During the few weeks that I was away from home last month visiting the United States, every day as Darwin and I would talk on the phone my thoughts would scream around the one question that I knew I shouldn’t ask, but, even so, I verbalized it on several occasions: “How is Brayan? Have you seen him?”
Brayan, who just turned 15 years old yesterday, is the young man who came into our life and home a year and a half ago as a rejected teen recently orphaned by his father and long abandoned by his mother.
In a dizzying swirl of events we met him as he lazily attended the neighboring cow-herd grazing on our property, heard his story and his step-mom’s plea for him to move in with us, and, determinedly, I sat cross-legged on our double-sized bed night after night passionately convincing my husband that God wanted us to take him in as a son, which would add to the sibling group of three that we at that point had had living with us not even four months.
Darwin protested initially, firm in his conviction that taking on another 13-year-old would push me over the limit with my already very poor health and night after night of laying wide awake coupled with long, exhausting days. I knew he was right, but I fought with a deep conviction that the Lord wanted us to take him in even if none of the ‘normal’ signs seemed to make any sense.
So, after praying together for a few more days, Darwin felt peace and Brayan moved in.
He did not know the alphabet; he did not know how to tell the truth, and he did not know how to look you in the eye when you spoke to him. He did not know what it was to be accepted after having been abandoned by his mother when he was two months old, thus commencing what he recounts as a tragically unbalanced life of bouncing around with his father from one step-mom to another, one of his dad’s lovers after another, until finally his dad — drunk and doing some tight-rope-walking circus routine — fell from a great height and died.
So Brayan moved in, and against all logic we became family to him, loving him into God’ eternal one. He learned to look us in the eye, even when he was mad. He even learned to forgive his parents, visiting his mother’s home with Darwin about an hour-and-a-half’s walk away, and we prayed with him over his dad’s cemetery site in our local town, supporting Brayan through tears as he constructed a little cross out of twigs to place on the mound of dirt covering his dad’s underground casket. I read him and our seven-year-old son Jason bedtime stories. I will never forget a certain evening as the three of us sat on the tile floor in their bedroom as I read a great Lion King picture book. Brayan’s face was alit with wonder as if he were a little boy.
And I learned to love that young man more than I ever thought possible. Every morning, seemingly before anyone else even saw me or had been greeted, I would hear his voice come from somewhere: “Hola Ma” (meaning “Hi Mom.”) Many times he would just walk by my open bedroom door in the late afternoon or as I was cleaning my bathroom and say my name just to make sure I was there.
And then the unthinkable happened. After having lived with us as our son for about eight months, a series of events occurred such that he was choosing to move out, returning to live with his three step-brothers and his poor, incredibly hard-working but maternally burnt-out step-mom, the last of his deceased father’s lovers who lives about a ten-minute walk from our home. All the teeth-grinding progress that we earnestly believed had been etched out in his soul over the previous eight months was seemingly being voluntarily erased, given up on.
So he left, and we embarked on our new relationship with Brayan-our-neighbor-who-we-still-call-a-son-and-who-still-calls-us-his-parents.
And shortly after, he returned to our homeschool program, so he became Brayan-our-son-and-student-who-we-see-everyday-but-who-does-not-live-in-our-home.
Many blurry lines, but it seemed to work. He was still growing and thriving, was still eating almost every meal in our home with us, taking his daily vitamins alongside of our now-five kids who live in our home, enjoying rich companionship — brotherhood — with all of us, and he even accompanied us on our family vacation trip to the zoo and to our faith community over an hour’s drive away every Sunday.
Until, less than two months ago, he broke his student’s contract (a formal written agreement typed up and signed between each of our homeschool participants and ourselves with explicit expectations, etc) and Darwin and I were forced to sit across our wooden dining table with him and inform him of what he should have already known: he had been expelled from school, which also implied losing access to breakfast in our home each morning, daily companionship with the other students, and a host of other benefits.
As we talked with him over an hour that morning, he sat across the table from us, looking us in the eyes without breaking his stare, and I almost wanted him to storm out and leave or accuse us unjustly. Something other than this show of utter respect that he had somehow learned by God’s grace under our care — oh, how beautifully he puts it into practice on some occasions, but not on others!
Searching his eyes, his soul, from across the table, I said, hoping that somehow God would reveal to me in that moment the answer: “Brayan, I honestly don’t know what’s left for us…If things had gone the way your Pa and I had wanted, you would still be living with us as our son. But you chose against that, so then we accepted you as a student. Now you have chosen against that, so…I don’t know what is left for us…”
So we discussed God’s abundant blessing of free will and our ability as humans to use that dangerous freedom to honor God and enjoy His blessing or turn our backs on Him and suffer the consequences — all the things we’ve said to Brayan so many times before.
A few days after the incident, having seen Brayan a couple times and encouraging him to look in our local town for honest work or an education, I was flipping through the book of Proverbs as I had sat down with four of our other kids for the exciting bi-weekly event in our household: payday for chores. Each kid has three envelopes (think Dave Ramsey’s method if you are familiar with it): a “Give” envelope, a “Save” envelope and a “Spend” one. Coupled with the divvying out of small bills for a job well done comes financial education, so as I searched for Proverbs that instruct on the wise use and handling of money, avoidance of debts, etc, my eyes actually fell upon and seemed glued to Proverbs 23:9:
Don’t waste your breath on fools, for they will despise the wisest advice.
It might as well have been written: Jennifer, stop wasting your breath on Brayan, because he has and is despising even your wise, well-intentioned advice.
Accompanying that, of course, was a deep sense of knowing that Brayan is not ours and never was. Whatever has or will happen in Brayan’s life is permitted by God for some reason, and in the end it will be to God’s glory. And I can rest in that, in Him.
So I released Brayan from my heart, bowing before the cross and entrusting Brayan to Him, for He cares for us. I do, after all, have that written on our bedroom wall (“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7) to remind me daily that beyond an unstable government, neighbors who steal from us and our own wayward hearts guiding children imbued with equal rebellion, there is a conquering, good King who holds the entire universe in His hands.
Even with this newfound freedom in entrusting all that is Brayan’s suffering, confusion and poor choices to the Lord’s care, he constantly knocked on my thoughts as I visited many different churches, groups and homes in the United States. And as Darwin patiently answered my questions about our prodigal son over the telephone, I was not encouraged: Brayan had been beaten up near one of the popular swimming holes in our neighborhood, later had been kicked out of his step-mom’s house for good reason, had not been coming around our home for several weeks, was heard to have been working with a few local men ‘chopping’ fields with a machete (a job I had personally witnessed Brayan do on several occasions and knew was not his forte.)
So last week during my first couple days back home, as I cut several neighbor boys’ hair with my electric clippers on our front porch, I suddenly heard from a distance that same voice that I would recognize anywhere as it travelled briskly up the long path to our front gate: “Hola Ma.”
My whole being smiled as I quickly debated within myself how to greet him, or rather how he would greet me before decidedly setting down the clippers and walking out to greet him as he entered freely through our gate that lets in so many. His ear-to-ear smile matched mine and he fit perfectly under my chin as we embraced, him then giving me his customary peck-on-the-cheek. I looked at his long, light-brown waves and said, “You need a haircut, young man.” If possible, his smile grew even more and he took his place in line after a few other teen boys who have not violated the codes of conduct in our home as often or as severely as Brayan, but who also, for some unknown reason, have not wiggled their way into my heart nearly as deeply as he has.
So as I cut his hair we talked, and he mentioned how much he wanted to go watch the concert that Darwin and the youth were going to put on that night after he himself had recently dropped out after having been our only faithful tenor for over a year. I asked how much money he had to pay for the ticket, and he said 60 Lempiras (the equivalent of three dollars). I said that if he really wanted to go, that we would pay the remaining two dollars for his ticket, and it seemed joyfully settled. He also asked if he could come with us to our faith community’s discipleship group on Sunday, and I sensed permission from God in my heart and said, “yes.”
When the time rolled around to go to the concert that night and then the discipleship group two days following, he did not show up either time.
So I am learning all over again to entrust him to the Lord and to trust beyond a shadow of a doubt that our focus should be on obedience to our great Father — expressed in faithful love — rather than any interest in visible results.
Please pray with us for Brayan and that the Lord may reveal to us what role — if any — we are to play in his life during this season.