A Little Girl And A Big School Bus – Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up

A Little Girl And A Big Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

Two weeks ago our four year old sunshine girl climbed the stairs of a school bus for the first time. Unexpected mom-emotions threatened to overtake me as my mind raced with thoughts of all she would experience – good and bad – while away from me.

She’s growing up.

She rocked 3’s preschool and has been away from me for countless bible studies, Sunday school, and more. But as I watched her climb onto that big school bus wearing that giant-flamingo backpack, she looked so small.

Isn’t that my baby up there? 

Parenting is full of these emotion-fueled moments – when we realize our children are growing up and stepping a little further into the world. These moments remind us that we cannot control our kids or their experiences.

She didn’t hesitate as she turned back, grinning with sparkling eyes as she waved goodbye.

She didn’t hesitate. So why was I?

I stood, choked up and snapping pictures. I waved furiously with a smile plastered to my face as the bus drove away.

The bus rounded the corner. The only evidence it had been there at all was the plume of exhaust and my husband, mom and I gazing at an empty street.

Sunshine girl was on her way to school with a bus load of new friends. Without me. 

Year by year, our children will spend more time at school and activities, with people other than us. They gather life-skills and knowledge and are slowly equipped to become independent, functioning adults.

Independent. Of us. 

And what of us, their parents? Once their ‘whole world’ and providers of everything they need – we’re gradually needed less and less as our role continually changes.

We proudly cheer them on, celebrating new freedoms and opportunities while acknowledging that there is less we can protect them from. We’re grateful they don’t grow up overnight, even if looking back, it feels like it did.

And this is all right and good. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. 

Or unemotional.

Our emotions are real and powerful. And sometimes emotions creep up out of nowhere and threaten to knock us off our feet.

We need to adapt and learn to not only accept but embrace these moments and the emotions they stir up.

Stop Comparing

Your emotions are yours. They don’t belong to your neighbor, friend, or that mom over there that you don’t even know.

Stop comparing. Every parent feels emotions and processes them differentlyWhat you feel as your child climbs onto the school bus is ok.

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

You don’t have to apologize for crying, even if you’re the only mom ugly-crying on the curb as the bus drives away.

Quit worrying about what everyone else is doing and give yourself permission to feel it all.

So now we admit we have these emotions and we’re not worried about what everyone else is doing. Now what?

Own It

We love our children. So it makes sense that our emotions can be fierce. Letting go and watching our children step out into the world is hard. And excitingAnd scary.

Stifling emotions never really works. They just bubble out later in another way or at someone else, with increased intensity.

Feel something? Own it.

So what if you’re an ugly-crying mess at the bus stop? So what if you’re the only dry-eyed mom in the crowd? So what if summer was so long and tiring that a part of you feels like celebrating and maybe a twinge guilty about that (or maybe you feel no guilt)?  So what if you’re suddenly crying in Target 3 hours later because you just miss them?

What if your kids see you? While we do need to have wisdom and discernment about how and what we share with our children, it is ok for them to see you express what you feel.

In these milestone moments, watching you feel and process emotions in a healthy way gives your children permission to feel and process their own. 

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

 

Process It

Do your emotions surprise you? Days before school started, I expected to cry at the bus stop. Then, that morning as we stood waiting for the bus I felt only excitement. I was happy and exited – not sad at all!

Then she took those first steps up and WHAM!

When emotions surprise me, the best way to work through them is to process them. Feel them. Think through them. Talk about them.

This does require time and energy but is too important to pass up.

Go to God – Night or day, God is always available. Our loving Father loves to comfort His children. No matter the emotion, He already knows. When it comes to emotions I feel as a parent, it is such a comfort to know that God created our children and loves them even more than than I can. He listens and provides peace and comfort beyond our understanding. Try it! Pray through emotions and spend some time reading His word. He won’t leave you hanging.

Talk to a Friend – One of the reasons we need community is to process real-life with people who are willing to be authentic. We need to know we’re not alone and to be encouraged by other parents. Be honest. Cry if you feel like it. Speaking how we feel out loud is powerful.

Write – When home with kids all day, I can’t always process emotions out-loud with another adult. Journaling or blogging about what I’m feeling helps me find clarity and understand what I am feeling and WHY.

Celebrate 

One way to take the edge off of our emotions of sadness, longing or fear is to celebrate milestones – even if just official days like the first/last day of school and birthdays.

That said, we don’t need to celebrate everything. Celebrate events that are significant to your family and priorities. Celebrating puts the joy back into even the most bittersweet milestone.

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

Celebrate with a meal, a sporting event or activity, a gift, a handwritten card, or an intentional conversation. Celebrate to remind your children that you’re cheering them on and proud of them.

Be Present

Finally, no matter how emotional you feel, at some point, you need to step out of your own head and step into the time and place you’re in.

I spent a couple hours dwelling in my own swimming emotions and thoughts before doing anything productive with them. Once I began to process them, I was able to step back into the day and be ready and excited to hear all about that first day of school. If I’d kept it all in, I’m not sure I would have been any good to anybody – just a puddle of tears and self-pity.

Be present with those right in front of you. Don’t let your emotions put you in a funk that steals quality time from you and your family.

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com

 

A Little Girl And A Big School Bus - Embracing The Moments (And Emotions) That Remind Us Our Children Are Growing Up | thisgratefulmama.com Embracing Moments

 

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Thirty shmirty. Wrinkle shmrinkle. 10 Reasons To Embrace Your Age.

Thirty shmirty. Wrinkle shmrinkle. 10 Reasons To Embrace Your Age | thisgratefulmama.com

At 7 months pregnant with our third child, the belly began getting in the way of leaning over the counter to put on mascara. Pregnant problems serious.

The solution? A small stand mirror. For ten bucks, it was just a bonus that it had both 1x and 3x magnification.

Well, maybe not.

I’m not sure how many years have passed since I looked at my face under 3x magnification, but lets just say it is a little different (wrinkles).

AND, under that 3x magnification – I noticed something extra shiny in my hair. Curiosity got the best of me and soon I held my very first, 4 inch long, white-gray hair. And a second. A week later, my sister noticed a plethora of gray hairs when she was coloring and cutting my hair. Higher magnification sure does open our eyes to reality.

In addition to the wrinkles and gray hairs, last month marked another birthday.

So, this is where I confess my sadness about aging, right?  

Nope.

I can honestly say that the overnight increase from 33 to 34 doesn’t feel any different. Neither does the discovery of gray hair or wrinkles (although they certainly did surprise me – I am either very unobservant, or they came out of nowhere!).

Thankfully, God wisely created time go slow enough that we don’t feel age changes overnight. However, I am older, and now have gray hair and laugh lines prove it. This third pregnancy also confirms my age increase with more aches and pains, blood sugar issues, and weight that is harder to control. Oh, and those gray hairs – I’m fairly sure they are the direct result of pregnancy hormones since they are all exactly the same length.

But is all this evidence such a bad thing?

It may be taboo to ask a woman’s age, but some women don’t tell the truth anyway. Instead, many pick an age and claim it in perpetuity – forever 21…or 29…or 39…

By refusing to acknowledge and gracefully accept our age, we put way too much stock into those numbers. We allow a number to offend us while we wonder what others will think of it.

We cover up outward aging signs by dying our hair (my sister was adding highlights while discovering those grays, so I’m not judging!). And we use expensive skin creams to reduce and slow wrinkles in an attempt to hide outward signs of aging.

Some of us look older than we are. Some of us look younger than we are. And yet, ALL of us are exactly the age that we ARE. But so often, we want to ignore it. Pretend it isn’t happening.

But why?

The accumulation of days and years lived on this earth is unavoidable. Instead of avoiding the issue, or putting too much stock in it, I say we embrace it.

I don’t know about you, but I am enjoying my 30’s. I plan to love my 40’s too. Do you love your age?

Thirty shmirty. Wrinkle shmrinkle. 10 Reasons I Like 34.

  1. Children: These little people did not even exist in my 20’s. I love how they fill my days with new challenges and joy. They give me a greater understanding of how God loves ME, our children, and others. These years are BUSY, but I am in no rush to get past them.
  2. Body Image: Having babies has forever changed my perspective on body-image. This body has carried and fed 3 babies.This work does leave a mark. My body is different and won’t ever be the same again. But I am grateful God equipped my body to do such rewarding and beautiful things.
  3. Self Esteem: I spent much of my 20’s unsure of myself and uncomfortable in social situations. I was nervous in groups, especially groups of women. I would second-guess every word, if I was brave enough to speak up. Many (not all) of my relational insecurities have faded as I’ve begun to better understand how God sees me and how to humbly view myself.
  4. Wisdom: 30 is the new 20, right? I hope not – I was pretty dumb when I was 20. I was poor at managing friendships, wasteful with my time, had a narrow world-view and a much-too-small and low understanding of God and His character. The lessons learned in my 20’s are invaluable. I’m still makin mistakes but I’m learning more now that I can take into my 40s.
  5. Authentic Friendships: Gone are the days of trying to be someone I am not. And with less free time for friends and meaningful conversations, friendships have become very real. We don’t waste time with small talk. Conversations express what we’re struggling with, celebrating, and hoping for. And some of my deepest friendships are with family, which was not true in my 20’s. With age, friendships continue to become deeper, more authentic, and thankful.
  6. Priorities: With increased responsibility comes the need for prioritization. I’ve had to become more and more intentional with my time and energy. Our time is spent on what we need and want to do, and with the people we want to spend it with.
  7. Marriage: How I love looking back on what God has done in our marriage over the past 11 years. We are not the same and neither is our marriage – we’ve both grown up a lot. We know each other better and have acknowledged many of our own weaknesses. We’ve let go of most of those petty things that used to drive us crazy when we were first married. Disagreements and conflicts still happen but are resolved quicker, with fewer tears, and with more respect. We enjoy greater commitment, deeper love, sweeter moments, quick forgiveness, and the depth of trust and respect that can only develop over time. He’s still my favorite – more so each day.
  8. Peace: Much of my 20s was spent worrying – finances, work, relationships, current events…you name it. God has taught me some very important lessons about fear in my 30s, especially when it comes to our children. Although fear still rises sometimes, I am better equipped to turn it over to God and to rest and trust in His peace.
  9. Gratitude: I’ve focused more in recent years on gratitude. With each passing year, I am more grateful for the people in my life. I am much more aware of just how sinful I am and how much God has saved me from through Jesus’ work on the cross – gratitude is the natural response! There is less sense of entitlement, and less frustration with what I do not have. We have so much to be grateful for and I am hoping to only grow in the practice of gratitude.
  10. Faith: All our days and years tell our unique story – challenges, sadness, joy, pain, lessons learned, successes and failures. Combined, they make us who we are today. God has used our circumstances to refine us – sometimes by fire. I have found Him to be trustworthy and faithful. He has walked through each year with me and isn’t about to stop. He is the good, good Father. I see how His Spirit and the study of His word have changed me over the years and cling to the promise that He is not done with me yet. I’m not the same as I once was. And I don’t want to go back. Even if I could.

Thirty shmirty. Wrinkle shmrinkle. I like 34.

 

 

He is Risen! – Claiming Christ’s Victory Over Fear

John 1633

This Easter, the best way to celebrate the gift of Jesus is to share what God has been doing in my life this past year. Last year, Easter exposed a void in my faith that I ddin’t even know was there. Deeply painful at the time and very personal even today, I wasn’t sure I would ever share this here – but the work of God and His victories in our lives is always worth sharing, even when it is beyond our comfort level. Sorry, this is going to be a long one…Here goes…

Last spring, the women’s bible study studied the book ‘Fearless” by Max Lucado. After the first session, I arrogantly (and ignorantly) told my husband, “The book seems good, but I really don’t struggle with fear”.

Somehow, I thought that learning what God’s word has to say about fear didn’t apply to me –  a grievous mistake. We completed one chapter of the book before Easter.

You know how some years Easter seems to creep up on you? I’ve had plenty of years when I’ve neglected time with the Lord and haven’t been in His Word as much as I should have been. But, last year, I had been studying the book of Matthew in BSF. For months, I studied Jesus’ life and ministry. Last year I felt ready for Easter with the study of Jesus’ life and death fresh in my mind. I anticipated an Easter with family, filled with gratitude, joy and peace.

I entered the weekend on a perceived spiritual high, having no idea what was about to hit me. I was woefully unprepared.

With family visiting, we were invited to join the rest of my husband’s family at his mom’s church on Easter morning. The idea of those we love, standing together and worshipping the Lord is a joyful one.

What could go wrong?

We walked into the church (which is not our home church), and joined our family. As we took our kids to children’s programming, I noticed tables with donuts and pastries, a treat for the special day.

It took just one child running by me, carrying a pastry, dropping bits of almond on the floor for paralyzing fear to seize me. Our son has a nut allergy, and I had forgotten the Epi-Pens and Benedryl at home – an hour away. It isn’t that an Epi-Pen means safety. It does not! But not having it with me was negligent. It showed my lack of preparation and foresight that I usually have before walking into any unknown environment with our son.

I was as unequipped with his medications and planning, as I was in my own faith on a spiritual level.

I dropped him off in his room and had a sigh of relief as the staff asked me if he had allergies before I could tell them – even with it on the tip of my tongue in my now hyper-aware state. Initially they weren’t planning to provide a snack, so I felt comfortable that the room would be safe, even if the hallways were littered with nut-contaminated (albeit TINY) crumbs. I joined our family in the sanctuary and waited for the service to begin.

I tried to keep it together, but felt rattled. Unsettled.

A woman from the childcare came by and showed me a dixie cup of cookies and asked if my son could eat them. I told her without a label to read the answer was no. They came back later and asked about graham crackers, but again, no label. My anxiety climbed in the very room designated for the worship of the all-powerful God.

As the service began, I sang but the words came out hollow. I prayed for peace and protection. But I was preoccupied, fearful and frustrated with my own poor planning the entire service. My prayers pleaded but were powerless as fear exposed my unbelief.

It felt like both the longest and shortest Easter service I’ve ever been in. I longed for it to be done so I could hold our son, but I longed for it to continue so I could find peace and worship Him fully.

When it ended, people all around me were joyful. I felt defeated.

And still very afraid. I could not shake it. I was so ashamed that my faith was so weak. I was discouraged that it took so little to leave me feeling exposed and that I could not find peace. This was beyond anything I had ever felt or encountered before. It hurt.

I ran to our son and found him safe and sound. He had a wonderful time and told me all about how Jesus had risen. We met our family in the hallway. Many of them had donuts. I kept him close to me. As my son looked around, he asked for a donut. Squatting down, I told him that we were going to grandma’s to eat and had plenty of treats. I showed him how his mom, dad and sister didn’t have a donut either.  But as one might expect, he got upset. Tears welled up in his big brown eyes.

He lashed out, pushing me back and crying out in frustration. He was right. This wasn’t fair at all.

Now choking back my own tears, I signaled my husband we were leaving and scooped our son up as he wailed and ran to the parking lot. By the time I reached the car, we were both in tears. And now the poor child thought he was in trouble for pushing me. We were a mess. There was no way I was going to discipline him for being frustrated because yet again, he could not eat what everyone else was having. I was frustrated too, but grateful we were in the car, away from the crumbs.

I told him I was sorry he couldn’t have the donut and just hugged him until everyone else came out. I was afraid to say anything more because I didn’t want him to sense my fear. As we drove to my mother-in-law’s house, I tried to shake it off. I didn’t want to talk about being afraid in front of our son, so I didn’t talk to my husband about it.

The fear and startling lack of peace remained.  All day. As our children delighted in their lovingly and carefully prepared nut-free Easter eggs and baskets, as we laughed and talked, and as we celebrated the victory of Jesus Christ over death, and the sacrifice He made to save us from our sins.

Who would expect something as simple as a donut could bring me to my knees, shaking in fear on Easter Sunday? Certainly not me – I was on a spiritual high, remember?

Easter. The day that highlights the POWER of God and the sacrifice, love, grace and mercy of a willing savior. I was there to worship Jesus, who chose to come to earth, humbled in a human body, choosing to serve and forgive His own creation, even as they rejected Him – A creation that should have known He was their savior – A creation that scorned Him, plotted against Him, and ultimately killed Him although He had never sinned. Not once.

He chose to do it, and in doing so, He took upon Himself, not only my sins and but your sins if you believe, confess and call on His name. He died, willingly, not using His power to stop the pain, suffering, and injustice. Instead, He cried out asking the Father to forgive the very men who were crucifying Him. Then, of His own power, He died, and rose again 3 days later, conquering death and sin. He saved me. He chose me. Jesus is now in heaven, alive, mediating on my behalf, and God the Father now sees me through the lens of Jesus’ blood. Forgiven. Sinless. Holy.

If Jesus Christ is all this…how could I not believe that He could protect our son, whom HE created and loves, from a peanut?

As I wallowed in fear and sadness, Satan was momentarily victorious in my life on a day when I should have been joyously celebrating the victory of Jesus Christ. What more could Satan want than to steal the praise of God as I surrendered to fear? In doing so, I made the day about my own fear and lack of trust. A starling defeat in a season when I had been growing spiritually.

In the days that followed I felt shell-shocked. I downplayed my fear when I mentioned it my husband before bed that night, and then he left on a business trip in the morning. I couldn’t figure out why the fear remained and was so powerful. I decided not talking about it would make it go away.

I was wrong. Once you’ve experienced paralyzing fear, it is far too easy to let your mind wander to what could have happened. It is far too easy to let your mind dwell in dark places that only heighten the intensity of fear and fuel it with more power. I tried to ignore it, but instead it consumed my thoughts, running rampant.

Looking back, the entire situation caught me off guard for a few reasons. First, I had not yet experienced seizing fear about our son’s peanut allergy, even when he was diagnosed two years before. Why? I controlled his environment and food. I had never really had to trust Him because I was trusting myself. Second, my lack of preparation forced me to see my lack of control over our son’s safety. I never forget the Epi-Pen! Third, I tried to pretend I wasn’t afraid because I knew in my head I should trust God, but lacked the perspective and trust to surrender my son’s life.

While doing all I can to keep him safe is absolutely my job, there is simply no way I can control everything. Practically, I should have simply had him sit with us in church, because that would have been the safe and wise choice. And my lack of preparation was a problem I do not plan to repeat. But this was much more than just forgetting the Epi-Pen and being surprised by a donut. There was a much deeper heart issue. I had been so prepared up until that point that I had a false sense of security. By feeling like I had everything under my control, I didn’t have to face reality. I had never surrendered to or even considered the fact that I don’t have this all buttoned up. I never asked myself if I trusted God in this area.

Not having control and ability to keep our son safe was a new feeling – one I still don’t like. But it is the reality all parents face. We will all face fears; of allergies, strangers, accidents, bullies, and choices they will make. We will face the reality that we cannot possibly control everything in our children’s lives as they grow up. Whether we want to or not.

In the middle of the night, my husband out of town, I found myself seized by fear, and crying. Not just weeping, but I think I’ve heard it termed –ugly crying. That following Tuesday, still struggling, I shared with our bible study what had happened. In a rare show of public emotion, I not only teared up, but I sobbed. I choked on my words.  Women dug in their purses and handed me tissues, squeezed my shoulders and gave hugs. They offering wise and Godly advice. They prayed for me. I left encouraged instead of embarassed. They blessed my socks off

They changed my thinking by pointing me to a powerful God who can conquer all of my fears for me if I give surrender to Him and trust that He has them under control. This time, with the truth spilled and prayers of wise Godly women spoken on my behalf, when I then asked God to give me peace, I felt it. Tangible. Powerful. Real.

It wasn’t that the peace wasn’t available on Easter Sunday. It was. But I trusted what my eyes saw – nut covered pastry crumbs – and not what my faith and the Holy Spirit were shouting within me. I learned a very powerful lesson. Fear is a not to be underestimated. It cannot be ignored. It has to be addressed. It cannot be stuffed, or we will give it reign in our life. Delaying the admission of my fear was wrong, and at my detriment.

Fear must be named and brought into the light.

I know now that despite being deep in the study of God’s word, I had neglected to ask God what I was holding back. Self-reliance and thinking we are in control of anything is nothing but pride in disguise. It is dangerous. God was gracious to me by letting me experience the fear 2 years before I have to send our son to Kindergarten. Now I have time to learn to trust God all-the-more before that day. And as I gradually have to surrender my control of our son’s life as he grows up, I need to trust MORE and MORE in God’s control and sovereignty.

I still struggle with fear. As I’ve shared before, it rises often, and has surprised me time and time again this past year. In fact, I have struggled with fear this past year more than ever in my life. The situations I cannot control are not going anywhere and are increasing in frequency. They will continue without ceasing, until both of our children are adults and on their own.

But I refuse to give fear victory in my life. With every test of fear, with every prayer for peace and with every moment I surrender fear to God, the more powerful the light of Jesus shines and the less I dwell in the stifling darkness and oppression of fear. I am learning to turn to God rather than to allow rabbit trails of fearful daydreams. The greatest thing I have to report today is that I have consistently seen victory in the area of fear on a daily basis. It is not easy. Fear for me is an ongoing struggle but with daily struggle comes the opportunity for daily victory. And let me be clear – without the power of Jesus in my life, I am helpless against this fear. There is no victory without Him for me.

As I prepare for Easter this year, I look at Jesus’ victory over sin and death a little differently. Same Jesus. Same sacrifice. But I feel more victory in my life. I see how He has worked in me this past year to deepen my faith, to rely less on my own strength, and to strengthen and prepare me for new challenges. I have felt the peace and comfort that can only come from surrendering to His will and trusting that He will be with us. I know to my bones that no matter what I cannot control, He will still be God, He will still be good, and He IS faithful. I cannot hold onto anything too tight – even our children. I cling to the truth that they were HIS even before they were mine.  He loves them even more than I do.

This past year I have been given tangible evidence that He longs to carry our burdens, knowing I am ill-equipped to carry my own. He has shown me how thinking I don’t struggle with fear is an open door to let it consume me. I must be prepared and be willing to ask myself where I have not surrendered to God because I am controlling things and trusting myself instead of HIM. I find myself grateful for the struggle because the victory is so sweet. This fear is no joke. It rises up and it when it was exposed it felt like a wound ripped open that might never heal. But slowly, I’ve been equipped and althogh it rises up, the fear loses it’s power as I claim Jesus’ victory and promises in my life. I am grateful that instead of letting me dwell in fear, He redeems it and makes me stronger for the next time. At the cross, we become heirs to peace, and heirs to His victory.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” – John 16:33 (NIV)

He is risen! But we must walk in faith to share in His victory and we must let Him be God.

May He bless you richly as you consider His sacrifice this holy week.

Happy Easter.

Claiming Christ's Victory Over Fear | thisgratefulmama.com

Fear Rises…

Fear

On November 26, 2014, a young man named Chandler Swink died after suffering a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. I wrote this article that day. I waited to post this because I didn’t feel right discussing my fears as if they were as important as this man’s death. They aren’t; my fears are nothing in comparison to what he, his family and friends have gone through, and what so many other families have gone through when a loved one is lost due to a food allergy.   

To the family of Chandler Swink: My heart is broken over your loss. I have thought of and prayed for you often since I read your story and will continue to do so. I am praying for your comfort, for you to find peace, and that God and your loved ones will carry you through the difficult days and years to come.  I pray that the memories of your son will be vivid and will bring you joy and solace through your pain. I thank you for speaking out about your family’s experience with food allergies and for advocating for other children. 

From November 26, 2014.

Today was just a normal day. I woke up and spent time reading my bible, praying and journaling in the warmth of my bed. I felt great.

A quick shower, and the kids were awake. I spent some time snuggling with my 4-year-old, talking about what we to do today, and we prayed to start our day. By now, we could hear my daughter squealing and playing in her room. We cracked the door open and peaked in to find her jumping up and down in her crib, giggling as we entered. As always, she was ready to go and full of joy.

Thanksgiving on the way, these sweeties to spend the day with…I went downstairs with smiling kids, and an even bigger smile oozing off my face. Today would be a good day.

I served breakfast and sat down with a piping hot cup of coffee to check my email before heading out to run errands. Nothing important in my email and the kids were still eating so I opened Facebook and started to scroll down the news feed.

The second post stopped me in my tracks. I spilled that hot coffee on my hand. It burned, but my reaction to the coffee was nothing compared to what I read.

A college student in a coma from an allergic reaction for a week. A grim outlook. It didn’t even sound like he’d eaten a nut.  A contact reaction. Later that day, I’d read of his death.

I can’t adequately describe the tightness in my chest and the intensity  and loudness of my heart throbbing wildly I looked across the room our son.

Innocently eating breakfast, giggling with his sister. All smiles and silliness with a mouth full of cereal.

My eyes welled up with tears instantly, and I walked out of the room. I tried to compose myself. This news was much too heavy for a 4-year-old to bear and he doesn’t need to see me cry. When he is older, perhaps I will let him see my tears over these stories, but for now, I spare him.

It saddens me that this is not the first or last time that I will read news like this. To say my world is turned upside down is an understatement. It releases fears that I usually give to God and move on from. But today…

The fear rises…

Welling up with a ferocity and power I can’t control. I suddenly find myself paralyzed by fear and subject to my own terrifying daydreams of my worst fears. My mind wanders to places it shouldn’t be allowed to go. Thinking horrible and terrifying things, down a rabbit hole I go…The story of a child being harmed or dying is enough to make ANY parent find heart stopping dread in the possibility of what could happen to their own child.

News of severe and fatal allergic reactions occurs too often and reduces me to tears and heart seizing fears almost every time. It wasn’t even a month ago when I was reading about another child who had a fatal reaction on Halloween. I don’t think they ever learned what caused the reaction to occur. It shook me then, and now, again, it shakes me today. But deeper. Building on the knowledge that this isn’t a one-time news story. These deaths are too frequent. Too real. They make me realize our own frailty, and to fear this outcome for my son who has a peanut and tree nut allergy.

These death are accidents that happen to vigilant and responsible people. It is not carelessness. They are doing everything they can to protect themselves and their loved ones from allergic reactions. Then suddenly, an unforeseen, unplanned interaction with an allergen, and suddenly what should have been a normal day becomes deadly.

On what started as a normal day for me, I suddenly find myself trembling, my white knuckled fist clutching a tissue as I struggle to catch my breath. I desperately plead with God to not only save this young man and comfort his loved ones, but also to protect my own child. And to help me simply continue on with the day and enjoy my children who are here with me now, safe and sound.

I’m sure this child and his loved ones started that fateful day just as simply as I began my own. Unassuming. Hopeful. Joyful. Unaware that it would be the last day he would ever wake. As parents of children with food allergies, we always have that nagging voice that reminds us to keep them safe. But most of the time, I don’t wake thinking that today will be the day that a reaction occurs; that this could be it. We don’t think about how even if we do everything right that a reaction could occur and that an Epi-Pen may not save them. We can’t thrive if we spend all of our moments like that. But it could be a reality we may face, any day.

Too often, I find myself soothing my fears with the Epi-Pen. Not good. News like this reminds me that an Epi-Pen isn’t a cure. It’s not a security blanket. It surely gives them a fighting chance, but for a severe reaction, sometimes it is no more than a Hail-Mary.

It. Might. Not. Work. There are no guarantees.

These stories. These deaths. These children and broken-hearted families. We stand with them. We know these families are living the truth that we often want to forget and that society doesn’t always understand or acknowledge. Proof that food allergies can be deadly. Proof that deadly reactions do happen to responsible children and adults. Proof that food allergies are not just a nuisance we live with. They are a real, powerful reality that requires vigilance at ALL times.

Food allergies require empathy and help from the community. This particular story followed news of a school administrator who made light of food allergies, and of parents and community members who thought she was actually funny. She rightly paid for her comments with her job, but these children and families pay with a life. A precious life. There are no appropriate jokes when it comes to this.

All these thoughts swirling…I found myself this morning, and again this afternoon in our downstairs bathroom, sobbing. Stifling the sound so the kids wouldn’t hear me. I’m not sure I can explain this to my 4-year-old today but I know the day is approaching when we will have to. So here I am. Broken. Helpless. Fearful. Sucking air.

The burden is heavy. And much too real. I wish he didn’t have a food allergy. But he does. And we must go on. I cannot stay in the bathroom all day weeping. I will not squander the moments I have with these kids wallowing in fear. I can’t prevent the fear or the unknown, but I do have control over my own actions.

SO I pull myself together and focus on what I can do:

  • Keep going: I wipe my eyes and compose myself and open the bathroom door. I put one foot in front of the other, pull myself up, and move forward. I continue to love and parent our children. They are a gift, not to be squandered.
  • Pray: I pray for all allergic children to be protected. I pray for a treatment that would be effective when Epi-Pens are not. I pray for answers to why allergies are affecting kids with increasing frequency and for a way to stop it. I pray that these deaths would cease and that no more would be lost due to FOOD; eaten or touched. I pray that my son will NEVER have a life-threatening reaction.
  • Trust: I do the only thing I can do in moments like this. I put my faith in the Lord and remember that He has given me these children to raise and care for. I remember that He is Lord and He is sovereign and faithful. I pray that God would help me trust Him to protect our son because trust doesn’t come naturally. I believe that no matter what, God will see us through whatever happens. I trust in His promises in scripture to give us rest and peace:
    •  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)
    •  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
  • Advocate: I will speak out for my son’s safety no matter what the situation. I will educate others and make sure they understand his needs and the true risks of his needs not being met. I will do whatever I can to make the world safer for him.
  • Equip:  I will continue to educate our son how to protect himself. I will ensure that those caring for him are educated as well. I will take time to learn all I can about allergies, scientific research and technologies.
  • Be Grateful: I commit to be grateful for each moment and that my son is sitting in my kitchen eating his cereal. I will be grateful we found out about his allergy with a test, not an ER visit and that he has never had a life threatening reaction. I will be grateful for family and friends who made our holidays nut-free and safe this year so we could relax and enjoy the day. We are so grateful for all of you who keep our son safe…it truly takes a village…

My son smiles as I walk in. He and his sister won’t know why they receive such intense hugs and kisses on the head. Today, they are oblivious. I’m glad I can protect them from this reality for a little while longer, but the time is coming when they, too, will have to know and understand these things. Today I am grateful my son is a carefree 4-year-old boy who knows there is food he cannot eat and medicine he has to carry. For now, he thinks nuts will make him feel sick and knows to ask before he eats anything…

But he knows nothing of death. This looming potential threat won’t always be hidden from him. His own fears will be tangible, real and heavy. The responsibility will be huge. My daughter will have fears for her brother’s safety, just like my husband and I do. I pray that by the time they have to carry this burden, I will have learned how to carry my own so I can help them carry theirs.

In the long run, I can’t control this, fix it, or heal my son. I can’t make his allergy go away, even though I would gladly take it on myself if I could. I will keep moving on when fear rises because there will be plenty more days like this. The fear creeps up often; when I’m unprepared with alternative safe food, when we’re in an unknown church, school or home, when a dessert loaded with nuts passes by us in a restaurant, when I learn my son ate something before a label was read, and when I read stories of those who have had reactions or have paid the ultimate price. I will keep looking forward and prepare as best I can for the days when I send him to kindergarten, summer camp, and someday, college. I know this fear will certainly be present in the days to come, but I cannot let it rule me.

So I hug these two little ones tightly. And today, I rise above the fear.

I am THAT Allergy Mama: Thank You For Answering My Food Allergy ’20 Questions’ Before We Get Together

Thank You For Answering My Food Allergy '20 Questions' Before We Get Together | Thisgratefulamama.com

How I miss the days when all I had to do was ask what I could bring to a get-together and not have to know what was being served…

Or when someone could bring anything they like best to our house.

Any dessert. Any bread. Any salad topping.

Sigh.

Now I’m constantly MEDDLING.

I’m calling ahead, asking friends to read food labels over the phone, and explaining that the phrase “processed on equipment with nuts” is just as bad for us as something containing an actual peanut.

I’m asking what dessert they are serving, where it came from, and usually planning to bring something similar and safe for my son to eat.

And YES, I often request foods containing nuts aren’t served while we’re there and that nuts are never brought into our home. This is my son’s SAFE zone (and ours). He should never have to question his safety here.

I DO realize it may feel like we ask or expect too much. 

Now I’m hanging out in the kitchen, asking questions about where food came from, and if I can read the food labels myself. If something was made from scratch, I’m asking to if the chocolate chips had a nut allergen warning, and if any pre-made mixes were used.

I KNOW I’m a control freak, and that some of these questions seem silly. I also know that there are plenty of foods that are SAFE and that most of the answers confirm the food IS safe.

BUT, once in a while…we catch something…so I HAVE to ask.

I am THAT allergy mama.

I know sometimes, I’m really annoying with all these questions. I appreciate your patience with me, and for answering me to the best of your ability.

I have REAL and POWERFUL fears (although sometimes they may be blown out of proportion):

  • I AM afraid if there are nuts on the premises, especially when other children are present. Children are messy eaters, they drop things on the floor, they get food on their clothes, hands, hair and face. A quick wipe down with a paper towel and water does NOT safely remove allergen, and my son could have a reaction from coming in contact with it.
  • I DO have sometimes overwhelming fear when the food is generally unknown before we arrive. I usually pack an extra meal for my son, in case he can’t eat what is there. I’m on hyper-alert and may not be able to relax until we sort it all out. I will be distracted until we do. I AM overwhelmed when we arrive to an unexpected baked goods surprise. Donuts sound friendly until you look around and see almonds falling off pastries and chocolate frosted donuts covered in chopped peanuts in the hands of children. Sometimes the fear can be so overwhelming that we just have to go outside; for his safety and my own sanity.
  • I AM afraid that when someone who ate something with nuts kisses my child goodbye that my son will get hives on his face. Or worse.
  • I pray EVERY day and trust that the Lord has what I CAN’T control under HIS all-knowing control. I need to trust Him, or I wouldn’t let us go anywhere.

It may sound selfish, but I DO think my son’s health is more important than your (or your child’s) desire to eat a peanut butter sandwich, pecan pie or peanut butter rice crispy treats. I’m sorry it makes things harder for you. But I think it is OK to ask that you eat them later, when we aren’t around. AND if your child has a food need, I welcome your requests and needs; We will joyfully accommodate them.

I DO trust your efforts are sincere and thorough. However, even with several years of label reading, my husband and I occasionally still catch something on a box that the other missed. Two sets of eyes is ALWAYS better than one. And I’m sorry, but If we don’t have the label or a clear understanding a food’s safety, we can’t eat it. Even if you took a lot of time making it.

I KNOW that nuts show up in the strangest of places and my questions may sound weird: Pretzels, animal crackers, bread, ice cream, ANY dessert, fried foods, italian and asian sauces, salad mixes, seeds, cream cheese, any bulk foods, cereals, crackers, frozen foods, salad dressings, flour, rice, and more have nut allergen warnings. Keeping your child safe from food is more of a LIFESTYLE than anything; it requires a constant AWARENESS.

I AM not sure what type of reaction my son will have from any of these scenarios, but I don’t think ANY reaction is acceptable. I recently heard someone in a grocery store venting about someone with a child with a nut allergy and their ‘over reaction’ to the potential of an allergic reaction. Her reason was, and I quote, “that’s what an Epi-Pen is for”.  This is NOT the first time I’ve heard this statement, nor will it be the last time. Guess what? An Epi-Pen is for when you’ve done EVERYTHING YOU CAN DO to be safe and a reaction happens anyway. I hope to NEVER use ours. I want them to expire, time after time.

The truth is, sometimes an Epi-Pen and quick responses by parents and medical personnel are NOT ENOUGH. Sometimes a child DIES. It is NOT usually because someone neglected to be careful. It was a terrible mistake, or due to an unknown allergy. A heartbreaking event that can’t be undone.

I will NEVER assume a reaction won’t be deadly or cause long-term damage. YES, I pray he won’t ever HAVE a reaction, and that if he does, it will be minor. YES, I believe in God’s protection. But that does NOT mean I have a license to be careless, or that my fears are not valid or real. This is a serious business. It is my child’s LIFE. Having his face swell up, hives all over his body, terrible upset stomach, or his throat close so tightly he cannot breathe are ALL unacceptable to me. Think about how that would FEEL if it happened to your body, or to your child’s body. In our position, I think you’d agree.

I appreciate your honesty and willingness to say when I need to SLOW down, or BACK down. I know that you CARE if my child gets hurt. I know that you are trying your best. If I’m hyped up and making unfair assumptions or requiring too much of you…SAY SO! It may sting, but I promise to listen and to find another way that works better for both of us.

Words can’t express how grateful we are for you who help keep our son safe: 

  • Many of you go out of your way to help us; you purchase nut-free candy, make a cake instead of buying one, or call ahead to ask what is best to have for snack when we come over.
  • OR when you do your own research, educate yourself, and find a bakery that will sterilize equipment and make a nut-free dessert that our son can eat. You, your thoughtfulness, initiative, and kindess amaze me.
  • I appreciate when you serve a ham sandwich to your child before you come and play at our house, or when you have your child wash their hands with soap and water before coming over if they’ve had nuts that day.
  • To the parents and staff at the nut-free preschool our son attends: Thank you for following the hand-washing and food policy so my son is safe when he learns alongside your child.
  • It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how many people who are family, friends, church family, neighbors, school staff, and even acquaintances who go the extra mile. EVERY TIME. 
  • It matters when people ask me to teach them to read a food label, or call me from the store if they aren’t sure about something.
  • It is a relief when a host intentionally saves the food labels for me to read and points them out before I even have to ask.
  • I am amazed by the people who make me DAILY feel like my questions are not a burden, and are gracious to me when I’m obviously operating from a place of fear (when I’m surely not at my best).
  • And to those who regularly pray for my son’s safety and that he will NEVER have a reaction; you make it so the fear doesn’t take over, so the label reading isn’t so hard, and so we can leave the house trusting in the Lord’s protection. We FEEL it.
  • All of you make us feel accepted, blessed beyond measure, and loved. We know you are in this with us, keeping our son safe. We appreciate your advice, kindness, questions and efforts.

Thank you for agreeing that this child is worth the effort, and thank you for answering my food allergy “20 questions”.

son

I Am THAT Allergy Mama: Thank You For Answering My Food Allergy 20 Questions Before We Get Together | thisgratefulmama.com