Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Baby of My Own

Anyone who's been around the foster/adopt community for any length of time knows that there are some terms that make us cringe when referring to our children. But many of you who haven't been very exposed may not even realize the implications of what you're saying. I totally understand; I don't mind the heart of the inquiry; and I try not to take it personally. I'll train my children not to take it personally, as best as I can. But I'd love to talk about why it's a big deal, even aside from the obvious reasons.

"Do you have kids of your own?"
"Which ones are your own/real kids?"
"Why didn't you just have more kids of your own?"
"Are you going to have any more of your own kids?"
"What happened to their real family?"

I know, I know, it sounds like I'm picking away at little word choices here. And there are probably a hundred thousand blog posts about this sensitive terminology issue. Totally making that number up, but seriously, it does come up a lot. So it clearly does matter and it does stand out.

I think it's pretty easy to guess why this is a touchy and painful phrase even when the question is well-meant. I don't plan to get into that.

I do want to go over why I think that this little phrase is a big deal for people who love Jesus and want other people to understand how great he is.

Every grown-up person does wrong things. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, you know that you sometimes want to do one thing, but do something else instead, something that you might later regret. In Bible terms, we call that sin, and it's what makes us not good enough for heaven. God is perfect, and nothing that is less than perfect can be around him. And so sinning people like me do not belong in God's family.

In order to make up for those wrong things I do, I needed to pay a penalty. I needed to die and remain separated from God in my death. But that was not God's plan. He allowed perfect not-sinning Jesus to take my place and my death penalty. And because Jesus was a not-sinning person, his death did not result in forever separation from God. By believing in Jesus and believing that he did that for me, I am allowing him to take my place, and as a result, I can also take a place in heaven someday even though I don't belong there.

So, although I'm not part of God's family and don't ever deserve to be, he made a way for me. The Bible talks about that in terms of adoption - God's taking unlovable, always-sinning me into his forever family and sacrificing everything through Jesus so that I can belong there.

The guys who wrote letters to each other when the church was brand new (those letters make up most of the "New Testament" in the Bible) used some very clear language when referring to God's adopted children. In fact, they said this:

In the 4th chapter of  Paul's letter to the church in Galatia:

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law [he had to follow the same rules as everyone else]. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, "Abba, Father" [we get to call God our Daddy!]. Now you are no longer a slave but God's own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

And in the 8th chapter of Paul's letter to the Roman church:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, "Abba, Father". For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory.

If anyone is going to get this "your own kids" thing right, it ought to be Christians. We have experienced firsthand the amazing gift of becoming fully part of God's family when we had no claim and no right to be there. We are called God's own when we accept Jesus's invitation to be counted worthy because of the debt (my debt) that Jesus already paid. In fact, and this would be too good to be true if it weren't for God's great love for us, we are counted together with Jesus as God's heirs. Together. As his own children.

Adoption is one of the most clear, beautiful, special pictures of God's love for us that we will see here on earth. So let's make sure we don't allow ourselves to downplay God's amazing acceptance of us as fully his children by downplaying the acceptance of foster and adopted children into our families. They are not our biological children (biological is usually what people mean when they say "your own"), but biology is where the distinction should end. They are most certainly one of our family and equal in status with bio kids, just as we are somehow counted alongside Christ as heirs in a family where we were once strangers. Let's show the world how awesome it is to be wholly part of this family of Jesus by embracing the wholeness of foster and adoptive families!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Little Encourager

It is amazing to me how kids come with their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and gifts. God is a pretty awesome artist.

It has been such a joy to see Big Brother A's personality becoming clearer in the last few months. The hard hellos and goodbyes with our foster babies have magnified his strengths. I have learned so much about my big boy.

He's an encourager. He says things like "Good job, Mommy!" and "You're so beautiful!" He is so great at noticing the beauty in little things, especially outside. Every stick, stone, and "helicopter" seed is unique and to be admired. Every little clover flower and dandelion is a prize to be picked and shared with Mommy. I have almost missed so many beautiful things because of my business, but he helps me to slow down and notice the little beauties in God's great earth. It's almost always worth stopping to check out whatever he wants to show me.

He tells his baby brothers how much he loves them. He tries to teach and help them and tells them constructive, instructive things (no, they can't understand, but he is so sweet when he tries!).

My big guy is a source of joy and strength for me. Of course, he's almost three, and he comes with plenty of challenges. But I am able to pour into him and see the fruit of that hard work. And I am able to see how my mistakes fade away over time by God's grace.

My boy is forgiving. He is caring. He loves hugs and kisses. He tells me when the baby is crying and what the baby needs. He's actually surprisingly good at knowing!

My boy is striving toward independence. I know it is common for children to regress a bit when a new baby comes along, and I expected this with him. There have been very few moments of regression, though. Big Brother A has, for the most part, bravely attempted to do everything possible by himself. He has ungrudgingly shared his parents' time and attention with baby brothers who come and go. He talks about how he is helping them to grow and get bigger, and it is really true. All of his hard work gives us so much more to pour into these babes without having to take from Big Bro, and leaves us still with extra time to spend one-on-one with him.

I don't care if the boots are on the wrong feet. I'm just thankful that he's cheerfully putting them on by himself!

Josh and I have hoped that foster care would help to teach Big Brother compassion for others. I think I can see that starting already. I think it adds to his natural giftedness toward encouragement.

And in the dark moments when foster care feels too hard or when we've just said goodbye to another little son, our Big Brother A is a source of joy and hope for the future. He's our forever boy. He gives us hugs and speaks kind words and seeks us out when he is lonely or afraid. He sings out praises to God in a loud and unashamed voice, reminding me that we have a great God who is worthy of my praise in the good times and the hard times.

We're celebrating his third birthday soon. Birthdays are such a different thing as a mom. Suddenly, it's not about giving and getting presents. It's about celebrating one of God's greatest gifts to me. I love you, Big Brother A. You are a steady source of sunshine in my life, and I thank God for you every day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Being the Nut Allergy Mom

We try not to make a big deal over my son's peanut allergy whenever possible. It is my responsibility to monitor my child's safety, not yours.

It is a full time job.

We say sometimes that it's not very hard yet to handle Big Bro's nut allergy since he's at home and we control everything that goes in his mouth. This is true - at least - as compared to the challenges I expect in the future.

But even so, there is not a moment outside of our home or around other people that there is not a part of my brain devoted to Big Bro's safety and the presence of nuts in his environment.

Let me give you some scenarios:

~A well-meaning stranger at a party gives Big Brother A the food I just said "no" to. He thinks he's being funny by sneaking around my rules. I have to explain to him - with grace and firmness - that he is actually endangering my child. And then I have to take the food away from my excited toddler who cries because he doesn't understand why he can't eat the muffin someone just gave him.

~A kid at the zoo eats their PB&J in the glass underwater viewing room - and smears it all over their hands, face, the windows, and the benches in the room. The parent looks on. Now looking at polar bears up close is dangerous for my son.

~Big Brother A sees garbage on the playground. He wants to be helpful and clean up and I have to grab him before he touches the peanut butter granola bar wrapper.

~A family at the spray park sits down to eat their lunch and doesn't move our pile of things before starting on their peanut butter sandwiches (RIGHT over our things). I can't dry or dress Big Brother A in those things anymore, so I have to pack them up like they're poison, dry him with my extra shirt from the car, and send him home in wet swim trunks.

Those are just a few examples, but these things happen so frequently. What do you feed your child when you're in a hurry? When there's no refrigerator? When you just want to be out for the whole day without spending a ton of money on lunch? PB&J. Some places have nut-free tables; most do not. We have to scrub the area where Big Bro A will be sitting, and if he scoots down the bench to a different spot, we start over again. And mulch/sand/dirt? Who knows if those are safe or not. It's a gamble every time.

We go to a playdate and a child has food dried on their face. Is it peanut butter? We play with toys at the doctor's office. Did the last kid wash their hands after their peanut butter toast breakfast? We go to the store and Big Bro grabs at something colorful in the checkout. Is the outside of the honey roasted peanut snack pack contaminated?

I totally understand that nuts are not poison for everyone. I really don't expect everyone to lock up their peanut butter and totally sanitize their children before going out if they've happened to indulge in any.

I try not to be all about Big Bro A's nut allergy. We do not want that to be our family identity. We definitely don't want him growing up as "The Nut Allergy Kid". We want to be respectful and understanding in our approach to his allergy and keeping him safe.

But I do often wish that the general public could be a little more aware that certain foods are, in fact, poison for some people. I know that we've come so far in the last few decades. Food labels are a great example of that. The system is far from perfect - way too much of the labeling process is still left up to the manufacturer's discretion. I do recognize, though, that this is progress.

But sometimes it's still a very scary world out there with our peanut-allergic toddler.

I so appreciate our dear friends who go above and beyond to keep Big Bro safe while helping him to feel normal. I appreciate the people in our lives who have learned about reading labels and asking the right questions when we're eating out. Many times people have brought safe snacks just for him, even when they really didn't need to. That is such an expression of love to our family, and we really do notice!

I don't expect this same kind of attention from everyone. Really, I don't even expect people to cook differently for us if we visit them for a snack or dinner. We don't mind bringing a safe alternative for Big Bro, as long as we know ahead of time. He's used to it, and that puts the burden on us, not on our friends. (Although probably don't have peanut butter cookies for dessert!)

If we visit you and we ask to read labels, or ask if you could wash your table/hands/food scissors before a meal, please don't feel insulted. I hate to ask, but I'm responsible for my boy, and I'm having to grow past my fear of confrontation to keep him safe. I'll try to do it politely. It's not that I don't trust you. It's that I want every judgement call on safety to fall on me or my husband, so that we alone carry the responsibility for any reaction he might have.

If you're not sure about how to treat nuts or other high-allergen foods, maybe think about it like this. We wouldn't ask you not to take Ibuprofen in a roomful of children. If you've got a headache, you need it. If your kid has a fever, you need to use it. But we would certainly expect you not to offer it to anyone's children other than your own. We would expect you not to leave the medicine dropper in reach of other children, and not to send your child out into the play area with hands sticky from medicine. We would expect you not to leave the bottle of medicine in reach of children. If you're not sure how to handle peanuts or other high-allergen foods, maybe start to think of your food like you would a bottle of medicine.

Oh, and lastly, if I ever swoop in like I'm saving the day and grab your child's peanut butter sandwich from them, just politely ask for it back and let's pretend it never happened. I live so much of my time watching out for this huge danger in my family, that it is very hard for me to remember sometimes that nuts are not dangerous for most of the world. So just kindly continue feeding your child and give me some extra grace!