Tag Archives: Parenting

Better Yet, Don’t Do Your Chores (A Funny Yet Effective Parenting Technique)

The following is a true (and slightly hilarious) story that occurred in our home this very morning.

Over these past 4+ years of learning to parent the children and teenagers the Lord has blessed us with, we’ve read many Christian parenting books and sought advice from many trusted people in our attempts to relate to our young ones in a loving yet firm manner.

Our 13-year-old daughter Gleny, whom we are in the process of legally adopting with her two siblings, came into our lives as a rather angry and malnourished 9-year-old. In her tiny body with big, frizzy hair she experienced very intense mood swings and bouts of unexpected screaming and crying during her first couple years with us. We kept praying for her but oftentimes wondered what would become of her if the Lord did not heal her treacherous emotional swings. Although there is still much more work to be done, we have without a doubt seen the Lord calming her wild heart and granting her more peaceful, loving and happy emotions in recent times. She has experienced great advancements – academic, spiritual and developmental – in her nearly-five years in our family, and after great academic struggles in primary school she is now one of the best students in her class of ten 7th-graders in the little high school we operate out of our home. She has been very consistent in her violin lessons for over a year now, and we’re discovering that she’s a talented painter as well. She knows God’s Word and is very quick to engage in meaningful conversation about Him.

Well, all of this to point out the many triumphs in my precious Gleny’s life…but I will now point out a recent struggle and how I am working (with humor and grace) to resolve it.

Although she manages almost without flaw her many homework and group project assignments in our high school, she has not found the technique (or rather, desire) to fulfill her household chores every morning.

In our home we get up at 5:00am as each person gets busy doing the various tasks assigned to them. Darwin goes to milk the cow with two of our kids; our eldest sweeps our home and porch; Jason feeds the cat; I empty all the trash cans and tidy up the living room. Others clean the bathroom; some fold clothes; and so goes the routine.

Our goal is to leave our home clean and tidy before walking out the door and entering a full day of classes and Christian discipleship on our rural property from 6:45am-4:00pm, and on most days we reach this goal pretty darn well. We are a well-oiled machine.

Except for the squeaky parts (and, yes, Gleny is one of them.) On most days I walk on bare feet into the stillness of the room she shares with two of her sisters and quietly stroke her feet or pat her arm as I lovingly wake her up only to pass by again 20 or 30 minutes later to find her sleeping again. Everyone else is on their feet taking a shower, making their bed or going about their daily duties, and I have to call her name loudly just so that she’ll sit up in bed, startled.

Once up, she meanders around our house in a daze for nearly an hour, oftentimes spending an inordinate amount of time making her bed or going to the bathroom. (I suspect she’s taking a nap on the toilet.)

I have tried many techniques to try to rouse her and incite her to fulfill the only chore she has each morning (everyone else has 2-3 chores and they fulfill them without complaint), but I have oftentimes been left frustrated after reminding her two or three times to go do her chore only to find that she never does it.

Well, this morning a new idea occurred to me, and it worked like magic. I pulled back three bedroom door curtains and entered three silent bedrooms to awake 7 sleepy people this morning as usual, and we were off. Little Jason was taking the fruit and vegetable remains from the day prior out to the cows’ stable; Jackeline was washing the dishes; my husband was cleaning our bathroom; I was feeding the dogs.

I passed by Gleny’s room just to make sure she was up, which I suspected she wasn’t. “Gleny!” I called from the other side of the curtain, a good half-hour after having gone to wake her up the first time, and her older sister replied, “She’s not up yet.”

Instead of feeling frustrated with our chronic (but precious) squeaky wheel, I responded joyfully, “Oh, that’s okay. Just let her be!”

I’m sure everyone who heard me was surprised by my response, but I kept on my merry way – look for little Josue’s socks; help him put his shoes on; go get a bar of soap for Jackeline; take my vitamins.

Well, at some point Gleny did get up and asked permission to use our bathroom to take a shower. I felt almost giddy (in a naughty-child type of sense) as I thought I-hope-she-doesn’t-do-her-chore-this-morning. I-hope-she-gives-me-the-chance-to-do-what-I-want-to-do!

6:45am rolled around and all of our local teachers and uniformed students began streaming through our front gate. At this point family time (and house-cleaning time) is over and we enter our sacred daily routine of service to the poor, the proclamation of God’s Word, and humble love to the lost. God has sent several dozen local young people our way who spend the majority of their waking hours under our guidance as we seek to draw them nearer to Christ. We teach the ignorant, encourage the faint of heart, discipline the unruly and include many in this beautiful lifestyle with and for Christ. It is a very good, rich life. We love what we do.

Soon enough I forgot all about Gleny and whether or not she had done her chore of picking up whatever was left laying about in our outdoor washing station.

I began hugging little kids and teenage girls and extending my hand and a warm pat on the back to teen boys. It is our morning routine. I slipped into the office to greet each of our teachers and I watched as little ones began playing on the rope swings dangling from the trees in our yard.

Fifteen minutes or so later – once each group had been tucked away in their respective classrooms – I walked back over to our home (which is about 5-10 paces from our school).

Gleny! I suddenly remembered. I headed for our outdoor washing station (called a ‘pila’ in Spanish) on the edge of our porch where we wash our household’s clothes, shoes and bedding.

Yes! Ah-HAH! My eyes alit with glee as I saw the many rags and tidbits thrown about the washing station. Gleny had not done her job!

I got to work doing the job myself, laughing all the while. I hand-washed a shirt and several underpants and rags that had been left half-washed and sitting in a pan; I collected the long blue rope that was laying haphazardly on the ground; I collected the many shoes that were scattered about; I picked up and re-hung the clothes that had fallen off the line. Perfect.

Upon finishing my job, I headed straight into our little cinderblock home (still laughing to myself) and wrote on our family’s living-room whiteboard the following message that will be read by all later this afternoon once they get out of classes and come streaming into our home:

Blessings to you, Gleny! Don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t clean up the washing station this morning; I took 10-15 minutes to do it once you were in class. Now you can go ahead and cover my job of washing the boys’ clothes this Friday since I did your job this morning. I am available to fulfill your responsibilities when you need help! I love you. –Mom

So I am now at peace and will happily cover her morning duty when she ‘forgets’ to do it – and then she will have to take one of my jobs!

I had instituted this same technique a year ago with another one of our teen daughters with fantastic and rather quick results. One afternoon she did not do some chore of hers, so I switched roles with her (unbeknownst to her) and vegged out in her room watching a movie with one of our other daughters. When she walked in, shocked to find me slouched out on her floor without a care in the world, I informed her, “Oh, I did your chore because you forgot, so now you’ve got to do mine. Normally I make dinner, bathe your little brother, bring in the dry clothes from the line, feed the dogs, supervise all your siblings and help them resolve any conflict they might have. I hope you have a great time, sweetie. Don’t come look for me; I’m enjoying this great movie with your sister.” She was left with her jaw hanging down around her ankles, and sure enough she got busy doing my long list of chores while I enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon and evening. From that day forward, every time she considered not fulfilling her chores I amiably offered to do them for her and she would scream, “No; they’re mine! I’m on it!” because she didn’t want to assume my long list of chores. Score!

This parenting idea and many others can be found in Danny Silk’s phenomenal book Loving Our Kids on Purpose. It sure beats nagging and frustration! (And I certainly hope she neglects the washing station again tomorrow so that I can assign her another one of my jobs!)

God bless you and keep you!

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.

Prayer Request for Spiritual Renewal in Our Household and Ministry

We are currently seeking your earnest prayers for spiritual and emotional renewal in our household with our 10 foster kids/teens ages 9-17. (This is probably going to turn out to be a somewhat disorganized post that is anything but eloquent).

The last several weeks all of our kids have been on school vacation (which has allowed all of us much more family time where we’ve all been together with less distractions), and the Lord has allowed us to go through something akin to the “valley of the shadow of death” (I call it this because that is what it has felt like) with them as we’ve come up against unforeseen challenges, incorrect attitudes, and sin issues in our household one after the other, leaving us all quite broken and frazzled in the aftermath. This has all led to many times of sincere prayer, on-edge conflict mediations between various family members, occasions of asking forgiveness and of forgiving, intense times of counsel with our teens, and moments of various members of our household becoming emotionally undone (myself included).

Seven of our ten kids are teenagers, and all of them come from extremely broken backgrounds. Parenting any teenager is a delicate task, but parenting 15- and 17-year-olds who come from dark places and who entered our lives on the cusp of puberty or several years already into their adolescence is not for the faint of heart. They want their privileges and freedoms as they are nearing adulthood, but they are still in the beginning stages of being trained in righteousness and have not yet proved they are trustworthy. (This power struggle creates much angst in our household).

I am seeking earnest prayers as our household has been shaken several times over the past several weeks, and we are in need of genuine repentance and spiritual maturity for each one of our precious children as they grab hold of their identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Living God. There are always certain challenges and difficulties in our daily parenting endeavor in such a large, mixed household, but for some reason the last few weeks have been much harder than usual. All of this has left Darwin and me quite exhausted and a bit discouraged.

This is a no-frills post; I am simply asking for prayer in regards to a renewed commitment to Christ in each one of our children along with spiritual maturity, the fear of the Lord, and abounding wisdom, joy, peace and love within the bounds of our hearts and household. Pray against gossip, disrespect, rebellion and sexual sin in our household, and please ask God to grant us revival in our walk with Him. Pray that the Lord would pick each one of us up in His mercy and encourage our hearts as we are entering a new year and a new season of serving Him. (Our small, dedicated team of local teachers/missionaries returned yesterday as we are entering a month-long period of team training, house-to-house evangelism in our rural neighborhood, intensive math tutoring for local students, and general preparation for a new school year in our discipleship-based community homeschool that will officially begin at the end of this month.)

Please pray also for me specifically, as these last few weeks have wrung me dry on all accounts, and I’m in need of encouragement and refreshment both relationally with other humans and on a spiritual level in my walk with Christ. I’ve gone walls-up with everyone around me after having been hurt so many times by our kids in these last few weeks, and due to emotional fatigue I feel as though I’ve just been going through the motions of each day, running from one activity to the next, just trying to stay afloat. Please pray that Christ might fully permeate my being and flood me with His peace so that I might be a useful instrument in His hands rather than merely a broken woman who runs around with her hair on fire all day until getting to her room at night and collapsing, exhausted and discouraged. Please pray that my heart might not be hardened and that my being might receive the light of Christ to cast away all darkness.

Thank you to all those who lift us up in prayer and support the Lord’s work through us in Honduras. May God bless you in this new year and fill you with His love. Thank you for considering our humble state before the Lord.

The Lord’s Whisper: Renounce Your Life for My Sake

In these last few weeks many surprising turns have been taken deep within the souls of those in our household, not the least of which I will tell of on this post.

In our community Bible study, where we gather with our 10 foster kids, our dedicated team of  local teachers/missionaries, and roughly 30 local children and teens to study God’s word together and sing His praises four mornings per week, we have been drilling hard (as in, going deep) on exactly what Christ meant when He said that anyone who wishes to be His follower must deny themselves, take up their cross (die), and follow in His footsteps.

Those words Christ spoke to His first disciples so many years ago are probably well-known by most Christians and may even be included in the list of general Bible verses we all memorize and recite without thinking twice how to actually live it.

So, we gather in our concrete-floored rustic dining room with the panoramic mountains behind us to dig deep into just what that means. What does it mean to really die to ego, to really let go of our own personal desires — however painful and scary it may be – in order to fully embrace Christ and the fullness of His teachings, His radical lifestyle? After all, to consider oneself a Christ-follower is in essence to actually follow Christ and what He taught.

How do we ‘die’ to our ego in daily life? What does this actually look like? And – dare we ask – can anyone truly follow Christ without this element of death-to-ego? Can anyone claim to call Christ Savior without recognizing Him also as Lord, as He who commands life’s decisions and attitudes? How do we go beyond memorizing or simply hearing this verse to actually living it out, to living a crucified life in the flesh (in order to enjoy a resurrected life with Christ, even now in part in the midst of this fallen world)?

These are the questions we’ve been asking, and God has been leading us to the answers.

With the arrival of our two newest daughters (now becoming 7 young women in our household ages 10-17, all of whom come from traumatic backgrounds and are on the long road toward total healing in Christ) two more precious balls have been added to our daily juggling routine. We had placed our two new arrivals together in a room with Dayana, Jackeline and Gleny, which had unintentionally cultivated a nightly ‘sleepover party’ environment, creating a huge imbalance in our household (and much noise and squealing late into the night). On the one hand Darwin and I were thrilled that all of our girls were getting along so well (that had been one of our fervent prayer requests prior to Paola and Carolina’s arrival, as with any new arrivals in our home there tends to be a period of adjustment, potential conflict, etc as everyone finds out all over again where they belong on the totem pole). On the other hand, we felt that is was unfair that one of our girls’ rooms (the one with the 5 teens) was enjoying a little too much fun each night while the other room (where two of our younger girls, Josselyn and developmentally-challenged Gabriela, biological sisters) oftentimes felt left out and destined to frustrating nights of solitude.

Although all of this may seem so trivial to the outsider’s eye, this backstory and understanding of our household layout is vital if you are to truly appreciate the ensuing events.

In our household this imbalance of sisterhood had wedged itself deep in my consciousness, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed to move at least one of our girls from the ‘sleepover party’ room into the room with only 2 girls, both to achieve more nightly quietness and also in favor of cultivating more balanced friendships (instead of 2 against 5). This thought bothered me for several days, and one day as I left one of our bi-weekly planning and prayer meetings with our local teachers/missionaries, I crossed the threshold into our home and felt the Lord guide me to go talk with Jackeline, our 14-year-old daughter who has been living with us alongside of her special-needs brother since January 2015.

I knocked on the wooden doorframe of her bedroom and asked if I could come in. She quickly passed me through, and I found her sitting on the top bunk of one of the two wooden bunkbeds, peacefully folding a huge pile of clothes. Our other girls were busy with piano practices and other household chores, so it seemed that I found her at a good time.

Feeling uneasy about the whole female rooming situation as it was and inclined toward some kind of action (but still not knowing which to take, plus it is never easy to be the bearer of what our girls would take to be bad news), I approached Jackeline and simply asked her to pray for me. She listened attentively while I explained to her my frustrations – how I felt it necessary to move one of the girls out of her room, not due to any kind of punishment but just o bring a bit more balance to our household.

She listened sincerely to my initial frustrations as I vented as I would with a wise friend (alas, God is making Jackeline into a very wise young woman), but she began resisting and even crying when I mentioned the fact that I was seriously considering splitting up her roommates and moving one of them into the ‘undesirable’ room (alas, everyone knows that to room with Gaby is less than delightful, for she wets the bed at night and has many strange and annoying behaviors that even her own biological sister cannot stand). She oftentimes speaks obscenities to her own sister, gets into her sister’s belongings, and lacks basic common sense after having suffered a childhood of prolonged sexual abuse and other mistreatments. Her healing in Christ is definitely occurring, but perhaps not as quickly as any of us would humanly like. Surely – speaking frankly – to room with Gaby is to suffer a certain kind of death to the teenage ego.

Worry crossed Jackeline’s face as she was undoubtedly pondering all the implications of any of her roommates having to begin rooming with Gaby and Josselyn, and she began saying, “No, Ma – you can’t move any of us out of our room. We all get along so well! Please…it’s not fair…It’s not fair.” She began shaking her head back and forth as she communicated several times – and very respectfully – that she was completely opposed to the idea of any one of her beloved roommates being moved out of the ‘party room’ and into the much more boring (and physically smaller) room where Gaby and Josselyn sleep. Time and again – literally for about 20 minutes or so – we openly discussed the idea as I sought her ideas for how to bring more equality to the living situation, and each time she resisted any thought of her or her roommates being split up.

I patted her leg and stroked her feet as she sat perched above me on the top bunk, me standing in front of her, my upper body resting against the bunk’s top rungs. We were communicating lovingly and respectfully, although we were completely at odds. We both knew that Darwin and I would have the final say in the matter, but just the same I wanted her input and for some reason felt that she was the one to consult with.

I continued probing and carefully explaining my reasons for wanting to make some kind of room shift – for love of Josselyn and Gaby, who oftentimes feel left out, etc – and she kept resisting, saying, “I hope I’m not the one to be moved, because Josselyn and I don’t even get along! And, the whole time I’ve lived here I’ve never slept in another room…It’s just not fair!” I kept listening and sharing, as did she, but we were getting nowhere and she was just getting more visibly upset and she kept crying.

During this initial part of our conversation two or three of her roommates walked in the room to drop something off or grab their shoes, etc, and they glanced over at Jackeline and I – she and I completely at peace and even showing physical affection as I kept stroking her feet but at the same time Jackeline distraught and with tears pouring down her face. Her roommates looked concerned but at the same time at peace, as emotional conversations (charged with God’s love and a respectful listening ear) are very common in our household and always – without fail – bring about a good result.

Then, out of nowhere, Jackeline said – still through tears but suddenly calmer – “I’ll go.”

As far as I was concerned, she might as well have said, “I’ll die.”

I blinked and my head instinctively snapped backward a couple inches. My mind went blank. I asked, “What –?”

She continued, suddenly steady as a rock: “I’ll be the one to move to the other room. Something inside of me tells me that I’m the one that’s supposed to go.”

A peaceful, beautiful silence fell over us for a moment as I recognized that the Lord had spoken to Jackeline’s heart – completely unbeknownst to me as an outsider far removed from the inner workings of her soul – and that she had not only listened to that still, small voice (that voice that instructed her to do that which her ego desperately wanted to avoid at all costs), but she had also obeyed.

I just stared at her for several moments, feeling as though I had never been more proud of her. This is what it means to follow Christ in the nitty-gritty – in the mundane – of daily life! Rather than conserve your life, lose it for His sake. Rather than seek personal gain (or comfort, or security), let go of your own desires and humble yourself for love’s sake. Consider others better than yourself. Humility. Genuine love of others, even those who are hardest to love. Renounce your life for Christ; die to what you want in order to live for what God wants. Not my will, but Yours be done.

And so I asked carefully – feeling like I was tip-toeing on holy ground, fully cognizant of the fact that God was unspeakably near – if I could sit up on the top bunk next to her. Through tears she indicated for me to climb up. Now she experienced tears not of the fear that I would break up her nightly slumber party but tears of loss that she herself would be the one to go (and not because we had chosen her but because the Lord of hosts had).

And so I sat next to her on that top bunk with my long legs hanging over the edge of the railings as I stretched out my arm and she immediately leaned in and buried her head in my embrace, now weeping harder than before. We stayed like that for a long time, and I thanked God in my heart for this marvelous work He is doing in young Jackeline’s life.

That day our conversation ended up stretching close to two hours as everyone else in our household went about their daily business of cleaning, doing homework, playing in our front yard, etc. God – in that hidden place, in that little nook of a bedroom atop that top bunk in the most unlikeliest of souls – had done what I believe to be the most impressive and supernatural work that can occur in any human’s life – that of listening to the voice of the living God and following it (especially when it goes against all that we want and desire). Jackeline had just experienced – perhaps truly for the first time – what it means to really die to ego (and not a graceful, painless death, but rather a bloody, gruesome kind of death that only the cross can inflict). The Lord had really spoken to our daughter, and she had heeded! Truly there is no greater work in the soul of mankind, no greater proof of faith.

And so from there – once she calmed down and accepted joyfully her fate in the Lord’s hands – we began a long and rather animated discussion on just this same topic: what it means to really die to self, to follow Christ even when His desires go against our own, how to hear the voice of God, how to truly love others even when it costs us, etc. We shared stories and Bible verses, talking back-and-forth as we sat with shoulders touching on that messy top bunk at mid-day.

Two days later – the moving date that she and I decided together – sure enough she gathered her belongings and bid farewell to her beloved room just as she had promised. There were no fireworks, no congratulatory remarks from her old roommates for her selflessness, no lightning striking down from the sky to indicate a victory in the heavens. It was more of a sober death march, that humbling (and painful) act of leaving behind that which one loves for the sake of a Higher Love, that dragging of the cross on one’s shoulder as death draws near.

I helped her move her belongings as you could sense the heaviness in her spirit, but at the same time the joy of the Lord was unmistakably with us. Jackeline was joyful albeit heavy with loss. She would no longer enjoy nightly sleepovers with her best friends and dearest sisters; she would now be rooming with a younger sister with whom she had never really loved and a developmentally-challenged little girl with severe behavioral issues.

That was about a week-and-a-half ago. And so now Jackeline is learning to love those whom she does not naturally love; she is experiencing the joy of the Lord on a deeper level than before (for before perhaps it cost her little; this time it has cost her much); she is learning what it means to die to self in order to live for God, and His mark is most definitely upon her.

The transition has not perhaps been easy for Jackeline, but not once has she cowered back from that which the Lord called her to do (and she has even experienced increasing joy in her decision in the midst of what have been the expected trying circumstances of her new living arrangements). We couldn’t be more proud of the divine work the Lord is etching out in her soul, that truly Christ-like character that is being formed in her.

Amen! Glory to God!

Standing at the Gates of Hell

The two new young women I wrote about in the previous post arrived at our front gate on Monday of this week (three days ago), and it has been a very intense and exceedingly blessed three days with them. They are two young women (ages 14 and 15, not related biologically) who have been through many hard hits in life (and dealt some hard hits in return), and we feel utterly convinced that after having bounced around in various foster homes and orphanages the Lord brought them to our home to find stability, permanent family, healing and, ultimately, a transforming relationship with Christ.

In these first three days with them we’ve shared many moments that are too delicate to share on this blog, but in increasing measure the joy of the Lord is experienced in our household as Darwin, our 8 kids who’ve been with us for several years and I are truly collaborating together — as the body of Christ — to extend God’s love to two teens who literally no one else was willing to receive.

Two days ago after some shocking news was revealed to us about one of our new arrivals, I experienced many moments of ‘becoming undone’ emotionally as we sought to appropriately deal with the information and its implications in the way that God saw fit. It was a day of bitter weeping, much prayer and a very serious family meeting so that our 8 would all be on the same page — united in Christ — with Darwin and I so as to love these two teen girls (and protect those who are already in our household) in a way that very likely they had not priorly been loved.

At the end of that very trying, stretching day (Tuesday), I sat at the long wooden table in our living room next to our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline who quietly went about completing her math homework (I’m her math teacher) by candlelight as the Lord enveloped our household in that blessed nightly silence during our family’s “sabbath hour.” It had been perhaps the most difficult day we had experienced as a family in some time, and yet I felt the Lord’s presence and His hand over the entire situation more strongly than ever before. I sat next to Jackeline stroking her back as she continued hard at work, wooden pencil in hand and notebook illuminated by the little candle in front of her. We stayed like that for a long time — me stroking her back, her working on her homework, the rest of our kids quietly tucked into their rooms for the night along with our two new arrivals — when I asked her, “Jackeline, you know that I love you, right?”

This is something that we communicate frequently to our kids, so without skipping a beat she immediately took her concentration away from her schoolwork, penetrated my eyes with hers with striking joy, and said  with a big nod and a smile, “Yup.”

I smiled, still sensing the Lord increasingly near in the midst of the rescue mission He had very unexpectedly sent our family on to go after the souls of these two young women who would have very likely become prostitutes within the next couple years had He not intervened. Then I bent in closer towards Jackeline, my hand still patting her back as she had quickly resumed her schoolwork, and I whispered, “You know, you’re one of my favorites.”

This time the smile overtook her face as her eyes came up to meet mine again and she let out a little laugh and said, “I know!”

We both laughed at that, and then I said, “You wanna know a secret?”

She nodded her head ‘yes,’ momentarily forgetting her math homework. I continued, “I’ve never felt happier in my life, and it’s because I’ve never felt nearer to the Lord.”

She studied my eyes for a few moments — fully knowing the day that our family had just lived, how our obedience to Christ was put to the test in a big way once we received the news we did about one of our new foster daughters — and then she nodded quietly in agreement, understanding what that joy is that goes beyond fluctuating ‘happiness’ and is found only within God’s will.

Her pencil quickly resumed moving back and forth as she calculated numbers and solved algebraic equations. I continued contemplating the beauty of our Lord and what it means to serve Him in this great rescue mission, literally tackling people off the path as they’re headed into Hell. I felt like weeping — for joy, for pain over what each of our children (and so many others all around the world) have suffered, for the great privilege that our Lord allows us to serve Him in such a way — but I had already wept so much that day that I felt dry, emptied. At peace. So I just thanked Him in my heart. In the face of what almost any sane person would call an impossible situation, I never felt closer to Him, more convinced of His burning desire to rescue these two young ladies from the snares of the enemy.

So we give thanks for all 10 of our children and we enter into yet another chapter of our life and service with Christ now with 7 daughters and 3 sons, all of whom come from devastating circumstances and whom have found (or are finding) healing and freedom in God’s eternal family through Christ. There are many things to pray for — perhaps even urgently so, desperately so — but for now all I can think to do is give thanks. Our new girls’ names are Carolina and Paola. Please pray with us for their salvation and transformation into the image of Christ, and for our other 8 kids, that God would use them mightily to minister to their two new housemates as we band together as a family to stand at the gates of Hell, blocking the entrance and joyfully receiving those whom the Lord chooses to rescue, whatever the personal cost may be. Thank you. To God be the glory and praise forever. Amen.

“Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.”

— C.T. Studd

 

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!

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!

The Master of Creative Play

The other day I had off from my teaching duties, so I found myself in the nearby city of La Ceiba running errands and buying groceries during the morning hours while all of our kids were at home in classes with the rest of our teachers.

On a whim, I pulled our old white pickup truck to a stop in front of a phenomenal new two-story resale shop that is quickly becoming famous in our area for its incredible deals.

Although we do not normally purchase toys for our children for several reasons (they have not been prone to taking care of the few toys that they have received, plus we do not want them to think that they have to have some kind of advanced or electronic toy in order to be happy), on this particular occasion I bounded up the long winding ramp to the second story to investigate the toy section.

A new idea had occurred to me: get a variety of versatile, oldschool-style toys and then store them all in one or two big Tupperware bins. You take them all out to play creatively for an hour or two, and then you put it all back in the bin when you’re done. Bingo!

As the majority of the members of our household are quickly leaving behind childhood and boldly entering adolescence, I’ve recently felt it urgent and necessary to create safe moments of childlike play – to protect moments of pure fun, of boundless imagination — for our kids before all sense of childhood soon gets lost. (A very respected friend of ours also recently called me a slave driver due to the amount of responsibility we are daily inculcating in our kids through their extensive musical practices, household chore expectations, homework load, etc, so I’m trying to learn to ease off a bit on the ‘duties’ and increase the ‘fun’…)

And so I perused the long, wearhouse-like rows and dug deep through dozens of stuffed animals and old plastic and wooden toys, finding incredible bargains on puppets, silly stuffed animals, an enormous purple plastic egg, a variety of outrageous hats and costume parts, and bits and pieces of old toys that probably no one else would think to purchase. A long vacuum-cleaner tube; stacking shelves meant for kitchen use; little foam cubes. My shopping cart’s contents resembled the leaning tower of Pisa as I headed for the checkout with a big grin on my face.

That evening, as our 12-year-old daughter Gleny helped me take the price tags off everything and stuff it all in two bright green containers I had purchased, we decided to have a night of creative play as a family instead of our traditional Friday-night movie.

With each family member wearing some kind of silly hat — Darwin with a bright green baseball hat on sideways, two of our teenage girls wearing french barrettes, Gleny wearing a dog hat with long, floppy ears and Gaby sporting a tall top hat that came straight from Alice in Wonderland — we spread out in our cozy living room to play together. A couple of our kids were absorbed in an intense chess match while several of the littler ones played gleefully with the new array of secondhand toys I had brought home. Darwin and I with our older teens played Cranium on our tile floor as each person tried on several different wild hats throughout the process.

The next day our 12-year-old Gleny was prepping for her weekly tutoring session with little Gabriela. Several of our kids in addition to Darwin and our teachers are working with Gaby right now as she is in the beginning stages of learning how to read. Gleny grabbed the little syllable book to read with Gaby when a thought occurred to me: “Gleny! Better yet, instead of reading with Gaby, play with her.”

Ever since we met Gleny as an explosive, affectionate 9-year-old in 2013 she has been a master at creative play. Given very few tools she can create a very elaborate drama with this and that character, a princess to be rescued, a mansion made of legos, etc. I remember the day special-needs Josue moved in as an insecure 6-year-old in 2015, Gleny immediately had him sitting down on a small stool in our living room with a makeshift stethoscope around his neck as he tended to her daughter, a sick stuffed animal bunny. She has been known to organize an entire army out of her siblings and lead them valiantly as they all run around the yard with sticks and ‘bows and arrows,’ creating forts and shelters under different bushes. She has a beautiful imagination, and now that she is on the cusp of entering adolescence, much of that has been lost — or neglected — lately. Now that she wears a training bra and is in our advanced math class with her older sisters, I suspect she has tried to hide that very childlike aspect of her personality in order to fit in with her more mature peers. Just the night prior she had exhibited great enthusiasm with me as she discovered and helped take the price tags off of the quirky new toys, but once the chance came to play with them, she kept her distance and chose rather to join in the older kids with the chess match.

And so, when I suggested to her that her tutoring be that of play rather than one more reading session, her eyes lit up mischievously. Because, after all, she would be the ‘teacher,’ so no one could say that it wasn’t cool for her to be playing with the toys. I smiled big and said, “Gleny, you have a phenomenal imagination, and Gaby — and Josue — both need a lot of help developing their creativity. You can take the new bins out, and simply play with them. You would be great at that.”

She jumped up immediately, grabbed the two big bins and called her young students to join her on our front porch as she quickly began guiding them in the delicate art of creative play. Each person with a hat; each person with a stuffed animal. Let the creative play commence.

Peeking out through the slats in our windows as the minutes drew nearer to an hour, my heart grew with joy as I saw our future teacher Gleny exercising radiantly one of the gifts the Lord has given her. I grabbed our little digital camera and snapped a few photos while hoping not to distract from the whole play process…

The lion headdress that Josue is sporting is the one I had worn for several hours the night prior during our family game night. (When we called all of our kids in to tell them that instead of watching a movie we would be playing games, I crouched near our front door and jumped out — wearing the furry lion headdress — when our eldest daughter came casually walking through. Mission accomplished: she screamed!)

Amen! Glory to God!

A Discipline Technique that Actually Works: the (Hysterical) Art of Repetition

For the past 2+ years my husband and I have been on the unspoken yet all-consuming expedition to find a discipline technique that actually works with the now-8 kids and teens the Lord has placed in our household.

One technique that we used to implement quite frequently (too frequently) with our kids was that of writing lines. If Gleny got up in the morning and forgot to make her bed, she’d receive a firm scold along with the consequence of writing 50 or 100 times: “I will make my bed each morning without being asked.”

Our kids would dutifully finish the written consequence – although frequently with gritted teeth and after hours of procrastination, sitting there idly with the paper and pencil as they slowly (oh, so slowly!) wrote out one letter after another, filling up one or two or three pages with their empty declarations of change.

The only thing was, writing lines never worked. If Gleny (or whoever) had to write such-and-such number of lines declaring that she would make her bed each morning without being asked, guess what? The next morning as I would pop my head into her room to see how she had learned from her consequence, her bed still wasn’t made! In such a situation (which used to happen all the time) I would probably then storm over to wherever she was and chew her butt, assigning 100 more lines for her to write with the same pointless declaration she had made yesterday.

All to (almost) no avail.

As you can imagine, our lives quickly became consumed with such useless discipline, and literally several of our kids each day would have at least one written consequence, almost always enacting zero behavioral changes. Instead of being joyfully occupied with the task of parenting, we became the consequence-managers of our kids, which made just about everyone quite miserable.

Everything changed last May when my husband and I were at a conference for missionaries and other laborers who work with children, and we heard a red-headed middle-aged American woman speak who’s been working with Honduran children and teens for about 20 years. The topic of her speech was something along the lines of how to discipline effectively. I thought wearily: I’ve got to hear this.

She passed to the front of the small auditorium, very bubbly in her personality, and, among other advice that I have since forgotten, she introduced a disciplinary technique that she personally has used and seen effective over the years: the (hysterical) art of repetition. I don’t know if this is actually what it’s called (it’s probably not), but, in essence, that is what it is.

She began telling us that many children where she works had become accustomed to barging into her office without knocking. Her solution: each time a child or teen did so, she would greet them with a big smile and remind them that they need to knock and wait for her to respond before entering. Then she would say, “Go ahead and try it.” The child or teen would then leave the office that they had just barged into, go back outside, close the door, knock, wait for her response, and then enter. As they did this, she would smile even bigger and say, “Hey! That was great! I want to see you do that again,” and would send them back outside to do the whole knock-wait-enter process again. After a few times of repeating this habit-forming process, both the child/teen and her were cracking up, and rather than an empty scold or some consequence that has nothing to do with the infraction (such as writing lines), this disciplinary technique actually enforced the desired action, thus creating a sense of muscle memory and habit.

This advice that we heard last May has revolutionized our parenting, our kids’ reactions to correction, and – most importantly – has actually led them into habit transformation, leading us all out of the futile cycle of other disciplinary techniques we had previously used that produced no real change.

Here’s an example of this from our household: 12-year-old Jackeline is notorious for leaving things thrown about or starting a project and not finishing it (as in, not putting everything away afterward), so several months ago I decided to put the new technique into practice with her. I entered her bedroom one afternoon to see how she was coming along organizationally, and – not to my surprise – I found her dirty pajama pants thrown on the floor. Without the least bit of anger flowing through my veins I went, found her in the kitchen washing dishes with 11-year-old Gleny, and said, “Hey! Come with me, and I’m gonna show you something.”

Her eyes traced me suspiciously as she followed me to her room, where – with my eyes opened too-wide and my eyebrows raised-up just about as high as they would go – I said in a ridiculously slow tone, over-annunciating each syllable: “Dir-ty pants…go…in the ham-per.” My head was slowly – almost like a strange cartoon character – nodding up and down as my really-wide-open eyes were drilling her, my index fingers and thumbs carefully holding up the dirty pants in front of me as I demonstrated the 2-yard journey they had to take to the hamper.

She laughed at my antics, grabbed the pants from my careful fingers, threw them in the hamper and, in one motion, began heading for the door. I said in a sing-song tone, “Uh-oh! That’s too easy. You will put on the dirty pants over the shorts you’re wearing, lay down in your bed as if you’re going to sleep (because they’re the pajama pants she had worn to bed), get back up, take off the pajamas, put them in the hamper and walk out your door. Twenty times. Thank you!”

She looked at me with a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding stare as I read her thoughts perfectly: I don’t have time for this. I just promised never to leave my pants thrown on the floor again, okay?

But, being the wonderfully obedient daughter that she is, she only hesitated about 2.68 seconds before retrieving the pants out of the hamper and beginning the process.

I waited a few yards away in the living room as I heard her constant movement – putting the pants on, laying down, getting up, taking them off, putting them in the hamper, and then leaving the room only to enter again. It only took about a minute or two before she was laughing hysterically and a bit out of breath. Every time I would see her lovely face burst through the teal-colored curtain to her bedroom as she entered the living room, finishing a round, she would verbally say the count until she finally got up to 20 and finished the discipline. She did it all like a champ, I thanked her, and she returned to the kitchen to continue washing the dishes with Gleny.

Just because I was having too much fun, I decided to follow her to the kitchen. There she stood at the sink with Gleny, their backs to me, as I made my presence known, much to her surprise: “Hey, Jackeline?”

She turned around to face me, searching my face expectantly. I said in a really convincing tone: “Um…you left your pajama pants tossed on the floor.”

Her eyes grew wide and her jaw literally dropped as a devastated stillness overtook her. Her thoughts: Wha – How? I just –

Me: “Just kidding! Hey, thanks for washing the dishes.”

She let out a long, relieved sigh-laugh and eyed me as if we were already forming the beginnings of some fabulous inside joke.

My thought (and probably hers!): This is so much better than writing lines!

And, the best part: Although we have had to repeat this process with her a few times since, her behavior and habits really are changing to such an extent that she is not leaving her things haphazardly tossed about to the degree that she used to. She’s becoming suspiciously well-organized!

Other examples of this are: 8-year-old Jason used to always leave his school uniform bunched up on his dresser or floor instead of hung on the hanger as we had asked, so two consecutive nights as I was preparing dinner I had him in the kitchen with me, carefully hanging and then un-hanging his school uniform multiple times, forming the habit. Literally ever since then – and that was weeks ago – every afternoon as I peer into his room, I see his school uniform perfectly hung up! No more scolding or nagging, no long, drawn-out consequences, just habit-forming repetition!

A couple months ago we were all in-and-out of our little office building getting school supplies ready for the new school year (the Honduran school year begins in February), and every time one of our kids would enter, they would slam the door unintentionally, producing a heavy metal-on-metal bang that nearly shook my brain loose. Every time they slammed the door (which was more than a few times), I would look disapprovingly at the person who did it, who, in turn, would look at me with an I’m-so-sorry expression, and I would remind them: “Please be more careful with the door.”

Well, this produced zero result as, time and again as we were all entering and exiting the front door, carrying supplies to and fro, the door kept getting slammed by the same culprits. Then the idea occurred to me: the (hysterical) art of repetition. Not 10 seconds later another big slam shook the office building, and I looked at the culprit who started to do their traditional innocent shoulder-shrug I’m-so-sorry routine as they continued on their way, and I said in a very bouncy tone, “Hey! To help you learn how to handle this door better, go ahead and open it, enter, and close it carefully – without making a single noise – 15 times.”

Our kids had already been introduced to this form of discipline (which is actually positive habit-formation more than discipline), so the culprit – who I believe was Gleny – rolled her eyes good-naturedly and set about opening the door, entering, closing it slowly and silently, and then exiting to do the whole process again. She did it perfectly (even laughing as she did so), so I thanked her and allowed her to pass. A minute or two later 7-year-old Gaby came crashing through the door, so I assigned her the same task. Shortly thereafter, Jackeline.

Then, about half an hour later, the miracle: Gaby, who had gone through the open-close-exit discipline and had stayed inside the office since having finished, suddenly needed to go outside for something. I had already completely forgotten about the whole slamming-door problem because we had already gone quite some time without another episode, but as little Gaby got up to leave, she said to no one in particular: “Gotta close it carefully,” and she opened the door, closed it very, very slowly without so much as a squeak of its hinges, and then was on her way. I looked on, jaw hanging slightly open at what I had just witnessed: she learned!

So, a few weeks ago my husband Darwin and I were out at breakfast with Jackeline as the thought occurred to me to ask her – now that she’s largely on the other side of many of the initial behavioral issues that used to characterize her during her first year with us – what disciplinary techniques that we’ve used with her had actually helped her to develop, mature, and form better habits.

She laughed from across the small wooden table where the three of us sat and said, “I don’t want to tell you, because then you’ll keep giving me that discipline…”

I laughed with her and waited for her response. Finally, she announced: “…What has helped me the most is when you make me repeat actions [to form positive habits]…”

Toiling Upward in the Night

During these past few days there has been a palpable sense of preparation– of everyone preparing for something – permeating nearly every occurrence in our household. I can’t speak for our kids, but my own anticipation for this time had been growing exponentially in these past few weeks, for I know that I hold in my hands some secret key that many others have yet to find nor search for.

This week all 8 of our kids, Darwin and I are on vacation from all our normal activities for ‘Holy Week’ (the week leading up to Easter that can be taken as the American equivalent of Spring Break).

In our household, every time there is any kind of extended vacation such as this, everyone knows what to expect, and they do so with well-intentioned groans and good-natured murmuring, although I know that deep down they rejoice. They know without fail that Mom will spend considerable time each evening elaborating long, specific lists of goals, homework assignments, and other guided activities for each person on the whiteboard outside of their bedroom door. And each person is expected to meet these goals with diligence and joy before 5:00pm the following day.

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Gleny (11) and Jason’s (8) whiteboard of activities one day this week

 

My heart quickens with giddiness just thinking about it, because as many squander their precious free time, we busy ourselves with the joyful art of preparation, knowing our Father has something in store for us and wanting to be prepared when the time comes.

A quote that I stumbled upon during my college years that has greatly marked my outlook every since is this:

The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And although I have never breathed mention of this quote to Darwin or our kids (nor do we have it painted in huge, bold letters over our front door, although that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea), the reality of its words is already deeply imprinted upon our hours and days.

So while the rest of our neighbors or even our beloved students who study at our school most likely spend these 9 days of vacation wandering aimlessly (as is the favorite pastime of youth in our neighborhood), watching hour after hour of television or idly chit-chatting and gossiping on their front porches, we are toiling upward in the night.

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Sandra (15) and Jackeline’s (12) whiteboard of activities one day this week

 

Each day our 6 kids who can read and write have a host of healthy, guided activities to set about doing: study specific chapters from the Bible, play piano or recorder for a certain amount of time, practice the times tables with a certain sibling, go to a quiet place with so-and-so to share and pray, write a letter of friendship or encouragement for someone else, write a reflection or list of life goals, study English as a second language for an hour, stand up and read out loud 45 minutes from any book of their choosing, or participate in our version of cross-fit training (100 push-ups, 100 frog-jumps, and 10 laps to and from the far gate, etc). Each person (ages 8-15) must manage their list of 4-8 activities by themselves, checking off each activity throughout the day as it is completed. When 5:00pm rolls around, the goal is that each person has finished all that was assigned to them.

In the beginning (as in, until very recently) this was like trying to herd cats on steroids (as my dad would say), especially with the younger kids who generally used to get distracted or were moved to acts of disobedience every 16.45 seconds, but after months (and, for some of them, over two years) of consistent encouragement, fair discipline, modeling by example, dogged persistence, and real-world consequences, by now everyone is well-adjusted to Mom’s terrible habit of expecting everyone to toil upward in the night with her. By some act of divine grace, they’ve recognized that, although in the here-and-now they would rather do as they please, long-term it really is what’s best for them and, as such, they have decided to hop on board willingly with all this crazy business of toiling while just about everyone else they know does the exact opposite.

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Josselyn (11) and Dayana’s (15) whiteboard one day this week

 

A couple nights ago 8-year-old Jason, who has been known to be quite the procrastinator and not the best general manager of his time and resources (by golly, he’s only 8!), approached me at 5:00pm as we were all setting the table for dinner and said in a very even, mature tone, although clearly disappointed with himself: “Mom, I need a consequence because I didn’t finish all of my goals on time. I got most of them done, but I’m still working on writing all the times tables from 0-10.”

I squatted down in front of him and said in a very sympathetic tone, “Well, everyone who did finish their goals will get pudding with their dinner and then your Dad and I will watch a movie with them afterward, so your consequence is that you don’t get the pudding and will have to go to bed early instead of watching the movie.” I shrugged innocently and added: “Maybe tomorrow you will manage your time better.”

The consequence seemed clear and fair to him, so he smiled, nodded in agreement, and we continued lightheartedly with the dinner preparations.

The next day he got up early and worked (independently of any adult help or encouragement) more diligently and joyfully than I have ever seen him work, and finished all of his goals not by 5:00pm but by 1:00pm. And, that night, he got his chocolate pudding at dinner and got to watch the movie in addition to having quite a bit of free time in the afternoon to play after having finished his goals!

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Our kids’ assignments from just two days of vacation! Included here are thoughts/reflections on different Biblical passages, the times tables, personal reflections and goals, and more!

 

Something that brings me great joy in a sneaky sort of way is that among the 7th grade students from our local community who study at our home/mission, our eldest daughter, Dayana (15 years old), has quickly and efficiently distinguished herself among them without any conscious effort. The other students are literally astounded by many of her abilities, whether it is the fact that she plays piano quite well and already gives classes, is Darwin’s very capable assistant in the choir and frequently teaches the sopranos by herself, or that she delivered several lethal blows in the class’ first organized debate, speaking with such authority and confidence as if she were already a well-trained lawyer. On the first set of quizzes that rolled around, she was the only student who passed, and right now as we are ending the first grading period, she is the only student who has an ‘A’ average. While others glaze over in Bible study, she participates actively and wisely, and she has to turn away many classmates who seek her help in group projects or homework assignments because she knows they will only distract her.

One day as she and I were discussing the reality of her overwhelming success thus far in our 7th-grade program (which is the first year in high school according to the Honduran system), she laughed earnestly and said, “And I thought I wouldn’t do well in high school!

I, too, laughed with her, amazed at all the Lord has done with her young life in less than two and a half years of living in our home (after two years of living with a foster mom before us), and I asked with a careful tone: “Do your classmates know that you didn’t enter first grade until you were 11 years old?” Understanding that my goal was not to shame her for the fact that her biological parents never put her in school but rather to point out the impressive fact that all of her academic, musical, and Christ-like developments have been made in four years’ time, she looked over at me with a sly grin and said, “…No.”

Upon hearing her answer I believe I threw my head back and let out a laugh that came rumbling up from my gut. If only they knew: Dayana is not some genius; she has simply mastered the art of toiling upward in the night.

So at 6:30am on any given day as our 26 students (16 in high school and 10 in elementary) come pouring in our front gate, many drawn to those beautiful notes coming from the keyboard just inside the schoolhouse door, eyes wide when they peek their head in and see it is 15-year-old Dayana playing Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, I smile because I know she practiced 2-4 hours every day during her vacations and continues to do so an hour each afternoon after getting out of her academic classes. It’s not luck or some special gifting; she’s a toiler.

Or when 8-year-old Jason’s principal at his private Christian school comments to us with wide, sincere eyes that she is shocked by Jason’s turnaround from a rude, immature student to one of the most well-adjusted, stable students in his class in less than a year’s time, I smile because I know all the toiling upward we’ve done with him while the rest of the world was sleeping.

So Tuesday of this week of vacations each of our kids set about accomplishing the different assignments on their whiteboard, certain activities intended for spiritual or relational growth while other focused on more practical skills such as math, reading and public speaking. It quickly became evident – to my total surprise – that not even one of our kids needed encouragement or redirection because each one was already so joyfully entrenched in their interdisciplinary assignments, so I did something I have literally never done before: with the rain in a constant drizzle outside, lowering the usually hot tropical climate to an almost-nippy cool, I got out a blanket and author Ted Dekker’s new book and curled up on the couch in our living room to read.

You must understand: Darwin and I are typically in constant motion from about 5:00am until about 8:00pm – going to and from the office or school buildings to supervise, teach and counsel, correcting and disciplining so-and-so or attending to such-and-such semi-crisis, talking with him-and-her about their attitudes or going after the lost sheep who stormed out in anger, working on paperwork or accounting, attending to various visitors, etc.

But Tuesday was different. I looked around me, taking in with careful observation all that I saw: Dayana peacefully holed up in the school building, producing beautiful notes from the piano; Sandra in her bedroom, her voice soaring high as she practiced the different choir songs; Jackeline and Jason rather dynamically practicing the times tables with flash cards; Josselyn writing a reflection on what she had read from the book of John; Gleny at our square wooden table a few feet from me, contentedly coloring a large graphic drawing of flowers and such; my husband Darwin finally having 5 seconds of free time to study his English textbooks and audio tapes, his materials spread out as he studied uninterrupted in our dining room; and Josue and Gaby playing with some degree of focus with blocks and stuffed animals on the floor beside me. I assessed and re-assessed the situation, thoroughly convinced that at any moment someone would urgently need me or possibly explode with anger or need to be encouraged to manage their time more wisely, but, despite all odds, each person continued onward in serenity and efficiency, managing themselves with a self-discipline that I had never before seen in such perfect bloom.

Seeing that everything was quite under control, I hesitantly sat down on the couch – a sacred act which does not happen often, as we have the widely-accepted rule that no one can sit on the couch until evening once everyone has bathed and has on clean clothes – with my book in hand, waiting to see what would happen. I tentatively read a few pages, constantly lifting my eyes from the written plot to supervise and verbally encourage/praise the little ones around me, until the daring thought struck me: I think I could actually remove myself from active involvement in this situation and…nothing bad would happen. Cool! I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna get out the blanket, curl up and really relax! Is this possible?! I’m sitting – no, laying! – on the couch at noon! Whoa!

So that day – for the first time that I can recall – I curled up horizontally on our little couch with multi-colored cushions under a big quilt and spent several hours devouring my new book. Yes, Gaby came over more than a dozen times to pat me, sit on me, put her stuffed animal cat in my face and generally try to reel me into her love trap, but the general tranquility and diligence around me continued on unabated the rest of the day as each child/teen reached all of their goals way before the designated hour, and did so with grace. My heart smiled as I reached out in gratitude to our Good Father, thanking him for these seeds of diligence and wisdom that He has planted among us and allowed to begin bearing such fruit.

So in our household, we are learning that it’s not about taking in orphaned and abandoned children and giving them a toothbrush, a safe place to sleep and three square meals a day and assuming we’ve done our job well; it’s about toiling with them upward in the night, taking what was broken, thrown-away and abused and seeking God’s power to transform, renew, and germinate in such a way that we all – Darwin and I included – become increasingly useful instruments in His hands. It’s about throwing aside what eats our time, what only distracts and destroys, and secretly plodding onward toward a new calling, a new Kingdom, while the rest of the world sleeps. It’s about seeking to prepare the little ones one day after the next with such a dogged perseverance that the world may very well call us unrealistic or too demanding, so that they may be found prepared and willing in the hour when He may call and reveal the purpose He has for them.

Amen!

Josselyn’s Living Room Theology Class

Several of our older kids have begun giving 7-year-olds Gabriela and Josue ‘tutoring’ during different 30-minute afternoon time-slots throughout the week to help stimulate our two littlest ones who are the most developmentally behind schedule. Thus far the classes have been a selection of Play-Doh, P.E. (tossing a ball back-and-forth, doing sprints across our front yard, spinning in circles, etc.), coloring, and playing with wooden blocks. It has been a very rewarding experience for all — perhaps even more so for the tutors than for Gaby and Josue.

This Saturday 11-year-old Josselyn (who is Gabriela’s biological sister and the 7th of our 8 kids to move in with us roughly 7 months ago) was the teacher for the designated tutoring time. She took the initiative to lean a large whiteboard against the wall in our living room and set up two wooden stools for her students. I sat on the floor in our bedroom organizing paperwork with our door open into the living room so that I, too, could ‘sit in’ on the class.

Josselyn, who just learned how to read, write and do basic math for the first time in her life since moving in with us in July 2015, up until Saturday had not been one of our more dynamic tutors. She had generally been in charge of the ‘coloring book’ tutoring sessions and, by what we could tell, had fulfilled her once-a-week class out of nothing more than a sense of duty to her little sister.

But something had changed. On Saturday she began enthusiastically writing the vowels on the whiteboard (which Gaby and Josue have no idea how to read), and soon enough she had them sing-songing the vowels in some catchy tune she had made up. Gaby and Josue were thoroughly engaged in the class, and at some point she even had Gaby counting with her up to 20 (Josue does not talk other than a handful of one- or two-syllable sounds). I felt like a permanent smile was glued on my face as I continued organizing several stacks of legal paperwork, students’ exams, and mission statements as the rest of our kids played in our front yard. My husband Darwin and our eldest daughter, 15-year-old Dayana, were in the nearby city of La Ceiba that morning in their weekly English class.

Far exceeding the 30-minute recommended time, Josselyn then dispatched her students to a short ‘recess,’ telling me with a big grin that she wanted to keep teaching them other subjects even though she didn’t have to. She then informed me quite seriously, “The other tutors don’t know how to manage Josue and Gaby, and that’s why they behave so poorly. But I just tell them that if they don’t listen up and participate, I’ll take their recess away. That seems to work just fine.”

I, too, took a ‘recess’ and crossed our front lawn to the little office building to bring more folders for my organizational efforts. When I crossed the threshold of our front door into our living room several minutes later, I was somewhat startled to hear Josselyn – who had already called her students in from recess and had them sitting obediently on their stools to continue the class – saying in a very even tone with more authority than perhaps I have ever heard her talk, and much less teach: “Of course we are going to die, because we are made of the dust of the earth.”

As I passed by them on my few-yard journey to our bedroom, I looked at Josselyn, intrigued, and she informed me, “Now we’re in Bible class.”

I nodded, very interested to hear what Josselyn-the-teacher (who did not have a Bible in hand) would be instructing her two very immature students on the Truth. (From the psychological evaluations we’ve had done, Gaby is roughly 4 years old mentally/emotionally and Josue is 3, and both suffer intermediate to severe developmental delays due to distinctive situations of abuse they suffered before arriving at our home. Josue is in a special-needs pre-school class at a private school five mornings a week, and this past week we moved Gaby down from first grade in a private school to kindergarten in our own school to help cater her needs.)

A few words about Josselyn: she has very short hair that is just starting to grow out after having arrived at our front gate with nearly buzzed-off hair with huge bald patches, and she is very, very small for her age due to malnutrition suffered in her early childhood (she’s about the size of a 7- or 8-year-old, and nobody knows how old she really is because she doesn’t have a birth certificate and was never registered with the government, although our dentist’s approximation is that she’s 11 or 12 years old).

So I continued organizing my mountain of paperwork, but this time with my mind much more focused on the theology class coming from our living room than on the manila folders in front of me.

Josselyn covered the beginning of Genesis with remarkable accuracy, instructing Gaby and Josue with all authority on themes that she has been learning in our weekly Discipleship Group but that, honestly, I had thought were beyond her. Of our 8 kids/teens, she does not tend to have a lot of questions, prayer requests, or comments during the various Bible studies we participate in each week, and I had (very mistakenly) thought that perhaps she was distracted amidst other thoughts, possibly not even hearing the instruction around her, although she had come to give her life to Christ in one of our community Bible studies a few months ago and we had seen distinct changes in her since then.

As I heard nugget after nugget of profound, God-inspired wisdom flowing easily from her mouth, I quickly realized I needed to be writing it all down so as not to forget her exact words. So, without her realizing it, I grabbed an old notebook from one of the many piles of paperwork around me and I began to scribble in a fat, blue marker as quickly as I could everything that she was teaching. Her words, verbatim, were as follows:

“God is love. He’s the only true love we’ve got. The love of a person is small, but that of God is big – bigger and bigger – and He won’t turn His back on you. Not even your mom loves you as much as He does. And if you repent, He’ll be there. But if we don’t repent, when we die we’ll be in front of God and He’ll say: ‘I don’t know you.’”

After Josselyn had instructed several times and in many different ways that God is love, Josue started echoing her every time she said ‘God,’ him answering with “A-moh!” (his way of saying ‘amor,’ which is ‘love’ in Spanish.) Every time she said ‘God’ in any context, Josue’s little voice echoed: “A-moh…” And I think Josue was onto something: every time we think about God, our knee-jerk reaction should be to meditate on His love.

She continued, changing the subject: “If I tell you to do whatever you want because you run your own life – like, go and have a lot of women — am I a good friend?”

Josue, who wears diapers, answered shyly: “No.”

Josselyn: “Isn’t that right that I’m not? A good friend would tell you to submit to God’s will and give away what you have to people who need it more than you do, and God will bless you.”

She continued: “Life is hard, even for children. A lot of kids can just run around and play, but they don’t even know what they do. But once you arrive in adulthood, things will be harder.” She swings her gaze over to me and confirms: “Right, Jennifer?” I laughed. “One day you two will be big, but you’ve got to start believing in God even now when you’re small. You don’t have to go around fighting – God says let there be peace and freedom, but no fights and wars.”

Josue started to giggle nervously, and Josselyn corrected him: “We don’t have to laugh at God’s Word. This isn’t like ‘A, B, C’ in first grade, Josue – this is the True Word, and I’m not lying.”

Josue shaped up, and she continued, now teaching on the crucifixion, Lazarus, and the end of the world. “Not even the angels know when the end of the world will come, only God – right, Jennifer?”

Her two pupils sat with total focus, listening to their young teacher who, by some miracle, already has God’s Word stitched deeply in her heart. She addressed her students: “Do you have a question about how God is?”

Gaby, stuttering and mispronouncing certain words, as is the way she always talks: “The—the…chapters say that we must love one another.”

Josselyn: “Very well, Gaby, but first we must love God.”

“If I believe I am bigger than God, we are believing Satan, the Father of Lies. If I say I want to be the queen because God’s dead, who’s talking crazy? Me, right? Because I’m from the dust of the Earth, and God is the Father of Truth.”

At some point the class started winding down, and the teacher asked me what time it was. “2:20pm,” I answered.

She laughed out loud and said, “I think I’m gonna keep going until nighttime!”

Gabriela’s ‘Theater’ of Reality: What Is Said When No One’s Listening

A few days ago in the late afternoon I was in our bedroom folding clothes and putting away loose papers as I eavesdropped on little Gabriela and Josue’s conversation through our open windows. Immediately outside of two of our windows lies our front porch, from which typically come shouts of joy and squeals and too-loud play on the five hammocks we’ve strung up.

On this occasion, rather than swinging somewhat mindlessly on the hammocks and shouting greetings to me through the window, roughly 7-year-old Gabriela was carefully instructing Josue (who is her age but suffers several developmental disabilities most likely due to abuse in his infancy) that they were to play ‘Ma and Pa.’

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Gabriela, our little popcorn kernel who’s been in our home since July 2015, toying with the shore on a recent family trip to a local beach

 

Thrilled to hear that she was using her imagination and likewise intrigued at how ‘Ma and Pa’ would play out, I kept folding and putting away clothes with one ear very intentionally tuned in to the little drama that was unfolding just yards away.

As their voices faded in and out, I could hear her coaching Josue on how they would prepare dinner for the kids, and then she told him that it was time to put the kids to sleep. I focused hard through other distracting noises – dogs outside, other kids moving about, etc – to hear how her view of bedtime would play out in her make-believe (yet very real) world, especially when she thought no one else was listening.

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‘Ma’ Gabriela said to ‘daughter’ Gabriela: “Ok, Gabriela, time to go to sleep. We will pray with you and sing for you.”

My heart smiled because that is, in fact, what we do with her nearly every night.

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Then: “We love you.”

In Spanish (which is the language my husband, kids and I communicate in) there are two different forms of “I love you.” There is a much more commonly used form that can be used in friendships and not-so-intimate relationships (Te quiero), and then there is the much more personal form that is very rarely used because (in my opinion) it is so powerful (Te amo). Darwin and I use the more powerful version with one another and with our kids to communicate God’s intensely personal love for them, but even our kids do not typically respond with the stronger version but rather the more ‘tame’ love. For example, I’ll say: “Good night, Dayana. I (strong, deep) love you,” and she’ll respond joyfully: “I (less intense, more common) love you, too, Ma.” I think only two or three times in these two years of parenting one of our kids has said that they love anyone (among siblings, other family members, to Darwin and I, etc) using the stronger version, and even then it was written in a card rather than spoken because (I imagine) it just seems too risky.

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So that afternoon as I eavesdropped on Gabriela’s ‘theater’ of her own reality, the power of her statement to ‘herself’ almost took my breath away, because she used the almost-forbidden-because-it’s-so-strong version of “I love you,” which is the version we use with her but that I have never heard leave her lips before. On a normal day she’ll follow me around the house proclaiming, “I love you, Ma!” with the less-intense version, and I’ll stop and give her hugs or kisses or pick her up and then she’ll keep on professing her ‘love’ for me, but always with the friendly, less-personal version of love.

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So when I heard her innocent play-time “I love you,” my heart sunk into a deep pool of gratitude, my thoughts immediately swept up in: She knows. She really knows – understands – that we love her. Thank you, Lord. Amidst all of our trials with her, the times when she wants to sit in my lap but it’s already occupied by someone else, the times when my attitude screams impatience or when I feel inadequate to meet her many, many needs – even amidst all the discipline and correction, she really, really knows. Thank you, Lord. Please keep showing her Your love for her through us, however imperfect we are. We love her because You do. Thank you.

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