For a while now, my dreams have been of paperwork and notaries. Every night. This was one of many reasons why I was so grateful to turn over the paperwork and start the wait.
I’ve been having a new dream: A tiny bright light in the distance, beaming with an intensity that pulses like a heartbeat. It’s beautiful.
But there are thoughts you have in the darkness that no one prepares you for.
Right now, adoption is literally under attack. There is much concern about trafficking and adoption abuse. When you begin the adoption journey, these facts hit you in the face and chase you in the night.
What if my child could have remained with their parents for a few dollars a month? What if there is a mother crying in the night for the child she just gave up due to poverty?
It’s enough to make you quit. Or take the entire adoption loan and donate it to a mother, or a family, or a village.
Dr. Jane Aronson responded to the recent adoption concerns in the Huffington Post yesterday: “Why did we create such a marvelous bureaucracy to improve international adoption practices and not pour some of that money into the welfare of mothers in these countries?”
The reality is that if we feed the mothers, we feed the children. If we educate the mothers, we save the children. If we give parents access to antiretroviral medications for HIV/AIDS, lives are saved and families remain intact.
I have noticed that parents of internationally adopted children naturally fall into a common stream of charities or causes. You would think it would be “Adopt! We did it! It’s great!” It is; but it’s not. The causes are AIDS, poverty, and clean water. It is a natural progression to care for these things when you care for a child affected by AIDS, poverty, and famine. Promoting these issues are promoting orphan care.
There is a major dilemna that we all must face as Christians at some point. As Americans, we are ALL wealthy in comparison to the rest of this world. As Americans, we are known to the rest of this world as a “Christian nation.”
Americans give to the hungry at a low percentage of their GNP (gross national product) in comparison to other nations. What are we, as individual wealthy Christian Americans, telling the poverty-stricken world around us about Jesus Christ? What are we telling the world about the Gospels?
We are NOT the widow giving up her two coins.
We are the rich, making a big show of our tiny gifts.
Our adoption is not fixing any large problem. It is just an act of obedience. You may not feel called to adopt, but I will tell you that you can still do something to impact the orphan crisis in a huge way…you can sponsor a child. You can be an active voice for the hungry and the poor, putting action behind your voice. You can be aware that “if you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than seventy five percent of the people in the world.”
We can raise our children to understand that our wealth is determined by what we give to Jesus, not what we keep for ourselves. We can give until it hurts; the essense of “sacrificial giving.” It’s a lesson that I think I will have to spend the rest of my life learning, as I struggle to un-learn the American Dream and realign myself with the words of Jesus Christ.
When I get caught up in the ethics of adoption, I remember the waiting children in the videos. Waiting in cribs that are lined up like kennels. Waiting in beds lined with chicken wire, crying for their loss of everything, waiting for us to figure out what to do with them, while we argue over pie charts about how to do it.
Paul and I have been called to carry one of these children, maybe more than one, as our own. I don’t know why. I don’t have to. It’s just The Plan. What happens after that point will be our mission and responsibility for the rest of our lives; to care for and promote that child’s country, to bring to the attention of other Christians the poverty and disease that is swallowing children and people whole. I am grateful for this burden.
When we look back 3 months, we can really see how far our little girl has come.
But, there are times that the sadness and the heartache of China overwhelms her, and she is overcome with homesickness and grief.
Nothing that I can point to initiates these “sad days.” But, there is an obvious change in her face and it is so often, instantaneous.
She reaches for daddy or I to hold her while she cries in our arms. The moments are fewer and farther between, and they last for less than an hour, but they do come.
And, they come when I least expect it.
I don’t ever expect for her to stop being sad or stop missing China. Maybe I am a bit pessimitic or a bit realistic, whatever you want to call it. I don’t believe I can ever replace the hole that was left when she was abandoned or the grief that she wasn’t adopted by her foster family and sent back to the orphanage. I do believe the Lord will meet her where she is and begin to heal her heart and the feelings of rejection and abandonment she carries around, but I do think there will always be a longing or even a sadness for what was home, for what was familiar. Talking to many adult adoptees, there always seems to be a longing for what was or should have been.
I can’t imagine why anyone would believe that an adopted child should be thankful for their new home and not be sad. They have been taken away from everything familiar, even if it wasn’t always good.
Familiar is good.
Just look at the women who go back to their husbands who abuse them or the children who cry out for mom and dad even though they are abused.
Familiar is home. Familiar is what we crave. We don’t want new all of the time; we want the same. The same smells, the same language, the same food, the same people.
If there are any adoptive parents in the process out there reading this, here is a reality check.
New isn’t always better. It’s another change for our kiddos. Another “something” or “someone” to get use to and the thankfulness will not be there for quite sometime until its familiar.
And that takes lots of time.
Give more of yourself than you ever thought possible.
Let them see and feel your love.
Someday they will understand what adoption is about and what life would have been like for them where they came from.
Someday they will reach for you when they are scared or sad.
Someday you will be the first one they run to to show off their latest critter they’ve caught or their newest accomplishment.
Someday you will be mama or daddy.
Someday they will say “I love you” all on their own.
Don’t expect them to feel “lucky” that you adopted them. Expect them to be sad or angry or depressed because you took them away from familiar things.
And wait for the smiles to come. Because they will come. When you least expect it.
See. Look at our little monkey smiling all goofy for us.
I am a mother to four children–the newest of which is our 8 year old Man Yu, 6 chickens, 3 gerbils, 2 cats, 1 dog and a multitude of birds. I am married to my sweet & amazing hunk of a hubby, Michael, for the past 12 years. In addition to being a stay-at-home mom, I am honored to be a part of An Orphan’s Wish as their Human Resources Director and serve the children still waiting for families. We welcome your visit into our world at Days Made of Now.
Adoption is difficult…have I said that before? It is. It is difficult.
As Katie Davis says, “it is the gospel in my living room.”
Bonding is one of those things that I never thought about until I was expecting Elijah. During the 9 months I carried him I was plagued by the doubt of a brand new mother…would I be a good mother? Would I mess him up? I read books and I came across this concept of ‘bonding’…they said that some people bonded right away with their babies and for some people it took longer. What did THAT mean? Did they mean that I could be taking care of a baby that didn’t feel like my own? Was I going to be despondent and depressed after giving birth because I didn’t love my baby?? And it seemed like it could be up to fate…a simple dealing of the cards…some people bond, some don’t. WHAT?!?!? I freaked out. Then I remembered, I don’t believe in fate! God gave me this baby and love comes from GOD…not from nature, not from genetics, not from the air…love comes from God and He will develop it and grow it.
Thankfully, for a brand new mama who was already struggling with confidence, I did not struggle to bond with my baby when he came. I didn’t even have to try. It was completely natural and I never thought about bonding again…until my next blessing was put in my arms 2.5 years later and my first thought was, “Who is THAT?”
I had to try a little harder with Iliana. I loved her, without a doubt…but she wasn’t as familiar. I held her and babied her and loved on her, just as I had with Elijah and slowly, over the next few weeks, I was hooked. My ah-ha moment…so THAT’S what they meant about bonding…
With both of my bonding examples God filled me with love…I didn’t get to watch Him do it with Elijah–it was immediate–so fast that I didn’t even realize I had been blessed…but with Iliana, I got to watch Him grow my love for my baby girl. He filled me up with love for her so clearly & measurably that I was able to praise Him for it daily.
Bonding is really just a scientific label for loving. While most of the time we use the word love when we are describing how we feel…it really is an action. Bonding is the action of loving. When I was bonding with Iliana, I would sing to her, hold her, rock her, dress her, feed her, soothe her, bathe her, talk to her… all loving actions that grew love for her in my heart. It is the same with adoption.
One of my very favorite books in the Bible is 1 John. Long before I was a parent, I loved this scripture. It has helped me– a rather closed, careful person by nature– to open up and to love others. God has used 1 John 4 especially in my life to teach me. When Jared and I were first starting to date, God used 1 John 4:18 to help me to open up to Jared when I was scared to be vulnerable. 1 John 4:7-12 specifically spoke to all those questions I had in my heart (and from others) while we were going through the adoption process…How can I love a child that is not my own flesh and blood? Can I love them as much?
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God…no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us…and so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in Him.
I love love love this. It fills me with peace and gives me confidence. God IS love. The love I have for Elijah is not made less because I love Judah…it multiplies…and not because I am some endless fount of love, but because God in me gives me more of Himself.
If I practice love on Canaan and Eden, I love them. My heart grows more connected with them. But I have to actively love them. No, it isn’t natural…but it is against my selfish, sinful nature to love ANYone more than myself. The God in me trumps my sin-nature. Oh, how I thank Him for this. Instead of limited, selfish love; I have God-sized, supernatural love to give to my children–ALL of my children.
The practice and process of bonding with my ‘homegrown’ children all took place when they were babies. It’s the same with Canaan and Eden. They are in their ‘infant’ stage in our family and I bond with them the same way I bonded with Iliana.
I dress them.
Even though they can dress themselves, I frequently help them–not because they need my help but because they need to learn to rely on me.
I talk to them.
And with this, I have to make the conscious effort to make eye contact with them. I don’t know why, but my natural tendency while keeping myself guarded is to not make eye contact with people. I have to force myself to look at my kiddos in their eyes when I talk to them and to listen to them with my eyes.
I bathe them.
Yep, I’m their mom. I’m responsible for their messes, bodies included.
I hold them and soothe them.
Canaan’s tendency when he came home was to soothe himself. I pretty much had to force myself on him at first when he would hurt himself. He didn’t want my sympathy–it didn’t help him. Slowly, he grew to accept it and now, he needs me more.
I laugh with them.
Very important. We have fun together. Tickles. Wrestle. Chase. Draw. Dance. Sing.
I share my drink with them.
Weird huh? I have never been a parent who shares my food with my kids. They drink out of their own glasses because I think floaties in my drink are gross …but with Canaan and Eden, for some reason, the sharing of spit warms my heart to them. Kinda like a mark that they are mine. Call me crazy…but it really, really helps.
Bonding. The practice of loving–actively, consciously. And God supports it, enables it, IS it.
Gotta love the real.
My name is Rebekah. I’ve been married to my husband Jared for 10 years. We were missionaries in Italy for a few years until God changed our plans and brought us back to the States. So now, I am a cattleman’s wife, working the ranch alongside my husband whenever I can. I am also the mother of 6 kiddos–4 home grown and 2 blessings through adoption. We brought our children home from Ethiopia in December of 2010. I am also a professional photographer who uses photography and blogging to keep a record of our life during these crazy and precious childhood years.
“My first momma couldn’t care for me? Why?”
“Will I see my China momma in heaven?”
“Do you think I have a brother or sister in China?”
“Can I write her a letter?”
“I guess it is kinda cool to know I have three mommies.”
“Will I ever meet her?”
“Did I use a pacifier?”
“What was my first word?”
“Was I a cute baby?”
“Do you think she misses me?”
“Is it because of my cleft palate?”
“Why couldn’t I grow in your tummy?”
These are all questions that Shea and Avery have asked me over the past several years. At first, the questions literally took my breath away.
Especially the first one.
I was so unprepared.
Shea was only three and a half when she asked me why her first momma couldn’t care for her.
It was utterly heartbreaking…
We were reading Shaoey And Dot: Bug Meets Bundle
Today my daughter got off the bus with a new kind of story.
How does a family grow? How does it go from one to two to three to four to five?
Ten years ago I was one.
One is a lonely number so along came Matt and then we were two.
Two can also be a lonely number so we set out to be three.
Three, however, was a difficult number to come by. And it took some heartache but God being who God is, at the right time, we became three.
And three was not so lonely a number anymore and we were happily settled for the time being but then there was a phone call and
I’m going to tell you something; a little confession, if you will. Some of you will pull your hair out and smear your faces with ashes and put all my books on eBay and quit believing in God, but I’m willing to take that risk:
I’m really, really glad all my kids are back in school.
There. I said it. The three children that I birthed and nursed and raised from scratch, and the two children we begged and cried and screeched for and fetched from Africa…all five of these kids are in school. And I am happy, so happy, happy, happy, happy, hip-hip-hooray Mary Poppins happy.
For my friends and readers who homeschool, I tip my hat and say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” And believe me, I have a couple of besties who paddle in that stream, and paddle it well. For some kids in some cities in some families in some districts, this is the very right thing. The end. Why people feel the need to make a fuss about how other parents decide to educate their children is beyond me. Let’s live and let live, yall. For the love of Pete.
But I cannot educate my own children, people, unless I am OK with us all becoming homicidal.
Plus, we’re in a nice little Bermuda triangle where our kids feed into fabulous schools with vested teachers that make me want to weep with gratitude. The language resources for my Amharic speakers is over the top, and I have a free pass to attend school each and every day, which I have exercised with zero restraint.
But this is not a post about homeschooling or public schooling. The reason I am happy my kids are in school is not because I lack the organization to educate five kids (which I do), it’s not because I’ve chosen a career with a moderate workload (which I have), and it’s not because I’m a little sloppy on details and my kids would likely graduate with a sixth-grade education (which they would).
It’s because parenting right now is EXHAUSTING and the mental break is keeping me afloat.
On July 22nd, we came down the escalator at the Austin airport with Remy. On August 21st, we came down the same escalator with Ben. These were two of the happiest days of my life.
I am crying with joy. Remy is ready to sprint like FloJo from the screaming white people.
Insert audio of yelling and cheering. GAH, why was she so clingy?
One month later: Here comes my man and my boy. This pic makes me verclempt.
The 7 Hatmakers on the same continent. You’ve been warned, America.
After an arduous adoption journey, our kids were safe in our arms, tucked into their bunk beds their dad built with his own two hands, surrounded by the dearest, most sincere community we have ever known. God delivered them from poverty and abandonment back into a family, no longer alone in this big world; now wanted and loved and welcomed with great fervor.
Remy gave us about 12 hours of honeymooning until her terror burst onto the scene. Sometimes her fear is so palpable, it literally takes my breath away. New places: terror. New faces: total insecurity. Transitions: help us, Jesus. She has asked us every single day since July 22nd if she is going back to Ethiopia. Every. Single. Day. When I discovered cashews to be a winning legume for her impossible palate, I told her:
“Yay! Good job! Cashews are good for you and will help you grow big and strong!”
“Big? Ah-Rrrremy? Big? Cashews?”
She pushes them away and starts crying.
Once again, I am bewildered and befuddled.
“No! No Ah-Rrremy grow big! Me big, then go back to Ethiopia! No! Dis is no!”
When a child fears that cashews will once again leave her abandoned on this earth because she will grow out of the age we might still want to parent her, you are dealing with heartbreaking fragility.
Her fear comes out as 1.) defiance, 2.) terror, and 3.) catatonic disassociation, in that order. We’ve been spit on, kicked, disobeyed, refused, clung to, begged for, adored, ignored, and rejected. Triggers are unpredictable. Yesterday, we entered an hour-long Armageddon because she wouldn’t put her bike up. This turned into defiance and disrespect, deal breakers as we establish safe boundaries. When at long last her angry, dark face relented, and she finally uttered in the smallest voice: “I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m sorry, Daddy,” the dam broke and she cried for thirty minutes, telling us over and over that we don’t love her and she is going back to Africa.
Meanwhile, Ben sidled up quietly next to me as Brandon held Remy’s flailing legs, and asked in a whisper: “Mom? Forever?”
Is this family forever, even with this hysterical girl? Are you forever, even though she is draining the lifeblood out of you and Dad? Am I forever, once my junk starts coming out that I’m holding in? Are you forever for her? For me? Should I be worried that you’ll only put up with this level of chaos for so long?
God love them.
We are parenting damaged, traumatized children; don’t let the pictures fool you. We’re in the weeds. Every minute is on; there is no off. We’ve arrived late, cancelled altogether, hunkered down in therapy mode, missed appointments, failed to answer hundreds of emails in a timely manner, left voicemails unlistened to, texts unread, we’ve restructured, regrouped, replanned, reorganized, we’ve punted and called audibles, we’ve left the bigs on their own, hoping they are functioning well on auto-pilot after a lifetime of healthy stability, and sometimes, we put “Tangled” on for the eleventh time and cry in the bathroom.
We are exhausted beyond measure.
I know what you’re thinking: You asked for this. Yes we did. And we’d ask for it again, with full disclosure and foreknowledge. We would. We would say yes to adoption, to Ben, to Remy. We would do it all over again. We might do it all over again in the future.
That does not mean we are not exhausted.
I know what else you might be thinking: Are you trying to scare people away from adoption? Because this is pretty good propaganda for turning a blind eye to this mess. No I’m not. While adoption is clearly not the answer for the 170 million orphans on earth, it is one answer, and I’ll go to the grave begging more people to open their homes and minds and hearts to abandoned children who are praying for a Mom and Dad and a God who might still see them.
But Brandon and I decided some time ago to go at this honestly, with truthful words and actual experiences that might encourage the weary heart or battle some of the fluffy, damaging semi-truths about adopting. Because let me tell you something: If you are intrigued by the idea of adoption, with the crescendoing storyine and happy airport pictures and the sigh-inducing family portrait with the different skin colors and the feely-feel good parts of the narrative, please find another way to see God’s kingdom come.
You cannot just be into adoption to adopt; you have to be into parenting.
And it is hard, hard, intentional, laborious work. Children who have been abused, abandoned, neglected, given away, given up, and left alone are shaken so deeply, so intrinsically, they absolutely require parents who are willing to wholly invest in their healing; through the screaming, the fits, the anger, the shame, the entitlement, the bed-wetting, the spitting, the rejection, the bone-chilling fear. Parents who are willing to become the safe place, the Forever these children hope for but are too terrified to believe in just yet.
But “yet” is a powerful word in the context of faith, if we are indeed to believe in the unseen and hope for what has not materialized.
I followed a God into this story who heals and redeems, who restores wasted years and mends broken places. This God specializes in the Destroyed. I’ve seen it. I’ve been a part of it. I have His ancient Word that tells of it. I love a Jesus who made reconciliation his whole mission. My children will not remain broken. They are loved by too good a Savior. I will not remain exhausted and spent. I am loved by too merciful a Father.
So today, I’m writing for you who are somewhere “after the airport.” The big moment is over, and you are living in the aftermath when the collective grief or euphoria has passed. You lost a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child. The experience mobilized every single human being who loves you, and they rallied, gathered, carried you. And now, it’s three months later on a random Tuesday, and the sting has worn off for everyone else, and you are left in your sorrow.
I’m writing for those of you who had the oh-so-wanted baby after the cheers and showers and Facebook fervor, and now you’re struggling with a depression so dark and deep, you are afraid to say it out loud. To you who moved across the country in obedience – you left your family, church, community, your jobs – and now the headline has passed and you are lonely and unanchored. For my friends who’ve brought their adopted children home and the media frenzy has died down, and you are holding a screaming toddler, a fragile kindergartener, an angry teen, trying to catch your breath and make it through the day without bawling while everyone else has gone back to their regularly scheduled programs…I’m with you today.
More importantly, God is with you today. He remains in the chaos long after it has lost its shine. When the delivered meals have stopped and the attention has waned, Jesus remains. He sticks with us long after it is convenient or interesting. If you feel alone today in your new normal, would you please receive this bit of beauty: this simple Scripture recited billions of times throughout the ages, perhaps without the poetry of David or precision of Paul, but with enough truth to sustain the weariest traveler:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).
He will never leave.
For my readers who love someone living “after the airport,” the big moment – be it a blessed high or a devastating low – is never the completion. The grief and struggle, the work and effort, the healing and restoring comes later. Will you call your friend who lost her mom to cancer five months ago? Will you check in on your friends who adopted this spring? Email your neighbor who took a big risk and moved or changed jobs or quit to stay home. For the love of Moses, do you have a friend who stepped out and started a church last year? Bring him a lasagna and do not be alarmed if he sobs into his french bread.
Trust me when I tell you that although we are all having hilarious moments like this:
And precious moments like this:
…we are still in the thick of hard, exhausting work, so if you ask me if these are the happiest days of my life (which a ton of you have), and my eyes kind of glaze over and I say through a tight-lipped smile like a robot, “Yes. Sure. Of course. This is my dream life”…I am lying. I am lying so you won’t feel uncomfortable when I tell you, “Actually, I haven’t had a shower in three days, I lost my temper with my uncontrollable daughter this morning and had to walk outside, I’m constantly cleaning up pee because uncircumcised tee-tee goes sideways onto walls, and sometimes when my two littles are asleep and we’re downstairs with the original three kids who are so stable and healthy and easy, it creates a nostalgia so intense, I think I might perish. But enough about me. How are you?”
But that would be weird. So I say, “Yes. I am so happy.”
If you are living “after the airport,” how I wish I could transplant my community into your life; friends who have loved us so completely and exhaustively, I could weep just thinking about it. Maybe one of the most brilliant ways God “never leaves us” and “never forsakes us” is through the love of each other. Maybe He knew that receiving love from people with skin on is the most excellent way, so He gave us an entire set of Scriptures founded upon community and sacrificial love for one another. I guess He realized that if we obeyed, if we became more like His Son, then no one would ever want for mercy when their chips were down. No one. Good plan.
Oh let us be a community who loves each other well. Because someone is always struggling through the “after the airport” phase, when the chords of human kindness become a lifeline of salvation. Let us watch for the struggling members of our tribe, faking it through sarcasm or self-deprecation or a cheerfully false report. May we refuse to let someone get swallowed up in isolation, drowning in grief or difficulties that seem too heavy to let anyone else carry. Let’s live this big, beautiful Life together, rescuing each other from the brink and exposing the unending compassion of our Jesus who called us to this high level of community; past the romantic beginnings, through the messy and mundane middles, and all the way to the depths.
Jen Hatmaker has partnered with her husband Brandon in full-time ministry for 15 years, and they pastor Austin New Church in Texas. After a nauseating stint as an entitled, bored Christian, Jen and her family joined the battle for those on the margins. They pioneered Restore Austin, connecting churches to local and global non-profits for the individual, collective, and social renewal of Austin. Jen is a popular speaker at retreats, conferences, and seminars all around the country. She is the author of nine books and Bible studies, including Interrupted: An Adventure in Relearning the Essentials of Faith
She starts crying
In case heavy blog posts and fear or even the realities of adoption may lead you to question if adoption is worth it…
Consider these pictures as food for thought:
These are the first pictures we received, and a recent picture of each of our precious little ones
The other night, I showed Silas this first picture we received of him and said, “Hey, Silas, do you know who that is?”
“That’s Nicholas” (the name given to him by the orphanage), he replied. “Daddy, is he sad?”
“Not anymore son…not anymore.”
The VanderStoep Family lives in Northern, CA in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Craig and Jen have been married for 7 years and have four Children: Noah (6), Silas (3), Maela (2), and Naomi (19 mo). The VanderStoeps love Jesus and serve him with their whole heart (though surly it is imperfect). They enjoy, whenever the bigness of family allows, getting out into the outdoors and enjoying the beauty of the Sierras. They are a rag tag bunch but by God’s grace there is love to cover it all.