Today, I went to pick up my youngest child from his school a few minutes early to get him to an appointment. While there, a school staff member stopped to tell me a sweet story. I had to cover my mouth and hold my breath because I almost dropped to the floor in tears.
My 8 year old, Little Man (LM), still sits at the peanut-free table at school. His food allergies are all gone except for low levels of skin testing response to peanut showing up now and again. He can touch it, sit near it, and smell it. He has no desire to eat it. And really, I’m not forcing it. When you put previously severe allergies together in a cocktail with obsessive anxiety, I really don’t see the point of pushing too many adventures into freedom at once. He already eats all tree nuts, dairy, and egg now after years of being allergic to those as well. Big, brave, victorious steps—each and every one of them.
So, four years into school, when I asked him this year if he wanted to finally give up the security of the peanut-free table, he wasn’t sure. Starting school was enough to process. I told him it was fine that we ease into change. When you have lived so long in fear of foods you put into your body threatening to harm you severely, you develop some security blankets. One of his is this safe-zone cafeteria table.
In my mother’s heart, I was ready to toss this chain off his neck last year. I wanted to open up his social world. Not many kids sit at that table. They take turns being with him if they buy lunch. Otherwise, he can often be alone. For an extreme extrovert, that is a special form of torture.
But then in came one of his little buddies. This child and Little Man were sitting back-to-back, chairs pushed against each other, facing into separate tables—one peanut-free and one not. The staff member initially thought one was not giving the other space—a conclusion I might easily make myself. As it turns out, when she told them to please move a bit apart, both boys turned around and told her that it was okay because they did this on purpose. They knew they had to sit at separate tables, but if they sat back-to-back, they could hear each other and face other friends and yet still be in each other’s world. They cleverly adapted their circumstances to find a way to still hang out. And she affirmed them for it.
I drove for 45 minutes to the appointment feeling the full weight of that—and the complete brilliance of it. And the simplicity. It made me think of my dogs when they were new puppies in our home; they would push their tiny furry bodies against matching ends of the crate to touch each other through the bars. To get warm. To know companionship and comfort.
It’s an incredibly powerful thing to see what lengths the human heart and spirit will go to in order to find and keep that connection.
Another one of Little Man’s close friends has spent the past several years getting a school lunch as often as he could to sit together so LM wasn’t alone. When he can’t sit with him because he didn’t get a cafeteria lunch (approved as peanut-free), he makes sure to let LM know he’s still thinking of him even though they can’t sit together that day. He always offers a smile and encouragement, even a hug.
When she shared the same school with him, still another friend regularly checked on Little Man to make sure someone was with him at lunch, if possible. Her heart looked out for his. She understood the potential isolation of a separate table and took care of her friend. She shepherded, protected, looked out for him. She is 8 years old.
Not only is this a culture of kindness I so appreciate in these 7 and 8 year olds—and don’t we all need to see more of that: kindness in the next generation?—but it also reminds me that God does that for us. Wherever we are, whatever our struggle, handicap, issue, frustration, trial, or something otherwise holding us back, He pulls his chair up to us right where we are. He is with us. We may feel lonely in our trial or circumstances at times, but He is always looking out for us, caring deeply that we have someone to sit at the table with—Him. If we talk to Him and trust Him, we will always find Him there to rest our backs upon. He keeps us company.
I also see that, just like Little Man, sometimes we are unable or unwilling to let go of something, to trust, to take a great step forward in faith. And God is still there, providing for us, patiently coming alongside, gently coaxing us toward that new step of faith. LM wasn’t ready to leave the table, so God sent his friends to sit with him until he was ready. They loved him through it.
The Apostle Paul reassures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God—not our rational or irrational fears. Not our need to hold on to something. Not even the few places we struggle to trust. If we yield to Him and ask Him, God’s love is a powerful force to sustain us. Little Man’s own inability to fully let go of the peanut-free table did not keep him from the Lord’s presence. God sent LM reinforcements so he didn’t have to go it alone.
Is there anything more beautifully reflective of a deeply loving Father than sending His smallest sheep to care for each other?
I truly can’t think of anything more precious, and I have much to learn of God as I watch the youngest of His flock.
Romans 8:35-39, Apostle Paul speaking
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.