It’s been six years, three months and one week since I started the long drives to take Lifa to visit his biological father.
Along the way, the oh-so-handsome Chris Ladd stepped in like a super hero to take the steering wheel, take my hand, and take the lead for our family. Together, we re-committed to God to preserve Lifa’s relationship with his father and his culture.
Making a commitment is great… it’s putting in the miles that is the true test of faith.
The long drives and the drop-offs with dad never got easier. As Lifa got older, he could see the discrepancies in the different types of homes, families and protection. In order to honor our commitment to God and protect Lifa, we helped his dad move into a new, safer community near some pastors we have a long-term relationship with. We make sure his father’s needs are met monthly and furnished his home so Lifa could have his own bed and a stable environment to visit when we dropped him off for a visit.
We did our best to provide a stable environment and add value to the household, but we could not create the sense of security and stability kids were made to live in. Lifa had a really hard experience over the 3-week Christmas break with his dad. It was difficult for us all to recover, and even more difficult to think of doing it again for the July holiday.
This year, Lifa has struggled more with finding his identity and place in the world than ever before. Our family is trusted to wrestle with identity development hard and strong until Lifa can stand solid like a rock on his identity in Christ.
Lifa is visiting his dad right now. I still cried my heart out the night before we dropped him off, but we did it. This time, Lifa only stayed at his dad’s house for one week, and they had a great set up.
I got Lifa his own neon green shaker bottle and a box of FutureLife for the trip to his dad’s house. FutureLife is a South African novelty, developed originally to help fight malnutrition and starvation in impoverished communities. Now it is a staple in any type of household. You just add water or milk to make a porridge or drink – hot or cold. It comes in many flavors and has a complete daily dose of nutrition. It would give him the ability to eat whenever he felt hungry and not have to worry about recovering weight and nutrition upon his return.
Lifa’s was chocolate with extra protein, and he loved the idea of making his own smoothies like Mom and Dad do. He sees us drink protein smoothies after I lift weights or Chris runs, and so we sent him off armed and ready with a shaker bottle, FutureLife, and a training plan!
I talked to Lifa on the phone last night from his dad’s house, and he had a lot to say! “Mom, I basically ran all day. Every day.” (Mom and Dad know that means he put in a solid 10 minutes… classic running time warp.) “And then I did 15 push ups and jump squats. I exercise so much. I’m actually sore right now. I’ve been drinking my FutureLife everyday after I exercise so my muscles get really strong.”
I mom-cheered the heck out of that.
It’s silly. Chocolate FutureLife and a neon green shaker bottle. But I felt God’s love for Lifa so deeply through this excited story telling.
The story of the shaker bottle means so much to me because it was a tiny little piece of family identity that Lifa took with him into the rest of the world. He left the safety, protection, and pursuing love of our household and went into a very different reality. But he had a tangible value and lifestyle of our household to hold onto. Something simple like health and fitness provided a strong tower for him to run into and remember who he is, even when no one around him understands. (“Mom, no one likes my FutureLife.” “That’s because it has vitamins, Lifa.”)
The world-changer we’ve been entrusted to raise lives in two worlds, has two very different dads, and everything seems to have flipped upside down on him in the last six months. We’ve cried out to God as we’ve watched him struggle to find something to hold onto, something to stand on to know who he is. To know where he belongs.
It’s hard to watch Lifa wrestle with this reality at 9-years old, but we were all made to wrestle in this. We have been trusted to be citizens of heaven that live on this earth. To be fathered and to know the Father. We’re promised that everything is going to turn upside down at some point, but the Father we turn to will still be standing strong and firm.
The best thing we can do is know our identites in Christ, establish our household according to those values, and then give our families ways to hold on to that wherever they go.
Sometimes putting on the armor of Christ is filling your mind with Scripture, and sometimes it’s giving a hug goodbye while you hand a kid a shaker bottle.
We are made to make Christ-followers and then send them out into the world. Armed and ready.