Tag Archives: Vacation

The Praises of the Lamb: Remembering Our Purpose

I sit here squinting in the dull light at the several sheets of white paper splayed out around me, each one filled with scribbled phrases, arrows and scratch-outs as many, many hours have been put into the revision and expansion of our mission statement over these last several days.

My breath catches in my throat as I am thrown back by the words I jot down. Infinite purpose is being revealed before me as I wait and listen, type and understand.

This is one of those rare moments of seeing everything with perfect clarity.

The soft glow of my laptop illuminates the polished square dining table where I sit in a missionary couple’s empty home. My husband and I have been here on vacation for the last few days.

I laugh to myself as I think that we almost seem like a normal young couple in this quiet house with nice furnishings. No large, broken children hanging all over us and consuming our every moment; no dire crisis to be tended to; no grinding schedule of extreme hospitality and taxing interpersonal commitments.

But our Father knows He has brought us here not to revel in some temporal notion of ‘peace’ but rather to utilize this empty space — empty time, empty mental space — to sit down and seriously consider what He is doing in our midst.

To remember, to repent.

Darwin sits several yards away on a highly cushioned couch as he is absorbed by his own computer. Books are splayed out all around him on the coffee table and floor while today’s breakfast and lunch dishes accompany me at my work station. Half-empty mugs of herbal tea and plates sticky with food residue populate the glossy surface. Clay Aiken’s song “Mary Did You Know” repeats over and over again on YouTube as my fingers continue typing, my heart heavy under God’s glory.

My eyes trace the words on the open Word document. My posture before my Father is one of worship as I read the overarching purpose He’s given us:

To be compelled by a love for God and humanity; to be utilized as God’s instruments as He establishes His Kingdom among us in a dark and broken region.

When 8-year-old Gaby still struggles to put appropriate sexual norms into practice after having been broken under the insatiable lust of her stepfather; when difficult students are accepted into our discipleship program (and when they storm out only to return again); when our Father’s Kingdom is diligently – desperately – sought in early-morning prayer; when genuine confession and repentance and granted, that’s the purpose behind it all.

Beyond exhaustion, beyond any warm fuzzies or sense of adventure, beyond personal conflicts, struggles and victories as we live in the messy and the mundane alongside of other broken human beings in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, this is our mission:

To be God’s refuge for orphaned, abandoned, neglected and abused young people as we extend Christ-centered hospitality, healing and guidance to them with the goal of raising them up as powerful servant leaders to their generation, wholly submitted to Christ and equipped for any good work.

To serve as a holistic mentoring and discipleship center for local children, youth and adults as we diligently proclaim Truth and faithfully bind up those who have been broken in a society wrought with violent crime, sexual perversion, a corrupt and unresponsive justice system, educational inefficacy and devastating poverty; to cleanse and renew individuals with God’s grace as they learn to trust and follow Jesus in every area of their lives.

Is it really that big, Father? How on earth do I so quickly lose sight? How is it possible that I get so easily wrapped up in my own feelings and frustrations — so consumed by my own needs and desires — looking for personal gratification and recognition when the task is so much bigger than us, so much more beautiful than anything we can offer?

Wow.

And when little girls who’ve been thrown out as trash learn to trust their Savior; when the Word of Truth is proclaimed in that rustic dining room day after day after week after year; when our teenage girls slowly shed destructive patterns and adopt God-honoring attitudes, this is who we are:

A community of individuals being healed and set free as we experience and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

When our high school students still haven’t developed the habit of doing their homework; when the justice system fails to put child molesters and rapists behind bars; when my husband is kidnapped and miraculously spared his life by those same gang lords who’ve paid off the police and the political officials; when my own patience comes to its end and I must cry out to the Living God, the vision He’s given us has not changed:

To be a prophetic community of believers, living in accordance with God’s Word and utilizing music, writing, preaching and other avenues of communication to function as God’s messengers both to our immediate region and around the world.

Did I have to leave home for a few days in order to have Him open my eyes to the weight of the work He’s etching out among us? Did He have to guide these gangly fingers to write it in order for my heart to remember it, to continue trusting the Good Shepherd in the midst of our daily walk through the wilderness?

My eyes absorb the words on the screen, and I begin to understand.

To actively fight the many evils in our region with prayer and fasting, interceding for God’s Kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, those messy, after-hours battles that we’ve fought with tears – at times totally desperate, trusting in the freedom Christ won for us even when those chains of sin and abuse are so hard to be broken, holding our girls and weeping – that’s what it’s been all about.

Not ten minutes prior my fingers added to the open Word document what I have so mightily struggled with:

To assume a posture of long-term commitment in our relationships with the people the Lord places in our lives, accepting the responsibility of patiently coming alongside of them without seeking immediate results or personal recognition.

Oh, on a daily basis this war must be fought and won against my own ego, as I so pompously strain for that “thank you,” that look of gratefulness that hasn’t come, that medal of honor for going the extra mile.

As that soft glow continues to illuminate me, He whispers: Faithfully persevere until the end, and I will work all things out for the good of those who love Me and have been called according to My purpose. No immediate results; no personal recognition. You must become less so that My power may be made manifest in you.

The music continues to proclaim the same Truth that He confirms upon my spirit.

I read:

To adopt the attitude of Jesus, constantly asking that the Father’s will be fulfilled rather than our own; to carry our cross and follow Christ, spending ourselves on God’s will.

Oh, how often I’ve grumbled under the weight of this cross! How often I’ve eyed others’ lives – the personal time I think they have that I don’t – and how often have I looked for those short-cuts just to arrive at the end of the day a little less scarred, less spent. Forgive me, Lord.

Clay Aiken’s voice rises as he reminds me that all – even the blind like me – shall sing the praises of the Lamb, the praises of He who chooses to redeem and utilize the unlikeliest of people – alas, we are all the unlikeliest of people, for the whole of humanity is a disgruntled group of murderous prostitutes!

Is that not the purpose of all things, of our very lives? To sing the praises of the Lamb, to be joyfully consumed by the praises of He in whom we find our salvation from this world, from Satan’s grasp, from ourselves? Is not the great task of all humanity to not lose or forsake our relationship with the Living God — to not  trade Him for our fanatical busyness, distorted ego and that heaping pile of daily obligations and distractions? To repent, to believe that the Kingdom is near and that the King is good?

The glory of God rests heavy in the room, on my heart, as I am nearly brought to weeping, amazed that the Creator of all things would choose us – me in all my daily failings – for this work. How is it possible?

My eyes continue to dart between documents, between paragraphs, as He reminds me the great purpose He has called us to:

To embrace the fact that lives are transformed through relationship; to focus primarily not on tasks, programs or appearances but on cultivating deep, sacrificial relationships as lasting transformation is achieved for God’s glory.

How many times have I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom, cleaning toilets rather than wiping noses! Oh, forgive me, Father, for even now as I sit here a sense of dread is creeping in as I think of all the demanding emotional and behavioral needs that will meet me at our front gate tomorrow upon our return home. Accompany me once more, Father, and fill me with You so that what the kids receive isn’t me, but You.

This is Your work; it never was ours and it never could be.

May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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.

DSCF7413
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.

DSCF7403
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.

DSCF7398
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!

DSCF7422
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!