Tag Archives: Orphan

Heavenly Joy Bursting Out Through My Bones: The Effects of a Radical Change of Plans

The government agency called twice, and I said no both times without giving it a second thought. 

My husband Darwin and I had decided between the two of us that we would not be receiving any additional foster children for at least the next several years. Most of our foster children are currently teenagers whose delicate needs require our full attention, plus our little discipleship-based homeschool that we run out of our rural homestead has been growing to such an extent that directing, teaching and community discipling has become a beautiful yet very time-consuming daily venture.

A few weeks ago we reintegrated Josue, our special-needs foster son, back into a healthy family situation with his biological grandmother, and afterward things in our house actually became almost normal — calmer, more organized, fairly predictable — for the first time in almost six years.

My husband and I breathed deep and contemplated those in our household — five teenage daughters and one pre-teen son, some as long-term fosters and others in the process of being legally adopted by us. 

After going through numerous ups and downs as new parents and having had up to 10 in our home at a time, 6 seemed manageable and even easy. The house even seemed tangibly cleaner than usual and I thanked God that we had survived the brutal years of unwanted poo- and pee- disasters with 2 special needs foster children. On the walls, on the rug, in the bed — you name it. But those days were over, at least for the time being…

My selfish prayer seemed like it just might come true, “Oh God, I just want a normal life. At least slightly normal, slightly calm. My husband and I have virtually no ‘personal time’ and oftentimes feel stretched thin. I don’t even know what it means to sustain a normal friendship with normal people anymore. We love our kids dearly and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You have called us to parent them for Your glory, but sometimes it is so hard and their healing process is messy at best. Please grant us some sense of normalcy and ease in this season in Jesus’ name. I’m exhausted.”

No-more-kids and We-want-a-sane-household have been our soft battlecries over the last several months, and it almost seemed like we were achieving our desired goal.

Until the government agency called twice. 

My husband and I have every right to say no when they call us about receiving a new child or teen into our family, and I absolutely exercised that right in the name of defending my own sanity. What was our motto? No-more-kids, and I was sticking to my guns.

Well, as many of us know, oftentimes our own plans are just that: our own plans, not God’s. As I said my second ‘no’ over the phone to the government social worker whom I know and get along with very well, I was ready to politely hang up the phone and carry on with my business when the Lord led me to consider the possibility of laying my own plans — my own sanity, my own control — on the altar in the name of love. 

What I did next — pause long enough to ask the social worker the details about the person at hand — brought with it a God-designed tidal wave that utterly and completely wiped out all of our own plans for normalcy and familial stability.

Thirteen year-old girl. Has already lived as an adult man’s wife. Dad’s not in the picture. Mom is highly unstable. Needs a family.

As I listened in silence to all the details I probably could have imagined on my own — for the majority of cases are very similar in the aspects of familial abandonment/irresponsibility and some element of sexual abuse — the social worker actually began pleading. “We have nowhere else to put her.”

Emotionally detached as much as possible from the phone conversation (because sometimes it is easier not to feel too deeply), I thought ‘Of course. Most people are scared to death about receiving teenagers, especially those with adult sexual experiences. They came looking for us because they know we love our teen girls and have had a large measure of success with them…’

The social worker continued, “If you receive her, you would be giving her…an opportunity at life.”

An opportunity to live. To find life in Christ. To know joy. To grow up in a family like any normal 13-year-old girl.

By this point in the conversation the Lord was working mightily on my heart, and I asked more questions before telling the social worker that we would agree to meet the girl but would make no over-the-phone commitment to take her in before seeing her face-to-face and talking with her. The social worker was ecstatic.

After hanging up, I went directly to our little office building we share with our local Honduran missionaries/teachers who serve alongside of us in our community homeschool. I found one of our female teachers fairly unoccupied and asked her for prayer and counsel. She quickly accepted, and we sat down next to each other on the little purple couch in the prayer room in our office building and closed the door for more privacy.

I shared openly and extensively with her, both secretly excited about the possibility of extending “an opportunity at life” to one more person while also tense and scared about all that could go wrong. 

I voiced my thoughts as she listened attentively, “I mean, we could take her in, but there are a thousand other teen girls in her same situation — dysfunctional family, history of sexual abuse/sin —“

Our beloved teacher nodded quietly, fully aware that in our area of Honduras there are numerous cases of 12- and 13-year-old girls who already live with their “boyfriends” or who daily endure unhealthy home-lives. The need is oftentimes overwhelming.

I continued, “And, it just wouldn’t be realistic to take in a thousand of them. I mean, we can’t be family to a thousand.” My argument sounded right-on, and I felt I was gaining momentum. Our teacher nodded in agreement again, quietly listening as I verbally processed the storm within me.

But in that very moment the Lord struck me deep and to such an extent that His very words came out of my own mouth, dripping with conviction as I made a 180 degree turn in my argument. I said slowly, “But He’s not asking us to take in a thousand. They called us about one. Only one.”

I felt like in that moment I had surrendered to His will in one fatal blow. ‘You won,’ I thought with great heaviness mixed with the first fruits of joy welling up in my heart. He was indeed calling us to start over again with a new lost daughter of His. Not with a thousand, but with just one. And I would obey not only willingly but with a joy that very few can understand.

My teacher friend and I sat in silence several moments as the weight of the situation — and the enormity of the decision being considered — sat heavily between us. I repeated, “He’s just asking us to take in one…”

At the end of our conversation she prayed with me for the young woman in question and that the Lord might grant my husband and I the love, strength and wisdom to accept this new challenge if He should so desire us to take it on.

Fast-forward three days.

We went into the government-run complex to meet the young woman, her psychologist and the lawyers/social worker involved in her case. We asked the key questions we needed to ask, got our kids involved in the process of meeting her and exchanging several question-answer games with her, and throughout the entire encounter we felt the undeniable peace of God as confirmation. We would soon be parents to six teenage daughters and one pre-teen son. 

The adjustment would of course be difficult for all, as our home tends to be in total upheaval for the ensuing 3-6 months each time a new person arrives as new friendships are forged and the teenage hierarchy is re-shuffled as everyone tries to find out all over again where they fit on the totem pole. There are oftentimes feelings of jealously and insecurity to be carefully dealt with in our kids who’ve been with us the longest, and Mom and Dad have to engage in the dogged task of forging a close relationship with a new, possibly frightened teen all over again.

Even so, it is a small price to be paid in comparison with what our Lord did on the cross to save us all, and it is the way in which He has called my husband and I to share in His sufferings (and likewise eventually share in His glory). To love the lost; to be parents to the fatherless; to extend hospitality and grace to those who might even make us suffer greatly in the short-term for having done so.

I spoke with the social worker and her eyes grew like saucers when I said yes, and the young woman (Soad, pronounced So-add) enthusiastically said that she would like to move in the same day. 

That night — about two-and-a-half weeks ago — my husband and I prepared a foam mattress on our bedroom floor for our new arrival. Instead of moving her in with our teen girls all at once, we decided to have her with us for the first week in order to help ease her transition more calmly while also forging some semblance of parent-child bond with her in a condensed amount of time. 

We sat down on the cool tile floor next to her mattress and asked if we could pray for her. She said yes. After doing so we tucked her into bed — our teenage-sized new baby! — and gave her a hug and a kiss before climbing into our own bed not three feet from hers. 

My husband quickly drifted off into sweet slumber as I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, hot room. My heart raced for joy as I listened closely trying to identify if our new daughter had already fallen asleep or was still wide awake as I was. Did she feel welcome and loved here? Would we be able to form a close bond with time, or would she prove distant and guarded? Would she sleep throughout the night or wake up screaming with nightmares? What if she stopped breathing right there on her mattress?

My mind raced with a thousand thoughts as I thanked God in my heart for who He is and for leading us on this wild adventure, especially because it was never our plan to begin with. The minutes turned to hours as I periodically tried to steal glances at our new daughter’s still form in our dark room, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I drifted off to sleep in spite of the heavenly joy that I felt might burst right out through my bones…

 

A photo of my husband and our seven kids taken on my husband’s birthday two days after Soad’s arrival. (She is in the pink tank top on Darwin’s right.)

We thank God for these processes He takes us through as He draws us closer to His own heart and enables us to participate in His quest to reach lost humanity. Please pray for us during this time, especially for our other kids as they adjust to having to share Mom and Dad with someone new. God bless you all, and thank you to those who pray for and financially support this little mission in rural Honduras. To God be the glory.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Personal Reflection: Our Current Season of Life and Ministry

I write to you from our rural homestead in Honduras, Central America where the Lord has planted us firmly with the purpose of parenting the orphaned, proclaiming His Word, teaching the ignorant, reaching out to the destitute in our area with tangible help and living a simple, honest life with and for Christ.

Next month my husband, who is a native Honduran whom I met here in Honduras while I was already walking the path the Lord had placed before me, and I will celebrate five years of marriage, and a few months after that we will celebrate five years of parenting the orphaned and ministering to the lost together for God’s glory. Four months after we married in 2013 our first three children arrived – the eldest of whom was 13 years old when she moved in, only 10 years younger than me.

The current season of life, of marriage, of ministry and parenting that we are in is definitely new. Our house used to be filled with childhood relics – baby dolls and stuffed animals, sound-it-out books for those learning to read for the first time, pint-sized clothes that fit malnourished frames, and the like.

Now – especially since two of our younger foster daughters left our home in January of this year to begin living with a stable Christian aunt – our home is full not of clingy, eyes-wide-because-everything-is-new-and-exciting children, but rather seasoned teenagers who have seen and heard just about everything, and now all that’s left is really believing it with all their heart and putting it into practice. Our two youngest will turn 10 and 11 within the next two months, and our older teens already have their eyes fixed on university goals and desires for marriage someday.

Our eldest daughter has learned to drive our old pickup and now routinely shuttles over a dozen of our teachers and local students to and from our home each day. She turns 18 in just a few months. One of our other teen daughters is now enrolled in a beauty class in our discipleship-based homeschool program and cut my hair not four days ago with the helpful oversight of her instructor. This upcoming week five of our kids will be traveling with my husband Darwin to one of Honduras’ largest cities to participate in a music concert by an internationally-renowned director. They have been preparing for weeks.

I, like our children, used to feel like everything was new and exciting – every new or meaningful encounter, every inquisitive question they asked me about God or His Word, every heart-warming interaction that occurred in our non-traditional family – I wrote it down and felt compelled to share it with the world. I was a heart-on-fire idealist for Christ; I wanted to change the world; I found deep meaning in everything; every day was an adventure.

This current season is not like that. This season is not bad or boring or disappointing; I simply think I’m entering new depths, new understanding that is necessary for this marathon race that I had originally misunderstood to be a sprint (and I definitely did get tired a few hundred meters into the wild dash).

We’re now more organized; our days are largely more predictable than they once were; our kids have less emotional meltdowns; we’ve grown in knowledge of His Word; and we’re now better equipped to handle the many situations thrown at us daily, whereas before most things used to catch us blindsided or throw us off balance.

We’ve invested what the Lord has given us – His Word and His love, material provision, relational availability, counsel, our very lives — in certain people here only to see them eventually turn their back on the Lord and on us. This has been heartbreaking, but after having occurred numerous times it is no longer surprising. We’ve seen people come to the Lord and others stray from their commitment to Him. We’ve seen people we love make God-honoring decisions, and we’ve seen others we love make the worst decision possible even after receiving great amounts of godly counsel. Sometimes our foster teens surprise us with Spirit-led revelation or genuine spiritual hunger in their lives, and at other times I am left frustrated at their selfishness and spiritual coldness (and mine).

Many profound, even tear-jerking things do still occur – and perhaps even more frequently so than before – in our household, and I do still receive revelations from the Lord, but I have not felt as compelled to write. Or perhaps I have not even known where to start.

From age 17 on I filled up one hand-written journal after another – in addition to several hundred pages of written logs on my laptop – as I fervently sought the Lord, asked Him my questions, searched high and low for my life’s calling and reflected on just about every event that unfolded in my daily life. It was through this incessant search – desperate even – that the Lord revealed to me at age 20 that my role in His Kingdom here on earth would be to be a mother to those who have none. With time He has expanded, deepened that call to now include the relational discipleship and integral teaching we dedicate ourselves to in our home for dozens of local youth in addition to the 8 who live in our home.

I had to learn Spanish, and I have learned it. I did not know if I was ever going to get married, but the Lord provided a faithful, loving husband for me (and permanent father for our children who all come from fatherless backgrounds). I had to be willing to give my own life away – give up on my own plans, relinquish my own ‘freedom’ and personal space – and the Lord has given not only me but also my husband the grace to live this lifestyle of radical hospitality in Christ, of Biblical parenthood for the orphaned and abandoned. Our lives are not our own; we are truly walking in our call.

Six or seven years ago there were so many unknowns in my life, so many questions I pleaded God to answer. I was like a little, impatient child tugging on their Father’s pants-leg and staring up at Him, waiting for the answers.

And He’s given them, and by some miracle I have believed – and not only in my heart but also with my life, with actions, with a daily walk. He’s been so generous, so gracious in our errors and mishaps; He has been such a good teacher, a patient Father to us in these first five years in the trenches!

So, my question – however absurd or naïve it may sound – is: now what? Not ‘now what?’ in the sense of we’re-going-to-now-move-to-another-place-and-do-something-entirely-different-with-our-lives, but in the sense of, really, what does the Lord now have for us? Right here, with these same kids who are now teens and in these same little multi-colored buildings where He’s taught us so much already – what is in store for this new season? Is it just more of the same, but a deepening of it, a downward plunge into greater depths of excellence, of wisdom, of divine communion? In many ways I am in need of a new word from Him.

This season has brought and continues to bring many blessings, two of which are the new teen girls who moved in with us late last year and have become integral parts of our family. This has been a new trek – becoming mom all over again, this time to girls well into adolescence who have already had many ‘moms.’ This journey has been beautiful and has proved to bring unexpected joy to our household in addition to the expected trials the girls present and the sacrifice required of my husband Darwin and I to parent them with grace, according to God’s Word.

This year – this season – I teach an advanced math class for 16 teen students in the Christian school we operate out of our home, and I share God’s Word three times weekly in our large group Bible study where we gather in our dining room with about 40 people or so. I teach a dynamic (and pretty funny) karate class on Wednesday afternoons, and I serve in a much less hands-on role administratively in our office this year, making sure all runs smoothly alongside of our dedicated Honduran staff. I handwash our clothes. I water the plants. I share the cooking load with our teenage girls (and our 10-year-old son Jason who loves to work in the kitchen). I listen to Christian sermons and teaching series online in my free time to continue growing. On weekends Darwin and I do maintenance and physical labor chores with our kids around our extensive rural property. We read the Word together as a family. I oversee our kids in their daily chores and academic activities. My husband and I play chauffer for our teens on their way to music and dance classes. I lend a listening ear and a prayerful heart to our local students who oftentimes seek me out to help them in conflict resolution or if they simply want to vent. On an ongoing basis I seek to discern, to listen, to whatever it is that God wants to teach us on this narrow, beautiful path with Him.

So, I’m not sure if this not-so-organized post will prove interesting or noteworthy to anyone who reads it, but I do thank all of you who pray for us and support this work on an ongoing basis. Please know that we continue onward with great faithfulness, and daily ask God to make grow these many seeds we are planting all around us. My writing patterns over the coming months may prove more sporadic as I have not been as led to write all our daily reflections as I have in years past, but this does not indicate that the work in Honduras is faltering or stagnant. We love Christ and daily seek to draw nearer to Him as our very lives are permanently marked with the good news of His salvation. His eternal Kingdom is our goal, and we desperately ask Him to bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

God bless you.

Two Unexpected Guests

I sat in the noisy McDonald’s in downtown Tegucigalpa — Honduras’ highly overcrowded capital city — waiting to meet with one prospective lawyer for our kids’ adoption. I had just taken a 7-hour busride from our home on the other side of the country for my whirlwind tour of the capital as I planned to meet with three prospective lawyers in addition to my scheduled appointment at the Foreign Affairs building to renew my Honduran residency.

Wealthy, undisciplined teenagers from a local bilingual school gathered in large groups at the tables all around me, too-loud secular music blasted from the built-in speakers above, and a highly choreographed wrestling match blared behind my head on the flatscreen television on the wall.

I had arrived early as I had taken a taxi directly from the bus station, and the lawyer had instructed me by phone to wait for him at the McDonald’s until he could further instruct me how to arrive at his nearby office.

Thirty minutes or so passed as I read a book at an empty table in the corner. The noises around me raged on. My phone ringed.

I reached for my little black cellphone — one of those with the oldschool keypad that doesn’t have internet, can’t even take pictures and most definitely doesn’t have any “apps” — instinctively thinking it was the lawyer calling to tell me he was close by. Thank goodness; I was ready to get out of the chaos!

My eyes took in the caller identification in one fell swoop as I lifted the device up to my ear. Honduras’ child protective services from our hometown. Not the capital city adoption lawyer.

I answered to the familiar voice of one of the government’s case workers whom we’ve worked closely with in regards to all 8 of our foster children. She along with her co-workers are responsible for placing children in homes/families, doing follow-up, trying to facilitate family reintegration when possible, etc. With the amount of abuse, abandonment and neglect cases in this country paired with the lack of funding and low number of staff on her team, her job is nearly impossible. We oftentimes spend months to years approaching their office for help on certain subjects (like getting official birth certificates for our kids) with little success as the government workers are constantly running around frantically, trying to put out forest fires with a squirt gun and slap band-aids on mortal wounds.

She and I exchanged a genuinely kind greeting over the phone, as this specific government lawyer and I have worked together several years, and she’s taken personal interest in our kids’ stories. The Lord had even led us to pray together in her office on more than one occasion, which is less than common in any country. She asked how our kids were; I said everything was excellent.

Then her question, completely unexpected (as it always is): “Would you be willing to take in two 15-year-old girls?”

Silence.

Then I began to sputter, naming off all the excuses I could think of, “Oh, uh, actually I’m not even at home right now. I won’t be back until Sunday…And my health — my health hasn’t been very strong…” I paused, trying to get my footing. “Um, what’s their story?”

Through a broken cellphone signal — I could catch every three words or so out of five — she began to tell me that they were with a foster mother (at least that’s what I think I heard) but that they were recently moved several hours away to another children’s home. Can’t stay there permanently. Need to finish their public school year at the local high school close to where they had been living, which is in a town next to ours. Would we take them both in for at least 15 days so that they could finish off their school year. After that, one will most likely go to another children’s home where she has younger siblings; the other will most likely remain with us long-term. Yes or no?

They always catch us by surprise with these calls, and my first reaction is to reel off as many excuses (both out loud and to myself) in an attempt to defend ourselves against what just might potentially be God’s will — His mighty plan to rescue one more person from within a yard of hell.

So, I silenced that fear-driven inner voice and told the lawyer that I needed to speak with Darwin first. I would call her the next morning. Naturally, she wanted the answer then and there in order to bring the girls over to our home immediately, but she knows that we don’t operate like that. First we have to pray and consider; then, if the answer is yes, we have to carefully share the news with our kids. New arrivals oftentimes leave in their wake 3-5 months of pretty rough waves in our household as everyone adjusts to having a new sibling, so the news must be tenderly shared and covered in prayer.

She agreed and we hung up. Thoughts rushed my tired mind. The capital city adoption lawyer whom I was waiting for still hadn’t showed up, so I had a few minutes to calmly pray in the most unlikely of places. The teenagers continued to hang all over each other; the music continued at high volume; the wrestlers behind me kept up their nonsensical fighting. I prayed silently, asking God what His will was in this situation.

He didn’t answer immediately, but I did feel at peace (which itself is an answer). I kept praying. That evening — several hours later — after finally meeting with the adoption lawyer and arriving safely to the home where I would be staying in the huge metropolitan city that is so different from our isolated ranch at the base of the mountains 7 hours away, I called Darwin. I honestly expected him to say no — because of my ill health, because we already have so many other commitments, because of 100 legitimate reasons that any sane person wouldn’t want to blindly accept two teenage girls into their home — but he very calmly listened to the details as I presented them to him, and he said yes. And even as the yes left his lips, my heart rested in that yes and even clicked its heels for joy.

And so, we hung up the phone and I lay on that antique floral-print bedspread in an upstairs room of the missionary’s home I was staying in, and I laughed to myself. My eyes traced along the ceiling as I recalled all of my “excuses” no longer as reasons to say no or to feel scared but rather as the parameters for just one more miracle that God is setting up. He’s the God of the impossible, you see, and lately I’ve been learning that He loves impossible situations where human logic fails, where mortal strength is insufficient and where He can put on grand display His power.

Two unknown teenage girls? They might arrive on our doorstep pregnant for all we knew. After all, no one in their right mind — in any country! — blindly accepts two suffering adolescents who have very likely never had a stable home to lock arms with and live alongside of for the indefinite future. They probably lie and steal and are prone to sexual promiscuity. The government most certainly wouldn’t be providing us with any family background studies, psychological evaluations, behavior information, etc. They may not even have birth certificates or know their real ages. Ha! Surely we have lost our minds and are free-falling into yet one more impossible situation that God will turn into a miracle of grace. My socked feet tapped back in forth in the air as I laid spread out, considering the impossible.

And the craziest thing of all — perhaps the true mark that this is all of God even if it all falls through and turned out to be merely a test of faith — is that I’m at peace. Darwin’s at peace. We are so completely convinced that God is with and for us and that His heart is big enough to include these two girls into His plan of eternal redemption and that He’ll even give us all the resources and emotional reserves necessary to effectively minister to them, Christ acting in us toward them.

And so, I’ve now been back in Honduras exactly two weeks after my six-week-long stay in Texas to seek urgent medical help for my chronic insomnia and extremely low immune system. I’m still on the strict regimen, still taking everything the doctors prescribed, and my sleep is currently at 2-5 hours per night, which is a drastic improvement from times prior although there is still a long ways to go. Everyone in our home and school has gotten pink eye in the last few weeks, but I didn’t. And even on the nights when I’m up for good at midnight or toss and turn all night without success, I’m no longer led to anxiousness or stress. Our eldest daughter commented to me not two days ago that she’s noticed a marked difference in my overall attitude since coming back home. Even though I’m still not sleeping like a normal person, she says she can see that I have joy. That is God’s hand over me.

And so, I humbly (and excitedly) ask for prayer as we are preparing to receive these two young ladies on Monday morning. They called yesterday with the proposal; I returned the call this morning with our ‘yes’ answer; and I return home to the Honduran north coast on Sunday from Tegucigalpa where I am currently dealing with several legal matters. Please pray specifically for our 8 kids who already live with us, as I mentioned above that whenever we receive someone new into the family, a long adjustment period oftentimes follows as the totem pole gets shaken up, new friendships are formed, and everyone sort of feels out their role in the family all over again. This can be a scary process for our kids, all of whom have been rejected by their own biological families, so please pray that they may be granted God’s sight to see this situation and may truly receive these two new young women (I don’t even know their names!) with love and grace rather than feeling intimidated by them. Pray also for our 16-year-old son Brayan, that he may receive them with purity of heart and that he may respect them as he does our other daughters. Pray also for Darwin and I as many long family discussions, prayer times, conflict resolutions, etc, will be in order as we enter the adjustment period (and the additional emotional energy that will be required of us as we seek to love and know these two new young women). And, above and beyond everything else, pray with us that God would go before us in all this, preparing the way and the hearts of each person involved, and that His perfect will would be done as only He can orchestrate. May He give us the patience, time, love, etc that we lack in order to receive these women as He would receive them. Amen! Glory to God!