Few things are more alarming than each of your children breathing in your face to wake you at different times of the night with high fevers and terribly sore throats. They all want to cry on your shoulder or snuggle into your cheek while they wait for the ibuprofen to kick in. Makes you want to just empty the vitamin C bottle in one setting, does it not?
Welcome back to another episode of “A Family Flu is About God” except this time it’s either a terrible head cold, or strep throat. So, I am telling myself as I sit here next to two of the 5 sickies, that this situation is about God, not poor me and how I slept last night. Poor me is not poor at all, although the enemy wants me to linger there and wallow.
I am not poor. Self-pity is easy for us women, and it must be hunted down and snuffed out. I have the riches of Christ inside a tired body. I know this because of two verses:
“Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies” 1 Peter 4:11
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14
I draw from those riches as I pour another syrup cup of meds for a little one while the other asks for water from the couch. I could pout about how I can never catch a break, or I can remember that Christ will supply my every need as I obey the call to help the high needs of my children. And the good news is, that when I draw from the strength of Christ to obey him, the endless well of strength and mercy is still overflowing. So I will be dipping my cup with weak, shakey hands from the strength of Christ, and trust him as I imperfectly care for the kids.
Another thing God has taught me is that when this is over, somehow I will resemble Jesus more. I will trust him more deeply. So, the next time, whenever that is, that I feel the hot breath of a child whisper, “mommy I don’t feel so good,” I know God will also say, “Okay, remember when we got through this last time?”
Yesterday I was in my kitchen and I could hear a familiar cry. It was a battle cry. It was the same outburst of anger and tears that has been a pattern for a long time between two of my kids. I asked them to come down and we had a conversation that I could recite in my sleep if I had to and I sent them away. In my heart I felt like there was never going to be any difference, this challenge would always be there, and that my words would fall on what seemed like deaf ears. The efforts to help them felt useless.
And in that moment that I walked back to my kitchen, I remembered the words to A Mighty Fortress:
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.
Yes, my work would be in vain if I did not have the right man on my side. My strength would be in vain if it was my own fight. But I am working under a king who must and will win the battle. God will accomplish everything he plans in my home through King Jesus, not me and any perfect words I could try to come up with to win my kids’ hearts to change. I might see a lot of sin in their hearts before Jesus uses thousands of conversations in our home and from others outside our home to open their eyes. The repetition has a purpose.
Humming that hymn to encourage my heart led me to remember what Paul says:
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:14
I know Paul is addressing an audience here that is rejecting the resurrection of the dead in Christ. But, the concept still applied to my own heart that was struggling to believe in his power to raise my kid’s hearts. If Jesus didn’t have the power to raise their hearts then yes, my teaching to them is in vain, and Christian mothers around the world should be pitied and felt sorry for because this is a lot of years of effort and tears if it is for nothing. But it is the most valuable use of our time, we will not find this to be worthless when we remember Jesus himself who was raised from the dead is with us as we help our children look to him.
Reading 1 Corinthians 15 all the way down to verse 56 will give Christian mothers encouragement for their marching orders, as we are reminded none of this is in vain:
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you asked every parent what their goals were for their children, I think most would include that they grow to be friends. They picture them sharing memories that are valuable into adulthood. The temptation in the meantime, while they are younger, is to ask them to simply put up with each other. Boys feeling embarrassed about their younger brother around their friends, and girls whispering secrets to others about their annoying little sister, it all seems normal and we take it as a part of childhood that every family experiences.
Three siblings laughing with each other about their sister’s inability to score any goals at her soccer game, or an older brother’s chuckle when his younger sibling trips in the store and feels embarrassed, these are normal experiences right? This doesn’t feel out of the ordinary to most people.
A lot of what feels normal isn’t God’s calling on our kids. Loyalty is different than putting up with what you have. Loyalty is seeing who God has given you and being committed to sticking by them no matter your feelings or circumstance. You’re loyal, not because you chose them, but because you trust God who gave them to you.
With my kids’ growing differences, it’s tempting to love themselves more intensely right now over each other. It’s easy for two of them to sort of gang up on one of their siblings who offended them and begin to criticize them together. It’s more of a habit right now to feel like the other sibling’s interests or personalities are less than great and they can pridefully look down on each other. I could tell them to just get along and leave each other alone. I could tell the younger kids that their older sibling is just going through a phase of wanting to be independent and he just wants to spend time with his own friends. I could tell the older sibling that the younger siblings are just little kids and don’t mean what they’re saying or doing, and that would be a lot easier for me.
But I believe God calls me to gather my kids together and tell them that their job from God as siblings is to be loyal to one another above all other kid relationships. They are each other’s life long friends. This relationship as siblings is different from their friends, or even cousins. God is preparing them to be in fellowship with his people, and to be in fellowship with one another is to be sticking by your sibling’s side even if it’s socially costly to them. The world will be giving them enough pain with words and how they are treated, but from each other it should be different and their loyalty should provide safety from the storms of other friends and relationships.
We were at a park recently, and three other boys began to play ball with our oldest son, and our other son who is just one year younger was drawn to something else. As they stopped playing ball and moved on to tag, both sons were now involved and I kept an eye out for their interactions. I could see my oldest using some of his brother’s weaknesses to his advantage in front of these new friends. I didn’t walk over there and make a giant fuss and embarrass either boy. But my oldest has heard me talk about his relationship to his siblings enough times that all it took was a quick, “Hey, bud, remember you are loyal to your brother in this game right now.” And he knew what I meant. Did he still want to feel cool with these boys? Yes. And having to stick by his brother was going to be sacrificial socially for him. But he had a way out from temptation in the moment (1 Corinthians 10:13), and he was free to play in a way that honored God with his job as a sibling.
Why does loyalty amongst siblings matter to God? Here’s how we’ve helped our kids using a blend of two verses.
1 Corinthians 1:9- “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 12:10- “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
God has been faithful to my kids to purchase their salvation and bring them into the fellowship of his Son. This gives them a new calling, as new creatures, to be in fellowship together and when there is bickering or turning against one another, they are acting out of fellowship and not according to their calling. This fellowship with Jesus requires us to honor and love the ones he gives us.
Siblings are not just friends. They’re unique gifts from God that you don’t get to choose but He gets to choose. Brothers get to practice protecting their sisters both their feelings and physically. Girls get to practice loving and serving their brothers with their hands and their words. Sisters together get to practice choosing words that are sweet like the honeycomb (Proverbs 16:24) and brothers together get to practice laying down their pride to think of each other above themselves (Philippians 2:3). This is kingdom practice. There’s countless ways that siblings are a gift from God.
One way I’ve seen the Lord really build loyalty and love amongst my kids is their care for their youngest sibling who faces different challenges than they do. They rush to her need, they anticipate her struggles and want to help. I know that if anyone puts her down or makes fun of her they are quick to defend her. She does not need to worry if her siblings will stick with her as she goes through different struggles, they are committed to her and that is God’s work in them. Praise God! And he can help them do the same with each other.
Our kids have an opportunity to put up with one another and be nice, or, they can grow to be loyal, committed and in fellowship with one another as they learn what it means to be in the fellowship of Christ. My responsibility is to hold up the loyalty of Christ as their standard, and pray that they too will love His commands.
In the early days of April in 2011 I sat in my home and I resonated with the Psalmist: my pillow was drenched with tears, my eye wasted away with grief, I cried out to God for help, and I thought “How long, O Lord, must I be separated from my son whom I love and is now with you?”
I thought about the milestones ahead of me, the first month without him, the first holidays without him, his first birthday, and the seemingly dark five or ten year anniversary that would one day come and I could not even imagine that span of time without my son, Haddon. We had just buried him. How could an entire decade pass by when I had this son who is truly a part of me now absent and with the Lord? How unfathomable this seemed to me.
By God’s unbelievable mercy and grace, we have arrived at this beautiful milestone of ten years. His birthday was March 31, 2011, and we sit here, in our living room, full of hope as we deeply miss Haddon in 2021. I couldn’t have dreamed what that would have looked like when I held my baby, taking his last breath right before me as my husband, Ernie, washed over him with the words “The Lord bless you and keep you;the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Ten years. I didn’t know a mother could cry so many tears during quiet car rides, moments of folding laundry, rocking my children to sleep, laying in my own room or singing in church when taken suddenly by the grief of my loss. Ten years of bending down towards his headstone to feel the engraved words “Jesus lives and so shall I, when he returns with him I’ll rise.”
Ten years of telling my children the story of their brother’s birth and death, someone who is part of them is actually with Jesus. How foundational this has been for their learning of the reality of death and their hope of heaven. Some of their memories will be fumbling around the cemetery as preschoolers trying to find Haddon’s name as we look for the shiny headstone that their grandfather has taken such good care of when he comes to visit alone. How often they’ve announced to a cashier or a kind person in the park that “we actually have one more brother with Jesus.” I understand their longing to introduce the brother that is not here but is very much alive, and I’m grateful they share that longing with me.
How is God faithful in the loss of a Child?
I think it’s important to express how God is faithful in our grief. It’s possible to hold a newborn who is passing away and feel like something is being stolen from you and God could be seen as a thief. It’s possible to walk through an unimaginable darkness and find God to be not so powerful after all, and trade him for something else that will help us make sense of our pain.
But God has not just given us something we can see. Rather, he has shown us what he has done. He has called us to hold our experiences up next to his word for examination, not our hearts and what we or others want to tell us. Our lens cannot be our circumstance, but his word.
We can have some good and noble, even godly dreams. Motherhood was my dream, it was a joyful prayer of my heart. God even let me experience time with Haddon in the womb and for a short time in my arms. But his plan for Haddon’s life was 2 days, not a good old age. My dream for motherhood was broken, it was gone.
God doesn’t promise us our dreams. He promises us hope. His hope. His entire word speaks of his hope, but I think the sweetest condensed version is in Romans 8:32
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
If God’s ultimate act of love, the horrific death of his Son, to make you a son or daughter has been accomplished and set in stone, how is our grief not something he will also bring you through? If his love for his people went as far as to pour out all his anger for sin on his own Son, how is his love not here for you in your sorrow?
We can lose many, many dreams. A home, a child, a job, our health. But these things are subject to change, so to hold on to them as a solid hope or something owed to us is like trying to hold water in your hands. The hope of the gospel is that he hands us the firm stone of Jesus Christ in our hands, and that is not subject to change and can be held firm. This is bigger than our dreams.
To have Jesus Christ is to have everything. My arms have ached for Haddon for these ten years but they have not been void of hope. Hopelessness is separation from God, and I have been brought near to the throne of grace, with no merit of my own doing. This is how we grieve but not as those without hope.
To Those Who Are In The Early Days
To the reader whose loss is still fresh and the grief is deep; if you are in Christ, these will be some of your hardest but sweetest memories with your Savior, if you will be in his word. Even while you weep, you will see in a new way the story of how he has always been faithful to his people, and how he promises to be faithful in the future. You will read of the new heavens and the new earth with a fresh longing for no more tears, death or sorrow.
To the mothers who have just buried their child and are barely making it one day at a time, I remember these days too. Your singing of your Savior rising from the grave to conquer death will never be the same, it’s been ten years and my eyes still brim with tears every time I sing.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
“Did you do your chores? Why are you down here eating breakfast if you haven’t finished your chores? What have I said a million times? Do I need to say every morning exactly what to do….”
This has been my tone for some time now with my children in the morning. I see them pouring cereal or popping bread in the toaster and instead of “Good morning, I love you today” I’m quizzing them on their obedience, ready to send them back to bed.
I have been reading James, and today was when I opened to chapter 4. God had something to say to me before I started my own chores or making toast for myself.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[fn] are at war within you?[fn]” James 4:1
I felt a prick of conviction and God wasted no time in trying to wait on me to figure out what he was using this passage for in my life. My desire for obedience, a clean upstairs and not having the responsibility of reminding my children for instructions took the throne of my heart and was producing quarreling and fighting towards my children.
I began to reflect on why the mornings have been hard for me to look forward to lately. It’s been hard because my misplaced desires request to be the king for the day and instead of taking them captive and holding them up for observation side by side with scripture, I invite them in and join me for my morning coffee and together we fret about how this day will begin once the children wake up. My passions are at war within me. And so, I quarrel and fight with my children.
But, just as Joel 2 promises that God will restore the years the locust have eaten, I trust he promises to restore the few hours of the morning the locust have eaten as well and gives us grace to begin again. He will rescue us and remind us of our calling if we open his word. He will lift our eyes and remove the desires and passions from joining in on our morning coffee and replace them wih himself.
I remember one of the toys in my home was a well-loved doll house that provided hours of entertainment. While I was probably more of a tom-boy who enjoyed modeling after my older brother, I would steal away to play house, pull out the dolls to form little families and get lost in imagination. Arranging little beds, tables, and kitchen supplies, I started my pretend morning with the little babies crying for their mamas, who would come rushing into the little plastic room and with straight, frozen arms to pick up the smiling baby. She would change dirty diapers, make breakfast, give the baby their bath, and clean up every mess throughout the house until it was naptime. Then, the mother would get the baby up, play, cook, and clean until the evening came. Though I was very little, I had some understanding that being a mommy meant sacrifice.
A few years ago I received a phone call about a close family friend who was joyfully growing further along in her pregnancy and had finally reached that long-awaited sonogram to determine the gender. While there was rejoicing over the news of a baby girl, the doctor had further news that required a more private meeting. He carefully delivered the news that she had cancer, and it would be wise to start treatment right away. This treatment would also require to end the life of her baby in order to save her own. My friend would tell the doctors that she would carry her child in her womb as long as possible and start treatment right away after birth. As the child grew in the safety of her womb, so did my friend’s cancer. Eventually, my friend would lay down her very life so that the life of another could begin, and she passed away a little over a year after her baby was born.
How far should our sacrifice go as mothers? And to what end? What if motherhood didn’t go as we planned? Many of us feel like we’re losing ourselves as we help these little souls. We wonder if it’s all worth it.
Any mother will tell you that motherhood did not go 100% as expected. Some families have long-term or terminally ill children, while some have very difficult children who struggle with structure and obedience. Some mothers find themselves in a world of single motherhood. If this life was supposed to be about getting what we planned, I wonder if anyone one would raise children.
Placing hope in the unseen
Motherhood is a calling that requires a tremendous amount of energy with very slow signs of fruit. We are called to pour into these little souls as we seek God, and trust him with the growth in their hearts.
When we see that God is the one who gives life and is the author of each child in our home, we can rest. And each life will go exactly as he planned it to be.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 gives life to the very hard, very costly days of motherhood:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
When we look in the mirror and see the toll that raising children has done on our bodies, youthful energy and self-esteem, the Bible compels us to take a look again, but with new eyes. We must set aside what we can see and take hold of the unseen. Because while our bodies are wasting away, there is a miraculous, eternal inner self that looks more and more like Jesus every day as we abide in him. This inner self, this new creation in Christ, is what we attach all our hope and all our value to, it will never fail us. While our minds and bodies are slowly fading, it’s our inner new creation, powered by the holy spirit, that gives us the strength to bear with another dirty diaper, the sleepless nights, another meal to prepare, the unexpected sickness or hospital stay, and the requests to sit in our laps when we just want to be alone.
Jesus gives us the hope that the sacrifice is worth the cost.
If you’re like me, and you’ve sat over a sink full of dishes, or baskets full of laundry, or floors that are covered in filth again, we know it can be very discouraging. We love our children, but high needs of little ones can sometimes feel like more than we can handle. Not to mention the enemy who loves to prowl around just behind us as we pick up toys and old milk cups and whispers, “Don’t you remember all the bigger dreams you had than this? Dreams where you’d at least be out of your pajamas everyday?”
Hopefully when we hear that voice, we can sit down amongst the noise and remember this truth about Jesus in Philippians 2:5-9
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,c being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”
There are many of us mothers out there with talent, potential, creativity and dreams. These gifts can be so valuable and should not be dismissed. But God teaches us something here in Philippians that very much applies to us when we wonder if our gifts are being wasted when all we do is change diapers and cook endless meals. Jesus himself had the highest status, the most glorious home, a perfect view, a loving communion, adoration, praise, and he set it aside and humbled himself as a man to sacrifice his life for his children. What an honor for us as we get to reflect this to our children. Jesus knew the sacrifice of leaving his place in Heaven was a heavy cost, and he can help us walk through the cost of our own motherhood too.
I wonder if this verse we discussed above from 2 Corinthians came to mind when my friend received her cancer diagnosis while pregnant. Though her time in motherhood on earth was short, her sacrifice had eternal implications. On the outside she was being told that her body was wasting away, and she looked to the inner self, empowered by Christ, and placed her hope in what she couldn’t see. All mothers who belong to Christ will one day get to look him in the eyes, and he will say “Well done, good and faithful servant”, and we will rest.
I wrote this 3 years ago when we all got the flu at the same time. Well, here we are again, and 4 out of 5 kiddos are puking. I needed this reminder yesterday as my shaky hand gripped my third cup of coffee and my puffy eyes looked out on the masses who were falling around me, left and right. This was familiar to me…
The Family Flu is About God
I opened my eyes and blinked a few times. Was she really awake? Was I just hearing her cry in my dream? Am I still asleep? I was stuck in the mommy fog: when you’re wondering which land you’re in, the sleep one or the awake one. The monitor crackled and gave its normal feedback, then I heard it loud and clear. “Mommy, mommy? Mommmiiieeee!”
After trying to rock Adley back to sleep, I finally brought her into our bed. She nuzzled up to me and I smiled. I was sleepy but I always like any alone time I can get with one of the kids, especially if I can sleep at the same time. But then came the gagging.
“Oh it’s okay sweetie,” I said as I sat up.
Gag, gag, I could hear the liquid making its way up.
“Alright, alright, alright,” I always say this gently to the kids when I don’t want them to see me panic on the inside.
After wiping off a few places. I laid back down and Adley was ready to close her eyes and sleep.
Then I heard another monitor.
Little Ernie couldn’t go back to sleep, I brought him in on the couch in our room. I kissed him and began to walk back to bed and then I heard the gagging.
“Ernie? Sweetie, are you okay?”
Up came the chunks. Twice, actually. My poor boy is only 3, throwing up is so confusing and terrifying. I still feel this way and I’m 28. I cleaned him up, laid him down and told him that mommy cries when she throws up too.
When my husband woke up with the flu also, items were soaked in puke, and our washer stopped working, I had to take a second. I locked myself in the bathroom to see if God had something to say at this point.
I felt like Moses before a burning bush, called The Flu, and God was telling me to take on the task of caring for his sick people in my house. By myself. And I was saying “oh, I can’t do that.”
“I will be with you.” I remembered he told Moses.
“But, I didn’t sleep last night. The washer doesn’t work. There will be more puke. I can’t do this!” I walked out of the bathroom with about as much faith as Moses started out with.
I really felt this was all about me. Of course this would happen to a mom, I had thought, caged in by the sickness around her and bouncing around from person to person, changing her clothes after getting thrown up on and tossing them in the “we will wash these when the washer works” pile, and trying to entertain the other kids that are healthy and going stir crazy.
I was acting like I had been dealt a bad hand, like my life was a game of cards and this week was just not my week. But God is gracious as always, and revealed to me what flu week is all about.
And I can tell you, that whole week brought more vomit, the virus finally took over me too, but God was with me.
The Lord brought us very low in weakness to show us that he’s the one who cares for our family. He’s the one who brings the sickness and he’s the one who allows it to leave. He brings it in the middle of the night or at nap time. He can allow sickness to stay for a week or 24 hours.
During a family flu, his goodness and mercy are still following us all the days of our life. Our flesh is failing during sickness, but He is our strength and our portion forever, and that is what helps us get up and clean off our sick child. The Lord being our strength, trusting his care in allowing the flu, gives us the hope to make it through a very long day. And when another member of the family announces that their tummy hurts, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ will be your strength to run them to the toilet in time, or not in time. And the hope of Heaven where sin and sickness will one day be no more, will help you get through the moments of mopping the floors, or scrubbing the carpets .
As the season of much sickness sticks with us and invades our homes, remember Who allows the sickness and that he’s the strength and hope for those who trust in His Son.
Sometimes as mothers we experience the brokenness of the world in very unique ways. God calls us to many things with our children that do not get much in return. We spend evenings catching up on house cleaning, only to have children wake up and drag their toys and paper through the house. We change our babies diaper and it’s dirty again the second we get the last strap on. Toddlers fight us and refuse to give us rest. We care for the ones who get the stomach flu, and once they are healthy, we start throwing up. We bathe them regularly when we haven’t had a decent shower in days. We search for their shirts and pants while we still feel stuck in our pajamas and yesterday’s makeup.
The calling comes with tools that are also affected by the fall; ovens that burn our pizzas, refrigerators that give out the day after grocery day, showers that run out of hot water, sinks that leak and spill out into the kitchen, yesterday’s dinner that hardens and sticks to the plates, vacuums that putter out when our floor is filthy. We could go on forever couldn’t we? In all this work that’s mixed with difficulties, maybe you’ve said similar to what I’ve said before: I just feel like half of a person.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a little humor to take the edge off of motherhood right? We compare ourselves to zombies, the schizophrenic Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, the wrinkly old witch from Snow White, it can be funny. Motherhood is funny sometimes. But when it comes to the thought of fullness, there’s a hidden lie behind the feeling of being half of a person. It’s a humorous line, but it’s one that the Enemy pockets for later use. It’s fuel he can use when we’re at our lowest. Well, am I even whole? He strokes us to think. And we spiral from this point as we sit there, with our children running around the living room. Where do we run to?
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
Dear Mothers, in Christ we are whole. We have been brought to fullness. We must remind ourselves of this truth. When our kids aren’t responding to us, and we’ve lost the keys for the 36th time this week and we’re late again, we are whole. When we have started our drive to the store and we realize our shirt is inside out and the baby is screaming in the back seat, we are whole. When we have struggled with anger all day and we stand in the kitchen at 6pm clueless of what to make for dinner, we are whole.
Jesus does not bring you to fullness in him only to temporarily make you feel like half a person while you’re in the trenches of motherhood. No, his fullness is for your mothering too. We are his, we are alive in him. We are experiencing the fullness of Christ even in our child’s tenth tantrum of the day. We are a person with a soul that is healed and made whole, even when we’ve gotten all the cereal bowls ready and there’s no milk left, or coffee, and we still need a shower.
Raise your mugs of lukewarm coffee with me and embrace the fullness of Christ in whatever trenches we walk through with Him today.
It was the quickest decision I’d ever made in a grocery aisle. My husband, Ernie, saw me answer my phone as he carted around our ten month old son and tried to figure out who I was talking to.
“Yes. Y…yes. Okay, 8 months?” I darted my eyes towards Ernie, who was still curious. “When will we need to be ready? Okay, so tomorrow.” Ernie quickly rolled towards me, feeling complete freedom to interrupt with, “So, who is this?”
The next morning we picked up our daughter from a children’s group home. Can I just describe her to you for a moment? She was like a ripe, juicy, chubby baby, just waiting to be squeezed to pieces. She had the most perfect, milk chocolate skin, and wispy curls just trying to push through on top of her head, though just the very top. She reached for Ernie like he was the love of her life she’d been waiting for, and just melted into his strong, safe arms. She was absolutely changed after that first hug from a father who wanted to love her forever.
We fed her sweet potatoes and sang to her, tried to get our son and her to be her new best friend. We took her to the park and rocked her to sleep at night. She was enjoying every bit of affection we could give.
I got another phone call. This little girl had a brother and he needed a placement as soon as possible too. They’d been separated a week and a half prior to her joining our home. We prayed for wisdom and walked into another group home, we picked up a giggly, grinning little boy who had a head full of curls, and the same perfect, milk chocolate skin. He walked with me to the car and we had his sister waiting outside. I can’t describe to you what it was like for them to reunite, but what I can say is, though her brother had a significant speech delay, his eyes sang “I found you” and he touched her shoulder. It was beautiful to be able to bring them together.
It didn’t take long before our daughter, whom we later named her T, and our son, whom we later named J, showed significant challenges. The road before us looked a lot longer as a few years later, and challenges rose rapidly. As the mother, especially, I quickly felt deeply inadequate and began to fear the battles that would come. Tantrums would explode that I couldn’t explain, distant and cold eyes would not be able to look into mine, hands and feet would become physically combative where I’d have to find a safe place for them. And I clearly felt my own anger rise like never before and wanted to keep them safe even from my own words. What was (still is) going on?
What is happening when you cannot help your daughter who is pushing away and her eyes tell us she’s currently away from you emotionally? What do we do when we physically cannot control our son who has suddenly been struck with anger and he cannot come back to a calm and peaceful state?
What is going on when your child’s sibling accidentally brush against their shoulder and in the blink of an eye your child is hissing at everyone in the family and throwing punches at anyone who might come near?
For the children from difficult places that come to our homes, it’s likely they have never experienced the goodness of a mother or father reaching for them when they were crying out as a newborn, or immediately soothed after a big fall. It’s possible they’ve never felt the comfort of an outside person bringing them down to a level of peace.
Parents are like external emotional control panels. Babies do not yet know how to feel comforted and safe on their own. They need to be picked up when fearful or hungry and have someone bring their emotions back down as they hear “Shhh,” or “I’m here, it’s okay”. Babies cry, parents arrive. They cry out again, parents give the same care. The cycle happens so many times for a child that they understand some idea of regulation and trust that they will be cared for. It’s their beginning experiences of a God who says, “I am with you and I will never forsake you.” Perhaps these children can hear the gospel one day and understand in a unique way because their parents showed them a small picture of God in their early days. And we have the same opportunity for the children from difficult places.
The children who have come to us are asking us to show them a God who will never forsake them. They need this, not just in words, but in our healthy touch, our immediate arrival upon cries, our endless amount of reminders of our love for them, our willingness to start over no matter how many tantrums or time they take from us.
Whether their experience was fearful neglect, horrific abuse, or anything in between, the effects on these children is clear. Life for them had to be an “all about me” perspective. When you see your caregivers on auto-pilot most of the time, then yes, it had to be “how to take care of me”.
Now they are in your home. You know they have been brought to safety, but they don’t know that yet. As you teach them to not take their anger out on your children, or break the T.V, remember they are in an immense need of healing that is beyond a few lectures or consistent time-outs. You’ve been called into redeeming work. Your child does not know they are made in the image of a good and faithful God, who saw them in their need. They do not know about the joy of being God’s workmanship; that our hands, and words and feet have purpose that they haven’t ever imagined before. Ellie Holcomb, one of my favorite artists, sings a beautiful line that makes me think of the hope I have for my children, “I need a rescue, I need a reckoning, from all the things I’ve done and have been done to me.” And the cross is that rescue and reckoning for what have been done to these little image bearers.
I can see it in my son’s eyes sometimes when we talk about God creating us, he has some pain there that he still does not understand or cannot communicate. We, perhaps, have a journey to walk with him still as he considers what it means to be an image bearer when he was knitted into a womb that he wouldn’t stay forever connected with. Thanks be to God, he has a rescuer and one who has, at the cross, reckoned what’s been done, and that rescuer is also his true Father who will never leave him or forsake him.
I will be spending some more weeks on this topic as I’m smack dab in the middle of crying out for wisdom for my children; how to love them and how to be tool used by God for healing when there’s also my sin that is so evident. If you’re walking through this like me, I hope you feel encouraged that you are not alone!
Today I plan on getting my four year old up on the counter with me to learn how to make cupcakes. We will haul out the butter and flour, she will sneak bites of the batter when I’m not looking. I’ll be teaching her to do this on Haddon’s birthday because not too many years from now I’ll ask her to make the cupcakes we learned together so mommy can go visit his grave and remember him. But that will be later down the road, today we celebrate 6 years of having him as their brother and our son. Six years of treasured conversation about heaven and what it would be like to be before Jesus, and how neat that someone so connected to us sees him face to face. Our kids have had many years now of seeing mommy and daddy aching to see their brother, yet full of hope, and beginning to understand how getting to live in both of those realities only comes from knowing Jesus. Our kids have a very special connection to the future hope of the resurrection, and so do Ernie and I. I long to see him, but I know I’m one year closer. We will have eternity to embrace one another over and over again, and that embrace will also be when Jesus finally (oh, finally!) wipes away every tear from my eyes.