Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Healing Power of Predictability

I crave predictability. I always have. There is comfort for me in knowing what to expect. I don’t particularly like surprises.

I also hate this about myself.

I hate that others can say “You’re so predictable” about my preferences or about how I’ll respond to a certain situation. I hate that what feels most comfortable to me (knowing what to expect) is often perceived as my need to be in control or micromanage.

I’ve also wrestled many years with trying to “let go,” “loosen up,” “learn not to care.” That hasn’t worked out so well for me. In fact, I think that the stern inner voice I often use to push myself to be better in good ways has found the perfect niche for turning abusive. I can berate myself for not being flexible, for not being spontaneous or fun, for running “too tight a ship” or having hard and fast “rules” for how I want to structure my days, have relationships, or organize my kitchen cabinets. Notice all the ways I tell myself that I am “not” – with no mention of what I am. After a while, hearing the constant “I’m not [fill in the blank]” self-talk makes me feel as though I’m constantly failing.

I have always been failing at trying to be unpredictable.

Which is funny. Because of the son I now have in my life.

I am Mami to a little boy who desperately needs predictability. Not only because of all the upheaval he’s been through in this past year, but because of the way his nervous system processes sensory information (feelings, sounds, sights). And because all that he knew before joining our family was the very predictable life of an institution. A predictable rhythm to our days is essential for him. Who comes and goes, when we eat, how (and where) we get dressed every day, where his toys live. Predictability is a healing rhythm for him. When something upsets that rhythm, it can sometimes feel catastrophic to his body, to his mind, to his emotions.

To the families who love us so much and want to see us more: it is very hard to upset the predictability of JM’s world. It is even more difficult to describe what happens when the predictability is upset. Tantrums, irrational fears, defiant behaviors, disruption in eating habits. Whether or not these sound like “typical four year old” behaviors is beside the point. Our child hasn’t (and won’t) live a typical life. He isn’t even cognitively four years old in some developmental areas. Sure, other families see what we see with their children too. But likely the behaviors another family sees in their normal four year are not connected to fear issues stemming from the loss of a birth family or a brain injury that dominates how we do even the basics of life: like zippering a jacket or taking a sip of water. So, while the external behavior may look the same in many ways, they are often coming from very different internal causes.

Children who test boundaries within the confines of a safe and trusting environment are normal. Children who test boundaries because they are used to being self-sufficient and don’t understand how to trust the authority of the grown-ups who love them are dealing with issues of a different kind. Not worse or more important. Just different.

Within the past few months I’ve come to understand something foundational about myself: I try to disappear as much as possible. I want to quietly go about my business, avoid intruding on others, and be self-sufficient so as not to inconvenient those around me. My counselor calls it “taking up as little space as possible in my world.” Over the years as this desire grew in me, it sounded lovely, and humble, and appealing to stay out of the way. But it isn’t healthy.

Actually, this is isn’t just unhealthy, it is really destructive. Because it means I grow silent when I need to speak. It means I hide when I need to wave an SOS flag. It means that what I need or want consistently takes a backseat to the people around me. And inside I die just a little bit more each time I shrink away from taking up the space that was granted to me simply because I live.

And then my son enters my world. And he takes up a lot of space.

We make plans only to break them a few hours later when he encounters something unpredictable and disrupting. We try new things only to have them backfire and we rush home to huddle in predictability and routine, letting its healing rhythm sweep back over us while we ask God to help us learn how to do it better next time.

I’m the Mami, so it is my job to carve out and maintain the safe space my child needs in this season and for however long the need for predictability will last. But this is incredibly stretching for a person who wants to take up a very small amount of space in her world. To answer “This isn’t a good time for a visit” when you ask is very hard for me because it means disappointing you; even if it is what we need to maintain balance. Telling you what is best for us at risk of hurting your feelings is a terribly painful experience for me, even when you have grace for it. I am working to undo years of believing that in order to be loving, gracious, and servant-like to you means that what I need (or what my son needs) is ignored.

But it’s a lot harder to ignore the needs of my son.

Suddenly I realize that in all of the ways that we thank God for doing his redemption work for JM, I am also seeing the way God is doing redemption workin me because of my son’s incredible story. Redemption work He hasn’t yet attempted because I would ignore myself for others. Now I have an “other” who needs me to pay attention to him – and thus to myself too. Redemption work God probably couldn’t start or finish is actually becoming a reality in my heart. All because my son is in my world.

One day I will take my son out to coffee and, through happy tears, I will thank him for allowing me to be his Mami. He could’ve said no, you know. He could’ve rejected us. He could’ve refused to partner with us in all of the attachment work we’ve been doing. But he didn’t. He embraces us. He signs “I love you” to us. He’s choosing to be part of our family in his own four-year-old way. And because he does, his healing story heals mine too. Thank you, son, for being mine. Not only did our really Big God heal your brain then, he’s doing it now – and as he does, He gets to heal Mami too. Thank you.

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KarliKE Smeiles is wife, mother, and birth doula. She finds her inspiration in the faces of her “boys” (her sons and husband) and in the abundant love of a redemptive God who wastes nothing.
KE and her husband adopted their first son in February 2014, discovering in greater abundance then they could’ve imagined just how beautiful and painful adoptive can be.
The Smeiles family grew by one more in May 2015 as they welcomed a biological son to their family.

The Other Mother

Since day one, many have asked about The New Chick’s biological mom. And for all seven of the months he’s lived in my house, I’ve put off writing about her. But, there is a season for everything, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

The first time I saw her it was in the Chambers County Courthouse. I looked up from admiring the five day old baby who was snug against my chest, and saw her walking toward us. I knew her by the tears pouring unchecked down her face. She humbly asked me if she could hold him, and I began to wonder at the world I had just entered.

As I unswaddled all five precious pounds and placed him in his mothers arms, I realized this entire endeavor was going to require more of my heart than I had expected. I felt all at once tremendous pain for her, and ferocious protection over him.

Those two emotions would only swell with the passing weeks. At times they were at war within my soul.

Someone commented on her right after he came to us. They posed a question, that was really more of a statement, along the lines of how could anyone do what she has done. The person went on to make her out as a total sinner, and me a total saint.

I just blinked and ashamedly said nothing. But inside was a raging inferno.

There is nothing fundamentally different about she and me. The only thing that polarizes her life from mine is that I was given a gift when I was 6.

The gift of the Holy Spirit when I got adopted by The King.

Without that gift I would have been her. I would have chased this world and let it have it’s way with me. I would have made costly decisions; looking to all the wrong things to make me feel happy and all the wrong people to make me feel loved. I would have given myself to a man way too early and gotten pregnant and had a baby.

It would have been me watching the social workers walk out of the hospital with my first born son, still sore from giving birth to him.
It would have been me wondering where they took him.
And who was holding him. And what was going to happen to him.
It would have been me facing every parent’s worst nightmare.

It would have been me.

But Jesus.

I won’t lie. There’s another side to my feelings about her. It’s not jealousy. Or competition. It’s more like looking at her and wondering if I will be her in a few months.

I fear the pain she’s already lived through.

Handing my baby over to the social workers to be cared for by strangers. Wondering where he is and if he needs me. Missing his firsts and wanting him so desperately it hurts. Fearing that he’s wants Mama, but can’t have her.

I hate the notion that her success will mean my greatest loss. And just as much I loathe the idea that if she fails, I somehow win.

Because if he goes back, I’ll curl up and die for a while. But if he stays, I’ll grieve with the knowledge that she’ll do the same. Either way, pain will be thick.

It’s true that she and I are very different. I was adopted and she wasn’t. She brought him into the world and I didn’t. I know him in ways she doesn’t.

And every time I say “Come to Mama” I am reminded that there is another.

But in this we are the same.

She and I are both the other mother.

_______________________________

Beth LawrenceBeth is Wife Supreme to one good looking pastor, and Queen Mother to two awesome bio children and two darling fosters. She writes about foster care along with this, that and the other atJust Beth. Beth is slightly addicted to her morning coffee, loves talking about Alex’s House Orphanage in Haiti, and gets the biggest kick out of pulling off her hair-brain ideas. (Her husband’s words, not her own.) She’s been featured on ForEveryMom, FaithIt, and some other cool blogs that were desperate for material.

Her Inheritance {Summer Flashback}

“And I want Mommy to have a baby in her belly,” I overheard her say as I was walking up the stairs this morning. I stopped in the hallway outside her room just long enough to hear “but sometimes it takes a long long time for babies to come. You have to pray and pray and pray. And wait.”

My daughter delivered a five year-old summary of her mommy’s life.

Nate had been talking with them about Zechariah and Elizabeth. And, to Eden, Elizabeth was another one of those women – like Sarah and Mary … or her mommy – whose story reminded her that pregnancy must come at the hands of a miraculous God.

I’d never told her I want to be pregnant.

She wasn’t my “second choice”, and I didn’t trust her young mind to later process my desire alongside of her own story with a healthy perspective. She was too young to catch wind of her Mommy’s pain.

The first time I remember her mentioning it was after a playgroup where all the women, but two of us, were pregnant. Children built towers, played instruments and read books around their mothers who shared life-stories. Naturally the topic of pregnancy came up. And my little one, who has not yet lost the hyper-vigilance that is a survival mechanism for many orphans, absorbed every word.

Later, in her prayers, she asked God to “send a baby to her mommy’s belly.”

It initially hurt my heart.

I’ve been preparing to field questions and observations about how our family is different for years. I just didn’t expect the first of them to be about my personal scarlet letter. I anticipated that she’d one day feel the pang of our skins’ different colors and her unique entrance into our family, but I didn’t suspect she’d have this other difference on her radar.

While the things that make our family different don’t seem to be a struggle for her now, they may one day become more than observations. I could call it maternal instinct that makes me want to protect her from every potential hurt, every pain. But my heavenly Father’s instincts were different.

His protection came not from avoiding that which would cause pain, but for offering His companionship as I walked through it. The valley of the shadow of death is land claimed by the Father. It is a holy place.

For me. And for my daughter.

At five, she has lived years I want to erase, but that God will redeem. And then, as one grafted in to this family, she has inherited new opportunities for pain.

But the ground I’ve taken in my life and heart, as it relates to processing my lack, doesn’t need to be won over, again, by her.

Her inheritance comes (from God) through me. She is my legacy. What I win in my lifetime — in terms of a hopeful perspective on all He has allowed and joy in the midst of “setback” — she gets to live out.

Her words to Nate this morning were not pain-filled. Sure, something in her – I’m not quite sure even why – wants her mommy to be like the other mommy’s with babies in their bellies. She longs, in the way a five year-old has capacity to. But what she has come to know as commonplace Christianity has taken me years to receive:

You don’t always get what you want, but in the face of delay, you pray and pray and pray. And wait. Sometimes for a long, long time.

And in the meantime you worship the One who holds beauty.

My highest aim as a parent is not to try and protect my children from all that might befall them, but to, instead, seek the healing touch of Jesus in every area of my own life, knowing that they will inherit what I leave behind. The “unfinished” will be theirs to finish or to pass along. And those ashes subjected to beauty, will remain their crown.

At five, Eden doesn’t wonder if God will still be who she believes Him to be if, next month, Mommy isn’t pregnant. “God is good, He is so so good to me,” she sings as her bare feet dangle from the potty.

Bracing myself against the hits I fear might come from the Father is a distant memory. After many years of having my soil tilled and turned, the ground is supple to receive the God of Hope.

And because of His great mercy in my life, to save me from my fearfully expectant heart, my daughter receives new land on which to plant.

My freedom won is her inheritance to build upon.

The fullness of God I pray almost daily for in my own life, isn’t just my platform for the next age. It’s hers too.

And her daughter’s.

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Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

Terminology {Does It Matter?}

Within the past few years it seems there has been a big emphasis placed on examining the terminology we use in talking about adoption.

Birth mother, first mother, expectant mom.

Kids of our own, biological kids.

Given up for adoption, placed for adoption.

But, does terminology matter? I believe it does. It’s also apparent that the adoptive community believes it does. Many adult adoptees will tell you that terminology matters to them as well. Thinking about, understanding and using various adoption terms in thoughtful and sensitive ways is greatly valued in the world of adoption. So, it only seems to follow that terms used in talking about adoptions that aren’t completed, fail, or are ended are understood and used in a thoughtful and sensitive way as well.

What is it called when a family does not complete an adoption they had begun?

What is it called when a family welcomes a child into their home intending on adopting him or her but end up not completing the adoption?

What is it called when an adoption is ended after the child has been placed in a home and the adoption process has been legalized?

As special needs adoptions have increased, the instances of failed or unsuccessful adoptions have also increased. Adoption is beautiful, but it is also complicated. Families, social workers, agencies, and governments all work to give children homes. But, medical files aren’t always accurate, governments aren’t always honest, special needs aren’t always clear, and the process is far from perfect.

take 2

 

Enter the home study. Hours of interviews and stacks of documents converge to outline what parameters a referred child must fall within. Agencies are not quick to allow families to diverge from what they are approved for in their home study. After all, many factors were taken into consideration to determine those parameters: income, family make up, ages of children already in the home, health insurance, proximity to health care professionals and specialists, etc.

As an adoptive community, we need to continue to encourage education and preparation for all potential adoptive parents. But, we would also do well to understand that even with all the education and preparation possible, adoptions may still end before placement, after placement but before finalization, or after finalization. How are we as an adoptive community going to respond? It goes without saying that our hearts are and will be broken for those children. Absolutely. But does that sympathy and empathy have to come at the expense of the adoptive parents?

I don’t understand how a family could end an adoption.

I don’t understand how a family could not bring home a child they intended on adopting.

You are right. You won’t be able to understand because you aren’t intimately involved in that situation. But, we don’t need to understand in order to minister to each other. We don’t have to agree in order to offer support and encouragement. We don’t have to like it in order to continue to enfold those parents within the adoption community.

If you’ll allow the analogy of preparing for marriage, an engaged couple is wise to do all they can to fully understand the commitment that marital vows require. However, even in Christian circles, we have all witnessed marriages that have fallen apart. Education and preparation aren’t always enough. But, when engagements or marriages fail, do we take to social media to dissect a situation we know very little about? Do we callously say, “How could they…?” “I can’t believe they…” “I would never…” On the contrary. We have come to realize that our world is broken. Our standard and our desire continues to be for every married couple to be beautifully united and eternally committed. But, we realize that when that doesn’t happen, the reasons are complex and complicated; the people involved are still God’s children and are hurting and in need of support. We realize that God’s love and work of redemption is not hindered by broken people or broken situations or broken promises. He is not a God who gets stopped at dead ends or unmet standards. His redemption story continues to unfold even in the midst of brokenness.

wagi

Years ago, we did not complete the international adoption of a child we intended to bring home. I felt like we carried the label of “the family who disrupted” as a scarlet letter. However, our experience of not completing an adoption of a child before the child was in our home is very different than a family who has enveloped a child into the fabric of their family only to have them taken out of their home or deciding that adoption is not the best choice for all involved. We can’t pretend the experiences and situations and resulting hurt are the same. And yet, so many do. We refer to every situation of an adoption stopping or ending as a “disruption.” Simply lumping all situations under the umbrella term of “disruption” is not helpful to the parents in that situation, the community called on to support, or the potential adoptive parents who are trying to learn all they can about what sometimes goes wrong. We need to consider more accurate terms.

Here’s a list to help: (Source: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/s_disrup.pdf)

An uncompleted adoption – An uncompleted adoption is an adoption in which the family decides not to adopt a child before the child is in their home and before the adoption is finalized.

A disrupted adoption – A disrupted adoption is an adoption that ends after the child is placed in the home but before the adoption is finalized.

A dissolved adoption – A dissolved adoption is an adoption that ends after the child is placed in the home and after the adoption is finalized.

Being sensitive to using correct terminology can go a long way in discerning what type of support those families may need. Offering caring support to these hurting families will go a long way in ending the shame and isolation they often feel.

So, does terminology matter in talking about adoptions that either don’t happen or don’t work out for the long term? Absolutely. Understanding and using the correct terms for each situation shows a general understanding of what the family went through which will directly impact the kind of pain they may be feeling and support they may be needing.

Terminology matters. We’ve known for quite some time that it matters to adoptive families and adoptees. It’s time to understand that it matters in these situations as well.

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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.  

 

 

 

Post-Referral Panic {Summer Flashback}

I have debated long and hard about whether to write about this or not, but I have decided to for three important reasons:

  • It’s the truth.
  • I felt like the worst person in the world when it happened to me, and I think part of that was that I had never heard of anyone else having these same feelings though many surely have (or maybe not in which case I may be sorry to be the first person to admit it). Feeling like you are having a reaction no one has ever had makes the feelings feel even worse. Maybe me admitting this will help someone else.
  • Most importantly of all, it contains the most significant moment in our referral story for me. The moment I’ll always come back to if I ever panic again.

________________________________________

The joy of being matched lasted about 24 hours for me.

Wait.

I’m not sure I felt joy at all that day we called to tell our agency that we were sending in our LOI (Letter of Intent to Adopt).

In fact, my matter-of-factness, my taking-care-of-the-business of it, never actually yielded any emotions. However, after hanging up the phone, the fear began to build up, growing more and more as the hours ticked by. By Thursday night (the day after accepting our referral), once I had the kids in bed and the house was quiet (Scot was away the week we accepted our referral), I began to feel panic almost physically strangling me.

Scot called that evening to say good-night to the kids and to let me know that he really couldn’t talk to me that night because everyone was going out. I told him I needed to talk to him and that it really could not wait until morning. Who knows what else I said, but after the kids were in bed, Scot called back (having excused himself from the events of the evening), and I fell apart on the phone with him.

Fell. Apart.

Every fear, doubt, anxiety, worry, every bit of it came pouring out. And, that’s not like me. In this whole adoption process, if I’ve gotten really freaked out at any point, I tried to temper it with Scot fearing I’d freak him out too much. But, I figured it was now or never to let it all out. Not about adoption in general, but about the boy we just accepted in particular. I’m not sure how he even understood what I was saying over the phone because I was so emotional.

I covered it all. Every “what if.” And, that was no small task, because at that point, there were for me, still many, many unanswered questions.

I told Scot point blank that I thought we may have made a mistake, and that IF that’s what we ultimately decided, HE would need to call our agency, because I simply would not be able to. (Scot’s never called our agency. I handle all that.)

Scot patiently listened to it all, told me that if we felt like we needed to change our minds that he would “absolutely” call the agency for me but that he thought I should let him get home the next day before we made any decisions. We both knew that it was nearly Friday in China anyway, so we should take the weekend to talk and pray. He felt sure that once he was home we would figure it out.

After that conversation, I felt better. Mostly, because I got it all out. There was no question about where I was at. I was terrified.

Cooper pre-Hardy

During these couple days, I told no one about our referral (besides one dear friend who already knew about it and our pastor). I couldn’t look at the child’s picture. In fact, I had called my mother-in-law on Wednesday after accepting the referral and got her voice mail. When she called me back on Thursday, I pretended I had forgotten why I had called.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. THAT’s how bad it was.

(I remember it so well that I’m crying just typing this. It was awful to feel that way.)

After my conversation with Scot, I went to New Day Foster Home‘s website (where the child was being cared for) and looked at every. single. picture. they had of him. I looked hoping I would recognize him. Because looking back, I think that is what bothered me the most.

I didn’t recognize him.

I had thought when I saw the face of my child I would know him (or her). That there would be some magic or something. Or that it would be a very spiritual moment. Or, you know, anything but a series of very intentional decisions. Which is what it was.

I didn’t get a phone call out of the blue and click open the e-mail to see my child’s face for the first time. Because that’s how you think of it in all those years of waiting. And, just like when I struggled after having Sawyer via c-section (the LAST thing I expected and certainly was never part of my becoming-a-mom fantasies), I realize now that I was struggling again with reality verses how I imagined it would be.

Then there were the very REAL questions on top of that:

  • Does he have Hep B? And, if so, in combination with his heart issue would that be something life-threatening possibly?
  • What is the result of his oxygen deprivation in his first year?
  • And what about his age? What business do we, unexperienced adoptive parents, have adopting an almost 4 year old? He’s only a year younger than Chloe!!!

On Friday, Scot came home, and I’m not sure I had ever, EVER been so glad to have him back from a trip EVER. And honestly, we only casually talked about the boy we had accepted that night and even through Saturday. I actually don’t remember much about those two days.

I know we prayed about it, but I don’t remember much else.

On Sunday morning, I was on my way to church by myself. I have to be there early, so I always go by myself, and Scot comes during the second service with the kids. In the car, I prayed very specifically, and I remember exactly what I said: “God, I need to hear from you today, and I’m in a very emotional state. Anything less than complete clarity will only confuse me. Can you please be crystal clear with me this morning?”

Nothing fluffy or ornate. Just a simple honest prayer.

But, as soon as I uttered it, I wondered how it would ever be clear enough for me in the state I was in. I remember distinctly thinking, “Unless I hear ‘You should adopt him’ or ‘You shouldn’t adopt him’, will I really walk away feeling sure?” Any amount of faith I had seemed gone in those moments.

Usually, I go to church during first service, and Scot attends second service. Unfortunately, that’s just how it is because second service for us is very busy, and I have to be back in children’s ministry that hour. However, on this particular day, Scot showed up early and went to church with me.

Our pastor wasn’t teaching that morning, and one of the people Scot and I respect most in the world was speaking. This man has been a missionary around the world and is a walking example of what a life looks like when lived trusting God to the fullest!

This morning, he was speaking about Noah. He talked about a lot of things, but he specifically talked about how the call that God made on Noah’s life could not have made a whole lot of sense to Noah. Noah had never seen rain. And, the Bible doesn’t say that Noah had any skill at building. Noah, the speaker said, probably felt completely inadequate for the task. The task HAD to have seemed too big for him, too hard, too unknown, too scary. I mean, God told Noah he was going to destroy everything on the earth. That had to have been unsettling at the very least! Everything in Noah’s world must have felt turned up-side down, but because He walked with and trusted God, he did it.

Then, right there in the middle of the sermon, with his British accent in full tilt, the speaker says: “So…what is God asking you to do today? *there might as well have been a l-o-n-g pause here, because I remember it as if time stood still* Does it seem hard, scary, unknown? I don’t know what God has called you to today, but I am here to tell you JUST DO IT!” (That was all caps on purpose because he yelled it. The man is 80 years old, and he yelled it!)

Could God have been ANY clearer? At all? Really?

JUST DO IT!

And, the choice of words? Echoed the EXACT words my friend had said to me when I told her we accepted our referral. She said, while she talked to me on the phone that night, she just wanted to yell, “JUST DO IT!

Tears immediately started rolling down my face, and I leaned over to Scot and said, “I think we have our answer.”

He just smiled, and was gracious enough NOT to say, “No, I had my answer all along. It seems that now you have YOUR answer!”

That’s in my mind when New Day’s Evan became Cooper. When all my doubts and fears took a distant back seat to the fact that this was oh-so-clearly the child GOD had chosen for our family.

I will always, always be so thankful that God cared enough about me to speak to me right where I was at that morning. To assure me when I was doubting. To answer my very specific prayer and to do it in such a resounding way.

That next week, after we got PA, we requested an update on Cooper. Specifically, we asked for updated lab results so that we could see what his Hep B status was. The woman at our agency said she would ask but that updated medical info is not generally given and so we shouldn’t expect it.

A few days later, we got a short update, and some pictures. The update did not contain any updated lab work. We were disappointed but okay with whatever. However, when we looked through the pictures, the last picture was a jpeg file of Cooper’s most updated lab results where we could see VERY clearly that the ambiguous test results were gone, and he was quite clearly NOT Hep B positive.

I thanked God that day for those lab results, because although I would have trusted Him either way, He knew how scared we were about that, and he took that fear completely away.

How great is our God indeed.

________________________________________

Jenna Hardy and family (minus 1!)

Jenna is a teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, turned Children’s Ministry Director who is passionate about children. After hearing God’s call to care for orphans 8 years ago, she has become increasingly passionate about adoption and orphan care. She and her high school sweetheart, Scot, have been married for 17 years and adopted Cooper 4 years ago. They are excited to see what God will do in the next chapter of the story He is writing with their family. Jenna and Scot feel strongly about sharing their story so that they might be of encouragement to others in various stages of the adoption process. You can follow along with them at Our Many Colored Days.

When Your Worst Fear Comes True

What’s your biggest fear as a parent?

Although we all have major fears like our kids rebelling or leaving the faith, I think every parent at some point lies awake at night, panicked that he or she is going to somehow fail his or her offspring in  damaging, irreparable ways. I mean, who hasn’t bemoaned, “My kid is going to end up on Oprah someday,” and was only partly kidding?

The fear of messing up our kids. Of damaging them in some long-term way.

What if your fear came true?

Mine did. Today.

One of my goals in parenting from the beginning has been connection. I want my kids to feel connected to me, to know that I value our relationship; I want them to feel loved, always. Out of balance, this can very much be an idol for me. But connection…security in our relationship…that’s a good thing, right?

The night had been peppered with sarcasm and complaint from one child in particular, with me returning the volleys with patience, then not. I doled out a consequence and removed myself from the situation before it really got out of control. When I returned, I began to debrief with this child (which honestly looked a lot like lecturing), and then the conversation took a turn. This child made a seemingly small, throw-away statement, but then his eyes filled with tears of pain. I took a step towards him. The floodgates opened.

(**Let me pause a moment here and say parents, do not quickly treat your child’s behavior and think that’s enough. Sometimes, they do just need a (metaphorical) kick in the pants to straighten up. But oftentimes the behavior is just a symptom of something deeper, and if you punish and move on, you’ll miss it. This will probably happen late at night. You will be tired. Pursue your child’s heart anyway.)

Through controlled and uncontrolled tears, my child revealed a hurt he has been holding onto for quite some time, an instance where Brian and I were unknowingly careless with his heart. I literally can’t even remember the situation he referred to, but it has deeply wounded him, causing him to question our sincerity and approval ever since.

For years, he’s been living out of fear of failure based on the way he interpreted a careless circumstance Brian and I can’t even remember.

We failed him. We didn’t mean to, but we did. And he is hurting. It will take lots of time, forgiveness, and actively throwing down boards of truth for him to recover from this.

My worst fear came true. I have damaged this child, and I can’t undo it.

As I’ve processed this event with the Lord, here are some truths I’d like to share:

1. As a parent, a friend, a daughter, etc., I will make mistakes. Some of them will be blatant, and some of them I will commit completely unaware that I have done anything wrong. Some will be intentional; some will not. Do I trust Christ to fill in the gaps these mistakes cause, especially the ones that I don’t even know exist? Because can I tell you something? If I don’t, then I am absolutely sunk.

The enemy wants to take situations like this and use them to shame and accuse:

“See? I told you you would fail!”
“The only thing to do is try harder. You must double up on your efforts. Read more books. Buckle down on intentional time.”
“YOU MUST FIX THIS.”

Oh no. I give my kids permission to say to Satan, “Shut up, you stupid idiot,” and those words would definitely apply here.

Do I want to be intentional with my children? Do I want to do everything I can to love them well and provide a secure base for all things in life? Yes. But if it is up to me to make sure that nothing goes wrong in their lives or mine, then I may as well jump ship right now.

What a privilege it was to sit before my child and through his tears and mine, take us both to the gospel—the truth that I will not parent him perfectly, but praise God, He will. Instead of wringing my hands in panic over what I had inadvertently done to his self-esteem, I was able to speak from a place of brokenness as I asked his forgiveness, but also from a place of strength as I knew that God would redeem this and make it right—and it wasn’t up to me. I hurt for my child, but I wasn’t destroyed that I had failed him, because I know that he has a much greater Advocate who will fill in the gaps that my carelessness, laziness, self-centeredness, and just plain humanity will leave.

2. Oftentimes our hurts are based on assumptions that we can’t prove.

Shout out once again to Julie Sparkman and her Idol Addiction study, which nails this point so eloquently. The situation that my child was so wounded by…it could have been interpreted a number of ways. He chose the most painful interpretation, and never asked us for our explanation. The situation itself didn’t cause his pain; the way he interpreted it did.

I can totally relate to him. I remember being super young, and our family was on a long car trip. Let’s pause a moment and think about what long car trips with small children do to parents’ nerves. The car started making a funny noise, and my dad was trying to figure out what was wrong. I saw a noise-making toy down on the floor board and thought I’d found the source of the problem, so I said, “I know what’s making the noise, Daddy!” He quickly shut me down with a, “No you don’t, Jennifer. Now be quiet so I can figure it out.” My interpretation? “He doesn’t think my opinion matters.” The reality (which I know now that I’m a parent and have made these horrific trips): “I am tired, stressed, and just want to get out of this car. Please, no one talk to me.”

How many hurts, how much bitterness do we hold onto, based on our assumptions about someone’s thoughts or motivations? Based on our interpretation of a situation that may or may not be true? The cost of doing so is so very high.

You don’t know what you don’t know. There’s actually a lot of freedom in that.

3. Past wounds threaten to define us and change the lens through which we see life.

As I listened to my child name his pain—even though the actual incident seems minor all these years later—and watched him walk through how that pain has affected him through the years, I realized that I need to name my own pain.

Oh, the wounds that go so deep, the ones that are 10, 20, 30 years old. They may seem silly when spoken now, but they have defined me to my very core, and my unwillingness to let go has caused me to interpret life through those glasses. I must name them and walk through to the other side. Things like that cruel comment about my new shirt when I thought that finally, finally I was in style. My unfulfilled desire to fit in all those years ago. The notes passed in class, the whispers in the hallways, the invitations not received.

Seems silly, right? And yet, the message permeated deep and I fight it still: Rejection. You are not worthy.

So, hand in hand with my broken child who wants to know for sure that he is loved, I walk through the pain to the other side where Truth awaits and I realize the things I told my baby boy are also true for me: I am worthy, because He is worthy. I am adored. I am His treasured possession. I am His chosen bride. I am accepted. I am safe. I am loved. I am free.

It’s almost too much to take in.

What pain do you need to name today? What wounds hold power over you and have clouded your perspective and robbed your joy? Name them—it’s not too late for you to be free.

What a night. My worst fear came true, and I never saw it coming. But what a holy night it became, as my son and I together fought through the ugly and drank deeply from the well of grace that we both so desperately needed.

The gospel, my friends. It is our only hope for healing and restoration. You don’t have to fear the worst in parenting or in anything else, because the gospel actually works there as well, thank goodness. Let’s rest in that hope today.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, NOR THINGS PRESENT NOR THINGS TO COME, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

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Jennifer PhillipsJennifer Phillips graduated from Samford University. She then worked with Sav-A-Life, a national network of crisis pregnancy centers, eventually becoming its Executive Director. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, where her husband Brian serves with Uni-Impact, a franchise of Campus Outreach. You can follow Jennifer at littlelucymei.blogspot.com.

Did They Ever Notice {Summer Flashback}

Miss A has been with us for about 4 months now. As time goes on, as I watch her playing and interacting, I find myself wondering, did they ever notice?

I mean, she spent 7.5 months in an orphanage being cared for by nannies. It was, as far as I can tell, a really good orphanage. We visited it and got a tour, and it was lovely–for an orphanage. It was clean and bright, and the directors and nannies were cheerful and welcoming and friendly. But, it was still an orphanage. She was still cared for by nannies. And that makes me wonder, did they ever notice?

Miss A likes to feel a blanket or burp cloth with her fingers as she drinks her bottle. Propped up in the crook of my leg so we can see each other face to face, her hands are in constant motion. Seeking out and then rubbing and feeling the piece of cloth. Did they ever notice this?

As her eyelids get droopier and droopier drinking her bottle, she will usually begin lifting the cloth to her face. Covering her eyes, then dropping it down, then bring it back up to her face. She will grab a corner and rub the side of her face as her eyelids close. Did they ever notice?

Should she finish the bottle before drifting off to sleep, she has been known to almost nibble on the fuzzy side of her blankie to fall asleep. Did they ever notice? And, if so, did they ever give her a soft cloth to feel as she drank her bottle?

We first noticed this in China. She would hold her shirt or my shirt as she drank her bottle. Then she would grab her bib or burpcloth. So, when we came home, I got out a blankie square with a silky side and a furry side. She loves it. Peeking in at her at night we will find her laying on it like a pillow. And, it sometimes makes me sad. Sad because I wonder what she did at night when she was (presumably) all alone in her bed with nothing to grasp or cuddle or snuggle.

In all likelihood, given what I know about orphanages, given that the nannies (caring though they be) are taking care of many children at a time, I know that they probably didn’t notice this quirk of Miss A. They didn’t have time to notice. They couldn’t notice.

Instead they had to focus on taking care of each child’s basic needs. Feeding, changing diapers, and sleeping. Straight forward caretaking. Judging from Miss A, they seem to have done a fantastic job of caring for her basic needs while in the orphanage. On Gotcha Day she was a well-fed, healthy, happy, clean, chubby cleft baby who had already been given her first surgery. Her basic needs were well met.

But, just getting your basic needs met isn’t what we were designed for. God created us to know Him and to be intimately known. And He sets the example for us–He knows His children intimately. He knows how many hairs we have on our head. He knows our deepest fears and struggles. He knows our gifts and talents. He knows what makes us laugh. He knows how we laugh. He knows our heart and soul and mind and spirit, for He created us. He notices it all.

There is so much more to be had than to just have your basic needs met. So, God places children in families with parents who, if they are intent on doing it, will know those children intimately. Through relationships and time and noticing we get to know one another intimately. Think of your closest friends, your spouses, your family. What makes those relationships so valuable is that each of those people knows you intimately. They can “read you like a book.” They know your quirks and your looks and your fears and your joys. And, isn’t that a comfort–to be known intimately?

This is what has brought me so much joy from being a mother. To spend every day with my daughters has given me the opportunity to know my girls intimately. Knowing that Miss E will probably need extra reassurance when she hears a loud car go roaring down our street. Knowing that Miss A likes to crawl around with a block in each hand. Noticing and knowing the little things, the looks, the cries, the giggles, the quirks. I love knowing–really knowing–my girls.

So, as I watch Miss A, as I study her expressions and movements and quirks, it makes me sad to realize that they probably couldn’t notice them. She had great basic care for the first 7.5 months of her life. And, for that, I am forever grateful. But, she didn’t have the care of a Mommy and Daddy. She didn’t have someone who took notice of how much she liked soft blankies and, in turn, made them available to her. She didn’t have someone who knew her intimately.

 

Now, she does.

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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.  

Why You Should Never Adopt An Older Child…And Why We Did Anyway

“Whatever you do, don’t adopt from foster care. That’s scary stuff.”

Ten years ago, when adoption became more than a hypothetical thought for us, a good friend tried to warn me. She’d been a social work major, and she’d come away scared. I believed her.

Two years later, we adopted a healthy, white newborn through an agency and brought him home from the hospital.

When I felt like we’d adopt again several years ago, and we were not ready to start over with an infant, I talked to another friend about the possibilities we’d considered. Foster care, special needs, HIV-positive. All words that concerned her.

“Why would you put yourself in that position? Why would you ask for that?”

Two years later, we adopted a four-and-a-half-year-old little girl with trauma history who had spent years in foster care.

Thinking back, her concerns were legitimate.

Why would we put ourselves in a position to care for a child with HIV or other special needs? Why would we volunteer to parent a child whose history could mean difficult behaviors and emotional baggage that might last for a lifetime? Why would we get on the adoption roller coaster again?

I have two answers that may seem simplistic at first glance.

First, because kids are worth it. All of them. They’re worth the fears and inconvenience and changes to their new families. They’re worth changing your parenting style to address their needs. They’re worth therapy appointments and grocery bills. They’re worth your tears on the bathroom floor as you question what in the world you’ve done and if it will ever get better. They are worth it.

Second, obedience is worth it. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I don’t take that verse to mean everyone is called to foster or adopt. But for us, that’s exactly what it meant. Through His Word, circumstances, prayer, and other people, God made it clear to us over the course of years that this was His plan for our family. To do anything differently would have been disobedience. I know this is different for non-believers, but for us, knowing that we were being obedient was what kept us going on the hardest days. And it was enough.

Why did we volunteer to love and pour our hearts into hurting children? (And yes, children from infant adoption can hurt just as much as older children). Why do our foster parent friends take in filthy, hungry children in the middle of the night? Why do they stay up with screaming babies who were born addicted to meth? Or love teenage foster kids whose behaviors are difficult to say the least, even knowing that love is not enough to heal their hurts?

Because they’re worth it.

And although obedience is costly, it’s worth it too.

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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.