A couple nights ago our 8 kids were tucked in their bedrooms in our little cinderblock house, several already asleep while others drew or read quietly in their quarters. It was our family’s daily Sabbath Hour.
The electricity had gone out several hours prior, so our otherwise pitch dark house held small pockets of light provided by a few strategically-placed candles. The old wicker table in our living room housed a large display of folders, papers and office materials where I had been working with a headlamp strapped to my forehead the last couple hours. My husband Darwin was in our office in the adjacent building on our rural property finishing his own ‘homework’ by flashlight.
I stood wearily in our living room after having survived a day that involved directing a 6-hour-long crucial planning meeting with our team of teachers/mentors/pastors, another six hours or so of paperwork, a constant waterfall of sweat dripping over my body accompanied by more than a few mosquito bites, and managing our 8 kids (and all their shenanigans) in the midst of it all. Although my work performance (at least in the meeting) had been high, my attitude was quickly taking a turn for the worst as I felt bogged by a sense of guilt that I had not given our children the time and attention they had needed from me that day.
Living in a household with 8 youth ranging from special needs children to abuse victims to active teenagers is not exactly conducive to cultivating a focused work environment, as every 5 minutes or so someone comes asking for a new pencil, seeking permission for something or announcing World War III. Then the heavy rains started, and the thunder spooked our oversized guard dogs to such an extent that they began frantically pushing their way past our kids into our house, which further added to what was quickly becoming an impossible work environment.
My thoughts limped toward the obvious: hopefully the electricity would come back on at some point during the next several hours so that all the food in our refrigerator wouldn’t spoil. Plus we still had to make copies of each of our students’ mid-year evaluations, but without electricity our photocopier was useless.
Dry-erase marker in hand, I began jotting down the next day’s predicted schedule along with general family news on our living-room whiteboard. I felt ready for a really long nap, but there was still more work to be done in preparation for the new semester of classes that would begin the next day. After having been on a mid-year week-long vacation, all of our local students would be returning to commence the second half of the school year.
Our family had gotten away from home for that full week in order to breathe deeply and distance ourselves from the usual pounding of activities, demands on our time, dozens of local people constantly in our home, etc. We had rented an itty-bitty rustic cabin on a desert island off the Honduran coast, and for that week it felt like we had stepped into someone else’s life. In the blink of an eye (or rather in the hour-long boatride that led us away from the mainland) I was transformed into a relaxed, fun and funny stay-at-home mom who didn’t have the weight of dozens of other people’s struggles, the administration of an NGO and the constant threat of local violence on her shoulders.
The intense demands on our time and emotional reserves were greatly decreased during that week, and even the mosquitos and scorching heat were kept at bay. We were the only inhabitants there besides the local married couple who looks after the place, so even the constant supervision we are normally engaged in with our teenagers was lightened as there was no immediate temptation to search out their next potential crush. We laughed and played with our kids; we prayed together as a family; we stayed up late talking to and enjoying one another and slept late the next morning (‘late’ as in 7:00am). We cooked and ate every meal together as a family; there were no errands or legal concerns or fear of being the next victim of so much senseless violence that occurs in this country. We kayaked together; we swam in the ocean with our kids; we played chess and fished. I was no one’s boss and no one’s teacher; I was free to just be ‘mom,’ something I’m still trying to learn to do gracefully.
And so on Sunday as we left that beautiful desert island where the refreshing breeze whips constantly and you don’t even need to know what time it is, our senses were immediately accosted by the ugliness, the utter rawness of the reality we were re-entering on mainland Honduras. Whereas natural beauty, human silence and the crashing of ocean waves had accompanied us on that little island, our eyes and ears were suddenly under constant attack. One of our teenage daughters even cried as we left our little haven and re-entered the reality of living unprotected in a country dripping in corruption and devastating poverty.
The water transitioned from crystal clear to totally opaque upon arriving at the coast: floating trash and littered streams greeted us. Upon loading ourselves and our luggage into our pickup truck, Darwin began the awkward zig-zag, dancing haphazardly down the highway as he jolted between dozens of huge potholes. Two or three times he didn’t react quick enough and the car slammed down into the holes as everyone screamed. Destroyed roads; beggars; trash strewn about; idle, lost people at every turn; palpable human negligence and sin everywhere you look. Those on the inside of the cabin with us were enveloped in a solemn silence as we all felt the sting of re-entering our reality in third-world Honduras who frequently tops the worldwide ranking of homicide per capita. Danger suddenly seemed close and mistrust closer as we were very literally re-entering the battlefield whether we were ready or not.
And so as I stood propped-up near that light green wall in our living room filling our family’s whiteboard, I reflected sadly on the fact that the transition back home the day prior had not exactly been smooth as each of us was feeling the sudden demands to perform on a superhuman level, to fulfill duty, to detect possible danger (and somehow avoid it) and to re-open our home daily to dozens of people, the majority of whom are very broken and untrustworthy.
As my hand continued moving, dry-erase marker in hand, a small person suddenly came out of their room and was standing by my side, looking up at me. It was Jason, our son who is on the cusp of turning 10 years old this month.
My immediate thought was to send him back to his room or onward toward the bathroom (whichever his destiny might be), but I took a deep breath — fighting through exhaustion to put a genuine smile on my face — as he asked innocently, “Can you come pray with me?”
Who can say no to that? I put the marker down and followed him through the curtain into the room he shares with our other two boys, who were already sound asleep. It was a hot, sticky night, and there was no refreshing ocean breeze anywhere closeby.
He scurried up and into his top bunk as I took off my headlamp and laid the small light at the foot of his bed so I could see our sweet son. I looked at him expectantly, waiting to hear a couple quick prayer requests but instead received the beginning of a very long, quite animated discussion involving many different topics.
I realized that the prayer time would doubtlessly come at the end, but what he had really wanted wasn’t a quick bedtime prayer but rather his mom, who had been almost entirely absent from him emotionally throughout the day. I stood next to his wooden bunk, my hands stroking his feet as he began enthusiastically commenting this and that to me as he sat up in his bed in the dark room.
He is quickly becoming a Bible expert as he’s read every children’s Bible we have cover-to-cover several times, so he dove right into deep theological questions regarding idol worship, Baal, and whether or not people in today’s world still worship false gods. We discussed freely the book of Hosea, Genesis, and other texts as he rapidly jumped from one topic to another as soon as he was satisfied with the answer I had given him. He then began expressing his excitement about choosing his new classes the next day, and asked several intelligent questions regarding what he had observed that day in the planning meeting (he had requested to be present in our team meeting which turned into the 6-hour-long mammoth meeting, so he gained a lot of valuable inside knowledge that our other kids didn’t have). Through a huge grin on his face he talked of his new upcoming ‘masks and theater’ class that he’ll be in; the military-training P.E. class he hoped to join with Pastor Domingo; and his general comments regarding the next day’s promising events.
Jumping between theology and his daily reality as a 9-year-old, a new question suddenly dawned on him as his eyes swung toward me: “Mom, why is it so hard for some people to believe?” He began explaining his question as he quoted some text about Zacchaeus from the New Testament as my mind felt suddenly numbed by his question. The question had floored me. Why is it so hard for some people to believe? Better yet, why is it so hard for me to believe — trust, find peace and joy in — Christ in the midst of our demanding and at times dangerous daily reality? How is it possible that I’m at peace on a remote desert island but feel constantly persecuted by stress once placed back within the confines of our daily environment?
And so I began to answer his question, as he had asked it in search of an answer. I discussed briefly the reality of spiritual warfare (that Satan is actively involved in convincing us in subtle ways not to trust in God, as is evidenced from the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden) in addition to several other comments. I then breathed deeply and shared with him the fact that in the midst of many pressures that day I had even lost the eternal perspective. Even as Christians it can be difficult for us to have faith; we must ask God to grant us more.
My last word had hardly left my mouth as he experienced a burst of energy and sat up even taller in his bed as his next question came bouncing out, “Mom, when’s my hair gonna grow?”
I laughed and followed him down the path of the new topic, now far from theology. Moments later, as I felt I was wilting lower and lower, the wooden rungs of the bunk being the only thing keeping me from collapsing on the floor, I asked him what his prayer requests were so as to wrap up our time together. His answer: “That I won’t have nightmares tonight. And that God would grant me wisdom.”
And so I prayed over our son that God would give him deep sleep and protect him from nightmares and that He would fill Jason with wisdom. After our ‘amen,’ I tucked him in and made my way over to our bedroom, still captivated by Jason’s question about faith. As my thoughts still drew me back to the beauty of our time on the island, I felt God gave me my answer, rooted in His perfect peace:
What I most longed for was not the temporary rest on a beautiful island, which even at its best is not an entire rest from all struggle, as even on our vacation our kids at times behaved as little toots and had to be corrected, counseled and disciplined. Even at its best a total distancing of oneself from earthly drama can never be complete, for within each and every one of us is the battle between good and evil, between Christ’s light and the darkness of sin. On that busy Monday full of meetings and stressors, what I was most longing for was not another vacation or even a change of scenery: in the depths of my being I longed for God’s Kingdom, that glorious place of eternal rest and communion with the living God.
And that thought energized me, for I knew — had experienced! — just how beautiful and blessed our time had been during that week in a peaceful place surrounded by God’s unadulterated creation, although tainted by our sin. And how much more awesome will God’s eternal kingdom be, where true justice will reign! Oh, I can’t wait to be there. Lord, please grant me the faith that I lack in order to persevere through mosquitos and sickness and threats of violence and trial — and even my own struggles with sin, which sometimes seem to be the last ones to be addressed because everyone else’s needs are so pressing! — in order to arrive successfully at that beautiful eternal rest with You.
And with that, I took a shower and crawled into bed, my body still exhausted and knowing that my alarm clock would sound before the sun came up, but with a renewed energy in my soul, knowing that the promise of rest — of real justice — is drawing near, and that is the eternal reward for which we are so arduously working. Amen! Glory to God!