As I saw the hand-written note carefully wedged in the handle of our dining room door my heart sunk as I sensed I already knew what the contents would hold.
I had been granted the rare treat that morning of being home alone as Darwin had taken all of our kids to town with him to a music session. It was Saturday, and I had spent the morning in our quiet home writing and praying. 15-year-old Brayan — that same young man who lived with us for 8 months in 2014 and has since been heavily involved in school with us, discipleship and occasional family outings — had asked permission to be in our school building that morning working on his homework assignments alone, as his general focus level is very low and he’s thus unable to work effectively in his step-mom’s house in the midst of younger siblings and much activity.
I had not seen or heard from him all morning as he was holed up in our school building with his notebooks and audio learning tapes while I was holed up in our cinderblock home with my own quiet activities.
It was early afternoon when I came upon the carefully folded-up letter wedged in the door on my way to get water from the open-air kitchen that the three small buildings on our property share.
I immediately knew the letter was from Brayan, and I felt my eyes could see right through the lined notebook paper to the inside of its contents, read the entire letter without unfolding it.
I un-wedged the little note from the door handle and cradled it in my hands for a few moments, just staring at it and wanting to delay the inevitable. It’s like getting a life-changing phone call or having your pregnancy test come back positive; for better or worse, your life will never be the same again afterward.
Darwin and the rest of the kids far from our rural property, I breathed slowly as my heart increased the beat of its rhythm. I took a step back from the emotion of the present moment as I very intentionally situated myself under God’s perfect will, staving off my own rebellion with something greater. I breathed those increasingly familiar words once more, bracing myself for what would come next. “Father, may Your will be done, not mine…”
A sense of very selfish dread filled my chest not because I feared some vulgar message or devastating piece of news scribbled inside but rather because I knew he was right.
I unfolded it and realized it was not one page but two. Front and back. Wobbly cursive hand-writing that must have taken all morning to perfect. One paragraph written in red ink, then the next in blue, then the next in pencil. The entire document was written like this, alternating between colors. Paragraph after paragraph, the pattern never broke. Red ink, blue ink, pencil.
At the end of the second page, there were three hearts, one in red ink, one in blue and the other in pencil.
Brayan, our beloved “martian child” who in the past couple years had not managed to pass fifth grade despite his many efforts in our accelerated program for older students — whose emotions (and body) have been hammered by pain and abandonment from a very young age — did, in fact, write exactly what I had feared. And worse, for once he was being logical.
Please, God, give me a solid reason to say no because I certainly can’t think of one.
What about that quickly-fading (and extremely selfish) dream of mine of attaining some sense of ‘normal’ someday? What about the under-control household environment, the small collection of beautiful, high-achieving biological children? Brayan is possibly the worst student academically that we have! And — and we have so many daughters! Surely this would just feed the chaos. Why can’t we just keep on going as we have been this year with him — a friendly, mentor-type relationship, but at a safe distance? And our house is so small; we’re going to have to start piling people one on top of the other to make everyone fit! Please give me a reason to say no…
My rebellion continued as my ego turned red-hot and stamped its feet: If we are going to take in kids who sprung from another woman’s womb, at least bring us ones that are ready for a quick recovery! May they have bright, active minds — may they be able to fully integrate into productive society! But the broken ones, the ones who will forever need emotional crutches, who will probably never really spread their wings and fly? I mean, we already have developmentally-challenged Gabriela and Josue who have more needs than anyone can fill. Oh, Father…
In this past year we’ve made it a habit to tell our kids that there is nothing they could ever do that could make us stop loving them. Good decisions, bad decisions — it doesn’t matter. God has placed us in their lives to show them daily — over the long haul that is the rest of our lives — what His love is for us, and it’s unconditional. They can rest in our love as we all rest in God’s; we’re not going away nor will we ever abandon them.
Was I prepared to look Brayan in the eyes and say the same thing to him, day after day?
My eyes wearily took in the heart-breaking multi-colored paragraphs that I know he pined over all morning, searching for just the right words. And, even as my own ego rebelled against his request, my Father confirmed in my heart what I had known all along: our prodigal son would be coming home.
His step-mother, the very hard-working woman up to her thighs in poverty who had been taking care of him all year, would be sending him away to another town to live with his biological mom (who abandoned him in his infancy and since then has had almost zero role in his life) once he finished his school year this month because she could no longer manage the heavy burden that Brayan presents.
His step-mother had every right to do so — it was not her choice to be Brayan’s sole guardian after his father (the step-mom’s husband) died a few years ago. But Brayan — and I — understood what that would mean. No more school, no more guidance. He is, after all, too old to be in a public elementary school, and very few people have been granted the grace to love Brayan well. He would be sentenced to a life of probably wandering around aimlessly, very far geographically from the love and Biblical guidance that we provide him daily. No more Bible study, no weekly trips with us to the park, no fun birthday parties, choir trips, and prayer groups. Just a life of being cut off from the only real source of love he’s possibly ever known.
We were and always have been the family that God has blessed this young man with, even if over the last two years it has been at arm’s length.
So he asked several times and in several different ways — and with several different shades of ink — if he could move back in with us. He asked for forgiveness for the times he’s disrespected us, not followed the rules. He asked again and again, and it broke my heart even as my mind rattled off its last few objections and then eventually gave up.
He wasn’t the one who needed to ask for forgiveness; it was us.
We had been the ones to be too impatient with him, earnestly seeking harvest where we should have been concerned only with sowing. Had we not thrown up our hands in exasperation so many times with Brayan, unable to see any light at the end of what seemed to us to be a never-ending tunnel? (And had we not found ourselves in very similar stages of frustration with each and every one of the kids under our care, but had we not persevered with them where we hadn’t with Brayan?)
And so, six days after receiving that multi-colored note, Brayan moved back in with his cardboard box-full of belongings. Darwin, Brayan, and I went to sign all the paperwork down at the local government office to allow him to legally begin living with us again (which turned out to be no paperwork at all because the lawyer who had agreed to meet with us was out of the office and the other lawyer just spoke with me briefly and jotted down Brayan’s name on a little piece of paper before letting us go). First I then Darwin embraced Brayan bear-hug style with a big grin on our faces that matched that of his. God’s glory among us was palpable as we surely displayed the appearance of people who genuinely like — love — one another, something that in this culture is very rarely shown even among biological family members. The middle-aged female lawyer who had spoken with me in her office just observed us from a careful distance with a curious expression on her face. Why on earth were Darwin and I — and this rogue young man who has no other place to live, no real love in his life, so many reasons to be depressed and angry — so joyful, and how on earth did we feel such freedom so as to hug him? The majority of the minors who are admitted into foster families or children’s homes are little children — not towering young men with budding facial hair. Why had this abandoned, broken teenager chosen to find refuge in a Christian family rather than a gang?
So as we sat around the dining room table together that first night as a 10-again family (two parents and 8 kids), Dayana — who had shared our little cinderblock home with him during his first round in our household back in 2014 — smiled ear-to-ear and said, “Welcome home again, Brayan.”
Since his move home, these first twenty-two days have been off to a blessed start. In the wee hours of each morning Darwin gets Brayan up, they both slip on their rubber boots and old work clothes and head out to the barn together to milk the cows. Whereas during his first round of living in our home he and Darwin often butted heads like two of those male mountain goats that you see on Discovery Channel, both wanting to knock the other one off the mountainside, now he and Darwin wrestle together for fun, poking each other and giving the other a hard time with a big smile on their face. Whereas in his early times in our household nearly three years ago he was a loud, uncontrollable young man with extreme impulses, he is now much calmer, more mature and smiles frequently (as is consistent with his behavior this year in school with us). Darwin calls him “Brayan Big Beard” due to the little budding facial hairs on his upper lip, and Brayan adds a good dose of testosterone to our household after having previously been dominated almost entirely by young women. The girls are putting into practice good, healthy limits as is he, and we are all clinging to God’s grace each day as we are trusting with all our might that this is what He’s asked us to do.
Amen! Glory to God!
Other posts written about our journey following God’s will with Brayan: It All Started With a Cup of Water (February 2014), Our Favorite Neighbor (October 2014), “Hola Ma” (July 2015) and A Million Pinpricks of Light: The Hand of God in a Dark World (January 2016)