We thought he was dead. Or had surely gotten a girl or two pregnant. Or possibly in prison or roaming the streets after a series of foolish decisions had finally led him to a very real destruction.
But he was standing there at our front gate.
I had been folding laundry in our bedroom when one of our wild hooligans out on the porch called, “Brayan’s here.” The brown shirt I was folding fell out of my suddenly numb hands as my legs turned on autopilot and began to take me in the least amount of steps possible out our front door, across our porch and large front lawn to that still, red-shirted figure waiting motionless on the other side of our chainlink gate.
Three or four well-intentioned huggers tried to greet and derail me in route to that gate, but I saw them as nothing more than a blur as tears began to choke out all else. There’s no way.
Just about 10 minutes prior my husband had mentioned as casually as someone mentions that the garbage man swung by: “Oh, Brayan came by the front gate this afternoon while you were in the office.”
All the blood had drained from my face while my mind frantically tried to make sense of Darwin’s words so confused by his monotony. “Wha–?” He’s not dead. Why would he come? How is he? My words tried to catch up with my brain: “What time? Why didn’t you come get me?” My mouth literally laid agape as words escaped me and a great sorrow overtook me for having missed his visit.
My sweet husband who knows all the trials that boy has put us through in the last two years – him living with us as our constantly wayward and rebellious yet precious and dearly loved son for 8 months then moving out, coming back part-time as our student and live-in-a-different-house-son-who-is-still-highly-involved-in-our-family-life, then disappearing altogether in August 2015 – just stared at me blankly, probably as taken aback at my emotional reaction as I was to his laissez-faire approach.
Unable to form his words, Darwin’s eyes read: “I’m so sorry. I was trying to protect your heart. Surely you get that, don’t you?” while my heart pled: “How is he? Why didn’t you come get me? I was only in the office and had no idea…How could you possibly think that I wouldn’t want to see him?”
Darwin picked up his cellphone and quickly dialed Brayan’s stepbrother, Arlen, who is a very close friend of ours and with whom Brayan had come earlier that afternoon. After a short conversation, Darwin asked Arlen if Brayan would be available to come back to our home for a second time that day. He gave Brayan the message, and he apparently left immediately on his bike because he arrived not five minutes later.
So as I’m crossing the front lawn, tears welling up in my eyes and my face probably contorted into the terrible shape that any parent’s face would hold upon the return of their prodigal son, he called out in a soft voice, probably wondering how I would react: “Hola, Ma.”
The next few seconds I do not remember – if he opened the gate to let himself in or if I opened it for him – but suddenly he was in my embrace as I was in his and I no longer cared that I was crying. As my chest heaved and I held him, I said, “We love you so much, Brayan,” and suddenly Darwin was walking up behind me and we were hugging him sandwich-style, which is something we do with all of our kids.
He didn’t let go, didn’t pull away, and didn’t laugh nervously. All three of us just stood there, three small people embracing with a love that cannot be explained nor defended lest we recognize it is of God at the entrance to some remote property on the foothills of some mountain range in some forgotten country begotten with violence and poverty while the rest of the world spun on without us for those few moments.
He’s so tall; Darwin’s only got a couple inches on him now. He no longer fits comfortably under my chin. He’ll be 16 in July. Where is he living? Is he okay? How does he feel to be in our home again – did we end on a bad note? I can’t really remember. All I can remember is seeing him roaming aimlessly around the gravel roads of our town so many months ago, seeing him with that teenage girl in the miniskirt on the back of his bike back in July. Why did he come? Oh, I praise you, God, that he is alive. Thank you for bringing him home. Our son is home. Thank you, Lord.
My tears came and went during our visit as we quickly invited him into the hospitality house to sit down and receive him. We talked easily and dynamically with him for the next 45 minutes or so about anything and everything. He carried himself with a certain maturity that he had never before possessed, and on several occasions he belly-laughed with his big, childish grin, betraying an innocence and exuberant joy that I assumed had been long lost.
He is living with his biological mother and stepfather in the town next to ours and is working in a local mechanic shop washing cars and helping in whatever capacity he has been trained. His four younger half-siblings live in the home with him, and he shares a bedroom with his step-grandmother, “each one with their own bed.” He likes to go fishing on the sea in his freetime with his step-dad.
Hoping we had not lost all of our parent-child bond, I asked in a motherly way that has become surprisingly natural to me over these past two years if he has a girlfriend, and he laughed heartily and said, “No. I don’t get into things like that. I’m not ready to support a woman…” and my heart rejoiced. He goes to church with two teenage male friends of his, mentioning that he doesn’t have more friends because “the other guys who live near me are just into bad stuff, and I don’t want to participate in that because I’m walking with Christ.”
The thought that consumed all others in my little brain that was still recovering from this wonderful form of shock was this: The hand of God is upon him. The hand of God is upon him! The Lord has heard us; he hears us, and he hears Brayan. There is no other explanation for why this young man has not fallen into absolute tragedy and despair. The hand of God is so clearly, so tangibly upon him. This is one of God’s miracles.
This sense of total awe at the goodness of God consumed me for the duration of our visit and long afterward. We encouraged Brayan in his walk with Christ and prayed with him, all three of us holding hands with heads bowed in our hospitality house’s humble living room while, once again, the rest of the world seemed to keep on spinning without us. He asked for prayer for his stepfather’s alcoholism, his mother’s chest pain, his step-grandfather’s neck tumor and his own walk with the Lord, that he would be guided into the light and not be separated from God’s will. As we prayed together, I felt the presence of the Lord in a way that I had not in some time.
At some point as he sat on our hand-me-down sofa he smiled mischeviously and said: “Recognize these boots?” I glanced down at his extremely worn-down black combat boots, let out a loud, genuine laugh and said, “Your boots! You still have them! Look at you – I’m so proud that you’ve taken care of them.” They were the same boots we had bought him about a year ago, and this was the same boy who used to lose or destroy any and all clothing, shoes, books, backpacks, etc, within a blink of an eye of receiving it.
After our long catch-up chat and then our time of prayer, it only seemed natural to invite Brayan to stay for dinner. With his sheepish grin he accepted, and we headed over to our open-air dining room that used to be his own. I put the rice and beans and leftover pasta on the stove and began pouring glasses of Darwin’s fresh cows’ milk for everyone. I even got out popsicles from the freezer that had been donated by a local grocery store; this was an extremely special day.
I glided around our muggy kitchen as he and Darwin sat at our large wooden dining room table, probably talking about guy stuff. Our 7-year-old Gabriela came in to help me serve the plates, we rang the little apple-shaped dinner bell, and everyone came barreling in from hand-washing their clothes and doing 57 other things. Brayan’s face radiated joy, and he looked like he felt at home. Well, he was.
Over dinner he talked more than I remember him talking before, and his posture and attitude gave off a sense of maturity, a precious gratefulness, and an undeniable respect that certainly were not with him before, or at least had not been as developed. He never broke eye contact; he talked easily, openly and coherently. He reminisced with our 7 kids, especially Dayana, our eldest who is his age and with whom he has the most memories, about funny happenings or lessons learned from the ‘early years’ (which was only two years ago) with us at the Living Waters Ranch.
So night fell, we did dinner clean-up, Brayan laughed as he witnessed an ‘attack-Dad’ tickle fight, and then we walked him back to the front gate and gave him another big hug to book-end the visit that profoundly encouraged us in a way that perhaps nothing before then had. He hopped on his bike, making plans with Darwin to go play soccer the next afternoon with our kids while he’s on ‘vacation’ from his job at the mechanic shop, but my heart neither leapt with expectation nor scoffed with doubt as he rode off into the night.
Our 11-year-old fireball, Gleny – who used to actively persecute Brayan during the first year or so that he was in our lives — jumped up into my arms and shouted off to Brayan in the night: “Goodnight, Brayan!” He answered back over his shoulder as I stood with Gleny in my arms under the dark night sky speckled with a million pinpricks of light in total awe: The hand of God is over Brayan.