Friday, June 16, 2017

Updates and Earthquakes

I have been negligent in giving you updates regarding our new home, and for that I apologize. I am trying to tame my schedule and do a better job of updating my blog and keeping our faithful supporters and prayer partners informed. 

Our second home is up and running, and we continue to work out the kinks. You would think that it would be easy to just expand our existing program and receive more children, but a new household creates its own dynamics and requires a different approach. Wanda manages the schedule for both homes, and her hands are very full as our staff and ministry has grown.

After weeks of being stonewalled by the government, the children began to arrive. At present, we have six children in the second home, and we have decided to put a hold on receiving more for now. There are a couple of reasons for this, which I will explain.

First, we have decided to not license the second house as its own home with a separate license. This is to help save money and time. Instead, we are applying to expand our current license to allow us to care for more children. This is a much faster process and is far less costly. 

For now, we are technically licensed to receive ten children. Yet we now have 13 children in this house and six in the second house. That means we are operating at 190% of capacity. (Understand, we have more than adequate space and staff for these children, it is just our additional space and staff are not yet “official.”) So, at the recommendation of our social worker, we are not accepting more children until our expansion is approved. We hope to have this completed by the end of July.

The second reason is due to some of the new children we have received. Of the six children who have joined our second home, three of them are in very critical condition, with two of them being terminal. We have two very little girls, both under four months, who have hidranencefalia. While this looks a lot like hydrocephalus, it is actually different in that both of them have very little brain. Instead, they have a brainstem and a small piece of brain attached, and the rest of their cranium is filled with cerebral fluid. And that fluid is building pressure.

With hydrocephalus, a shunt is installed to drain off excess fluid and reduce that pressure. But with hidranencefalia, this will not work. Our neurosurgeon has informed us that the surgery will be expensive, and they would both likely die within a few days of surgery. So, we have decided to love them well and pray for them until such time that Jesus either heals them in this life or the next. 

But their care is rather extensive. They cry a lot and need to be held and rocked much of the time to comfort them. They don’t sleep well at night, which means those that are caring for them don’t sleep much either.

Then, around the same time, we received a young man who is 14 years old. He has severe cerebral palsy and has a G-tube for feeding. He had been in Hogar Seguro, but after the fire, the courts sent him back to his mother, who has neither the resources nor knowledge to care for him. Over the almost three months he was back in his home, he suffered from three very serious infections that nearly killed him. And he came to us in very bad shape.

(Just a side note: The conditions of some of these children when they come to us is heartbreaking. One of the babies came to us at 3 1/2 months old, and we are pretty sure she had never had a bath. She was covered in a horrible rash that we soon found out was caused by a horrible mite infestation. She had the worst case of cradle cap we have ever seen, requiring days of gentle soaking and washing to clear. And the young man came to us horribly malnourished without any way for us to feed him through his feeding tube. We had to rush around to scramble together what we needed. Thankfully, a therapy team from Xavier University had come the previous week and left us just what we needed to do the job!)
So, suffice it to say, the second household has its hands full in caring for these three. Plus, some of  the other three children they have are a handful. So, until things are a little more stable with the health of those children, we have decided it is best not to add others.

In order to prepare the second household for inspection, we have had to do a lot of work. The majority of that has fallen on Dale Beyer and Michael Gross, with Joel, Cesar and Calin assisting. And they have done fantastic work. A changing room had to be built, a special bathing tub was designed and built, ramps were poured to the patio, a ramp built to one bathroom, a second bathroom had to be finished, a fence to separate the parking area was built, and much more. But the final touches are being added now, and we are ready for inspection. I don’t know what I would do without our incredible team that is so faithful and so good at what they do!

And, as I give this update, I need to not neglect filling you in on Wanda’s health. About two weeks ago, she came down with what we thought was the stomach flu. I was in Jutiapa at the time with the therapy team from Xavier, but I checked in with her regularly. By the time I arrived Friday evening, she was very sick. She could keep nothing in her system at all. So we called our doctor, who came and arranged for an IV to be started to rehydrate her. But we had no sooner got that  started than she took a severe turn. So, I rushed her to the hospital where she was hospitalized to get her hydrated and address her illness.

It is now almost two weeks later, and she is still not back to full strength. It was determined that she had amoebas, and they were a pretty robust and aggressive strain. She continues treatment and is gradually improving and gaining strength. Thanks to all of you who prayed for her.

And finally, two nights ago Guatemala had an earthquake. It was 1:30 am and I was sleeping peacefully, when I was suddenly jarred awake by the lurching of the bed. The initial surge moved our bed to the right, and me with it. I felt myself grabbing the mattress, trying to stay on the bed. 

When I realized what was happening, I jumped out of bed and tried to make decisions in my sleep clouded mind. Was this just a tremor like we often have? (No, this is stronger than I have ever felt.) Should I run and start grabbing kids from their beds, or is it passing? (If feels like the waves are lessening. I think we are okay.) Is there damage occurring in the home? (I don’t think so. I don’t hear cracking concrete or falling objects.) And, by the time I had sorted through that process, it  was over.

When all was said and done, there had been a 6.9 earthquake about 93 miles to our west in San Marcos, Guatemala. As of last night, the death toll stood at five, with lots of buildings down and damaged. It is quite miraculous that only five were killed, since it occurred at night while everyone was in bed.

But this whole event has left me thinking a lot about control. Because nothing strips away the illusion of control like an earthquake. When it strikes, you are powerless to stop it or control it in any way. The only thing you can do is pray that it stops…and soon.

We live in a world that tells you that you can be in control. You can control your health. You can control your safety. You can control your finances and retirement. You can be in control, as long as you are responsible and careful. But that is truly a laughable notion.

You eat right and exercise religiously. But the call can still come from the doctor that changes everything. You can purchase the vehicle with the highest crash rating and strap your children into a five-point restraint system. But a drunk driver can cross the center line and take the lives of those you hold dearest. You can work hard and save carefully for the future. But a recession can cost you your job and a bad day in the markets can wipe out your retirement. And you will be completely in control…until you are not.

Since our family made the decision to move to Guatemala, we have experienced a lot of criticism. And most of that criticism focuses on safety, security and responsibility. How could we, as loving parents, move our children to a developing country where healthcare is poor and crime is high? How could we give up our health insurance? What? We don’t have a retirement plan?!? Surely God wants us to be safe and secure, doesn’t He?

But all of those criticisms are rooted in a lie. And that lie is that we can be in control of our safety and security. Regardless of what we think, where we live and what we do, we are NOT in control. Events can happen in the blink of an eye that show us how out-of-control we really are. Life…and death…happens, regardless of how careful we think we are.

Recently a friend told me about a relative that died while watching TV in their living room. A boulder from the mountain behind their home came loose, rolled down the mountain, and right through his house. And he was killed instantly. How much safer can you be that resting in your own home?

One of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare came from my readings in tenth grade. I can’t tell you which play it is from. (I wasn’t the best student in those days, especially when it came to Shakespeare.) But the quote stuck with me, and I have never forgotten it:

“The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave die but once.”

And, as a tenth grader, I realized an important truth. I could not live my life fearing death. If I did, I would never really live. I had to go live life to the full, and trust God with that life and my eventual death.

And when I do die, I would much rather die doing something that matters than simply trying to stay safe. Our goal is not to simply stay alive, it is to live and love and give and serve…the way Jesus did those things.

One of my other favorite quotes is by Thomas Aquinas:

"If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, 
he would keep it in port forever." 

What is our goal? It is to preserve the ship of our lives and our families? If so, keep it all in port and don’t do anything. Never take chances. Never take risks. And don’t worry, you will blend right in with the world around you as you stay behind your picket fence. Just don’t be surprise when a boulder comes crashing through your perfect world.

But, if our goal is to make a difference and change this broken and dying world, that approach will not do. We must go where others won’t go and do what other won't do. We must take huge risks that defy the odds and threatens our safety and security. Safe is never world-changing.

But here is the thing: The earthquakes will come, either way. Our world will be shaken, and lives will be lost, including our own. And those shakes will come whether you are playing it safe and comfortably or are taking risks for Jesus. The only question is…when the world shakes and the end comes, will we be doing something worth doing?

I pray that I will be, and that you will as well!

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Thursday, June 8, 2017

When You Hold a Dying Child

Today I held a dying child in my arms. I wish I could say that is an unusual occurrence, but it is not. In fact, it happens almost every day.

We currently have three such children in our home. The neurologist has told us that two of them, Edy and Analia, have no chance apart from a miracle. There is simply nothing we can do except to love them while we wait for Jesus to take them home. The third child, Yasmin, had a neurology appointment today. We have been told that a shunt might extend her life, but we will find out more after the appointment with the neurosurgeon tomorrow. Regardless, this will extend her life, but not save it.

We have had five children die in our home in the last four years. That is one the challenges of having a home for children with special needs. They often come to us frail and weak, with their lives already slipping away. We fight for them, but sometimes they just cannot be saved.

And these dying children that I hold are not just in our home. On Sunday I sat next to my friend, Rodney, after being called to his bedside early that morning. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was dying, and there was nothing I could do. So, I sat next to him as he took his final breaths in this life and watched him slip away to Jesus.

So today, as I held little Analia in my arms, death was very close on all sides. I am not trying to be morbid, I am just being real. We are surrounded by death, and that can be so very hard to face. But it is also a wonderful reality check that helps us to know what is important. And I need that. We all need that.

We live in a sound chamber of noise as this world tries to scream at us. It tries to convince us of what matters…what is important. And it does a good job of convincing us. The noise frequently drowns out the still small voice that gently leads us to real meaning and importance. It happens to me regularly. And, unless I am mistaken, it happens to you as well.

The news blares about hearings in Washington DC and how our country hangs in the balance. Financial advisors warn us of the importance of our retirement accounts. Commercials tell us how important our insurance coverage is. We are pounded from every side with how important the safety and security of our families really are. Plus, we all really need to have the newest phone and car. And our homes are kind of crowded with all the possessions we own. And the noise continues.

But there is something about holding a dying child that quiets that noise. As I held little Analia in my arms this morning, the noise faded. And I remembered anew how little in this life is really important. Certainly none of the above really matters.

In that moment, I was reminded how insignificant politics is. Because our elected officials do not care about the life and death battle of children in a distance place like Guatemala. The politicians in Guatemala don’t even care. Nothing that happens in DC or Guatemala City will ever really make a difference in the lives of the truly hurt and broken.

I was reminded how insignificant theology is. So much time spent studying, debating and arguing who God is and what He is really like. I find myself chuckling at the idea of finite men with finite minds claiming to understand our infinite God, when in reality they haven’t even scratched the surface of one of His toenails. And in the microscopic examination and word studies, we often miss His heart and passion for the broken world around us. Meanwhile, He invites us to come and know and love Him, not study Him.

I was reminded of how insignificant every possession I own is. I would trade them all if it could save Analia or Yasmin or Edy or Rodney. It is all a pile of rubbish compared to a single life that is created in the image of our God.

I was reminded of how insignificant so much of what we call “the church” is. The buildings and services and programs and budgets…so very often it all just a disguise of faith wrapped around tradition. And so very often it embraces those things while ignoring the priorities of Jesus Himself. We embrace the trappings while ignoring the poor, the widows, the orphans and the broken. We welcome the clean middle class to our carpeted sanctuaries while rejecting the sinners and disenfranchised beyond the door. And that “church” become insignificant, to both God and the world around us.

I was reminded that there is very little in this life that is true and really matters. It could likely all be counted on one hand. But those few things are so very real and true and important. Those few things are worth living and dying for.

So, as I held that dying child, I was also reminded of how good our God is. I felt His grief for our broken world and personal states. I felt His goodness contrasted with the ugliness and brokenness of this world. And I know, more than ever, how very good He is, even in the midst of suffering.

(Last week I received a message from a genuine skeptic. He has lots of doubts, but he is open and willing to address his doubts by seeking answers. He asked me, “Daryl, you are surrounded by suffering and death. Has that affected your belief in the goodness of God?” My answer was simple. “Yes, it has made me even more convinced than ever that God is good and that He is love!”)

I was reminded of the depth of His great love, for both Analia and me. I recognized, even as I was overcome by profound love for her, that His love is far greater. And, in that moment, His great love surrounded us both.

I was reminded how important the true church is in this world. We are the hope of this world to know the Answer. And the true church is still out there as a remnant…and it is growing. And I knew that, as I held her in my arms, the church was holding us both. Because of God’s work through the church, I was holding her in my arms in a safe place. The true church is out there, giving, praying, serving, loving, encouraging and moving forward. And I believe in that true church more every day.

I was reminded of how wonderfully insignificant and significant I really am. This one is a hard one to explain, but I will try. I am insignificant in that my life really doesn’t matter in comparison to the Gospel and God’s heart for the world. I am expendable as God sees fits, and He can take my health, wealth and life in order to accomplish His heart and mission for the world. I don’t really matter. And yet, when I surrender myself to Him and His mission, I matter. In fact, that is the only way that any of us truly can ever know true meaning and significance. And, as I held Analia in my arms, I knew how much both of us matter to Him.

And I was reminded how wonderful and precious life is, no matter how short or long it may be. And, even as I hold dying children on a daily basis, I dare not forget to celebrate and live to the max this life I have been given for as long as I have it to live.

There is so little that is truly important in this world. But the things that are, are really important. And we all need to be reminded of that. So it would probably be good for all of us to occasionally hold and love a dying child.

I invite you to come and do that with us. Hold a dying child and learn to really celebrate and live life. We are just a short flight away.


Daryl, Wanda and the Crew