(Written Sunday, October 23, 2016): About a week and a half ago on a Saturday I was frantically converting our office room into a makeshift guest room for my mom and step-dad who were already well on their way to our home. I had commanded kids to help me sweep and mop porches and tile floors (a job that never ends in our rural, open-air home filled with shedding dogs and all kinds of insects and dirt-caked barefoot kids) in a sincere attempt to make a warm welcome. I felt like the morning had gotten away from me with our long efforts with the lice shampoo and comb (for the fourth consecutive day), managing everyone’s chores and in-home musical practices, washing bucketfuls of clothes out in the spicket and counseling one of our daughters through a difficult situation.
It was already almost 2:00pm and I hadn’t even begun preparing lunch! I guess my idea to prepare a nice bouquet of flowers/plants from our yard to place on the table in our guest room will have to wait until their next visit…
I slid the slightly off-kilter old wicker table in our office room to one side as I flung the broom underneath, finding a whole lot more dirt and grime than you would in a sealed, air-conditioned home in the suburbs. Hadn’t we just swept and mopped this room top to bottom like yesterday?
My large, baggy pijamas – Pijamas! I had been up and buzzing about since five-something that morning and had yet to have 12.68 seconds to change into decent attire! Only crazy people are still wearing their pijamas at 2:00pm! – were drenched with sweat, soapy detergent suds and large droplets of lice shampoo as my long, gangly arm flung the broom all about the small room.
When wedged into one of the room’s corners and pulled quickly away, the broom brought with it a prize: fresh bat poo that had fallen from the gap in the ceiling. This, of course, is not new and is to be found in nearly all of the little buildings on our property. My eyes traced upward wearily as I saw that familiar little gap between the ceiling planks and the cinderblock wall. When on earth would we have time to fill in those cracks? Another thing to add to the to-to list! For now, I’ll just sweep it away. More will surely fall tomorrow…
I swept the powdery poo over to that pile of dirt and grime that was growing exponentially with each passing moment.
I was exhausted and frazzled but at the same time filled with great emotion at the thought of my mom and step-dad’s week-long visit that would begin any moment – Any moment! I need to go change my clothes and brush this nest of hair! And the kids! They’re all dirty! Where are they, anyway? Probably running about, dirtying the porches and staining their clothes… Oh…
In the midst of bat poo piles and lice shampoo suds, sweat pouring torrentially down my cheeks, (Had I even remembered to put deodorant on that morning?) I experienced the following very clear thought in the midst of quite a tsunami of mental activity and adrenaline pounding within me:
I could spend all day every day sweeping and mopping this one room (even if we get around to filling in the cracks in the ceiling), and it would never be enough. There’s always more to be done, another scuff mark on the floor to be polished away or a new little pile of dirt particles that floated in from the open window. Shoe tracks that appear instantaneously, cobwebs that seem to grow back instantly after having been whisped away. In an odd sense that may not even make sense, cleaning this one room would be a full life. I could stay in just this one room, sweeping and laboring for God’s glory, preparing guest rooms for beloved guests, and I would never finish the task.
With that first thought, many other, similar ones came flooding in:
I could spend all day every day just counseling and praying for our daughters — Or even just one of our daughters! Pick any one of them, and dedicate your life to loving and cultivating her, and the task will never be finished! — and that would be a full life, a complete life. A person could spend a life just teaching and guiding one classroom full of kids, and it would be a full life, bursting with divine purpose. Nevermind the other millions of schoolkids around the globe — a life fully dedicated before God to one classroom would be hugely impactful, eternally useful! I could spend an entire life just prayerfully planning and then proclaiming God’s Word in our home/mission — nevermind the parenting, the endless cleaning, reading classes, and grocery shopping! — and that would be utterly pleasing to God. To raise even just one child according to God’s will; to spend a life doing the small things, the invisible things with great joy as unto the Lord and not unto men. To spend a day – a life! – in fervent intersession for a lost world; to spend an entire afternoon – decade! – listening to and loving the broken children our Father has brought us. Even just one of these things — or many others that aren’t mentioned here! — taken on as God’s personal assingment, would consitute a life full of purpose.
Heavy under this newfound realization, I felt suddenly both terribly blessed and even more frantic than before. Why so much, Father? So full…
These thoughts of fullness have accompanied me over the week or so since then as our days have been perhaps more full than usual.
We are nearing the end of our first school year with the small discipleship-based school the Lord has led us to design, lead and teach, and the paperwork, planning, decision-making, meetings, classes, etc is off the wall. And none of us have a teaching certificate or have taken any kind of pedagogy class! Yes; our Father has chosen the unlikely to create a school for outcast youth from scratch and lead them to Him!
And to spend a life just cleaning floors, sweeping away bat poo would be enough, would satisfy You. These blessings are too precious, too demanding.
Over the past couple weeks our hair has been on fire, and I’m certain I’ve commented out loud more than a few times to my husband: “I haven’t even had time to write! When will I be able to write? Everything is just go, go, go and it doesn’t look to change anytime soon!”
If joy and gratitude have been the pillow, a to-the-bone exhaustion and a sense of constant frustration have been the fringe.
My own experience of childhood was as an only child with a stay-at-home mom who dedicated herself wholeheartedly to me. Now on the other side of motherhood as mom rather than as child, I feel dogged by a constant sense of guilt that I’m not able to give our 7 what I had in my own childhood. Oh, how many times do they approach me needing something or with some very long and involved tale they want to tell me, and I have my autoresponse as I go, zipping about teaching classes and running errands: ¨Wait just a few mintues! I’ll be right there — I’ve just gotta finish…¨
Seeing the drastic changes being brought about in the lives and character of our local students as they are being transformed by their knowledge of and obedience to God’s Word, we cannot deny that there are more youth from our neighborhood who might be eternally impacted — and then their children, grandchildren, for God’s glory! — if only they were consistently exposed to the truth, to God’s love, over time in an environment filled with faith in Christ.
As Jackie Pullinger, an English missionary with a powerful testimony who has been serving Christ in China for about 50 years, said: ¨I could spend my whole life loving the people on just one street.¨ And what about all the other streets?
How do we attend the many lost youth from our neighborhood without losing all intimate time with those under our roof?
And to think that even the simple task of sweeping away bat poo would constitute a full life, Lord…
How do we manage all that you have entrusted to us? What of those on the outside who remain lost, wandering? How to reach them, love them for Your glory, without dying of exhaustion in the process?
Our efforts will never be enough.
This evening after having spent a couple incredibly peaceful, blessed hours as a family – Darwin and I with the 7 kids/teens who the Lord has placed in our home – sitting around our square wooden dining room table doing homework, working on projects together, eating rare snacks and generally putting aside all else that demands our attention, the day’s light dissipated and our family’s Sabbath Hour began approaching quickly. Kids were commanded to shower and others to pick up their school notebooks and tuck them away in backpacks.
13-year-old Jackeline and 12-year-old Gleny were on kitchen/dining room duty, so they began washing the dishes, sweeping rather large floors, wiping down tabletops and cleaning electric stoves. Jackeline, who just this year has begun developing a healthier work ethic after having previously suffered from extreme laziness in almost all that she did, became visibly frantic as she suddenly had many things to do and not much time to do them in.
Fold the clothes on the table. Take them over to the house (our kitchen/dining room is separate from where we sleep). Wipe the countertop down with a soapy rag. Do it again. Do it slower. Put the food away. Don’t forget that your notebook is still on the table. Your sisters are calling for you to come, but you can’t go be with them yet because you’ve got to finish your kitchen job and do it well. Work with excellence.
I headed over to our house, crossing the high school building’s small porch as I batted away hungry mosquitos. I arrived at our nearly silent house as I began to write the next day’s schedule on the small whiteboard that is duct-taped next to our front door.
Suddenly that same Jackeline with her frizzy hair and rather tall, developed body came bursting forth much to my surprise.
I greeted her: “Aren’t you supposed to be in the ki–?”
“Yeah, yeah. I just came because I need to bathe Josue as well.” She breathed heavily, obviously agitated with all that she had to do. “I just – “ She approached the bathroom, realized it was occupied, and then pointed a finger at her little special-needs brother: “Just stay here, Josue. I’ll be right back. Gotta finish in the kitchen. When Jason gets out of the shower, go on into the bathroom stall and I’ll be right there –“
Josue looked wide-eyed at his stressed sister and shrugged, for he knows very few cares in his daily life with us. He looked up at me with a wide, toothy grin and smiled big. As quickly as his sister had appeared at our front door she disappeared back into the night, determined to finish her kitchen chore well.
I patted Josue on the back as my neck extended out our front door: “Jackeline!”
Not a moment later she appeared, even more frazzled. Had she forgotten something else, or was I going to add to the many demands that had already been placed on her? She greeted me with eager, hurried eyes.
“Jackeline…” My voice totally counteracted her overall tone as I spoke soft and slow, very intentional in my message to her: “Do not become anxious with the many things you have to do. Even in the midst of being ‘busy,’ God wants to fill you with His peace.”
She waited a moment to see if I had finished and then smiled a big, fake smile, still very stressed, and said, “Yes; yes; I know!” and turned to leave. Her and I had talked about this topic many times.
“Jackeline – Go with Christ’s joy even in the midst of many obligations!” My voice chased her in the darkness.
I felt that she heard me but that she still didn’t ‘get it.’ (Did I?) Every time she has an unusually heavy homework load or additional chores, it seems as though all joy is sucked from her body as she converts into some kind of super-focus, high-stress woman intent on checking things off the check-list, nothing more. (And don’t I do the same thing?)
I paused in front of the whiteboard as God spoke to my heart: “Bathe Josue. You, not her. I want to use you to bless thing young woman in the midst of the many responsibilities she is trying to fulfill.”
Now, bathing Josue (or changing his diaper or brushing his teeth, etc) is not something at all foreign to me. Darwin, Jackeline and I work together to shoulder the precious burden that he presents to our family. Many mornings Darwin gets him up and on the toilet around 5:15am, I follow with the showering and changing and then at some point later on during the day his older sister helps with his care and bathes him again.
But tonight? Tonight after I had spent over 7 hours that morning updating contracts (in the midst of my general duties as ‘mom’), drafting next year’s schedules and crafting one strategic brainstorm after another? Had I not already tended to Josue’s many needs throughout the day in addition to those of the other six? How many times do you have to cook before it’s ‘enough’?
He whispered again: “You. Go.”
In the blink of an eye, my voice became lovingly peppy as I led Josue into our bathroom to begin the familiar routine. Although very tired from the day, I was filled with a sense of rest once I submitted myself in obedience to my Father’s will.
Having showered Josue, I squatted in front of him to secure the little diaper velcro straps. He interrupted my intense focus as he smiled and said in his broken speech, ¨Hi Mom!¨ I looked up at him, surprised that he would be greeting me (is not bathing him just about getting the job done, not actually enjoying it or finding any real communion in the process? Oh, I have the same struggle as precious Jackeline…)
I looked up at him with his light-brown shaggy hair and breahted deep. Smiled. ¨Hi Josue. I love you.¨
Having finished, I sent little ones off to bedrooms and turned our CD player on soft with worship music. I began quietly moving around our bedroom as I organized papers, made plans for the next day, and put things in their place.
Several minutes later, recently-bathed Jackeline suddenly appeared, still a bit frazzled, in our open doorway with a big, sincere smile. She had successfully finished her job in the kitchen, gotten a shower, and was off to her room as we all entered into our Sabbath Hour.
I took a couple steps to the open doorway to meet her, where we both moved to hug one other, as we do several times throughout the day. Her head nestled easily into my shoulder as I rested my head on top of hers. She was still breathing heavily.
Without letting go, I said again: “Jackeline…There will always be things to do. We cannot decide that we will enjoy Christ’s peace only when there is nothing to do –“
She laughed and tried to wriggle free, “I know! I know…”
I held on tight, both of us giggling now, as I said, “I know you know, but I say this for both of us…”
Her body suddenly calmed down, realizing that this was not a motherly rebuke but rather a reminder from our Father of His desire to grant peace to both of these wayward daughters of His.
We both breathed deeply, still embracing in our little living room out in the foothools of some mountains in some violent country that has become world-famous for its catastrophic murder rate and gorgeous beaches, as we listened to the truth of God’s desire for us once more: to rest in His love, to live His peace, even in the storm – especially in the storm!
As I gave her a quick kiss on the top of the head, she smiled big and headed off to the room she shares with two of our other girls. I returned to my shuffling about in our dimly-lit bedroom, suddenly inundated with Christ’s peace for the first time in many weeks.
Exhausted to the core but beyond content with the work the Lord is etching out among us, I looked over at Darwin as he worked on planning his high school English classes. I carefully considered the many things I could begin doing, but God whispered in my consciousness: ¨Now you can write. It doesn’t matter that you’re tired. Do it now.¨
And so I did.
Even in the midst of year-end efforts and contract renewals and blazing this still-very-new parenting trail, Christ’s peace can be near. Even when our efforts will never be enough – even when we see the many, many roaming, lost youth in our neighborhood day after day, knowing we will never be able to reach them all with the good news of Christ – even as we live out the reality that the harvest is rich but the workers are few! – Christ is knocking on the door, desiring to enter our innermost soul and flood us with His perfect peace, which goes beyond the understanding of this world.
Amen! Glory to God!