Monthly Archives: January 2015

Why We Don’t Celebrate Gotcha Day

She stood in the middle of Build-a-Bear, clutching her new stuffed bunny, with tears streaming down her face.

We were there to continue the tradition of letting each child choose an animal, stuff it, bathe it, and name it. And each time a child goes through the process, my husband and I sneak off to record our voices onto a little device, which is placed in the animal’s paw. At bedtime, or anytime they just need to hear us say we love them, they can press the stuffed animal’s hand. We loved watching our daughter take great care in making the bunny her own.

Finally, she took “Stuffy” in her arms and pressed the hand. Our recorded voices started, telling her how much we loved her. She looked up at our excited faces and started sobbing.
As much as we wanted to believe her tears were due to her overwhelming happiness, I knew it wasn’t true. We were spending the evening celebrating her one-year anniversary in our family with dinner and a trip to Build-a-Bear. Because Matt and I were going to be out of town on her homecoming anniversary, we went the week before. We wanted some family time before we left anyway, and we loved the idea of leaving our voices at her fingertips while we were gone.
We presented the evening as a celebration of one year as a family of five, not specifically about her. But she’s a smart girl. She knows we are only a family of five because she’s in it. And so the tears came.

For adopted children, sometimes celebrating a new family is a stark reminder of the family they lost. Often, the times we think will be most joyful- birthdays, holidays, “Gotcha Day”- actually bring up the deepest pain.

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So we tread lightly. And when unexpected tears come, we hug harder and don’t try to force words. We love them, we cry with them, and we try to imagine what that pain might feel like. Some have called the loss of one’s biological family a “primal wound,” and from parenting two adopted children, I would have to agree. There’s no way for me to explain the pain that comes from that loss having never lived it. But I witness it often.

For some adoptees, there’s the added pressure of feeling like they need to seem happy about their adoptions 100% of the time because the alternative would be a betrayal to their adoptive family. One of our goals in adoptive parenting is for our kids to know they can be sad or confused or angry about their adoptions, and we will be there with them in it. They can talk to us without worrying if we’ll take their pain personally and make it about us. As we have said repeatedly to them, they can (and do) miss their first families and love us at the same time.
Their grief is not about us.

I was talking with our son the other day about how we can respond when others say things that feel uncomfortable to us. That’s a pretty common experience for any adoptive family, and even more so for a transracial, adoptive family. One example we talked about was what he thinks or can say when someone says he and his sister are lucky to have been adopted into our family. He looked at me with genuine disbelief and said the perfect thing.

“Lucky? But I lost my other family.”

That’s why we don’t celebrate Gotcha Day.
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Every family and every adoptee is different. I can speak only to what works for our family right now (it might be different in a few years even). Every family has to do what’s best for them at the time.

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Matt and Becca write about marriage, parenting, and life through the lens of a married couple, parenting team, and pastor and professional counselor. They share hope and restoration by giving a glimpse into their lives- the failures, the successes, and the brokenness and beauty of everyday. You can read more of their writing at WhitsonLife.

We Didn’t Have a Clue

We didn’t have a clue.

As we blissfully stood posing for pictures following our wedding ceremony, we had no idea how God would write our family’s story, the twists and turns our story would take, the struggles we would face.

We were completely clueless.

Had you asked me I would have told you that we would soon work on having a couple biological children and would later adopt.  Although I wouldn’t have known to reveal it, if you had seen my plans, my version of our story, the story would unfold very “normally” on a very “normal” schedule with me being the primary person in control of its unfolding.  God would be there, for sure, but if I were to be honest, He would fill the role of blessing my plans.

We didn’t have a clue that getting pregnant would not come easily.  No clue that fertility specialists would soon be part of our future, specialists who would tell us that we were delusional to think we could get pregnant.  No clue that the God I imagined cheering my plans for a family on would become the God who held me together in heartache as He nudged me from the driver’s seat.

We didn’t have a clue about the family God had in mind for us as we posed for this picture celebrating that we were DTC back in October 2006, seated at a local Chinese restaurant with a newly purchased panda bear in the background.

No clue that the 11 month wait to adopt from China would stretch into 14 months and eventually 3.5 years.  No clue that God would be pressing into my plans with His whisper of, “Not yet. Wait.”

No clue that less than a year after that picture was taken we would find ourselves miraculously pregnant — with no medical intervention — after many fertility treatments and a failed IVF.  No clue that God would show Himself to be the God of surprises and miracles.

No clue that 9 months later we would not be holding our Chinese daughter, but our biological daughter, Miss E.

No clue that 1.5 years after her birth we would change course in our adoption and commit to a special needs adoption and, six months later, come home with our precious Miss A.  No clue that God would so obviously be our source of strength during that adoption trip, proving himself to be the never-leaving, always-guiding God who comforts the weary and whispers, “This is the child.”

No clue that less than a year after coming home with Miss A, God would show us another daughter in a country we had very little — if any — knowledge of.  No clue that God would so clearly answer our prayers of, “Who?”  No clue that He would call us to an independent foreign adoption in which He would become our source of bravery and courage nudging pushing us into unknown territory whispering, “Trust me.”

No clue that only six months later we would be bringing that daughter, Miss L, home.  No clue that we would see God’s work and miracles so clearly in her adoption story as He moved bureaucratic mountains with ease saying, “Nothing is too difficult for me.”

No clue that we would become the parents to not one, but three beautiful daughters with three different nationalities within five years of that wedding picture.  No clue that as we were singing, “Jesus, Be the Center” during our wedding ceremony God was most likely whispering, “Hang on!  I’m about to show you what having me at the center looks like.”

Yep, we were pretty clueless back then.  And it’s a good thing.  Had God filled me in on the plans He had for building our family I would have said, “No way!  That’s crazy!  I can’t do that.  It’ll never happen.”

I would have thrown out every excuse in the book.  It sounds too hard.  Too complicated.  Too expensive.  Too abnormal.  Too risky.  (Don’t we all just want normal?  Easy?  Typical?  I know I did — and honestly I still crave it!)

But God is God.  And He can work through anybody to do anything to reveal Himself more fully.

Even an over-emotional, non-risk-taking, clueless worry-wart like me.

Glory be!

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Stephanie Smit18 years in the classroom as a teacher was easy compared to parenting three little ones at home full-time. Through their three daughters, God has revealed Himself most clearly to Stephanie and her husband Matthew. He not only worked a miracle in giving them their biological daughter, He continued to show Himself in mighty ways throughout adoption journeys in China and Bhutan that were anything but normal. Nowadays she enjoys encouraging and connecting with other adoptive families through speaking and her work on the leadership team of “We Are Grafted In” and on the Board of The Sparrow Fund.  You can read more about their family on their personal blog We Are Family.

For This One

I was weary.
After all of the months of planning and organizing we were finally on our way to Ukraine. But instead of being overwhelmed with joy, in my fatigue, I allowed fear and doubt to come in. It would take three trips to complete Sergey’s adoption. Who, in their right mind, flies three times to a country that is in the middle of a war, when they have six children at home? It’s was crazy, positively crazy.
On the plane to Amsterdam, I couldn’t sleep. A commercial airplane, on its way to Ukraine, had been shot down just a couple of months prior to this time. What would our children do if they lost both of us? I tried to distract myself with a movie. Dead Poets Society wasn’t exactly a wise choice.
When we arrived in Kiev, my spirit relaxed a bit. I had a couple of days of reprieve from my emotions, as David and I walked around the center, drinking in the beauty of the cathedrals and the parks. But on the night before our SDA appointment, sleep escaped me once again, and worry was set into my heart. A 16-year-old boy? What in the world could we possibly be thinking? In the desperation of the moment, I asked God if there was any chance of a way out. I’m sad to say that there was actually a part of me hoped for a way out.
Our appointment went smoothly, however, and despite my fears, we were truly grateful. After we received the official paperwork, we were surprised to find out that we would be leaving for Sergey’s orphanage at midnight. It was in the middle of this pothole-laden seven hour drive that the questions resurfaced. Could we really do this? How in the world would we be able to make this trip two more times? I was already exhausted and our children were missing us. Why did we come all the way to Ukraine anyway? There were plenty of children in the US who needed homes and it wouldn’t cost us thousands of dollars to adopt one of them.
The questions swirled around in my mind, causing panic to rise up in my heart.
But in that moment of fear, God intervened. He whispered to my heart…
“Dear one, didn’t you say that you wanted to be like me? This is what I do. I go to the ends of the earth to rescue the ones that I love. I will travel any road, climb any mountain, cross any sea to reach my beloved ones. I give everything that I have, all the love that is in me, to gather up my needy ones and carry them in my arms. It is good that this journey is long, because it gives you just a glimpse into how far I will go for my children. Will you join me in this willingly? Will you joyfully rescue this child, this precious one, this son whom I have chosen?
Daughter, I did it for you. Will you do this for Me?”
In a moment, I experienced complete peace and joy. Yes. I would do this willingly. Yes. I would go to the ends of the earth for this precious boy. Our dear Father had just shown me His beautiful heart and I found it irresistible. He had done it for me, and my friends, He did it for each one of you, as well.

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sarah-bandimere-picDavid and Sarah have been joyfully married for 19 years. God has blessed them with seven amazing children (one homegrown, two from Ukraine, and four from China). They recently moved to the urban core of Kansas City where they are learning to give their lives away (and raise chickens!) within their inner city church family. You can read more about what God is doing in their lives on facebook or at http://davidandsarahb.blogspot.com.

Four Years

It has been four years since I first set foot in this country. Four years ago today that I held my youngest child for the first time. Four years ago Monday that my oldest son completely ripped my heart from my chest, and a burning passion was lit inside of me for children who have had their childhood stolen from them. Four years since I left my blonde little babies an ocean away and in turn radically changed the life they once knew. Four years since this country captured my heart and beckoned me here. Everything changed in those first moments. Little did I know that four years ago 31 year old me was about to have her world completely turned upside down. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I am glad because I am mostly a coward. God knew that, so He kept me in the dark until I was too far smitten to do anything but follow the wild path He set my feet upon.

Looking back, it all started rather simplistically. We wanted another baby, but my pregnancies were rough, so that led to tender hearts toward adoption. Ethiopia had what appeared to be a crisis at the time- a crisis of orphaned children needing families. We were a family. We wanted another child. It made sense. So we said yes to adoption and to Ethiopia, and then to our special, sweet Jamesy, and then to Habtamu, and all the while our world tilted off axis and lines, that we had once drawn, blurred. And in it all I held my breath waiting for everything to right once again and return to normal. I waited for friends to return, for the American Dream to take hold again, for our family to blend back in, for life to return to the easy pleasantness that it once held, for Jesus to stop asking us to do crazy, wild things. Our yes was over, and it was time to get back to normal.

But normal never showed back up, and a new normal took its place. Sometimes in my most honest moments I grieve the loss of that normal, but mostly I embrace this adventure that my Jesus has so lovingly invited me into. I feel as if I am one of the lucky ones, as I get to look back to a specific moment in time, four years ago exactly, when everything changed.

I now live this one, wild life back in the country where it all began. There are late nights with no power and cold showers and spiders and dust everywhere. And there is laughter and life and love. I cannot walk outside the safety of our gate without being surrounded by children. Some of them are teeny tiny and some are bigger than my own big boy. Some dirty and tattered – so dirty that to touch them makes me stink with them. And some not as much. My hands are always grabbed and smiles are abundant, as are hugs and kisses. My hair is touched, my clothes yanked on, and always a silly grin is plastered across my face in a contented happiness I have never before known. My heart is continually stretched, and I so desire to pick up the life of Jesus here – to make every person that I encounter feel as if they matter – because they do. I have been making this my goal every time I walk out my gates. It is simple and yet I believe it is exactly what Jesus did. I cannot help everyone who comes to me, there are just too many. How can I pick and choose the countless street children that I encounter? The magnitude of the needs just outside my door are surreal. The number of starving children and half grown men addicted to chat and young mamas begging on the corners overwhelms me. How do I choose who to help? Most days, unless the Spirit clearly prompts me, I can’t choose. But I can look every person in the eye and acknowledge them as another human being. I can love in big ways just by giving a dirty street child a hug and a squeeze – just by noticing them when everyone else hurries on by. I can imitate Jesus just by seeing them. I am learning this and putting it into practice every day, and it is changing everything. It is changing me.

At home my lap is constantly full, sometimes with my blonde babies, sometimes with brown-eyed babies, and even still sometimes with my teenage boy who even after two years of security still questions whether this mama can really love him. Our house is seldom quiet. Languages collide and shouts and giggles echo off the walls. Currently I answer to “Mom” from seven people, and my head swims to keep up with who needs what from me. And every day, although most would see this as mundane, I fall more and more in love with this life. For me this is what my heart has ached, longed and cried out for. Four years ago, the moment my feet hit the dust here in Addis I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t possibly understand what it was that was missing. But now I know. It was the African sunrises, and Habesha food, and cold showers, and grubby hands reaching for me, and grown women, who missed out on childhood, calling me mom, and a spunky little two year old who is too precocious for her own good. It is watching my belly babies love in ways I did not know they were capable of, and seeing my brown-eyed boys back in their home country and finally healing from wounds that should have never been. It is catching my husband’s eye across our crowded and crazy living room, as children twirl and dance, and adults laugh and sip buna and nibble popcorn, and in that single glance a thousand words pass between us, all resting on the knowing that this is what we sacrificed for. It’s roosters crowing and dogs yapping and the low growl of hyenas. It’s seeing Jesus in the dirty street children or the young man who finally realizes that life is worth living. It’s opening my home to strangers and witnessing the miracle of how quickly love crashes in making us a weird, jumbled-up family. This was all missing in my former life, and while nothing looks the same as it once did, I wouldn’t change this new normal for all the white picket fenced houses in the world.

I know that I am here because God has put me here. In some little way I know that He is using me to change the world. He is using me in simple ways, and I want to give my life away right here. There is no place else I’d rather be than right here.

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darlings-106Tiffany has been married to Jim for almost 13 years. They have four children, two from birth and two from Ethiopia. Since landing in Ethiopia to adopt their youngest son, with special needs, and at the same time meeting their oldest son, who was a former street child, they have been on a wild journey. God has been writing a unique story for their family, and after years of prayer and pursuit, they are now living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and are passionate about family reunification, redemption, street children, and living their lives in a way that intentionally mimics the way Jesus lived out His life. Sometimes that means feeding a large group of people in their home, sometimes that means taking midnight emergency hospital trips, and sometimes it means just stopping to hug a lonely child on the street and really taking the time to notice him. No two days are alike.Tiffany blogs at amomentcherished.com and you can read more about their family’s non-profit and their life in Ethiopia at mercybranch.com or look for them on facebook at Mercy branch Inc.

Our Weighted Blanket

Stephen and I were not as prepared as we thought we were for parenting our new children. Truthfully, we thought we had this parenting gig down. We didn’t know that our adopted treasures would need something different from us. But, as with many of us who adopted before all the trauma and adoption education was so wide-spread, we figured it out pretty quickly! Yikes!

Our first clue came in those early days after coming home from Russia with our new son and daughter. Huge HUGE transitions for us all! We were constantly asking the question, “Is this behavior adoption related? (We didn’t even know to ask if was trauma related!) Or is this normal for this child? Or maybe it’s just the stress of travel and jet lag, or frustration at not being understood, or…..?”

It reminded me of caring for our three newborns, actually. “Is she crying because she’s hungry? Tired? Needs a diaper change? Sick?…..” But, our children who came home to us through adoption were older, years beyond diapers and midnight bottle feedings.

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Once the honeymoon stage was over, the rages began. It became clear that our son’s fits were actually not fits at all. There was an intensity, a deep place of anger and fear, that I soon realized was more like rage than any childhood fit I had ever seen.

I remember times when I would literally lay the weight of my body over my son’s raging little form– praying that he would know that he was safe, desiring that my embrace would keep him from hurting me or himself, hoping that maybe the strong physical presence of his loving mother would somehow communicate to him that no anger need ever overcome him, that peace would replace fear. The weight of my love was the beginning of the miraculous process of displacement that is adoption.

Whirling fear is displaced with love

Raging anger with an anchored peace

Dark hopelessness with a bright future

Over the years I have found that the trauma my son experienced before he came home requires this action of displacement quite often. Like a weighted blanket, I still cover him. Of course, I don’t cover him with my body any more for he has grown into a strong young man, but with my love, through prayer and words of hope.

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 It is so clear to me that as surely as my husband and I are creating a legacy of love and security and hope for our children, that there exists also an orphan legacy–things handed down to a child from a past marred by relinquishment, fear and lack. But in those long moments of struggle with my son, and all through the years when the legacy of fear would burst to the surface despite the weight of our love, I have known that when God’s peace rules, the orphan legacy is nullified. It must make way for life-giving peace.For though the mountains should depart and the hills be shaken or removed, yet My love and kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace and completeness be removed, says the Lord, Who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10)And it has not stayed hidden from me for long that I am not so unlike my son. His trauma has traumatized me. His pain has become my pain.

And I am desperately in need of the weighted blanket of my Father’s love.

And I must choose, once again, to allow His legacy of love, peace and hope, displace my fears and heal my wounds.

                                        ___________________________________________
Beth Templeton

Beth Templeton

Beth has been married to her husband Stephen for 27 years. They have seven children, ages 18-24. Several years after giving birth to three girls God called their family to 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. Beth’s heart has been deeply and forever changed as she has watched the love of Father God poured out on her whole family through adoption. She leads Hope at Home, a ministry dedicated to help adoptive and foster parents encounter the Father’s heart for their families, partnering with God to transform orphans into sons and daughters. For more parenting insight and encouragement in the Lord, go to Hope at Home.

Dear daughter

Lydia with Mama 2There’s something pretty cool about us. You and I look pretty different. You’ve got dimples; I’ve only got wrinkles. You have a freckle on your tummy; the only fun thing I have on my tummy is a turtle tattoo. You’ve got long dark hair; I’ve got short brown hair with highlights of gray. You’ve got Chinese eyes that look like crescent moons; I’ve got big eyes that scrunch up when I look at you because you always make me smile. I like that we’re different. We go perfectly together, and our differences make us a really colorful and fun pair.

Some people assume that pairs are the same. They think pairs should match on the outside as well as on the inside. So, the fact that we’re different on the outside may make some people not know right away that we go together. They might do things like that man did last week and ask you where your mommy is when I’m standing right next to you. We might laugh when that happens, but sometimes, we won’t. And, that’s okay.

People may ask you other questions too. I expect they will because I’ve been asked lots and lots of questions since you became my daughter. Sometimes the questions are easy ones, and I can answer them right away without even thinking really. Other questions make me feel a little funny inside, and I have to think before I answer. And, sometimes, there are questions that make me feel a little sad or mad, and I just don’t want to answer at all. I imagine you might feel like that too. We may be different, but I bet we might feel a lot the same.

When people ask you questions or say things to you about us being different, it may be because they’re being mean. It’s true. Sometimes people are just mean for reasons I really don’t understand. But, you know what? I bet that most of the time, people will ask you questions not because they are trying to be mean at all. Maybe they are interested in the fact that we’re different because they want to have a family that looks different too. I like when that happens. Maybe they ask a question because their family already looks different, and they want to know if we’re like them. Those can be fun conversations too. Some may ask simply because they are curious, and that’s okay. We ask people questions when we’re curious too.

The thing is, we may think we can tell why people do the things we do, but a lot of times we really can’t. People’s hearts are pretty mysterious things, you know? But, regardless of what’s in their hearts and if they are curious, interested, or just plain mean, we need to respond with respect. Let me explain to you what I mean. When someone asks you a question, you have a choice to make. You can share something about your story—after all, you’re an amazing girl with an amazing story. You can respectfully answer their question and tell them something about yourself. Or, you can share something that’s not about you specifically but is about families like ours that look different from each other. That’s another good option that may be a little easier because it’s not as personal as sharing about yourself. Or, you can respond in another way entirely and not respond at all. That’s a perfectly fine option, and you don’t need my permission in advance to choose that one. I’m telling you right now that it’s fine with me. But, if you choose that option, know that you need to do it always with respect. You can tell them you don’t really like the question or ask if you can talk about something else. You can tell them they’re your friend but you’d rather not answer that question. You can even blame me if you want and tell them your mom told you not to talk about that. Don’t worry; I can take it. I’m your mom, and moms are cool like that.

I’m not expecting you to have some sort of issue tomorrow or even next week; so, you don’t need to worry. But, if you do—whenever you do—know you aren’t stuck; you have a choice to make. You’re the one in charge of how things go. And, know that even if I’m not there to help you, I’m cheering you on just like how you cheer me on when I wrestle with the kids in the living room and you yell, “Go Mommy! Go Mommy!” And, I wanna hear all about it afterwards so I can scrunch up my eyes again and smile real big at you because no matter what choice you make and how things go, I’m going to tell you I’m proud of you and that I love that we’re different and that I really, really love that you’re mine and I’m yours. I hope on those days that I need it, you can do the same thing for me because you’re my daughter; and daughters are cool like that.

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Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

Kelly has a passion for supporting adoptive families, specifically to encourage parents to be intentional and understand their own hearts more clearly as they seek to care for their hearts of their children. Kelly has a Master’s degree in counseling and has been working with adoptive families since she and her husband Mark founded the The Sparrow Fund. Married to Mark since 1998, they have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their adoption story, how they’ve been changed by the experience of adoption, and what life for them looks like on Kelly’s personal blog, My Overthinking.

Broken

There were lots of things, about China in general, that I wanted to post. And maybe I will sometime. I was going to now. But something happened. Lucy happened. She is everything now. Lucy is the world.

The days, and mostly the last few hours before we met her for the first time, I always felt like I should be preparing somehow. But there was not much I could do.

And nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I thought I had cleared it in my head that she was real. That she was a person, not a picture; something I could touch, and love on and hug. But I guess I hadn’t.

I was expecting to have more time to get ready (like time would help!) but we just walked into the room and there she was. It was shocking; life-changing.

I expected Lucy to be wonderful. I expected her to be beyond my imagination—but I didn’t expect her to shatter my world like this. I didn’t expect to come to pieces over her.

It’s been three years so I don’t remember everything, and I wonder if Michael shattered me like this. And I wonder how many times I can shatter before I just break. I hope it’s a lot. Or maybe I hope it’s not very many. Because maybe we’re supposed to break. Because there’s pain in this world, and brokenness. And I think it shatters God’s heart too. I’ve been praying lately that HE would give me his heart. Well, maybe he has.

We’ve had reality-checks, sure; but I’m in love. And that’s a dangerous thing. Because when you really love someone you are willing to sacrifice everything for them. I’ve worried before that after Lucy comes home I won’t be able to play by myself—swing by myself—what about reading? And writing? And in the car on the back from the Civil Affairs building, I realized: it didn’t matter. If I could be with Lucy, I would give up anything.

I’m in love. And it’s dangerous. But I don’t even care. I thought I knew what it meant to love her. I was wrong. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be her sister. It’s not what I expected. But very few things are! And I like her the way she is. I’m glad I was wrong.

I was kind-of caught up in the fact that I WAS GOING TO CHINA at first, and I’m still excited about that, but Lucy is what’s most important.

I remember when I was on the plane, shortly after I’d spent hours trying to sleep next to my comfortably snoring parents, as I was sitting there in a total haze, only sort-of coherent; I thought, “what if this whole trip just goes over my head in a wave of jet-lag and I can’t even enjoy or really remember it?”

And then I realized: it did not matter. The trip isn’t important—it’s what we’re bringing home. ‘Cause Lucy is forever. Forever and ever and ever. That’s what family is all about: foreverness. Always being there for each other.

Lucy is a sister.   She belongs; as much as I do. And someday I’ll probably forget sometimes that we had to do without her for eight years. Someday she’ll just there. The seven of us. And it will be the most natural thing in the world.

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Hanna Rothfuss

Hanna Rothfuss

My name is Hanna Rothfuss.  I am 14 and in eighth grade.  I have lived in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska for my whole life.  My interests are reading and writing, mainly about fantasy and orphan care–often adoption.  I have four siblings, two of which are adopted.  I’m a homeschooler and a child of God.  I pray that all my writing is encouraging, empowering, and brings glory to Him.

You can read more of Hanna’s writing on her blog: Taking My Time.

Let the Grief Begin

“When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things? That faithfulness is holding the fort? That playing it safe is safe? That there is any greater privilege than sacrifice? That radical is anything but normal? Jesus didn’t die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous. Faithfulness is not holding the fort, it’s storming the gates of hell.”
–Mark Batterson

Let the Grief beginWe have been home almost exactly two months. It’s kind of funny how I let myself think that since some issues haven’t surfaced yet—they are not going to. Not! I have seen grief this week, like never before. I was not expecting it, yet somehow I felt prepared for this moment and did not react negatively when the grief was displayed in a manner directed towards me. Emotions erupted over small issues that could have easily been mistaken for something other than grief. Thankfully the Lord has given me the discernment to see beneath the surface of these outbursts.

My response? I did not take an ounce of this personally. I let the emotions purge from a broken heart and sat, just sat (almost silent). I was determined that I would not shrink back in fear of what I was seeing. I sat for hours, watching as ugly outbursts erupted like a volcano. Words and feelings were often directed towards me, as if somehow I was responsible for the pain, yet I could see that I was just a safe place to let it all out.

This is one of those posts that well, might seem like too much information. Still, I share it because for those praying us through you can know exactly what we need and for those who are in the same place or who will be soon, it’s good to be prepared for the grief.

You see as beautiful as adoption is—it is also very ugly.

In order for us to have the privilege of adoption there had to be great loss for our children. This is the part of adoption that tends to be glossed over when we talk about going across the world to become a father (and mother) to the fatherless. It all seems so wonderful and good that surely it should be easy right? They will see just how much we have done for them and wake up every day and thank us from the bottom of their hearts. Only they cannot. They cannot thank us for security when they cannot begin to understand what security is. They cannot begin to trust when their trust has been repeatedly broken.

This is the part of the journey that I had prepared for and understood fully that I would never really be able to prepare for it. I recognize that this is just the beginning. There is more to come, I am certain of it. So, what then? I can fear this grief or trust that the tears, the anger, and the hurt are the path to healing.

Pain precedes comfort. It’s part of the process. It’s the step where the hurt is purged making way for the comfort.

So often when hurts come we don’t want comfort—what we really want is to be comfortable. There is a difference. Comfortable is the state of ease, but God does not promise us that. In fact, he offers us the opposite, “in this world you will have trouble.” When we are grieving, the process of healing comes through feeling the pain. It literally hurts. Comfort comes as we are strengthened through our pain, not necessarily out of it.

So, as I sat yesterday, waiting and watching the torment of emotions purging from my child, I was helpless to remove the pain, but I could be present hoping that in some way it would offer some small comfort in that not-so-comfortable place.

Though I cannot change the circumstances, remove the hurt or even begin to fully understand the pain—at least I can be present. Having a mom to be present in the midst of hurt is something new for these little ones. It is what I have to offer. So I bring it, praying my actions will point towards my comforter—Jesus.

Grief hurts. It hurts to watch and it definitely hurts to experience.

Though I cannot fix it, I am reminded that in the moment when I love my children despite their unlovable behavior, I am the tangible evidence of God’s unconditional love. What better way to teach them about the gospel? After all, unless I live out the gospel message in the day-to-day moments, it remains just a story in a book; but faith lived changes hearts.

I pray that God would strengthen me to be faithful in this journey.

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Tiffany Barber

Tiffany is a wife to Kirk and mother of eight including six biological and two newly adopted from China. With a looming financial crisis at the outset of their recent adoption, God took their family on a journey of faith. Having been home just over ten weeks, they are currently working through the transition phase of their new adoption. Tiffany writes an honest account of challenges of adoption and the redemptive work of her savior Jesus Christ at Extravagant Love. Though her faith and limits have been tested, she points that adoption is paving the way for her to grow and experience God’s presence as never before.

This is Adoption

I remember the yellow hue of the hospital lights in Moscow. Not the warm, buttery kind of yellow that warms you up inside, but the dingy kind. The kind too dark to usher the relief that light usually brings into the dark.

I was there with my husband John, a translator, and our newly adopted son Arie. He wasn’t sick. We were there for his visa exam: the one that would grant us permission to go home.

For me and for John this was a momentous step forward: one of the last details to check off our long but dwindling list that would make our adoption complete.

For Arie this trip to the hospital was terrifying. He whimpered in my lap, fighting back the urge to cry with as much courage as his two-year-old body could muster. I held him tight, reassuring him as best I could as a relative stranger with a foreign tongue.

“It’s the smell,” said our translator, trying to explain the fear on our usually happy boy’s face. “It reminds him of getting his shots.”

Indeed, it did smell like alcohol swaps in that waiting area. Our translator whispered some encouraging words to Arie in Russian. He started sucking his thumb feverishly.

When at last it was our turn to see the doctor our boy’s demeanor turned around. The crinkle of the paper on the exam table and the happy tickles from the jolly Russian doctor distracted him from his fear. He laughed! Soon the exam was over and we were on our way back to our temporary apartment. Ever closer to home.

Two years have passed since that day, but I remain forever changed. Forever changed for having witnessed the inner turmoil of a child scared and alone. My husband and I were there with him of course, but oh how little Arie knew of us. He called us Mama and Papa, yet had no way to know what those names truly meant. He didn’t know we were going to be with him forever; to him we might have been two more faces in his ever changing sea of caregivers.

Today Arie knows exactly what Mama and Papa mean. He knows we are forever. He knows he is safe and secure. Just this morning I took him to the dentist and rather than wail in terror as he did at first, he climbed into the dental chair and laid back without hesitation. He giggled as the hygienist “tickled” his teeth with raspberry flavored toothpaste, glancing occasionally in my direction with a goofy grin.
These days when he is scared, Arie searches out my comfort. A normal action for most kids; a milestone for those who have had a lonely start like his. In the night, if he wakes up in the dark he cries out for me and my husband. Those suppressed whimpers we heard at the Moscow hospital have been replaced with loud cries for help. Where my foreign words formerly provided him with little relief, my simple presence is now his favorite comfort. He falls against my chest; the sound of my heart and the whisper of my voice quiet his wailing. He sighs deeply and snuggles in.

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This is adoption. This is a picture of redemption. This is something that was lost, found. Broken, put back together. Injured, healed.

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Adoption is not easy. Not for the child, not for the parents. When I say that I have been forever changed, I mean it. My eyes have been opened to a world I would rather have not seen. I know that today there are thousands of children just like my son who wait. Hundreds, at least, who have been brought to hospitals not by new parents and not for a simple visa exam, but by a nanny or caregiver- maybe known, maybe not- sick or for surgery or an extended stay.

The caregiver will leave when her shift is over and a new one take her place. Or maybe not. Maybe the child will be left alone, under the care of nurses and doctors who have to check his chart to remember his name. They do their best, I know it- those caregivers and medical staff- but they are not Mom. They are not the one he really needs to walk him through his fear. Not the ones to hold him in his time of need.

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We do not adopt out of obligation or sympathy. We adopt because we long to hold the hand of the one who needs us. Because every child deserves to know the love of a family. We adopt because we were made to live for more than ourselves. Because we know what it means to be redeemed. We adopt because in Christ we know what it is to have been chosen.

We love because he first loved us.

Do you have more love to give?

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Jillian Burden is still adjusting to this beautiful thing called motherhood; she and her husband are parents to a son by way of a Russian adoption. While her belly might not have expanded, her heart and her faith sure grew as her family did! You can read about this soul stretching journey to parenthood on her blog.

One Side of a Heart

Some time last week, we celebrated Silas’s “Gotcha Day”. It’s the twenty-something of March and that’s all I can tell you for sure. Oh, and we didn’t really celebrate it at all, only due in part to the fact that I was lying limp and ragged near death’s door.

Gotcha Days are a bit elusive around here. For one thing, Ruby’s Gotcha Day is also her birth day, and it seems unfair for the boys to get two days to her one. For another thing, we were in the hospital ushering Ruby into the world during Calvin’s first Gotcha Day and then Silas’s Gotcha Day falls right around Calvin’s birthday. Mostly, we’re just too busy celebrating regular life with our regular family to specifically honor that one day that they came.

I can hear all of the adoptive Mamas of the world sucking in a collective gasp of air and indignation over my confessed sacrilege of one of Adoption’s holiest days. While they’re already fainting in the aisles, I’ll go ahead and admit that I do not know Ruby’s precise birth weight (even though I was there) and we do not regularly celebrate the Korean New Year. Or Kwanza.

I have struggled, over the years, to cut my groove in this adoption thing and the reason is really simple: I don’t see myself as an “adoptive mom”. I’m just a mom. I’m a big, bad, don’t-dare-mess-with-them-or-you’ll-answer-to-me Mom. They are all I’ve known.They made me a mommy. I’m theirs and they’re mine. I tell them eight thousand times a week how much I love being their Mommy and how thankful I am that we are a family. But that might be over-simplifying a few things.

Silas’s Gotcha Day was hands-down the most traumatic day of my entire life. If I were a method actress and I had to shoot a scene where something terribly emotional was happening, I would conjure up that day in March and shut the set down. I would find myself in a tiny room full of plastic toys that sang songs I couldn’t place. I go there, and it’s hard for me to recover. I see it all again. I can’t forget a thing. I hear it all. I feel once more the fingernail drag of bone-deep pain down the front of my soul. So much happened in that little room. So much that I was not prepared for.

With each adoption, I clung to differing shreds of willful ignorance.

With Calvin, the possibility for trauma and attachment issues hung loose and ghost-like on the horizon. When I got to “those” sections of the book, I closed the cover and went to sleep. I did not want anyone muddying up my rosy future before I’d even seen his face. It seemed too hard and mostly, it seemed like a big waste of time, because he was just a tiny baby.

With Ruby, I read some of the sections, but only because I knew I wouldn’t need them, her being our precious, well-adjusted daughter, born of the most beautiful open adoption.

With Silas, I highlighted a few paragraphs here and there, but we’d be fine because he was in a foster home. He was not institutionalized. He had not experienced trauma. He was strongly attached to his caregiver. Plus, in the grand scheme of life, he was still really quite young.

Of course, half of me knew there was always the chance. I knew that Silas’s age would make it trickier. I knew it would be a different kind of ball game.

But I did not know that our precious son would spend two entire years (and counting) running toward us and away from us at the exact same time.

I did not know that the moment we took him in our arms and ran, the trauma would be inflicted.

I did not know that we would seek help from three different specialists in the span of a single year.

I did not know that a child, so wiry and beautiful, would so fully deplete my every emotional and physical resource on a daily basis.

There are other things I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that my 7 year old son would cry because he misses his birth mom.

I didn’t know that my daughter would be on the receiving end of racism that is clothed in “they mean no harm”.

I see a world opening its heart to the millions of orphans who desperately need a family and I feel immense hope. These kids, no matter where they’re from or what their background is, they need a new last name, a forever one. They need family traditions and trips to Dairy Queen. They need warriors to fight for them and mommies and daddies to kiss and tickle them.

They also need the freedom to feel the hurts that no one else can understand. They need the space to never have to choose between the life that they didn’t get to live and this one right here. They need a free pass from computing that the two could never be mutually exclusive.

With Silas we have had a front-row seat to the heart-busting-up trauma of being taken from all that you know. These are children, and children are smart and intuitive. They understand more than they can verbalize, and what’s left unsaid leaks out in tears, rage, and banged-up self-worth. I’m thankful to have seen it with my own eyes two years ago, because I might never have believed it otherwise. I might have looked past the fight to hold on to a history. I might have remained naive enough to hope that the two older kids did not suffer the exact same losses.

So we hold their fragile hearts with the tenderest hands. We try to anticipate the emotions that shift the weight from one side to another without warning, but we often get it wrong. We feel the slip of trust through the cracks so we reach out and grab it by the ankles. It’s not always practiced or ideal, but we promise to never let them hit the floor.

And maybe that’s what adoptive parenting is like. Maybe it’s a bit like a field day water balloon toss.

Maybe it’s less about memorizing the right answers and more about looking them square in the face during every question, every doubt, every sadness. Maybe it’s leaning in to a kind of pain that we do not know and will never understand just so that they aren’t there leaning alone.

Maybe it’s less about finding the exact right therapist to tell us what to do to fix the problem and more about promising to never tuck the child with the broken heart in at night without a kiss and a hearty sniff to the head.

The books are valuable. They are there to help, and I don’t suggest my path of willful ignorance. But at the end of the day, the bright-spot surprise days and the grim ones where it seems like it will never get better, they are ours and we are theirs.

Maybe our days never will get better. Maybe two years really can turn into forever. But that child knows he is fully loved, all the way to the top, in times of sunshine and weeks of drear, and that is the point of adoption.

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BioShannan Martin believes the turns in life that look like failure are often holy gifts, a lesson she chooses to embrace after the bones of her comfy farmgirl life were shattered and rebuilt from the toes up.  Together, Shannan and her family sold their dream farmhouse, moved to a disadvantaged area in the city, and adopted a 19-year old felon.  Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would discover as her family began to live the simple, messy, complicated life they were created to live. In walking beside the forgotten and broken and seeing first-hand the ways she so cleanly identified with both, Shannan’s faith was plucked from the mud.  She and her jail-chaplain husband now live on the wrong side of the tracks with their four children. She blogs often at Flower Patch Farmgirl.