Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dear Skeptics

Dear Skeptics of all things allergic and sensitive,

I get it. I really do. I once was you. Irritated that I had to pack a nut-free snack and lunch. Feeling like the whole movement is one big overreaction. How in the world could this many kids have so many food-related issues?

And then.

Then, our family was subjected to 1.5 years of nonstop screaming, meltdowns, constant diarrhea and, generally, the most challenging behavior I have ever witnessed firsthand in a child. Behavior that affected every corner of our family, our marriage and our life.

We eliminated dairy. And nuts. And preservatives, dyes and sugars.

We had behavioral evaluations done. We read books. We scoured the internet. We asked friends for wisdom. We cried and despaired of ever seeing change.

Ultimately, we had him tested for leaky gut and food sensitivities and allergies.

The result? On top of what we'd already taken out, we nixed gluten, coconut, lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, apricots, cucumbers, celery, corn, grapes and eggs.

And yes, if you are wondering if it's hard to create food for a ravenous food-loving child with none of the above ingredients, you would be right. It is of great irony to me that my child who loves food the most and eats more food than even I can consume has the most restrictive diet.

People questioned the severity of it. Food sensitivities are controversial, they said. Get more opinions. It's probably just his personality and he'll be fine when he's no longer a toddler.

They might be right.

BUT.

We were willing to try anything to see change. To come up for air from what felt like an impossible lifestyle.

A month into the drastic diet change, after weeks of even more intense behavior as these foods left his body, things shifted. He was calmer. His meltdowns were shorter. His happy lasted longer. His speech dramatically improved. He started to learn strategies to self-calm. His bowel movements radically improved. His trigger wasn't as quick.

And our family began to take a deep breath. Maybe, just maybe, we could have good days. Days that didn't find me with earplugs in and tears running down my face by the time my husband got home. Days where my youngest child wasn't in physical danger from his older brother's rage. Days where my oldest son wanted to spend time with his brother.

And we did. We had lots of them.

But here's the thing.

People don't always get the food insensitivity thing. Or the allergy thing. We have school and parties and Sunday School at church. When we get flyers home saying "Superbowl party with fun snacks!" I cringe. Maybe we'll skip that church day. He won't be able to eat one thing on that table. And he will feel, as always, left out. Or, knowing him, he'll covertly sneak some of it and we'll have a big setback.  Birthday party invitations are basically unwelcome. People offer to bring us dinner? Sure, but here's a list of 1000 things you can't cook for us, so have fun. (And add in the soy allergy for my youngest and it's really a big party around here.) Seriously. Soy is in everything.

Two weeks ago, there was a new teacher in my son's Sunday School classroom. He wears a tag every week that says "Allergies! Only give food from his bag!" This teacher didn't read the tag. She didn't look for his snacks. She handed him microwave popcorn slathered in butter. (And, probably preservatives, let's be honest.) She gave him goldfish crackers. (Gluten, dairy, corn and sugar.) And that child was happy. Man.

And then she noticed the tag. And panicked.

The nursery director came to find us. Is he going to be sick? Is he going to be ok? We're so sorry.

Yes, we sighed. He won't need to go to the hospital. He's not anaphylactic. BUT.

Since that day, 9 days ago, our life has been on pause. Our child went from happy and his version of calm to completely unhinged within 12 hours of consuming that food. And it hasn't let up.

Meltdowns, violence, screaming, defiance. And every corner of our life revolves around trying to keep him regulated. Again.

8 months of hard work undone by a 5 minute snack.

So, please.

If someone tells you not to give a kid something, please listen. My son doesn't have a medical reaction. Many kids do. Many kids can actually end up hospitalized or dead if exposed to something. We are grateful he isn't one.

Believe me, we are not trying to make your lives more difficult. Everything we do, every decision we make in our lives revolves around making sure we have access to the right foods. Road trips, parties, church. We leave with lunches and snacks packed everywhere we go. There is no safe restaurant. The decision to put him on this diet affects all of us every day.

But you know who is hit the hardest?

My 3 year old. Who cannot have ice cream and cookies. Who can't go to chick-fil-a or to birthday parties or enjoy the same snack as his buddies at church. Who constantly asks for food he cannot have and has to deal with disappointment.

When you don't listen and don't take it seriously, he is the one hurt the most. As difficult as the last 8 days have been for us, I can only imagine what his little body must feel like to be reacting like this.

So, dear skeptics, please believe us. Believe us when we tell you our kids can't have sugar or eggs or gluten. Don't quote an article that says the gluten thing is overblown or tell me I should have given him nuts at 6 months old. It's not helpful and it doesn't change the fact that these things affect him much more than they do most other children we know.

We don't know why. But we know they do. That should be enough.

Sincerely,

Recovering Skeptic Whose Son Needs You to Trust Her

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

All You Need Is Love?

It's Valentine's Day.

And just like last year and the year before and well, pretty much every year that I can remember, I couldn't actually care less. That's not because I don't have an amazing husband and a lot of love in my life. It's just because I've come to believe that a lot of little, wonderful moments of doing life together goes a lot further for me than a fancy dinner and chocolates. Not that a fancy dinner and chocolates aren't welcome - but at this stage of life, we take dates when we can get them. And we've already got a fun one planned for Friday that has nothing to do with the holiday.

Valentine's Day is a day when we are meant to celebrate love by buying little trinkets and spiderman valentines and saying "I love you." (Which means that I, as a parent, spend time buying, filling out and making sure said little gifts get sent to the right places so my children can still participate in a holiday I don't care a whit about. I'm not yet so cruel as to force on them my own level of grumpiness about it.)

Like Christmas and Easter, we have learned to express love through gift-giving in our culture. And like with those holidays, sometimes the gifts are meaningful and other times they are just "stuff." Some people love the holiday and the exchanges and others would gladly skip it since it leaves them feeling empty or disappointed.

Some, like me, just don't care.

People like to toss around the phrase "all you need is love." I don't know if the phrase predates the famous song or if the song introduced the now-famous phrase. But I read it and hear it all the time.

It never sits well.

I've had a lot of love in my life. I grew up in a stable family. I married into a family that has made it clear they love me. I got married almost 14 years ago and love my husband more today than on the day we said "I do." I have three boys who express their love for me in countless ways. I have friends who speak truth and make me laugh.

Love is beautiful.

But, at least in earthly form, it's not everything.

In adoption circles, you hear about it a lot. "Those kids just need love and once they are in a "stable" family, they will be fine." Yes, they obviously need love just like every kid out there needs love. They are human. But they need a lot more. For my kids, they need me to be the kind of person who recognizes the importance of their culture, the reality of racism and the challenges of a multiracial family. Who takes research and listening and humility seriously and is willing to risk failure. They need me to care about their hair and learn how to do it correctly. They need me to speak well and often of their birthparents so that they feel the freedom to explore their own history when they are older. They need to be able to tell me they love their skin color and ask why mine is different without me panicking and shutting down the conversation. They need us to make choices so that they are in schools and churches and neighborhoods where they are not the only black children and so that there are authorities in their lives who look like them. They need us to recognize there is trauma in adoption - that even though we brought them home as infants, there is loss in their life, loss that love can seep into but not obliterate. That the identity questions with which they will struggle as black adopted children with white parents are no small thing.

I truly wish all we needed was "love". That I could fill up my heart with all the feelings and emotions and joys that are associated with it and be whole. But the way love is sold to us is so often lacking. It is shallow. It is impatient. It is all about what we get out of it and rarely about what we are meant to give in its name. God's love is the opposite. It is bigger and stronger and more sacrificial than anything we've ever seen. And it calls us to love in response. Not in small and frivolous ways, not just in words, but in action, in hope, in sacrifice.

So, yes, today my husband might come home with flowers because it is Valentine's Day. He will give me a kiss and ask how the day was and my little ones will giggle. He'll scoop them up and hold them close and kiss their curls and hug my oldest. He loves them and those actions are still powerful and good.

But I'm grateful that love is so much more than what we settle for so much of the time. That it is, in the immortal words of the old school DC Talk song, "a verb." It's action and sacrifice and challenge and choices, its sometimes choosing someone else's good over our own, all rolled into relationship and held together by God.

Let's celebrate that today. And tomorrow. And every day that we are fortunate enough to have people are in our lives. Let's do it in real and honest and challenging and beautiful ways.

Because if we could really see and live love in all its depth, poured out in service to those around us, the way it was taught to us by a sacrificial God who loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine, maybe the world really would be a better place.

Maybe that kind of love really would be all we need.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fall Down Tree

Every Sunday morning our family unceremoniously and rather chaotically piles into our minivan to head to church. Snacks packed (because when you have kids with allergies and sensitivities, sunday school goldfish could derail your whole week), lunches packed (because, let's be honest, with three growing boys, it's a long time from breakfast through church and Sunday School and that fifteen minute ride home is much more peaceful with mouths chomping) and a sense of having accomplished the impossible, getting all five of us out the door by 8 am, permeates the atmosphere.

No matter how we enter that car, I know now that something is about to change for our family. We are about to encounter "Fall Down Tree."

Just after we started coming to this church, we came across it. A huge tree, roots upended, laying right by the side of the road in someone's front yard. Somehow, this tree has become the focal point of our ride. It is cause for speculation, pontification and flat-out aesthetic awe.

How did it fall? Why don't the people who live there clean it up? How old might it be? Can we knock on their door and ask to play with it?

All these questions and more are answered in serious and silly fashion. (Maybe Joshie bonked it with his bike! Maybe Nate pushed it over with his strong arms! Maybe God blew on it and, poof, it fell over!)

But however it has happened, the conversation always ends with a chant. My youngest laughing and pumping his arms in the air as the middle and oldest chant "Fall down tree! Fall down tree! Fall down tree!" Dissolving in giggles at the end, we often enter church with lighter hearts and goofier outlooks.

Friends, this is a powerful thing.

You see, Sunday mornings have traditionally been calamitous. Screaming, crying, multiple changes of clothes, arguments. Usually this has culminated in two very exhausted parents who spend the greater part of the church service trying to remember why we even attempted to come to church in the first place. Too exhausted and defeated to even attempt to open our souls to what God may have for us that morning. Just grateful on some level that childcare is provided, we  would fight to stay awake during the sermon and then trudge back home again.

But now we have "Fall Down Tree." This strange and unexpected beacon of distraction and hope. No matter what mood everyone is in when we enter that car, as we turn that bend and "Fall Down Tree" comes into view, there is a shift in that minivan.

And entering church in its aftermath is a whole different world. Laughter has helped us shake off any early morning tomfoolery. Chanting has helped us loosen up our rigid need (ok, MY rigid need) to be early for church and the ensuing stress when someone has caused us to be late. Again. The camaraderie of three boys rejoicing together, united in spirit for even 5 minutes, gives everyone the chance to take a deep breath. To enter church with thanksgiving. To walk in with a posture that invites rest and redemption and joy.

Some day I am certain that that family will clean up the tree. We will turn the bend and as the chanting begins to rev up, the car will fall silent. There will be disappointment and mourning and the end to what is, at least for now, a tradition. Possibly we will pull some deep lesson out of its disappearance.

For now, though, I am relying on "Fall Down Tree." Because right now it is a tangible, beautiful reminder that any day can be reset. Any hard moment can suddenly turn into one of laughter and joy and lasting family memories. That giggles and silliness can be powerful preparation for inviting God to do His work of healing in our souls.

I know that one day, a long time from now when this tree is a distant memory, we will look back and tell the boys about it, about this tree that brought hope and life back into Sundays for our family.

Maybe God did blow it over for us, after all.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Keeping Pace

My feet pounded the same rhythm as hers did while the exhilarating background of 80's music pumped through my earbuds. There was some kind of power in that matching of strides, some kind of challenge that was more effective than any goal I could have set. Matched strides, eyes forward, strangers next to each other, moving in the same directionless direction.

Before I knew it, two miles down. Sweat pouring down my smiling face, breaths coming fast and deep. A body that had been benched for over a month due to injury and illness suddenly full of energy, moving fast, free of pain. Movement has always been a key part of how I do life. It's absence had caused no small amount of emotional chaos.

Minutes after finishing our run, we smile at each other, gulping water.

"I was about to stop running when you jumped on," she said, "and then suddenly there was something really helpful in your pace that kept me going."

"You really pushed me and I appreciate it. I haven't been able to run in a long time. I would have stopped sooner if you weren't still going." I replied. We shared brief stories of why we had been gone from the Y and why we were back. And thanked each other for the shared challenge of our morning run.

No competition, no needing to prove ourselves. Just 20 minutes in a day that reminded us both of why we need those pace-keepers in our lives. People with similar goals, moving in the same direction, helping us push past our own limits. In running, in parenting, in faith, in marriage, in all of life.

May we treasure our pace-keepers, both the temporary gifts and those who are more permanent fixtures in our lives, and keep on keeping on.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How Facebook Became God

Click. Read. Like. Scroll. Comment. Repeat.

Simple actions with great power. Power to encourage, power to wound, power given and power taken.

And power, when wielded loosely and unwittingly, can be a terrible thing.

Two weeks ago, I had a frank moment of revelation that life couldn't continue on as it was. I felt exhausted, angry, frustrated and powerless. And I felt it all the time.

I was addicted to clicking on my browser, to watching Facebook load, to seeing the number of notifications pop up in the right corner. To knowing there were things to read, videos to watch, photographs to see, stands to take.

Addicted to the god on my screen.

You see, we can make god a lot of things. It can be the thing we care about the most in our lives, like making money or our families or our belongings. It can be the ideas or opinions we hold dearest, like politics or religion or our philosophy of parenting. It can be what we spend all our time and energy working towards or thinking about, like money, career, even happiness. It can be what we depend on the most for affirmation and identity. And it can be to whom or what we relinquish all our power.

Facebook, my friends, can be a dangerous place. Because on Facebook, all of those possibilities, all of those things we look for in or assign to our god can be found.

And when we give it too much time, we give it exponentially more power. The power to make us feel (though elusively and vaguely) connected. To feel good, to feel right about something and surround ourselves with only people who agree. We give it the power to affirm our identity or to plummet us to a point of despair. We give it the power to control our emotions, our thoughts, even the direction our day might take. We give it the power to keep us mired in what's on screen instead of what surrounds us.

This affects the very core of who we are, who we were created to be.

As a Christian, I believe I am created in the image of God. Made beautiful in his sight, brought into relationship with Him through the life, death and resurrection of His son Jesus and invited into abundant life through His Spirit. A life that is submitted ultimately to the power of God but that lives in the power that He then gives me, power to deal with all that life has, fighting with joy, hope and the knowledge that I am never alone.

When Facebook is god, this all changes. I see the ugly in myself and others more acutely. I feel the pull and destruction of comparison, rather than the deep challenge and joy of honest encouragement in real relationships. I am blown here and there all day long by anger and frustration and petty humor and confusion and the need to be affirmed by "likes" and comments. And it doesn't end when I shut the screen. It translates into real life in quicker cynicism, deeper sadness, chronic distractedness, shorter attention spans and fewer true relationships.

That, my friends, is not abundant life. It is the life of someone who has paid homage to the wrong god.

I have been off of Facebook for a little over a week now. At that point of revelation I knew I had to stop. That all the rage and chaos I was feeling inside was a result of a bad decision I was making over and over and over again in the vain hope of feeling less lonely, more connected, more aware and informed. Every time I opened my computer I was looking for something I really could not possibly find there.

Purpose. Life. Joy. Friendship.

Those first few days I felt lost, almost adrift. Like something had died or been taken away from me. As a stay at home parent, sometimes Facebook was my only means of communicating with other human adults during the day and I missed it. I longed for that feeling of being with people, even though that feeling of connectedness was just an illusion.

Sometimes we are so used to the poor version of something that we will cling to it believing it is full of riches.

I knew, though, from truly worshiping my first love, the God of the Universe, that those were not really riches. So I waited.

And soon things changed. I knew this was a moment straight from God. A gift in the midst of a chaotic season of life to take stock. To pray. To make some decisions. To invite some close friends into prayer and dreaming and hoping for what life can be.

When there was a calm moment of a child playing independently, I cleaned up the kitchen or sat for a moment and prayed for him, instead of quickly trying to get online.

When there was a child waking up from a nap, I didn't feel annoyed or interrupted because I had to shut my computer in the middle of completing a thought on a political post.

When the house was quiet, I pulled out my guitar or my journal or a book. I walked outside and dug in the dirt. Or wrote a letter.

I smiled more.

I made it to the gym and didn't wonder the whole time if there were things I was "missing" in being offline.

I initiated more dance parties around the house.

I spent more time with actual adult human beings.

I said yes to some really, really good things, both in my personal daily rhythms and in my community.

I complained less.

I hoped more.

I began to long for time with Jesus in a way I hadn't in awhile.

And in all of it, I stood up straighter. I felt less burdened, less distracted, more tuned in to what was immediately around me.

Was life perfect? Of course not. It can't be. I had a stomach bug, a toddler was working on molars, life in all its noise and grit went on. But it went on with my head held a little higher. With my hope fastened more surely on God, not Facebook.

Getting off Facebook wasn't a cure-all. It was one step, one big step for me, in saying no to a major, destructive distraction so that I could say yes to the many more beautiful opportunities I was no longer seeing.

And let me make something clear. I don't think it is Facebook's fault. I chose to be on it all the time. I kept turning to it again and again even as I felt myself changing. I gave it the power it held over me.

Some of you are thinking it sounds crazy. That something so silly could not hold so much power.

But let's not kid ourselves...whether it is Facebook or career or romance or any number of things or ideas or people, we all have that innate tendency to look to something or someone to define us, to fulfill us. We search for it in small ways or in big ways, but we are always looking. And the way I see it, life is one long journey in figuring out how to keep my eyes fixed on God, not on the things of this world. One never-ending decision to wake up and choose peace, choose joy, choose hope and love.

To choose God.

And any time I start to choose something else first, all of me suffers. I learned it 30 years ago as a young Christian and again a hundred times since.

Each time it sticks a little longer and grows a little deeper, by the grace of God.

So, I am taking it one sweet, slower, facebook-free, God-seeking moment at a time right now. And loving it.