Recapturing childhood: Keeping children from becoming casualties of your calling

We had been living overseas for close to two years … and we were stressed. out. We were exhausted. But we didn’t know how to pause to really care for ourselves and fix what felt broken. And then the cancer diagnosis blindsided us last spring and it forced us to pause. And when I look back on these summer months stateside for my husband and I’s three surgeries, I am unbelievably thankful for the ways our children’s childhoods have been reclaimed, restored, and re-prioritized.


Over those first two years, I knew something wasn’t working in how I allowed other people’s expectations to weigh on me and my own unrealistic expectations of how much I could handle with two little ones in tow, but I didn’t know how to make it any different. I didn’t know how to stand up for our family’s needs and say ‘no,’ that’s not good for our children’s needs. And let me tell you a little something about working in ANY profession…. no one else will tell you to slow down (at least when it’s most important). No one else will advocate for you to set better boundaries. {In all fairness, some do and might – and if so, hold on to that job!!!}  Of course others in the non-profit sector are low on resources in money, people, and time so they will take as much as you are willing to give… which is okay if you know how much is okay to give away. Looking back, I realize that I was not feeling as empowered as I needed to be as the mother of my little ones to speak up for what was going to make our family healthy… and we paid the consequences in multiple ways. Our son has suffered from the last three years of being consumed by the stress of preparing to move overseas and then living overseas. He is the sweetest, most embodied and impassioned, most tender-hearted yet strong-willed child… but he has so much anxiety right now and it breaks this mama’s heart. Oh, how I wish I would have chosen him and his needs over anything else… and felt empowered to say ‘no’ more often for the sake of our family’s health.


But I didn’t… and that’s on me. {and then there’s grace that covers me. There’s forgiveness and freedom in knowing that our sweet and patient God is in the business of making all things new.}


We now have to unpile his entire lifetime of stress, transitions, and lack of security that spills out in questions like: “Which house are we going to now?” when we are driving ‘home’ from the grocery store. There’s the white house. The brick house. The brown house. Nana and Papa’s house, etc… from this summer alone! We can’t go back and do things differently. We can’t turn back time and decide to wait to move overseas until Sam was at the right age… Did you know that 2-2 1/2 years old is the the development age that is most sensitive to loss, changes, insecurity, etc…  If someone had said, ‘hey, your child is right at that age where he needs you to be consistent and offer stability in your family and home life’ then we may have really thought through the timing of our move overseas where we changed EVERYthing. But we forgot those nuggets of wisdom from our college courses in development psychology and plowed ahead towards this ‘urgent’ goal.


As I look back at this summer that Cancer gifted us with… Well, Cancer didn’t gift it to us but it made us pause and then God redeemed the hard of Cancer and gave me the gift of this summer with my family. I am so thankful. By being extracted from a very stressful, demanding environment and placed back in our easier, more simple one – we were able to re-align our priorities. Yes, Tony still worked while stateside and yes, there were many stressful moments  {including one week where both Tony and I were on crutches and shepherding our kids to the car with crutches}. For me, I was finally able to set aside all of these externally and internally given, or imposed, goals and expectations of language learning success, being ‘productive,’ making it worth everyone’s while, etc… and simply get myself healthy and focus on my children’s oh-so-obvious needs.


All of a sudden I’m looking at fighting and living with an incurable cancer and I realize, all the more, that I want to pour all my love that God has given me for these two precious little ones and let them know that they are so deeply loved and safe in their Creator. They are uniquely made… and where they are anxious, I have more time and energy to scoop them up and say over and over to them: “you are safe. you are safe. you are safe” as my merciful God is speaking over me these days. And because they are seeing a less stressed out Mama and Baba, they can feel secure in knowing that their parents will offer them the stability they need to experience in order to flourish. 


So as I reflect on these past few months of hardship in our three surgeries, difficult recoveries, and an uncertain future – I can see the silver lining. I can see how God redeems all things for His purposes… even an unexpected cancer diagnosis.  My kids got to know their aunt and uncles and their three awesome cousins… They were able to get so much extra attention from both sets of grandparents. They were able to enjoy a Michigan summer!! Just yesterday, I found myself saying to myself: “Yep, they’ve needed the love of their grandparents right now as we have been healing and allowing God to restore our bodies, hearts, and minds. We could not have loved them through this season on our own… it took an entire village.” 


Moving forward, I am committed to reclaiming childhood for my littles… both here and over the seas. I am determined to limit my ‘commitments’ and ‘yes’s’ so that I can give my kids the chance to play, explore, feel safe and loved, and simply enjoy the gift of each day. I know that this is a season where this is absolutely necessary because of what we’ve been through… there will be a season in the near future where I will have enough energy and strength and ability to juggle this dance of motherhood with the other gifts and passions that He has given me that are not limited to my role as a mother. I don’t take it for granted that I have been entrusted with these little hearts with twinkling eyes and passionate spirits who are looking at me and asking: “Mama, are you okay?” More than anything, I want to be okay so that they can feel peace in those sponge-hearts that absorb every little thing from the world around them. While children at the ages of 2 and 4 may not be able to articulate the ways that your pain becomes their pain, you can see it in their tantrums, tears, fears, and rhythms.


Here’s to living a healed, restored, and whole season of life that offers my children the chance to grow into who God has created them to be. Here’s to making a renewed promise that my children will not be the casualties of our calling. There will be many, many costs as we are called to persevere through trials of many kinds — but I truly believe that our children’s health are not meant to be one of them. Here’s to living in the grace of God that the choices I’ve made that have hurt my children’s health are not the final word… there is hope, there is healing, there is freedom on the other side of our family’s brokenness. And it’s good. very good.


And our children are worth fighting for… both the children God has given us through adoption and pregnancy as well as the children God has entrusted to us who are fleeing for their lives and needing just as much stability and security as these little wavy-haired, wide-eyed children that God has placed in my heart and life.