babydoll and a stuffed-animal tabby cat. Wooden dresser shared by both. Small black plastic trashcan emptied earlier that morning. Antique (as in, very old) wooden chair with a fading blue cushion. Floor impeccably clean – swept and mopped to perfection – and all belongings in their place after having spent the morning cleaning together as a family.
I remained close to the doorway, my body language communicating my heart’s hidden intention: a quick escape if things got hairy.
She began in an upbeat tone, very direct yet respectful, catching me off guard with her question: “You’re in a bad mood, right?”
My heart sank. Oh no. She could tell I was frustrated. Great self-control, Jennifer. Did I really look that bad? How negative had my attitude been toward Gaby and Josue in the bathroom?
I mustered a sincere smile and answered, carefully managing my tone of voice, “No, I’m not in a bad mood. I’m just really tired. But I’m okay; thanks for asking.”
My body turned slightly toward the doorway; I was ready to leave.
Her facial expression indicated that she anticipated I would answer that way, so she threw up her thin, muscular arms with clear, innocent eyes and asked, “Can I pray for you?”
That was why she had asked to talk to me in private. She had taken note of my emotional fatigue and intended to pray for me.
Just the day prior this young woman and I had experienced a heated conflict . We had sat down, both cross-legged on a small strip of concrete behind our house as I had wanted to approach her lovingly about my desire that she improve her relationship with her little sister. She misunderstood my motives, got offended and screamed at me, burying her face in her knees pulled up to her chest and crying uncontrollably. My attitude went south, frustrated that she had reacted so strongly to what I had hoped would be a peaceful, productive conversation. I usurped the uncontrollable cryer’s freedom and sent her to her room to calm down. As she passed through that same bright teal curtain, she turned toward me and spat ugly words. My own anger increasingly incited, I sent her to wash her mouth out with soap, leading her into the bathroom as she continued to cry and murmur against me.
It had been neither her best moment nor mine. Her words were loud; mine were piercing. “You need to learn to control your mouth!” I scolded; she stormed off to her room, where she would be until she was ready to talk lovingly. (Until I was ready to talk lovingly).
Feeling annoyed by her unnecessary outburst – in no way had I intended for our initial conversation to offend or upset her – and full of self-justification, I sensed my heart being subtly persuaded toward an intensifying anger.
I walked with hands slightly trembling to the next building on our rural property. Several minutes prior I had seen Dayana, our eldest daughter, sitting on the floor in the entryway as she organized the choir members’ folders and sheet music. I hoped to find her there again.
The Lord had spoken to my heart: Go ask Dayana for prayer. Your anger has led you out of My will. You must re-enter in love in order to treat Josselyn the way I want you to.
I had stopped in the doorway as Dayana’s eyes moved from the dozens of black folders splayed out around her on the tile floor up to me. She smiled.
Now. Ask her for prayer now.
I passed the threshold and sat down next to her, trying to make small talk about the folders she was organizing, wanting to avoid having to ask for prayer. The “I’m-right; she’s-wrong!” ballad was playing quite loudly in my mind as I finally humbled myself and informed Dayana that Josselyn and I were having a conflict and that I wanted her to pray for the situation – for both of us.
She immediately freed her attention of the busy work of folder-organizing, put her hands in mine as we turned to face one another, both heads bowed. She began praying earnestly for reconciliation between Josselyn and I, that our Father would guide us both toward a healing of our relationship and the fulfillment of His will.
She finished the prayer, her adolescent hands – those small fingers adorned with several fun rings and that bright pink wristwatch that she never takes off – releasing my larger hands, long fingers crowned with chipped black nail polish.
9-year-old Jason, Dayana’s younger biological brother, suddenly appeared in the open doorway as messenger: “Ma, Josselyn is ready to talk to you. She’s in her room waiting.”
I thanked him for the message, eyed Dayana with a smile, thanking her for the very timely prayer, and began walking towards Josselyn’s bedroom. God’s peace had replaced the raging anger in my heart right on time.
I knocked on her doorframe, my hands no longer trembling, and she indicated that I come in. My eyes swept the room as they suddenly landed on the prize: short-haired, very small-framed Josselyn sitting in a far corner in that antique wooden armchair. Her eyes were red and swollen from violent tears, but her open posture and even breathing indicated that the intense emotional battle was already over.
I approached her, both of our attitudes having been corrected by our Father, and I squatted down in front of her, my hand placed affectionately on hers.
She began: “I was…so upset. I thought you were furious with me. But…then…God revealed to me that I – was the one who was furious…It wasn’t you. Forgive me.”
If ‘Furious’ had been her name, ‘Impatient’ and ‘Rash’ had been mine. I accepted her apology and followed her lead, asking for forgiveness for my escalating reactivity and assuring her that it had not been my purpose to upset or anger her with our initial conversation.
We were both at peace; forgiveness reigned; God was glorified.
So then, the day after our timely reconciliation, she stood before me asking if she could pray for me. I felt as though I could not answer, had not rehearsed for this. Prayer is a normal part of our daily life together – we pray as a family before meals each day, send requests and thanksgiving to our Father in prayer groups several times a week with our local students, pray with our kids for their many conflicts and emotional problems, pray with our faith community on Sundays – but her praying for me? Taking the initiative to search me out, chase me down with love? None of our kids had ever done that before.
Sensing my surprise, she shrugged, eyes still very bright, and informed me with total assurance, “I feel that it’s what God wants me to do.”
I nodded awkwardly, words still escaping me, and I took a few strange steps toward that same antique armchair that marked our reconciliation from the day prior.
I sat down, still unsure how this would go and at the same time feeling incredibly blessed by this little one’s faith flushed out in deeds – her unswerving obedience to God’s instruction on her heart – in the midst of what was one of my less inspiring moments.
She instinctively squatted down in front of me – the posture I take with our kids many, many times each day as a way of getting on eye level with them (especially because I am extremely tall) – and reached for my hands that rested idly in my lap.
Our posture – me in the chair, her squatting down, embracing my hands – was a perfect reversal from the day prior.
Without giggling nervously or wondering aloud where to start, she immediately bowed her head and began praying for me out loud with great confidence, admirable faith. She prayed many things, the majority of which I cannot remember – but at the end of the prayer she asked God to grant Darwin and I the perseverance to continue onward in this marathon work during many years to come. She prayed that I may be granted rest, that even in difficulties God would grant me great joy.
Having finished the prayer, still feeling awkwardly blessed after having received such undeserved compassion from such an unlikely person, I stood up and gave her a big, slightly awkward hug. This time my tall frame enveloped her small one as her face disappeared somewhere in the middle of my torso.
Having reversed roles if only for a moment, this small preteen – this young warrior princess who only a year-and-a-half ago was wandering dark streets collecting bottles in the wee hours of the morning, sleeping in nooks and crannies in public places after having been effectively disowned by her blood relatives, body emaciated and hair shaved off – had been used by Father God to express compassion and faith to this discouraged mom.
Passing through that bright teal curtain, I re-entered our living room and noticed that Josue was already lying in his bottom bunk. He never is much of a night owl. With renewed faith, I walked over to his open doorway, bent over in order to see his little eyes, and asked if I could come in. His response was an enthusiastic “Chi, Ma! Chi,” slightly dulled by sleepiness. I crossed the threshold, perched myself on the side of his bed, bent over so as to fit under the not-so-high top bunk above his, and intended to pray.
Whereas on most nights it’s a quick good-night-hug and kiss-on-the-top-of-the-head and off-to-bed-you-go, Josselyn’s daring act of faith inspired me to step out of the boat as well, to take up my cross and joyfully follow Christ even when it isn’t easy. I bowed my head — Josue’s eyes squinted intensely shut as his whole face crinkled up in prayer, my fingers tracing up and down his baby-soft arms — and I allowed Christ’s perfect peace to invade Josue’s bottom bunk, daring to ask God to heal this broken little boy.
This past Saturday, July ninth, was little Gabriela’s one-year anniversary since moving into our home.
Although her annual landmark was written in large print on our family calendar hung on our living room wall, the day honestly came and went without much hoopla. Get up early, everyone does their chores, eat together, wash dishes, study God’s Word in our dining room, counsel the kids through various mini-crisis throughout the day, wash more dishes, seek one another out in love and forgiveness, spend a few hours supporting the older ones in their studies, watch a movie in the evening as a family.
In years past we celebrated not every year but every month a child was with us, for everything was so new and so difficult that each day survived was an incredible triumph. I remember celebrating Dayana, Gleny and Jason’s two-month, five-month, eight-month, year- and two-year anniversary with big poster boards, tender hugs, hand-written love notes, cake, balloons, and the like.
Now, however, with a bustling household of eight live-ins and even more students and Christian laborers, all of whom have many birthdays and countless anniversaries, the celebrations are becoming less extravagant as our days are now much more full of planned activity than they were before.
So on Gaby’s one-year anniversary as she and I walked hand-in-hand out to Dingo’s pen to fill up his dog bowl together, the Lord utilized that small time-frame to open my mind beyond the daily, the immediate, and allow the memories of an entire year spent with Gaby to flood over me, receiving each one with a heavy-laden gratitude, rattled by joy.
Gaby, whom one year ago I had met for the first time, that little ANGEL IN THE WHITE DRESS with the shaved head, the dozens of bald patches that revealed peach-colored scalp all over. Gaby, that skinny little girl who had been so hammered by pain and darkness that there wasn’t much little girl left at all. Jaded prostitute in the body of a malnourished seven-year-old, a mere babe who’d undergone more than many adult women do in a lifetime.
Screaming, profanity, undressing in public, sexual talk, running off, stealing, destroying books and toys, lying, kicking.
Gaby, who months after having moved in began to shed the first of many, many layers of pain and anger, leaving her an empty shell, a little ghost. All she had known was rape, sexual games, abuse, neglect. So you take all that away, and what’s left? She was our hollow little girl who we desperately wanted to fill with the Father’s love.
Alas, in many ways she still is.
Gaby, who even now, one year later, is still so desperately broken. Her psychologist informed me just a few days ago that Gaby has made many strides and is mentally now on the level of the average 3-year-old. And before?
Oh, Gaby, our little girl who the world has treated as trash and who still struggles to understand, to receive, when we tell her she’s a princess of the King. Gaby who still wets the bed and struggles to put into practice appropriate sexual norms and whose fine motor skills are still so terribly far behind. Can’t draw a square, can’t hold a pencil or a fork properly. Can hardly open a door. Doesn’t know the alphabet, can’t write her name. Miraculously learned the colors, can count to 10 with help. Loves singing in Darwin’s choir, has learned to pray for others in her broken, hard-to-understand way of talking.
So she and I walked this past Saturday, hand-in-hand, as we always do, as she eagerly offered to help me fill up Dingo’s dog bowl. She loves to help me. I’m her favorite person, after all, which is an incredibly demanding blessing. She physically looks to be eight or nine or ten years old (she has no birth certificate, no record of her existence in this country’s vast archives) but has the intense emotional needs of a toddler, you see. I hold her heavy body in my long arms, kiss her on the forehead and nose, bounce her on my knees, cradle her now-quite-large body as you would a baby.
And it’s never enough.
She wants to be in my arms all the time, under my skin, in my womb.
As we’re hugging each other or as I’m cradling her, she’ll look me in the eyes and whimper, “I miss you, Mom.” I want to cry to the heavens, “How do you miss me?! I’m right here! I cannot be any closer! Oh, Father, fill up this little one because I simply cannot! Fill her with Your love! We need You, Father!”
Crossing our grassy front yard together on Saturday, wearily contemplating the utter fullness of this past year with her in all of our ups and downs, all our little triumphs that when marked on paper or pronounced aloud seem like nothing at all, I asked God what He thought about all this, about Gaby.
After all, I’ve asked the World and I’ve asked myself quite a few times and, honestly, the answer isn’t very encouraging. She’s got the body of a third-grader but the mind of a three-year-old. She may never fully recuperate, may end up living with us for the rest of her life as she struggles onward well into her teens and adulthood with promiscuous sexual behavior, theft and destruction. She may never learn to talk correctly, may present these incredibly intense emotional needs for many years to come without any apparent result. She´s a heavy load that no one can carry.
Gaby and I were nearing Dingo’s pen. Not a moment after having asked God what He thought of our Gaby and the work we are doing of raising her, He sliced through my whirlwind of woes with this piercing question:
“Are you loving her, and are you teaching her to love Me?”
Borne somewhere in the deepest recesses of my inner being — overcoming the daily exhaustion and general discouragement like a powerful wind — a peace blew over every corner of my being and my busy thoughts were immediately settled as I recognized the truth:
We had reached Dingo’s pen in a few short steps that to me expanded into eternity. She was probably chattering on about this and that, always with her stubby little hand firmly grasped in mine, but I did’t hear her in that moment. What I heard, my inner being completely stilled, was this:
“Then all that is being done with and for Gabriela is a success. The purpose of the entire universe is to love Me with all that you are and to love one another as yourselves. If you are doing that and teaching Gaby to do the same, you are fulfilling the one and only purpose I have set for mankind to fulfill. Nothing else matters.¨
So we continue onward with great hope, a hope not placed in Gaby and her performance (or even her behavior, which in the two days since her anniversary has been utterly atrocious), but a great hope — a pure hope, one that cannot be grabbed and dirtied by this world — in the God who is love, the God who revealed Himself to mankind as a poor, humble, powerful man who gave Himself up for us, taking on the punishment we deserve. This same God who calls us simply to love — not to change the world, invent something new or reach great heights of human ‘success.’ We are simply to love — love Him with all that we have and all that we are, and love one another as we love ourselves.
And in all of our imperfect efforts of loving, failing, seeking forgiveness and returning to love again, He is pleased. If Gaby never learns to assimilate into normal, productive adult society, if she’s always a step behind but is being shown God’s love and being taught to love Him in return, her life will be a raging success. I imagine Him jumping for joy, cheering us on as perhaps the world mocks, asks for more.
So our journey with Gaby is one of God’s slow miracles, etched out over time and with the promise of great eternal rewards.
And when I am tempted to become impatient, when I tempted to give in to despair, to want to push her hard and fast toward ‘normalty,’ I ask that God might remind me of what He taught me just two days ago out at Dingo’s pen with Gaby’s hand in mine:
As long as we are wrapped up in the divine task of love, we are fulfilling the ultimate goal for the entire universe. Nothing else matters.