Tag Archives: Hollistic Discipleship

“God Lives In My Family”: Reflections From Our Eldest Daughter

A year-and-a-half ago I published a reflection on our very intense, heavily blessed journey with our now-16-year-old daughter Dayana, the eldest of the children we are fostering who we are in the process of legally adopting along with her younger siblings.

Now, nearly four years into our journey with her, I am publishing not my thoughts regarding our relationship but rather hers. Earlier today as I was waist-deep in finishing the process of weeding through the many stapled booklets of our students’ handwritten reflections, seeking small golden nuggets of wisdom and compelling stories — traces of God’s active work in their lives — I found myself fully absorbed by hers. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the 150+ pages of our other students’ journals, but this blog I will dedicate to the developing thoughts of a young woman whom my husband and I treasure more than she will ever know and alongside of whom we have fought tooth and nail for her salvation and transformation.

She is currently one of our top 8th-grade students in our small, discipleship-based homeschool program, and Darwin and I actively serve as her math, English, Bible and music teachers in addition to sharing with her the daily rhythms of family life in a large, mixed household.

The following paragraphs are separate excerpts taken from her 22-page stapled reflection journal written last month.

Dayana with her little biological brother Jason, who has also been living in our family since November 2013.

 

I give thanks to God because He has given me a big family full of love in Christ. What we do really well in my family is that whenever there is good or bad news to be shared, we communicate well…I consider that God lives in my family. We are all growing in the love and faith of the only King.

I have so many dreams for my life as an adult. I want to earn two college degrees: Architecture and Music. Another dream is that of helping needy people; be a counselor for youth and adults in accordance with God’s Word; raise children who do not have the protection of their [biological] parents; exercise the gifts the Lord has given me; be my children’s teacher and that of others; marry a man who serves Christ; be a writer or poet; write my own music; be a good wife and mom; show God’s love to the world; offer help free of charge to people who need help cleaning and organizing their homes; go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the truth about God; be an art teacher; be fully submitted to God’s will; live in England or Brazil (but now that I think about it, I will need to live fairly close to my parents so that they can take care of their grandchildren when my husband and I go on dates!); acquire love for my enemies…I can achieve these goals, but if they are not used for the good, it is as if they were never achieved. May it be God who guides my future and my dreams. Everything in God’s hands is good.

Knowing God and having a relationship with Him is not only about saying “I’m a Christian,” but about recognizing our sin and repenting with all our heart. I am a human being and fail every day, but I examine myself and repent. I love God and trust Him. He loves us, and we can prove His love because He sent His only Son to die for us. We do not deserve His forgiveness, but He loves us enough to extend His forgiveness to us. He is my everything.

I am studying at the Living Waters Ranch high school by my own free will. I truly want to be prepared to confront all that lies ahead in today’s world…If we look closely at the local public schools [in Honduras], they do not offer an adequate education, whereas here [at home] I do receive one…I am here to grow in God’s will; may God guide me in my learning, and may all that I learn be for His glory and in honor of Him.

A recent experience I’ve learned from was that of Sandra’s escape. Through that situation I’ve learned not to run away when things are difficult; God has not given us a spirit of cowardice. The whole situation was very difficult because I love her as a sister…God did great things [when we went to visit her the night she was found], and He used me in a great way. She talked with me at length, and I counseled her. I give thanks to God because He gave me the right words according to the truth in order to counsel her. If we run away, we are turning our back on God. Anything could have happened to Sandra, but God protected her. God is using the gift of leadership that He’s given me. 

…My parents have heavily impacted my life. They have not only been parents but have also been my counselors and teachers. They have shown me their love, something that not all parents do. I have had many struggles, but even so they love me. They correct me; they discipline me; they give me advice; they love me. Each day I am walking with them towards God. They have taught me to not fear in this world, to love others without taking notice of their defects, to walk in the light, to not lie, and to protect myself for my future husband…

My whole family is Christian by God’s grace. The majority of us have been baptized. We have all confessed our sin; we have repented. In other words, my family is worshipping God. Something that I have present in my mind and that we should all have present is that they [my family] are not going to save me when I am standing before God’s throne. Just because my family is Christian does not mean that they respond for me. No; we all have the responsibility to choose whether we follow God or not.

A terribly silly photo my dad took of Darwin and I with our 8 kids when he visited us in January (Sandra was not present at the taking of the photo). What a goofy crowd!

 

Please continue to pray with us for Dayana’s continued transformation and renewal; may she daily grow in her love of Christ as He continues to liberate her from the many chains of her past. Let us thank God for the powerful testimony He has already begun etching out in her, and may Darwin and I be granted great perseverance, faith and hope as we continue onward in our journey parenting her for God’s good pleasure. Amen!

First Update of the New Year

January 13, 2017: It has been over a month since I last wrote as we’ve unplugged from nearly all internet and administrative duties over the last several weeks. With great joy we finished off the year 2016 dedicating nearly every moment to the careful daily task of ‘building our nest’ with the 8 children our Father has placed under our (His) wings, three of which are already well into their adolescence.

Our daily rhythm has been slower as our beloved local Honduran laborers have been on vacation and our large rural property has been populated only by our family (Darwin, our 8 kiddos and I) and our night watchman’s quiet family. In these last few weeks there has been much time spent character-building, bond-forming and behavior-training as there has been less movement of people and activities on our rural property. We’ve been able to focus more fully on those under our roof who are blossoming into beautiful young men and women in the blink of an eye.

 

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16-year-old Dayana, who has been living with us as our daughter for over three years and whom we are in the process of legally adopting, with Darwin

 

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12-year-old Gleny, who has been living with us since November 2013 with her two siblings, will be entering our discipleship-focused homeschool program after having attended a local private school these last two years.

 

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Brayan, who first moved in with us when he was 12 years old in 2014 and nearly fit under my armpit, now is nearly as tall as Darwin!

 

We’ve enjoyed weekly trips with our kids to a local park to swim and play, numerous family movie nights with popcorn and ice cream treats, and many family work days as we’ve slapped on our rubber boots and old clothes to do property maintenance, painting, and repairs together. We’ve moved furniture from one building to the next, cleaned out our classrooms’ stuffed-to-the-brim bookshelves, taken down doors, spent countless man hours sanding window bars, and gotten our fingernails dirty in just about every way imaginable.

We even got away for a few nights in December with our kids and escaped to a desert island off the coast to explore the ocean, go snorkeling, kayak, and fish. (Our kids caught a venomous snake, an octopus, a lobster, an eel, and even a few normal fish!) It was a new and exciting experience for everyone, and all ten of us squeezed into a little two-room rustic cabin that stood on pillars with the ocean’s waves passing underneath.

 

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8-year-old Josue, who will soon be celebrating his two-year anniversary of living with us. He and his older sister Jackeline have monthly contact with their biological family, and by God’s grace we maintain a very positive relationship with their relatives.

 

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9-year-old Jason and 15-year-old Brayan, roommates and brothers in Christ, enjoying the snorkel sets we rented to explore the ocean off the coast of where we live in Honduras.

 

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Dayana and Gleny, biological sisters, learning to put into daily practice God’s perfect love despite personality and age differences

 

Darwin has begun reading through the Bible page-by-page, devouring many chapters each night, and two of our daughters have begun doing the same. 8-year-old Gabriela, who is lightyears behind her peers developmentally due to severe abuse suffered in her early childhood, has spent many hours each day receiving classes from her faithful tutors (local teenagers who are our students during the school year) and, miraculously, is in the very beginning stages of learning to write the letters and begin working with numbers. She will be entering first grade alongside of a few local students in our homeschool-style program in a couple weeks.

15-year-old Brayan, who has been successfully living with us for nearly three months now for ‘Round Two’ of being a member of our household, has been waking up early with Darwin every morning to go milk the cows, which has been a wonderful bonding activity for father and son and likewise a phenomenal work-ethic-building activity for Brayan as he is acquiring more maturity and consistency.

 

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Darwin and I exploring the ocean in a kayak. The waves booted us out of the kayak twice!

 

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Walking hand-in-hand with the little ones, who developmentally are about 3-5 years old

 

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Our beloved Wild Man, Cow-Milker and Big Brother who is acquiring a surprising amount of maturity, humility and wisdom as he continues his daily walk with Christ

 

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Darwin and Brayan at dawn (or dusk? who knows?) fishing on the pier

 

These slow-paced vacation times have also allowed for many long one-on-one discussions, intimate times of confession and repentance, and conflict resolutions among siblings. Family foot-rubs, late nights spent giggling and story-sharing with our teenage girls, praying together as we sit cross-legged on the tile floor to give thanks to Father God.

I’ve also been dedicating a chunk of time nearly every day to teaching our six oldest kids (ages 9-16) math classes homeschool-style as we gather around a long wooden table in one of our empty classrooms and I stand at the front with the whiteboard, scribbling numbers all over the place as we work to fill in many educational gaps they’ve suffered due to chaotic, no-school childhoods before arriving at our home.

 

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Gleny and I after having jumped off the pier

 

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The tribe the Lord has formed among us: 10 people of various ages (and races) from six different biological families all living under one roof, united as family by Christ’s blood

 

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Darwin overseeing his young fishermen

 

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Our precious pianist (we call her “Beethoven’s great-granddaughter”) and adventure-loving big sister who is daily taking steps to find healing and freedom in Christ

 

Our local students will return to us full-time January 24 as we currently find ourselves in a three-week stage of preparation, brainstorms, communal prayer, strategic meetings and book discussions as we are seeking God’s perfect will for this new school year (the Honduran school year begins at the end of January/beginning of February and finishes in late November).

We currently have 40 students (ages 8-18) signed up to study at the Living Waters Ranch this school year (including the 8 who live with us), with all but 2 of our 25 students from 2016 returning in addition to several new additions.

 

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12-year-old Josselyn, who has been living with us a year-and-a-half and who is daily being transformed by God’s love as she learns and grows within healthy limits

 

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Accompanying our young sailors on their sea vessel destined for Africa

 

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Our 8. (The five more adventurous ones jumping while the three keep-it-safers hid out on the float below)

 

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Developmentally-challenged Gaby and Josue ‘kayaking’ on the shore. (We kept the life jackets on those two at all times — even during mealtimes and when they went to the bathroom!)

 

As our influence in the community is growing, God has brought more workers to labor alongside of us in these times of planting, watering and harvesting. Miss Isis and Miss Ligia, who were featured on this blog several times throughout the year 2016, have committed to continuing their service for God’s glory in 2017, and three additional teachers/mentors have been added to our team: Domingo, a well-respected local pastor in his fifties (who is the father of one of our students) and who has experience in military service and as a carpenter; Reina, a local Christian teacher in her late forties who has many years of experience in the classroom and had approached us many months ago wanting to work with us due to the comments her neighbors had shared with her about our purpose and vision; and Erick, the very wise young man who lived at the Living Waters Ranch with us for nearly a year in 2013/2014 and who has a very strong gifting in evangelism and discipleship.

 

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13-year-old Jackeline and 16-year-old Dayana, roommates and sisters in Christ, exploring the coral reefs around the island

 

It has been a very special privilege in these first couple weeks of 2017 to be in such gifted, dedicated company as we’ve all put our heads together as a team – as Christ’s body – to search out God’s will for us as his sons and daughters, as a beacon of light in our very dark neighborhood, as a school for many youth who would not otherwise study, as a ‘rescue shop within a yard of hell.’ Our kids have actively participated in these meetings (oftentimes lasting 3-4 hours with many different speakers, activities, moments of prayer, etc) as they are taking an increasingly active role in participating in the ministry the Lord has entrusted us.

Thank you to all who read this blog and share with us your generous support, prayer and counsel. Please continue to pray for us as we are in the formative stages of this new year of service and love for God’s glory.

Amen!

Against All Odds: Carrying a Load Full of Joy

This past Saturday our rickety 2001 cab-and-a-half truck carried a few additional rabble-rousers in its precious load as it went rumbling up that long gravel mountain road to our mentors’ home.

We were headed to our faith community’s annual 2-mile road race, and five of our students/choir members were invited for the special 2-day event. (Organized road races or almost any other kind of healthy, fun activity very rarely occur in our part of the world, so when they do it’s a really big deal.)

We would be spending the night in a cabin — Darwin and I and 12 wily youth — on our mentors’ property so we could also attend the weekly Discipleship Group that would be held the following morning.

Everyone’s arms and backpacks were filled with pillows, blankets, Bibles, a change of clothes, and toothbrushes (well, I think some of the kids forgot those…) as everyone squeezed in for the journey. (Of course, our car has held up to 20-25 people on certain choir trips, but this load of 14 was nonetheless interesting due to the additional luggage each person brought.)

So our car faithfully made the hour-and-fifteen-minute trip from our rural property through the city of La Ceiba and up a remote mountain road as faces poked out windows and people sat perilously perched on backpacks. Watch out for the potholes!  

I had honestly felt quite anxious about the trip, dogged by a sense of dread about inviting five teen boys to accompany our family on an overnight trip — those same boys that our daughters have had crushes on at different times! Red alert!

But, remembering the scripture we have been studying for quite some time as a family/community (Philippians 4:4-7), I very intentionally began waging war against that astute opponent named Worry, pleading God to replace my anxiety with Christ’s perfect peace. I desired to trust God rather than cling to my own illusion of control, so I prayed vigorously for our potentially precarious situation, that God would be glorified in everyone’s behavior and attitudes (even in mine).

May You protect the youth from any flirting or inappropriate behavior, and may You protect me from falling prey to Worry. May we all draw nearer to You during this trip, Jesus, and may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

As we jostled up the pot-hole-splattered road I continued to pray silently as I fought diligently to shake Worry from where it perched on my shoulder, snarling and extending its long claws toward my neck.

I remembered: Rather than worry, pray. Place all your concerns on Christ, for He cares for us. Rejoice in Father God at all times, giving Him thanks in every situation.

We had, after all, talked extensively with our kids — especially our girls — about behavior expectations prior to embarking on the journey, and everyone knew they had to stay together as a group with Darwin and I, so I finally just let loose and dared to trust God.

I slowly felt the Christ’s unexplainable peace overcome my petty grasp at control as He shooed away Worry.

Released from those claws that had so adeptly inched toward my neck only moments prior, my body suddenly skipped from dread to an electrified sense of newfound glee — a God-given ecstasy that is granted even in the most unexpected of circumstances.

I glanced over at Darwin, who this time found himself in the passenger’s seat. My eyes lit up with mischief as I thrust the steering wheel to the left and then suddenly to the right, propelling the car in a wild zig-zag pattern up that long, empty road as the kids squealed with delight and everyone hung on for dear life, hair flying and backpacks sliding everywhere. I threw my head back and laughed as Darwin stared at me disapprovingly after having just eaten his lunch and suddenly feeling nauseous.

Mustering a benign scold as the car continued onward in its rambunctious zig-zag, he advised: “With so many kids in the back, I sure hope they don’t whack their heads…”

My whole body now rejoicing in an all-consuming grin, I reeled with increasing laughter: “Nonsense! They love when I do this…”

As knuckles turned pale, grasping desperately at the car’s slippery surface and young throats let out joyous whoops, we finally came to an (intentionally) abrupt stop along the road. It was time to take pictures!

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Ten of the youth participated in the road race in addition to Darwin and I, and — Praise God! — the two-day event proved fruitful and blessed.

Everyone’s behavior was exemplary — our young male students behaved as perfect gentlemen, lovingly submitting themselves to our authority, and our girls shone brightly with God’s glory as they put into practice appropriate social norms as they interacted wisely with the opposite sex. (Oh, this has been a long and gruesome battle to recapture innocence, to submit to a pure God in a culture so stained by sexual sin, abuse and trickery! Through tears we thank Him for these small — huge! — steps of progress, of prayers answered and lives being liberated from Satan’s grasp.)

Saturday evening as we sat around the (very) long wooden table in our mentors’ rustic dining room, I was taken aback, suddenly caught up in awe. I looked across the table.

There sat Darwin enjoying his dinner and engaging in joyful conversation, surrounded by those same five young men whom I didn’t want to invite. I studied their faces, aglow with life, with innocence, that too many youth here rarely — if ever — experience.

Too many young men in this country (world?) experience deadening boredom, terrible deeds cloaked in darkness, paralyzing shame, utter purposelessness. But joy? What young men actually dare to seek true joy in the Living God?

 Those who trust they will find it, find Him.

 I carefully allowed the moment to ingrain itself in my memory, receiving it as if it were a portrait of God’s active, redeeming work in the world, His daring rescue mission on enemy territory.

I studied Exson, this 18-year-old who can barely read, he who since becoming our student in our discipleship-based 7th-grade program in February of this year has very quickly (and unexpectedly) become like an extended member of our family. He who only a few days prior stayed after class with his 14-year-old sister Messy (who is also in our program, pictured to the right) to talk with me, both sharing through sincere emotion how much God is touching their lives, transforming them. This same young man who very easily could have fallen into those murderous gangs that so many local young men his age have fallen into, but — by divine grace — has rather fallen into the trap of God’s love.

Yes, it scares me silly to include an 18-year-old young man who has only been deeply exposed to God’s Word in the last several months and who is still on the verge of making a decision for Christ in the same family outing with our daughters, but is this not God’s radical plan? To come for the sick, the lost, to set up a rescue shop within a yard of hell? (See: A Rescue Shop Within a Yard of Hell  and By God’s Design: Zebras in Honduras)

Oh, how many times have I resisted Christ’s command to love boundlessly – how meticulously have I set up those strict, self-protecting barrier lines! You can come to this certain point, and then you’ll come no further. We receive you in our home all week long, but our weekends will be spent exclusively on those 7, 8, 9 who call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’. You’ve reached your limit! No more grace!

And how many times has my Father lovingly said, “Jennifer, My will goes beyond your comfort zone. When you are weak – tired, spent – I am strong. Receive these boys — speak to them of Me, show them a more excellent way – even when it doesn’t fit comfortably in your agenda. The manmade boundaries of ‘personal time’ have no meaning in my Kingdom. My extravagant love for humanity culminated in my own gruesome death, and I’ve called you to follow Me in the same way. Die so that you may live, so that My love may be made known to all mankind.”

My eyes traced the lit-up faces of the other young men, two of which have wholeheartedly received the Gospel and three of which are constantly infiltrated by the good news of Jesus, exposed to the Truth of the Kingdom. It’s only a matter of time.

These young men — some of whom live in shanties with many malnourished family members, others who not two years ago did not know the alphabet. Others who have stolen from us, been led to ask forgiveness, start anew. Several of whom have stormed off our property, frustrated by the strict discipline, the command to love, swearing they would never come back.

But there they were.

Against all odds — even against my own will! — there they were, populating the long wooden table that does not typically have a seat reserved for them. Surely God is doing something in them, in me.

Around 8:30pm after engaging in riotous competitions — push-ups, planks, leg-lifts, etc — we all headed to the primitive cabin we would be staying in. Darwin and I with our 7 kids in one section, our 5 neighbor-student boys in a separate part.

As I moved quietly about in the dim room, illuminating the simple space with my headlamp as I searched for my toothbrush, I heard Brayan’s low voice softly permeating the wall that separated us. Against all odds (alas, that is a phrase that seems to be used in our daily vocabulary!), Brayan was leading the other young men as they sought to memorize the Bible verses for the next morning.

“Be full of joy in the Lord always. I will say again, be full of joy.” After Brayan’s voice I heard other, quieter voices, echoing the same. A unanimous call to joy in the Living God, that joy that the world cannot strip from us.

I smiled as his gravelly voice floated toward me. It was the same verse the Lord used to rescue me earlier that day from those long fingers of Worry that threatened to choke me.

He continued, oblivious to the fact that I could hear him, seeking to impress no one but his Father: “Let all men see that you are gentle and kind. The Lord is coming soon. Do not worry about anything. But pray and ask God for everything you need. And when you pray, always give thanks. And God’s peace will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The peace that God gives is so great that we cannot understand it.”

I was unable to constrain my joy any longer as it came violently bubbling up in my chest – that same Brayan whom we loved as a son, who left our care only to wander aimlessly during many months, who has since returned wholeheartedly to Christ, to us, is now leading other lost young men on the Way! I let out a silly whoop in the darkness and engaged our prodigal son in that growing inside joke we have about being full of joy: “Brayan, be full of joy! Always be full of joy in the Lord!

My infectious giggles rose high as he suddenly stopped reading, obviously caught off guard by my interruption from the other side of the wall. He paused just long enough to let out a good-natured scold that undoubtedly came through a big, cheesy grin: “Ma, now I don’t want to hear a lot of ruckus tonight. Behave yourself.”

Amen! Glory to God!

 

God’s Hand Over the Next Generation: Compassion Shown by the Unlikely

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 all the time! 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.

Amen! Glory to God!

Shrieking with Delight and Persevering Through Fatigue: Rowdy Tutoring with Miss Isis

Last Friday Miss Isis, our young primary teacher who began living alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch earlier this month as a way of deepening her walk with Christ, has begun giving tutoring classes to Gaby and Josue (our special needs ‘twins’ who are both 8 years old but are developmentally about 3 or 4 years old after having suffered severe abuse and neglect with their biological families).

Our little ones’ fine motor skills are abysmal (although astronomically better than they were 12-18 months ago when they arrived in our family!) as they struggle through basic daily activities such as washing a dish, holding a pencil, opening a door, operating a zipper, etc, and they live in the midst of speech impediments, lack of focus, diaper-wearing and untold difficulties that distance them from their peers. Thus, Miss Isis decided to focus much of the tutoring on physical movement, mimicking, strength and coordination (along with teamwork and general levels of fun!), all of which are basic building blocks on top of which finer, more focused motor skills will be added in the future as they learn to assimilate more and more into functioning society.

Last Friday was their first class together, and much to everyone’s surprise (and utter delight!) Miss Isis — who is typically very poised and quiet and has zero experience with organized sports  or any kind of physical training — brought her “A” game with our quirky little ones, thrusting aside any general societal norms of ‘accepted adult behavior’ or any notion of not wanting to ‘look weird.’

After having spent the morning in the ‘academic wilderness’ with her small group of second-fifth grade primary students (who also suffer many developmental delays, severe behavioral problems, and generally low intellectual capabilities), she suited up (as in, took off her sandals) for what promised to be a high-energy time with two very special little people.

After organizing several wind-sprints across our large front lawn (and participating), doing many frog-jumps and other rapid movement activities, Miss Isis began panting, collapsed on a nearby bench and informed the kids through heavy breaths, “Okay, great! You’re doing an excellent job. Now I’m gonna give you a little break to catch your breath before we continue onward…”

I laughed (because Isis needed the break, not the kids!), and I ran to get my camera for what was quickly becoming one of the best, most high-energy tutoring classes I’ve ever seen anyone give our little ones (and which is exactly what they need).

So here, captured behind the lens, is our beloved sister in Christ, Isis, giving her all alongside of our two goofy, precious, broken little ones. 16-year-old Sandra, who in no way was obligated to join in the tutoring class, even participated because it all looked like so much fun! Go, Sandra, go!

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Good job, Josue! Just follow my lead — keep those legs and arms in constant motion! Pedal ’em like a bicycle! Let’s go, kids!

 

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Legs up and down, up and down! You got it!

 

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Pump it! Don’t give up, kids!

 

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Get those arms and legs movin’! Up and down! (I think Gaby got the ‘down’ motion, but not the ‘up’!)

 

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Now everybody pull your knees to your chest! Pull ’em tight!

 

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Let’s get that bicycle action goin’ again! Don’t give up!

 

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Okay! Legs! Bring those legs up and down, up and down! Feel the burn! (Gotta love this photo of Gaby!)

 

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Whew! That was exhausting…

 

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Now it’s time for some stretching! Circle up! Touch your toes to your neighbors’ and try to grab their fingers!

 

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Now reach as far as you can towards the center!

 

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One hand on your head and the other one extended to touch your toes! You got it, Gaby and Josue!

 

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Okay! Grab your neighbor again! Stretch!

 

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Now try to put your head to the ground!

 

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Now reach behind you! Extend your arms!

 

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Okay, kids! Get showered up because now we’re heading in to art class!

 

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Gaby’s ‘silly (dragon) face’!

 

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What a beautiful drawing, Josue!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Seeking Prayer for Current Frustrations

We are currently facing many difficulties with the students in our discipleship-based school program. The general attitude in our poverty-stricken rural neighborhood is one stained with a deep sense of laziness, ingratitude, self-pity and dishonesty, all of which is brought onto our property daily as the students pass through our gates.

Weekly we face many instances of cheating, blatant disrespect and/or a total refusal to complete basic assignments, and many times when we look for healthy ways to discipline/correct such behavior the students´ parents come to their rescue, defending and justifying their children´s dishonesty and laziness. Sometimes the family members even accuse us, and in one instance a student´s family got the local educational authorities involved to come against us because we are determined to hold honest, just standards in this culture of complicity that only breeds more ignorance and evil-doing. This is very frustrating and saddening for us, and it makes for long and sometimes seemingly unfruitful days.

Just this morning my husband and I had to rearrange our plans last-minute and go make three personal house visits to talk with certain students and their parents after having confronted a severe situation of cheating/lying/scoffing. Likewise, we have other students who simply don´t come to school or their moms send notes to the teacher saying their child is sick when in fact they aren´t (that happened this morning as well.)

Please pray for us during this continued period of discernment/learning as we are still in our first 4-5 months of our first school year with these programs and students. All of our local students come from the public school system where they were accostumed to missing as many days of school as they wanted, cheating with zero consequence, and passing their grade no matter the effort given because the Honduran government has declared that all students must pass their grade whether they actually learned anything or not. (There are thousands of cases nationwide each year of students who at the end of the school year have earned a 30% or 60%, etc, but the teacher is forced to write ¨70%¨ on the report card and pass the unprepared, lazy child onto the next grade). That system produces, as we know too well, students who are 15 or 18 years old in 7th grade who still don’t know the times tables and don’t understand why it might be important to learn them.

So, please pray with and for us, that we may be granted a right view of these cultural ills and thus know how to inculcate a genuine sense of self-discipline, punctuality, responsibility, truth-telling, dogged work ethic, etc, in these students who are accostumed to the exact opposite. Furthermore, may our Father grant us the perseverance and wisdom to not become discouraged or too caught-up in certain details that, eternally viewed, do not matter as much as our daily labor of sharing God’s Word with the students, loving and guiding them according to His good will, and praying with and for them.

It is a very fine line, because if we implement the godly discipline we believe in and know to be very healthy for rebellious, lost youth, we would currently be left very likely with only one or two students (because the rest would have stormed out or been expelled). On the other hand, if we are too flexible and ¨understanding,¨ very quickly everything becomes permissible and we fall prey to the same evil that plagues the public schools.

Just this morning two of our teen boys from primary school expelled themselves after having reached their fifth strike, a very reasonable discipline system we have put in place to protect both ourselves and our students from contaminating our home/mission with an attitude of uncurbed rebellion. Prior to being expelled their general attitude was deeply marked by a defiant laziness, too many unexcused tardies, cheating during exams (and laughing when getting caught…and then yelling at us and accusing us of being unfair for not having let them cheat), and disrespectful attitudes, oftentimes proclaiming to their teacher that they wouldn’t be coming back the next day because our school is ¨too strict.¨

I share these frustrations so that you may go before the Lord with us in search of the answers.

A handful of students in both primary and secondary are truly succeeding in our program, are actively absorbing God’s Word as it is presented to them, and are in the beautiful beginning stages of being transformed by their knowledge of the Truth. Let us give thanks to God for the receptivity and work ethic of these students, and may the Lord continue to protect them against attacks from the enemy. May His will be done in and among us, and may He continue to guide us with all wisdom, justice and love as we seek to earnestly shepherd the rogue youth He has brought to us for His glory. Amen!