When a fetus is in the womb, it is safely held in a sea of water and protected from bacteria and other pathogens. However, the very second that water breaks and the infant begins to make its way out into the world, it must travel down a passage that is covered completely with microbiomes–various bacteria specifically prepared in the mother for that child to go through. Every baby’s microbiome is different and perfectly unique and tailored to that child. This bacteria completely covers the baby, gets into the eyes, ears, and nose, and is even swallowed.
Normally, this should hurt the newborn. After all, bacteria leads to disease and other harmful side-effects, even death. However, just as soon as the baby passes through this mucky birth canal, it is immediately placed warmly on the mother’s chest and offered its first meal at the breast.
The baby sucks and sucks by instinct, and if it doesn’t get it at first, he is still steadily taught, directed, and encouraged to feed at the breast because no alternative is better. Not even close. Then once the baby latches, liquid gold soon comes flowing into the baby’s body. At this time, baby is first introduced to this perfect milk that is full of immunities, complex sugars, and everything good to cover and complement the mess it just went through. It is the perfect match for that perfect bacteria that has been designed for the baby’s body, and together, they work to build up the baby’s system and its ability to fight off disease for the rest of its life.
The key is, however, that both are always needed–this life giving breast milk and the pathogenic bacteria. With either one missing, the baby will not properly be able to build up the strength it needs to live.
It amazes me that even from the moment of birth, this is the reality we are faced with–we experience and even need both the good and the bad.
This week we were asked to petition for guardianship over Rell. There was a sudden turn of events, and his parents were deemed incapable of providing for any of their children. So, his three siblings (who had just been reunified at home) were immediately taken by the state. CPS and the police came knocking on their door, and just like that, they were swept away from their chance at staying together.
“Fortunately” for Rell, he was still with us (just a few weeks shy of being reunited with his family himself), and there was a plea on his behalf to be left out of the system and to be allowed to remain in our home. “Fortunately,” they agreed, but only under the condition that we would file legal guardianship over him. “Fortunately” for Rell.
Guardianship. What does that mean? Basically it is the gray area right outside of adoption. We have rights and the freedom to make decisions for him and assume full responsibility over him, but we are not considered his parents. We treat him like family, but he is not really family.
I agreed right away because I love this boy, and I would do anything to keep him safe, but the title didn’t sit so well with me. I wished he could either FULLY be with us through adoption or FULLY be with his biological family. What is this sloppy in between that he has to live with?
Already there have been so many moments that have left him feeling utterly isolated in this situation, and I feel him wanting so badly to belong somewhere.
Sometimes he asks me, “Is mommy going to come get me?” Other times, it’s, “I want to live with my daddy foreva.” Still other times, he looks at me and says with a hopeful smile, “Umma, is you my mommy … foreva?”
He wants a FOREVER family, and who can blame him?
But nothing is certain in his world. I can’t promise him that he’ll be going home to his family because we don’t know if that’ll happen. We can’t tell him that he’ll be with us forever because we don’t know if that’ll be happening either.
The more I thought about guardianship, the more I hated it for that reason. How is this in any way good for him? All of this, this messy dysfunction he was birthed into, feels way more hurtful than any child should ever have to go through and swallow.
But the other side of guardianship is this: we do get to have him for a time. We get to have him for today, tomorrow, and possibly for a month or even the next 14 years until he becomes an adult.
And for whatever amount of time we get to have him, we get to offer him something good–we can love him, care for him, but most importantly, teach him how to lean into God’s bosom and drink from the cup of His hands. There, he can taste the sweet love of Christ and be strengthened even in this difficult place.
When he is scared, when he falls down, or when he has a nightmare as he often does, we don’t only comfort him ourselves. Rather, we IMMEDIATELY put him onto the heart of God because although we may not always be there for him, we know that God will. That is the one pure, good, and sure “forever” that we can offer and promise him.
In the middle of the night when he’s in tears and afraid, “Sing praise, Relly. Worship. Let’s sing loud and sing hard. Praise God and the fear will leave you. You’ve got to sing.”
When he’s struggling to ride a bike and he has fallen down for the 20th time, “Get back up Relly and ask God to make your legs strong. Ask God for strength to pump your legs. Pump harder! You got this! God is your strength! Say it! God is my strength! You can do it!”
With tears, I shout, declare, and even demand this 4 year-old boy learn these truths now because this is his milk after the muck. And there is no better alternative.
Then just maybe, this unique combination of the terrible, messy hardship in his life along with the perfect love of God will create for him a life that is strengthened and able to sustain him. Maybe what doesn’t kill him really will make him stronger. And we don’t want to see him just make it… we want to see him soar, and sometimes we even see him soaring now.
So although it is hard at times and we struggle to see the good in all this when we can’t understand, we trust that God knows what this little boy can handle, and we hope that this seemingly dark place is still all for his good.
For that reason, we can always rejoice and say, thank you, Lord. Even in this, we rejoice.
If we are to really live, if we are to grow, and if we are to thrive, once we all inevitably experience each of our unique microbiomes of hardship, chaos, and pain that have been laid out for our lives, we must also IMMEDIATELY lean into the Father and drink of His sweet goodness. While our suffering in some form or another will always be there, so also will be the Lord and His goodness. He is so good. And in the end, God knows and wills and works to perfectly make it all turn out for our good.
“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.
For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”