I vividly remember being overwhelmed at the strange reality of parenting children I didn’t know. I had not really anticipated how bizarre it would feel to have a mother’s love, and I mean real love, for a child living in our home who was a virtual stranger. How strange if felt to parent a stranger!

One of the issues Stephen and I faced early on in the adoptions of our older children was the reality that foundations had already been laid in their lives. And these were foundations laid haphazardly, not by loving parents intentionally building life-long values, rather they were structures formed by a child’s need for survival, by coping skills developed for self-protection, by ways of thinking formed in the chaos of lack. And then there were the giant holes where no foundation had been laid at all. Holes where unconditional love should have been, where tender memories that are the currency of deep relationships should have been, where a strong and stable identity should have been.

The way this issue of faulty foundations looked “where the rubber meets the road,” (that is, the way it looked in our home) was at first confusing and disturbing for me. I’m the kind of parent who likes to deal with issues right away, and deal with them until they are fixed. That approach has some serious weaknesses I came to find out! When you are loving and parenting a child whose behavior and way of seeing life has been formed by lack, or by orphanage codes of conduct, you are up against far more problems that need fixing than is possible to change in the first months or even years of life together. And remember, we are talking about behaviors that often stem from deep foundational realities.

One of the things the Lord told me early on after our first adoption was this, “You need to be in this for the long haul.” This is exactly what I heard Him say. I have come to appreciate this simple word from God over the years because it has freed us to be patient, to believe God for the deep deep foundational work that He is doing in our children’s lives, knowing that He is aware of the years passing. Stephen and I came to realize that if we were to address every bad behavior each time it occurred, then our relationship with our children would be almost solely marked by the negative: pointing out what is wrong and requiring change, with very little room for fun and love and approval.

One day I felt the Lord speak to me about my frustration in having to let some bad behaviors go for the time being. I would love to share with you what He said to me. It gave us such freedom and also released a deeper compassion for our children, even in their worst behaviors. Often God speaks in pictures, and this is how He spoke to me.

He showed me in my mind’s eye a building, but the part I was seeing was the foundations under the building. I saw that there were these taller columns that were clearly full of holes, ragged in places, crooked and weak. And as I examined these I thought, “this isn’t good at all. There is no way these columns will be able to sustain this building for any significant period of time.” Then I realized that amidst the faulty foundations, even right up next to them, were these shorter columns that were in the process of being built. They were clearly well-made, strong, able to take the weight of a large building without strain, however they were not tall enough yet to reach the actual structure.

I felt the Holy Spirit show me that this was a picture of what He was up to in our children’s lives. The buildings sitting on the weak columns were the lives of our precious adopted children. They could not live good lives on these faulty foundations, but I saw God’s tender mercy and His beautiful love for them in the actual presence of these crooked columns. I realized that if we were to destroy these columns before the new ones we were building got tall enough to reach their lives, until they became something that our children could put the weight of their lives on, then we would, in effect, destroy the child while in the process of destroying the foundations. I became assured in my spirit that these bad foundations would come down in time, but also realized that we mustn’t go in with a parenting wrecking ball.

I cannot express how freeing this was for us, for me in particular. We needed to allow some things to pass without “fixing” them. This was not poor parenting, but rather very intentional on our part. As I contemplated the picture God showed me, it became clear to me how God has treated me. How, looking back on my life, God never required me to change all that needed changing at once. How there are things I did and thought in the past that I never even knew at the time needed changing, yet He loved me so.

Over the years, we have seen the solid, whole foundations replace the weak ones. We have watched as our children have tried out the new foundations, testing them to see if they actually work. Then, on occasion we have watched them try to go back to the familiar old foundations. As those began to crumble under them, causing them all sorts of trouble, they would choose to trust these newer columns, placing the whole of their weight on them and enjoying the security and safety they provide.

May we all “be in this for the long haul,” always building strong foundations as we love and parent these precious ones.


Beth has been married to her husband, Stephen, for 25 years. They have seven children, ages 16 to 22. Several years after giving birth to three girls, God called their family into the adventure and blessing of adoption. In 2000, they brought home a brother and sister, ages 5 and 10, from Russia. Then they returned to the same orphanage 18 months later and brought home two more brothers, ages 7 and 10. Currently, three of their children are in college and four are in high school. Stephen and Beth serve as leaders in their local church. Beth leads a ministry to mothers and has a passion for communicating the joy, peace, and victory available to us as parents. This fall, September 23-24, they are a part of a wonderful opportunity for adoptive families called Hope at Home 2011, going beyond the traditional conference and providing a time of equipping and restoring parents of adoptive and foster families. Consider joining them, and click here and here to learn more.

10 Responses to Foundations

  • Jerusha says:

    Once again, this is so, SO good. Thank you.

  • oh my this is soooooooooo very very helpfu…l thank you for writing this….. i have a love too for the children we have adopted but need to realize too that everything can’t be changed at once.. we got a sibling group from state of Missouri that were nine years and under… and 9 months ago we got a girl from russia who was an adoption disruption from another family,and we are still in adoption process…thanks for sharing this..

    • You are so welcome Sharon. Your family sounds amazing, and full! I’ve wondered about the issues of disruption. Those roots of rejection must be even deeper. Do you see the parenting process being different because of it? My heart just aches when I hear of a child whose adoption is disrupted. There is a boy we know who is in a children’s home now because his family just couldn’t keep him. So sad. I pray that God give you all you need in abundance for this daughter, and for your other children. He is more than enough and will take us for the ‘long haul!’

  • Such wisdom…and in an illustration that is easy for us to picture! Thank you for sharing what God has revealed to you! Our son was 21 months when he came home, but I still see areas where the foundation is weak. I love the idea that getting the foundation strong means being in it for the “long haul”. So often I want to see quick results. :)

    • Thank you Tara. I still wish I could see quick results, but I have to say that even this month we have seen some things in our 16 year old son, who came home at 5 years old from Russia, that we have been “building” for all these years, and it is just amazing and so beautiful to see the strength of it in him. I am in awe of God for what He has done. How old is your son now? I pray that you are strengthened for the “long haul” and sense the Father’s love for you Tara.

  • Beth, our son is 2 1/2 now. He’s only been home 9 months! Thank you for your prayers. :)

  • Kim says:

    My husband and I are feeling called to “older” child adoption (in a few more years). This is something I struggle with…I feel like I can understand that these children will have a great deal of attachment difficulties, sadness, trauma (I’ve even done my graduate research on this very topic). I’m ok with all of that (in theory), but I think the thing I still get hung up on is my complete inability to parent like everyone else I see. Thank you so much for this post and your assurance that it is ok to parent with your child’s past in mind…in fact, you recommend it. Additionally, your points to keep laying new foundations…Thanks again.

    • I’m so glad the post was helpful Kim. How exciting that you are called to adopt! And how wise you are to prepare by exposing yourself to adoption blogs like We Are Grafted In. I love reading the posts here. I know that God will give you all that you need, the manna for the day, once you bring your children home. There is a certain anointing that comes with the call, and it is part of our inheritance as His children, so you can count on it! You might be interested in another post I wrote about ‘parenting forward’ into our children’s identity, which is a kind of companion to this one, which as you noted, is more about recognizing the impact of the past on our parenting:
      Let me know what you think! And may God bless you as you continue to hear His words for you about your life.

  • Kim says:

    Thank you so much for your response! I loved reading your link as well. I think I will link up with that soon on my blog (if you don’t mind) since I have a few friends considering foster care that read my blog. I love to hear from women and men who speak with honest practicality from a Christian perspective. I feel like many blogs effectively do one or the other. It’s not a criticism. I love all of those blogs too, but it is rare to see someone really try to marry those two things like you did. Again, thanks so much! I look forward to reading more of the wisdom that God has shown you in on this journey.

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