Tag Archives: Perseverance

Learning to Persevere: The Family Footrace at Dawn

Several weeks ago my husband and I were evaluating the daily routines we’ve established to foster the integral growth and development of those in our household when a rather displeasing thought entered our minds and just wouldn’t wriggle out: rather than getting up at 5:15am each morning, let’s get up 30 minutes earlier so that we can go running as a family. Yeah! That’s just what we need to further inculcate discipline and overall health in each member of our household — go sprinting down a long, solitary road half-asleep in the pitch black with 8 kids! Sure!

Seeing as Darwin and I have both been involved in athletic training to some degree in our lives (plus the fact that we are willing to try anything that might give a positive result as we seek to ‘train up’ our 8 kids/teens in all that is good work ethic, self-discipline, integral health, etc, for God’s glory), we decided — despite our own desires to get a little more shut-eye each morning! — to give it a try the following morning.

I do not remember how we informed all the members of our diverse household — if I wrote the announcement on our family’s living room whiteboard or if we broke the news over dinner — but, needless to say, they were less than enthused.

The night prior to the big adventure, we informed everyone: when we come get you up in the morning, just put your tennis shoes on, brush your teeth and get to the front door as quickly as you possibly can. We’re not going to be rubbing our sleepy eyes and shuffling around the house aimlessly for 20 minutes (as some of our teens are accustomed to doing).

And so, the next morning the alarm sounded (it was a weekend, so we were able to sleep in a little longer and commence the run around 7:00am rather than in the wee morning hours), and our shoes were already on our feet before the last remnants of our dreams had fully left us. I went bed-to-bed jostling sleeping legs and patting tired backs as I informed in a sing-song voice, “Time to get up…we’re gonna go running. Get your shoes on…”

From that point on, everything went downhill. 12-year-old Gleny, one of our daughters who is most definitely not a morning person, received several back-to-back wake-up calls, but she ended up flopping over in bed and never actually getting up. 11-year-old developmentally-challenged Gabriela couldn’t find her tennis shoes, and everyone else had a tangibly bad attitude.

We filed out our front door and through the front gate with most of our kids grumbling and exchanging angry glances. As the run began, 16-year-old Brayan, who is extremely fit athletically and capable of beating most people in a footrace, ran slower than anyone else because he got distracted along the route when he saw the girl he liked. 9-year-old Josue, who suffers from several developmental delays, barely got to the front gate before he got tired and quit running. Our eldest daughter failed to exit our home on time as she took too long getting ready, and she came flying down the path in a less than punctual manner to catch up with us several minutes later. Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who loves to eat and is not typically known to be the queen of personal fitness, cried the entire way as she struggled to maintain a jog during the mile+ journey.

By the time we returned home, collecting stragglers and disgruntled teenagers along the way, everyone had gotten sour. By all accounts, the run had been a disaster.

As we returned home, we assigned a consequence to Gleny and Dayana, our two daughters who had not gotten ready on time. Darwin and I exchanged glances as we decided to wait a few hours before calling a family meeting to discuss the (abysmal) results of that day’s run. We gave everyone space and let everyone cool down emotionally from what had unintentionally turned out to be an absolutely terrible experience.

Later that afternoon, we all gathered in the kitchen for one of our periodic family meetings. Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, sat on our kitchen counter with her curly, afro-like hair as big as ever and her arms crossed defensively. She was leading the protest parade, and it was obvious that she was still bitter about the entire morning escapade. I sat on an ages-old rickety wooden stool as I looked around at discouraged, bitter faces. Had the run really ruined their day? Poor souls.

Darwin and I prayed, as we customarily do to begin any family meeting, and we began: “Well, the run this morning really went…terribly.” I let out a slight laugh and glanced around our large, open-air kitchen at our kids and teens, some of whom sat on the concrete floors, others standing with their backs resting against bright green walls. Dayana, arms still crossed, rolled her eyes in agreement.

Then, a ray of hope flashed across the faces of a few of our kids as I read their minds: Yeah, the whole running idea just didn’t work. At least we can say we tried! Now we can check that crazy idea off our list…Thanks for the experience, Mom and Dad!

I continued, knowing I would be dropping a bomb in their midst: “…Which is why we’re gonna do it again tomorrow. At 4:45am. Before classes. We are not going to quit just because it’s hard or just because it didn’t go well the first time. In our Christian walk we must persevere.”

Whatever flicker of hope had lit up their young, innocent eyes suddenly shut off, replaced by shock and rage. Darwin and I laughed together, as the entire idea of doing it again seemed absurd even to us. We had already tried, and it was a bust! Who on earth would want to repeat the completely negative and chaotic experience we had all been through that morning? Had we lost our minds?

As our kids glanced frantically at one another, hoping against hope that we were kidding, the second bomb was dropped: “…And not only will we run as a family tomorrow, but every single weekday for the next three weeks until vacation.”

Whoa!

Oh, there were protests and shaky-lip whimpers and rebellious teenage glances when the news was given, but let me tell you — that next morning at 4:45am our alarm sounded and everyone was up and successfully out of the house within 5 minutes! No complaints, no bad attitudes. Everyone ran the best they could, and the entire experience actually seemed almost fun! (As fun as it can possibly be to run down rocky gravel roads in the pitch black with drool still running down your chin hoping you don’t step on a poisonous snake!)

Well, we kept our word, and we ran with our kids for the next three weeks. And not only that — we’re currently at six weeks and counting!

Just this morning as we all shook the cobwebs from our sleepy minds at 4:45am, our little Gabriela — who first moved in with us two years ago as a severely malnourished and broken little girl who could barely walk, much less run — completed the entire 1.2 mile run for the first time (on prior runs she only got half-way due to exhaustion), arriving successfully at the finish line (the local highway intersection) at breakneck pace with Darwin running by her side! She even passed several of our older kids along the way! Wow!

And so we share this story of perseverance to encourage you in your daily walk.

Amen! Glory to God!

Divine Communion in the Midst of the Mundane

Early this morning I rolled over, extending a lazy arm across the edge of our small double-sized mattress, still very much enveloped in a blessed sleep. As I realized the other half of the bed was empty save my gangly arm, the lights of my mind snapped on: Did Darwin already get up? What time is it?

I wearily peeled my eyes open as I saw him not three yards away, participating in his peaceful morning ritual, unseen by the world and oftentimes unseen by his own wife: slip on those dirty black rubber boots and those old, mismatched clothes, brush his teeth and head quietly out the door to go milk the cows before the sun comes up.

An exclamation point stamped itself across my consciousness as I suddenly reached for my cellphone, alarmed that I had not heard the wake-up jingle I had set the night before. I jabbed at a button on the little black phone and the screen lit up: 4:46am. Oh no! It’s already time. He had woken up before the 4:45am alarm and had turned it off, thinking he was doing me a favor.

You see, the 4:45am get-ups have not really been my strong point. Normally he heads out the door and I stay in bed a little while longer before finally allowing my bare feet to make contact with the tile floor an hour later at 5:45am.

But not today. Today that 4:45am get-up was as much for me as it was for him. He just didn’t know it.

So I mustered whatever pinch of energy that short night of sleep had granted me and got to my feet, made the bed, and shuffled my way into our tiny bathroom, silently nudging him over so that he would share the sink with me. Brush my teeth. Hairband on to push my wild, short hair back. I would change out of my pajamas later.

Darwin looked at me with a confused smile on his face as he studied me, amused: my eyes drooped sleepily as I methodically brushed my teeth, moving about very purposefully albeit in a very low-energy fashion as I very clearly was getting ready for something. He asked with a twinkle in his eyes: “You’re not tired?”

My unenthusiastic response: “Oh, I’m very tired.” I spit in the sink and reached for the towel.

He continued to stare at me as his unspoken question still waited for an answer: Why on earth was I up so early, and where was I going?

My response: “I have a deal with God.”

He let out a single laugh, waiting for more explanation but didn’t receive any. I grabbed my keys, put on my sandals and headed out our bedroom door without another word, intent on fulfilling my promise from the day before.

As I inserted my key into our front door, prepared to head out without making much ruckus, our 9-year-old son Jason, quite the early bird, sat up suddenly in his bunkbed and peered at me through his open doorway as our door creaked. I smiled and went to greet him, shuffling over to his top bunk and giving him a kiss on the top of his head as his eyes asked the same questions as Darwin’s: Why on earth was I up so early, and where was I going?

Without answering him, I slipped out that gaping hole leading to darkest night.

Both our sleepy guard dogs stretched lazily and began their enthusiastic tail wag as they saw me unexpectedly approach. I shuffled carefully with strained eyes, hoping I wouldn’t come across a snake along the short path. I squinted in the darkness as I held my jumble of keys up close to my face, searching for the key to that little painted cinderblock building that lies right next to our family’s home. I entered only to be greeted by more darkness. Standing in the building’s main room, the search continued as I felt with tired fingers for the next key: the office.

That silent little office with its two very full bookshelves and lone round table with its team of three faithful chairs serves as a library and meeting room and is probably one of the only places where I can go and not be easily found. I flicked the lightswitch on but quickly decided to turn it off again. The strong light in the wee morning hours seemed too abrasive.

I pulled up one of the wicker chairs to an open window, hoping my clumsy feet would not come across a scorpion or other frightful creature in the dark room. Face inches from that cool morning breeze, our backyard only slightly illuminated by a dull porch light, I began to pray.

During that hour from 4:45-5:45am that I typically toss and turn, seeking out a last-minute refuge in that illusive sleep-rest, I instead sought refuge in the Giver of Life in a clumsy attempt at divine communion.

I sat by that window and gave thanks to the Unseen God, asked Him for forgiveness, guidance, liberation, new life. I confessed: “I have nothing more to give. I’m dry bones. I’m so tired, Father. Fill up this empty soul with You, with Life.”

A stream of bats came sweeping by and leafy branches swayed, rustled with unseen life. Fighting against mental and physical fatigue, I continued. After all, I had promised God that I would participate in this morning prayer routine every day during the coming months.

In many ways, the vast questions of “What now?” and “What more?” have been whispering in the recesses of our minds, and only a deepening of our communion with Yahweh can provide the answers, the joy to continue onward in the midst of the daily humdrum.

If there was ever any sparkle dust, any warm fuzzies or all-consuming adrenaline rush at ‘doing something new,’ that has worn off.

I am no longer that 21-year-old recent college graduate who moved to that third world country with nothing other than a large hiking backpack and the certainty of a call from God to be mom to those who have none.

With each of the total-of-9 children and teens who have come in and through our home in the last almost-three years, there has been a great urgency, a great push, a 9-1-1 response of sorts, the big welcome and the ensuing months of very real spiritual warfare, of freedom-seeking in Christ.

Everything has been new; in many ways these first three years have been spent in a state of constant crisis. Children who have been abandoned, orphaned, raped, beaten, thrown away — those are the ones whom Father God has so miraculously allowed call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa.’ Our eyes have been pried open; our hair has been whipped back and we have participated in this charged expedition for answers on this wild ride of seeking and fulfilling God’s will. They were exciting times as one by one God brought the children, taught us by way of difficulty and tears, love stretched to its limit. Newness was everywhere; everything an adventure waiting to be had.

Daily we experienced something new; everything was a teachable moment; the kids were naive; we were naive. How should we interact with and talk to this child so that he will stop hiding under furniture? How can we counsel her through the tough decisions of adolescence? Oh, we need to take them to the dentist? How on earth can we keep this kitchen clean?! She has accepted Christ! Let’s take our first family vacation together with the children! How do we form some kind of dynamic, Christ-centered homeschool program to educate our kids in a holistic way? Are we to accept local youth into our school as well? How do we balance marriage, ‘family’ with many foster children, and ministry to the local community? 

Now, as we are nearing our three-year anniversary with the three kids who started it all in November 2013, it seems like nothing is new. We’ve already had the big, silly experience of taking the kids to the local movie theater for the first time. The majority of our kids have already accepted Christ and are faithfully walking with Him, growing in Him. Many of the major disciplinary battles and bad-habit-breaking brigades are well underway. Those who didn’t know how to read and write have learned. They’ve asked their sincere questions about life, about sex, about God; we’ve sought together for answers, learned together from God’s Word. We’ve prayed for healing, for freedom, and in large part we are rejoicing in answered prayers. We’ve been through big and little moments alongside them, and, now…it’s just…daily life.

Whereas there used to be constant verbal battles among the kids — kids from different (highly dysfunctional) biological families suddenly thrust together under one roof with new rules, new parents — now we can spend an entire day (maybe even two, three!) without any real discord. I have to do less and less conflict mediations. The kids are acquiring more self-control. Several are even becoming good students. Whereas they came to us malnourished, too small for their age, girls with buzzed-off hair and large bald patches, now they are healthy, growing, normal. Most of our kids even have pretty good manners now; they are learning piano, look you in the eyes when you talk to them, and generally react as a child who truly knows they’re loved.

So now, in this season where the newness of it all has worn off — alas, the 9-1-1 hotline has calmed down — a new word has been laid before us: perseverance. Now it is no longer a great, exciting question waiting to be answered of “Who will the children be? What will their names be, and how old? Oh, Lord, may we be ready when they arrive!” but rather it is a matter of looking into those same faces — those 9 whom we’ve been called to parent in addition to the 25+ in our school — day after day after month after year and faithfully fulfilling God’s will for us as His instruments in their lives, loving even when the warm fuzzies are long gone.

So, sitting quietly in that wicker chair this morning, I prayed. I asked God for new strength, for a perseverance that goes beyond feelings, that transcends novelty, that remains firm even when routine replaces adventure.

As the sun shed its first rays over our large, grassy property, I checked my cell phone: 5:45am. It was time. I returned the wicker chair to its station around our office’s table, left the building quietly and returned through that same creaky front door to a still-silent house.

And, yes, the events of this morning played out as they do just about every other morning: I squatted by beds, jostled sleepy legs and stroked tired shoulders, waking up the children one by one. I then chaperoned 8-year-old Josue to the bathroom for the umpteenth time to change his diaper as he babbled to me joyfully in his broken speech. I squirted out toothpaste for Gaby and Josue, gave Josselyn a good-morning hug, and opened the front gate for our students and teachers.

While I felt no immediate effects of my early morning spent in prayer, one thing I do know: I will go again tomorrow.

He who has called us to the great adoption as His sons and daughters is faithful, and He fervently desires that same faithfulness reciprocated in our devotion to Him. He is with us in the exciting moments of discovery along with the hidden, mundane moments of steadfast obedience. Nailed to a cross, dying for the sins of the world, having participated throughout His life in both the mundane and the miraculous — He continued onward, trusting in His Father even when the task’s attractiveness gave way to pain, when raw obedience was put to the ultimate test, when pleasing emotions or any sense of reeling adventure were long gone. May He empower us to do the same — to remain joyfully faithful until the end!

Amen!

One of God’s Slow Miracles: Gabriela’s One-Year Anniversary

This past Saturday, July ninth, was little Gabriela’s one-year anniversary since moving into our home.

Although her annual landmark was written in large print on our family calendar hung on our living room wall, the day honestly came and went without much hoopla. Get up early, everyone does their chores, eat together, wash dishes, study God’s Word in our dining room, counsel the kids through various mini-crisis throughout the day, wash more dishes, seek one another out in love and forgiveness, spend a few hours supporting the older ones in their studies, watch a movie in the evening as a family.

In years past we celebrated not every year but every month a child was with us, for everything was so new and so difficult that each day survived was an incredible triumph. I remember celebrating Dayana, Gleny and Jason’s two-month, five-month, eight-month, year- and two-year anniversary with big poster boards, tender hugs, hand-written love notes, cake, balloons, and the like.

Now, however, with a bustling household of eight live-ins and even more students and Christian laborers, all of whom have many birthdays and countless anniversaries, the celebrations are becoming less extravagant as our days are now much more full of planned activity than they were before.

So on Gaby’s one-year anniversary as she and I walked hand-in-hand out to Dingo’s pen to fill up his dog bowl together, the Lord utilized that small time-frame to open my mind beyond the daily, the immediate, and allow the memories of an entire year spent with Gaby to flood over me, receiving each one with a heavy-laden gratitude, rattled by joy.

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Gaby, whom one year ago I had met for the first time, that little ANGEL IN THE WHITE DRESS with the shaved head, the dozens of bald patches that revealed peach-colored scalp all over. Gaby, that skinny little girl who had been so hammered by pain and darkness that there wasn’t much little girl left at all. Jaded prostitute in the body of a malnourished seven-year-old, a mere babe who’d undergone more than many adult women do in a lifetime.

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Screaming, profanity, undressing in public, sexual talk, running off, stealing, destroying books and toys, lying, kicking.

Gaby, who months after having moved in began to shed the first of many, many layers of pain and anger, leaving her an empty shell, a little ghost. All she had known was rape, sexual games, abuse, neglect. So you take all that away, and what’s left? She was our hollow little girl who we desperately wanted to fill with the Father’s love.

Alas, in many ways she still is.

Gaby, who even now, one year later, is still so desperately broken. Her psychologist informed me just a few days ago that Gaby has made many strides and is mentally now on the level of the average 3-year-old. And before?

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Oh, Gaby, our little girl who the world has treated as trash and who still struggles to understand, to receive, when we tell her she’s a princess of the King. Gaby who still wets the bed and struggles to put into practice appropriate sexual norms and whose fine motor skills are still so terribly far behind. Can’t draw a square, can’t hold a pencil or a fork properly. Can hardly open a door. Doesn’t know the alphabet, can’t write her name. Miraculously learned the colors, can count to 10 with help. Loves singing in Darwin’s choir, has learned to pray for others in her broken, hard-to-understand way of talking.

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So she and I walked this past Saturday, hand-in-hand, as we always do, as she eagerly offered to help me fill up Dingo’s dog bowl. She loves to help me. I’m her favorite person, after all, which is an incredibly demanding blessing. She physically looks to be eight or nine or ten years old (she has no birth certificate, no record of her existence in this country’s vast archives) but has the intense emotional needs of a toddler, you see. I hold her heavy body in my long arms, kiss her on the forehead and nose, bounce her on my knees, cradle her now-quite-large body as you would a baby.

And it’s never enough.

She wants to be in my arms all the time, under my skin, in my womb.

As we’re hugging each other or as I’m cradling her, she’ll look me in the eyes and whimper, “I miss you, Mom.” I want to cry to the heavens, “How do you miss me?! I’m right here! I cannot be any closer! Oh, Father, fill up this little one because I simply cannot! Fill her with Your love! We need You, Father!”

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Crossing our grassy front yard together on Saturday, wearily contemplating the utter fullness of this past year with her in all of our ups and downs, all our little triumphs that when marked on paper or pronounced aloud seem like nothing at all, I asked God what He thought about all this, about Gaby.

After all, I’ve asked the World and I’ve asked myself quite a few times and, honestly, the answer isn’t very encouraging. She’s got the body of a third-grader but the mind of a three-year-old. She may never fully recuperate, may end up living with us for the rest of her life as she struggles onward well into her teens and adulthood with promiscuous sexual behavior, theft and destruction. She may never learn to talk correctly, may present these incredibly intense emotional needs for many years to come without any apparent result. She´s a heavy load that no one can carry.

Gaby and I were nearing Dingo’s pen. Not a moment after having asked God what He thought of our Gaby and the work we are doing of raising her, He sliced through my whirlwind of woes with this piercing question:

“Are you loving her, and are you teaching her to love Me?”

 

Borne somewhere in the deepest recesses of my  inner being — overcoming the daily exhaustion and general discouragement like a powerful wind — a peace blew over every corner of my being and my busy thoughts were immediately settled as I recognized the truth:

“Yes.”

 

We had reached Dingo’s pen in a few short steps that to me expanded into eternity. She was probably chattering on about this and that, always with her stubby little hand firmly grasped in mine, but I did’t hear her in that moment. What I heard, my inner being completely stilled, was this:

“Then all that is being done with and for Gabriela is a success. The purpose of the entire universe is to love Me with all that you are and to love one another as yourselves. If you are doing that and teaching Gaby to do the same, you are fulfilling the one and only purpose I have set for mankind to fulfill. Nothing else matters.¨

 

So we continue onward with great hope, a hope not placed in Gaby and her performance (or even her behavior, which in the two days since her anniversary has been utterly atrocious), but a great hope — a pure hope, one that cannot be grabbed and dirtied by this world — in the God who is love, the God who revealed Himself to mankind as a poor, humble, powerful man who gave Himself up for us, taking on the punishment we deserve. This same God who calls us simply to love — not to change the world, invent something new or reach great heights of human ‘success.’ We are simply to love — love Him with all that we have and all that we are, and love one another as we love ourselves.

And in all of our imperfect efforts of loving, failing, seeking forgiveness and returning to love again, He is pleased. If Gaby never learns to assimilate into normal, productive adult society, if she’s always a step behind but is being shown God’s love and being taught to love Him in return, her life will be a raging success. I imagine Him jumping for joy, cheering us on as perhaps the world mocks, asks for more.

So our journey with Gaby is one of God’s slow miracles, etched out over time and with the promise of great eternal rewards.

And when I am tempted to become impatient, when I tempted to give in to despair, to want to push her hard and fast toward ‘normalty,’ I ask that God might remind me of what He taught me just two days ago out at Dingo’s pen with Gaby’s hand in mine:

As long as we are wrapped up in the divine task of love, we are fulfilling the ultimate goal for the entire universe. Nothing else matters.