Tag Archives: Joy

Bed of Flowers: A Spontaneous Photo Shoot on the Front Lawn

Yesterday in the early morning hours as I walked out onto our quiet front porch — our 7 foster kids sleepily getting showered and ready for another day of school — I stared at the raw, wild beauty that God had blessed us with right there on our front lawn. Little red flowers had fallen from two of our trees and laid scattered on the ground in a stunning array.

I thanked God in my heart for such beauty, and I considered that the entire scene would make for a one-of-a-kind photo shoot. After all, we have another kind of tree on our property that sheds yellow flowers in springtime every year, but we had not moved fast enough this year and sadly missed our opportunity to take pictures.

Well, just a couple hours after I stood prayerfully mesmerized on our front porch all of our missionary-teachers and local students came buzzing through our front gate for a new day of classes and discipleship. With minimal interruptions to our daily schedule we seized the day and organized a spontaneous photo shoot to capture behind the lens a measure of the love, joy and fellowship in the Lord that we enjoy here on a daily basis.

God bless you, and I hope these photos make you smile…

A partial view of the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead where we love, disciple and educate over 40 youth in a homeschool-style setting for God’s glory
Our group of eighth-graders, including one of our foster daughters and eight local youth alongside of their homeroom teacher, one of our local missionary-teachers
Our ninth-grade homeroom teacher with her tiny group of faithful students: all three are foster daughters of ours!
Me having too much fun directing the photo shoot on our front lawn
My husband Darwin (blue shirt at the bottom of the photo) with his group of sixth-graders, including our foster son and seven local youth
One of our beloved adolescent tutors with her small group of basic primary students, all of which live in our local community with their parents
One of our highly dedicated  missionary-teachers (floral shirt) with two of our adolescent tutors who serve alongside of us in integral Christian discipleship and education
Our seventh-grade homeroom missionary-teacher with her group of students, including one of our foster daughters and eleven local youth
Last but not least: one of our missionary-teachers took a photo of my husband and me!
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast-forward a few days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be the glory!

The Birthday Chase: Let the Eggs and Flour Fly!

Yesterday was my husband Darwin’s 35th birthday, and our foster kids and local students who study in our discipleship-based homeschool program had been scheming for quite some time about the birthday surprise they would deliver to their beloved teacher and father: the classic Honduran tradition (which is typically only done to youth) of cracking raw eggs on his head and filling him with flour.

The day of the surprise attack, Darwin sensed danger as I gathered in a huddle with several of our teens near our front porch, so he snuck out of our front gate, locked it so no one could follow him, and began running away. Two of our stronger teen boys hopped the fence in the blink of an eye (which is typically a big no-no, but on this specific occasion it just made sense), and began sprinting after him down the dirt path.

Well, that was just the beginning of the impromptu fun as Darwin ended up running all over our property in a zig-zag as roughly a dozen teens chased him through the tall grass where our cows graze. He looked like a wild bull who needed a rather large team to corral him! They finally cornered him and gave him his birthday surprise: eggs on his head and flour everywhere, but what they didn’t expect was that he would soon begin chasing them to take revenge!

It was a lovely half-hour or so of wild laughter and healthy fun all over our rural property, which we thank God for because in this country many teenagers do not have the opportunity to engage in safe, loving play (and much less with loving male Christian leaders who teach and disciple them on a daily basis). We see all over the Honduran news devastating murders and acts of extortion; what most people never hear about (and much less experience) is this type of loving camaraderie and innocent fun within the context of God’s perfect will. Most of our teens (both those who live with us as sons and daughters and those who visit our home during daytime hours for school) come from devastating childhoods and never really learned to play (and much less have sustained joy in the Lord), so events such as these highlight a very real joy that the Lord is allowing to flow in our daily activities as we seek Him alongside of these precious teens.

So, praise be to God for this afternoon snapshot of joy in a land replete in despair and violence. Enjoy the photos…

A good group of our students and foster kids gathered around the gate to watch the action on the other side — Darwin had locked the gate and tried to run away so that the teens wouldn’t be able to break eggs on his head and cover him in flour!
After Darwin’s failed wild goose chase (he was the wild goose who failed to escape), he started taking vengeance on the students, chasing and grabbing them one by one and rubbing his eggy hair all over their clothes! (In this photo he’s hunting one of our local 16-year-old tutors who serves alongside of us on the far right side of the photo.)
I was filming a video of our students’ surprise birthday attack on Darwin!
We’ve got the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China going on here (and they keep jumping from one side to the other because the gate’s locked and Darwin’s got the key!)
Total mayhem!
Here comes Darwin after his solid defeat! (But he’s not done taking revenge…)

One year older, and definitely with a more mature look! All 35-year-olds sport raw eggs and flour, don’t they?
He’s tired after having run all over the front pasture for several minutes trying to escape the scheming students, but he’s got enough spark left in him to take on one of the leaders of the attack: one of our 16-year-old local students! This will be a good match (and let’s see whose shirt gets ripped)!

It was a tie! Man, what happened to Darwin? He looks like he’s coming back from an all-out war zone! (His belt is undone, his clothes are all dirty and his shirt is un-zipped!)
They’re still coming at him with more eggs! (They had buried them several days prior in preparation for the big birthday surprise, so the eggs were especially ripe!)
Everybody scram! You might be Darwin’s next victim of revenge!
To top off the whole event, our girls start singing happy birthday!
This is Darwin posing with Carolina, one of our foster daughters who served as one of the egg-smashing masterminds. After the initial escapade, Darwin chased her down and rubbed his messy hair all over her clothes! Ha!
Well, by the end of the ‘birthday party’, there were more victims than just Darwin! Everybody started throwing eggs and flour on anybody they could get their hands on!


Ok, the fun’s over! Now it’s time to do the daily clean-up rounds! Boys, go grab a broom and get to sweepin’!

Now everybody’s cleaning up in our outdoor washing station! Nobody wants to go home a mess!
Here’s one of our foster daughters helping a local student wash her hair! We don’t want any parents mad at us because their kids smell like rotten egg!

Ok, time to head home! (Some leave walking; others on bikes; others in our pickup.) Well done with Darwin’s birthday surprise!

Praise be to God!

2017 Yearend Update

Friday we finished up our last day of regular classes, Bible study and dynamic group activities as the Honduran school year is coming to a close. In the ensuing days there has been much cleaning out of classrooms and office spaces, great administrative effort to close up the year well, and the moving of furniture from one little building to another to convert our primary schoolhouse into a quaint (and rather bare) guesthouse/multi-purpose building for our vacation time.

On Monday we had our last official meeting with our small but extremely devoted team of Honduran teachers/missionaries to pray together and wrap everything up logistically. But, rather than it just being the 7 of us sitting in a circle in one of our classrooms to direct the usual meeting, we had a special guest. One of our male students who has just completed his first full year of classes and discipleship with us at the Living Waters Ranch had asked permission to come to the all-adult meeting in order to share his testimony and thank us for leading him to the Lord. We’ve known him on and off for nearly four years, and he’s always been extremely timid and seemingly on the verge of joining a gang or escaping illegally to the United States. (Alas, he was one of the local vagabonds last year who mocked our students who got baptized in the river near his home! Look at all the Lord has done in him since!)

This particular young man is on the cusp of turning 18 years old and is just now finishing 7th grade. He sat in our midst in his skinny jeans with a soccer shirt and metal chain hanging casually from around his neck. On the outside, he looked like any other male teen in our area, but his eyes were aglow with life, with joy, and you could sense he was at total peace. As we each greeted him warmly at the beginning of the meeting, asking him how he felt, he kept shaking his head back and forth with a huge smile on his face (not typical of any male teen around these parts), and said more than once, “I’m just so happy about all the changes that are going on inside of me…”

All eyes trained on him – alas, this was the first time any of our students had asked permission to come to one of our planning meetings in order to share their testimony! – he began speaking, full of confidence and wisdom, as he ended up pouring his heart out for nearly an hour about how his relationship with Christ has completely changed his entire perspective. We knew this to be true as we had seen a dramatic transformation in him after many, many seeds of truth were sown in him through our Bible studies, prayer groups, individual counsel and encouragement with Darwin and Erick, and his 7th grade teacher’s spiritual investment in his life everyday in the classroom. His heart had gone from cold and disinterested to burning hot for God, and just a few weeks ago he made the decision to give his life to the Lord. He spoke with great joy and accuracy about how he used to be a vagabond; used to live totally immersed in sexual sin; used to not love his brothers and parents (and much less his enemies); used to fear the many dangerous men who roam about our neighborhood (without fearing the Lord). Now, knowing Christ and fully experiencing God’s love for him, his whole life is changing. Now he expresses love and gratitude to his family members; he asks forgiveness when he’s sinned; he listens to praise music rather than worldly music; he longs for his life to bear good fruit for God’s glory; and he loves to be close to God’s Word. If I were to write everything he said, it would take pages. In short, God radically changed the course of this young man’s life, and He is now using him as a Godly influence to reach other teens in our neighborhood with the message of Christ (not to mention his immediate family who is directly impacted by the life of God now in him).

That definitely makes every ounce of effort worth it (and leads us to give thanks to God for making all those little seeds – however imperfectly they were sown – take root and grow)!

And so today is our official celebration day as each of our students and their families will come over for an entire afternoon of year-end presentations and activities, including choir performances, a 2-mile road race involving the local community, a PowerPoint presentation of all the photos we’ve taken this year, and several other musical and dance performances by our students. At the end of the event, our students will receive their official report cards, and then we won’t see the majority of them again until January (if, in fact, they decide to continue studying with us next year).

This is a sentimental and slightly delicate time of year emotionally, as we know that a handful of the students whom we love will not be returning next year. For some, they never caught the vision or aren’t willing to persevere long enough for God to begin to work in their lives; for others, they prefer to attend the local public high school where corruption abounds and it is much easier to slip under the radar without having done much work at all. Despite our earnest, repeated efforts to seek out and encourage the lost sheep, there were over a dozen local youth who dropped out throughout the course of the year. We see them now roaming our rural neighborhood largely as vagabonds without any direction, and we always greet them warmly and remind them that they have an open door here if they should ever decide to return.

We understand that just about everything that is taught and lived here at the Living Waters Ranch is very counter-cultural (and goes against the general worldly stream as a whole), so on the one hand we are really surprised and grateful that so many of our students have been granted the divine wisdom and dogged willingness to want to participate at all! (Now that’s a good perspective to have! Praise God!)

We are officially ending our second school year of discipleship-based community homeschool with 35 full-time students, 5 part-time students and our special-needs foster son Josue, who serves as everyone’s ‘assistant’ and best friend. Several of our more faithful students have communicated enthusiastically to Darwin and me that no matter what, they’ll be back next year to continue growing in Christ with us and acquiring a vast array of academic and life skills. That makes our heart grow in joy and gratitude, as we earnestly desire to walk long-term with each of the youth under our care, not only the 10 who live with us as sons and daughters but also those from our local neighborhood who spend the majority of their daytime hours in our home and classrooms.

And so, today we will say goodbye and enter a new (albeit very short) season of vacation from the typical community hospitality and teaching we participate in 10-11 months of the year. Our local teachers/missionaries and students will have free time to spend with their families and continue to grow in God’s will as Darwin and I will work privately at the ongoing task of taming our 10 foster kids/teens with God’s love.

In these next few days Darwin has many choir events back-to-back as he will be shuttling his young singers all over the place to spread joy and sing hymns. Erick, one of the local missionaries who labors alongside of us, has great plans to take the teenagers who participate in the youth group he hosts in his home (several of which are our foster children) to a local prison to minister to the prisoners and – on another occasion – to downtown La Ceiba to pray for the homeless and drug-addicts. Several of our older teens also have plans to visit the poor and sick in our neighborhood during their vacation time as they seek to bless Christ in disguise.

Sandra, the local teen who lived with us for a season before returning to live with her mother, will be coming up to our home almost daily to give one-on-one literacy classes to her mom, who due to extreme poverty and social disadvantage never learned to read and write. Our daughter Jackeline will likewise be giving intensive math tutoring classes to our two new daughters (Carolina, 15 and Paola, 14) in the hope of getting them up to speed for next school year. Several of our foster teens, two of our teachers and I will be heading out of town to attend a Christian youth conference this weekend, and on Monday we’ll be receiving a visit from a very special friend and missionary who has been serving in Honduras over 25 years. Then my dad comes down for several days (which our kids are especially stoked about).

During these vacation times we will continue to wash our clothes by hand; between all 12 of us we’ll take turns cooking family meals 2-3 times a day; and we’ll continue to ask for God’s grace as we learn to love Him and one another.

Although I feel that I have more to write now than ever, I will most likely take a break from maintaining the blog in December as I devote myself more fully to the cultivation of our children and our relationship with Christ, especially because our kids will not be in classes and will need me to be more fully present.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog and keep us in your prayers before the Lord. For those who are wondering about my ongoing healing from chronic insomnia, it is still a daily battle. In addition to my natural supplements, I have begun taking a strong prescription sleeping aid that does help me get a full night’s sleep, but it leaves me feeling drugged and dizzy all the next day. If I don’t take it, I don’t sleep. If I do, then I feel really weird the whole next day. (So I’m left to choose the lesser of two evils).

Please continue to pray for my integral health, sincere love and joy in our marriage (amidst many daily commitments which sometimes put great pressure on our relationship), and God’s protection over our lives and property. There is much to be thankful for. He has done mighty things this year. Praise God!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. God bless you.

Maintaining Peace in the Storm: Gleny’s Hard-Earned Lesson

Earlier this afternoon around 3:30pm as all of our daily classes were letting out and teachers and students were heading home, our 12-year-old daughter Gleny approached me with a rather solemn countenance and responded to my hug with sagging shoulders: “Mom, can I talk to you in private about something that happened today?”

I breathed deeply, as I was sure whatever news she was going to share with me wasn’t positive. A key that my husband and I are learning as we share our lives alongside of very broken and hurting people is how to actively and sacrificially love them without getting ‘infected’ by their sin, pessimism, complaints, etc. Centering myself before God’s presence, asking for His unfailing peace and joy even in the midst of whatever she was about to share, I answered cheerfully, “Sure. Just let me go grab my things.”

I headed to our dining room to grab my keys and teaching supplies, as I had just finished leading a dynamic homeschool-style support class for a group of 12 of our students who come from more marginalized backgrounds whom I meet with every Tuesday afternoon. We had read together several chapters of the book of John; we had done several silly, team-building activities out on the lawn; I had shared a snack and story-time with them; we finished with an open-ended art project using oil pastels. It had been a blessed time as both I and my students weekly look forward to our time together, and I immediately rejected the thought that Gleny’s Debby-downer attitude would put a damper on all the positive work that God had done that day.

As Gleny and I passed into the bedroom my husband and I share, I breathed deeply again, and internally braced myself for anything. In these Mom-can-I-talk-with-you-in-private chats that we’ve had on numerous occasions with all of our kids, the spectrum of topics that they approach us about ranges from entirely innocent to utterly tragic. Just the night prior we had had several of these types of conversations back-to-back with our teen girls as a couple startling situations were brought into the light and carefully dealt with.

I sat on the floor, waiting for her to join me. From her dull countenance came the words: “Can I close the door?”

“Of course.” Okay. I breathed even deeper. Whatever she was about to share was gonna be really private.

She stood several feet from me, refusing to sit down. She began defensively: “Something happened that I really didn’t like.”

Of course. I nodded and allowed her to continue. “Today in agriculture class Brayan was bothering me, saying that I like this certain boy.”

I thanked God in my heart that this was the ‘big deal.’ This sort of ‘bad day’ we can deal with without much sweat; it is much more taxing when our kids come to us to share inside knowledge of a robbery, group lie or scandal, etc, that other siblings have participated in.

Brayan, our 15-year-old son who is a bit immature for his age, had pushed Gleny’s buttons. That I could deal with easy enough. Thank you, God.

She continued, very upset and close to tears. “I mean, several of my classmates bother me about this, saying that I like this boy. And I don’t! I just…I just wanted to grab a rock and throw it at him, but I decided not to…”

I spoke up for the first time, wanting to show her that I was with and for her: “I’m so glad you didn’t. That’s great self-control, sweetheart.”

She nearly cut me off as she apparently had not finished her statement, “…because I didn’t want the rock to hit the teacher.”

I bit my lip and tried not to laugh, “Oh.”

That led to a nearly hour-long conversation between my Wild Gleny and me as I gave her my honest perspective: I could and would talk with Brayan about not teasing her, but even so that would not guarantee that he (and not to mention all the other students who don’t live in our household) would entirely leave her alone forever. The task at hand was that of learning how to deal with jokes, teasing and bullying in a God-honoring, healthy way. After all, I reminded Gleny of something that she already knew: we cannot control others; we can only control ourselves. That is the power that God has given us and that we will ultimately have to give an account for. 

Several minutes into our conversation she warmed up a bit and came and sat down on the tile floor next to me as I put my arm around her.

Gleny came to us as a scared, aggressive 9-year-old in a very tiny, malnourished body. Her previously toothy, wide-gapped smile has since grown into a beautiful, brilliant smile that can light up a whole room. She was the first of our kids to start calling me ‘Mom,’ and she accepted Jesus early on in her time in our household and was baptized publicly last year. God’s work in her life is clearly evident as her extreme outbursts and fits of rage used to occur several times daily, and God has since been softening her heart and teaching her how to love and respond peacefully. Even so, she still struggles mightily with jealously, with being one of the younger siblings, and with a general emotional immaturity that frequently leads her to react with tears or harsh words when she feels she’s in a tough situation.

And so I began giving her some great ideas. “Gleny, when Brayan – or whoever else – comes at you, taunting and embarrassing you by saying that you like a certain boy, the first thing you need to do is control your face.” I showed her a very happy, eyebrows-high face. She immediately covered her face and giggled. I looked ridiculous.

“If people tease you and your face immediately turns into the one that you were showing me when we first came in this room to talk, everyone will know that they can push your buttons. It’s too easy. People who are out to tease are looking for a reaction; they want to make you mad or sad. So don’t let them. You know that God desires us to be joyful and at peace all the time, so the task at hand is to not allow others to rob the joy that Christ gives you. Just because someone teases or pokes fun at you doesn’t mean that you have to fall into a well of sadness or suddenly get angry and start throwing rocks. God desires for your joy to be permanent, for the peace He gives us to be unwavering despite what other people may do or say.”

“So first, your face.” I again flashed an extremely happy, silly face at her, and we both laughed.

“Mom! Stop it! When you look like that it makes me laugh!”

“That’s the point. If you can show this face – “ and I did the really happy face again “ – to those who are trying to push your buttons, by the end of it both you and them are gonna be laughing. But if you show the sad or mad face, they’ll keep going because they’ll know they’ve got you. You’ve lost your peace and joy.”

I kept going. “And that’s like a shield that God gives you – the shield of faith, to protect the joy and peace that He’s put in us. Don’t let people come and take it away from you.”

“Then, with the face, you say something really upbeat like ‘God bless you!’ or ‘Hey, I sure do like you, bro!’ or ‘You’re too funny!’ and then you leave. If the person follows you to try to push your buttons again, you just give another big, happy face and another loving, neutral comment and you walk away again. If you’re still really upset on the inside, then you pray and ask God to protect and restore His peace in your heart.”

I leaned even closer and arched my eyebrows in a juicy secret-telling kind of way. “You wanna know what, Gleny?”

She smiled big, eyes trained on mine, ready for whatever I was about to say.

“I know this works because I do it all the time with you kids.”

She perked up and gasped slightly. “That’s right! You do it a lot with Gaby!”

I nodded and added, “I sure do. And with you. You remember yesterday when you got really mad at me when I asked you to wash your blanket, and I showed you my happy face, gave you a loving comment and left the scene until you calmed down and were ready to talk peacefully?”

The light of understanding dawned across her face. Man, this stuff really does work! This must be Mom’s secret ingredient to not losing her mind in the midst of the daily battlefield.

Minutes later she and I were off hand-in-hand to the kitchen to eat some dinner. We both entered the dining room laughing amongst ourselves as I continued to encourage her to ‘practice the face’ and to have her peaceful, loving one-liners ready for the next time someone insults her. Three of our other daughters – who were busy preparing a cake to take to one of their classes the next day – stared at us oddly, as it was clear to everyone that Gleny and I had some great new inside joke.

A couple minutes passed when Gleny casually mentioned to no one in particular that she was going to begin taking one of the vitamins on our shelf to help with a small eye irritation she was experiencing. This was not a big piece of news to any of us, as we’ve all taken that vitamin from time to time for different minor health issues, so no one said anything. Gleny grabbed the little plastic bottle and turned her back to everyone as she bent over to put it in the fridge.

Standing a few feet away from Gleny, our backs toward one another and several of our other teen girls present, I said very nonchalantly, with only a slight tinge of naughty attitude, “Only fools take that vitamin.”

Suddenly several pairs of eyes were drilling me in shock, and more than one mouth was left dangling wide open. No one could understand why such a negative, critical comment would have come out of my mouth, as Darwin and I are very intentional about the way we speak to one another in our household.

Gleny did a 180 from where she stood bent-over near the fridge, her face displaying utter confusion, convinced she must have heard me wrong: “Wha–?!”

I winked at her and smiled, whispering, “The face. Give me a good face.”

After a couple more moments’ pause, she suddenly burst out in laughter, finally understanding what I was doing: I was training her in the safety of our own relationship how to react to insults with love and grace. I was waiting for her to give me a big, loving face and a positive comment. This training was proving harder for her than she had thought.

Moments later, as Gleny was serving her dinner, she grabbed a can of tuna from our pantry and began pouring a little bit on top of her rice and beans.

I glanced over at her and said with disgust, “Only crazy people eat tuna.”

She snapped her head up at me, eyes wide, and blurted immediately in her own defense, “…No!” 

Her eyes searched mine, again not understanding why I had so openly sought to offend her, until she quickly realized that I had just done it again. She threw her head back and laughed out loud and she stomped her feet with glee. We were both rolling with laughter. I flashed her a delightful, slightly crazy face.

Our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline, who is very expressive and hysterical with her general expressions, furrowed her brow in an extreme way, glancing between Gleny and me, and said, “This strange mother-daughter interaction is really creeping me out.”

Our other girls just stared at me, not sure if they were allowed to laugh with us – what would they even be laughing at, anyway? – or if they should feel offended on behalf of Gleny. Afterall, everyone in our family knows not to go around bothering Gleny, because she’s really explosive and gets her feelings hurt really easily. Bad Mom!

Less than a minute later, as the other girls finished pouring the cake batter into the pan, someone mentioned that Jackeline had accidentally left the oven door open, and the cat had jumped in (the oven was not yet turned on). I glanced over and commented, “Oh, I bet it was Gleny who opened the oven. It was her fault.”

Gleny shot a surprised look over at me, her jaw dangling down around her ankles again, and gasped, “Why?!”

This time it only took her a split second to realize what I had done as she and I both burst out into laughter. She was not passing the tests I was sending her! She had yet to give me a happy face and a loving comment!

Jackeline stared at us strangely as she asked, “What on earth is going on between you two?”

Gleny and I just kept laughing hysterically and sending each other really big, happy faces from across the kitchen.

A couple minutes later 16-year-old Dayana, Gleny’s biological sister, began chit-chatting to me about something silly from one of her classes that day, and I gave her a warm hug and mentioned with a slightly negative tone, “Of course you would think that because you’re that weird girl’s older sister.”

Gleny’s eyes shot up to meet mine as she flashed me a huge – brilliant! – sincerely happy face and stuck out an enthusiastic finger: “That’s right!”

She was ready for it this time! She got it! She really got it!

She extended her hand to meet mine in a triumphant high-five as her joy jumped off her and onto everyone in the room, although only she and I knew what was really going on. I had insulted her – called her weird! – and she responded lovingly!

Things calmed down for a few minutes as everyone began eating their dinner until Jackeline came over and mixed the very little English she knows (as in, like one or two words) into an all-Spanish sentence to ask me a question about how long to bake the cake. (In our household we communicate with one another almost exclusively in Spanish although some of our older kids are in beginners-level English classes). Gleny approached me, impressed that Jackeline had tried to put into practice a little bit of English, and said, “Mom! Did you hear what Jackeline said?! She said the first word in English and the rest in Spanish!” I had not even noticed, but Gleny found it very funny.

I saw this as another open door, so I said, “At least she speaks better English than you do.”

Gleny gave me a beautiful, glowing face and smiled big, affirming: “That’s …okay!…that she speaks better English than I do!” Again she gave me a big high-five and an enthusiastic pat on the back. Good girl! 

Jackeline just stared at us for a few moments and then rolled her eyes, not quite sure whether to believe the whole love-your-enemies and love-those-who-persecute-you drama that was being played out so vividly around her.

Several times throughout dinner I reached across the table and pulled a small strand of Gleny’s hair and poked annoyingly at her ribs. Each time she responded with a lovely, sincere face, a friendly pat on the shoulder and “Many blessings to you!”

About an hour or so later, the endorphins having died down after our riotous training session, Gleny approached me with a rather dull countenance. Oh, no. “Mom, I don’t want to be in violin anymore.”

I gave her a beautiful, loving, happy face and answered neutrally, “You are my favorite violinist, sweetheart.”

That was not the answer she was looking for. She became visibly agitated and entered into that blessed whine: “Mo-om! Please? Can I drop out of violin?”

Feeling her negativity being rather aggressively thrust onto me, I answered with a smile: “I love you, Gleny. You need to persevere with the violin; your dad and I have already talked with you about this. I’m gonna go take a shower now. Catcha later.”

As I began walking to our bathroom, distancing myself as much as possible from her bad attitude, I heard my name being hurled at my back: “Mo-om!”

At our family’s Sabbath Hour – all of our kids on the cusp of entering their rooms for the night – Gleny dramatically threw herself on me one more time, batting her eyes like an innocent little dove: “Mom! The violin! Please!

I embraced her closely – fitting her perfectly under my armpit – as I gave her several little kisses on the forehead and affirmed, “You are absolutely the most precious violin player I’ve ever met. Good night.”

I began walking away as she threw herself at me, grabbing my arm in desperation. (I felt as though she would soon be grabbing my ankles as I dragged her across the floor towards my bedroom, but the situation thankfully did not come to that.) In need of loosening her from me, I said with a big, happy face, “Okay…your bedtime will be earlier tomorrow…”

And her eyes grew wide; she released me immediately and disappeared behind the curtain as she entered her bedroom on schedule.

And, about 10 minutes later, the miracle happened. As I sat peacefully at my laptop computer, curled up in a little nook in our bedroom as several candles let off a soft glow and pleasing scent, the fan producing a refreshing breeze as our entire home entered into its nightly rest, I heard a beautiful noise coming from the other end of our cinderblock home. It was a violin. Gleny was practicing.

Amen! Glory to God!

A Most Unusual Butt-Chewing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen! Glory to God!