I watched him playing today. From the kitchen window as I washed the dishes, he catches my attention. His agile body swiftly running through the grass, away from the older brother who threatens to tackle. His giggle is darling. I can’t hear it through the pane, but I know the sound by heart.
It’s not often the colors of our family are noticeable to me. Yes, we’re white, brown and black. But to me, we’re just us. The Manrys. Pieced together by the Lord, held together in love. It never seems exotic or interesting or unusual, the way our family lives and looks. It’s merely our reality. One we’ve chosen, one chosen for us.
But today, I notice.
I notice his black skin, darkened by the recent African sun. And I choke on my emotion as I consider how he’s mine. How everything inside me feels and knows and recognizes him as a part of me. How is that possible? How is it possible for this black little boy to feel every bit a part of me as the ones born of me? It’s unnatural. It’s exotic! It’s interesting and unusual! Not us, but what He is able to do. Sometimes I’m so busy and caught up in the life of being us, I don’t pause to recognize just how fascinating the Lord is, manifested in the lives of people. His creative works of exotic love and unusual grace are what have colored our life and family. I swallow my emotion and thank God for this life he has shaped for us. This calling to love different. This blessing of children. Because I never would have chosen this on my own.
I think back to when Myles was a baby. Small and sweet, but very little love between the two of us. He preferred Mark and I preferred my other children. Did I just write that for you to read? Myles was stiff, not cuddly like most babies. His drool constantly spilled from his mouth and soaked his face and shirt, and that of those who held him. For two years he went months upon months with a runny, snotty nose. And his poopy diapers were frequent and toxic. He wasn’t special needs, he wasn’t difficult to parent. He was simply messy and my flesh struggled to embrace him. Him, who was abandoned. Him, who spent three months with fewer cuddles and touches than what he needed. Him, who never sucked enough to develop strong cheek muscles to keep the mouth closed. Him, who learned young to stiffen his body as some sort of protective response.
I’m ashamed of the way I was slow to love. I wish my love was the kind that runs to people in broken realities, and flies open my arms to embrace the dirty and broken, the messy and needy.
The sad, embarrassing bottom line is: I didn’t love him yet.
With my biological children, love happened first. Before the drool, before the poop, before the sleepless nights. Love was being knit in my heart for them long before I ever laid eyes on them. It’s a natural I-helped-create-you kind of love. There’s really nothing quite like it. A love so rooted to your core, a love so wholly complete, so pure. And when this love happens first, the unclean isn’t so gross. And the inconveniences are worth it. And the needs are unquestionably provided for.
But when love doesn’t happen first, it changes everything. The physical, emotional and spiritual conditions of others are more obvious and intrusive when love is absent.
But here’s the beautiful part I want you to know:
It happened. Slowly but surely my heart expanded, my love grew, my grace flourished! And the fruit of this love is sweeter than anything I’ve ever tasted. When loving is learned through the unclean, through the inconveniences, through the needs – it’s so deep and satisfying. It’s the kind of love that’s changing this world. It’s the kind of love that redeems and heals. It’s the kind of love that crosses boundaries. It’s the kind of love we are called to have for all people. It’s a love rich with genuine grace, because you have to learn how to give it. You have to rely on Jesus for it.
It’s a holy love, I’m convinced. And I wish for everyone to know it.
I journeyed through the unclean to discover the holy. This challenges everything I know about holiness, being set apart for the purposes of God. My whole life I thought this meant separating myself from the impurities of the world. But now I know that to be holy is to live different and set apart within the world.
It’s our response of exotic love and unusual grace to all people that sets us apart, that makes us holy.
This is messier, more complicated. There will be grayer lines and fewer answers. It requires the crossing of boundaries, the embracing of filth, the receiving of those you might not love yet.
This is no ordinary life. But we were never called to be ordinary. We were called to follow Jesus to reveal an alternative reality to the broken, unclean, hurting world.
This is being holy as he is holy.
The hospitable life is worth the struggle and cost. This sweet boy reminds me that I’ll never regret it.
Here he plays at an orphanage….no longer an orphan. He’s ours, loved and adored by each of us. Praise God!
*Adam Hill’s sermon engaging the ideas of Unclean by Richard Beck helped me understand and articulate my experience of being unwilling to embrace Myles in those early months. Thankful.
Lori Loves living the life God is writing for her family. It’s a story of obedience, of learning to desire and trust the ways of God more than her own ways. A story of abandoning old dreams and embracing the abundant life offered through participating with Jesus in his redemptive activity on this earth. She and Mark and their five children live on a small growing hobby farm, an environment where God’s grace is continually teaching them in ways of hospitality and genuine love. Lori blogs at environmentsofgrace.com
My post where I described the sometimes rocky journey of attaching to my new daughter evidently hit a nerve. I can now say without a doubt that I am not the only one to experience this. In fact, I’m pretty comfortable asserting that my experience is far closer to the norm than the love at first sight adoption fairy tale that everyone imagines to be the norm. And because I think it is so important, I will repeat it again, attaching to a new child, even a child who is thrilled to be in a new family, can be hard. (I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but the more I write about this, the more I hear from or hear about others who struggle with this. If I have to be a one-woman campaign to say they are not the only ones, then I will.)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent who struggles with the absence of happy, lovey-dovey feelings. There is nothing to feel ashamed about because this is a normal reaction which many adoptive parents have. Adding guilt to the whole cocktail of emotions that a new parent experiences is not helpful and probably is more than a little hurtful. Guilt and shame can cause even more avoidance toward building a relationship because every time a parent interacts with the child and those warm fuzzy feelings don’t appear, guilt and shame are ready to jump into the breach. Trying to avoid feeling these negative emotions often means avoiding the child who is seen as the cause of them.
But the child is not the cause. The child is merely trying to make sense of the sometimes terrifying situation he or she has been thrust into. None of us is at our best when confused and scared. None of us is at our best when thrown into a new situation where we are unsure of the rules. None of us is at our best when trying to communicate in another language, especially one we have no familiarity with at all. These are the things we have to remember every time an annoying behavior repeats itself. We are allowed to help ease the child out of that behavior, but we aren’t allowed to act as though the child is doing it on purpose, solely to annoy us.
And this is where the hard part comes in. We are the ones who invited this child into our home… annoying habits and all. We are the ones who have to be the grown-ups, whether we like it or not. This means embracing the idea that love is a lot bigger than how we feel. We need to take it upon ourselves to do the things which are going to help us to love our child. Even if we don’t feel like it. Even if the child doesn’t respond. Even if it takes more than a few months… or years. It’s not easy. It takes a good support system, lots of rest, and the grace of God, but it can be done.
But most importantly of all, there is hope. If you continue to act lovingly toward your child; be careful not to avoid him or her; work to have more positive interactions than negative ones; smile; and get professional help if it is called for, one day you will wake up and see that small person (or not so small as the case may be) come into your room and you will be surprised to find that your heart is flooded with love at their mere presence.
You will make mistakes. You will lose your patience, You will have set backs. But keep trying. Nothing is too hard for God. Ask Him to help you to not harden your heart towards your child, but for you to find how to love him instead.
My relationship with H. continues to grow. I try to be careful to get enough sleep and rest which gives me the patience that I need. One thing I am making myself do is to only have positive thoughts about her… thoughts that dwell on any negatives I try to be quick to shut down and think about something else. Learning to love and attach is sometimes more a battle of the mind than anything else.
Elizabeth Curry is a homemaker and a homeschooling mother of 10 children; two sons were adopted from Vietnam and her newest daughter came home from China last March. As a follower of Jesus, she is passionate about the sacred act of creating a home, raising children, and advocating for truthful adoption. She blogs about these things as well as about living life with 10 children in the Big Ugly House. Elizabeth, her husband, Judson, and their children live in the Chicago area.
Hyatt and Holden (both 4 yrs old) were in the hallway cleaning fingerprints off the walls with anti-bacterial wipes (this is a chore that I have the littles do often, mainly because they are the fingerprint culprits). As they cleaned, they were talking about the pictures that hung above their heads. Their conversation caught my attention, so I quietly listened where they couldn’t see me…
|December 2009 - the picture that was the topic of discussion.|
|December 2011 – lizziebeephotography.com|
Hyatt: See this one Holden? (as he points to the photo above) This one was after we became the Real Lang Family. This is the one that has all of us together.
Comparison is a contentment killer. I used to only think that meant comparing myself to other people, but it can also be personal. I have grown so much since the younger version of me walked that forest path. I wouldn’t give back these hard earned years of maturity for anything. I may not be living a life that I thought I would be (which can often feel like a reality television show without the famous paycheck) but I can honestly say that in the midst of the chaos, I have an inner peace that only the Holy Spirit can bring when in direct obedience to Christ.And I got all of this from overhearing a conversation between my two 4 year olds. I am still in awe of the belief and the understanding of the eternal in my son’s heart.
Yes Hyatt and Holden, we are now the Real Lang Family, and we are so very proud that we are.
Christina is a proud wife to an amazing man named Brandon and mama to six beautiful children ages 9, 7, 4, 3, 2, & 1. After getting her degree and teaching junior high for a couple of years, she had four sons. When her youngest boy was 13 months old, they completed their family by adopting a brother and sister from foster care. She blogs as a way to document her family’s growth, as well as an outlet which she hopes will encourage others. She feels truly called to her lifestyle and knows that she is incredibly blessed to fulfill that calling. Their family life is entwined by selfless faith and together learning daily how to live missionally. They recently moved from California to their new forever home in Arizona. She absolutely loves her life as a stay-at-home/frequently found warehouse shopping/carpooling/football mom.
The other day I was talking with a fellow adoptive mom and we were discussing some of the misconceptions surrounding big kid adoption. Who invented these ideas that older kids are always troubled, angry and aggressive? In many of my interactions with adoptive parents they say things like, “Well, we know an older child would just be too much for us….” Now, no one should adopt a child of any age ever unless that’s what they really want to do, so the point here isn’t to guilt people into being open to older kids. Yet, there are so many people opening their hearts to adoption and older kids do often get overlooked. At the end of our chat, my friend and I came to the conclusion that parents of older adopted kids need to be more open about the good, bad and ugly of big kid adoption.
Since we brought home our first older child 13 months ago and our second older child 3 weeks ago, I’m obviously an expert on this topic and should share my wisdom. And if you believe that, I’ve got some lovely oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you…. But really, I would like to address some of the concerns people commonly have about adopting older children and share our experience. Like all experiences, it is unique and no one else’s will be exactly like it.
Let me start by sharing some details about our first month or so with Amby. It started off all rainbows and unicorns because he was so excited to have a family. Then, the day we took full custody of him in his country, a switch flipped the first time he heard me utter the word, “no.” The poor kid thought he was getting a candy-giving orphanage volunteer for a mom and he was ticked when he learned otherwise. He would wail, at the top of his lungs, for an hour at a time whenever he was told no. I am not exaggerating. Ask the security guards at the mall in Uganda who witnessed one of these displays. Ask the guesthouse staff who would stare, wide-eyed in disbelief.
I responded to these episodes by sitting close to him and letting him know as soon as he was done, I would be there for him and ready to talk. I made a point not to involve any of my own emotions (believe you me, he had enough going on for both of us.) Whenever he did calm down, I made a big stinkin’ deal out of it and congratulated him for regaining control. Then I moved on and didn’t bring it up again. I did my best to show him that no tantrum was going to scare me away or make me cave in and give him the thing I had said “no” about. I did try to structure those first days to avoid power struggles, but there are times when no is necessary and I think it helped us to get that out of the way in the beginning.
For whatever reason, after a little over a month he was done having fits and has never had another one. He is now my most happy-go-lucky, compliant, cheerful kid. I think a lot of this is his God-given temperment (as his older brother is a little more stubborn by nature.)
I share this story to illustrate what I believe is a very important truth about all adoption: the child you first meet is not necessarily indicative of who your child really is. Today we visited that mall where he once had a massive tantrum. I asked if he remembered it and he didn’t, but we had a good long laugh about it. The scared, confused kid he was that first month is not at all the little boy I have now.
Three weeks ago, when we first took Mary into our care, I was incredibly overwhelmed. I was jetlagged. My kids were jetlagged. Add to that a new child who is sick and speaks no English and it was a rough start. We had longed for and dreamed about telling her we were her family forever and she was just flat out terrified the first few days. She cried a lot and didn’t have the language to express how she was feeling. Each day, she came out of her shell a little bit more. She interacted with us and opened up to us. Thankfully, there have been no wailing tantrums, but she has had quiet little pouty fits when she doesn’t get her way (for the record, this might be just an 8 year old girl thing.)
The beginning was hard with both of my big kids, but I don’t think it was hard just because they weren’t babies. My friends who adopt babies have their own struggles. Adoption is hard. It is borne out of loss, so “hard” is inherent. I really think parents need to know this and embrace it going into any adoption.
Earlier I mentioned these myths that seem to surround big-kid adoption. I’d like to share my take on some of these:
1. Older kids are angry. Every child processes trauma in different ways. Neither of my big kids are angry or aggressive. Both have dealt with trauma and both are on the road to restoration. I do sometimes see grief processed as sadness. During these difficult times, both of my older kids are open to letting us help them process their emotions and we consider that a huge blessing.
2. Older kids have difficulty attaching. Since the term RAD came out, somehow it has become synonymous with “big kid” and “beyond hope.” I don’t believe either of these things are true. My Amby has a very strong, healthy developing attachment. I say developing because he has only been ours’ for one year and I feel like this is a years long process. Mary is in the very early stages of attachment, but she is doing really well with it. She lets us be physically close to her, she comes to us to meet her needs, she prefers us over strangers and we see the first buds of healthy trust forming. Each day at exactly 11:30 AM, no matter where we are, she climbs into my lap and takes a long nap. Now, what about children who have dealt with so much trauma that they truly do struggle to attach? There is hope! I refuse to accept that a child with RAD is doomed. First of all because God is just as faithful to them as He is to anyone else. Secondly, we now have so many resources available to help these kids that, with some professional help, I believe no child is a lost cause.
3. Older kids are a threat to younger kids in the home. This delves into disrupting birth order, which I understand is a controversial topic. We do not bury our heads in the sand about issues surrounding birth order, but we also don’t live in fear. I’d like to start by saying that much of this depends on the personal history of the newly adopted child and all parents must do their due diligence to find out as much as they can about that. I also think if one is going to disrupt birth order, it is beneficial to meet the child ahead of time and observe how that child interacts with other kids. I am grateful to say that this has not been an issue for us. Neither of my big kids have ever tried to hurt one of the other kids in any way. There are boundaries in our home that help keep everyone safe. One is the open-door policy. No child is ever in a room with another child with the door shut. Another is that our kids don’t play naked. Another choice we’ve made is to talk very openly with all of our children about behaviors that are safe and appropriate and those that are not. With these boundaries in place, we also observe our kids closely when they play together.
I want to close by saying that this is not for everyone, but it is for some of us. In our family, big kid adoption has been an amazing experience and we are so blessed God called us to these precious kids.
Lara is a Jesus-loving, book-reading, coffee-drinking, kid-chasing farmer’s wife of 5 years. She and her beloved farmer, Jon, have 4 kids: Mary, Cade, Ambrose, and Ellie. They just brought their most recent addition, Mary, home from Uganda. Follow along on their journey at The Farmer’s Wife Tells All.
On this journey of adoptive parenting, I’ve noticed that the little things become so huge. You celebrate every little tiny triumph, every little sign of attachment. You have to or you get discouraged. The journey of attachment is long, bumpy, and full of regressions. So you have to make sure you notice all the little steps of healing and you have to celebrate them with your partner.
We celebrated when J-Man started facing toward us when we rocked him at night. He did not want to be held intimately for a long time. For a while, he would only let me hold him when I was standing up, but as soon as I sat down, he sensed a level of intimacy he wasn’t comfortable with and he was done. Then he started letting me rock him without having a fit the whole time, but only if he faced away from me. I can’t even explain the feeling I still get when he faces me as I rock him. His body relaxes into mine and that moment is huge for me.
We celebrated the first time J-Man fell asleep on his daddy, which took months. It showed a level of comfort we had not seen up to that point.
We celebrated when J-Man started hanging on to me when I carried him. For a long time, his arms were always up in the air when we carried him, in a sort of relaxed “Y” position. He wasn’t attached to us, and he didn’t really want to be held by us. Finally, he started to rest his hand on my shoulder when I carried him and eventually he started to grab onto my shirt.
I’ve noticed my friends’ children who grab onto their mommies every time they’re carried and I wonder if their mommies even notice this precious little gesture. Do they just take it for granted because their kids have always done it? Do they notice when their babies’ gaze follows them around the room, which is a sign of attachment? Do they feel the significance when their crying child is comforted by Mommy’s hand on his back in the middle of the night?
It’s something I’ve come to love about adoptive parenting. I don’t take anything for granted. Every time my child crawls into my lap on his own or even makes eye contact with me, I celebrate. I am filled with gratitude and amazement at God’s healing power.
So whether you’re an adoptive parent or a biological parent, may you notice all those little things. May you not take any of them for granted.
And if you are an adoptive parent, may you watch for those little signs of attachment and healing. May you allow yourself to be encouraged and to hold onto those moments in the midst of all of your hard work and discouragement.
Laurel and her husband adopted their first son in 2010 from Ethiopia and are currently fostering to adopt their second son. With two 2-year-old boys, they are always hopping! Chris is a pastor and Laurel is a stay-at-home-mom. You can follow their story at God Found Us You.
You couldn’t have convinced me, before all of these brown babies came into my life, that a tiny baby could really know what he missed. But there was the time Calvin was 9 months old and the cartoon cut to kids in Korea, a whole schoolyard of them laughing and playing. He froze. Then he bawled his eyes out. He knew. I swept him up and our hearts broke together, for two different reasons. That’s when my mind changed. That’s when I knew for sure that the heart knows what it wants. That’s when adoption became more than my path to a family.
Then there’s his little brother, the one who changed everything we knew all over again, the one who pushes back at life, all wiry limbs and almond eyes bigger than forever.
He’s four now, and he’s got some things to say. He tells us he loves us all the time. He calls everyone “Mrs. Doohiggy” and laughs like he invented four-year old humor. He talks trash. He gives me permission to do stuff all dang day because he has a monstrous Boss complex. “Oh sure, you can put those dishes away.” “Yes, you may check your email.” “Okay, you can make some lunch!”
A few weeks ago he curled up on my lap like a monkey baby and lapsed into that really safe baby world, his wide eyes wider, the weight of his body a gift in my hands. I’ll play baby with him anytime.
This time, the baby started talking.
S: I was born in my Kria (Korea).
Me: Yes, you were.
S: You get me there wis Daddy. We go up in the airplane.
Me: Yep. Did you like the airplane?
S: No. I cried.
Me: Why did you cry?
S: Because I was sad.
Me: Why were you sad? (super curious at this point)
S: Because I didn’t want that mommy.
Me: You didn’t want what mommy?
S: (points to me) That one.
Me: What mommy did you want?
S: Foster mommy.
He wasn’t sad when he said it. He was just telling the truth. I kissed his neck and sniffed his head and the baby was gone. He smiled and raced off to the toyroom, Charles wedged under one arm.
We have talked to him about Korea. We’ve talked about foster mommy. We’ve talked about the airplane and that he cried on it. We have never, ever, talked about why he cried on the plane. We’ve never come close to talking about how desperate he was for the life he knew, or how his world ended for a while when we showed up.
We knew his heart was broken. We know it’s mapped with scars. We did not know his little-kid brain was capable of remembering a feeling that showed up 3 years back.
This might be one more way that healing comes down, to him and to us. God never wastes pain.
But I talk about Going and all the ways it can weigh us down, make us jittery or sad, and none of it will ever come close to the kind of Going that buttons your coat, ties your shoes, and sends you across an ocean, or a river.
The amount of collective faith required in adoption sends me staggering, and most of it isn’t even mine.
They would never have chosen this. But there was so much more to the story than what they could see. So they came and let us love them and sooner or later, they loved us back. They chose us back.
Maybe it’s in the brown eyes looking up at me every day that I find this urge to reach up and grab onto something Brave. Because despite all the ways they have lost, my babies will understand how God redeems. Their worldview and the scope of their belief will leave mine in the dust. They’ll never think for a second that the neighbors they should love share their language, their skin-tone, the same hunk of dirt.
For them, it will be rooted in their soul: a good thing isn’t always an easy thing. Sometimes, just what we need, that one thing that will define us, hold us, carry us into the all the rest, is born from a heart wide-split and questions that won’t be answered.
If they and all the others like them can Go, so can we.
Shannan Martin is an ordinary girl who searches for and finds beauty in the everyday. She’s the wife of a man who thinks all of her jokes are funny and who regularly indulges her late-night, thinking-out-loud ponderings. They have three funny shorties, Calvin, Ruby, and Silas, who came to them across rivers and oceans. Together, they are embarking on a fresh adventure and are confident that God will meet them there. And though they no longer live on the farm, life remains a heaped-up pile of blessings, and Shannan will forever remain a Farmgirl at heart. She has blogged for three years; come take a look.
My stomach is in knots.
From excitement for sure, but mostly because of the unknown that awaits us.
Our lives are about to forever change.
I check the luggage again.
Check a few more things off of my list.
Try to keep all my kids’ “stuff” together for the flight. (Why is it that sippy cups are always around when you don’t need them, but as soon as you are ready to walk out the door it’s as if they have grown legs and disappeared!)
Weigh the luggage again.
Worry (just a little;).
Is it the pregnancy? Possibly.
It’s the unknown again.
It’s the built-up excitement.
It’s the overwhelming thought of having 3 children in the air with us for hours on end.
It’s the overwhelming realization that we are going to be going from 3 to 4 in just a matter of time now…and then from 4 to 5 shortly after…WHAT WAS GOD THINKING?!
Then the questions start circulating.
Will she be scared?
Will she scream to go back to the familiar arms of the Aunties who have loved her since she was just a few months old?
Will she beg to be placed back in her familiar bed, in a crammed room with dozens of other children, instead of her cot next to her new sister?
Will she want to call me mommy?
This is going to be GREAT!
Finally, on our way!
It seems as though we’ve been waiting forever!
All the other stories I’ve read have the families home within 5-6 weeks.
I can TOTALLY do this!
I can’t do this!
Check the list again.
Check the luggage again.
Adoption is such a foreign, strange, beautiful thing.
She isn’t ours. She WILL BE ours. She IS ours.
What if I accidentally make her feel singled out because I’m loving on her too much? What will the other kids think? What if I don’t love her enough? How DO you love a child who wasn’t with you and then IS…
Only three more hours until we leave for the airport.
Repeat above scenario a half-dozen more times…
Up until now this is all I’ve known.
now I know SO MUCH MORE!
I know her favorite color is orange.
I know that she wants LONG hair.
I know she loves high heels.
I know that everything in her past happened “last night”.
I know that when she says “another one” it comes out as “zchuwuzchuone” and it is the CUTEST thing ever!
I know she loves to be the one in charge during imaginative play. Her siblings have deemed her queen of the fairies and can make (or NOT make) any one of them a fairy at any given time.
I know she is dangerously allergic to fire ants.
I know she doesn’t like carrots.
I know she loves to be read to.
I know that she adores her big sister, handles her oldest brother, plays so sweet with her middle brother and absolutely LOVES her baby brother.
I know she can buckle herself into her car seat…when she wants to, ha!
I know she has a hefty set of lungs!:)
I know lots of things about my girl. MY girl.
As I think back about all the uncertainty that awaited us this day last year I still get butterflies of nervousness in my stomach. I get that tinge of desperation in my gut. I get those feelings of inadequacy swimming around in my head.
If only I would have known then what I know now. The process, the set backs, the seemingly impossible…but would I really be where I am now?
Without the “this time last year”s we couldn’t have the NOW!
And the NOW is what I am SO grateful for, today!
We are no longer “on our way to bringing you home”. You ARE home, baby!
Love forever and always,
Tasha is a mom of 5. She takes pride in finally figuring out a good routine to this new “normal”, but then the kids wake up and reality really begins! She is madly in love with the worship pastor at her church and proudly calls him her baby’s daddy. She is learning to become still in this life so addicted to instant gratification. She is still becoming who God is calling her to be…She likes cleaning and organizing the house, rearranging furniture to confuse her family, sneaking cuddles from her boys, trying to fix the girls hair without a fight, eating butterfingers, and blogging about her family.
He threw a rage at the hospital tonight. A big one. He kicked and screamed and threw a chair at the receptionist. His super-human fury-driven strength required five men to contain, an empty “time-out” room, a bed with restraints, a “burrito wrap,” and some emergency medications. And somehow, he still managed to spit on people, hit, and slap the doctor across the face.
Of course, we’ve seen this sort of thing before. Many times. At home. We aren’t surprised by his actions, just surprised that he finally lost control enough to show this very real side of himself to other people…the same people he’s been trying to convince that he’s perfectly compliant and well-mannered. He wants them to believe that this is our problem and not his.
We stand by the truth. We are not, have never been, and never will be perfect parents, but the responsibility for the behavior our son chooses does not belong to us. It belongs to him and him alone. The responsibility for the trauma that caused his brain to work the way it does also does not belong to us. It belongs to another set of parents that failed him many years ago.
And yet, I concede to my son’s way of thinking on at least one point. Although not in the area of responsibility, this problem does belong to us as well as to him.
Because we love him.
Tonight, as I was putting our other kids to bed, Miss M, who is our troubled son’s biological sister and who is currently winning a long battle with an attachment disorder, got really serious.
“Mom, why did you adopt us if it was going to be so hard?”
“Girlie, we’ve talked about this before. Everything that’s worth doing- everything really important – is hard.”
“Do you wish you could change it?”
“Sweetie, I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever go back and not adopt you, because then you wouldn’t be my daughter.”
I walked over to her bunk bed, reached up, cupped her head in my hands, and planted a few kisses right in the middle of her forehead. Those big brown eyes as dark as chocolate were sparkling with genuine joy as my voice filled with tears and I said to her,
“You are mine. Forever and ever, you are mine. No matter how hard things get, you are my girl. Forever.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“Love you, too. Now go to sleep!”
There was a time, less than two years ago, when I no longer had any idea what I was fighting for. When I felt like giving up. There was a time when that same little girl that hungers so much for her Mama’s love and approval couldn’t get through the day without throwing a tantrum about something, without hitting or biting or screaming, couldn’t let her guard down long enough to show us the real Miss M that she kept hidden inside.
There was a time when all things felt hopeless, when every thought of our daughter brought on panic and despair, when constant talk of her dominated our marriage, and when we couldn’t see God working through all the pain and anger and frustration.
There was a time when I couldn’t see the scared, broken little girl underneath all that spewing hatred; the little girl that I now love with all my heart.
I am convinced that there is a terrified, broken little child inside every traumatized, angry, unattached child.
Inside my son.
It’s that thought that allows me to feel sorrow for him tonight, in an out-of-control rage against people that he doesn’t know and have done nothing to him. How scared and panicked and all alone that little child inside must feel! And as silly as it sounds, he’s never been without my husband and me when he’s been in one of his rages. Does he care? Does he feel abandoned? Does he even notice?
I know God is working in this situation. I don’t know how yet, but I do know that when all seemed lost with Miss M, He showed up in amazing ways…in His own time. He’s healing my daughter. He’s changing who I am. He’s strengthening my marriage and my faith and my family, and best of all, He’s reminded me what – who – I am fighting for.
That scared, broken little boy or girl inside every traumatized child is His precious child. Not ours, but His…created beautifully and wonderfully in His image and for His glory.
And they are people worth fighting for.
I’m married to a man that makes me laugh so hard that I usually end up in tears. He was saved four years into our marriage, and then we turned our union over to God and His plans. God took our offer and blessed it with four children in two years (two through the foster care system and two through good old-fashioned baby-making), and then (surprise!) gave us another little biological squirt three years later. If you did the math, that’s five children in five years. Did I mention I’m insane? No seriously, God is good. He’s gently leading me down the paths of mothering, partnering with my incredible, Godly husband, dealing personally with impulsive ADHD, homeschooling, and helping our adopted kids overcome Attachment Disorders. I’ve got a long way to go, and most days I wonder how God could possibly love me with the absolute abandon that He does. I’m so thankful. I’m so blessed. I write about my life and my journey to overcome the worst of myself. Feel free to visit, but don’t expect perfection…the only good in me comes from Him.
I feel like an emotional ping pong ball lately. I am ecstatic at how well the big kids are doing but cry often when the weight of what they’ve endured to get here comes crashing down. And so it goes. Extreme joy to debilitating grief.
I hate when a language gap the size of the Grand Canyon is between meeting my kids’ needs and me. I love that so many things in this life transcend language.
I love when they tell stories from their past that tell about what they love and who they are. For example, our son used to own a small flock of homing pigeons. I hate when they tell stories of their past that drip of anguish and pain no person let alone child should ever experience.
I love the diversity and culture in our family. It is helping to shape our kids into compassionate, sensitive, and adventurous kids who handle race issues better than most adults we encounter. I hate that we have a cross cultural family because our kids’ birth countries weren’t equipped to care for them. I hate that their culture slips away a little more each day unless we play an active role in re-capturing it every day.
I hate that we have kids who have suffered emotional trauma which forever and completely changes their perception of the world. I love that we’ve been stretched where parenting is concerned. We’re so much the wiser for our troubles and have been able to use our experience to come along other families as they adventure through adoption.
I love watching them experience new things with the wonder of a toddler but hate thinking about how much they’ve missed.
I love hearing them chatter as they catch up with friends using the latest video chat technology. I hate that video chat is the best we can do socially right now because social situations will be the last and most difficult thing to overcome.
I love that every time we adopt our diet expands. I hate that food can be so alienating. Thank goodness for berbere!
So goes our adoption adventure right now.
Patrick and Melissa, who was adopted from Korea as an infant, have two biological children, a son adopted at age 2 1/2 from Korea, and 3 big kids from Ethiopia (adopted at 12 to 14 years of age). They reside in Maryland where they started a ministry called Grafted Families. Its goal is to serve Gospel-centered churches as they care for orphans and vulnerable children. Melissa also has a photography business that specializes in adoption homecoming and foster family photography. You can get to know Melissa better on her personal blog and Patrick on his personal blog.
I sat on the footstool in the middle of the dark garage bawling my eyes out. Exhausted, obviously emotional and the proud new mother of a four year old. I had dreamed of this season of life for years, and after months of paperwork, I should have been over the moon.
I was….but so much more.
I had a good silent cry and was considering the half gallon of cookie dough ice cream in our freezer. On the way to the freezer my dear hubby said a few words that jolted me.
“You felt just like this when the other two were infants. It is just like having a newborn.”
Those two simple sentences helped me so much. I just needed to label it. I was exhausted from being up in the night with a child who was trying to adjust to a new home and a new family. It was like fighting a world war to get the sweet girl to sleep and then we threatened everyone within miles who might make noise. We were trying to figure out how much she ate, what she wanted to eat and when. I never knew when she would cry and I was learning how to soothe her. Just like having an infant.
Like my dad used to joke….just like it but different.
(Besides no diapers!) The major difference was the lack of grace extended.
When you have a newborn everyone bends over backwards to help. They peek at your screaming bundle, smile, and call him cute. You are expected to get up in the middle of church. You are called a good mom when you stand at the nursery door to “check one more time that he is okay.” Even the dark circles under my eyes and the few extra pounds from late night ice cream snacks were accepted.
Somehow when the same things were happening with my new daughter….the grace wasn’t extended. No smiles when our new daughter was having a meltdown at the library and I had no idea what to do. And I certainly wasn’t showing myself grace as I wept in the garage. ”What was wrong with me? How could I be so tired and so emotional?” I moaned as I went for my comfort snack.
Heading into our second adoption I joked that it was like a paper pregnancy. Here is the other side of the story. It takes your body some time to bounce back after that paper-pregnancy. Okay, okay this might be extending the metaphor a bit too far, but hang in there with me! I am in the midst of an emotional adjustment.
Kinda cool actually.
I love that I am going through this adjustment right alongside of them. They are not alone. I am in this messy transition too.
What helps when my two year old is pitching the tantrum of the century in the grocery store parking lot because he doesn’t like the car seat? As I am getting the stink eye from the whole town who seem to be at the store at that blessed moment – I remember that he is only 6 weeks old. He has the family age of 6 weeks….he is learning that I will meet his needs just like I am learning that shopping right after nap times doesn’t seem to work well. We are learning together.
Give us a few more weeks. The bags under my eyes should be gone and we will shop with more confidence. Until then – I need to go sleep when the toddler sleeps.
Tammy has an amazing husband and four fantastic kiddos who keep her hopping. She counts it a blessing to have such a family and is burdened by those in the world who don’t. After living in China for several years and volunteering as an art teacher in a local orphanage, she is changed. She learned that orphans in China are normal, sweet, loving children who are hoping, wishing and praying for a family to call their own. She couldn’t adopt all of her students so she is on a mission to tell others about the joys of adoption. Check out her blog Casting A Stone.