I have a dream…of living in a remote cabin all alone in some wintery wonderland, far away from the heaps of trash and mosquitos, far away from the extreme poverty of our neighbors, from situations that require more wisdom than I myself possess, far away from the sin and confusion of the world (except for my own, that is.)
That is precisely what I told our 15-year-old daughter a few days ago after a long and rather emotional discussion between myself, her, and our 12-year-old daughter. Tense, potentially stressful conversations like the one we had facilitated are a common occurrence in our household — nine people from two different countries and five different families of origin, one of which has special needs, another of which has severe insomnia and several of which have suffered extreme abuse and/or abandonment all between the ages of 6-32 living in a small house in a humid, rainy climate without air-conditioning or hot water that also shares its roof with mosquitos, scorpions, geckos, ticks, bats, rats and other visitors. All of which, including the spouses, 3-and-a-half years ago had never met, much less dreamed they would be living together someday as family.
After about an hour of mediating the aforementioned potentially explosive conversation between our two eldest daughters regarding respect, personal space, identity, etc, I sensed that our eldest and I needed to keep the conversation going a bit, so I dismissed 12-year-old Jackeline. I kept listening as Dayana, our eldest, opened up more and more about her general frustrations of being raised in a large, mixed family — younger siblings who enter her room without permission, confusion in the laundry pile of whose underwear is whose, younger sisters who want to wear her clothes, etc. Most of this is as foreign to me as the Spanish language was 6 years ago because I grew up an only child with both of my biological parents in the Texas suburbs, but, daily, God is stretching us all and teaching us His grace and compassion in the context of a complicated family that promises to test and try us.
After I had asked several times, “Is there anything else?”, and she wound down, having shared all she had to share, I sensed it was my turn. (My turn always comes last!)
What I did not say was: “Now, now, calm down. You know you love your siblings. Just be patient with them.” or “Why on earth are you so selfish? Can’t you see that we’re all doing the best we can?”
What I did say, by some pinch of divine wisdom, was: “It is hard. I know it is. You know what?” (At this point she’s staring at the table between us rather than looking me in the eyes.) “I would love to live alone just like you.” (Now she suddenly looks up at me, probably thinking, Then why on earth did you invite all these kids to live with you?!) My voice quickens with excitement as I beginning sharing with her my ‘dream’ of living in some simple, comfortable cabin up in the mountains in a place like Montana or Southern Canada, earning a living with some kind of job that I could do on the computer right there in my little cabin, drinking hot tea and not having a single child or teenager around to bother me, lie to me, steal from me, or make things more complicated than they need to be. I would not even have to think about child prostitution or generational bondage to sin or foolish, uneducated youth. I would not have to see lives unnecessarily destroyed by sin while my heart gets broken in the mix. Everything would be calm, and everything would be under control. My control.
While I am sharing all of this, Dayana is visibly caught off guard by my sincerity and my genuine excitement as I continue telling her all about my far-off dream. (And it is, in fact, some far-off little dream that I have, and the temptation of entertaining it comes on my longest days, when our second-grader’s teacher sends a note home saying he is using four-letter words on his classmates or our preteens start biting each other during prayer or members of our own household are heard slandering my husband and I.)
As if her eyes were windows to her mind, I read her thoughts: “Great! That sounds like what I want, too — no noisy children, more personal space. Let’s go cabin-shopping! We’ll find one for you up on a little mountaintop, and on a neighboring mountaintop that’s a good day’s-hike away, we’ll build one for me. What are we waiting for?!”
As if reminding myself once more why that dream is not a reality, I said: “But you know what? If I were to live like that, I would be useless to God’s purposes. If I isolate myself and live comfortably, fine. But where are you? Who’s raising you? Who is guiding Josselyn? Josue? If I close myself off and live according to how I want to live, I become useless in God’s hands. Your Dad and I share our home with all 7 of you not because it is the most comfortable thing to do or because we just enjoy having disobedient children around, but because the Lord is using us in your lives for His glory.” She gets it. She’s listening. “Living in our home is not about living for our own pleasure and comfort. If I live all alone in my perfect little cabin, I could very easily believe Everything’s fine in the world. I’m a really patient, composed person. I don’t even need a Savior. But it’s when Gleny has pushed my buttons one too many times and I’m at the end of myself and I have to cry out to God ‘Grant me patience because I don’t have any more!’ that God’s power manifests itself. When I’ve given all that I have to give and then am asked to give more, that’s when we see God’s provision. It is easy to think you are a grace-filled person when you aren’t required to show grace to annoying, perhaps disrespecting younger siblings. But when you reach the end of yourself, that’s when you turn to God and see His aid, His power. If I were to live all by myself, I would miss all of this, and God would have to find someone else to do His work.”
In the end, it’s not about my dreams; it’s about His.