Tag Archives: Love Your Enemies

The Cow is Returned: God’s Power in Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all froze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory to God!

Urgent Prayer Request for Protection Over Our Property

Around 5:45am this morning as our 10 foster children/teens and I went about our daily business getting ready for a new day of classes and activities, my husband Darwin came walking through our front door in his grimy work clothes that he puts on every morning to go milk the cows.

Jackeline sat next to me on our little couch as others went about brushing hair and teeth, taking turns in the shower, etc. Each day the routine is more or less the same: we all get up at the same time in the wee hours of the morning; Darwin goes out to milk the cows (oftentimes taking our 16-year-old son Brayan with him), and I facilitate the domestic task of getting everyone in the home ready. Darwin brings in a large bucket of fresh, organic milk; we eat cornflakes and granola for breakfast; and thus the day commences.

Both of our adult female milking cows recently gave birth, so after months of being without milk in our household, the flow of milk had begun anew only a few weeks ago, thus greatly alleviating our heavy grocery bills and also providing an excellent source of calcium and vitamins to our kids, all of whom come from situations of malnutrition and extreme poverty. In short, the cows’ milk is a tremendous blessing, both economically and for our kids’ health and growth.

So, as Darwin came walking through our front door this morning — just like any other morning — he said dryly, “The cows are gone.”

I stared at him, not understanding what he was trying to say. After all, the cows have escaped several times and we’ve had to go out into our rural town searching for them. I asked dumbly, “What? Which ones?”

“The two adults. Someone stole them.”

A shock of panic shot through my veins. The two adults cows? The two who provide us with milk every morning? We had recently invested in the purchase of several younger calves, but it would be years before they would reach maturity and be able to reproduce, thus producing milk. The two adults had been our rock over the last four years, each giving birth to three calves along the way and providing our kids with milk each day. They were gone? For real? How could Darwin be sure that someone had stolen them and that they hadn’t just escaped as they had before on so many other occasions? 

Darwin continued, showing no emotion in his baggy, mis-matched old farm clothes, “They killed them. I found the black cow’s head thrown out by our front gate.”

Wh–? Dead? The only thing I could manage to ask in my numbed state was, “Aren’t they worth more alive than dead?” After all, they kill adult bulls for meat; not female milking cows in their prime. Every farmer knows this; female cows are of incredible worth alive, for they reproduce, thus giving off a legacy of both meat and milk. Someone really killed them? And how did they die, whacked to death by several blows from a machete? I could only stare at Darwin as my body seemed to shut down. By his appearance he was having a similar reaction.

Next, the only reasonable course of action was to pray. So we called together our 10 kids, all standing in a circle in our little living room, holding hands, and did what humanly doesn’t make sense — we gave thanks. Through tears we thanked God for the milk He had provided us through those cows over the last several years, and we thanked him even for the thieves’ lives, asking that He would bring them to repentance and renewal in Christ.

After all, just the day prior in our community Bible study the Lord had led me to teach Jesus’ radical call to love our enemies. Loving your family or those who treat you with kindness is easy; loving those who harm you or speak poorly of you is a mark of a true Christ follower. After all, God loved us and sent His Son to die for us even when we were His enemies. This is God’s radical style, and if we are to call ourselves His followers, we are to do the same. Give thanks in all situations; rejoice when we pass through various difficulties; love those who persecute us.

And so, by God’s grace, that is what we did. We prayed, giving thanks and longing in our heart of hearts for the coming of the God of justice, the God of light and truth.

We then put on our boots and rain jackets and headed outside, as I asked Darwin if I could go see the remains. It all seemed so surreal. We walked in silence out to our front gate and, just beyond, found the severed head of our strong, beautiful black milking cow that we had so adored and had hoped would be able to give birth to many more calves in the coming years. Her eyes were squinted shut and blood was everywhere. A few paces away in an open field we found the bloody hides of both cows — one black and the other orange-and-white. Our night watchman’s family came out to the scene — father and mother and six kids — as they, too, looked on in what any normal person may think to be terror or mortal fear. Whoever did this is a professional cattle theif because we heard nothing last night. Darwin had been up grading papers until 2:00am, and then I was awake from 3:00am on. We heard no ruckus, no screams from our innocent cows who deserved a peaceful death in old age. They had chopped them up, taking the meat and leaving what was of no use to them.

And so, we repeated what we had already done with our children; we gathered together with our night watchman’s family right there in the midst of bloody hides and prayed. We prayed that God would protect our lives; that we would not fall into the trap of living in fear of men; that His mercy would reach the lives of the thieves; that He would bring His perfect justice to this country dripping in corruption.

So now we are left with two orphaned newborn calves — and no milk to feed them. Not to mention that we will have to begin purchasing powdered milk for our kitchen again, seeing as the source of blessing was so violently killed. Oh, how many times over the past few years did our kids complain about having to drink the cows’ milk! We would serve up glasses for each one, explaining the abundant blessing that God had given to us through our cows (and how that milk would fortify our kids’ bodies), and they would complain that they didn’t like the taste. Now they will no longer have to worry about drinking it. There will be no more.

So now we are left prayerfully wondering what to do with the other cows we have, for the thieves will surely come back. (They tried to capture another one of our cows, but she escaped the attack and was found frantically running around outside of our fence where the remains of the others were found.) We had hoped to raise the cows up to maturity, thus selling the males for meat and keeping the females for milk, but that may not be possible now. Over the past four years of living here in rural Honduras we carefully considered how to best utilize the 17-acre property where we live and serve. We had given many honest attempts at agriculture — corn, vegetables, plantains, etc — only to experience similar results with thieves who would break in and steal the fruit right before the harvest or — I’m not sure if this is better or worse — the plants simply didn’t grow due to infertile, rocky soil. Many, many man hours were invested in agriculture with almost zero result. So, cattle seemed to be the answer the Lord had led us to. The honest and caring cultivation of cows for milk and meat; they graze on the property and enjoy a healthy existence and we could potentially support part of our ministry needs through them, thus relying less on the generosity of others to sustain this work. Now all of that is put into question.

About an hour ago I walked in boots and rain jacket down that long gravel road to the local police station to report the case, although our hope is not and never has been in the Honduran judicial system, which is generally unresponsive. I found one lone police officer standing idly along the highway, so I approached him and explained our tragedy. He listened half-heartedly and informed me that that’s how Honduras is. He pointed a finger toward the little bright yellow police station a block away, telling me to report the case there and leave an official written report (which then gets filed away and never dealt with). I walked under a constant drizzle to that little yellow building and knocked on the door several times. No one answered.

So then I began my mile-long walk back up through our rural neighborhood to our property, which lies at the end of a long gravel road. I walked in silence, contemplating the beauty of our Lord in the stillness of my own heart, and praying for His provision — not only for our kids’ breakfast but now also for our two newborn calves who will need to be bottle-fed each day. Oh, the promise of the Lord’s perfect and final justice is so precious in the face of such gross injustice! Along the path I found a very poor family whose property neighbors ours. I carefully informed them of what had happened and encouraged them to keep a close eye on their own cows, as the five or six skinny cows they have are their only livelihood. And then I prayed with them, once more putting the entire situation — our very lives, homes and food sources — into God’s hands, for He is good. After all, this world is not our home. We are eagerly awaiting our entrance in God’s Kingdom where all suffering and pain will be eliminated. Oh, this life with Christ is so rich and precious, and being so close to the darkness — to the violence — makes us appreciate all the more the love and freedom of our Lord.

And so I share this with you not to produce a shock-and-awe affect about the raging injustice in Honduras, but rather to remind us all that our hope is not in this world. This morning as we stood staring at the bloody hides thrown out in the field, Darwin made the interesting and yet daringly obvious observation: “Yesterday they were alive, and now…they’re dead.” Is this not the case for every one of us? Today we are alive — all is well, we expect a great and long future ahead of us, we act as if we’re going to live forever — and we may very well end up dead tomorrow or at any unexpected moment along the way. Life is so fragile, and in this world nothing is promised. Christ is our life and our salvation. Amen. Thank you for your prayers.

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!