Monday, January 27, 2014

The blessing of children

 A young, pretty mother held the hands of two small children on either side of her, waddling a bit to accommodate her very pregnant body. There were circles under her eyes, and she looked like she would very much like to go into labor at any moment.
 "Mommy, can we get that?" "Mommy, when are we going home?" "Can we have a snack, Mommy," were the high-pitched questions that constantly flowed from the mouths of the blonde-haired, freckle-faced little ones, who couldn't have been more than two years apart. "No, we're not getting that today." "Just wait a little longer" "We had lunch half an hour ago," were the gentle replies. I smiled, and reached into the jar of cookies at the front counter.
 "Your children are doing such a good job not touching anything on the shelves." I complimented. "Would they like a fig bar? And can I get you a cart or a basket?" The look on her face was relief and thanks. I remember myself what it was like to be taken shopping at a young age, and a health food store would not have been my choice at four years of age.
 "What do you have in the way of multivitamins? I ran out of mine a week ago, and just feel like I should get back on one," she said, as she guided one youngster away from the bulk bins full of flour.
 "Good call!" I complimented. "Let me show you what we have. We have prenatal that can be taken before and after delivery, because your body needs time to recover." In no time at all we were chatting like we had known each other for years, and exchanging healthy recipe ideas that were friendly to picky children's pallets.
 I had seen the looks from a few of the other customers as they made their way in the door, coats, hats, and mittens trailing, dragging a heavy diaper bag spilling over with wet wipes and butt-rash cream. They seemed to communicate that she was irresponsible; a nuisance. Perhaps even a burden on society. Did she have food stamps? Was she even married? She probably hadn't taken the effort to use birth control. For shame, they seemed to say. Of course not all of them thought this way. I could see the tender, reminiscent look on a grandmother's face. An understanding nod from the 40-something woman with a teenager. And then myself and the other employees. I had originally come from a small family. My sister, two years younger than I, had grown up comfortably in a country suburb house we had designed and built ourselves. We weren't wealthy, but we certainly lacked nothing. It's not that we didn't like children - we babysat for neighbors and friends regularly - but we were just fine how we were. But God had other plans. An unexpected move into a smaller town house, my dad being laid off of work temporarily, and the call to foster care soon thereafter. Now, several years later, our family has swelled to 7 (counting mom and dad) and another one "on the way." (foster child with a hopeful adoptive future) We've been blessed, and even though things aren't easy, we now live in a large house on 6 acres, my dad has a good job, and our church family has been more than encouraging. Our home is filled with laughter, joy, hugs and kisses, learning moments, and grand opportunities, as well as busyness, bickering, minor accidents, tears, and scuffed furniture. Most everyone we come across seems to be delighted in our choice. "Oh, that's just wonderful that you've chosen to do that. Those children are so blessed," is a common response, though it's quickly followed by, "but I could never do that!" They then proceed to list the reasons why a boatload of children simply wouldn't fit into their plans for the future. It's true that foster care and adoption is NOT for everyone. It requires dedication to the maximum power, and a friendly environment to raise children. I would never try to guilt-trip anyone into committing to such a life-long excursion. But we didn't choose to take on this responsibility because we were bored and looking for a new adventure. We didn't choose to dedicate ourselves because of some void in our life that needed filling. It was most definitely not convenient, and many situations have been less than ideal. Two teenagers going through the throws of life and discovering who they are, a mortgage on a relatively small house built in the 60's, and by no means tons of money. So why did we do it?! First of all, God laid it upon my parents hearts. Second, we believe in the blessing of children. Yes, our three adopted children are
blessed to be with us. They've grown by leaps and bounds, and the benefit of being in a stable, loving home is a seriously under-rated feature. But I truly believe that we - mom, dad, my sister, and I, as well as all who know us - have been blessed just as much if not more. Not only have we lacked nothing important in the way of physical needs, our lives have been enriched without measure. I know for sure that I am a better person - more patient, compassionate, positive, generous, and thoughtful. I manage my time better, get more done, and know how to prioritize events in my life better than I did before. But I also see beautiful qualities being developed in my family. My parent's positive determination inspires me, and their kindness in the face of adversity is truly amazing. Also, a good point someone made a while ago is this: multi-generational families not only built stability, but keep life in perspective. Nowadays, everything is graded and segregated. School classes, office cubicles, and friend cliques. Caring for children keeps my parents young at heart. Caring for children makes me more mature. Children with older and younger siblings gain invaluable insight on how to relate from those who aren't their age or in their grade.
 But here is another thing that you may not have even considered, living in a world of "now." What about the effects our children have on the future? I shudder to think of what I may have become if I were not raised and nurtured by a decent family. Yet every day I come into contact with people who weren't so fortunate. The outcome and their attitudes are reason enough to consider parenting the most important - and necessary - job in the world. I honestly believe that a dedicated mom of three is doing the world more good than if she were an executive or president of the biggest firm in the United States of America. Anyone could fill that roll. But who will train the army who will conquer tomorrow? I am not saying that a women's only place is in the home. Some of the best engineers, designers, church and political leaders, writers... just about any career path one might chase down, will have a woman at the top circle, and they're doing a great job. But the roll of parenting - good parenting - is so under-rated that it is breaking down our country. Corporate mothers and aloof fathers are training a new generation to be just like them. Distant and self-absorbed.
 So when I see a young couple struggling to become the best parents they can be, or an older couple with an unplanned little one, or a 16-and-pregnant hiding on the outskirts of society, I try to do my best to encourage them. After all, children are not simply a life event to be put on somebody's biological calendar. They are people. They are not disposable, they cannot be bought or traded, and they are certainly not a neutral factor. And given the chance, these people, though small and sometimes burdensome, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. There are so many things that children can teach us. In fact, Jesus - the Son of God - said that unless we become like them, trusting and humble before Him, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus' disciples tried to shoo the children and their mothers away from Him while He was discussing deep religious matters with the church's leaders, He rebuked them, and said, "let the little children come to me, and hinder them not!"
 Not ten minutes after the little troop of family had left the store, but another group came in, and I believe they are worth mentioning. A 20-something, texting vigorously on her Smartphone, entered with a five-year-old son traipsing along behind her. Immediately, he grabbed an item off the counter. "Mom, I want this!" he blurted, dropping his electronic on the floor. "No! You're not getting anything today!" was the harsh response. He ran after her, whining, and was soon distracted by a stack of granola bars. "Stop it! Put that down!" After he ignored her completely, she hollered a bit louder. Still no response. She wandered down another aisle.
 "Is there anything I can help you with?" was my routine question.
 "Yeah, do you have anything for stress? Alex* just wears me out!"
 I showed her our nerve complex, our tinctures, our B-vitamins, and adrenal supplements, while my co-worker tried semi-successfully to politely restrain her son from wrecking the store. Periodically the woman would yell "Alex*, get over here!" but to no avail. After twenty minutes, she bought him two candy bars, and an caffeinated beverage for herself. "This child will be the death of me," she muttered as she left the facility.
 I couldn't help but feel sorry for her as I watched her pull little "Alex" into her car, kicking and screaming. She was unhappy and exhausted, and her little boy was discontent and vying for her attention.

 My point in writing this is not a lesson on correct parenting (although that is important), but on correct perspective. What did woman#1 have that woman#2 did not? I'm assuming a lot here, but from what I've observed, and allowing for many obvious differences, my guess would be that their perspectives were fundamentally opposed. The first mother I talked to - though worn and tired - had a lively personality and an inner joy that came through when the subject rested on her children. The second was weary in spirit, and although she loved her son, she would have rather taken him to a daycare than chase him around the store.
 I remember a year or so ago, I was speaking with a woman at a class I was at, and the subject of family came up. Of course, it came out that my parents were fostering three young ones, with hopes of adoption, and she seemed almost sympathetic.
 "I suppose you have to help out a lot around the house!" She commented.
 "I do what I can to help out," was my response. "The workload has increased for me, but I had expected that when our family discussed this a couple of years ago." (I must say that she is one of the few who seemed skeptical of our choice.)
 "Well... I guess that this is a good opportunity for you to see what having children is like. Then you can decide for yourself if you want to take all that on later. You know... kids, and all." She must have seen some surprise in my face. I had never really looked at it that way before.
 "Oh, I can't imagine my experience with fostering ever dwindling my fondness of children!" I said readily. "If anything it will better prepare me to have a large family of my own someday."
 I wonder if she would have been half as hostile to my situation if I had simply said that we were investing in livestock, or hoping to open a business downtown. But children... well, that's another story!

 Every person and situation is different, but perspective is everything! I challenge you, next time you see a child, look into their eyes and see. See their potential, their energy, and the hope of tomorrow. See the blessing of children, for they will not be children for long!

Our little ones after the adoption!!!

*any names mentioned were changed by me from their originals

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