Tag Archives: Obedience to God

Red Ink, Blue Ink and Pencil: The Next Chapter

As I saw the hand-written note carefully wedged in the handle of our dining room door my heart sunk as I sensed I already knew what the contents would hold.

I had been granted the rare treat that morning of being home alone as Darwin had taken all of our kids to town with him to a music session. It was Saturday, and I had spent the morning in our quiet home writing and praying. 15-year-old Brayan — that same young man who lived with us for 8 months in 2014 and has since been heavily involved in school with us, discipleship and occasional family outings — had asked permission to be in our school building that morning working on his homework assignments alone, as his general focus level is very low and he’s thus unable to work effectively in his step-mom’s house in the midst of younger siblings and much activity.

I had not seen or heard from him all morning as he was holed up in our school building with his notebooks and audio learning tapes while I was holed up in our cinderblock home with my own quiet activities.

It was early afternoon when I came upon the carefully folded-up letter wedged in the door on my way to get water from the open-air kitchen that the three small buildings on our property share.

I immediately knew the letter was from Brayan, and I felt my eyes could see right through the lined notebook paper to the inside of its contents, read the entire letter without unfolding it.

I un-wedged the little note from the door handle and cradled it in my hands for a few moments, just staring at it and wanting to delay the inevitable. It’s like getting a life-changing phone call or having your pregnancy test come back positive; for better or worse, your life will never be the same again afterward.

Darwin and the rest of the kids far from our rural property, I breathed slowly as my heart increased the beat of its rhythm. I took a step back from the emotion of the present moment as I very intentionally situated myself under God’s perfect will, staving off my own rebellion with something greater. I breathed those increasingly familiar words once more, bracing myself for what would come next. “Father, may Your will be done, not mine…”

A sense of very selfish dread filled my chest not because I feared some vulgar message or devastating piece of news scribbled inside but rather because I knew he was right.

I unfolded it and realized it was not one page but two. Front and back. Wobbly cursive hand-writing that must have taken all morning to perfect. One paragraph written in red ink, then the next in blue, then the next in pencil. The entire document was written like this, alternating between colors. Paragraph after paragraph, the pattern never broke. Red ink, blue ink, pencil.

At the end of the second page, there were three hearts, one in red ink, one in blue and the other in pencil.

Brayan, our beloved “martian child” who in the past couple years had not managed to pass fifth grade despite his many efforts in our accelerated program for older students — whose emotions (and body) have been hammered by pain and abandonment from a very young age — did, in fact, write exactly what I had feared. And worse, for once he was being logical.

Please, God, give me a solid reason to say no because I certainly can’t think of one.

What about that quickly-fading (and extremely selfish) dream of mine of attaining some sense of ‘normal’ someday? What about the under-control household environment, the small collection of beautiful, high-achieving biological children? Brayan is possibly the worst student academically that we have! And — and we have so many daughters! Surely this would just feed the chaos. Why can’t we just keep on going as we have been this year with him — a friendly, mentor-type relationship, but at a safe distance? And our house is so small; we’re going to have to start piling people one on top of the other to make everyone fit! Please give me a reason to say no…

My rebellion continued as my ego turned red-hot and stamped its feet: If we are going to take in kids who sprung from another woman’s womb, at least bring us ones that are ready for a quick recovery! May they have bright, active minds — may they be able to fully integrate into productive society! But the broken ones, the ones who will forever need emotional crutches, who will probably never really spread their wings and fly? I mean, we already have developmentally-challenged Gabriela and Josue who have more needs than anyone can fill. Oh, Father…

In this past year we’ve made it a habit to tell our kids that there is nothing they could ever do that could make us stop loving them. Good decisions, bad decisions — it doesn’t matter. God has placed us in their lives to show them daily — over the long haul that is the rest of our lives — what His love is for us, and it’s unconditional. They can rest in our love as we all rest in God’s; we’re not going away nor will we ever abandon them.

Was I prepared to look Brayan in the eyes and say the same thing to him, day after day?

My eyes wearily took in the heart-breaking multi-colored paragraphs that I know he pined over all morning, searching for just the right words. And, even as my own ego rebelled against his request, my Father confirmed in my heart what I had known all along: our prodigal son would be coming home.

His step-mother, the very hard-working woman up to her thighs in poverty who had been taking care of him all year, would be sending him away to another town to live with his biological mom (who abandoned him in his infancy and since then has had almost zero role in his life) once he finished his school year this month because she could no longer manage the heavy burden that Brayan presents.

His step-mother had every right to do so — it was not her choice to be Brayan’s sole guardian after his father (the step-mom’s husband) died a few years ago. But Brayan — and I — understood what that would mean. No more school, no more guidance. He is, after all, too old to be in a public elementary school, and very few people have been granted the grace to love Brayan well. He would be sentenced to a life of probably wandering around aimlessly, very far geographically from the love and Biblical guidance that we provide him daily. No more Bible study, no weekly trips with us to the park, no fun birthday parties, choir trips, and prayer groups. Just a life of being cut off from the only real source of love he’s possibly ever known.

We were and always have been the family that God has blessed this young man with, even if over the last two years it has been at arm’s length.

So he asked several times and in several different ways — and with several different shades of ink — if he could move back in with us. He asked for forgiveness for the times he’s disrespected us, not followed the rules. He asked again and again, and it broke my heart even as my mind rattled off its last few objections and then eventually gave up.

He wasn’t the one who needed to ask for forgiveness; it was us.

We had been the ones to be too impatient with him, earnestly seeking harvest where we should have been concerned only with sowing. Had we not thrown up our hands in exasperation so many times with Brayan, unable to see any light at the end of what seemed to us to be a never-ending tunnel? (And had we not found ourselves in very similar stages of frustration with each and every one of the kids under our care, but had we not persevered with them where we hadn’t with Brayan?)

And so, six days after receiving that multi-colored note, Brayan moved back in with his cardboard box-full of belongings. Darwin, Brayan, and I went to sign all the paperwork down at the local government office to allow him to legally begin living with us again (which turned out to be no paperwork at all because the lawyer who had agreed to meet with us was out of the office and the other lawyer just spoke with me briefly and jotted down Brayan’s name on a little piece of paper before letting us go). First I then Darwin embraced Brayan bear-hug style with a big grin on our faces that matched that of his. God’s glory among us was palpable as we surely displayed the appearance of people who genuinely like — love — one another, something that in this culture is very rarely shown even among biological family members. The middle-aged female lawyer who had spoken with me in her office just observed us from a careful distance with a curious expression on her face. Why on earth were Darwin and I — and this rogue young man who has no other place to live, no real love in his life, so many reasons to be depressed and angry — so joyful, and how on earth did we feel such freedom so as to hug him? The majority of the minors who are admitted into foster families or children’s homes are little children — not towering young men with budding facial hair. Why had this abandoned, broken teenager chosen to find refuge in a Christian family rather than a gang?

So as we sat around the dining room table together that first night as a 10-again family (two parents and 8 kids), Dayana — who had shared our little cinderblock home with him during his first round in our household back in 2014 — smiled ear-to-ear and said, “Welcome home again, Brayan.”

Since his move home, these first twenty-two days have been off to a blessed start. In the wee hours of each morning Darwin gets Brayan up, they both slip on their rubber boots and old work clothes and head out to the barn together to milk the cows. Whereas during his first round of living in our home he and Darwin often butted heads like two of those male mountain goats that you see on Discovery Channel, both wanting to knock the other one off the mountainside, now he and Darwin wrestle together for fun, poking each other and giving the other a hard time with a big smile on their face. Whereas in his early times in our household nearly three years ago he was a loud, uncontrollable young man with extreme impulses, he is now much calmer, more mature and smiles frequently (as is consistent with his behavior this year in school with us). Darwin calls him “Brayan Big Beard” due to the little budding facial hairs on his upper lip, and Brayan adds a good dose of testosterone to our household after having previously been dominated almost entirely by young women. The girls are putting into practice good, healthy limits as is he, and we are all clinging to God’s grace each day as we are trusting with all our might that this is what He’s asked us to do.

Amen! Glory to God!

Other posts written about our journey following God’s will with Brayan: It All Started With a Cup of Water (February 2014), Our Favorite Neighbor (October 2014), “Hola Ma” (July 2015) and A Million Pinpricks of Light: The Hand of God in a Dark World (January 2016)

Against All Odds: Carrying a Load Full of Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Those who trust they will find it, find Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there they were.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen! Glory to God!