Swimming with Dumb Bells

“Palms Up.”

It’s a popular phrase in Christian culture, more specifically in Christian millennial lingo. Usually it’s woven into conversations centered around anxiety and varying stressors, calling the anxious one to surrender to Jesus that which has been held on to ever so tightly with controlling hands. I’ve found myself with pretty tight fists as of late, desperately stretching my fingers around the chaotic pieces of my life and ministry. Inevitably I end up feeling like I’m barely keeping my head above water. Not necessarily due to the chaos (which is what I typically tell myself the problem is), but because it’s impossible to swim with junk in my hands. It’s futile. It’s exhausting. Foolish even. And these things I find myself holding onto are clunky and awkward, like dumb bells. Awkwardly shaped in my little hands and even more awkward to swim with (because who goes swimming with dumb bells?). But here I am, tuckered out from thrashing ungracefully in the wild waters of ministry whilst clutching these clunky weights of the brokenness around me, telling myself all the while that “I got this.”

I love this picture of him, because he seems so happy and carefree… an expression he wears well but not often.

One such weight I found myself holding on to was Gallego. He’s nearly an adult, but I still see the little boy in him holding on to a lifetime of pain. Over the last several months, he has made poor choices and rebelled against the authority in our home. Typically, I would chalk these things up to “normal teenager stuff” (especially in conjunction with the trauma he has experienced), but his choices began to become an issue of safety for other children in our home. We came to a crossroads with his unsafe choices, and for the good of the ministry and other children we had to say goodbye. It was an excruciatingly difficult week, as I had spent months pouring into him. We’ve walked miles through rural villages as we processed through some of the deep wounds in his heart.

While he is wholly responsible for his choices, I see the way trauma and circumstances out of his control have played a significant role in creating these tendencies to break and hurt those around him. He was one of the children that I repeatedly told, “There is nothing you can say or do to gain or lose my love. I will always love you.” He struggled the most of all the children to receive it, often covering his ears to drown out my love and protect himself from emotional vulnerability. I sat down with him to have the heart-wrenching conversation about his transition, and we wept together. We have been his family for a long time, and after many second chances he had cut the lifeline that had helped him for years. I’ve been holding Gallego’s circumstances like a dumb bell in my hands, feeling the burden and responsibility of his choices as if they were my own… weighed down by the negative impact his choices will have on his present and future.

I also find myself holding on to Lucrecia and Elda’s situation. It has been a constant rollercoaster for all of us, frequently dipping and turning unexpectedly. As many of you know, from previous posts of mine, Lucrecia’s brother and (ex) stepfather have been pursuing intently the adoption of both girls. In my latest post, Cough Drops and Kisses, I stated that we were getting ready to begin the transition process (visits to the potentially adoptive family lengthened over a period of several months) once the two men completed the four visits to our home (which they completed at the end of September).

Yep, she’s a goober.

The objective of this process is three-fold:

1) Prepare the children for a potential goodbye. All our kids struggle with abandonment and trust, especially in a setting where the government could take one of their brothers or sisters of 6+ years after one court hearing. We want to minimize the shock and damage and give them time to prepare emotionally and say goodbye in the event of an adoption.

2) Help both the child, new parents, and leadership of our ministry evaluate if the family is a good fit. Ideally, the child will begin to build trust and love with the new family, and then moving to live with them can happen a little more naturally.

3) (This one is probably the most important) Assess risks of the potential new home. After each visit I interview the child to pull as much information from the visit as I can. We’ll sit down with a cup of hot chocolate, some toys, and chat while we play. During these conversations I ask questions that will help give us a picture into how the visit went, assessing the risk of neglect and abuse. Therefore, if we ascertain that this is a dangerous situation, we can terminate visits until the next court hearing and present our findings.

Previously, there was no transition system in place. The judge simply asked the potential families to visit the child in the home and build a bond with them. Truthfully though, we were lucky if that happened once. By the next hearing, the judge could order the children to go home with the family without ever knowing or visiting them. Of course, the danger here is an abusive adult can fake it during an hour long visit (if they even visit) and win a child’s favor with gifts… but it’s harder to fake it for 1-2 weeks of having the child live in their home.

We began the process mid-October with Lucrecia and Elda, starting with two weekends in Lucrecia’s (ex) step-father’s home and then accelerated up to one week towards the end of the month. At this time, there’s not a lot I can share about the visits here due to the sensitivity of their case, but I can say the transition process is doing its job. In September, I asked you all to pray that the Lord would bring what is in the darkness to light… and that is exactly what has happened. Thank you all for your faithful prayers for these two! (When things have settled down, I’ll write a little more about the specifics).

Though I’m thankful that light is being shed into the shadows, I still find myself anxiously consumed with the “what if”s, worrying over solutions as I think of each one. Even during my furlough to the U.S. in November I was communicating with our staff who were attempting to communicate with the powers that be. Through multiple calls to the PGN (Guatemala’s version of Child Protection Services), we went to the judge to find that the PGN did not send important time-sensitive paperwork to be approved.

Lucrecia and I have gotten a lot closer through this whole process. We’ve had long, tearful discussions about this court case… but also really fruitful conversations about womanhood. I’ve watched the light dawn in her eyes as we talk about our identity being rooted in Christ, modesty, and boundaries with the boys. This girl has a heart of gold!

As I hold on anxiously to their situation, I feel deeply their fear (and my own) of what could come. I feel the responsibility and burden of whether or not the judge rules favorably. I want to promise them that we will keep them safe and love them forever, but I can’t give that to them. I feel the burden to provide security and safety for them, but we are limited by the whims of the Guatemalan justice system. The uncertainty and responsibility of their delicate situation weighs heavily.

I’ve also been holding my own situation in my hands too. In October both of my roommates moved out. It was a bittersweet change. On the sweet side, I’m excited for them both. Reyna moved in with a wonderful Guatemalan family who love her like their own daughter, and who will be a lifelong relationship she can rely on. And Sabrina got her own place, because my one car garage cannot fit both our modes of transportation now that I have a vehicle, and we work opposite shifts in the home. It was so evident that the Lord was opening this door wide open for her and provided everything she needed to furnish her home within about 1 week. I’m so happy for them, but selfishly bitter that I am alone again. Initially I had looked at a few two-car homes for Sabrina and I, but I couldn’t find anything that was as safe as where I currently am (not to mention right across the street from our Assistant Director in case of an emergency).

As I talked about in my post “His Grace is Sufficient for Me”, this isn’t a new struggle for me. I spent much of the last year and a half drowning in a sea of loneliness and angry at God for allowing it. This time around I understand the situation I’m in from a different perspective, but it’s still discouraging returning to an empty home.

About a month ago at church I was praying; expressing a mountain of fears, potential disasters, and frustrations that I was experiencing. In the middle of my anxious rant, He whispered to my soul, “Palms up, Alex.” And in that moment, I realized how faithless I have been. A crucial component of faith is a humble and open-handed posture. Instead of trusting Jesus and surrendering things to Him that are outside of my control, I clutched those weights closer… and ended up swimming whilst holding dumb bells.

I’m reminded of Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run (or swim) with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I let the idol of control grip my heart and became entangled in it. Jesus died so that we could live free of the sin that weighs us down. When I willingly embraced the idol of control, I shrank the power of the cross in me. If His power is made perfect in my weakness, then I must lay aside my pride. There is a reason that Jesus is King, and I am not.

Likewise, when I burden myself with the children’s wounds or difficult situations, it inhibits my ability to minister effectively to the very ones I came to serve. To clarify, that doesn’t mean I don’t pursue justice for or empathize with my hurting kids… but it means that I can trust that at the end of the day, God is enough for me and them. He is good and Sovereign, and I trust Him to care for me and my kiddos.

Therefore, I will realign my gaze and fix it on Christ. I will ditch the dumb bells I’ve been lugging around; relinquishing control to a loving Father who knows what is best far better than I. I choose to trust Him with my life (and the lives of my kiddos), even if I don’t know the answer. I will shout from the rooftop how small and incapable I am, because then the bigness of my God is illuminated. I will bask in the freedom of knowing that He will always be faithful, gracious, loving, and sufficient in all things for me.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24

P.S. On Saturday, the Lord revealed to me one of the ways that He has been working in the background for my benefit. What once seemed like a surrender without a happy ending, the Lord is showing me He had other plans. I’ll tell you all about it in my next post.

P.S.S. With the loss of my roommate who shared some bills, my budget has increased to cover the full cost of rent, internet, food, etc. I will be releasing a new budget in the next post, that will reflect these changes as well as some others. There’s some exciting things coming, and I’m trusting the Lord to move in big ways and provide for these changes. I can’t wait to share them with you!

1 thought on “Swimming with Dumb Bells”

  1. Good morning Alex. I just read your very compelling “Swimmimg with Dumbells” blog. You expressed great truth for all of us. My husband, Nacho, and I have been friends of your parents for many years. We love them! I met you once when you and your family stayed in our home in San Antonio when you were on vacation. All this to say that I appreciate your teachable, tender heart and I will be praying for you and your ministry. Today I pray Romans 15:13 for you. …May you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Love from Nacho and Sara Pecina.


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