Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Adjustments and Difficult Decisions

As I sit here at my keyboard my head is spinning as I look back over the last week. So much has happened and, to be honest, fatigue is infringing on my ability to think clearly. But I want to give you an update, so you will have to be patient if my words don’t make sense.

IMG-20130918-00434Last Wednesday evening we noticed that our little Esperanza was having some difficulty breathing. At first it sounded like a simple cold, but as the evening progressed we became increasingly concerned. Finally, at around 10:30 pm I called Dr. Augusto and he came to our home to examine her. He sent us straight to the hospital where she was admitted and placed on an IV and antibiotics as well as breathing treatments. By this point her appetite was gone and we saw her become increasingly weak throughout the day on Thursday.

IMG-20130918-00437By Thursday evening we had begun to say our goodbyes, believing she would die soon. I sent out a prayer request via Facebook and held her close with tears in my eyes. It was an emotional time for the entire family. But then, suddenly, she woke up and began to cry and smack her lips, demanding food. We fed her a bottle and she kept it down. Over the next 14 hours we saw her get stronger and more alert and her breathing cleared up. By the next morning at 10:00 am when the doctors came to do rounds they said that she had improved so much they were sending her home! We praise God that Esperanza is back in her home and doing well now, because there is no other explanation for her recovery apart from God’s intervention.

And, speaking of Esperanza, she finally has a real name! When she came to us, she had no birth certificate and had never been given a name. The nurses in the hospital called her Ruth, and we chose the second name of Esperanza, but nothing was official. All her documents and records simply said, “Daughter of…”

But, we have now received word that the courts have named her and given her a birth certificate. We are so grateful to the judge for allowing us to name her. So, she is now officially Ruth Esperanza!

IMG-20130827-00378Let’s fast-forward now to Monday when I found myself driving for three hours to the courts in Guatemala City to have a hearing regarding one of our other children, Alejandra. Monday morning traffic is always extra bad, so much of that time was spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We arrived a little early and waited to be called. After an hour-and-a-half we were called to the window and told that the judge did not come in that day because it was her birthday. We were then given another court date in October and sent on our way.

I would like to tell you that this is an unusual occurrence here, but it is not. Quite frankly there is a war here between the powerful and the powerless. The powerful feel little or no accountability to the people they rule, and the powerless have little or no recourse. So there is so much abuse within the system. The courts have our number and could have easily called in advance to reschedule, but they did not and will not in the future. So, this will likely not be the last wasted morning we have.

However, there is an up-side to these kinds of things. I have been praying that God would make me more patient for years, so he moved me to Guatemala. I have gained more patience in the last 2 3/4 years than I did in my previous 43 years of existence. I am to the point that when they told me that the judge wasn’t coming I actually laughed and shrugged my shoulders. What can you do? It’s Guatemala!

IMG_2127Meanwhile, as we were waiting for the hearing that would not happen, we received a call from PGN in Quiche. They had a little guy for our home and wanted to know if we could meet them in Chichicastenango to pick him up. We had met this boy, Christian, and his family the previous week when they had come down from Quiche to have testing. A young man, Brian McMann, who is a volunteer with the Peace Corp had been working with them. He had contacted our friends, Rolando and Lisa Monterroso, who had then contacted us.

IMG_2166Christian has a wonderful family who love him deeply. However, they live in a remote area of the country where there are little or no resources for children with special needs. And this little guy definitely needs resources to help him. He is almost four years old, is mostly blind and deaf and, we believe, has autism. He does not speak and cannot walk. He is prone to melt-downs and can often be self-abusive, biting and hitting himself.

His family was seeking help because they did not know how to help him. For a while they were taking him on a chicken bus for five hours one direction every week for physical therapy. But they finally decided that they were not seeing any benefits to the therapy and discontinued it. They were coming to us to ask if we could do anything to help.

After talking and praying together they asked us to take Christian into our home for a while in order to arrange for the proper  assessments, treatments and therapies. During the time that he is with us, his parents will travel down for a week every five weeks to be trained in his care and therapy. Our goal is to reunify the family after six to nine months. This would not have been possible last year, but due to a recent change in Guatemalan law we are allowed to make short-term arrangements with families in special circumstances.

IMG_2264With Christian’s addition to our home, life is full. Our days are filled with therapy, medicine, doctor appointments, changings, feedings, learning activities and more. In addition, due to Esperanza and Christian’s needs, our nights are pretty full as well. Esperanza has to be fed every two to three hours, and Christian is prone to waking up screaming. We are alternating nights right now with Wanda and me taking one night while Brittney, Carissa and Taryn take the next. We are in the process of arranging for some of our staff and volunteers to take a night each week as well to provide more relief and sleep to us.

In the midst of all of this, we received a call yesterday asking if we would accept two more children. One is a seven year old girl who is deaf and in a wheelchair (the courts could not further define her needs) and the other is a one year old boy with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy.

When we received the call, both Wanda and I felt torn. We don’t want to turn them away, because we know that there are very few homes in Guatemala that are equipped to care for their needs. We fear for their future. At the same time, we are concerned about our household schedule and how it may be affecting our children, both the young ones who might feel neglected and the older ones who help share  the responsibility of caring for the children.

medical-billThe other fear I face is a financial one. I don’t talk about our ministry’s financial needs much. We, instead, choose to take our needs to God and trust Him to provide by placing it on people’s hearts to give. (The only exception to this is our sponsorship program which enables US families to partner with Guatemala families through financial support and prayer.) My discussion of needs now should not be construed as fund-raising, but prayer-raising. When our home opened I knew that our monthly support was too low. Since the home opened, we have realized that the budget we set was also too low as we had underestimated the medical costs for each child. Esperanza’s hospital stay was $650.00. Her formula and medicine needs top $100 a month. Yenni and Rafael’s medicines are topping $75 each per month and their neurological appointments and testing will top $300 each. Now we need to have almost $300 of testing and assessments on Christian plus ongoing medication. Our regular monthly support is just too low. So, what do we do? Do we turn away these children or welcome them?

Before we even had a chance to ask our children what they think we received a text from our daughter, Brittney, telling us she supported saying yes to either or both of the children. She also spoke with the rest of our children and they all echoed her sentiment…they wanted us to accept the children. So our first concern of how our group home is affecting our family was put to rest resoundingly.

Wanda and I bowed our head to pray together. (We were in a parking lot in Guatemala City at the time.) As I prayed I said, “Lord, we don’t have the money for more children. We don’t even have the money for the children we have now.” But before I finished saying this, these words turned sour in my mouth.

In His still, soft voice I heard my heavenly Daddy say, “Daryl, when have you even had the money to do what I asked you to do?” And my answer was, “Never, Lord.” And He replied (with a smile in His voice), “So what’s the big deal now?”

Following God's commandsBefore Wanda and I married we committed ourselves to Jesus and promised Him that we would follow Him wherever He called us, regardless of money. As a result, we have, at times, taken significant pay cuts to follow His call. At other times, we have said “No” to opportunities that offered a significant raise. Each time God provided for us, often in miraculous ways.

When we moved to Guatemala we were underfunded and had to trust God to provide. He has, even as our ministry has grown beyond our greatest expectations. So why, after all of this time, was I allowing finances to play a role in this decision? By the time we had said “Amen” I knew that we needed to open our home to these two children and others that God would send.

As it turns out, the girl will not be joining us. A grandfather entered the picture and agreed to take her into his home. The little boy is still in the hospital, and we are awaiting the final decision from the judge regarding whether he will come to us or not.

Please pray for us. Please pray that we will clearly hear God’s voice and follow, not allowing fear to dictate our decisions. Please pray that God will place it on people’s hearts to give…nothing more and nothing less than He asks of them. And please pray that God will strengthen and protect our family in the midst of this wonderful and challenging ministry.

Thanks! Blessings from Guate!


Monday, September 16, 2013

Loving Hope

Note: This blog post contains details and pictures of a beautiful little girl who I consider to be my daughter. Please do not share either the photos or the details apart from this blog. And if you cannot see her beauty through God’s eyes I ask you to move along to another blog.

IMG-20130916-00433My family and I find ourselves in one of the most challenging situations we have ever faced. We find ourselves loving little Esperanza (Hope) deeply. When I call this a challenge it is not because she is difficult to love. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She is easy to love because she is so beautiful, and that beauty comes through in every moment that we spend with her.

I love the way her mouth moves and her tongue seeks out the nipple of the bottle. I love the way her tiny face scrunches up when she yawns or cries. I love the way her tiny little fingers wrap around little finger when I hold her. I love her, and I love her more every minute that I spend with her.

The challenge is within our hearts, because we know that we are falling in love with a little girl that is dying. The same time that passes and causes our love to grow is also that same clock that is ticking and bringing the end of her life closer. We don’t know how long we have with her. It may be hours, days, weeks or months, but we know that time is coming.

SAM_3933She has not been sleeping well at night, so all of the older members of our household have had lots of late night time alone with her as we feed, change, cuddle and rock her. At times she cries out in pain, and in those moments I pray that God will take her quickly and make her completely whole. I also find myself praying that when I change her diaper and see her tiny, twisted, malnourished body under the clothes that swallow her whole. (She is four months old and weighs seven pounds. We estimate that four pounds of her total weight is her head, so even the smallest clothing is huge on her.)

But then there is the rest of the time…the times that I hold her close and pray that God will not take her. That we will find a way to make her comfortable, that she will feel our love and joy and peace, and that she will stay with us forever. Because, in her own way, she is perfect.

SAM_4008But I don’t want to love her. I want to stop my feelings and back them up. I want to remain detached and guard my heart, because I have only known this little girl for a few days, but I can’t imagine my life without her. And I don’t want to think about the day when she will not be with us or the pain that is coming with that moment. But…not love her? I would be more successful at stopping the ocean’s tide.

Forgive me for spilling my verbal tears out through this blog. I realize this in not what you signed-up for. But these thoughts and feelings are surging in my heart and I feel that I will burst if I don’t put them into words.

All of this has left me thinking more about love. Not the emotional junk of greeting cards and sentimental movies, but real, lasting and valuable love. You know, the Agape stuff. The love that keeps loving, even if it gets nothing in return but pain and heartbreak. The love that does not come and go with shifting feelings and the ups and downs of relationships. The kind of love that God’s Word talks about when it says that our God is LOVE.

SAM_3923The longer I live the more I realize how cheap my definition of love has been. And, with each passing year, I understand more and more about the love of God “that surpasses all understanding.” And I increasingly realize what a lousy reflection my life is of real love. If God is love then I am just a little boy trying to wear His oversized clothes and looking silly as I do.

I think God is using little Esperanza to lead me to a deeper level of love and showing me more what His love truly is. Our God loved us when we were incapable of loving Him. And He chose to love us, knowing that the price of that love was a cross on a hillside. From the moment He breathed the first Words of creation the clock began to tick that would ring in His suffering. Yet, he breathed them. And when He first breathed the word “Daryl” He knew the cost of loving me. He knew I would fail Him, hurt Him and turn away, not once, but repeatedly. And yet, He breathed…and loved. And He still does.

Over the last few days our family has started to hug tighter, encourage more frequently, and love more fiercely. This is all thanks to little Esperanza as she is showing us what is really, truly important while stripping away the things that are not. She is teaching us that “the greatest of these is love” in a way that I don’t think we would have learned otherwise. So, even as my days are filled with the roller coaster of joy, followed by heartbreak, followed by joy again, I keep falling deeper in love with my little Esperanza. And I keep reminding myself to live in the right-now of life and trust God with the heartbreak of my future.


Please pray for my family and I as we all try to do this in every moment. And please pray for our little Esperanza.


Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Handle with Care

Note: A little later in this post I am going to introduce you to the newest member of Hogar de la Esperanza. Due to the severe nature of her special needs, some of you may find her pictures disturbing. If you tend to see through the eyes of humans and not through the eyes of God, please move on to the next post. She is a beautiful child, created and loved by God, and if you do not understand that truth, I don’t want you to look at her.

Also, because of that, I am asking that none of you share her photo or story apart from this blog. In other words, feel free to share this blog as a whole, but do not share her pictures or details on your own. The far majority of my wonderful readers will understand that, but if you are one of the ones who does not, please stop reading and move along.

IMG_2112[1]For the last 3 1/2 weeks our rural village ministry has been shut down due to vehicle problems. My mechanic, Joaquin, has been working valiantly to get my 4-Runner on the road again, but the problems have been massive and the delays, many. However, last week I was finally able to find a good truck and made the purchase last Tuesday. It is a 2008 Mitsubishi L200 diesel that has a crew cab and lots of cargo room. On Monday of this week I picked it up and immediately went to install new tires, get it serviced, purchase a brush guard and order a cap for the back.

On Tuesday we received word that the little girl in Quiche that we have been waiting for would be ready to be picked-up on Friday, so we made the decision to leave Wednesday for San Pablo La Laguna, spend a full day of ministry there on Thursday, and then come back by Quiche on Friday to pick-up the little girl. It turns out that it wasn’t as simple as we had hoped.

Our departure on Wednesday was delayed by a necessary trip to Guatemala City to do some paperwork for my new truck.  Because of traffic, typical Guatemala bureaucracy, and a mud slide that left us sitting in traffic for an hour, I was not able to get home, load up and leave for San Pablo until 3:30. But, at last, Wanda, Brittney, Daniel and I set-out.

This trip was a great christening for our new truck. On the way up we hit rain, heavy fog, traffic, and very rough roads, but she performed beautifully. We finally arrived at our motel at 9:30 and crashed hard for the evening.

The next day we had a great series of visits with families. Her are some of the high points:

  • IMG_2069Marta Delores – This little girl has been suffering with 5 or 6 seizures a night and has slept very little over the last three months as a result. On Wednesday we had her and three other children from San Pablo down to see our neurologist, and he gave her medicine to treat the seizures. When we arrived on Thursday morning her grandmother told us that she had slept all night long without a seizure and was still sleeping! We went into her room and carried on a complete conversation and she remained in a peaceful sleep. What a joy it is to see this little girl get some relief!
  • IMG_2074Oscar – You may remember that Oscar is a young man who fell out of a tree and broke his back while harvesting avocados. When we found him he was suffering greatly from the worst bedsores I have ever seen. Due to pain and infections he had lost lots of weight and was malnourished. We provided him with a special mattress and cushion for his wheelchair, along with monthly bandages thanks to a US sponsor, and trained the local workers from the health center to treat him daily. When we arrived on Thursday he was sitting in his wheelchair and I believe he had gained at least 10 pounds since we first met him. His sores are much better and improving by the month.
  • IMG_2092Michael – Little Michael and his mother are very much enjoying their new bed, provided by a sponsor. They are sleeping much better now that they are not on the floor on a crib mattress. They have become a special part of our family.




IMG_2093Back on September 6th we experience and earthquake here that shook a significant percentage of the country. We evacuated our home, ran into the courtyard and waited for the shaking to stop. We experienced no damage to our home or possessions, but others did not fair as well. Several homes were destroyed near the epicenter and many more were damaged. In San Pablo, where many homes are constructed of mud bricks, we found numerous families who had experienced damage to their houses and are now afraid that another quake will bring them down. Diego’s family, in particular, now has large cracks in all four corners of their mud brick home and are afraid to remain there. But they have no where else to go. Please pray for these families.

IMG-20130913-00429On Thursday evening, as we were eating supper, I received an e-mail from the US Embassy in Guatemala saying that a sink hole had opened up on uthe main road to Quiche, claiming five lives and closing the road for months. That meant that the only way to Quiche to pick-up the little girl would be a rough back road drive. So, the next morning we headed out early and made it to the city of Chichicastenango, where the back roads were to begin. Unfortunately, we arrived just as a huge Independence Day parade was beginning and could not get through. Daniel called PGN and they arranged to send us a police escort to meet us and guide us through the back roads. So, my truck was once again baptized by fire.

Finally, we arrived at PGN where we squeezed in two more people and drove another hour to the town of Joyalapa where our new little one was waiting in the hospital. When we arrived, we had a tense 30 minutes because we were told that the three people in the hospital who could sign her out had left for the day. This was after a 5 hour drive on our part and after PGN had called ahead to tell them that we were coming. Miraculously, after they received a call from the judge’s office, the necessary personnel showed up. It was then that we met our newest daughter who had been abandoned by her mother.

We were taken back to the nurses station and one of the nurses went into a storage room and rolled out a basinet with a bundle of blanket inside. At first, this made me angry because I thought they were treating here differently because of her special needs. I could not have been more wrong.

IMG_2095I approached her bed and slowly unwrapped my little girl and was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw her. You see, we were told that this little girl had Kleeblatt Schadel Syndrome, what others calls “clover head” and we knew that her needs were likely severe. But nothing prepared us for the suffering little girl that we discovered there.

This syndrome is caused by premature fusing of the fibrous sutures, resulting in abnormalities of the skull and facial bones. The results are a cloverleaf shaped head. This condition is very rare and she is only the third documented instance in all of Guatemala. In our little girl’s case, the resulting pressure of cerebral fluid caused her eyes to bulge severely and rendered her blind. The doctors, therefore, made the decision to remove her eyes. In addition, her ears have been stretched out of place and are down on the bottom of her cheeks. There are no observable ear openings, se we suspect she is deaf or nearly so. The doctors have made the decision to suspend further treatment, such as surgery on her skull or a cerebral shunt, deciding that, while these things could possibly prolong her life, her quality of life would be very poor. So, they have asked the courts to stop further medical intervention. The courts have agreed. The doctor told us to feed her, make her as comfortable as possible, love her and trust the will of God.

While her head is swollen and misshapen, her body is tiny. She wears preemie size diapers and her limbs are little more than skin and bones. The nurses have lovingly cared for her, and many came out to say goodbye with tears in their eyes. They also gave us two bags of clothing, diapers, bibs, blankets and formula that they had donated personally (almost unheard of here). For the last four months they have fed her every 2 to 3 hours, changed her, rocked her and loved her. I list those ladies among my personal heroes. They explained that they moved her from the regular nursery to the storage room because so many were coming by to just look at her. They wanted her to be closer to them and not be on display. God bless them!

Even with her severe special needs, her personality comes through. Her little tongue is active and she loves her bottle. She interacts with us by squeezing her hand. She is one of only two people who likes my singing (the other, Gloria, is deaf as well). I think the vibrations from my chest soothe her.

IMG_2106She has never been given an official name, but the nurses explained that a priest had come in and christened her with the name Ruth. In respect for the nurses who loved and cared for her so wonderfully, we have chosen to keep that as her first name. For her second name, we have chosen Esperanza (Hope). We could think of no more fitting name for this precious little child.

I cannot explain to you how much we love this little girl already. She is beautiful to us and we feel very, very protective of her. So many in this culture treat people with special needs as a curse or as monsters, but Ruth Esperanza is anything but those. She is our little blessing, and we feel honored that God has entrusted us with her. I can think of no higher privilege that God could give us. The way Brittney said it was this, “We get to carry her to Jesus.”

IMG_2111That is very true, and when that day comes I know that she will be with Him and be perfectly healthy. But can I be honest for a minute? I don’t want to carry her to Jesus. I want to make her better. I want to fix her head and take away her pain (she is suffering greatly). I want her to laugh. I want her eyes to dance at the sight of colors. I want her to play and believe and dream and dance to the sound of music. And I want every person to see her as I do now. And I want every person to love her as our family does.

Please, don’t write me to give me theological correction. I know she will be far better off with Jesus when that time comes. I really don’t need a lecture. I love my little Esperanza and I am hurting knowing that, barring a miracle, I will have to say goodbye to her soon. And even as I know that, I still fall more in love with her each passing minute, as does our family.

Please pray for Esperanza. Please pray for our family as we love her and carry her to Jesus.

And if some of you have read to the end of this blog yet fail to see how beautiful Esperanza is, I pray that God will open your blind eyes to see as He does.

Blessings from Guate,

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew.