Entering our kitchen pantry, composed, I bent over to scoop out concentrated feed mix from a large burlap bag when I suddenly felt like someone had taken a strong fist to my solar plexus, and tears began to flood my eyes.
No, I thought. Not now, not yet. I forced the flood gates to close and regained momentary composure, knowing that we would be going to the chicken run together in a couple minutes. This would be our last early morning trip together to feed and water our hungry laying hens. Then we would help him pack his bags. And he would move out.
After over eight months of almost constant struggle – sometimes meaningful, profound, fringed with beauty as we saw hints of progress, while at other times so mind-bogglingly frustrating that we wanted to pull our hair out and stomp about like mad men – the local 14-year-old, Brayan, whom we had taken in as a son, decided to leave and return to his step-mother’s home a short walk away.
For several months now – or perhaps the whole time he lived with us – we used our wills to propel him forward due to his almost entire lack of motivation. We willed him to pass fourth grade, were on top of him every step of the way to complete the very few homework assignments he had, but even so he would lie, cut corners, and do a shockingly poor job even when he knew help was readily available. Hours and hours of one-on-one tutoring resulted in him declaring several times per week, “I will not receive classes today!” as he put his head defiantly on his desk and stubbornly fulfilled his own prophecy. Sending him to re-wash the same clothes four and five times still ended in brand new clothing stained and ruined within two or three uses. We invested in private sessions with a Christian psychologist, vitamins to help his intellectual capacity, weekly classes with his private tutor, hours upon hours of prayer, quality time spent individually with him, and a firm yet loving system of discipline and rewards.
As things progressed and he overtly refused to participate in his homeschool classes, voluntarily stopped taking music lessons with Darwin, disrespected his private tutor time after time, left without permission and did not return one night until after we were all in bed, refused to fulfill his basic chore duties, defied any disciplinary measures we took, and stopped participating in the basic agricultural activities that we do as a family, we entered into a period of prayerful discernment with him, lovingly explaining that he had a decision to make: change several things and thus choose to continue living with us, or carry on as he had been and thus freely choose to leave.
Two weeks later as things worsened with him and we felt the others were at increased risk of being infected by his rebellious, foolish spirit (or physically in danger due to angry outbursts), we decided with Brayan that it was time for him to leave because his actions had declared loudly, clearly, and consistently that he had no interest in respecting the guidelines of our home nor the people in it.
But instead of saying any of the above, instead of scolding him for having done things poorly or for his overwhelming laziness and ungratefulness, I gently held his face in my hands, his eyes drilling mine with an intensity I had yet seen from him, as the Lord gave me word after word to speak into his broken life before this chapter came to close and he would walk out the door with his belongings in plastic bags. We stood there, in the kitchen he and I, for over an hour, him listening intently as the Lord spoke through me to this young man, this prodigal son of His, because I myself had no more words to give. This tough guy who never cries, who laughs loud when he’s nervous and pokes fun at others to hide his own insecurities, who only this year learned how to read and write, had tears welling up in his eyes, as I did cascading over my heart. After giving him one last sermon – and this one seemed to be one of the first to be openly welcomed – I gave him a big hug before he would step into the real world beyond the daily discipline, help, and love of Ma and Pa.
As my fingers tousled his hair, I asked, “Do you want to go with me to the chicken run before we help you pack your stuff?,” Such a good-bye activity may appear odd to some but for us it seemed like the perfect ending to what God had crafted into one of His perfect jaggedy-patchwork chapters in His overarching redemption of mankind.
Basically it all boils down to freedom. That’s what we discussed at length with Brayan, and that is what has enabled us to enjoy such joyful peace in the midst of heartbreaking loss. God grants that freedom – free will – to each one of us, and He does not interfere with our use of it. It is only due to this free will that we can freely choose to love and follow the Good Shepherd. If we were not free to choose evil, we would likewise not be free to choose good. If I cannot choose hatred, neither can I choose love. God does not force our hand, and when someone refuses to accept Christ and submit themselves to His will, He lets them go. Saddened, yes, and longing for their repentance, their return, but He lets them go because they are merely exercising the freedom that He granted to them. There are consequences for how we use our freedom, of course, and when we stand in front of His throne at the end of our lives those consequences will prove eternal and irreversible, but we will have no one to look to beyond ourselves, for it is we who decided how to use the delicate freedom entrusted to us.
Likewise with Brayan. We did everything within our power to help him excel, to aid his growth, to convince him to be a productive, joyful member of both our temporal family and God’s eternal one, but ultimately it is and always was his choice. In respecting his right to choose, we affirm God’s role in letting us choose.
We also enjoy such abounding peace because we do not feel like we left anything unsaid nor missed one of the many opportunities to ask for his forgiveness after some folly on our part. We did not withhold any good thing from him, any measure of affection. Foot massages, singing him to sleep at night. Did not forget to say “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or “We’re certain God will form you into a brave, compassionate man, an honorable father and faithful husband.” Oh, how many hundreds of times did we say those things! In many senses we lived every day with him (and the others) as if it could be our last, because we truly did not know if one day the government would swoop in and remove the children, if their biological families would come to claim them, or if the gangs in our neighborhood would storm our home at night and take our lives.
So now Brayan is our favorite neighbor, and we still see him nearly every day, exchanging big hugs as we pass one another along the dirt road or stopping by one another’s homes for an unscheduled visit. He is currently not in school or working, nor does he show desire to do either. Please pray with us for Brayan as God guides him in this season of discernment as he learns to take responsibility for the life and talents God has given him. And above all, let us give thanks to God for the eight months of growth, guidance, discipline, and love that he received under our roof in Jesus’ name.