Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Importance of a Family Code Word


Last month, our family went on a small trip, which included a very emotional, adoption-related event for one of our kids. In processing the event with him beforehand, I could tell it would be difficult, although meaningful, for him. The possibility of him becoming flooded with emotion was huge.

I told him the day before that we could have a secret code word that would let me know he was feeling overwhelmed and needed a change of scenery. He loved the idea and chose the word himself (I’ll use “butterfinger” as the example for this post). We went over it again the following morning, and he seemed to feel a sense of relief to be able to say one word to me or Matt, without his siblings or anyone else knowing, and we would help him get out of the situation immediately. We even practiced it, so he would see how easy it would be to say, “I wish I had a Butterfinger,” and we responded accordingly.

He didn’t use his code word that day. And I think knowing he could was part of the reason he didn’t need to.

He felt safe.

Since then we’ve had similar talks with our older child as well but for different reasons. At someone else’s house and feel uncomfortable for any reason? Call us and use the code word. We’ll come get you and talk about it later. Embarrassed to call us to get you out of an unhealthy situation because your buddies are there? Use the code word. We’ll figure it out.

We want our kids to feel safe- emotionally, physically, and spiritually. For us, part of that means the ability to communicate with us in a way that is private and reassuring to them.

There are many uses for a family code word:

1. To communicate emotional flooding in a public setting and privately express the need to get a breather. This is especially helpful with kids who struggle with anxiety- generalized or specific to certain triggers- or with kids who are in the midst of a very emotional time (e.g. at a funeral).

2. To let a parent know you need to get out of an unsafe situation. For us, this includes a general feeling of discomfort, even if they can’t explain why. We want them to learn to trust their “gut” and to know we trust them to make good decisions.

3. To let a parent know when you need help, even if you’ve created the problem yourself. As our kids get into adolescence, their freedom will increase. And so will the temptations around them. They will mess up. But if we can help them feel safe in coming to us, even in their sin (especially in their sin), we have a much better chance of decreasing their shame and helping them run to Jesus in the midst of it.

I bet there are many more ways we’ll use our code word(s) as our kids get older. Has your family ever used secret words? What worked for you?



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.

Four Way to Care for the Fatherless When You’re Not Called to Adopt

You may have no intention of adopting, but know (and love) friends and family members who have. I commend you for taking the time to learn about how you can best support these families in your life!

Four-Ways-to-Care-for-the-Fatherless-When-Youre-Not-Called-to-Adopt-700x1050Not everyone is called to adopt, but Scripture is clear that all are called to care for the fatherless and act on their behalf. I love Isaiah 1:17, which says “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Every Christian is called to do good before God, and that includes seeking out justice for those who are being oppressed.

This is one of the main reasons I’ve chosen to write a book about foster adoption (enter your email in the sidebar for updates about a late Spring release!). Adoptive families need their churches, and fellow believers, to come along side them with right thinking and a Christ-like perspective as they follow the path God has called them to. Pastors, elders, and ministry leaders ought to be equipped with a basic knowledge of the different types of adoption, helpful adoption lingo, and an arsenal of how to best support the growing families in their congregation.

I must say though, our church is amazing, and they are very adoption-friendly. We have received nothing but support from them, delicious casseroles when both boys arrived to our family, clothes, books, toys, and gift cards. You name it we probably received it! It’s not about the tangible though (although those things were life-savers). More importantly, it’s the attitude of the people in our congregation that have blessed us the most.

Here are four ways to care for the fatherless when you’re not personally called to adopt:

1) Respect boundaries that have been set

A few months after our oldest son arrived, we noticed some quirky behaviors that alerted us to some possible attachment issues. We kindly asked our small group, and others in our church who regularly interacted with him, to respect a few boundaries we needed to put into place for his good. He needed to learn who mom and dad were, and who was going to meet his needs. It’s not going to be the sweet old lady we see every Sunday who wants to give him candy, or our amazing small group who showers him with lots of love and attention. It’s Adam and myself, and he needed a renewed focus on that goal.

Everyone responded to us in a way that showed they love our little boy immensely, and respected our role as his new parents. Our son learned that high fives on Sunday mornings are more appropriate than hugs and kisses, and “I love you” is reserved only for family (for now). He has grown so much since we set these boundaries, and thanks to our amazing church, they played a massive role in that healing! We are so grateful.

2) Have a teachable heart in regard to birth parents, loss, and race issues

I’ve had countless conversations on Sunday mornings with teachable and open-hearted people in our congregation. I could not be more thankful for where God has placed us. There is a respect for our boys birth parents, an understanding of the loss our sons have experienced, and a growing openness for the fact that, as black boys, they will likely be racialized as they grow older (this one is the most difficult one we’ve encountered, being in a predominantly white community, as it takes time for lifelong false beliefs about different ethnicities to be broken down). There is not much more I could ask for in regard to support for our boys! Our church has done this well.

3) Remember that your words matter

Educating yourself on adoption lingo will bless adoptive couples immensely. Remembering that any child in their family is “their own”, whether through birth or adoption, is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Acknowledging the loss their child has been through (loss of birth parents, siblings, friends, a prior foster home, and everything familiar to them) is a very important part of caring for adoptees. It’s easy for us to want to celebrate (the orphan has a home!), but that’s not the case for the child who has lost everything. There needs to be an understanding and respect of that.

We had one awkward encounter a few days after our oldest son joined our family. A kind older woman asked him if he liked his “new mommy and daddy.” He looked at her like she had three heads. His little two and a half year old brain was probably thinking “I have a mommy and daddy, and they aren’t it!” We did quickly become “mommy and daddy” to him within a week or two, which we learned is typical for kids in foster care. Up until that point we were Miss April and Mister Adam to him. He had just been removed from his birth mom a few days prior, and was probably so confused and scared about what the future would hold for him. That question was well-intentioned, but highly inappropriate.

These are the sort of encounters that become opportunities for us as adoptive couples to show tons of grace, and kindly educate. I gently corrected her comment and let her know that he has a mommy and daddy who love him very much, and that we are thrilled to have him be a part of our family right now. I don’t think she understood, and that’s ok, but I believe in situations like this grace will always trump the snarky remarks we may be tempted to make.

It’s important for supporters to keep in mind that their questions and remarks, likely born out of curiosity, could put the adoptive family in an awkward position. If their children are older, and can understand, comments that are not well thought out could be hurtful to them and disrespectful to their fragile past. It’s never ok to make judgments about a child’s birth parents, racial slurs, or comment about how you “can’t believe no one wanted them”.

4) Be committed, with hope, for the long haul

The church ought to be a place where adoptive families can enter in with all of their messiness, and receive love and support as they seek to lead these precious kiddos to hope and healing, and ultimately, to our Savior. You may not be called to adopt, but you are called to care for the fatherless. Learning how to do that in a way that blesses the adoptive families in your life will be a precious gift to them.

This will look differently for each family, so don’t be afraid to ask them what they need, and how you can best support and love them through the years. Some families may be more or less open with you about their children and their needs. Some may not know what they need because they’re still in the fog, trying to get a grasp on what would be best for their kiddos. The love and faithfulness of a church who is in it for the long haul, just as the adoptive parents are, is a beautiful way to show the gospel to families who have grown through adoption.

Love on the family if their placement fails. Pray for their kids when an important court date is near, or they have a visit with their birth parents. Bring them meals when a new child enters their family. Show them immense amounts of grace when their son or daughter acts out during worship. Don’t assume their child is “troubled” or “damaged” or destined to work at the grocery store for their entire lives because X diagnosis runs in their birth family.

If you believe the gospel, then you know that no one is too far gone! Not a single one. Even the most broken, messy, un-attached child, with the most disturbing past is not too far gone for our great Redeemer. It’s not too hard for him to save them, and heal them, and it shouldn’t be too hard for you to believe he can save them and bring them complete healing either.

Let us not forget that he saved you and me in our sin. We need Jesus just as much as our children from foster care do. Believe in the power of the gospel to heal, and save, having great hope for their future, praying for their spiritual adoption into the family of God. This is the best way you can care for the fatherless without actually adopting.


RedemptiveHomemaking.com_April is a follower of King Jesus, wife, mother, writer, and adoption advocate. She lives in New England where her husband serves as a worship-pastor. Her introverted nature loves to read, sip coffee, and cook nourishing food for those she loves.  Read more on her blog Redemptive Homemaking.



Post Mother’s Day Blues

Is there such a thing as Post Mother’s Day blues? There must be. I have them.

Seems like my family can’t win. On one hand, there is part of my heart that wanted more from them – more appreciation for how tough this job really is and a deeper understanding of how much I really love them. On the other hand, despite the wonderful cards and texts from them, somehow I feel terribly undeserving. If only they knew the depths of my dark heart – the unkind thoughts and resentments that lurk there sometimes.  If needed, I would crawl over cut glass for them, with a triumphant smile on my face for all the world to see – to proclaim my abiding sacrificial love for them. But inside, I confess, there are days that I grumble, feel discouraged, ashamed of my failures.

What grade would you give yourself as a Mom? Some days I’m feeling pretty good – maybe a B or B+. Some moments maybe even an A! On a bad day, much much worse. Some days it might depend on who I’m comparing myself to. And, I wonder – do we get to grade ourselves on a curve? How do you grade a mom when her children have brains altered by past trauma, when their behavior often makes no sense, when they fight the very love that she is offering?

I confess that, early on, I really did think that, if I was a good enough mom, my efforts would translate into amazing results with my kids. My husband and I had thought we would be the perfect adoptive parents. We thought we could provide the ideal environment for our children to heal from past hurts. We weren’t prepared for how hard the fight would be. Over the years, each child has both clamored for and resisted our love, and it can be exhausting. Behavior has been infinitely more challenging than we had anticipated, and I often have felt completely inadequate to the task. And much to my dismay, I am a very different mother than I thought I would be – too often impatient or distracted or angry or just tired.  What a rollercoaster. There have been wonderful times of joy and victory – fun family outings, meaningful conversations, signs of great growth. At other times, I’ve fought deep discouragement.

The good news is that God is the One responsible for the results. The God who loves our kids even more than we do WILL accomplish His purposes for them.  What a privilege that He invites us into that work. He chose us for them, and them for us. All four of my kids are “launched” now,  and I truly marvel at all He has done in their lives. And as I look back I realize that indeed He sometimes accomplished great things in them through us! But at many other times, he has done so in spite of us. He didn’t need us to get it right. What a comfort.

Certainly, He calls us to diligence and obedience. We all work hard to be the best Moms we can be. We read books, and blogs, and consult friends and sometimes professionals. We are intentional. And we should seek excellence in all we do. But at the end of the day, it seems the most important lesson I’ve learned is that they just need our constancy and to know that we ARE their moms and that we are FOR them, no matter what, forever. The rest is details.

So, our part becomes simply to be faithful and leave the results to God. I am an awesome mom, and YOU are an awesome mom, simply because we provide our kids the opportunities to learn and grow and be loved. Some of our kids can’t take it all in right away. It doesn’t happen in our timing. But, we need to trust that God has made them to receive that love and guidance; and eventually it will bear fruit. And even on the days when they are fighting it, we are awesome because we are faithful.  That is all that is needed.

A constant, faithful, imperfect Mom is exactly what your child needs – an eye-rolling, “Are you serious!?” impatient, too-busy, bought-Kentucky-Fried-Chicken-for-the-church-potluck-cause-I-ran-out-of-time-to-make-homemade, kind of mom who says “You can never lose my love.” That is what we are called to. That is what they need.

And they’ll get it…someday. I can’t tell you when. But they’ll get it.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord…As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and does not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,… so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  – Isaiah 55:8-11


cheryl nitzCheryl Nitz, ACSW, LCSW has worked in the field of adoption and foster care for over 30 years. She has extensive training in the field of attachment and trauma, particularly in the area of facilitating healing in foster, adopted, and post-institutionalized children. She currently is the director and a therapist at the Attachment and Bonding Center of PA. But, she often says her best education has come from being a parent with her husband to their four kids (two of whom came to the family through adoption) and grandparent to four!

Dear Pastors… {a letter as you prepare for Mother’s Day}

church pewsThis Sunday is Mother’s Day. I know you know that. It’s kind of a big deal, and it’s been on your calendar all year.

Moms are going to fill your pews this Sunday wearing pretty dresses. Some will have been served breakfast in bed. Some will have received bouquets of flowers, roses or buttercups, already that morning. Some will be looking forward to children coming home that day to take them out for lunch. Some will be anticipating phone calls, hugs, kisses, crayon portraits, and homemade cards.

But, Mother’s Day isn’t always that pretty.

There will be women sitting before you this Sunday who are aching to become mothers. Some of those women are struggling to make it through each day as they have yet to conceive or endure painful infertility treatment. Some of those women are single and long to be married and wonder if they will ever have the joy of being a mother.

There will be some women sitting before you this Sunday who are mothers but not parents, women who have placed children in other families to be raised by other mothers. They may not look or feel like mothers; they may struggle to define who they are.

There will be some women sitting before you this Sunday who were mothers for a short time and didn’t consider themselves that at all, women who ended their pregnancies and motherhood through an abortion and now wonder what life would have been like had they made another choice and chosen life for their child.

There will be some women sitting before you this Sunday who are broken mothers, mothers whose relationships with their children are strained at best, mothers who haven’t spoken to their grown children in months or even years, mothers whose children are in rehab or prison or who knows where.

There will be some mothers sitting before you this Sunday who are divorced from their children’s father and who are tired, so very tired, whose little ones may not even know it’s Mother’s Day at all.

There will be people sitting before you this Sunday who have lost their mothers and people who still have their mothers but have been hurt by them.

And, all those people? They’ve had Mother’s Day on their calendars all year too. But, they aren’t coming to church dressed in their prettiest clothes ready to stand to be recognized. Instead, they wonder if they should come at all. Some are ashamed. Some are resentful. Some are full of grief. Some are angry at the mothers around them, you for pointing them out, and God Himself. Some are simply sad and have already put tissues in their purses in anticipation of the day. Some feel numb.

The ones coming to church in their best with smiles on their faces really don’t need to stand for recognition or be publicly thanked. They’ll get all that elsewhere. It’s the others who need you this Sunday. Speak for them.

To the women who are celebrating this Mother’s Day as mothers for the first time, know that we celebrate with you. 

To the women who serve day in and day out to little ones, cleaning noses and bottoms and sippy cups and car seats, know that we applaud you and support you.

To the women who work outside the home to provide for their families, know that we honor you for all that you carry.

To the women who have been celebrated by their families already today or will be later today, know that we take joy in that with you.

To the women who are not yet mothers and who long to be, whose hearts are heavy with that desire today, know that we walk with you through whatever God calls you to today and for the days to come.

To the women who wonder what life would be like if they were mothering now the child who could have been theirs, know that we want to hold your hand and encourage you.

To the women who are separated relationally with painful distance between you and your children, know that we hurt with you and pray for reconciliation and trust for you that there is hope for that.

To the women who are mothers here who haven’t had the recognition from their children and feel forgotten, know that we remember you.

To those who have been hurt by their mothers in some way, who find this day a painful reminder of that hurt, know that we acknowledge your pain and want to come alongside you and offer hope for restoration.

To those who are watching their mothers grow older and change or who are grieving the loss of their mothers, know that we grieve with you and pray for comfort for you.

As significant as all that is, as much as we want to honor you today, know that He wants to bless and honor you more. Wherever you are, whatever you are facing, wherever your heart is this day, He’s right there with you—right now—and wants you to know Him deeper however you view Mother’s Day.

It’s a big day. It’s your challenge…and your privilege…to communicate God’s love to everyone in your church this Sunday as is your call every Sunday. As you do that with passion and cross-shaped compassion, I trust that He will speak the words they need to hear.


Kelly founded The Sparrow Fund along with her husband Mark in 2011. She works alongside Mark in his full-time purposeful work in China and works part time as a therapist at the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, Kelly has a particular interest in (a) encouraging parents who are struggling to attach with their children, (b) helping parents walk with their children in understanding their own stories, (c) helping couples continue to pursue each other and grow together while they parent their children as a team, and (d) training and supporting orphanage staff in China to build relationships with children and each other. Kelly and Mark have been married since 1998 and have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their journey on Kelly’s blog.