Last month we did the hour+ hike up to one of the Pico Bonito National Park’s waterfalls to celebrate Darwin’s 31st birthday. Our kids, Jenae, Erick, and many members of our faith community joined us as we trekked uphill surrounded by Honduras’ pristine wildnerness. It was at the same waterfall one year ago that Darwin formally asked my dad for my hand in marriage…
Recently at home two of us adults were talking in private with a child to solve a disciplinary issue. The child sat on a seat in front of us, arms crossed, their little brow furrowed, stealing glances at the two of us while their gaze remained otherwise fixed on their feet dangling in front of them. To see the child in such a closed, stand-offish position truly was an ugly site to see. After a long discussion, praying together, and the assignment of a punishment, we concluded the time with the child by talking about Christ’s love for us and our love for the child. The disciplinary issue was mainly between the child and me, so the other adult talked about how a parent’s discipline for their child stems out of their immense love for them. The child, still avoiding any kind of emotional connection, continued studying their swaying feet. When asked if the child was certain of my love for them, the child stubbornly shook their head ‘no’ and said that I do not, in fact, love them.
My eyes grew wide and my heart sank, feelings of devastation and a fiery tinge of anger welling up inside me as I thought, “How on earth can you say that I don’t love you? Do you not realize I’ve given my life for you – ¨
And in that moment my thoughts took an immediate detour as I heard Christ’s words perhaps more distinctly than ever before. “I have given my life for you. And how many times do you, Jennifer, question my love, behaving like this stubborn, narrow-minded child? Accept my love – believe that I love you abundantly, just as you wish that your children would believe of you.”
My heart sank even more, my devastation at the child’s remark turned into the cutting realization of my own hardness. I then turned in inward repentance to my savior, confessing, “I will believe you, Lord. I will not question your character and love.” Peace and a newfound understanding and acceptance for Christ’s love flooded my body.
A couple days later, things having long been smoothed over with the upset child but still without any open admittance of my love for them, the child and I rode in one of Honduras’ public buses on our way to town, the child comfortably nested in my lap as we both enjoyed the view our window seat provided of vast pineapple fields, the mountain range that marks the landscape, and small shops and restaurants along the way. I felt in my heart that the issue was still unresolved for me – is the child convinced of my love and only said otherwise in an outburst of rebellion and anger, or do they truly feel that I do not love them? I whispered their name, and immediately an eager young face peeked up at me, and I asked gently, “You know that I love you, right?” And without delay their little head bobbed up and down and I heard their confident reply, “Yes.”
My heart sighed with relief and thanksgiving, and I felt a tangible sense of peace and unity borne between the two of us as we settled in for the ride to town. As the child sat wrapped in my embrace, I felt the two of us enveloped in that of the Father’s.
We were getting ready for dinner – Jenae was in the kitchen finishing the preparations while Diana and Brayan practiced their flutes in the adjoining dining room, taking breaks to do silly dances to their music and laugh together. Gleny sat practicing her flute tranquilly after having hand-washed her clothes, and Jason was doing some version of a cartwheel around the dining room floor because he and I already spent time practicing his flute. I sat sorting beans at our long wooden table as I watched them, taking in the palpable joy all around me. All that afternoon and evening we had enjoyed an unusually light, jovial time together. We typically have to make a concerted effort to maintain peace among the four children and keep things running smoothly, so I found myself with a quirky grin creeping onto my face and gratitude exploding in heart as I looked around at each person fulfilling their role with exceptional delight, even sublimity. Dinner was likewise a joyful occasion, and during the prayer I didn’t let my lips mutter what I was singing in my heart: Peace! True joy! Thank you, Father. Thank you for the immeasurably precious gifts that only You can give. Peace.
As the meal wound down and we began the after-dinner clean-up routine, I leaned over and told Gleny that I needed to talk with her outside in private. I purposefully said it just loud enough so that everyone would hear me. I laughed in my heart as I thought about what their reaction would be to what only I knew I was about to do. They all perked up just as I suspected they would, and they looked at me and then her with curiosity, wondering why I would pull her aside when there was no seen disciplinary infraction to be discussed.
Gleny looked up at me eager to please but also visibly a bit nervous about what our one-on-one chat might hold. She finished eating quickly, grabbed my hand, and we walked down the few concrete dining room steps that lead to our front lawn.
Folding my lanky six-foot frame down to her level, I looked her in the eyes and asked, my quirky smile creeping back onto my face, “Gleny, what did you not do today?”
Her eyes began darting back and forth as she rapidly searched her mind for some uncompleted task or missed homework assignment. I didn’t want to leave her with that feeling of pending judgment for long, so after a couple seconds I said with a big smile, “You didn’t yell! Not even once!”
Her eyes immediately lit up in recognition of the fact that after such intense daily struggle for so long with raging emotions, she finally had an entire day in which she didn’t blow up in anger at one of her siblings. Now both of our smiles matching and growing, she agreed and jumped up and down, “I didn’t yell today!”
Before she had time to say or do anything else, I swept her up in my arms bridegroom style and began sprinting – well, running as fast as one can with a laughing nine-year-old in their arms – across our dark front lawn under the night’s full moon and letting out a continuos “Woooo-hoooooooooo!” like a person who has truly lost their mind.
She immediately began whooping with me, and there we ran in big circles, her bobbing up and down in my arms, hollering at full capacity and celebrating God’s faithfulness in hearing our prayer for peace in Gleny’s heart. “Praise God! Wooooooo!” We shouted as I ran with diminishing speed around our lawn. At one point, laughing as my arms began to weaken and shake, my big toe hit one of the many rocks in our yard and I almost face-planted with the little girl in my arms. I stumbled into recovery, laughing even harder than before, and we continued with our run-whoop back and forth across the lawn.
It didn’t take long for us to draw the people from the kitchen out to see us, and soon Jason was running behind us, arms in the air and hoots and hollers coming out of his mouth even though he had no idea what we were celebrating. Brayan stood on the concrete steps, watching us with intrigue as the rest continued with their tasks in the kitchen as if a whooping mother-daughter combo were as normal as a day with such sweet peace as the one we had just experienced…